OSLOOM: An Open Source Jacquard Loom

3 Jul

The OSLOOM project has been working for two years to build an open source Jacquard loom. It is one of the first open source textiles projects to receive some funding via Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a website which enables you to solicit donations for a project with a particular stated outcome, and only takes those donations if the amount of money promised reaches your goal. This allows projects to attempt to reach their funding goal from lots of small pledges from individual donors, which is why the general process is called “crowd-funding”.

After raising approximately $10,000, the OSLOOM project has worked away on their project, often with periods of seeming inactivity, but this year seems to have been a busy time for them, and we’re starting to see some results that look like the beginnings of a loom.

An early Jacquard loom

Before we dive into that, however, I imagine some people might be asking, “what exactly is a Jacquard loom”? Names after it’s creator, the Jacquard loom is a programmable loom, which originally used punch cards which specified the pattern of which threads were raised or lowed for each row of the cloth. What differentiates a Jacquard loom from a dobby loom, however, is that the Jacquard loom has individual thread control.

Most looms allow the lifting of a certain set of warp threads by the raising of a shaft which contains heddles through which the warp threads pass. If you raise a certain shaft, all the threads which go through the heddles of that shaft will raise. If you want complex patterns, you can have quite a number of shafts. A sixteen shaft loom, for example, allows the creation of very complex textures and repetitive geometric pattern. What it wont let you do is weave a complex single picture. A Jacquard loom, on the other hand, allows control of individual warp threads, and so lets you weave any possible pattern. While in theory you might assume that this would render every other sort of loom redundant, since a Jacquard loom can weave any pattern that any other loom can, the cost and complexity of a Jacquard loom ensures that this is not the case.

From the latest OSLOOM update

The loom being designed by the OSLOOM project is described as an “electromechanical Jacquard loom”. That is, the control of the raising of warp threads is not performed by a punch card system and mechanical apparatus, but by electronics. The open source hardware movement has been led to a large degree by a number of successful electronics projects, so it’s no surprise that the OSLOOM is powered by an Arduino open source programmable microcontroller board.

As you can see, it’s a far cry from the wooden looms that many hand weavers are using today, and yet it’s modular aluminium construction also looks very different from industrial looms. This is a genuine DIY project that you’ll be able to build yourself (once it’s design is finished), but only if you’re an electronic and metalwork hobbiest.

It seems to me that the OSLOOM project marks the arrival of a new group on the non-industrial textile scene. This is a project driven to some degree by the hackers, makers and geeks who are prevalent in the rise of open source hardware. If this is new to you, go check out Make Magazine for a taste of what this crowd is interested in.

To some degree I’m a member of this crowd too (I’m a computer geek by trade), but my interests also lean towards the handcrafted and historical, so you’ll be seeing a mix of the high tech electronics and the hand cranked and hand carved on this blog.

I’ll look forward to bringing you more information about the OSLOOM project as it becomes available. In the meantime, you can find them at:

The OSLOOM Website
The OSLOOM Kickstarter Page

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