s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: Things I think bawb would find interesting about knitting

Friday, July 13, 2007

Things I think bawb would find interesting about knitting

Knitting is divided into (vertical) stitches and (horizontal) rows, so knitting patterns are sometimes charted on graph paper. However, stitches aren’t really square – stockinette stitches, for instance, have a ratio of about 8:5 – which means that knitting charts with pictures on them look vertically stretched out. (You can also buy special “knitting” graph paper, with an 8:5 ratio, so that it’s easier to sketch your designs. Or you can mess around with Excel and print your own, but not all knitters are up for that.)

Knit stitches basically look like little Vs. (Like this: VVVVVV) Purl stitches look kind of like equals signs (= = = = =), except that the top and bottom bars are actually staggered, so it’s more like this:

_ ___ ___ ___ ___
___ ___ ___ ___ _

Purl stitches are what the back of knit stitches look like. If you’re making a knit stitch, you’re making a V in the front and an = in the back. If you’re purling, you’re making a = in the front and a V in the back. Because every knit stitch has a purl on the other side and vice versa, there are a number of knitting and purling patterns that are reversible. These include the garter stitch, which looks like this:


1x1 ribbing:


And the seed stitch:


There are many other stitches which are reversible, but they tend to be variations on the above.

Knit stitches (VVVVV) aren’t exactly symmetrical, because of the way that the yarn fibers twist to make the yarn. (One of the sides of the V ends up being more vertical than the other.) You can buy yarn that twists in either direction, so the Vs can be asymmetrical either way.

When you make horizontal rows of knit stitches and then purl stitches (as in the garter stitch, above), the purl stitches stick out.

When you make vertical columns of knit stitches and purl stitches (as in ribbing), the knit stitches stick out.

If you make big checkerboard blocks of knit and purl stitches, you get a basketweave texture, because the knit stitches look like they’re going under the purl stitches, vertically, and the purl stitches look like they’re going under the knit stitches, horizontally.

Knitting is really interesting from a topological perspective, but you can’t always find people to talk to who will properly appreciate it.


At July 14, 2007 1:53 AM, Blogger bawb said...


That *is* really interesting. Samantha told us one night when she was visiting that she's sufficiently ambidextrous to switch hands each row, resulting in perfectly flat knitted sheets.

Can you make a hyperbolic paraboloid? =D

At July 14, 2007 4:00 AM, Blogger Uffish Thought said...

You know enough about it to disprove my amazing fake math on an upcoming answer. Foiled again.

At July 15, 2007 10:58 PM, Blogger Peter said...

I just ran across Ravelry recently, the social networking site for knitting and crocheting. You needle people are taking over the world. :-)

At July 23, 2007 11:44 AM, Blogger Handy or Not said...

This is one of your best posts ever. Or maybe I just consider it to be because I'm a mathematician and a knitter. Hmmm.....

At July 26, 2007 2:38 AM, Blogger azurerocket said...

A good post indeed.

Peter, you demystified someone else's blog post for me - I am now quite at the end of the line for the beta.


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