Math for Knitters

Math for Knitters
What do these scenarios all have in common?

A) There’s a wonderful pattern to try, but it’s written for a different gauge than the yarn you want to use.

B) You’ve found an amazing yarn for a hat, but you can’t find a suitable pattern.

C) You want to make a sweater that is four inches shorter than the one in the pattern, and you’d like to know if you really need that last ball of yarn.

The answer, of course, is that all of these problems require the dreaded MATH to solve them. Many of us, when faced with the need to calculate, either drop the idea immediately or run to someone at the Local Yarn Store to fix it for us. Both of these, to be sure, are valid paths, but there is another one that I encourage everyone to try:


Many of us are afraid to do the math because of memories from grade school that are either completely incorrect or no longer true. For example, I remember myself as not being particularly good at math. This statement is, first of all, completely incorrect because I am using perfectionistic thinking; having earned grades below “A” does not constitute inadequacy. In addition, my brain has developed over the years since high school. Might I be able to work with math if I go slowly and have a calculator for backup? Finally, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Maybe I will make a mistake and have to rip back? Is that a catastrophe or an annoyance?

Because math phobia is such an issue, I am going to write a series of articles on knitting math. For each one, I will take a calculation-related issue and walk through it, showing how to do the math along the way.

In the case of the hat yarn without a pattern, for example, the math couldn’t be simpler. Make a gauge swatch. Measure it to get your gauge. Measure your head. Multiply the inches (or centimeters) for the bottom by the gauge per inch (or centimeters) and cast on. Work in your chosen pattern until the hat is the length of your hand (or longer if you want a foldable border or slouch.) Then divide the number of stitches by five, six, or eight to determine the decreases. Or look for a hat recipe that talks you through the crown.

Let’s make 2020 the year of knitting fearlessness. Let’s take control and alter patterns if we need to. Math can be our friend if we get over our own sense of insufficiency. Are you with me on this journey?

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