We are an artist duo Varvara Guljajeva & Mar Canet working together in the field of art and technology since 2009. We are developing Knitic project, which began as a residency project at Marginalia+Lab in Belo Horizonte, as an open hardware, which controls a knitting machine via Arduino. We don’t use a floppy emulation or knitting machine’s keypad simulation. Instead, Knitic is the new ‘brain’ of a knitting machine that allows real-time control over the needles. It means, one can knit as long patterns as desired and modify the pattern on the fly. Knitic has been tested on Brother 930 and 940. 970 should be good for Knitic. Other electronic models might need extra work for figuring out the connections and types of encoders. Maybe as well with punch-card ones, this needs to be tested and developed though. How come? Because we do not use any Brother electronics but just sensors’ output and solenoids’ input from the knitting machine.
Concerning our main motivations, we aim to develop an open source knitting machine and integrate textile fabrication into the field of digital manufacturing.
Desktop manufacturing is gaining importance. The numbers of Fab Labs, persons possessing digital fabrication tools, and open hardware are increasing. However, all this innovation is around certain tools, mainly laser cutters, 3D printers, and CNC machines. At the same time textile fabrication has been overlooked. To tell more, an electronic knitting machine was the first digital manufacturing tool at home.
In the end, it is a shame to forget early fabrication methods, which can be adjusted for digital age needs. Also, re-application of obsolete media is an interesting and novel approach in the field of digital fabrication.
Knitting and textile fabrication in general have several important advantages: the skills are common and there are lots of experts around, the availability and recyclability of material, and involvement of more people.
How did we get started with hacking a knitting machine? We came a cross with an electronic knitting machine through our art project named SPAMpoetry. In the beginning of 2012 we have purchased obsolete Brother knitting machine originating from 1980s in order to hack the uploading system and knit poems from SPAM. Our work on modification of 930 and 940 machines can be seen here and as well tutorial of patternUploader software. The project was developed during artist in residency at MU gallery in Eindhoven and STPLN in Malmo. The research on reverse engineering of knitting machine made us realize that the electronic knitting machine was the first digital manufacturing tool at home. And what is more, in the age of digital fabrication the textile manufacturing has been overlooked. Therefore, our goal is to develop Knitic as open hardware and integrate it to the field of digital fabrication.