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Isabel Swift’s Hyperbolic Coral Reef

July 29, 2010 by in category From Isabel Swift tagged as ,

You may, perhaps, be wondering just what the Hyperbolic Coral Reef is?

So glad you asked!

It’s a project started in Australia by two crocheting sisters seeking to call attention to the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.  

Interestingly, there’s a mathematical angle to all this.  I will likely not get this entirely right, but basically for some time mathematicians denied there was a hyperbolic function until Mr Vincenzo Riccati and Johann Heinrich Lambert came up with it in 1760.  This despite the fact that many coral grow hyperbolically, so there were examples right under their nose (or toes).
And you can crochet a hyperbolic function by simply creating a chain and doubling it for every stitch–example below:

It starts to look like brain coral, doesn’t it?  And the pattern can be modified to create other coral (and mathematical) functions.

It was a powerful visual and experience to remind me you can start with something very simple–a single chain stitch.  Then do something very simple–double it.  And if you continue to add these simple building blocks, you can create something of amazing complexity–perhaps even beauty.  Just think about the single cell dividing and dividing and what remarkable organism it can come up with! 

I remember reading that Balzac (king of the door stopper novels) would start each one with a single page.  Then he’d keep adding bits and expanding bits, and thousands of pages later, you’d get Lost Illusions.

So the longest journey does indeed begin with the first step.  And whatever complex project you may have in mind that feels overwhelming, just make a single slip knot.  Add another.  You’ll be surprised how it can grow!

For those who want to learn more, I’ve grabbed a relevant paragraph from The Smithsonian Community Reef project:


The Smithsonian Community Reef is a satellite of the worldwide Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project created by Margaret and Christine Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring in Los Angeles.  It was made possible through the support of the Quiksilver Foundation, the Embassy of Australia, and the Coral Reef Alliance.  Find out more about Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring in Los Angeles here, and their Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project here.  Find out more about the upcoming exhibition of the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef and Smithsonian Community Reef at the National Museum of Natural History on the Museum’s Smithsonian Community Reef Temporary Exhibitions Page.  To be included on this e-mail circulation list (or removed from it) please contact sicommunityreef@yahoo.com.

And for those of you may be wondering how this relates to hyperbole?  I figure it’s whatever it is, just double it!

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