Why Weaving and Coding matter

Renata and I have been giving workshops connecting coding and weaving for over a year. An idea that came up while we were cleaning our working spaces and taking our things out of the place where we met and where we spent two years exploring our own creativity, has grown to become a big and important project for us. Our collaborations started before that, when we had the chance of creating a workshop about weaving to honor the powerful women in our lives while we were still students. However, I prefer to think that we started collaborating the day we met, when needless to say it, we committed to support each other in the journey we were about to start.

It’s been over a year since that first workshop and we’ve grown stronger and clearer about our purpose with it. We’ve had the opportunity of delivering different workshops and learning so much in the process, about ourselves and from the people participating in them. From just weaving, to soft circuitry, to our best known “Weaving to Code, Coding to Weave” workshop, they’ve all had given us the opportunity of exploring topics we care about while working with our hands. For the people attending, it’s been a way of learning a new approach to teach, a new tool to incorporate in their work or just something new to think about. In “Weaving to Code, Coding to Weave” we’ve been trying to demystify the complexity of both topics, by showing the similarities that are not often exposed between them. Since the beginning we put our soul and passions into this because even when we were not sure what we were doing, we knew that creating this connection between these two activities was going to somehow open a lid in people’s minds. We knew that we could create a new conversation about tradition and technology, about recognizing activities that have historically empowered so many women and that are still doing it now, about the preservation of history from a different point of view, about storytelling. We knew that by braiding the relationship between them we could bring crafters and coders together, and show how connected their work is.

Last weekend we travelled to Santa Fe in New Mexico to be part of the Currents New Media Festival and give our “Weaving to Code, Coding to Weave” workshop to a new group of people. Sandy Zane facilitated us a beautiful space at Canyon Road Creative, a small gallery in Canyon Road, an area with over 100 galleries and known to be one of the roads with the most concentration of galleries. This was the third iteration of this specific workshop, with new tools (we designed a new weaving tool kit to give to the participants), new people and a bigger challenge. And because I don’t ever want to forget how these two days we spent with the amazing 10 people felt, that I had the necessity of writing this text.

For the first time, we had profesional weavers who signed up and wanted to know what’s the difference between using p5.js and just designing using Illustrator. They wanted to know how to work with Data and how could that be translated into their weavings. They were curious about our projects and just looking at “our code”. They wanted to learn about our thinking process and they were surprised each time we showed a new thing they could do with coding. They were energetically asking us to open that lid. It’s been two days after this and I’ve jumped to the conclusion that without even realizing it, we touched that community of weavers, of hand crafters that we’ve been trying to reach to show them how their work is historically connected to programming, and how programming can positively influence the way they perceive their work. We’ve been trying to reach them so we could show them how creating a system to design their patterns can be more powerful than just creating one design, one pattern at a time. Without even realizing it, we made it to that community we respect so much and that inspired us when we started this project. I don’t ever want to forget this feeling.

Our workshop reflects on the importance of creating alternative spaces for education. It creates a community of people that are put together in the same room, either because they weave, they code, they do both or they don’t do any of them, but they find something intriguing in connecting two activities that could seem to not be related at all. It’s a space to share and to connect, to develop respect from the technology we use nowadays but also for the technology that was once used to empower women and to preserve knowledge. This workshop is about creating analogies to facilitate the learning process, to connect communities that seem to be apart, to communicate and to honor the textile art, to create dialogue.

The feeling of giving a new tool to someone that makes them think about something they didn’t think before to apply when they create something new is amazing. When we first designed this workshop, we thought a lot in us and how activities like this, that connect physical handcrafting with digital design would have helped us learn faster. We always saw coding as this tool that could make all of our ideas turn into something real. By connecting how binary systems work to the art of weaving, we started creating a thread that connects the past with the future. It is in the story of this connection that we are able to understand how humans evolved to design new tools but how the logic behind them is still the same.

This experience in Santa Fe helped me understand more than ever why we do this. Renata is passionate about those daily activities that can empower people, especially women. Her eye for design is unique and her artistic way of making things happen, in her own style, in her own rhythm, is always perfectly done. In my case, I want to tell stories and I’ve found in textiles the perfect way to explore narratives at their core. To leave aside any other type of visual reference I’ve worked with before to just think about the rhythm, the feeling and the secret flavor of what constitutes a real narrative, one that will be able to change minds, to change attitudes. We both want to create conversations, because we both feel our work has the power to do it.

Soon Renata and I will no longer be in the same city, but this adventure of coding and weaving is definitely just starting. It just reached the point were the lid is starting to be opened and that means that now we need to work harder than ever before. Weaving and Coding matter because it connects tradition with technology, and it respects each activity by itself, because it recognizes how both have empowered women and it honors them, from Ada Lovelace as the first programmer, to Anni Albers as a textile artist, to the Mayan Communities in Guatemala trying to gain intellectual property rights over their weaving designs, to every girl wanting to make a difference by getting involved in STEM education nowadays. “Weaving to Code, Coding to Weave” is not just another workshop, it’s a new way of thinking, that recognizes where we come from and how that influences where are we heading to, and that is something we should never forget.

Before the workshop ended and while I was having a conversation with some of the girls, Sandy told me “Do you feel the energy in the room?”. I turned around and saw people talking non stop and looking at each other’s work. I saw people asking questions to Renata and others just looking amazed at what they created. I saw people coding in iPads because they don’t use computers. Then I looked back to her. “That’s exactly what every instructor wants to generate. And that’s what you both did”, she continued. I don’t think we ever thought about it in that way, but I felt we accomplished something new, because learning will never exist without excitement and excitement will never exist without humanness. Weaving and Coding also matter because it recognizes both activities as powerful artistic practices, and that means that its richness is not about the loom or the computer, it’s about the knowledge created by the human behind it. It will always be about the human behind it.

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We decided to become fancier and we are building a space online to share everything we've been doing. You'll be able to see more soon: http://weavingxcoding.studio/