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The Tech of Knitting Socks

Jan 13, 2014

Did you know that behind every publication that Interweave produces, there's a team of technical editors who deconstruct each pattern? They make sure the math works and that what the directions say is actually what the knitter is supposed to do.

Houndstooth by Stephanie Van Der Linden

I'm terrible at math, and I always have been. I don't know why; I'm not scared of it, like many people are. I limp through life knowing just what I need to know to get through my daily activities. So, I know a little "knitting math," such as how to calculate gauge well enough to make changes in patterns. At my old publishing job, I arranged for all of our books to be printed, so I always said that I knew "printing math." See—I can get by, but I'm no mathematician. Not even close!

Many knitting designers' day jobs are in the STEM world (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). This makes sense to me, because knitting is full of mathy stuff like charts, angles, gauge calculations, and size calculations. Not to mention the geometrical way of thinking that's required to make knitting turn into 3D shapes such as globes, stars, and even stuffies.

The new issue of Sockupied is here, and it highlights the STEM of sock design and knitting socks. Here's Editor Anne Merrow to tell you all about it.

The Science of Socks


Constant Cables Socks by Kate Atherley

This issue of Sockupied celebrates the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics of knitting socks—but you don't need a degree in math to enjoy the designs, techniques, and ideas in the issue.

We're lucky that our amazing technical editor, Karen Frisa, relishes the relationship between sock knitting and science. An applied math major until she discovered computer science, she worked as a software engineer for a decade before beginning her present career. "Turns out that knitting patterns have a surprising amount in common with computer programs," she says.

Socks are the perfect canvas for all kinds of design explorations: cables, colorwork, structural engineering, complex math concepts. . . . Even if you don't think about the science involved in your socks, your warm feet appreciate the geometry and physics in every stitch and round.

—Anne Merrow, Editor, Sockupied

I'm not sure which socks I like more; the Houndstooth pattern (shown above left) is amazing, with its op-art style of interlocking squares and triangles. This design is a type of tessellation , a pattern of shares that fit together with no overlapping or gaps. The sole is worked in the houndstooth pattern, a famous example of optical illusion—as you view it, everything appears to rotate clockwise.

Automata Socks by Lana Holden

I love cables, so the Constant Cables Socks are so tempting! They feature four cable styles, representing four mathematical constants. The cables encode these constants in the number of stitches in the cable and the number of plain rounds between crosses. The resulting non-repeating nature of the cables is really appealing.

Then there's the Automata Socks, with their super-textural traveling stitches. This patterns follows the advanced mathematical concept of automata. Knitting the traveling stitches through the back loop makes them really stand out against the reverse stockinette background. And I love the twisted rib toes on these socks, too.

Check out the new issue of Sockupied and you'll find a new appreciation for math skills.


P.S. Have you ever used your math skills to design or alter a knitting pattern? Tell us about it!

Featured Product

Sockupied Spring 2014 eMag for PC and Mac

Availability: In Stock
Price: $7.99


Dive into the science of sock knitting with the Spring 2014 Sockupied interactive eMag. This tech issue has six knitted sock patterns, a designer profile with Kate Atherley, and more.


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cassidyla wrote
on Jan 20, 2014 1:37 PM

I purchased the Sockupied magazine that comes up when you click on the Houndstooth sock pattern - but that pattern is NOT in the magazine!!  I am VERY disappointed not to have it - that was the reason I bought the magazine.  Can you tell me where that pattern is REALLY located???  

I see someone else did the same thing I did... how about a refund so I get the pattern I really want??  

cmacri wrote
on Jan 19, 2014 10:53 AM

How can I get a job as a tech editor?  I am engineer/computer scientist turned homeschooling mom to a future food scientist, a future chemical engineer, and six more who knows what.  For fun, I started deconstructing multiple heel and toe constructions in an effort to really fit the huge variety of foot shapes that can exist in just one large family.  I have only found one book that really addresses the variation in insteps and heels, and it is a translation with a lot of errors.  All other guidelines I have found about sock knitting primarily discuss just length and width despite all the promises of "customizing sock patterns."

BNSknits wrote
on Jan 18, 2014 1:21 PM

I've recently returned to knitting after decades away, and was so excited to see how far the fitting of knitted garments had come with all the personal body math involved!  I've taken a few online classes to learn more about different people's techniques and am just about done knitting a sweater for my grandson's first birthday.  He has really long arms, so I adjusted there, but that was pretty simple.  I'm ready to tackle bust issues and back issues and shaping by altering the math to fit the body I'm knitting for, and couldn't be happier!  I'm getting close to retirement and I see lots of math in my future knitting!

cath_fox wrote
on Jan 14, 2014 4:50 PM

As Laura mentioned, the link is incorrect.   I inadvertently bought the spring 2012 Sockupied as a result. Odd to have this whole article about 2014 but the link pointing to a 2012 emag. Odder still that it still hasn't been corrected. Perhaps someone at Interweave could proactively reach out to their customers who bought 2012 on Jan 13 and provide us the Spring 2014 Sockupied we were lead to believe we were purchasing?

on Jan 13, 2014 8:12 PM

I'm a musician by trade, but the daughter of an engineer.  My father thankfully played math games with me on Saturday mornings, so I learned to multiply fractions at home before I learned them in school.

I use math all the time to knit, because I design a lot (I haven't had time to put any patterns up for sale!).  My first socks were (and still are) all calculated from scratch (see "Simple Socks, Plain and Fancy" by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts).

My first nine sweaters were knitted from scratch.  For a couple of sweaters, I needed to know square roots!  (I know the equations, but don't ever ask me to figure a square root by that funny division stuff; I don't remember how to do that, but am glad that hand-held calculators know how.)

I've been wanting to teach basic knitters math here in Denver.  Anyone interested?  We'll gather all sorts of cool yarn and play with them and their numbers!

Gotta run.  A swatch for my next vest is almost done, and once it's blocked, the numbers will flow once more.  I find it very freeing to create my own sweater patterns as I go, as well as alter numbers on existing patterns.

Laura wrote
on Jan 13, 2014 8:08 PM

The link in the article goes to the Spring 2012 issue instead of the new Spring 2014 issue.

DanaG@2 wrote
on Jan 13, 2014 10:45 AM

Check out the "Need A......" series of booklets published by Cabin Fever. They feature each pattern in 6 gauges. Talk about math skills!


LaurieR wrote
on Jan 13, 2014 10:43 AM

This sounds like such an interesting subject. I'm terrible at math and envious of those who can make such amazing patterns. I wish I could get this issue, but unfortunately you don't seem to like those of us with Windows Surfaces. I'll have to just keep looking for more info about math and knitting and hope eventually I can find a way to improve my math skills.

LaurieR wrote
on Jan 13, 2014 10:42 AM

This sounds like such an interesting subject. I'm terrible at math and envious of those who can make such amazing patterns. I wish I could get this issue, but unfortunately you don't seem to like those of us with Windows Surfaces. I'll have to just keep looking for more info about math and knitting and hope eventually I can find a way to improve my math skills.

MaggiePEI wrote
on Jan 13, 2014 9:24 AM

I teach people to loom knit - and I especially love to teach young children.  It not only fosters creativity (they are making something, selecting colours, learning about where wool and other natural fibres come from) but it also requires teaching a great deal of math skills (figuring out how many stitches to cast on based on what you want to make vs the number of stitches in the sample swatch, increasing & decreasing, number of rows to achieve the length they desire).  It makes learning fun because it's hands-on and they understand the why of a specific math skill rather than thinking to themselves, "I'll never use this nonsense."  

5zaba5 wrote
on Jan 13, 2014 9:23 AM


I have been double knitting on two straight needles without seams since the early 1960,s. In 1985 I wrote a book about it with 18 patterns. Around that time I had the idea that if you could knit two layers, then why not 4 . For two years every now and then I would pick up the needles and try to figure out how I could do that.

My husband, who majored in math in university, sat me down one night to explain to me how it was mathematically impossible. I sort of blocked him out and continued thinking about how to do it. I don't remember what I thought of but I had an idea and ran for my knitting. Sure enough it worked. Four separate layers, all at the same time on two straight needles.

So I guess there is an exception to every rule. My husband hated me telling this but I must say...I loved it!! lol.   If I had known as much about math as he did, I wouldn't even have tried......Lynn Frederickson

klibbey wrote
on Jan 13, 2014 8:02 AM

regarding math and knitting. I'm a very new knitter and needed to make a hat bigger for my husband. He wanted it to fit without stretching too much. I noticed that the cast-on was 72 stitches and was just going to add 10 more stitches but as I looked through the pattern and the decreases at the top, I realized that I had to add stitches in multiples of 4 not 5 or the decreases would not spiral properly. I added 8 stitches and the extra length he wanted and now it's his favorite roll brim hat and I feel more comfortable with working out how to resize a simple hat pattern.