Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Winter Knits, Dark Materials, and Patterns Within Patterns

It's knitting season, and lately I am particularly drawn to dark-colored, heavy-weighted yarns. I have been craving that safe sensation of wrapping something warm and handmade around me, so I spent some time scanning the hundreds of shawl patterns on Ravelry

After several rounds of imagining what different patterns would look like in real life - my life - I came across Martina Sommer's Costa Brava Shawl pattern and was attracted to the sprawling, expansive design of the piece, as well as the small details throughout. 

The shawl pattern includes a a series of knits and yarn-overs along the edge to create a lace border. 

This particular pattern contains a stitch pattern series within the pattern. I like this kind of design, where multiple rows repeat and one intricate pattern row comes back up every x number of rows. In a sense, it feels as though my mind can go offline into a relaxed mode for a couple of knit and purl rows and then reignite for a more-intricate, pattern row. 

Every three rows, the pattern repeats a more complex series of stitches, which I wrote out to keep in my pocket. 

While visualizing the layout of the pattern from the design file, I was drawn to the series of yarn-overs along the border of the shawl and the stitch increase up the middle of the design - a technique that makes a sort of spine or backbone alone the center of the piece. These techniques are not difficult, but they do lead to the creation of an intricate bit of flair when the piece is finished. In some ways, these details function as punctuation marks, like a comma or period in a sentence. 

The pattern includes the KYOK technique, which can be identified here as the group 3 stitches made from 1.

It took me many attempts to get into the full pattern of this design because I first had to learn a new skill: how to make the garter tab. This was difficult for me. I had to start, knit, tink out all of my stitches, and restart several times. I really didn't understand what was happening with the garter tab set up until I watched a couple of videos again and again. It turns out that the garter tab is a common way to start a triangular lace shawl. 

The mathematics of this project are still emerging for me as I knit. There is a curious pattern reflection across the middle stitch that has only become clear as I near the end of the first skein (this project call for approximately four skeins of the yarn I have chose). Soon, I will transition into a new section of the pattern that will be used for the remained of the shawl. The pattern changes slightly in this section, but uses many of the same stitch techniques. It is an interesting exercise to try to visualize how the pattern will play out with my individual knitting style and tension habits, as no two knitters are exactly the same and there will inevitably be variation in actualization of two pieces created by different knitters from the same pattern.  

A series of stitch increases - the m1R and m1L techniques - create a spine down the middle of the shawl. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Yarnbombing with 3D shapes

We have been exploring many different routes to create 3D shapes out of yarn. A recent yarnbombing experiment allowed us to see that the design process of 3D shapes can challenge the knitter to think three-dimensionally, before she evens starts to knit. 

3D shapes can be knitted flatly, folded, and stuffed.

Initially, Angela and I designed shapes that could be knitted flatly and in the round. Through conversations together and experiments with the yarn itself, we found that the way we thought through the design process for the shapes depended on the initial conceptualization of the object: Would the object be knitted in three dimensions from the get go (in the round) or would the rows of fibers need to be curved, seamed, and manipulated post-knitting to create a third dimension with the object? 

A knitted sphere can be created by increasing and decreasing symmetrically across a flat diameter.

We learned that the creation of three dimensional shapes offers the crafter multiple opportunities to explore different processes of making with knits and purls. As previously mentioned, objects can be knitted in one piece using circular needles - the process is similar to the making of a hat. However, knits can also be made using a piecewise process in which different sides of a shapes are knitted separately. 

While thinking through these design routes, we had to mentally construct and deconstruct different shapes as we created the three dimensional objects. We tested different methods individually in order to create a small collection of objects for a yarn bomb on campus. After talking through the ideas for the shapes, we decided to craft our knits independently, then come back together for the yarn bomb and evaluate some of the variation within our processes of making. 

The pattern for a sphere can be manipulated with more extreme shaping to create an ellipse.

We chose to install the yarn bomb on a tree outside of the art museum on campus, where students were bound to see the little splash of pink. Angela and I met late at night on a Wednesday and wrapped the little shapes onto the tree. Even during installation, a few students and staff who were still on campus stopped to observe what we were creating. The next day, I returned to the installation to tag the shapes with the Creativity Labs information and observe if and how students were interacting with the shapes. I watched as several students approached the tree to pause and look at the shapes. Later in the week, when Angela visited the yarnbomb spot, the shapes were still in place! 

The tree allowed for the observers to examine all sides of the multidimensional knits. 

Through these shapes experiments, we have come to realize that there are so many ways to construct 3D objects with yarn. Further, we've learned that is it interesting to approach the challenge together, but to actually make the shapes independently. This method of trying out different methods of making independently allowed us to see more of the full picture of the variation present in fiber art and craft, which led us to a new, exciting conversation about the potential for this exercise in the classroom. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Developing our three-dimensional footing: a first look at the mathematics of socks

Feet are anatomically complex. Many toes. Lots of joints. Bones and curves and odd bits that stick out. It follows only makes sense that socks are also complex. To create these little forms of feet clothing, the crafter must consider the length of the foot, the circumference of the foot at multiple points, and the features of the foot arch. In addition, there are elements of design, such as how high up the leg the socks will go, that must be considered before the cast on is initialized.  

These simple socks use a regular cast-on in the round, as opposed to a toe-up cast-on.

Though we will continue to explore yarnbombing, Angela and I have taken on the challenge of knitting socks - a fitting project for these cold-weather months. We had an idea that the process of making would be tricky, but it was not until we began to leaf through books on sock-making that we began to gain awareness of the depth of design that goes into the creation of socks. 

In the beginning, I was excited by all of the sock patterns (what better way to have cozy toes?), but soon, with some exasperation, I realized that the book I was working with was much too advanced for me. Even the cast on was complicated, let alone the sheer magic that is Judy's Magic Cast-On. Just wait until we write about Judy's Magic Loop

I crafted this sock specifically for my body dimensions. Each crafter can personalize the sock pattern for herself. 

We were not trying to find the mathematics of feet and socks, but it was impossible for us to start these knitting projects without seeing the three-dimensional features and possible variations. It was as if the sock maths found us. 

Many socks are made using a toe-up approach, meaning that the cast-on starts at the toe and the knitter knits from toe up to the ankle. To simplify the crafting practice for myself, I chose to start with a pattern that worked opposite in direction, so the cast on was more similar to a hat, a technique I was already familiar with. Angela is currently knitting toe-up socks. 

Both of us are still engaged in the processes of making for our sock projects. 

The heel for this sock pattern is created with a special heel flap, which is knitted with a series of slipped stitches.

The beginning of the socks were fairly simple, except for the series of slipped stitches and yarn-overs that led to the rugged stitch pattern along the ankle. Now, I am at the heel flap, which will eventually reconnect with the body of the heel and remainder of the sock. 

I have had to consider the length of my ankle, the desired length of the sock, and the dimensions of my heel. We have both learned that socks are highly personalizable. 

(Note: In retrospect, I do wish that I had started two socks in the beginning, instead of one, as now I will need to complete a full second sock once the first is finished before I can wear either or both.)


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How to hold a 2D plane

People used to talk about a flat world. Two dimensions. Length and width. 

We learned about this concept of the world in elementary school. It sounded strange then and still sounds strange today. Why? How are we even able to imagine a flat world? 

When we think about a flat world we initially hold with us the image of a three-dimensional world - a sphere. Then, somehow, we unfold this shape through our mind's eye in order to examine an imagined rectangle with bits of Pacific Ocean on both sides. We move with fluidity between 2D and 3D spaces. It's fascinating that we are able to do this, and even further, it's incredibly useful. 

Angela and I recently challenged ourselves with different knitting routes that lead to the creation of 3D objects - both in the round and on flat planes. We engaged in this exercise as part of a multi-part yarnbomb installation, which we will both expound on in posts to come. One component of this yarnbomb was the installation various 3D shapes, including spheres and pyramids. 

Here, I will describe the process of knitting that emerged as I learned to knit a sphere flatly, without joining in the round. The initial attempts were oddly shaped, but over time I gained a better understanding of what happens when a 2D shape is wrapped and seamed in order to form a 3D object. 


To begin, the knitter must cast on only a few stitches, X. Larger cast ons will yield only slightly spherical objects with teardropped ends. Then the knitter should make one stitch, or increase, every X number of stitches when knitting on the right side (RS). The wrong side (WS) should be knitted or purled straight across, depending on the intended design (either garter stitch with all rows knitted or stockinette with alternations between knitted and purled rows). 

Continue to increase by X number of stitches until the piece is about twice the length across as you would like for the sphere to be. While knitting, try to engage with the knitted piece imaginatively by keeping in mind that the length of the longest row will ultimately be the circumference of the sphere at the largest (widest) point of the sphere. Once you have reached the desired length across your piece, begin to decrease by knitting two stitches together (k2tog) every X number of stitches. Make sure to decrease evenly, just as you increased, so that the sphere is symmetrical across the widest point. 

To end, bind off just as you would with a scarf, but leave a long tail to seam with. Line up the edges of the piece and use the seam to join the edges. The finished shape will need to be stuffed with something in order to look fully spherical. As we will show in forthcoming posts, Angela and I used styrofoam packaging peanuts to stuff the 3D objects.


There are many knit and purl processes that will lead to 3D objects. Angela experimented with other forms, in the round and piecewise, which she will write about later. At this stage in our yarn bomb exploration, we aim to incorporate many techniques and shapes so that we can create interesting, and potentially interactive, installations in our community. More to follow. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Teacher/Student Relationship

Much can be gleaned from knitting together, side by side with a fellow crafter.  In past posts, Kate and I have explained projects and processes of our collaborative yarn bombing efforts but have not touched on the mutual relationship that has transpired. 

Typically, our projects start with an idea, followed by a meeting then quick communications back and forth to answer questions or status updates on the work we’re creating.  Up until our most recent project, we have been quite successful working together in this manner.

We are currently working on a more complicated design for our next public install.  I created a pattern template, described it in person to Kate, sent photos and descriptions of the pattern via email and so forth.  We thought we were on the same page but variations in our work confused us.  What was happening in our knitting that was different from one another? 

The Social aspect of learning in a group

As Kate outlined in her previous post, Knitting Circles and KAL’s provide an environment with social and educational merit.  Knitters gather to show off projects, socialize and help one another with their projects.  This setting allows for advanced knitters to offer advice and encouragement to novice knitters – or to anyone who just can’t figure out what’s happening in their knitting process.  (Sometimes it takes an extra set of eyes to determine what is happening spatially when knitting.)  Kate and I determined a KAL was in order. Kate and I are colleagues but we quickly noticed that our relationship at this moment was teacher/student.  I put down my knitting, watched her work, recognized the problem and began to teach her through hands on method where the problem lay.  It was only through this shared experience were we able to solve the problem. 

By teaching and working with Kate, I gleaned a deeper understanding of the knit stitch and Kate recognized that simple maneuvers really do make a difference.  Also during this process I began to think of our re-crafting math lab in a bigger context.  Is there something to the knitting circle environment (and the social engagement) that breaks down the barriers of worry, anxiety, frustration and feelings of “not knowing” from a classroom setting and allows for a more healthy learning environment – one in which sets the stage for confident learners?  What is the thin line that creates a trusting and non-threatening relationship of the shared environment of a knitting circle – where one sometimes doesn’t even realize they’re learning? 

A knitting circle evolves and is constantly changing.  The teacher/student relationship isn’t static. Is there something to be learned from that alone?

Yarn bomb banner front, two color knitting

Back, where Kate and I realized there was a problem

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Traditional practices today

In past posts, we have unpacked descriptions of the traditional crafting practices of female crafting groups. These practices were and are inherently social and collaborative in nature and comprise countless word-of-mouth inheritances by younger crafters from older crafters with more expertise. Though the production of crafting materials has become commercialized, traditional collaborative norms have persisted in knitting circles and other fiber art craft groups. 

Social craft leads to skill development

Knitters often knit together. Groups of mostly-female crafters are in yarn shops daily, knitting together through KALs and showing each other how to fix mistakes. When newer knitters drop stitches,  a knitter with more experience is able to take the wool into her own hands and show the novice how to pick up each stitch. Much of this learning seems to happen on an unplanned and as-needed basis. 

Conversations extend far beyond the craft-chat. Through previous ethnographic work, we have observed and engaged in the more personal and emotional aspects of this so-called 'social craft'. While knitting together, crafters often open up about relationship challenges, familial issues, and disagreements with galpals. In many instances, the knitters do not know each other well or even outside of the yarn shop at all, but the outpouring of social and emotional engagement is seemingly effortless and comfortable. 

Yarn bombing - a present manifestations of past practices

For decades (maybe even centuries), crafting norms have been shared and passed through the female lineage and percolate in the communities today. Angela and I experience the continuation of these behaviors and norms in our own collaborative yarn bomb work.

Throughout the design process for the ongoing yarn bomb project, Angela and I met often to talk through the parameters of the pieces and compare knits. Angela created the final project pattern template for the knitted pieces for our bombs. We chose to delegate pieces of the bomb. Over weeks of knitting separately, we realized that our pieces looked different, even though we both referenced the same pattern. Though these variations were not undesirable, we were puzzled by what could be happening differently for each of us in our processes of making. We also realized that we had not spent much time knitting side by side, even with all of our previous observations of other women knitting together! 

We aligned our stockinette stitch patterns by knitting together.

We changed our practice with a return to traditional knitting norms: we got together to work through the pattern side by side. This type of collaborative crafting is quite different than solo knitting. Through we each had our own materials and needles, we were able to see the progress and process of the other in real time. We were also able to uncover the missing pieces to our variance mystery. 

Angela noticed that my technique for purling was not quite right. (I had recently switched to continental knitting, but had not normalized the technique for myself yet). My purl technique was essentially inside out, causing the stitch to look slightly different and take up a little less space on the needle than the correct form. 

Over time and space, this small sizing discrepancy led to a larger overall difference. Since we were together, Angela was able to use both language and motion to help me visualize my mistake and correct the technique. Similarly to the events we previously observed in yarn shops, she took my needles and yarn out of my hands and tinked then re-knitted some of my stitches herself. 

When purling continental, the working yarn must come over the top of the needle.

I am not sure how I would have unlearned and relearned this knitting technique in the absence of another knitter. Further, it seems that it was essential for Angela and I to knit together, for texted descriptions and images of our work were not allowing us to solve the puzzling case of variation across our work. The critical clue was in the spatial elements of the movement.

We intend to highlight traditional female crafts and mathematics through our yarn bombs.

There is value in crafting together. These experiences allow us to connect experientially to knitters and crafters of the past. Those women carried a deep understanding of the significance of creating together, which have transcended generational boundaries across female crafters and allow us to Make together today. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017


In practicing for a very large yarn bomb project, my partner and I are doing small projects around our house and neighborhood.  My first simple project went quickly and easily – knitting a ribbed covering for my handrail the same width as part of our larger project.  I wanted to test how easily it would be to whip stitch the banner to a pole.  As expected, I had left enough yarn to stitch the wrap to the handrail in less than three minutes.   Great results as we expect to place 12 – 20 of these in the cover of darkness without being caught.

As the area of part of our large bombing process is wooded, I thought I should knit something that would simulate a tree.  I have a floor lamp with extension arms similar to branches coming off a tree trunk so planned to create a wrap for that. Easier said than done.  A stationary object is not the same as a hand with fingers – parts don’t move and are not easily accessible. 

I had pictured and researched making a thumb gusset and adding my “branch” portion as one would the thumb of a mitten.  I debated where to put this, as I knew I would be knitting a flat piece rather than a tube (I understood enough to know I would wrap the stem of the floor lamp and stitch it shut).  In working the branch portion, I placed scrap yarn on four stitches, cast four back on the working yarn and kept knitting.  I soon realized that this wouldn’t work.  The stitches that I placed on the scrap yarn wouldn’t’ be able to wrap around the branch – there wouldn’t be access for the branch to slide into the new tube.


I realized I would have to add stitches at the end of a row and grow this portion as an offshoot of the original wrap.  At the end of a row, I added four stitches and placed them on a holder and then continued knitting the body of the wrap.  When this was adequate in size, I cast off and began knitting the branch portion connecting the added stitches to the other side and knitted a flat portion the length I intended.  This also didn’t work.  I could wrap the larger portion to the lamp and the branch portion, but I couldn’t wrap the top portion to the lamp.  Where I attached the new section caused a break in access to connecting all the pieces.

My fourth attempt proved to successful.  I added four stitches to the end of the row as in attempt 3 but I did not secure them to the other side of my knitting.  I knit a flat linear piece alongside the original portion and cast off.  This gave me access to wrap the original full piece to the lamp base and then wrap the extension on the branch portion.  With long tails, I whip stitched them closed and sewed the extension to the body of the wrap. 

While I consider myself a knowledgeable knitter and very good at spatial relationships, this proved much harder than I thought.  One has to examine the solid, grounded object differently than that of a separate body part as in a hand/thumb scenario.  While I tested my knitting against the lamp and thought I was visualizing correctly, it took several attempts to get this one right. 


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wool Bikinis & Yarn Bomb Experiments

A series of reflections from Angela and Kate

Knitting as a social experiment is intriguing.  

Can something as innocuous as knitting be capable of building awareness and community?  

In a previous post, we mentioned our interest in yarn bombing, a fiber art practice through which artists cover objects with knitted or crocheted pieces.

Over the past months, we have been feeding our curiosity of art-based activism and material feminisms. In particular, we chose to zoom in on yarnbombing as a social practice through experiential experiments on campus. These experiments allow us to construct well informed plans for future, more involved yarn bomb installations.

Hats For Hats

After literature searches and interviews with experienced yarnbombers well known taggers, we decided that our first “bomb” was to knit hats for the three sculptures of men on campus: Ernie Pyle, Herman B. Wells and Hoagy Carmichael.  

We met with the owner of the local yarn store to discuss suitable yarn, how to “tag” and gain advice as she is also part of a large group of women who yarn bomb to bring awareness to a local women’s shelter. We chose acrylic yarn for maximum durability and defense in the potentially-rainy situations. With supplies and basic knowledge, we collaboratively crafted the knitted pieces. Knitting for placement on a sculpture brought to light several difficulties. (Keep in mind that yarn bombs are usually installed at night, when public spaces are more likely to be empty. The process needs to be quick and efficient, before any authority figure forces the knitter to tink her stitches!) 

Before installation, we had to think over the process of making and securing: How were we going to secure the hats?  How to take measurements for an item that really isn’t “wearable”?  The mathematics of the installation we not completely here, but we were aware of the use of spatial rotation to imagine the form of the nets on the sculptures.

The Provost's Office featured Ernie Pyle in his wooly hat. 

In the case of one statue, we were faced with a particularly tricky three-dimensional challenge. The sculpture of Herman B. Wells was created with the hat resting on a bench with a hand placed on top of the hat. What would be the best or most clever way to knit and secure that?  

As one knits something other than a flat garment, there is always the concern of fit. We ask ourselves a series of internal design questions: Did I measure the heel turn to fit properly? Will the arms I’m inserting in a sweater fit correctly on the shoulder? Will the sweater fit around the torso, etc.? How might the shaping - increases or decreases - need to change with the form of the sculpture?

In these yarnbomb projects, spacial relationships are under constant review - especially if one knits three-dimensionally in the round. The creation of knits for the hat tag was especially tricky, as we couldn’t lift the hand off the hat nor the hat off the bench. How would we knit something in the round that was interrupted by a piece of bronze?

Upon completing our hats, we met on a dark and rainy night to install the yarnbomb. For the most part, the process of installing was straight forward - the attachment of the wool pieces to the forms was not too complicated.  Our conceptual ideas and strategic planning paid off.  There were two interesting results with this first experiment.  After a day of student movement and observation on campus, only one hat remained - the most prominent and easiest to remove (which remained intact for several weeks).  Though we were unsure how the yarnbomb would be received, it was important to note the ways in which students interacted with the pieces. We were also very excited to also see that Provost Robell’s instagram account featured Ernie Pyle wearing his hat.  

Wool Bikinis

After the successful installation of the first yarn bomb, we schemed another plan to yarnbomb on campus again, this time with a more-prioritized goal to generate attention from the student body. In a woodsy area on campus, there are two statues - one of a naked man and one of a naked woman - which are thought to be Adam and Eve. Our idea for this next yarn bomb was to knit swim suits for Adam and Eve (just in time for Spring!).  

The process of making for the swim suits involved careful measurement and examination of the statues. We tried to make these observations at a time when campus would be empty and no one would become suspicious. We knitted the wool bikinis and planned the installation carefully.

The creation of bikinis themselves incorporated geometrical thought (i.e. the triangular shape of Eve's bikini top). We also had to visualize what the knitted pieces would look like once complete, keeping in mind that wool stretches, especially if it gets wet, so all sizing needed to be slightly less than our measurements reflected.

This installation was more difficult than the first, for the design involved statue bodies instead of hats and the location was more exposed. It took us longer than intended to secure the swim trunks to Adam, for we had to figure out how to cinch the top of the shorts in order to ensure they would stay on, but when complete, we were happy and amused with how clever the results were! Ultimately, we thought this would be a fun way to celebrate spring and the return of students to campus after the break.  

We installed the yarnbomb at night, as quickly as possible. 

We were curious about the responses students would have to the installation. Our first yarnbomb did not last long, but was clearly noticed by the student body and IU administration. In this installation, we had covered artwork depicting naked statues with knits that could be interpreted as 'clothing'. We wondered whether people would take that commentary to extremes.  Again, our yarn bombing was featured on IU’s social media account the next day.  

We were shocked at the number of likes - over 3,600 and almost 90 comments - some of them questioning the motive and others from knitters questioning securing the tag. We loved that people noticed, for the generation of student awareness helps to motivate our work.  Not only did people comment on social media, but interactively as well. Over the course of the few days that the suits were up, I noticed that someone had pulled Adam’s trunks and Eve’s bottoms down, and then someone pulled them back up - all in good fun. Does these actions reflect some kind of protection of the installation from students on campus? What is the potential for interactive yarnbombing?

Adam and Eve, spotted from afar with their knitted attire less-intact than expected.

With these two small experiments under our belt, we are zooming out to examine the process and yarnbombing ad we discuss our goals and plan our next projects. During this time, we are taking a close look at the inherent mathematical structure of yarnbombs and exploring the mathematical requirements in the creation of knitted nets.

Through recents discussions, we have come to realize that our mathematical awareness of the mathematics in yarn bombs is retrospective - we see it after we've created the pieces. This is to say that we do not approach a design or creation with questions such as: "How do we use math here?". Instead, we find that the math becomes obvious after we've engaged with the materials themselves.

Further, we are interested in the contrast between process and practice in yarnbombing. We have been exploring the role of skilled processes, while remaining aware of the function of practice. To craft a more creative or clever tag, do we need to change our practice, such as the order of operations in our process of making? It seems likely that more practice will allow us to complete installations more swiftly and effectively, but how much practice do we need? We conceptualize these two experiments as the pilot experiments that will catalyze a series of yarn bombs both on campus and the community.