Inside the Collection

Printing fashion in 3D: the inBloom Dress

InBloom 3D Printed Dress

Why would a museum collect 3D printed objects?

To answer this question it’s important to think about why museums collect anything at all. Museum collections, on the whole, show a deep, human preoccupation with material culture – the things that surround us. These might be things from the natural world or the result of human creativity and endeavour. Collecting and displaying such material is a way for us to start to understand periods of history past or our current times. It helps us to make sense of the human condition and the planet that we inhabit.

3D printed objects, like the inBloom Dress, are part of the story of our current time. Chances are, a museum would not choose to collect just any 3D printed object. For it to be collectable in the eyes of most institutions it would have to convey some kind of significance. Case in point: the inBloom Dress created in 2014 by XYZ Workshop, a Melbourne based 3D printing design workshop started by Elena and Kae Woei.

When it was created in 2014 the inBloom Dress was only the second fashion object XYZ Workshop had created. it was also the longest 3D printed piece of wearable fashion created by the designers who have a background in architecture. The design of the dress was inspired by the ubiquitous floral dress and using flexible polylactic acid (PLA) as a textile they created lace-like, delicate qualities within the finished product. The Dress was developed and printed by XYZ workshop on an Ultimaker Desktop 3d printer using flexible PLA. In 2014 it was seen at the 3D PrintShow New York alongside works by fashion designers such as Threeasfour, Francois Bitoni and Nervous Systems.

The designers set out with two objectives: ‘Firstly, we wanted to make a fully 100% 3D Printed piece that was not only wearable but had qualities of movement within it. Secondly, we were interested in showcasing that 3D Printed fashion was NOT something you can only achieve using complex 3 Dimensional modelling tools or limited to large expensive commercial 3D Printers.’

While it might be highly affordable fashion which the designers created using a personal desktop 3D printer, some question how the work will wear over time. This is one of the issues surrounding 3D printed objects as collectable pieces. The life span of the plastics being used is yet to be tested. There are also concerns about the social and environmental impact of 3D printed objects as this field expands. A responsible and ethical understanding of the life cycle of objects, be they 3D printed or not, is something that sustainability advocates want all areas of production to incorporate into their planning and decision-making. Even so, the designers Elena and Kae, are excited about the accessibility created by the 3D printing revolution. It’s worth noting that the PLA used in the inBloom Dress is biodegradable.

On their website XYZ Workshop explain, ‘The entire look measures a total of approximately 7 feet (2.1m) long. The dress comprises a total of 191 panels and took 450 hours and 25 minutes for printing, used 240m or 1.7kgs of 3mm Flexible Filament from Ultimaker. This is equivalent to approximately USD$103.50 worth of filament. It puts forth the question if one day, downloading and printing your own 3D fashion could be as easy as XYZ.’

Elena and Kae are committed to the open source movement and have made the code for the inBloom Dress available through their website. So if you’re adventurous and want to try printing your own you can now download the file here. And there’s a short video here with Kae showing how the dress was made.

This moment in time, with the 3D printing revolution in full swing, is unique. The inBloom Dress embodies this significance and is one of the reasons why the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences has recently acquired the work as part of its collection. This object is one of the first attempts to blend 3D printing technology with fashion as a wearable and accessible form. It is also one of the first fully 3D printed dresses in the world and the first in Australia.

If you’re in Sydney, seeing the actual inBloom Dress in person is possible now until June 2017. It’s on display as part of Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). Out of Hand is an extraordinary exhibition featuring more than 60 artists, designers and architects from around the world including Barry X Ball, Zaha Hadid, Iris van Herpen and Ron Arad, as well as works from Australia and the Asia-Pacific, and objects from the MAAS collection.


Post by Dr Kylie Budge, Research Manager, MAAS.

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