Tiny glowing dots have been the modus operandi for electronic displays since the TV was first invented. But at a Forever 21 store in New York, you’ll find a giant screen that swaps pixels for spools of coloured thread that quickly align to display low-res images.
The F21 Thread Screen is first and foremost a clever marketing gimmick for the store, but the technology behind the giant display is still pretty slick. It only boasts a measly resolution of 80 by 80 “pixels”, but each dot is created by 6400 spinning spools that align 1.68m long strips of threaded fabric that are dyed 36 different colours along their length.
Those strips of threaded fabric are actually looped back and forth across multiple spindles inside the mechanics of the display so that it’s only about three feet deep, despite those strips being considerably longer. And while compact in size, the Thread Screen still ended up weighing a full ton given the over 200,000 parts inside including countless motors and mechanisms needed to accurately control the positions of all those spools.
If you have no plans to be in New York between now and July 28, you can still interact with and experience the F21 Thread Screen online via its website. There you’ll find a livestream of the display, and you can send your own images to it by posting a photo to Instagram and tagging it with #F21ThreadScreen. Just don’t be disappointed when the beautifully detailed image snapped by your smartphone’s hi-res camera ends up losing a good chunk of resolution and colour fidelity in the process.