Hyperbolic crochet

You never know what you’ll learn at the library!

Recently, the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library began hosting a monthly Fiber Arts Meetup, which is culminating next weekend (Nov. 18) with a Coral Reef Community Art Collaboration. Although there are many kinds of relevant crafts and projects, one that was featured was hyperbolic crochet. Rather than being an exaggerated form of crochet, this is the process of creating “negatively curved” surfaces. This is a word for a surface that curves in two directions away from what is “flat” (tangent), like a saddle (bending down on your left and right, and up in the front and back). A positively curved surface bends only in one direction, like when you’re on top of a mountain looking down on all sides. A surface with zero curvature would be infinitely flat in all directions.

You can play with this in crochet. If you crochet a doily or a potholder, that generally would have zero curvature. But if you wedge in extra stitches so that they simply cannot lie flat, you’re going to generate a curved surface. The method I learned for hyperbolic crochet simply has you doubling the number of stitches in each hole as you go around, an exponential growth that creates a very organic-looking ruffled structure:

And because yarn (and knitting) is flexible, the same shape can shift into another 3D configuration where the negative curvature is even more evident:

It is surprisingly fun to play with this object and feel how it moves and shifts. What you can’t do is make it lie flat, at least in our three-dimensional world. Each row has twice as much length within it as the previous one. Such a fascinating construction! Thank you, Mari Beth, for teaching me!

The joy of finishing things

Today I finished knitting a pair of socks that I started in January, 2010. That’s right, over a year and a half ago. Progress went in fits and starts, interrupted by trips, other knitting projects, and various daily demands on my time. About a month ago, I was all but done; one sock was complete and the other needed only the final bind-off row to finish it. A single row of knitting! But work and life got really crazy, preparing for my sabbatical and then traveling for a few weeks, then packing up and moving. I never could justify the time needed to sit down, look up and remind myself the details of Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off, and knit that row.

Today, mission accomplished.

And oh, how much more this means than finding time to execute a row of knitting! I have finished something! I finished a pair of socks. I now have these beautiful Coriolis socks knit from Painted Desert yarn:

And more than that, I have the psychological satisfaction of having finished something. One item, at least, can be removed from the mountain of Unfinished Things. I think all of us can, at a moment’s notice, come up with a list of things we haven’t completed: the shoelace that’s broken, the window that sticks, the yard not mowed, the book halfway read; and all of these add to the background level of stress we experience. Even cats, apparently, can experience frustration when given toys that can never by “caught”, like a laser pointer or a mouse inside a plastic tube.

How simple, how pleasurable it is to actually finish something!

Yes, you can fly with knitting needles

I get this question all the time on planes: “They let you bring your knitting needles onboard?”

Yes, despite the curious, tangled, and sometimes ridiculous state of TSA rules about what you can and cannot put in your carry-on luggage, it is perfectly acceptable to bring knitting needles. According to TSA rules:

Knitting needles are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage.

Items needed to pursue a Needlepoint project are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage with the exception of circular thread cutters or any cutter with a blade contained inside which cannot go through the checkpoint and must go in your checked baggage.

Apparently some knitters have taken to carrying this page as a printout with them to security lines, due to inconsistent knowledge of the rules on the part of TSA personnel. I’ve never had a problem with my knitting needles (bamboo or metal) nor the one-inch scissors I bring for snipping thread. (I forgot these scissors exactly once and spent 10 minutes on a plane gnawing through yarn to cut it. I had no idea how resilient yarn is to teeth!)

I think the curiosity about knitting needles arises from the general confusion about the logic behind TSA rules. What is it about 3 ounces of fluid that makes it suddenly safe? Why are matches permitted in carry-on luggage but banned from checked luggage? Why is a pair of 3-inch-long scissors permitted but a 2-inch Swiss Army knife banned?

Another outcome of these rules is that it gets people’s creative juices flowing. If my airplane seatmates are any sample, people who would never have thought to attack anyone with a knitting needle suddenly offer, “But you could stab someone’s eye out! You could get them in the throat!” And of course, since my current needles are bamboo, some immediately conceive of sticking them under fingernails for torture. A reality check reveals how ineffective such attacks would likely be due to the dull nature of knitting needle points, but ultimately it just reminds everyone how any household object could be used to inflict some kind of damage, if wielded by a sufficiently motivated human.

At what point do the TSA rules themselves become an instrument of terror?

iPod iDolatry

I got a 2 GB iPod Shuffle for my birthday (thanks, Mom!) — an entirely unanticipated gift. I’d never owned an MP3 player and, when I’d seen the Shuffle in stores, figured it wouldn’t really be all that useful — no display, you know? But then I got one of my own, and my world changed.

My favorite music is with me everywhere I go! This has literally transformed my commute (via tape adapter), my walks, and even washing the dishes (while I can play the same music through my laptop’s speakers, it sounds so much better through headphones). For walks, it’s almost as good as ThinkGeek’s personal soundtrack t-shirt, except that it doesn’t annoy others around me. (I do have to check my impulse to sing along, though!)

I thought the lack of a display would bug me. But it turns out that it supports the main ways I listen to music anyway — sequential, or random. If I don’t like the current song, I can just skip to the next one. What a beautiful little device!

Even better: I’ve discovered an actual use for podcasts! I’d experimented with a couple in the past, but whenever I’m actually using my computer, I’m almost always processing information (writing code, reading papers, work stuff) in a way that doesn’t permit me to pay attention to talk. But now… I can listen to podcasts in all of those same places (car, walks, dishes)! My favorites so far are:

  • The Loh Life, by Sandra Tsing-Loh: I love her articles in the Atlantic Monthly and, the few times I’ve caught her in the mornings on KPCC, I’ve loved her short (~3-minute) monologues. But it never seems to sync up with my commute these days. No more! Now I have Sandra with me anytime I want! Edit: Sandra also has a daily 1-minute show called The Loh Down on Science!
  • Cast On, by Brenda Dayne: I experimented with a few knitting podcats, but this is the only one that really stuck. I think I’d listen to “Cast On” even if I weren’t a knitter, just for the fabulous music she plays throughout the show. I haven’t recognized a single song, yet I’ve liked every one of them! The knitting-related material is great, too, from her “sweater of the day” stories to the thought-inspiring Essay.

Podcasts, like audio books, are definitely great for knitting accompaniment. Now my Shuffle makes it easy and portable. Can Apple ever go wrong?

Socks are chiral

Left glove, right glove.
Left shoe, right shoe.
Left sock, right sock?

Socks generally don’t care which foot they’re on. That is, even though our left and right feet are shaped differently, socks adapt. They go both ways. So it isn’t often that you have to think of the “handedness” of a sock.

Times have changed!

I recently started knitting another sock. I got through two inches of ribbing and then shifted into regular “stockinette” stitch for the leg of the sock. But instead of knitting around and around and around, I found I had to purl around and around and around. This seemed odd. I was pretty sure that I was knitting the last time I made a sock… but now I had to purl? (Not only that, but purling is (or feels) slower than knitting, for me. Vexing.)

Then it hit me. A sock is knit as one long spiral, around and around. So if you start going clockwise around the outside of the sock, you’re going to be knitting. But if somehow you start by going counter-clockwise, as I apparently did, you’re going to be purling. That is, socks are chiral! They either twist to the left (clockwise) or twist to the right (counter-clockwise). The yarn, I mean. Once the knitting/purling is done, you can’t (or at least, I can’t) tell the difference, and yes, the sock will still fit either foot. But the chirality is still there, buried deep in the sock fabric.

I’ve now made it down to the heel flap, which involves alternate rows of knit and purl. Aha! I think this means that I can correct my error, if I end on a knit row instead of a purl one, enabling me to knit the rest of the way down the sock. We’ll see!

Update (10/12/07): Yes! It worked! I turned the heel and now I’m back in the regular, clockwise (left-handed) mode. Whee!

Older entries »