Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


Physics and mathematics are not usually perceived as being closely connected with textile and clothing design or construction, either by scientists or by artists. Those who make clothing from cloth, however, must always take into account two geometries: the plane geometry of the cloth and the solid geometry of the body. In order to clothe the body we begin with cloth. Woven, knitted, knotted, or otherwise constructed, the inherent structure of cloth reflects mathematical principles. 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. A single plane figure—such as a square, rectangle, or circle—can be used to create a garment without cutting or tailoring. Simple modifications are all that is required to fit a length of cloth around the body. The sari and the kilt, for example, use pleating, gathering, tucking, and tying to make the flat plane follow the contours of the three-dimensional body form. Cut and sewn clothing can also follow those principles. A single plane figure can become a garment through the medium of a single seam, as in the tubular sarong. Some designers have utilized these simple forms to great effect. Claire McCardell made an evening gown whose skirt is simply two rectangles seamed together, at the sides, and along the top edge for about one third of the way from each edge. The open portion is then gathered to the waistband, and the points are left to hang and drape in ripples at the side seams. Halston plated with the time-honored sarong effect in some of his designs, wrapping and tying a tube of supple silk charmeuse over the bust to create another striking evening dress. More interesting in terms of construction is the caftan he created by origami-like folding of a narrow textile length into an almost square robe, which still exploits the drape of the bias to mold the body.