The 4D-Knit Dress from MIT changes its shape in response to heat

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Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyResearchers and fashion brand Ministry of SupplyThe “4D-knitted dress” is made from heat-activated yarn, which allows the shape and fit of the dress to be changed instantly.

The project is based on the idea that 3D knittingWhen textiles are knitted in three-dimensional shapes, rather than flat sheets which must be cut and sewed together to create a garment.

The fourth dimension represents the passage of time. The 4D Knit Dress, knitted in a basic tube form, can be altered by applying heat to a robot arm.

Heat is used to alter the 4D-Knit Dress.

It can be as simple as changing the shape of a dress into a more form-fitting bubble dress or a more form-fitting sheath. Or it can be as complex and intricate, such that it is perfectly tailored to fit an individual. This process can be used to create details like ruffles, ruching or ruffles.

Researchers from the Self-Assembly LabThe Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT), the company behind the project, claims that the 4D Knit Dress is a more environmentally friendly alternative to clothing traditionally produced. It reduces waste both in manufacturing and excess inventory.

Skylar Tibibits, co-director and founder of Self-Assembly Lab told Dezeen: “The fashion industry cannot afford to produce clothing in many different sizes and styles.”

Image demonstrating the same knit dress adapted from a baggy original shape to an A-line dress and a tight body-con dress
The style and fit of the dress can both be altered

“By creating a single dress that is customised in terms of fit and design, it allows the dress to be perfectly tailored and adapted to each individual, while also being more sustainable, adaptable and able to change with changes in style, season or inventory,” he explained.

The heat-activated thread was developed by the Self-Assembly Lab. It is made from nylon. The dress is made with a blend of viscose, polyester and a soft yarn.

The knit structure guides the fabric’s transformation, just as the yarn does.

Close-up image of a white knit dress fitted to the bust of a mannequin with a nozzle hovering nearby
The structure of the knit influences the shape of the textile

Tibbits explained that “the material responds to the temperature and shrinks whereas the knitted structures guides the direction of transformation and allows different zones or behaviors across the garment.”

“We have spent many years developing precise directional control as well specific amounts of textile transformation at different temperature levels.”

The Self-Assembly Lab is required to activate the alterations. Ministry of Supply use a six-axis robot – the same kind used on factory floors for welding or assembly.

In the flagship store of Ministry of Supply in Boston, where the dress on display was, the robot arm moved around a mannequin on a programmed path, echoing the movements of tailors adding pins and stitches.

The fashion brand is in a long-term partnership with Self-Assembly Lab. This has been running for nearly a century. Researchers focus on the project’s technical aspects, while Ministry of Supply leads on design and store strategy.

The collaborators developed the fibre, yarn and knitting processes together. During the pandemic, they applied the technology to quickly produce Face masks tailored to fit individual faces.

Close-up photo of yarn knitted together with some parts in a tight weave and other parts looking open and fluffy
The dress is made from a heat-activated yarn of nylon

The 4D-Knit Dress is a limited production of prototypes, which was displayed at the Ministry of Supply.

The Self-Assembly Lab claims that the dress retains its softness and stretch after heating. It also says that the production process can be scaled up and is efficient. The dress can also be machine-washed on cold.

Ministry of Supply has started to scale up its manufacturing process of the 4D Knit Dress with its industrial knit partners so that it can be sent out to more stores.

Photo of a woman in a fitted white knit sheath dress walking through a clothing store, where a robot arm is positioned near a mannequin in the store window
The dress was on display at the flagship store of Ministry of Supply, Boston

In light of the supply chain challenges of the last several years, we are finding an increased need to ‘late-stage differentiate’ in our inventory,” said Ministry of Supply’s co-founder and President Gihan Amarasiriwardena.

“That allows us and other brands to adapt to demand, changes in size curves and seasonality – which 4D Knitting allows.”

Three MIT students founded Ministry of Supply in 2012 to apply new technology to fashion. Its previous collections have included Smart jacket with self-heating.

The Self-Assembly Lab developed innovations like Rapid Liquid Printing – a way of manufacturing furniture in minutes by extruding material into gel – and a material called Active AuxeticThe sleeve is tightened in cold weather in order to keep warmth in.

Project Credits

MIT Self-Assembly Lab
Researchers: Sasha Mckinlay, Danny Griffin, Lavender Tessmer, Natalie Pearl, Sofia Chen, Susan Williams, Agnes Parker
Co-directors:Jared Laucks Skylar Tibi

Ministry of Supply

Design director:Jarlath Mellet
Design and development manager Alessandra Vasi
Senior Manufacturing Engineer Ryan Connary
Co-founders and presidents: Gihan Amarasiriwardena

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