Tag Archives: Vonda McIntyre

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.

Brains, Coral, and Helixes: Oh My

Laurie and Debbie say:

I (Laurie) was in Seattle staying with Vonda McIntyre and visiting with friends last week. Vonda is a marvelous (and multiple-award-winning) science fiction writer and she is also a maker of fabulous sea creatures.

Her house has really magical clusters of anemones, jellyfish and other creatures of the sea. They’re made from tiny beads and are three-dimensional, vivid and alive. While she was there I helped her set up a window box with semiprecious rocks and lots of her undersea denizens.

beaded sea creatures in Vonda McIntyre's window

Vonda and her sea creatures have also been written up in Science News Online.

She told me a lot about crafts based on math, science and nature, a design area I was unaware of. When I got home I talked to Debbie about science/crafts and we decided it would be fun to blog about it and show you some examples and links.

quilt of brain cross-sections

This quilt is from the Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art (no, really!).

Neither of us is as clear as we would like to be on exactly what a Lorenz manifold is, but apparently crocheting “the famous Lorenz equations that describe the nature of chaotic systems” was both a complex task and turned out to be a very good way to demonstrate a multidimensional concept in a three-dimensional world.


Debbie has followed science artist Bathsheba Grossman for some time; she does astronomicals and molecules in metal or lucite, and also some stunning science concepts, like this Quaternion Julia fractal carved in lucite.

Quaternion Julia fractal set

The Institute for Figuring brings us this giant coral reef project, crocheted by thousands of volunteers from around the world. The link includes an email where you can contribute your own piece of the reef (or of their “Toxic Reef,” made from yarn and plastic trash).

crochet coral and anemone garden

There’s lots more, and here’s a pattern for a hand-knit DNA helix scarf that any knitters out there can make for themselves.

Many of the above links are from Vonda.