Rebuild Timeless Tools

Reintegrating Ancient Techniques

Math and mechan­ics haven’t changed as much as their appli­ca­tions have. There is much to be gained from redis­cov­er­ing the dex­ter­i­ty of long-estab­lished craft tra­di­tions that reveal the beau­ty of math and mechan­ics. We believe these tra­di­tions can offer an exam­ple of how to design pat­terns of con­nec­tion through time­less techniques.

Like tex­tiles, humanity’s soci­etal fab­ric is a com­plex arrange­ment of inter­con­nect­ed pat­terns. To improve con­nec­tions between strangers, much can be learned from study­ing how com­plex pat­terns in phys­i­cal mate­ri­als can be decod­ed, under­stood, and reworked into new prac­ti­cal applications.

The Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion recent­ly fund­ed a new five-year project called “What a Tan­gled Web We Weave” to inves­ti­gate the math­e­mat­ics and mechan­ics of knit­ting. This deft manip­u­la­tion of yarn is an ancient tech­nol­o­gy with futur­is­tic poten­tial, and the lead researcher, Dr. Mat­sumo­to, is com­pil­ing a knowl­edge base of dif­fer­ent stitch­es and the ways to describe a knit’s qual­i­ties, like “emer­gent elas­tic­i­ty”. The stitch pat­terns Dr. Matsumoto’s team are inves­ti­gat­ing con­sti­tute a code that is more com­plex than bina­ry, and results in much more mal­leable mat­ter. Through an inter­sec­tion of applied math­e­mat­ics, non­lin­ear elas­tic­i­ty, mate­ri­als engi­neer­ing, and “soft con­densed mat­ter physics”, Dr. Matsumoto’s project is advanc­ing under­stand­ing around “topo­log­i­cal pro­gram­ma­ble mate­ri­als”.6 The time­less tech­niques shown in this work reveal beau­ty not only in their assem­bling process but also in the result­ing prod­ucts. We feel inspired by the time­less tra­di­tion of knit­ting as an adapt­able process that can inte­grate near­ly end­less vari­eties of mate­ri­als. We sense a con­nec­tion between learn­ing to strength­en our skills at weav­ing togeth­er tex­tiles and our human need for weav­ing togeth­er sto­ries with­in our com­mu­ni­ties and relationships.

Sci­en­tif­ic inquiries into ancient prac­tices, allow for inno­v­a­tive inter­pre­ta­tions of those prac­tices. In terms of new prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tions for how topo­log­i­cal pro­gram­ma­ble mate­ri­als can be devel­oped, per­haps the fusion of ancient stitch-work with emerg­ing mate­ri­als might enable cloth­ing that’s wire­less­ly con­nect­ed, with the wires stitched direct­ly into the fab­ric. Tak­ing a broad­er per­spec­tive, the ways in which we inte­grate dig­i­tal lay­ers of infor­ma­tion into our phys­i­cal real­i­ty, can ben­e­fit from increas­ing­ly seam­less inte­gra­tions. We are curi­ous how low-tech skills like knit­ting might show us a wise way forward.

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