Knit the Universe
A whole new kind of space craft!
We often liken spacetime to a fabric, but how can we bring this to life?
We have converted amazing cutting-edge astrophysical images and findings (e.g. a gravitational wave ‘chirp’ or intersecting dusty discs around stars) into cute knitting patterns that can be completed in two to six hours. We call these our knit kits.
What is special about each kit is the story of the people and the science behind each one. Each completed knit kit, each square helps us tell the story of the fabric of the universe, and what we call spacetime.
Families at home, community knit and natter groups, scouts, guides, Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) participants, teachers and pupils looking for something creative and amazing to do during the long winter nights can (and should!) download the kits. With some knitting needles and a few bits of wool, you can knit your own patch of inspirational, spacetime science, learning skills along the way.
At the moment, we can’t be together, but we can share and show images of our squares on social media (@knittheuniverse on all platforms). You can knit a few, stitch them together and make a scarf that would make Doctor Who proud. Or knit many and make a throw or blanket (a DofE skills project perhaps?).
Later, when you can be together, you can gather up squares to make throws or blankets that you, your families, and your schools and community groups put together yourselves. We want to hear about them all on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.
Download the knit kits
How to knit
There are sure to be some seasoned crafters out there, but some of you will be knitting for the first time. To help you along, we’ve put together some links to get you started.
- Where to get supplies
- How to make a slip knot
- How to cast on
- How to knit
- How to purl
- How to change colour
- How to cast off
- How to block
For the knit kits, we used a type of wool called double knit (DK), which tells you how thick the thread is, and 4mm needles – that’s how thick the needles are, and they make the stitches a certain size.
We also say in each knit kit what colours and weight of yarn we recommend, but feel free to knit with what you have. Swap the colours as you like, and use the wool and needles you have available.
All of the knit kits are made the same way, which is using the stocking (or stockinette) stitch. That’s just a fancy way of saying knit one row, purl the next, knit, then purl and so on.
Once you’ve finished the pattern, cast off from the needles and wash and block your square (wet it, squeeze out the excess water, then stretch it and pin it in shape to a cork board or something similar). It’ll hold its shape much better after it’s been washed and blocked.
Dr Kate Macdonald came up with the idea of Knit the Universe as a way to explore the amazing images coming from the LIGO project.
And she was inspired to act on hearing the mind-boggling answer to a question put to Professor Martin Hendry of the University of Glasgow: how often do black holes collide and make gravitational waves? To which he replied (to paraphrase wildly) – taking into account ifs, buts, ands and maybes, about once every 10-15 minutes, as the universe really is that big.
Putting together amazing images of the stars as knitted squares gives the notion of the fabric of spacetime, a tangible expression, if you like, a map of the cosmos, or a song-line through the universe, to be wondered at, to be marvelled at, to inspire.
Dr Brynley Pearlstone is a science communicator with a background in astrophysics, having earned his PhD in gravitational wave astrophysics at Glasgow university’s prestigious Institute for Gravitational Research. His flagship project, SciCurious, launched in 2019 following a grant from IOP Scotland (IOPS).
Back in the summer of 2020, Kate, an ordinary member of IOPS, was looking for someone to work with on her knitting project. She was put in touch with Bryn by another ordinary member, Becky Douglas.
Becky and Bryn studied for their PhDs in the same research group at Glasgow. Bryn of course has previously engaged with IOPS, securing the grant. Now Kate and Bryn work together producing knit kits and making the fabric of space time!