As a child, I loved learning to tie knots. I had a catalog in my mind of ways I could do things: knots to tie things down, to tie things together, to suspend, to shorten, to fasten, to build. Still today, I find them elegant and indispensable. As an adult, things are increasingly “maybe this, maybe that,” and gray areas begin to wash out black and white ones. A knot, though, either is or is not what it is meant to be. The rope goes either over or underneath itself, and as a result a knot remains a dicrete entity.
A knot, in a way, is a zero-dimensional thing. It can be thought to exist only as a point. In this way, a chain becomes a knot with one dimension, its length, and a textile is a knot with two, with length and width. But the real world references for this interpretation end here. There isn’t, as I saw it, an analog in three dimensions (let alone four, but that’s a story for another day).
What purposes could a knot serve in three dimensions? Chains and textiles, in particular textiles, are perhaps some of the most widely used human inventions. The global textile industry represents on the order of half a trillion USD annually (and inceidentally is one of the worst polluting industries).
Textiles are almost exclusively two types: woven and knit. A woven textile (take a look at your jeans) consists of many warp fibers running the length of a swatch, and a single weft strand that runs back and forth along the width. On an industrial scale, large looms weave incredibly complex patterns and forms very quickly from a web of fibers.
A knit textile, though, (look closely at a jersey shirt) is created from a single strand that is looped back and forth through itself. Variations in material used, diameter and density of a yarn, tension in the yarn during knitting, and other factors create the enormous variation in knitted textiles. Entire programs, conferences, courses, and shelves of books are dedicated to the study and production of textiles; nearly everyone in the world interacts with textiles every hour of the day.
This of course doesn’t mean that there’s a reason to make a textile in anything other than two fundamental dimensions. But I would like to find out where that thinking leads.
three-dimensional fabric samples