One of the most popular attractions on tour with Make Stuff is PatternCraft - an invention which allows users to build simple shapes and structures in Minecraft using punchcards and mallets!
Budding crafters are asked to punch their designs into an 8x8 grid, which is then fed into a reader and immediately rendered as a 3D structure in-game. The reader is built using Phototransistors, LEDs and an Arduino circuit board, sensing punched holes using the Phototransistors and translating each row into 1s and 0s. These 1s and 0s are then translated into Minecraft blocks, right beneath the player’s feet.
A big reason PatternCraft has proved so exciting is its physicality and immediacy; it allows children and people with little experience of technology to explore the very foundations of modern computing and programming in a way that's straightforward and - more importantly - good fun.
PatternCraft’s creator is Gemma May Latham - a participatory artist whose work focuses on process, exploring traditional craft skills and the relationships between maker and material.
Gemma is chiefly interested in slow, methodical methods; emphasising the time spent engaging with tools and materials and its peaceful, quieting effect. Although PatternCraft's hammers produce a great deal of noise, they've certainly inspired that same concentration on the Make Stuff tour so far!
Gemma was kind enough to answer some of our questions about PatternCraft!
What is PatternCraft?
PatternCraft is a hand built Punchcard Reader inspired by Jacquard weaving looms and computing heritage that allows for the physical input of data into a computer via a hand punched card. In essence, it’s coding with hammers!
What does it do?
Using a series of Infrared LEDs and phototransistors, the reader is able to detect changes in voltage due to the presence of holes in the card. It then converts 'hole' or 'no hole' to a text file of 0s and 1s that can be further interpreted with code - one example being into Minecraft, converting hole patterns into Minecraft blocks.
How did you start making stuff?
I have always been interested in making processes and although not always comfortable with the term 'Maker' I have now come to accept that that indeed is what I am. My work has always incorporated elements of making, even if that didn't always result in a finished 'thing'. The punchcard reader was actually my first electronics project and thus documents a lot of my own learning.
As a participatory artist I aim to utilise accessible processes and materials in order to engage a the public with acts of making, often linking very simple analogue processes with the digital.
In 2012, I helped facilitate a series of Minecraft/3D print workshops as part of a community based project called March of the Robots with Playful Leeds (http://www.playfulanywhere.co.uk/?p=113). This experience opened up my eyes to the power of Minecraft for capturing the attention of young people and its potential for engagement with a wide variety of subjects.
Having been learning and exploring the relationship between code and textiles, I was excited to discover a book called Adventures in Minecraft (http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-111894691X.html) by David Whale and Martin O'Hanlon full of example projects that allowed for interaction with the game via Python coding and elements of real world electronics. I was soon recreating textile patterns in the game, which David loved! Many twitter conversations followed, leading to us developing the reader together.
You can come and explore Gemma’s PatternCraft at any of our upcoming dates in Bolton, Oldham & Trafford across August and September - check the events section for all details!
If you’d like to learn more about PatternCraft, head to patterncraft.co or email firstname.lastname@example.org