Crochet a Coral Reef

Want to Save a Coral Reef? Bring Along Your Crochet Needles

Nicholas Roberts for The New York Times – Margaret Wertheim with a crocheted form during a workshop at New York University. The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef will arrive in New York in April.

Published: March 4, 2008

The exotically shaped creatures that began to sprout silently all over the cozy lecture hall were soon spilling onto empty chairs and into women’s laps and shopping bags. When fully grown, these curiously animate forms will find a home as part of a mammoth version of the Great Barrier Reef. But at the moment they were emerging at a remarkable pace from the rapidly flicking crochet hooks wielded by members of the audience.

Images of the The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef

(LEFT) Part of the Crochet Coral Reef, which began 2 ½ years ago.

This environmental version of the AIDS quilt is meant to draw attention to how rising temperatures and pollution are destroying the reef, the world’s largest natural wonder, said Margaret Wertheim, an organizer of the project, who was in Manhattan last weekend to lecture, offer crocheting workshops and gather recruits. The reef is scheduled to arrive in New York City next month.

As she explained to the 40 people, nearly all women, who had gathered at New York University on Saturday, “This has grown from something that was a little object on our coffee table” to an exhibition that, so far, spreads over 3,000 square feet. And that was before the addition of that day’s catch.

Ms. Wertheim, a science writer, and her twin sister, Christine, who teaches at the California Institute for the Arts, came up with the idea of creating a woolly homage to the reef about two and a half years ago. The Wertheims, 49, grew up in Queensland in Australia, where the approximately 135,000-square-mile reef — and the billions of tiny organisms that it comprises — is located. But the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef (more on that in a moment), is much more than a warning about global warming. It marks the intersection of the Wertheims’ various passions: science, mathematics, art, feminism, handicrafts and social activism.

For that reason the project has attracted a wide range of participants, including the Harlem Knitting Circle (which arrived with 10 members), a student from a Westchester high school’s environmental science club who had never crocheted before, a geoscientist and a former mathematics teacher and sheep farmer in Australia who creates algorithms to calculate the length of yarn she’ll need before spinning and dying the wool from her own sheep. In Chicago, where the exhibition appeared a few months ago, about 100 women contributed to the reef.


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