Monday, 9 November 2015

Felting Fun!

At the beginning of October, Felt United Day and Fun Palaces coincided so with the help of Craft Reactor I celebrated them both.  We had a free felt making workshop that attracted 17 people completely new to making felt.  By the end of the day there were 21 felt flags based on the Felt United 2015 theme of "home". The flags were stitched together overnight by Carmen from Craft Reactor and decorated the following day's Fun Palace events. That's them at the top of this post strung along the balustrade at Old College Quad, University of Edinburgh in a photo by Heather Rea who made the tenth flag from the left. There was a lot going on in the Quad to celebrate the arrival of the Mini Kelpies sculpture - chocolate science experiments, circus skills workshops, geometric sculpture building and more. I'll put a full post with lots more pictures on the Craft Reactor site in the very near future.

For about a week around the workshops I felt totally burnt out but it was a great thing to be part of both Felt United and Fun Palaces. Now that I've got some energy back I'm making some new felt scarves for December's Open Studios at Coburg House. I've been spending a lot of time learning about machine knitting over the last year or so. It's very technical, with more investment in the planning than the final act of making. It was nice to get back to something more fluid like these big colourful felt pieces.  There's always planning with felt but there's more scope for ad hoc changes as well and you often get surprised by what the wool does when it's rolled up.  Here are a few phone pictures for a sneak preview of the new felts.  Come to Coburg House on 5 & 6 December to see the finished collection.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Celebrating Women Scientists

Today is Ada Lovelace Day so in the spirit of the day I'm sharing some inspirational history. In spite of the fact that neither of us now work as scientists I'd like to dedicate this Ada Lovelace Day blog post to Dr Yvonne Beale and the exhibition that wouldn't have existed without her.

Back in 2002, Yvonne and I were members of Edinburgh Women's Science Forum (EWSF).  I had been a member and an office bearer for over ten years and met Yvonne a couple of years earlier at Orkney Science Festival.  She came to Edinburgh to study for a PhD in genetics and got involved in EWSF activities.

Although there is still a need for groups like EWSF, this particular organisation seemed to have reached the end of its natural life span but Yvonne inspired me and the rest of the group to create a small legacy before closed down fully. We proposed to spend our remaining funds on a flexible exhibition that could easily travel to different locations for a few years after we wound up.

EWSF had started in 1989 with an exhibition about female scientists past and present.  It was shown at the Edinburgh International Science Festival that year and then toured many Scottish schools until it was worn out and more than a bit dated. This is what it looked like in around 1996.

International Women's Day celebrations in Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh
It formed the starting point for our new work. We kept the core Scottish subjects but widened the scope to include international high achievers. We created 19 panels covering the stories of women who worked in the sciences in some form in the 19th and 20th centuries. The exhibition was launched at the Edinburgh International Science Festival 2003 to mark the 100th anniversary of Marie Curie's first Nobel Prize. As well as the exhibition, we had a special screening of the 1943 film Madame Curie followed by an audience discussion with Professor Victoria Amador at Filmhouse Cinema.

Madeleine, Yvonne and Victoria

The exhibition went on to be shown in the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, the John Innes Centre, Norwich and quite a few more.  It was part of the launch event for what is now Equate Scotland, then called the Scottish Resource Centre for Women in SET.

at the launch of the Scottish Resource Centre
The panels now sit in a folder in my study and haven't been out for a long time.  So I thought I'd share a few of them here on Ada Lovelace Day.  I've picked ones that haven't gone out of date and included Ada herself.  Hope you enjoy them.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Randomizer your knitting - part 4

So here at last is what we made at Mini Maker Faire in April with the Knitting Wheel of Fortune! Four pure wool scarves, all textured and twisted according to visitors' wheel spins.
Many  thanks to Carmen Moran for designing the graphics for the wheel and helping make  Knot Unknot look so fabby on the day.  We also had a small reprise of Attack of the Knitted Tentacle which Carmen and I created in 2010 - enormous fun!
Life has run away with a lot of my time recently and this blog has had a bit of a gap  in postings. There have been two main things to report: a move to a larger studio in May and a group exhibition in June. The new space is great and once it's organised it should make a big difference to what I can make and to what you can see at Open Studios  (next one 8 &9 August ). The exhibition looked lovely but after the opening weekend virtually no one came to see it. Ah well, we live and learn. I'll post some photos next time
I'm off to the studio right now to make some exciting machine knits to show off at Open Studios in August.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Randomizer Your Knitting - Part 3

The Knitting Wheel of Fortune is finally taking shape! I'm really looking forward to launching it at Edinburgh's Mini Maker Faire on 19 April.

This weekend I acquired some gaming dice and started trying out different stitches. This activity has to be something complex enough to be interesting but reliable and quick enough to be "performance knitting" - not just in public but with a participating audience - and it has to produce something that doesn't look like a waste of yarn. So, a bit of tinkering with the initial conditions is required.

I'll be using the Knitmaster Zippy 90.  It's light enough to transport easily and compact when it's set up too. It works with chunky yarns so things will grow quite quickly. There's no punchcard and manual colour changing is very slow so each piece will be one single yarn.  I didn't want to just randomly generate stripes - there are websites that can do that for you, like this very nice one on Biscuits and Jam. Instead, I've stuck to textures and shaping like these ones.

The basic options (cables, change width, eyelets etc) will be chosen by spinning the wheel and then decisions will be made using different dice depending on which style comes up.  If I start with 30 stitches and work 24 rows of each spin with two rows to separate the sections then we should end up with scarves of different lengths.

The plan so far is this

  1.  cast on 30 stitches
  2. knit 2 rows
  3. spin wheel & throw dice to choose pattern
  4. knit 24 rows of chosen pattern
  5. repeat from 2.

As any coder will tell you, when you're writing patterns with lots of repeat loops like that you need to plan a way to stop it too. Lines 1 to 5 above are a recipe for infinite knitting and a very weary arm!

Stopping can take one of three forms.  First of all, if we run out of yarn it has to stop. Also, the Knitting Wheel of Fortune includes a "change width" option. The dice will tell you to increase or decrease and the number of rows between each increase or decrease row. This can bring about the other stopping conditions. If the work decreases to zero stitches we're done. If it increases to more than will fit on the machine we're also done.

Once I worked that lot out, I made a sampler scarf. I wanted to have something that definitely included all the basic options to show what the stitch styles look like.  So it's not been made exactly as described above (I've yet to make the actual wheel.) - though it could have been. All the decisions about stitch variations were made using the dice and it started and stopped the same way.  Anyway here it is.

You'll be able to see the real thing and control the new work at Mini Maker Faire on 19 April - come and take a chance with the Knitting Wheel of Fortune!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Randomizer Your Knitting part 2

Following on from my last post about dice decision knitting, I'm now looking at making holes instead of stripes to create a lacey effect. This involves many more decisions than the stripes you have to decide how far apart the holes are, vertically and horizontally. You also have to decide how often to repeat that pattern  before changing to another.  You could also use the dice to set the starting parameters and to decide when to stop. It depends whether you want a wearable piece or a high concept art piece.
For the piece in the photos, I set the parameters for a scarf in aran weight yarn and decide to stop after 400 rows or whichever dice decided section brought me close to it. I used different shapes of dice to decide each aspect of the placing of holes. This gave me some control over the process, setting different ranges of outcomes in each case. A purist might  have used the dice to decide which dice to assign to which decision but you run the  risk of developing an infinite regress of dice made decisions. Also I wanted the outcomes to be reasonable within the scarf format.
As I worked through this piece I realised that there were even more things that could be controlled be dice decisions. For instance, in machine knitting the holes look slightly different depending on whether you move the stich from the left or the right, especially when they're close together.
The next development in this work should be to wtrite an exhaustive decision tree covering all possible choices for lacey knitting.  Which is a great excuse to buy a really big notepad 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Randomizer your knitting -part 1

A long long time ago I read Luke Reinhart's The Diceman. It seemed edgy, dodgy  and intriguing to think of living a life controlled by the throw of dice. Not something to apply to real life though - until now!
You see, the thing is that you set the parameters before you throw the dice. So you decide on the questions and the set of answers. You can apply the principal locally and have "rigidly defined areas of uncertainty" (to quote Douglas Adams). For example:
I have grey yarn and red yarn.
What shall I knit?
I have a dodecahedral di to help decide.
even numbers = scarf,  odds = hat
Throw again
Evens=holes, odds=stripes
I got even,  then odd, so threw to decide the first colour and then the size of each stripe. The scarf finished when on of the yarns ran out. The final outcome is pictured below. Next time we'll see what happened when throw two was even.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Shine on, you crazy knitted flu!

The Shine Dome in Canberra put my knitted neuraminidase on display on 23 January 2015. I'm so pleased that this amazing project has come together so well.  Thank you to Crystals in the City (especially Helen) for inviting me to take part and to Yuri for designing such a great plinth for my work.  And, of course, thank you to the Society of Crystallographers of Australia and New Zealand and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for funding the project.
It was hard work but enormous  fun and I am delighted to be part of this collection of sculpture celebrating the International Year of Crystallography 2014. 2015 has been designated International Year of Light and I have some fun ideas for marking that with art and craft - just waiting for the funding. If you can help with that then please get in touch.