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The Latest From Design Legend Susan Kare? Housewares Inspired By Computer History

Kare brings bitmap graphics off the screen and onto your table.

Susan Kare–product design lead at Pinterest  and designer of Apple’s original icons and fonts–has created a new line of Jacquard-woven textiles for Areaware featuring the pixelated graphic style that made her famous. But these coasters, tea towels, placements, and napkins aren’t just handsome additions to your home. They also contain a history lesson in the connection between weaving and computing.

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A loom from the 1800s and a computer from the 1980s have a lot more in common than you might think. The Jacquard loom–which French weaver Joseph Marie Jacquard invented in 1804–actually used punch cards to simplify and partially automate the weaving process. Eventually, early programmers used a similar punch-card technique on the first computers. Charles Babbage, a 19th-century British mathematician, referenced the Jacquard technique when he invented the first mechanical computer.

The abstract graphics Kare designed for the textiles riff on grids, waves, and teardrops, referencing both weaving and computer history.  While to our contemporary eyes the pixelated look nods to early digital graphics,  they’re also referential to the gridded designs weavers used to create their pieces.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the many versions of ‘bitmaps’–images made on a regular grid–in the history of art: mosaics, needlepoint, beading, woven patterns, etc.,” Kare tells Co.Design by email. “Designing these textile patterns was very similar to monochrome work I’ve done in the past. The original design process was virtually identical to that of developing patterns for the screen, but it took seeing some woven prototypes to make decisions about scale and color.”

[Photo: courtesy Areaware]
This isn’t the first time Kare has worked with Areaware. The housewares and accessories brand launched a deck of playing cards a couple of years ago that mimicked the cards she designed for computer Solitaire. But this time, the company was excited to develop an everyday product that was new and unexpected instead of leaning on her classic work–and Kare was excited to create something that spoke to many aspects of her design career.

“In addition to my digital work, I get a lot of satisfaction by working in a variety of media and crafts–there’s a reason I work at Pinterest–so it was really appealing to have the chance to combine digital patterns with a more traditional end product,” she says. “I happen to enjoy cooking and entertaining, so it was especially interesting not only to work with fabric, but to create something I would use.”

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You can see the full Bitmap Textiles collection here.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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