Crochet, knitting, astronomy & life in general.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Newtonmas to all!

As I get older, I find it harder and harder to get into the holiday spirit. I've never been religious, so Christmas has never really had much meaning for me besides an excuse to get lots of presents. As a kid, presents were awesome, and I was always happy to get new toys, but now I find my material needs are much simpler... I'm not too interested in getting piles of presents anymore. I would even say that the excessive materialism attached to the various holidays people celebrate at this time of year bothers me a lot. For this reason, I've been looking for an alternative holiday to celebrate... something that better suites my beliefs.

My mom likes to celebrate Brumalia, which is the Roman festival that Christmas replaced. It honours Bacchus, so I guess you have to drink a lot of wine. It also takes place at the end of the festival of Saturnalia, so we put a cardboard cut-out of Saturn at the top of the Brumalia shrubbery like so:

I, however, subscribe to a much more scientific belief system, so an ancient roman holiday isn't quite the thing for me, no matter how much wine I drink. Therefore, this year I've decided to celebrate Newtonmas. Isaac Newton, considered by many to be the father of modern Physics, was born on Christmas day in 1642. There was some confusing stuff going on with dates back then, and so according to our modern calendar, his birthday is on January 4th, but since the calendar back then said it was December 25th, I think I'll stick with that one for the sake of the holiday.

Newton is most famous for discovering the Law of Gravitation by showing that the same force which causes objects to fall towards the ground also governs the motion of the planets around the sun. However, he is also credited with inventing calculus (though Leibniz also gets credit for that), building the first reflecting telescope, discovering that light is made up of many different colours, and much more. He was also very religious and a practitioner of alchemy. He might also have been a bit of a jerk.

Anyway, to properly celebrate Newtonmas, I will be doing the following:
  • Eating an apple
  • Singing some Newtonmas carols
  • Shining light through a prism to watch it split into a rainbow
  • Doing some calculus problems
  • Dropping stuff on the ground

Happy Newtonmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Astronomy Monday: The Solstice Eclipse

Ok, so Astronomy Monday is one day late. I can pretend it's Monday if you will. In my defense, I was traveling yesterday.

Today I'd like to talk about this morning's solstice lunar eclipse. At least, I assume it was this morning since it was completely overcast in the Townships last night. I spent the whole day on the bus yesterday traveling from Toronto to the Townships to visit my parents for the holidays. The idea was that I would get back in time to watch the eclipse with my Dad, but alas, it was not to be. Ironically, it was perfectly clear in Toronto. Here's what it looked like there (stolen from blogTO):

Last night's eclipse took place between 1:33am and about 5am, with totality (that is, when the moon was completely covered by the Earth's shadow) starting at 2:41am and lasting 72 minutes. Though lunar eclipses are fairly common (I have been able to observe at least two of them in my short lifetime), this one was special because it occurred on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, something which last happened in 1638 and won't happen again until 2094. Fortunately, eclipses look the about the same no matter what the time of year, and the next one is on June 15th, 2011... Now if I can get my supervisor to send me to Australia, that'd be perfect.

As you may or may not know, a lunar eclipse happens when the Moon's orbit passes through the Earth's shadow, that is, when the Earth blocks the Sun's light from the Moon's point of view. This means that it's always a Full Moon when a lunar eclipse occurs (just like it's always a New Moon when a solar eclipse occurs). I always find a diagram is helpful (shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia):

Why then, you may ask, would we not have a lunar eclipse every time we have a Full Moon? This is because the Moon's orbit around the Earth is inclined by 5 degrees with respect to the Earth's orbit around the Sun, which means that the Moon's orbit only intersects the Earth's orbit in two locations. Only when we get a full Moon in one of these intersecting locations do we experience a lunar eclipse. This is probably also best illustrated by a diagram (from Starts With A Bang!):

As the moon travels through Earth's shadow, it looks like a progressively larger bite is being taken out of it, until the moon completely enters the umbra and turns this gorgeous shade of red. And why does the moon turn red instead of just going black? Well, folks, it's the same principle behind the question of why the sky is blue and why sunsets are red. As the sun's light passes through the Earth's atmosphere, the blue part of the spectrum is scattered, while the red part remains unaffected. Thus, the redder parts of the sun's spectrum are refracted by the Earth's atmosphere and the moon looks red. Because of this, the redness of the moon during an eclipse can depend on the atmospheric conditions on Earth, ranging from a bright orange to almost black.

The last lunar eclipse I saw was in February, 2008. It was a perfectly clear and freezing night, and the Bishop's Observatory was open to the public. My toes were completely numb by the time totality was finished, but it was still an incredible experience. If you want to know more about the mechanics of lunar eclipses, there's a really neat animated explanation here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sheepy Awesomeness

Brenda Dayne blogged about this about a year and a half ago, but I thought it was worth a re-posting. Behold! Shepherds being awesome!

Monday, December 13, 2010


Sorry guys. No Astronomy Monday today. I've got a stupid cold and I'm feeling the crunch from a paper deadline. Yes, there's too much astronomy in my real life for me to write about astronomy in my blog. Don't worry though... Holidays are coming up, and I'll be able to write about cool stuff in space to my heart's content next week.

As a consolation prize, please accept this goofy picture of one of my (more or less) recent projects:

His name is Slurpee, and as you might have guessed (if you're a fan of Futurama), he's a brain slug. The pattern is Brain Slugs by Alicia Ramirez, and this is the one time I actually used the yarn recommended by the pattern... completely by accident too. He was supposed to be the boyfriend's Halloween costume, but of course, the boyfriend forgot him at home when the big day arrived. Poor Slurpee. Oh well, at least he got one big night on the town.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The sweater that wanted to be a One-Week sweater...

... but instead ended up taking three weeks to make, which, to be fair, is still a pretty short time to make a sweater in, at least for me. I started making the Three-week sweater when my mom came down for a visit about a month ago because I had her Christmas present on the needles, and so couldn't work on that. Also, I've been meaning to make this sweater since before I even learned to knit.

The sweater is Painted Lady by Jenifer Paulousky from the Anticraft. It's a top-down raglan crop-top with thumb holes, and I think it was that last feature which attracted me to the pattern more than anything else. When I was in high school, all my friends had hoodies that had thumb holes. For some reason, I never bothered to go shopping for one (and they were probably out of my teenage budget anyway), so I did without thumb holes with envy in my heart. But heck, now I knit, so I can make thumb holes in all my sweaters if I want!

My sweater started its life as four skeins of Malabrigo Merino Worsted Yarn that was given to me by a friend who was clearing out her stash (I've gotten some of my best yarns that way). It's absolutely delightful, both to knit with and to wear! The labels had disappeared by the time I inherited the yarn, and I'm fairly sure that one of the skeins was from a different dye lot, but I didn't care so much. Seriously... if you can get your hands on some of this, it's so soft and squishy and warm and wonderful...

Anyway, onto the sweater. I followed the pattern for a medium until I got to the underarms, where I tried it on... it was kind of baggy, and I worried that the ribbing would float around under my bust instead of clinging to my ribs, so I decreased a few times, which seemed to do the trick, knit the ribbing and bound off the body. This whole process took me six days, and I figured I could finish the sleeves in another day or two.

Turns out sleeves are boring because they took another week by themselves. I knit them using the magic loop method to knit both at the same time, and finished off the cuff and thumb holes with double-pointed needles. And of course, accidentally knit one of the thumb holes backwards the first time, but that was easy enough to rip back and fix. I should note that I used a smaller needle size for the different ribbings because apparently that makes them look better (and I guess it did).

I wore the sweater to school and upon asking what people thought, some said it would look better as a full-length sweater, and others thought it looked fine as is. The tipping point was probably that both my mom and the boyfriend thought it looked silly as a crop top. So, upon the advice of a friend, I just undid the bind-off and continued the ribbing until the sweater was about hip-length. This was also the point when I ran out of yarn... convenient! Seriously, I had to pull around the bound-off stitches so that I'd have enough yarn to bind off the last two or three stitches. I think they call that knitting on fumes.

In the end, I'm very happy with this sweater. Even if it wasn't as quick as I had hoped, I'm very pleased with the modifications I made, and this was worth taking a little extra time. I must say, the ribbed body is much more flattering than a crop-top and to tell the truth, my tummy did get cold when wearing it at the shorter length. After having worn it for about a week now, the malabrigo is pilling a lot, but I think this is a price I'm willing to pay for such a soft, warm sweater!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Spreading my influence

My awesome friend Joanna over at the Happy Seamstress has honoured me with the task of occasionally writing in her blog. You can read my first introductory post here. I plan on writing about knitting and crochet, with the occasional free pattern or tutorial, or whatever else craft-related that strikes my fancy. Good things have already come from this, since I've been asked to review the new Stitch 'n Bitch book, which involves getting a complimentary review copy! Woo!

Joanna will be using the Happy Seamstress website to eventually sell sewing patterns. She's an awesome freelance designer, and a really talented knitter to boot. A little while ago, she was featured all over the internet for this amazing Super Mario sweater vest she made for her husband. It's seriously epic.

Anyway, you should check out the Happy Seamstress blog if you just can't get enough of me (I know, I know...) or if you want to see what other awesome things Joanna has come up with.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Astronomy Monday: Rethinking the Structure of Life

The big thing in science news last week was the NASA announcement that a micro-organism has been discovered that uses arsenic instead of phosphorus in its cell components. That is, it uses arsenic instead of phosphorus in its DNA, in proteins that transport energy throughout the cell, and in the phospholipids that form the cell's outer membrane.

These little guys are bacteria found in Mono Lake, a very alkaline lake with large amounts of dissolved arsenic in Eastern California, and have the complicated name GFAJ-1. They look something like this:

Well, that's neat, you might say, but why is it really all that important?

The primary ingredients that make up life are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus. All life that we knew of on Earth (until very recently), absolutely had to have these elements in order to exist. Life-forms have been found which substitute the trace elements necessary for life, such as certain types of molluscs substituting copper for iron as an oxygen-carrier, but these six primary elements were always present.

The fact that these bacteria are able to use arsenic instead of phosphorus means that it is possible that any one of the six major elements could be substituted for something else, and that life might be more ubiquitous and in much stranger forms than previously thought. When astronomers look for traces of life on extrasolar planets, which is made possible by observing the light of the planet as it transits in front of its host star, they'll have to consider more than just traces of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus.

How, you might ask, would it be possible for life-forms to substitute one element for another? Doesn't each element have unique qualities? Well, the answer to this question lies in the Periodic Table of the Elements (image shamelessly stolen from the BBC):

You might have noticed that arsenic, denoted as "As" is in the same column as phosphorus, denoted "P". As it turns out, elements in the same column in the periodic table have similar properties because they have the same number of valence electrons, that is, the same number of electrons in their outermost shell. Elements that have the same number of valence electrons can form similar bonds with other atoms. This is also why science fiction writers have been thinking for years about silicon-based life forms, because silicon is in the same column on the periodic table as carbon, and thus can form chemical bonds in a similar way.

Anyway, this is a far cry from finding life on other planets, but it certainly alters our perception of what can be used for the basic building blocks of life. You can find the Science Express article about these really cool bacteria here.

Edit (Dec. 7, 2010): CBC News announced today that University of British Columbia Prof. Rosie Redfield blogged that the methods used to determine that these bacteria use arsenic instead of phosphorus were sloppy at best, and that the results might not be correct. I'm looking forward to finding out how the pans out and to seeing what the scientific community comes up with!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sunspots and Falcons

On Monday, my friend (whom I shall call N) and I gave an astronomy tour to a small group of grade 5 and 6 students from a local elementary school. We started off with a planetarium show, which, amid cries of "Let's fly to Saturn!" and "Oooh! Can you zoom in on that again?", I tried to keep within 45 minutes. Needless to say, our planetarium super rocks.

We then went up to our observatory, where we were able to see the sun through our 8-inch telescope with a solar filter. We actually got to see sunspots, which was pretty impressive... It looked something like this (courtesy

After all the kiddies had thanked us and left, N and I decided that since we were already on the roof, we may as well hang out on the building's balcony for a while. The balcony looks like this:

As we turned the corner, we both stopped dead in our tracks. Right in front of us, sitting on the edge of the railing, was a really big bird, which I'm pretty sure was a peregrine falcon. We managed to sneak towards it, hiding behind the short columns on the balcony until we were within a few meters of it. At that point, it decided it'd had enough of us and casually jumped off the ledge to fly away. N managed to get some decent pictures with his iPhone:

(Who knows why that last picture looks so strange? I guess we'll say it's impressionist and call it a day.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Astronomy Monday: Looking for light from the end of the Dark Ages

My friend and colleague Greg has the coolest thesis topic ever. He used to be my office mate and we had the same supervisor for our first graduate research projects. I was doing a numerical project, which involved running simulations of dark matter particles clustering and doing lots of statistics on their power spectra... maybe another story for another day. Anyway, most of my work was done sitting at a computer in my office, running code. Greg, on the other hand, was smart enough to choose the observational project, which would land him several free trips to India.

To understand Greg's project, I guess we should first go over a brief history of the universe, which began 13.7 billion years ago. In the beginning, and for the first few hundred thousand years, the universe was filled with a hot dense plasma, that is, a gaseous state where the electrons are separated from the nuclei in most of the atoms. In this state, light couldn't travel very far because the photons were easily scattered by all the free electrons. As the universe expanded, it eventually became cool enough for the free electrons to recombine with their atoms, and all the light that had been bouncing around between these electrons was allowed to escape. We call this light, now red-shifted to the microwave part of the electromagnetic spectrum, the Cosmic Microwave Background.

For a while after this, the universe was pretty boring. For a few hundred million years, it was filled with this neutral hydrogen gas, which slowly started to clump together into what would become the first structures in the universe. Astronomers like to call this time the "dark ages" because there was no new light being produced. Eventually, the first stars formed from the collapse of hydrogen gas and there was again a source of photons in the universe. This new source of energy caused all the neutral hydrogen gas to again become ionized, and the electrons were once again separated from their nuclei, but now, since the universe had expanded and cooled considerably, light could travel long distances without being scattered. We call this the Epoch of Reionization.

Here's a pretty picture, shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia (and before that from the WMAP site, I think), which nicely illustrates this history of the universe:

My friend Greg is actually trying to observe this transition, to basically get a picture of the universe as it changed from neutral hydrogen to ionized hydrogen. But how, you may ask, would you be able to distinguish this neutral gas from its ionized counterpart? Well, it turns out that it's very difficult and necessitates the exploitation of quantum mechanics.

Neutral hydrogen is made up of an electron orbiting around a proton nucleus. These subatomic particles have something called "spin", which has to do with their angular momentum. When the spins of the electron and proton are aligned, the atom is in a slightly higher energy state than when they are anti-aligned. Thus, there is a very small probability (something like 0.000000000000003 times per second) that the electron will change its spin, and give off a low-energy photon. Here's a picture illustrating this from Hyperphysics (where you can also find out more details about this transition):

Even though this transition is extremely unlikely for a single atom, when you get a big bunch of neutral hydrogen together, it happens quite often. The emission of 21-cm radiation from neutral hydrogen gas has helped us map out this gas in our galaxy and in other galaxies. And Greg is looking for the 21-cm emission from the neutral hydrogen at reionization as it started to change into ionized gas, a process that would have happened gradually, in clumps around the first stars. Computer simulations seem to indicate that it would look something like this, where the ionized gas is indicated in orange, and the neutral gas in green:

Now, this 21-cm radiation is visible to radio telescopes, which is why Greg got to go to India... He went to the GMRT (Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope) array, near Pune, which is the largest radio dish array for metre-wavelength range of radiation. He keeps telling me that India isn't so great, but when I see pictures like this (taken in the middle of winter, no less), I can't help but be a little envious:

A lot of his time there has been spent looking for radio interference on the ground, caused by transformers, power line junctions, and loose wires in contact with power lines, and finding these means spending a lot of time wandering around in a farmer's field with a goofy-looking radio-wave receiver:

Unfortunately, the 21-cm signature of reionization is still much fainter than the foreground sources from the ground and in space, and so Greg hasn't been able to detect it yet. He did, however put some upper limits on its power spectrum, which you can read all about in his most recent paper!

P.S. Pictures from India provided by Greg himself.

Monday, November 22, 2010

More astronomy, less... hooks?

I really enjoyed writing about that astronomy colloquium the other day, so I think I might write more about cool astronomy things here. Maybe I'll do an "Astronomy Monday" thing or something, though that isn't nearly as alliterative as I'd like. Anyway, today is still Monday (for a little while), so this will hopefully be the first of many sciencey posts.

On Thursday, November 18th, astronomers reported in Science Express that they had found the first extra-solar planet, called HIP 13044 B, that originated outside of the Milky Way galaxy. It's actually part of our galaxy now, but it originated in a galaxy that the Milky Way cannibalized, that is, ripped apart and absorbed.

Now, how can we possibly tell that this planet is of extra-galactic origin? Because of the great distances involved, the 500-something extrasolar planets discovered so far lie within a few hundred light-years of the Earth. (Though some people at UofT think they might have found a way to find planets in other galaxies.) However, the movement of HIP 13044, the star around which this planet revolves, seems to indicate that it's part of the Helmi Stream, a long string of stars which has been tidally distorted and pulled to form a loop around the galaxy. Numerical simulations and observations seem to indicate that each tidal stream around our galaxy used to be a dwarf galaxy or globular cluster that was pulled apart by the Milky Way. Here's a pretty artist's rendition of tidal streams from Wikipedia:

There are a couple of other peculiar things about this newly-discovered planet. The first is that the host star, HIP 13044, is extremely low metallicity, which means it contains very few heavy elements. In astronomy terms, heavy elements are any element heavier than helium, such as carbon, oxygen, up to iron. Anyway, this star has the lowest metallicity of any planet-bearing star discovered, at about 1% of the sun's metallicity. This is remarkable because the metals within a star are thought to be essential to the formation of planets, and this star having so little of them seems to challenge our knowledge of planet formation. Looky! A graph showing this star's metallicity compared to other stars that host planets:

The other peculiar thing is that the host star is in its red giant phase, which means that it has stopped fusing hydrogen into helium at its core, which causes it to become bloated and red. When the sun enters this phase, it will expand beyond Earth's orbit, totally destroying our planet. But don't worry, this won't happen for a few billion years. Here's a pretty picture of the life cycle of our sun from Wikipedia:

So if HIP 13044 is in its red giant phase, it might have engulfed other planets in the system that were closer in, and in fact, the higher than expected rotation rate of the star seems to indicate that this did indeed happen. In addition, it looks like the planet HIP 13044 B might be about to fall into the star itself as it enters its next phase of red giant expansion.

Finally, this planet was found using the radial velocity method of detection. In a nutshell, the presence of a planet around a star will cause it to wobble in its orbit. Because of the Doppler effect, as the star wobbles towards us, its light is slightly blue-shifted, and as it wobbles away from us, its light is slightly red-shifted. Here's a nice little animation, again from Wikipedia:

From the wobble of the star, we can tell that the planet has a mass at least 1.25 times that of Jupiter and an orbital period of 16.2 days. And it isn't Monday anymore. Darn.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A return(?) to potholder fame

As you may recall, a few months ago, I posted that Star Trek Potholder pattern, and then the next day, I was super excited because I got almost 100 favourites and five comments on Ravelry in the first 24 hours it was up. The pattern, in case you're interested, is currently up to 57 projects, in 381 queues, and has been favourited 742 times.

Anyway, to further boost my already inflated ego, I was featured on CRAFT Magazine! You can find the post here with 37 (38 if you count contractions as two words) whole words extolling my awesomeness. Thanks for posting, Rachel Hobson!

Speaking of which, I still haven't made any double-knit potholders for myself. I should really get on that... maybe with Star Wars designs!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Taking pictures of stars

Today was the Karl Kamper Memorial Lecture here in the ol' DAA, and one of the first astronomy talks in a while that has actually gotten me excited about astronomy. Prof. John D. Monnier of the University of Michigan gave a talk entitled "Imaging the Surfaces of Stars", where he described his involvement in using the Michigan Infrared Combiner (MIRC) of the CHARA Array on Mt. Wilson, CA to actually get an image of the surface of stars.

This is super cool because it's really really hard to take a picture of the surface of a star. As prof. Monnier explained, the size of a star compared to the distance between stars is about one to 5 million, and so to be able to resolve the disk of a star, your telescope would have to be able to resolve about 0.000001 degrees, or a few milliarcseconds. That's equivalent to being able to see a penny from about five hundred kilometres. The size of the telescope needed resolve even the closest star in visible light would have to be at least 40 meters across, which is bigger than any telescope built to date. (So whenever you look at any star through a telescope, it looks like a point of light, and not a resolved disk, and so isn't much more interesting than looking at it with the naked eye.)

Fortunately, prof. Monnier and his group are able to image stars through the magic of interferometry! This is basically combining the light from many small telescopes to make it seem like one big telescope. This is fairly easy to do with radio waves, but considerably harder to do with shorter wavelengths, like visible light. However, on Mount Wilson, they've managed to do this with an array of infrared telescopes, and have taken the image of the surfaces of several stars. Here's a picture of Altair they took in 2007:

Now, you may notice that Altair is not uniform in colour (and thus in temperature). This is because the rotation of the star causes it to be more flattened along its axis of rotation, and bulges around the equator. This means that the surface at the equator of the star is further from its core, and is therefore cooler at the equator than at the poles. (This is really an over-simplification, but the idea is essentially right.) Monnier's group has found that for very rapidly rotating stars, the temperature gradient between the equator and the poles can be several thousands of degrees, and that's where the trouble begins.

Why would this be a problem, you may ask? Well, astronomers like to classify stars by their temperature, and when the difference in temperatures on the surface of a star is larger than the classification temperature range, this makes their lives very difficult. And knowing the actual temperature of a star is very important for, say, placing it on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram:

Prof. Monnier also talked about his work in imaging the star Epsilon Aurigae. This is a very special object because every 27 years, it is eclipsed by something. It was postulated that there was some sort of compact object in a binary orbit with the star that has a large dusty disk, and whenever this disk would pass in front of the star, the star's light would be blocked. Sean Carroll wrote a really long blog entry about it a few months ago, so I won't go into too much detail. The really cool thing is that in 2009, Monnier's group was actually able to image this dusty disk passing in front of Epsilon Aurigae.

There were also a few other things that I can't remember off the top of my head right now, and obviously I didn't take notes because I was busy knitting. Observational astronomy and stellar astrophysics aren't really my thing, but when cool stuff like this is going on, it's hard not to get excited!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My very own Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

So, I didn't actually acquire the fictitious encyclopedia from Douglas Adam's Trilogy in Five Parts, but I did buy myself a Kindle. However, with unlimited access to Wikipedia a lot of other websites (email, facebook, or anything with flash don't work so well), it's pretty close to being the electronic guide to the known universe. Good ol' XKCD illustrates it pretty well:

I haven't actually bought any of the Kindle books off Amazon yet, but so far, it's pretty damn amazing. I've loaded up a bunch of pdfs of my favourite knitting patterns, of ebooks I got off Project Gutenberg, and of scientific papers I use for my research. Also, I can access the internet all the time, from anywhere... for free. Take that, iPad!

Because I love it, and because everything I love must be wrapped in yarn, I had to make it a case. Also, the case had to be awesome. I thought I'd model it after the cases they sell on amazon specifically for the Kindle, with the fancy leather top cover and elastic holding it together. I had planned to make it double-knitted, with pockets that I could fit cardboard into to make it stiff... Anyway, I ended up with this monstrosity...

It just wasn't going to work... Discouraged, I went the simple route. I looked through the Harmony Guide "101 Stitches to Crochet" and found a neat checkerboard colourwork pattern. Of course, then I ran out of yarn three quarters of the way to completion, and had to continue in a different yarn, and figured I may as well change the stitch pattern as well.

And then I sewed in a zipper because zippers are cool.

I'm actually really happy with the result. It's sort of hip and quirky. The plan is to next stitch on the words "Don't Panic" in neon green. It'll be awesome.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sometimes I just want to knit yards of stockinette...

After the labour of love that was my beautifully cabled sweater, I wanted to knit another sweater, but I wasn't up to knitting anything incredibly impressive. I wanted something easy that would just fly off the needles with minimal finishing. What I ended up with was this:

The pattern is the Buttony Sweater by Katie Marcus, and it certainly fit the bill for simple, mindless knitting with minimal finishing, being a top-down raglan and all. It took me less than a month to knit, which is really fast for me. The main reason I picked it was because I found all these green buttons in my big bag of buttons that I got from Zellers, and I wanted to use them all in the same project. I picked a yarn, Knit Picks Swish Bulky in the Tidepool Heather colourway, to match the buttons and I bought as much as was recommended on the pattern's Ravelry page.

As you can see from the picture, I ran out of yarn before I could finish the sleeves. In fact, because I didn't feel like knitting back, I did the ribbing in some left-over Marble Chunky. I was a little disappointed by that, but I got over it. It's super comfy and warm. To make sure my arms don't get cold, I wear it with either my belladonna sleeves or the arm-warmers that go with my icelandic non-turtle-neck.

I followed the pattern pretty closely and didn't bother with waist shaping. The sleeves I knit two at a time, using the magic loop technique with a really long cable, which ensured that they would be the same length. I'm not entirely happy with how the button band looks, but I don't care enough to go back and change it. I really like the construction of the top-down raglan, and I'll definitely make another. I'm eyeing the Painted Lady pattern off the Anticraft website.

In other news, the X-mas knitting has begun! Therefore, I won't be posting much about things I'm working on now until after the big day, but fortunately, I have enough of a backlog of stuff I've been meaning to blog about, that I should be able to hold out until then. Woohoo!

Monday, November 1, 2010

More baby things!

This is totally me right now:

I have a conference to go to on Friday, well, technically a meeting, and I'll be giving my very first talk in front of people who actually know what I'm talking about. We're supposed to have a practice talk session with my supervisor tomorrow afternoon, and I've finished... well, maybe the introduction slides. This is because I'm procrastinating. In fact, right now, I'm procrastinating from my procrastinating, since I got distracted from reading blogs on Google Reader to write this blog post. I sure hope my supervisor doesn't read this.

Anyway, I thought I'd take this opportunity to show y'all some baby things I made recently which I can now display proudly since the recipients have received them (yesh, I spreak the Engrish). First up, we have baby legwarmers!

I got the inspiration for these from Kelley Petkun's Knit Picks podcast (that lady is full of good ideas). The motivation behind baby legwarmers is that babies often wear these little onesies that are legless and their little legs might get cold. And the best part is that when you're changing the baby, you can leave them on!

I made these from a free ball of Patons Kroy Jacquards (in the colourway Cameo) that I got at the Stitch 'n Pitch, which means they're washable, and also adorable. I used the pattern Baby Leg Warmers by Erin Cowling over others, mostly because of the author's nickname. I made only one major change, which was to add increases for the thigh.

Next up, a baby-sized aviator cap!

I made this using some gifted Knit Picks Andean Silk in the Slate colourway, a highly inappropriate yarn for baby things, but I don't care. The little flower is crocheted out of some left over Noro from that baby surprise jacket I made. I used the Aviatrix baby hat pattern (Ravelry link only) by Justine Turner, which I am definitely going to do again in an adult size for myself (maybe in lime green?).

Finally, the world's saddest elephant:

I made this using some of the left-over Andean Silk, so it's super soft, but it's totally going to be ruined the first time it's washed. I used Cristina Bernardi Shiffman's Oliphaunt pattern, which has rather cryptic sewing up instructions, and thus I attribute my little guy's wonkiness to this fact. Of course, I also did the pattern in stockinette instead of garter stitch, which may have also contributed to the wonkiness. Whatever. He's cute.

And a bonus shot of my cousin's baby (who all the above things were for) wearing her handknit booties!

D'aw! Ok, now back to writing my talk... ahem...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Knitting Guru

Image credit: Kaspareks

I feel like the enlightened master of yarn and pointy sticks. Call me the Knitting Yoda. (By the way, I just did an image search for a picture of Yoda knitting... none to be found. I will have to change this.) The reason I feel this way is because last night, I gave my first real knitting lesson.

The girlfriend of one of my colleagues, whom I shall call S, expressed an interest in learning how to knit after seeing my beautiful cabled sweater, and last night, we got together for an informal dinner and a knitting lesson. I found out that the real reason she wanted to learn was because my colleague has a really nice hand-knit scarf from an ex-girlfriend, and S wants to knit him one to replace it and/or so she can steal the old one.

Anyway, S was a very quick learner. She had bought some straight aluminium needles and some gorgeous red Manos Del Uruguay Maxima. I first taught her how to hold the needles and make a slip knot, and then how to do the knitted cast-on. This is a trick I learned from Kelley Petkun (of Knit Picks fame) and it's particularly effective because the motions of the cast-on are the same as actual knitting.

I then showed her the basic knit stitch, and when she had done a few rows of that, I showed her how to purl, and then how to bind off. I also showed her the long-tail cast-on, just because I like the look of it better than the knitted cast-on, and if she's going to be knitting a gorgeous scarf for her boyfriend, it aught to look as professional as possible.

It was particularly helpful that S is German, and so learned to knit as a child in school using the Continental style, which is the one I use. I don't particularly have anything against the English style and I'm able to do it, if necessary, but I'm not very good at it. Anyway, it was nice to be able to share knitting theory with S, a lot of which I learned from Debbie Stoller's Stitch 'n Bitch, without having to think about how I was making the stitches myself.

I'm certain that she'll be well on her way to making her boyfriend a wonderful scarf before long, and I'm definitely looking forward to our next knitting lesson.

Monday, October 11, 2010


For as long as I can remember, my mom has always grown her own basil to make pesto.

At the end of summer, when the basil plants had developed to their full potential, Mom would go in with the secateurs and cut down the tall stalks, leaving only the bottom leaves to grow into a second crop. Then began the lengthy process of plucking all the leaves off the stalks.

She would have the food processor going all day, combining the fresh basil leaves with parsley, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan and olive oil (using Molly Katzen's Moosewood recipe) to make this gorgeous stuff.

Every year, she gets quite a lot of pesto out of it.

This year, when I was visiting home at the end of August, I helped out a bit, but even when I don't, I still try to take some home with me. The boyfriend and I put some in almost everything... including this gorgeous homemade pasta with mushrooms and spicy seasonal vegetables:

So Ma, we've just run out... time for a care package?