Sensory Silhouettes

Experiencing South Asian Garments

The Virtual Textiles Research Group (VTRG) has developed an immersive digital journey exploring the sensory silhouettes of these works from the RISD Museum collection.

Garments are made to be worn.

South Asian textiles come alive through wrapping, pleating, tucking, and draping. Unfortunately, many textiles from museum collections are too fragile to be exhibited this way.


An artisan pleats a sari made by Studio Medium in New Delhi.

Clip from The Sari Series by Border & Fall.

Understanding how textiles are made is important to translating their sensory properties to virtual materials 


The touchable bandhani is made by an in-house artisan at Studio Medium in New Delhi, India. The tiny hand-tied knots vary in size and density to produce a wide range of tactile effects. In this example, the knots remain in place to give a sense of the process. Typically they would be untied after dyeing to reveal a popcorn-like texture.

Digital material modeling can bring historical textiles and garments to life.


Here the museum’s thirma bagh phulkari  is modeled to enhance the velvety feel of the satin-stitch embroidery. 


This has been achieved by parametrically modeling the woven ground and embroidery overlay as two digital materials, and then combining them. Stitch density is one parameter built into the model that can be varied to give a sense of the textile's texture.

From digital materials to 3D models

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The thirma bagh phulkari is modeled as two separate digital materials and then brought into CLO3D, a virtual garment-simulation tool. 

What are digital materials?

Digital materials are created using physically based renderings (PBRs) that separate the textile's surface texture into multiple optical channels.   

Doing this provides a more accurate picture of how different materials and textures interact with light in a virtual environment. 

Sensory Silhouettes: 

A new approach to digital materials

VTRG has developed an innovative approach to creating digital materials that convey the sensory silhouettes of historic textiles. 

This digital artwork was made in response to key words pulled from the Soundwalk sensory descriptions of the patolu sari, creating an immersive digital experience of the physical artifact.

Digital materials were modeled using sensory visual descriptions, capturing topographical textile information, and then creating a 3D simulation. 

The patolu sari with zari border inspired this digital material.

Imagine if you were to experience the language, sound, feeling, smell, and taste of the world of these textiles.

Experience the exhibit as a silhouette of sensory experiences by accessing the Soundwalk using the QR code. 


Joy Ko, critic, Textiles and Industrial Design, RISD 

Virtual Textiles Research Group (VTRG): Joy Ko; Caroline Silverman, critic, Textiles; Yukti V. Agarwal, Brown / RISD Dual Degree 2024.5, Psychology / Contemplative Studies / Textiles / THAD; Latika Balachander, RISD MFA 2024, Textiles; Dani Epstein, RISD MID 2024; Yutong Li, RISD MFA 2025, Textiles; Sarah Mann, RISD MID 2024; Yue Xu, RISD BFA 2024, Textiles 

In collaboration with Catherine Andreozzi, professor, Apparel, RISD; and Sheela Lunkad, founder, DirectCreate. Touchable bandhani made by Studio Medium / Riddhi Jain in collaboration with Alexandra Soiseth, RISD MFA 2023, Textiles

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