Hacking the Knitting Machine (workshop) @ ISEA 2015, Vancouver


Hacking the Knitting Machine
ISEA 2015, location TBA
August 15th

Textiles are the original digital medium – It’s no coincidence that the Luddites were named for artisans that protested against the mechanization of textile production in 17th century England. Unlike their predecessors, today’s Luddites are associated with a distaste for the virtuality of modern devices. However, with the arrival of affordable 3D printing and the Internet of Things, it’s becoming clear that the technologist need not choose between digital and actual. Machine knitting is a great example of this overlap.

Dieter Kirkwood and I will demonstrate a useful modification (originally exploited by Davi Post and Becky Stern) to the Brother KH-930e knitting machine at ISEA 2015. These devices were originally released in the 1980s, so they are available relatively inexpensively on sites like eBay. The KH-930e features an early digital input capability, meaning that users could purchase patterns to communicate to the device via floppy disk. We will show how to spoof this connection, upload custom patterns, and “print” them into actual knit shapes.

Each workshop participant will get to design and knit their own custom beer koozie. Is there anything more Canadian than that? Space is limited, so email me or Dieter to reserve your seat today!


Accurate isometric grid template for Illustrator

After scouring the web for accurate Illustrator isometric grids, I’ve come to the conclusion that while the existing templates look pretty good, they don’t hold up under careful examination. Here’s an AI template that I built in Rhino that’s right on the money. Let me know if you find it useful.

Here’s a PDF that you can open in older versions of Illustrator (thanks dsgoen!). I set the isometric grid lines as guides, so make sure you’ve got those turned on.

Palimpsest Series #2

For the second Palimpsest series I scanned a new typewriter roller that contained highly legible text. By legible I mean the letter forms are easier to see (although the text content seems to be totally random). This sits in contrast to Series #1, where the nearly invisible letter forms contain recognizable words and phrases.

OpenKnit build underway

Dieter Kirkwood and I are building an OpenKnit this summer with financial support from Columbia College Chicago.  OpenKnit is an awesome open-source project with a really generous instigator, so we’ve been emailing back and forth with project leader Gerard in Madrid to get things off the ground.  We’ll be converting the BOM for Americans, making design improvements, and having a good time.  All the data we generate will be redistributed online.

Fun fact!  Gerard initially got a takedown notice for the video above because his project documentation included visible commercial logos.  He contested and the video was restored.  Fight the power!

SHKB v3 tech notes

Older versions of SHKB were dependent on a hacked keyboard logic circuit.  For this rebuild I moved to an Arduino Leonardo.  Programming behaviors from scratch gave me much more control.  What’s more, the Leonardo is automatically identified by the computer as a keyboard, and there are plenty of related libraries to get you started.  With this build I also moved to actual heavy duty switches as opposed to embedding strips of copper in my silicone casts.  We’ll see how long they last…


The third major rebuild of SHKB is based on the ITU E.161 international keypad standard.  This allowed me to shrink the overall size of the device while still maintaining its monolithic aspect.  In addition to A-Z, v3 can make a space, and exclamation point and a smiley.

P.B.D.B. tech notes

The P.B.D.B. figurine is a solid aluminum cast that I had laying around from my foundry days.  I used it as a capacitive sensor so that I wouldn’t have to mount a big ugly button on the belly.  The sounds come from an Adafruit WAV shield, and the water is moved via windshield washer pump.  I was amazed by how much current those things draw – I had to put a 5A power supply in the box to get it running.