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Category: mPowerful Impact

How to Crochet a Coral Reef

October 30, 2021

It started with an idea. A problem really. One with no easy solution. So what do you do? You get creative. 

The problem? A growing number of coral reefs around the world are dying. The task? Crochet a coral reef. Now, you might be asking why, and we will get to that in a moment, but first the how. 

As far as mediums go, yarn and hooks are an interesting medium to use to create something so vibrant, and so alive, and so—organic. The ripples and waves and the undulating, ruffled edges of coral are difficult to recreate. But crochet seems uniquely situated to the task. Why? Hyperbolic geometry. 

Now, before I lose you, imagine the edge of a curled autumn leaf. The swirling curve of a creamy white shell. The dark green, gracefully crimped edges of kale and lettuce and other cruciferous vegetables. Organic structures for which there seems to be little mathematical explanation. This is hyperbolic geometry. Shapes that are neither spherical nor planar. Forms that cannot be easily quantified or patterned. The unique. The unusual. The strikingly beautiful. Shapes like a coral reef.

Crochet is uniquely situated for the short rows and stitch slips and curves and waves needed to create organic forms—craft mirroring the strange and sinuous nature of these shapes. Add one, slip, crochet two, double crochet. Create art out of a hook, and yarn, and time. 

And now the why, for it is a little unusual to create out of crochet not sweaters or scarves, but remarkably accurate representations of an underwater ecosystem. But for Margaret Wertheim and her sister Christine, it was a natural outgrowth of a passion for science and math, their love of handicrafts, their appreciation for community, and the concern they had for the ecological safety of the Great Barrier Reef, a coral habitat that has been dying off at an alarming rate. And so began the Crochet Coral Reef project, a delightfully participatory art project that invites people to crochet coral of their own, to participate in workshops, to create connections with others, and to educate themselves on an issue that Margaret and Christine care deeply about. Underwater seascapes sculpted out of brightly colored yarn and friendly conversation—change created through hands and hearts. 

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. . . A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

For Margaret and Christine the way they are mirroring the change they want to see in the world is not by lecturing or lobbying or persuading, but by connecting and communicating and interacting in unusual ways. 

They are not alone. When I look around me I see people everywhere taking time to make meaningful change in small ways, one decision, one act, and one stitch at a time. The budding novelist who wanted to create a literacy community in her neighborhood and started hosting read-ins—community events for people to get together and read. Students gathering household items for refugees, volunteers teaching children to play instruments in areas where music education is not available. In every instance one thing has stood out to me—a single individual stood back, looked at the world, picked a spot and said, “I want to change that. Just that small piece of it,” and got to work. 

One side effect of the last year and a half of pandemic affected schooling has been an increased ability to ‘listen in,’ to my children’s education, to eavesdrop on their lessons, and to be more involved in what they are interested in. A few weeks ago I listened in during a zoom lecture at my son’s college. It was a great panel, with interesting ideas bounced back and forth between a political writer and a nature writer/photographer discussing advocacy and change. 

As the panel drew to a close I heard my son ask how students should get involved in advocating for change. And the answer from each of those panelists was so simple, and yet, for my son, so profound. Figure out what you are passionate about. Spend time sweeping your side of the street. Do one thing. And then do another. And then one more. Make connections. Create a community. 

That is the power of the individual. The strength of passion. The world changing potential of every single individual. When we do those things,  a single person can be a catalyst for change. Or the beginning of a movement that can span continents and generations and miles and miles of brightly colored yarn. Stories that educate and preserve and involve one stitch at a time. 

For more information about the Crochet Coral Reef project, visit The Institute for Figuring at theiff.org.