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Crocheting hyperbolic space with The Institute For Figuring

If you’ve spent any time in the Walker’s summer exhibition The Quick and The Dead, you have probably noticed a small vitrine of curious forms made of brightly colored yarn. If you knit using a circular needle, these objects may look familiar to you as a hat or baby sweater gone terribly wrong; all twisted […]

If you’ve spent any time in the Walker’s summer exhibition The Quick and The Dead, you have probably noticed a small vitrine of curious forms made of brightly colored yarn. If you knit using a circular needle, these objects may look familiar to you as a hat or baby sweater gone terribly wrong; all twisted and turned over on themselves. In fact, these are not botched knitting projects, but crocheted representations of a mathematical theory known as hyperbolic space.

Hyperbolic models crocheted by Heather McCarren, Anitra Mehring, Christine Wertheim, and Margaret Wertheim

Hyperbolic models crocheted by Heather McCarren, Anitra Mehring, Christine Wertheim, and Margaret Wertheim


As a most basic explanation, hyperbolic space is a theoretical principle of geometry that suggests spatial structures altogether different from spheres and those defined by rules parallel lines, i.e. Euclidean geometry. A much more thorough explanation is found here, in an interview between mathemetician Daina Taimina and geometer David Henderson. In 1997 Taimina solved a century-old quandary of what forms hyperbolic space assume by figuring out that crochet could model it.

The interview was conducted by Margaret Wertheim, who along with her sister Christine Wertheim, make up The Institute For Figuring, an LA-based educational organization that conducts projects, makes publications and curates exhibitions aimed at illuminating the poetic and aesthetic dimensions of math and science. Soon after the 1997 crafty breakthrough, the IFF teamed up with Dr. Taimina to further explore and elaborate on her methods of crocheting hyperbolic space, while sustaining a feminist conversation about craft, gender, and labor. Through public workshops around the world, the IFF and many curious crocheters have continued to hook together these symbolic forms, including the ones found in The Quick and the Dead.

If you have further questions on the subject of non-Eucilidean space, the physics of snowflakes or any other wonder of figuring, the IFF will be here on Thursday, July 30 to answer them. For their engagement at the Walker, Margaret and Christine will lead a workshop on how to crochet hyperbolic forms that is open to all skill levels. Yarn and hooks will be provided, although participants are welcome and encouraged to bring their own. The lesson takes place from 5 to 6:30 pm in the Star Tribune Foundation Art Lab. After the workshop, everyone is welcome to continue working on their crocheted objects at the IFF’s lecture, at 7 pm in the Walker Cinema, where they’ll discuss their various projects, including their ongoing effort to draw attention to the plight of the world’s coral reefs through crochet.

Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Image courtesy The Institute For Figuring

Crocheted Coral Reef

  • Crocheting hyperbolic space with The Institute For Figuring http://bit.ly/16Zxif

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Education and Community Programs >> Crocheting hyperbolic space with The Institute For Figuring http://ow.ly/hQCT (that last link was for FB

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • For all interested in hyperbolic space please see also my book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Crocheting-Adventures-Hyperbolic-Planes-Taimina/dp/1568814526

    In the book and Cabinet interview (linked above) you will recognize my red model (or good copy of it)that is featured in the first photo.

  • craftster says:

    This is really amazing, even if you don’t knit or crochet. Wow! http://tinyurl.com/nddmwz –Batgirl

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • jensen2401 says:

    Fantastic! RT @craftster: This is really amazing, even if you don’t knit or crochet. Wow! http://tinyurl.com/nddmwz –Batgirl

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Wow! RT @craftster: This is really amazing, even if you don’t knit or crochet. Wow! http://tinyurl.com/nddmwz –Batgirl

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • meganlostroh says:

    Why geeks knit and crochet….http://bit.ly/WZPvg

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • I’m a knitter, but this is cool RT @walkerartcenter Crocheting hyperbolic space with The Institute For Figuring http://bit.ly/16Zxif

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Sarah Peters says:

    Thanks for the link, Daina.

  • Daina Taimina’s book is wonderful and I recommend it highly. I’m glad to see Daina getting some recognition for this brilliant idea.