Ease is a line of durable, comfortable shirts created for Eliza, an 11-year-old girl with autism, as part of the MIT Open Style Lab 2016 summer program. In addition to being on the severe end of the Autism Spectrum, Eliza has OCD, and compulsively rips through the seams of her clothes - her clothing typically only lasts between one day and one month. Elizabeth Riley (occupational therapist), Uma Desai (engineer), and I (designer) sought to create a durable clothing solution for Eliza that addressed her ripping behavior and sensory preferences, ultimately allowing her to focus on developing her social skills without being distracted by her clothes.
Custom repeat pattern designed from Eliza's paper mosaic artwork and digitally printed onto fabric
Eliza and her mother displaying Ease at the White House's "Design for All" showcase
Establishing our design requirements by evaluating our variables and constraints; testing different materials with Eliza to get a sense of her ripping capabilities
We hypothesized that Eliza would prefer a tighter fitting shirt that gave her some proprioceptive feedback over a loose fitting shirt due to her sensory preferences. To test this, we gave her a loose t-shirt to wear and she did not like it at all, showing visible signs of discomfort and trying to take it off. When wearing our first prototype,she seemed very comfortable, and did not pull at the shirt like she normally does with her other shirts. So, it was confirmed that Eliza prefers tighter fitting clothing, and we took this consideration into the final design.
We tested multiple seam and hem options for strength and durability, including Bemis® bonded seams, laser cut edges, ultrasonic welding, and coating seams with silicone. After narrowing down the seam options to bonded seams and ultrasonic welding, we tested both options in an Instron machine for tensile strength (below) and found bonded seams to be the strongest. On the right. Eliza rips through one of our hem options.
Results from testing the bonded seam for tensile strength in an Instron machine. The sample withstood 293 N of force before breaking, and when it did break, it broke at the fabric as opposed to the seam.
Evaluating shirt fit and range of motion with Eliza.