This Impossibly Intricate Dress Was 3-D Printed In A Single Go

Even more impressive? The 3-D printer was smaller than the dress itself.

Nervous Systems is a generative design studio founded by MIT alums known for merging the natural world with 3-D printed fashion. For its latest project, the studio teamed up with Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to create a fairy-like party dress made up of thousands of delicate nylon petals.


As beautiful as the so-called Kinematics Petals dress is, though, the most impressive part isn’t how it looks. It’s how it’s made.

Inspired by petals, feathers, and scales, the dress is made up of 1,600 distinct pieces, which interconnect through 2,600 hinges. Although these interlocking petals are individually rigid, they behave like a rippling, flowing textile when joined together. This is possible due to Nervous Systems’ “Kinematics” technology, which turns any three-dimensional shape into a flexible structure using 3-D printing. Though they’ve tested the tech on smaller projects, the design team is finally scaling up the system to create a full-scale garment.

The Kinematics system let the studio do something seemingly impossible: print the dress in a 3-D printer smaller than the dress itself. The system folded up the full dress pattern into an optimized shape that could fit into a 3-D printer’s small bed–only once it was printed did the team unfold the tightly packed dress into its full, final form. This wasn’t done on any old Makerbot, though. Instead of using a conventional printer that squirts out filament dollop by dollop, it was 3-D printed in a special machine that uses a laser to melt together thin layers of powder from a solid block of nylon dust.

Thanks to the team’s handy work with the software, it’s also possible to tailor the dress automatically to any body. By taking a 3-D scan of the intended wearer, Kinematics makes it simple to adapt the fundamental dress perfectly to a particular person’s unique geometry. (It’s also modular, so you can print out a longer dress that converts into a miniskirt thanks to a seamlessly detachable train).

You can see the Petals dress on display at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston from March 6 through July 10, 2016. Unfortunately, though, you can’t buy one just yet. But the MFA gift shop will supposedly be selling the next best thing: a special line of Kinematics jewelry. You can buy some of Nervous Systems’ other designs here.