Embrace Math – Ditch the Fear

I should be writing the very tardy fourth episode for my raglan sweater, but I’ve got a bee in my bonnet.  I am probably going to alienate a few people by saying this, but I can’t stand it anymore. Every time a woman says “I can’t do math” or “I hate math” I want to scream… STOP IT! STOP IT! No…… STOP IT! Saying these things aloud to others and then obstinately refusing to learn can be detrimental not only to them but others around them, including impressionable young women who may be struggling with the subject. And honestly, I think many of these people have already shut down and are in refuse-to-learn mode, but I don’t think they should spoil it for the rest of us.  I’ve also noticed that these cries of protest usually come from women of older generations, I feel horrible that they had to live through the Dark Ages where they were told that they couldn’t do things because of their sex.  but here is the true secret of their struggles… if they’re knitting… THEY’RE ACTUALLY DOING MATH!

I can remember math being a huge mystery to me as well. There were moments in Algebra and Calculus where I really didn’t get the logic behind what we were doing. It took some real work and engineering for me to get the answers when I could. It also took reviewing the answers over and over again until I understood the pattern. Sometimes I didn’t get the pattern and I just accepted the answer. What was I missing…?

Number Sense.

When I first heard this term as an elementary educator in my mid twenties…I laughed. I thought… what is this? What does this mean? Number sense? Is it like “Spider Sense?” Do you know when numbers will appear? Number sense simply means that you develop a sensibility and awareness of things mathematical. Applying number sense can mean developing an awareness of patterns in numbers or objects. It can also simply mean having the ability to use mathematical logic to solve everyday problems.

Here’s the wonderful thing… You don’t have to be born with the ‘gift’ of Number Sense… you can learn it. Most importantly, Number Sense can help you see solutions to problems in your knitting.

Knitting and later crochet actually helped me develop a stronger awareness and improved use of my Number Sense. I’ve often exclaimed, why if they were only teaching us how to use Algebra for knitting, I would have paid more attention in class! I was mulling over a few examples of using Number Sense in knitting last night.

Here’s a knitting example of number sense with symmetry: If I’m decreasing on the left front side of the to make an armhole using a left leaning increase. I will have to decrease from the right on right front side to shape the armhole there.

Here’s an example of multiplication/division number sense: I want to use a simple color-work stitch pattern in the yoke of my sweater. It’s 7 stitches across before it repeats again. There are 200 stitches in my yoke. How many stitches do I need to decrease to fit my repeat pattern?

Here’s an example of algebraic number sense: With the same yoke sweater I need to decrease by 1/3 of the total stitch count 198. This leaves me with 132. I need a stitch pattern that is less than 7 stitches wide that can fit into this? Can I use one with 5? If I do how many stitches will I have to decrease to fit the stitch pattern?

If you remember your multiplication tables and can factor out possible repeats within a stitch count you’ve got the building blocks for Number Sense. Understanding a bit of math can help you really add power to your knitting skills. Instead of relying on someone to help you work out the problems, you can do it yourself. Instead of requiring that patterns spell out what to do row by row, you can see the overall pattern in the knitting and sometimes learn the pattern and knit without it. I actually love that when that happens. I only have two hands and two eyes and I hate flipping back and forth between a pattern and my work. I think it interrupts my whole flow with my knitting. This doesn’t mean I don’t go back and look at the pattern to check if I’m on the right track. Moreover, reading a pattern ahead of time to find the mathematical quirks can also save you a great deal of headache before you even get started.

The mathematical examples I shared are simple examples, but they are good examples of how a knitter might use math to figure things out. The simple truth is if you want to grow as a knitter you have to embrace math and chuck your fear of it out the window and remember math is like everything else it takes some time and effort to master it. It’s not some secret mystery language being spoken by monks in purple robes. It is a language but one that can be decoded, and one’s love of fibercraft can help you translate they code.


Filed under Knit, Knitters, Knitting, Math

2 responses to “Embrace Math – Ditch the Fear

  1. Miss M

    Hear, hear! Okay, I don’t knit… I barely sew… but I confess that, while I was not a natural at calculus (I had to work hard at it), I always have loved math. I’m trying to instill that love into my kids. So far, it hasn’t rubbed off on my daughter. *sigh*

  2. Sometimes it takes time to appreciate math. I certainly did appreciate it later when I was asked to do something ridiculous and time-wasting at work. I was able to prove that I could be productive doing something else using basic formulas and a pie chart. It also saved me a lot of time when I ended up doing tedious calculations.

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