The Raspberry Pi-powered loom

We’re a small organisation full of makers, and I think at least two of us own a hand loom for weaving textiles. (One of the reasons I enjoy the TV show Vikings so much is the casual looming that’s going on as backdrop in many of the indoor scenes – the textile sort, not the impending-doom sort, although there’s plenty of that too.)

siggy laergatha loom

Siggy and Laergatha (personal role model) get down to a spot of light weaving before commencing to crush skulls and pillage.

Here in the 21st century, Lorna and I use hand looms because powered looms are very expensive. They’re also usually pretty enormous, being meant for enterprise rather than home use. This is pesky, because there’s a lot of repetitive action involved, which can be hell on the carpal tunnels; weaving can be slow, tough work.


Suspicious automation

Enter the Raspberry Pi.

Fred Hoefler has taken a desktop loom and added a Raspberry Pi to automate it. (Your computer’s fine: this video has no sound.)

Fred wrote about the project on his website, explaining that he came up with the idea for very personal reasons. His wife Gina has been a weaver for 30 years, but she began to experience difficulties with the physical aspects of using her loom as she grew older. Conversations with other unwillingly retired weavers told Fred that Gina’s situation was not uncommon, and led him to design something to help. His device is intended to help older weavers who have trouble with the hard work of throwing the shuttle and holding down the pedals. Assistive looms cost upwards of $10,000: Fred’s solution comes in at a tidy $150, factoring in loom, Pi, and some motors from Amazon. So this isn’t for hobbyists like me: this loom can be a way for people whose livelihoods depend on being able to weave to continue working long after they might have had to retire.

One of the most satisfying things about the Raspberry Pi for me is its power to drive cost out of devices like this, and to change the way we work. This is a simple build, but it has so much potential to keep someone’s income flowing: we hope to see more as Fred develops the project.


W. H. Heydt avatar

That one from _Viking_ is a “warp weighted loom”, and–yes–it is correct for time and period.

Liz Upton avatar

One of the things I love about the show is the attention to detail given to the textiles and the broader costuming. I spend far too much time pausing it and internally debating contemporary construction and materials.

Liz Upton avatar

Oh – and knowing about some of your other hobbies, Hal, I suspect this will not be at all new to you, but I heartily commend spending some time on tablet-weaving edging and belts for your next ren/med event if it’s not something you do already!

Everybody: Hal makes his own chain mail.

Phil King avatar

We’ve got a project showcase article on this in issue 52 of The MagPi, due out soon.

JBeale avatar

Very nice project! Could be thought of as a modern take on the 1801 Jacquard loom:

Liz Upton avatar

Of course, there’s some good Raspberry Pi action to be had with Jacquard looms too; check out:

Carl Jacobsen avatar

Wow, I’m impressed. Many years back, I became acquainted with the finer points of looms through a girlfriend who was into weaving. Help put together her “some assembly required” 8-harness floor-standing loom. They are ingenious machines with a lot of fiddly details. I thought, reading this article surely the $150 must be for the Pi and driver hardware, to attach to an already-built loom. Had to go check the linked blog post. I’m impressed with what he’s done.

paddyg avatar
Rahul Dubey avatar

Excellent project to demonstrate STEM. It has mechanics, motors, sensors and Raspberry Pi as a controller.

It would be great if a system schematic is incorporated. This could show the connections of the Pi, motors, switches and the mechanical structure.

Darrin avatar

Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t see why this project would require a Pi over an Arduino. Is there a reason or was it just for fun?

SteveD avatar

There is no specific reason why the Pi is required over Arduino, as it is being used primarily as a controller, not a processor. This does allow for easier functional expand-ability with simply creating a new program per function, where as an Arduino requires expanding the same code program to include the function, and call out to it.

Exaga avatar

“Is there anything I need to do to protect my Pi?”

Yes, forget Raspbian and install Slackware ARM. Forget messing about with unconventional Linux methods that teach you how NOT to use a Linux system and embrace Slackware, which is still the most UNIX-like operating system out there and one of the most stable/reliable/secure systems there is!

Liz Upton avatar

Some would beg to differ here…

Exaga avatar

Each to their own Liz, of course. However, Slackware offers the best learning curve of any Linux distribution and rarely changes (or has changed) over the years. Meaning that users only have to learn how to do things once, not every time something changes, or when the core designers decide to deploy a new init system, etc. Slackware is the oldest currently maintained operating system out there and has more than proven itself as one of the most stable and reliable distributions where security is paramount and assured. If users are really serious about Linux then they couldn’t really do better than try Slackware. Raspbian is fine if it does what you need it for where pointing and clicking is the general rule. There are many operating systems that require you to do just that to give you the required results, but the real interesting stuff happens on commandline. This is where Slackware excels and prompts the user to learn about what they are doing rather than just clicking their way through things, a.k.a. Windows fashion. For every click of the mouse button there’s a command/function behind it. I’ve never experienced Raspbian to ever force me to open a terminal and work from the command prompt, or investigate what my pointing and clicking is actually doing. If the Raspberry Pi Foundation is keen on teaching users about computing then the commandline is where they need to be in order to gain the best possible education from any operating system. ;)

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