Product designer Adam Blencowe is obsessed with experimental manufacturing processes, like using ice to cast plaster furniture or balloons as a mold. Graphic designer Marine Duroselle has an eye for exquisite patterns and colors. When the two Royal College of Art graduates decided to collaborate, they ended up with a plush collection of prismatic rugs made with high-tech tools and age-old techniques.
The Motley Collection, launched at the London Design Festival, blends digital fabrication with traditional wool felting. To produce felt by hand, a person typically takes a needle and repeatedly stabs wool fibers until they mat together. Blencowe and Duroselle riff on that technique with a CNC-controlled felting machine.
"As someone interested in exploring process, I believe its important to have an output that demonstrates your work can live outside in the wider world," Blencowe says. "Sometimes it's just making something that people want to put in their homes; but sometimes it can also be trying to deliver something that could change or make a new industry, like customized interior textiles made on demand."
Blencowe took a jig saw—a wood-cutting tool—and replaced its blade with a set of needles and a 3D-printed foot. The saw itself is mounted on a movable CNC arm that's programmed to produce a pre-determined composition. Duroselle then pins the wool fiber into place for the machine to process. The needles on the saw move up and down very rapidly to produce the felted texture. It takes anywhere from 10 to 40 hours to felt the textile. After the needlework is complete, the designers then trim any excess fiber. This process creates precise color gradients and blends that you wouldn't get by hand.
To Blencowe, applying modern technology to traditional craft helps the latter survive. "I very much respect the skill and knowledge that is built up and required by craftsmen, traditional or not," he says. "In my opinion for craft to stay relevant, it must innovate. This will help it find new practitioners, new audiences, and markets but most importantly ensure it evolves. Last year I visited Burano, next to Venice, and it was sad to see that the lace makers had all but disappeared."
Duroselle agrees. "Projects become fascinating when the maker finds innovating ways of fusing traditional skills and modern tools," she says.
Pricing starts at $1,500 for a 5'x7' rug.