Monday, June 30, 2008

Mathematics and Needlework

I receive an e-mail newsletter from Lion Brand and was very happy to see an article relating math and knitting today. I love math and always have. I came very close to majoring in math in college, except for the fact that I took so long declaring a final major and to end up with a math degree would have taken more than the four years I had to finish. I ended up with a degree in Psychology with a composite minor in Math and Sociology (which means that a BA in Psych is worthless anyway, so why worry about the minor). And, it also meant the inevitable: return for a Master's Degree so you can actually get a job, because you've spent the past four years studying in a classroom rather than being out in the real world acquiring actual skills. When the Wayne County education rules changed a few years ago to mandate that all special education students study the same subjects as regular students with the same books, I had to do a lot of scrambling to review the math myself, since it had been decades since I had studied this in college. I'm now at the point of really enjoying teaching math to my Resource students and am becoming more confident with it year after year. I even get to teach only math next year instead of math and reading, meaning only 3 different lesson plans a day (6th, 7th,& 8th grades) instead of 6.
I've always been intrigued by how math and nature are intertwined and love to see examples of the Fibonacci Sequence. I came across a website years ago of a woman, Daima Taimina, a math professor at Cornell, who designed crochet pieces called hyperbolic crochet. I tried a small bit of this around the waist of my creature Folderol (See archives). At one of the North Carolina Basketmakers' annual conferences, I once took a class from a basket maker who is also a math teacher and uses the Fibonacci Sequence in her basket patterns.
Now, to get back to my original comment: Lion Brand noted an article called Move over String Theory, It's Yarn's Turn and in which they quote Carolyn Yackel, an assistant professor of math at Mercer University in Atlanta, as saying, "Crochet, knitting and other crafts allow people to visualize, recontextualize and develop new problems and answers.” She and Sarah-Marie Belcastro have gone on to research the relationships between craft and math.
Belcastro has designed mathematical proof explaining how any topological surface can be knit, which also has ramifications for biology. Yackel used tamari, Japanese string balls , to design a way to map out points on a sphere. Together, Belcastro and Yackel have co-edited a book called Making Mathematics with Needlework: Ten Papers and Ten Projects. Among the projects is a crocheted octagon which can be folded to form a pair of pants.
The article led me to another article, Mathemeticians Crochet Chaos, and a couple, Dr. Hinke Osinga and Professor Bernd Krauskopf, of Bristol University's engineering and mathematics department, who have constructed a model of chaos theory through crochet. I would love to post a picture of all of these techniques if the designers would allow me. I'm always cautious of copyright violations on this blog.
I love to see mathematics being recognized in crafts. As a basket maker, I have always been aware of at least a part of this. In designing baskets, one has to measure and plan the final result. Basket reed comes in specific measurements, from 1/8 inch to one inch or more. Experienced basket makers can look at a piece of reed and tell you how wide it is. Many non-crafters view craft items as simply a pastime to keep one's hands busy, only useful to make something pretty or practical. The next time someone asks about the craft you're working on, try explaining the mathematics involved in the design. It will make not only your viewer, but you become much more appreciative of what you are creating.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sheep to Sweater Part II: Spinning My Wheels

My husband, Henry, bought me a spinning wheel this summer. I've wanted to learn to spin my own wool for some time now and finally had the chance to do this. We found this Louet 76 at Weaver's Web Gallery in New Bern, NC which is only a little over an hour from home. The owner of the shop, Marilyn Vandersea had two in her shop and I chose this one. I had my first lesson June 12, then we brought it home. Until today, I could not do a thing with it. I
I fretted over this wheel, tried, tried and tried again. I adjusted the tension, tried again. Nothing. I couldn't even get it going. I called my friend Charlotte, who managed an historic site here for a long time and can spin on the Great Wheel. We couldn't get it going. I schlepped it to my mother's house this week and we couldn't do anything. I was ready to see if I could get my money back.
Henry has been tremendously supportive and kept saying, "I know you can do it. Just go back for another lesson." I felt like I was carrying a weight that just wouldn't go away. Why did all the people on the videos on the web make it look like so much fun and like it was so easy? I'm usually good at most crafts I try and am fairly coordinated with my hands.
I went back to New Bern today. Marilyn took one look at the spinning wheel and said, "Oh, this tension (whatever it's called) is on wrong." I had removed it to adjust the tension during one of my trials and had put it on wrong. She readjusted it, showed me again and we were off!
I also noticed I was pulling too much with my left hand and in the wrong direction. I stayed awhile at her request and was soon spinning on my own. I do have a way to go before it's consistent on the bobbin, but at least I was able to bring it home and sit and spin on my own (after I asked Henry to go out of the room so I could relax).
I called him back in once I had it going again. Success!
I had come away from the shop, optimistically purchasing a large bag of gray wool roving and carrying the practice wool I started with plus a small bag Marilyn gave me which she said is a step between the practice wool and the "good stuff." Who knows? Maybe some day before too long, this series might just end with something to wear.

Friday, June 20, 2008

New Moon

I finished New Moon by Stephanie Meyer today. This is the second in the Twilight series books about teenage vampire/human romance. I read the first book, Twilight a few months ago and purchased the audio book New Moon through for my i pod. I'm enjoying the series, and can't wait to start on the third book, eclipse. Ms. Meyer does a great job with the teenage protagonist, Bella who falls in love with the vampire Edward. Theirs is the typical Romeo & Juliet story and in fact the R & J story is discussed in the books by the central characters as they compare their fates to the Shakespeare couple. In New Moon, a new character finds a voice, Bella's friend Jacob, a Native American friend who discovers his tribe's connection to their wolf ancestry. I find a lot of similarities in these books with the Buffyverse, but for me that's a positive. I've missed the Buffy universe with vampires, werewolves and teen/young adult angst. I think I will purchase the next book, Eclipse on audio as well as I enjoy listening to the story. The narrator, Ilyana Kadushin, has a nice voice and is easy to follow.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Mistake

I was on my way to the yarn shop in New Bern yesterday with my husband, Henry driving. Of course, as with all trips of 30 minutes or more and with my not being at the wheel, I was knitting. I was working on a pair of wrist warmers for next winter. Knit, knit, purl, purl; the pattern is easy and isn't even in the round, just back and forth. Easy, right? My mind was split between watching the pattern and listening to Alanis Morissette's newest CD. I suddenly realized I'd made a mistake in my pattern two rows back. Okay, to fix the mistake or not, why should I bother? After all, I'm probably the one who'll wear these wrist warmers and would I even think about the mistake? Yes, I probably would. The mistake screamed out at me when I glanced at it, recognizing it at once for what it was. Two rows back! No one else would ever know or even notice. Did I have to do everything perfectly? Couldn't I leave it like it was to remind me of my humanity; i.e., imperfections? It would be like the deliberate mistake the Oriental rug weavers left to remind themselves of their limitations. What a wonderful way of looking at life. But, okay, I'm an American, and grew up in the previous century with the idea that I should strive to do everything as well as I can possibly do it. Hence, this would be a constant reminder that I goofed.
Now, all of this deliberation aside, which took about 30 seconds, and giving into my personal upbringing , I dove into pulling out stitches to get to the mistake. For those of you who don't knit, taking out stitches correctly takes about twice as long as actually knitting them. It is a valuable skill which should be learned along with knitting and purling. Find the loop just under the previous stitch, insert the needle and bring the loop onto the needle, slipping the stitch off the needle it had been on. This was repeated over and over until two rows were undone. I don't think I ended up with even an inch's worth of stitches by the time we reached Weaver's Web. Again, my mind wandered into the realm of knitting paralleling life's lessons. I began thinking about how even in life, it's harder to fix a mistake than to make one. Maybe this is as it should be. If it were easy to take back a harsh word or casually ignore a friend in need, we would be inclined to not pay attention and to not worry about the consequences of our actions. We should have to take more time and put forth more effort to make the world a better place to live or to let our loved ones know that we may not be perfect, but we're trying. Our actions will be appreciated and they will understand that it is sometimes harder for the one apologizing. And, as with living with a creation even as minor as wrist warmers, not righting a wrong that could have been corrected, leaves a nagging sense of unfinished business.