The Geometry of Textiles

In her symposium paper Textiles and the Body: The Geometry of Clothing, Madelyn Shaw talks about the mathematical principles of weaving material used in clothing:

“Interlaced threads create square or triangular grids, techniques such as knitting or crocheting can make grids of any shape, from triangular to polyhedral. Those who make clothing transform flat fabric planes into three-dimensional forms through a variety of means.”

Patterns occur not only on the finished fabric as a visual design—they are integral to the structure of the garment itself. A single thread can generate complex geometric patterns that most people wearing the finished garment will never see with the naked eye or look for in the first place. In the Textile Research Journal article Hierarchy of Textile Structures and Architecture of Fabric Geometric Models (Lomov, S.V; Huysmans, G; Verpoest, I; 2001), it is posed that the hierarchical structure of fibrous materials influence the mechanical behaviour of textiles. A well-developed weave can result in sturdier fabric and a longer lifespan of the garment. Additional fabrics can also be added to make the inherent geometry of the weave varied and more complex, although this raises the possibility of structural inconsistency.

There are a number of recognisable garments that utilise geometric shapes: the kaftan, the poncho, or the Pakistani jumlo (Shaw, M. 2006), and a number of high fashion designs draw on geometry to enhance and bring attention to different areas of the body (Fig.1).

An interesting point to note about the inherent geometry within textiles are the changes that take place throughout the course of a garment’s lifespan, from the moment it is woven to the moment it is discarded. Force and pull can lead to stretching at various stages and none of the shapes that are created during the sewing will remain in a solid state—they will constantly fluctuate with wear and even become permanently distorted in some cases of intense wear. The force applied to yarns and fibres creates a deeper and ever-changing level of geometry. In the paper Mechanics of Textile Composites: Micro-Geometry (Miao, Y; Zhou, E; Wang, Y; Cheeseman B. 2007) this is referred to as “micro-geometry.”

I decided to look more closely at how pressure and force can change the nature of geometry within textiles. I spread one of my cardigans across a table and then took a photo of the fabric in its unworn, untouched state. Fig.2 shows the change in the geometry of the weave when the jumper was pulled at either side.

A more obvious type of geometry that can be applied to a garment is the visual design and pattern, often created by using different colours or different materials. Repetitive pattern brings structure, gives flow and rhythm, and can be appealing visually and aesthetically (Perkins, M. 2015). During my research I wanted to know why we are drawn to geometric patterns and what it is about patterns that we find pleasing. Mathematician Ian Stewart says that we live in a universe of patterns (Stewart, I. 1998), from naturally occurring patterns in the makeup of plants, the formation of clouds in the sky, in topography, to genealogical patterns and the structure of our families. The patterns that surround us every day provide our lives with symmetry, repetition, order, movement and rhythm (Kraft, K. 2015), and it is hard to believe that patterns do not emotionally and intellectually influence us all in some way.

Perhaps this is why we are drawn to structure and order; is necessary in society, and for many people it is necessary in day to day planning and living. Geometry, being present in many aspects of our lives, even down to the clothes we wear, could play more of a role in how we feel and what we think than we realise. 

In Design Aesthetics: Principles of Pleasure in Design, Paul Hekkert discusses the meaning of aesthetics, and argues that works of art are mostly produced for the purpose of gratifying the senses (Hekkert, P. 2006).  This could go doubly for textiles, whose tactile and visual experience combines to produce a stronger reaction. But is there a deeper logic at work in the things we are drawn to? Hekkert also raises the question of why we like certain objects—what is it about a pattern or the feel of a product that reaches us on a deeper level than the purely visual? Something well-structured could subliminally tell us that it is sturdy and safe. A geometric pattern can also imply stability and structure, and bring comfort in its repetition and order. Hekkert writes:

“As demonstrated, adaptations have evolved to serve functions beneficial to our survival. It would have been helpful for the development of these adaptations if things in the world around us that contribute to these functions were reinforced (Tooby & Cosmides, 2001). In other words, it must be beneficial for humans to seek cues or patterns that serve these adaptive functions. We therefore (have come to) derive (aesthetic) pleasure from patterns or features that are advantageous to these functions.”

If this is the case, then we instinctively look for recognisable or pleasing patterns as a way of choosing the safest, most beneficial course of action. It would be an interesting experiment to see if somebody wearing a geometric pattern and somebody wearing a randomised pattern influences how trustworthy or approachable others perceive them.

Through my research into geometry used in textiles I have discovered that there are a number of different ways geometric shapes can play a part in our garments and the fabrics surrounding us. Geometry is worth considering when creating a textile and pattern is important for a designer working with textiles. Additionally, geometry and pattern can be used to evoke different meanings and responses and also influence the integrity of a textile.


Hekkert, P (2006): Design Aesthetics: Principles of Pleasure in Design. Delft University of Technology, Netherlands.

Kraft, Kerstin (2015): Textile Patterns and their Epistemological Functions. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture.

Lomov, S.V; Huysmans, G; Verpoest, I (2001). Hierarchy of Textile Structures and Architecture of Fabric Geometric Models. Leiden University, Netherlands.

Miao, Yuyang; Zhou, Eric; Wang, Youqi; Cheeseman, Bryan A. (2007): Mechanics of Textile Composites: Micro-Geometry. Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, Kansas State University, USA.

Perkins, M. (2015): Print & Pattern : Geometric. 1st edition, Laurence King Publishing, London.

Shaw, Madelyn (2006): Textiles and the Body: The Geometry of Clothing. Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings, University of Nebraska – Lincoln.


Keyword Study #1: Geometry

For the second week of our Masters we were asked to pick one word from our personal statements and create a keyword study. I chose the word geometry. It doesn’t sound like the type of keyword you would expect on an art course, does it? But geometric shapes and patterns are all around us – in nature, in our homes, in architecture and our surrounding environments, in the media, in our brands, and in our creative consciousness.

I am fascinated by geometry used in spiritual art and design and how the formation of shapes and construction of patterns can give us a sense of faith, hope and surety. It can also provide a sense of structure in our belief systems and a way to visually interpret the security that our beliefs bring us. This is something I have encountered while travelling and I plan to create a blog post focused solely on my experiences with spiritual geometric art in the future.

Geometric shapes are also popular in logo and brand creation. Could this be because they also provide a sense of security and structure in the brands that we encounter day to day? Are we more likely to trust a brand whose logo utilises geometry than one that favours a more fluid and relaxed approach?

I also wonder if geometric designs can be deconstructed or reformed to create a more jagged and unnerving feeling, perhaps signifying the breakdown of stability? This is another element to my keyword that I plan to experiment with over the next few weeks.

For week two, we were also given the task of finding:

1. A literal example of our keyword
2. An abstract example of our keyword
3. Another artist’s interpretation of our keyword

For my literal image I went with a basic geometric pattern:


This pattern was originally created for a brush-making company for use on toothbrush packaging. The pattern features the company brand colours and was designed to be eye catching but still retain a corporate feel. The angles and lines were intended to create a sense of structure and maturity, and the fact that I did not use a repeating pattern implies that the company strive for innovation and thinking outside the box. I tried a version with a repeating pattern and though tidy it did not give off an impression of the company or the product development process. One thing I don’t think worked was the intricacy of the overall design; it’s extremely busy, and teeters too close to the edge of playful which does not fit with the brand. If tasked to create further toothbrush artwork I doubt I will use such an intricate geometric pattern. If the shapes were bigger and more clearly defined, the implication that the company is sturdy and secure might come across more clearly. I did research on other well-known toothbrush brands and noticed they often followed a common theme, with a prevalence of curves and swooping shapes, and I wanted this packaging to stand out from the crowd.

My first abstract image shows a naturally occurring geometry:


For my second abstract example, I decided to conduct my own experiment and created a geometric shape in Illustrator (this took approximately ten minutes). During a conference with my fellow students I asked people to tell me what the following image evoked in them:


I had come up with a list of possible connotations alreadymystical, mathematical, spiritual, abstract, fantasy, ritual. There were also a couple of ideas that I hadn’t considered, including circuitry and constellation (and zodiac). After the conference I continued to look at the design and draw connections. I ended up with two more ideas: hoax in the context of crop circles, and insignia in the context of an organisation or gang.

It’s interesting that the connection to a series of basic shapes depends on a person’s interests, beliefs and ideas they have absorbed elsewhere.

Finally, my third entry is a piece by artist Manolo Gamboa Naon, which you can see on Behance here. I can stare at Manolo’s art for ages and get drawn deeper and deeper. It feels almost like I’m looking down onto a strange and colourful cityscape. The faint grey lines and intersections are like many pathways and possible directions people can travel, with the larger circular shapes like buildings with their own networks and pathways within. It could also represent a person’s brain, with its innumerable neural pathways and connections, the colours signifying the different areas of the brain working for different purposes. Manolo is a creative coder who also makes video games, which is possibly why when I look at this piece I see a landscape full of areas to traverse and explore.

Beehive Photo | Manolo Gamboa Naon