Platinum Atomic Emission Spectrum Scarf

Pt scarf banner.jpgThe Amazing Emission Spectrum Pattern Generator

This is really all my friend Daniela’s fault – a year ago she posted a link to Becky Stern’s Emission spectrum scarves  and the Atomic Spectra Scarf Pattern Generator and it was love at first sight (the link for the pattern generator wasn’t working today but I’ve included it as hopefully it is a temporary issue). The pattern generator allows you to choose your element, input the row height, scarf length, the length of the plain end sections, and you can select several different colour options from black and white, to a posterised 7 colour rainbow, through to a spectrum with many different shades. I decided to add a block with the chemical symbol for the element at one end of the scarf.

As my little brother is a former inorganic chemist named Peter with the initials PT, I knew I wanted to make him the Platinum emission spectrum scarf for Christmas. It also has a special significance for him because the rainbow colours of the spectrum represent gay pride.

My original pics of the scarf were pretty terrible. Luckily, the lovely and talented Andrew Jay came to the rescue and let me use some of the photos he had taken of my brother and the scarf. I must get better at photographing projects, especially the ones I make as presents because I keep giving them away without taking proper photos. Also I didn’t block this scarf despite my usual habit of blocking projects to within an inch of their lives.

Knitting the emission spectrum

The scarf is made in acrylic yarn. My brother spends a lot of time outside so something that is easy to wash, hard-wearing and dries quickly seemed sensible. It also allowed me to stash-bust some of my rainbow coloured acrylic yarn left over from making toys for my nieces and cushion covers. I didn’t have as many shades of yarn as the full spectrum pattern required so made my own version using about 15 shades.

This was generally a simple project, knit in the round on my 3.5mm interchangeable circular needles in stockinette and alternating black and coloured rows according to the pattern. I changed it slightly so that each of the colour rows became 2 rows, as a single row didn’t have enough impact. The number and thickness of the emission lines varies a lot between elements and Platinum has fewer lines than some of the other spectra so I thought that would make it stand out more.

Spectrum scarf in progress
Scarf in progress on circular needle (complete with space invaders crochet and general chaos)

Designing the Pt symbol

The difficult bit was designing the periodic table style symbol for Platinum. I used the high-tech method of squared paper. It is important to remember that knitting stitches are rarely square so you can get chart paper generators that create squared paper with the same dimensions as your stitches, enabling you to design motifs with the correct proportions if that accuracy is necessary for your design. I had grand ideas about knitting diagonal rainbow coloured stripes across the symbol but that would have involved floating a lot of coloured yarns across the back side of the scarf making it much thicker at that end (and hurting my brain). I finally decided to use vertical rainbow stripes across the symbol (horizontal stripes while knitting), which didn’t add too much bulk to the stranded colourwork section.

Knitting in full technicolour

I’m so in awe of people who can properly tension stranded colourwork. When I commuted to work, there was a woman on the train who did the most amazing colourwork but I think she found lace knitting as awkward as I find colourwork. This christmas I focussed on creating stranded colourwork hats and this scarf to try to really get the hang of it and even taught myself to knit with yarn in both hands – one colour yarn thrown English-style and the other picked Continental-style. I’m improving but still struggle to get the tension right and make a flat, even piece of knitting.

Sadly when I came to knit the Pt symbol, I made a mistake and made the coloured section two stitches too narrow. This wasn’t a big problem but it did mean that the number 78 wouldn’t quite fit (something that wasn’t really apparent until I’d knitted 3/4 of the symbol and I didn’t have time or patience to rip out and reknit it all). I solved this by chain stitching on the 78 afterwards and I don’t think it looks too bad but was a teency bit annoying at the time.

The scarf was bound off and finished by weaving in all the ends and sewing across the ends to close the tube. I thought about adding fringing but it looked so good without it that I left it plain. I’m pretty pleased with the results, especially given it was a race with time to get it done for Christmas (though I may steal it back from my brother to block it). I really hope the pattern generator site still exists as my husband wants a Lanthanum scarf and he will be very distraught if it’s gone.

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