There are a lot of space maps out there, but we’d be willing to bet there’s never been one quite like this. It’s entirely knitted out of yarn, using a 1980s domestic knitting machine brilliantly turned into a network printer.
The genius behind it is Australian software engineer Sarah Spencer, who used a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino compatible board, Python and a PHP/MySQL web interface to hack the Brother KM950i knitting machine.
Spencer has been working with knitting machines since 2012, when she discovered an old 1970s Empisal knitting machine in a charity shop.
— Alasdair Allan (@aallan) September 1, 2018
However, it wasn’t until last year that she finally cracked an algorithm that allowed her machine to knit in three colours of yarn in one knit per pixel. This opened up a whole new realm of possibility.
Her improved “network printer” knitting machine can accept an image from a computer, over a network, with more than two colours in any single row of knitting.
Spencer has used it to knit scarf and blanket designs, but a recent project was much more ambitious. Called Stargazing: A Knitted Tapestry, it depicts an enormous map of the visible Universe that we can see with the naked eye, in blue, white and grey yarn, measuring a whopping 4.6 metres (15 feet) wide and 2.8 metres (9 feet) high.
After 15kg of wool and over 💯 hrs of knitting, I’m finally ready to fly to the UK. Now I just need to pack the entire universe into my suitcase! I’ll see you all soon 🤗 pic.twitter.com/orBWAmi3bW
— Heart of Pluto (@HeartOfPluto_) August 26, 2018
She presented it at this year’s Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Camp, held in the UK over the weekend of August 31 to September 2.
“It’s all 88 constellations, across the top we’ve got the constellations in the Northern hemisphere, across the bottom are the constellations in the Southern hemisphere,” Spencer explained in a talk at the event.
The wiggly line in the centre is the equatorial line, and the grey cloud represents the plane of the Milky Way. The Sun, Moon and planets also make an appearance – dating the sky depicted precisely to Friday, August 31 at 6 pm British Summer Time.
The piece was commissioned by EMF, which paid for most of the yarn, so if you were hoping that having one of your very own was an option, you’re out of luck (although Spencer does have plenty of gorgeous designs available through her Etsy store).
Still… the tapestry is almost incredible enough to make one want to start scouring charity stores for 40-year-old knitting machines.