The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef

Bead Creatures at the SmithsonianWhen I was a pup, my family lived in Maryland, and I got to hang out at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Whenever I’m anywhere near the area (all too seldom, I’m afraid), I visit the museums. My favorite is the Natural History Museum.

A few years ago I heard about The Institute for Figuring’s Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef. Begun by two Aussies, Margaret and Christine Wertheim, it exists to bring public attention to the damage to the Great Barrier Reef.

I had been exploring hyperbolic surfaces as they relate to craft work. Both the crochet and the beadwork had attracted some attention; every summer I give the Clarion West students and instructors yarn creatures, and every so often I donate a bead creature to a charity auction for some good cause. When I saw an article about hyperbolic geometry in Science News, I wrote Ivars Peterson to tell him how much I’d enjoyed his articles over the years. He wrote an article about the bead creature that I sent him, which was quite a kick.

I was fascinated by what other people were doing along the same lines. The Coral Reef became a community project, and the community spanned the world. I sent some bleached coral fingers for the reef, and later on some bead creatures, and was very pleased when the work was included in installations in Chicago, New York, Boston, Lost Angeles. In Dublin, the bead creatures had a corner all to themselves.

The Smithsonian installation opened recently in the Natural History Museum. It’s a thrill to be in it. My creatures in the picture are the red jellyfish in the middle and the red and white anemone on the lower right.



Vonda N. McIntyre is a founding member of Book View Cafe. She is a contributor to Breaking Waves, a benefit anthology for the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund, and the author of The Moon and the Sun, an alternate history set at Versailles, in the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, when modern science was just beginning and Natural Philosophers searched the world for new and exciting discoveries… including sea monsters.



The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef — 9 Comments

  1. Vonda, this is magnificent! I love how art can give us beautiful things and yet still serve as a deadly reminder of all we’re losing. Also envious of your mad crocheting skills–I’m just a noobie knitter. 😉


  2. Wonderful Vonda. Let’s hope that this beautiful exhibit opens some eyes and we get a little bit more awareness of the damage we’re causing.

    I’d love to do some critters like these but I’m too tied to patterns, not enough of a free thinker in knitting or crochet.

    But tatting! I wonder what I could come up with in lace?

  3. I do live in the region, and am going to go downtown and see the reef! I will definitely look for the red jellyfish and the sea anemone.

    Lace would be a good techinque to execute fan corals. Just an idea…

  4. How amazing to be part of something like this! At the Smithsonian, to boot (both for the satisfaction of having grown up with the Natural History museum and…the Smithsonian, for Heaven’s sake). Doing good, educationally, ecologically, one strand at a time; how fabulous.

  5. Thanks, everybody. It’s really a kick to be in the Smithsonian, the way it was a kick to have stories published in the “Futures” section of the science journal NATURE.

    Tiffany, I can’t knit for the life of me. Crocheting is much easier.

    The trick to the basic yarn anemone is that it’s a granny square on steroids. Instead of putting your three double crochets in between sets of double crochets, you put a set of three double crochets in every space between double crochet stitches. Do that for three rounds and you get the idea; do it for four or five and you get an anemone (or a BRAAA-IN). (I once made a brain with cerebrum, cerebellum, and medulla oblongata for a neuroscientist.)

    Or for a more flowy surface, make a circle and put a bunch of single crochet stitches on it, then spiral up with the circle of single crochets as the base, increasing three for two or two for one.

    The rate of increase determines the shape of the surface.

    Once you get the idea, you can take off from there. I make them up as I go along.


  6. Marvelous reef critters, Vonda, and congratulations on being in the Smithsonian. I wish it were an exhibit on the successful re-establishment of the coral reefs 🙁 In the meanwhile, awareness, one strand at a time. It’s what we do.

  7. Hi Sarah,

    I do too, believe me. The crocheted reef, in Christine and Margaret Wertheim’s original idea, was to call attention to the Great Barrier Reef and the fact that human activity is killing it. It’s expanded beyond that, to reefs and the pollution of the sea

    There’s a lot more at the Reef’s website: