• Bolor Amgalan

7in7 Day 5: Cyphering the Craft Trope

I've been thinking a lot about what should be made by the digital craftsmen of the live performance I am imagining. If the performance is framed as an alternative to fashion shows, then the most obvious object to be crafting on stage is something fashion related. Perhaps a small accessory piece - for example, a necklace that can be put on a virtual avatar later. This seems to tick some of the boxes:

  • Is it sustainable? - Yes, it does not use anything other than the energy needed to keep the servers running, and the craft interface functioning.

  • Does it help elevate the value of material knowledge? - Yes, the digital craftsmen use their hands in the same way they would if they were crafting a physical object.

However, it feels a little too early to constrain my ideas to just fashion objects and instead it may yield more interesting ideas if I let myself explore other ideas/concepts that relate to the three textile techniques I am exploring. For this prototype, I again ended up getting very curious about knotting techniques and what value knotted objects hold.


I have previously known about the wampum which is a traditional shell bead used by the Eastern Woodlands tribes of American Indians to create strings that were then used to record information. Used as storytelling device, ceremonial gift, record-keeper of important treaties and historical events, hand stringed wampum had significant value. Northeastern Indian tribes also used them as a means of exchange - a type of currency valued by the locals. When the first Colonists adopted it as a currency in trading with them, due to how the Colonists applied their technologies to more efficiently produce wampum and the resulting inflation, the currency became obsolescent.

It appears that the Wampum in some cases was woven.

This belt is a national belt of the Haudenosaunee. The belt is named after Hiawatha, the Peacemaker’s helper. In this belt, it records when 5 nations; the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk, buried their weapons of war to live in peace. Each square represents a nation and the line connects each nation in peace.


Similarly, the quipu (also spelled khipu), or talking knots, are recording devices made of knotted strings historically used by a number of cultures in the region of Andean South America. A quipu usually consisted of cotton or camelid fiber strings, sometimes just a few, sometimes thousands, and resembled a string mops. Some quipus were found with finely carved wood acting as more sturdy base to which color-coded cords were attached.

The Inca people (1400-1560) used quipus for collecting data and keeping records. This included monitoring tax obligations, collecting census records, calendrical information, as well as record-keeping related to military organization.The cords stored numeric and other values encoded as knots, often in a base ten positional system.

An example of a quipu from Peru's Nazca Province.

Knots and cryptography

After learning about quipus, I looked into more modern manifestations of record-keeping that use knots. I came across a program called FCB Cypher developed originally by Frank Charles Brown.

The FCB Cypher was designed to be a means of communicating a knot structure using a string of text characters which can be sent via a simple email, forum post or even communicated by spoken word in an unambiguous manner. 

In cryptography, a cipher (or cypher) is a series of steps that can be followed as a procedure to perform encryption or decryption.

The basis of the FCB Cypher system is the use of a set of predefined image tiles of cord ends, elbows and crossings.  These tiles each have an identification code. Tiles are copied into a grid to create the knot diagram. A 'cypher', or 'code string' is then built up from that diagram by writing down a string of terms, each term describes the image tile present in each of the used grid squares.

The string of cypher lines are sets of three characters denoting the cell (row and column identifiers) and its tile (type of cord end, elbow or crossing), separated by a single space.

Example string output:

FCB Version 4.x

Reef Knot

ABoK #74, Square Knot ABoK #1204


 cai daj dbh acc bcg ccl dcf ddh aem beg del

 bbi cbg eba bdf cdi edp ceh bfk cfl



The above string output is created to describe the below image which is a diagram of the reef knot.

Reef Knot diagram created with FCB Cypher

Thinking about these various ways to record information using knot tying, I began to imagine how a live performance celebrating virtual craft making can in itself be about encrypting information - information that has value, thus giving value to the crafted object. Only through the purchase of this virtual object, one can have the opportunity to decrypt this information. What information should be encrypted this way? Is this a way to trace the craft/fashion supply chain?

Still on my to-do list is a book called Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain.


The below image is a visualization of the live performance showing three digital craftsmen sitting at a sculpture made of a long strings/ropes. The craftsmen tie a knot at precise locations to record information with immense value.

Will digital craftsmen be future record-keepers and the craft object the encrypted data?

The below image is an attempt at visualizing the hand-made, virtual-only object. Some questions I have are:

  • Will this object serve any kind of purpose, like being wearable/usable by an avatar, or is it simply a craft trope? Perhaps something you can decorate your virtual home with?

  • What will this object resemble and feel like?

A hand-made, virtual-only object


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