Thursday, October 10, 2013

DIY Health Care

Ok, so I'm stretching the meaning of crafting here again, but bear with me. I've always been interested in DIY cultures, especially in relation to the arts and technology, and I've recently discovered that there are all kinds of hacking and DIY projects going on in the field of health care (and that's before we even get onto the topic of biohacking). Mostly, these hacks take place in developing countries, or are designed for such contexts, where access to the necessary equipment is not a given. So, by virtue of being inventive and economical, and producing some extremely useful things, these activities are pretty damn crafty in my books! 
This post is the text of an article I wrote last month for the science pages of my old college newspaper. If you're intrigued, read on, and if you're vaguely interested but put off by all the words, then skip straight to the video. It includes a blood test kit constructed with LEGO.

 DIY medicine might not sound like best practice, but in reality the recent innovations coming from the hacker and “Maker” movements in the field of medicine have the potential to revolutionise healthcare, particularly in developing countries.

Medical aid given by rich countries to poorer ones is a nice news story. What we read about less often, however, is the fact that this top of the range equipment frequently fails or is impossible to maintain. Rather than donating cheaper models of the same equipment, Jose Gomez-Marquez of MIT argues that there is a need to look towards cheaper materials, and design hardy devices with the same functionality but for a different environment and at a more affordable cost. His Little Devices Lab at MIT hack simple objects, making nebulisers for medication from bicycle pumps for example, and assemble DIY medicine kits.

The work of such groups, which exist at several U.S. universities, is not only making a difference to health workers in developing countries but is also challenging the medical devices industry, which mainly markets devices that are expensive and designed to prevent hacking.George Whitesides and his team at Harvard have been working with an extremely ordinary material: paper. They have created microfluidics devices, which test body fluids to diagnose for a particular disease or detect for a particular hormone, such as in a pregnancy test.

Paper naturally draws in liquids through tiny capillaries, eliminating the need for a mechanical pump. The team embeds polymers that shun water on a piece of paper the size of a postage stamp to create channels than a drop of blood or urine can travel through to meet small pools of chemical reagents. Paper is not only cheap, it is also easy to produce and store in high volumes, and can be burned after use, which is a great advantage in areas where medical waste disposal is a problem. The lab’s first test is for liver disease, a frequent side effect of AIDS medications. Where no medical personnel are at hand, a photo of the result taken on a camera can be sent to a lab, and a diagnosis will be sent back in a text message.

Another ingenious paper tool is Manu Prakash’s foldscope, developed at Stanford. Essentially an origami microscope, it fulfills the need for a light, portable microscope for diagnoses and testing water. The pattern is printed in several die-cut pieces on a sheet of stiff, water-resistant paper. The sections are colour coded, making the microscope fast and easy to put together without the need for written instructions. Once folded, it stacks two polymer lenses over one another, magnifying the image on a slide up to 3000 times.

The Little Devices team make five types of MEDIKits, including the Drug Delivery Kit. It contains core devices: syringes, nebulizers, inhalers, transdermal patches, pills. Then there are modifier elements: colour coding, shape coding, springs, plungers, compressors, tilt sensors, buzzers, timers, bicycle pumps, and template cutters. These allow users to change the functionality of the devices. Also included are general supplies like Velcro, tape, paper, tubing and needles. Soon after field testing the kits in Nicaragua, Gomez-Marquez and his team realised that users were hacking the kits themselves, cutting parts like tubing, and taking parts from one kit and using them in other ones. They concluded that for the kit to be successful, they would have to design for hacking.

Instead of trying to change the global supply chain for medical devices, the Little Devices team has embraced the huge and far-reaching toy supply chain of cheap plastic and electronic mechanisms. Gomez-Marquez describes what they dubbed the Glucometer/Gameboy paradox: both devices have equally complex electronics and comparable retail prices, but while gameboys are available worldwide, 16 clinics in Nicaragua have to share a single glucometer (a device used to test the level of glucose in a patient’s blood).


Getting these frugal technologies out of the lab and into the hands of those that need them is still a challenge. Getting entrepreneurs to invest in these kinds of projects, whereby devices constructed for 50 dollars can perform the same function as one that costs 100,000 dollars, is another huge challenge. DIY medicine subverts the capitalist 
system that is entrenched in healthcare as much as any other industry.

These technologies have applications not only in developing countries but also wherever there is unequal access to healthcare, hospitals striving to save money on routine procedures, or patients wanting to adapt their own healthcare to their specific needs. Medical tools still need to be safe and rigorously tested, but necessity is the mother of invention. 

With many healthcare professionals working in challenging conditions already taking DIY action, it’s time for more research groups to weigh in and help put health hacking into the hands of the people who have the most to gain from its affordable innovations.



original online version of this article

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Knitting A Bike Stand

Ok, so I lie. I didn't knit an actual bike stand. I knit a bike-stand-cosy. Guerrilla knitting strikes again. It is possibly the mildest (and definitely the cosy-est) form of guerrilla urban intervention, and is a pretty effective way to add a bit of colour to a grey streetscape. Personally I also enjoy the humour generated by these kind of projects, because you are effectively putting a woolly jumper on a piece of metal infrastructure. Beautifully unnecessary, and unexpected.

I chose a bike stand because I figured the sleeve would rest nicely on that, rather than having to battle with gravity on a vertical signpost-pole. I cast on about 30 stitches, using 12mm needles, i.e. big chunky ones. They give you a bigger and looser stitch so you can knit greater volumes in a shorter time. Plus they are great fun to knit with, and you can poke the person sitting next to you on the couch to your heart's content.  I estimated the length I would need. Your best bet is simply to take whatever needles and wool you have, and then measure or estimate how much width and length you need to be able to sew the long length of knitting into a sleeve that fits the bike stand / rack / pole / whatever you're having yourself.

Myself and Clare sewed this on at nighttime, mostly just to avoid strange glances. I picked a bike stand in Harold's Cross, which is the closest village to me in the Dublin suburbs. There used to be a local cinema in Harold's Cross, but ever since that closed down, there hasn't been too much to smile about in the village itself. Unless you're into dog racing. Which I'm not really. So anyway, the knitting does stand out a bit, and still is standing, about 6 weeks later. 

This is a very lazy but satisfying genre of knitting, especially if you, like me, tend to get stressed out even looking at knitting patterns for lovely things you would like to wear. Oh, and the fantastic thing is, you don't really have to bother going back to fix your mistakes, so it's perfect for (k)novice-knitters!



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Presents From Japan

I got these amazing gifts from my friend Rosa who spent a month travelling in Japan. I thought I would share them here because they are so beautifully made and nice to look at! She got me mushroom stickers, sweets, a DVD and a an adorable little ornament. Everything was nicely wrapped with delightful attention to detail that you just don't see here in Ireland!

If you are a Hayao Miyazaki fan, you may recognise the sweets from "Spirited Away". Rosa and I have always been big fans of Miyazaki making them a very thoughtful gift! We spent many nights curled up under a duvet amidst an array of snacks, watching his films and then endlessly discussing which characters we were most like. Here's the soot sprites with the sweets:

Here are some close ups of the ornament. He's so lovely and is now standing proudly on my mantlepiece. I love how simple and how beautifully made he is.

Receiving such pretty things makes me really want to go to Japan and explore the craft culture over there! Alas, I think that adventure will have to wait as I am exponentially impoverished at the moment. But one can dream right?!

Bríd x

Friday, August 30, 2013

Flowery Dinosaur!

Alas, the Brontosaurus never existed. My heart was broken when they dropped that bomb on us last year. It was as upsetting as when Pluto was no longer deemed to be a planet. The Brontosaurus was always my favourite dinosaur and I was determined to make him live on in KNITTED form. Here at Crafty Students, we like to make dinosaurs, you can see more here and here

Pete was going away to the USofA, I had no money to get him a present so I knitted him this wonderful creation. He named it Brídasaur. She has travelled far and wide in her short life, from California to New York and even to Canada. Such an adventurous spirit! Now she has settled down to life in London.

I knitted her right before all my essays were due and I was, as always, procrastinating. That's why she's covered in roses. I didn't want to swiftly return to my laptop and face the reality of my exceptionally non-existent word count. As such, I decided to embellish her with roses in order to expend more time. Flower power is a worthy excuse for procrastination. Amen. 

The pattern I used was from Jean Greenhowe's toy collection. Here's a link to her website where you can find this and more of her patterns. They're all very cute!

Here is Pete with Brídasaur nestling under his jacket. Good home for flowery dinosaur.

Have a wonderful weekend! To those of you going to Electric Picnic, go wild and have fun.

Bríd x

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Little Knitted Bear

Oh my goodness! Who is this little fellow nestling in the pocket of my dressing gown? Isn't he rather adorable?

I have so many oddments of wool. Lots of random balls of different colours and styles. Trying to figure out how I should use them up has been an ambition of mine for a while. I've been very busy this year with my Masters so I wanted to work on easy projects that didn't involve endless counting of stitches and complicated techniques. This versatile pattern ticked all the boxes. It's for "Anything Animals". A doll, a bear or a rabbit can be made following the basic structure of this pattern. Fabulous eh? 

It's a very easy pattern. Perfect for those who like to knit while chatting to friends or indulging in a spot of internet tv. I decided not to make arms for him because I thought he looked cuter without them. I have a bit pile of "Anything Animals" at home waiting to be sewed up. I am planning on sewing a looped ribbon on the top so they can be hung from a door handle, nail or even a Christmas tree when that time of year rolls around!

Bríd x

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Comforting Curry

Natalie and I are currently writing our Masters dissertations. This involves consistently being indoors, typing furiously, stressing constantly, drinking far too much coffee, over-indulgence in "comfort" food (carbs and cheese numb the pain), missing all the fun things that summer has to offer, feeling guilty when you do venture away from the desk... All in all, quite a joyous experience right?
I decided to cook a curry for Nat and I as a nice, healthy treat to cheer us up as we are currently missing Notting Hill Carnival and some beautiful sunshine. Sigh! I've written out the recipe below so that you too may enjoy some curry. I learned the art from my old roommate who is a very proficient curry-maker!

  • 1 Red Onion (diced)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (either crushed or finely chopped)
  • 1 tin of chickpeas
  • 2 red peppers
  • 1 bag of spinach
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon of tumeric
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • A few Bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • Tablespoon of olive oil
  • One cup of couscous
  1. Heat the olive oil in a pot, add the onions and garlic and fry for a few minutes. Add half the tumeric, chilli and cumin and continue to fry until the onions and garlic assume a light brown colour. 
  2. Add the tin of chopped tomatoes and cook until the mixture resembles a "ragu" style sauce.
  3. Add the chickpeas, pepper, bay leaves and remaining spices and cook for approximately 15 minutes but you can judge for yourself if they are done sooner.
  4. Add the spinach and cook until it has reduced. Boil the kettle and put the couscous in a bowl. Pour the water onto the couscous and cover with a plate. Leave for about 3-5 mins.
  5. Season the curry with salt and pepper.
  6. Put the couscous and curry onto a plate and you're ready to go!
This basic recipe can be adapted to encompass whatever meat or vegetables you would like to curry. The onions, tomatoes, garlic and spices are the core components of any curry!


Bríd x

Thursday, August 22, 2013

More Preview of Handcrafts Available at The Dublin Flea Sunday 25th August

BELOW: Delish Hand made bunting. We are SO feeling this "Keep Calm and Sew On". Email if you want a string of this fabric bunting so we know how much to bring. Anywhere between 10 and 15 Euro depending on length.

BELOW: Cork pinboards, my brother has fashioned these out of vintage frames. A new lease of life for those frames, let me tell you. Up-cycling at its most perfect.

 BELOW: Another one of my brothers creations! Vintage postage stamps + vintage picture frame. He's used a decoupaging technique here. Such a great idea, a total one off thing. We love it.

Drop an email to if you'd like to reserve something. xxx