A Knitted Blue/White Screen

knitted bacteria

Close up "colonies"

A couple of months ago, I read about a local exhibition of microbiology-themed fiber art entitled “Our Tiny Friends and Foes”. Having toyed with the idea of science-themed knitting for the last year, it seemed like a good opportunity to finally become a science knitter.

What to knit though? That was the question. The advantage of knitting a microbe is, of course, that they are small, eliminating the risk of frantic last-minute knitting for a deadline that would certainly occur if I had to knit a brain or a giant squid. (In general, I find that “no tentacles” is an excellent rule to follow when considering knitting options). The world of microbiology certainly provides artistic scope, offering many shapes, colors and appendages that would be fun to knit. A paramecium, a flu virus and a Gram stain were all good suggestions. Finally, someone suggested a blue/white screen. It seemed like a good idea to knit something in honor of E. coli, the bedrock on which the entire field of molecular biology is built, so a blue/white screen it would be. A few fellow knitters volunteered to help, and before long we had divided up the tasks, got out the wool and needles and were on our way.

Six stitches and nine rows on size 4 needles is all it takes to make a small knitted representation of a bacterial cell. Caroline, Michele, and Kelly turned out quite a few of these in dark blue, light blue and white. I knitted a flat stretch of “agar” in baby yellow, and a big “sock” in natural aran for the petri dish and we were good to go. Just to give our offering a bit of extra color, humor, and realism, Cynthia knitted us a lovely big contaminant to hang threateningly on the edge of the plate.

The unwanted visitor

It’s just a bit of fun, but I feel like the assembled piece is our small celebration of the role of microbes in the advancement of science and medicine. To many people microbes only represent disease, and the myriad of ways in which microbes perform beneficial roles is forgotten. In the process of knitting and assembling our piece, I certainly thought more about E. coli than I normally would. And I ended up marveling a little that scientists have been able to use this one organism to do so much to contribute to the fight against disease and the advancement of human knowledge. So here it is–our piece in honor of E.coli and the molecular biologists everywhere who have used it to push boundaries, investigate possibilities, overcome challenges, and ultimately make life better for all of us.

Knitted petri dish and microbes

The full plate (including contaminant)

More about blue/white screening.

P.S. Recently I read that E.coli can also do math. Now that I will have to see for myself.

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Isobel Maciver

Isobel is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and of Aston University in Birmingham, U.K. She is a technical writer and editor, and is also manager of the Scientific Communications group at Promega. She enjoys writing about issues in science and communication.

5 thoughts on “A Knitted Blue/White Screen

  1. Awesome! i would love to knit some microbes to use as rewards/prizes for students. Any patterns to share? Otherwise, suppose the fun is in making them up!

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