Matt Gilbert

Crochet Pattern Generator

I've written a program that allows me to design complex radiating crochet patterns. This experimental work was inspired by the intimate historical ties between textiles and computation, as well as the propagation patterns of acoustics.

Once I realized the flexibility of crochet to define elaborate forms, I wanted to explore these possibilities, maintaining the physical process while letting the computer handle most of the tedium. The program is a design interface that takes a given form, in this case a sweater, and allows me to draw and generate crochet patterns in the "sweater space". The resultant pattern is too complex to follow as you would a normal crochet pattern, so once a pattern is generated, I can go back through it with the program and follow along step-by-step as I crochet.

My fascination with crochet patterns, sparked by the Institute for Figuring's hyperbolic crochet patterns was increased when I researched the parallel histories of textiles and computation.

One of the most important breakthroughs in computation was made by Charles Babbage and his designs for the Analytical Engine. Unlike his earlier Difference Engine, the Analytical Engine was general purpose, meaning it could be programmed to perform any mathematical task and print the results. Babbage's method for storing programs was the same as a recently developed method for storing woven patterns for automated looms: punched cards, invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801.

While the Jacquard Loom allowed for the beautiful and elaborate patterns to be woven again and again effortlessly, it automated the process of textile production, putting many people out of work and separating the producer from their product. Most of the weavers who lost their jobs were women (sort of like "spinsters", who spun the thread). Knitting was also automated in 1589 by William Lee, out of sheer jealousy that his wife was spending more time with her knitting than with him. Surprisingly, a similar historical event occurred in computation; the term "computer" was once a job title and those workers were also often women. Much of computation was seen as a kind of clerical work on par with typing and many of these jobs were lost once computation was automated.

On one level, this project is an experiment in appropriating technology for mass production for the purposes of small-scale production, while maintaining a connection between the producer and the produced good. This is what I call "augmented craft", as distinct from automated production. The computer plays a role, but it does not displace the person.

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