Linear Mod Design by Carly

Linear Mod Design by Carly, tenth grade student

Last night 15 people showed up at the library for a couple of hours to make patterns based on lines and circles. I don’t think anyone knew quite what to expect but that didn’t keep them from showing up. A brave bunch. The participants were tweens, teens, and adults. There was at least a 50 year gap between the youngest and oldest: it was quite wonderful to have this group all in one room, as each generation brings their own aesthetic, energy, and reflective questions with them.

by Cordelll,  a ninth grade student

by Cordelll, a ninth grade student

I demonstrated two ways of making designs: using lines (which I wrote about in my previous post) and intersecting circles, which people have been exploring for many centuries. I had originally thought I would show just the circles geometry, but then considered that some people might be really uncomfortable using a compass.  A few people just worked with just the lines, a few people worked with just with circles, and the rest did both.



Some people were curious about the math that went into the number patterns that I gave them, and I explained it to those who asked.



At the next workshop I will bring in my laptop and show Dan Anderson’s linear mod open processing page, as well as the tables in to people who want to know more.

Siri's, in progress

Siri’s, in progress

There was a great mix of approaches to this way of working.



I embarrassed myself by not having reviewed the process for making the circle patterns right before the class. I had made many samples of the “seed of life” circles patterns, but then I had done other designs, and when I started demonstrating I got quite confused. I had to go sequester myself for a bit to reconstruct the pattern.

Quinn's designs

Quinn’s designs

One young man didn’t have any interest in coloring anything in. Not only that, but he decided to try out his own pattern of lines. Actually, he tried out everything he could think of, with both the circles and the lines, and ended up with a pile of papers filled with all sorts of designs. It was delightful to see him working out his own templates and number sequences.

Quinn's Crane and Siri's Drawing

Quinn’s Crane and Siri’s Drawing

By the end of the workshop this young man had started doing some origami, which he graciously gifted to me. I photographed (above) his crane with the work of an adult, because I so enjoyed seeing having all these young people and adults in one room, all together making art.

Here are some links for anyone who is interested:

The PDF to use with the line designs

Dan Anderson’s Open Processing Linear Mod page to see what’s going on with the line designs

Dearing Wang’s Circle Drawings

Circle Geometry by Paula Beardell Krieg

Next Tuesday I will do doing another one of these workshops! I’m looking forward to it.

translation design pattern


News Flash: A Codified Language Exists to Describe Patterns. I’ve been so excited to discover the way to speak about patterns.

I’ve been teaching decorative techniques for a long time now. I’ve started trying to use more precise terminology in my teaching, and I suspected there was more to know. I started out looking at artistic and graphic design sites, really I did. I  looked on, I looked on youtube,  and poked around the internet in general. Then Maria Droujkova  pointed me in the direction of something called Wallpaper Groups, and guess what, I landed on sites that described pattern making with precision, using the language of mathematics.

The more I learn the more I understand that what math does is enhance the way that people can describe what’s in the world. It appears that hundreds of years ago mathematicians figured out how to understand and talk about patterns.

Example of Pattern Rotation


This summer I’ll be teaching a week’s worth of classes to young children at our community center. I enjoy showing students decorative techniques, so my immediate interest has been to develop a modest curriculum that focuses on making books that are embellished with style. Even though many of the students will be at an age where they are still struggling with concepts such as “next to” and “underneath”  I hope to introduce them to ways of thinking about concepts of transformation.

Strip Symmetry  is where I landed when I was surfing for a way to find words to describe the kind decorations I’ve been thinking about.  In other words, the patterns I am looking to teach will have a linear quality in the way that they occupy a space, as opposed to being like a central starburst, or an all-over wallpaper pattern. It turns out that there are only a handful of words that are used to describe every single repeating linear pattern ever made.

Translation repeat pattern


 A Translation takes a motif and repeats it exactly.

Example of Vertical Reflection

Vertical Reflection

Vertical Refection mirrors a motif across an imaginary vertical line. The name of this particular transformation confused me at first, as the design itself extends in a horizontal direction, but once I prioritized the idea of the vertical mirror, it made more sense.

Example of Glide Pattern


Glide Reflection can be described as sliding then flipping the motif,, but that description sounds confusing to me. Instead, understand glide reflection by looking at the pattern we make with our feet when we walk; Our feet are mirror images of each other, and they land in an alternating pattern on the ground. Imagine footsteps on top of  each of the paper turtles you might better be able to isolate the glide refection symmetry.

Example of Horizontal Reflection

Horizontal Reflection

Horizontal Reflection mirrors the design across an imaginary horizontal line.

Example of Translation Pattern


Here’s a translation that shifts horizontally, but there’s no such thing as a strip symmetry that translates top to bottom. Instead, convention dictates that the viewer turns the pattern so that it moves from left to right.



Rotation rotates a design around an equator.  The pattern above, as well as the first image of this post, I had considered these both to be rotatation( ( I imagined the equator drawn across the middle of the page), especially if it’s 7 year-olds that I am talking to, but close inspection reveals more. To highlight that I am presenting these concepts with  broad strokes, here is what Professor Darrah Chavey wrote about the image above (the one with the leaves) when I asked for his input:

“As to this particular pattern, there’s a slight problem in viewing these leaves as a strip pattern. The leaves you show are made from a common template, but that template isn’t quite symmetric, and the way the leaves are repeated across the top isn’t quite regular. For example, the stem of the maple leaf in the top row, #1, leans a little to the left, and has a bigger bulge on the left. If we view this as a significant variation, then the maple leaves on the top row go: Left, Right, Left, Left, Right, Right, which isn’t a regular pattern, i.e. it doesn’t have a translation. On the other hand, if we view those differences as being too small to worry about, then the leaves themselves have a vertical reflection, successive pairs of leaves have vertical reflections between them, and the strip pattern on the top is of type pm11. The bottom strip is a rotation of the top strip, but if we view those differences as significant, then it still isn’t a strip pattern (it would be a central symmetry of type D1), and if we view those differences as insignificant, then it would be a pattern of type pmm2, since it would have both vertical reflections, and rotations (and consequently also have horizontal reflections).”
I was excited to get this response to the leaves image, as it reminded me that my newly acquired understanding of symmetries, though useful, is simply just emerging.

So that’s it:

  • Translation
  • Reflection (horizontal or vertical)
  • Rotation
  • Glide Reflection

Darrah Chavey, who is a  professor at Beloit college, turned out to be the hero in this journey of mine, for having made and posted videos on youtube. Here’s a link to one of his many lectures on patterns: Ethnomathematics Lecture 3: Strip Symmetries

Now here’s some nuts-&-bolts of what I’ve learned from making the samples that I’ve posted here:

  • the book I made was too small (only 5.5″ high) because the cut papers then had to be too small to handle easily.  I’m thinking that any book I make with students needs each page to be at least 8.5″ tall.
  • It was easier to create harmonious looking patterns when I started out with domino rectangles (rectangles that have a 2:1 height to width ratio), then cut them in half and half again to make squares, tilted squares,triangles and rectangles.
  • I like the look of alternating plain paper and cubed paper. Folding paper that has cubes printed on just one side accomplishes this.

I am going to enjoy teaching these college level concepts to young elementary children.

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