A video game system called Loominary, is the latest fabric-based interface which uses a table top loom as an interface to weave a scarf. Using a narrative videogame that follows the story of the Greek myths of Oedipus and Medusa, or alternatively it has a more child-friendly version with a story about a unicorn.
In the system, the yarn is loaded onto sticks called shuttles to pass it through the loom, and a computer tracks the movement of these shuttles using radio frequency identification (RFID) devices and integrating them into the mechanics of the loom.
The sensing equipment to allow a computer to read the movements of the RFID cards is hidden under the loom in a box. To figure out the technology McCoy had the help of Sarah Hendricks, who worked on how to track the weaving as part of her undergraduate capstone project.
The makers hope that the game system will simultaneously appeal to both gamers who might be intrigued by the unusual interface and crafters who might not normally be attracted to video games. Crafting and computing have traditionally been viewed as disparate activities, but as Future Tense has explored before, one can easily inform the other. A movement known as computational crafting also blends the two disciplines.
While Loominary is unique, others have also experimented with fabric interface functions. Sean Ahlquist, an architecture professor at the University of Michigan, has created a large, flexible, fabric-based version of a touchscreen. Using an industrial-sized knitting machine, he makes large pieces of specially strengthened fabric that respond to the amount of pressure applied to them. It uses a combination of Microsoft Kinect software (which registers movement) and custom software that ties these changes in movement with changes in the fabric surface.
Ahlquist has developed two versions of the textile interface, which he currently intends to be used primarily by children with autism. He was inspired by his daughter, who has autism. In “Stretch Colour,” the sensitive fabric is stretched out to resemble a large projection screen and serves as a high-tech colouring book. Unlike the typical projector screen, however, the images on the fabric respond to touch, allowing children to colour in the designs by applying the correct amount of pressure. This helps children with autism learn how much force to apply to their gestures, something they sometimes struggle to do.
In “Stretch Play,” the same knit fabric is stretched out on a much more unusual frame, creating tunnels and structures that users can climb under and through. The programming for this interface triggers certain animations when specific spots on the structure are touched. Touching one spot might cause fish to appear and follow your movements, for example. Ahlquist designed the structure so that children could not easily trigger all of the functions simultaneously—they must work together to simultaneously trigger patterns for more interesting effects.
Although Loominary and Ahlquist’s projects have vastly different purposes, they both integrate technologies and materials that seem familiar in other contexts and combine them in ways that are novel and intriguing.