Don’t Look Over There. She is Doing Math.

I do love math. Its predictable and dependable. I’m pretty good at everything from factoring a number into its primes to mid-level calculus. A lot of my thinking is in math and I apologize for that.

From an old math textbook that I can’t bear to throw out. I loved that class.

Its like the open secret in my life. Not a dirty, hidden, or shameful secret. I’ve never been beaten for knowing the answer or socially shunned for sketching out a graph. Everyone who knows me seems to know I’m good at math. They tolerate this about me as long as I, you know, keep it to myself and don’t inflict it on them.

I see math everywhere. There is math in the way my living room is laid out. In yours too I’m sure. There calculations going on when I’m mixing ingredients and making dinner. That’s why we all own measure cups and spoon sets right? Yeah, I think everyone is pretty much with me up to there. But have you have counted up the number of jeans you own (8 pairs) and the number of cowboy boots (3 pairs) and figured out that meant you had 24 possible combinations of jeans and boots? I have and I apologize for that.


About a year and a half ago I designed a stole that creates an optical illusion on each end and uses some clever mosaic color work in the center (I think I’ll FINALLY get it published this week.) Then I gave the pattern to a wonderful, talented and fast knitter I know to test for me. She finished hers in about a third of the time it took me to make mine. When she was done we went over the pattern line by line and made some clarifications. I asked her what her general, overall thoughts were. She said….

“Its very mathematical,” she said.

“Oh my God! Really? Crap,” I said. Or I said something along those lines.Β Then I apologized.


When I first learned to crochet I did it mostly on my own with a hook and a book and some yarn. On the second or third attempt at a pot holder I had that moment where I realized … “I’m taking this string…. and turning it into fabric… and its magical!” I think we all have that moment. As a knit and crochet teacher I’m often there for that moment when it comes to other people. Its a really kick every time.

About two weeks after realizing I could make a crochet square any size I wanted and no one could stop me, I had another moment. I realized every line of crochet instruction was really a simple algebra formula. “I’m taking this string…. and making a real world representation of this formula… and its magical!”Β In all my years as a knit and crochet instructor no one else, ever has had that moment. Not in front of me anyway.

Row 7: Ch3 (counts as a dc), 2 dc first space, *skip next 2 spaces, 5 dc in next* 8 times, skip next 2 spaces, 3 dc in last (46 dc)

x +2x +8(5x)+ 3x = 46

Whoops. Sorry. That just slipped out and I apologize.


When I started hanging out with knitters and crocheters I foolishly thought I had discovered a enclave of fellow math lovers. Here was a whole group of applied mathematicians using their skills to make pretty, pretty things right? Nope. Just because the lady sitting next to me had a tablet of graph paper, tape measure, colored pencils and a ruler and was creating an adult-size intarsia color block sweater (using a child-sized sweater pattern as a guide) for her husband did NOT MEAN SHE COULD DO MATH.

Okay. My bad. I apologize.

I’m more careful these days. I know that a crocheter making a bedspread in fillet crochet does not want to hear that patterns made with just open squares and closed squares is just like the binary language computers think in. I know that a knitter who just finished a flawless lace shawl made with shifting and repeating sequences of numbers over 10,000+ stitches will need a calculator to add the shipping charges to her next on-line yarn order.

So at my next craft night I’ll sit there, with people doing math all around me, and pretend I’m the only one who likes math. Again.


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20 thoughts on “Don’t Look Over There. She is Doing Math.

  1. You have three pairs of cowboy boots!? πŸ˜‰

    I’m glad you mentioned the programming connection…..Mr. Sweater wearer is a computer guy and we’ve talked about that. (He also helps me with my math…..ssshhh.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. giggle. Yes I do have three pairs of cowboy boots. If I could figure out how to wear boots every day I’d never put on another pair of sneakers or dress shoes in my life.

      I won’t tell anyone Mr. Sweater-wearer helps with your math. If he is getting sweaters its the least he can do!

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  2. I know you won’t agree with me that Issac Newton should have been strangled at birth but that’s what I think. I was chugging along holding my own in math courses until he showed up.
    I will now have to devote all my mental energy to banishing thoughts of math when I pick up my yarn. I’m sure I can’t so much as cast on until I have a nice cup of calming tea now.
    I’m wearing boots at the moment and it is small comfort.

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    1. LOL.

      Tea and cowboy boots are the new it look. I’m sure we can make that a thing.

      As for the math… I was just kidding! You’re not really doing any math at all with that counting and shaping and and making it to a certain size. Not al all.

      And poor Issac Newton, lol. he was just trying to advance to course of human knowledge. He didn’t mean to make college math classes so painful for so many.

      Like

  3. “Row 7: Ch3 (counts as a dc), 2 dc first space, *skip next 2 spaces, 5 dc in next* 8 times, skip next 2 spaces, 3 dc in last (46 dc)

    x +2x +8(5x)+ 3x = 46”

    Now, if more teachers had explained Math(s) (sorry not US, to us it’s Maths) like this – I’d have been on board! Beautiful. I’m rotten at mental arithmetic but the logic and formulas/ae (?) yep, Excel was a great tool for me to discover. I still think the physical representation would help some people learn. Also there’s something about ‘it all’ that expresses a certain truth, however we discover it. But perhaps that’s a bit philosophical. It’s all patterns, even the random things! Great post. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree completely. To everything you wrote. Math is a universal language. Too bad we don’t teach it to kids that way. Human brain are wired to learn languages and..

      Okay. I’ll get off that soap box.

      I’m glad you liked the post! Maybe someday an algebra teacher will walk into class with yarn and crochet hooks are start her/his students hooking their way to a love of math! Hey, it could happen.

      Like

      1. Many states/schools in the U.S. are finally starting to teach math that way. As a language; not with yarn crafts that I have seen, lol. The media have been focusing on the Common Core standards and the worst of the curricula chosen by some states and school districts, but many states and districts were already making huge changes to their math curriculum. And, as far as I can tell, it’s working for a lot more children than the way those of us who learned math in the U.S. in the 1980s and 90s.

        I kind of want to walk into a high school math class with a pile of yarn and hooks, though. I think they’d like hyperbolic crochet. πŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve said multiple times that I can teach Advanced Algebra with knitting, but I have never been able to formulate it the way you just did! I love it! Thi is being shared on Philosopher’s Homestead for those who home school!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! I myself have said I could teach any knitter or crocheter algebra. They are doing it all without even realizing it!

      I once suggested that it would be fun to to convert a knitting pattern into a set of equations and see if I could still follow the pattern. But I AM a math dork. That might not be fun for other people. πŸ˜›

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Love it! I’m not mad keen on maths but I understand the importance of it in knitting, particularly in designing. I wish there was more instructions on designing using maths, like you’ve described, with proper formulas, thanks for this post! X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are very welcome!

      I wasn’t trying to convince anyone to take up solving math problems in their head as a fun way to pass the time. that’s for hopeless cases like me. I just wanted to convince my talented readers that they are already doing more math, and doing it well, then they realize.

      I bet you’re better at math than you give yourself credit for!

      Like

  6. I like the kind of maths I don’t know I’m doing. Sports was only tolerable if I could watch first, long enough to get a handle on what to do. Having learned to read crochet patterns (and knitting patterns, for some of y’all) early in life made learning many other things easier, like grammar/parsing sentences, studying languages, programming computers — actually, those are all three the same thing. I understand pattern recognition (the general concept, not cool-hunting on Ravelry πŸ™‚ ) more than most, but I guess I was too young to stick up for myself when they decided I was a dummy at math, and took me out to the hallway with the other girls so the boys could do math. That was 2nd grade. I was fast reader, but couldn’t keep up with stupid numbers. I was so ashamed — and still am. All those feeling are flooding back in. I just know more about how to soothe myself now.

    For 4th through 6th grade, I went to a “hippy school,” where no one made us do school work we didn’t want to do. I learned to read everything and anything, and a fair amount of applied skills that will give me & mine a chance come the Fimbulwinter. The one drawback to my early education was I got to 7th grade before anyone mentioned everybuggy just memorizes the multiplication table… but the damage was done. The little space where “4 x 7 = 28” was too full of “I can’t do math.” That has only stuck now because I can visualize the graph for a stitch pattern of which four repeats would make a good scarf — now I have grown 50 years of context for why the abstract little scary things might be useful to me.

    Eventually I went to ACC (Austin Community College) and their approach to math is, everybuggy has to take a test, to demonstrate where they are in learning math. I started at the beginning. I stuck with it, memorized enough of the multiplication table and a bunch of other stuff to get me through algebra, trigonometry, heading for calculus because you have to have that for a Computer Science degree at UT (my goal at the time). I made really good friends with the lady who ran the applied word problems labs — she helped me understand that I could use the context of the problem to make the arithmetic not scary. She also pointed me towards how this would be true for calculus, too, but UT Math department calculus classes are more of a sorting function than about teaching. I managed a C the first semester (just enough to go on), but for the second semester, that man might have been a brilliant mathematician but he droned at the wall and I sat closer & closer on the floor each class, trying desperately to get anything out of his thick accent. We formed a study group, but once the topic got to more complicated series, I dropped the class — by that time, I had met Linguistics! And I never looked back.

    Well, until I met garment patterns, and some expectation of fit. Ah, well. At least it has context πŸ™‚

    All thought is rule-governed. It may take awhile to learn what the rules are, but that’s just enough time for the ones that can or will change to do so (because of expansion of knowledge, refinement or coarsening of social interaction/expectations, rebuttal or resuscitation of the – perceived – previous order, or just plain entertainment). Linguists call this “productive.”

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    1. This all sounds so much like me. The early part, I mean. I could breeze right to the answer in Chemistry but the same problem laid out in Algebra left me sitting there with my mouth open.
      Now that I am old, I don’t care. I don’t even try anymore and I don’t worry over it or feel inferior.

      Like

    2. Its just such a shame that you didn’t get context for math so much earlier! And there are so many places in ordinary everyday life that math comes into play. Any one of those could be a good framework for teaching math. Crochet and knitting (of course) but also cooking. I always thought that a recipe with all out its measurements and serving numbers would be PERFECT for teaching multiplication.

      “If you need one cup of flour to make 4 pancakes, how many cups do you need to make 16 pancakes?”

      lol I do see math everywhere.

      Don’t beat yourself up over it! The measure of good mind isn’t formal education, its how well it adapts. If you’ve developed coping skills to get around knowledge gaps from primary grades, that tells me just how smart you really are.

      Like

  7. I am a math person, my other half is not. As I (for some unknown reason) talk all my math out, I often find him staring at me with his mouth hanging open. Lol, it’s as if I do magic with a hook *and* numbers!

    Liked by 1 person

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