Knitting neurons for mental health

Can craft be science? A new collaborative project brings together Granny's art form and neurological imaging.
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Textile neurons created by Rita Pearce and Pat Pillai. Source Scienceweek 

Neural Knitworks is a project based on the principle that participating in yarn craft helps engage the mind through mental challenges and social connection.

It was the brainchild of textile artist and medical scientist Pat Pillai, who thought that a collaborative project which brought knitters together to knit, crochet or weave brain cells would promote awareness of neuron health.

Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, located in the suburban reaches of Sydney and local to Pillai, embraced her concept, developing the Neural Knitworks exhibition, which will open to the public 22 August to coincide with National Science Week, and then tour throughout Australia as a sensorially rich textile installation.

The gallery is inviting all to join in, regardless of one’s location or ability to craft in yarn.

‘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,’ said Pillai.

So what does knitting a neuron entail?

A project website steps you through the project and offers inspiration via a real-world neuron microscopy gallery. You can follow the project’s scientifically-informed patterns or create your own neural knitworks.

‘Yarn craft, with its mental challenges, social connection and mindfulness, helps keep our brains fit,’ said Pillai. 

In a nutshell, neurons are those electrically excitable cells of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves that control movement, our senses, every thought and memory. And like neurons themselves, networked and connected, so too is this project. The sculptural representations donated be makers will be cluster to create a contemporary installation.

An enormous number of crafted neuron are required. So download a neuron pattern or listen to an inspiring podcast and rattle those needles, and you are on your way to becoming part of one of the hottest trends in art making – the intersection of art and science.

Your completed neurons must be received by the gallery no later than Monday, 4 August; and remember to photograph your woolly wonders and post them on the Neuron Networks Facebook group as your creations are donated to the project.


Crafted neurons can be dropped in to or mailed to:

Neural Knitworks

Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre

782 Kingsway, Gymea, NSW 2227.

The Neural Knitworks travelling exhibition will be on display from 22 August – 2 September 2014.

For further details please visit

Neural Knitworks is a project in partnership with ANSTO, Inspiring Australia and the Southern Sydney Science Hub. 

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina