Manual looms have existed for so long that nobody really knows exactly when they were invented, but they’ve been an important tool for as long as anyone remembers. During the industrial revolution, powered looms were invented and made textiles cheaper to produce than ever before. Then, in the digital age, computer-controlled looms became popular because they could weave new patterns at the push of a button. Despite being operated by a computer, however, they’re still very complex machines with many parts. That’s why Kurt Schaefer’s 3D-printed, computer-controlled Jacquard loom is so impressive.
Schaefer decided to tackle this project after buying his son a simple manual loom for Christmas. Just on Christmas Day, his son was able to weave a entire scarf. Schaefer thought it would be interesting to try and design a 3D-printed loom that was controlled by a computer, and spent the next year and a half doing exactly that. Each thread on the loom needs to be able to be moved, which often means that computer-controlled looms actuate a cam for every thread individually with solenoids. But that’s expensive and quite complicated. Instead, Shaefer’s design works using just two stepper motors.
The first stepper motor is used to sweep the carriage back and forth, and the second motor is used to select the cam to be toggled. Shaefer’s final design iteration has a total of 60 cams, so that’s no small feat. In order to index the cams properly, he ended up using an IR sensor to find their positions. By doing that, his design locks out all of the cams except one. That can then be toggled, and the loom can proceed to the next operation. That’s much slower than industrial computer-controlled looms, but it’s also far more affordable. It even works with imprecise 3D-printed parts, which is something traditional industrial looms would struggle with. Now, the finished loom is capable of weaving whatever patterns Schaefer chooses from an iPhone app over Bluetooth.