I last wrote about ‘Woolly Thoughts” some years ago in a July 28, 2010 posting which focused on science knitting. Now, Alex Bellos has written an Oct. 3, 2016 posting for the Guardian about the ‘mathekniticians’ behind ‘Woolly Thoughts’,
In 1996 two British maths teachers active on an internet knitting forum were asked by a US yarn firm to design it an afghan.
“We were sent into a panic! We had no idea what an afghan was!” remembers Pat Ashforth, who with partner Steve Plummer is known in the crafts community for maths-inspired knits.
The couple soon discovered that an afghan was a knitted or crocheted blanket or throw. They produced four designs for the US firm, and it began a journey that has defined the rest of their lives.
Ashforth and Plummer decided that the afghan was the perfect canvas for expressing mathematical ideas – and since then they have devoted much of their time to producing as many as they can.
Together they have knitted and crocheted about 90 mathematical afghans (math-ghans?). Since each afghan takes about 100 hours to complete, this means the total time spent they have spent making them is about 9,000 hours (which adds up to 375 days – more than a year). And they have also made many other mathematical objects in wool.
The couple met while teaching at a school in Luton. By 1999 they were both working at a school in Nelson, Lancashire, where they married in 2005. Originally the afghans were hung in their classrooms. “They were invaluable as a vehicle for talking about maths, says Ashforth. “Large, touchable, unbreakable items were perfect for encouraging group discussion. It is much easier for everyone to be looking at the same thing than for each individual to have their own separate book.”
Not only are the images in the afghans mathematical, but the way they are made also involves mathematical thinking.
“We enjoy the challenge of seeing an idea then working out how it can be made into an afghan in a way that would be easy enough for anyone else to recreate. It is like trying to solve a puzzle and refining it to give the best possible solution.”
This is a great story from Bellos and it’s studded with images of the couple’s work.
Here are a few examples you won’t find embedded in Bellos’ posting,
You can find Woolly Thoughts here and the community and yarn/pattern database for knitters and crocheters where you can purchase the Woolly Thoughts patterns for a small cost, Ravelry can be found here.