It’s a cyberpunk dream to print clothes like vacation photos and TPS reports. Various companies have tried to combine 3D printing with fashion fabrication, like the mildly successful Elctroloom. Cool, but it’s not open-source. However, Gerard Rubio is doing things differently. Inspired by the open-source RepRap 3D printer project and community, along with other digital knit projects, he has brought weaving and 3D printing together with OpenKnit.
OpenKnit is an open-source fabrication tool that’s part digital, part analog, and all cool. Two years in the making so far, Gerard has had progress over the years, refining the design. With all build details available, it allows anyone to enter measurements and, through a unique cartridge system, create their own bespoke clothing from various color yarns.
Depending on the size of the garment, you can have a new piece of clothing in about an hour–a sweater, skirt, dress or sock-cap. Inspired by 3D printers, the OpenKnit machine has similarities to an DLP/FDM printer. In turn, it could provide some inspiration for 3D printer manufacturers. For instance, like a 3D printer, it builds the garment layer by layer, but instead of a single printer head, it uses a row of needles along a needle carriage. The carriage is controlled by an encoder and, instead of a single or dual filament line, there are three thread feeders, one for each tubular section of the garment–left arm, right arm, body. Like other 3D printers, it runs on an Arduino Leonardo board and follows instructions entered through the Knitic, open-source knit software. To keep the clothing taut while it’s being created, weights are placed manually to keep the machine feeding.
As the video shows, you enter measurements, such as waist and arm length, to ensure the garment is a perfect fit. OpenKnit is still in development, but open to adventurers ready to start their own experiments, with assembly guide, BOM and design files available, if you need some help getting started. Gerard eventually wants to sell kits for roughly $600 USD, but is taking feedback for improvements until then.
What may be interesting to some is his stance against the fashion industry. Gerard points out how production cycles and processes take a long time to get product in people’s hands, the negative effect on the environment and how many companies choose to use cheaper materials, yet drive up the cost. Instead, he hopes to offer people the chance to create their own clothing as an alternative to the fashion market and to further push their creative mindset.
So what do the clothes look like? They’re simple, yet almost elegant, with an intrinsic DIY style to them. While digital low-cost looms are still being developed, this may be just the tool for those who want to start fabricating their own clothes. And certainly a differentiator for those who want to make their mark as a fashion designer.
The price point, open design, and usefulness will sure to foster further development. Perhaps we could transform it into a digital loom for heavy/plastic fibers for outdoor gear. If so, I may have to prepare my everyday “tactical-casual” style files.
Here’s a very detailed video on how the machine works, created with beautiful 8-bit graphics and music: