Monday, 16 May 2016

What now?

Lots of stuff happening  at Knot Unknot these days so here's list.

New work being created for summer events includes tuck stitch scarves in silk blend yarns, hand dyed silk scarves, needle felted Harris Tweed brooches  (picture below) and felted crater vessels.

Main summer events at Coburg House are our art and craft market 10-12 June and Open Studios 5-7 August.

To get ready for Open Studios, I also need to have a big clear out so there will be surplus yarn for sale as well as my work.

Last call for contributions to Botanica Mathematica went out recently. At the end of summer we will be classifying the  trees and creating a taxonomy so get those knitting needles clicking.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Knitted space dogs and other animals!

It's April and Edinburgh Mini Maker Faire is almost upon us and I don't really know where the time has gone since my last post in December! Most of my creative time has been spent learning just what the hacked knitting machine I posted about last time can and can't do.

We had a great weekend break in London during February, visiting inspiring exhibitions meeting friends and going to shows.  The Cosmonauts exhibition in the Science Museum certainly gave me a lot of immediate inspiration for the machine and is likely to do so for some time to come. I was very taken with the story of Belka and Strelka, (the dogs who came back alive - along with a rabbit, 42 mice and 2 rats!).  They went on to be Soviet celebrities with children's books and animated TV series being created as well as a huge souvenir industry. So I'm adding to the souvenirs...

That's just a test piece - the yarn turned out to be unsuitable but the colours are good. Some of my other test pieces for the machine have been images of animals: a baby tapir and a giant sunfish.  The notion slowly emerged that I should work up a series of science celebrity animal wall hangings. The obvious first choice for woolly science in Edinburgh is Dolly the Sheep, the first cloned mammal, so here's the first sample towards making a final hanging.

I've thought of a few more animals to include but I'm still working on the list and open to suggestions.

You can see all the animal sample pieces and my finished cosmonauts (Yuri and Valentina) at Edinburgh Mini Maker Faire on Sunday 10 April.  I'll be bringing the hacked machine too so you can see it in action. 

Finally, a big shout out to my friends from team Craft Reactor who are going to be helping me over the weekend. 

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Full of Beans for 2016?

In the last days of 2015 I finally made a token part of what was supposed to  be this year's grand project. Honour is somewhat asuaged if not completely satisfied.
The United Nations declared 2015 to be the International Year of Light for many reasons including the anniversary of James Clerk Maxwell unifying electricity and  magnetism in his famous equations. Having worked in his birthplace at 14 India Street Edinburgh among all sorts of memorabilia, I have long harboured ideas of celebrating his work in textile form. 2015 was  the obvious time to do it but life happened instead.
In October 2014 I attended fashion technology conference in Berlin. Inspired by things I learned there I was going to hack an old electronic knitting machine in order to knit red, blue and green portraits of Maxwell in the style of his invention of colour photography. I also envisaged a Victorian gentleman's jacket embellished with braided emboidery symbolic of intertwined light waves.
My big mistake was to apply for grant funding. If successful I'd have a decent budget for the project but it meant I couldn't get started until the results were announced in March. In the meantime the day job and family life were getting increasingly demanding so by the time I found I hadn't got any funding, I'd missed out on other supportive events and the project faltered. Shorter term ideas filled the time and took over.
Anyway, on 28th December, I finally got to grips with the hacking of the knitting machine and the next day I got the software working and made some test pieces. Yesterday I knitted one portrait of Maxwell in scrap wool to resrmble a sepia toned photograph. You can see all these items in the image collage in this post.
Now, on the last day of the year, I'm wondering whether to push on with the Maxwell project, continue developing the new ideas I've had, go back  and work on the final part of 2013's project or come up with some new stuff for 2016 - the UN International Year of Beans!

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!