Electromagnetic Field: A Hacked Knitting Machine, Knitting the Universe

A large hacker camp attracts attendees from all over the world, and at the recent Electromagnetic Field in the UK there were certainly plenty of international visitors. Probably one of those with the longest journey was [Sarah Spencer] from Australia, and she deserves our admiration not just for her work but also for devoting much of her meagre luggage space to the installation she’d brought over for the event. In the lounge tent you could find the Knitted Universe, a map of the night sky with light-up Neopixel constellations covering an entire wall, and among the talks you could find her in-depth description of how  she created it by hacking a 1980s Brother knitting machine into a network printer.

She starts with a potted history of knitting machine hacking, leading to the use of an emulated floppy drive replacing the mechanical item used to store scanned designs on the original hardware. She took an existing hack for a 16-bit Brother knitting machine and re-wrote it for her later 32-bit model, and then created a web interface for it called Octoknit which runs upon a Raspberry Pi. We’re then taken through the operation of a knitting machine and her further adventures in reverse engineering the file format. She ends up with a dithered 4-colour image, but there remains a problem. On the Brother, colour changes are performed by pressing a button, so something to automate the process was required. This task was taken on by her husband, who created an Arduino-driven mechanical button-presser in what had become a team effort. With this in place her only manual task became a periodic adjustment of the weight that preserves the tension in the finished knit.

Finally she moves on to the Knitted Universe itself, which at that point had become something of a viral sensation.  Those of us who have created hacker camp installations will appreciate the volume of work that went into the piece, and she truly deserves the applause at the end of the talk. Watch it below the break, it’s a fascinating half-hour.

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THP Entry: All Yarns Are Beautiful

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There are a lot of builds out there that retrofit modern electronics into ancient knitting machines. The ability to print in yarn is very cool, but when you look at the total costs of these projects – especially the ancient Brother KH-930 knitting machines – these projects start getting very expensive. A much cheaper solution to these $700 knitting machines is the Brother KH-910 model, the first of its kind, and a machine that can be purchased for about $100. For their entry into The Hackaday Prize, [chris007] and [andz] put modern electronics into this slightly less capable knitting machine, turning what was once old junk into something with the same capabilities of a much more expensive machine.

The more expensive KH-930 and -940 knitting machines are fairly impressive pieces of technology, controlled with a floppy drive, and can be retrofitted with a serial cable to upload patterns. This is the basis of the Electro-knit and Knitic, but they simply don’t work with the Brother KH-910, a machine programmed with a primitive scanner and semi-transparent picture cards. It’s like the difference between punch cards and a disk drive, really.

[chris] and [andz]’s new controller for the Brother KH-910 is based on the Arduino, acting as a connection between a PC and the 200 solenoids and pins inside the knitting machine. That in itself is impressive – now, instead of being limited to 60-pixel wide yarn prints, the Brother KH-910 can use its full width, limited only by your arm strength and amount of yarn.


SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.

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Giving a CNC knitting machine a new brain

We’re all about big machines that build things for us – laser cutters, CNC mills, and 3D printers are the machines de rigueur for Hackaday.  Too often we overlook the softer sides of fabrication that include textiles and knitting. [varvara] and [mar] are doing their best to bring us the softer side of things with their modification of a Brother knitting machine. They call their build Knitic, and it’s a great way to knit with computer control.

Instead of previous Brother knitting machine hacks we’ve seen, Knitic doesn’t bother with emulating the keypad or controlling the microprocessor already there; this build dispenses with the Brother brain and controls the solenoids and switches of the knitting machine directly with the help of an Arduino and a home-etched shield.

It’s not quite an automated knitting machine – someone still has to run the shuttle across the machine – but the patterns are controlled via a Processing app available on the Knitic github. You can check out [Varvara]’s demo of Kinitic after the break.

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