Open Source Computer Controlled Loom Weaves Pikachu For You

The origin story of software takes us back past punch card computers and Babbage’s Difference Engine to a French weaver called Joseph Marie Jacquard. Jacquard created a way to automate mechanical looms, giving weavers the ability to change a loom’s pattern by simply switching punch cards. This invention not only made it possible to produce detailed fabrics in a vastly simplified way, it was an extremely important conceptual step in the development of computer programming, influencing Babbage’s development of the Analytical Engine amongst many other things.

So, when [Kurt] saw his son’s enthusiasm for weaving on a simple loom, he started thinking about how he could pay homage to the roots of software by designing and building an open source computer controlled loom. He knew this was going to be difficult: looms are complex machines with hundreds of small parts. [Kurt] wrestled with wonky carriage movements, cam jams, hook size disasters and plenty of magic smoke from motor control boards. After a year and a half of loom hacking he succeeded in making a 60 thread computer controlled loom, driven by an iPhone app using Bluetooth.

As well as writing up the story of this build on his blog, linked above, [Kurt] has also has made all of his design files, PCB layouts, firmware and code available on GitLab.

We’ve featured a few weaving hacks over the years, including this cheap, simple 3D printable loom and a Jacquard inspired bitmap display.

Fun, informative build video after the cut.

Thanks to [watsaig] for the tip.

17 thoughts on “Open Source Computer Controlled Loom Weaves Pikachu For You

  1. This is awesome! I especially love the serial mechanism for setting an arbitrary number of hooks using only two motors. I’ve seen other attempts to do something similar, but they either used muscle wire or solenoids for each hook, and got bogged down with reliability issues when controlling so many outputs.

    1. Yes, I didn’t want to start out with “First buy 80 solenoids”. The prices for steppers/controllers/low grade linear bearings made this a pretty cheap way to go, but with the down side of being pretty slow. I did see some of those other loom attempts. (The muscle wire one, etc) I always felt like they were concentrating a little too much on the heddle mechanism, and too little on the loom part of the loom. That might be one reason they didn’t end up with much in the way of visible output. You really need both to work. I’d like to work on figuring out a way to make the loom faster since the wider you make the loom the slower the weaving gets and even at 60 threads it’s pretty slow going.

      1. There’s a somewhat similar bluetooth-controlled toy loom for making friendship bracelets – I think it has a total of 8 warp threads, and it uses a delightfully cheap scheme where it has 2 cams that each control a group of 4 hooks. The cams just rotate to 1 of 16 positions that cover every combo of the 4 hooks being raised/lowered.

        You could probably come up with a reasonable design like that where you have 1 stepper controlling a group of 4-6 hooks, and then N steppers as required. That might be a nicer trade-off between speed and simplicity.

        Or you could just go all-mechanical and use actual punch cards like my pixel weaver =)

        1. Oh interesting. Ja I’d seen pics of that 8 warp thread toy, but didn’t know how it worked internally. That’s kind of a neat idea with the cams, but that would still be 15 motors for the 60 thread count. That Pixel Weaver project is pretty cool. I hadn’t seen that.

          1. You can cheat and cut that number in half by having a clutch mechanism so that driving the stepper in one direction rotates one cam, and driving it in the other direction rotates the other cam. I think that’s what the toy one actually does (toy designers are absurdly clever when it comes to being thrifty). I think some dual-extruder heads for 3D printers use similar schemes to drive two filaments with a single stepper (at the cost of giving up on retraction).

  2. What a fun project, and what an interesting video to watch (I like the style). I’m not into looming at all, but the technological challenges I can understand. Thanks for posting.

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