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January 12, 2004

geek knitting
Posted by Teresa at 06:00 AM *

Here’s one example, and a second, and a third from an earlier comment thread. And here’s a fourth:

July 30, 2003: Geek Knitting I like to knit while I’m doing things on my computer. Today I think I hit the ultimate geeky knitting. I’ve been working on my Fixation socks while I installed Apache, PHP, MySQL, Perl and PHPMyAdmin on my computer. I now have a fully functional server and I’m almost to the heel on my sock. Yep, I’m a geek.
I wouldn’t say there’s any craft that doesn’t have some geek constituency, but there’s a real affinity between geeks and knitting. As mentioned here earlier, knitting just feels good; but it also has all kinds of interestingly technical variations: Aran cables, lace knitting, fairisle, plus purely knitterly jollifications like knitting two socks simultaneously, one inside the other, on a single set of needles, so that when you’re done you pull them apart and there’s your pair. (Why do it that way? Because it’s cool.) It also has an attractive deep structural logic based on geometry and proportion, pattern and shape and iterative processes. I’m not explaining this very well, but the way I understand knitting feels like the way I understand the internal structure of manuscripts, and the morphology and underlying interrelatedness of plants.

When I was eleven or twelve, and liked to sketch trees, trunk and branch and twig, I decided that all trees were somehow the same. It was as though there were a single underlying form to them, and the apparent differences of this or that species were the playing-out of a small set of rules laid upon that form in different combinations and proportions: vertical or horizontal, lax or rigid, rough or smooth, straight or curving or kinked, having greater or lesser distance between instances of new branching. I was delighted years later to hear that some branch of mathematics had decided that all trees were the same tree modified by variations on a small set of rules. And I was nonplussed years later to run into Ginkgo biloba and Metasequoia glyptostroboides, which are not based on that same tree.

The above not entirely a digression. Unless it’s been superseded since I last heard about it, the record holder for the longest-running thread on one of the major knitting mailing lists was a discussion of the Fibonacci sequence and other maths, and their application to textile design (viz., Yehudit Avrahams’ fibonacci Tallitot).

One knitter, in a salute to the Fibonacci rabbit sequence, devised a Fibonacci bunnies border pattern. Priscilla’s Probability Pullover is the only knitting pattern I know of that includes a pair of dice in its materials list. And for topologists, there’s the truly brilliant Mobius Scarf—which can be knit flat, given its half-twist, and have its head seamed or grafted to its tail, or (perhaps more satisfyingly) knit as an endless loop on circular needles—and its inevitable accompaniment, the Klein Bottle Hat. What may or may not be the canonical instructions for both can be found here.

June Oshiro, at the time a Ph.D. candidate in molecular biology, had her invention featured on the cover of Nature Genetics and in Today’s Chemist: a DNA double-helix cablestitch, which she used on a scarf she made for Professor Thomas Montville:
I designed the knitted representation of a DNA helix while working towards my Ph.D. in molecular biology. As it were, true inspiration occured during a biochemistry class. …

The scarf has slipped-stitch selvedges to give it a smooth finish. On either side of the main cable are “mini” cables spiraling towards the edge of the scarf (S twist on the left side, Z twist on the right side). The border is seed stitch. It is knit from one end to the other, instead of being knit by the Stahman provisional cast-on method, because the DNA cable is symmetrical. I switched the twist direction of the mini cables when working on the second half, otherwise the cables would be spiraling towards the center of the scarf.

This was tremendous fun to design and knit. I am actually very proud of this scarf because it accurately displays the the hydrogen bonds between nucleotides, the major and minor grooves of DNA, and the degree and rate of twist. The scarf is also both stylish and geeky—a true fashion paradox!
Ms. Oshiro kindly provides instructions for making the scarf, and a chart of the DNA cablestitch The ur-geek of knitting is Elizabeth Zimmerman, whose many innovations include EPS, and the primogenitive Pi Shawl. EZ had the Bach-and-Escher turn of mind for structure. She referred to her inventions as “unventions” because to her, they were all just logical extensions of the existing technology, a matter of seeing something that was always there rather than creating something new; so she could never believe that someone else hadn’t done it before:
Do you mind the word “unvented”? I like it. Invented sounds to me rather pompous and conceited. I picture myself as a knitting inventor, in a clean white coat, sitting in a workshop full of tomes of reference, with charts and graphs on the walls. Not real knitters’ charts, which are usually scribbled on odd and dog-eared pieces of squared paper, or even ordinary paper with homemade squares on it, but charts like sales charts, and graphs like the economy. I have a thoughtful expression behind my rimless glasses and hold a neatly-sharpened pencil. Who knows but that I don’t have a bevy of handknitters in the backroom, tirelessly toiling at the actual knit and purl of my deathless designs?


But unvented—ahh! One un-vents something; one unearths it; one digs it up, one runs it down in whatever recesses of the eternal consciousness it has gone to ground. I very much doubt if anything is really new when one works in the prehistoric medium of wool with needles. The products of science and technology may be new, and some of them are quite horrid, but knitting? In knitting there are ancient possibilities; the earth is enriched with the dust of the millions of knitters who have held wool and needles since the beginning of sheep. Seamless sweaters and one-row buttonholes; knitted hems and phony seams—it is unthinkable that these have, in mankind’s history, remained undiscovered and unknitted.
It’s the only point on which I know her to have been thoroughly and completely wrong. Surprisingly enough for something so ancient, knitting is a developing technology. This of course gives it even more geek appeal.

Barbara G. Walker, another knitter with a knack for structure, has also been doing serious R&D. Some years back she compiled four mighty and comprehensive treasuries of stitch patterns, analyzing them, demonstrating how one variation begets another, and showing how they’re all produced by a small number of stitches and rules.

More recently, Horst Schulz has been producing startling multicolored patchwork effects by breaking knitting’s traditional linear rows of stitches. There’s always been some non-linear knitting—but not like this. If you’re interested, here are how-to sequences on his Tumbling Blocks patchwork, bordered patchwork, and that weird fan-shaped tiling he’s so fond of.

But for my money, the maddest of mad geniuses at the moment is Debbie New, author of Unexpected Knitting, and creator of the famous Lace Coracle—as well as the Ouroboros jacket, the Cellular Automaton sweater, the Labyrinth sweater, some knitted teacups, a perennial garden that makes my head swim every time I look at it, and (for all love) a small Wedgewood pot.

(It would be deeply unfair for me to observe that Debbie New is so brilliant and innovative that she’s managed to do with knitting what crochet has been able to do all along. Never mind. It’s not the same technology at all. Or rather it is, but …)

(There’s a very large digression starting to form here, and I’m not going to indulge it. Later. Another time.)

Comments on geek knitting:
#1 ::: PZ Myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 10:57 AM:

When I was in grad school at the University of Oregon, knitting became a very popular activity in the biology department. Every seminar had a half-dozen or more faculty and students knitting away in the audience, and some (I won't name names) would knit faster and faster as they became more agitated over some point, so you'd have this faint but fretful auditory feedback throughout.

When I defended my thesis, my first thought when looking out over the crowd there was "Uh-oh...I've got a whole mob of Madame Defarge's sitting in judgement over me."

#2 ::: ben ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 11:31 AM:

...So if I grew up reading way too many books in and out of the house of a grandmother who sold yarn & supplies for a living, what did that make me?

(I always figured she had geek cred, stately as she is, and now I know how to put a name on it. Hee.)

#3 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 12:18 PM:

Before I met Dr. Christine Carmichael, somewhere in the 20-30 years ago era, she saw a cover of Scientific American with any early low-res false-color map of the distribution of superclusters of galaxies in the cosmos.

She grokked it.

Then she knitted herself a sweater with that exact pattern.

Then we met at a worldcon in Melbourne, Australia. A nonce-spurious anecdote would be to suggest that our first conversation was about that geek-knitting, and it resulted in our marriage. But, instead, we had a normal conversation about how we wanted to build interstellar spacecraft.

There is a high correlation between those who enjoy the sweater more after the key is identified and those who read science fiction, or are professionally geeky.

There are others who just say: "I like it abstract. Nice colors."

#4 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 12:28 PM:

Good grief. That shawl--let's hear it for 3.14159!

I used to weave, so I got to learn some of the fun math involved in patterns in the loom, but hadn't really thought about knitting that way. Sounds like a great way to keep the hands busy while plotting a novel...

If I may ask a dumb question, are there any particularly good books out there for trying out/learning knitting?

#5 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 12:59 PM:

Hi Elizabeth,

The nice people at Romny Wool recommended Debbie Bliss's Learning to Knit to me; and it's adequate; however, I'm sorry to say I'm not as impressed with it as they are. It's well structured, beautifully and usefully illustrated, and teaches all the basics: casting on, garter stitch, stocking stitch, building up a library of different stitch patterns, through cables, colour, lace, intarsia...each section has a lesson, a sample library of stitch elements you can work on, and projects that use all the things you've learned. However, the earliest projects have a lot of patterns for children's sweaters. This makes sense---children's sweaters take a lot less wool than the corresponding sweater for an adult---but if one is lacking children for whom to knit, one gets stalled at these projects, not knowing how to scale them up for a larger wearer. In addition, I found the very first instruction, for making a slip knot, impossible to follow. If I hadn't known how from my Girl Guide days, I'd have been stalled at the first page, which would have been very frustrating.

I've more or less decided to take the stitch libraries that the book gives me and do safe projects (shoulder bags, cushion covers, little knit purses) with them, until I get to a grownup-sized sweater, since I do find _most_ of her instructions quite clear, and all of her illustrations most helpful and inspiring. Someday I _will_ knit a sweater. Really I will. I fear the pi shawl is beyond even my dreams.

I'd be interested to hear other people's impressions of either Debbie Bliss's book or of other "Learn to Knit" books.

#6 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 01:15 PM:

Jonathan: I wonder if you've seen this false color mosaic of the moon mapping the mineral content, from NASA's picture of the day website. It's a bit busy and maybe a little too abstract, but could be a nice companion sweater.

My mother did me a helix sweater-- one cable of helix, down the left side. Took two years, but it's finally done. She had had a problem because even though she's right-handed, she knits lefty for some reason, so the helix kept coming out backwards or inside-out or some such. Unfortunately, the finished product is somewhat oddly shaped, and won't block properly, so it's a difficult wear. She promised a scarf, though. It's probably better suited to that anyway.

#7 ::: Sara ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 02:25 PM:

What a fascinating post!

I feel lucky that the friend who taught me to knit showed me that knitting is something to think about and not just do. She loaned me Barbara Walker's Treasury of Knitting Patterns, and browsing through that book inspired me to keep going as I struggled through my first scarf. It was in a basketweave pattern that I picked out, because my friend said garter stitch was "too easy and boring." One of my favorite recent projects was Elizabeth Zimmermans' short-row garter stitch baby blanket - simple but so nifty that working on it was never boring.

#8 ::: Genesis ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 02:29 PM:


I just started knitting myself, and I'm using Debbie Stoller's book Stitch 'n Bitch, which is fun and irreverent and has some great patterns (including some basic beginner scarfs and such). The how-to illustrations aren't great - I can follow the beginner stuff with no problem, but it's harder for me to tell what's going on with some of the more advanced techniques. When I get to that point, I figure I'll throw myself on the mercy of my local yarn store denizens.

#9 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 02:38 PM:

Adam, if I could figure it out, it would be a magnificent sweater or shawl....

I was taught by a lefty and I knit left-handed. Where I'm knitting in 'public', I often get long, odd looks, then 'oh, you're doing it left handed...." I learned to knit at about 8 years old.

I've recently taken up / fallen in love with making lampworked glass beads, and have just about given up on my fiber arts. EXCEPT knitting.

#10 ::: qB ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 03:07 PM:

Damn! and I thought I was the only person to explore maths in knitting.

One particular favourite was to start with the alphabet in morse code (x and blank), write an appropriate word or series of initials as the base and then run Xor or other similar function in a spreadsheet. Binary numbers would also do, I suppose. Then you have a unique pattern which can form the basis for work in either colour or texture.

I love the idea of the probability cable.

I went to the Freud Museum here in London the other day and was interested to see both a weaving loom and evidence of serious knitting in Anna Freud's room. Apparently she was a fibre enthusiast. There was a beautiful knitted throw over a reclining chair. I sat and copied the cable pattern into my palm, despite the uncomprehending mirth of my companions.

Thanks for the best knitting post ever!

#11 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 03:36 PM:

I do freeform crochet, and the book I always recommend to people who want to learn the basics is Maggie Righetti's Crochet in Plain English - she also has Knitting in Plain English, which I have to think would be every bit as good.

#12 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 03:45 PM:

The DNA stitch stuff in Nature Genetics was popular among the many knitters in my group at work; not surprising, since we do work at a high-throughput DNA sequencing faciliity.

The UK 2003 £2 coin, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the double helix, was also a great deal of fun to find.

#13 ::: Kat ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 03:54 PM:

Thanks for the mention of crochet at the end there...
Otherwise I should have felt quite left out, as the resident lurking crochet/writing/coding geek. I make hats that are the envy of all my knitting friends, since crochet is inherently suited to exciting three dimensional shapes in ways that knitting is only beginning to be.

#14 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 04:55 PM:

Since I've been knitting on and off for 30 years, I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment on what makes a good beginner's book. But Sally Melville's books (The Knit Stitch and The Purl Stitch seem to me to have some excellent illustrations and advice.

A number of local women like the Stitch-n-Bitch book. I thought it was just ok.

#15 ::: catie murphy ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 05:11 PM:

Darn it, you're making me want to learn to knit!

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 05:30 PM:

I found Maggie Righetti's knitting book less good than her crochet book; but then, her crochet book is excellent.

I learned to crochet when I was four, and learned it the way one learns languages at that age. I can do freehand free-form 3D objects with multicolored zigzag stripes, and in fact have. It was a googly-eyed lizard with a lolloping curly pink tongue. I made it for my Granny the first Christmas after Grandpa died. She's the one who taught me to crochet. I kept her going through the whole run-up to Christmas, trying to guess what the devil I was making, then presented it to her on Christmas Eve.

I was sort of nominally taught to knit garter stitch when I was young, but I never took to it. Then, in the 1980s, I taught myself to knit. Doing it that way gives you a real appreciation of clear, precise technical writing.

If I had to do it all over again, the books I'd want would be Barbara Walker's stitch patterns (I think there's a combined volume out now), and Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Without Tears. If I were going to add more books to that list, I'd get the rest of Elizabeth Zimmerman's books.

I like the act of knitting, I like the fabric it produces, and I like the organic logic of planning a piece of knitwear. Still, it's like driving along a road. Crocheting is like flying one of those zippy little helicopters that can take off in any direction at any moment.

#17 ::: Kylee Peterson ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 05:38 PM:

I'm just starting to really get into knitting, so I'll be back to comment in about a couple of years when I've played with all those links. Thanks!

#18 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 05:43 PM:

Ooooh! Those mobius scarves look very pretty and practical -- especially in this weather! -- as well as being mathematically curious. I've printed out the instructions and am going to try an all-one-piece one! If I can get it to work, guess what my sisters and nieces are getting next Christmas? (Maybe my nephew the math major too.)

#19 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 05:47 PM:

I can finger knit and that's about it.

(In second grade, there was an odd finger-knitting fad which swept our school for no particular reason. I can finger-knit rope out to nowhere, but otherwise I think my minor motor skills all go to art.)

That DNA cable knit is cool though....and yes, I too want to stave off Alzheimers and retain some sort of zen calm. (My nerves could use it.)

#20 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 05:47 PM:

I was taught by a lefty and I knit left-handed.

Paula, my mom was left-handed* and refused to teach me knitting for fear I'd learn backwards. When I finally learned it (from a book), she realized she'd been doing it right-handed all along!

*Actually, Mom was fairly ambidextrous, but she always thought of herself as a southpaw.

#21 ::: Lucy ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 05:48 PM:

I'm absolute shit at mathematics. I wonder if there's any corrolation to my abysmal failure to either learn or like to knit? I've always found it difficult and non-soothing and I have to pay attention to what I'm doing or it goes all wrong. Much like, say, algebra.

#22 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 07:11 PM:


Teresa, is there any particular thing votive offerings of which incline you to teach knitting to the hapless knitting-impaired that I may stock up on it in hopes?

#23 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 08:14 PM:

I see an elegant geek manifesto here: "Why do it that way? Because it's cool."


#24 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 08:38 PM:

No. NO! No more new craft projects until I've finished my quilt. I've only just started it, for pity's sake, and it's already been delayed over a year for me to finish my cloak.

*Then* I'll get on to knitting.

The quilt's going to be a denim patchwork bedspread made out of my old jeans stockpile. At the moment, I'm having the delicious joy of ripping them apart with a quick-unpick while watching DVDs. I love a hobby with a destructive component. There's something really satisfying about tearing them into the neatest, biggest pieces I can.

#25 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 10:46 PM:

Julia, all I require is that you bring needles and yarn. I'll talk your ear off. Medium-size needles that aren't too slippery, and nice stretchy wool, are probably your best option.

Note: Deborah and Kate both work in the retail yarn biz. I expect they'll be turning up here any second.

Kip: Exactly.

Vassilissa, if you run short, I have a box of disassembled bluejeans around here somewhere ...

#26 ::: Jamie McCarthy ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 11:05 PM:

"It was as though there were a single underlying form to them, and the apparent differences of this or that species were the playing-out of a small set of rules laid upon that form in different combinations and proportions: vertical or horizontal, lax or rigid, rough or smooth, straight or curving or kinked, having greater or lesser distance between instances of new branching."

Have you seen Richard Dawkins' book "The Blind Watchmaker"? He wrote a "biomorph" program for it which simply produced stick-figure trees on command -- which could be mutated to have longer or more branches, droopier, bushier, and so on.

Here's a review that includes a Java applet which is very similar:

#27 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 12:08 AM:

Jamie, I don't know Dawkins' work, but I do own a copy of something called The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants, by Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz and Aristid Lindenmayer. West Coast Mike Walsh gave it to me some years ago when he was visiting. We went through it together. Mr. Mike understood the math far better than I did, whereas I could look at the forms the math generated and call off the species of plants. We had fun. If you have a copy of it, check out the tree demo on page 60. Page 81 is fun too; they know the math that generated the plant, and though they don't know the species, they can look at the specimen and recognize it as a member of the mint family. They're best with the umbelliferae and athyriaceae, but then the book's copyright 1990 -- early days for this sort of thing, I gather.

#28 ::: Neotoma ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 02:08 AM:

The Interweave Knits Fall '03 has a whole article on Geek Chic plus a spread of variations on the DNA cable.

For beginning knitters, Sally Melville's The Knit Stitch is probably my favorite.

You might also want to look for weavers. Not just the Fibonacci sequence, but symmetry and tesselation, too. Some of overshot patterns look like Escher backgrounds -- and are a real pain to thread correctly.

#29 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 06:01 AM:


nice stretchy wool

that narrows it down to about fifteen pounds... (yarn fanatic. dammit, I'm out and proud).

#30 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 09:09 AM:

I was in a yarn shop in Marble Hill that doesn't exist any more, rummaging through their oddball bins, only peripherally aware that another customer had come in and was chatting with the shopkeeper. Then the shopkeeper pointed to me and said, "She's another one just like you."

I was momentarily baffled: ex-Mormon? SF fan? Narcoleptic? Litcrit editor? What did she mean?

"Ooooh, are you a yarn junkie too?" said the other customer -- and I blushed like an all-over sunburn. It had never occurred to me that anyone else might share my secret addiction, or that it had, all along, been visible to those around me.

#31 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 09:35 AM:

TNH: Lindenmayer systems are popular for generating trees and other plants in computer-generated images. There's software floating around on the internet for generating them; Laurens Lapre9's LParser is one of them, and he's done some wonderful stuff with it.

#32 ::: Caro ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 10:43 AM:

I had to laugh when I read this piece. I grew up in a household where my mother knit and crocheted frequently and my father was a programmer. There are many memories of the two of them sitting on the couch together going over a pattern, discussing how it could be altered to fit the changes Mom wanted to make. Dad did the numbers, she did the swatches.

My brother's apparently set up a program for her to help calculate those changes now that Dad's gone, but she says it's nowhere near as fun.

#34 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 11:52 AM:

Would I be enabling you if I told you that there's a yarn shop across from the Morgan on Park that has really good oddball bins?

Oh, sure I would.

#35 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 12:17 PM:

TNH>When I was eleven or twelve, and liked to sketch trees, trunk and branch and twig, I decided that all trees were somehow the same. It was as though there were a single underlying form to them, and the apparent differences of this or that species were the playing-out of a small set of rules laid upon that form in different combinations and proportions...
later>Jamie, I don't know Dawkins' work, but I do own a copy of something called The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants....

Teresa - Do you know D'Arcy Thompson's "On Growth and Form"? I think this is the first systematic look at how biological forms vary according to quite minor translations

#36 ::: ers ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 12:54 PM:

Bless you, Teresa, for noticing the connection between technical writing and knitting/crocheting patterns! I'm a tech writer who got back into crocheting a year ago, and just re-taught myself how to knit from _Stitch-n-Bitch_. Just about every pattern I read has me longing to rewrite it (with extreme prejudice) so that it is, byghod, CLEAR and UNAMBIGUOUS. WITH illustrations.

*whew* I feel better now.

Never mind the need to standardize terminology, etc. etc....

Sheesh. I hate unneccessary obfuscation. I think generations of knitters/crocheters are just used to making do with difficult-to-follow patterns, and don't really think about rebelling. On the other hand, it does foster a lovely subculture at knitting/yarn stores, where the knowledgeble staff are happy to help neophytes choose projects and supplies, and are still around to rescue those projects when they go all askew weeks or months later...

#37 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 02:25 PM:

This link may already be in the comments or the post that kicked them off. If so, I apologize. The knit-geeks at Woolly Thoughts have put together a pattern for a Fibre-nacci, which is an exploration of the math along two axis.

One of my favorite patterns (sadly, I can't find it right this second), used several scraps of paper in order to randomize the stripe patterns. After checking out the Probability Pullover, I suspect you could do the same with dice. I'm now itching to try some geekerly knitting. Wonder how much yarn is in the stash...

#38 ::: Menolly ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 05:06 PM:

I code Perl[1]. (and I like it!) Reading the vast majority of crochet and knit patterns seems easy to me, either as a result (skills learned in one realm transferring), or for the same reasons (underlying abilities making both simpler).

My current works in progress are:
- crochet Aran vest, in dark green cotton
- the Haight Street sweater from BH&G Simply Creative Crochet, in Plymouth Encore Colorspun DK, purple/blue/white (the first from the left)
- Needle Beetle's Tiger Swallowtail Shawl. I wanted to use the colors of the actual butterfly, so I'm using Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock in Bee Stripe.

Upcoming is the Great American Aran Afghan. I'm doing this one in heathered green and fisherman Wool-Ease, as an afghan this size requires rather a lot of yarn, and my budget is not unlimited. I plan to checkerboard the colors, probably expanding to a 5x5 afghan, and do the border in green. The yarn for this hasn't arrived yet.

[1] Programming language whose motto is "There's more than one way to do it!". Its detractors tend to refer to it as "line noise". By comparison, the multiple ways I've seen equivalent concepts expressed in patterns is trivial.

#39 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 05:23 PM:

Mea Culpa everyone!

The book by Debbie Bliss that I mentioned yesterdy is How to Knit, not Learn to Knit. I went home and looked at it again last night.

And someday I'll get beyond the first stitch library, really I will!

#40 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 07:38 PM:

I'm happy to teach anyone how to knit. It takes about 15 minutes. I'm glad to do it at any con I'm at or well, just about any where. Just let me know, and I'll make sure I have a handout and yarn and needles for you. The first one's free you see.

I'll be at Aresia, Boskone, possibly Lunacon, and Noreascon4.

Teresa knows where to find me.


#41 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 08:25 PM:

Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts, in Knitting in the Old Way, says knitting is only known to date back to AD 1100, which is old but surprisingly new for non-capital-intensive clothing technique. Well, surprised me, anyway.

I have just taken up tatting, because I love knots, but unfortunately it aggravates keyboard-induced tendon trouble. Next comes bobbin lace, which (I hope) will be independent of tendon trouble, and full of knots; but is annoyingly sessile.

#42 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 08:41 PM:

Ha! I was looking for earlier examples of knitting and came across this:

"Although the origins of knitting are obscure, old woodcuts and medieval illuminations place its ascendance in Europe at about the same time that the game of chess and the mathematical approach of algebra became known to Westerners.a0 Indeed, among the earliest knitted textiles discovered in Europe are two Islamic-inspired knitted cushions, whose patterns one of whose patterns suggests castles on a chessboard.[1]"

Loosely connected, the hefty recreational mathematics in some Victorian ladies' magazines coincided with complicated clothes that they did a lot of their own drafting for.

#43 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 03:02 AM:

Teresa wrote:
Vassilissa, if you run short, I have a box of disassembled bluejeans around here somewhere ...

Thank you. I don't know that I want to think of running out, though - given the size of my jeanspile, that suggests a scarily long project.

#44 ::: JB Segal ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 03:01 PM:

It's worth noting that Barbara Walker's son has been hanging out in fandom for a great many years now, had a whole 1st career as a Computer Geek (with security as a specialty) and is now looking at a second career in theater lighting.

But he doesn't knit - or at least not that he's admitted to me. I suppose it was the trauma of that picture in one of her books. :)

#45 ::: ers ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 04:05 PM:

I was wondering if that was the same Barbara Walker who wrote _The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets_. Sounds like they share an affinity for generating and/or noticing patterns and algorithms (archetypes/myths being another kind of pattern) -- they just manifest it differently.

#46 ::: Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 05:11 PM:

That is indeed the same Barbara Walker. She has had a whole second writing career after she did the knitting stitch treasuries.

#47 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2004, 10:57 PM:

The woman who does the knitting program inthe NJ school in the knitting thread below was named the Knitter of the year - 2003 by Knitter's Magazine.

#48 ::: Hil ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2004, 06:07 AM:

A few years ago there was a woman here in Australia who had an art exhibition of knitted breasts of all shapes, sizes and colours. When I went googling to see if I could show you, I instead found that the Australian Breastfeeding Association now knits and sells them as instruction models.

I also found Eleanor Kent's knitted fractal designs and Freddie Robin's subversive sweaters, and was reminded of these sacred geometry exercises from a sunflower, a nautilus shell, a snowflake, a six-petalled flower.

#49 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2004, 12:27 PM:

Julia -- would that one across from the Morgan be on the second floor of its building? I think I've spotted it in passing.

I like the idea that non-knitters and -crocheters who happen to read this thread are finding out where "oddball" comes from. It's like the time I was walking through a public garden with a friend, and I explained that the little glass-topped wooden frames that give germinating plants a head start in the early spring are called hotbeds ...

Menolly, SQL for Knitters looks very interesting, but I can't figure out what it's supposed to do.

Hil, those sound interesting. I'll have a look at them when I get back from the market.

#50 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2004, 05:34 PM:

Teresa: my impression from taking a brief look at SQL for Knitters was that it was intended as an SQL tutorial written in knitting lingo (so to speak).

#51 ::: Rana ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2004, 05:50 PM:

What a cool conversation! The old Reader's Digest guide to needlework has decent stuff on basic knitting, with good illustrations and clear photographs. The colors and projects are gross, though.

I too find that crochet is good for free-form, on the fly 3-D creating; I can whip out little animals and weird hats very quickly when crocheting, but am very slow when knitting. (My weird way of "throwing" the yarn probably has something to do with it -- the bane of the self-taught knitter...)

I find knitting is a wonderful activity during computer work, especially time-consuming procedures that still require constant human attention (like waiting for images to load on my slow dialup at home).

Great post!

#52 ::: kbsalazar ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2004, 07:58 PM:

Yup. The secret's out. [grin]

I posted this to the KnitList almost ten years ago: "Knitting is, at its fundamentals, a binary code featuring top-down design, standardized submodules, and recursive logic that relies on ratios, mathematical principles, and an intuitive grasp of three-dimensional geometry."

I firmly believe that everyone who knits has the mental wiring installed that given the right set of educational exposures and encouragements, could well have produced a programmer, musician, or mathemetician. Back when the 'net had just escaped the nation's labs, and fems with eMail access were few and far between, we noticed a huge correlation between fiber arts (especially knitting and weaving) and engineering/tech careers; with side correlations against SF readership; and historical re-creation hobbies. This link was especially surprising when compared with some other needle arts that one might think would have been well represented, like highly geometric quilting or graph-focused cross stitching.

Just think of those generations of women who were denied all ability to express the joy of this mindset in anything other than their knitting. Who knows what might have been accomplished if women were able to exercise these skills for something more than recreation/relaxation or (if paid at all) minimal wage.

Does anyone know if Ada Lovelace knit? I bet she did...

#53 ::: Menolly ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2004, 08:58 PM:

SQL for Knitters is basically a database design and SQL tutorial aimed at knitters and using a knitting-stuff database for the example project. One of the geekier knitting-related projects I"m aware of.

#54 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 08:22 AM:

Julia -- would that one across from the Morgan be on the second floor of its building? I think I've spotted it in passing.

Yeah, that's the one. They're really lovely people, and they have neat odd stuff on sale at the end of every season.

#55 ::: Varia ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 06:57 PM:

So random question that I thought I might as well throw out here: anybody flown with circulars lately? I want to finish my project on the plane tomorrow but I also don't want to end up checking them (snark, snark).

The last time I tried, they went through just fine, but that was a year ago and since there were also scissors (pointy ones, no less) in the bag, I'm kinda thinking that was a statistical anomaly.

#56 ::: Menolly ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 03:12 AM:

Haven't tried with a circ, but I flew with DPNs a while back. Knitting needles should be on the approved list; taking a printout documenting such might be useful. For a circ, I suspect having a project on the needle will help; it's less likely you'll try to strangle someone with it.

#57 ::: metasilk ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2004, 01:42 PM:

My favorite sweater was the one I made in college, during Intro to Quantum Dynamics, than a decade ago. My professor later suggested had I knit less and taken more notes I'd've done better. The sweater, on the other hand, I still have.

#58 ::: otherdeb ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2004, 02:50 PM:

The store across form the Morgan Library is Yarn Connection, and they are one of my favorite yarn stores in the city (and I grew up with Smiley's as my LYS). The other two are Smiley's and Seaport.

#59 ::: kelly ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 05:00 AM:

I never knew there was this many people knitting!



#60 ::: Karen Mattern ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2004, 05:49 PM:

I love your site - please keep it coming. I couldn't agree more about the happy reiterativeness of knitting, and its being a part of nature, apart from the materials (wool, cotton, silk, etc and wood, bone or ivory needles), but also the fractal nature of the stitch patterns. Anyway, I love knitting, and I love your site, and I look forward to seeing more.

I've just come back to knitting after a long 'vacation,' and I notice I'm knitting all sorts of things that look like they washed up from the sea.

#61 ::: Karen ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2004, 05:26 PM:

I guess this thread is finished, but I'm curious - if there happens to be anyone out there - do a lot of you know each other? The Morgan Library, etcetera - I'm wondering, where are you? I'm in Berkeley, California, and I was a philosophy undergraduate at UC (years ago), and most of my further studies were in the humanities. But I've always knitted and back in my day, people certainly looked askance if you were knitting in an academic setting.

#62 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2004, 09:26 AM:

Many of the people in this thread would enjoy _Knitting for Anarchists_, which is an intermediate-to-advanced exploration of what's really going on in knitting and knitting patterns. Also known as 'how to figure out what the hell the pattern really wants you to do, instead of what it's TELLING you to do, since it doesn't know you knit exactly the way you do.' I've always purled 'backwards' -- I knit Continental, and instead of wrapping the yarn around the needle the way I'm apparently supposed to (which struck me as over-difficult), I do it the other way, which means that if I follow knitting patterns exactly I end up with a lot of twisted stitches.

#63 ::: Louise Nicholson ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 04:16 PM:

I am researching Madame Defarge's knitting--how was she putting the names in her "register"? Do you have any good sites to suggest that show how she did it? I did see the reference to the Morse code and knitting. I don't knit; I crochet. My daughter's class is studying -Tale of Two Cities- and I thought it would be fun to send in a sample of crocheting with a name in it.

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