Textiles Encoded With Text Messages, Using WWII Cryptography

Transforming "texts from last night" into lovely pieces of textile art.

In our age of celebrity phone hacks and Patriot Act surveillance, text messages and emails are rarely ever “private.” Today, if you want to have a private conversation, you’d better do it in person. Another option? Textile encryption.

The Cryptographer is a machine that encodes text messages in cloth. Inspired by the massive cryptographic machines that kept wartime messages secret during the first and second World Wars, it uses a geometric cipher to print sentences illegible to anyone without the key.

The project, which was designed by Dutch collective Raw Color, Remon van den Eijnden, Peter Bust, Bart van der Linden, and Studio Watt, debuted at Salone del Mobile in April. Visitors could text message the machine and watch as their transmissions were printed onto wide swatches of colorful cotton. "Invisible words," writes curator Wendy Plomp, "with a physical impact."

The machine is essentially a modified printer. Its ink cartridge has been replaced by a bleach pen that lines the fabric with white stripes, slowly forming a series of coded letters. The code itself—or the cipher, in cryptography parlance—is a set of 55 simple geometric shapes. Raw Color assigned an icon to each letter according to its frequency of use in English (E is the most common, Z is the least common). “This way,” they explain, “it was possible to estimate compositions and keep a balance between round, square, open, closed shapes.”

There are ciphers for grammar too, including question marks and commas, so it’s only a matter of time until someone proposes marriage by encrypted textile. Ah, modern love.

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