A Wind-Powered Factory That Makes Chairs, Scarves, And Pillows

A Wind-Powered Factory That Makes Chairs, Scarves, And Pillows
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It’s not often that we get to talk about engineering and knitting in the same sentence. But Merel Karhof, a Dutch-by-way-of-London designer, is an expert in both.

You might remember Karhof from her 2010 project, the Wind Knitting Factory, a knitting machine powered by a small windmill. Built entirely from scratch, Karhof’s the four-foot-wide mill leveraged the wind to power a small, circular loom, which churns out scarves and textiles with a quiet mechanical speed. Karhof “harvests” the fabric every day or two (depending on the weather) and sells them on her website — along with a tag that indicates how long it took to knit.

This week Karhof unveiled Windworks, a project that takes her ideas about wind power one step further. Located at a coastal mill in her native Holland, the installation produces furniture that’s cut, dyed, and knit with “a free and inexhaustible energy source; the wind.” How does it work? First, the wood for the chairs is cut by a wind-powered sawmill. Then, the wool is dyed using pigments ground at a colour mill nearby. Finally, Karhof’s knitting windmill turns the wool into pastel-colored cushions for the wooden furniture, along with scarves and pillows that visitors can buy at a dockside kiosk next door. “Every scarf gets a label that tells the time and date on which the wind knitted the scarf,” Karhof explains. “This mobile wind factory illustrates a production process and it visualizes what you can produce with the present urban wind.”

We’ve talked plenty about craftspeople leveraging solar power. But wind power, arguably the first energy source humans figured out how to harness (after fire), hasn’t really featured at the individual scale, probably because wind power is harder to predict and modulate. That’s where Karhof’s engineering chops really shine: her newest wind machine includes a hinged pennon device that turns the machine away from the wind when it gets too fast. That way, it can shut itself down without getting overloaded — making Windworks almost completely autonomous.