Snowflake Hat

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!

One of many images from Snowflakes: a Chapter from the Book of Nature (1863) on the Public Domain Review

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?

my choice: WILD HOG!

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.

You also have permission to make, alter, improve or sell this hat, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license.

The Adafruit tutorial on machine knitting with hacked Brother machines: http://learn.adafruit.com/electroknit/overview

The instructions for machine knitting this hat: snowflake hat instructions.txt (also written up here)

My GIMP file: snowflake hat.xcf (The GNU Image Manipulation Program is an excellent free software program that is similar to Photoshop. Highly recommended, once you get used to the shortcuts being different! Also runs on MacOS X and Windows)

The Wonderful, Wooly World of Hacked Knitting Machines

[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!

EDIT: as promised, a second video: we made a hat!

There’s also an open source knitting machine in the works, thanks to Varvara Guljajeva & Mar Canet – it’s called Knitic.

Info related to the Brother knitting machine hacks can be found here. Check out Lady Ada & Becky Stern’s original tutorial, here’s the video:

Andrew Salomone is an artist who does amazing things with this technology, an infinite Cosby sweater, a drum’n’bass loop scarf…

At the Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki I saw a talk on knitting machines and personal fabrication by Estonian artist Varvara Guljajeva – (from the Knitic project – she was in fact the one who put me in touch with Fabienne). Varvara makes wonderful things with knitting machines (spam poetry, anyone?) and during her talk she showed this little gem from 1988: a charming lady showing how she programs her knitting on a commodore 64.

 

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…