Meet the mathekniticians – and their amazing woolly maths creations

By Alex Bellows for the


Married couple Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer have been knitting and crocheting mathematical images and objects for more than two decades.

In 1996 two British maths teachers active on an internet knitting forum were asked by a US yarn firm to design it an afghan.

“We were sent into a panic! We had no idea what an afghan was!” remembers Pat Ashforth, who with partner Steve Plummer is known in the crafts community for maths-inspired knits.

The couple soon discovered that an afghan was a knitted or crocheted blanket or throw. They produced four designs for the US firm, and it began a journey that has defined the rest of their lives.

Ashforth and Plummer decided that the afghan was the perfect canvas for expressing mathematical ideas – and since then they have devoted much of their time to producing as many as they can.

Together they have knitted and crocheted about 90 mathematical afghans (math-ghans?). Since each afghan takes about 100 hours to complete, this means the total time spent they have spent making them is about 9,000 hours (which adds up to 375 days – more than a year). And they have also made many other mathematical objects in wool.

Ashforth and Plummer go under the name of Woolly Thoughts, and have become celebrities in the world of the mathematical crafts. Some of their afghans have even been bought by the Science Museum in London.

The couple met while teaching at a school in Luton. By 1999 they were both working at a school in Nelson, Lancashire, where they married in 2005. Originally the afghans were hung in their classrooms. “They were invaluable as a vehicle for talking about maths, says Ashforth. “Large, touchable, unbreakable items were perfect for encouraging group discussion. It is much easier for everyone to be looking at the same thing than for each individual to have their own separate book.”

Then the time came when there were not enough walls in their classrooms. “We bought a four-storey Victorian house just for the size of its walls so we could hang things on them. Several live on a trolley that rolls out from under the bed, after Steve added pieces to make it higher.”

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