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Roots of Unity

Roots of Unity


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Wear Your Geeky Heart on Your Sleeve, Literally

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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There’s a contest going on right now that could reward you for letting your geek flag fly. Spoonflower, a fabric design website, is hosting a “geek chic” design contest that closes April 23. It’s held in conjunction with Robert Kaufman Fabrics, and the lucky winner will get to create a fabric collection for Robert Kaufman.

A fabric design I made using a picture of the Himalayas. (Pictureof the Himalayas by NASA.) Don't you need a sheath dress with this design? Or perhaps a cravat?

I had been aware of Spoonflower for a while, but I really got excited about fabric design at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in January. I attended a talk by Frank Farris, a mathematician at Santa Clara University, in which he described how he used Spoonflower to create mathematically sophisticated textiles for a recent art installation. To read more about how Farris uses mathematics to make beautiful, “impossible” designs, check out this excellent article by Erica Klarreich.

One of my hobbies is sewing (or as I prefer to think of it, applied geometry), and as a result I have been slightly reluctant to succumb to the siren song of Spoonflower. Without careful self-regulation, I’m sure I could spend all my money buying custom fabric and all my time sewing with it! But with slight trepidation I’ve started to dip my toe in the water. I only have two public designs so far, but the geek chic contest has me fired up about making more.

I haven’t quite decided what my contest entry will be yet. The geek landscape is almost unfathomably large, extending from the forests of Middle Earth to the most distant quasars in the universe, but of course I will be looking to mathematics for my inspiration. I’m really looking forward to seeing what all the other designers come up with as well, so if you’re a chic geek, you should enter the contest and decrease my chances of winning!

Evelyn Lamb About the Author: Evelyn Lamb is a postdoc at the University of Utah. She writes about mathematics and other cool stuff. Follow on Twitter @evelynjlamb.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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  1. 1. Petra 6:55 pm 04/10/2013

    Sewing and art of any form is a wonderful tickler for the mind as it causes us to reach into places where sciences (that are highly structured) won’t allow us to go and in that it spins the idea factory.

    Some years ago I created Seismo ties in a medium blue with a red seismogram near the tip and they were quite well received.

    Link to this

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