Author: Eulanda Sanders
September is New York Textile Month! In celebration, members of the Textile Society of America will author Object of the Day for the month. A non-profit professional organization of scholars, educators, and artists in the field of textiles, TSA provides an international forum for the exchange and dissemination of information about textiles worldwide.
Over the past 10 years, laser cutting, laser etching, and 3D printing have become mainstream methods of embellishing textiles and creating coverings for the human form. Negative spaces in textile products provide not only a means to envelope the human form by cutting necklines and armholes, but also as a design embellishment for a variety of materials. Typical manual cutting of fabrics, tooling of leather goods or the creation of burnt out velvets have been replaced with techniques that manipulate fabrications with a laser beam. There are a variety of laser cutting methods; however, the most widely used CO2 process is thermal based with a “focused laser beam, using light via mirrors, is used to melt material in a localized area.” 
Designs for laser cutting are created with vector-based computer software technologies, allowing the designer the ability to define not only cut lines, but also engrave fabrics by removing the surface of textiles to expose colors underneath.  The design is then sent to the laser cutter, in the same manner as sending a written document to a desktop printer. The resulting fabrications are dependent on the width of lines drawn, colors assigned to each, and the speed and velocity settings communicated to the laser via print control software.
Vector-based technologies lend themselves to the creation of engineered geometric motifs that encase the human form as found in the Temple Dress, Mer Ka Ba collection by threeASFOUR. The advantage of designing a garment patterns simultaneously with the motif embellishments using computer software technologies is the ability to match or align the motifs at garment seamlines, ensuring uninterrupted viewing of the intended design by the viewer. Laser cutting melts and seals cut lines of thermoplastic fabrications, such as man-made fabrics like nylon and polyester, but frays natural fibers such as silk; therefore, it was necessary for the designers to bond or back the silk used in this design to a man-made fiber to ensure each intricately cut motif resulted in a sealed edge. Ingeniously, the designers repeated circular motifs not only within the interior of each pattern piece, but also in the shapes of the garment’s pattern pieces, resulting curved hemlines, sleeve edges and necklines.
 Bogue, R. (2008). Cutting robots: a review of technologies and applications. Industrial Robot: An International Journal. 35(5), 390.
 De La Rosa, Vic. (2015). Precise expression: the laser-cut edge. Surface Design Journal. 44-49.
Eulanda Sanders is the department chair for Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management at Iowa State University, where she teaches in the Apparel, Merchandising, and Design program.