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How can we re-contextualize traditional hand-weaving techniques through scaffold making?

In the last decade, the importance of complex textile properties in non-textile contexts have fueled ambitious research projects in a wide range of fields, namely tissue engineering, architecture, mathematics, design and so on. This body of research investigates potential applications of traditional textile weaving techniques in non-textile contexts with particular focus on hand-weaving techniques appropriate for textile scaffolding. The research is ongoing and the first phase aims to understand the technical requirements for a custom 360 hand-weaving loom in order to design one for a range of high-stake applications.

By definition, a scaffold is a three-dimensional structure, framework or raised platform that supports people or materials. Oftentimes, the word is used to refer to a temporary structure for holding workers and materials during the erection, repair, or decoration of a building.


Anisotropic in nature, textile cloth behaves differently at different points or in different directions, much like wood that is stronger along the grain than across it. This makes it challenging to simulate cloth behaviour accurately.

But algorithms approximating cloth behaviour do exist, and coupled with automated weaving, they do make it possible to produce 3D woven materials with a range of different properties. However, highly complex structures (e.g the human heart) are still impossible to weave in automated fashion as automated true multi-axial 360 looms do not exist. This is due to the complexity of overlapping and intricate yarn placements in 360 weaving. Yet 360 weaving is a rather simple task to accomplish with hand-weaving. Of the potential applications of a 360 loom, tissue engineering (or organ-weaving) is a ripe area for study. Additionally, such a loom would enable the study of highly complex heterogeneous woven material properties.


To design such a loom, existing hand and automated loom designs were first studied thoroughly. One of the first output from this investigation is an all-in-one four-layer cloth that was hand-woven on a 4-harness, 10-treadle floor loom.


The lack of high quality, quantitative open source research data on the properties of materials woven using a range of techniques means any work requiring precise control of woven material properties requires the building of a weaving database from the ground up.

In addition, for this project, a significant amount of time had to be invested into learning to set up and operate the floor loom before attempting to design multi-layered cloth on it. Setting up a loom requires patience and collaboration, and can take even the expert weaver an entire day to complete. For this research, the loom was set up with assistance from weaving specialist Jeremy Ripley at Parsons School of Design.


Tissue Engineering Applications of Textile Technologies

Tissue engineering for organ transplantation requires the fabrication of tissue constructs with controlled mechanical properties, microstructure, and cellular distribution. Scaffolds made from synthetic or natural biomaterials are required to provide both the mechanical support and ideal environmental conditions for cellular growth. Traditional tissue engineering methods generate porous constructs with interconnected pores that are suitable for delivery of nutrients to cells. Such examples include freeze drying (Hutmacher 2000), particle leaching (Yao 2012) and solvent casting (Mikos 2000). However, precise control over the spatial distribution of pore size, pore interconnectivity, and mechanical and structural properties is limited. Recently, advanced bio-fabrication methods such as bioprinting (Bertassoni 2014; Kolesky 2014; Bajaj 2014; Murphy 2014), stereolithography (Gauvin 2012; Lee 2015; Zhang 2012), self assembly of microgels (Qi 2013; Du 2008) and bio textiles (Muotos 2007; Onoe 2013; Akbari 2014) have emerged to produce complex 3D engineered tissues from living and non-living elements with high level of control over the resulting scaffold microarchitecture and cellular distribution.


Commercial bio-textiles such as TIGR ® Matrix, ULTRAPRO™, and INTERGARD ™ are currently used as medical implants for treating pelvic organ prolapse, hernia, and vascular diseases. As well, recently textile technologies have been used for bio-fabrication of fibrous scaffolds for various tissue engineering applications (Muotos 2007; Akbari 2014; Muotos 2010; Najafabadi 2014).


In these cases, the versatility of knitted, woven and braided textiles allows for precise tailoring of scaffold architecture by controlling fiber size and orientation, pore size and geometry, pore interconnectivity, total porosity, and surface topography. In addition, cell laden fibers can be used during the assembly process, allowing for further control of cellular distribution.


A Loom for Organ Weaving

On the right is a prototype visualizing a loom that allows warp threads to be introduced to the scaffold from any angle in all three dimensions (within the 180/360 capability of the depicted loom) and it is equipped with an augmented reality system that projects a 3D model (the organ to be weaved with the right topological specifications) to the center of the loom. This visualization depicts a 3D model of a human heart at the center and the weaver is able to scaffold around it using their hands. Here, the projected 3D model augments and guides the weaving process.


Below are some examples of loom iterations with accompanying making on each loom.

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