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 15.

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’ through a series of experimental, mini projects 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. Construct a fully developed project that encapsulate the themes, skills, and concepts of the course.
  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 daily agenda and assignment details will be posted to this course site. Assignment deadlines will be posted to your Canvas calendar.

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 projects.

Week          General Topics
1-2Introductory literature review, conceptual exploration, and improvised material studies.
3-7 Skill-based tutorials covering basic embedded programming, pneumatic actuation, soft sensors, basic sewing, and textile design and fabrication for movement.
9-12Performance project development – ideation, prototyping, revision, programming
13-15 Rehearsal and refinement
16Public presentation and final critique

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 on the course site. 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. Given that you may need to miss a class because of a covid-related reason, we will be very flexible with attendance if you must isolate or quarantine. See “Learning in the Times of Covid” (below) for more specifics. Please keep us up-to-date should you need to miss class.

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.

Our general attendance policy is:

  • 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

Learning in the Times of Covid

Please Communicate and Take Care

We are all under a lot of uncertainty at this time, which can be very stressful. Make sure to move regularly, eat well, and reach out to your support system or Olivia and Garth if you need to. Please keep an open dialogue with us about ways that we or the course can best support you.

Illness and Quarantine

If you become ill or need to quarantine/isolate because of covid, do not try to come to class. If you are not feeling sick, but you must quarantine, let us know ahead of time and we will zoom you into class so you can keep up to date. If you are sick, please just rest and give your body time to recover.

Masks and Eating

In order to attend class meetings in person, everyone must wear masks in all classrooms in accordance with the A Tartan’s Responsibility. Eating is not allowed in any classroom on campus nor anywhere in the Hunt Library basement.


Our class is small and your focus affects others in the class. You are expected to use your laptop, cell phone, and other technology professionally. This means wait for breaks to check email, messages, etc., unless you are expecting something urgent. If you need your cell phone or laptop for translation or other kinds of assistance, 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 a number of shorter assignments and 1 larger project. Projects will be completed in pairs. Each assignment and project will include a report uploaded to our class website and presented in 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.


Grades are based on your assignments, projects, presentations, 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:

  • Shorter Assignments = 40 points
  • Final Project = 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 projects. 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:

Supplies you should acquire by the second day of class:

  1. Scissors.
  2. Pen, pencil, sharpie.
  3. Ziplock bags (at least quart size)
  4. Double stick tape
  5. Scotch tape or clear packing tape or duct tape 
  6. Straw or tube for blowing air
  7. Cardboard (can be from boxes)
  8. Useful, but not required: x-acto knife or box cutter

Supplemental Supplies you may need/want to acquire for projects on an as-needed basis:

  1. A smock, apron, or old shirt that can be worn over your clothes (if we do dyeing in class)
  2. Reusable Rubber Gloves (if we do dyeing in class)
  3. Fabric specific to your needs if we don’t already have it.
  4. Other random materials you might want for projects.

General Statement on Well-Being

Take care of yourself. 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. Asking for support sooner rather than later is often helpful.

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: call 412-268-2922 and visit their website at  Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or in danger of harm to self or others, call someone immediately, day or night:

  • CaPS Counseling: 412-268-2922
  • Re:solve Crisis Network: 888-796-8226
  • On campus CMU Police: 412-268-2323

Food Insecurity

If you are worried about affording food or feeling insecure about food, there are resources on campus who can help. Email the CMU Food Pantry Coordinator to schedule an appointment:

Pantry Coordinator
412-268-8704 (SLICE office)

Respect for Diversity

It is our intent that students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives be well served by this course, and that the diversity that students bring to this class be viewed as a resource, strength, and benefit. It is our intent to present materials and activities that are respectful of diversity: gender, sexuality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, and culture. We will gladly honor your request to address you by the pronouns and name you specify.

We commit to make individual arrangements to address disabilities or religious needs (e.g. religious events in conflict with class meetings). Please advise us of your needs early in the semester so that I can make appropriate changes to plans and records.

Unfortunately, incidents of bias or discrimination do occur, whether intentional or unintentional. They contribute to creating an unwelcoming environment for individuals and groups at the university. Therefore, the university encourages anyone who experiences or observes unfair or hostile treatment on the basis of identity to speak out for justice and support, within the moment of the incident or after the incident has passed. Anyone can share these experiences using the following resources:


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.