FIT’s computerized jacquard loom mixes old and new technology

FIT’s new jacquard loom, the TC2, gives students the power to create just about any pattern—including a photograph—in fabric.

“It’s a hand loom, but the pattern control is all electronic,” explains Patrice George, the retired associate professor of Textile Development and Marketing (TDM) who helped FIT acquire it in 2021. “It gives the weaver total freedom to envision something large and try out structures instantly.

The jacquard loom, invented in 1804, made it possible to weave complex designs. Nowadays, jacquard looms used in industry are fully automated and massive, not suitable for a college campus. Contrast that with the manually operated TC2, which is compact, easy to set up, and affordable, ideal for an educational context: MIT, Cornell, and Stanford all own this model.

The downside is that the weaving must be done one thread at a time, so a small piece of fabric could take hours to construct. But hand-weaving allows for the use of nontraditional wefts (the yarns that run horizontally), such as conductive fibers, straw, and gold chains, to make e-textiles or artworks.

“Any sort of mechanical loom would reject those immediately,” says Whitney Crutchfield, assistant professor of TDM. “I’d love to see students experiment with circuits, sensors, or LED lights.”

“I’d love to see students experiment with circuits, sensors, or LED lights.”
Crutchfield weaves on the TC2, affectionately called “Nell,” named for Nell Znamierowski, a beloved faculty member who died after the TC2 arrived. All the machines in the knitting lab have pet names: R2D2, Chewie, and more. Photo by Smiljana Peros.
In this video, the new machine recreates a photo of Norbert Bogner, who died in 2023. Bogner served as a classroom assistant in the Textile Development and Marketing Department for 40 years. Video by Ruben Marroquin, Textile/Surface Design ’19.

George had long wanted a TC2 for FIT, and Covid-19 brought an unexpected opportunity. A demo loom that had been traveling around the U.S. as a sales tool was sitting idle when the pandemic suspended in-person meetings. Its Norwegian manufacturer, Tronrud Engineering, offered it to the Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology at a deep discount. Now it’s used in the yearlong Woven Technology class for TDM students, and Crutchfield and George have bigger plans.

They envision interdisciplinary collaboration between textile experts and computer scientists at FIT and beyond, specialists who could program the loom in innovative ways.

“It’s a really accessible entry point for programmers and weavers to come together,” Crutchfield says.