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.

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.