Thursday, March 24, 2011

On the social nature of knitting

Here's a picture of my friend Ed wearing a DNA illusion scarf I've just knitted him. Ed's a prolific and highly respected science writer (he blogs at Not Exactly Rocket Science). He recently included me on a list of top science bloggers, and I joked that if he wanted me to knit him a scarf, he only need ask. I was serious too though. I appreciate the work Ed does, but I get to read it for free. Though he does get paid for much of his writing, he also puts a crazy amount of hours in. Knitting him a scarf was a way of saying thank you.

Ed in scarf

Illusion knitting is notoriously hard to photograph, so you might have to have a look at the video in this post to really get how the trick really works.  

As I've said before, DNA and illusion knitting seemed to be made for one another. The ladders of the striping pattern twist round those of the helix as purls and knit-stitches collect  to display a regular shape. I also like that you have know how to look at the scarf to really see the pattern. There's an "OH!" moment when you spot it. Symbolic of the science it reflects, the pattern isn't self-evident.

Presenting Ed with the scarf in the pub last night it was great watching other people respond to it too, and holding it up to the eyes to spot the illusion.

photographing Rosalind

I think this DNA illusion pattern is the knitting project I'm most proud of. It's not so much the product (though I do like the way it looks) or the process of knitting it (though I do enjoy illusion knitting). Rather, it's the social connections that making this scarf has either reflected or helped create.

I'm currently reading a new book about the social dimension of craft - Making is Connecting - so I guess this is on my mind at the moment.

The first one I made was for an ex-geneticist friend, as leaving present for work. I'd only recently learned to knit. Flatmate Kirsty had adapted the alien illusion scarf for her brother, with a picture of Che Guevara. I thought I'd try something similar, and that a design reflecting the iconic double helix would work really well with the illusion pattern.

Then I made another for a scientist/ knitter friend in New York, and wrote up the pattern to share. Then more started popping up. I've had emails from all over the world about the pattern. I've knitted the design into some socks for a science-teacher friend for his birthday, then as a baby blanket for a cousin, and then again as a scarf for a friend when she finished her PhD. I finally made one for myself too. A journalist from UK Wired emailed me and it ended up being mentioned there and it featured on this post on science-knitting. I swear I once spotted someone on the street wearing one (I was on the top deck of the bus at the time so couldn't run up to her and check).

The project is ravelled here if you want to see details of yarn, needles and mods. The pattern is available or through googledocs, or via ravelry.

money shot