European history is woven in silk. Few materials have had such economic, technical, functional, cultural and symbolic presence throughout our past and present. Common ideas about the Silk Road most often are limited to its ancient and Asian origins, ignoring the importance of its later European ramifications. There is, however, an increasing interest in the Western Silk Road, the network of production and market centres, spreading over various European countries.
Today, the textile industry has a huge global impact. According to EURATEX, EU clothing and textiles production is predominantly carried out by SMEs, directly employing 1.69 million people, 70% of whom are women, with more than half a million job openings anticipated in this sector until 2025. The Commission has recognized that Fashion Industries -textiles among them- are at the heart of the creative economy, generating huge economic wealth and preserving European identity, culture and values. Creative industries are faced with a digital transition that is shaking up traditional models, transforming value chains and calling for new business models.
SILKNOW, for textile creative industries, but also do-it-yourself fashion fans, offers the ability to reproduce historical textiles through 3D-printing. Thus it will offer a new technology that can be especially useful for customizing products such as small, prêt-à-porter items, not only costumes.
The Virtual Loom can be a very useful tool since it will allow you to visualize finished designs, without having to invest time and money. On the other hand, the VL allows users to change colours, yarns, weaves, techniques hence, traditional factories can experiment with new designs and materials such as 3D printing, opening to new markets.
The SILKNOW’s VL was not an easy task to perform, it took more than a year to make it available. It was only thanks to the interdisciplinary work that is characteristic of SILKNOW that it was feasible to create it. The definition and modelling of weaving were possible thanks to a tight collaboration among ICT and SSH partners of the SILKNOW consortium: from art historians to informatic engineers to craftsmen. Additional advice on the weaving techniques has been received by collaborating institutions, such as CDMT. Finally, UVEG has also performed an optical study on four silk pieces provided by GARIN, which were weaved with a Jacquard Loom following traditional designs.
Arabella León, a researcher from GARIN 1820 & Pablo Casanova, IT from UVEG explain to us their main challenges when dealing with the VL.
What were the main challenges as an art historian for its research and design?
As a textile conservator, the main challenge I found when developing the VL was to translate into “ICT words” textile terminology. To translate historical weaving techniques into software was challenging because it needed to be extremely accurate: to make an image looked like it was weaved was an easy task, however, to weave a textile with its original weaving techniques and weaves were complicated. Nevertheless, after much research and experiments, we achieved it.
For ICT, what were the main challenges for its design and implementation?
It was challenging to design a graphical user interface able to embed the techniques, weaves, type of yarns, etc while making the tool easy-to-use. For instance, integrated into the VL, we have an image analysis procedure, to automatically subtract the original design of the fabric or the technical drawing. This needs some actions from the user, but we have managed to keep it to the minimum requirements, so users only need to select the number of yarns. Then, the tool automatically discerns among different areas, for the user to select the colours and types of yarns. In that way, the image analysis procedure is hidden for the user, which only needs to focus on the visual appearance of the fabric virtual model.
What is the added value of the VL for silk conservation?
Accurate knowledge of the techniques is essential for conservation, with the VL this will be easily accessed. It is very useful to be able to see how a piece of fabric is woven without having to manipulate it since on many occasions this is impossible as their state of conservation is extremely fragile. On the other hand, museums do not have a standardized procedure to catalogue their assets. This is a problem because the heterogeneity of the records does not always provide enough information to be able to analyze a textile without accessing it. The VL will facilitate this research.
These past months we have been working on one of the main results of SILKNOW, the Virtual Loom. This groundbreaking Loom acts as a digital memory of silk heritage as it preserves historical weaving techniques which most of them are only known by artisans who have kept alive this ancestral know-how. It conserves and documents several weaving techniques thanks to its 3D visualization, which allows understanding the interlacement between wefts and warps by applying the necessary restrictions for each technique. Therefore, the VL shows those techniques as they are in real life.
The SILKNOW’s Virtual Loom also enables traditional industries to reduce costs by letting them select colours and techniques with just a click, and it encourages designers to create fabrics from historical silk models. Besides, this tool allows the creation of new designs applied to sustainable and recycled materials in 3D printing.
What is a VL? We define a Virtual Loom (VL) as an application that can virtually loom fabrics, given an input image with their design. In the scope of the SILKNOW’s project, we are dealing with images of historical fabrics. This means we need to subtract the design form the images before the VL weaves it. The SILKNOW’s VL includes a module on image analysis, to automatically subtract the original design. Once the design is subtracted, and combining this information with a historical technique (e.g. damask, espolín, etc.), the VL can produce an interactive 3D representation of the fabric at the yarn level, that can also be exported for its 3D printing.
As part of the VL, we have integrated a variety of yarns that are needed to produce 3D models with different weaving techniques. We have focused our design in representing silk, cotton and metallic yarns, which were the most commonly used in the historical textiles that we are considering for SILKNOW (15th to 19th centuries). We also added a total of 39 weaves (tabby, twill, sating and their variations). As per the weaving techniques considered for the VL, these are damask and damassé, damassé with metallic weft, lampas, espolín (brocade) and espolín with damassé ground. For all techniques, users can also experiment by changing the colour of the yarns, increasing/decreasing the number of yarns, increasing/decreasing the number of zones (of the design), mirroring an image (with a “symmetry” function) to complete design, etc. The generated 3D models can be downloaded, as well as the design after the posterization of the image. Additionally, the VL allows users to upload any image. Therefore, they can upload their design to virtually weave it and produce a 3D model.
The definition and modelling of such techniques have been possible thanks to a tight collaboration among ICT and SSH partners of the SILKNOW consortium. Additional advice on the weaving techniques has been received by collaborating institutions, such as CDMT. UVEG has also performed an optical study on four silk pieces provided by GARIN, which were weaved with a Jacquard Loom following traditional designs.
Were any VL before? Many applications produce 3D representations of textiles, to visualize them before they can be woven in a (non-virtual, but real) loom. In these applications, the input data is a computer-generated image with the design and the result is a fabric (design-to-3D-to-fabric). However, the SILKNOW’s Virtual Loom is quite different, as we depart from a piece of real fabric and the final product is its 3D representation (fabric-to-design-to-3D). In this sense, the SILKNOW’s Virtual Loom is unique.
How does it work?
An image is loaded in the Virtual Loom. It might have some perspective distortion.
The user interactively selects four points, corresponding to the corners of the area of interest. At this point, the image is rectified, so perspective distortion is corrected.
The user can change the aspect ratio of the image.
The image is processed to obtain different areas. To that end, we use the kmeans method from OpenCV: In the first place, the user selects the number of colours. Then, the Virtual Loom produces as a result is a posterized image. In the example, the resulting posterized image would contain four plain colours.
Black and white images are generated, discerning between the background and the pictorial part. Depending on the weaving method (this is selected by the user or provided with the image), different images are derived
Check out the whole explanation on our Video Tutorial
In front of COVID-19 pandemic, the whole SILKNOW team wishes to express its solidarity with all those who have lost loved ones or have been directly affected. We also want to express our support and gratitude with all those who are on the front-line fighting to contain this outbreak. This pandemic is having dramatic consequences on our daily life, economy, health and personal relationships, but it is also showing the strength of humankind and our capacity to overcome any challenge if we remain united. It is giving rise to creativity, solidarity and courage. Cultural heritage is no stranger to these displays of emotion: balconies are filling up with music, plays are coming into our homes, museums are opening their collections from the safety of our coaches… proving once again that culture is a territory where we can all be united. SILKNOW will continue working from our homes to ensure our safety and will endeavour to maintain our activities as best possible. Now, more than ever, we will keep weaving our past into the future.
The main topics discussed concerned technical work in progress involving multiple partners such as multimodal prediction, integration of predictions into the knowledge graph, mappings between the thesaurus and the knowledge graph, and finally, validation scenarios for the technical tools. SilkNOW technical video presentations were recorded.
Silk was a major factor for progress in Europe, mostly along the Western Silk Road’s network of production and market centres. Silk trade also allowed for the exchange of ideas and innovations. Punched cards were first used in Jacquard silk looms, long before modern computers were even imagined. Today, too, fashion and high-end textile industries have a huge impact on the EU, reaching €525 billion in annual turnover. Nowadays, however, silk textiles have become a seriously endangered heritage. One reason lies in its very physical nature, more fragile than other, more conventional cultural assets (painting, architecture, sculpture, etc.). Although many European specialized institutions are in operation, they usually are small or medium in size, and lack resources to develop state-of-the-art digital resources. Additionally, intangible heritage such as the old weaving techniques is in danger of disappearing with the imminent closure of the very few companies that still make use of these ancient machines. Nonetheless, their holdings remain relevant for audiences that experience vivid, personal and social connections to this heritage, linked to so many life stories and collective narratives.
These heritage institutions have been producing large amounts of digital data: poorly tagged, variously formatted, in different languages, of random quality and usually inaccessible for the broader public. New methods and tools are required to automatically extract meaning (semantics) from these huge and heterogeneous digital databases (big data) and to establish connections among them in order to preserve this fragile cultural heritage (tangible: textiles; intangible: weaving techniques), allowing its re-use for the future generations. Additionally, new ways of access to these data are required to make them more meaningful for prospective end-users. ICT provides researchers with powerful tools in order to preserve, analyze and exploit digital information.
This Special Issue invites papers and reviews dealing with silk heritage, silk history, silk diplomatic relations, silk living heritage, silk design, silk heritage preservation strategies, data visualization, 3D fabrics, vocabularies, thesauri, metadata schemas, and ontologies, fashion and tradition within silk heritage, looms and the potential offered by the ICT in the textile heritage sector, and creative industries and innovation applied to silk heritage. Papers going beyond the state-of-the-art are encouraged. Case studies using modern analytical techniques and new methodological approaches which contribute to the domain of safeguard and textile heritage protection will be considered.
SILKNOW is a European project that unites humanities and technology to study, conserve and disseminate silk heritage in Europe between the 15th and 19th centuries and its projection in culture, arts, design and today’s fashion. European history is woven in silk. Silk trade was a vehicle of economic, industrial and cultural development in Europe, transmitting designs, fabrics, fashions and, above all, knowledge and progress, all universally captured in just one piece. Since the 15th century, silk has been more than a social code of fashion and design; it has been a vehicle for bringing people, places and ideas together. Today silk is alive in the current culture, art and fashion that still are experimenting with this inheritance.
On the 11th and 12th
of December, the SILKNOW team gathered at the LUH
HQ in Hannover, Germany. The session was opened with a short meeting
with the SILKNOW EEAB, where the project advancements where showed.
Next, each Work Package leader explained the progress report and cross-work packages discussions were held, especially regarding the impact of the extension of the ontology. It was the time to talk about how to connect the Thesaurus with the Virtual Loom, CIDOC-CRM and the Ontology. Many philosophical and technical discussions were conducted, the interdisciplinarity of the team was key to address the problems we found on our way. Textiles in general, and silk in particular, have an extra difficulty to understand their materiality, their construction and their evolution in time, that is why, SILKNOW has art historians, artisans, textile engineers, ICT engineers and digital savvy’s in their team.
Finally, the next face-to-face meeting was scheduled, it will take place in May in Nice.
On the 26th November, SILKNOW received the visit from the Polish fashion designer Patryk Wojciechowski who had a tour at our Garin’s HQ . There, he had the chance to discover how they are still weaving with historical Jacquard looms and some astonishing designs. Not only that, but he was witness of the most well-kept secret from all Valencia. Later, he visited our coordinators (UVEG) to discuss the next steps on his creations and where he will show them.
Patryk will get inspired by historical designs, techniques, fashions and he will produce a SILKNOW collection based on them, moreover, he will use Monkeyfab’s 3D printers to innovate on textiles.
This visit was a great opportunity to put in touch silk traditional industry with modern fashion design, as well as with academic research and the latest technology in image recognition (our Virtual Loom) and in 3D printing. This demonstrates that silk heritage weaves creativity, tradition and innovation in a single fabric.
On the 11th and 12th of December, the SILKNOW team will gather in LUH HQ in Hannover, Germany. There we will discuss the evolution of the Work Packages, including how our Virtual Loom, thesaurus and Ontology are being done. And it will mark the beginning of the WP7, which is the evaluation of the overall SILKNOW tools.