People have had a need and desire to create objects throughout history. The immense diversity in the world has led to the development of tremendously diverse design and making traditions over time. Each of these reflects unique imagination threads in our collective thought process and carries immense value in the growth of it. These days, we are seeing a rise in the digital maker movement, propelled by digital fabrication machines like 3D printers. These are democratizing manufacturing, however, a point to note is that all of the CAD (computer-aided-design) software tools to design objects for digital fabrication have been developed in an industrial context. This inherently means that these tools support operations like extrude, revolve etc., but not traditional operations like weaving techniques (coiling, twining etc.) for basketry for example. Therefore, the digital design language lacks a representation of the diverse making traditions and these are not accessible to people to design with. This projects to a subsequent decline in usage of these methods resulting in them slowly fading out. Instead, I believe that modern design tools should celebrate the diversity of making traditions and harness the strength of digital means combining it with traditional operations and aesthetics to create objects that were not possible with either of them individually.
One of the crucial aspects of preserving traditions and cultures is to allow people to engage with them more fully. Creation, i believe, is a deep form of engagement.
I am currently building a tool for allowing people to carry out basket making and perform different weaving operations.
Tool i am working on:
The tool is a CAD tool that provides ways of designing with traditional weaving and pattern design operations involved in traditional basket making practices. The tool allows for creating such designs in two broad ways:
A user designs from ground up an artifact using basket-weaving techniques directly. Here, the operations and effects are a result of the topology and physical properties of the basket making material and the sequential nature of the basket making process itself. This method results in greater understanding of the traditional process and produces outputs more in line with shapes produced from traditional basket making.
In the first part, one can design or import a surface and perform different weave operations on it. This is in some sense a resemblance of the Nantucket basket making process with the mold (shown later). Using this tool, one can also easily create patterns on the basket. One can change the weave density across the surface- spreading it out unevenly and also decide which areas to be more flexible or not. These can then be 3D printed, with different durometer valued material.
Here are some outputs of objects made with the tool.
Here is 3D printed a cuboid basket with the MIT Media Lab and Fluid Interfaces (my research group) logo.
Here’s a 3D printed woven shoe with varying flexibility values:
Here’s one incorporating a weave of weaves (which starts out as coiling and changes to stake and strand weave):
Here’s a close up of that showing how the coiling changes to stake and strand:
This shows the different weave techniques applied to a single input shape:
The second part is where a person can go through the entire process of creating a basket from scratch. The tool incorporates various physical properties of the material that are quintessential to the basket making process. For example, when a person weaves around the vertical strands- based on which strand the reed (material with which one weaves) goes under- that strand bends up. The bending amount is in turn decided by the tension you apply to it, and these end up being crucial elements to the shape of the basket thus formed. The software tool currently simulates these properties. One can also choose to either carry out the regular weaving method of alternating weaves, or create a pattern by deciding on which strands to go over while passing the reed. This can be used to create some graphic symbols on the basket. Also, the computer medium offers properties of setting a particular weave pattern and letting it run for many turns automatically. The basket also closed off with a rim at the end.
In some sense, the power of the computational medium can be used to create complex shape baskets and experiment with different parameters. For example, one could create fun shapes for vertical strands or create sharp edged baskets, that would be much difficult to make physically.
After one has created a basket this way, they can either print it out or practice making it by hand!
Here’s a video clip showing the basket making process:
Combining this with computational design tools at large, one can be more expressive and create outputs like the following (here, i cut out an organic shape from the basket and added a part to it as well):
and here’s its top view, showing the profile of the cut more explicitly:
I made a basket myself to help me understand the process better to design the too.
I went to a Nantucket basket making studio + classroom + store and really enjoyed my time there! Here are some photos from that, with some descriptions.
These are some of baskets, with an unfinished one showing the process. Notice the ones on the hair-clip as well!
Here are some more baskets, with some complicated shapes like a cuboid and an octagon basket. Edges are tricky to do with weaving. Also notice the small basket with black weaves and white strands- that’s a basket made from the tool i am building and 3D printed! Fits right it!
All Nantucket baskets are made from a mold around which they are woven. Molds come in variety of shapes and sizes and are all created using wood. In the earlier times- every basket maker would also create their own mold. Nowadays, they only do that if they want to experiment with a new shape. Each mold requires a base and a rim (into which the vertical strands fit and are glued) that matches the size and shape of mold and a handle for the basket if needed. Here are a few molds:
Another interesting aspect i want to explore in detail is creating chimeric objects- objects that intermingle one traditional practice with another. Here is one early attempt at that- creating a woven structure with alternating beads within it.
Some of the other experiments i did were related to Zulu Beadwork. I had visited South Africa in June 2015, where i got some initial understanding of the meaning of symbols and colors used in the beautiful Zulu beadworks. I built a basic tool to allow for creation of these patterns and colors and ultimately 3D print them. In the future, i plan to create actual stitching techniques within CAD to allow for creating beadwork, and also figure out how to physically manifest them.
Here is an image of some of the works i created using that: