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Exploring the edges: Developing a soft approach to interdisciplinary smart textile design practices

This research presents smart textile practice through three research-led projects situated in the liminal space between both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ domains of science and textile design. The research and development of smart and advanced materials currently exists within the ‘hard’ domains of science and engineering knowledge frameworks. The practice supports an exploration to increase an understanding of the types of knowledge that reside in soft and flexible approaches (born out of the properties of the materials themselves) towards materials innovation. Highlighting and ensuring that intimate knowledge of the qualities of textiles are engaged in the next stage of technological development. ‘Visionaries’, says the textile theorist Bradley Quinn, ‘know that the future of technology is not sharp, but sensuous and soft.’

Through practice within interdisciplinary environments the aim has been to advance understanding about how skills and knowledge, developed through experiential making processes with textiles, might be meaningfully applied within ‘hard’ domains in the development of smart textiles for extreme environments. Through three projects positioned in the area of developing smart/advanced textiles for safety and comfort for nuclear decommissioning operators, astronauts and emergency responders, I have explored the potential of textile design expertise within unusual and challenging environments.

The textiles that have been developed through interdisciplinary engagement during this research, are considered physical emblems of the weaving together of worlds; diverse strands of meaning and their associated fields of knowledge brought together. As a textile designer, I have been transformed through engagement with them and simultaneously, the possibilities of the field of smart textile design have been expanded.

Through my experience of practice within these new domains I advocate for the skills and values of a textile designer to be critical within this landscape for design. I want to ensure that the aesthetic, ethical and functional dimensions of smart textiles are considered to be of equal importance. I want to ensure that the aesthetic aspects of these materials are understood and valued; that the skills and knowledge developed within textile design are considered foundational to these aims, and that these textiles are not simply novel carriers for technology. Exploration and authenticity are considered two such values. This research aims to increase understanding of what soft approaches (in combination with the more rational and application-led approach traditionally understood to be associated with materials innovation) might be able to offer in the field of smart textile design; by building a strong foundation where hard and soft knowledge (and all the manifestations in-between) are understood to be of equal value, bringing a balance in approach.

In the research-led projects presented in this thesis, I have worked with smart, functional and advanced materials, such as optical fibres sensors (OFS), surgical tubing and carbon nanotubes (CNT). These materials have been developed and synthesised within science and engineering knowledge frameworks. The skill-sets and perspectives of those working on the development of these materials do not currently include an understanding of the aesthetic, experiential or embodied dimensions of ‘wear-ability’ and so my involvement has been critical to supporting their development for body worn solutions.

Key details

School, Centre or Area


  • Stavros Niarchos Foundation RCA PhD scholarship


More about Claire

Claire is currently working towards her PhD at the Royal College of Art as a Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) funded scholar. Her research analyses an emerging, interdisciplinary design space between textile design and the sciences come about through the creation of smart textiles. Collaboration has been used to reveal new knowledge and is a key part of her enquiry as well as the externalisation of tacit textile expertise. Her research works towards gaining insight and understanding of the value of knowledge and skills of a textile designer working across disciplines between design and science through specific case studies, such as working on integrating technology into base layer clothing for nuclear decommissioning operators and astronauts in Space.

Her work experience spans automotive, sportswear, fashion and extreme condition innovative textile technologies working on both design-led projects and outcomes and collaboratively on cutting edge scientific and engineering projects. Recent experience includes Textile Design consultancy work, working as a Material Designer within Nike's Innovation team and with Jaguar on a collaborative sculptural concept showing ‘future form and material language’ for the brand. Claire also works as a visiting lecturer on the MA Textile design program at the Royal College of Art.

Royal College of Art, London. MA Textile Design, 2011-2013

Chelsea College of Art and Design, London. BA (hons) Textile Design, 2008-2011. First class honours

Chelsea College of Art and Design. Foundation diploma in Art and Design, 2007-2008

Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs (EnsAD), Paris. Erasmus Exchange Program, 2009

Visiting Lecturer. Royal College of Art. Textile Design Department. September 2017 – Present

Visiting tutor for student workshops [Online]. Hong Kong Polytechnic University X RCA X AI Design Lab. March 2021 – Present.

Textile Designer and Design Researcher-in Residence (Research Assistant) at Helen Hamlyn Centre for Robotic Surgery, Imperial College London. Working on Future AI and Robotics for Space (FAIR-SPACE). November 2019 —June 2020

Research Assistant. Royal College of Art, London. Decommissioning the Nuclear Operator,

Sellafield and UKRI. September — December 2018

Research Assistant. Burberry Materials Futures Research Centre. July — August, 2018

Material Design Consultancy. Assemble. Multidisciplinary collective working across Architecture, Design and Art. June 2018 — December 2018

Material Innovation Design. Nike, Inc. OR, USA. Performance Sport. March 2014 — June 2017

Jaguar Landrover, Warwick. ‘Future Form and Material Language’ X RCA Competition. Winning design made in

collaboration with Ewan Gallimore selected by Jaguar for Clerkenwell Design Week 2013. March — May 2013

British Vogue (Conde Nast Publications), London. Editorial Department Internship. August 2011

Alexander McQueen, London. Printed textiles department internship. February, 2011

Stavros Niarchos Foundation PhD Scholarship Award, Royal College of Art.

Material Research Exchange (MRE), group show, Building Design Center, London, March 2018

WIP (work in progress show), Royal College of Art, London, January, 2018

Printed pleats installation, Scoop international, Phillips de Pury, Howick Place, January 2014

100% Design, London Design Festival, work shown as part of 'Material Lab's, Materials Atelier', London, September, 2013

MoOD Innovation Platform, International trade fair, Brussels, September, 2013

'Global Talent, British Schooled, where Fashion ends and Art begins', Scoop international. Phillips de Pury, Howick Place, London, July, 2013

Goodwood Festival of Speed, The Goodwood Estate, Chichester, West Sussex, July 2013

'Selected Works and Projects, Royal College of Art 2013' Christie's Auction House, King Street Galleries, London,

July 2013

Royal College of Art Graduate Show, London, June 2013

Clerkenwell Design Week, London, May 2013

'Work-in-Progress', Royal College of Art, London, January 2013

'The Natural Audi', Ingolstadt, Germany, November 2012

Audi West London Showrooms, ‘Quattro Rooms’, London, June 2012

John Norris Wood Drawing Prize, Royal College of Art, London, May 2012

Miller, C. (2019). Crafting material innovation and knowledge through interdisciplinary approaches. In:

Proceedings of Research Through Design. Frictions and Shifts, Method and Critique [Online]. Available

at: https://figshare.com/articles/journal_contribution/Crafting_material_innovation_and_knowledge_through


Khan, S. U. E., Rosa, B. G., Kassanos, P., Miller, C.F., Deligianni, F. and Zhong-Yang, G. (forthcoming 2021)

‘Physiological adaptations in space and wearable technology for biosignal monitoring’ in Gao, Y. (Ed.) Space

Robotics and Autonomous Systems: Technologies, Advances and Applications. Institution of Engineering and

Technology (IET) Publishing: Stevenage

Miller, C.F. (2020) Towards a Photonic Textile Integrated System to Improve Operator Productivity and Comfort: Interdisciplinary Textile Design Knowledge in the development of Smart Textiles . Online Conference. 14th International Conference. Design Principles and Practices. Advocacy in Design: Engagement, Commitment and Action. 11-13 November 2020

Research through Design, Method and Critique, ‘Crafting material innovation and knowledge through interdisciplinary approaches’ Presentation and exhibition. TU Delft, Delft, Netherlands, 19—22 March 2019

Conference volunteer. European Academy of Design (EAD). Dundee, Scotland, 9th—12th April, 2019

Conference volunteer. Textile Intersections. Loughborough University, London, 12—13th September, 2019

‘D:STEM Design-led STEM teaching workshops’. Institute of Textiles and Clothing & the AI Lab. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. March—present 2021

'Smart Matter'. Burberry Materials Future Research Centre Symposium, London Design Festival, Battersea Power Station, London, September 2018

'Colours of Coal Drops Yard' , Natural dye workshop. Store Projects. February 2019

London Craft Week 2019, Cochineal Natural Dye Workshop at Coal Drops Yard, London, May 2019

PhD research presentation. Advanced Textiles for Health and Wellbeing symposium, Royal College of Art, London. 3rd & 4th May 2018

The Wearable Technology Show Panellist on ‘Smart Textiles UX : Exploring the fundamentals of design and interaction with smart garments.’ Moderator: Melissa Coleman, Creative Technologist, Made by Many Co-panellists: Nancy Tilbury, Co-Founder, TwentyFour15 & XO. 15th March 2018

The Textile Lecture ‘Challenges of Materiality’, School of Design Lecture Series, Royal College of Art, London.

25th October, 2017. Goodwood Festival of Speed, West Sussex. ‘The Need for Style’, Designer talk. June 2015