Monday, June 30, 2008

Mathematics and Needlework


I receive an e-mail newsletter from Lion Brand and was very happy to see an article relating math and knitting today. I love math and always have. I came very close to majoring in math in college, except for the fact that I took so long declaring a final major and to end up with a math degree would have taken more than the four years I had to finish. I ended up with a degree in Psychology with a composite minor in Math and Sociology (which means that a BA in Psych is worthless anyway, so why worry about the minor). And, it also meant the inevitable: return for a Master's Degree so you can actually get a job, because you've spent the past four years studying in a classroom rather than being out in the real world acquiring actual skills. When the Wayne County education rules changed a few years ago to mandate that all special education students study the same subjects as regular students with the same books, I had to do a lot of scrambling to review the math myself, since it had been decades since I had studied this in college. I'm now at the point of really enjoying teaching math to my Resource students and am becoming more confident with it year after year. I even get to teach only math next year instead of math and reading, meaning only 3 different lesson plans a day (6th, 7th,& 8th grades) instead of 6.
I've always been intrigued by how math and nature are intertwined and love to see examples of the Fibonacci Sequence. I came across a website years ago of a woman, Daima Taimina, a math professor at Cornell, who designed crochet pieces called hyperbolic crochet. I tried a small bit of this around the waist of my creature Folderol (See archives). At one of the North Carolina Basketmakers' annual conferences, I once took a class from a basket maker who is also a math teacher and uses the Fibonacci Sequence in her basket patterns.
Now, to get back to my original comment: Lion Brand noted an article called Move over String Theory, It's Yarn's Turn and in which they quote Carolyn Yackel, an assistant professor of math at Mercer University in Atlanta, as saying, "Crochet, knitting and other crafts allow people to visualize, recontextualize and develop new problems and answers.” She and Sarah-Marie Belcastro have gone on to research the relationships between craft and math.
Belcastro has designed mathematical proof explaining how any topological surface can be knit, which also has ramifications for biology. Yackel used tamari, Japanese string balls , to design a way to map out points on a sphere. Together, Belcastro and Yackel have co-edited a book called Making Mathematics with Needlework: Ten Papers and Ten Projects. Among the projects is a crocheted octagon which can be folded to form a pair of pants.
The article led me to another article, Mathemeticians Crochet Chaos, and a couple, Dr. Hinke Osinga and Professor Bernd Krauskopf, of Bristol University's engineering and mathematics department, who have constructed a model of chaos theory through crochet. I would love to post a picture of all of these techniques if the designers would allow me. I'm always cautious of copyright violations on this blog.
I love to see mathematics being recognized in crafts. As a basket maker, I have always been aware of at least a part of this. In designing baskets, one has to measure and plan the final result. Basket reed comes in specific measurements, from 1/8 inch to one inch or more. Experienced basket makers can look at a piece of reed and tell you how wide it is. Many non-crafters view craft items as simply a pastime to keep one's hands busy, only useful to make something pretty or practical. The next time someone asks about the craft you're working on, try explaining the mathematics involved in the design. It will make not only your viewer, but you become much more appreciative of what you are creating.

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