Clothing generally moves with the body of the wearer, but a new pursuit that interweaves textiles and robotics results in clothes that move on their own.

Designer Lea Albaugh, who calls her work wearable technologies and apparel, recently spoke at the Frank Ratchye Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon, where she has been a Research Fellow.

In a presentation called “Clothing for Moderns,” an ironic reference to a 1950s fashion handbook, the twenty-something Carnegie Mellon graduate featured her own “soft actuated” fabric creations. “The actual project is two outfits, clothes to be worn that can move under their own power,” she says. “One for a cocktail party and one for a boring office job.”

The outfits are fantasies, not intended to be viable projects, she notes. “One is a fantasy of being camoflauged and not having to deal with a social situation and the other one is for intimating your boring boss who doesn’t understand you,” she explains. “Like the Gilbert thing although there’s more of a feminist twist.”

Albaugh brings together old-fashioned tailoring techniques with hands-on mechanical fabrication and computer coding skills to make her work. The Clothing for Moderns Cocktail Dress uses smocking in which cloth pleats are embroidered and combined with thin robotically actuated wires. The resulting Dutch collar can rise or fall in relation to the wearer’s face, depending on her degree of introversion or extroversion, which Albaugh coyly enacts in a short video.

“I see potential in computer-controlled, actuated clothing—we have the potential for it but there aren’t a lot of designers working on it,” she says. While she notes that there is a lot of interest in computer-enhanced clothing—light up clothing using LEDs—it’s very limiting since you can only change color. “I feel like there needs to be more work in this medium in an attempt to inspire other people,” she says.

Part of her presentation was an assessment of similar practitioners today. She admires artist Anouk Wipprecht, creator of the aptly named “Smoke Dress,” as well as Lucy McRae, who made an iconic dress of fluid-filled tubes for Swedish recording artist Robyn’s “Indestructible” video.

Albaugh embraces maker culture and encourages observers to make their own robotic clothing, In addition to these fantasy pieces, she works as a freelance consultant to Disney when she’s not designing video games or repairing vintage sewing machines. Learn more about her here.

Charles Rosenblum is a journalist, critic, and scholar who specializes in the built environment and visual arts. His work has appeared in Architectural Record, Preservation, Architect’s Newspaper, Public Art Review, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly. Charles has taught history and theory of art and architecture at Carnegie Mellon University since 1998.