Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Writing a Workable Crochet Pattern Part Four: Doing the Math

When I worked in the technical editing department of Annie's Attic there was a dear lady (also a tech editor) who was fond of  picking up a beautiful doily or afghan and saying "It is just math; you just need to make the numbers work. That's all there is to it." As a designer this always bugged me. I felt that the stitch pattern, the type of thread or yarn used,  the proportions of the design, and even the color palette were all important elements to creating a beautiful design. I didn't like to hear what I considered a work of art described in such a matter-of-fact way. But I have to admit, when it comes to writing a pattern, she had a good point.
Math was never my favorite subject in school, but I use it every time I write a pattern. In order to write an accurate pattern, the numbers must add up. The stitches of one row are worked into the stitches of the row below, and form the base for the stitches of the following row. If one row of a pattern is off, it throws the whole pattern off.
Here is an example of how it works, and as in previous posts, the pattern is written in black and my comments are in red. Also, this pattern doesn't really make anything, it is for illustrative purposes only:

Row 1: Ch 12, dc in 4th ch from hook, dc in each ch across. (First 3 chs count as first dc; 10 dc made) Okay so far.
Row 2: Ch 3 for first dc, dc in each of next 3 sts, ch 2, skip next 3 sts, dc in each of last  4 sts. You only have 10 sts on the previous row, yet these instructions tell you to work in  or skip a total of 11 sts. (1+3+3+4=11) There are many possible ways to correct this: only skip 2 sts, only dc in the last 3 sts, etc. But only the designer knows for sure what is really supposed to happen.
Another example:
Row 1: Ch 12, dc in 4th ch from hook, dc in each ch across. (First 3 chs count as first dc; 10 dc made)
Okay so far.
Row 2: Ch 3, (skip next st, 3 dc in next st) 4 times, turn. In this example,  you have an extra stitch left over after you complete the all the repeats. [1+ (2x4) = 9] Is it meant to be left unworked, or is it a mistake? No one wants to have to guess!
These are just brief examples of what goes on in a pattern, but they illustrate the fact that it is important to count each st of each and every row or round. Stitch counts help keep track of where you are in a pattern, and I often chart out the stitches just to make sure that my math works. And again, my best advice would be to write down every thing you do as you are actually making the item. Errors are much less likely to occur when the numbers are fresh in your mind.
And the next post will be on another way I have found to make sure that patterns accurate; having them tested.


CrochetBlogger said...

Really love this series and think that this post is particularly important. I'm actually really fascinated by the relationship between math and crochet (traditionally "male" and "female" arts respectively) in both a practical level like writing a pattern as well as a more abstract level.

Sheltie Times said...

I love seeing math and art tied together. We tell kids that they will use math and then struggle to show them why math is important. This is a very real world example of why math is important. Yes, the artistic elements are equally valued. However, if you want to communicate your pattern to someone the math is just as important as all the other elements. When the math is wrong it is hard for someone to understand what the designer was communicating.

Chain Stitch Crochet said...

I'm kind of confused, in that, the math for different patterns is different correct? I guess what I'm getting at, and I still don't understand enough to do my own and have to follow someone else's patterns, but in order for something to lay flat you have different math than what you are talking about in the example pattern. Am I wrong in that?

Ann said...

I am not sure what you are asking, Mr Lick Lick, but what I was trying to say is that the number of stitches in each row/rnd must correspond with the number of stitches in the previous row and the next row when following the instructions of a pattern.
If you have 10 sts in a row, the instructions should not instruct you to work in more or less than 10sts.
If you have 20 sts in a rnd, a pattern should not tell you to work a repeat that uses 3 sts 7 times (that would require 21 sts).
Sorry, I am afraid that I am just making things worse instead of helping!

Unknown said...

I am a new follower. Love the info and wonderful designs. I am kind of new at crochet, but am learning lots since I started my knitting/crochet class at my local library last March. Will be adding your feed to my blog. So glad I found you. :)



Astri said...

Thank you so much for sharing this information. I have a couple of patterns I would like to write and this will be very helpful. As an accountant this stuff just simply gives me a warm fuzzy!

Chain Stitch Crochet said...

Hi Ann,
I'm sorry....I'm sure it's me who is making it worse. I understand what you are saying but I don't know how to say what I am trying to say. :o( It involves going up rounds....say 3 or 4 and you are increasing by the required amount for it to lay flat. Say you start out with 12, then you go up in increments of 6 or 12 right? But how do you know how many ch's to chain if you are wanting to make a design starting with the next round so that in the following rounds it will still be relatively flat? And how will that count correspond with the following round? How will you know if you are correct in your count? Does that make sense? Or am I just making this way too complicated??? Sorry........

Ann said...

Okay, I think I see what you are saying, Mr Lick Lick. What you are describing would fall into the area of actually designing an item, which I will talk about in a future post. All I am trying to explain here is how to write an accurate pattern after you already have the design all figured out.

Ann said...

I guess I jumped the gun by posting on how to write a pattern before covering 'how to design' basics. But I have received so many questions about writing patterns that I decided to cover this subject first.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for standing up for artistry. The first thing I was drawn to on your page was the lovely bird in your header. The shapes have artist merit. They look like a bird, but a nice one too. That's important and a point many purely mathematical people miss. I've just come from a knitting maths page and they are knitting weird mathematical things, no imagination or creativity required. Ugly things. It literally made my head whirl.

I know I need to know more maths in order to know how to make the shapes I want to make. I can draw them but I can't crochet them. I am quite artistic but a mathematical dunce. To that end I am trying to remedy that and find out the maths I need to help me. I have just signed up to a maths geometry course. Is that going to help me? So far I'm learning what lines are called. I've a long way to go. How will it all help me with knowing when to decrease and increase and how and if stitches will allow it and still look nice? My mind just boggles! Crocheters seem generally more creative than knitters (perhaps that is why they are sometimes rude about them - they like absolutes far too much sometimes I think.) I just want to have more freedom to create what is in my minds eye. What maths do I need to know? I just have no idea. I thought it was geometry, but is it really?