museum tourist: crochet coral reef

At last, the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef has opened at the natural history museum! You may recall, I was crocheting some pieces for this exhibit over the summer – this is what they looked like – and dropped them off at a local yarn store in August. The show opened earlier this month, and last Thursday I went down to see my work in the Smithsonian.

The coral reef is at the back of the museum’s Ocean Hall. The organizers took all the individual pieces, submitted by crafters like me, from all kinds of yarns and done in all sorts of ways, and assembled them into one three-dimensional, multi-colored extravaganza of coral. It’s stunning. I walked around it for about 20 minutes, and while I was there several tourists stopped to admire it, then exclaim at the fact that it was made of yarn. (Most of them misidentified it as knitting, but oh well, guess you can’t expect everyone to know the difference. Or read the signs.)

Here’s what the whole reef looks like:

The genesis of the reef is a little complicated – I’ll try to give the short version. A mathematician who knits figured out that the easiest way to model hyperbolic shapes is to crochet them. Hyperbolic geometry is a kind of geometry that describes sort of ruffly space, like a leaf of kale or a piece of coral. A pair of sisters were crocheting these models in brightly colored yarn and noticed that the pile of objects looked kind of like a coral reef. Ta-da! The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef was born. Read about it here.

I walked up to it and saw one of my pieces immediately. Can you spot it in the picture below? (Refresh your memory here.)

It took me longer to find the others, but I eventually located four out of five. Another one is in this picture. It’s a little harder to pick out:

The above picture is from the “toxic” section of the reef, crocheted mostly out of trash. People used plastic bags, soda can tabs, and other unsavory materials. The piece of mine I couldn’t find was made out of audiotape. It turns out a lot of people had that idea. I think I found it, but I’m not sure. It could’ve been someone else’s cleverly crocheted audiotape.

My work is part of the Smithsonian Community Reef – called that because it’s made by crafty types like me. The exhibit includes several displays from other iterations of the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, but the community reef is the centerpiece and the best-looking part, I thought. It’s on display through April 24, 2011. Look for my name in the list of contributors! Ok, it looks like this:

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12 Responses to museum tourist: crochet coral reef

  1. Heather Livingston says:


  2. Helen says:


  3. Jane Milosch says:

    This is fantastic! Thanks for contributing to the Community Reef and I spotted my own mini-toxic reef in your photo!

  4. Helen says:

    Cool! Which part is yours?

  5. Erin says:

    Woah, it looks awesome. I’m excited to go see this in person. And I’m excited that I get to say I’m seeing it in person. Yeah, DC!

  6. lila says:

    So, so cool! (And I even see my yarn in your contribution!) It really is spectacular.

    Funny how people are with knitting versus crochet. People often ask me what I’m crocheting when they see me knitting.

  7. Erika says:

    Helen, this is fabulous! I look forward to checking it out. What a fun collaborative project.

  8. Helen says:

    Very fun!

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  10. Andrea says:

    I have a photo of my finger under my name too. I have a piece made of cassette tape in the toxic section- not sure which one is mine but I claim the one next to the piece I made from plastic shopping bags since I can identify that one.

    I’m a docent there now. I do tell people it is crocheted if they say it is knitting(although you would think with all the signage about crocheting….).

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