Isabella Whitworth

probably more than natural and synthetic dyes, wax, resists, and history

Brilliant with Pattern


Brilliant with Pattern is the title of a course I teach at West Dean College, and I’m off again tomorrow. The course always runs under this title, but I never tutor it the same way. It’s partly because I’d get bored teaching an identical course and so I take different ideas along, but also because the creativity of individual students infuses the group, making each outcome entirely different.

Preparation for these intense weekends is extensive, in terms of assembling boxes and general ‘stuff’, but also in the thinking about how I will approach them. This week I completed two days’ teaching at Ardington School of Crafts (see some images on Facebook here) and finished up with a visit to a friend in Oxford. She took me to see the recently completed courtyard of the Mathematical Institute.

There I saw the work of someone truly ‘brilliant with pattern’. Professor Sir Roger Penrose, mathematician and physicist, works at the Mathematical Institute and his brilliance shines on fields beyond my understanding. But his work on non-periodic tiling  (yes, I had to look it up too: try here for some assistance) is exhibited in the form of a pavement outside the entrance to the Mathematical Institute. It’s pattern: constructed, mathematical, non repeating, and compellingly beautiful. The steel, mirrored sections work especially well, reflecting sky, birds, or passers by.


On the same day I was able to spend a short time in the Pitt Rivers Museum, perhaps my favourite museum in the world. The newly-cleaned and restored glass roof of the Natural History Museum lit a path to the Pitt Rivers, which has no external public entrance. I know I will always discover something new in the Pitt Rivers: going there is like Christmas. This time it was a collection of resist-dyed eggs, the kind I wrote about in my previous post. The Pitt Rivers collection of these eggs was made at the turn of the 20th century in Galicia – not Spanish Galicia, but the one that is now part of  Poland and Ukraine.

4 thoughts on “Brilliant with Pattern

  1. What an absolutely brilliant pavement! I shall have to find an excuse to visit. Have fun at West Dean!

    • I thought it was stunning, and also had in mind that you would appreciate it. There’s a story online (somewhere) about Professor Penrose visiting a just-completed pavement. I’m not sure if it’s the Oxford one. He noticed that the builders, to fill in a final space on an extreme edge, had added an ‘incorrect’ tile. Even though this would have only made a theoretical error (the pattern would have ceased to complete somewhere far away, under the lawn) it had to be changed. That’s true brilliance. I watched a video of one of his lectures and lost the plot about 10 seconds in. It’s amazing stuff. Thanks for commenting.

      • A number of years ago I read a murder mystery set in Cambridge where the plot hinges on a patchwork quilt with a mathemetically special pattern – the perfect combination of textiles, maths and entertainment! I’d recommend it if I could remember any of the salient facts, such as title, author etc… Though now I think of it, I have a feeling that it was the poor quilter ‘oo woz dun in.

  2. mathemAtically, sorry – didn’t spot that in time

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