Designing a 3D printed Fabric: Fun with Braids!

For this assignment, I wanted to play around using the flexible resin as fibers for something knotted or woven. In my earliest brainstorming (the bulk of which was on a piece of paper that I lost, unfortunately), I wanted to do some conglomeration of knots used in sailing (since those are familiar to me).

some initial sketches

I sketched out some ideas, but didn’t see it coming together as a fabric. In addition, making something that could be physically knotted with string with 3D printing seemed like a waste of the material, since it wouldn’t really take advantage of the relative rigidity of the material and its ability to snap back into its printed shape after being stretched.

This left me with a number of options,  the main two being braiding and weaving.

Now for some backstory: My calculus teacher in high school was really into generating art with code, specifically, code related to mathematical principles. He would periodically show us some of the things he had done in his free time, and one that I remember was this random braiding generative art that he had done.


random braiding illustration from Dr. Gries’s code. source:

I remembered this, looked on his website, and thought this would be a really cool concept to try and make into something 3D. Originally, I wanted to randomly braid the strands in grasshopper using code, however after a week of struggling and coming into the desk critique with essentially nothing to show, I was told it would probably be easier and faster, at least for now, to just CAD it manually.


sketches of the 3D model

So I made a simple model of 9 strands randomly braiding together, starting and ending attached to horizontal bars. I printed two test pieces to determine what the right “string” diameter would be for the flexibility that I wanted, and then printed the whole piece.


test strands

Because it is anchored at the top and bottom, the pieces don’t have much horizontal movement if pulled, however it pushes and twists in interesting ways. After printing the swatch, I realized this braiding technique wouldn’t really be possible, or at least wouldn’t look the same, with string.

finished swatch

Link to a video of the fabric in motion

I’m happy with the way the first swatch turned out, however, I want to experiment with making it more like a real fabric by attaching the strands to each other rather than one end piece. Moving forward into the next project, I also want to try this braiding technique with yarn or another material to compare the properties with the 3d piece. I would also like to attempt the CAD with grasshopper so I can make finer strands and print more intricate fabrics. More iterations to come!


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