When maths and traditionally feminine crafts meet

You can get something great:

In 1997 Cornell University mathematician Daina Taimina finally worked out how to make a physical model of hyperbolic space that allows us to feel, and to tactilely explore, the properties of this unique geometry. The method she used was crochet.Dr Taimina’s inspiration was based on a suggestion that had been put forward in the 1970’s by the geometer William Thurston (also now at Cornell). Noting that one of the qualities of hyperbolic space is that as you move away from a point the space around it expands exponentially, Thurston designed a paper model made up of thin cresent-shaped annuli taped together. But Thurston’s model is difficult to make, hard to handle, and inherently fragile. Taimina intuited that the essence of this construction could be implemented with knitting or crochet simply by increasing the number of stitches in each row. As you increase, the surface naturally begins to ruffle and crenellate. Taimina, who grew up in Latvia with a childhood steeped in feminine handicrafts, immediately set about making a model. At first she tried knitting – and you can indeed knit hyperbolic surfaces – but the large number of stitches on the needles quickly becomes unmanageable and Taimina realized that crochet offered the better approach.


The beauty of Taimina’s method is that many of the intrinsic properties of hyperbolic space now become visible to the eye and can be directly experienced by playing with the models. Geodesics – or straight lines – on the hyperbolic surface can be sewn onto the crochet texture for easy examination. Through the yellow lines in the model below look curved, folding along them demonstrably produces a clean straight line.


For more, go here. (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

7 thoughts on “When maths and traditionally feminine crafts meet

  1. I’m reminded vividly of a short story by AS Byatt called, I think, “Art Work.” Though a quite different narrative, it similarly juxtaposes ‘high art’ and women’s crafts.

  2. There is in fact a growing community of mathematical crafters, female and male, who get together at the annual professional mathematics meetings to knit, crochet, sew, bead, fold paper, and so forth. If you’re interested in more projects along the lines of Taimina’s crocheting, check out the recent book Making Mathematics with Needlework: http://www.toroidalsnark.net/mkbook.html.

    Thanks to Monkey for the fractal quilts link–outstanding!

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