The Ups & Downs of Making Giant Hammocks
This summer, we were proud to assist the town of Lac-Mégantic (QC) in the process of reinventing itself. The town sadly gained notoriety in 2013, when a freight train derailment of 72 crude oil tank cars caused a massive fire that destroyed the downtown area and took 47 lives.
We were invited to join the rebuilding efforts by creating a path to connect Lac-Mégantic with its new town centre.
The town, having lost most of its public places, was in need of a space for gathering. Lac-Mégantic is world-renowned for its starry skies (Mont-Mégantic is in fact the first International Dark Sky Reserve). With this in mind, we created a set of giant hammocks (30 x 7 ft.) at the end of our foot-path, for people to come together and look at the sky. The hammocks offer a friendly public space for people to watch the stars, the clouds, soak up the sun, or have a picnic.
As Melissa recently mentioned, Daily tous les jours work has many different aspects. I never thought I’d one day be a weave-your-own-giant-hammock expert, but as we learnt a couple of things along the way, we figured we might as well share them.
So if you’re planning on weaving an oversized hammock for your oversized garden, this article might be the right place to start.
From Ideas To Prototypes
At first we searched for off-the-shelf giant hammocks but, weirdly enough, couldn’t find any. Size was important to us to ensure that each hammock could welcome multiple people at a time, so we started investigating how to actually build them ourselves.
Working with companies producing nets could have been a pretty straightforward approach. But our desire to involve the local community in the weaving process, combined to both practical and aesthetic limitations oriented our choice towards the – way more exciting – handmade way.
During our research, we stumbled upon this Big Hammock project, a temporary installation devised in Boston a few years ago. This project was a good starting point because it made us realize we were not the first ones to face this challenge! It’s also very well documented, so it gave us a few tips regarding the process, and the type of weaving we could use.
We opted for a pretty standard plain weaving technique, where a weft thread goes successively over-and-under warp threads which are held in place by a support structure:
Prototype #1: Small-Scale
With this in mind, we started building our very first prototype with materials bought at the hardware store.
That first exercise turned out to be a good way to identify and time each of the steps required. In total, it took approximately 8 hours for a team of 2 people to weave this simple 12 ft. x 3 ft. hammock. After a few injury-free tests, we decided to move forward and build on what we had learnt from this prototype by weaving a full-scale one with the final-product rope: a double braided ¼” polyester.
With a better understanding of the weaving process in mind, SSSVLL – our industrial design partner – could now start drawing the final structures that would support the hammocks. As it was impossible to anticipate how much stretch would occur on the hammocks, the structures were designed to be adjustable. The tension on every hammock could be adapted based on what it needs to avoid touching the ground.
Prototype #2: Make It Full-Scale!
Since our initial plan was to weave all of the hammocks in Lac-Mégantic, we wanted to build a second prototype to understand just how realistic that would be. After having found a space big enough to fit our needs, we tried reproducing the final hanging conditions and started weaving.
The major drawback of weaving such a long hammock, is in keeping proper tension on all the ropes. As the weaving progressed, the hammock’s sides increasingly shrunk as we got closer to its center.
In knowing that, we came to the conclusion that we needed more control on the final product, and so we decided to use a loom. A loom would allow us to weave the whole piece in different sections and therefore maintain better tension on the ropes, while weaving each section. As an existing loom of such a scale doesn’t seem to exist, we decided to build our own. After looking up a few options online, we found our inspiration on this website. We still had to scale it up to our needs, but we ended up using the same PVC architecture with the help of our local fabrication rockstar Sophie J.
Due to the size of the hammock, a PVC-only structure was not quite robust enough and we had to replace a few parts with metal equivalents in order to prevent the sections from bending when applying pressure on all 102 ropes.
Prototype #3: The Real Deal
Also, in having built the first prototypes, we realized it would help to have some tools to speed up the process and make the mesh more uniform. After further research into how a conventional loom works, we identified 3 tools that would help us reach this goal.
And yet again – since these tools don’t exist at such a large scale, we had to create our own:
– The beater, is used to push the weft into place and helps keep a regular distance between warp ropes. In our case, we used a laser-cut piece of wood.
– The heddles, are used to separate the warp threads for the passage of the weft. This tool is key because it allows the people weaving not to have to pull on each individual rope in order to get the weft through. In our case, it helped both to reduce mistakes and to save time. After a few unsuccessful attempts at prototyping that tool, cable ties seemed to be the best way to go!
– The shuttle, usually compactly stores all the weft threads in order to help carry them across while weaving. Because we wanted as few individual ropes as possible, needless to say that in our case putting all this rope onto a tool and making it tight enough so that it would go through the weft was impossible. We ended up using a long stick to guide the end of the rope (similar to the use of a needle). Weavers could then pull on it to get the whole length across.
Let’s Start Production!
With this setup, we had a more accurate idea of the average time it would take to weave a single hammock by using a team of 4 people, which turned out to be approximately 2 days (16 hours in total).
After a quick shout out on social media, we managed to gather a team of 8 amazing helpers who were curious enough to accept the challenge!
Having learned from the previous prototypes, the production of hammock #1 went pretty much as planned and we headed out to Lac-Mégantic to install it on site before producing the other ones.
That first installation raised questions. People came by, asking about the why and the how. They started to gather around the first hammock and to use it as soon as it was up. The setup went smoothly, so we produced 3 additional ones within our studio over the next couple days. The final hammock was going to be built on site in Lac-Mégantic, as part of a workshop with the community.
Weaving With The Community
A few days later, we were back in Lac-Mégantic with 3 hammocks and a dismantled loom in our trunk. Weaving the remaining hammock on site wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the incredibly dedicated team of teenagers who responded to our call for participation!
This weaving workshop became a great opportunity for residents to see the work behind each one of the floating seats that will now be available in their town for the next few years.
People turned out to be really curious about the process and shared their enthusiasm by spreading the word around town. The onsite workshop was a nice way for them to become more familiar with the project and to adopt the hammocks as part of their constantly evolving city.
Only time will tell if the hammocks will manage to create the vibrant new public space we aimed to facilitate. Since they’ve been installed, it seems they’ve become a popular destination for people of all ages. Whether they are used to rest after a stroll, to enjoy a picnic or to stargaze, people from Lac-Mégantic seem to be finding their own way of using this new kind of public place. And yes, sometimes that even means using the hammocks as trampolines: translating participants’ enthusiasm into scary-high jumps!
We would like to thank the people of Lac-Mégantic for their help and support during the whole project, and our incredible helpers for bringing these hammocks to life: Corinne, Caroline, Cécile, Jacqueline, Julie, Julien, Malcolm, Marine, Melanie and Mourad.