Quick & Easy
Knitting Fiction

A Dicey Proposition

 Some knitters find math to be scary; others find it fun. I'm of the "find it fun" camp. I have always viewed math problems as puzzles to solve or as riddles to answer. And lately, I've been exulting in the use of math as a creative tool in knitting.

Once Lucy Neatby gave a workshop in the area, which one of the people in my knitting group attended. This knitter then brought all the excitement from the workshop into our knitting circle. Her enthusiasm had the effect of a stone dropped into a pond; the creative ripples spread farther and farther out among the knitting network. As a result, Lucy's beautiful "Cables After Whiskey" pattern came up in conversation. This adventurous sweater pattern uses random number generation to create a unique sequence of cable twists. I think you could knit it a million times and never get the same sweater twice.

 I got to thinking about random numbers, how they could be generated, and how they could be used in knitting. I'm a little geeky; I dabble in computers a bit due to my fascination with puzzles, and you could use a computer to create random numbers that could then apply to knitting. In the absence of a computer program, you could use sets of dice. (Actually, if you’re on a Mac and have Tiger, there’s a rilly, rilly cool Widget that will flip coins or roll dice for ya.) Most game or toy shops offer sets of dice that have different numbers of sides. For example, you might have a traditional 6-sided die as well as a 4-sided die, an 8-sided die, and a 12-sided die in a set of gaming dice.

 You can use these dice to generate random numbers, and these random numbers can create a scarf pattern to help you get rid of some of those odds and ends of yarn that we all tend to accumulate. Or, maybe you tend to buy individual skeins that appeal to you, without really knowing what you’ll use them for, and before you know it, you’ve got a lot of them. Most knitters yearn for projects that not only reduce one's yarn stash, but also are quick and mindless, yet interesting. Use a set of dice to throw a bit of mystery into a really simple pattern, and this random number scarf project might just fascinate you until you realize – all the yarn is gone!

 Here's what you do: pick a 16" circular needle in a size that works pretty well with the yarns in your leftover-yarn bin. Gauge isn’t important for a scarf. Pick a yarn, and cast on enough stitches to enable you to join the stitches into a circle. Now, divide your leftover yarn into a number of little piles, based on some aspect: color, texture, weight, the years in which you purchased them, the people for whom you originally knit the garments, whatever. You decide what the categories are. Don’t worry about how the yarns will look together; the whole point is that they don’t go together. The stranger the combinations, the better. The number of categories is up to you, but you need to have a die with a number of sides equal to the number of categories you create; or, create the number of categories equal to the number of sides on your die. For example, if you have a 6-sided die, then create six little piles of yarn. Finally, assign a number to each category of yarn. Thus, if your little piles of yarn are arranged by texture, then perhaps  smooth yarn is 1; nubby yarn is 2, fuzzy yarn is 3, and so on.

 Now comes the mystery! Roll the die to see what category of yarn will be used next. Let's say you roll a 3, so you'll use fuzzy yarn, based on our example. Then roll the die again to see how many rounds to knit before changing to another yarn. If you roll a 6, then knit merrily along for six rounds. Roll the die again to see what yarn category to pick from next, and roll again to see how many rounds to knit. If you want to maintain control over some aspect of the pattern, you may want to knit each color the same number of rounds each time, or you may make up a pattern sequence that you repeat forever, like 2 rounds, 4 rounds, 2 rounds, 6 rounds, repeat. It's totally up to you! Continue until you either run out of yarn leftovers or lose interest in the project; bind off, sew up the ends (or just fringe them) and voilá, a tube scarf in a bunch of groovy colors! No need to weave in the ends, just tie them securely and leave them safely hidden inside the tube.

 Perhaps you have had enough of scarf-knitting. You're in luck! This random number knitting could easily be adapted to any tubular knit, such as bags, socks, hats, mittens, or sweaters knit in the round. Knit a baby blanket in the round, steek it, and crochet a pretty edging. You can, of course, knit random numbers back and forth on two needles, but knitting in the round appeals to those of us trying to focus on mindless knitting-with-no-purling. Go nuts, knit whatever you want! If you're truly adventurous, take your dice and your knitting out in public somewhere and start rolling and stitching. Even better, get a whole group of knitters to sit around in a bar or on the beach, taking turns rolling the dice and knitting the resulting colors and rounds. To non-knitters, it will look like a great game, or some esoteric rite. Make up a good story about gambling, or ancient Celtic fortunetelling practices. Who knows, maybe you'll start a new knitting rumor that will become "fact" fifty years from now. And maybe, just maybe, you'll get a few more non-knitters hooked on knitting, 'cause it looks like so darned much fun!


Helen in NH

Uh. Beth dahlink. Why aren't you writing a book? Will you please send these two latest pieces down to Storey Publishing and get something started. PULLLleeeeze.

The comments to this entry are closed.