Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).


Copyright © 1998 by the author(s)


Typically in Oriental carpets, many patterns combine to make the whole. Within an oblong field there is often an overall repeat pattern arbitrarily cut off by borders. Field patterns cover the plane, while border patterns are linear. Patterning -- and color -- in Oriental carpets is carried by the pile (supplementary weft-wrapping) that projects from the surface of a plain weave foundation.

If we take as our definition of pattern the systematic repetition of a unit, distinctions become clear between designs and patterns. While the possibilities for designs are limitless (within the constraints of a medium), the possibilities for repeating designs to form patterns are restricted by the mathematical laws of symmetry. When viewed in two dimensions, all patterns rely upon four basic symmetries. Mathematicians call these rigid motions because they suggest movements or transformations without distortion of size or shape around a point (rotation), or along or across a line (translation; reflection; glide reflection), and to cover a plane (symmetry groups).

This presentation, to be conducted as a site seminar at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, will utilize symmetry analysis to explore the ways that weavers have combined symmetry, asymmetry, and symmetry-breaking in their creation of great works of art.