Friday, 26 November 2010

the science of knitting

Today I have been concentrating my research on the relationships between maths, science & knitting. There are more links out there than you might initially think.

The name that crops up most when researching this category is that of Daina Taimina, a mathematician who teaches at Cornell University in New York. She made a significant scientific breakthrough by inventing what is now known as 'hyperbolic crochet'. By using a handicraft technique she produced a surface model of a hyperbolic plane, something that until that time had only been understood as an abstract concept. This article in The Times explains it much better than I ever could!

Hyperbolic crochet

The fashion & knitwear designer Sandy Black has a different link with the subject. She studied pure and applied mathematics at University College London, where she also bought her first knitting machine and began to combine her two favourite subject matters together.

This article demonstrates Black's theories linking maths and knitting.

Sandy Black is now Professor of Fashion and Textile Design & Technology at the London College of Fashion University of the Arts London. She is also Director of the Centre for Fashion Science, an institute focusing on research into:

  • Considerate design
  • Direct 3D design and manufacture
  • Digital Studio: Direct 3D design and manufacture/ blending the real and the virtual
  • Seamfree production in knitting, welding and rapid prototyping technologies
  • Mass customisation for fashion and footwear
  • Multifunctional textiles and fashion
  • Living Colour
  • Cosmetic Science

There is some fascinating sustainable designing going on here. Check out the Wonderland projects dissolvable dresses! The idea behind this is to develop a plastic that usefully degrades once it's use has expired. In this instance the dress dissolves into a gel that can be used to grow plants.

The subject of architectural knit is also pretty exciting. There seems to be a surge of development towards knitted performance fabrics. CITA, the Centre for Information Technology & Architecture in Denmark has developed some fantastic 'working' textiles such as this blend of Kevlar, polyeurethane and carbon fibre which has been knitted into a composite material for building structures.

Another collaborative project undertaken by this company is that of CNC knitting and CAD Architectural software, resulting in the design of Listener, a smart material that reacts, via sensors woven into the construction of the fabric, to the human touch.

I came across the above two developments from a blog called Fashioning Technology by Syuzi Pakhchyan. It contains posts that explain how to combine craft & technology to make electronic working and wearable art pieces.

Along similar lines, I came across this article in Knitting Industry News, which showcased the development of the Cullus fabric which has sound absorbent properties.

Cullus is a flat knitted material. It can be hung as flat panels or manipulated into three dimensional objects. It is interesting to observe that the sound absorbency qualities are the same, regardless of the form taken by the material.

As well as these very technical, industry developed fabrics, there is also a lot of interest in science and maths related knitting going on in the domestic circle.

When searching on Wikepedia the link to Mathematics and fiber arts brings up many sites where ordinary people have knitted objects based on mathematical or scientific theory.

A good example of this would be the DNA scarf, commissioned by Dr. Thomas Montville a Professor at Rutgers University, New Jersey from one of his students, June Oshiro.

This article has an interview with Oshiro, now a microbiologist in Food Science, describing how she was inspired to describe a double helix in yarn whilst persuing her PhD research.

I have found many other objects of interest created by domestic knitters to illustrate or answer some of these mathematical questions. This website has some interesting patterns and ideas, from the klein bottle hat to the Fibbonacci sleeveless shirt, but from a design perspective, most lack aesthetics.

Overall, it would appear that there is a definate interest from scientists about the value of craft techniques, especially knitting & crochet, and a reciprocal interest from artisans to collaborate on projects.

I came across a blog by Andrew Maynard, Director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michegan School of Public Health. It's called 2020 Science and one post in particular, knitting science,  discusses why there is this growing interest between knitting, science and mathematics.
"Knitting patterns as code for complex three dimensional structures - it's an idea that makes perfect sense when you think about it. After all, DNA uses sequences of four molecules to code for complex protein structures, so why not use deceptively simple "knit one purl one"- type sequences to construct complex shapes."
This blog has many relevant links to my subject and confirms to me that there are parallels between these areas that have begun to be explored by others, but I feel really excited that there is still plenty for me to investigate.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Mrs. Cheers for the informative blogging. When I've more time I will be sure to read further into this.
    Keep up the research. x