This winter has been the longest and darkest in Berlin since 1951, so last month I paid another visit to Fabienne Serrière (FBZ) who you might recall from my earlier video as a hardware hacker and machine knitter extraordinaire. This time I had something of my own I wanted to knit. Inspired by Fabienne and Becky Stern and everybody else involved in hacking these machines, who built upon the work of others and then put their own improvements into the commons, I decided to draw on the commons to create an open source hat.
One of the best places to explore our cultural commons is of course the Public Domain Review, where I found just the right images to fit both my hat and the Berlin weather. Check out the video above to see how the hat came together!
These images are certainly beautiful, but that was 1863, we’ve moved on a bit since then. Now, thanks to the aid of modern technology, we can finally present these snowflakes as the artist would have envisioned them, in glorious 1-bit duocolor:
So they may have lost a little subtlety, but hey, they’re on a hat.
You can see (and download) many more of these great snowflake drawings from the Public Domain Review. And while you’re there, have a look around, their collection is a fascinating, expertly curated look into our cultural history. Check out images of the Krakatoa Sunsets from 1883 (good name for a surf band, that). Cheseldon’s osteographical images of lively skeletons, and read the back story of the Brothers Grimm. Public domain content belongs to all of us – so you can browse the collection for inspiration, and feel free to re-use and remix. Why not screenprint your favourite Kamekichi Tsunajima woodcut on a t-shirt?
Need some material for your surrealist erotica? Look no further than the toothy vaginas of Emanuel Swedeborg’s erotic dreams. Dive into the back catalogue of the Elvis of the early 1900s, Enrico Caruso and you just might find inspiration for something truly marvellous:
What I really love about browsing the public domain or other free cultural works (such as those under Creative Commons Attribution or Attribution-ShareAlike licenses) is that there is always the possibility to just grab something and experiment. You don’t have to ask, you don’t have to explain yourself, or decide whether you may end up using something commercially, you can just go ahead and play. You already have permission to use these works for whatever you like.
Wer will Open Source Unterhosen mitnähen?
Ich habe mit Swantje Wendt von Nadelwald einen Parametrischen Boxershort Schnitt entwurfen – wir möchten den am Montag 11. Marz testen, also machen wir einen kleinen Mini-Workshop bei Nadelwald. (irgendwann am Tag, wahrscheinlich gegen 11 Uhr oder so, es wird einige Stunden dauern…)
Ich und ein Freund von mir sind dabei, und es gibt Platz für noch 2 andere Männer – keine Sorge, ich habe auch keine Näherfahrung, Swantje bringt uns mit viel Geduld bei!
Den Workshop wird gefilmt, kostenlos, und auf Deutsch. Also wer Lust hat, nähen zu lernen und sein eigene Open Source Unterhosen zu machen, kann mir einfach eine email schicken, sam at namemeinerwebseite. Aber beeil sich!
[Video] Check out what Fabienne Serrière (and others) are creating on their ’80s knitting machines
Once upon a time, there was a warm, fuzzy hack. It was 2010 – Becky Stern and Lada Ada (Limor Fried) built on Steve Conklin’s disk emulator and knitting machine resources to allow their modern computers to work with the ancient microcontroller of a 1980s knitting machine. This meant that they could now knit designs made with modern tools, too complex or tedious to easily knit by hand. They shared their work with the world and since then, following an open hardware model, they and many others have contributed hardware and software improvements, smoothed the workflow, and allowed other models of knitting machine to be hacked. I went for a beautiful autumnal bike ride over to Wedding and caught up with Fabienne Serrière (FBZ), who has contributed a number of improvements to the original hack and has the wonderful woolens to show for it. We talked about the history of knitting machines, this hack, open hardware and Fabienne’s various projects, and started plotting to make an open source sweater to keep me warm in the winter months. We covered so many different things that I can only show you a brief introduction to her projects now, but there will be more to come!
I don’t think it’s open source, but while we’re on the subject…
So, suggestions for open source sweaters are very much welcome, and if you’re in town, come say hi to me and Fabienne at the summit, tomorrow and Friday! This is not the last you shall hear of knitting machines…
Last Monday we had a little get-together at Open Design City to discuss some of the issues of clothing production & consumption, and work out how open source-influenced methods could improve the clothing and fashion industry.
2 hours, many cups of tea and a plate of cookies later and we had come up with a few interesting ideas, and 2 concepts for how a better-clothed future might look.
Each person was asked to think of and draw, make, or write down a visualization of 1 or 2 core problems in the way the clothing industry works today. We each presented our thoughts to the group and discussed them.
Some perceived problems:
Everything / everyone looks the same in many parts of the world (fewer independent clothing producers, more large brands, leading to a loss of personal/local/national identity)
There’s a lack of information for the public about processes / manufacture / costs of clothing
Clothing can be overpriced due to ‘paying for the brand’ / or it can be underpriced – the costs saved for the consumer are pushed onto the environment, or the people working to produce the clothing.
Lack of quality garments at affordable prices
Slippage of industry standards – pay less, get lower quality?
Materials – problems with environment/climate/waste . High pesticide use in cotton industry, for example.
Simplicity in clothing – sometimes no ‘simple’ option is available.
We then asked how ‘open source’ development, systems or ideals could change the industry:
Open Shapes – patterns? Freely distributed and available for modification/adaptation
Open source scientific development of materials
Use of personal fabrication – 3D printers, laser cutters
Transparency in production – costs, waste, environmental impact…
Learning skills that were previously commonplace. Learn to repair, reuse, create and modify.
Reducing costs of production? Or maybe improving efficiency? (not in $ per garment, but in number of garments produced.)
Allow for individual alterations or personalisation.
Clothes swapping and other forms of distribution.
One perceived problem with self-manufacture would be the problem of having too much choice… for example, a 60-item restaurant menu is not better than a well thought-out 5-item menu. Some kind of curating of designs would be necessary.
We then split into 2 groups and settled on two core issues we would like to work on, and then brainstormed various solutions, before focusing on one concept to present to the other group. These solutions were not restricted to open source ideas or open hardware. Group 1 fleshed out the workings of an online platform, and Group 2 came up with a physical repair shop and linked online network.
Haute Couture designers play an important role in setting the fashion pace. They don’t entirely dictate people’s tastes but they do determine a lot of what appears in magazines and high street shops. These high street shops and big brands contribute the most to what clothing is seen on the streets, though people can (and do) go their own way and create their own styles.
One problem we particularly focused on was the throwaway nature of fashion and consumerism. With the high rate of change, and the push to own ‘in-season’ garments, clothes are dismissed and discarded within a year of purchase. Due to this rapid cycle, and in order to save money, clothes are not produced to last.
Through our discussions, we drew two conclusions:
People are less willing to throw away clothing that has a story or some kind of personal connection – perhaps it was a gift from a friend, perhaps knitted by grandma, perhaps you designed, made or personalised the piece yourself.
Repairing damaged or worn clothes is often seen as something done by poor people, wearing obviously old or repaired clothing has a negative connotation.
So we decided our aims would be:
Involve people in their garments
Make repair beautiful
Our final concept took two different paths: a physical shop and an online platform.
We envisioned a chic downtown shop in the fashion district – it would have all the elements of a Saville Row tailor, but rather than designing or manufacturing clothes, the focus would be on bespoke, tailored repair. Elegant, creative patching with ornate stitching.
Prices would be high – by repair standards – but you would have the experience of a personalised tailoring service without having to buy a whole suit. Luxury for the economic crisis…
The decision to aim at the high-end market is to try to shake free of some of the negative connotations of repair.
Customers would bring in their damaged garments and discuss the repair with a skilled artesan, they’d pick out fabrics based on colour, texture or weight, decide on a stitching pattern, and create a new identity for their article of clothing.
People love to have stories to tell about their objects – rather than trying to hide the damage, a beautiful patch highlights the life of the garment, makes it a one-of-a-kind, and allows the wearer to tell others about either the wild night when the damage occurred, or the experience of having a high-end repair created for it.
By sharing the methods, successes and failures of this shop with the online public, it becomes an open franchise, replicable in other cities.
The other part of Group 2’s concept is an online space where you would find tutorials and information about different stitching techniques, and the best ways to patch certain areas or materials. People could share photos and instructions for their patches, post the stories behind the material used, or the rip itself.
In this way the process of repair becomes more valuable, respected and widely circulated, and a long-lasting, personalised garment gains value over something new and mass-produced.
Thank you so much to Annelisa, Brian, Julia, Cathrin, Angel, Sergio, Mei, Judith and Rosa for all the help, good times, great ideas and interesting discussions! We’ll have a practical workshop in a couple of weeks with some people who actually know how to sew. Updates to come!
Some more interesting links to check out in this area:
Robis Seidran Koopmans, (who is using open source 3d programs and techniques in fashion) also gave me this tip: Susan Spencer has been (or had been?) developing almost exactly the hypothetical program I mentioned in my first post. I’ll get in touch with Robis and Susan soon and talk about their experiences.
A group at Cornell has been doing mind-blowing research into stitch meshes.
I don’t know if these are quite right for me, but Open Source shoes are almost a reality at the Barcelona FabLab. Check out their video, and if you like it, you’ve still got 6 days to support their project or order your own open source shoes!
The idea of open-source undies did not inspire my oft-nude friend Robbie to put any clothes on, but it did inspire this lovely cartoon:
You will have noticed that there’s no video this time… ah… technical difficulties… most of the photos in this post are stills from the video we shot at the workshop (thanks for the help, Rosa!) but the post-production side of things has grown complicated. The state of open source non-linear-editing software is a big but necessary hurdle for me to deal with. There has been much exasperation, and plenty of gibberish hurled at the Terminal window.
Can any of the more technically-minded amongst you help me:
a) create the right proxy files from Canon H264 footage for importing into Kdenlive
b) convert Canon H264 footage to an intermediate editing codec for use in Cinelerra (tried various versions of MTS / MKV so far…)
c) stop OpenShot from crashing the moment I try to do anything complicated?
There will be a more in-depth look at my first month with open source software soon. I’d like to have a happy ending to my editing struggles first though…
In hardware, Open Source techniques (collaborative working, sharing experiences and experiments, transparency in production) are designed to democratise the design and production process. To take what traditionally was a difficult and expensive task done only by experts, and provide the tools and methods to make it more accessible, faster, and more efficient.
Not all aspects of my life will provide great opportunity for open source improvement, however – particularly anything that already is fast, cheap, and easy to produce. For example, anyone can produce their own toothpaste in the same time it would take to brush their teeth. Here’s proof:
(this video is my first attempt at using open source editing software- OpenShot. It’s basic, but everything was easy to work out!)
To make toothpaste there’s no special equipment needed, no expensive materials. This recipe is just a variation on the WikiHow one: 80ml baking powder (NaHCO3.), 30ml hydrogen peroxide solution (3%, H2O2), 10ml glycerin (C3H8O3) (or you can use xylitol – C5H12O5), 2 drops peppermint oil. You can get hydrogen peroxide, peppermint oil and glycerin at most pharmacies. There’s not a great deal of variation or strong opinion on different toothpaste flavours, so although I’ll be using this open source version throughout the year, I’m not expecting others to get excited about it.
But what about more complicated matters? What about open source underwear?
I’m somewhat worried – I haven’t threaded a needle since the horrific experience of winning the school prize for sewing when I was 11 – it was a co-ed school, and my gigantic tribal beach baggies had for some reason impressed the judges. But I don’t just want to make undies for the sake of undies – I’m interested in seeing how Open Source methods can change clothing production.
My thinking is based on the simple idea that not everybody is a perfect small, medium, or large. Most people are not shaped like shopping mall mannequins. Even mannequins only fit their clothes because they’re pinned at the back. My chicken ankles make any pants other than stovepipes flap listlessly like spinnakers. My shoulders wouldn’t even look broad in an ’80s power suit, and I think my hips are wider than my chest. While a fit 60-year-old might proudly boast ‘I have the physique of someone half my age‘ it’s not ideal for a 28-year old. I’m not worried about my body shape, it’s just an inconvenience when looking for clothes.
One of Da Vinci’s lesser known drafts, before he really nailed that circle.
But if I were to go to a shopping mall on the hunt for a jacket, I’d have to hope that one of these multi-national chains happened to have a style I like, that suits my body shape, and doesn’t have any stupid piping, or contrast-coloured zips, or whatever else the mass-produced version of this season’s style is.
So finding something I like is already an unlikely proposition, even before thinking about the sizes available. Instead of finding just the right jacket for me, I might end up buying 2 or 3 articles on sale (‘saving’ money) which aren’t necessarily quite the right style, colour or fit.
It also seems that manufacturing clothing in the countries with the lowest wages and then shipping it in bulk to the countries with the highest incomes is hardly an agile system, and difficult to achieve efficiently. We’ve taken this frustration of clothes shopping for granted for a very, very long time. But what other option is there? Tailoring is too expensive, and making things yourself is too difficult, right?
Well, one goal of my project is to get people to consider how an open source method might work in different areas, and I think there are plenty of opportunities in clothing.
-Imagine an online community, (kind of like a thingiverse version of openwear), where people could share their designs freely with others. These designs would be electronic patterns, readable by a software program.
A user could download a pattern, alter its design to their own taste, and release it back to the community as well.
-If this software program could parametrically alter the designs – for example, if I took my chest, neck, waist and arm measurements as inputs, the program could calculate the necessary changes to the pattern and provide the correctly shaped and sized pieces to be cut out.
-On a private section of your online profile you would have all of your measurements recorded so you could instantly adapt any pattern to fit. (Of course, your measurements might need to be adjusted should you switch to a Paula Deen-inspired diet.)
-Then you would be able to print and cut out the design to sew together. This could be done in a low-tech manner (print out on paper, pin to material, cut out with scissors) or a mid-tech manner (use a computer-controlled plotter to draw the design on material, cut out with scissors) or a high-tech manner (a computer-controlled laser cuts the parts directly)
Now this idea does not solve all the difficulty of actually designing or sewing the clothes, but the focus is on removing or streamlining the computational aspect of a tailor’s work, and leaving more time for creativity in design and high-quality crafting.
In order to illustrate the concept I would like to make my own boxer shorts. I’ve chosen boxer shorts because they’re one of the simpler articles of men’s clothing, and they really only have one key measurement – the waist. There’s generally a bit of give and take in terms of the length and leg circumference of boxer shorts, and I’m sure you could adjust them in a ratio with the waist measurement.
Is anybody keen to help me? I’m not trying to build a huge software program, just develop or adapt:
-a boxer short design (I guess in vector graphic format?)
-an equation which would adjust the size of pieces in accordance with the waist measurement
-a way of linking these together.
Who’s in? There’s a perfectly-fitting pair of boxer shorts in it for you…
Let me know what you think in the comments – could this kind of clothing system work? is there anything like it already? is the future for open source toothpaste really as dead as I assume?