Neural Knitworks

Neural Knitworks installed at Hazelhurst Gallery in 2014

Neural Knitworks display in 2014

Neural Knitworks is a collaborative project about mind and brain health.

Whether you’re a whiz with yarn, or just discovering the joy of craft, now you can crochet wrap, knit or knot—and find out about neuroscience.

During 2014 an enormous number of handmade neurons were donated (1665 in total) and used to build a giant walk-in brain, as seen here at Hazelhurst Gallery. Since then Neural Knitworks have been held in dozens of communities across Australia and internationally, with installations created in Queensland, Canberra and Singapore.

Following a 2017 debut event at the Cambridge Science Festival in the UK and at Brainfest with Cambridge Neuroscience, in 2018 the Neural Knitworks team were invited back to Cambridge to work with Cambridge Science Festival, Cambridge Neuroscience and local science communicator Sophie Weeks to produce an international Neural Knitworks project*. Knitwork events were held in and around Cambridgeshire, creating a giant brain installation at the Science Festival.

Knitters and crafters all over the UK downloaded the scientifically-based neuron crafting pattern books (3.4 MB, pdf) to contribute to the installation. Neurons can be created at home, at work or at school. No knitting experience is required and all ages can participate. Share your creations with our FaceBook Community to inspire others.

* If you wish to host a Neural Knitwork event outside of Australia’s National Science Week or the Cambridge Science Festival we ask that you make contact to seek permission to use the material, particularly if you intend to create derivative works or would like to exhibit the giant brain. Please outline your plans in an email.

Your creation can be big or small, part of a formal display, or simply consist of neighbourhood neuron ‘yarn-bombings’. Knitworks can be created at home, at work or at school. No knitting experience is required and all ages can participate.

What is a neuron?

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.

Check out neuron microscopy online for some real-world inspiration.

What happens at a Neural Knitwork?

Neural Knitworks are based on the principle that yarn craft, with its mental challenges, social connection and mindfulness, helps keep our brains and minds sharp, engaged and healthy.

Have fun as you

  • design your own woolly neurons, or get inspired by our scientifically-informed knitting, crochet or knot patterns;
  • natter with neuroscientists and teach them a few of your crafty tricks;
  • contribute to a travelling textile brain exhibition;
  • increase your attention span and test your memory.

Calm your mind and craft your own brain health as you

  • forge friendships;
  • solve creative and mental challenges;
  • practice mindfulness and relaxation;
  • teach and learn;
  • develop eye-hand coordination and fine motor dexterity.

Interested in hosting a Neural Knitwork?

  1. Log your event on the National Science Week calendar to take advantage of multi-channel promotion.
  2. Share the link^ for this Neural Knitwork page on your own website or online newsletter and add information your own event details.
  3. Use this flyer template (2.5 MB, docx) to promote your event in local shop windows and on noticeboards.
  4. Read our event organisers toolbox for tips on hosting a successful event.
  5. You’ll need plenty of yarn, needles, copies of our scientifically-based neuron crafting pattern books (3.4 MB, pdf) and a comfy spot in which to create.
  6. Gather together a group of friends who knit, crochet, design, spin, weave and anyone keen to give it a go. Those who know how to knit can teach others how to do it, and there’s even an easy no knit pattern that you can knot.
  7. Download a neuroscience podcast to listen to, and you’ve got a Neural Knitwork!
  8. Join the Neural Knitworks community on Facebook to share and find information about events including public talks featuring neuroscientists.
  9. Tweet #neuralknitworks to show us your creations.
  10. Find display ideas in the pattern book and on our Facebook page.

^In inviting you to participate, we ask that you respect the rights of contributors who share images and other material. We invite you to share the link for this page and invite you to access/print the pattern book PDF from the link. The pattern book PDF is not to be hosted on other websites or used for commercial purposes. We also ask that you attribute the founding team and partners as per information on page 3 of the pattern book.

Hints for a successful event

Plan your event or display during or close to National Science Week in August.

Share photographs of your creations in our Facebook community as you go, to help inspire others.

Avoid privacy issues by posting or displaying photographs of hands and neurons only.

Start knitting now!

This short video featuring Professor Ian Hickie AM is of the Neural Knitworks workshop held on 19 June 2014 at Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre:

Meet the Neural Knitworks team

Textile artist Pat Pillai’s idea to knit and weave brain cells was the winning pitch at the 2013 Ultimo Science Festival Art & Science Soiree in Sydney.

With encouragement from the Soiree’s organiser Sophie Weeks and fellow artist Rita Pearce, the idea for the Neural Knitworks exhibition at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery soon took hold.

Inspiring Australia NSW's then Manager Jackie Randles worked with the artists to extend the concept beyond the gallery as a National Science Week community art project. Input also came from Jenny Whiting, Heather Main, Deirdre Molloy, Sarah McKay, Rod Dowling, Kuldip Sidhu and Carrie Kibbler. We’ve blogged about the development of the project too.

Huge thanks to the many scientific researchers who provided access to inspirational images used as the basis of patterns, and to all those who have donated neurons and offered support and assistance along the way to bring this big woolly project to life.

Founding partners include Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, Inspiring NSW, ANSTO, Your Brain Heath, Brain & Mind Research Institute, the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, and Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation. The Caringbah Lions Club joined in 2015.

References and Acknowledgements

Knit a Neuron, UK: Dr Anne Cooke & Helen Featherstone; Gabrielle Theriault via Ravelry; Sydney Hyperbolic Reef Project and ABC Knit-in (now Wrap with Love Inc), Pistil – X Chromosome, Hiromi Tango Qld GOMA The artists would like to acknowledge the mentorship of Hiromi Tango. The original concept for Neural Knitworks builds on the success of their collaborative project Hiromi Hotel: Moon Jellies at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery in 2013.