A marriage of art and science

Combining art and technology, a new media student is giving her grandmother’s wedding dress new life with the help of 3D printing.

Michaela Milligan, a fourth-year at Ryerson, is using a 3D printer to create 80 per cent of a dress that she is modelling after the one her grandmother wore at her wedding. The creation is for her thesis project and is made in memory of her grandmother, who died a year and a half ago.

“I have been trying to figure out a way to honour her for the past year and a half, and try to figure out a way to feel connected to her again,” said Milligan.

She said that adding a technological element is her way of modernizing the dress that her grandmother wore.

“She was really important to me. She was really supportive of all of my endeavours in the arts,” said Milligan. “I decided that I would not only recreate her wedding dress, but also connect it to me by bringing in the new media aspect by 3D printing half of it.”

Milligan estimates that her 3D printed dress will take her over 200 hours to make.
(Courtesy of Michaela Milligan)

The dress will have a base and sleeves crafted out of traditional fabrics like lace. Other elements like beading, the structure and the skirt will be printed in 3D. She said that the base of the dress has to be made with regular fabric so that it is comfortable to wear.

Milligan said that in the past she has made small figurines and Christmas ornaments for her siblings with a 3D printer, but has yet to take on something this complex.

“I wanted to challenge myself because I have worked with sculpture before, mainly clay,” she said.

The design is made digitally in a 3D model on the computer. Once it is ready to go, it is just a waiting game as the 3D printer makes the design come to life.

Milligan is using Ryerson’s Fabrication Lab to print the dress. The lab opened its doors in early 2017, and now has 23 printers available for FCAD students to use. The cost of printers in The ‘Fab’ Lab ranges from $800 to $5,000, but students only have to pay for the cost of the materials they use.

Jeremy Littler, a technical support worker in the lab, said that the most common type of 3D printing is called fused deposition modelling (FDM).

“The easiest description for it is if you imagine a glue gun — and I think that everybody has used one of those — you are basically pouring material and it builds up layer by layer,” said Littler. “Instead of using glue as the material, you use filament. It gets heated up and melted just like a glue gun.”

The types of filament used to print 3D objects vary in finish, colour, durability and strength.
“You don’t have just the option of a hard plastic, it can be flexible. They can resemble fabric,” said Stephania Stefanakou an employee in the “Fab” Lab with a specialization in 3D fashion garments.

There are not currently any filaments available that feel as soft as fabric like cotton, but according to Stefanakou, the technology is advancing every day.

“I think that 3D printing allows you to push the boundaries of your imagination,” said Stefanakou.
“You are able to do so many things that a sewing machine cannot do. It simplifies the process of pattern drafting and sewing and all of those techniques.”

According to Milligan, the process of 3D printing is a long and tedious one. Just the beading of her dress alone will take 24 hours to print. She estimated that all of the printing will total around 200 hours.

When everything is printed, the dress will be assembled by sewing the 3D printed materials to the base. Milligan said that even though she doesn’t have a background in fashion design, her many years as a “theatre kid” have made her comfortable with a sewing machine.

Milligan’s thesis will be displayed in the new year at the new media thesis showcase.

“For my final exhibition of the dress, I am going to wear it. Imagine Say Yes to the Dress when they come out and stand on the pedestal in front of those three mirrors and their whole family is behind them,” said Milligan.

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