High Tech Machine Embroidery for Surgery

There is a fantastic post over on Mr X Stitch today about Professor Julian Ellis OBE, a recognised expert in the field of Fabric Technologies, and his amazing work exploring the use of embroidery for engineering and surgery. What appears above to be a beautiful machine embroidered design is actually a pioneering medical device used for tissue repair after surgery.

The above device was featured on many of the posters advertising the Extreme Textiles exhibition at the Cooper Hewett National Design Museum (part of the Smithsonian) in New York during 2005. It subsequently was listed as one of the Amazing Inventions of 2005 by Time Magazine. It was also featured in the “Power of Making” exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (tier most successful free exhibition since 1950) during 2011, and has been entered into their permanent collection.

The device was custom designed for a patient who had had a tumour removed from his shoulder and needed extensive reconstruction two years afterwards. The surgeon requested a wide range of possible attachment points so that he could use all the tissue he found in the patient at that later date. Hence this design, which has been described as a “beautiful snowflake”

The process described on Ellis Developments website sounds similarly akin to making machine embroidered lace, where the design is stitched on a water soluble fabric which is then dissolved, leaving only the stitched device. The piece above was designed to repair a rotator cuff. It’s a fascinating look at taking machine embroidery from an amazing modernized art technique to something else entirely, a modern technology marvel.

“Modern embroidery uses sophisticated (and expensive) software dedicated to the quick and easy production of designs for the decoration of garments. Modifications to the use of this software allow fibre arrays to be designed for use as surgical implants with similar facility. This leads to the possibility of customised implants for individual patients. By way of example, we have taken a rough sketch of a component from a surgeon and converted it into an embroidery design, e-mailed it to Pearsalls Limited in Taunton, Somerset, and moved from concept to manufactured product in less than three hours .”

Though machine embroidery has often been spoken of simply as a modernization of an artistic craft, the speed and efficiency that this technology offers lends to all kinds of amazing possibilities for the creation and use of modern textile technology. It gives me new respect when designing with these incredible machines what’s possible with the technology offered today, while still elevating what an amazing and versatile craft embroidery really is.

Go visit the full post over on Mr X Stitch for more images of the amazing machine stitched creations, or see more on the gallery of the Ellis Development website.

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