Saturday, November 20, 2010

And You Think Those Socks You're Knitting are Tricky...

Hey Y'all,
Deb sent me a really cool link to a TED Talk about crocheting a coral reef. In case you don't know, TED Talks are these twenty minute lectures by smart people from all walks describing interesting projects they're working on. In this particular talk, called Margaret Wertheim on the Beautiful Math of Coral, Wertheim describes how she and her twin sister came up with a project to get lots of people working together to crochet massive coral reefs. The video, which you can see here, is a great example of the complexity of crocheting.

This past week, I taught yet another person to knit. And as my student makes progress, I'm revealing to him some of the hidden awesomeness I discovered about knitting along the way, namely the math and architecture. So many handicrafts have been (and in some circles remain) dismissed as silly pastimes undertaken by women. Wertheim's project dispels this-- it demonstrates vision, art, math, science, and environmental concern. And as we know from our own projects, there can be tremendous complexity in creating a knitted, crocheted, or woven item.

Watching the TED Talk reminded me of the massive research I did last year as I worked on a book about the history of quilts. That book will be officially released tomorrow. (If you want to buy a copy you can email me at or pick up a copy at Amazon.) Like other crafts associated mostly with women, there have been plenty of times over the course of history when quilts were either taken for granted or not appreciated as art (or both). And, also like other crafts, because the medium (textiles) often deteriorates over time and due to use, many pieces have been lost due to disintegration. Even some of the magnificent works that remain are mysterious because their makers are unknown.

Perhaps it's true that as the makers were creating their works they did not think of the pieces as art. Or, even if they did, the artistic part was secondary. A lot of quilts are utilitarian first, made to keep people warm. Nowadays, there's an entire movement of art quilters (some of whom prefer the title Textile Artist)-- I wrote about 20 of these artists in my last book. Fortunately these days there's a growing pool of quilt historians who are focusing on all that hard work undertaken by so many nameless women throughout history. A few places, like the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, that have massive collections of historic quilts and also offer really in-depth textile programs. Earlier this year, the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum in London featured its first installation of historic quilts.

Closer to home, the University of Texas has a pretty impressive collection, though it's not on permanent display anywhere (yet). I was lucky enough to acquire a lot of images from the Joyce Gross Collection at UT to include in my latest book. You can make an appointment to check out the collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center.

With Thanksgiving coming up, I'm offering thanks for all of the nameless women throughout history who toiled so hard-- knitting, quilting, crocheting, weaving, cross-stitching, etc.-- to make things that were both practical and beautiful. I love how DIY has had such a resurgence in the past ten years and all the super-creative ways needleworks are now being employed. Nicely done, y'all.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Green Musselman said...

That coral reef project is AMAZING. I had Margaret Wertheim out to speak at Southwestern Univ. last year, actually, and she had such fascinating things to say about the relationships between crochet, math, environmental activism, and feminism.