Online Studio week 4, Wednesday 29th July

Online Studio no 4 29thJuly and Mathematics and Art Reading Groups

The preparation

This week the plan was to continue with looping, and to make sure we were prepared for Ricardo’s Maths and Art Reading group the following day. This reading group crosses the boundaries between studying and making, with readings and linked practical activities. For two sessions now we had had staff, students and basketmakers, all in dialogue. Often, we might be reading about one thing, such as Le Corbusier’s ideas of The Modulor, while at the same time be carrying out knotting activities such as the Carrick knot inspired by a discussion a couple of weeks previously. So, the reading group reframes our attention in any one session, as well as initiating diverse discussion and making activities. Part of the making is linked to Vinay’s great interest in diagrams. Since May, we had been looking at how diagrams could convey different kinds of information, how they could articulate a problem, or provide assistance in how to do something.

The Studio

The studio session was quiet, everyone worked on their pieces. It was striking how we can all be ‘together’ online, even while not speaking. The hardest bit is to move ourselves to get up and make a cup of tea, take a break, which often helps our making if we are stuck.

My aim this week, still linking also to Jason’s Borneo looped back-pack, was to see how to link the looped rows with pairing. (The rows already link to each other with loops, but in the Borneo baskets, there are additional rows of pairing which seems to make the weave even more stable.) I also wanted to revert to the Borneo looping direction (which was the way I had started doing it), having mastered the alternative direction led by Geraldine last week. At the same time, and perhaps unwisely, I decided to also see if I could make the loops grow larger into a spiral, since we were exploring whether it was possible to make a spiral grow by a making technique linked to a mathematical series in the same way as a shell could grow spiral-wise.

This was another week where my progress was almost painful in its slowness. First of all, my brain/practice could not revert back to the old looping direction, even though I had one of Jason’s baskets with my original direction loops in front of me. But the major challenge came at the end of row 1. First, I added the pairing. That was no problem. But trying then to do row 2, with the pattern obscured by the pairing, as well as row 2 being more complex than row 1, was almost impossible to achieve.

It was something to do with not being able to see the exact path where the rattan on the original went, and when I thought I had grasped it, and turned to my work, then I would get lost again, or not be able to find where I thought I had been.

So, this is what I achieved! Ironically, the main discussion I have had with basketmakers such as Bunty Ball is precisely about when you do the pairing – during the process, row by row – or at the very end, which could be fiddly. Ironically, a couple of weeks later, Geraldine tried adding the pairing after all the looping was done. It seemed so much easier.

But, I think the painful sense of losing the pattern is something to be explored, along with the pleasure of finding or grasping it, hopefully, at some point. It all links to understanding, and how learning through making can help things make mathematical sense and also pattern sense.

The Reading Group

Our studio looping activity covered two reading group sessions (16thand 30thJuly) – both inspired by the Golden Spiral. We had been reading Darcy Wentworth Thompson’s On Growth and Form, and Tam had found a reading which set out to confound the theory that natural spirals, such as in Nautilus shells, (but also in distribution of leaves on plants, pine cone seeds, sunflower seed distribution…) grew according to phi, the so-called Golden Ratio, linked to the Fibonacci Series.








Discussion developed about whether it was possible to make something which could develop to create a similar spiral form as a growing, living thing, such as a Nautilus shell. I knew that expanding spiral cords similar to the Shinto ‘enclosing rope’, shimenawa, could be made simply by hand twining.

I had done something similar  from willow many years ago. Hilary also had a small example of one, although it was made around a form; and we also know that many baskets start from the base and grow up and out in spiral form. Coiled and woven baskets providing two very good examples. The Perigord basket providing a third. As do all manner of corn dolly weaves, albeit differently.

But here, we turned to Geraldine’s work, because of her great interest in looping and spirals.

The article Tam had found was by Paul Gailunas, whose aim was to disprove that the Golden Ratio determined the proportion of the Nautilus shell (see Bridges 2015). Gailunas was particularly vexed by Theodore Cook’s works, Spirals in Nature and Art and the Curves of Life. Cook had apparently come upon the theory of parallels between patterns of growth and ‘beauty’ during his work as a journalist. The nuances of this argument, I found a little difficult to follow in general, but Gailunas seems to suggest that that a great body of theory on the subject had come about due to a misprint.

In regard to Darcy Thompson’s interest in spirals, this lies more in relation to how logarithmic spirals come about through growth in organisms that increase in size from one end only, ‘by steady accretion of material onto what is already there.’ There is a kind of self-similarity over scale in this which results in a spiral. Thompson’s interest was more in terms of the limits to morphology. But he did include the Golden Spiral in his explorations of ‘gnomic growth’. Thus an association of ideas began between the Fibonacci series and growth, which as Gailunas said, has been rather tenacious.

In regard to looping and spirals, a slide show by Geraldine sums up the key reasons of how she sees it working.  See the link here

The use of interlocking looping in nalbinding, and so called ‘cyclic knots’, was also brought up by Mary.

We had laid the ground for the Reading Group’s session on looping and spirals by setting an exercise based on a worksheet and video sent by Geraldine. Ricardo had sent everyone materials to try out at home. The aim of the session had been that everyone had time to do some practical making using looping during the session and to see how things developed. In the event, things went rather differently. Instead, there was a long discussion about the difficulties of making by just following diagrams and films, and working alone based on people’s experience of trying this at home.

The discussion

Charlotte discussed how the first row had seemed easy, the diagrams helped, as did the video that Geraldine had sent – including her use of a shower hose. Scale had really helped But, the second row was much harder. She felt as if ‘she couldn’t understand what she was doing.’ She ‘couldn’t read what she was doing while she was doing it.’

Geraldines shower hose looping demonstration

Tam said it had ‘taken him a while to get back into it’, but he remembered it from an earlier session with Geraldine.

Vinay said he managed just one row, there was so much to explore on just closing up one row of loops, to form a ‘cylinder’, that he had not got onto the second layer. In his words…

“The diagrams and Geraldine’s video were quite helpful in carrying out the repeated looping but I struggled to ‘close’ an open strand of loops into a cylinder, while maintaining the pattern of looping. What helped me with this was the use of language, e.g., of ‘over-and-under’ crossings, and related rhythms of action and language (which relates to the point on ‘mantra’s mentioned by others in this session). All of my pieces are cylindrical. It also helped to give the ‘cylinders’ a bowl-like shape. I did this using the more rigid telephone wire and round a water bottle. Closing the cylinder was easier with a larger number of loops but I struggled when there were fewer loops. I made one with 6 loops, then with 5, 4, and 3 loops. Ricardo asked if I had made a 2-loop cylinder? While that should be possible, I couldn’t quite do it. I still don’t get/‘know how to do it’. It’s very intense. I need to do it ‘again and again’.”


The conversation moved into a discussion on anti-prisms and polyhedra. Vinay said, “I could change the length of certain segments of the loops and apply different curvature (less symmetric than the original looping but still retaining some symmetry), whereby the cylinders/cups could be seen as (wireframes for) anti-prisms. I would like to experiment more with these and, once I have dexterity, I would like to try it with cane. Also, I believe the looped cylinders are the same as the ‘Turks cap’ knots discussed in the Forces in Translation online event.  And they also remind me of wire-loop ‘toys’ traditionally made in India (as in the image below). One theme that interests me, and has been present in our weaving and looping discussions, is how ‘one-dimensional’ strands form ‘two-dimensional’ structures – and the role of diagrams in facilitating, communicating and studying this interplay. And then there’s the role of action, rhythm, pattern, sound, memory, mantra, mathematics … Not quite sure what to make of it all, but it is fascinating!”

Giving an overview, Ricardo commented that we are turning maths not into solving problems, but into finding problems. (Ironically, I remember anthropology being critiqued once by  hard scientists who said just that – ‘Why do anthropologists always find questions, rather than answer them?) ‘ Vinay’s example is a very good illustration of this, Ricardo said.

Vinay commented that when trying to find mathematical solutions, it’s often easier to find one if there is a symmetrical solution existing.

Hilary had been continuing to try to increase her loops and to see how through this, her work would develop into spiral. She was trying increasing by 20% and also according to the Golden Ratio. She asked whether if what made the form spiral was the leading edge?

Kate said, ‘I had that struggle with the looping too. It’s something about developing sensibility–to be able to see it.’

Music, rhythm, notation  and basketry practice

Ricardo began to discuss rhythm. He said, there’s something new that we have come to experience by practising the looping. For example, we can recognise that the looping is the same because it is repeated. There is something in musical notation that is similar to coming to recognise a looping cycle.

Mamta commented that this made complete sense to her. She would go and retry to see if you can get into the rhythm of it.

Music and musical notation are themselves diagrammatic, Ricardo said. (Ironically, Mary Butcher, a few days after this, sent me an email about German basketry notation, which we will follow up at a later date.)

Mary Crabb commented that her looping is the other way up to Geraldine’s. She finds it’s like hand-stitching.

I mentioned the use of ‘mantras’ in basketry, how one keeps repeating the same phrase to help understand what one is doing. How does this link to rhythm?

Mamta commented that as a child she had learned to plait. This is like plaiting the other way around, how different it feels.

I commented on how long it had taken me to make such a small piece of work ( I think this is my prevailing cry).

Ricardo mentioned that when he had been working on a linear series of loops he could do it quicker than working into a circle. He talked about groupings, and how, if a grouping sequence takes longer than 9 to 10 seconds, you don’t get a sense of the grouping. Similarly, this occurs if the sequence is too fast. So timespan is important. He thinks he has yet to develop the rhythm of looping. Nevertheless, what kind of duration we are experiencing is something that we can grasp.

He also brought up the importance we find in ‘going back to the beginning’. On several occasions people have mentioned how they have to take their work ‘back to the start’. Similarly, with rhythm, said Ricardo. It’s very important with rhythm to start from the beginning, it’s hard to pick up a rhythm from the middle and with looping too, if something goes wrong it seems easier to go back to start.

Mamta commented that going back to the start is also important in counting. For example, when children learn to count they often have to go back to the start if they get lost. It’s harder, for example, to begin counting again from number seven.

Mary drew a parallel of singing in the choir. We always start singing again from the beginning of a phrase if not from start. And it’s always from the start of the phrase. Maybe what’s needed is a ‘meaningful marker’.

Ricardo commented that in diagrams of notation, time disappears. Yet when you make something, time is there, an aspect of the work. Ordinal numbers have a sequence, an essential aspect of them. But cardinal numbers do not have to come next to one another. So, in theorising the continuity between crafts and mathematics, can we say that the rhythm grows in our hands and time gets lost in going back to diagrams?


Geraldine had not been with us for this session, but her presence was there in the films and worksheets she had sent. Even without her, yet also because of her, we did so well. We are all different people from different backgrounds, Ricardo remarked, yet we can all communicate about this.


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