April 27, 2010
Originally published in Big Ideas for Small Spaces

The catalog of smart textiles for the future is teeming with cognitive intelligence—fabrics that serve as interactive surfaces or are embedded with sheets of tiny microprocessors, little solar batteries, or antimicrobial properties. But these materials may miss the point. The textile arts, after all, have their origins in comfort—rugs that keep our feet off the cold floor, curtains and wall hangings that keep out the draft, quilts that keep us cozy at night. What may have more value, both stylistically and holistically, is not so much a conventionally smart textile, but one that has emotional intelligence—kind of an electric blanket for the soul.

Glow in the dark sleeper duvet
Glow in the dark sleeper duvet

Artist Rachel Wingfield of Loop.pH is well on the way to this idea with her Light Sleeper, an illuminated duvet and pillow that simulate sunrise. Electroluminescent wires are woven into the fabric to cast a radiant sheen, and the bedding can be programmed to gradually begin to glow at the desired time. Its gentle wake-up call is meant to help reset the circadian rhythms of those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Surely, though, such incandescent bedding is only the beginning.

As the convergence of lighting and textiles becomes more sophisticated, perhaps the products themselves could distinguish between different qualities of daylight and even recognize the complex and subtle association of light, time, and place. They could also offer a more expansive menu of lightscapes. If one can, in fact, program daybreak, why not also be able to choose between the rose-colored dawn over the Aegean in spring, the vibrant splash of northern lights as seen over Finland in January, or the cool blue morning light of northern Scotland in July, when the sky hardly darkens at all?

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