December 15, 2017

Dr. G’s #AGU17 Spotlight – Crocheted temperature tapestries to communicate climate data

Posted by Laura Guertin

Let’s go back in time to when there was a call for abstracts for the 2017 AGU Fall Meeting. I saw the description of this session: Climate Literacy: The Arts as an Ally in Understanding Earth and Invoking Change. I immediately knew what I wanted to submit – but was I ready to have a poster that would be such a departure from the “traditional” meeting posters? I took a chance with the abstract, I took a chance adding my creations and creativity to my poster, and this is what I presented this fall: Utilizing Crochet to Showcase Temporal Patterns in Temperature Records from One Location and to Spark a Climate Conversation (abstract link):

Crocheting is one of my hobbies. I learned how to crochet back when I was a Junior Girl Scout in elementary school, and didn’t pick crocheting back up again until my last year of graduate school, when I was looking for a stress reliever. I’ve been making scarves, blankets, and hats for friends and as donations to charities. But I never thought of combining my science life with my crocheting world – until I saw this post on Twitter!


This was fascinating to me, and a brilliant idea! I started digging around online, and I saw some mentions of temperature scarves. Then I came across the Sky Scarf Project, the Tempestry Project on Etsy, and an online group on the Ravelry website that discusses not only knitting and crocheting temperature but rainfall data, air pollution measurements… the options and opportunities are endless! Several of the basic-to-intricate displays of temperature data can be seen on Instagram (#temperatureblanket).

Naturally, I wanted to jump in and join the fun. Finding data to work with was easy – NOAA’s Climate Data Online Search is a simple interface to use. I started making temperature scarves and blankets for my location this year, for past years, for friends, for the first year of my own life from the location I was born, etc. But then I thought…. what else can be done with a temperature blanket or scarf, besides putting it on a bed or wearing it around your neck? Could it be used for a greater educational and outreach purpose?

So I brought what I’m calling “temperature tapestries” (since they are shorter than a year – only a semester in length) to my classroom. During my Spring 2017 semester, I was working on the piece and showing the progress to my students, discussing how the patterns and changes in data were easy to see, and how these data compared with records from the past. My students were looking at and making observations from a data visualization, without realizing they were staring at a data visualization!

I also took this idea to use these temperature tapestries to a science public outreach event in Philadelphia, where members of the general public came to Start Talking Science and learned about Philadelphia’s temperature history without having to look at a line graph. I was surprised at how easy it was to talk about changes in weather and climate with people with yarn as my tool.

This was the focus of my poster – sharing with the AGU audience how we can explore different ways to visualize data. In this case, I was using yarn, to crochet a row a day to highlight maximum temperature values color-coded to different degree bands. I had never seen such an “art and craft” project presented at AGU before – especially one focused on communicating climate data. And it was certainly tricky trying to figure out the best way to attach the yarn to the poster!

What resulted from this poster display? Over 70 people came by my poster to ask questions, take photos, offer suggestions for other types of data, etc. By far, this poster is helped me have the most engaged conversations out of all of the posters I’ve ever presented at any scientific conference. Was it the color? Was it the yarn that popped out and grabbed people’s attention?

I think the most exciting outcome for me was hearing that people were going to share this idea with others, and perhaps even start creating their own data visualizations through crochet and knitting (and one person even said they would try to do so through cross-stitch!). It is great to be innovative and creative in blending the science and art worlds, but it is also essential to use these products as a way to communicate a message. I hope people do use climate records and create some amazing needlework. And who knows… maybe there will be more yarn on posters at AGU next year!