Published: Oct. 12, 2021

Clothing created for future useBy definition, heirlooms are sentimental objects passed down from previous generations to treasure. Their usefulness has typically passed.

Sasha de Koninck, a researcher with the ATLAS Institute's Unstable Design Lab, an artist, and an Intermedia Art, Writing and Performance PhD student, takes a different approach: She creates “future heirlooms,” garments made for others with the idea they will preserve them for future use.

To do this, participants describe to her a scene they envision in their future, such as walking to the same park every day.

They describe what the park will smell like and what they will see and hear, as well as the characteristics of the garment, such as being resilient to four seasons or being small enough to fold into a backpack. 

Based on the description, de Koninck designs and creates a “future heirloom,” with traditional textile techniques such as quilting, patchwork and embroidery, in combination with technical and novel materials. 

With the leftover materials from each future heirloom, de Koninck makes a quilt, which then becomes the lab's future heirloom; the garments are sent to their recipients.

“We do not want to assume what technology will look like in a time we cannot imagine, and so we work with tools and materials that we already have,” de Koninck says. “An antique heirloom is a reflection of the time it was created in; so is a future heirloom.”

Rather than a used object preserved to be handed down, Future Heirlooms are meant to be used up, and worn out, much like the antique heirlooms, de Koninck adds. But instead of then preserving them again, they are to be repaired, refashioned or recycled. The future heirloom’s technical purpose does not end when the material wears away, de Koninck says.

"We are living in uncertain times, some might even say, ambiguous times," she says.  "The Internet of Things is evolving into the Internet of Disposable Things. Our technology is becoming smaller and cheaper to produce. We are creating so much waste, and have no way of processing it."

De Koninck presented her future heirloom project, The Research Lab of Ambiguous Futurology, at the "Making and Doing" exhibition at the 4S hybrid conference, held Oct. 6-9, both in Toronto and virtually. She will also present her project as part of the Responsible Fashion Series, a hybrid conference to be held at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, Oct. 20-22.

In March de Koninck hosted a virtual “Future Heirlooms Workshop” at the Textiles from Home: Local Crafts, Global Conversations Conference. During the workshop, participants worked with materials to create a future textile heirloom to be used for a specific future moment.