Fashion design students in a Cornell intermediate pattern-development course have learned to mend their ways and stretch their skills by applying a technology used to make body bags to high couture.
A recent assignment challenged the students to create an innovative evening ensemble, with a dress inspired by 1950s French couture and Hollywood musicals -- and to top it off with a futuristic jacket. The hitch? No stitch -- no thread or glue.
Instead the students were asked to "sew" with sound waves, using a process called ultrasonic bonding to get the job done. And talk about a stitch in time saving nine -- the technology saves hours of detail work.
"Ultrasonic joining procedures are clean and precise and require no glue or thread to seam or seal," says Anita Racine, senior lecturer in the College of Human Ecology's Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design. She said she wanted to challenge the students to increase their problem-solving abilities and see how they would apply the technology to fashion design, which had not yet been done.
The results were so impressive that several of the student creations have been chosen for the runway at the annual International Textile and Apparel Association meeting in Los Angeles, Nov. 7-10, where Racine will give a presentation on her award-winning work that used ultrasonic bonding in apparel design.
The technology has been around for years to assemble synthetic hospital gowns, bulletproof vests and other types of protective and functional clothing -- and more recently military body bags -- because it eliminates fraying and unraveling of seams and edges and "because of the way it seals to prevent leakage," says Racine.
Although Cornell had an earlier version of a Sonobond ultrasonic bonding "sewing machine" in the 1970s to develop wind- and water-resistant sportswear, it recently purchased the latest SeamMaster High Profile ultrasonic machine with decorative pattern rollers for the fashion design studio.
"With this project, we were leaping into an unknown world of ultrasonic bonding because we had no visual references," says Racine. "It was certainly a mind-expanding semester from both a teaching and learning perspective, because we simply could not begin to predict the outcomes. There were no fixed rules."
In the process, high-frequency sound waves are converted into mechanical vibrations that are channeled through a component called a "horn," creating a rapid buildup of heat. Fabrics used must be at least 60 percent synthetic so seams can be fused together, says Racine.
Different pattern wheels allow for various decorative elements, including delicate lacy cutouts, embossed patterns, multi-layered ruffling, mock bias bindings, spaghetti straps, pin tucking and floral appliqués.
To inspire the 17 students for their cocktail and evening wear projects, Racine selected more than 50 high-profile Hollywood films as well as fashion plates from French fashion journals for students' rapid sketching sessions. The students then experimented with decorative surface techniques on an array of man-made fabrics before beginning their original designs.
"Sonobond technology and the possibilities for fashion design are amazing," says Alla Chausov '09. "It allowed me to create a self-lined jacket quickly."
"I have so much more creativity than I realized, just through the introduction of this new technology," adds Jennifer Tokuda '09. "I am learning that I can stretch myself more, without abandoning my own interest in graceful, elegant pieces."
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