Contemporary Geometric Beadwork

Kate McKinnon
Contemporary Geometric Beadwork
Kate McKinnon leads the open-source Contemporary Geometric Beadwork team and is the author of and photographer for their series of books.

The CGB team is comprised of beaders, researchers and solvers from all over the world who enjoy using precision beadwork not only to make art but to study and model mathematical ideas. Through these ideas, progressions and cycles we also explore our understanding of the natural world and the geometric constraints governing the distributions of material in the Universe from the atomic scale to the cosmic. We have representation from most fields of math and science on our team, and from architecture, education, the performing arts, the humanities, and all walks of life.

CGB publishes books on our techniques and designs, and the team uses the proceeds to hold workshops and meetings and to attend conferences and exhibits. Through these open collaborations, we've been able to pool our questions to revolutionize the techniques, starts and stitches used to make this work. Also (and at a deeper level) we have come to understand the fundamental, shamanic nature of these ancient stitches.

Beading stitches can also inform materials science. This was pointed out by Elisabetta Matsumoto, a member of the Bridges community, at a recent physics conference. In both media, we see the same looping progressions, cycles, and the use of increases and decreases to define geometry. The neat toothed gridwork created in beadwork also gives a precise architectural fabric from which to study how the dimensional world is driven by the arrangement of the smallest units.

Each of the forms that we are presenting to this jury are built from precision sequences that determine the geometry of the architecture. You will see tessellations, triangles, tetrahedra, polygons folded and flat, hyperbolic paraboloids, and engineering linkages designed by the French mathematician Raoul Bricard (the Kaleidocycle, re-introduced in the 1970s by mathematician Doris Schattschneider, is one example of a Bricard Linkage).

As it turns out, beading is one of the oldest pursuits of humans (and only humans do it) yet for hundreds of thousands of years the finished work simply sat flat on the table. The Contemporary Geometric Beadwork project has contributed greatly to the human library of starts, threadpaths and new architectural forms that can be made with these tiny glass units.

Under Kate's leadership, the team has been all over the world, participated in conferences, taught at MIT, and has hundreds of thousands of beaders participating from over 130 countries.

Multiple pieces from our team can be seen in the 2019 Bridges Gallery.
Kate McKinnon
Slinky Coil HyperSpiral Neckpiece
Glass beads and thread
This piece is the natural curled form of the stepped increases that we use to create our Geometric Capture and HyperDisc pieces.

Instead of modifying the geometric curl of the increase pattern to create captured cells or angular geometry, Kate has kept the curl in place to build a large spiralling curve that can stack flat or uncurl and wrap around the neck and continue down the body.

This piece is incredible in person, and very fun to play with. Unlike the traditional Slinky toy, which is made from wire, this curl is much larger on the outside edge than on the inside edge, and its resting form is a flat stack of hexagons.

This hex-coiled increase pattern and structure of our beadwork compares beautifully to DNA. Not only does our live line have a toothed edge, but we cast off new work in the same manner (unzipping to steal a copy of an edge) and the way that our curling line folds into a stack is much like the way DNA looks after heliocase folds it into a coil.

An interesting feature about this piece is that Kate has decided to keep growing it, just as if it were a curl of hair. So each time the piece is shown or seen, it will be slightly larger. Currently it is several feet long and approximately three inches in diameter.

When not in use, this large neckpiece folds into a little pod for deployment, also like DNA.
Kate McKinnon