Crochet of the Sea
While coral reefs are dying out undersea, twin
sisters Christine and Margaret Wertheim,
Los Angeles, are leading a crusade to crochet lifelike
coral reefs across America. Their intricately naturalistic yarn reefs draw attention to the threat of climate
change, while winning the attention of art galleries.
Photograph courtesy of the Institute For Figuring
“They are such fascinating creations,” says Christine, who teaches literature and art. But it was a
love of math that inspired the reefs.
Co-founders of the Institute For Figuring, dedicated to celebrating the poetic beauty in science,
the sisters picked up crochet hooks after studying
the aesthetics of hyperbolic geometry.
“We had crocheted some hyperbolic planes which
were curled up on a coffee table, when we said,
‘That looks like a coral reef — let’s make one,’” says
Christine. “Two years later, it’s taken thousands of
dollars and miles of yarn, and we’re awash in reefs.”
The sisters have crocheted brain, pillar, rubble,
and fire corals, forming fluffy ecosystems now
teeming with crocheted anemones, jellyfish, nudibranchs, sea slugs, and flatworms — all crafted by
applying mathematical algorithms to crochet patterns, increasing stitches with every row.
“Is it art, science, math, or natural history?” asks
Margaret, a science writer. “It’s all of those things.”
Each hooked loop is a voyage of discovery. “We are
constantly surprised that we set out to make one
thing and it turns out quite another. It’s evolutionary.”
The Wertheims and their collaborators have
crafted reefs now exhibiting across America and in
Europe: naturalistic reefs in muted tones, others
blazing with electric color, and impressionistic reefs
that could have lain hidden beneath Monet’s water
lilies. Their efforts have also spawned new crochet
reef projects in Chicago, New York, and London.
“We’d love to inspire every city to create a reef of
their own,” says Margaret. “There are times when we
feel this is taking over our lives. We’ve become slaves
to the reef, like The Little Shop of Horrors. Coral has
taken over our kitchen, living room, and dining
room. Fortunately, we love it.” —Peter Sheridan