According to the figures released by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 2017, the percentage of women opted for breast reconstruction surgery after a mastectomy had increased by 65% between 2009 and 2014. Nevertheless, most women, especially those coming from a relatively younger age group, chose “going flat” as they do not wish to have additional medical procedures after their breast cancer treatment. 

Often, women may find themselves not being able to purchase new bras after mastectomy because customary retail only cater to standard sizing. Although mastectomy bras are made available, they are meant to hold prosthetic breasts, which may not necessarily fit the needs of those who had undergone a single mastectomy or chose to go flat. 

Algorithmic couture 

Algorithmic couture is an emerging field of bespoke tailoring which employs 3D body printing and machine learning (ML) algorithms. Designer and faculty of Georgia Institute of Technology, Lisa Marks, had recently combined this new way of clothes making with traditional handicraft, to create personalized bras for women who had been through a mastectomy. Known as the Algorithmic Lace bra, the design comes with two advantages. First, it does not have underwire, which may lead to discomfort or even post-surgical pain for the wearer. Second, patterns on the bras are able to produce a visual illusion of symmetry and curves. 

Marks began by taking a 3D body scan of the wearer. She then cut these shapes into foam using a computer-controlled cutting device or CNC (computer numerical control) router. These foam busts will allow craftsperson to hand-weave the bras in 3D condition. Marks had chosen Croatian bobbin lace, a traditional weaving method that requires threads to twist and braid around pins that are positioned to form the pattern. 

ML is used to determine the right pattern that enhances symmetry and curves. Marks will digitally map these patterns onto the foam busts, before printing them out so that craftsperson can create the lace. Marks had purposely kept the final step of the bra making process machine-free, to support the traditional crafts communities and ensure they sustain together with the latest technologies. 

Integration of the past and present 

Marks thought while other bras may be of practical use in everyday lives, one may choose the Algorithmic Lace for special occasions or intimate moments. Marks won the Lexus Design Award 2019 in Milan for her innovation. During the award ceremony, she pointed out the intricate relationships between algorithms and traditional handicrafts. 

“When we think of algorithms, we usually think of computers and the high-tech industry, but the textile industry is where algorithms were first deployed as a means to realize new aesthetic choices in fabrics during the 19thcentury,” Marks said. 

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Author Bio
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Hazel Tang

A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.