• Kate O'Brien

Paper Weaving | 20 April 2022

(an Art & Geometry session)

We’ve been running an informal group at MMU called “Art and Geometry” since 2018. Before the pandemic, we often met in person at MMU for artful adventures in making monoprints or tying khipu knots. Forced online in early 2020, we’ve slowly gained experience crafting together through the little cameras embedded in our phones and computers. The work of running these live mathematical crafting sessions over the Internet is a continuing source of questions: How to show and explain your ideas to others who cannot always see the fullness of your gestures? How to know when to contribute an errant thought inside of the formal turn-by-turn speaking format of a large Zoom room? Although these quandaries are never solved, it’s become clear that our work online has expanded the A&G community to include interested colleagues from around the world. Unable to abandon these important connections, it's clear that this collaborative forum is here to stay.

Today – Wednesday, the 20th of April, 2022 – was the start of a new series of A&G explorations on paper weaving. Inspired by the work of Lene and Anna Schepper, our group gathered for a relaxed initial session working with templates from the Schlepper’s book, The Art of Paper Weaving. We spent the start of the session carefully cutting out two templates while introducing ourselves. It was exciting to see and hear from many new faces – there was a strong showing from The Open University, as well as several new participants from University of Bristol, University of St. Andrews, and Université du Québec à Montréal. As usual, participants also joined us from outside of academia as well, including several secondary school teachers from India, and basket makers and artists from across England.

After this round introductions and detailed cutting work, the weaving began. What was most exciting for me was that – somehow – I had received the templates for our paper weaving without any information about what it wove. Trying to imagine and shape, shape and imagine what form that this strange collection of paper strands would take – this was quite a challenge! It was only through seeing others’ progress that I began to make sense of the contours of what turned out to be a woven cone.

Over the course of our session, we shared various techniques for weaving the cone. Some found that cupping the bottom like an ice cream cone was helpful. Others preferred to weave the strands on the surface of their desk first and then shape them conically afterward. I’m sure there were still other methods that I missed in my own efforts to focus on what was in my hands. A few participants discovered that having a hand-full of paper clips were extremely helpful for holding strands of paper in place while interweaving other sections of the cone. (“Clippy” tools like these have been key components of our paper weaving arsenal ever since.)

Questions also surfaced about whether other weave structures besides “plain weave” (your classic – over, under, over, under) could be used to create the cone. Several participants tried a twill weave and discovered that the twill structure creates a horizontal banded effect when you use templates of different colours. (This was news to me because on a flat plane, this weave structure creates a diagonal line – like the diagonal of denim jeans.) One participant speculated that perhaps the inverse twill (weaving “over, over, under” instead of “under, under, over”) might create a vertical lines. Unfortunately, there was no time to test her hypothesis.

Thankfully, our colleague Vinay has set up a padlet to collect our experiments and observations. As our research continues, I believe that our next steps will involve thinking about how we can extend what we have learned from cone weaving to design our own templates and novel woven forms. We meet twice a month, so maybe we’ll see you at our next paper weaving session.

Kate O'Brien

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