Silk is way much more than just a couple of threads. It is the legacy, crafts, innovation, diplomacy and memory of Europe in just one piece. It unites tangible and intangible heritage in a history that can be traced in the past 2000 years. European silk heritage is linked to history, sociology and cultural production. These exchanges involved not only goods but people: artisans moving from one place to another, traders travelling throughout the routes, consumers adopting some fashions instead of others. Languages changed, too: the names for techniques and patterns were copied or translated between them, reflecting changes in society, technology…
For SILKNOW, silk is much more than textiles: it is the thread that brings ideas, creativity or life stories and collective narratives together. That´s why we are committed to protecting it by weaving the past into our future
In our Virtual Loom, creativity can be sparked: it allows artists and designers to upload their creations and see how they would be if they are woven or they can print them in 3D. But also, it permits to create new designs by applying the symmetry functionality, changing the location of the four points and adjusting the aspect ratio.
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
After a whole year working, we are happy to announce that the first versions of the SILKNOW Thesaurus and Virtual Loom are already done and will shortly be open for everyone to use them are quickly moving forward.
The specialized SILKNOW multilingual thesaurus is being carried out by experts in textile terminology and art historians, and computationally implemented by experts in text mining and multi-/cross-linguality and semantic extraction from text. Controlled vocabularies are essential for researchers as they allow them to be as accurate as possible when defining a term (for conservation and curation purposes) especially in cataloguing, conservation and curation. The SILKNOW thesaurus is designed to connect various textiles located in diverse collections and to standardize a widespread and fragile heritage.
The Virtual Loom is being designed and implemented by computer
scientists with expertise in interactive 3D graphics, being supported by
experts in historical weaving techniques. So far, we have implemented
the basic techniques (plain weave, twill and
satin) and a pictured weaving technique (damask). As input, the Virtual
Loom takes an image, which is interactively processed to discern
between the background and the yarns. This information, together with
mathematical models of the weaving techniques, are computationally
merged to produce a virtual model of textiles’ internal structure. The
Virtual Loom is of interest for the creative industries and education
sector, as users are able to use different weaving techniques for a
given image, choose yarns’ colors, navigate through the virtual model
and produce 3D printed models.