Tag Archives: knitting

Converting words or letters to numbers

(This is part of a series of posts on different ways of hiding meaning in your knitting.)

Table of Contents: Embedding meaning in Your Knitting | Converting Words to Numbers | Making a grid | Asymmetry or Symmetry? | Converting grids into stitch patterns | Lace | Cables | Other Encodings | Summary of My Method | Summary of My Method | Addendum: Ribbing | Further Resources

A first step in converting words to knitting (or other fiber arts) is to convert letters to numbers. An obvious way to do this is to assign a number to each letter. The simplest way to do this is to use decimal numbers, assigning A=1, L=12, and Z=26. This can produce nice results.

If you don’t like the way the stitch patterns come out, you can translate the numbers into different base systems. I’ve provided a chart at the bottom of this post for numbers in base 10 down to base 6, as well as ASCII values. Other possibilities for conversion include binary, Morse code, or Braille.

Another option is to use the numbers on a telephone keypad, though this would be a one-way cipher; it would be tricky for someone looking at your stitch pattern to turn it back into the original letters, even if you wanted them to.

Using ASCII values for letters also works. (And in fact, if you look at the complete list of ASCII values online, you get upper and lower case and punctuation.) Finally, there are various encryption techniques that turn words into numbers.

The last way I’ve thought of to convert meaning to numbers (and my favorite) is to use the Dewey Decimal System—one of the methods librarians use to assign call numbers to books so they can be shelved according to their primary topic. The best resource for this (because it goes into the most detail) is the set of books that lists all the Dewey numbers in it. To use this, you’ll need to go to a library that uses Dewey for its call numbers; I recommend calling the library reference desk to find out if they have the books available for you to use.

A good backup system is to use WorldCat. Do a subject search for your meaning. If that doesn’t produce results, do a keyword search, and then pick a likely looking subject heading. On the detailed record page, look for the Dewey Decimal number for the books that come up. The one that appears most often is probably the Dewey Decimal number for your topic.

Finally, if you enjoy the idea of encryption, there are a number of techniques for putting words in secret code, which you could then further encode as knitting. See Further Resources for some suggested links.

The Problem of Zero

Once you’ve generated numbers to use in your stitch patterns, you’ll be using those numbers to count stitches or squares on a grid. Counting to zero can be tricky. One option is to add one to every digit, so that 0 is 1, 5 is 6, and 9 is 10. Another option is to turn zero into ten. A third option is to ignore all zeros. Note that this will make your code one way: decryption will be nearly impossible, even for someone who knows the code.

Letter Conversion Table

10 9 8 7 6 ASCII
A 01 01 01 01 01 65
B 02 02 02 02 02 66
C 03 03 03 03 03 67
D 04 04 04 04 04 68
E 05 05 05 05 05 69
F 06 06 06 06 10 70
G 07 07 07 10 11 71
H 08 08 10 11 12 72
I 09 10 11 12 13 73
J 10 11 12 13 14 74
K 11 12 13 14 15 75
L 12 13 14 15 20 76
M 13 14 15 16 21 77
N 14 15 16 20 22 78
O 15 16 17 21 23 79
P 16 17 20 22 24 80
Q 17 18 21 23 25 81
R 18 20 22 24 30 82
S 19 21 23 25 31 83
T 20 22 24 26 32 84
U 21 23 25 30 33 85
V 22 24 26 31 34 86
W 23 25 27 32 35 87
X 24 26 30 33 40 88
Y 25 27 31 34 41 89
Z 26 28 32 35 42 90

Forthcoming post: Placing numbers on a grid so they can be turned into stitch patterns.

Embedding meaning in your knitting: Index

Table of Contents: Embedding Meaning in Your Knitting | Converting Words to Numbers | Making a grid | Asymmetry or Symmetry? | Converting grids into stitch patterns | Lace | Cables | Other Encodings | Summary of My Method | Addendum: Ribbing | Further Resources

I’ve known about Madame Defarge and her knitting code from A Tale of Two Cities for a long time, and have read a number of novels which include the idea of encrypting things in fiber arts. This may be what subconsciously inspired me to encode meaning in my Secret Code of the Librarians shawl (still in progress) and then to write up this series of posts.

Sometimes we knit for a special occasion: a wedding, a birth, graduation from college. In those cases, the beauty of someone else’s design can be wonderful, but it can also be fun to create something new for the occasion. Why not combine the birth dates of two people who are marrying in a special gift, or perhaps encode their names into it?

You might be knitting a gift for someone who is ill–why not knit your wishes for good health into the design? Or if, like me, you wish you were more patient, you could knit yourself a shawl with “patience” hidden in the stitches.

Choosing Words or Numbers

A first step in converting meaning to knitting is to find a way to express that meaning in numbers.

To reduce the number of steps involved, the easiest thing is to pick numbers that are meaningful: dates, phone numbers, and so on. Dates have the further advantage that they can be expressed in a variety of different ways. Take the third of May, 1990. 1990 could also be written as 90. Three could be either 3 or 03, five could be 5 or 05. The five could come first or the three could come first (depending on whether you use US date order or not). The different configurations of dates will change the way your stitch patterns can be arranged, providing better flexibility in their appearance.

code swatch

(This code swatch was knit using the date I started college.)

You can also combine multiple dates in one stitch pattern: if making a stitch pattern for a wedding shawl, you could use the engagement date and the wedding date, or the birthdates of the people getting married.

Some of the methods I’ll explain later lend themselves more to writing long sequences of words, but I particularly like choosing one or two words to convert to numbers and then to stitch patterns.

I have limited these posts to the craft of knitting, but I am certain that some of the techniques I mention could be translated into other crafts. I would love it if someone gave it a try.

Next post: Converting words or letters to numbers

(This series of posts assumes you are familiar with reading knitting charts.)

Sycamore stitch

I recently knit slippers for my son with a cable from my Mon Tricot stitch dictionary, Sycamore Stitch. I’m not going to write up the pattern, but I thought I could at least chart the stitch pattern for people; the written instructions are my own, not a direct copy from the original. Nobody has tested these for me; please let me know if you have problems!

Sycamore slippers


Right Side: knit; Wrong Side: purl
RS: purl; WS: knit
RS: slip 1 with yarn in back; WS: slip 1 with yarn in front
Slip 1 as if to knit onto cable needle, then the next as if to knit. Bring cable needle to front. Purl 2. Yarn over. Slip the stitches from the cable needle and knit them together through back loop. (Left leaning decrease.)
Slip 2 onto cable needle and let fall to back. Knit 2 together, yarn over. Slip the stitches back from the cable needle; purl 2.
RS: purl through back loop; WS: knit through back loop (results in twisted stitch)

Written instructions for flat knitting:

1: purl 1, knit 2, purl 4, knit 2, purl 1
2: knit 1, purl 2, knit 4, purl 2, knit 1
3: p1, k2, p4, k2, p1
4: k1, p2, k4, p2, k1
5: p1, k2, p4, k2, p1
6: k1, slip 2 with yarn in front, k4, slip 2 with yarn in front, k1
7: p1, slip 1 as if to knit onto cable needle, then the next as if to knit. Bring cable needle to front. P2. Yarn over. Slip the stitches from the cable needle and knit them together through back loop. (Left leaning decrease.) Slip 2 onto cable needle and let fall to back. Knit 2 together, yarn over. Slip the stitches back from the cable needle; p3.
8: k1, p2, k1 through back loop, k2, k1 through back loop, p2, k1

The Secret Code of the Librarians

Back in April 2010, one of the Ravelry groups I belong to started an -along. There are lots of knit-alongs or crochet-alongs or spin-alongs out there – a group of like-minded people work on a particular project or kind of project at the same time, and cheer each other on. In this case, the Friends of Abbys Yarns (started as a fan group for Abby Franquemont’s work but continuing as a community as well as a fan group) started the Friends of Abby’s Yarns Spin and Knit Along for Lace, FOAYSAKALFL for short. The goal was to have spun yarn and knit it into a finished lace project by the end of 2010. Only, you know, the rules weren’t really that hard and fast. I’m still knitting.

I had some batts that Abby had made just sitting around, and so I thought it would be apt to use those. I decided to use my two Backwoods batts that I picked up at Sock Summit 2009 (photo was taken in late afternoon, so the color is off):

I finished my spinning and plying during the Tour de Fleece 2010 and ended up with about 595 yards of laceweight:

So, what to knit? At first I thought of making a cowl, but that ended up not appealing. Then I hit upon a brainwave: why not encode something meaningful to me? A significant source of numbers for me is my job: I’m a reference librarian. So I figured out the right numbers, worked out a way of encoding them (I had to leave any zeros out, unfortunately), and then started swatching. Some things needed adjusting, but the original numbers are still where they belong, which has the extra benefit that I can tell even more easily when I’ve gone wrong with my knitting.

I was lucky in that the two numbers I used each had their digits fit nicely in a 27 stitch wide pattern, though I can see some other ways to play around. I will have a blog post after I reveal the secret about how I worked things out.

In the meantime, here is a photo of my work in progress as of yesterday. I blocked it gently with steam from my iron. This is one corner of what will be a crescent-shaped shawl or scarf (depending on how far my yarn goes):

Bunny Ears Back

For the pattern I’m working on (Ellerbe Mitts), I came up with an interesting decrease that turns out to have been invented more than once already (not really a surprise to me).

The name other people use for this one is Bunny Ears Back (because it’s a variant of another decrease called Bunny Ears).

Anyway, I’ve worked up a handout (also available as a PDF) to go with the pattern. Here’s the text of it, with illustrations.

Continue reading Bunny Ears Back

the English Cast On, illustrated

I originally posted a different version of this on the Advanced Knitting community on Livejournal. I hope I have learned from my mistakes; I certainly appreciate the commenters over there for making me reformulate my thoughts on the subject!


Sometime in my teens, I learned this cast-on, which has remained my favorite. I might have learned it from my grandmother; I can’t remember, and my grandmother’s memory is unreliable at best at this point, so I’ll never know for sure. I’m a little sad about this, but so be it.

I didn’t know a name for it until recently, when I checked Nancy Bush’s Folk Socks out of the library. It was the first place I had ever seen it described. Armed with a name, I searched on Google, and found only two sets of instructions for it, both text. Here’s the links, just in case they help clarify the instructions I’m providing: Britt Scharringhausen, Lord Gazmuth.

But there’s no illustrated instructions online that I can find, and I’d like to show other people how to do it, as I think this cast-on has a number of advantages:

  • It’s quite stretchy. (I can usually use it for sock cuffs.)
  • Because it’s knit onto the needle, you can cast on in pattern. I only show casting on with knit stitch here, but you can also knit and purl (handy when you’re about to do ribbing), and I imagine you could do the first row of a lace pattern with it.
  • I think it’s attractive.
  • At the end of casting on, you’ll have completed your first row of knitting.

There are some potential disadvantages:

  • If you aren’t comfortable with throwing the yarn around the needle with your right hand when knitting, this isn’t for you. (So if you’re exclusively a Continental-style knitter, this won’t be comfortable.)
  • You need to remember that you’ve completed your first row of knitting after casting on. Note: for some stitch patterns, if knit in the round, you may want to purl your cast-on instead of knitting.
  • If you are using the tail as a marker for something, it might be at the opposite end from where you’re used to.
  • As with the more usual long-tail cast on, you’ll need to allow enough tail for the cast on (or else use a separate length of yarn, in which case you’ll need to weave in extra ends).

This is a long tail cast on. It’s not the usual method that’s called “long tail” by default. There’s an extra twist in each of the loops created by the tail. The result is identical to the Twisted German cast-on; it’s a different method for arriving at the same result.

First, figure out how you’re going to do the tail. I’ve seen suggestions for the long-tail cast on of leaving a tail that’s four times the width of your first row of knitting. I’ve also seen the suggestion of 1″ per stitch in thicker yarn (worsted) and 1/2″ per stitch for things like lace weight. Alternately, you can leave about a yard of tail, cast on 20 stitches, mark the ends of the tail yarn used in the cast on, unravel it, and figure out how much yarn you used per stitch. Also leave some extra for weaving in once you’re done knitting. Or you can use a separate length of yarn* from another ball of the same yarn, a contrast color, or the other end of a center-pull ball.

First, lay the yarn over your palm so that the tail end is trailing off the pinky side of your palm (it’s usually much longer than I show here; I’m just trying to make it clear which end is which) and the ball end is lying over the base of your thumb.

Close your fingers over the yarn. (I usually leave my index finger pointing up, contrary to this picture, but it doesn’t really matter.)

Loop the ball end of the yarn around the tip of your thumb so that the ball yarn is between your index finger and the tail yarn.

With your index finger, reach over the ball yarn and under the tail yarn.

Here’s another, closer view.

Straighten your index finger.

Drop the yarn off your thumb and pull the loop tight around your index fingertip. You now have what is essentially a twisted backward loop on your index finger. I kind of think of my finger as a flexible knitting needle when I do this cast on.

I did a little fiddling with two yarns so that you can see the structure of the loop more clearly.

Pick up your knitting needle, put it knitwise through the loop on your finger, and knit the stitch off your finger, tugging gently on the tail yarn to pull the stitch snug. (Note that the first stitch is a slip knot, so if you’d rather do that as the beginning of your cast-on, you can. Also, you can insert the needle purlwise if you want to cast on a purl stitch.)

Now repeat the procedure. I generally keep the tail yarn held beneath the fingers of my left hand as I cast on. You need to be careful to put the correct yarn under those fingers if you put everything down to do something else.

Here’s several stitches on the needle, after I stopped casting on.

I realized that the fuzzy yarn makes it hard to see the structure of the cast on, so here’s a couple more views with different yarn:

The tail yarn part of the cast on is a series of backward loops twisted an extra time. They lean to one side (from bottom left to top right).

Here’s a video:


*If you want to use a separate strand of yarn instead of a tail, make a slip knot in the end of it and put it on your needle. Don’t count it as a stitch. Cast on the number of stitches you want. When you can, drop the slip knot instead of knitting it.

Design setback

I was just about to post that I was making really good progress on one of my sock designs and that I’d finished half a sock, when I realized that I had half again more stitches than I should on the instep. Then I realized why, sighed, and ripped back most of the way. Fortunately, I had used a lifeline right before the critical row, and so it wasn’t hard to pick up the stitches again.


Getting Going!

There’s two things I’ve been meaning to do:

  1. Get started on using this blog.
  2. Actually try knitting and writing up the patterns for some sock designs I have in my head.

With Sock Summit coming up, I’m feeling more inspired. I don’t yet know if I will be able to afford to go; however, there’s no reason not to work on the socks in any case.