3D Printing Industry

3D Knitting the Future of Customizable, Sustainable Textiles

When you think of 3D printed clothing, you might think of Iris van Herpen, Nervous System, or something similarly futuristic. But did you know that 3D knitting has actually been around since the ’90s?

3D knitting itself has different definitions. The most broad would be that it is digitized knitting. You send a file into a program, and the machine knits the information. It’s the computerized version of punch cards used on manual knitting machines. The result of digitization is that you can easily create complex designs with many different yarns simultaneously. What many have found to be the biggest advantage of 3D knitting is that it lowers the cost of creating individualized knits and enables people to use 3D scans of their bodies to create clothing that is individually tailored.

There are a few industrial knitting machines out there that 3D knit. Shima Seiki’s Wholegarment machine, which has four needlebeds, is capable of knitting entire garments without any seams or need for finishing. Not only does that save the time and labor cost needed to sew the seam, it also improves comfort and wearability. Take a look at the finished product, as sold by Ministry of Supply.

Courtesy Ministry of Supply

3D knitting is commonly used for running shoes, and has been popularized particularly by Nike’s Flyknit sneakers. The entire knit body of the shoe is manufactured in one piece. Being a fully knit textile, there is no need for traditional eyelet hardware.

3D knitting is also being used by IKEA to create furniture.

An OpenKnit project at work

And of course, 3D printing and 3D knitting can come together in interesting ways. You can actually 3D print your own knitting machine. OpenKnit was a project from 2014 to create an open source knitting machine that allows anyone to 3D print and assemble their own knitting machine, powered by a software interface. By making your machine from scratch, you are able to customize it to whatever material you wish to use, allowing knitters to easily experiment with wearable technology. The team behind OpenKnit has moved on to create Kniterate, a commercial digital knitting machine.

Via Unmade

Unmade is a platform enabling users and e-commerce brands to design their own one-of-a-kind knitwear. By partnering up with factories, they allow both consumer and producers to take advantage of the customization made possible by an industrial digital knitting machine. On-demand manufacturing also reduces the waste of creating multiples of a product that may never be sold out, and that would not fit anyone perfectly. Recently they have been featured at MoMA’s exhibit Items: Is Fashion Modern?

The world is digital 3D knitting is rapidly replacing the old world of manual knitting machines and traditional manufacturing. What do you think? Will traditional looms go the way of the steam engine? Or is there a happy medium between handcrafting and digital 3D production? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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