Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


If one makes an ontological distinction between patterns and textiles, an argument can be developed to assess the potential role that textiles may have played in the transmission of mathematical knowledge, concerning the spatial dimension. This paper seeks to address early Islamic textiles within the context of contemporary advances in the history of mathematics from the 8th – 10th centuries, which may have influenced, or been influenced by, technical developments in the production of pattern-woven textiles.

In particular, this paper explores patterns in woven textiles ascribed to the Sasanian Empire and its aftermath in Iran and Central Asia, with a view towards determining their relationship to mathematical ideas then in current circulation. The works of Omar Khayyam, al-Khwarezmi, and al-Biruni, among others, are examined with respect to units and repeats, development of an understanding of algorithms, and the evolution of iterations of formulas and their applications, which eventually led to the spread of Islamic mathematical ideas to Europe. The word algorithm is commonly accepted as a Latin corruption of al-Khwarezmi’s name, and the word algebra derives from the title of his work on restoring and balancing equations, Al Jabr wa’l Muqabala, for which no Latin equivalent word could be found to express his revolutionary mathematical ideas. The overall framework of tangential pearl roundels, with a variety of main motifs drawn from the repertory of Sasanian royal iconography, serves as the starting point for an exploration of Islamic textiles that relate to mathematical forms of expression in patterns.