What Happens When Someone Crochets Stuffed Animals Using Instructions from ChatGPT

Alex Wool­ner knows how to put a degree in Eng­lish to good use.

Past projects include a fem­i­nist type­writer blog, retro­fitting stick­er vend­ing machines to dis­pense poet­ry, and a free res­i­den­cy pro­gram for emerg­ing artists at a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary stu­dio she co-found­ed with play­wright and painter Jason Mont­gomery in East­hamp­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts.

More recent­ly, the poet and inter­na­tion­al edu­ca­tor has com­bined her inter­est in amigu­ru­mi cro­cheted ani­mals and Chat­G­PT, the open source AI chat­bot.

Hav­ing cro­cheted an amigu­ru­mi nar­whal for a nephew ear­li­er this year, she hopped on Chat­G­PT and asked it to cre­ate “a cro­chet pat­tern for a nar­whal stuffed ani­mal using worsted weight yarn.”

The result might have dis­cour­aged anoth­er quer­ent, but Wool­ner got out her cro­chet hook and sal­lied forth, fol­low­ing Chat­G­PTs instruc­tions to the let­ter, despite a num­ber of red flags indi­cat­ing that the chatbot’s grasp of nar­whal anato­my was high­ly unre­li­able.

Its igno­rance is part of its DNA. As a large lan­guage mod­el, Chat­G­PT is capa­ble of pro­duc­ing pre­dic­tive text based on vast amounts of data in its mem­o­ry bank. But it can’t see images.

As Amit Kat­wala writes in Wired:

It has no idea what a cat looks like or even what cro­chet is. It sim­ply con­nects words that fre­quent­ly appear togeth­er in its train­ing data. The result is super­fi­cial­ly plau­si­ble pas­sages of text that often fall apart when exposed to the scruti­ny of an expert—what’s been called “flu­ent bull­shit.”

It’s also not too hot at math, a skill set knit­ters and cro­cheters bring to bear read­ing pat­terns, which traf­fic in num­bers of rows and stitch­es, indi­cat­ed by abbre­vi­a­tions that real­ly flum­mox a chat­bot.

An exam­ple of begin­ner-lev­el instruc­tions from a free down­load­able pat­tern for a cute amigu­ru­mi shark:

DORSAL FIN (gray yarn)

Rnd 1: in a mr work 3 sc, 2 hdc, 1 sc (6)

Rnd 2: 3 sc, 1 hdc inc, 1 hdc, 1 sc (7)

Rnd 3: 3 sc, 2 hdc, 1 hdc inc, 1 sc (8)

Rnd 4: 3 sc, 1 hdc inc, 3 hdc, 1 sc inc (10)

Rnd 5: 3 sc, 1 hdc, 1 hdc inc, 3 hdc, 1 sc, 1 sc inc (12)

Rnd 6: 3 sc, 6 hdc, 3 sc (12)

Rnd 7: sc even (12); F/O and leave a long strand of yarn to sew the dor­sal fin between rnds # 18–23. Do not stuff the fin.

Pity poor Chat­G­PT, though, like Wool­ner, it tried.

Their col­lab­o­ra­tion became a cause célèbre when Wool­ner debuted the “AI gen­er­at­ed nar­whal cro­chet mon­stros­i­ty” on Tik­Tok, apt­ly com­par­ing the large tusk Chat­G­PT had her posi­tion atop its head to a chef’s toque.

Is that the best AI can do?

A recent This Amer­i­can Life episode details how Sebastien Bubeck, a machine learn­ing researcher at Microsoft, com­mand­ed anoth­er large lan­guage mod­el, GPT‑4, to cre­ate code that TikZ, a vec­tor graph­ics pro­duc­er, could use to “draw” a uni­corn.

This col­lab­o­ra­tive exper­i­ment was per­haps more empir­i­cal­ly suc­cess­ful than the Chat­G­PT amigu­ru­mi pat­terns Wool­ner duti­ful­ly ren­dered in yarn and fiber­fill. This Amer­i­can Life’s David Kesten­baum was suf­fi­cient­ly awed by the result­ing image to haz­ard a guess that “when peo­ple even­tu­al­ly write the his­to­ry of this crazy moment we are in, they may include this uni­corn.”

It’s not good, but it’s a fuck­ing uni­corn. The body is just an oval. It’s got four stu­pid rec­tan­gles for legs. But there are lit­tle squares for hooves. There’s a mane, an oval for the head. And on top of the head, a tiny yel­low tri­an­gle, the horn. This is insane to say, but I felt like I was see­ing inside its head. Like it had pieced togeth­er some idea of what a uni­corn looked like and this was it.

Let’s not poo poo the mer­its of Woolner’s ongo­ing explo­rations though. As one com­menter observed, it seems she’s “found a way to instan­ti­ate the weird messed up arti­facts of AI gen­er­at­ed images in the phys­i­cal uni­verse.”

To which Wool­ner respond­ed that she “will either be spared or be one of the first to per­ish when AI takes over gov­er­nance of us meat sacks.”


In the mean­time, she’s con­tin­u­ing to har­ness Chat­G­PT to birth more mon­strous amigu­ru­mi. Ger­ald the Narwhal’s has been joined by a cat, an otter, Nor­ma the Nor­mal Fish, XL the Newt, and Skein Green, a pel­i­can bear­ing get well wish­es for author and sci­ence vlog­ger Hank Green.

When retired math­e­mati­cian Daina Taim­i­na, author of Cro­chet­ing Adven­tures with Hyper­bol­ic Planes, told the Dai­ly Beast that Ger­ald would have resem­bled a nar­whal more close­ly had Wool­ner sup­plied Chat­G­PT with more specifics, Wool­ner agreed to give it anoth­er go.

Two weeks lat­er, the Dai­ly Beast pro­nounced this attempt, nick­named Ger­ard, “even less nar­whal-look­ing than the first. Its body was a mas­sive stuffed tri­an­gle, and its tusk looked like a gum­drop at one end.”

Wool­ner dubbed Ger­ard pos­si­bly the most frus­trat­ing AI-gen­er­at­ed amigu­ru­mi of her acquain­tance, owing to an onslaught of speci­fici­ty on ChatCPT’s part. It over­loaded her with instruc­tions for every indi­vid­ual stitch, some­times call­ing for more stitch­es in a row than exist­ed in the entire pat­tern, then dipped out with­out telling her how to com­plete the body and tail.

As sil­ly as it all may seem, Wool­ner believes her Chat­G­PT amigu­ru­mi col­labs are a healthy mod­el for artists using AI tech­nol­o­gy:

I think if there are ways for peo­ple in the arts to con­tin­ue to cre­ate, but also approach AI as a tool and as a poten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tor, that is real­ly inter­est­ing. Because then we can start to branch out into com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent, new art forms and cre­ative expressions—things that we couldn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly do before or didn’t have the spark or the idea to do can be explored. 

If you, like Hank Green, have fall­en for one of Woolner’s unholy cre­ations, down­load­able pat­terns are avail­able here for $2 a pop.

Those seek­ing alter­na­tives to fiber­fill are advised to stuff their amigu­ru­mi with “aban­doned hopes and dreams” or “all those free tee shirts you get from giv­ing blood and run­ning road races or what­ev­er you do for fun”.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

An Artist Cro­chets a Life-Size, Anatom­i­cal­ly-Cor­rect Skele­ton, Com­plete with Organs

A Bio­sta­tis­ti­cian Uses Cro­chet to Visu­al­ize the Fright­en­ing Infec­tion Rates of the Coro­n­avirus

Make an Adorable Cro­cheted Fred­die Mer­cury; Down­load a Free Cro­chet Pat­tern Online

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • S says:

    The depressed snow­man in a blue beanie known as “Skein Green” is as much an artis­tic mas­ter­piece as could ever be con­ceived by the mind of human­i­ty.

    Chat­G­PT may be a lit­tle wonky on the details of math and, well, real­i­ty, but it’s been a boon for my Ger­man. It is real­ly quite good for lan­guage learn­ing.

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