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.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Professor's Beanie Hat

Earlier this year the Scientific Director at my day job moved on to a new post.  As well as a big collective leaving present, some of us thought we'd like to give him more personal souvenirs of his time at ICMS.  One of my colleagues suggested I knit him a new hat to wear while standing outside on his cigarette breaks. So this is what I came up with. As a hat for a mathematician, of course there are mathematical features - simple ones that could be made quickly and which don't detract from a classic shape. There are powers of two in the rib, the Fibonacci sequence in the sides and then a seven-sided (heptagonal) crown.

 
It's knitted in the round  with one skein of Rowan's Lima, an amazingly soft, baby alpaca yarn that's approximately aran weight.  I picked this colour because it's similar to the ICMS logo colours but it's much richer, with a lot of detail in the drifting shades. Different yarns will work but beware of tension etc.  I don't have the hat anymore so can't measure it to give you a tension measurement. The yarn I used came out soft and slouchy but others will give different textures.  I like to experiment so I'll probably make at least one more in a quite different yarn and see what happens. Here's what I did for this one though.
Cast on 84 stitches with 5.5mm dpns and join in a circle and place marker for start of round.
Work 2 plain, 2 purl rib for 8 rounds.
[that's your powers of two - 2x2 for 2-cubed rounds]
Knit 1 round
Purl 1 round
Knit 2 rounds
Purl 3 rounds
Knit 5 rounds
Purl 8 rounds
Knit 13 rounds
[alternating knit and purl stripes following Fibonacci sequence - each width is the sum of the previous two]
Purl one round
[this defines the edge of the crown]
Heptagonal crown rounds
1. knit 10, knit two together 7 times
2. knit to marker
3. knit 9, knit two together 7 times
4. as row two
5. knit 8,  knit two together 7 times
6. as row two
7. knit 7,  knit two together 7 times
8. as row two
9. knit 6,  knit two together 7 times
10. as row two
11. knit 5,  knit two together 7 times
12. as row two
13. knit 4,  knit two together 7 times
14. as row two
15. knit 3,  knit two together 7 times
16. as row two
17. knit 2,  knit two together 7 times
18. as row two
19. knit 1,  knit two together 7 times
20. as row two
21. knit two together 7 times
Thread last remaining 7 stitches onto yarn, pull tight and fasten off.  Weave in the ends and your hat is finished.
If you have a go at making one I'd love to see it.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Knitted flu in Oz!

Happy to say that the knitted neuraminidase is now in Australia,. The Crystals in the City team should have it assembled and on show soon.
At the end of the last post I was just about to start stuffing the polystyrene balls into the tubes.  That was a much tougher job than I expected.  The balls fitted neatly in the tubes and so each one of the 1200 of the needed pushed into position individually.  Each  module was a day's work. Then they needed twisted and stitched so all colours were the same shape and interlocked.  Photos above show that.
It all got done and packed at the beginning of the month an shipped the day before I left for a conference in Berlin (subject of a future post). Just over a week later I  got word the parcels had all arrived intact.   I'm really looking forward to seeing it installed in its home in Canberra.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Celebrating crystallography with knitted sculpture!

It's ages since I posted something. It's been a  busy summer with, Open Studios, Festival Exhibitions and assorted other things.  The project that's keeping me busy just now is a great big heap of fun though - and I thought my readers ought to know the story so far.

Sometime back in the summer I spotted a tweet from a science communicator looking for an Australian fibre artist to create a crystallography-inspired sculpture. I retweeted to spread the word and replied that it was a shame the project wasn't in Scotland or I'd have been very keen.  Never thought any more about it Then I was contacted again by Helen Maynard-Casely, one of the organisers of  the Australian celebration of  2014 International Year of Crystallography. Turned out they couldn't find a local artist  but the did find extra funding for shipping so if I was serious about doing it the job was mine. Wow!   Such a good opportunity but such a difficult time to fit in the work. I already had summer commitments for my art work and family & day job obligations so their original hoped -for delivery of August was out of the question - I could only start the bulk of the work in late August. They were happy to wait a bit and now I'm in the middle of building a 1m square, fairly representational interpretation of Neuraminidase.

"Of what?" I hear you ask

Neuraminidase - a protein molecule that forms part of the flu virus.  It's the part of the virus that's attacked by drugs like Relenza and Tamiflu. Australian academics were the first to discover the structures and develop the drugs using crystallography.  Work like that is worth celebrating when the opportunity arises.

This is all part of the Crystals in the City project which is placing different crystal structures in Australian cities.  There a website all about it here. Most of the structures are more what you'd expect of a crystal - hard edged, regular, repeating shapes.  Neuraminidase has it's symmetries but from some points of view it's a big unruly mess of atoms.  I was sent some computer rendered images of the structure to work from - you'll see one top left in the image below - the blue bits are the Relenza drug and the rest is Neuraminidase.

The first images I was sent were in bright blue, magenta, green and yellow.  I asked if I had to use these colours and was told the pallette on the right was probably better.  I totally agree.  As well as being agreeable to look at, they are all colours that can be obtained from dyes derived from the Australian eucalyptus trees.  If time had not been so short I'd have tried dyeing the work using India Flint's ecodying techniques.  As it is I've sourced Scottish lambswool in the appropriate colours from the immensely helpful Kathy's Knits.

So how do you make a giant molecule from wool? My first idea was for a community-based project, collecting pompoms from knitters around Australia and have the local scientists assemble it.  Well, part of the brief was that it should be cuddly and what would be more cuddly than a huge pile of pompoms?  Practical difficulties organising and building this soon ruled it out and I came up with the method I'm using now.

The atoms in the images look to me as though they're struggling to escape form some kind of boundary/force field. If I could create a skin and stuff it then I should be able to replicate the look and feel of that struggle. It was my good fortune to fall heir to a twin bed Passap knitting machine this summer (see earlier posts about the machine and my first shots at using it). With this machine I can knit tubes of all sorts of widths.  After a lot of swatching to discover the best tensions and tube widths and some back of the envelope estimates of sizing I knitted a total of 80m of 28 stitch tubing and ordered 2000 4cm polystyrene balls to stuff inside them!

Machine knitting yarn is oiled so that it slides through the mechanism more easily.  Once it's knitted it has to be washed - twice - to remove the oil and fluff the yarn up a bit.  The colour usually brightens a bit too.  Washing is now done and the stuffing will begin this afternoon.

I'll be tweeting about it so follow @madeleines if you want to keep up to date as it happens. The tweeting is being summarised by Crystals in the City on Storyify.  There'll be another blog post when I've got more to show of the structure.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Luxury yarn in the Passap Duo 80

Last Saturday my knitting machine guru came to visit. We spent two hours going through the basics of how the Passap makes stitches and looking at all the bits that came with the basic machine.  I'm so grateful for the confidence this has given me.  I'm giving some thought to an appropriate reward - John Lewis vouchers seem a bit lame.
Having practiced some plain rib and fisherman's rib in basic Shetland yarns, I decided to try out some of the more exotic yarns in the stash.  In the picture you'll see 4-ply baby alpaca in grey and a fine lace weight silk merino mix in cream. Both are knitted in plain rib - the only change to the settings is the stitch size.  The alpaca was a struggle to knit and dropped a couple of stitches.  I think it might be at the limit of what the machine can handle.  The lace weight yarn knitted much more easily and I only stopped because the yarn caught in the tension wire and broke - otherwise I might be wearing as a scarf now.
More practice this afternoon - with Shetland, Exmoor and Bluefaced Leicester 4-ply.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Un-jammed!

After failing to find much online help about troubleshooting the Passap Duo80 I went back to the studio on Saturday afternoon and loosen a few screws.  I tugged and shuffled the locks and suddenly everything was moving again.  So I tightened the screws again and changed the needle that broke to release it all. Luckily I had been given a massive box of needles along with all the other gadgets and add-ons I've yet to figure out.  Also luckily, changing a needle is very straightforward and much like it was on the Toyota machine I had 30 years ago.

With a sigh of relief, I cast on with my practice yarn and knitted a fairly scraggy bit of lambswool rib. That's proof it will work once I work out what I'm doing.  We'll see what happens over the next few weeks - there might even be some prototypes and samples ready by Open Studios Weekend 2&3 August.