is one section of an article about technology in the visual arts
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When most people think
of weaving, they envision a simple wooden loom that produces basic
patterns. Think again. The newest looms, which can weave stunningly
complex designs, are computerized and made of aluminum and steel,”
says Professor Layne Goldsmith, chair of the Fibers
Program. “These looms no longer speak of that down-home
Goldsmith (standing) shows a student how to use software
to create designs for weaving on a computerized dobby loom.
Photo by Mary Levin.
It’s not just looms
that have changed. It is also the process of designing textiles.
Before computers, “designs were drafted by filling in squares
on graph paper to designate which threads would be up or down in
weaving the cloth,” Goldsmith recalls. “It could take
many hours to try out an idea just to see if it was feasible.”
By the mid-1980s, special
software enabled artists to plot their designs in a fraction of
the time. When Goldsmith introduced the software in her classes,
students were able to explore more design ideas, more efficiently.
“I still have my students complete one design the old way,”
she says. “I think it’s important to incorporate traditional
tools so students see where the current processes come from.”
The School of Art also
purchased the first of its two computerized dobby looms in the mid-1980s.
“It was the most advanced loom of its type at the time,”
says Goldsmith. “A black box on the side connects to the computer,
allowing you to design on your software and then activate the loom
from your computer.”
The artist still sits
at the computerized loom and throws the shuttle by hand, but there’s
no need to repeatedly climb underneath the loom to tie and re-tie
treadles to create a complex design. The computer changes the tie-ups
instead. “It facilitates complex weave structures in a way
that had not been possible in an efficient manner before,”
says Goldsmith. “This was an exciting innovation.”
Still, Goldsmith has
wanted students to experience one more tool: the Jacquard loom.
With a Jacquard loom, the artist can select individual threads rather
than groups of threads, allowing an intricacy of design not possible
with other looms. One problem: until recently the only mechanized
Jacquard looms available have been industrial.
“They are huge
and hugely expensive,” Goldsmith says. “We’d have
to knock out a ceiling to put one in. So I looked into ways we could
access the technology without the looms themselves.”
In 2001, Goldsmith found
her solution: software that interfaces with industrial state-of-the-art
looms. The cost of the software was prohibitive, but its owner provided
it to the UW at virtually no cost. “He felt that students
would think about different ways of using the software—different
ways of designing cloth—and that interested him,” explains
Goldsmith, “so he set us up with six stations of this expensive
software, plus a lifetime of upgrades.”
Students can use the
Jacquard software to create their designs, and then send them to
the industrial looms to be realized. Of course this still has its
problems. “It’s difficult to actualize your design without
the loom there to let you test out your work,” admits Goldsmith.
She recently located a smaller computerized Jacquard loom and is
hoping to purchase one for the School in the next few years.
“It is not necessary
to have ‘fancy tools‘ to make good work,” Goldsmith
says, “but they do allow for other ways of thinking. Where
these tools become valuable is in the hands of someone with the
creative and critical thinking skills and passion to find out what
can happen next. This is why I continue to be interested in teaching.”
[Autumn 2003 - Table of Contents]