Humble felt seems to be undergoing a bit of a crafty renaissance at the moment. Events in London include the monthly 'Get Felt Up' in the trendy Shoreditch area of London. If it's okay for the trendsters, it's okay for us too. Two Creatology writers, Joseph and Christine, visited the Drink, Shop & Do cafe in London's King's Cross for a night of making our own cuddly bacteria out of felt, sequins and wool. The evening was organised by Science London. Whose bacteria would be the best-looking? Would either of them win the evening's prize (a cocktail)? Would anyone know the answers to the quiz? Would drinking wine impede the ability to glean any new facts about bacteria?
To find out the answer to all this, and more, read on. But first a quick guide to making your own (probably not suitable for small children on account of the stuck-on sequins).
You'll need: Some felt, some wool or thick thread, some craft glue, some sequins, some newspaper to stuff your bacterium with, and some imagination. Let's go!
1. Cut out your bacterium shape from felt. Round for staphylococcus, rod-shaped like salmonella or waved for the spiral-shaped Treponema pallidum that causes syphilis. I opted to make a squeezy staphylococcus.
2. Sew or stick on some wool string or cut up felt for the DNA. For DNA, bacteria tend to have one circular chromosome all ruched up and squiggly [there's quite a good illustration of bacterial DNA here]. Bacteria don't have a nucleus so go wild with that DNA and put those squiggles everywhere.
Add some plasmids if you want. They are little circular bits of DNA that aren't as important as the main chromosome. Otherwise known as more wool or felt.
3. Go crazy and stick some sequin ribosomes on your bacteria. In case you didn't know, ribosomes translate genetic code from DNA into amino acids, which make up proteins.
4. Sew the felty bacterium together at its edges and stuff it with some ripped up newspaper before you sew it up the whole way.
6. Add any other decorations? A face maybe? It's your bacterium after all.
That's it. And now for the moment of truth. I can reveal that Joseph won with his handcrafted Clostridium. Creatology FTW! "They are straight rods - purple under a Gram stain and are peritrichous - i.e. they have flagella uniformly distributed over the surface of the cell," explains Creatology's Joseph. Gram staining is a method for identifying and classifying bacteria, turning bacteria with a thick peptidoglaycan layer in their cell walls violet - those with only a thin layer don't stain. Note that Joe's bacterium (below) has purple edges and flagella to show that the Clostridium is Gram positive. I feel sure that it was Joseph's craft-skillery and knowledge-geekery that resulted in his triumph.
So... it was fun. But did we learn anything?
Joseph says: "It was a great way of learning about bacteria - I will now never forget what Clostridia are like, because I spent several hours stitching one together."
As well as an instruction sheet with facts there was also a bacteria general knowledge quiz. I think that the quiz served to highlight what I didn't know about bacteria as much as what I did. Which is useful because it teaches you not to assume you know anything when you haven't studied biology since the age of 16. Overall, I think you would have to be at least mildly interested in science (and not just the cocktails at the bar) to want to attend an event like this. But even those that have graduated in microbiology can just have fun creating their own cuddly bacterium.
What do you think: Are these kinds of events useful for getting lay people engaged in science?