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Looms are related to computers!

In 1801, Joseph-Marie Jacquard improved on a design for an automatic loom by making it programmable with punch cards. This Jacquard loom inspired later engineers, who used the design as a reference in developing the first computers.

Shortly after, Charles Babbage developed a machine to do complex calculations. He called it “the difference engine” and it followed instructions on punch cards. Babbage got his idea from seeing automated Jacquard looms at work. His friend Ada Lovelace, a brilliant mathematician, helped him work out the calculations. She also recognized that if a programmable loom could make beautiful complex patterns with fibers, an analytical machine might be able to be programmed to do much more than just acting as a superpowered calculator. She is known as the grandmother of computers!

Difficulty Level: Medium for ages 8-10; Easy for ages 10-14; Ages 2-7 may need help
Objective: Make a simple stick loom
Download and print (pdf): How to make a loom from sticks and weave with plants
Download and print (pdf): Binary Alphabet Chart

Materials

Four sturdy sticks or branches
Scissors
String or yarn
An assortment of grasses, flowers, and flexible plants

NOTE: Look out for poison oak and poison ivy, and never eat any wild plants unless you and an adult can identify them.

Procedure

loom frame

Tie string to the sticks.

  1. First, go on a stick hunt! Forage for four sturdy sticks that are pretty straight and about the same length. You can trim them to be equal lengths if you need to.
  2. Tie your sticks together so they form a square. Use your string or yarn to tie the sticks together at each of the four corners. You want your sticks to make four right angles, like a square or box. Tie them tightly, so they will stay together.
  3. Now you are going to make your “warp,” or the vertical strings that you will use to help you weave your natural materials on the loom. Cut about two feet of string or yarn, enough to span your whole loom. Wind the yarn at the top and bottom of the two horizontal sticks (see picture). Be sure to tie the string tightly, but not so tightly it makes your loom frame bend out of shape.
  4. Each string should be slightly separated from the ones next to it, so that you can weave your natural materials between them.
  5. Think about what plants you want to weave into your design. Grasses are fun to weave with, because they are thin and very flexible. What flowers have long stalks and would be good to weave with? If a flower or plant isn’t long enough to weave through your entire loom, that’s all right. You can use a different plant to fill in the empty spaces. Here are some plants and grasses you might find:
    • Wild Carrot
    • Baby Blue Eyes
    • Deer Fern
    • Dandelion
    • Sunflower
    • Giant Chain Fern
    • Bigleaf Sedge
    • Oregon Cherry
    • Willamette Daisy
  6. Go out and forage for the natural materials to weave into your design. Be sure to ask first if you are collecting materials anywhere except your own property.
  7. Bring your natural materials back, and sketch the pattern you want to make in your notebook — or just start experimenting, and see what happens! What sort of patterns can you make?

Watch the Video Instructions Here

Weaving Is Like A Code

To weave, you will bring the grasses or flowers under one thread and over the next. We can make a code to show how to weave. Here is an example. (Download your own Binary Alphabet Chart to make your own sequences!)

For Example:
X = Underneath thread
O = Over thread
Row 1 (Grass)/Under/Over: XOXOXOXOXO
Row 2 (Grass)/Over/Under: OXOXOXOXOX
Row 3 (Dandelion)/Under/Over: XOXOXOXOXO
Row 4 (Baby Blue Eyes)(Grass)/Over/Under: OXOXOXOXOX
Row 5 (Wood Rose)/Under/Over: XOXOXOXOXO

Tips for Weaving Success

loom made of sticks woven with plants

This is Ash’s loom made from sticks and woven with plants.

When you get to the end of each row, leave some of your plant left over, like a tail. You can tie it around the end of your last string, to keep it in place.

When you weave each row, gently push it down close to the rows beneath it.

If you weave your design tightly, you can cut the strings and hang it on the wall. Otherwise, you can remove the natural materials and replace them with other plants when they begin to wilt.

Show us Your Project

Take a picture of you with your loom, and share it with us, so we can see what you made! Have an adult send it to online@scienceworksmuseum.org or share it on social media using the hashtag #ScienceWorksOnline. For more engineering projects and science activities, subscribe to our newsletter!