Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Knitted Higgs

Last week, I knitted a Higgs Boson. I am more than aware that this is even more ridiculous than the "Rosalind" DNA illusion scarf. As least that scarf was (a) inspired by some ideas in the history and sociology of genetics (b) keeps my neck warm and toasty now the nights are drawing in. This is just blue lump (roughly 10cm wide) inspired by little more than a challenge on twitter and embroidery based on a google image search for "higgs boson". And anyway, it's really more a representation of the particle collisions working at the LHC in the search for the Higgs than the boson itself. And um... a very sketchy representation at that.

Knitted Higgs

The reason for actually taking the time to bother to produce the thing was to provide a jokey prize for a competition run to encourage people to pre-order a Geek Calendar. The Geek Calendar project is, arguably, yet another ridiculous idea. Dreamed up in a pub one night, we joked that we could easily sell a calendar of nerds in aid of libel reform (quite a cause in several geeky corners of the UK). We laughed about it on twitter and got a huge response (it trended in London), thought why not and... um... a few months (and 15 photoshoots) later, we've sold several 100 on pre-orders alone already. You can see a tiny preview, but it's not even printed yet.

If I'm honest, I was already slightly sick of the self-conscious re-claiming of the word "geek" even before I started this project (positively retching at it now...). Still, I do think it's worth celebrating the various nerdish elements of contemporary life. People do specialist things. In detail. They get inspired and obsess. And they're cool. This has always been true, but I think it's more obvious today. We rely on detailed specialist knowledge more and more, and the internet has let us connect specialist interests more easily. Whether this is dedication to a cause, an over-achiever hobby or simply sharing a love of antique calculators, there's a lot of this geeking about. We rely on detailed specialist knowledge more and more, and the internet has let us connect specialist interests more easily. Crucially, this sense of specialism means there is no single definition of what a geek likes or does, there are multiple ways to get your geek on, as we all run down our own various rabbit holes. In many ways, knitting is a perfect example of this, the very niche area of science knitting, even more so.

Higgs Boson close up

Check out our flickr to see how much fun I've had at the photoshoots. You can pre-order a calendar now, or proper printed ones will be available from the end of October. If you want to read more about the problems of libel law in the UK, I can recommend this recent essay by Alan Rusbridger.

See also the ravelry project page for info, not that there is much more information there. Really: a blue ball, embroidered, stuffed and closed. That's it. The actual hunt for the Higgs is way more interesting.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Piano made from cassette tapes

This has nothing to do with knitting but it's something somebody made and I think it's beautiful. A "piano" built from cassette tapes. It's from a Harvey Nicholls window display, hence the mannequin in the background of the last image.

tapes and tape

I love the way they've used black and white tape cases to make the keys, as well as empty cases and a mix of standard sized and smaller DAT tapes. I think my favourite bit is the use of the tape itself - again of varying sizes, as strings of the piano.



piano made from DAT tapes

I took the photos on the way home from the Natural History Museum last month, after helping out at their Stitch a Squid workshop. It was around 10pm - late-opening at the Museums - and the light shining through the transparent tape cases sparkled in the dark.

If you want another (tenuous) knitting reference, here's a picture of some piano socks I made a few years back.

Normal knit-blogging will resume shortly. I'm currently knitting a higgs boson. Why? Look here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Busy bees

A baby photo of me and my flatmate Kirsty. Yes, Kirsty who made the awesome Wonder Woman jumper that got Boing-ed. That Kirsty.

me and kirsty, c. 1982

Our parents have known each other since they were teenagers, and I've known Kirsty since before I could speak. We've shared a flat together for six years now. We joke that when we do finally stop living together we'll never manage to disentangle our joint knitting needle collection. In truth, it'll be a lot more than just that.

She is a bit under a year older than me. Which means she's got to do most things first. She learnt to speak, learnt to walk and learnt to knit first. She went to university first, she left university first (something I'm still struggling to do). She was even Alice before me, as it's her middle name. And she turned 30 first too, yesterday to be precise. See her failing to blow out all the candles in one go.

Kirsty blows out her cake candles

On such a momentous occasion, I could bang on about what an amazing person Kirsty is, how much she has taught me, how much she means to me. But it's not really my style. Or hers. Or our relationship's. Or this blog's. Instead, I'll show you one of the birthday present I knitted for her and take some photos of her feet. 

covered in bees legwarmers

Legwarmers, covered in bees. One hundred and eighty bees to be precise. Nine sets of bees, each containing ten bees.

They are based on Pinneguri's bumblebee socks, but legwarmer-ised (larger circumference, and no toe or heel). I also striped brown and yellow yarn, rather than use self-striping, and stuck to just the three colours. I think the amazing yellow yarn really makes them, it's Jitterbug in "Vincent's Apron".

The project is ravelled here which includes full details of yarn and needles and link to pattern.

Kirsty is 30

It was part of a bee-themed collection of presents (largely inspired by the legwarmers, Kirsty has no special "thing" about bees, though obviously we all know bees are cool). This included sponsorship of a beehive, honey bath things, an actual pot of honey, and a bee-covered honey and chocolate cake.

sitting beebees close up

covered in bees legwarmers closeup

me and kirsty, c. 1982

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Breezy Brighton

socks on the beach

Here I am on Brighton beach, with my newly knitted socks. Full knitterly details like yarn, etc on ravelry, this post'll explain why I knitted them.

The bobbles running up each side are organised to represent the word "yakawow" in braille. Back in mid-April, the Times published an interview with controversial scientist, Baroness Greenfield. She'd said all a whole host or objectionable and/ or funny things in this interview, and people were chipping in with their favourite bits. "Crowd reading", if you will. Someone quipped "She's right abt 1 thing: we don't want "load of breezy people who go around saying yaka-wow". Cos that would be MENTAL". Another replied with "Yaka-wow must used more! Dunno its meaning but ace phrase".

They were clearly onto something. I logged into twitter a few hours later, after a very serious evening discussing the role of science communication in the developing world, to discover a @yakawow account was now following me.
(I still don't know who is behind this account, though I have my suspicions). There were also tshirts for sale, a youtube video, various photoshopped images and facebook page.

It turned out Greenfield didn't coin a new term. It was a transcription error of "yuck and wow", a phrase Greenfield has often used to describe the way people act online, running quickly from one sensation to another. Greenfield is (in)famous for her concerns that computer games and social networking sites are damaging our brains, leading to short attention spans and an inability to empathise (e.g. see this news piece). This makes more sense than "yakawow", but Greenfield's views on computers is not without its critics (short version: all very well as an idea, but it lacks evidence).

yakawow socks

The yakawow meme kept running. It was Boing-ed. Quick to celebrate the new word they had invented, the The Times wrote about it (see also this cartoon, from print version). The New York Times vocab blog picked it up and apparently it's in the latest edition of Wired, though I haven't see a copy yet.

One of my old students challenged me to knit yakawow. It had to be socks. Greenfield famously referred to twitter as "reminiscent of a small child saying "Look at me, look at me mummy! Now I've put my sock on. Now I've got my other sock on". I also thought the word would provide an opportunity to play with knitting braille, something I'd been thinking about trying for ages.

I worked three panels of the word, loosely reflecting the streams of code in the poster for the Matrix (a play on Greenfield's suggestion that computer mediated communication is somehow not real). I knitted them one at a time, rather than two-at-once-on-a-huge-circular to mirror Greenfield's point about people on twitter saying they'd put on one sock and then another. They were also from the bottom up: read something into that if you want, I can't be bothered to extend the symbolism any further.


When I wear these socks, I will wiggle my toes inside them and celebrate my belief that interacting online is not without its tangible consequences. Social media sites, not least knit blogging and ravelry, provide real relationships with real people doing real things. Imaginative and clever people who get together to collaboratively discover, develop, teach, learn, critique and create. As the Times' piece on yakawow concludes:
Baroness Greenfield, take note. These people’s brains haven’t atrophied yet. They have taken your interview and created a whole new universe. I think, therefore I yaka-wow.
Still, it can be nice to have a break from it all. Which is why although this photo was taken on Brighton beach on Monday, I didn't blog about it until today. I've been away from the internet, reading a book and knitting a legwarmer. I also took those socks off and went for a bit of a paddle.

What I did on my holiday

Sunday, May 16, 2010

FO: leaves scarf


Leaf scarf done. Or at least I call it a scarf, I think I’m might use it as bunting, it’s not the sort of thing I’d wear normally. It's a bit big for a necklace and too small for a scarf. That said, I don't really have much call for bunting either. It's finished anyway, even if I'm not sure what I'll do with it yet.

It was always more of a process knit rather than something produced for the final product. A nice easy project to take to knitting groups. I had a few balls of green yarn leftover from a sweater. I didn't want a green hat or a green scarf. I liked how grassy the yarn was. So I decided to knit some leaves.

leaves scarf WIP close up

It's really just icord with the odd leaf growing out of it. I kept knitting until I run out of yarn, adding new stems and leaves wherever looked appropriate. The leaves were easy to make, 2kfb, k, turn, sl1, k2. Then continue to increase either side of the center stitch every RS row until it was big enough, then a few plain rows, before decreasing back again (always slipping the first stitch of each row). I did a center decrease where you slip 2 sts at once, k1, then pass both slipped sts over at once. This helps make the "stem" of the leaf pop. Yes, there were a lot of ends to sew in, but I just did them as I was going rather than leaving them to the end of the project.

before blocking

The result was a long vine of quite crumbled leaves. Most people I showed the WIP seemed to like this look. I did too, but I also really wanted to see what would happen if I blocked it, how (or if) I could re-shape the leaves. Above is a pre-blocking shot, below shows after. This "during" shot shows the leaves flattened out for a bit, but it didn't make much difference in the long run.

The above shot is also a "bunting" shot as opposed to one of me wearing it as a scarf, below. What do you think, bunting or scarf? (or something else?). All ideas gratefully crowd-sourced.

As ever, there are a few notes on the yarn and needles on the project's ravelry page (n.b. this is public ravelry link, you don't have to be logged it to see it. Ravelry project pages don't have to be exclusive any more, how cool is that?).

wearing! 2

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Nests

Easter nests.

My cousin Iain tweeted that he'd made some "Easter nests" the other night. Cue: wave of nostalgia for childhood Easter holidays covered in chocolate. For some reason I always associate these little piles of chocolate-coated breakfast cereal decorated with Mini-Eggs with my Aunt Susie (Iain's mum) so I guess she always made them. Our families would often see each other at some point around the Spring holidays. I'm the one with the long hair trying to be a scary lion.

Me and Allan and Iain

I'd planned to bake brownies for my mum and little brother instead of giving them a chocolate egg each but, after reading Iain's tweet, decided Easter Nests were in order. You should use mashed up Shredded Wheat for nests because it looks the most stick-like. Nestle products aren't allowed in our flat, so I ended up using Co-op Bran Flakes instead. Much more fiber, plus fortified with iron (people who like magnets: follow that link). I also used plain rather than milk chocolate, which I melted with some golden syrup to sweeten and give a slight chew to the texture. The result are rather grown up Easter Nests, best eaten slowly over a cup of tea. Flatmate-Kirsty had a glass of milk with hers. They are strong and earthy, but very good.

I made a round of brownies for mum and Jim too. He'd only complain otherwise (apparently baking brownies is what big sisters are for, even when you're both speedily approaching 30).

Chocolate brownies

I used this awesome recipe. They are also exceedingly chocolaty and best eaten in small quantities with a cup of tea, especially as I decreased the sugar quantity slightly to bring out the chocolate. Still, I dare say Mum and Jim will get through them. Kirsty beat me with the whole Easter baking though, because she fought with some slightly old yeast to make annoyingly perfect hot cross buns (everything Kirsty makes is annoyingly perfect).

Hot Cross Buns

Normal knit blogging will resume in a week or so. I've got an arm and a half to do on my top-down Demi and only about another half ball more to knit of the leaves scarf, so I hope I'll have an FO to show. You can also find more work related blogging from me here (including piece about a 1958 Girls-own chemistry set which featured a pink microscope).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Owls (and Ibsen) Revisited

owls revisited - front

I finished my Aran-version of the Owls Sweater over a year ago (amongst the snow of Feb '09), but it was always a bit on the short side. I was over-cautious about yarn quantities and ended up with a slightly too small sweater (well, fitted, shall we say) and a whole ball left over.

I did wear it, just not as frequently as I'd like. Last week I took action: unpicked the cast-on edge, picked up the ribbing and added a few inches. The result is much more wearable (and afterall, we are all wearing our tops longer these days). If you look very closely, you can just about see where I picked up the stitches, but you do have to look carefully. Full notes on ravelry project page.

owls revisited - side

The building site/ roundabout in the background is the lovely Yorkshire city of Sheffield, which I visited at the weekend, mainly to see An Enemy of the People. Sheffield might seem a long way to travel from London to see a 19th century Norwegian play about the politics of sewage, but I do love that play. Ibsen has a reputation as grim. This is wrong, especially in terms of An Enemy. The ending is tragic, the final line especially so, but that's only because the build up is so full of joyous enthusiasm for life. It is also a classic study of science and society (Ibsen was a med student turned journalist before he was a dramatist), in many respects as relevant today as it was in the 1880's.

I first saw it in the late 1990s. It was at the National and Ian McKellen played the lead. I was an impressionable 17, and inspired. I ended up doing a big coursework essay on it, and er, devoting my entire life to studying/ researching/ teaching issues of science in society. So, it was with excitement but also a bit of trepidation that I went back. I wasn't disappointed: by the play, by the production or by the changes I could (Holden Caulfield style) track in myself. That's enough blather about literature though, I'll finish with a shot of my current WIP: a small and very easy project using some a few balls of leftover yarn.

leaves scarf WIP close up leaves scarf WIP long shot

It's really just icord with the odd leaf growing out of it. Yes, there are a load of ends to sew in, but I'm doing them as I go. It is inspired by a few projects I've seen around, but largely improvised. It should make a lightweight decorative scarf when its done (or maybe just slightly odd bunting). More details on ravelry project page.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Rosalind Scarf

me wearing scarf longer shot

Since designing my Rosalind DNA back in summer 2006, I've made six of the things. And given away each and every one of them, I decided it was high time I made one for me (plus it's been featured in WIRED. How can I not have my own version?). I've been talking about it for ages, but was inspired to finally cast on by some of my students, who are currently knitting the history of genetics.

The scarf employs a technique called illusion knitting (sometimes know as shadow knitting). When viewed straight on, it just looks like slightly wonky stripes. When viewed from the knitting's edge, however, this wonky-texture reveals itself as carefully placed bumps and gaps, and presents a hidden image. This is a picture taken while I'm wearing it, looking down my front, along the line of the pattern.

me wearing scarf - pattern

Illusion knitting is notoriously hard to either describe in words or photograph, so I've embedded a short video. There's another side-view shot at the bottom of this post, along with a picture showing the back of the scarf, where you can see a sort of fossil of the pattern. This is probably the best photo I've seen of this pattern though (i.e. not by me, and using a better contrasting set of yarns).

DNA and illusion knitting could be made for one another. Looking across the scarf, the ladders of the striping pattern twist round those of the helix as purls and knits start to bunch together to display a regular shape (at least for those initiated on how to look). The pattern's title is inspired by Rosalind Franklin (google it), and, because I thought a family reference would be appropriate, a cousin of mine.

I think my favourite illusion knitting pattern is the Cheshire Cat 'Wonderland' socks. I love illusion socks. Straight on, and it's just stripy, point your toes and the cat is revealed. With valentines soon upon us, I should probably mention the lovemeknot socks too.

The Rosalind pattern is available for download on ravelry - or through googledocs (though if you are a knitter and read blogs, er, why aren't you on ravelry?). Knit-geeks who want details of yarn, pattern mods and needles can also check the project's ravelry page.

Rosalind - DNA shot Rosalind - back shot

Saturday, January 23, 2010

COMP: Grumpy Robot Seeks Home


Meet Marvin. He's loosely based on the BBC TV version of the character from the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. I knitted him several years ago as a jokey birthday present for an ex, who solemnly returned it when we split up. I found it again packing up to move house last week. I don't really want to keep him, but someone's got to look after those dodgy diodes down his left-side (if you don't get that reference, you can leave now). So, want him?

Enter this competition. All you have to do is guess how many books I have at home. The closest guess posted in the comments form on this post by 3rd February, 5pm GMT wins Marvin.

Remember to include some sort of link/ email address in your guess so I can contact you if you win. If you don't, the entry will be discounted. I'm happy to post internationally. In case of a draw, I'll pick one out of a hat. I've emailed the total number to myself, so that email can act as a record in case of query. I'm not having people round to count them just to check. I should probably also note it hasn't been knitted to any toy safety standards.

The photo isn't a clue, as it was taken on my bookshelves at college, which I haven't counted. Yes, those are 'work' books, they are primary data for my research. The answer is probably less than you might imagine a lit-PhD-ex-bookseller might have (I'm really, really, not a book hoarder), but it's also probably more than you might imagine too, just because everyone has more books than you think.

UPDATE (3/2/10): and the answer is... 185. So the winner is Mr Robert Weaselspoon, who guessed 172.

Marvin standing

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Warming jumpers and balling yarn

Happy New Year. I'm sneaking in a quick blog post between start-of-term business and our impending house-move next weekend (no huge life-dramas: it's just that the land-lady's selling up and we're only moving a mile away, but moving is a hassle).

I thought I'd share a recent experience in balling some yarn of my mother's, in case the info is of any use to fellow knitters. Exhibit one: some pretty, but very tangled and very, very slippery yarn.

tangled yarn

My mum bought it in Damascus (here). From my own experience with a lace-weight version of the same yarn, I predicted it would be a humongous pain to ball. Loads of tangles, and so slippy you leave it un-gripped for a millisecond and the ball falls to pieces (creating more tangles in the process). I warned her, and insisted she came round to use our swift and ball winder.

I was right about the tangles and slipperiness. About 1/8th of the way through we decided to ditch the idea of the ball-winder (it just slipped off it, you had to hold the ball in your hand the whole time...). We needed a bobbin which could readily be passed through un-doing knots. We looked around the table and spotted some rolls of parma violets I had lying around ready to be sent off to a friend who lives in the states.

sweetie bobbin

They worked REALLY well. The thick pen-like shape was great for wrapping yarn around whilst keeping tight in your hand, as well as pointing through the knots. We then balled the yarn (by hand) from these bobbins and kept the balls secure with some tissue paper and rubber bands. It still took several hours: the finished knitting pieces from this yarn better be worth it!

If you don't know what these Parma Violets things are, they are UK-sweeties (candy if you really must), flavoured with violets. You either love or hate them. See a close up of the 'bobbin' here.

I'll finish with a couple of FO shots - pieces finished over the Christmas break, my last knitting of 2009.

Wedgewood FO: close up red cardi: close up hands

It's the Wedgewood blouse from IW Knits Summer 2006 (but modified as a woolly jumper), and a super-simple top-down raglan cardigan. Ravelled here and here respectively. The yarn for both comes from aborted attempts at Demi (rav link). Which, using yarn from a first-day-of-the-sales trip to John Lewis, is my current WIP. I've modified to work it as a top-down raglan, but I'm a little worried I won't have enough yarn. Wish me luck.

Demi WIP