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NEWS
Studying The Science of Knitting
March 28, 2019

Dating back more than 3,000 years, knitting is an ancient form of manufacturing, but Elisabetta Matsumoto of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta believes that understanding how stitch types govern shape and stretchiness will be invaluable for designing new “tunable” materials. For instance, tissuelike flexible material could be manufactured to replace biological tissues, such as torn ligaments, with stretchiness and sizing personalized to fit each individual.


a) Knitting is a periodic structure of slip knots. b) Textiles with intricate patterns are knit by combining slipknots in specific combinations. Credit: Elisabetta Matsumoto.

At the American Physical Society March Meeting in Boston, Matsumoto presented her work, “Twisted topological tangles: or the knot theory of knitting,” on the mathematical rules that underlie knitting.

“By picking a stitch you are not only choosing the geometry but the elastic properties, and that means you can build in the right mechanical properties for anything from aerospace engineering to tissue scaffolding materials,” said Matsumoto.

“I realized that there is just a huge amount of math and materials science that goes into textiles, but that is taken for granted an awful lot,” said Matsumoto.

“Every type of stitch has a different elasticity, and if we figure out everything possible then we could create things that are rigid in a certain place using a certain type of stitch, and use a different type of stitch in another place to get different functionality.”

Members of the Matsumoto group are beginning to delve through the complex math which encodes mechanical properties within the interlocking series of slip knots of a material.

For the moment, the Matsumoto group is focusing on very simple stitch patterns and curves in knitted lattices; however, soon they hope to understand how knits behave in 3D.


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