Crafting our Digital Future

As part of V&A Digital Design Weekend 2015


Anna Dumitriu and Alex May

With the rapid development of digital fabrication technologies, 3D printers are gradually turning into a commodity that every creative studio have at hand. In 2010, Kurman and Lipson wrote about the phenomena of a factory at home and one-person industries, which is not only a vision or a prediction but already a reality. At the same time, DIY spaces such as fablabs and makerspaces are focusing on the production of hard-surface objects, while the first digital fabrication tool, the electronic knitting machine, which dates back to 1976, has been forgotten and discontinued. Furthermore, factories and home is what we already saw in 19th century when the first knitting machines were invented and women were enabled to work from home. In our opinion, this kind of home knitting factory continues to exist and allows women, especially in Eastern Europe, to earn some income. Unfortunately, all these knitters are working with outdated knitting machines from 1980s, using punched cards and floppy disks to upload patterns to their machines.

Within this context, we saw the need for a contemporary knitting machine, which follows the principles of digital fabrication – it’s replicable and uses open source technology. We started our research on knitting machines in 2012 by hacking and developing a new interface for the Brother electronic knitting machine. We developed a board called Knitic, which enables the control of obsolete machines and knit patterns via a computer. While developing Knitic, we already had in our minds that the future would be an open source knitting machine that can be made using digital fabrication tools. Our idea became reality towards the end of 2014 when we released Circular Knitic, an open source replicable circular knitting machine produced with digital fabrication and maker tools, like 3D printing, laser cutting, Arduino, and makerbeam. Circular Knitic also demonstrates that 3D printers are able to print different machines apart from the 3D printer itself.

The core idea behind the project and our research is to integrate textile fabrication to the maker culture. We strongly believe that craft can benefit from contemporary technologies and also other way round, we believe textile production has lots of potential in terms of innovation. There are many benefits to this new field, to name a few: desktop fabrication or knitting is still an undiscovered area; it can contribute to gender balance in communities of fabbers and makers; and let’s not forget fashion sector, where designers are eager to work with knitted garments and make small-scale or unique productions; concerning pattern knitting, unique items are still difficult and very expensive to be knit, digital fabrication changes this. We believe all these revolutionary ideas behind soft digital fabrication can have a deep effect, provoking changes in the current situation as well as introducing new methods of textile fabrication.