Neural Knitworks: craft a healthy brain

National Office

Feel like contributing to a collaborative art/science project about mind and brain health and learning about neuroscience at the same time? All are encouraged to create textile neurons towards this exciting community art project that will present its first exhibition in August at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery as part of National Science Week.

Knitted neurons joined together into a network

Textile neurons created by artists Pat Pillai and Rita Pearce were displayed at the 11th Annual World Congress of Brain Mapping and Therapeutics in Sydney.

Neural Knitworks is a project contributing to National Science Week in 2014. This article explores the history and development of the project. To find out more about joining in for yorself, head over to the Neural Knitworks webpage.

Developing Neural Knitworks

Neural Knitworks seeks to promote brain health messages to communities across Australia and beyond. With many embracing the idea, including the Brain and Mind Research Institute (University of Sydney), the Society for Brain Mapping & Therapeutics, Centre for Healthy Brain Aging (University of NSW), ANSTO and Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation, this brain awareness project has the potential to create a national neural network as people all over Australia hold Neural Knitworks in their own communities.

Neurons are electrically excitable cells of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. The billions of neurons in your body connect to each other in neural networks. They receive signals from every sense, control movement, create memories, and form the neural basis of every thought.

Textile artist Pat Pillai’s idea to knit and weave hand made brain cells was dubbed the winning pitch at last year’s Ultimo Science Festival Art & Science Soiree in Sydney. With encouragement from the Soiree’s organiser Sophie Weeks, Inspiring Australia (NSW) and fellow artist Rita Pearce, the idea for a travelling neural art exhibition soon took hold.

“Art, including simple, everyday craft like knitting, can be a powerful tool to promote health and science,” said Pat, who says the concept of Neural Knitworks appeals to the general public and scientists alike.

She has been overwhelmed by enthusiasm and support for the project, not only from craft practitioners, schools and community groups but also from professional scientists across a range of disciplines.

Scientific accuracy

Careful to ensure that their neurons are created with scientific rigor, Pat and Rita have met with neuroscience, microscopy and stem cell experts including Professor Kuldip Sidhu from UNSW’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing and the Society for Brain Mapping & Therapeutics. This connection led to Pat and Rita being invited to display their creation at the 11th Annual World Congress of Brain Mapping and Therapeutics in Sydney earlier this year.

“We were honoured to have the opportunity to show our work to neuroscientists from around the world who agreed the project was a great way to explain aspects of neuroscience to the general public,” said Pat.

Brain surgeon Dr Charlie Teo was among those who enjoyed talking to the artists about their craft at this event.

Pat, Rita and others are now working to create hundreds of textile neurons that can be woven together for Australia’s first big woolly brain installation.

“We need to amass an enormous number of hand made neurons to create our first installation at Hazelhurst in August, so we are asking volunteers to help us create textile neurons that can be joined together with others to weave soft sculptural representations of the brain,” said Pat.

Download knitting patterns

Scientifically informed knit, crotchet and knot patterns are now available (3.34 MB PDF), along with DIY instructions for how to host  your own Neural Knitwork and where to send your neurons.  No knitting experience is required and people of all ages can participate – there is even a no-knit pattern that people can try.

All are encouraged to get involved and reap the brain health benefits that yarn craft, with its mental challenges, social connection and mindfulness, can bring.

To find and share more information about Neural Knitworks join the Neural Knitworks community on Facebook.

Guest blog post by Jackie Randles, Inspiring Australia (NSW)