A Good Read: Adventures in Mathematical Knitting

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The March-April 2013 issue of American Scientist

Earlier this week, my eyes were drawn to the magazine rack at the local pharmacy by a cover image depicting a gorgeous turquoise, pink and green knit object.  The surpise? It wasn’t Vogue Knitting, Knit Scene or Knit Simple, it was the March-April 2013 issue of American Scientist. Inside, Sarah-Marie Belcastro describes her work converting theoretical mathematical shapes into knit objects.  She is a mathematician and knitter, and the article proves what I have always suspected: that math and knitting go together like yarn and needles.

A torus, knit by Sarah-Marie Belcastro and photographed by Austin Green - taken from American Scientist

A torus, knit by Sarah-Marie Belcastro and photographed by Austin Green – taken from American Scientist

I’ve always felt that knitting (and especially the process of designing knit objects) is a kind of practical geometry.  In the article, Belcastro describes the process of turning a 5:6 ratio (knit stitches are a little longer than they are wide) grid into 3D objects.  Those of us that knit have some idea of how difficult this is, but few of us will ever take on projects of this geometric complexity.  If you’re not a mathematician, objects like the Klein bottle on the cover and this gorgeous torus are not particularly useful, but the challenge of making them highlights the challenge presented to those of us making and designing more quotidian objects, like socks and hats.

After a quick search on ravelry, I found the writer of the piece.  She has a number of original designs, ranging from the objects shown in the article to some pretty innovative looking socks, hats and mitts.  The influence of mathematics and her deep understanding of geometry are clear, even in her practical designs.

One of my own adventures in geometry: a Spring Moebius Cowl in Noro Taiyo

One of my own adventures in knitting geometry: a Spring Mobius Cowl in Noro Taiyo

The grandmother that taught me to knit was the first member of her family to graduate from university, with a degree in chemistry.  The rigour, discipline and complexity evident in the knit pieces she left behind reflects her analytical mind.  From the very basic work of making sure that the number of stitches in your project is a multiple of the number of stitches in your lace or cable pattern to the very complex geometry of making a Klein bottle a real, wool object, knitting rests on a foundation of mathematics. While the world at large may see knitting as the domain of grannies in rocking chairs, those of us that stitch know the truth – that cowl you made is proof that you’re good at math.

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