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Helen Bernasconi

Bonnie Doon, Australia

Crochet octopus by Helen Bernasconi

Helen was our very first international contributor and has remained one of our most creative. Above is one of her octopus organisms, a whole genre of crochet-sea-creatures she invented. The tentacles on these models end in hyperbolic "curlicues," which are a traditional crochet embellishment - though we believe Helen discovered it for herself. Helen is a master of both technique and form and over the past 2 years has produced an extraordinary variety of complex, multi-faceted shapes. Every time a box arrives from her we marvel again at the diversity of her imagination - she seems to be single-handedly creating several major new branches on the crochet tree-of-life.

Crochet anemone by Helen Bernasconi - hand spun and hand dyed yarn.

Above is a particularly exquisite anemone Helen has made. The central body is covered in orange and mustard tentacles each given a gentle twist by a slight hyperbolicization (increasing stitches). Holding this furry delight in your hands it is so full of life you can almost feel it breathing. Below are two more of Helen's amazingly inventive patterns: when they arrived in their box they were nestled on top of one another as if they were mating. We like to imagine them as the male and female of a species and we sincerely hope that one day we will be priviledged to see their offspring. Note the attention to detail here. The delicate filigree edgings, the complexity of structure, and the five-fold symmetry are all so reminiscent of Ernst Haeckel's beautiful marine drawings.

 

Helen lives in Bonnie Doon, in the rural north of the Australian state of Victoria. On her 80 acre property she keeps a small flock of sheep whose wool she spins and dyes herself. Much of her wool goes into making beautiful woven rugs, which are her primary artistic output. In a shed in her garden she has several large looms and - just because she can't help herself, she says - there is also a small loom standing constantly ready in her living room.

Crochet octopus by Helen Bernasconi - hand spun and hand dyed yarn.

Before she moved to the country to tend sheep and get closer to nature, Helen had a career as a computer programmer and math teacher. For several years she programmed COBOL for mainframes in Switzerland. Her love of mathematics comes through in the complicated structures that lie at the heart of many of her crochet models. Beneath the tentacles many of these creatures are in the form of a mobius strip. These moboid-models have the property that they appear to be eating themselves and can continually pulled through a central omphalous.

   

Above are three different views of a torqued torus Helen has made. The basic form here is made by creating a tube which results naturally when you first increase hyperbolically and then reverse the process by decreasing. Helen has pioneered a whole series of such structures using this technique. Her dedication to mathematical precision sometimes leads her to produce spreadsheets, in which she calculates in advance exactly how many stitches the model will take - this allows her to work out how much wool she will need in each color, so she can make sure she dyes the right amount! Below is the apotheosis of these explorations - a 30 foot long boa-like beast that Helen calls "The Monster."

Below is Helen's "Monster" on show in The Powder Room exhibition at Track 16 gallery in Los Angeles. In the background is a wall-mounted pile of carnation coral by fellow Australian IFF contributor Marianne Middelburg.

Helen Bernasconi's hyperbolic crochet constrictor in The Powder Room show at Track 16 gallery.

Helen Bernasconi's with her hyperbolic boa and sheep dogs.

Here is what Helen says about herself:

My business card says that I am a "Spinner, Weaver, Dyer and Keeper of the Flock - Handwoven Rugs a Speciality." These activities take place on a picturesque 86 acre farmlet near Bonnie Doon, in Victoria, Australia. Due to the property's proximity to the bush one if constantly engaged in a natural history lesson as native flora and fauna - not to mention fungi and feral animals - are found in abundance. Prior to moving to this always challenging environment I worked as a teacher of mathematics and science and as a computer programmer. There is much for the technically minded to enjoy in textiles, but my biggest challenges always involve issues of design and color. I was delighted to discover an article about crocheting the hyperbolic plane. With a few simple instructions and a swag of hand-dyed yarn I became the maker of startlingly organic pieces and topological curiosities.