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Discussion leaders: Anastasia Salter and Anne Sullivan
Introduction: Of Textiles and Technology
Our lives are surrounded by textiles–from the clothes we wear, to the sheets and blankets on our beds, to the covers on our furniture in our homes, offices, and cars–however, they are rarely noticed or appreciated. Historically shunted to the sidelines as a “craft” or “women’s work,” the myriad of textile traditions - from sewing and quilting, to knitting, weaving, and crochet, to embroidery and lace making, and beyond - are only rarely welcome in galleries both present and past. Instead, these traditions are often associated with the domestic sphere and consequently devalued.
Despite this (and in some ways because of this), there is a powerful history in the computational potential of textiles that provides an interesting perspective to our code critique exercise. Throughout history, textiles have been used to give a voice to those who society silenced, and coded messages are a part of this history. While the myth of the Underground Railroad quilts is likely not true, there are plenty of other examples of coded messaging in textiles. For instance, in World War II, women knitters were not noticed, which provided them ample opportunities to encode messages in their knitting by representing Morse Code (you can read a brief synopsis of WWII usage of knitting here.) Textiles continue to be powerful tools for information communication and visualization, particularly in feminist frameworks (here’s a brief discussion of this is the context of pandemic data visualization, for instance.)
Beyond encoded messages, textile instructional patterns that are followed to create a crafted object are quite similar to programmatic code. Patterns are sequential instructions that have specialized syntax which also include variables, loops, conditionals, algorithms, etc. While the vocabulary may be different between textile crafters and programmers, the concepts are the same. There’s also some important fundamental similarities between how code and patterns are distributed, remixed, and reimagined, which we hope will particularly come through in the sample “code” we’ve chosen for this discussion thread.
Our thread this week offers the provocation of patterns as code: indeed, the code offered for critique is a pattern generated through code. We’re focusing particularly on the relationship of textile work to generative projects, as the underlying structures of both code and pattern are made more visible through this juxtaposition.
Generating Context: Our Work
For context, both of us work frequently with different types of “generative” textile projects that are not quite like the one we’ve selected for code critique, but do have some common threads Here’s some links to information on some of our work for context:
To foster discussion in these intersections, this past year, we launched Knit&Perl, a community at the intersection of technology and text/iles. In addition to discussing here, come join us as we develop lines of inquiry, creativity, and reflection. The community is on Discord, ping us for an invite (and, if you happen to be a Discord researcher, ask Anastasia about their graduate student’s awesome new Discord research group D/ARC!)
Along with this contextual post launching Week 2, we have a code critique thread launching on SkyKnit, and watch for a generative thread from Nick Montfort on exploratory programming in the humanities!