Congrats to Kenya A. from Utah, who is a beginning knitter looking to challenge herself with a state-of-the-art project.

It was, not unsurprisingly, a difficult task to pick the winner. All of the comments had me either laughing, “aw”ing or just plain in awe of people’s plans for the bag, but Kenya’s stuck out. This bag has a pioneer spirit, and so does Kenya, who’s willing to try out a complex project even though she’s new to the whole knitting thing.

Kenya says:

I’m thinking I would like to do something out of the ordinary in cuteness with the kit. Like maybe make the LEDs into lightning bugs. I am really, really excited to work with this kit.

Good luck!

So, first, let’s get the most important part out of the way.


That’s what my Horrible Sister* calls a “dolphin squeal of joy,” and it is what I did when a certain someone at the awesomest online knitting destination (that would be Knitty) sent me an email that I’d gotten a project accepted to Knitty’s Spring 2010 issue.

The project?

A bag that knows your knitting project as well as you do. The Know-It-All Knitting Bag actually has a computer chip built into it in the form of an Arduino LilyPad. The LilyPad connects to a push button and 10 LED lights–each one a stitch in a knitting-chart grid. I’ve done all the coding for you, so it’s just a matter of plugging the LilyPad into a computer and syncing it, much like you would an iPod or cell phone. For the full pattern and instructions, go visit and then come back to for the custom-code and row-counter generator.

See The Know-It-All Knitting Bag in action!

Of course, the bag itself isn’t the whole story. It never is, at least for a good historian (which I am hopefully becoming). Context makes the object, after all, and in this case, I mean that quite literally.

I spent the summer and fall of 2009 cramming the last 100 years worth of scholarship on medieval history into my head en route to a 3-hour oral exam aimed at a PhD in Medieval History.** It turns out that when you empty your head of 6 months of reading in 3 hours, some equally complex problem-solving challenge has to fill the void, or you’ll go crazy. So in the two weeks after my qualifying exams, my fevered brain made a connection between a past computational textiles workshop I did with Dr. Kylie Peppler at Indiana University and a future Knitty deadline. In a timely stroke of serendipity, this Knitty submission was exactly what I needed to wean my brain slowly off of the academic adrenaline high I’d been on for six months.

All of that extra energy that suddenly had no academic outlet went into scheming. About the functionality of light-based chart patterns, about the possibility of row counting, about the conductivity of puffy paint. And so, I knitted and felted and learned about electronic circuits and programming (badly) in C. And screwed up. Quite a bit.

Felted Baguette Bag

The first felting attempt not so much in proportion, no?

It may very well have been the screwing up that really helped in the post-exam decompression phase. It was refreshing to know that I could screw up as many times as I wanted to without any significant consequences (Knitty deadline notwithstanding). The stress of connecting that much scholarship and keeping it ready for instant recall actually created the environment necessary to pull such a broad variety of untested skills and unfamiliar components into what ultimately (after all of the problem solving was done) is a very simple project.

The Know-It-All Bag felted grid and LEDs

I wanted every single element of this bag to be entirely functional. The pins in the bottom right of the LilyPad don’t control any components, so they’re not sewn down with thread, conductive or otherwise.

And yes, it really is simple. This was my first time working with needle felting, electronic circuits, computational textiles, and C programming. The instructions are really detailed, but the level of competency required for each skill is very low. That means a low barrier to entry for any knitter who wants to try a whole bunch of new stuff and still produce a really spectacular Finished Object.

The Know-It-All Knitting Bag is (like the Arsenal gloves after it) a very collaborative effort. I had help working through the project at each step, so props must be given where props are due. Inspirational thanks to Kylie A. Peppler from Indiana University’s Learning Sciences program, Leah Buechley from MIT Media Lab’s High-Low Tech Group, and their teams for holding the computational workshop that started this project. The workshop and Arduino LilyPad materials for the prototype bag were funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation to Kylie A. Peppler (NSF-0855886). Particular thanks are due to Joshua Danish for helping solve several of the engineering and design obstacles that helped make the Know-It-All Knitting Bag a practical possibility for any knitter instead of a specialty toy for a few select geeks. If Joshua provided the geeky perspective, The Best Knitting Group Ever provided the knitterly perspective, helping me translate electronics-speak into language knitters can understand. Finally, Nathan at Sparkfun put together a special kit for Knitty readers that contains all of the components necessary to make the bag and then provided two kits as give-away prizes (one here, one at Knitty, we’ll keep you posted).

*I’m “Terrible,” she’s “Horrible,” and Mom is “No-Good” thanks to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

**No, I don’t have the PhD yet. Qualifying exams first, then a dissertation proposal (also done), and then the dissertation and earning of degree (so very, very far from being done).

Right, so all of my writing mojo has been going here instead of, well, here. However, the last week has brought a few fun knitting-related things, two of them in print as of now.

First, an icy, snowy, wintery-blue sock designed for Three Irish Girls with snowflakes arching up and around the ankle. The Spiraling Snow Socks were really quite challenging. I wanted a spiral that swooped gracefully around the ankle bone, but I didn’t want to sacrifice a longer cuff either, and this design accomplished both. Let me also briefly mention how much I covet an entire sweater’s worth of the Kell’s Sport, which is oh-so-squishy and lovely. (Though this would, of course, require me to knit an entire sweater in sport weight, and, well….)

Second, a sweater that uses two totally different yarns to create texture, designed for Yahaira Ferreira’s Pure Knits book. It’s been almost 2 years since I designed this, and it was really satisfying to see the final product surrounded by so many beautiful patterns bound together into a single theme. I will be knitting the men’s herringbone hat-and-scarf set in this book in the next 3.5 seconds, and it will be mine, all mine!

Next up? More academic writing, and some secret knitting that makes me want to stalk the product pages at Amazon until the link is live and I can finally post.

I guess it’s been one of those weeks. You know, a week where everyone seems to have exactly the same week?

Blogless Norma and I have been splitting the sleep allotment of a single person–and apparently, the same kind of obsessive behavior when it comes to combining coding and academic research–but that doesn’t really photograph well.

What does tend to photograph well is a confluence of knitting. Chemgrrl has been working on a scrum-diddly-umscious pair of orange Sock-Hop knee socks for a few weeks, perhaps as long as I’ve been working on a much more boring pair of navy knee socks knit of Karabella Margrite (or something like it in sport weight, can’t remember, details TBA). She’s just been more diligent about documenting her work.

No longer. No longer will these socks be hidden in the shadows of my procrastination, subject to the injustices of my slackerdom.

Knee Socks

But where’s the other sock?

The only thing I’m worried about is whether or not I have enough yarn to make it just one more inch in pattern before I start ribbing, which should allow the socks to cover my ridiculously large lower-leg area.

Like chemgrrl, I had to do some in-pattern increases to get the poor socks to fit. Unlike her, I’ll probably release a pattern at some point.

Knee Sock Calf Increases

Look at how planned that looks…. Not at all as though I winged it. Wung it?

And, like chemgrrl, I hope someday to name these after someone in my knitting group, because it’s The Best Knitting Group Ever ™.

It finally happened. My horrible sister and I were nice to each other for a week, and the day she was scheduled to leave, Indiana got 13 inches of snow.

Which gave me just enough time to publish a new pattern perfect for this kind of weather: a quick-knit super-bulky hat and scarf pattern that will be done before the next snowstorm hits….

The Mistaken Identity Hat & Scarf was finished a few weeks ago, but I didn’t have it test-knit or verified until just a few days ago. But it’s done now, and just in time! Yay!

Look, I’m serious for once!

The pattern in full is available for purchase at Ravelry, here:

There is something profoundly weird about the life academic. The strange juxtaposition of grade-or-die work binges slammed up against equally intense periods of absolutely nothing can be a little jarring, even though that parabolic cycle of rest and ruin fits my own preference for a very strict, careful division between work and play. I have, if you will, my own little personal firmament* that divides work from play, semester from break.

This winter break, the division between work and play wasn’t accompanied by a plane ride anywhere. Instead, the play** of break wrapped itself around the same geographic surroundings that had marked the real work of the semester. Finding a way to reconcile the change in behavioral patterns without a concomitant change in environment was a little isolating and required quite a bit of readjustment. Ultimately, the new non-geographic way of dividing work from play rendered up any number of worthwhile things, some corporeal and tangible, others slightly less so.

Among the corporeal:

Socks On Ice

Finally! At long last! I had time and leisure to finish the final edits on a basic 2×2 ribbed-sock pattern that has sizing for the forked heel. It’s available for purchase now at Ravelry and it never would have gotten done if not for the photographic stylings of chemgrrl. (Thanks!)

The socks (and a hat/scarf set that is still to come) were accompanied by intangible rewards: personal validation, though that too had a corporeal form in the shape of evaluations from students. Good ones. Really good ones. So good that I’m almost afraid to talk about them any more, lest I jinx myself for this term….

2008 was a very serious test, in many many ways. The early part of last year’s academic summer break, and the accompanying early-summer break-up, tested my will to pursue a life undertaken with great care and intent, and that meant serious consideration for what’s most important in that life. Fall semester brought with it not just another division between work and play, but a growing division between gloomy past and promising future. Friends and family (hey, that’s you!) have provided support in spades, but it still came down to whether or not I could harness all of the help and good will flowing in and channel it effectively in the unexpected process of reshaping my life. As a result, the fall semester was one long pep-talk. I kept reminding myself over and over again that the measuring tape that matters most is the one in my own head, not the one that someone else handed to me.

The ongoing emphasis on internal validation coupled with the strange, isolating, unfamiliar shape of this winter break meant I had lots of time to think. That’s been good, but it also had me feeling a little bit like I was tuned to a different frequency than everyone else. The stack of very important papers sitting next to me, heavy with the penciled-in scribblings of students, proves that occasionally, regardless of how sure you are of what you want, what matters is some sort of sign from the outside world that you and it are orbiting the sun at basically the same rate.

*You know, the firmament? From Genesis? It divides the waters below from the waters above. And God called the firmament heaven? Nevermind….
**”Play“! Hah! Take that, Derridaean critical theorists!

Two wrongs–or in this case, four similar wrongs and a screwy cast-on–finally make a right.

The slouchy hat that tortured me last week is, this week, my willing accomplice in knitting success.

A good oops

I struggled with what to do with this bulky yarn and like the results enough that I’ll be putting together a pattern. When I have pictures that do the finished product justice, that is.

Now I just need a camera capable of capturing the saturation of Alchemy’s Koi Pond colorway, because my little guy just can’t handle reds and oranges. There is, however, hope on the horizon. A digital SLR body awaits, though it will be delivered by dog-powered sled from the far reaches of snowy Alaska.

Not really, but saying my mom and sister will have it in their carry-on luggage when they visit from Portland doesn’t quite evoke the same dreamy visions of a young Ethan Hawke frolicking with wolves in White Fang.

The world is, indeed, topsy turvy. Kinda like this baby set.

Topsy Turvy is comprised of a top-down hat and toe-up baby booties with a forked heel. Babies have pronounced heels and fat feet, so making baby socks that fit can be difficult. The forked heel helps out by creating a longer, wider heel that will stay on.


A common cast-on technique for toe-up socks also doubles as a cast-on technique for the top-down hat. This adaptation takes the pain out of small-circumference circular cast-ons and might just win you over for your next shawl, too.

Basic 2×2 ribbing is flexible enough for new parents to get squirmy babies into both the socks and the hat.


I love my camera. My Canon SD1000 is a tiny thing of limitless wonder, and I have spent the last year finding ways to use the Canon camera hack to make my life as a graduate student better after reading a post about it on Lifehacker.

To wit: A 10″x13″ piece of half-inch thick plexiglas and a bendy tripod coupled with the camera hack that takes automated interval shots gets me an upside-down scanner that can shoot high-quality OCR-able scans of a 250 page book in under 20 minutes. Voilà, an electronic book in PDF format that I can use with Skim to double my reading speed and still take good notes. Truly a life saver when I have a big chunk of reading to do.

But the qualities that make my little point-and-shoot darling a fantastic scanner sometimes get in the way of real photography. Unless you’re made of stone, the camera sometimes doesn’t focus properly, and trying to get a nice photo that’s well lit under any circumstances is a near-impossibility. Even with a decent flash and good ISO control, no photo taken in normal lighting will ever be a great photo because the optics aren’t the best.

Lifehacker to the rescue again. This time, they pointed me toward a DIY photo studio in a box designed to create near-professional lighting and backdrops. I still need to get a better camera, but this will tide me over for the time being…

Macro Photo Studio

The subject? A new pattern, a baby set that’s been turned on its head. The knitting, testing and pattern editing are nearly complete, and it should be out tomorrow. Today. At some point in the next 24 hours. Whatever…. Clearly I need to re-regularize my sleep schedule.

This time, the baby stuff is even tinier and cuter! Little baby forked-heel booties! Now with extra exclamation points!

Knitting these make me think that the writers at How I Met Your Mother had it exactly right when they had several characters fawn over the tiny socks of a newborn.