Crocheted Tree Ring Social Network Diagrams

4' x 6' panel with diagrams of data from Research of Dr. Amar Dhand, crocheted wool and acrylic, photo credit: Larry Sanders

Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty. ~Sicilian Proverb

As the resident artist on the research team,  my job was to visualize in some manner the research of Dr. Amar Dhand and make it more accessible to the general public.  After a number of open studio visits, it became apparent that the public wanted to see the art be encoded with the actual data.  They wanted it to be a literal translation.  I was stumped.  I was side-tracked by the pretty diagrams Dr. Dhand produced with R, but I also found them visually messy and not telling the whole story over time.  And so my research began in data visualization.  I poured through twitter posts, websites and such.  My visual parameters where that I wanted to stay with a round format as the circle is a symbol of wholeness and the universe and I really wanted to tell the story of the patient's network over time. It was also key that the patient remain in the center which evidently is counter to how most social network diagrams are constructed. As a stroke survivor, it was important to me that the patient be at the center, especially as the research is to hopefully create an intervention that will help the patient.

If you love data visualization, then  Manuel Lima's  fabulous book Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Complexity is a must read.  After reading his introduction into how family trees are the earliest form of data visualization and how that could also be shown as a tree ring I knew I had found the solution to my problem. But while I could make my art, was there any code out there that the doctor could run his data through?  It seemed to me  that the two must work together. This led me to a paper out of the University College of Dublin and the University of St. Andrews. They wrote code that was less node linked driven and allowed for the dimension of time.

I knew from many crochet experiments that I could create a tree ring diagram.  


The patient is the red at center. Time is represented by a color family.  I used a value scale of green in this example. The contrasting, complementary color of pink  represents the nodes.  I don't differentiate between strong and weak links as I wasn't given that data.  It could easily be done, but is not present in this example. The first ring is the network upon arrival at the hospital.  The second ring is the network at 3 months and the final ring is  at 6 months.  You can see how the networks make a shift over time.  Working the data in textiles allows for certain advantages not available on a computer.  I can shift the read with color and physical textures. Several diagrams  I crocheted, the nodes are worked in a bobble stitch,  so a person who is visually impaired may 'read' the data. 

The backdrop reminded me of the blue of the sea. A net is used to fish and a form of net is being used to collect the data. This particular shade of blue is also the chosen color used in the Come Back Strong campaign of the American Stroke Association. And of course the ultimate goal of the research is to help the patient come back strong. 

As it takes a network of support to aid the patient in their healing process, I've come to depend on my creative network to see the full  completion of this body of work.  It makes me nutty that the leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease and that the leading cause of adult disability are strokes and yet there is so little public awareness of it.  Every October, the United States is awash in pink. This attention on Breast Cancer has lead to many women's lives being saved.  They are getting mammograms which leads to early detection and greater survival. We need to see the same media blitz on heart disease and strokes. By the time I completed the panel of diagrams and several hundred mandalas, my hands were sore, yet I am aiming for 1,600 mandalas to represent the 1,600 stroke patients admitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in 2014.  It's a drop in the bucket of  the total 795,000 stroke patients in 2014.  1,600 seems small in comparison to 795,000. but that is a whole bunch of crocheting. Crocheters (knitters too) around the globe are making mandala contributions.  I don't know if I will make my goal, but then again when I had my stroke I didn't know in what way my social network would assist me. I don't try to control this part, I just share my story and hope that I can make my goal.  So far I've collected nearly 300 donated mandalas, mostly from a volunteer at BJC in the Arts and Healthcare department by the name of Yvonne.  Katherine Hull has crocheted two of the sure to be three blue panels which totals 10x10 feet of filet crochet.  That is a ton of crochet and took weeks to complete.  I'm even finding that yarn companies are helping out.  Lion Brand Yarns contribute the blue yarn.  So many different hands are involved in the making as they were involved in my healing.


Crochet and Knit Mandalas


Social-network-diagrams-heart disease-and-stroke recovery

I hope you want to join me in bringing awareness about the number one killer of women in the United States.  No, it's not breast cancer.  It's actually heart disease.  Annually 795,000 Americans have a stroke.  These don't just happen to the elderly.  I'm not yet 50 and I had a stroke last year.  I've met children who've had strokes as well as young adults.  It's scary! Strokes are the leading cause of Adult Disability.  Do you know the signs of a stroke?  If not, please review them and commit them to memory.  It could mean the difference in saving the life of a family member or friend. Basically 1 in 4 Americans die from heart disease when you combine strokes with heart attacks.

So what can you do?  My idea is simple.  We need to collectively bring a ton of awareness to heart disease if we are going to turn around the numbers in this country.  Just as we have with Breast Cancer awareness. As a result, more women are having mammograms and cancers are being caught earlier, in time to cure many of them.  I want to see that happen with heart disease. I really don't want anyone to experience what I did.

I've been crocheting mandalas to represent the 1,600 stroke patients last year at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Ideally I want to collect 795,000 - one for every American whose had a stroke.  By making them and sharing what you learn about heart disease, you can share information that may save another person. Just as crochet and knitting is a process in which each loop is dependent on the other for a stable fabric, I believe in applying that metaphor to our society.  Our general good health means supporting each other and sharing vital info.  While to date, the mandalas have been crocheted, they could also be knit.  Think of the top of Fair Isle tams for inspiration.  Here are some links to get you started. 


You may of course decide to just knit concentric circles of color!


If you wish to join in, I will be posting each person's contribution and their name if they so wish along with the name of anyone they wish to contribute a mandala in the name of.  These are great stash busters! 

Why a Mandala?  Mandalas are a spiritual symbol representing the universe.  You see them across cultures.  In various religious traditions they are used to focus meditation and prayer. They have become a symbol for healing and wholeness when one feels their body and life has been fractured by illness.  The act of making these little treasures I find very soothing. I wear a Fitbit heart monitor and find that my heart beats less rapidly when I make one.  It's not a scientifically proven fact, just a personal observation.

Answers to basic Questions:

How big should they be?   Any size is fine.

Should I use specific colors? This is about your creativity.  I would like that very center point  be red for the sake of consistency, otherwise choice of color, yarn, and texture are up to you.

Where should I send my contribution? Leave a comment requesting my address and I will email it to you.

What happens to them?  I am attaching them to a turquoise blue background (the yarn Vanna's Choice was graciously donated by Lion Brand Yarns.  These crocheted panels are 5 feet by 5 feet each and being made my  friend, Kathleen Hull.  The panels make it easy and quick to install the mandalas in a wide variety of settings.  I will  initally be showing them at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in January.  Afterward I'd like to see the panels travel around the country.  Imagine walking into a room filled with 795,000 mandalas!  It's just crazy enough that we may make an impact.  I say we as I do need your help.  My wrists can only handle so much and it will be more meaningful if more participate.

The first contribution is from Yvonne of St. Louis.  Thank you  Yvonne!!!!!!

Yvonne's crocheted-Mandalas-for-heart-disease

In getting this project started I have many people and organizations I wish to thank:

Dr. Amar Dhand - my neurologist who first gave me the opportunity to work in his lab and which then went on to inspire this work.  Please take a look at his research into Social Networks and Stroke Recovery.

The Regional Arts Commission  of St. Louis for their initial grant. You gave me the seed money to get started!

Sarah Colby - Arts and Healthcare coordinator at Barnes-Jewish who has allowed me to take up residence in her art room.  And to all the amazing patients who routinely come by to see the progress and cheer me on!

Mixalakis Tsiaklides and Selena Lee, fellow lab members, who  share their good humor and encouragement.  They went as far learning to crochet!

Julia Riew - a local high school student who has composed beautiful music to correspond with the initial exhibition.

Kathleen Hull for assisting me in crocheting the huge blue backdrops.

The Knitting Ministry at the Church of St. Michael and St. George in St. Louis for encouraging and inspiring me to think big.

Lion Brand Yarn for supporting me with their generous yarn donation!

And of course all who stopped by to see my work at Vogue Knitting Live!  Your feedback proved invaluable.