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Hyperbolic Crochet

I never took any of the classes in the excellent fiber department at my art school. Maybe I thought it was too 2-dimensional or sedentary or too old fashioned. Visions of acres of granny yarn projects may have turned me off.  I bitterly regret it, because now I know that fiber work doesn’t have to be 2-dimensional or sedentary or old fashioned.

(Please enjoy this monumental teddy bear knit/wrestled out of slabs of pink fiber glass insulation.)

Artist: David Cole (source)
Artist: David Cole, Extreme Knitter (source)

Ironically, over the years I have developed a greater appreciation for languid bursts of sedentary handiwork. I enjoy weaving with beads. My peyote stitches will sometimes get too tight in areas and start to curl so I pound that area out and whack-a-mole the resulting raised areas until everything smooths out. My short-lived trials with crochet many years ago were abandoned due to unintentionally curvy areas in my scarves and ripply and wonky sweater panels. My stitches were chronically uneven and I found typical crochet projects not worth the effort to master.

But thanks to some mathematicians, scientists and artists I may wander back to tinker with the crochet hook again. This time I won’t mind when my project begins to warp. These folks have developed an intriguing sculptural crochet technique that mathematically ripples and curves in at least 3 dimensions.

Our first mathematician, Daina Taimina, pioneered this crochet technique out of necessity. She wanted tactile models of hyperbolic planes to teach her hyperbolic geometry course, a branch of non-euclidean geometry. These models turned out to be elegant and graceful forms as well as instructive. She explains the mathematics and her crocheted hyperbolic forms here:

In addition to mathematics, hyperbolic planes are important to study in biology, as well. You’ve probably noticed that these curvy shapes resemble forms from nature especially sea life. By developing this geometry a life form can pack a lot of surface area into a small volume. Margaret Wertheim is the director and founder of the Institute of Figuring, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creative public engagement with science, mathematics and engineering. Several years ago she and her sister, Christine, started the Crochet Coral Reef.

From the project’s web site:

The Crochet Reef project resides at the intersection of mathematics, marine biology, handicraft and community art practice, and also responds to the environmental crisis of global warming and the escalating problem of oceanic plastic trash.

Here is her eye-opening TED talk about this engaging and enlightening project of international scope.

I love how both Daina Taimina and Margaret Wertheim stress the intuitive, embodied understanding of the mathematics one gets from physically weaving these forms. I also appreciate the way that Wertheim explains that through simple changes in the pattern one gets embellishments and variations from the basic pattern. All of this can help us to understand a variety of subjects like programming, mathematics, algorithms, and biology.

Gabriele Meyers is another professor of mathematics. In addition to teaching math she is a prolific artist in painting, printing and sculpture. She has scaled up and refined the hyperbolic crochet technique to create exquisite abstract sculptures.

Gabriele Meyers' Blue Dragon and others.
Gabriele Meyers’ Blue Dragon and others.
Grouping of three hyperbolic crochet sculptures by Gabriele Meyers

If you scroll through her portfolio page you can see that many of these sculptures are lighted from within too. How cool is that? You can appreciate the forms in daylight and then when the sun goes down you turn on their lights and you have a new way to explore the beautiful curves and shadows of the sculpture. These works of art please your eyes and stimulate your intellect.

If you are like me and you have weird aversion to yarn, don’t let that stop you from learning hyperbolic crochet. People are crocheting with anything stringy like wire, “plarn”–plastic yarn made from plastic shopping bags, strips of old T-shirts, leather, even old audio tape. Use your imagination.

Me? I’m itching to try something like these gems made by Sue Von Ohlsen.

Set of three pseudospheres by Sue Von Ohlsen
Set of three pseudospheres by Sue Von Ohlsen





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