The issue with communicating climate change is how complicated and vast it is. It can be hard to comprehend the scale and what climate change data tells us.
Finding ways to tell the story of climate change and simplify what climate data says is something that both Emily and Asy (co-founders of The Tempestry Project) try to do. They use yarn to tell the story of how temperatures have changed over the years. The project is a collaborative fibre, environmental education and climate activism. Using yarn to represent data, they are a community of artists, crafters, teachers, scientists, activists and friends. The project has seen many temperature graphs for different regions of the world, sending kits and temperature knitting for South Africa, Iraq to Kansas and northern Alaska. They’ve created tapestries for all 7 continents around the world.
“I think that science has been, you know, well understood for over 100 years,” says Asy.
“And has been in the public eye for decades and decades at this point, going back to the 1970s. It's not a surprise to anyone. So why are people not connecting with the issue?” Emily asks.
It’s not just the science that hinders understanding climate change but the vastness of the scale. It can be frightening so many ignore the conversation around climate change. Their goal with the project is to scale climate change down to make it easier for people to talk about it. “I think it's art that's going to make the difference. And has been slowly changing public perceptions and connecting people emotionally with what needs to be done,” Asy said.
They wanted to scale it into something relatable and tangible for everyone to understand. Using yarn they create tapestries that mix fibres with temperature data. Each row in their tapestries reveals what the temperature was yearly or daily for certain regions of the world. They create a bridge between people and climate change through knitting, crocheting and woven temperature tapestries. Or in this ‘Tempestries,’- temperature blended with tapestries.
What is Temperature knitting?
The main concept behind a temperature blanket is to knit or crochet a row or two every day for a year, using a different colour depending on the temperature outside. Most people use a temperature blanket chart to choose which colours to use. It’s picking colours to symbolise a certain degree. For example, neon blue could represent 5’C while dark blue could represent -10’c.
In the end, you’d have a long scarf or blanket where each row has different colours. Each row can signify annual temperature data of the globe or it could be daily temperature data. There are thousands of temperature data out there ranging from annual global temperatures to temperatures that show what the temperatures were of a specific country or area.
To create a cohesive narrative, all tempestires use the same yarn colours and temperature ranges. Different shades of red are used for hotter temperatures, different shades of blue for cold, and green and yellow for whatever temperature in between. The simplicity of it all is beautiful and powerful. It tells the story of climate change easily showing us how temperatures have changed over the years. Slow changes to drastic where we see less blue yarn being used. The red yarn is frequently used.
With more people involved from all across the globe, from Somalia to India to New York, a collection of tempestries is created telling the different climate histories of each part of the world.
The Tapestry Project wanted to take this concept and give it more of a universal collaborative process. “It started in opposition to the United States leaving the Paris climate accord after the election in 2016. So it started with an activist event from the outset,” says Emily.
The project systematises the concept of temperature knitting so that people around the globe have access to the same colour codes of the temperature spectrum. They help people knit and crochet the temperatures of their areas. It fits into a larger global mosaic showing temperature changes over time. Emily finds the importance of having a historical visualising of climate change.
“We help people knit pieces that show data going up to 120 years ago sometimes. And so it really becomes a historical image of climate change, not just the present moment.”
This process helps to create a history for people to understand and visualise the changes that have happened in their backyards. It connects them to a global issue and makes it more familiar to them. For Asy connection is important. “I think it helps people feel connected to the issue in a way that reading an article or seeing a chart doesn't.”
Knitting can be calming and relaxing, with the soft feeling of yarn on one’s fingertips. But it can be dramatic sometimes, with more blues falling away. The red yarn becomes a more common sight for the knitter, reaching out to another red yarn to match the temperature of the year or days. Emily shares a story about a gift that she never gave.
“It was supposed to be a Christmas present for my brother and his wife and their children. And I put beads on it to mark the years that our grandparents were born and that he and his wife and our parents and then their children were born. And of course, their children are in the dark red years. And it was just too depressing as a gift to them.”
Using something as simple and colourful as yarn, they hope to bring more understanding around climate change.