Stitching in Non-Euclidean Space

One of the things I most love about expanding my Circle of Ignorance is discovering off-beat connections between what I know and don’t know–or between things I know (at least a little) but have never associated with one another.

Two years ago I discovered such a connection. Fittingly, I came upon it by accident, thinking I was doing something else.

A local museum advertised a program on coral reefs. There also was an exhibit I wanted to see, so it seemed the perfect opportunity. But it wasn’t the slide-illustrated talk I was expecting; it was a project to make models of coral reefs using crochet! Now I do know a little basic crochet, though I’m not very good. So with odd bits of yarn and some old audio tape, we created tightly curled and ruffled forms that, when piled together, bear a remarkable resemblance to coral reefs.

Along the way we talked about coral reefs, pollution and hyperbolic mathematics. Coral, it turns out, resembles non-Euclidean geometric forms. Some of those forms are not easily modeled except through crochet!

Interesting event. I thought it was a one-off, but hyperbolic crochet coral keeps finding its way back into my circle of ignorance. There were exhibits at New York University and the Winter Garden. Then a symposium at NYU. Most recently, Daina Taimina, the mathematician who invented hyperbolic crochet as a way to represent hyperbolic planes, spoke at a yarn shop [sadly, the shop has closed, so I have removed the link] in Manhattan.

I was lucky to get a reserved seat–the talk was fully-booked and every chair occupied. A room lined with yarn bins was a delightfully incongruous place to listen to Dr. Taimina talk about non-Euclidean geometry and hyperbolic shapes. She brought plenty of slides and some crocheted pieces to demonstrate, and while I can’t say we all became experts in advanced mathematics, we certainly came away with our horizons expanded.

I could try to explain what hyperbolic geometry is all about, but the following links will really give you a better picture than I ever could. (Note: The links will open in a new browser window or tab, so you won’t lose your place here.) I’ll just add that in addition to being a talented craftswoman and knowledgeable mathematician, Dr. Taimina is funny. One of the best laughs of the evening came when she told an audience of crocheters and knitters, “I had to teach calculus so I would have money to buy yarn.”

Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes

“How crochet solved an age-old maths problem,” at the Sunday Times (UK) Online [link no longer valid]

Daina Taimina’s work exhibited at Eleven Eleven Sculpture Space

The Institute for Figuring devotes many pages of its website to hyperbolic crochet, including coral reefs [new link]

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