‘Looming Hell

I don’t remember what I was doing when first I stumbled upon The Interlace Project – a “practice-based research project that combines the traditional manufacturing techniques of spinning and weaving with emergent e-textile technologies” – and ordinarily I wouldn’t have given it another though, but as I’d had some exposure to weaving courtesy of my friend Emma, I figured I’d investigate further.

Keeping true to their premise of “Open Source Weaving”, they offer two loom designs for download, along with tutorials on how to build them and instructions on how to use them.

The Frame loom is a simple yet efficient design which lets you laser cut all the components you need out of a sheet of 3mm MDF measuring no more than 15x20cm. On the contrary, the Rigid Heddle Loom is a more complex affair requiring more, yet readily available, materials to build.

I sent the link to Emma, asking if it was something she’d be interested in, and to no one’s surprise she immediately responded that she’d love to have the Rigid Heddle loom. I countered with the offer of building the Frame loom instead.

Thanks to my membership of Cheltenham Hackspace I had access to a laser cutter, but even though I’ve used one before I’d forgotten most of what I’d previously learned. Thankfully, everyone that I’ve met at the space have been really nice and helpful, and James, one of the directors, was happy to spend a couple of hours one Wednesday evening showing me how it worked.

The design gets loaded into the laser cutter software, and modified to match the colours required for each of the three functions it’s capable of, red for vector cutting, blue for vector etching, and black for raster etching. Apparently vector etching isn’t very reliable, so it was recommended to avoid it if possible.

Unlike the last laser cutter I used, which was able to calculate the speed and intensity of the laser automatically based on the material settings you chose, this one needed you to set these values manually. Thankfully there was a chart of all the laser cutter compatible materials available and their relevant settings. There was also a chart of all the materials which must not be used in the laser cutter (did you know PVC emits chlorine gas when cut with a laser?)

I must admit, I pretty much just stood in awe as James configured everything on the computer, placed the sheet of MDF in the machine, aligned the laser head, and started the first of three runs. It was done in three to ensure the inner components were successful, before moving outward, else an outer cut could cause the middle to fall slightly, resulting in an out of focus laser which might prevent the cut from succeeding.

All in all, the cutting process took about 16 minutes, and cost the princely sum of £3.60 (£2 for the 60x40cm sheet of MDF, the vast majority of which remained unused, and £1.60 for the laser time).

Much like the Inkle loom, I have no idea how this works, but Emma does, so I’ll send it to her shortly, and will post updates of her creations in the future.

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