Knitting Together Art and Science with aKNITomy - OZY | A Modern Media Company

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Biology doesn’t have to be stale and stuffy. Emily Stoneking’s knitted anatomical art proves it can be fun and quirky too.

Emily Stoneking began knitting as a way to quit smoking. Replacing one addiction with another, she flooded her family members with hats and scarves. When they couldn’t take it anymore, she began knitting stuffed animals and selling them on Etsy, an e-commerce site for vintage and handmade items. One day in 2006, while she and her husband were talking about the mutant frogs that scientists were studying in a lake near their home in Burlington, Vermont, he joked that she should knit a dissected frog. Fascinated by biology, Stoneking took the joke seriously. She knitted the frog — exposed guts and all — and debuted it on her Etsy store.

It was a hit. Soon after, Stoneking launched aKNITomy, an Etsy store devoted solely to cuddly anatomical art. Her autopsied animal collection has since expanded to include rats, bats, earthworms and fetal pigs, which even come pinned onto aluminum dissection trays. She also knits human parts, such as bisected heads and vertebral columns. Most items hover at around $50 to $100. Stoneking hopes they help make science more accessible — even fun.

I love the idea of making something that is so icky out of something so cuddly and cozy.

Emily Stoneking

“I love the idea of making something that is so icky out of something so cuddly and cozy,” she said. “People walk by my booth at craft shows and are very confused for 30 seconds until it dawns on them what they’re looking at. Ninety percent of the time their face breaks into a big grin. I love seeing that.”

Stoneking, 35, isn’t a scientist; she’s majoring in German and medieval history at the University of Vermont and works part time at a stained glass studio. But she admires how scientists seek to understand and interpret the world around them, much like artists. It bothers her that the U.S. has fallen behind in math and science education. “Even if your only science experience is through junior high and high school, it still teaches you to be critical of evidence and ask questions,” a skill everyone should learn, she said.

Emily Stonesking sitting on a concrete floor with black pants and a purple sweater looking up to camera.

Cuddling up to biology

Plus, knitting is meditative for Stoneking. “I have to do it, or I’ll go crazy,” she said. All told, she knits about 80 hours a week, usually in class or while watching TV.

Stoneking draws inspiration for her autopsies from her own experiences dissecting lab animals in junior high. The bisected head and other human pieces are her homage to turn-of-the-century anatomical illustrations. Once she settles on an idea, she takes about a month to design it, referring to dissection photos and diagrams online. “My Google image search history is horrifying,” she laughed.

If you’re fishing for a quirky, geeky gift or feeling nostalgic for Biology 101, look no further.  

But she doesn’t worry too much about being anatomically correct. It’s more important that non-biologists are able to connect with her work. For example, she knits some animals’ organs to look more humanlike and uses bright pastel colors rather than the browns and reds found in nature. She also makes dissected aliens, Hello Kitties and Easter bunnies.

Knitting and framing each piece usually takes Stoneking about six hours. She tries to maintain a stock of popular items so she can ship them the day after receiving an order. During the busy holiday season, she knits up to three pieces a day.  

Stoneking recently began offering vegan versions of her art knitted with yarn spun from plant fibers rather than wool. She also sells DIY kits, complete with yarn and patterns, so crafty types can knit her designs themselves.

So if you’re fishing for a quirky, geeky gift or feeling nostalgic for Biology 101, look no further. The best part? The dissection pins are removable, making that gut-spilling frog 100 percent huggable. 

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