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!