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.

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Jacquard Loom Becomes A Display

The world’s leading expert on mechanical computers wasn’t [Charles Babbage]; sure, he could design stuff, but eventually you need to actually build something. We are now graced with the expertise of [Chris Fenton]. He’s built mechanical calculators, a mechanical digital computer, and now a mechanical display inspired by the Jacquard loom.

[Chris] calls his creation the PixelWeaver, and the name isn’t far from the truth; it’s a 32-hook Jacquard style punch card reader that could be mounted over a small loom. Instead of weaving rugs and fabric, the PixelWeaver controls a 6×5 black and white display.

The PixelWeaver is built out of t-slot aluminum, 3D printed parts, and a web of thread to transfer motion from rotating cams to ratchets and pixels. The display itself is heavily inspired by a Lego mechanical display, and the cards that store the data for the display are laser-cut plywood. Interestingly, there’s nothing in this machine that couldn’t have been made 150 years ago; it’s the same technology used to weave rugs, although the necessity of a bitmap display in the Victorian era is a bit questionable.

You can see a few videos of the PixelWeaver below. If you’re wondering what else has come out of [Chris]’ mechanical computing lab, check out his digital computer and Fibonacci calculating set of gears. For a real treat, here’s a machine that will calculate all primes under 1000 in 30 years.

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CNC Jacquard Loom Will Weave Anything

The Jacquard loom, invented in the early 1800s, used punched cards to manufacture relatively complex textiles such as damask and brocade. These punched cards were eventually used by census workers, mechanical calculators, early analog computers, the earliest digital computers, and even the humble Arduino.

That doesn’t mean the Jacquard loom was left in the 17th century, though. This one made it to the Open Hardware Summit in New York last week and it was so cool the organizers of the Maker Faire graciously found space for it.

The entire loom is controlled by computer – no punched cards required – and is build out of inexpensive aluminum extrusion. It can also make any two color graphic into a textile (yes, even the Hackaday logo). The loom wasn’t quite operational during the one day it spent at Maker Faire, but we’ve been promised updates in the future.