Saturday, December 5, 2015


I've written before about my experiences cosplaying as Sailor Moon at the Indianapolis Comic Con, and my experiences were similarly positive when I cosplayed her again at the Anime Central (ACen) convention this past summer. In fact it was even better because I got to participate in a photoshoot with other Sailor Moon cosplayers! I had no trouble portraying Sailor Moon's bright, bubbly personality, even though I'm normally more subdued than she is.

Look how much fun we're having fighting over the love interest character at the Sailor Moon cosplay photoshoot!

But I also cosplayed Itachi, a male character, at ACen, and I've made a costume for another male character, Dirk Strider from the webcomic Homestuck, which I wore on Halloween. These are examples of "crossplay," or cosplaying a character that does not share my gender. I love both characters (in fact, I think they're rather similar to each other, which may be why I like them both), and I plan to wear these costumes again at the three upcoming cons I'm attending. But... I had much more trouble "getting into character" with them than I did with Sailor Moon.

Itachi from the anime/manga Naruto
Dirk Strider from Homestuck

First, let me clarify: from my observations, cosplayers don't "get into character" very often. Mostly, they walk around the con as themselves, simply wearing the costume outwardly. They pose for pictures in the character's signature poses, might participate in character-specific jokes and banter with friends and others who recognize their characters, and might act in a skit during the cosplay contest, but the rest of the time, cosplay is usually more "costume" and less "play." We're fans, after all, not actors trying to portray the character flawlessly.

 The most "in-character" photo of Dirk I have is not the full-body shot I posed for, but this mirror selfie in which I'm portraying him as not too pleased with the silly magical outfit that was bestowed upon him!
But even during those short moments of trying to be in character, I found it difficult to identify with these male characters. Maybe it's because their somber personalities are so different from my own, but I think gender has a lot to do with it. For instance, consider their weapons. All three of the characters I've mentioned in this post do a lot of fighting, as fantasy characters tend to do, and of course, I don't spend my days fighting. Both Itachi and Dirk tend to use conventional blades (in fact, I plan to make a katana, because it will be an appropriate prop for both of them). Sailor Moon's weapons, on the other hand, include stereotypically feminine things like a tiara, pink rods with moons on them, and a crystal. It's not just the items that are gendered; it's the characters' actions too. While Dirk and Itachi wield their weapons in dynamic action shots with intentions to directly strike their opponents, Sailor Moon's attacks are usually dance sequences that send magic at her opponents, often healing them of evil rather than hurting them. I would have no problem brandishing one of Sailor Moon's rods around, but when I tried to wield a throwing star as Itachi, I felt awkward, and my friend told me I was posing too timidly for the picture she was taking.

A lot of cosplayers don't have this problem. They find it liberating and easy to transgress silly gender stereotypes like the idea that swords are somehow more appropriate for men. For some, cosplay even helps them explore alternative gender identities. Maybe I simply haven't cosplayed enough male characters yet, or maybe I haven't yet found the "right" male character for me who's close enough to my personality to make me feel comfortable acting like him.

My current project is interesting from a gender perspective. Inspired by a "combined cosplay" workshop I went to at ACen, I'm making a costume that combines aspects from both a male and a female character: Elsa from the movie Frozen, and Zuko from the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender. I haven't yet decided whose personality the new combined character will have. Ideally, there will be aspects of both. It will be interesting to see how I feel while wearing the costume!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Lacing Up

Do you find yourself sometimes drawn to garments and accessories laden with giant, gaping holes?

Me too.

My first-attempt lace-like scarf start. 

Ok, maybe the holes are not giant and gaping. Let's try stable and intentional.

Lace knitting is a beautiful technique that incorporates wonderfully patterned yarn overs in order to create a light and airy knitted piece. I like the delicate feel and appearance of the technique, but further, I am interested in the pattern architecture.

In my initial days of knitting, I was intrigued by lace. However, many seasoned crafters let me know in that nice "it's-something-to-look-forward-to" gentle let-down type of language that I should become more comfortable with the motion of knits and purls before I attempt something complex, like lace.

With a few months of knitting under my belt, I was ready to take on a bit of a fiber challenge.

"Why not?" I thought, "Why not try something tricky?"

After sweeping Ravelry for a few hours, "That's so pretty!" became "Wow. That looks really tough." and eventually, I settled on "Alright - no. Nope. Not skilled enough yet." However, I was still enticed by the look of the hole-y (not holy, Blessed Yarn is something different) knits, so I dug some older yarn out of my stash and tried to figure out how to make the look I wanted. I found the solution in the number four.

Knits galore in groups of four.

Even numbers are friendly to knit with, especially when working with yarn-overs and knit-togethers. A knitter can create patterns, as shown in the lace-like knit above, without losing stitches. To make this scarf, I casted on twenty-four stitches. This number was really important for the whole project, for a different number would create chaos in the pattern. I learned this the hard way, through observation of lots of mistakes.

This scarf requires twenty-four stitches on the needle for the entire pattern.

For a few days, this project took over my life (only a slight exaggeration). While knitting, I would have to stop mid-conversation and count my stitches over and over again, only to become more distracted when I got to the end of the needles and -- oops! only twenty-three stitches there. Quite frankly, this pattern took a long time to craft and I'm not sure how valuable it it, for the scarf does not quite have that super-holy and delicate look I was going for. Perhaps I will try to knit lace with one of the "too tough" patterns I passed before.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Becoming a Cowl-girl

Function > Form

My bike rides home from work are getting darker and colder. I'm reluctant to admit that the beautiful and comfortabley worn-in garter stitch scarf I have been wearing is not doing the job. It is too short to wrap completely around my neck enough times. The chilly air always seems to find its way to that space between the end of my helmet and the beginning of the jacket.

It's become clear that I can solve these types of problems by simply making the solutions.

A few weeks ago, I accepted my scarf's weakness and decided to knit a cowl. A cowl functions like a scarf but is knitted in the round. I searched through Ravelry and landed on a drop-stitch cowl pattern, designed by Abi Gregorio. I picked this pattern in part because it called for size 15 needles and chunky yarn, which is a winning combination for thicker knits. I could visualize how the cowl would work so nicely for a two-wheeled commuter (like me!). In addition, the design incorporates an intentional dropped stitch - an interesting feature that was initially a challenge for me to visualize.


To make the pattern work for me, I chose to knit the top more tightly that the bottom. Although this intentional change subtly throws the symmetry across the x axis, the tighter stitches encourage the cowl to stay closer to my body near the top of the design. I also knitted a shorter cowl than pictured in the original design because the function of the cowl did not require the (approximate) ten more rows in the round.

For this piece, I used a Malabrigo Rasta super-sized wool, which is easily one of the most beautiful materials I have ever worked with.

The completed drop-stitch cowl.

This is the first time I have deviated from a pattern. I perceive these small changes as progress in my knitting ability. It was fun to make a cowl, but even more enjoyable to customize the piece. Here, the vision of the completed piece informed the process of making.

Cowl-girl Up

I do love a great knitted scarf, but I may have to admit that the cowl has knitted up my heart. For starters, a cowl is easy to wear. Further, the practice of knitting in the round enables the knitter to create three-dimensional pieces.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Stitchy Statistics

It seems like every week, Kate is posting some cool new thing she found people doing that combines knitting with math, science, or computer science. Well, now it's my turn with sewing (but... I still have Kate to thank for bringing this to my attention in the first place :)!

Nausicaa Distribution is an Etsy shop that sells handcrafted statistical and mathematical gifts. Some of them are simply cute statistical logos and images that they print on t-shirts, like "Chisquareatops."

Others, like zippered pouches or drink cozies, have pi or equations embroidered on them.
Euler's Identity zippered pouch, found on Nausicaa Distribution's Etsy shop here.
They also sell cross-stitch kits and patterns so you can make your own mathy crafts.
Shapiro Wilk test of normality cross-stitch pattern

But perhaps most fun of all are the statistical distribution plushies! They range (range! See what I did there?) from the normal distribution, to chi-squared, to things I've never even heard of before like Erlang and Cauchy distributions. Just look at these cute little guys!
Nausicaa Distribution's Etsy shop: custom plushies
As far as I can tell, the plushies are sewn to be as accurate to the shape of these statistical distributions as possible, and include embroidered details of not only cute faces, but also variations in the distributions and/or standard deviation locations. It's a fun way to emphasize the inherent beauty in mathematical patterns, as well as the connection between textile crafts and math. The shop's owners, Nicole and Shannon, both have Masters degrees in Statistics. As Nicole describes it, "I have always enjoyed sewing and crafting, so opening an uber-nerd Etsy store seemed to be the perfect adventure." Hooray for nerdy crafting!
Evil Poisson Distribution! Mwahahaha!

You can find Nausicaa Distributions on Etsy, Twitter, Facebook, and BlogSpot!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Binary Knit-Purl

Some fiber artists are beginning to draw parallels between knitting patterns and typical coding expressions. The structure of a knitting pattern can look quite similar to regular expressions in computer programming. In this featured blog post, Holly Korbey unravels the value of hands-on learning and creative craft that knitting can bring to the classroom. 


“Thinking is like cosmic knitting,” Waldorf school founder Rudolph Steiner wrote nearly one hundred years ago. Steiner  developed a comprehensive handwork curriculum for Waldorf students based on this idea, filled with knitting, sewing and woodworking, believing that “a person who is unskillful in his fingers will also be unskillful in his intellect, having less mobile ideas and thoughts.”Today’s Waldorf students still knit socks and whittle kitchen spoons and many Waldorf schools shun the use of technology. Those two things — handwork and technology — might seem at first glance to be at odds. But there’s a case to be made that handwork and computing  — and the kind of process that links the two — are more closely related than one might think.

When electrical engineering professor Dr. Karen Shoop of Queen Mary University in London took her first knitting workshop, she noticed immediately that knitting is very similar to writing computer code. “I noticed that knitting instructions are largely binary (like computers) – in other words, knit or purl,” she said. “More interesting were the knitting instructions, which read just like regular expressions [of code], used for string matching and manipulation when coding.” Shoop also recognizes that the earliest stages of computing were inspired by handwork: “Of course, computers ultimately started off partially inspired by weaving and the Jacquard loom, or earlier Bouchon’s loom. Arguably some of the earliest programmers were the people making the card/paper punch hole patterns for weaving patterns.”

Shoop explains that regular expressions are simple but powerful for both searching and simplifying code, and are used in both knitting and codingto read patterns. In the essay “Knitters and Coders: Separated at Birth?”she writes, “In knitting notation (assuming an even number of stitches) it looks like:

Row 1: *k1, p1; rep from * Rows 2: *p1, k1; rep from *, orRow 1: (K1, P1) rep to end Row 2: (P1, K1) rep to end.Repeat these 2 rows for length desired.

“Computers do not understand the words we used in our explanation above: words like ‘row,’ ‘repeat,’ ‘rep,’ ‘to,’ ‘from,’ ‘end,’ ‘length’ and ‘desired,’ for example.” But what if the knitting pattern were written in code? Using coding’s regular expressions, the knitting notation above turns into something like:


“Students often feel anything to do with computing (especially coding) is in a separate bubble,” she said. “And I wanted to show that we ‘code’ in our outside world.” Shoop even had a student — an enthusiastic knitter — who, as a senior class project, developed a digital tool that could recognize and generate new knitting patterns.  “We’re interested in how creativity can inform technology and help create and inform new tools and technologies to support the creative process,” she said.

Working with the hands can help both boys and girls develop thinking skills as well as fine motor skills, both of which are sorely needed in schools, says Michael Gurian, author of Boys and Girls Learn Differently. “For males [in general], handwork helps with fine motor skills, and for females [in general], it helps with diagrammatic thinking, found in the highest levels of geometry and physics,” he said. “School is fine motor-oriented, and we need more boys to get fine motor skills early.” Gurian would also be interested to see if handwork like knitting or woodworking would be a way to interest more girls in STEM fields, hoping that something like Shoop’s knitting project might serve as a guide for longitudinal studies finding a connection between handwork, engineering, and computer coding.Seeing how the hand is connected to learning goes beyond skills matching or STEM, but to the roots of human biology, says Stanford neurologist Frank R. Wilson, author of The Hand: How its Use Shapes the Brain, Language and Human Culture. In a keynote address given to the department of Humanities and Human Sciences at Point Park College, “Hand-made Minds in the ‘Digital’ Age,” Wilson implored teachers to incorporate more handwork into school work.

“It seems abundantly clear to me that, because of the process of co-evolution, the hand enjoys a privileged status in the learning process,” he said. “Being not only a catalyst but an experiential focal point for the organization of the young child’s perceptual, motor, cognitive, and creative world. It seems equally clear that as the child comes to the end of the pre-adolescent stage of development, the hand readily becomes a connecting link between self and community and a powerful enabler of the growing child’s determination to acquire adult skill, responsibility, and recognition.”

Shoop isn’t sure that k-12 students can learn anything specific from knitting (“Being a devil’s advocate,” she remarked, “does it have to teach anything? Knitting as making activity could be sufficient.”),  and warns that teaching large classes of students to knit does have drawbacks — including the time to check everyone’s work. Yet she admires how the tangible, sensory experience of knitting and the seemingly intangible world of computer coding are so closely linked. “I loved the fact that there is a perception (usually wrong) that there’s a world of computers (soulless, technical, ‘geeky’) and a completely different domain such as knitting (traditional, ‘female’, craft) – yet there is a clear overlap.”

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Not a Knot: Our friend, the Garter Stitch

As we say hello to scarf season, it's a great moment to go inside, take out our needles, and unpack the garter stitch.

Many knitters begin their fiber art journeys with the the garter stitch technique. It is arguably easy to make and understand. The repeating series of knit stitches can be used to create scarves, and many knitters talk about the meditative nature of the repetition. However, a closer look reveals a more complex side of the friendly stitch. 

An illustration of the garter stitch pattern. 

 When knitting, the working yarn comes around the needle and through a pre-existing stitch. A resulting loop is created, which the knitter then slips from the left needle to the right needle. The garter stitch provides an approachable conceptualization of what it means for a stitch to be a loop; the stitch is not a knot. 

Stitches are commonly talked about as knots, but as one can see in the picture above, the garter stitch pattern in created from a series of loops. In this sense, one can think of a hat as a spiral of stitches, not as a set of circles. Through my experience with knitting, I have discovered a deeper level of understanding when I slow down to actually look at the behavior of the wool.  

The working yarn come through the previous loop to make a new loop.

Garter stitches are sometimes viewed as elementary, or simplistic, but it is good for knitters to remember that the underlying structure of any stitch is far from simple. I suggest that the next time you find yourself knitting with a repetitive pattern, take a moment to focus your attention on the architecture and movement of the loops. You may be surprised by what you learn.

The garter stitch pattern is used to make a scarf out of chunky wools. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cosplayers of the World, Rejoice! Joann's Is Getting Cosplay Fabrics!

This week, there was collective cheering in the cosplay community when JoAnn Fabrics announced that it was going to start carrying Cosplay Fabrics. Arising out of a collaboration between the Cosplay Fabrics company and well-known cosplayer Yaya Han, the fabric line will go on sale in Spring 2016. It will include 4-way stretch Spandex, PU leather, brocades, coutil, and even fabric that looks like armor!

The designers' motivation to make these fabrics more available to cosplayers came out of their own struggles to find appropriate fabrics for their costumes. Many times specialty fabrics are not available except in big cities, or online where a buyer can't feel the fabric to make sure it's the proper color, texture, or quality. Bringing these fabrics to Joann's will make many a cosplayer's life much easier.

Swatches of the available colors of Cosplay Fabrics' 4-way stretch Spandex. Courtesy of

The way I see it, this development has several implications:
  1. Cosplay is definitely "going mainstream." This move represents a huge fabric retailer's acknowledgement that cosplayers exist and are a sizeable-enough portion of its customer base that it is willing to cater to them directly. I'm so happy that such a fun and educationally rich hobby is getting this popular!
  2. If fabric-finding is easier, then cosplayers will spend more time working on making costumes, which is the most educationally relevant part.
  3. I hope the prices of these fabrics will not be marked up simply because they have the label "cosplay," since that risks marginalizing cosplayers with limited financial resources. On the other hand, monetary calculations are a legitimate mathematical practice that sewers engage in. Maybe an expensive cosplay fabric will encourage cosplayers to look elsewhere in the store for a similar but cheaper alternative, if one exists.
  4. Some of these specialty fabrics are likely to be more difficult to sew than ordinary fabrics like cotton. Cosplayers will have to learn the affordances of these new materials, like how to not stretch Spandex as you're running it through a machine (if you do, it will pucker). So while these might not be the most novice-friendly fabrics, if novices insist on using them, then they're likely to learn a lot more about sewing than if they used "easy" fabrics.
I'm really looking forward to seeing and feeling these fabrics for myself when they arrive at my local JoAnn's!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Elaborate Designs

I want to begin by saying that I am totally enjoying my Re-Crafting Math project. It has given me so many opportunities to meet wonderful people and understand how they use numbers to weave beautiful designs. Today was a special day because I got to meet with the founder of Textillery, Judith Rose.  She began weaving 40 year ago. Currently, she has 12 weavers working for her. Here are some pictures to get you acquainted with her work.

I was mesmerized by the things that she weaves and sells to her customers. I looked around at all the beautiful creations while she finished writing an email. As I moved around, I was awestruck by the textures, designs, and feel of the woven items. I could totally understand why, when she told me that if one of her customers had a fire or something happened to their past items, they had to replace them with new from her because they couldn’t live without them.

Judith shared with me that when she got stuck with numbers her husband created a computer program to make her life easier. Interestingly, her husband, John, told me that she uses a lot of math without even knowing that she is doing so. She said that it is because she loves weaving so whatever she needs to know to overcome the hurdles, she learns it and that clearly shows in her designs.

She said that she found math problems in school out of context. Since I have taught math for eight years, I immediately understood what she meant when she said that she was taught math using problems that didn’t make sense to her. All the weavers I met have communicated that their school math programs lacked encouragement and real life problems that could connect them with their passions.  

When I look at their beautiful craft, I know that they use high concepts of math along with what they learned in school mathematics. The best part is that they don’t even realize that they are using it, it comes naturally to them. I could see that they are naturally curious about math if it is related to what they like to do or if it is a part of the world around them. When Judith explained the basics of weaving to me, I figured out that the fabric design line is elongated when the slope of the weaver’s angle is greater than one and if it is less than one the fabric design line is shortened and the weaver would use less yarn.

I am looking forward to having more such awesome experiences and share with you guys in my next blog post!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sewing and Spatial Rotation

Hey there! Remember me? This is Sophia, the embedded sewer/ cosplayer. It's good to be back in the blogosphere! Several months have passed since I last wrote an update here, but I've been busy with Re-Crafting that whole time! Over the next few weeks, I'll report on what I've been up to.

I haven't shared here yet the most complex costume I've made to date, the one of which I'm still most proud. I made it at the end of the spring semester, partly as a final project for an art class, but mostly just because I really wanted to be able to dress up as Itachi, my favorite character from the anime and manga series Naruto. I mean, just look at this menacing awesomeness!

Last weekend at the Fablearn conference in Stanford, I presented on my experiences so far with the Re-Crafting Math project. Perhaps the most educationally compelling aspect of my cosplay-making exploits is the way I've found that sewing forces you to think hard about visualizing rotation and 2D-to-3D transformation. Fabric starts out two-dimensional and flat, and you need to envision what it will look like when worn by a three-dimensional person in order to understand what shapes to cut out and how to put them together. If you're using a pattern, those are usually drawn on flat pieces of paper, and also require mental transfer from 2D to 3D. On top of that, sewing usually requires you to sew inside-out, so your stitches are on the wrong side of the fabric and won't be visible from the right side. Making sense of that requires even more spatial visualization so you can keep track of what's inside-out and how it will look when you turn it right-side out.

Since I've never been good at spatial visualization, this became particularly confusing for me when sewing the sleeves onto Itachi's cloak. I had already sewn the sleeves into tubes and the body of the cloak, so none of these pieces was flat anymore. It was very difficult to then figure out how to put them together so the right sides of both pieces were facing each other and so the stitches at the shoulders wouldn't show. I ended up pinning one sleeve on inside-out from the way it was supposed to be, and not until I turned it right-side out and actually tried it on (that is, not until I physically embodied the spatial rotation) did I realize that it was backwards.

So, sewing clearly gives people practice with these skills. This is important because sewing is stereotypically considered a woman's craft in our culture, and women are also assumed, in general, to not be as good at spatial rotation skills as men are. This spatial stereotype remains despite the fact that a 2008 study suggested that gender differences in spatial rotation test scores were entirely based on stereotype threat.

What if giving girls more practice with sewing helped to improve their spatial skills and to close this gap? (I bet boys would benefit from learning to sew too!) What if spatial rotation tests were based on, for instance, sewing patterns rather than on the pictures of blocks that they normally entail? Since some engineering programs require high scores on spatial rotation tests in order to admit you, finding ways to close the spatial gap has important implications for gender equity in STEM. We hope to start confronting these issues head-on in our Re-Crafting work!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Going back to the basics......

As a math teacher, when my students were stuck on a hard math problem I would tell them to “go back to the basics” in search of an elegant solution. I found this tactic to be extremely helpful because it made students use their past knowledge to solve their new problems and develop new methods along the way. During my first weaving class, we had to use a Knitter’s Loom, calculate the length, number of ends, finished width, percentage of shrinkage and wastage. While I was weaving I experienced using my analytical and problem solving skills with a calm and patient mind to weave warps and wefts as I did when I managed large messy data sets. The basic mathematical skills to use the loom made me think of weaving intricate patterns and develop coding to create those patterns. I experienced many skills that are critical to left and right brain development. In addition, I have met amazing people who support my beginner weaving and help me feel a sense of belonging to a community.

I was constantly telling myself “why did I wait for so long and not dive into weaving earlier as a hobby for me and to use as a tangential learning tool for my students.” This has truly been an amazing experience. Now, I will let the pictures do the talking. I am very excited to be part of this community.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Pooja Saxena - Fiber Artist

I am a new weaver joining a community of very enthusiastic, talented, and creative individuals. I am excited to use weaving as a means to understand mathematics and how mathematical minds work through the intricate craft patterns. I am a mathematician by profession, a constructionist in approach, and an ardent lover of numbers. For six years I taught mathematics to both high school and undergraduate college students. Over a decade ago, I began my work to integrate education and technology for developing curriculum for math learners in the US and low SES (Socio Economic Status) students in India. My life is enriched with stories of female students and their mathematical experiences; particularly in understanding specific techniques that motivate them. During my third year as a doctoral student in Educational Policy Studies with a minor in Learning Sciences at Indiana University, I took a course taught by Prof. Kylie Peppler. I was truly intrigued by the course and the techniques she used to ignite gender-specific motivation for enhancing mathematical abilities. During this course, I worked with Justin Whiting to design a roller coaster made out of paper as a part of a Creativity Lab activity. We focused on tacit and explicit forms of play and collaboration to enhance individual, and in some cases tangential, learning. Our project raised a set of questions requiring further exploration; questions such as: (1) In what ways can participants learn physics concepts through the use of a paper roller coaster?; (2) To what degree do participants demonstrate greater understanding of the concepts after building and using the paper roller coaster? Additionally, it generated many complex questions about Physics in the real world and how people make knowledge claims based on what they already know.

A key focus of my current weaving task is to understand what motivates or deters young female students to engage in the STEM fields. I have joined a weaving class in Bloomington, to enable me to effectively explore this subject through the Re-Crafting Math project. I am looking forward to researching how weaving can motivate mathematical thinking in girls. 

Look out for my incredible threading, tie-up, and treadling experiences that I plan on sharing with you on this blog!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Let's watch a movie. A knitted movie.

Greg Climer is creating a short film, and he intends to use a knitted scarf as the reel for the film.

Climer, a faculty member at Parsons School of Design, does not knit by hand. In fact, he admits he is "terrible knitter", which is a surprise, given the complexity of this undertaking. Climer creates pieces on knitting machines. He learned to use this technology at a factory, where he was able to distill frames of his films into knit.

Have you ever heard something like this? Me neither.
Climer has a movie sample for the curious.

Here, Climer answers a few questions about his making process:

KS:  How and when did you learn to knit?

GC: I don't know how to knit. Ive been collaborating with a knitting factory for this project. They taught me how to set up files for the software their machinery uses but the actual running of the machines is something they have not taught me. Understandably, they don't want a layman using their incredible equipment. 

KS: What was the inspiration or motivation for the knitted project?

GC: Knitting is just pixels. Knitting machines and jacquard looms are the predecessors of computers. There is a direct evolutionary link between the loom and computer graphics so it just seems logical to knit a film. 

KS: What draws you to art and making? How did you find yourself in a creative field?

GC: I've always worked in creative fields. I studied Theater design in my undergrad and Design Technology for my MFA. I've always been happiest using my hands. Most of my career has been working with other artists or craftsmen. For this project, I started with a film clip. I broke it into individual frames. Those frames were compressed down to the four colors of yarn and the individual pixels per perl. These files were then knitted, photographed, and restored to video. 

KS: Is knitting a new skill? If so, why did you pursue this traditional women's craft?

GC: Is it traditionally women's? Knitting and weaving machines were the province of men during the industrial revolution. When the Luddites smashed the machines, they were men working under a male leader in an attempt to protect a male trade. I've never thought of knitting as gender specific. 

That said, I understand what you are getting at. I've noticed that when a craft moves from domestic to industrial, it ceases to be gender specific. Anonymous housewife vs Alexander McQueen. It's a hypocrisy in our society about what women can do and should do. Women can do crafts at home but if it expands to the realm of fine art or high fashion, its a man doing it.  There is a great book about the guilds and the evolution of sewing from men's guild to women's craft.

Traditionally women's should not be a slur. it should be a badge of honor. History is filled with amazing women whom most men would be lucky to be compared with.

KS: Can you share a bit about your making process? 

GC: I have a studio space in my home. Its a loft in Brooklyn. I have a cutting table and industrial sewing machine. Parsons is an incredible resource for making facilities. At work I have access to laser cutting, a wood shop, and industrial machinery that I would normally not be able to access. In the summer time, when the school is less busy, I will frequently go there to work.
I work for a few hours at a time during the school year. Part of my job as faculty at Parsons to have an active creative practice, so its something I make time for either at the end of my workdays or dedicating a day to it each week. During periods where it is entirely implementation, such as when i'm sewing a quilt that's completely laid out and designed, then its extremely meditative to spend a few hours sewing pieces. When it's the more creative, problem solving periods of a piece it is also invigorating but in an entirely different way. I always have multiple projects going on at once so that 

I can move between those different experiences as needed. In the summer I consider making art to be a 40 hour a week job. I'm about to workshop the script for the knitted film with some collaborators, then I am heading to Florida to film it with a high school drama class. After that, I will spend the rest of my summer editing and refining it so when I begin knitting it we do not waste any effort. During this time I'm also working on other pieces, some quilts, which will help me stay refreshed when my brain is exhausted from thinking about film making.

KS:  Is there something about fiber arts that is of particular interest to you?

GC: My career has always been in costume design and fashion design. I work as a fashion designer who teaches creative pattern cutting techniques. Our relationship with clothing is extremely personal. The way we use garments and the narratives we instill in them are incredibly strong. They are artifacts of communities and narratives. Because of my work as a fashion designer and pattern cutter, textiles are the medium i am most confident using for expression. When I'm trying to convey an idea or explore possibilities of a medium, it makes sense for me to work with textiles since they are where I am most facile. 

I am looking forward to watching how this knitted story unfolds.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tink again

"Why is important to fix mistakes?"

"Can I give this as a gift if a few stitches are dropped?"

"Do errors really 'add character'?"

These are the thoughts I have as I knit, tink, and reknit the stitches that will someday work together to create a shawl for my Mom. This shawl has taken some time, which comes as a surprise, for I have knitted this pattern before. The difference this time is that this shawl is not for me; it is a gift.

When I knit a garment for myself, it seems acceptable - and maybe even charming - to leave errors in the piece. Instead of fixing each mistake, I often keep small, less-noticeable mistakes in the textile. These errors can be meaningful, as if I am in on a secret that no one else knows about. I know where the small hole in the hat is and no, I will not go back to darn it. Yet these subtle flaws seem to carry a different weight when present in knitted pieces intended for gifts.

What is the role of an error in a piece made for someone other than self?

It seems that these errors do not have a place in garments for gifts. To tink is to knit backwards. "Tink" is quite literally "knit" spelled backward. So, I will tink and knit and tink again until the shawl for my Mom is complete.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Thinking outside of the yarn shop

What happens when you look beyond the yarn shop to find your material?

Anne Mondro does just that. Wire is her medium, the human body her muse. Not only has she figured out how to crochet with copper wire, but she has managed to create and anatomically-accurate human heart out of this material. 

This is not your typical crochet done with yarn. It’s wire. And it’s 3D. Anne Mondro, the Artist in Residence at the Icelandic Textile Center, is using crochet to make us think about illnesses and diseases in a whole new way. 
Using narrow-gauged tinned copper wire and a crochet hook, she created 3D sculptures in the shape of anatomical hearts. Mondro spent a year researching the anatomy of the heart, including time at the U-M anatomy lab and using 3D modeling software to learn how to create the heart forms with her crochet hook.
The idea of the sculpture is to reflect on the strength and challenges of relationships during times of illness and disease. Mondro believes creative work and healthcare play integral roles with each other. In 2006 she developed a course called Retaining Identity. In it, art and design students pair with persons with dementia in order to explore the role of creativity in the healthcare setting. The course works with the U-M Geriatric Center to explore the potential of art to lift the human spirit in times of illness.
"This piece is very personal. I’ve been working with older adults with memory loss and their caregivers. It’s so intense to be a caregiver. When you care for a loved one, the two of you become intertwined. You take on their vulnerabilities but also their strengths. As I thought about that relationship, it was important that these forms be tied together somehow."


Monday, June 8, 2015

A lab that knits together learns together

The Re-Crafting Mathematics project is moving forward at full speed, and the Creativity Labs team is stitchin’ up something good in the crafting classroom!
The CL team learns to sew reusable shopping bags at Gail Hale's makerspace. 

Through a series of hands-on crafting workshops, the team has had the opportunity to collaboratively craft, think and learn about the implicit mathematics of traditional women’s crafts. We first learned to sew together from local making and crafting guru, Gail Hale. She introduced the CL team to sewing machines, bobbins, and lots of other fun tools (never underestimate the utility of wood-burning tool). More recently, we engaged in a group knitting lesson. Karen - an instructor and talented technical knitter at community craft shop, Yarns Unlimited - introduced the team to slip knots, cast on techniques, and of course, our beloved knits and purls.

Check out The Creativity Labs blog to read more about what happens when the CL team takes on the wonderfully woolly world of fiber arts.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Hollis Architzel: Lunchtime Knitting

Hollis Architzel, a special educator and private tutor with My Learning Springboard, wrote this blogpost, in which she explains how she used knitting to spark interest in mathematics among her students.

In the article, Architzel writes about her concern for mathematics understanding among her students. She describes how she chose to foster a lunchtime knitting club in order to explain number-related concepts in “a different way” and that eventually the group was “able to use knitting as a platform to explore more difficult word problems.” These observations reflect the potential some teachers have already found in knitting as a vehicle for communication of mathematical thought.

By Hollis Architzel

Originally Posted April 15, 2012


"As a teacher, what do you do when your students don’t understand something? You explain it in a different way. When I realized several of my students were having trouble with math, I began looking for ways to explain things differently. My background is in Special Education, and one of the first strategies we learned was incorporating hands-on activities into learning. Using this as my guide, I began to explore various hands-on methods to include in my math instruction.

While the initial results were promising, I still had students struggling. One of the biggest obstacles was student frustration. Many students, after years of failure and frustration in math, had completely shut down. This obviously made it difficult for them to learn. My challenge, then, was to find a way to reconnect students to math, help them experience success, and get them moving in the right direction.

The answer I came up with was knitting. I have been an avid knitter for more than ten years and I always thought it would be fun to be able to share this skill with my students. What I didn’t realize was how useful knitting could be in teaching math. I organized a lunchtime knitting club that met every Friday. About twenty of my students signed up and I split them into two groups so I could give each student more individual attention. The first few sessions were mostly devoted to teaching the kids how to knit. After everyone had mastered the basic knit stitch, the math fun began!

First, we focused on computational skills, like adding and multiplying. We worked out real life problems like, “If I cast on 30 stitches and knit 6 rows, how many stitches did I knit?” The students would draw a picture, use numbers, or actually knit the stitches to find the answer. I also brought in some of the more complicated knitting projects I was working on. We used these patterns to transition from acting out a math problem to being able to solve it using numerical representations. The kids had a lot of motivation to practice using numbers, even if it was difficult, because they wanted to know how many stitches I had completed, and it took too long to actually count 216 x 35 stitches.

Eventually, we were able to use knitting as a platform to explore more difficult word problems. I would ask a student, “How long do you want your scarf to be?” The student would decide and then we would develop a word problem such as, “If you want your scarf to be 20 inches long and each row is .25 of an inch, how many rows do you need to knit?” Students were able to solve the word problems using drawings, models, and numbers. Then they got to knit the answer!

Lunchtime knitting was a great way to maintain student motivation and connect my students to math in a creative way."