Saturday, 11 October 2014

The weaving of grids

For one reason or another on Friday an overlapping theme of weaving and grids surfaced.  There were several threads to the conversations that developed (so to speak) and as always due to the short period of time available for crits and tutorials these were not followed through in any detail.
The process of weaving is at its most basic the intersecting of longitudinal threads, the warp, "that which is thrown across", with transverse threads, the weft, "that which is woven". It is one of the oldest of crafts and because of this has a long complicated series of connections with ancient myth.
The two main mythic traditions that have influenced our own culture are the Anglo-Saxon and the Classical Greek. Both use weaving myths to explain how our lives are determined by fate.
Wyrd is the Anglo-Saxon term. There were three Norns, (Norse Goddesses of Destiny); sisters called Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld; one young, one middle aged and one old. They weave the fate of both humankind and that of the Gods. What they weave is the course of the events that form the underlying structure of life; this pattern if understood, can be used to gain an insight into how everything that happens in the world is interconnected. Hence we use terms such as ‘the pattern of our lives’ or the tapestry of life. The Wyrd connects everything, thoughts, emotions and events on both a cosmic and individual scale, all woven within the threads of an enormous, invisible tapestry. From the moment you are born you are connected to all events and things by a sort of invisible thread that weaves its way around and through all the other threads out there, eventually weaving a pattern that is your life.
In Greek mythology we have The Moirae, or the Fates three old women who control destiny. Clotho spins the thread of life, Lachesis decides on the length of the thread and Atropos cuts the thread on death.
As well as an association with the tapestry or pattern of life, weaving in Greek myth has other connotations.
Penelope the wife of Odysseus weaves a shroud for him by day and unravels it at night, to keep her suitors at bay during the long years she waits for Odysseus’ return.
The Goddess Athena, was supposed to have woven the world into existence.
Arachne, foolishly challenged Athena to a weaving contest and is punished on losing by being changed into a spider; hence ‘arachnids’ is our collective name for spiders.
These myths underpin our understanding of the world, and although we no longer believe in the Gods and Goddesses of Norse or Greek myth our language is suffused with metaphors that have been used for so long we have forgotten where they originated.
“Oh what a tangled web we weave”. Sir Walter Scott
The World Wide Web of course is another interwoven network, also called the Internet which of course brings into this series of associations the net, a type of woven structure that has been used by hunting and fishing societies from time immemorial. There are stories in every culture that use the image of the net as a way to either think about how things are caught or when nets are damaged, how things can escape. The net being essentially about catching fish or the entrapment of animals, its metaphors eventually come to be about not just capture, but about containment and ownership.
When you draw a net you make a grid. A grid is in effect a two dimensional net.

In her book The Originality of the Avant-garde and Other Modernist Myths, Rosalind E. Krauss has a whole chapter on the Grid. She points to the myth of the grid as a dominant factor within Modernist discourse. Interestingly she points to its use as one that allows artists to escape narrative associations in their work but she also goes on to point out how it is almost impossible for artists to avoid its symbolic power. She states that both Mondrian and Malevich saw the grid as a ‘staircase to the universal’, (1986, p. 10) and that Ad Reinhart must have understood that his Ultimate Paintings made the shape of a Greek Cross.

The grid of course is a device that has been used by Renaissance artists to help them take measurements and apply them into perspective and photorealist artists to allow them to copy photographs; it is used by mapmakers to allow them to measure the world, the longitudinal and transverse threads of the loom now becoming lines of longitude and latitude. Graphic designers use grids extensively to organise pages, the history of this overlaps with the history of painting composition. See design grid history
As always these blog posts are to point out directions of interest. You will make your own connections. For instance archeologists use grids, but of a specific sort, the Museum of London archaeological site manual states,
“It is common and good practice on excavations to lay out a grid of 5m squares so as to facilitate planning. This grid is marked out on-site with grid pegs that form the baselines for tapes and other planning tools to aid the drawing of plans. It is also common practice that planning is done for each context on a separate piece of perma-trace that conforms to these 5m grid squares. This is part of the single context recording system. The site grid should be tied into a national geomatic database such as the Ordnance survey”. (1994, p. 128)
Geomatics is the science of spatially referenced information. The wyrd is time and spatially referenced information but of a complexity beyond current science. However they both use idea systems derived from weaving. This is a very rich area to mine and as you uncover different associations you can find new and alternative directions in which to take work, hopefully this basic introduction opens a few doors.

A weaving frame depicted on a Greek vase


Krauss, R (1986) The Originality of the Avant-garde and Other Modernist Myths Cambridge MA: MIT Press 

The Grid in Modern Art click

The Museum of London archaeological site manual, London 1994 obtainable at:

The Loom and Spindle: a comprehensive history downloadable here:

Scheid, John, and Jesper Svenbro (1996). The Craft of Zeus: Myths of Weaving and Fabric. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Weigle, Marta (2007, 1982). Spiders and Spinsters: Women and Mythology. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press.


  1. Hi Garry, this subject is very close to my heart as I have been working with grids in some form or other since I studied for my MFA. I act as a kind of archaeologist digging down through layers of material / time. The upper layers I see as close to the present and under influence from humans. Lower down the natural order takes over. Within the upper layers there is apparantly order and a system of logic but in actual fact chaos reigns. In contrast, the lower layers appear to be chaotic but in actual fact there is an underlying structure and logic, for example as we see on the island of Staffa and at the Giant's Causeway with the hexagonal columns.
    I begin the top layers as a type of game with a dedicated surface to play on and with rules and game pieces to record movement. I then dig down through this layer in an attempt to discover by what mechanism this game functions. I then dig through to the next layer for the same reason and so on down...I will investigate the threads you have opened up here Garry as I believe they will help me a lot. Cheers Garry!

    1. Glad you found the post useful Patrick. I will be posting on layering at some point too, I shall be proposing that one of the ways to read drawings is as a visual equivalent to an archaeologist's dig.