Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Keeping my cool

In terms of personalities, I'm pretty even-keel. It takes a lot to make me angry.

"Lots" easily describes the last few weeks.

It turns out my boss is not a bad "substitute fish mom." He did exactly what was asked of him, and kept my fish healthy and alive. He was on top of things. His fish-sitting privileges have been reinstated.

So what happened in my tank?
Why was it nearly fish soup?
Why were lines detached?

Well, the answer is quite simple. Some idiot is trying to actively harm my little zebradanios.

At first I felt paranoid. The line must have snapped. The custodian could have easily unplugged the other line by bumping some furniture. The heater must have shorted due to technical malfunction. It was just a perfect storm.

So I tested my heater in a 5 gallon bucket. I could not get it to raise the water temp that high without pegging the thermostat. It's not a mechanical failure. The dial needs to be physically moved all the way to (+) or the heater won't run constantly at max wattage.

I also reattached the lines. The cut line was put back together with a cheap-o plastic valve. Anyone who's seen what I'm talking about knows that those are pieces of junk if you want to regulate air flow. The plastic screw isn't so much threaded into place as coerced, and tightening it to reduce air is a royal pain in the behind. When I left that evening, air was flowing. When I came back the following day, the valve had been forcefully shut. This cannot happen by accident. (I'm actually a little surprised that it could be effectively shut at all, so golf-claps there, I suppose.)

It was around this time that my boss called the cops. Our lab door wasn't closing because of the AC pressure. The front door to the building wasn't locking at night. It could just be idiot kids with nothing better to do than vandalize helpless fish. We filed a police report. Pictures were taken. Doors were repaired. I got to know the maintenance staff a lot better. Nice folks.

2 weeks passed.
Yesterday, I came in to find my new heater smashed with exposed electric coils in my tank water and glass littering the bottom of the tank.

It doesn't matter if the door is locked. Someone has a key.

We're moving the fish. I'm not telling anyone but staff and faculty where. My males from the effected tank all appear to be sterile, now. There's a strong chance their testes were permanently damaged. When you keep fish explicitly for their gametes (ie, eggs and sperm), if they stop making them it becomes really difficult to justify keeping them to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. If they don't recover by mid-October, I will be forced to sacrifice them (because ethics. There's a rant in there about fake ethical justification for the sake of a moral system based exclusively on how fluffy the animal is.)

I am legitimately angry right now. I'm in a lab that has a stated goal of ensuring reproductive success in species. Our whole perspective is that every animal is valuable, and that we do what we do to make sure that both individuals and populations are healthy.

And someone is trying to kill my fish.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In which I try not to kill someone with my bare hands. (Also, sweater)

I took my first real vacation of the summer last week. A dear friend came out and we drove to pretty places, looked at pretty things, and on the whole sat still and went to bed early. It was a very good and proper vacation. Because I am the sole caretaker of some 600 zebrafish (that is the real figure), I had to pawn the week's fish care on to my boss. I cleaned the tanks before I left, I bought spare food, and I walked away.

I came back to school on Monday to find what can only be termed a complete and utter disaster. I am not prone to swearing--I really don't get angry enough most of the time, and I try to be more careful with my word choice when I am, but let me tell you, I swore. If my boss had been there, I might have chewed him out, which, if you know me, is basically like saying I was insane. Fortunately he was out for the day and my temper has since cooled.

One of the tanks was so hot it was off my thermometer, which goes to 94 F/34 C. The fish are kept commercially at 70 F/21 C give or take and I keep them at summer breeding temps of 82 F/28 C.  It was so hot that the room felt like a sauna when I walked in in the morning. Fortunately no one died, but they were all at the bottom of the tank in the "colder" water.

Normally, the water down there would be cycled and evenly heated by the bubbling air. Unfortunately there was only 1 functioning air pump out of 4 attached to the tank. One line was unplugged, one pump is broken, and the last line appears to have been PHYSICALLY CUT. This was even more disturbing because hot water doesn't dissolve gasses as well as cold water, so not only were the fish too warm, but they were probably suffering from hypoxia. The door to the office/lab/animal housing room is not closing properly either. It no longer latches shut. I am feeling awfully paranoid.

So I blew my lid and spent the next 3 hours changing the water out 10 gallons at a time--remove, replace, acclimate for 30 minutes, rinse, repeat. Both the heaters are out of the tank and 3 of the bubblers are functioning again.

My work for the day was shot, so I went home and finished the sweater.

This sweater has WAY too much armpit. I'm going to rewash it and see if I can shrink it down a little. The hips don't actually fall at my hips, which makes the (correct) hip measurement too large (since, you know, no hips). Overall, I think it's very cute, but I don't know if it's something I'll wear. The buttons and neckline are charming, I didn't biff the crochet, and it does look exactly like the picture in the magazine, so I can't really say it's a bad pattern by any stretch.

Also, today when I went in to lab my research actually worked for the first time. Finally, after 3 months of 40 hour weeks I can finally get this bad boy under way.

So, not a complete loss on the fish front. (and no, it was not the 94 degree tank which produced good results. Those fish are on "bed rest" for a while, because seriously, I'm lucky they are alive. My boss is a bad substitute fish-mom.)

Sunday, September 8, 2013


I haven't had the stomach to blog for a while now. This is, in large part, because I have not been knitting. I have been working on my Masters research, which has been a bit of a total and complete spiral of nothing working, and when I get home from a day in the lab it's all I can do to make dinner and sit still for a while. I was getting tense, and when I get tense my hands get sore. Tired mind and sore hands do not a knitter make.

But that doesn't mean I haven't been knitting at all. I started the Victoria Yoke Pullover, which is yet again one of those projects which has been swimming around in the back of my brain for a few years. I have to really be feeling the drive to knit sweaters, though, and so I put it off. I think the Fresco yarn had always been intended for this project, whether or not I realized it. I cast on in mid July and set to work. The yoke was very interesting--the basket weave pattern was simple enough to memorize at a glance, but subtle enough that I never guessed the repeat.

Unfortunately, stockinette in the round is about as boring as watching paint dry. It's usually an activity I reserve for either reading or watching something with subtitles because frankly my brain needs to be entirely occupied with something else if I'm going to get any real knitting done.

I've been whittling away at it for a month and a half now and finally (FINALLY) I finished the knitting portion of the work. Unfortunately I cannot locate my 3 mm crochet hook (I found my 2.75 and a 3.5, as well as the case for the size 3 hook... story of my life), so it's not finished quite yet.

So the sweater is blocking, where it will languish for a while. I only really block my sweaters on the first wash--it's my "given that everything about this sweater is exactly as the designer has intended, do I actually like it?" test. If the answer is yes, I'll just lay it flat to dry from here on out. If the answer is no, well, back to the frog pond with ye!

Unfortunately, I started this project to use up my Cascade fresco. I have 3.5 hanks left.

Maybe I'll have to make some button-on sleeves or something awful like that.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I don't own enough tunics

I have finished the tunic--

I am deeply pleased. It fits absolutely perfectly. There's about an inch and a half of ease through the chest, and I have a 7 inch flap of fabric at the hip without exposing my sides. Awesome.

I ended up doing a mixture of my potential ideas for fixing this piece. I did rip it back to the beginning, add 4 stitches, work to 8 inches after the start of the chart (not the CO edge), and finish the whole chart, but I also shortened the final garter by 4 rows and only worked it over the neck stitches while maintaining the diagonal for the shoulders. The overall effect is more unified than I think it otherwise would have been. The completed chart cleans up the overall design and the shoulder modification (which you can't see in the photos, but it's awesome. Trust me.) make the top section make more sense.

I love this shirt. It makes me want to knit more tunics, buy more tunics, and just wear this all the freaking time. It's soft, cozy, and perfect for our summer heat.

Unfortunately, knitting is on a bit of a hiatus because I accidentally dipped my hand into a pot of boiling soup on Friday (... ... ... yeah), and I'm nursing one heck of a blister. To add insult to injury (and injury to injury), when I went to add more ice to my bucket of cold water I shot myself in the face with an ice cube as I cracked the tray. I now have a nice gash on my brow. It was a rough day. On the plus side, the soup is absolutely delicious. It's a Greek Avgolemono which I understand to mean Lemon/Chicken/Ricey delciousness. I am looking forward to feasting upon the left overs.

I'm waffling about what to knit next. I have 8 hanks of Classic Elite Fresco that have been living in my stash for a while. I think it's about time to give them a go, but I'm at a loss as to what. They're a sort of muted mint. I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, June 28, 2013

I'm an idiot (part IV)

My inner perfectionist won  out (score one for maturity, I suppose), and I ripped back the tunic to the pre-shaping mark. I put my needle back in and began again for about 3 rows, and then I had a revelation. There were fewer stitches in the hips than there were in the bust. This discrepancy is supposed to be alleviated by the fact that you don't sew up the last 7 inches (pre or post garter band, I can only wonder... a pox on unclear patterns). Here's the thing, though. I don't mind some slits, but I would prefer that they weren't letting my sides swing freely in the breeze. I don't really like showing skin, especially that skin. I'm no where near self-conscious enough to properly monitor exposure levels.

So I tore the whole thing back to the beginning and added 4 stitches--an inch. I figure an extra 2 inches (1 per side) would even out the hip issue and give me some positive ease through the chest. Because I'm using a larger gauge, I've got a bit of "negative space" when the fabric stretches at all. That should be effectively alleviated now. I think the yarn will bloom a bit after a few washes and completely eliminate this, but I'd like to actually where the darn thing before then.

Anyhow, I trucked along, excited to work the entire chart, excited for a tunic that would fit perfectly, excited to actually not be at 0% any more.

And after I finished the first ball, I looked down. Something was off. More specifically, something was off center. 3 stitches off center, in fact.

You see, when I count, I count by 3's (or rather I count 3 as 1 and multiply by 3 at the end). It's a hold over from spending every New Year's week doing inventory at my folk's clinic. The pharmacy is the largest chore, and if you're going to count 1859 amoxicillin tablets and keep track of the numbers when someone walks up behind you and says, "47, 13, 8, 29..." you start to develop systems to keep track of numbers. I would use 5 stitches (easier head math), but it's harder to eyeball 5 at a time. Almost all stitches will move in groups of 3.

So when I counted the stitches I tacked on an extra 3 to the first stockinette panel during the set up row (I can't count to 6. hoo boy). 35 rows later, I caught the mistake.

I am my own worst enemy, of this I am certain.
I'm almost through the first diamond now.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Vogue! *Shakes fist at sky in rage*

Now that I'm finished plunging tiny swatches into subzero baths (and now that the quarter is over), I can actually get some good ol' fashioned knitting done. It's a project I've wanted to do for a few years, but there's always been this nagging issue--the yarn I want to use will not knit to the appropriate gauge. It is otherwise perfect for the project: it has the right drape, the right color, the right stitch definition, and the perfect amount of character. It's just a little too dense.

Fortunately, my math cannot be conquered by mere issues of gauge, and so I finally bit the bullet, knit a proper swatch, properly blocked the proper swatch, measured, and went to town. Everything was going swimmingly. The math was working out surprisingly well. I had even figured out how to make the whole chart fit when I had 4/5 of the rows in the original (shorten the diamonds). It looked lovely. I should have known better.

After all, this was a Vogue Knitting pattern.
(specifically, #22 sleeveless tunic)

And we all know how the last thing I tried to knit from a Vogue pattern went.

 (Vogue, I love you, but test knit your patterns for the love of everything good and holy in this world.)

Do you know what really throws a wrench in my plans for perfect math? Failing to include all the measurements properly. What do I mean? Well, the center panel is 133 rows. 133 rows works out to exactly 18" in gauge, which just so happens to be the exact length of the sweater before the armpit. How convenient, how lovely, the chart is the perfect size.

Except it's not.
There's 12 rows of garter before you start that chart.
That's an extra inch and a half that's not included in any measurement or diagram, and when the pattern tells you to start waist shaping 8" from the beginning, it really means 8" from the beginning of the chart. As a result, my perfect plan was 2" off (due to the change in gauge), and I had to cut out the top triangle.
Now the top and bottom don't match...
I soldiered on, though. It didn't really look bad, after all, and the measurements were still perfect. Plus I had already committed hours to this piece and I don't like ripping back things that don't result directly from my own mistakes.

Well, now I'm 6 rows short of the finished measurement, which is also 7 inches from the end of the center panel chart. Everything was working out perfectly. The measurements matched the diagram.

And then I went back to the directions.
There's 7 rows of garter after this section. I have completed the diagram, and I still have an inch and half of knitting to do.

For the love of everything.
The tunic's waist is not going to be at my waist if I drop it an extra inch and half. Everything was contingent on these measurements. Why do they lie to meeeeeeeee...

So, I see 4 options.
1) Keep doing what I've been doing, and maybe it'll work out okay when it's all sewn up. (the old me. I'm a process knitter, right? I don't care about finished products. It's about the journey.)
2) Start the garter right now. (the paranoid me. She's currently screaming "You're going to wear this in public, right?")
3) Work 2 rows of garter and call it a day. 3 needle BO the top to make up for the difference. (the problem solver me. She doesn't really care about the pattern that much anyway)
4) Rip the whole stinking thing out and redo it to accommodate what I've learned. (the perfectionist me. Usually this one doesn't get to have its day in court, but she's been making some pretty good arguments lately)

3 and 4 look like the best options, but I'm open to suggestions.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Subzero Fiber (Results and Discussion)

Fiber Cheat Sheet (by defining constituent--I is technically 75% tencel, but the bufallo is what sets it apart from D)
Figure 1--Swatches used in this experiment. Moving clockwise from 12, swatches are as follows: H, E, A, C, B, J, F, D, and I in the center. I didn't weave in the ends because I was concerned that it might change the character of the fabric under extreme temperatures. I also feel I may have missed an opportunity by not spelling something with the little swatches...

G (silicon) was dropped from the study. The manufacturer lists the brittle point at -62 C, and the polymer itself was difficult to work with and impractical for the end-game of this study (actually lashing things together).

Heat Transfer
Thermocouple data was nonparametric and therefore analyzed using a Kruskal-Wallis. Pairwise comparison was performed with a 2 sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov using Systat statistical software. Comparison of ranks yielded significant differences between groups (p <0.001) (Figure 1).

Figure 2--Rate of temperature change of thermocouple when the swatch was plunged 1 cm into LN. The lowest mean temperature change +/- SEM belongs to E, I and J. 
Table 1--A comparison of differences between groups. Column one displays the group in question and column two lists the groups which are statistically no different from column one (KS, alpha = 0.05) I apologize for how crappy this looks, but apparently if you try to make a table in Blogger, you have permanently committed to having that table RIGHT THERE for all eternity. There is no way to display this easily graphically, unfortunately, as there are 3 fewer groups than variables. It gets ugly fast.

Stress Test
No swatches ripped, tore, or became glass-like when completely submerged in LN. All fabrics were able to curl, stretch vertically and horizontally, and twist 180 degrees without breaking. Swatches A and B became far stiffer when submerged than at room temperature. H froze in shape on the 180 degree twist and maintained the shape post thaw. Because A, B, and E are the only synthetic polymer containing fibers in this experiment and because all 3 changed their behavior under LN, it is my opinion that synthetic fibers, regardless of composition, are inferior to natural fibers. Of the natural fibers, plant fibers retained the most flexibility and behaved as though they were submerged in a room temperature water bath.

In this experiment, I asked which fibers--both synthetic and natural--transfered the least heat while retaining their strength and flexibility in a LN environment. I found synthetics to be inferior to natural fibers in the stress test. The heat transfer experiment favored fibers with greater amounts of protein or synthetic makeups. Furthermore, animal and plant fibers were capable of drawing up LN using capillary action. Swatch J easily became completely saturated when only a small portion of the swatch was submerged. Because of this, I cannot recommend using plant or animal fibers for use between LN and non-LN conditions.Teflon, though, not ideal in terms of flexibility, would be best for this task. Cellulose and protein based fibers would be most useful completely submerged in or in close proximity to LN. They retain their strength and flexibility. Each fiber type has its strengths and weaknesses when placed in extreme conditions, and decisions regarding which fiber type to use where and when should be evaluated on an individual basis. There is no universal best fiber for use in LN, but experimental and technological design can and should exploit the strengths and weaknesses of each fiber's unique properties.

Limitations of this study

Because I was limited by available fibers and overhead costs, and because many fibers work best when spun particular ways, there is little uniformity among yarn weights. Ideally, all fibers would have been no denser than fingering weight. This discrepancy also made it difficult to determine the best method for working with the teflon and silicon (which did have a swatch knit), as those polymers were manufactered to an arbitrary appropriate thickness. However, given the consistent behavior of the fibers represented in multiple swatches, the discrepancy is most likely negligable. Any further research from this point should include fibers represented individually and in blends, spun to similar weights, and might include a wider variety of polymers.

I would like to thank Dr. Charles Herr and the CANBE lab, as well as the good people of Ravelry.com for their wisdom and insight while designing this experiment. It's been a blast. 


And, without further ado, I present to you "lashing together two teflon containers, " featuring Buffalo Wool Company's "Moon Lite" and making use of my carefully honed 2nd grade level friendship bracelet skills. I ended up settling on the buffalo because it was only moderately absorptive when compared to other plant or animal fibers, and because of the strong tensile strength of the fiber. The rocking gold color doesn't hurt too much either. The other candidate was Kollage "Milky Whey," and that fiber was far more difficult to work with and potentially difficult to acquire if I ever required an additional hank.
Ends have since been woven in. This is one of the components to a larger contraption which we'll try it out for the first time this upcoming Saturday. I am giddy with anticipation.

Can we just pause for a moment and meditate on how undeniably gorgeous this yarn is? Because it is. Good gracious is this yarn beautiful.
When I presented my findings from this work to my boss, he was fascinated and as a result we've actually changed several protocols entirely to incorporate animal fibers. He doesn't think this experiment is "silly" any longer.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Subzero Fiber (Methods)

The experimental procedures are finished. Huge thanks to my boss (and CANBE) for not looking at me like a crazy person when I asked to do this. I have about ten gagillion data points to analyze and a bunch of variables to account for, but there was a clear early winner and it wasn't what anyone had guessed. So, without further ado...


I chose 10 different fiber types to use over the course of the experiment. 8 were selected initially, and 2 were added after pretesting revealed trends. Fibers were as follows: 98% Cotton 2% Elastic (Cascade "Fixation"); 70% Superwash Wool, 30% Nylon (Red Heart "Heart & Sole"); 100% Alpaca (Knitpicks "Alpaca Cloud"); 100% Tencel (Yarntopia Treastures "6/2 Egyptian Cotton Laceweight"); 100% Sugarcane (Arucania "Ruca Multy"); 55% Wool, 45% Silk (Fyberspates "Scrumptious Lace"); 100% Silicon (Rescue Tape); 100% PTFE (PTFE Thread Seal Tape Mil Spect-27730A), 25% Bufallo 75% Tencel (Buffalo Wool Company "Moon Lite"); 50% Soy Protein, 50% Milk Protein (Kollage "Milky Whey"). Ply number was recorded for each yarn.

Swatches knit on size 0 needles. The pattern used was as follows: long-tail CO 15 stitches, Stockinette stitch for 21 rows and traditional bind off. Natural fiber swatches were soaked briefly and blocked gently. Synthetic fibers were left unblockedA 10 nm T-type thermocouple (Copper and Constantan, Omega) was arc welded under Argon atmosphere into row 21 of each swatch.

Figure 1: The arc welder and a bowl full of Argon. Thermocouples use the junction between 2 metals to produce a charge. Temperature changes change the resistance between the metals, and thus change the overall charge at the junction. This change in charge can then be retranslated into temperature by a computer. or so I am told.
Figure 2: The swatch-electrode. You can almost see the tiny, tiny junction.  It's just above the BO edge. Constantan is a copper-nickle alloy. In terms of my relative frustration with each metal, copper is fragile and snaps if you breathe the wrong way. Constantan is sturdy but oxidizes far faster, so if you miss the weld, you're up a creek without a paddle. When you have the fine motor skills of a constant earthquake victim, each of these presents its own unique challenge.
Thermocouples readings were measured using Labview at 1000 data points per second.

Figure 3: Thermocouples are plugged in here. Our setup is capable of taking 20,000 measurements per second. When I work with tissue, I use all 20,000 but when you're measuring time in minutes instead of milliseconds, 20,000 readings will break excel (no. seriously. I have found the bottom of an excel spreadsheet. I was not a happy camper. I needed that data)
Heat transfer
Swatches were secured with 2 hemostats and the CO edge was plunged roughly 1 centimeter into liquid nitrogen. Temperature was measured until the thermocouple reported -196 C. 5 measurements were taken per swatch. Mean rates of change were compared across groups. Observational data was recorded for absorbancy and flexibility.
The super, technologically advanced styrofoam bucket that works better than anything you can purchase on the market today for keeping Liquid Nitrogen liquid. The yellow color in the bucket is the Nitrogen, which refracts the light differently from water, though both fluids are clear.
Figure 4: A wave form around -150 C. The computer is the limiting factor in our equipment. Our thermocouple unit can push 100,000 readings per second, but you've probably recognize good ol' Windows XP's desktop. If it ain't broke, don't fix it (but do write grants for better equipment.)

New swatches were secured between 2 hemostats and plunged completely into liquid nitrogen. Flexibility was evaluated on the following criteria: Horizontal stretch, vertical stretch, scrolling, 180 degree twist, breaks, and glass like nature. Observational data was also recorded for each swatch.

[You've probably noticed the distinct lack of polymers in this experiment. That has to do with 2 things. First, the tiny town I live in had hardly anything at the hardware store and this experiment is too time sensitive to allow for shipping (and we're poor; that's First.5; most of this yarn came from my personal stash). Second, the superwash sock yarn, which is 30% nylon, was remarkably stiffer than the other wool containing groups. Teflon would later confirm that I made a good call not pursuing the polymers. They are simply too stiff at low temperatures to do any real work.]

Next up: Results (Data analysis takes time... ugh)


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Subzero Fiber (part II)

Short one, today.

I knit up most of my natural fiber swatches and brought them in for some initial testing. I plunged swatch #1 into liquid nitrogen and... well...

Nothing turned to glass.
Nothing. I sat there with it completely submerged for minutes (ie until the metal tools were getting uncomfortable to hold) and nothing happened.

I haven't tried the synthetic fibers yet, but other than a little issue with absorption, both protein based and cellulose based fibers were unbreakable when I yanked on them with two hemostats like it was going out of style. I think the alpaca might be less fragile at -196 C than at room temperature... I couldn't make a single swatch even rip and all of them were downright flexible.

 I'll work up the synthetic fibers tonight, but they take some finesse and needles not made of bamboo.

The current fiber list is:
98% cotton, 2% elastic
70% superwash, 30% nylon
100% alpaca
100% tencel
100% sugarcane
55% wool, 45% silk
25% buffalo, 75% tencel (purchased after round 1, given the observations made about cellulose and natural fiber)
50% milk protein 50% soy protein
100% acrylic
100% silicon (Rescue tape modified into yarn using the plarn process. This is a nightmare.)
100% PTFE (teflon tape spun into a strand)

I need to modify my thermocouple procedure a touch to make sure the yarn is in contact with the junction (the part that actually reads the temperature), but other than that today was remarkably enlightening.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Subzero Fiber (Part 1)

My biology masters program has turned into explorations of applications of the fiber arts in cryobiology. I've sewn more in this quarter than in the previous decade. Every time we have an idea for a new technology, I end up sewing something for it. Now it's time to bust out the other fiber arts knowledge, though.

We need to connect teflon to teflon. The internet tells me that this is, in fact, impossible without a drill and a bolt. That would be all fine and dandy if 1) I weren't trying to fill the container with liquid nitrogen and 2) metal wasn't such a good conductor of heat into my intentionally cold system. Now the plan is to lash the two teflon containers together.

While the final tech needs to be on the hush-hush, I did crowd source an idea. What fiber would work best at cold temperatures? What would be least brittle? Would protein, cellulose, or carbon-based polymer be better? Insulating power is one thing, but I need something that can take the stress of constant tension without giving up (or being stupid, conductive metal. grrr.)

So, over the next few weeks (days?) I will be conducting an experiment and posting the methods, results, and discussion in pieces here. I doubt any journal will actually care about this, but if I get nifty results we may even push for publication (with acknowledgements for the Ravelry.com community)

Here's the preliminary plan:
Knit swatches--15 sts x 20 rows, 3 per fiber composition, tight but still appropriate gauge for all yarns using size 0 needles. I'm knitting the swatches rather than crocheting/weaving/knotting because I want to see the real effects of tension in a system that will fall apart when something goes wrong. If you cut a strand in any of the other options, the world doesn't go to Hell in a hand basket. The final project will be knotted.

Fibers--Wool, Alpaca, Superwash/nylon, Merino/Silk, Tencel, Cotton, Sugar Cane, Acrylic, Fishing Line (and whatever else strikes my fancy at the hardware store). I'll stash-dive again tonight and see if I can come up with anything else. I think I have some nylon, I'd like to try more than just Acrylic for polymers. I will keep track of plies.

Cool--Plunge into liquid nitrogen with a weight (yet to be determined) attached mid swatch. Swatches will be chilled for at least 5 minutes or until they break. Time of break will be monitored with a stopwatch. Swatches which do not break will be subjected to increasing weights until I find their stress tolerance.

Measure--At least 1 swatch per group will have a T-type thermocouple welded into the top row of the knitting, taking readings (at least) once per second. This will be analyzed unweighted, several times per fiber type. I will analyze rate of temperature change at the top of the swatch over all fabric types to see if there is a fiber that better insulates itself (the animals fibers have an advantage here, but I'm interested to see the other fibers performance in comparison.)

The best fiber for the job will be the strongest, least conductive fiber.

Wish me luck.

Monday, May 6, 2013

I can't look away...

Today's post is brought to you by driving through your old neighborhood and not being too sorry you left. 

Whenever my husband and I wanted to get on the freeway from our old apartment, we'd invariably have to drive through the seedy part of town. To be fair, most of the town was actually the "seedy" part, but the pre-freeway segment was especially questionable, and right before the freeway entrance was Miss Kitty's XXX store. Without fail, whenever we drove by this store, I would slow down and stare. The building itself is a wholly unremarkable shack about a decade overdue for a repaint, but their sign...

Oh, their sign.

I have this thing about the sexualization of animals for marketing purposes, and by "thing" I mean I DO NOT get it. Not even a little. It just doesn't make any sense on a fundamental, anatomical level. There are levels of totally not getting it--at least if it's a mammal, as with the case of the aforementioned Miss Kitty, then the portrayed female has mammary tissue (generally much more than she's been given credit for and much less... localized...) Sometimes it's ducks (as with the watershed poster on my department's wall. Conservation is sexy. For ducks. Sexy ducks), sometimes it's lizards, and when it is my brain breaks. Those are egg layers. They... They can't have boobs. Why does the lizard have boobs? WHO DREW THE LIZARD WITH BREASTS?

Miss Kitty is one such oversexualized, anthropomorphized mascot. Being a mammal, I normally wouldn't hit full throttle "What abomination is this..?" except for one detail. Here is my quick and dirty sketch of Miss Kitty.
It is worth noting that this quick sketch reflects both the anatomical abnormalities and the overall quality of the Miss Kitty XXX store logo.
 Can you tell what's wrong with this picture? (beyond the feather boa clad cat with eye makeup... I... I just don't get it.)
Can you spot the issue?
I'll give you a hint. Here's an even quicker sketch of a cat skeleton.

And here's a person skeleton (sort of. I got lazy. All the important parts are labeled.)

Have you figured it out?

Miss Kitty's cleavage begins and ends before her clavicle starts, well above her armpit (legpit?)
Breasts don't go there... not even kind of. Try moving down a couple of ribs.

But do you know sort of round, bulbous lump does go there? One which you indeed might try to hide with a feather boa?

A goiter.

Swollen thyroid glands.

The cat has "sexy goiters."

Can I start a foundation for People Against the Oversexualization of Iodine Deficiencies? Because apparently we need one.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lace is pretty.

As I crawl back out of the nebulous, all consuming black hole that is my graduate education (or really my data crunching software), I am reminded that I have hobbies. I have things I enjoy doing for fun in that magical, mythical space known as "free time." I like to knit. I really do, but lately it just hasn't been happening with the frequency and volume I might prefer (aka, all the time).

That's not to say I'm not knitting, though. No, there are bills to pay, and more specifically accountants, and the accountant gets paid in knit goods. (BEST. ACCOUNTANT. EVER. You get me several hundred dollars back on my tax return, and I get to knit things? Where's the catch? [there isn't one]). Last year I knit her Gingko, and she loved it. I was sort of spinning my wheels for this year's bit of pretty, but then I remembered a shawl that has been lurking in my knitting PDFs for quite some time. Viorica.

I really love this shawl. I think it's probably because the gentle crescent gives the overall shape this subtle, sweet ruffle. I may make a window dressing using this pattern as a guide, because it's just too perfect for that sort of thing.

Anyhow, I think it turned out quite nicely.

 Whenever I block irregular shapes, it always takes a bit of massaging before I finally decide the best fit for the fabric. Large sections of stockinette certainly can be blocked as tightly as the lace portions, but that clashes with my personal aesthetics regarding the nature of knitted fabric. I feel like the V's of the knit stitches are beautiful and I put them there for a reason. Because of this, getting the tips of curves to stretch without wonkifying my stockinette is a little tricky. Pinning something like this usually takes a few hundred T-pins and at least an hour and a half.

It's totally worth it, though. Good blocking makes beautiful lace.
I'm almost finished with my sister's birthday present, which is good, because I'm seeing her in 3 days... I should probably get on that...


Monday, March 25, 2013

More Fluff and Stuff

Everyone is having babies lately (everyone but me), and that includes my fellow grad students. One of my buds, bless her heart, will be 9 months pregnant when she defends her prospectus. 9 months. No thank you.
Her baby shower was this week, and it was a rather gender neutral one, as the wee one has refused to uncross its legs for the last 3 ultrasounds.

So I asked her what kind of animal she wanted and she said they were decorating with a sort of "cow theme." Cool. New stuffed animal.

I flipped through the cow patterns on Ravelry and finally settled on Milkshake the cow. It seemed cute enough. The one I really wanted to make was this one, but it's in some book that I cannot access... The udder is freaking hilarious. Oh well. Milkshake was a quick knit--the pieces are made flat and sewn up when it's stuffed. This was the first error free stuffed animal pattern I've encountered in a while, so kudos to the designer.

It's not without quirks though :)

 For starters, in the original pattern, the head is attached to the body using the base of the nose... I... I can't do that... I just can't. Heads connect to bodies with necks... noses, well, they're independent of the head-neck system. You can't just go around connect noses to torsos like it happens every day (yes, yes I know it's a stuffed animal and you totally can. By you I meant me.)
 Thing #2 is that body--those are stripes. Cows have spots. It totally works out okay in the end but when I first held the head an body together, all I could think was "Oh no... It's a Zebra."
 On the plus side, I now have a pattern for a zebra. (Ear up higher, no horns, nostrils a bit lower. All very small changes, really).
Overall, I recommend this guy pretty highly. It's a cute little pattern.

We celebrated my belated birthday this weekend with my folks. Everyone had requests for knitted goods, and I got enough yarn for a sweater for the husband (win), so I'll be cranking out gifts here for the next couple of weeks if I'm being efficient. I've got requests for a teal Les Miserables for my mother, I cranked out a hat for my little brother (no pictures, unfortunately--it only took a few hours, so he left with while it was still drying.), and a Caroline for my seester. I also am pining away for a kit that knitpicks has had for a while, but I think I've got enough knitting on my plate to last me for the next couple of eons, so I'll hold off on that for a while. Knitting for others is more fun anyhow. I don't have to figure out how to store finished objects.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Christmas, or things I now have pictures for

For Christmas this past year, I knit my sister the Scallop by the Sea pouch, a pattern that she had tagged me in on Pintrest. I like it when people tell me exactly what they want, and then act surprised when they get it. It makes me smile. The pattern is essentially a pillowcase. You sew up the bottom, make a lining, get some stiff(ish) interfacing, and stick a zipper on the thing.

And by you, I mean my mother, because I sew like an idiot. My mother, on the other hand, has divinely inspired sewing machine capabilities, so when it came time to decide how to put the thing together I called her. She did it begrudgingly (thank you), and the end product is much nicer for it.

Photo credits go to my sister, the recipient, who takes lovely pictures of landscapes and knitted goods which make it into her hands before I have a chance to photograph them.

Aren't those lovely? (The answer is yes. Yes, they are very lovely.)

The interfacing I used was, perhaps, a touch to stiff, and the pocket was a royal pain in the rear end to install, but on the whole I am pleased with the finished product. It was fun to knit, too (Bonus!). More things ought to be lined in pussy willow fabrics. I'm not sure how I'm going to make that happen, but it needs to.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Back again for more

Somewhere between my junior year in my undergrad and actually graduating from college, I tried to make a hat. It was a cute hat, to be sure. The basic form was a cloche, but it had this charming little ruffle on one side and a carefully sewn ribbon. It was one of those "love at first sight" patterns. I even had the yarn it called for sitting in my stash, left over from a sweater that exaggerated its yarn requirements by a full skein and a half (the designer must have meant to include this cloche pattern along with the sweater; that's really the only acceptable explanation for overestimating by that much). It was certainly meant to be. The pattern was Caroline, which has since been purged from the active internet. Fortunately, the Way Back Machine can get me most anything from the internet archives.

I made most of the hat on an airplane related adventure, and as a result I had not carefully read through others notes on construction, size, and, well, general issues.

When the entire internet agrees that the big hat is "way too big," no amount of claiming you have a large skull will help you (which I do, but it didn't help). The large size was gigantic. It fell down over my eyes, didn't hug my skull, and was pretty much the saddest excuse for a charming hat with a dainty ruffle you've ever seen in your life. This hat needed structure, and structure it did not have. I loved it though, and it took me a few months to get up the gumption to rip it out.

That turned out to be a complete and utter disaster. Somehow something had gone all wonky when I picked up the turned hem, and I had an odd moebius of yarn without an actual moebius strip of knitting. Suffice to say it was weird and knots were involved. The yarn was eventually salvaged, but 2 bad experiences was enough to make me shelve the idea. Still, I never used the yarn for another project. It sat in the front of my yarn drawer, but I couldn't bear to use it, after all, it already had a telos of sorts.

Well, about two weeks ago, I sat down and made the small version of the hat. I went out and purchased ribbon. I sewed my pretty little bow together and slowly and carefully tacked it to the hat.

I really couldn't be more pleased.
Can I say that?
I love this hat.
Too bad winter is over...

Friday, February 15, 2013

So I baked a cake

It's Darwin Day at the local biology department (February 15th) and they have a cake baking contest. It's supposed to be relevant to Darwin's work... which I suppose means it needs to be biology themed, since, you know, pretty much after you get through RNA world hypothesis you've start dealing with selection pressures. (okay, maybe you don't know, but trust me, after things start having genes, you start worrying about gene flow.)

Anyhow, this week was tremendously, heart-wrenchingly stressful and my cell biology class was offering extra credit for cakes with cell themes. I tend to make things when I'm coping with awful, so baking a cake suddenly sounded like the best idea ever. (Around midnight last night it started to seem like the worst idea ever, but what can you do...)

And so I started to bake a cake. The theme I went with was the mechanism of the highly conserved sodium/potassium transporter. It takes 3 sodium ion and puts them outside the cell in exchange for 2 potassium ions. In layman's terms, that's 3 salts out, 2 salts in, which really helps you maintain osmotic balance with the environment.(aka, it keeps the water from flooding into your cells and making them explode) If you are an animal by the simplest of definitions, which I assume you are as you are reading this, you have lots of these.

This was the original plan--4 pumps displaying the process for swapping out ions in 4 simple steps, plus a bit of membrane to separate out the pieces.

The cytoplasm (cell innards) would be blue, and needed the largest quantity of frosting, so I mixed my colors and went to town.
 Next, the extracellular fluid (the "not cell" bits) would be green. Which you can definitely perceive visually on these lovely photos taken in the dead of night by dim incandescent bulb.
 Unfortunately, the plans were derailed when this happened.
As it turns out, frosting the inside of a cake is nigh on impossible. Seriously. I even stuck the thing in the freezer to see if temporarily binding the insides with ice crystals would solve the problem (it does not). There needed to be a rapid change of plan.

Nilla wafers are the best cookie-cracker in the world. I piped in some phospholipids because the inability to frost the large cake chunks meant frosting tiny cubes would be an exercise in futility. It probably looks better this way anyhow.
 Next I added my ions (orange for sodium, pink for potassium), as well as some cute arrows to direct traffic. Next time I will not use those tubes of gel for writing on cakes. The shiny stuff doesn't stick to frosting worth a hoot. I suspect the black has some slimy coating to keep it from bleeding everywhere...
I added in my ATP, labelled everything, and crawled into bed an hour later than I should have.

Overall, a biology success. The cake itself was nice and tender, even after 18ish hours and well worth the $1.18 I paid for the white box cake mix. Self distraction=success.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Or, alternately, I am an idiot (part 3)
 I never thought that my idiocy would become a running subject, but apparently I make enough hideously awful mistakes to merit regular use of this title.

And man, oh man, did I earn it today.

I washed the sheets and comforter cover today, and as I loaded our apartment's incredibly bad washing machine a thought floated across my brain.

"This seems too dense to be just sheets and a comforter cover."

40 minutes later, when I opened the washer I was greeted by a smell that I love, and a smell that simultaneously broke my heart. I knew, just from that single whiff, exactly what I had done. The smell was wet wool.

I had washed my wedding afghan.
The afghan made of squares knitted by my dear Michigan friends who are now a continent away from me. The afghan which reminds me that I am dearly loved, that I don't need to fret too much about the small things, that brings back a hundred memories of sitting in Lola's shop, laughing and chatting about nothing and everything. I may never see many of those women again, and that thought alone is enough to make me get all misty. I treasure those memories as closely as any other college memory. That's how deeply those women impacted my life.

And I just destroyed the afghan they made me--their cooperative effort to shower me in affection. I killed it.


This afghan is made of  various animal fibers which felt at different rates. It was bunched up oddly, so it was not agitated evenly. If I had to give its current shape a new name, I'd hedge my bets with trapezoid... or maybe be even more conservative with rhombus (it still has 4 sides...)

I'm reblocking it into a square-er shape. Unfortunately, this means some squares will be stretched at odd angles. Some squares felted completely--you can't even tell what the old stitch pattern was. Some didn't felt at all (guess who gets to stretch.). Some are felted Alpaca, which apparently still possesses Alpaca's propensity to stretch and drape, in spite of  being a completely different fabric (Alpaca is weird, folks.)

So, my beautiful, gorgeous, love filled blanket which graced our bed for the past 2 winters is a bit smaller, a bit less square, and a lot more heartbreaking to look at.

I have it pinned to "near square"
The brown has felted into the white
This is the felted alpaca... It's clearly felted, but it's also stretching.

The central basked weave was one of several cables...
"stretching to compensate..."
The central one used to have welts
Ruffled edges that didn't felt

Cables + Lace + Felt. Someone has to lose 

There were cute embossed leaves here

More missing cables

Formerly even squares stretching for neighbors
 I wish there were more of a take-home message from this. You know, aside from don't be an idiot. Apparently I can't get that into my thick skull, though. I don't think I've ever done something that has made me kick myself as much as this...