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This Digital Loom is More Than Just a Desktop Fabric Printer—It's the Future of DIY Fashion

An artist is developing a desktop loom to make fabric production hands on.

What if, instead of going shopping for new clothes, you can just download fabric patterns and weave clothing from your home computer? That’s one of the possibilities suggested by the open-source desktop, Jacquard loom that artist Pamela Liou is currently developing, but the project has the potential to be much more than just a fabric printer.

The term “Jacquard” comes from the name of the man who invented the process of using perforated cards to input pattern designs into the first automated looms, just like the punch cards used to input data for the first IBM computers. Jacquard looms are considered one of the earliest computing devices, and it seems only natural that in the age of portable digital devices we should have an equally portable digital loom. According to Liou, the only computerized Jacquard looms available are “very expensive, and difficult to get access to.” So, to bridge the gap between traditional hand-weaving looms and their unobtainable, automated cousins, the Dot-Matrix Loom, which Liou lovingly nicknamed “Doti,” was born.

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An early version of Liou’s Loom that she made for her thesis project in NYU’s Interactive Telecommunication Program.

Liou tells The Creators Project, “I see Doti as a prototyping tool, analogous to the desktop 3D printer for its ability to rapidly produce a wide variety of designs." It’s not just the size of the Doti loom that sets it apart from commercial Jacquard looms, it uses an entirely different mechanism as well. The Doti loom uses electric motors instead of the hydraulics used by commercial Jacquard looms. The advantage of this from Liou’s perspective is that it makes the loom more flexible because “you can add as many motors on your machine as you’d like, in multiples of four.” The process of using the Doti loom is also much more hands-on than a commercial loom, since the mechanism that creates the pattern is automated, and the loom itself is not, the user must pass a strand of fiber back and forth across it as she works.

Traditional weavers might balk at the notion of a motorized loom being compared to a desktop printer, but Liou doesn’t necessarily intend for Doti users to just make their own clothes with it. “Doti doesn’t produce traditionally commercial-grade Jacquard wovens yet—nor is that the goal, really—but it can help a textile production house iterate through different designs, and really dial in their draft patterns without having to send out tech packs and samples overseas, a process that takes months,” Liou explains.

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An automated mechanism creates the pattern, but the loom itself is not automated and requires the user to pass a strand of fiber back and forth as she works.

Liou’s thinking is that in the past, when more clothing had to be made at home, the general population was more conscious of garment quality and able to make informed purchases. Now that so much garment manufacturing takes place overseas, our understanding of textile and garment production have become increasingly abstract, and it can be difficult for us to know exactly what the value of a garment is supposed to be. These circumstances serve to benefit the commercial textile industry more than anyone, which is why Liou emphasises the importance of Doti as a tool to empower garment consumers.

“A hands-on machine like this really forces the user to confront that objects are made rather than conjured from thin air,” says Liou. She finds this is especially true when it comes to teaching children to use the loom, “When kids see the connection between what they design with a computer interface and how the machine physically reconciles that design in a material—a lightbulb goes off.”

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Liou at work on her open-source desktop Jacquard loom. All images courtesy of Pamela Liou.

Doti is still in development, and although Liou is currently working on making finished garments with it, it seems that Doti isn’t so much a DIY fabric printer as a key to unlocking the barriers to the commercial fashion kingdom, or a crowbar for prying open the gates! The focus of the project is on social fabric, rather than woven fabric, and as Liou explains, “I’m far more interested in building communities than building a company.”

Liou is featured in a video about her recent residency at Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, and she is currently a resident artist in the Open Studios Program at The Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan. Stop by and see her and Doti in action on Sundays throughout the summer.

Related:

The Thread Wrapping Machine Creates Furniture By Wrapping Its Parts In A Cocoon Of String

Weaving the Future of Textiles with Google's Project Jacquard

Haute and Heavy: Exploring the Possibilities of Computational Fashion