A Dress that Breathes

by anasto

As a continuation of my project from the moving textile assignment, I made a dress with fabric origami panels that are actuated by nitinol shape memory wire. The repetitive contracting and expanding motion of the panels is reminiscent of breathing. The panels are made in a pair to mimic anatomical lungs.

I created a pattern for a dress with a straight skirt and a princess-seamed bodice and sewed the dress out of polyester satin. To make the origami panels, I laser cut the fold pattern on a piece of cotton/poly blend fabric. Then, I folded the fabric along the fold lines and stitched the folds in place. To stiffen the fabric, I made my own starch (by dissolving 2 tbsp. of cornstarch in 1/4 c. of water, then whisking in 2 c. of boiling water) and dipped the fabric in it, then set the starch by ironing the fabric when just barely damp.

To make the nitinol springs, I wrapped wire around a screw and held it in place with nuts. I put them in a furnace at 500 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes to set the shape.

The Voronoi lace pattern of the peplum is inspired by the Voronoi patterns present in alveoli, which are structures in lungs that are responsible for gas exchange.


I laser cut the peplum pattern that I designed using Processing and a random Voronoi generator code.

A Lilypad Arduino is used to control the nitinol actuated panels. The panels are programmed so that the current switches on and off, causing the wire to expand and contract to create a repetitive motion that is reminiscent of breathing.

Here are videos of the dress in action:

The motion is quite subtle, but I think that is ideal for mimicking respiration since breathing is subtle as well. I would have liked to have had the panels be attached so that they contour the body of the dress. However, when I tried this, the panels were too constrained to produce the desired motion. I was pleased with how the fabrication of the fabric origami worked out. I think it would be interesting to use this technique to make other origami structures out of fabric.

Final presentation slides