Friday, April 20, 2007

Fair-isle follies

I have been practicing my “other-handed” (ie: English style) knitting with the aim of applying it to some two-handed fair-isle, and I have discovered some interesting discrepancies in my gauge: Both ways are even in and of themselves, but I seem to knit obviously more loosely in my usual continental style than I do in the English way. This means it can affect the pattern prominence in a two-colour pattern. Apparently, in two-colour knitting it makes a difference which colour is carried below (if both are on the same hand) or in the right hand (if using the two-handed method). Either way, that strand will be (if only infinitesimally) farther from the work and a slightly greater amount of that yarn is used in making the stitches, and thus that colour appears to be the dominant one, and in general it’s advisable for that to be the pattern colour…

Meanwhile I’m drooling over library copies of Anna Zilboorg’s 45 Fine & Fanciful Hats and Magnificent Mittens and reading her “Knitting for Anarchists” (love it! love it! love it!). AZ encourages knitters to understand what we are doing instead of just blindly or blithely following instructions for techniques or patterns. She takes her readers step by step from the very first elementary principles about how stitches are formed through some of the most sophisticated techniques. As someone who needs to know why something works the way it does, I find this approach fabulous. Show me the underlying principles, be it a mathematical theorem, a logical proof, a musical form, or a knitting pattern, and I'm off to the races.

This is actually one of my personal peeves: there's something missing from the way we teach math and similar subjects. I was lucky. I could usually see the reason behind the formulas and knowing why they worked made applying them much easier, even (or especially) when deriving theorems from first principles. I was a math tutor in high school. I actually skipped grade 11 math. Well sort of. Instead of taking the class, I was teaching the material, tutoring a girl in grade 12 who had failed it the previous year. We just showed up for tests. And she not only passed, she got an A. Because we took the time to see what's behind the math and explain WHY the methods worked or WHY the theorems made sense.

Later, in university I was very tempted for a while to stay in academic circles specifically in order to teach in early undergrad classes in math and logic in this way. But music is a tempting mistress. When I found myself dropping a later undergrad physics course almost two thirds of the way through because it was interfering with rehearsals for a musical production, I had to acknowlege that without safe and effective human cloning techniques I just had to make a choice and the choice was performing. That was a tough one and to this day I remain an armchair scientist with my nose pressed up against the glass of the halls of academe. But there's no escaping or avoiding the performing addiction. It knows where I live. I can run but I can't hide. Believe me. I tried. And I am finally happily building the eclectic career and life I want.

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