Is it really secret code?

I’ve recently been having conversations in person with a variety of people about my methods for turning words into stitches. I call it secret code as a kind of shorthand, but could it actually be used that way?

Well, it depends.

When people are sending actual secret messages, they have to decide ahead of time what methods they are going to use, and come to agreement to make sure that they are using the same system.

I have more than one way to turn words into numbers. I use more than one way to turn numbers into knitting charts. If I were to use knitting as an actual secret code, I would need to confer with my correspondent and do the following: pick one set of numbers and one particular charting method to use for every encoding.

Furthermore, if I wanted the actual code to be knitted, it would be hard to read unless the knitting itself remained in a visible grid format. Stranded knitting or knit/purl texture patterns would probably be fine. Lace would be right out unless the recipient were very good at reading lace stitches and could make a chart for it with all the yarn overs correctly placed. (In the case of lace especially, the chart or the written instructions would make a better code.)

Finally, my methods are really not terribly efficient in terms of space (and if actually working the stitches, time).  A single word takes up a lot of chart space. If I wanted to send a message that said yes or no, then it might be practical, but any multiword message would be trickier to send in time, even if I wanted to be so melodramatic.

So yes, while the methods I use could theoretically be used as a way to send secret messages, that’s not really what I’m doing. Instead, I’m using words as a starting point for creativity, and choosing my layout methods based on what I think looks attractive or interesting.

I don’t know where I first encountered the idea of using a framework and set of rules to help me be creative, but it’s something I’ve encountered many times: if I don’t place some sort of boundary on what I’m trying to make, then I’m paralyzed. I don’t know where to start; there’s too many possibilities. If I just say to myself, I want to design some lace, but I don’t have any sort of guidelines, then I get stuck.

The framework I’ve come up with over the last five years has given me the right sort of boundaries. They’re narrow enough that I don’t feel overwhelmed by choices, but wide enough that there’s room to work and make my own æsthetic decisions.

So, while my techniques could be used for code, that is not, in the end, what I really like about them. I enjoy encoding poetic or meaningful word choices like beloved or friendship; I’m amused by using words like groundhog as a starting point for beautiful lace design. I am pleased more than I can say that one of my friends knitted a wrap for a friend from hug, which is a wonderful non-secret message.

And I love not keeping my stitches secret.

9 thoughts on “Is it really secret code?

  1. harenaatria

    See and now I am picturing someone being sent a scarf with a note saying “Method 4 of the ship arrival” and the coded messages containing the time and date! Because obviously ferrets are Devious Creatures ;D

    Also totally glowing at the last sentence of your post ^_^

  2. iriegemini

    Love what you have shared about the creative framework in encoding. That you are also applying design choices is what makes the code so exciting for me. It not only embeds a meaning but lets it be workable & resonate. The abstraction piece is fabulous. Balance, stitch assignment, etc. are all so important!

    1. Naomi Parkhurst

      Definitely, and thank you! There’s certainly more to it than simply turning letters to numbers and then charting them. There are choices to be made along the way that lead to a creative end result, and that’s what I enjoy so much.

      I could write (and have been considering) a computer program that would generate the initial layouts, and there would still need to be human decisions about what would look best for a particular purpose.

  3. christineguest

    Your process reminds me of two others where there is a game-like structure to narrow choices and avoid overwhelm; Stacy Julien’s scrap bookking writing where you set a timer and make one choice at a time of photographs, embellishments and journaling; and the Zen Tangle drawings.

    It gives a person a starting place and framework – they can vary from it, once they are moving, but it gets them moving.

    1. Naomi Parkhurst

      Yes, those sound like the same basic concept – some limitation being a big help as a starting point. And once I get moving, the ideas keep flowing. I can’t recall the last time I had a design block. (As my friend Sarah will attest, sometimes I have to talk myself down from being overwhelmed by my list of potential designs even with my self-imposed limits.)


      1. Naomi Paz Greenberg

        This message is not intended to torment you.

        It’s just that there seems to be no limit to what can be expressed on a grid.

        I think it would be fascinating to look at written music and transcribe it somehow to a knitting chart.

        Imagine a fugue…. How might different keys be expressed?

        Bach wrote one piece that I know of for two violins: the sheet music was to be placed flat on the table between the two violinists. There was no top or bottom to the sheet, since the top for one performer was the bottom for the other and the notes written on the staff represented different pitches depending on where one stood. At least that’s how it was explained to me.

        As for limitations, sonnets have the framework they do for the same reasons.

        Thank you for sharing with us your fascinating exploration.


        1. Naomi Parkhurst

          Not torment at all!

          Iknow of a weaver who wrote a thesis about making music into weaving.

          It is a fascinating idea, but I am probably not going to play with it yet myself. (Though I can see the glimmerings of how to do it in my head. )

          I think the underlying lesson is that any kind of pattern can be changed into other kinds of patterns.


Leave a Reply to Yacht: a lace knitting stitch pattern | String Geekery Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *