16-376 Kinetic Fabrics
TR 10:30AM-12:20PM
Hunt Library A5 (Fab Lab)
Instructors: Olivia Robinson, Garth Zeglin
Offered by  the IDeATe program at Carnegie Mellon University in affiliation with The Robotics Institute.

Course Description

Kinetic Fabrics brings together the fields of robotics and textiles to explore their unified creative and expressive potential. It is a wide-open frontier for kinetic art, wearable art, and architectural installation. In this course students will build a variety of performative systems combining fabrics and robotic technologies. Students will apply modular actuation and sensing to textile artworks, using software designed to facilitate fluid explorations, rapid iterations, and playful experimentation. Students will learn basic textile skills, such as hand and machine sewing, as well as gain facility and familiarity with the characteristics of multiple type of fabrics.  Historical precedents as well as contemporary examples of works will support students creative growth and knowledge of the field. Students’ course work will include short-term and long-term projects, sampling and prototyping, critique, and documentation. Additionally, students will organize an end-of-semester event where they will perform a developed kinetic fabric work for a public audience.

This IDeATe “collaborative” course has no formal prerequisites, but students are expected to have taken one of the IDeATe portal classes.  Informally, students will be expected to have some knowledge of either physical computing technology or textile fabrication. The enrollment is limited to 20.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this course the students will be able to:

  1. Identify and critique makers (artists, designers, engineers, etc.), works, and genres within the field of kinetic fabric, so as to be able to re-articulate and discuss artistic questions and goals related to the field as well as apply concepts and objectives from the field to one’s own projects.
  2. Collaborate in teams to generate, create, evaluate, and document ideas and projects.
  3. Create ‘samples’ and ‘prototypes’ to playfully explore technical and conceptual ideas presented in class.
  4. Apply modular actuation and sensing systems to a fabric structure, perform and control these structures using scripted sequences and generative algorithms, and sculpt forms with a variety of fabrics or fibers.
  5. Physically iterate works to develop ideas, discoveries, and projects.
  6. Perform a developed kinetic fabric/fiber work at the public end-of-semester event.
  7. Articulate material and conceptual choices in discussions and critiques.
  8. Contribute productively to a critique environment with open responses, constructive criticism, and positive feedback.
  9. Document and reflect upon processes and finished assignments.

Course Topics and Schedule

The full daily schedule can be found online at

The general plan for the semester is to spend the initial portion on fast-paced skill-building exercises individually and in pairs, then transition to a longer group project development phase, culminating in dress rehearsals and a live performance.

Week       General Topics
1-6Skill-based tutorials covering basic sewing, textile design and fabrication for movement (e.g. shirring, pleating), basic pneumatic control, and machine choreography and motion programming.
7-12Performance project development – ideation, prototyping, revision, programming
13-15 Rehearsal and refinement

May 3
Final performance in Alumni Concert Hall, presented like a performance art salon

Student Expectations

  • Full presence in class each week.
  • Commitment to the well being of the class community.
  • Use computer technology professionally.
  • Completion of all assignments and readings.
  • Participation in class discussions, workshops, field trips and critiques.
  • Preparedness/Bringing necessary materials to class each week.
  • At least 6 hours of work time outside of class each week.
  • Use of safe and respectful studio practices and protocols.
  • Care for yourself. Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep and taking some time to relax. This can help you cope with stress, but all of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) is here to help 24/7: call (412) 268- 2922 or visit their website. Over 25% of students reach out to CaPS sometime during their time at CMU.

Instructor Commitments

  • Be accessible. We will hold regularly scheduled office hours each week. You can find those details at the top of this syllabus. If your academic or job schedule does not allow you to come to our office hours and you are in need of a meeting, please email one of us so we can set something up.
  • Quickly respond to emails. We will respond to emails within 48 hours, usually within 24 hours, Monday – Friday.
  • Promptly return grades and feedback.  Your grades will be made available to you via Canvas, within 2 weeks of presenting the work. This will allow you to monitor your grade throughout the semester.
  • Solicit student feedback. We constantly strive to improve our ability to teach. You should feel free to email either of us your feedback at any time. We hope that you will provide your candid and constructive comments.
  • Help to provide necessary accommodations. If you have a disability and have an accommodations letter from the Disability Resources office, we encourage you to discuss your accommodations and needs with us as early in the semester as possible. We will work with you to ensure that accommodations are provided as appropriate. If you suspect that you may have a disability and would benefit from accommodations but are not yet registered with the Office of Disability Resources, we encourage you to contact them at


Attendance to all classes and class-related activities is expected. Within the first week of our course, please look ahead and see if you need to miss class for any excusable reason (religious holidays, CMU-sponsored events, medical or family emergencies, etc.) and email both Olivia and Garth.

  • 3 absences will drop your grade ½ letter grade
  • 4  absences will drop your grade 1 letter grade
  • Additional absences will continue to lower your grade by full letter steps.
  • 3 late arrivals/early departures (10 minutes or more) = 1 absence
  • More than 30 minutes late = full absence


Our class is small and your focus affects affects the class. You are expected to use your laptop, cell phone, and other technology professionally. This means keep your cell phone packed away for the entirety of the class (10:30-12:20). Also, only unpack your laptop if it is directly needed for an assignment. If you need your cell phone or laptop for translation, please let us know. The reason we have these expectations is because non-class-related use of technology is very distracting and disrespectful. Cell phone or unrelated laptop use will lower your points for Participation.

Assignments and Projects

There are 6 shorter assignments and 1 major group project (the Kinetic Fabric performances). Each assignment and project will be presented to the entire class. As a group we will critique and reflect upon the works. Due dates for every assignment are listed on the course schedule and on assignment pages. Late assignments will lose 10%  and then an additional 10% for each week late.

Performance: This event will take place on Sunday, May 3 in collaboration with the Experience Machine class. Everyone is required to participate in the set-up, presentation and take-down of the event – so set aside the entire day and evening of May 3. Mark your calendars!


Grades are based on your assignments, projects, research presentation, and class participation. For group projects, a portion of the grade may be based upon peer reviews.  Here is the grade breakdown based on a 100pt. scale:

  • Six Short Experimental Assignments = 40 points
  • Group Project & Performance = 50 points
  • Participation = 10 points

Participation includes attendance in class, active engagement in our collaborative activities and projects, participation in the class community, stewardship of communal space and resources, helping peers, contributing to discussion and critiques, attentive listening, general demeanor and respect of peers, faculty, and staff.

We will use rubrics to assess each assignment and the group project. The assignment descriptions and rubrics will be available on the class website. The aim is for these rubrics to serve as a communication tool between us, articulating expectations and requirements of assignments and projects, and the evaluation criteria we use in grading. We will grade each category of the rubric and give feedback for each project through Canvas. You may check in with us about your grades or other concerns during office hours, or by making an appointment, or after class.

Academic Integrity

We will be learning new skills in designing and constructing using textile media.  As makers, it is fully acceptable to use found materials (patterns, video, images, etc)  and to use these materials in creating new works of art/design. When using found materials (patterns, images, video, etc) in your own work there are two requirements:

  • Attribution. You must clearly identify where the found material came from or who made it.
  • Transformation. You must significantly transform the materials you are using. You should extend the material, modify it into something new, offer new insight into the concepts underlying the material, etc. Work that uses borrowed materials without significantly transforming those materials will result in a low grade.

More information on CMU’s Academic Integrity policy can be found at:


Many tools and materials will be provided for your use during this class. This is true for all of the in-class demonstrations and ‘workshops’ held during class time. There are a few tools and supplemental supplies you will need to procure for class. Here is a list of those items:

  1. Fabric scissors.
  2. Pen, pencil, sharpie.
  3. Any tools you will be given during class (such as sewing needles, dust mask, etc.)
  4. A journal or paper to take notes and make drawings in.
  5. A smock, apron, or old shirt that can be worn over your clothes for when we work with dye or fabric paint.

Supplemental Supplies you may need/want to acquire for projects:

  1. Sewing thread (for many projects)
  2. Reusable Rubber Gloves (for dying, if we do dying in class)
  3. Fabric specific to your needs if we don’t already have it.
  4. Other random materials you might want for projects.


Portions of the Instructor Commitments section adapted from the Integrated Product Conceptualization syllabus by Chris McComb; portions of the Academic Integrity section adapted from syllabi by Jesse Stiles.