T/Shirt Issue is a design collective using digital pattern-making techniques to reinvent the T-shirt in infinite ways.
Once upon a time in the land of fashion royalty, couturiers worked Cinderella magic with needle and thread. Now the three members of T/Shirt Issue, established in 2008, are adding a new set of tools to the mix. By applying 3-D modeling and animation software to soft jersey fabrics, this Berlin-based design collective has been developing intricate garments that interlock as tightly as medieval armor.
This year T/Shirt Issue members Rozi Rexhepi, Murat Kocyigit, and Hande Akcayli have been further exploring those techniques while working in London as part of a six-month fashion and technology residency sponsored by the Victoria & Albert Museum. After the museum would close its doors to the public each day, T/Shirt Issue would wander the dimly lit galleries in search of treasures–3-D scannable treasures.
“We had carte blanche for the whole museum,” says Rexhepi, who manages T/Shirt Issue’s business operations. “We chose objects that appealed to us intuitively. Sometimes on the screen they disappoint a bit, and sometimes the other way around.”
The museum awarded T/Shirt Issue the residency based on the group’s prior work with digital pattern techniques.
“It’s always about digital pattern construction, taking something that had been done by hand for centuries into the 21st century,” Rexhepi says. “With digital tools a whole new world of possibilities open up. You can sculpt clothing in a way that wasn’t possible before.”
T/Shirt Issue borrows software from fields like architecture to imagine complex shapes composed of interlocking planes of fabric, joined by standard thread and needle.
As for the group’s focus on T-shirts: “A T-shirt is very close to your body, a super basic ornament to your wardrobe. It was about creating something personal without printing something on the shirt.”
For the T/Shirt Issue’s first project, completed in 2008, the collective translated stories from childhood into a series of shirts that seem almost inhabited by the memories that inspired them; in one shirt, a wolf’s face rises from the shoulder, ears alert. Later projects explored animal movement, including a striking series that mimics the shapes of a bird in flight.
At the museum, T/Shirt Issue found new sources of inspiration. “We started to play around with merging objects together and the concept developed in front of our eyes, very organically,” says Rexhepi. “It started as something for fun, but the results were amazing–powerful and dark, and reflective of our experience of staying after dark at the V&A.”
After scanning 100 objects, the group selected eight, and merged them together into four hybrid shapes, using CAD and other digital tools. The result is a scene inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Dream-land,” with four abstracted animals.
The laborious process of creating the “shirts” took hours. “There’s a lot of love and dedication that goes into it,” says Rexhepi. All told, each design goes through 10 steps, from 3-D scanning and prototyping to sewing the patterns and adding the final touches. “The most time-consuming bit is sitting down and sewing every piece by hand,” she says.
With the residency complete, T/Shirt Issue is back in Berlin but setting its sights on reinventing itself in New York. “We want to demonstrate how far we can take 3-D modeling, and we feel like we’ve come to the end of what we can do with it,” Rexhepi says. Next up: exploring 3-D body-scanning and its varied applications, through interactive art installations.
The group’s work, she says, will continue to cross boundaries. “It’s design, it’s fashion, it’s technology, it’s art.” And wearable or not, it’s eerily beautiful.