Sunday, January 09, 2011

Not Your Grandma's Crochet

Today I'm going to tell you all about a pretty weird but wonderful project I got involved in this past August. I met one of the organizers of it on the Metro, in fact. My advice to you: talk to strangers. Sometimes it turns out really, really well.

Feast your eyes.
The what? That's right, the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef! It's a temporary exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (my lifelong favorite museum in DC), conceived and created by twin sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim at the Institute for Figuring. Combining mathematics, marine biology, handicraft revival, community art practice, and environmental activism, it doesn't get much more interdisciplinary than this, people. I could blab on about it more, but Margaret does a much better job of it, here:

I strongly encourage you to watch the video before you continue reading! Okay I'll admit it, I kind of have a crush on her. She's just so brilliant! Don't stop when she gets to the math, I promise it won't be boring, and it doesn't matter if you don't quite get it, I didn't at first.

And here's the thing: this stuff really looks like coral. It's beautiful, sculptural, soft. And the process of making it is Sometimes I get stuck by the restrictions that patterns impose - this is probably why I've never knitted anything more complicated than a scarf (maybe this blog will inspire me to conquer that fear) - you have to make sure that you have the right worsted weight and needle size and the right number of stitches so that your work reaches the correct size so you can actually wear that damn sweater. But with hyperbolic crochet, you just go. Just stich baby. And increase. And increase some more, until it's all frilly and crenulated. You can increase every 10 stitches, or every 2. You can do single, double, half-double, whatever type of stitch you like. And you can use whatever old yarn or other material you have lying around from 20 years ago.
In fact, that's the beauty, and somehow, poetry of this project - you are encouraged to repurpose. A portion of the reef is dedicated this: a Toxic Reef. Participants used what could have otherwise gone into a landfill to draw attention to all the effing garbage in our beautiful oceans. Strips of plastic bags, cassete tape (what the hell else are you going to do with that in 2011?), chicken wire, strips of an old t-shirt...etc. Much like Will It Float and Will It Waffle, you too can answer the question of: Will It Crochet? Yes, yes it will.
Made from trash! Word.
These are what I made (and now they're in a museum - consider my mind blown):
Three made from yarn, and the bottom right is made from strips of plastic supermarket bags. The top left is for the Bleached Reef.
I was lucky enough to be get the opportunity to help "curate" (I use this term very loosely) the exhibit once all the submissions were in (nearly 4000 individual pieces, from nearly 800 contributors in at least 3 countries). Some volunteers carefully put every contributor's name into a database (our names are on a plaque!), others sorted each piece by color, and I had the fun of sorting the pile of pinks into purply pinks, reddish pinks, brown pinks, coral/orangey pinks, hot pinks, etc.
We turned this...

...into this.
The full time curators managed to organize the mass of contributions into a breathtaking display, now on at the SMNH, as part of the Oceans Exhibit, until April 24, 2011.

Get ye to this exhibit, stat! You might even see me there, as I've become a volunteer docent specifically assigned to the reef.

Want to learn how to do this? Go to YouTube or this great tutorial series to help you learn the basics of crochet so you can get started, and then head here or to the group on Ravelry for patterns (they're really just guides, make them your own), and to the Flickr Pool for inspiration.
Can you tell I had fun with the collage function on Picasa today?


TheFashionAddict said...

Hey there! Funny blog!

We def need to resume our knit seshs. I would love to incorporate it into clothing design.

As for locking pictures from copy thieves, I am pretty sure I used this page to do it on mine:

SKFitz said...

HTML scares me! But it might be a good idea.

You should come over sometime for a lesson :)