Introduction: Cloud Mine: Digital Sky Captures to CNC Knitting - Part 2 (Design)

Hello and Welcome! Thanks for showing up at the second installation of Cloud Mine, where I describe what goes into designing an original garment using digital techniques. The methods that I will describe here can be (somewhat) easily incorporated into the process of creating a garment using Stoll, CNC knitting technology.

Ok, ok. So first I have to clear a few things up. No, there is not a CNC knitter at Autodesk's Pier 9 workshop. However, being in the workshop and seeing all the nice toys that cut metal, wood, and stone (and let's not forgetting the additive tools like 3D printers) made me dream that I could use automated tools that are specifically designed for use in the garment industry that integrate digital technologies, computing, and programming.

I am very fortunate to be connected to a wonderful community of makers in the San Francisco Bay Area, who have been collecting and working with their own analog and digital toys for many years now. One of those makers is Myrriah Resneck, who owns her own knitwear company in downtown Oakland. For about three years I had been unsuccessful in convincing her to collaborate with me to make something using her Stoll knitting machine. And the only fashion university in town that has one (Academy of Art) tried to bankrupt me to learn to use theirs. But, being at Pier 9 and being involved with the Artist in Resident program opened some doors that I could not open on my own, which has given me the opportunity to interact with and learn a few things about CAD and CNC technologies within the fashion industry.

For this Instructable I will talk about all of the design elements that went into the making of this garment. I will try to give both an overview of how I worked in the digital realm to create swatches for the final garment, and give a major overview of the tasks designers are responsible for.

Step 1: Source Raw Materials

A primary responsibility of most designers is to choose and source (i.e. purchase with money) appropriate materials for the various projects they're hired to complete. A few tips when it comes to sourcing, especially when you're doing it for someone else.

1. Always charge the client for any time you spend looking for and picking up materials. I recommend doing this at an hourly rate. Sometimes the client will choose to find the materials themselves, which will save you a lot of back and forth and hassle.

2. Order swatches when possible. Ok so these days everyone is buying things online and yes, that works great for objects like toilet paper and books, but I'm hard pressed to buy fabric and yarn online. Why? Well for one, feel is so important when you are trying to determine the quality of a textile. The fabric's drape, stiffness, and body all go into determining if a textile is the right one for your project. Also, companies don't always describe textiles accurately, as very few people are properly educated when it comes to textiles. The only way to know what you are getting for sure is to see it in person or order a swatch.

3. Consider quantity. Are you doing a one off project, or is this something that is going to be mass produced? What kind of textile you end up with might be determined by how much of it is available.

For this project I was able to find the materials I needed through the person who was doing the work for me. You can see the yarn we used (wool in blue and creme, and lurex in gold) in the picture above. This takes us to the next responsibility that designers have, finding labor.

Step 2: Find Skilled Labor

Labor is one of the most important, and at present as well as historically, one of the most problematic elements of garment creation. It is also an undisputed necessity (for the time being).

To date, no one has been able to create a machine that is adaptable and dextrous enough to completely generate garments on it's own. No machine exists that can account for the special handling that every woven or knit textile requires as it interacts with the machines that stitch it together. Humans and our humanly hands provide necessary tension as the fabric interacts with the machine. We also do a lot of the clean up work that is required to make a garment both presentable and wearable.

That doesn't mean, however, that we treat those who give their labor and time to creating our clothing, so that we don't run around in fig leaves, with care.

Low wages and inhumane working conditions have plagued the industry since the modernization of production methods (and possibly before), and continued as we became dependent on mass production for our clothing needs.

One of the reasons why 3D printing and CNC knitting appear to be attractive alternatives to present garment manufacturing techniques is that they eliminate, or reduce by sweeping amounts, the dependence on human labor within the fashion industry. I do wonder (and worry about) what kinds of jobs these discarded humans will do in the face of a changing industry, but for now I'm going to focus on a few promising technologies.

Take this dress for example, modeled by fellow Artist-in-Resident, Lana Briscella and created by the folks at Nervous System. They made a fully fashioned, 3D printed garment without the use of humans. It looks relatively comfortable, and it's attractive enough, so some progress is being made and will no doubt continue.

There's also this kickass article on emerging, open source, 3D knitters. If you have ever for a moment doubted both the social, cultural, and technological significance of knitting - then may you be educated and you heart forever changed. Amen.

Please refer to this article for some truly insightful thoughts about how changes in technology have affected workers of the past (think Luddites). Remember that, as a designer, it is your responsibility to think thoughtfully and choose your sources of labor wisely. In this new world that we are creating it is even more important that we carefully choose where to put our energies, and how we support each other while exploring new possibilities that save time, money, and possibly the environment. There is no perfect answer it seems, just an increasing number of choices in an ever complicated landscape. Try to maintain a balance.

For this project I chose to work with a local knitwear manufacturer who specializes in sustainable and ethical garment creation. She does this by relying heavily on her computerized knitting machine. Check out her company here. She runs her business with a large knitting machine, a programmer (herself) and one other set of human hands to assist with assembly. An incredible feat if you ask me.

Step 3: Textile Design

There are many reasons why I chose to focus on CNC knitted technology instead of figuring out how to 3D print a garment.

Aside from the fact that it might take me the rest of my natural life to learn 3D modeling (as evidenced from the week I spent simply trying to rotate the camera's perspective and make a figure stand upright) there are just some qualities of textiles that make it an appealing medium.

Reason #1 - Color. I can't live without it and 3D printing hasn't quite figured out how to live with it. Color communicates just as much as design and is an important element throughout the natural world.

Reason #2 - Softness. I want to live my life in a wardrobe that looks like a million bucks and feels like pajamas. 3D printed garments haven't evolved to that point yet.

Reason #3 - Language. Call me old fashioned but there is just something about a knit garment that speaks directly to me. This also applies to woven textiles. In fact, the logic behind weaving and knitting is eerily similar to binary logic: off or on. Which means, if you follow, that the weave or knit of a fabric is actually a language (much like code). If you don't agree, just take a look at these explorations by artist Francesca Capone. Remember, "The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths." This happens to be one of them.

Reason #4 - Control. With CNC knitting technology I can create completely original textile designs without having to make large yardage, which invariably creates waste. Most clothing making process are subtractive, fabric is cut into pieces to make shapes that fit around the body. This process also leaves behind oddly shaped scraps that are sometimes unusable. CNC knitting can be a low waste operation, especially after a garment has been tested and perfected.

Next I'm going to show you how you can create amazing textile designs for your CNC knitting projects using several methods of digital capture from your computer and smart phones. Creating amazing textiles has never been easier! These methods can also be used and adapted to create hand knitting patterns.

Step 4: Textile Design - Screenshot Method

I designed the first textile by taking a screenshot while watching the A History of the Sky time-lapse video (one of my inspirations from the first instructable) on my Mac. The knitter and I translated this image into a pattern the knitting machine could use given the three yarn choices.

The screenshots above show the original screenshot, the two-color, black and white bitmap that came from the original screenshot, and the visual approximation of the textile I ultimately wanted the knitting machine to create. The knitter and I added gold yarn to highlight the gridlines and give it more of my signature mosaic feel.

Above you can see the visual process, along with some experimental swatches that Myrriah designed. The measuring tape is pictured so the gauge of the knitting is clear (measured in stitches/inch).

Step 5: Textile Design - Google Image Search Method

The second method I used to design textiles for this project involved finding appropriate images from the internet, and editing them into a patterns with consistent repeats. If you've ever done laser cutting, then you know how easy it can be to make a beautiful texture from images found online.

Above you can see the original image of a fractal cloud I found, and some of the experiments using illustrator as an envisioning tool. The final image is of three slightly different samples of the ecclesiastical-style ribbon that we created using CNC knitting technology.

Step 6: Textile Design - Embedded Binary Method

This was by far the most complicated method used to create a textural fabric. I will try to describe the method as best as I can here.

1. First I used Word Camera to take a picture of Diane Rosenblum's Cloud for Comment photograph. Word camera is a lexograph program that extracts concept words from images, and then creates sentences based on these relationships. These were the words that Word Camera came up with after being fed Rosenblum's photograph:

Nearby, a plane, an airplane, and an evening. Moreover, the plane remains a safe way to travel. The airplane evokes heavier-than-air, and the evening is made from a quality of uniformity and lack of variation. Yet, the plane is also known as an aeroplane. Hence, it is a carpenter's hand tool with an adjustable blade for smoothing or shaping wood. Probably, it is known to some as чинар. Again, it evokes field. Immediately, a flight and a thunderstorm: the flight is an instance of traveling by air, and the thunderstorm evokes sleet. Though, the thunderstorm causes a blackout. Otherwise it is known to some as гроза. In conclusion, it is known to some as tromba. At the same time, it may accompany cold front. Nonetheless, the flight appertains to a way of move....

Ok ok, you get the idea. If you want to read the whole text I've attached it as a PDF. It's mostly non-meaningful but from the writing I was able to extract this statement which seemed altogether true: "The sky is the world's stage and the clouds are a character."

2. I then used this binary translator to translate the edited sentence into binary code.

Here is that binary:

01010100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110011 01101011 01111001 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110111 01101111 01110010 01101100 01100100 00100111 01110011 00100000 01110011 01110100 01100001 01100111 01100101 00100000 01100001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01100011 01101100 01101111 01110101 01100100 01110011 00100000 01100001 01110010 01100101 00100000 01100001 00100000 01100011 01101000 01100001 01110010 01100001 01100011 01110100 01100101 01110010 00101110

3. Then I did some experimentation with how to represent the above series of 1's and 0's in the final textile. Some images of these experiments can be seen in the photos above. In one example I used 2D representations of 3D primitive shapes (cylinders and cubes) to represent the code . In another photo you can see that I used 2D shapes (rectangles and circles). In the end I used a pattern very similar to this shape of x's to represent 1 and 0, respectively.

4. This binary translation then became the pattern that was knit into the skirt of the fabric. Embedded in the texture, then, is the poem the word camera made up about the photo, in binary. :-)

Step 7: Silhouette

Many times we think about is all about silhouette (although I hope by the end of this series you can see that fashion is so much more), or shape of a garment as it interacts with the human body.

Here is the part of my process that seems the best place to integrate some primitive 3D modeling technologies.

To date, my hands happen to be the best and fastest 3D modelers around. I design silhouette through a process called draping. It creates the most dramatic and accurate results as compared to flat pattern making (although it's mainly a matter of personal preference).

I happen to be one of those designers who doesn't draw (a la Coco Chanel). I mean, I can if I have to, but I've spent so much time sewing that usually I let my hands do all the sketching for me. I prefer to make or drape completed garments, either full scale or half scale. With this method I get to see right away how a fabric behaves and what it wants to do and be. I like to work with the material's inherent character, without forcing it into shapes that aren't a part of it's nature (Charles James, I'm talking to you).

For this project I spent about five minutes draping on a half size form, using a sweater knit that closely approximated the final textile. Among other influences, it was inspired by the paper doll sketches of angels, taken from actual art complied by Tom Tierney. Why Angels? Well, they're the ones that live in the sky. The drape can be seen above. Additionally, when I was first talking with the knitter she expressed boredom with the endless quantities of smocks she'd been commissioned to made (smock = shapeless top, often worn by kindergarteners to prevent stains during finger painting). I wanted to give her work that seemed completely unique, that would challenge and be of interest to her.

I have been made aware of a couple of products that I'd be interested in trying out in the future including Marvelous Designer for 3D visualizations and real-time pattern generation (which is compatible with many Autodesk products); and Body Hub for 3D human models and body data. I can imagine taking the 3D body data from Body Hub, and using those models to drape fabric on virtually human model in a program like Marvelous Designer. That would be genius.

To take this idea a step further, I could envision a whole design system where a person like me, who is mouse-phobic and hand-centric, would be able to drape in a fully touch sensitive, virtual design environment. This would help with a few ideas that, in my experience, are completely necessary for fashion and not accounted for in many 3D modeling programs.

I'll introduce two of these concepts briefly. The first is added fullness. Think Dior's New Look, think tutus, think pleats. Sometimes in fashion we create shapes by reducing the length of one edge of the fabric in comparison to the parallel edge. One way to achieve this is through folding the fabric on top of itself (pleating). We also reduce parts of a textile by running a drawstring and pushing fabric over the length to reduce it (gathering). This concept is called added fulness because we don't remove the fabric to create a staple (like a dart) we just add more fabric to a given area. All the fullness is kept as a design element.

The other concept that a design program would have to account for is negative ease. Think leggings, or athletic wear, where the garment's resting size is much smaller than the size it grows to when it's put on the body. If a program could allow they user to define stretch, both vertically and horizontally and then was able to generate a pattern based on a 3D drape...well then folks, I'd have a lot less to worry about in life.

Step 8: Pattern

I made the initial pattern by hand by enlarging the small drape into a pattern that would fit an appropriately sized mannequin. This included some simple, high school math, a few different rulers, and some brown paper, and a pencil.

I've included an image of the original scratch paper given to Myrriah as she began to program the pattern into the Stoll knitting machine. Also you can see a visualization of the skirt with one of the proposed binary texture patterns embedded.

If I were doing a run of garments, like a full scale manufacturing run, then I would give her a Technical Specification Package or a Tech Pack. This document would show technical drawings, fiber and material requirements, as well as detailed measurements. The idea is for the manufacturer to have detailed instructions so that the work can be completed without me there. Since this piece was experimental, and it was my first time using a machine like this I enjoyed being present for as much of the process as I could be.

Step 9: Stitching It All Together

I hope that you've learned that so much more goes into fashion design than meets the eye. Aside from being a creative and visionary powerhouse, a fashion designer also has to be able to:

1. Find and source materials

2. Hire labor and be aware of emerging technologies.

3. Envision new textiles

3. Appropriately use an sculpt chosen fibers

4. Create patterns that others can read and replicate

5. Manage time and deadlines

and most importantly

6. Work with a budget

I've mainly mentioned the creative parts, but on top of all of this fashion is a business! You have to be able to use both sides of your brain to be successful. It's a lot of responsibility (and I haven't even gotten into distribution, marketing, and inventory control). Having a team and knowing when to use them is necessary for anyone to be successful in this industry.

In the next installment I'll get into the details of the CNC process and unveil the garment that we were able to create!

Best wishes and I hope you've enjoyed this Instructable.