Crocheting My Hyperbolic Coral Reef

I was immediately caught up in the wonder of the intersection between non-Euclidean geometry, feminism, crochet, and environmentalism, and I set out to make my own Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Garden.

I have a crochet coral reef in my living room.

A Few Corals

My Coral reef is full of tiny sea creatures, mostly sea turtles, octopuses, and snails, because I find them the most fun to crochet.

When kids come to visit, I like having something completely indestructible for them to play with. It’s extra fun when they find a tiny albino sea turtle hiding inside a sea-weedy coral. Very often, a guest will pick up a coral to play with and sometimes I send the coral home with them. Everyone should have an encounter with a coral garden I feel.

Corals and Climate Change

Coral is, not surprisingly, a bit scarce on the Canadian Prairies. Not really it’s natural habitat. So I don’t know too many people lucky enough to have a real-life encounter with coral. And with climate change hitting coral with all of the subtlety of a runaway freight train,I have a feeling that it isn’t going to be long before that is the common state of affairs globally.

Coral is very sensitive to temperature changes. So are we of course, even if some loud-mouthed, close-minded, anti-science, people think ‘not believing’ in facts make them go away.

So what does all of this have to do with crochet? It’s an interesting story. It starts with hyperbolic geometry.

Renata Bursten Crochet Hyperbolic Coral Reef 2015
A Window Ledge of Corals (and a jellyfish)

Geometry 101

There are essentially three kinds of geometry. Here is my overly simplistic run-down.

  • The first, Euclidean geometry is concerned with geometry on flat surfaces. Two dimensions.
  • The second, Spherical geometry is concerned with geometry of curved surfaces, in three dimensions.
  • The third is Hyperbolic geometry. It is concerned with the geometry of hyperbolic surfaces or saddle shaped space. Hyperbolic geometry is crucial to certain areas of science such as the orbit prediction of objects within intense gravitational fields, space travel and astronomy.  Einstein stated that space is curved and his general theory of relativity uses hyperbolic geometry.

Enter The Mathematician Crocheteur!

This can be tough to visualize, in fact it was thought to be impossible to model – that is until a mathematician crocheteur, Dr. Daina Taimina,  figured out how to do it via crochet! To do it you crochet three stitches and then increase one stitch in the next stitch. You can increase every third stitch, every fifth stitch, or every tenth stitch, as long as you keep it regular, as long as you always increase at the same rate. Ta da! A model of hyperbolic geometry!

Part of my Octopus’s Garden

The Crochet Coral Reef Project – Putting It All Together

Science writer Margaret Wertheim (along with her twin sister, Christine) figured out that coral does this naturally, and they began the Coral Reef Project – all done in crochet.

I was immediately caught up in the wonder of the intersection between non-Euclidean geometry, feminism, crochet, and environmentalism, and  I set out to make my own Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Garden. The TED talk about this is a must and it’s right below:-)

A Gallery of Corals


To learn all about this, here is the TED Talk about the project, it’s worth a listen! Margaret Wertheim’s TED talk: The beautiful math of coral

Article on Dr Daina Taimina and her amazing work.  Math and Fiber Hyperbolic Geometry meets Fiber Art Crochet

I hope you are inspired to crochet your own bit of coral!

With lots of love from Winnipeg,

Baba StringThings


Author: Baba StringThings

I am a middle-aged mother of three grown-up sons, a thrifty, creative, and dedicated born-again spinster, and I have a serious string addiction. I teach crochet, knitting, bobbin lacemaking, hand-embroidery, weaving, spinning, kumihimo, darning, mending, and how to upcycle clothing. When I'm not doing that I pretty much play with string. All. The. Time. And I have an unholy love of Pinterest.

5 thoughts on “Crocheting My Hyperbolic Coral Reef”

    1. What a wonderful installation in your front room! I love the sea critters too. When I saw the title of this one, my first thought was ‘I wonder if she’s heard about the mathematician who did her research with crochet…’ but of course you have! Thanks for writing about this story – I think it’s great to see the interplay between science and crafts. I get so frustrated when I see people knitting and designing very complex projects and then say ‘oh I couldn’t possibly do any maths! Numbers are so scary!’

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What a great comment, thank you!

        Personally, I blame the way we teach kids arithmetic. It’s difficult and boring and has almost nothing to do with the beautiful part of mathematics. Imagine if we taught all kids the ABCs and phonics and never let them read any good books.. People would be running around saying, ‘but letters are hard!’ Instead we expose kids to lots of great stories long before they can read so they know it’s worth struggling with acquiring the basic skills.

        That’s what we need to start doing, sharing the beauty. strangeness, and coolness of the mathematical way of seeing how everything works. Telling them about mathematics without numbers., ideally long before they even get to grade 1.

        You would not believe how many people I have turned onto hyperbolic geometry, how Einstein proved the theory of relativity via observation of an eclipse and hyperbolic geometry, and how one can model the structure of space and the big bang through crochet.

        Once while holding my basket of crochet standing in line at a 7-11!

        Once a teacher, always a teacher. ‘;-)


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