I love all things science and math related. No math genius was I, but I typically got great math grades in school, and several of my former jobs involved math and measurement and formulas*. I think because of how I had to use math in my professional life, when I first started knitting I really tried to avoid math in my fiber arts adventures.
Tried is the operative word here, because in knitting, there are a few things you can’t get around – counting, being the main one. If you want a garment to fit, for example, you either have to find a yarn and some needles that give you the exact gauge (sizing) a pattern calls for, or you are going to have to do some math. If you want to create your own pattern, without the pain of making something and then having it not fit the human (or dog, or cat, or whatnot) you intend it to fit, you’re probably going to have to do some math.
While I know some knitters who will go to absurd lengths to avoid most knitting related math problems, I’d come to terms with the basics. I still haven’t quite made a few jumps that I want to make – tackling some challenges related to pattern design involve projecting numbers and while I know I’m capable of doing the work, I’m not really there to want to do the work yet**. However, about two years after I came back to knitting, I’d made some peace with the fact that I would probably have to do some math (it most definitely helped that I left the number crunching job behind). I think the challenge for some people is not that they are Math is Hard Barbie, but that its not just an abstract set of numbers they’re working – its real numbers with real implications for how their work will turn out. The stress isn’t “Will I make the grade?” but “Will this hat fit on my head or not?” There’s almost something to be said for stuff in theory rather than applying it to your actual daily life.
When I started spinning, I knew that there were some math-y applications, but I didn’t really make the connection that to spin yarn I would have to use as much – if not more – math than I did in knitting. For the non-spinner reading this*** spinning wheels come with different sized grooves in the wheels and other parts that make the wheel spin (called whorls) and the wheel spins faster or slower depending on which size you choose to use.
When I started spinning, I figured out pretty intuitively that small grooves = fast and large grooves = slow, and the thinner the yarn I wanted the smaller a groove I needed to use. That was that!**** It wasn’t until I started getting more involved in spinning that I realized that there were things I would need to know – things that involved math. Things like if you want to make a certain type of yarn, or make a consistant yarn, you have to keep track of things like twist angle, twists per inch and wheel ratios.
I realized it, but I didn’t pay attention to it until very recently, when I decided that I wanted to get better at it, that I wanted to be able to plan my projects ahead, or even do off the cuff work better. I hadn’t paid attention to the math, and I had a very uneasy relationship with it – I knew I needed to start paying attention to the math-yness of what I was doing, but I kind of didn’t want to, because it felt like it took away from the spontaneity of the craf.
Spinning – like I mentioned in the post about the Awesome Yarn that was Made of Fun – can be spontaneous and freeing and a lot of fun. Bringing planning and math and formulas and (god forbid) knowledge took away from the free feeling that working at my wheel gave me.
Or did it?
Lately, I’m encouraging myself to try new things, and one of them is to get over the hump – the unwillingness – to incorporate math in my spinning. I’m starting by doing some experiments with some fiber that I have a LOT of. Like I’ve mention before, its my “good” stuff – really really good stuff – and I’m challenging myself to experiment and play with it, but also to really get to learn what I DID to the fiber by pulling out the math tools that other spinners use and using them myself.
I started that tonight by taking the fruits of my first experiment and measuring them – how many wraps per inch, what the twist angle was, what the twist per inch of the singles was, and how much it appeared I was drafting per each turn of the wheel. And you know what?
My little worksheet, with the yarn.
I loved it. It was frustrating, it was challenging, and most of all, it was really empowering. To know what I have, and what I have done – not just intuitively, like “I put this here and that there,” but mathematically, makes me feel like – if this version is the one I want to use the rest of the fiber for – than I can do it. I can reproduce my work without having to guess at it.
I’m both making peace with AND enjoying spinning math.
*My title was Director of Metrics, which to this day I can’t figure out if it was cool or shameful.
**It totally occurs to me that just by saying that, it makes me want to drop everything I’m doing and get the damm problems done with already.
****”That was that!” encompasses several months of failure and sadness, which we will discuss at some point.
This is day 10 of 30 days of Fiber. To see all posts, visit here.