Blog Post 1 - Learning to Weave

I am experimenting with weaving textiles out of electrical wire; specifically, 2-conductor speaker wire. I'm interested in creating a functional "fabric" through which signal can be successfully conducted, and exploring how the ancient familiar form might be reconsidered when made out of an unlikely material. Moreover, I want to use the physical layout of the “fibers” in this configuration to exploit properties of electrical interference, rendered as sound from speakers attached to the textile.

Having never worked with weaving or fibers before, I did some research into different weaving techniques and found some tutorials on YouTube.

Woven textiles consist of both a “warp” (the vertical fibers strung around the loom, usually one continuous piece of fiber), and the weft (which weaves through the warp in a perpendicular over-under pattern in its most basic ).

My first experiment involved building a loom using a picture frame and nails (as described here), and using yarn for the warp and some spare 16 AWG speaker wire for the weft.

My first experiment involved building a loom using a picture frame and nails, and using yarn for the warp and 16 AWG speaker wire for the weft.

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Unfortunately, the difference in tension was too great and the warp snapped. The thickness of this wire was also a little too inflexible to get a tight weave. I also really disliked the way the yarn looked in combination with the speaker wire. I realized both warp and weft should be speaker wire. I had the revelation that I could then run two different signals through each strand and have them interfere with each other within the same textile (hopefully!)

I purchased some stiff cardboard notch looms, which could handle the tension of the wires, and thinner gauge speaker wire (24 AWG) to make a tighter weave. I used this wire for both warp and weft. The resulting textile was structurally sound and functional.

 The amplifier is attached to one end of the warp, and the other end of the warp to the speaker. I could also connect the weft ends to their own speaker/amplifier pair.

The amplifier is attached to one end of the warp, and the other end of the warp to the speaker. I could also connect the weft ends to their own speaker/amplifier pair.

When using yarn or other fibers, a weaver can use multiple strands in the weft, tying them off to the warp as they go along (this can create multicolor patterns or complex shapes, for example.) However, I am interested in getting a continuous length of wire through which a signal can pass.

The problem is that a continuous wire must be very long must be used to make even a small textile, and it has to be pulled entirely through the warp to get each row snug as the weaver progresses, which means each row takes a LOT of time. Furthermore, I found that the friction of the wire jackets on each other as I pulled the weft created some visible wear, so I have to be careful to pull in a way that minimizes the direct friction. Use of a heddle, a rigid piece that spans the width of the warp and elevates it, could help this problem.

Because of these problems, I quickly realized that I’d  have to work with individual pieces of wire and solder them together, covering them in heat shrink. In my first textile, I covered these connections with white heat shrink, as pictured above.

I don’t really like the way this looks aesthetically, so I tried to account for it in my second textile, by using these points to alternate to a different color wire. I was also trying to make sure that this point was close to the edge of the outermost warp wire, so it could wrap around and be less noticeable: 

 The heat shrink covers the beginning of the black strand. In this photo, both warp and weft are connected to speakers.

The heat shrink covers the beginning of the black strand. In this photo, both warp and weft are connected to speakers.

In further experiments, I think I will need to make these heat shrink joints an intentional part of the weaving pattern, perhaps using different colored heat shrink or having it expand over greater lengths than just the soldered connection.

Though these two textiles can carry two separate connections through both warp and weft, they don’t have the interference between the wires I was hoping for. In fact, speaker wire runs have to be either EXTREMELY long and/or situated next to an interference source like an AC main to really pick up any sort of noise, not just the sounds of two signals through two amplifiers. Furthermore, this doesn't even account for the increase in resistance as a wire gets longer, which makes further demands on the amplifier to be able to hear its output.

My next textile will be much larger, which will allow a greater length of wire and hopefully one more susceptible to interference, whether from ambient energy or the perpendicular signal.

I was talking with my friend Tom about his experiments with VLF recording ("Very Low Frequency" - the electrical interference in the magnetosphere that is in the audible range between 20-20,000 Hz). I realized I could make the warp a VLF microphone – essentially an antenna! I will warp my new, much larger loom with unshielded, single-strand copper wire, which has the advantage of being very flexible and thin. I'll solder on a TS jack and see if I can get some ambient sound, so at the very least, I can get some interference from the electrical grid from the warp.

Then I'll weave the speaker wire, or perhaps even another run of the wire as the weft, and see what happens! I would ultimately like to be able to choose the signals running through at least one side, so to add a layer of critical depth to the audio content (conceptually orthogonal recordings interfering within the weave). I might even try to add other electrical components or circuits into the weave – I've been watching the basic electronics course on Lynda.com to brush up on my circuits knowledge and generate some ideas.