“One. Two. Buckle my shoe…
Three. Four. Shut the Door…
Five. Six. Pick up sticks…
Seven. Eight. Lay them straight…
Nine. Ten. Start again…”
-Child’s Nursery Rhyme
Counting is more important to knitting than any other higher math skill I acquired during my educational experience. And it is what trips me up more times than any other.
The inevitable errata that plague any designer are very infrequently the result of a failure of extensive equations. More often than not it is a miscount of stitches or a simple addition or subtraction mistake that leads to my humble apologies and dutiful (and quite public) course corrections.
Above all other artistic concerns, writing a pattern is mathematical in nature.
Start with this many…
Divide into smaller units and repeat…
Add or subtract to attain a new stitch count…
And so on…and so forth…ad infinitum…or until you reach 60 inches…whichever comes first…
Sometimes, I fail to subtract the yarnovers from the stitch count, forgetting that before you do them, they aren’t there, even if they DO take up a space on the chart.
Sometimes, I confuse a three stitch decrease with a two stitch decrease.
Sometimes, I just succumb to generalized idiocy and lose my count altogether.
There is a useful adage in carpentry: Measure twice; cut once.
I find that process useful in knitting as well.
Cast on once; count twice. Don’t continue until the two counts agree. Then you can be sure that you have not made a mistake.
I used to groan inwardly every time I saw an email in my “IN” box with the subject line “Help” or “I’m confused.” Or even “RE: pattern name.”
My first thought was always, without fail…
Oh no! What did I screw up now?
I have since learned that, just as often, it is the knitter who has made the mistake. Or I have not exactly made a mistake, but rather failed in communicating clearly my directions.
Back in speech class, I remember being taught that for true communication to take place, there must be both a sender and a receiver. There must be a clear communication between the two, without the distorting presence of noise, which is often not auditory in nature, but rather consists of the receiver’s experience, preconceptions, the environment in which the communication is occurring, and her ability to hear the message.
Knitting from a pattern is a form of communication. It is cooperative in nature. It requires the participation of both of us, working together to produce the final results.
That being said, it is the correct “ordering” of stitches that produces the desired pattern. Change the order and you change the results. This, too, can be the cause of disparities, as we wrap our minds around the fact that we must reverse a pattern for the second side, or the second half, or the fourth repeat…
What we are really doing when we knit, is bringing order from chaos. (Anyone who wants to see what chaos looks like, try leaving a skein of yarn untied on the floor and allow your cat or dog access.)
Our craft begins with wool (or other fiber) on the hoof/plant. In its natural state, fiber is uneven in color, unwieldy in texture. It can matt, or shred, or bulk up in one area, while thinning in another. Nature is neither symmetrical, nor orderly.
So we begin to shape nature to fit our desires. We shave or pick the fiber. We card it. We spin it. We dye it. We wind it into nice little orderly balls.
All that, before we even begin the pattern.
As I write, I gaze out upon the woods beyond my cottage. The leaves are coming out on the trees, the underbrush is stretching towards the sky, the Trillium and Periwinkle flowers are basking in the sun. Nothing is straight. Nothing is even. Nothing is orderly. All is organic.
Yet all is framed by a perfectly square window. Order restored.
I am, by nature, a disorderly person. And that somehow, feels like a fault.
Orderly people make their beds in the morning, before they leave the room. Orderly people brush their teeth for precisely the two minutes recommended by the dentist. Orderly people arise at 7:00, eat breakfast by nine, lunch at noon, work till five, stop at the gym on the way home, eat a healthy dinner, watch a little television and turn in early, before beginning again the next morning.
I, on the other hand, get out of bed whenever I wake up (which today was 11:00! Not usual – must be the soporific influence of the forest.) I eat when I’m hungry, exercise when I’m achy or restless, watch old movies late at night until I’m tired, and work nonstop in between.
And I feel guilty because of it.
Even when I get all my work done on time.
Even when I don’t hurt or neglect anything or anyone.
Even when there is no one around to see, like now.
Somehow, order feels synonymous with virtue. And it occurs to me that what I experience as stress is often simply the friction between my nature and my self-expectations.
Time spent alone is fertile ground for self-examination and analysis.
Time spent apart is an interesting experiment in patience, as we await our return home and the inevitable reestablishment of routine and order.
The trick is to feel the exhilaration of drifting free without the fear of drifting away.
Order. Chaos. Perhaps both have their uses…
And their own kind of beauty.