Monday, April 6, 2009

Portrait in Yarn: the Graduate Student

Cyrena is in her second year of study for her PhD in Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology. She lives in Providence surrounded by piles of yarn and science books.

How did you get started knitting?
I started knitting my senior year at Brown. I had a roommate who was a knitter, and at the time she was knitting a scarf as a gift. It was a project that took her over a month, and she would work on it in the common room. A few of us in the suite were intrigued and wanted to learn how to knit. My first project was a garter-stitch scarf. I started off with 30 stitches, and miraculously ended up with around 50 at bind-off! It served me well for a few years though.

My choice of needles and fibers has changed over the years. However, some of my stubborn habits remain: I always cast on too tightly, I hold the needles tightly, and depending on the project, get wound up too tightly! My death grip is notorious; I manage to warp size 2 Addis when working socks. So I stick to anything over size 3.

What is the relationship between your graduate school program and knitting?
Well, not a direct relationship, I guess. I tend to knit when I need a distraction from school. I'm not much of a public knitter; most of my knitting is done at home or at Fresh Purls.

Reading a pattern is actually similar to running an experiment. With an experiment, you're usually building upon what other researchers have done, then expanding upon that and putting your own ideas to work. With knitting, you have a written pattern, which has been meticulously worked out by the author, but there's no one to tell you that you can't make it three inches shorter, or that it has to be in green. If you want to try something a little outside the lines, you can try it. Good science and good knitting are both based on experimentation: avoid relying heavily on standard protocols, and never use the suggested colorway!

Science and knitting are also similar in that both of them can be quite expensive.

How does knitting fit into your life today?
I tend to knit in fits and spurts. I have an insane amount of yarn; most of the yarn is dedicated to projects. Unfortunately, most of these are large projects. I have a love/hate relationship with large projects. I love them and I want to complete them-- the idea of wearing a garment that I knit by hand is beyond phenomenal. However, both school and knitting inertia keep me from completing them. So right now I've committed myself to completing a number of small projects until I can prove to myself that I'm capable of commitment. I finished a winter hat in January, and currently I'm working on a cowl and another hat. The goal is instant gratification-- otherwise, I would be knitting socks! Of course, my girlfriend, who is an accomplished knitter in her own right, loves to work on large projects. She actually manages to finish! But she's a public knitter, so I don't feel quite as bad about my languishing projects.

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