Jessica Polka is a biochemist who crochets shrimp and cuttlefish. She is fascinated by “wunderkammer” or cabinets of curiosities. Her crocheted crustaceans are cute enough to eat…or, you know, not eat.

What haven't you crocheted yet that you want to crochet in the future?

A microscope. It turns out inorganic things are much less forgiving subjects for crochet. I also would like to do more microscopic things, like cells, orangelles, and proteins. As evidenced by the popularity of plush grenades, crochet has a pleasantly disarming way of making things accessible.

What was the first thing you ever crocheted?

I probably crocheted lots of weird little squares and purses and things as a child, but the first thing I made after re-learning to crochet as an adult was a beautiful amigurumi bear pattern from tattiscuties. It was also my first Etsy purchase, and I was pretty blown away at how suited crocheting was to generating these 3D structures.

Do you have your own (non-crochet) wunderkammer? If so, what's in it?

Living in a small apartment in San Francisco, my wunderkammer is limited to what I can cram onto my walls: an array of mussel shells covered in barnacles, a mounted moth, uncut paper mechanical dolls, instructional diagrams for making shadow puppets, Zeiss microscope poster explaining conjugate focal planes, a Wawaya mermaid in a shadow box, a page from an atlas of mushrooms, etc.

Credit: all photos courtesy of Jessica Polka

Credit: all photos courtesy of Jessica Polka

Do your fingers ever get tired from crocheting?

I think the longest I've crocheted at one stretch was 14 hours to fill a wholesale order. It was quite a workout for the fingers, and made me glad to live in the age of podcasts.

Do you make a living solely from your crochet work?

I'm actually a full-time graduate student in a biochemistry PhD program, so crocheting is a supplement to the stipend. I think these two pursuits dovetail nicely: I love science like burning, and this fuels the selection of the subject matter of many of the things I make. Furthermore, bench science can sometimes mercilessly assault you with failure and confusion. On the other hand, when I sit down with a crochet hook, there is little doubt that I will be able to stand up with an object minutes (hours?) later. It's very therapeutic.

Is it tough to sell or otherwise let go of your creations? I imagine they look great in a big bunch, all collected together.

In the beginning, I found selling things somewhat sentimental. Then the excitement at being able to actually distribute these objects I've made all over the world took over. When I feel I need to review, I like to look through old pictures to see where I've been and where I'm going.

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