A while ago I took my Victorian seaweed collection to the Herbarium at the New York Botanical Gardens to see if I could learn more about it. I met Ken Karol - a research scientist and curator specializing in algae and he kindly showed me the incredible collection of seaweed specimens that the NYBG house in the herbarium.
I noticed that a lot of early specimens were originally collected by women for their craft projects. In the 19th century it was considered improper for women to have an interest in plants because they were too sexy, but seaweed is asexual (we are talking botany here people I promise) so one's reputation could be kept intact while hunting for new types of seaweed down at the beach. It's incredible to think that at the time everything in botany was new and discoveries of unpublished types were frequent.
While I was there Ken made an offhand comment about making quilts in his spare time and this, coupled with the fact that Victorian women were actually contributing to science under the guise of craft, made me start to wonder how much crossover there is between craft and science.
The answer is - a lot! Following are just a few examples of the extraordinary and beautiful ways people are combining science with craft.
Crab Nebula (supernova remnant) / quilt
Jimmy McBride – costume designer, Brooklyn, NY.
Jimmy has a stunning collection of space quilts made out of men’s shirts. On his website he writes a small sci-fi story to go with each one.
The solar system / quilt
Ellen Harding Baker – Cedar County, Iowa, 1876
The design of Ellen’s striking and unusual quilt is based on the illustrations in astronomy books of the period. Ellen used the quilt as a visual aid for lectures she gave on astronomy in the towns of West Branch, Moscow, and Lone Tree, Iowa. Astronomy was an acceptable interest for women in the nineteenth century and was sometimes even fostered in their education. Ellen also had 7 children - packing a lot into a short life - she died of TB at the age of 39.
Human anatomy / crochet
Anne Mondro – artist, Michigan
Anne Mondro works with thin steel and copper wire which enables her to create structurally strong, yet visually and physically light forms of hearts, lungs, limbs, and even entire bodies.
Historical periods of human instability / quilt
Anna Von Mertens – artist
Anna has produced a series of quilts that uses tree ring data, correlating periods of drought to periods of human instability, such as the fall of the Roman Empire, the Aztec Conquest, the Black Plague, and the Anasazi migration in the 12th century.