torsdag 28 oktober 2010

A birthday gift to my dear brother

My dear little brother turned 26 last Tuesday, and even though I got his present ready the Thursday before that, I couldn't write about it here before he had gotten the present. Would have been kinda silly: him knowing beforehand what he would get, just because I wrote about it beforehand!

Anyway, I have the hardest time buying presents for my brother. That doesn't mean I don't try - oh boy do I try! But sometimes, finding him a present is like finding ice in Sahara. Just not plausible.
So, I try to do what my dear mother once told me about buying Christmas presents:

"Try to look for Christmas presents for people during the whole year, not just in December"

Sometimes, I actually manage come across things that are *perfect*. I found an alarm clock in a this weird interior decorating store (the clock had skulls on it...), and ever since my brother bought me a matching set of 3 raspberry colored kitchen containers with skulls on them... well, let's just say that it's become a "thing" for us two.

Alarm clock aside, I needed to -create- something for him too. That was where this came in:

It's part of an old T-shirt me and Harald got from our cousins in the US, years and years ago. It's a size L, and had been used as a PJ until the fabric got kinda ratty at places and it was stored away. Since I still thought the print was in good shape, and also since I just *couldn't* throw it away... I decided that I could make it the center piece in a quilt. The artist behind the cartoon print is Gary Larson, in case you're wondering.

After skimming through the clothes I had stoved away, I found two old T-shirts (one mine, one Micke's), two trousers (both mine), and some rest fabrics from my gray skirt I thought I could use. A trip to Eurokangas (a store) got me the padded material to use as the middle part, and a trip to IKEA with Mimi and Petter got me some cheap cotton to use as the back. From the sewing things I had inherited from both my grandmothers, I got white thread and some black ribbon to use for edging the quilt.

After some sewing, some more sewing, and a trip to Sally to sew the rest (I managed to make my own machine go kaputt in the process!), I finally got a quilt made that I thought was pretty neat. As well as a very personal gift; sewn by me, but containing bits and pieces from our whole family.

Trying to create a pattern.
I had hundreds of these small cut-aways all over the house by the time I was finished!

I finally decided - with Micke's help - on using
some of the small cut-aways as a decor element!

This is how large it became: about 1 m x 2 m.
I needed to put it on the table while I was trying to fit the bottom and padding.
Then, I needed to needle them together.

Bottom, padding, and top.

Lots and loooots of needles...

Trimming the whole thing, and needling on the ribbon.

I sewed parallel lines on the quilt, to keep the padding from sliding.

Kitty cat named "Alfa" is trying his best to help.
Apparently, the padding stopped him in his tracks.
He's one of Sally's cats.

onsdag 27 oktober 2010

The Gaia theory

I must say, sometimes being a biochemist can be quirky. It enables you to read things - things not relevant to the work you're currently doing - out of other fields of biological research, and grasp concepts that rely on the understanding of the basic organic chemistry that is life as we know it.

Anyway, while reading about transposons, I quickly wanted to confirm something on Wikipedia. Which, naturally, lead to some wiki jumping (I have no idea if that's the correct term;  it just means that you jump from one Wikipedia article to another, sometimes not even finishing the current before skipping on to the next). I jumped from DNA transposons, to DNA, to TNA (threose nucleic acid), to abiogenesis, to the Gaia theory.

For those of you yet unfamiliar with the concept, the Gaia theory (originally by James Lovelock in the 1960s) proposes that the Earth is one big organism, where the biosphere and the biota (biomass) as a whole regulates the Earth to sustain life as we know it. Now, I can understand why some people would consider this both strange and frightening, but we humans as a race can be really silly at times. The theory, however, has some very valid points. And it makes for interesting reading :)

Now, while I definitely have heard about the Gaia hypothesis before, I've never really read anything insightful concerning it. Still, the wiki article snagged me, and I kept on reading it all the way down to the references. Before the reference part however, the text mainly talks about the "political" side of the Gaia theory: how the Earth as a whole is threatened by us humans too rapidly changing the biosphere to suit our needs.

This is the last part out of the article:

[James Lovelock] claims that Gaia's self-regulation will likely prevent any extraordinary runaway effects that wipe out life itself, but that humans will survive and be "culled and, I hope, refined."
According to James Lovelock, by 2040, the world population of more than six billion will have been culled by floods, drought and famine. Indeed "[t]he people of Southern Europe, as well as South-East Asia, will be fighting their way into countries such as Canada, Australia and Britain".
"By 2040, parts of the Sahara desert will have moved into middle Europe. We are talking about Paris - as far north as Berlin. In Britain we will escape because of our oceanic position."
"If you take the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predictions, then by 2040 every summer in Europe will be as hot as it was in 2003 - between 110F and 120F. It is not the death of people that is the main problem, it is the fact that the plants can't grow — there will be almost no food grown in Europe."
"We are about to take an evolutionary step and my hope is that the species will emerge stronger. It would be hubris to think humans as they now are God's chosen race.
Lovelock believes it is too late to repair the damage.
After having read this, I wonder... In 2040 I will be 57 years old. If the climate in Finland will be Mediterranean, and the population will be over the 5 million people that we are today, and the Baltic sea will be a congealing algae soup... then we'll all know that Mr Lovelock was right.

It really makes you think, especially since we humans now use up resources in 9 months that it takes the planet 12 months to generate. Any thoughts? (Except the one where you say "don't trust everything you read - confirm it first!")

fredag 8 oktober 2010

Red "Karolina" circle cape

Since I went so long about tea in my previous post, I guess it's okay to post this separately.

The knitted circle cape "Karolina", from the book "Sticka i romantisk lantstil", is finally done. It's not that it was hard to make - the opposite in fact! - it was just that I didn't spend all my available "knitting time" on this project. You can read the info about it here.

It falls real nicely from your shoulders, and I guess it would have harmed to make it perhaps a tad bit larger. It really depends on how much yarn you have available, and if you want it to cover your back a bit more.

I'm using a flower brooch I made myself, to keep the thing together. A brooch/big nice safety pin is a must for this cape.


"Teas, where small talk dies in agonies."
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

"When the end of the world is near, drink tea."

(and if you want to see more tea-quotes, go to Wikiquote)

I distress, sometimes I'm a mess, but I have to agree with the saying that drinking tea will help you in many situations. Oh, don't get me wrong, I like lots of other beverages, but there is a ... simple joy to be found in the fact that tea actually will make you feel better. (Said the addict to her teapot). My stomach has been a bit upset since yesterday (nothing terrible, but I have no idea why), so I've been drinking tea to calm it down.

Tea is great that way: since it's sour (pH between 4-6), and the milk (if you take it with milk) helps to buffer it (cow milk balances it to the higher pH, close to 6), your stomach's pH will actually get a bit higher (from it's pH of 1-3) and thus make you feel a bit better. Not so acidic. It's the same when you eat lutefisk (sw. lutfisk): it's so basic it'll won't make you feel like you're stuffed from eating a LOT of it. Two things tea WILL do to you, no matter how you take it, is make your teeth feel slightly furry and increase your need to pee. Hence:
  • you want to brush your teeth if you drink a lot of it, like you do when you drink a lot of orange juice;
  • and since the antidiuretic effect makes you thirsty, you want to drink more. And it makes you think about the nephrons and vasopressin. Aaah, animal physiology lessons... *remembers*
But yes, tea creates a vicious circle. But then again, so does alcohol. And coffee too. And Star Trek. And even my favorite Star Trek (NG) character, Jean Luc Picard (what's it with me and bald men?), drinks tea.

My tea-implementing things:
water kettle (red, of course),
tea pots (as you see, I have three),
honey, milk and tools for loose tea.

Sometimes, I just don't get the way some people fuss about how the whole tea-making process: all the way from how it's picked, dried, stored, blended, steeped and finally how it's in it's finished form and what to blend it with. I like both green and black tea, in both honey-sweetened and unsweetened form, and I like berry infusions. Yes, I do consider them to be teas, even if they don't have any tea-leaves in them. I know, from personal experience working the whole summer of 2006 in a lab with a project about how green/black tea produces hydrogen-peroxide that the water you use to make the tea really affects the outcome. It taught me e.g. that the higher the pH, the darker the tea will get.

Yeah, the cup IS my favorite, and -yes- it's from IKEA's "365+"series.
I pimped it, a little. The wine glass marker on the ear is
also my idea of "how to pimp your tea cup".
I don't consider this "IKEA hacking".
I like big tea cups - can't for the life of me understand cafés where you get tea in coffee cups. Tea is -not- coffee, tea does not make you feel the same way as coffee (hyped in the head and sour in the stomach), so why serve it in coffee cups? A good tea cup is at least 3 times the size of a regular coffee cup. I guess you have to drink tea to understand serving tea...
So... if you wonder what happened to nr 1... well, I broke it.
I'm an expert at breaking delicate things made from glass and porcelain.
Anyway, the thing I'm still lacking in the "tea department", is a TEA COSY! Damn it! Not that I need one for my smaller black pot (it serves only two cups, and I think it's one of the best things I've ever bought at a second hand store for the price of just 3 euros), but the larger violet one really should have one. The porcelain it's made out of gets terribly hot, and you burn you hands on it.

But, that's another blog post.

onsdag 6 oktober 2010

Dyeing wool yarn with food coloring powder

E once said, and I quote "Why must grown-ups clothes be so boring? Why don't people use more color?".

Well, I'm doing my part to color the world, while at the same trying to come up with something knitted or crocheted that Micke might consider OK to use. This is mainly because I still have a lot of yarn inherited from both my maternal, my paternal grandmother, my mom and one of her sisters. Some of this yarn is white or really light beige, and some of it is in really pale pastel colors. And thus not... terribly exciting to either use or plan to use. Hence the reason behind my interest in learning how to dye yarn, preferably as cheaply as possible.

On one of  the blog-sites I subscribe to, Fiber Star, I've read about how to dye with natural things like avocado pits, onion skins and flowers. There's also books about dyeing that I borrowed from the library. But like any good chemists, it really itches in your fingers to try it out yourself.

But, I distress, that there's a lot more to dyeing your own yarn than just buying some dyes and yarn.
I'm really glad that there's so much free info about it on the Internet, since you actually can get Google-answers to every possible question your dyeing process might create. Even so, I'm still writing this down:
  1. There is really a difference between the type of fibers there's in the yarn. 
    • animal fibers: wool, angora, cashmere etc.
    • plant fibers: cotton, bamboo etc.
    • oil based: acrylics, nylon etc.
  2. You have to suit your dye to the yarndirt!!!!!!! OBS!
    • wool is easiest to dye: the alpha-helix structure of the proteins, that the wool is made up of, opens up when exposed to higher temperatures, acids and salts. The fibers absorb the fibers.
      • use dye + heat + salt + vinegar (acetic acid)
    • cotton can't be dyed like wool: the dye will just coat the fibers, and then wash off afterwards.
      • use s.c. acid dyes, these can be bought from normal supermarkets and craft stores. In Finland, a common brand e.g. is "Nitor". Nitor dyes are e.g. used to dye cotton clothes in the washing machine. The acid dyes prepare the fibers by forcing them to bind
    • oil based fibers, which nowadays are combined with both wool and cotton, can't be colored like this either. In combo-yarn, the fibers might/might not stand out.
  3. You have to have good ventilation in you kitchen (or wherever it is that your dyeing your yarn), because this might stink a bit. Or a lot. Make that a lot.
  4. Lightly wash the yarn beforehand
    • dirt, fats and such can make the dye not take as good, and might make it look bad.
  5. A BIG enough pot, preferably in stainless steel, or a metallic bowl that'll fit any of your pots (thus creating a water bath)
    • some materials, like certain scraped kitchen plastics and old bowls, might get color permanently stuck to it. This is called coating in biochemistry btw, but stainless steel doesn't get coated that easily.
  6. Make your yarn into loose skeins, using either a "nystvinda/garnvinda" or a "härvel", because otherwise the dye won't get to all the fibers. (I once put tightly wound balls of yarn in the dye mix, and that did SO not work: just the outer layer got dyed.)
    • there's a whole bunch of pages online on how to wind your yarn for dyeing
  7. Many sites on the Internet are about dyeing with Kool-Aid. There's lots of info about it, since it's safe to use for teaching kids to dye.
    • Kool-Aid is a drink mixture that has food colorants, sugar and acids (citric acid and C vitamin) in it. It's one way to dye using food coloring products, but since not many places in Finland sell it...I recommend buying food coloring powder from the pharmacy.
So, once you've read up online about all things dye and yarn, then it's time to try it out. Since so much of this is found online elsewhere, I'll just show you some picture's from when I tried it out, using blue (indigo) and red (carmine) food coloring powder from the pharmacy.

My "garnvinda" - it used to be my maternal grandmother's.
Things you need to dye wool: acetic acid, dye and salt.
This is my "water bath"; a bowl with dye in a pot of water, set to simmer. I used a glass oven form to hold the yarn while I added more dye/salt/vinegar.
As you can see, the indigo powder won't bind a 100% to the wool. Using a blend of indigo and carmine red, the blue got more pronounced, instead of becoming lilac. I'd read up on the fact that red dyes bind notoriously badly,  so I was prepared to get lighter red if I only used it.
Afterwards, you lightly wash the yarn in cold water, so that the wool fibers won't felt.
Afterwards, after drying all the yarn in the bathroom, I wound it up into kinda tight skeins. These photos are of a few of the dry yarns.

Indigo glue, on light grey Novita Nalle-yarn (a blend of 75% wool, 25% acrylic). This is pure indigo.
Dip dyed Novita Nalle-yarn (a blend of 75% wool, 25% acrylic), using the carmic red and indigo blue. As I wanted lilac, but only got a pale violet, I mainly used indigo to dye the rest of the yarn.
This is another example of indigo + carmic red, on an already "effect" colored yarn. If you look closely, you can see the darker and lighter areas.

Next time, I know what to expect, so might try some other color - like bright yellow or orange. And, since I have a huge bunch of cotton yarns in horrid pale pastel colors, I will try to color them with acid dyes too. Because music, laughter and colors are things you can't get enough of in your life.


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