Since my last post about weaving way back in December, we've been continuing to try different approaches to tinkering with textiles. It's been an interesting journey, with lots of discoveries (and challenges!) along the way. Here's an overview of some of the big ideas we've experimented with.
My initial excitement for exploring weaving as a topic came from its connections to computational thinking. With that starting point in mind, I did some research into computational connections and stumbled across this post on Medium that linked to a Processing file for a "digital loom." With this code, you can play with changing variables to adjust color and pattern. My knowledge of Processing is pretty limited, so most of my exploration was around linking changes to variables to noticeable outcomes that affect the pattern. I definitely made some mistakes along the way, but eventually got the hang of knowing which variable to change to get the outcome I was looking for.
While the digital loom was a fun foray into incorporating technology, the question remained, how could we turn these patterns into physical woven objects? For help on that, I turned to our longtime collaborator Stacy Speyer. In addition to designing playful ways to explore polyhedra, Stacy is also a talented weaver and knows tons about ways to make connections between math and the physical world. She introduced us to a software platform iWeaveit that allows you to create digital designs that can be easily translated on a loom. We spent a few afternoons tinkering with designs on the software then using her table loom to translate them to a woven piece of cloth. Which brings me to our next phase of prototyping...
Playing with Real Tools
Having the opportunity to prototype with a real table loom was one of my favorite parts of the process. Using the loom makes creating fabric go really smoothly and quickly. It's amazing to me that lifting and lowering levers can make patterns appear so quickly. Our friends at MAKESHOP at the Children's Museum Pittsburgh have a floor loom they keep out all the time for visitors as an exhibit; they use all sorts of interesting found materials for weaving, and keep the experience very open ended. I'd love to be able to try something like this in the Tinkering Studio someday.
Making the Materials Accessible
Since at the moment we're not equipped to have a workshop full of real looms for visitors, we brainstormed other ways of making the process more accessible by using simple, everyday materials. One idea we came across was that of a cardboard loom. By cutting evenly spaced notches into sheets of cardboard and looping threads of yarn into those spots, you can effectively make a simple loom structure for needle weaving. The photo below shows an early prototype where I sketched a pattern by hand, then wove it using a cardboard loom. There are sections of plain weave above and below the zigzag pattern.
While the process of needle weaving is much more accessible in terms of tools and materials, once you've tried a real loom it feels a lot more...tedious. I tried to design a pattern on iWeaveit then create it in real life using the cardboard loom, but I only got a few layers in before deciding to take an extended break because it took forever.
One material that helped solve this for me was chunky knitting yarn. It's really bulky, so the process goes a lot faster. One good discovery we made was that the narrow looms are good for plain weave, but are less helpful if you want to develop a pattern since there's limited space to work with.
As a next step, we'll be trying this process on the floor with visitors sometime this summer after Maker Faire. I still have lots of questions about this activity. How can we make it more tinkerable? Are there ways to make the connections between weaving and computation clearer without making it feel like a force fit? What's the line between exploring a process and following step-by-step instructions for this activity? How can we relate this practice to the cultural traditions of weaving found all over the world? Even though we don't have these questions answered yet, I think this puts us in a good place for future exploration with visitors to the Tinkering Studio because we'll have so much to learn!