Poetry is the Fruit of this Loom

We’d wager that most people reading these words have never used a loom before. Nor have most of you churned butter, or ridden in a horse-drawn wagon. Despite these things being state of the art technology at one point, today the average person is only dimly aware of their existence. In the developed world, life has moved on. We don’t make our own clothes or grow our own crops. We consume, but the where and how of production has become nebulous to us.

[David Heisserer] and his wife [Danielle Everine], believe this modern separation between consumption and production is a mistake. How can we appreciate where our clothing comes from, much less the people who make it, without understanding the domestic labor that was once required to produce even a simple garment? In an effort to educate the public on textile production in a fun and meaningful way, they’ve created a poetry printing loom called Meme Weaver.

The Meme Weaver will be cranking out words of woolen wisdom at the Northern Spark Festival taking place June 15th and 16th in downtown Minneapolis. If any Hackaday readers in the area get a chance to check out the machine, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. Take photos! Just don’t blame us if you have a sudden urge to make all of your clothing afterwards.

Equal parts Guitar Hero and Little House on the Prairie, the Meme Weaver merely instructs the user on how to weave the fabric, it doesn’t do it for them. Lights and sounds provided by an Arduino Mega and Adafruit FX board indicate which levers to pull, with the end goal being the creation of a two-inch wide strip of hand-woven fabric that contains a poem or quote. The act of weaving the fabric by hand combined with the personalized nature of the text is intended to create a meaningful link between the finished product and the labor used to create it.

But how does it work? The operation of the machine seems mysterious to modern eyes, which arguably reinforces the point [David] and [Danielle] are trying to make in the first place. The levers on the front are moving heddles on the opposite side of the machine, which control the path the yarn takes through the loom.

By raising and lowering the white yarn, it’s possible to print text in what is essentially an ultra-low-resolution dot matrix. When the heddle levers are locked into place (thanks to electromagnets triggered by microswitches), the user then passes the shuttle through the loom, and finally pulls the lever that tightens up the completed line with what’s known as the beater. If that seems complex to your modern mind, imagine trying to explain an Arduino to somebody in the 1800’s.

If all this talk of weaving has caught your interest, you could always 3D print yourself a loom of your own. Then when you get tired of doing it by hand, you can upgrade to a Raspberry Pi powered version and start the whole cycle over again.

14 thoughts on “Poetry is the Fruit of this Loom

  1. basically a low res manual jaquard loom: the first use of digital pixel based arts from the early 19 century. google it and be amazed at the state of the art technology from that era.

    1. The Museum of Science and Technology in Manchester, England has a large room with a guide who will take you through the process of ginning cotton to running the loom. When I was there, at my request, they ran their Jaquard.

    1. Likewise 3 for 3. Maybe its because I’m an old f*rt.
      Seriously though, if you have never done any of those three, what on earth have you been doing with your life?
      24×7 Minecraft?
      ( ItsThatIdiotAgain goes back to rocking his chair on the porch and yelling “git orf mah lawn!” at anybody passing by…)

  2. “We consume, but the where and how of production has become nebulous to us.”

    True – especially meat – chickens, cows, sheep (young ones and and full grown), pigs, fish etc. We don’t really want to think about how they got into the cold shelf at the supermarket :)

      1. vandals need poetic scarves too you know.

        There once was a dimwitted vandal,
        Who set fire to his beard with a candle,
        As the flames burnt his nose,
        He reached down to his toes,
        Then smacked his visage with his sandal.

  3. I went to Northern Spark and snapped some photos while I waited in line.
    [David Heisserer] and his wife [Danielle Everine] were maintaining the machine while four participants at a time operated it. They had their hands full since the instructions were merely, “Follow the voice prompts.” Attendees were completely the ones making these ribbons.
    Here are the photos I took
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/TkeKAWm5cSe6v4KRA

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