Monday, April 29, 2013

Fibonacci Flowers

Susan Brubaker Knapp here. If you know me, you know that I really don’t do math. I developed what my math teacher told me was Female Math Anxiety Syndrome in 7th grade, and never really recovered. I had convinced myself that I was not good at math, and so I wasn’t. Now, about the only math I do is the type involved in quilting and cooking. My husband helps the kids when they need assistance with their math homework! 

A few years ago, I was working on a piece based on this photo of pink coneflowers. I always research my subjects, and I was very interested in the beautiful pattern formed by the individual seeds on the seed head at the center of the flowers. Can you see it?


I sketched out the flowers, and drew some lines on the seedheads as an idea of what I’d do when I added details with thread (what I call threadsketching) on them. I wanted to show the texture of the seeds, and the spiral.


But after some reflection, I realized that this was not going to work well as a quilting motif, because there was too much starting and stopping. Here is my solution. Step 1:
 
Step 2:
And here is the finished piece:


In my research on the subject, I discovered that the spiral in the seed heads is an example of the Fibonacci Spiral. The Fibonacci Sequence is a mathematical formula (that was actually known to Indian mathematicians far earlier than Fibonacci) but explained to mathematicians in Europe by the Italian mathematician Leonardo Pisano Bigollo. He was known as Fibonacci, and lived from about 1170-1250. There is good information about him on this website.

The sequence is:

0  1  1  2  3  5  8  13  21 … and so on into infinity. 

You get to the sequence by adding each number to the one that comes before it, this way:

0 + 1 = 1
1  + 1 = 2
2 + 1 = 3 
3 + 2 = 5
5 + 3 = 8
8 + 5 = 13
13 + 8 = 21
etc. 

If you graph out the sequence, you get this elegant spiral:


Do a Google image search for “Fibonacci Spiral” and you can see this spiral, and lots of photographs of things in nature that demonstrate it: seashells, pinecones, seed heads, and even the tails of seahorses!

It boggles my mind that there is such structure and order in nature, and at the same time, so much chaos.

This month’s theme also reminded me of a song I love – “Circle Dream” by the band Ten Thousand Maniacs/vocalist Natalie Merchant – that mentions a spiral:

I dreamed of a circle, I dreamed of a circle round
I dreamed of a circle, I dreamed of a circle round
And in that circle I had made
Were all the worlds unformed and unborn yet
A volume, a sphere that was the Earth
That was the moon that did revolve around my room

I dreamed of a circle (I dreamed of a circle)
I dreamed of a circle round
And in that circle was a maze, a terrible spiral to be lost in
Blind in my fear, I was escaping just by feel
But at every turn my way was sealed

I dreamed of a circle (I dreamed of a circle)
I dreamed of a circle round
And in that circle was a face
Her eyes looked upon me with fondness
Her warmth coming near
Calling me sweetness, calling me dear
But I whispered no, I can't rest here
I can't rest here (I dreamed of)

I dreamed of a circle (I dreamed of a circle)
I dreamed of a circle round
I dreamed of a circle (I dreamed of a circle)
I dreamed of a circle round …


You can hear it performed by Ten Thousand Maniacs here. I love the idea of a circle/spiral with "all the worlds unformed and unborn yet.”

18 comments:

  1. Thank you for your post. From your childhood math story and natural curiosity for patterns, to your research, problem solving, and your artistic reinterpretation of spirals; you've given us a terrific post.

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    1. It is always fun to hear different artists' insights into their processes! Glad you enjoyed it.

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  2. Susan, I just love your work! I am also a graduate of the FMAS school. Well, I can also do "drug math" (lol, I was a nurse in my former life). I love how you figured out the stitching for the flower seed head.

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  3. I love that there is always a little bit of history behind what you do and included in your work. Miss you girl.

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    1. We shouldn't be missing each other if we live less than 20 miles apart, Grace! Let's get together... yeah, yeah, yeah! (Channeling Hayley Mills here)

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  4. I love the Fibonacci sequences as they appear in nature, and I really love that Ten Thousand Maniacs song and hadn't thought of it in awhile. Great post! Thanks.

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    1. I just heard her in concert with her new tour, with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. If you have not heard her new album, Leave Your Sleep, you will love it! Her voice hasn't aged a bit... just stronger and even more personality!

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  5. How you figured this out is amazing...and your quilt turned out amazing as well.

    Jo

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    1. Thanks, Jo! I always enjoy researching my subjects. It adds so much diversity to my life.

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  6. Lovely post. May I add a short movie by Cristóbal Vila, "Nature by Numbers" that effected me so much...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WF6V9RQFz8

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    1. I love this video! I put it in my blog this month when I posted, "Spirals" for this and the Creative Every Day challenges. Great minds think alike!

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    2. I will go and take a look, Yasemin!

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  7. Very interesting post and gorgeous quilt!! I need to go check out that song, I feel sure I've heard it but I have feeble brain this morning.

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  8. Did you mean:
    gorgeous your work and explanation

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