Stitching / XML · 2007-07-12

Pushing string theory

Jeni Tennison went and infected me with a notion today in her post mentioning the Ian Knot — a more efficient way of tying one’s shoelaces. (I guess I still have the capacity to be amazed by the Interweb…a whole site about shoelaces?!?) I couldn’t resist poking around Ian’s Shoelace Site, shoe in hand, practicing the Ian Knot and also debugging the bows I’ve been tying my whole life. Yes, it’s true, I’m a Granny Knot tier and I didn’t even know how horribly inefficient it was. But there’s time to change my ways.

In the same spirit of picking up new life skills, Jeni’s new one around knot-tying reminded me, very closely in fact, of one I picked up recently myself: knitting. I finally taught myself how a few weeks ago by using my newly acquired Stitch ‘n’ Bitch book (I reviewed the crocheting book by the same author here) and a great site called

As an aside, I remember when the computer documentation crowd dutifully defined all its SGML DTDs to have video elements in them because we were sure that, someday, documentation would actually have videos in it. It sure wasn’t happening much in 1991, or 1995. I’m glad it finally came to pass.

While crocheting gives you one nice, easy hook for pulling one loop through another, making the tricky “live” area localized, knitting gives you two pointy sticks and a whole row of live stitches at once. Yikes. Luckily, knitting has some benefits over crocheting that made it worth trying, such as that it uses a lot less yarn, and results in a less bulky/dorky fabric. (Most crocheted sweaters shouldn’t have been.) Once I got over my abject fear, I went through much the same process to try out the stitches as I just did tonight with the Ian Knot and a proper Square Knot with Ripcords.

What I’ve learned is that there are actually multiple ways to make “knitting knots”, which is kind of what knitting and purling are (or are they more like lacing?), and you might choose different ones depending on what feels right to you. Everyone knows about the English style of knitting and purling, where you feed out the yarn from your right hand, and the Continental style, where you feed it out from your left hand. But I hadn’t heard of Norwegian purling before — and it supposedly produces the same result as regular purling.

All this led me to wonder if anyone had figured out some kind of formal “knitting knot theory”, which would be helpful in working out all the different possible variations. I didn’t find any evidence of such a thing, though the Home of Mathematical Knitting has a pretty good roundup of links of the “I knitted a mathematical model” variety, and mentions someone named Amanda Redlich whose work may be related.

With a long plane trip coming up, I’m going to keep practicing the knitting thing, and will try to incorporate the Ian Knot into my life too. If anyone has managed to unify it all, let me know.