Posted in Knitting
May 6, 2007

I’d like math better if they taught it with knitting

Someone on one of the mailing lists I’m on posted a link to this Scottish article on knitting and math. An excerpt:

Ellen can’t understand why anybody should be remotely interested in what to her is a standard piece of knitting. A pattern, she reckons, is a lot less hassle than a plain job. “The pattern hides all the workings, so you don’t have to be so fussy. Anyway, with the blue and the burgundy, it matches two jackets instead of one,” she explains.

Mathematician Mary Harris, attached to University College London, looks at it somewhat differently. “Ellen is actually producing an Archimedean spiral. She knows exactly when and where to decrease’ and the precise number of stitches she needs to lose at certain places, so the work takes on the exact shape needed for the purpose,” she says.

“Experience has taught that it’s no good thumping a piece of lumpy knitting with an iron. As she says, she’s concealing the adaptations to the shape by incorporating the changes into a symmetrical pattern.

“She’s doing that by changing the colour of her yarn systematically as she goes along.”

There’s nothing unique about Ellen – yet. But she’s a product of her time, and that time has gone. Subsequent generations, dismissing what women like Ellen do as “granny’s knitting”, have obviously never tried it, says Ms Harris.

Not that I want to start up any not-your-grandma’s-knitting debates, but Lisa Myers’ Stop Insulting My Grandmother post takes on even more weight after you read this article.

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