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Smart samples

SMART FABRICS SAMPLE COLLECTION. By Jenny Ridgwell and Elin Lindberg pound;25

MODERN TEXTILES SAMPLES TO TOUCH. By Jenny Ridgwell pound;55. Ridgwell Press Tel: 01536 399017

Simon Smith recommends resources which provide hard-to-find information

These resources provide straight-forward, basic information about new materials in a way that can't fail to arouse curiosity. Both publications have samples of fabrics on every other page that tempt you to feel, stretch and rub them. Most impressively, they represent a leap forward from the emphasis on clothes and cushions that tends to dominate in many school departments. Here we have well researched scientific knowledge, set out with clear graphics and easily accessible short paragraphs and bullet-pointed lists.

The geotextiles section in Modern Textiles Samples to Touch is particularly interesting, with images of roads and soil erosion sites as examples of how these fabrics are used. The samples demonstrate how fascinating these textiles can be. Once handled, it is not difficult to see why something as thick and tough as geofabric is used to protect soil from being washed away on a railway embankment.

At the front of the folder is a manufacturer's brochure showing stunning graphics of other examples. Different sections cover bio-mimetic textiles and insulating fabrics, although the information on some of these is rather thin.

As an introduction to the materials, Smart Fabrics Sample Collection has a lot to commend it. All the samples are held in small re-sealable wallets so that they can be taken out and tested. Alongside each is a brief explanation of how the material changes with heat or light - an invitation to take out the specimen and test it to see whether or not it works. My group quickly found that the heat-sensitive fabric lost its colour in a hot hand, and the glow-in-the-dark fabric lived up to expectations.

As they handled the samples the students' interest grew, and as we discussed design opportunities there were many suggestions for exciting new products.

The distinction between the smart materials of one folder and the modern materials of the other is helpful as a way of analysing and understanding the technology, but as a resource for design, both packs should be treated as one. The opportunity to handle the samples, and the inclusion of photographs of microscopic images and diagrams to explain the science behind the design of the materials, make them ideal research tools for GCSE projects although the smart fabrics pack is clearly intended for younger pupils.

Throughout the folders there are references to websites that will be useful to students who want to find out more about particular materials.

The relevance of these resources goes beyond textiles technology and there will be scores of resistant materials prototypes that could benefit from knowledge of modern fabrics. Everyone needs to be aware of their potential.

It is most likely that these packs will become a source of reference in departmental libraries where pupils will browse through and select materials for their projects.

The clarity of the information, however, and the fact that the pages can be photocopied, will encourage whole-class activities where the teacher's copy, with its samples, provides the focus for the introductory talk.

Information on new and smart materials has been difficult to find since these topics started to appear on exam board specifications, but these packs put that right in a most attractive way.

Simon Smith is head of design technology at Colfe's School, London

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