Tag Archives: Vonda McIntyre

The Crochet Reef: Hyperbolic Crochet Art

Laurie says:

I was staying with Vonda McIntyre when I was in Seattle last week. Vonda makes amazing undersea creatures based on the hyperbolic crochet technique. She told me about an exhibit, The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, that was recently at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in DC. I wish I had known about it sooner. I’m always fascinated by the conjunction of science and art. One of these days I’m going to play with a microscope and photography.

It included included some of her creatures, including the one below. I’ve admired Vonda’s work for years and posted here about an installation I did for her on another visit here.



The idea of The Crochet Reef was originated as a homage to the Great Barrier Reef which is threatened by pollutants and global warming.  It was created by a world wide community of artists using classically feminine techniques.



Margaret and Christine Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring instigated a project to crochet a woolen reef. The sisters, who grew up in the state of Queensland, began the project in 2005 in their Los Angeles living room, and for the first four years of its life the Reef took over their house, gradually expanding to become the dominant life-form in their home.

At the same time the project began to expand into other cities and countries  until it has now become a worldwide movement that engages communities across the globe from Chicago, New York and London, to Melbourne, Dublin and Capetown. The Crochet Reef is a unique fusion of art, science, mathematics, handicraft and community practice that may well be the largest community art project in the world.

The Smithsonian explains about hyperbolic space:

In 1997, Dr Daina Taimina, a mathematician, discovered how to make physical models of the geometry known as “hyperbolic space” using the art of crochet. Until that time many mathematicians believed it was impossible to construct such forms; yet nature had been doing just that for hundreds of millions of years. Many marine organisms embody hyperbolic geometry in their anatomies, including corals. This geometry maximizes surface area in a limited volume, thereby providing greater opportunity for filter feeding by stationary corals.

Two of Vonda’s creatures are in this photo, the red jelly fish in the center left and the sea anemone in the lower center right.


The elegiac Bleached Bone Reef, featuring red-and-white coral tree by Quoin. Rubble coral piles by Margaret and Christine Wertheim and unknown Chinese factory workers. Miniature beaded corals by Nadia Severns, Jill Schreier and Pamela Stiles. Beaded jellyfish by Vonda N. McIntyre, white floaters by Evelyn Hardin, vintage doilies by makers unknown. In the background is the Branched Anemone Garden.


Metal, Fiber, Beads, and High Geekiness

Laurie says:

I was at Potlatch (a gathering of the writers and readers of literary science fiction and fantasy at which participants exchange ideas) on Sunday afternoon.  I was  participating in a panel:  Helixes, Corals, and Brains: Oh My!.  A discussion about crafts based on math, science and nature. Have you knit a möbius strip or virus lately? The panelists were Elise Matthesen, Kate Schaefer, and myself. Vonda McIntyre was unable to be there but we showed and discussed her work.

We all talked about the tech of our work and discussed the hyperfocus (geekiness)  as it relates to  the creative as well as the technical part of the work.  “Geekiness” implies a high level of focus and knowledge.  Jewelry, sculpture, and other “material” arts can have an intense focus on conceptual and intellectual content, sometimes including a deep knowledge of materials, their histories and meanings, as well as of any representational aspects of the finished work (in other words, if the work is a silver raven, I have to know a lot about silver and a lot about ravens to do the piece justice).

I was fascinated by the conversation.  I use lots of natural science references in my work, as I recently discussed in this post. I also often use geology references and astronomical images, and I have a profound knowledge of stones. I take this specific knowledge and reinterpret it to create the art. But I use the natural sciences, not physics or math.

This conversation is teaching me a lot about the work of people I admire, and also making me think about my own work in ways I don’t usually consider.

Among her work, which includes crocheting hyperbolic surfaces, Vonda makes wonderful undersea creatures that I’ve blogged about before.  When I went to this post, I realized for the first time that the panel title had been taken from the title of the post.

Here’s a picture of the shadowbox installation of her work I put together for her when I was in Seattle last fall. (For the folks who were at the panel, this is the image I was talking about.)

Vonda says: One day I was reading an article on hyperbolic geometry by Ivars Peterson in Science News, one of my favorite magazines and one of my favorite science writers. I realized that he was describing geometry that I could adapt to bead creatures, so I made one. I wrote him a note and asked if I could send it to him; not only did he accept it, he wrote it up for Science News in Anatomy of a Bead Creature

Elise does marvelous jewelry pieces using weaving technique in silver wire that tend to form helixes, not in a symmetrical sense but rather in an organically woven way. She compares it to working with ribbon; when you stroke a ribbon with a scissor and then follow the curves, it will frequently wants to form a helix.  Her intricately woven jewelry has literary nuances and exquisite titles, and have inspired some fine novels and short stories, including this year’s Hugo-winning short story “Tideline” by Elizabeth Bear. Her Live Journal includes an ongoing discussion of her work.

Kate says she “uses both hand and machine sewing construction methods. I’ve been sewing and making art to wear for many years. My work is strongly influenced by the crazy-quilting tradition, and I ratchet back and forth between the excessively decorated and the deceptively simple.” She was talking about the physics of pattern making and design, and the complexities of transferring from a flat pieces to the roundness of the body.  Much of her work is far more complex then the photos on her web site. When you look at Kate’s work, you see, of course, not the physics but the masterly way she folds pattern and design together to make a whole.

There will be a “Metal, Fiber, Beads, and High Geekiness” panel at Wiscon, the world feminist science fiction convention in Madison, Wisconsin in May where we will get to enlarge and develop these ideas.  I’m looking forward to it.