The history of string art

String art uses coloured string, wool or wire to create geometric patterns. The ‘string’ is normally held between nails hammered into a base board. Multiple straight lines of string can form shapes ranging from simple curves to more complex designs resembling flowers, sailing boats, etc.

The first recorded use of straight lines to form curves was by Englishwoman Mary Everest Boole (1832 to 1916). She used ‘curve stitching’ to make mathematical ideas more accessible to children. In 1909 Boole published a book called Philosophy & Fun of Algebra.

A modern version of these geometric curves is the Bézier curve. It is used today in computer graphics programs but was developed prior to modern computers. French mathematician and physicist, Paul de Castejau (born 1930) created an algorithm for subdividing a curve into two curve segments at an arbitrary parametric location. Another French mathematician and engineer, Pierre Bézier, developed a curve formula inspired by de Castejau’s algorithm. He was working for an automobile company where he needed an accurate way to describe a curve for design and manufacture. Bézier’s curve could describe any second degree type of curve with just four points and it became known by the name of its inventor.

Bézier curve illustration from Wikipedia reproduced under Wikimedia Commons.

The Bézier curve was publicized in 1962 and is said to have inspierd a number of artists even though it was intended as a serious mathematical tool. USA artist, John Eichinger, created geometric string designs. He called them “string mandalas” after the Hindu word ‘mandala’, which means “circle within a circle.” His designs were first marketed in the late 1960s by the Open Door Enterprises, who were a leading distributor of hobby craft kits. A string art book called Symmography, by Lois Kreischer, was published in 1971.

The popularity of string art kits reached its peak in the 1970s when numerous households had a home-made string art picture on the wall.