Category Archives: math


Gauge. Argh.

So the good news is, I really like the way the twisted slipped stitch pattern looks with the Solemate yarn. It breaks up the pooling a bit and looks pretty neat!

The bad news is, while I was admiring the pattern, I was ignoring the little voice in my head that was whispering, “it’s too big.” I finally got out my ruler, checked my gauge (26 stitches over 3 inches), plugged it into my calculator (8.5 inches times 26 stitches divided by 3 inches, minus about 10% for a snug fit), and came to the painful realization that I’m going to have to frog it and redo. Again.


But isn’t it pretty?

On the brink of frogging....


Tuesday is Tools Day: I ♥ Charts!

I’ve already talked about how I use my yarn scale and a spreadsheet to maximize my yarn usage or check to make sure I’ll have enough yarn to finish a project. I use a spreadsheet for most of my knitting calculations (figuring out stitch counts, increases, decreases, etc.). I also find spreadsheets really, really handy for making knitting charts.

Charts are one of those things that knitters either love or despise. Everyone’s brain works differently, so I suppose it depends on how your particular wiring is connected. We already know that my wiring is seriously geeky, so it should come as no surprise that I adore charts with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I love the fact that they take up less space than pages of written directions. I love that I can see how the different rows in my pattern correspond to each other. I love that I knit faster and with fewer errors if I know that the YO in row 11 should be directly above the k2tog in row 9.

I vastly prefer patterns with charts. I won’t even go near lace without a chart, so if a pattern doesn’t have a chart and I absolutely, positively must knit that pattern, I’ll create my own chart to use for that project.

One of the things that I love about charts is that they make it easier to substitute your own stitches if you desire. I was looking at a sitch pattern the other day that called for “slip 1, knit 1, psso.” This makes a left-leaning decrease. If I’d rather work that decrease as ssk, I can just substitute ssk for that symbol. With the written directions, I’d have to stop and translate it each time. Similarly, if you wanted to place a bead on a shawl instead of working a nupp or a bobble, you could just change what that symbol means to you and use the chart as written.

You can create basic charts in any spreadsheet program—or even just plain old graph paper— by making your rows and columns into small squares. (If you want to get really fancy—and this can be helpful for color work—you can adjust the size of your rows and columns to correspond to your row and stitch gauge.) You can use simple characters (/ for k2tog, \ for ssk, O for a yo, – for a purl stitch, | or a blank square for a knit stitch, etc.) or you can get fancy and use a knitting font. There are a couple out there, but I use this one by Aire River Design. It’s got most of the symbols that I need and use frequently, and best of all, it’s free.

Charts & swatchingI had a lace idea in mind for the green sweater, so I trolled around in my stitch libraries, looking for something that I could adapt to meet the design in my head. I found one in Vogue Knitting Stitchionary 5: Lace Knitting that gave me a good start. (I have several stitch libraries that I use frequently; the VK books include charts for all their stitch patterns, which makes them some of my most-used stitch references.) I made some changes to the shape and the size, added a section on the left, then mirrored it on the right. Then I decided to turn the pattern on its side and resize it to use on the sleeve. I stayed up far too late last night, but when I was done, I had several charts ready to go for my cardigan.

Tell me, do you like charts? Or do you prefer written out instructions?

The Genius of Shirley Paden

Well, life derailed some of my knitting plans last week. (Unfortunately, I am unable to knit teeth to replace the two that my son had broken or a new camera to replace the one that I managed to drop. Knitting is also very little help in preparing tax returns, although I find it quite effective to combat the stress of doing so, especially when combined with wine.) But even though last week wasn’t the best week I’ve had, the weekend ended on a fabulous note.

Knitwear Design BasicsOn Sunday, I headed up to the Knitting Boutique, a fabulous yarn shop in the Baltimore, MD, area, to attend a Knitwear Design Class with Shirley Paden. It was, in a word, incredible. I have Shirley’s book, Knitwear Design Basics, which I highly recommend if you’re interested in designing your own patterns. And if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to take this class, take it! It was wonderful to be able to sit down with Shirley and ask questions about the things that puzzled me.

To prepare for the class, we had to sketch out a design and knit a large (8″x8″) swatch in our chosen yarn & stitch pattern. I have a sweater’s worth of Miss Babs Yowza – Whatta Skein! in a gorgeous tonal purple (colorway “lilacs”) that I purchased at Rhinebeck last fall. I’ve been pondering the yarn for a while.

Cardigan Design Sketch

My terrible sketch. (There is a reason I majored in math and not in art!)

I knew I wanted to make a scooped-neck cardigan, something fairly simple and classy, that would go with either jeans and a tee-shirt or with slacks and pearls. I envisioned something that was mostly stockinette, with a little bit of lace on either side of the button band to add a feminine touch, with matching lace panels on the back. With my limited (!!!) artistic abilities, I drew out a simple sketch.

SwatchesI knit a couple of small swatches in stockinette, trying out various needle sizes. I decided that size 7 needles gave me a fabric that was nice and drapey, but not sloppy. So I knit my larger swatch with those needles. The lace portion proved a bit more problematic. I had seen a sweater that had a lace pattern that I liked, but I didn’t have that pattern to refer to, so I had to do a bit of detective work (and a ton of swatching!) to work out a lace pattern that I was happy with. (Interestingly, I did eventually stumble across the other pattern in a book at my LYS, and I discovered that I’d approached the lace pattern quite differently… and I liked mine much better!) Unfortunately, I ran out of time to make a large swatch in stockinette and the lace pattern, but as I was able to get a full-width lace panel in my smaller swatch, I think it will work out fine. I blocked both swatches as I would the finished sweater; I treated both to a nice, long soak in Eucalan, then spread them out on my blocking boards. I did run blocking wires down the sides of the swatches, to minimize curling, but I didn’t pull them tightly, just patted them gently into shape and let them air-dry.

A note on swatching: Shirley advocates knitting a really large swatch, at least 8″x8″. She says that you hold the needles and manipulate the stitches differently for a large swatch than you do for a small swatch, and you want your knitting experience to be as close to the actual project as possible. This approach agrees with what I found with my Lanesplitter swatch, so I’ll be doing this in the future!

Shirley Paden and me

Shirley Paden and me (no, I have no idea what was going on with my hair or why it was so asymmetrical that day)

I took my sketches and my swatches with me on Saturday to the class. Shirley Paden is both a lovely woman and a dynamite teacher. She walked us through all the calculations we’d need to taper a sweater at the waist or the sleeves, transition from a border at one gauge to a sweater body at another gauge, or evenly bind-off along a neck edge. (Knitting math, yay!) Along the way, she shared a ton of advice and knitting standards that we can use to create our own patterns. At the end of the class, we had a few minutes to take our measurements, so we can customize our pattern for a perfect fit.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted (the time change and losing an hour of sleep didn’t help!), so I put on my jammies, knit a few rows on the Lanesplitter, and called it a day. I have to finish up some of my current works-in-progress, and then I can dive into designing this cardigan in earnest!

Knitting Math

Yesterday I posted about ambitious knitting. Which got me thinking about why I knit. If you enjoy a craft, it’s usually because you enjoy both the act of doing it as well as the finished product when you’re done. Many knitters are perfectly happy knitting and wearing garter stitch scarves. There’s clearly no obligation to pursue ambitious knitting projects, so why do I?

For one thing, I like wearing socks and sweaters and lace shawls, so it makes sense that I’d want to make those sorts of things. And for another… well, I suppose I view knitting as an intellectual exercise as much as a craft. I’ve always loved puzzles and logic problems. Heck, most of my undergraduate & graduate studies were spent problem-solving (mathematics, operations research, and computer science). B.C. (before children), I designed computer software and websites. I guess knitting was a logical progression!

Knitting presents an interesting puzzle for me… how do you manipulate yarn to make complex lace patterns or to fit the curves of a human body? The mathematician in me loves problems like that. And the knitter in me appreciates that knitted fabric is nice and stretchy, so dipping into triple integral calculus is purely optional.

I always have to stifle a chuckle when I hear knitters complain about “knitting math.” To me, that’s some of the fun of it! Yes, I do realize that this is not a common view. 🙂

Case in point: My Lanesplitter Skirt. The original pattern calls for casting on in a corner, increasing on both edges to make a large triangle. When the right side is the length you want the skirt to be, you start decreasing on the right side and continue increasing on the left side. When the left side is as wide as you want the skirt to be, you decrease on both sides back to a point, then seam up the short side to form a tube. Very clever pattern.

Before I decided to make one of my own, I spent some time reading the project pages on Ravelry (okay, not all 1,457 of them, but enough of them to get an idea about the pattern). Many people commented that they didn’t like the way the stripe colors didn’t match up at the seam, so they suggested that you start with a provisional cast-on, work only the straight section (decreasing at the start of every right-side row and increasing at the end), and then graft the skirt closed at the end, so you get a seamless tube. This sounded brilliant to me!

But how to determine the correct size? I reasoned that we’re knitting a parallelogram (the top and bottom of the skirt will be the same number of rows and thus should be the same size once blocked, and the sides of the seam to be grafted will be the same length). The original pattern called for increasing equally on both sides of the work, so you should end up with a triangle with roughly equal-length sides. This means that you have a 45-45-90-degree triangle. (Sorry if that flashback to geometry class was painful for you!) Which means that the hypotenuse of the triangle is the length of one side times the square root of two (approximately 1.414). So if I want my finished skirt to be 19.5″ long, I need to cast on enough stitches to make approximately 27.6″ of knitting (19.5 times 1.414). My gauge (after washing) was 19.5 stitches per 4 inches, so I needed to cast on 27.6″ times 19.5 stitches divided by 4″ = 134 stitches. I expected the weight of the fabric to cause the fabric of the finished skirt to stretch a bit more than my gauge swatch, so I rounded down to 130 stitches.

I just measured my skirt again, and found that it’s about 18.5″ from one edge to the other. It hasn’t been blocked yet, so with blocking and the way I anticipate that the fabric will stretch lengthwise when I wear it, my skirt should come in right about 19.5″ when it’s done. Yay for knitting math!

How do you feel about knitting math? Do you embrace it or avoid it?