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Photo: Laura Devendorf.

The Art and Physicality of Parenthood

A smart fabric-making mother reflects on the embodied impact of childcare during the pandemic.

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Wearable tech (think: Fitbit) is “in” right now, it tracks everything from our steps to our heart rate. But for University of Colorado information technology professor and mother Laura Devendorf, her own research in “smart” fabrics is less about data tracking and more about being seen and understood.

As part of an artistic exploration of technology in fabric, Devendorf designed and hand-wove a poncho with 13 sensors that map out the forces her children exert on her body, through being picked up and held, for example. “I just got really interested in if my clothes could remember my experiences, or if they could form a map. If I did have this kind of garment, from when my children were born to when they grew up, how would I see them kind of travel across my body?” Devendorf says.

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During the beginnings of the pandemic, she created Wear, a full gown integrated with circuitry that marked the physical impacts of parenting during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“On a personal level, it was a way for me to cope,” Devendorf says. “It also formed a small community that’s been really valuable to me in terms of just feeling supported and being able to offer support to other people. It becomes a way to nod at somebody like, ‘Yeah, I see you. We’re doing this.’” 

Explore Devendorf’s art-meets-science works, including a video tracking the creation of the Wear gown, at artfordorks.com.

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