Photoshop to fabric. Technology to textiles. A digital design, converted to physical artwork.
It might sound like a juxtaposition, but the Thread Controller 2 digital Jacquard looms recently integrated at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design combine the aspects of traditional weaving with today’s innovation.
For art history enthusiasts, this digital method corresponds to the historical impact of Jacquard looms — beyond its original cloth production. Before they went digital, Jacquard looms were considered the predecessor to modern computing.
Digital Jacquard looms are state-of-the-art, computer-assisted machines used for hand weaving. They allow an artist to send an image created in familiar softwares, such as Adobe Photoshop and Procreate, directly to the loom for production.
Plenty of hands-on skills are still involved, as artists can manipulate each thread individually. The result is more detailed and realistic images for students with various degrees of weaving experience.
This technology can now be found at the Stamps Weaving Studio.
Stamps faculty members Annica Cuppetelli, lecturer II in art and design, and Rebekah Modrak, professor of art and design, first advocated for the additions, with a vision to ensure that all Stamps students, even those with no previous experience, could try other genres of artmaking and production.
The looms were launched within class instruction this semester. Textile Weaving: Analog to Digital, taught by Michael Andrews, lecturer I in art and design, intertwines this technology into the Stamps curriculum.
Andrews, who previously taught Jacquard weaving and other forms of digital output at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said the Jacquard looms allow students with no weaving experience to use familiar programs to weave.
“We live in a world of pictures. Students are comfortable thinking through and with images. This is exactly why it was decided that half of the class should be open to students with no weaving experience,” Andrews said.
“There is often a student who has never woven before that really gets into the intricacies of woven structure and image making. It’s a great form for someone who likes to tinker and test.”
Andrews said the digital Jacquard looms apply to multiple areas of art and design, making them ideal for the vast curriculum at Stamps.
“I’m teaching this class in a way that does not demand an allegiance to any particular category or design,” Andrews said. “Creating cloth means there are multiple options for display or use. A piece that a student weaves on the loom could be in conversation with painting, photography, textile design, architecture, digital media, or fashion.”
Undergraduate art and design student Hava Reeves Liebowitz was eager to enroll in the course. She said the advanced technology indicates that fiber arts are elevated at U-M.
“In many institutions where fiber arts are appreciated and uplifted, a Jacquard loom is one of the tools available to students, so it is really exciting that we have it here at Stamps,” Liebowitz said. “Additionally, a lot of fiber artists that I look up to have used the Jacquard loom at some point in their career, so it’s cool that I have access to it.”
Andrews said the technology will give students a competitive edge.
“Training Stamps students on these tools will help make them competitive applicants for roles within fine art and design as well as for advanced study at the graduate level,” Andrews said.
Kit Parks, the Fiber & 2D Foundations studio coordinator, said the looms will allow for detailed images.
“Because the TC2s (Thread Controller 2s) enable the creation of highly detailed images, I expect we’ll see more pieces that highlight pictorial elements,” Parks said.“These looms also offer more efficiency than a traditional floor loom, so we may see larger works as well.”
While traditional analog weaving is a practice that has spanned thousands of years and is used across cultures, Parks said innovation is a major part of the weaving mindset.
“It’s the nature of the weaver to innovate and constantly look for ways to optimize materials and time while pushing the bounds of what is possible in a woven structure,” Parks said. “We are incredibly privileged to have this equipment in our school.”
I hope there will be an exhibition of work that the students have created on these looms on display in the near future!