Weaving with metal: can it be done?

26 July 2023

In collaboration with the specialists of our TextielLab, the artist duo DRIFT has embarked on an intensive research project exploring the possibilities of weaving with metal. The result? A field of graceful blades that sway gently back and forth as you walk through it. The interactive artwork I am Storm can be seen, no, experienced for the first time this autumn in the upcoming exhibition, "Is it alive?" Read on to discover how this innovative project came to life.

The story behind the development of these interactive works goes beyond a regular museum commission. The self-supporting moving blades are one of the outcomes of an intensive Research & Development (R&D) process aimed at technological innovation. The research initially focused on creating self-supporting structures using woven fabric, but quickly the idea of using metal arose. Every experiment led to new ideas and inspiration, so there is still plenty to discover in this area.

Metal warp and weft on the TC2 loom. Photo Tommy de Lange


Thread Controller 2  

The search for new materials and techniques on a handloom soon led to the purchase of a TC2 weaving machine: the Thread Controller 2. This small jacquard loom* is ideal for experiments, because you can test something on it in a small way before you switch to the 'real' work on the larger machines, which takes more time and material. Early in the process, the question arose: Can we weave with metal threads on the machine? That would give a woven object the strength to stand on its own completely. Stainless steel, copper and aluminium were tested on the weaving machine by trial and error. The results were promising, so further development was possible.

*Jacquard weaving is a weaving technique using a computer-controlled weaving machine. The warp threads are controlled individually so that patterns can be woven. The machine was invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard.

Yarn specialist Vera de Pont and product developer Judith Peskens working on  I am Storm. Photo Tommy de Lange
"If we succeed, we will be the first to offer jacquard weaving with metal."



Product developer Judith Peskens calls the process exciting: "As far as we know, jacquard weaving with metal hasn't been done anywhere else. It took us a long time to master the warp on the TC2, as metal behaves completely differently from textiles. I'm really pleased that we were successful, and that we can now weave shapes made entirely of metal. (…) We're looking for applications that fully utilize the specific properties of metal. It is both flexible and strong, it can conduct heat and electricity, it's fireproof and weather-resistant. That makes it particularly suitable for architectural and exterior applications." 

Various samples from the research into weaving with metal. Photo: Patty van den Elshout



In the coming months, we will continue to investigate all the possibilities of weaving with metal. If the experiments yield interesting results, the lab aims to make weaving with metal available to more makers. But as project leader Noortje van den Elzen emphasized: "We must thoroughly investigate what can and cannot be done, and how. It will take some time before this becomes accessible to everyone. But if we succeed, we will be the first to offer jacquard weaving with metal. And the results so far are promising."


‘Is it alive?’

On 14th October, the exhibition "Is it alive?" will open, featuring not only the world premiere of I am Storm by DRIFT, but also works by Canadian artist and architect Philip Beesley/Living Architecture Systems Group (LASG), fashion designer Iris van Herpen, and artists Tanja Smeets and Bart Hess. All share a fascination for natural processes, pondering the question: How does something come to life? When do we experience something as 'alive'? Combining textiles and technology, they replicate movements found in nature, without any practical purpose in mind. These artists utilize the distinctive attributes of textiles - softness, unique structures, and flexibility - to create exciting, innovative, and spatial installations that invite visitors to become part of the experience. In "Is it alive?", innovation, textiles, technology, and art converge, inspired by the essence of life itself.