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by Dave Watkins
May 26, 2018
What do you think of when you hear the word knitting? Do you imagine your grandmother, sitting in her rocking chair? Maybe your grandmother loves knitting, but the state of the fiber arts industry includes many modern developments that place this ancient craft squarely in the 21st century.
Knitting is no stranger to automation. In 1804, the Jacquard loom revolutionized the textile industry by streamlining the process of knitting clothing and other textiles with complex patterns[i]. This amazing invention was one of the first devices to store information on punch cards, a technique that would still be used over 150 years later, in the early days of computing.
Modern Developments in Knitting
Here are four state of the fiber arts industry developments that are poised to change the world of knitting:
Knitting machines have been the rule in textiles manufacturing since the Industrial Revolution. However, these machines have always been too large and expensive for anything smaller than a factory scale operation. Now, this is starting to change. The OpenKnit is a low-cost knitting machine that can create knitted clothing from digital files[ii]. This $650 machine gives individuals and small businesses access to this amazing technology.
3D printing, otherwise known as additive manufacturing is driving a revolution in the design and prototyping of many kinds of manufactured goods. 3D printing makes it easy for anyone to manufacture objects that would ordinarily require multiple casting and milling operations to create using an inexpensive machine that can sit on a desk. Now, the team from the Textile Lab at Carnegie Mellon University has developed software that translates knitting patterns into stitch-by-stitch instructions compatible with industrial knitting machines[iii]. This allows garment manufacturers to produce customized knitted products on an enormous scale.
Have you ever thought that you could knit something useful like a car? Now, new technology could make this unlikely scenario a reality. At the BMW plant in Leipzig, Germany, large-scale knitting machines are weaving rayon yarn into carbon fiber sheets to be made into strong, lightweight body panels for electric cars[iv]. Using novel materials gives engineers the chance to make many pieces that would usually be made by casting, stamping, and welding operations.
Drawing a knitted object like a rug or a sweater is easy. Converting this drawing into a knitting pattern is much more difficult. A group of engineers from MIT is trying to change this. The goal is to develop design software that would allow anyone to create custom clothing, artwork or any other knitted object with easy to use tools[v].
Knitting has been around for thousands of years, but modern technologies have kept this ancient art form on the leading edge. When creative people have access to materials, techniques, and tools like those outlined here, the future of the state of the fiber arts industry can hardly be less than incredible.
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