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Part 1 LKL-MathsArt Seminar Mary Harris "SOME MATHEMATICS WITHIN?"

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Published on Apr 13, 2011

SOME MATHEMATICS WITHIN? WHAT ACTUALLY GOES ON IN SOME TRADITIONAL TEXTILES CRAFTS?

This is the first part of An LKL Maths-Art seminar by Mary Harris which took place on Thursday 10 March 2011, at the London Knowledge Lab, WC1N 3QS
See www.lkl.ac.uk/events/maths-art for details of other seminars.

Mary Harris has been an influential researcher on mathematical thinking and domestic textile crafts over many decades. In the 1980s, she
developed the hugely successful exhibition COMMON THREADS which toured the UK for two years, and was re-developed as a touring exhibition for the British Council, which visited 23 countries between 1991 and 1994. A relfection on this experience was published in the 1997 book, "Common Threads: Women, mathematics and work".

Mary began her talk by explaining that it was what she had learned from her learning disabled daughter Jane, that had brought her into mathematics education, following own education in science. In particular, Mary became interested in the different contexts in which Jane could and could not understand the idea of "more", and that led her into the wider study of different contexts in which people who have no particular interest in formal mathematics, learn and use mathematics in their places of work. She used both published research in learning, and skills research in workplaces, as the basis for producing learning materials for schools.
The introductory text that Mary provided for the talk is as follows:

This seminar returns to the original questions which inspired Common Threads. Most of us wear clothes most of the time and they and the fabrics they are made of are mostly made by women, either at home or in factories. Whilst researching women's work with textiles during the 1980s I found myself discovering
undeniable mathematical thought going on in the very medium often taken as the mark of "brainless femininity". So I have spent a lot of time since then studying the kinds of mathematical thought which are involved in domestic work with textiles. In the Common Threads exhibition, low-status domestic textiles were labelled in the high-status language of mathematics. By co-incidence this happened just at a time when the relative failure in school mathematics of girls and some ethnic minority children had been recognised as a serious problem.

I will begin the seminar with an incident which provoked me into taking a closer look at what actually goes on when weaving a kilim rug. I will then look at some knitted garments and how they were made. Current commercial instructions for hand-knitting, confusingly called "patterns", tend to be line by line
physical descriptions of what a knitter does. This does not always reflect what a knitter actually thinks and such "patterns" often end up looking like uninviting sheets of algebra. I argue that there must be a better way, and invite you to find a general way of writing instructions for making a tam o' shanter.

To enjoy this session there is absolutely no need whatsoever to be able to knit!

See the rest of the playlist for the remainder of the talk.

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