Balls of yarn in foreground, someone on a laptop computer in background.

Weaving paved the way for computer coders

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By Emiliano Rodriguez Mega and Lexi Krupp

Before Silicon Valley and the internet, before anyone had heard of a programming language or devised a Turing Machine, women were coding. Their tool was an elegant machine that took punch cardsthick, white paper punctured with holesand converted the material’s geometric patterns into something entirely new. The technology automated years of work, incited riots, and spurred the world’s first software piracy. It spread across the world, from France to Japan and the United States, fueling a lucrative industry along its path. The innovation was the Jacquard loom, used to weave fibers into patterns—and it transformed how fabric was made.

A 19th-century English mathematician and friend of Charles Dickens would take inspiration from the loom to develop a theoretical all-purpose computer. Her name was Ada Lovelace and she was by all accounts the first computer programmer.

Two hundred years later, two women in New York City are reimagining the connection between weaving and computer programming for the modern world.

“Computers talk about binary systems,” says Francesca Rodríguez Sawaya, a visual designer from Peru. “We talk about ones and zeros but if you go back to weaving, you go up or down. The logic is very similar.”

Sawaya and Renata Gaui, a fellow designer from Brazil, met in an art class and both were struck by the parallel between weaving textiles and computer programming. They started scheming up ways to braid these two practices together, eventually creating a workshop called  Weaving to Code, Coding to Weave. Their goal is to connect ancient art forms to modern technology in an effort to humanize the old and the new.

Watch the video to learn more about the connection between weaving and coding: