Neural Knitworks stitch up the country

With its first Patron on board and deliveries of hand made textile neurons starting to arrive at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, the National Science Week Neural Knitworks project is now well underway.

Among events presented in the past few weeks have been knit-ins at Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney and at the Museum of Human Disease at University of NSW and workshops at the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra and the CWA in Bathurst.

More events are planned in the coming school holidays in regional libraries, universities and museums across Australia.

Textile artists Pat Pillai and Rita Pearce led the neuron creation activities at the University of Sydney and the CSIRO Discovery Centre, each event attracting hundreds of participants of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds who came together to create neurons and learn about neuroscience.

Professor Ian Hickie, Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute, has joined the project as its Patron. Speaking at the University of Sydney Knitwork, Professor Hickie praised community awareness projects for raising awareness of why scientific research is relevant and necessary to better understand common conditions that can greatly reduce quality of life like depression and Alzheimer’s.

Professor Hickie said that conditions affecting the brain and mind are by far the biggest barriers to people functioning at work, being able to go to school and remaining independent.

‘To unravel these things and to make progress in our understanding of what brain cells are actually doing – both individually and in relation to each other – is critical,” he said.

‘It fascinates me every day that people have no idea what is going on in their own heads. Just the complexity of what you are doing now – knitting and socialising – is the most incredibly complex brain activity.”

Professor Ian Hickie, Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute

Professor Ian Hickie (left), Executive Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute, is the Patron of Neural Knitworks. Photo by Dee Molloy

Professor Hickie said that above all, people fear mental illness, dementia and loss of independence.

‘That’s why we need more opportunities for everyday people to stop and think about the brain, recognise signs that things may be going awry and understand what they can do to keep it healthy.”

“It’s not just about experts standing here talking at you, but rather, by learning by doing as you are now,’ he added.

Professor Hickie said that without an informed community that understands the value of scientific resrach, scientists will struggle to make progress and find solutions to pressing problems of the brain and the mind.

After Professor Hickie, textile artist Pat Pillai spoke about the origins of the Neural Knitworks project that arose in part from her love of art therapy. Also speaking was neuroscientist and blogger Dr Sarah Mackay, who cited research proving brain health benefits of knitting. Associate Professor Amanda Salis, a neuroscientist from the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders, then pointed to researcah that indicates that yarn craft and group social interaction can help people maintain healthy body weight. Finally, science communicator Dr Jenny Whiting described why she enjoys the creativity and mindfulness that crotchet brings.

Throughout the Sydney and Canberra workshops, hundreds of colourful woolly brain cells of many shapes and sizes were created. These will go towards a giant brain art installation that will be unveiled at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery in August during National Science Week.

Get involved!

The Neural Knitworks artists need to amass an enormous number of hand made neurons to create their first installation at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, so volunteers are encouraged to create and donate!

Scientifically informed knit, crotchet and no-knit patterns are available on the National Science Week website, along with DIY instructions for how to host your own Neural Knitwork and where to send neurons.

No knitting experience is required and people of all ages can participate. 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 information and see event photographs, join the Neural Knitworks community on Facebook.

Jackie Randles is the Manager Inspiring Australia (NSW).