LOOM Genealogies: the Thread Controller 2

The mechanical Jacquard loom is touted as a predecessor to the computer, but Josef Jacquard made only a small contribution to punched-card-driven looms that came before–he added a mechanism that advanced the cards to the next weft pick, with the pull of a lever operated by the weaver. Many weavers refer to the TC2 as a Jacquard loom, yet the technology is very different. Today’s automated Jacquard powerloom heads still resemble this early 19th-century invention with its horizontal grid of metal hooks that puppet warp threads below them via carefully fanned, taut threads – but they differ in most other aspects of operation. 

The TC2, or the Thread Controller 2, for example uses heddles that are pegged to the bottom frame of the loom with delicate, responsive stainless steel springs. The top of each heddle is attached to an offset grid at the base of a module that sucks their white plastic plungers upwards with the help of a vacuum pump and air compressor. Stacking modules behind one another on the loom allows the weaver to increase the density of the warp, in multiples of 15 epi. (Image to be added.)

Released in 2010, the TC2 dramatically altered certain aspects of its predecessor, the TC1, born two decades prior. Of particular note, the TC2 embraces the concept of enclosure (blackboxing, or in this case pastel-boxing). Where the TC1 stood naked on aluminum posts, boxy modules sprouting cables and wires, the TC2 replaces these supports with curvaceous, powder-coated, sheet metal. A removable plexi-glass lid allows access to the modules installed in the top of this powder-coated box. The vacuum manifold and panel of electronics are embedded into the side of the loom and again, covered with curved stainless steel. 

This enclosure is structural and protective. It shields the vacuum tubes from dust and free floating fibers. But, it is also highly aesthetic. It still looks even more like a 1950’s spaceship. Does the nakedness of the TC1 seem more honest? With aesthetics secondary to its operation, the TC1 is eager, raw, open and excited about what might be possible. The TC2 becomes concerned with its own self-image (and marketability). Enclosure trends toward the automatic, the isolated and invulnerable. It risks less.

Enclosure also keeps the weaver outside of the loom’s operation. It makes less possible.

Yet the TC2 retains various degrees of delightful awkwardness and sensitivity. A loom is not a solitary object. Machines have kin and collaborators. A loom especially exists in ensemble with other tools: One must measure and wind a warp onto the back beam, thread this warp through the heddles, all while maintaining tension and avoiding tangles and fiber fuzz. To do this on the TC2 requires hacks or modifications: altering the back beam to accommodate sectional warping, and removing the beam from the loom to wind the warp onto it; or building a tensioning device.

What changes in this set up from a floor loom? Yes, the warp ends each stretch in parallel to one another, threading in an exact, gridded order through each dangling steel heddle eye. There is only one grid here: on the TC2 there is no more sense to straight draw, rose path, or overshot threadings that define the operations of harness-driven looms. 

Released from the logic and the limits of threading sequence, another difference is clear. There are no treadles on this loom. In their absence, a black plastic foot pedal, visually identical to a sewing machine’s, plugs into the inside base. Tap this pedal and the loom advances one shed, yawning open a new arrangement of warp threads for the weaver to send a shuttle through. With this singular pedal, the treadling sequence is also removed. 

Absent the sense of threading, treadling, and tie-up, our notation seeks out new moorings. We must come to a different understanding of the process of making cloth.