13 Jan 2017

Crochet Your Own Coral Reef - and Help Save the Planet

Post by Helaine Becker

All images courtesy Institute of Figuring

The coral reefs of our planet are in danger. That's one reason a group of crafters are getting together to create artificial reefs - out of wool! Not only are they making something of extreme beauty, but their creation is bringing awareness of the reef's troubles to museum visitors. It's also helping to teach people about topology - the science of shape.
Image courtesy Institute of Figuring

The Crochet the Reef project is a brainchild of two sisters,  Margaret and Christine Wertheim, of the Institute For Figuring.

They began the project in 2005 in their Los Angeles living room but gradually the project - and their gorgous woolly reef -  began to expand into other cities and countries. It  has now become a worldwide movement that engages communities across the globe from Chicago, New York and London, to Melbourne, Dublin and Capetown. The Crochet Reef is a unique fusion of art, science, mathematics, handicraft and community practice that may well be the largest community art project in the world. Eager crafters can create their own sub reefs! ( For information, on how, click here.  )

Image courtesy Institute of Figuring

The inspiration for making crochet reef forms begins with the technique of "hyperbolic crochet" discovered in 1997 by Cornell University mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina. The Wertheim sisters  elaborated upon it to develop a whole taxonomy of reef-life forms. 

The method for making these forms is a simple pattern or algorithm. On its own it it produces a mathematically pure shape. By varying this algorithm, however, the sisters discovered they could create endless variations and permutations of shape and form.

One fascinating aspect of this project is how it addresses the dangers of a disappearing habitat with that of a disappearing craft. Traditionally, crocheting has been a feminine pastime and one sniffed at by men as being a less important technology than, say, IT. However, crocheting can not only produce many useful and beautiful materials, it can also be an excellent tool for exploring mathematical problems. 

To see the crochet reef in person, you can visit the Museum of Art and Design in New York until January 22, 2017. Or check the Institute for Figuring website for other exhibit locations near you. 
Image courtesy Institute of Figuring

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