When will you use Math?

Crochet model of a hyperbolic plane by Daina Taimina. Photo courtesy Steve Rowell/The Institute for Figuring

A lot of kids always question when you will need math. When a lot of us picked up knitting and crochet the mention of gauge reminds us of that question. It is not uncommon to hear someone grumble at the shop, "Oh, so I do need to know math?"

In honor of National Crochet Month this post is about how crochet has been helping mathematicians. "Crochet patterns have an underlying mathematical structure and have been used to illustrate shapes in hyperbolic geometry that are difficult to reproduce using other media or are difficult to understand when viewed two-dimensionally." (Hyperbolic Space, The Institute of Figuring). I did not necessarily understand this statement when I first read it, but ultimately it relates to a theory of geometry that challenged the traditionally accepted belief proposed by Euclid about parallel lines.

In 1997, at Cornell University, mathematician Daina Taimina wanted to create a physical representation of hyperbolic geometry and looked to traditional crafts from her country of Latvia. Although, she tried knitting, crochet ultimately proved the best. Check out the The Institute of Figuring for a model gallery and articles on this topic (including the Spring 2005 Interweave Article with instructions). They even have a link for the NPR interview with mathematicians.

Also, check out Cabinet magazine that has a whole article about hyperbolic geometry and crochet.

Lastly, the Institute of Figuring collected hyperbolic crocheted coral reefs. They have organized a traveling exhibit (it will be in NY April 5-May 18th) to raise awareness about global warming.



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