Sewing, Knitting, Crocheting: All Different Names for Hands-On Math

Well-Trained Mind AcademyMath

Math in FIber Arts

What Are Fiber Arts & What Do They Have to Do With Math? 

When it comes to fiber arts, you may have heard of sewing, knitting, weaving, and crochet. But what does that have to do with math?

Some of the oldest math in the world comes to us from fiber arts. As Dr. Ellen Harlizius-Klück says, “To control a weave means to decide whether a warp thread is to be picked up or not. Weaving has therefore been a binary art from its very beginning, applying operations of pattern algebra for millennia.” Likewise, quilting, knitting, and more recently, crochet are all fiber arts disciplines that incorporate math.

Most of the discussion about the math in fiber arts takes place at the graduate level. For example, Figuring Fibers by Carolyn Yackel; Making Mathematics with Needlework edited by Yackel and Belcastro; and Mathematics + Art: A Cultural History by Lynn Gamwell. Topology is popular, and the Crochet Coral Reef has been exhibited around the world, from the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Museum in New York to the Museum Kunst der Westküste in Germany. 

Most people engage in fiber arts… Most people use computers, and modern computer coding is a direct descendant of weaving algorithms!

Math in Fiber Arts Today

Some people think fiber arts are for the elderly. Others don’t think that fiber arts are part of the fine arts, and thus fall into the realm of crafting and folk art. In fact, many art critics refused to engage with fiber arts. 

Similarly, though computer science courses often begin with Babbage’s analytical engine, few computer science students will learn that the analytical engine was based on the Jacquard Loom.  British mathematician Ada Lovelace explicitly pointed this out when she said, “We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.” In fact, from the 1940s to the 1970s, computers used punched cards first designed for the Jacquard loom.

More recently, fiber arts have become more popular with younger people. Hashtags like #fiberart #fiberartist #crochettok #yarntok all lead to new and exciting creations on social media, and bookstores sell amigurumi kits. Websites like Ravelry, Knitty, and Pattern Review offer deep dives into the craft involved. However, when people learn how to sew, knit, weave, or crochet, they don’t often think about the math involved. 

Fiber Arts and Math at The Well-Trained Mind Academy

Here at Well-Trained Mind Academy, we saw an opportunity to illustrate the links between middle school level math and popular fiber arts practices in our Math in Fiber Arts course. The Well-Trained Mind Academy offers an original curriculum for fiber arts designed for our online course. Here’s why we love teaching fiber arts and math together: 

  • Hands-on illustration of math concepts with plenty of practice;
  • A range of fiber arts helps sustain student interest and promote critical thinking and application;
  • Challenging concepts presented and explained clearly;
  • A mastery approach to learning so that students can become competent problem solvers and apply knowledge to new situations. 

Our Math in Fiber Arts class provides clear and methodical instruction and focused practice, and they honor our long history of fiber arts. 

We can’t wait to see you in class!

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