Crochet, knitting, astronomy & life in general.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

55 Cancri in the Skies with Diamonds

I was recently considered as an interviewee for Radio-Canada (I knew being fluent in French would pay off someday!) to be the "expert" about a recently characterized "diamond planet". I did a lot of research on this new discovery, but I didn't end up doing the interview. Since I hate letting good research go to waste, I thought I'd talk about it here!

Artist's concept of 55 Cancri e - Credit: NASA/REUTERS

This extra-solar planet was first discovered in 2004 (by McArthur et al.) orbiting around the star 55 Cancri A, a sun-like star about 40 light years away in the constellation Cancer. It has the designation "A" because it is in a wide binary system with a much smaller red dwarf companion. McArthur and company discovered the planet by the radial velocity method, that is, by looking at the Doppler shift of 55 Cancri A due to the wobble caused by the gravitational pull of 55 Cancri e. Sort of like this:

Image stolen from Wikipedia

The radial velocity measurement gave astronomers an approximate mass for this planet, and also the orbital period, but it wasn't until recently, when, in 2011, 55 Cancri e was observed transiting its host star (by Winn et al.), that we were able to determine how large this planet is. The transit measurements, by the way, were taken with the MOST satellite, which is the only Canadian Space Telescope. It looks kind of like a suitcase:

Image stolen from UBC's MOST website

Anyway, based on the transit and radial velocity data, it was determined that 55 Cancri e is eight times as massive as the Earth, and its radius is twice that of the Earth's. That would give it a surface gravity about twice as large as on Earth. In addition, its orbital period (or year) is only 18 hours long, which would give it a surface temperature of over 2000 degrees Celsius! We shouldn't go around calling this a second Earth any time soon... it's hot and heavy over there!

The most recent development, which made the news last week, is that astronomers (Madhusudhan et al.) now think that this planet might be made primarily out of carbon. That would mean that it would have an iron core, a layer of diamond (which might be 3 times as massive as the Earth), and a molten graphite surface. Previously, it was hypothesized that 55 Cancri e might have a rocky core like the Earth's surrounded by a layer of super-heated water. That assumes, of course, that it's made of the same sort of rocky stuff as in our own solar system which is primarily oxygen-based.

The plot above shows the radius versus mass of several extra-solar planets, including 55 Cancri e as the red and blue dots (these represent two different measurements). The different curves represent various models based on the composition of the planet, and a primarily carbon-based planet seems to make sense in this case. It helps that the host star appears to have more carbon than our own sun, and that a superheated water layer would be extremely volatile. More measurements, of course, will help determine the exact composition of the planet.

This is the first extra-solar planet that is thought to be made of diamond (unless you count that "diamond planet" I talked about last year), and if 55 Cancri e turns out to be carbon-based, it would revolutionize how we think of planet composition. We usually think of planets being composed of mostly the same stuff as in our own solar system, but there's no reason why some planetary systems couldn't be made up of slightly different stuff!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Summer dying

Well, fall is definitely upon us. I can no longer get away with wearing my flip-flops without freezing my tootsies off, I have had the requisite seasonal cold, and the leaves are starting to turn shades of crimson and gold. Fall is a beautiful time of year (and it does mean pulling out the woollens!), but I do miss summer already. I thrive in the heat and sunlight, what can I say?

And this summer has been a particularly good one for me in terms of improving myself and learning new skills. I learned to run, I lost almost 30 lbs, and in the craftier department, I learned how to hand-dye yarn! This was several months ago, but I thought it would be worth sharing the process with you all.

First, we soaked the roving...

We used Dharma Acid Dyes, which were what Joanna had on hand. They worked quite well, I thought, though one of them ended up being grainy when mixed with vinegar and water.

Of course, all the special squirt bottles had to be labelled, since they weren't going to be used for anything else (at the risk of poisoning someone). We put a little vinegar in the bottle and then a bit of the dye we were going to use.

And then I went to town! Next time I'd probably try to saturate the roving a bit more with dye, but I'm pretty happy with my colour choices.

The final result was amazing. Here it is getting a rinse:

And then hanging out to dry:

Joanna also came up with a pretty colour combination:

And remember that yarn I tried to dye with Kool-Aid over a year ago? Into the pot it goes!

It came out a lovely shade of emerald green that I much prefer to the robin's egg blue it was before:

We tried many more things, and this was the final haul of the day. So many colours!

And now some glamour shots:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Playing catch-up: a summer of knitting

I haven't really been a dedicated knitter this summer. Much of my knitting time during the school year is while on public transit or sitting through seminars. I've been riding an e-bike around since March, and so have only had to take transit a few times, and the seminars are much less plentiful during the summer. Still, I've managed to complete a few projects over the last few months while watching TV shows with the boyfriend, or during a much-needed break from coding or paper-writing. Here are five projects that I've neglected to write about over the summer.

Besides the wedding knitting from the previous post, I've mostly been working on small quick projects because I haven't had the attention span for much else. One of these, my Jayne Hat from the show Firefly, I actually finished in just one day in March. I used the Knitting Ninja Edition of this pattern by Allison MacAlister. The yarn is Cascade 220 held double, and I still have enough yarn to make another one, so that's totally happening. This is the first hat I've made that the boyfriend would actually be happy to wear, so I'll have one for each of us! How cute!

Next, these socks, which I actually finished in December, but never got around to blogging about. They're simple toe-up, short-row heel, knee-high socks with calf shaping, using the same basic pattern as for my Lightning Socks. The yarn is Knit Picks Felici in the colourway Botany (now unfortunately discontinued), which is quite lovely and soft.

After knitting those Mario Mushroom Mitts for Ellie, I figured I was capable of making some gloves without a pattern, and believe it or not, I succeeded! I used the leftover yarn from those mitts, and then, of course, ran out of yarn, so I had to finish the fingers on the second glove with something else... figures. Anyway, I didn't let it phase me too much, and I'm calling them my patchwork gloves.

For Christmas, Joanna had given me a couple of her knitting kits, and I finally got around to knitting one of them in February (ok, still not summer, but I hadn't gotten around to writing about that either). This was one of her cupcakes from the Cherry on Top pattern. It's actually a whole lot simpler than it looks, and the entire thing is knit in one piece, except for the cherry on top. It only took me a day to make. Mine is a chocolate cupcake with strawberry frosting!

Finally, another pair of socks that I really enjoyed knitting. I'm always interested in interesting sock construction, and when I saw the Carousel Socks by Louise Robert, I knew I had to make them. I also just happened to have the perfect yarn from my recent Etsy purchase! The colour changes in Green Progressions Dye's End worked perfectly with this pattern. I think if I were to do it again, however, I'd try to modify them with calf increases so I could have knee socks.

And now I've finally caught you up on all my finished projects! Next time, some adventures in dying (the good kind)!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Crafting for weddings

I've reached the age of weddings... I was invited to four weddings this summer, and at least a couple more are happening within my group of friends which I wasn't invited to (because they were in a different country or whatever). Well, I turned 26 this year, so I guess it's not totally unexpected. (Just don't ask me to get married...)

If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I've made it a tradition to knit potholders as wedding presents (see here, here, here, and here), but somehow I've managed not to knit a single one this summer. Instead, I've been focusing my crafty energy on more lacy and delicate endeavours. So far I've completed two crafty wedding gifts, with a third one on its way (but the wedding is this coming weekend, so it must remain a secret for now).

My first bit of wedding knitting was for a good friend who got married in England on July 1st (so this falls into the "weddings I didn't attend" category). She wanted to have something to cover her shoulders that wouldn't cover up her dress, and that was less likely to fall off than a shawl. The perfect garment? A lacy shrug! I sent her some pattern ideas, and she ended up going for I Do by Jody Prival.

She didn't want the bell sleeves, so I modified it to be the same width from beginning to finish, which actually made the knitting a lot easier. The colour had to match the groomsmen's ties, which were a dark purple plaid. We found the perfect colour of yarn: Cascade Yarns Ultra Pima in the Regal colourway. I didn't have much time to take pictures of the finished project, partially because I had to pull an all-nighter to finish knitting and blocking it before she had to get on a plane the next day. Fortunately, the blushing bride was able to take a few shots for me the morning before the wedding:

The next wedding craftiness came about when I was invited to the bride's bridal shower, and I hadn't bought a gift (I should have known better). As a compromise, I told her that I would make her wedding garter.

I used the Crochet Lace Wedding Garter pattern by Melisa Darnieder. I liked working it a lot, and I think it'll be my go-to pattern if I'm ever asked to make a garter again. The yarn was Patons Kroy 3-ply, which I found in my grandmother's stash, and which I'm fairly sure isn't sold any more.

I made the little crochet rose suggested in the pattern, and finished it off with a little Swarovski crystal in the centre to give it a little bling. Joanna was kind enough to let me raid her ribbon stash, and I found the perfect grippy transparent elastic and a nice wedding-y ribbon. This actually fell under the category of something old, new and blue because it was old yarn, a new thing, and a blue thing. (I could have asked her to give it back for it to be borrowed, but I figured that'd be a little much.)

As per tradition, the bride threw the garter for all the young men to catch, and the above fellow was the lucky winner. I didn't actually get any pictures of the bride wearing the garter, but here's a nice one of them during the ceremony...

Friday, August 3, 2012

Pay-It-Forward #4: A knitted Lord of the Rings bag

Let's not even talk about what a terrible blogger I've been of late. Darn... we're talking about it, aren't we? Anyway, let's just say that crafting hasn't been a huge focus for me of late. It's not that I don't have anything to write about, but my interests have wandered. I've been travelling a ton, riding around on my e-bike instead of riding the TTC (which minimizes my knitting time), and working on getting healthy (you can see my fitness blog here if you're interested). Anyway, I missed this blog, so I'm going to attempt to be better at keeping it up to date.

I'll begin by talking about something else I had put off for a long while: the fourth item I was to make for my Pay-It-Forward exchange. This hand-made gift was to go to Tas, who was the only person on my list who I hadn't met in real life. I really wanted to do a good job on this one since I was going to be sending it to a far-off land, which might have been why it took a while.

What I ended up making was a bag which used the Doors of Durin chart created by Andrea Krüß-Anders. This was actually the second attempt. For the first one, I used Cascade 220, a worsted weight yarn, and the charted piece turned out HUGE! I started over using Knit Picks Palette (left over from my Diatom shawl) and 2.25mm needles.

I used a simple [knit foreground colour, knit background colour] pattern for the backside of the bag so that I could knit it in the round (starting with a figure-eight cast-on). I did an applied i-cord edging which turned into the i-cord shoulder strap. I then did a couple of rounds of single-crochet around the bag opening for sturdiness. The part that took me the longest (for procrastination reasons) was just sewing in the zipper and lining.

I'm actually quite proud of how that turned out. The zipper was the only part I had to buy special, and putting it in was tricky, though not too hard. The lining fabric is actually from the packaging of some fancy headphones a friend who was staying with us bought. I thought it was too nice to throw away and figured it'd come in handy someday. And it did! I might use a different sewing stitch in the future to sew it to the zipper, but I think it still turned out ok.

Curiously enough, I think I'm starting to like colour work... I've avoided it in favour of more textured stitch patterns like cables and lace, but I could see myself doing more in the future. Anyway, I sent this off a little while ago and Tas really liked it! And that's all that really matters!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Knitter's Frolic Goodies!

Ugh... Yes, I know the Knitter's Frolic was almost a month ago, but as mentioned in my last post, I've been a terrible blogger of late. Part of it can be attributed to two major public outreach events only a week apart, and the other part can be blamed on committee meetings, paper deadlines, and all that other graduate student stuff. Anyway, let's put that all aside and think about the fibery goodness from the Knitter's Frolic instead!

I was actually quite restrained when it came to buying things. I really wanted to get an ornate drop spindle from Gemini Fibres and to buy ALL THE CASHMERE from Roving Winds Farm, but I was a very very responsible shopper.

My first purchase was these gorgeous handmade buttons from the woodlot. I totally can't remember what kind of wood this is, but I just love the pattern that the wood grain gives. You should check out some of their other buttons in their Etsy shop... so pretty!

I also got a big fat bag of fibre from Hopeful Shetlands. The mix I got has a lot of lamb's wool in it, so it's veeeeeerrrrrryyyyyy soft. It was a pretty good deal too...

Speaking of fibre, I also got a Fleece Artist braid from the Rose Haven Farm Store. I just couldn't resist the colours. For some reason, my palette preference is moving more towards the greens and yellows, where I've always preferred blues and purples. At any rate, I have a lot of fibre to spin with... and I guess it's time for a fibre diet too, until I get around to spinning up what I have.

Finally, as an early birthday present (and it's my birthday tomorrow, so I get to open it!), my Mom bought me this delectable sock kit from the SOAK booth. It includes a jar of Peppermint Heel Foot Cream and a skein of Lorna's Laces Solemate sock yarn. It's so luxurious, I'm gonna have to find the perfect pattern for it...

Other highlights included the Fleece Artist tasting booth, where we were allowed to knit with all sorts of crazy beautiful and luxurious yarns, and strange bacon and egg yarn (found on the internet here) and textured felted weirdness from The Black Lamb's booth:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Man I'm a terrible blogger... Well, my buddy Erin over at Kniterly has forced me into writing something by tagging me in this game of Knit-tag. Apparently the idea is that I answer these questions and then tag someone else. Erin has already tagged all the blog friends I have who write about knitting, so I think I'll leave out that second part, but here's the first:

1. Are you always happy with your FO’s?

For the most part, yes. Since I joined Ravelry in early 2009, I think I've had maybe 2 or 3 projects that I really haven't been happy with, and even then, it was usually because I either made them too small or accidentally blocked them using an iron on an acrylic carpet (yes, I'm occasionally really stupid). For certain projects, such as my diatom shawl, my Cable Luxe sweater, and my Emma cardigan, I just looked at the finished project and admired my awesomeness as a knitter. Seriously.

2. Are you sometimes so disappointed that you frog everything and start a new project? Why? Color? Yarn? Making? Too small? Too large?

This does occasionally happen. My mother-in-common-law gave me some fluffy acrylic/mohair yarn recently, and the first project I made with it was this very pretty crocheted sweater, the Lush Cowl-Neck Sweater from Sweaterbabe. It had the potential to be really lovely, but even on gauge, and making the largest size, it was still way too small...

Well, I just ripped that sucker out, which was no easy task considering the fibre composition of the yarn. That's happened one or two other times, and mostly because of fit or the yarn just not working with the pattern.

3. Do you wear your knits or do they end up at the bottom of a cupboard? If so, why? How do they age after being washed and worn?

Hells yes! I wear my knitted things as much as possible. I'm trying to build up an entire sock drawer worth of knitted socks. I'll admit that there are one or two knitted things that have ended up at the bottom of the drawer, but for the most part, I'm happy with what I've made and I'll wear it. My socks have aged very well after several wearings. They tend to felt a bit on the sole, but that just makes them squishier. I usually machine-wash them on cold, and then dry them flat. As for sweaters, I wash them very rarely, and usually by hand. They've all stood the test of time pretty well. I should also note that I've been knitting for only 3 years, however, so "the test of time" doesn't mean all that much.

4. Do you always make a swatch? (maybe it should have been the first question, lol ?!)

I very rarely swatch. For garments where I'm not sure about the fit, I do sometimes, but as a rule, I just start knitting the thing, and if the gauge looks about right, then I keep going. If not, then it's frog time. No big deal. I often try to make garments that I can try on as I go, however, or that have instructions like "Knit until it's a certain length" or whatever. I actually swatch more often when I do crocheted garments because my gauge can be very variable in crochet.

5. Finally, would you rather work with some yarns you know well rather than others to avoid bad surprises?

I'm willing to work with almost any yarn. There are a few brands I come back to, but I'm not opposed to trying something new. I've never had a really bad surprise with any yarn. The one exception is that I will never knit with fun fur.

Alright, there you go, Erin!

By the way, if anyone was wondering which sweater I chose to start from the last post, I went with the Morning Dew sweater because of purely practical reasons. Also, I just happen to be using the yarn from the Cowl-Neck Sweater I mentioned above and frogged. I think I'll do the Lore Hoodie after that because it's just so pretty!

Alright, enough rambling from me. I promise I'll post some knitting goodness after I'm done my committee meeting and this upcoming Mike Brown lecture. Cheers!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pining for a new sweater

It might sound crazy, since spring has arrived in full force in T-dot, but I'm really really itching to knit myself a new sweater. I'm still in the midst of knitting for others, with a small sock project on the side (with my brand new gorgeous hand painted yarn... but more on that later), but I haven't really been immersed in the craft as much as I was previously. Part of it is that I've been riding the boyfriend's Gio E-bike around town instead of taking the TTC, and I think the other part of it is just general apathy. I've been spinning a bit while I watch TV with the boyfriend, but I haven't had the incredible urge to knit for some reason.

I'll be going to a meeting this weekend in Syracuse, NY, and it'll be a 5-hour drive each way, so that's a LOT of knitting time. I'll also be sitting through two days of talks, which is also a LOT of knitting time. I'll of course bring the "knitting for others" and my sock, but all of these projects are in various stages of completion, so I'm thinking I might have to start something new... But decisions, decisions! (I know, I lead a hard life.) Here are my options:

The Lore Hoodie is a pattern from Vampire Knits by Cirilia Rose. It's absolutely gorgeous... Really, it's the pattern that sells the book. I already have the yarn for this, some Diamond Yarn Galway Heather in the Thistle colourway (the same yarn I used for Dad's sweater). I guess I'm a little worried that it'll be too bulky for travelling, but it's also a design I've wanted to knit for a while now. I love the hood and that lacy skirt.

Next up is Morning Dew by Diana Rozenshteyn. This will definitely be portable enough, and will involve a considerable amount of mindless knitting (great for staying awake during talks!), so it's probably the top choice for travel knitting. Also, it's seamless and top-down, which is my favourite style of sweater (to wear and to make). I've got the perfect yarn for it: an acrylic-mohair blend that was given to me by the boyfriend's mother last summer called "Lanificio di Milano Mohacril". I haven't been able to find it online, so it's probably a vintage yarn (the labels look pretty old). Anyway, the issue would be that I'd already started a crochet project with this yarn, but have since partially frogged it. The yarn was broken in several places because it's so fuzzy, and I still have half of that other project to frog before I start this new one...

This pattern isn't really a sweater, but it's something else I've been wanting to make for a while. It's the #24 Jumper by Louisa Harding from Vogue Knitting Winter 2010/11. I'm going to use some Cascade Yarns Ecological Wool in a dark grey that I got on sale off of WEBS. I'll likely do the duplicate stitch in Bernat Roving, which I have in their bright pink colourway. It'll also be a fairly bulky project, so maybe not the best for travel, but it looks pretty darn adorable. Wouldn't it go perfectly with a waist-hugging belt? I think it would.

Finally, I'd love to knit this sweater as a hooded cardigan. It's Sporto by Nikol Lohr from the Winter 2011 issue of Knitty. Since it's a top-down raglan, it'd be super easy to convert into a cardigan just by knitting back and forth instead of in the round. I also have the perfect buttons for it. I'd use the left-over yarn from Dad's sweater, and alternate it in stripes with the left-overs from my beautiful cabled sweater. I'd also like to incorporate some stripes of my handspun to make it extra special. Again, it might be a little bulky for travel, but less so than the Lore Hoodie or Vogue Jumper because it's top-down, so would be relatively small at the beginning. And I just love that hood... so cozy!

Anyway, those are my choices. Hopefully I'll be able to make a decision before we leave Friday, though I also have to think about preparing my talk, and a million other things... le sigh!

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Ultimate Pie

Wow... A whole month without posting! I'm sorry, internet. I'll try to do better next time. How about I make it up to you with pie?

As I have for the last few years, I hosted a Pi Day party at my apartment on March 14th. We never got around to reciting the digits of Pi or playing Pi trivia (much to the boyfriend's relief), but much fun was had by all. We had quite a spread!

In the front is Joanna's vegetable curry pie, which was the boyfriend's pick as the winner of the Pi Day best pie contest, mainly because she made her own crust (and because it was delicious), behind that, we have Steph's chocolate chip cookie pie, then Lisa's coconut creme brule (frickin' amazing), and finally, my Pie Pie. The empty pie pan used to contain a bacon-brocolli-spinache quiche made by the boyfriend, which was instantly devoured. Classes at a pastry school are sounding pretty yummy right now.

I'd like to talk a little about the pie I made... The Pie Pie. I first saw this recipe on The Anticraft years and years ago, and I knew that one day, I would have to make it. The description blew me away (really, it sounds orgasm-inducing), and caramel, peanut butter and chocolate are some of my favourite flavours. At 448 calories per 1/8th of a pie (yes, I calculated it), it's definitely not for the health-concious, but really, it's so delicious that you really shouldn't care.

I decorated mine with the Pi symbol, of course. One pie got devoured at the Pi Day party and the other, we saved for a dinner party later in the month (really a get drunk and do your taxes party). Our hosts made all sorts of noises of appreciation, and I had to stop myself from eating a second piece (because of the afore-mentioned calorie content). This pie took a good five hours to make, so I'm probably not going to make it again any time soon. If I do, I'll try to make my own cookie crumb crusts, I think.

Anyway, the final verdict is, if you have a few hours to kill and an incredible craving for peanut butter caramel goodness (and aren't on a diet), then you should definitely make this pie. I'm seriously drooling just thinking about it right now...

Friday, March 2, 2012


I have been extremely well behaved of late when it comes to yarn purchases. I haven't bought anything new for myself since November, when I went to Victoria. And really, that was travel yarn, so it barely counts. At any rate, I certainly deserved a treat. My friend Sherry pointed me towards a few Etsy shops that sell gorgeous hand-painted yarn, and I couldn't resist buying a few things from Fiber Charmer's shop. I mean, the yarn was on sale, and the roving was fairly cheap... totally justified.

Impatiently, I waited a week for my goodies to arrive, but finally yesterday they did! I was so excited that as soon as I got home, I just ripped open the oversized envelope without even looking at the custom's label. Had I done the latter, I would have realized that I got a little bit more than I paid for...

It turns out I had been lucky enough to be Fiber Charmer's 300th sale, and so she included a lovely hand-written note, and a few extra little goodies! First of all, she gave me this adorable little hand-sewn pouch from Etsy seller Hot4Handbags.

It's the perfect size to fit all my notions, and so I immediately transferred them from the little crochet pouch I was using to this one.

She also sent along some mini skeins of Shangri-la yarn in Emerald and Black & Blue. I'm not sure what I'll use them for, but they're so cute!

Ok, on to the juicy stuff. I'm sure you're just dying to see what I actually ordered. Well, what attracted me to Fiber Charmer's shop was that she had tons of beautifully hand-dyed yarns for extremely good prices on sale. Like a $12 4-oz skein of sock yarn kind of extremely good price. I narrowed my choices down to two skeins of sock yarn, the first of which was this absolutely gorgeous hank of Chris Sock in "Green Progressions Dye's End". I was just swooning over that blue melding into the green and into the yellow...

Next up I got a skein of Chris Sock in Mood Ring Red Brown. It looked a little redder on my computer screen than it does in real life, but it's still super gorgeous. I'm thinking a sock with travelling stitches would be perfect for this one.

Last but not least, I couldn't resist ordering some spinning fibre. Fiber Charmer's hand-dyed fibres are amazing (seriously, check them out), but I was attracted to this lovely braid of 70% silver alpaca and 30% silk. Oh man it's soft... I just want to rub it against my face all the time. I don't know what it's eventually going to become when I spin it, but I'm sure it'll be gorgeous.

And because I'm a fibre nut, here are some more close-up shots: