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Creative matrix: A surface design generator

Michael Pearson
Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia
The following text forms one part of a multimedia presentation. The use of computers in the traditional design discipline of textiles has been limited to high end expensive applications dedicated to simulation of product and the connection of the design information direct to production machinery. This presentation offers designers an alternative using readily available technology that significantly reduces capital expenditure, making it suitable as a teaching tool as well as a small business design aid. The presentation illustrates by example how this product maximises interdisciplinary connections enhanced by the inclusion of an interactive design package called MATRIX developed by the author.

This 'paper' could be better termed a 'presentation' as it would seem appropriate within a multimedia conference to use the tools available. Indeed, I would venture to suggest this may be termed a creative presentation because it is my intention to reveal what I have to offer by way of a 'creative session'.

My program begins then, by first outlining the background and motivation that drives this project and then moves into 'creative mode' to illustrate the various packages that have been brought together to facilitate the design process, in this case textile design. We will also discover that the nature of this process provides wholly different areas of unforeseen creative applications that afford the designer extra possibilities to exploit. The end result is a collection of programs linked together in such a way that their interaction moves beyond textile design into a wider field which may be loosely termed surface design.

The background to this project began with a concern over value for money because the price of commercial configurations for textile generation is out of reach for most design departments whose teaching and skill acquisition programs have a wide range of disciplines to service - from graphics, to advertising, media and product design and of course the emerging disciplines of Multimedia and Surface Design.

The aim of the project has been to provide a practical and economic set of design tools that would be appropriate for professional use and yet be transparent enough to enable first year design students to experience the process of designing for surface applications, and in the process gain some understanding of basic fibre and fabric construction without the need for adding yet another learning curve by way of operating weaving looms, carpet machines and screen printing. Students would find that by simulating the design process from the point of ideation to production, it would serve to widen their design skills and provide an entry level for the more complicated use of CAD software as their skills progress.

In terms of textiles the use of a computer is particularly appropriate. The computer's graphic display structure is ideal. The image making process, the pixel resolution - lends itself to the visualisation of fabrics because the X and Y plot of a computer screen encompasses a matrix for their formulation. This matrix is analogous to the warp and weft of weaving, the stitch and row of knitting, the knotting of carpets, the graphing of canvas work and the repeat pattern process within textile printing.

From a design point of view then, the proposition has been to see if it were possible to generate an environment where a designer could create a design from numerous creative sources and then see the design in a range of permutations.

What has been especially exciting about the concept of the Matrix is its ability to transcend the medium of computers and textiles. Applying the concept of the Matrix beyond textiles, the possibilities open up beyond the confines of the particular. For example a design could be capable of simulating a knitted garment, a carpet, a length of dress material, a bolt of woven upholstery, a set of bathroom tiles, wallpaper, wrapping paper, calendars and greeting cards, to name but a few. This ability to simulate product across disciplines could almost guarantee a designer breaking out of particular mindsets simply by asking the question, pointing and clicking the mouse. The Matrix opens up the world to a Multitude of Mediums!

This easy applicability of the computer for textile and fabric reproduction has not gone unnoticed ; the last five years has seen an explosion of interest. For those of us interested in this area, the writs and injunctions on copyright have been as vociferous within this, discipline as in any other. Now that that period has gone we have been left with some half dozen companies. Of these I have looked at 5, all of which have been compared in reference to their graphical services.

Graphical services have been noted here because there is no point in including the protocols for connection to industrial machinery when it has already stated that the budgetary nature of most design dept precludes the purchase of such items. This program is, however, able to connect to carpet machines, semi domestic knitting machines and silk screen systems. I looked at

  1. Info Design's Vision System
  2. Modacad Designer System
  3. Concept Design Incs Design Concept Systems
  4. AVL Looms SuperColor'In, Design and Weave and Jacquard Weave
  5. Gerber Systems
The challenge on this project has been to identify the best platform to operate this experiment within, and to decide which simulations and effects to concentrate on emulating.

At the outset of the project it was immediately apparent that a true multi-tasking machine was necessary, as the process would entail running 4 or 5 programs together; each with the ability to transfer files between one another. Two years ago at the start of this project this seemingly insurmountable barrier could only be overcome with Amiga workstations. The system that is run presently is an Amiga 2500 with a 2 MB of chip RAM and 4 MB 32 bit fastram running at 50 MHz through a GVP accelerator fitted with a similar speed maths coprocessor.

In addition to the MATRIX suite of programs there are framegrabbers, scanners, image FX generators, paint programs and simple CAD software included. In addition this system has been linked to an IBM 38640 via a null modem cable to enable the transfer of files and the ability to run a fully featured knitting program and if necessary useful utilities running under MS DOS, particularly the more recent authoring and multimedia programs.

The program, Matrix: A surface design generator, allows access to simulations created through the use of graphic tools which this software has to import from numerous other programs. The final version aims to contain its own programming so that the generator is a complete tool in its own right rather than acting as a server in this present form. Before the design session begins there are numerous programs which are useful to describe in order to gain an overview of the process.

There is first the Matrix Platform which serves to bring together all the programs necessary, determines the protocol for action and acts as a gateway for the design process to be as transparent as possible for the designer. The Flow charts notes that entry level to the process of design can be via Ideation, Process or Product, viz, from an idea, a desire to draw or, a project that requires a design. If we go through the sequence from Idea to Production we will be able to describe the programs and their particular relevance to this design experience.

Let us then, begin the design session. So, we find ourselves, at first, browsing in a receptive mood through a database of images and design. As we slowly progress, we come across a motif here and an element there; each of them we find appealing and as we go along collecting these images the excitement rises as a theme or a style begins to take shape.

The designs are collected together within a paint program and exported on to the next stage, which is to create a repeat pattern of these elements keeping in mind a possible application where it may work. It could, for instance, probably work as bright bold printed cloth; a silk screen on to a cotton plain weave. A heavier denim might work with the pattern woven within the fabric.

Let's find out. First the repeat; the first decision. The computer aid helps make this decision by providing all the pattern permutations possible without the need for the designer to painstakingly reproduce the element repetition by hand. This is achieved by calling up the Tessellation generator.

A large part of a surface designer's job is the creation and reproduction of pattern repeats on fabric. There could be no greater help to the productivity of a surface designer than to give them the ability to take a design and instantly reveal all pattern permutations including glide reflections and rotations. The end result gives a designer all the possibilities.

All that is needed now in this circumstance is the design decision. We assume, the designers then use their highly tuned creative sensitivities to choose the relevant repeat from this multiple choice. The decision is made and we choose the design by saving it to the database.

The second task is to create the fabric. For this decision there is the Fabric Generator - the powerhouse of all generators. Here the parameters of the fabric are determined. Here we choose whether we work with fabric that is woven or knotted. (Knotted yarns make up carpets, knitwear and tapestry et al.) As it is woven fabric we choose to work with, we need to know yarn type and tension - the warp and weft number per inch, the colour or colour combination and most importantly, the weave. Buttons and sliders perform these tasks while a brush sprite can be drawn over the screen if the design dictates multiple weaves. If the weave is a single one over the whole fabric the material is snapped to the screen in an instant.

In this circumstance we have generated the fabric by filling in the yarn variables. Under normal circumstances these can short circuited by calling up a fabric already created in the database. A Fabric Print Generator calls up a database of weaves and yarn types and allows a design to loaded to it or allows a design to be painted on it. The end result is tabulated for small scale screen print production. The design is integrated with the fabric - in this case a plain weave.

The final step is to display the material and the design being worn. Here the limitations of this level of hardware becomes apparent because we are unable to drape the fabric on anything other than a predetermined image. Even this is a somewhat lengthy process, though worth the wait.

At this point we are able to introduce the other fabric texture - a denim twill. Printing on this does not work so the design has been converted into a variation of weaves, twill satins and sateens, accessed through a brush which stamps the pattern in sequence. Before we close this creative session there is an interesting secondary generator which further manipulates basic fabric weaves.

The plaid pattern generator offers a refinement of the Twill Weave. 'Plaid' is the weaving term for what we all know as Tartan. This program has the ability to call up a database of all known Tartans of Scotland. If your name is Stewart, Elliott, McBride, McDougall, etc, your tartan is here ready to print out in glorious twill weave. If your ancestry is from other climes then you can make up your own!

In the world of textiles, fabric is made up from two basic relationships of yarn. The one we have already experienced is the world of the weave, where multiple lengths of yarn are placed at right angles to each other and interlocked in a net of warp and weft in order to piece together a length of fabric.

The second method is the knot. In this method of fabric making, the cloth is realised from one length of yarn that has been knotted to form rows of knots. Knitting is a typical example of this type of fabric. Others are certain types of carpet, tapestry and canvas work.

The Pattern and Graph Generator for Knitters is the system used which delivers relevant graph paper determined by the proportional relationship between yarn and needle size, The result ensures the correct graphic aspect of pattern and garment shape. The structure of the graph also lends itself to the technique of knitting because by emphasising every ten segments the knitter is able to count her stitches assuredly. This graph paper has been translated into numerous garment sizes and shapes which can be called up and the design translated onto each shape as a graphic instruction for hand knitting.

Here is our design on a knitting pattern. The pattern can be graphically represented on the screen in order to aid visualisation of the real product.

The last decision of our project is to see how the pattern would look across a variety of mediums. For this we turn to:

Ready access to these facilities creates the possibility of cross referencing -seeing how a design might be suitable in another medium. It does not always work. When it does, however, the results are often interesting. Take for instance the notion of knitting patterns. Tradition and convention have until the last ten years always insisted that knitting patterns were made up of stitch repeats to achieve a textured effect or coloured repeats to achieve a pattern effect. Now through scanning techniques I can transfer on to graph the most complicated of designs, and they need not be repeats because the software makes every needle addressable. There need be no pattern at all. This alone throws up a fascinating display of opportunity.

In concluding this 'typical' creative session it is evident that this suite of programs will be beneficial to design departments and designers alike. There is no real barrier to learning. It provides a convenient stepping stone for further design inquiry and with practice it can be a useful professional tool.

Author: Michael Pearson BA, Visiting Lecturer, School of Design, Curtin University of Technology, PO Box U1987, Perth WA 6001

Please cite as: Pearson, M. (1994). Creative matrix: A surface design generator. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 398-400. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/np/pearson.html

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