Fractals and Indigenous Textiles

December 22, 2014


The idea of constructing a pattern or textile structure using recursion as a rule is something that can be seen in traditional textiles throughout the world. Theorized by Benoît Mandelbrot in 1974, fractals are a geometric object infinitely fragmented where the details can be observed at any random scale. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems. Fractals and recursion can be observed in nature as in trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, hurricanes, etc. Fractals are widely used in biology, economy and computer science using iterative algorithms executed by computers.

African Fractals


fractal architecture

We can find fractals in African crafts and architecture. They reflect a spiritual relationship between the living and the ancestors in some of the African culture. In opposite to an euclidean way of constructing a structure or pattern, African fractals appear to have indeed a mythical meaning through iterative construction. In weaving, pleating or folding and stitch dying resist for example, this could also be related to the textile technique being used which naturally influences the way you construct a pattern inside a textile grid specific to the chosen technique.

Fractales_fulaniThe traditional Fulani wedding blanket is woven primarily from camel hair. The weavers who created it say that spiritual energy is woven into the pattern and that each successive iteration shows an increase in this energy. Releasing this energy is spiritually dangerous; the weavers say that if they were to stop in the middle (where the pattern is most dense, and hence the spiritual energy is greatest) they would risk death. The engaged couple must bring the weaver food and kola nuts to keep him awake until it is finished.” Ron Eglash


Examples from braiding, stitch dye resist and weaving

african fractals

african fractals 2     african fractals 1


– Book: African Fractals modern computing and indigenous design Ron Eglash

-African Fractals:

Shipibo Embroidery

The Shipibo tribe live in the Amazonian forest of Peru. They are known for their intricate embroidery that take part of shamanic rituals. We can observe that their embroidered and painted patterns are constructed with recursive space filling curve rules. These recursive patterns are created by the Shipibo women who simultaneously sing an Icaro chant. “the Shipibo can listen to a song or chant by looking at the designs – and inversely, paint a pattern by listening to a song or music”.


«As an astonishing demonstration of this I witnessed two Shipiba paint a large ceremonial ceramic pot known as a Mahuetá. The pot was nearly five feet high and had a diameter of about three feet, each of the Shipiba couldn’t see what the other was painting, yet both were whistling the same song, and when they had finished both sides of the complex geometric pattern were identical and matched each side perfectly. »

Howard G. Charing – Communion With The Infinite – The Visual Music of the Shipibo tribe of the Amazon

The shaman then wears the embroidered cloth for ayahuasca healing ceremonies where he will read the structure of the pattern to sing the visual score and follow the geometric patterns to re-balance the patients body.


« A key element in this magical dialogue with the energy which permeates creation and is embedded in the Shipibo designs is the work with ayahuasca by the Shipibo shamans or muraya. In the deep ayahuasca trance, the ayahuasca reveals to the shaman the luminous geometric patterns of energy. These filaments drift towards the mouth of the shaman where it metamorphoses into a chant or Icaro. The Icaro is a conduit for the patterns of creation which then permeate the body of the shamans patient bringing harmony in the form of the geometric patterns which re-balances the patients body. The vocal range of the Shipibo shamans when they chant the Icaros is astonishing, they can range from the highest falsetto one moment to a sound which resembles a thumping pile driver, and then to a gentle soothing melodic lullaby. Speaking personally of my experience with this, is a feeling that every cell in my body is floating and embraced in a nurturing all-encompassing vibration, even the air around me is vibrating in acoustic resonance with the icaro of the maestro. The shaman knows when the healing is complete as the design is clearly distinct in the patients body. It make take a few sessions to complete this, and when completed the geometric healing designs are embedded in the patients body, this is called an Arkana. This internal patterning is deemed to be permanent and to protect a person’s spirit. »

The visual music score embedded in the Shipibo textiles are very intriguing in the way that we could imagine that the patterns correspond to specific musical rules of the Shipibo culture. Other than that, the recursive pattern construction can be imagined as a way to trace a map to circulate on the textile surface in the same specific way you would construct the needle work. On an other interesting article found on « The Generative Song & Sound Pattern Matrixes of the Shipibo Indians » who makes an interesting parallel between the Shipibo patterns and feed back systems «resemblance of the patterns generated by video feedback especially those systems containing symmetry breaking transformations.»

As in numerous tribal textiles, these textiles express a place where patterns can symbolize or be a path leading to the spiritual world. Following the idea of these recursive patterns being a way to transmit, protect or capture good or evil energy i investigated further to see if their were connections that could be made with the use of these same patterns used for energy harvesting systems or antennas. And indeed it was very interesting to discover the use of Fractal Antennas and Rectennas in modern electronic devices and systems.

fractal antenna ham radio antenna

A fractal antenna uses a self-similar design to maximize the length, or increase the perimeter (on inside sections or the outer structure), of material that can receive or transmit electromagnetic radiation within a given total surface area or volume. Such fractal antennas are also referred to as multilevel and space filling curves, but the key aspect lies in their repetition of a motif over two or more scale sizes, or “iterations”. For this reason, fractal antennas are very compact, multiband or wideband, and have useful applications in cellular telephone and microwave communications.


-Howard G. Charing – Communion With The Infinite – The Visual Music of the Shipibo tribe of the Amazon The Generative Song & Sound Pattern Matrixes of the Shipibo Indians

-Fractal Antenna

L systems:


Generated knitted patterns

December 18, 2014


Jacquard knits and scarves made with generated patterns such as cellular automata, file formats and a Basic programme for the commodore 64. I made these on my hacked kh 910 knitting machine using Ayab hack. I used processing, gedit and gimp to generate the patterns.


Knits made by transforming  pattern file format codecs.

goto 10 scarf BASIC ZOOM (clic for detail)

10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10

This program made originally for the commodore 64 uses a sequence of / and \ which generates in a random way a pattern that is an endless loop where the pattern never repeats.

processing-sketch here


Cellular Automata rule.



April 23, 2014

Vintage pattern editing with video games

niendo knitting

In the late 1980’s an amazing idea from Howard Phillips who worked for Nintendo made a peripheral prototype for the NES: a knitting machine! Connected to the NES, you would be able to knit and edit a jacquard pattern from your software. The prototype was shown at the 1987 Winter Consumer Electronics Show but didn’t get much attention. And sadly, this was never manufactured to get to consumers homes.

I Am A Teacher: Super Mario Sweater (アイアムアティーチャー スーパーマリオのセーター )

mario sweaters

In Japan, another pattern editing software appeared in 1986 for the Famicom Disc System. And it was apparently a big success. This was probably made to attract women in buying video games and would learn you how to knit a sweater or cardigan. Adjusting pattern and size, you would then send to the company your design and get your jumper manufactured for 24$.

System: Famicom Disk System
Developer: Royal Industries Co. Ltd.
Publisher: Nintendo
Release dates:
August 27, 1986 (Japan)

Here are some screen shots of the software:

I am a Teacher - Super Mario Seta (1986)(Nintendo)-0 I am a Teacher - Super Mario Seta (1986)(Nintendo)-11 I am a Teacher - Super Mario Seta (1986)(Nintendo)-16 I am a Teacher - Super Mario Seta (1986)(Nintendo)-18


Pattern programming with the Commodore 64

Lucy using  her Commodore 64 in 1988 for interactive calculation of knitting parameters.


Commodore 64 graphic book step by step programming:

here are a more pictures


Multithreaded Banjo Dinosaur Knitting Adventure 2D Extreme!

A nice art project where you knit out directly your winner panels from the video game using a hacked knitting machine with a key emulator and arduino.

Travis Goodspeed, Arjan Scherpenisse, and Fabienne Serriere

dinosaur knit

Nintendo embroidery from Per Fhager.

Nuts & Milk, 2013
89X102cm, chain stitch, cotton
(Crafted Worlds 2) source Nuts and Milk- 2013_800




April 19, 2014


Algorithme (Programme).

“L’algorithme est une suite finie de règles formelles que l’on applique à un nombre fini de données, afin de résoudre des classes de problèmes semblables, c’est une série d’opérations élémentaires retranscrites par un code. L’algorithme, qui est une opération itérative et répétable, participe de ce que nous nommons un processus de grammatisation.

Avec ce premier organe à calculer qu’est la main, l’homme encocha des bois, puis entassa de cailloux (calculi), puis constitua abaques et bouliers. Le fonctionnement d’un boulier ne nous aide-t-il pas déjà à comprendre qu’une opération de calcul peut se traduire en gestes séquentiels opérant selon des instructions binaires (rapprocher la boule de la barre centrale ou ne pas y toucher) ? Ces gestes, de notre point de vue, sont des grammes. Lorsqu’un enfant pose sur papier une multiplication qu’il ne pourrait résoudre autrement, il montre comment stylo, cahier, main et cerveau participent d’un même algorithme. Mais, contrairement à ce que l’on croit, l’algorithme ne concerne pas seulement les procédés de calcul, au sens étroit du mot, puisque, pour prendre un exemple très simple, chercher un mot dans le dictionnaire relève déjà d’un algorithme.

Devenir algorithmique. La principale caractéristique d’un ordinateur est sa programmabilité1, et l’usage tend aujourd’hui à confondre « algorithme » et « programme ». Pourtant, la programmation informatique n’épuise pas la question de l’algorithme, en ce sens que l’on ne programme que ce qui relève déjà du champ de l’algorithme c’est à dire ce qui a déjà été engrammé, discrétisé, formalisé, et qui autorise ainsi sa manipulabilité. À ce titre, ce qui relève de l’algorithme est plus vaste que la définition mathématico-informatique qui lui est de nos jours systématiquement accolée.Le devenir algorithmiquede notre monde, de notre vie, participe de ce que nous nommons le processus de grammatisation. Le devenir algorithmique s’accélère avec les technologies numériques, mais il préexistait. Ainsi le devenir algorithmique s’inscrit déjà, par exemple, dans ces conversations commerciales que l’on nous impose au téléphone avec les télévendeurs qui déclenchent un script prédécoupé en unité de base et exécutée selon un ordre donné. Taylor a conquis le langage ! Et c’est parce que cette conquête a déjà eu lieu qu’il est possible à Google ou à Facebook d’exister. Le devenir algorithmique ne concerne pas seulement le langage informatique mais la langue elle-même, pas seulement les machines mais les humains”    

de Bernard STIEGLER


Cellular automata knitting

April 18, 2014


The Conway”s Game of Life  or cellular automata is a good example. It consists of a collection of cells which, based on a few mathematical rules, can live, die or multiply.  The pattern evolves in very surprising ways and can become very complex based on very simple rules.  “It also opened up a whole new field of mathematical research, the field of cellular automata… Because of Life’s analogies with the rise, fall and alterations of a society of living organisms”.

And here a nice open source programme if you want to play:

The wonderful world of cellular automata can be explored where 2D patterns are generated with simple rules.

ElementaryCA_850 ElementaryCARules_900


You can find a few generators on the web, here is my favourite one:

Here are a few examples i made using it:


Capture matrix

I used processing to generate the patterns below which is very practical if you want to knit it. If you open processing you will have cellular automata in your examples and you can then change the size in the code and save it into a .png file.

                                         cellar automata                            cellular automata

CAKNITTING                  caknitblue

Results of cellular automata Knitting

Islamic geometrical pattern

April 18, 2014

Islamic geometrical pattern.

In Islamic art we find very mathematical ways of designing geometrical patterns. The gigantic mosaics are made to represent an infinite pattern which can go beyond the visible world. That can explain why the designers had to find ways of constructing patterns which could have complex ways of repeating themselves. The Egyptians where advanced on mathematics. We also know that during the Islamic golden age,  ancient texts on Greek and Hellenistic mathematics as well as Indian mathematics were translated into Arabic.

56104-large 56105-large 56118-large 56123-large 56245-large 56260-large Mekhnes_Place_El-Hedine_Mosaique2 Tassellatura_alhambra

We can find in these designs very advanced mathematical rules to create such big designs without any errors, especially for building that are 800 years old. Surprisingly, I have found great similarities with the Penrose Tiling named after mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose in the 1970s. Their are different sorts of ways to compose a what we call “aperdiodic tiling” pattern. Aperiodic tiling by it’s definition “can only tile the plane in a non-repeating manner. This is in contrast to non-periodic tiling that can tile the plane in an irregular manner but can also do so in a regular, periodic fashion.”

Here is a very good explanation of different sets of aperiodic tilling:

I also found this interesting article that speaks about research on ancient Islamic Penrose tiling: here

Other ressources:

Girih tiles

Aperiodic Tiling1Tile-coloured Aperiodic_tiling_with_3_tiles Binary_patch_03 Frett_K_B_03 Golden_Rhomboid_Triangle petra_2_gr_1 robinson_patch_03

Here is a very good encyclopedia of wonderful mathematical tilings.

On my page of Tools to create and explore computer generated patterns you can find some programs to generate Penrose tilings.

A few links for mathematical textile/

Binary Textiles

December 12, 2013

Textiles and computers have a long relationship. Punched cards were first used around 1725 by Basile Bouchon and Jean-Baptiste Falcon as a more robust form of the perforated paper rolls then in use for controlling textile looms in France.The invention of the Jacquard loom by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801 is said to be the ancestor of computers. This because of it’s capability to programme a pattern using punched hole cards with a binary system of hole, no hole or 0 and 1.



1832 Semen Korsakov was the first to use the punched cards in informatics for information store and search.


Charles Babbage and his assistant Ada Lovelace created the basis of modern computing: a memory and a programmable calculator called the Analytical Engine. Babbage got the idea from the jacquard loom to use the punched hole cards to create a machine that would read of a set of sequential instructions. Ada Lovelace who published in her notes what is recognized as the first algorithm and described in 1842 : «The analytical engine, she said, will weave algebraic patterns like jacquard looms weave flowers and leaves”.

In 1896, Herman Hollerith invented the recording of data on a medium that could then be read by a machine. IBM manufactured and marketed a variety of unit record machines for creating, sorting, and tabulating punched cards, even after expanding into electronic computers in the late 1950s. IBM developed punched card technology into a powerful tool for business data-processing


I found this very nice card punch generator if you want to try:

Punched hole cards are still used today to create musical scores for street organs, mechanical pianos and musical boxes. Some are on rolls of paper and others on cylindrical tubes where either the musical score is engraved or stapled on wood tubes. Some are also made on a copper disc.




serigraphie rouleauimmmagesThe cylindrical tubes have always made me thought about  the ones used in textile to print patterns for meters.

Punched hole cards are also still used on home knitting machines where you can programme a pattern for jacquard knitting.  The holes will push your needles in a certain position so that you can knit your  pattern with a coloured yarn and when their is no hole you can knit the background of the pattern with another coloured yarn.



In places like in the North of France, you can also still find mechanical lace looms who still use punched hole cards to create intricate lace patterns.


metier dentelle

Textiles have always been a mathematical construction to create it’s structure (weaving, knitting..) and also in it’s designing for patterns. Throughout researches  I have found surprising links with things used for computer programming where patterns are often used to visualize generated algorithms.


December 11, 2013

I started this blog to share researches i am doing on textiles and the digital world. I am a Textile Designer so i have always been fond of textiles for their ancestral techniques as well as their past and present social and cultural role in the world. In my work i have been used to create textile structures with handmade or industrial techniques. This led me to get interested with  DIY movements where people share their knowledge and create open source tools to build things. Making and sharing tools offers us new ways to work and think about how we can translate traditional ways of creating things into programs, electronic or mechanical constructions. In my researches i try to relate about the practices of textiles and  their becoming with this new access to technological research and creation.



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