sweater maths and calculations

estimated 4 min read

Penguin PortraitsCoincidently, as I sat down to scribble this post, a friend linked to an interesting read What Math? by Dr. Robert H. Lewis, Professor of Mathematics, Fordham University. Go on. Go read. I’ll wait. I have more knitting to do. ;)

Hi. Welcome back.

How does this relate to today’s post?

I loved maths in school until I got to university. Then as much as I thought it would be cool to major in Maths, I couldn’t figure out what I’d do with it that would allow me to eat better than ramen — unless I went into academia. To be fair I didn’t ask anyone (it’s a personal fault) but all my edumacation had been to answer abstract problem questions.

I have a few points I want to make and I’m pretty sure the first one will come out totally wrong. I’m hesitating to write it.

What draws me to books and patterns such as those in Knitting from the Top by Barbara Walker or anything by Elizabeth Zimmermann, is that the result means I’m not a cargo cult knitter.

I don’t have complaints against those that must knit patterns with the same needles, yarn, colourway as the designer intended. Or those that must change everything.

There are many essays arguing both sides of the coin — if you don’t knit it exactly as the designer designed it, are you making the same thing? While I haven’t read the book yet, I believe that Sweater Quest may delve into that topic. My fuzzy recollection is that Brenda mentioned it in a Cast-On interview with Adrienne Martini. Hmm… maybe I should relisten to things before I attempt to quote?

I have complaint about those who are then upset when their finished product does not look exactly the same. And blame the designer. (But oddly never the tech writer. They never get thanked either. Go on, Give them love and respect.)

Gauge matters. Yarn choice can effect that. So can the person making the object. It’s hand made people. It is impossible to make two exactly the same.

I hate swatching as much as the next knitter/crocheter/weaver … but taking a sample and learning how it fits into my world — even if in this case my world was E’s sweater, it was necessary.

Despite being able to plug in some numbers to a formula and fit the traditional misconception of sweater maths… there are numerous decisions that need to be made to get a sweater to fit a human body.

Numerous points that can be chosen right.. or wrong.

Once I figured out the number of stitches I needed to start on E’s sweater I happily cast on and followed the guidelines BGW provided for the pattern I chose.

Then I hit the point where I needed to start the sleeve caps. Since I chose to knit the seamless set in sleeve that meant I wouldn’t easily be able to just rip back a sleeve cap and start over. I’d have to rip back everything. I wasn’t sure if I did the maths right. It was a simple no-brainer forumla, but what if I can calculated something wrong? I taught E to read a gauge swatch, at least enough to count along with me.

Everything looked right.

But I didn’t trust myself, so E’s sweater sat until the hints became daily and he bought a sweater at the store because his goto (store-bought) sweater was disintegrating (under the arm and not in a way it could easily be fixed by me and still be Work-wear worthy)

I pulled it back out, took a deep breath, and recalculated everything. My maths were right! The stitch counts were right!

There are some things I will change in the next sweater I knit him.

Namely that I now really truly understand the difference between right and left leaning increases. It’s not terrible, he doesn’t really notice anything wrong, but I do.

I also know something else. I’ve been wearing clothes for over thirty years. I should trust myself if something looks clothes shaped and sized and if it’s proper or not.

Which doesn’t explain at all why E’s socks are the wrong size all the way around.

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One Reply to “sweater maths and calculations”

  1. Wonderful article. I went to college a few year ago to have a piece of paper. People trust pieces of paper. All to many people put trust in the piece of paper.
    It says “educated” . But in reality, for many college isn’t about education or a desire for knowledge, its about a career its the first step to making lots of money.

    I have very little formal education in maths or sciences.. but in terms of general knowledge and application, these areas of greatest knowledge. I love the understanding maths and sciences give to everything. Thanks for the link!

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