Monday, January 26, 2009

Catching up with the lions

I think I didn't blog this at the time because I didn't have any pictures, but the Gay Pride lions have moved on to a new home, at the LGBT health and well-being centre over near McAree's. Here you can see them lounging around the welcome desk. They seem happy and well, and I'm sure are enjoying the attention.
There's other lion-retrospective news too - the extra bonus lion is well and truly settled in at the primary school he was going to, and is apparently very popular with the children, and they've decided to name him Rainbow.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cosmic microwave background hat

Hi again folks.
So, today an old idea which I'm just about getting around to planning seriously now. This started with a discussion here about the big bang and background radiation(or more accurately, a whole bunch of helpful geeks helping me with physics - thanks folks!).
So, science, and a quick recap of background radiation. According to the big bang theory, in the early days the universe was very hot, and full of light. As it expanded and cooled, this light has lost a lot of energy, but it should still be there. This is called "cosmic microwave background" radiation. The stories of early experiments into detecting this are quite famous, but the upshot is it was detected experimentally, and as I understand it, is some of the hardest experimental evidence for the big bang. Lots more cool information at Wikipedia.
In the 1990s, the COBE satellite made some very precise measurements of the energy of this radiation, and found that in fact it varies(though not by much). The thinking is(well, was, back when I kept up with popular science) that these variations would be caused by tiny variations in the very early universe, which would grow larger as it expanded and these tiny variations would lead to the formation of galaxies and stars. So these variations are very important - they could well be responsible for the entire structure of the universe we see today. Since then there have been more accurate probes, particularly WMAP, which just gave some new measurements last year. And what better way to celebrate all of this than with a hat?

So the plan is this - to take one of the images produced by the COBE probe(WMAP is more accurate, but I think the resolution is too high for my purposes), chart up the data and using stranded knitting, knit it into a hat. Possibly making up a few over the top lines about how this hat contains the pattern for the universe along the way. The main difficulty is drawing a chart of the right kind, which is mostly a question of manipulating images to make a nice grid in polar coordinates. (That said, other people seem to have done this much better, than me as you can see here).

So yep, that's the plan. Perhaps I should write "COBE" on it too, so people will realise it's not just a splodgy coloured hat.
Happy knitting!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Finished alchemy mittens

Ok, first finished object for a while - the alchemy mittens are done! I tried to keep the pattern reasonably simple, which probably helped a lot. Also there was a lot of snooker on tv, which is ideal for knitting along to!

I'd intended to make this in the round using two circular needles(I've just come across this technique, and it's awesome), but ran into some problems - because of the way the stranding works, with independent bands on the front and back, it would be difficult to work this in the round, you would need to carry the green yarn too much. So I decided it needed to be based on intarsia in the round, which meant a switch to dpns(because I'm using interchangable needles rather than "real" circulars, and they don't handle purl rows well).
The intarsia in the round gave me some trouble - I'm not sure if I'm remembering it being easier than it was, but I ended up with some loose stitches at the join. This might mean I was somehow wrapping the yarns wrong, or possibly just that you shouldn't try to join the intarsia pieces at the end of a needle? I suspect the latter, since the stitches just looked loose rather than wrong. This seemed to get even worse when the shaping started to get involved at the top of the mitten.

Pattern-wise, I may be able to explain the design a bit better now I have visual aids. The left mitten represents antimony and the right is tin- I chose these elements because they had nice alchemical symbols and roughly the right atomic numbers to make the patterns work and fit nicely onto a mitten.
The symbols on the back are alchemical signs for the respective elements, although I suspect noone would actually recognise them without looking them up. The number of spots on the back of the hand give the atomic number of the element(51 for antimony, 50 for tin), and they're arranged to show how the electrons are divided up into shells(or, I suppose it's position in the periodic table?).
The spots on the front represent the number of neutrons in the most common isotope, so that the total number of spots on both sides gives the atomic weight. They're also supposed to give them a slightly checkered look. I'd planned to make the front kinda textured based on a pair of gloves I saw made by the mighty Juliana, which gave them a wonderfully grippy look, but chickened out cos I wasn't sure how the texture would interfere with the stranding and was too impatient to do the swatching first.

So yeah, I'm very happy with how these turned out, the dots give them a nicely complicated look and the symbols came out just about the right size that they dominate without overpowering the rest of the design. I'm curious how it would have looked if the symbols were a different colour, but I think I prefer it this way in the end. They could maybe have been done on smaller needles to make the fabric denser and warmer, but this was rather a "what I had to hand" project.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Alchemy mittens

Right, continuing Operation Catch Up With Knit-Designing, I thought I'd post about the alchemy mittens I have underway.
So, what's the idea? I wanted to make a pair of mittens which would encode alchemy symbols and chemical information about certain chemical elements in a subtle enough way that they will look a bit arcane, while actually being entirely about chemistry.
Each mitten will represent a chemical element- I've picked antimony and tin for these ones, but others could be fairly easily substituted. It'll have the alchemical symbol for that element on the back, along with a pattern of spots which represent the atomic number of the element, arranged in a series of bands representing the number of electrons in each electron shell. On the front of the had there will be another collection of spots representing the number of neutrons in the commonest isotope of the element, so that the total number of spots on both sides gives the atomic weight of this isotope.

Why is a little harder to explain, but it has something to do with the different attitudes we have towards alchemy and chemistry. I think we have a tendency to see science as a bit dull and safe, as very *normal*. Alchemy, on the other hand, is a kind of magic- it's crazy and mystical and occult. I think we'd do better to see science a bit more that way - after all, it contains dragons(see also), time travel and guns that shoot lightning. And the really amazing thing is that science can *prove* that all these things exist(well, 'prove' isn't quite the right word in the last case, but hey).
So that's kinda what I'm aiming for with these mittens, that they will be based on chemistry, but in a slightly magical/arcane/alchemical sort of way.
Also, because alchemy symbols are neat.

I've done most of the knitting for them now, so hopefully will have some finished objects to show in the near future(and hopefully my explanation will be a little more coherent then).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bell-ringing(ish) cardigan

Hey folks!
Well again I've failed to update this for way too long, despite having a couple of projects I should've mentioned. So without further ado - the bell-ringing cardigan. Sort of.

The idea for this cardigan grew out of a discussion of bellringing with Mair, and how this might be expressed in knitted cables. As I understand it, a bellringing pattern is produced by repeated applications of a pair of permutations (subject to some constraints), and the aim is to run through every ordering of a collection of bells(usually four, five or six). Some quick calculations suggest that a full 'peal' with five bells would involve 120 changes and would run roughly the full height of a jumper.

This project is a baby cardigan along similar lines: if you use just three cables, any pair of transpositions will run through every ordering of the three cables. This pair of transpositions can be chosen in six different ways, so the idea is for this cardigan is to have six different cables to represent each of these choices. The cables are picked out in intarsia to make the rearranging clearer as well as to make the whole thing pretty and colourful.
The 'ish' is because not all of these transpositions is allowable in the bell-ringing problem - the position of a bell in the sequence can only move by one place for physical reasons, but we haven't included this constraint here - some of the patterns involve swapping cable 1 with cable 3. This leads to some fabricky issues too, since this is quite a big cable and distorts the fabric a bit. Some experimenting shows that this isn't too bad provided the cable rows are appropriately spaced though.
One other problem is that these patterns don't distinguish "over" and "under" crossings, so these have to be more or less made up. To make the braids (more or less) alternating(so that if a cable went 'over' on the previous cable row it will go 'under' on the next) narrows it down a bit, and I seemed to come up with the right number of solutions, but it struck me as a little arbitrary and I'm not sure if there are others. Quite possibly there are exactly six though, and I just haven't spotted the reason for it yet.

So there we go - colourful little baby cardigan with intarsia cables, group theory and possibly some bell-ringing. I actually did most of the knitting over christmas and just need to get around to sewing it all together, so hopefully it'll be all done and ready to post pretty soon!
Happy knitting,