The LA-based Institute for Figuring has installed several reefs of crocheted coral in the South Bank Centre and in the Hayward Gallery. Unfortunately in the Hayward photos were not allowed.

This is an image of the “toxic” reef, I believe. But it may also be the UK reef– contributions from UK crocheters for the project.

There is math involved– a hyperbolic plane to be exact, or in IF’s words, the “wild and unruly” space of non-Euclidean geometry. Coral grows in a hyperbolic structure. Cornell University mathmetician Diana Taimina discovered crochet was the perfect medium for demonstrating hyperbolic space. Dr Taimina’s record plane, featured in the Smithsonian’s collection of American Mathematical Models, began with 24 stitches, with stitches added in every stitch, to measure 369 inches around the perimeter.  It weighs nearly a pound, but the piece is just four inches across. It’s interesting to note Dr. Taimina tried knitting a hyperbolic plane but the number of stitches on the needle became unruly– it is possible, but impractical. It has been postulated that our universe may in fact be hyperbolic in structure. A crocheted universe…now there’s a thought.


Salty: Three Tales of Sorrow, the first volume of the three volume collaboration between textile artist Edith Abetya and myself, is now available on

Two short stories, one set in the Salton Sea and the other in the cell of Marie Antoinette, as well as a series of ghazals from the point of view of handkerchiefs.

It will be a limited edition of 100. You can preview the text on the website .

It’s that time of year again, when a knitter is asked to knit for strangers, to knit for an idea, to knit for small change.

Sure, in theory it looks lovely.  Money and awareness for causes and a bunch of knitters feeling good about themselves.  Everybody wins.

So why don’t I do it?  Why do a cringe when I’m forwarded the “Innocent Smoothie Hat Campaign” or the “Children’s Society Big Stitch Appeal”?  Am I just a big Grinch?

For those who may not know, the Innocent campaign asks knitters to make little hats that go on bottles which are sold in markets. 50p of each bottle sold goes to Age Concern, a charity for the elderly in the UK.  What happens to the hat once the consumer has finished with the product? It’s probably tossed away, maybe stuck for a moment on an unhappy pet.  Why can’t Innocent just donate the funds with every bottle sold at Christmas? (Actually, they only donate 25p of each bottle, the other 25p coming from Sainsburys but who’s counting?)

The Children’s society appeal is asking people to help knit the largest Christmas stocking for a Guinness world record.  The emails I have received don’t really explain how this will help disadvantaged youth, besides raising the profile of the organization.

I have received appeals for knitting for premature babies as well as knitting for stillborns.  I can see how something handmade might humanize things, and give the parents some comfort.  But the idea of actually knitting something for these campaigns strikes me as a base sentimentality.  I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I have also seen calls for knitting hats for the homeless in NYC.   From the campaign blurb:

And keep this in mind: the people who receive your items aren’t likely to complain if there are a few dropped stitches, or if the color’s not what they like. They want to keep warm, that’s all.

You know what?  I bet they do care if their hat is wonky.  I hope they care.  And I’m sure that’s not all they want, either.  My father worked with homeless vets for the last 30 years, dealing with the complex problems everyday. There isn’t so much a lack of warm woolens as dire need for affordable housing and health care.  Primarily mental health care.   It might make the knitters feel good, and maybe even some of the recipients will be momentarily touched but it’s so patronizing– it reminds me of people who get in a charitable mood at Christmas and want to temper their guilt so they drop some money in a beggar’s hand on their way to the mall.

Perhaps I should elaborate here before you think me some kind of monster. When I was a child I was often in the hospital, sometimes in intensive care.  Once, a nurse brought me a clown doll made by a volunteer.  Now, maybe it was because it was a clown, a yellow clown, but I received that thing with a kind of dread.  Surely if strangers were knitting for me, I was doomed?  I was the most pitiful of girls, and was probably going to die.   I kept that yellow clown around for many years as a reminder of just how bad things could get.  Plus, I knew how to crochet and some part of me understood the skill and time involved in its pathetic manifestation. To throw it away seemed even sadder.  And then I got over it.

Sometimes knitting isn’t the right way to show someone you care.

Knitting as activism is different.  In the current climate, often charity and activism are conflated.  They are two different things.  Charity throws spare change at gaping problems in the system.  It offers some comforting gesture to victims of tragedy.   Activism confronts the system with demands for change.  For example, things like the Knitted River— are knitted activism.  The river has actually been used as spectacle in demonstrations.    It is a metaphor for collective action, where the smallest among us is more powerful joined with others, and the project itself has called into question water injustice, educating the knitters involved and the public, as well as making political demands.

And there is Marianne Jorgensen’s surreal anti-war statement– the pink tank cozy. Volunteers knit the squares– this transcends even activism to me.  It charges Mike Kelly’s high-art handicraft imagery— which he appropriated from grans all over the world– and gives it back to us.

(photo by mms on flickr)

Give me more collective stitches like this, and then maybe I could feel good about knitting for an ideal.

mamanSeeing Louise Bourgeois’ mother-spider on the banks of the Thames put me in a right webby mood.

I used to be terrified of spiders. Most people have a mild phobia but mine was paralyzing, sometimes literally. I would have nightmares about them and wake up screaming.

And then one day I was sleeping in an old apartment in Vienna and I was bitten. The bite was a spreading necrosis– truly awful. I got medical care in Austria which saved my leg and perhaps my life. It was only when I got back to America and had the wound cared for again that I was told it was most likely a brown recluse that had hidden in the suitcase of a past traveler.

Strangely, after that I no longer had the nightmares about spiders. I could not only be in the same room with them, but I also became fascinated with them. They were not so alien after all, but a part of me.

knitted spiderBarbara Walker has written many books on women’s myths and mysteries and fairy tales. I had no idea she had also written books on knitting. Most seem out of print or unavailable in the UK. Someone on ravelry tipped me off to this charted spider of twisted stitches from Charted Knitting Designs: A 3rd Treasury. I looked in vain for an affordable copy of the book from a UK seller and then I started asking around.

From the Walker book:

Here’s Arachne herself, the great-grandmother of all the world’s spinners and weavers, and still one of the best among them. Who of us can match her skill?

What’s that? You don’t think she is very pretty? Well, never mind. The pattern techniques to make her in yarn (as well as all her busy, real-life children in your garden) have much to teach you.

I plan to knit her as part of my Samhain meditations.

Guess who had the book and shared this pattern with me? My mother.

Favourties, originally uploaded by velvetdahlia.


This reminds me that I really need to get knitting for my Blythe. I need to name her and style her hair and…well, just stop neglecting her.


kiki Smith Spinster, originally uploaded by velvetdahlia.

I love this print by Kiki Smith.

It captures the secret fiber ritual…the intimacy of craft, and the real reason why I knit– It keeps me threaded to the yarns, the stories of countless women who’ve come before me. Stitches can be rhythmic, sacred things.