a numbers game

i may have mentioned before that i have a fraught relationship with the discipline of mathematics. this has sometimes proved challenging for my knitting. i can look at numbers and see overall patterns (which helps with IQ tests) but if i have to concentrate on the detail things start to go blurry, theres a funny noise in my head (like a child singing lalalalalalaimnotlisteningtoyou) and i get this glazed look on my face, like ive suddenly turned into the ultimate bimbo. so working out gauge, yarn substitution and resizing in my knitting does not come naturally.

one of my current works-in-progress, the summer solstice cardigan, requires a little more thought than your standard top down raglan. i understood the beginning, which is a provisional cast on in the middle of the back of the neck, which is then worked outwards with some shaping. after about the first 30 rows, it gets a little more complicated. i had to provisionally cast on more stitches and then join that to the first piece, and then start some even more complicated shaping as you work the front and back yoke at the same time and head down the shoulder and sleeve. i thought if i just followed line by line i would understand what was happening, but i was nervous, given my gauge wasnt exact. and the part where i had to join the front and back part of the yoke together just made no sense as written instructions. theres that visual thing again. luckily, i am blessed with some very clever knitting friends who can take your knitting from you, turn it the right way around and say ‘you just do this and then this’ and suddenly, you have something that starts to make sense:

its not all smooth sailing from here though. the complicated shaping to make a shoulder and the top of a sleeve is written with those dreaded instructions “At The Same Time”. those 4 words have brought me undone a number of times before, and given the two things that required doing were not happening on the same row, or the same number of times, a simple row counter wasnt going to cut it here. i realised i was going to have to write the next section out line by line, and then clever knitting friend suggested “trying excel or something”. so i did:

lo and behold, computer programs, using algorithms, formulas and other complicated maths type things, come to the rescue of the humble knitter:

while i feel a little pathetic that i need to write out (or in this case, spreadsheet) 60 rows of a pattern, i am much more confident about proceeding now, and think the end result (that is, something thats actually knitted properly) is probably worth it. i am hoping now that i can convince the resident geek to turn my spreadsheet and print out into a little app for my android phone.

knitting goes high tech. who knew? im pretty sure my high school maths teacher (oh yes mr howarth i remember you) would be laughing his smug self-righteous ‘i told you so’ laugh at me now.

i bet he cant knit though.

k xx


About DrK

researcher, knitter, dog lover View all posts by DrK

13 responses to “a numbers game

  • bellsknits

    such a great idea! Ailsa once showed me a spreadsheet for dealing with lace as well that I thought was tres cool.

    I found myself telling a 9yo about how maths is cool cos it helps with knitting recently and I sniggered inwardly at myself.

    It’s amazing what being a little bit organised can for our knitting. Today, I highlighted all the numbers for my size in the test knit pattern – unheard of for me!!!

  • Rose Red

    I used to be good at maths … then I forgot it all. Thankfully I can dredge enough of it up from the depths of my brain when I need to work out gauge stuff – but it’s hard! I admire your spreadsheet – I reckon it will make all the difference to your knitting experience with this garment.

  • 2paw

    Welcome to my world!! I love a good spreadsheet of my patterns. Usually I print one out or I write one in my knitting journal. I need every row to be accounted for so, eg, sleeves are EXACTLY the same, increases, decreases, every stitch. I think you are going to do an excellent job!!
    I love Maths, maths is my favourite thing, along with English, and knitting and reading and most of all Labradors!!

  • Sarah

    I bet he can’t πŸ™‚

    I always thinks it’s important to make patterns work for you whatever that takes. With me it’s normally just lots of scribbles and hand writing out lines but I like the high tech version

  • Jeanie Babbage

    I find myself doing similar things to keep track. Since my laptop is at my side while I knit I usually have a pdf of the pattern on the screen with the current row highlighted. We each find what works best for us. I find lace and twitter together to be the most difficult!

  • donna lee

    It wouldn’t occur to me to use a spreadsheet for a pattern. Using a spreadsheet seems like some kind of voodoo. I’m not sure I even know how to develop one. I am not a math person. I should have failed geometry (which is why I can’t look at patterns/charts and see the finished product) but a kind teacher passed me after many many after school turoring sessions during which I convinced him I was really trying but just didn’t get it.

  • missfee

    great idea – I am now scared of this pattern…..

  • Emma

    Putting the pattern in the spreadsheet’s a great idea. No point battling on with a pattern in a particular format if it doesn’t work for you!

  • Tinkingbell

    Of course you are hi-tech – you not only have a falsh phone – you studied history!

    Love lovel love the featherweight and am exploring summer solstice – although here it is all about the thick cardis at present!

  • Jejune

    Oh that’s such a clever idea to use Excel like that! Brilliant.

    With those sorts of ‘at the same time’ pattern bits, I often write out pretty much the same thing in my knitting notebook row by row, and mark which rows need what happening to them in advance, and cross them off as they’re done. Yours just looks so much more professional and tidy!

    And I’m sure your maths teacher can’t knit πŸ™‚

  • Annie

    Isn’t it great we have some really good knitting friends who are there to help when needed. I don’t like the “and at the same time”, I have to give up the row counter and right the number of rows on paper and circle when I have to do the dreaded “at the same time”.

  • Leonie

    I’m there with you on the spreadsheet. It’s the only way I’ve managed to get through the cardigan I am currently knitting for myself (Twigs and Leaves by robin Melanson from Twist Collective) and I have used a spreadsheet for all of the pieces not just one section! I even cross off each row as I go so I never get lost as to where I am. Initially I did it because sleep deprivation was wreaking havoc with my short term memory and I couldn’t keep track of two charts with different repeat lengths and then shaping increases and decreases, but once I laid it out on a spread sheet all of a sudden the knitting was so much easier and more relaxing…. Awesome!

    Congratulations on working out how to make your knitting relaxing again πŸ™‚

  • minxxys world

    I have just read you post and laughed out loud… it could have been posted by me! I, too, am sturggling with the body part of summer solstice. So much so, I am trawling the web looking for a spreadsheet and tumbled onto your blog. My head started saying lalalalaiamnotlisteningtoyou the minute you started talking about algrythims and formulas!!

    Which software did you use?? it looks far more up to date than my excel (which I am not sure how to use but am gonna have to try!)


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