Marianne Fairbanks is still working on solar textiles, a project she and her collaborator hope will lead to the mass production of everyday cloth that collects and stores solar power.
In the meantime, she is looking for worn-out blue jeans.
Fairbanks, assistant professor in the School of Human Ecology’s design studies program at University of Wisconsin-Madison, is creator of the Weaving Lab that’s taken up residency this summer in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building, 330 N. Orchard St.
The Weaving Lab (weavinglab.com) is a drop-in, hands-on exploration of weaving, open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday through Aug. 25. A free, public closing reception will be held that evening, from 4 to 6 p.m.
“I wanted to call it the Weaving Lab because I like the idea of the image that it’s a lab where we’re asking different questions around weaving,” said Fairbanks, who has long been interested in the intersection between art and science. “This idea of not only exposing people to the process, but also asking questions about the process that I just haven’t had time to ask, or to answer for that matter.”
Fairbanks also continues to work with former UW-Madison chemist Trisha Andrew on concepts for creating solar power-collecting textiles. They are also now exploring triboelectric charging, where certain materials can be electrically charged through friction with a different material. (Think, Fairbanks notes, of the potential of a runner’s triboelectric charging shirt, where the runner rubs her arms against her torso as she moves.)
Fairbanks kicked off her collaboration with Andrew just after the textile artist got her job at UW-Madison in 2014. Previously, Fairbanks had run a company producing handbags that could store solar power. She was profiled by the Wisconsin State Journal in January.
“One of the things that’s a little disappointing is that Trisha has now taken a job at Amherst (College in Massachusetts),” Fairbanks said. “We intend to continue the research because it’s gotten pretty far, but she will no longer be at UW. We’re at a place where it doesn’t make sense to stop.”
In the Weaving Lab in the Discovery building, Fairbanks has set up several looms — including one that is meant to explore how long it takes to make an entire bolt of cloth by hand. Another measures how productive a weaver can be in an hour. A third is meant to be a “meditational” loom, to allow visitors to simply enjoy the rhythm and repetition of weaving.
“I like the idea of one loom where you don’t have to worry about time. You just sit there and weave,” said Fairbanks, who has received donations of worn-out blue jeans to be cut up for makingrag rugs and meditation mats.
“I think the most interesting part has been just how interested people are,” she said.
“Being in the WID has been awesome, because just the amount of traffic that pops in is really great, from young people to researchers to just people from across campus. In that sense, I think it’s really lived up to what I hoped it would be.”