My current work in progress:

Seaforth designed by Alice Starmore, knit in British Breeds 5-ply Guernsey Wool on US 3 needles.


I Have No Formula

That is a blanket answer to the many questions I’ve been getting that all start with:

“Do you have a formula for [knitting pattern or technique]? ”

No, I do not.

Allow me to explain.

Many many many many (many) years ago, when I started high school, I took Algebra One. And just barely squeaked through it. Next year I took Geometry. That went marginally better.

Then came Algebra Two.

Sadly, our teacher died at the very beginning of the school year and we had a couple of months of a parade of substitute teachers who were little more than babysitters. By the time we got a permanent teacher, I was hopelessly lost.

(In retrospect, I wonder how I managed to pass Algebra Two. Because I did pass.)

Senior year of high school I took no math class.

Fast forward to my freshman year of college. In order to fulfill the requirements for my degree, I was required to take 3 credits of mathematics. I took a course called “Concepts of Mathematics” that was recommended for liberal arts students. There were pictures in the textbook. The professor who taught the course was, I believe, chosen for that duty by virtue of having drawn the short straw.

This is a long way of saying that I suck at anything that involves numbers and counting. The idea of creating a formula for something gives me a fit of the vapours and I have to lie in a darkened room with a cool cloth on my head until the mind-fugue passes. Like Mick Jagger, I have to turn my head until my darkness goes.

I know that other smarter and far less numbers-challenged people than I have come up with whizz-bang calculators for all sorts of knitting related stuff so I suggest you google for those. ๐Ÿ™‚

Lucy Sez


I can’t count, either.


  1. I think you and I must be cut from the same cloth as far as math goes – I don’t understand it and I don’t pretend to understand it – drives the BF crazy.

    Karens last blog post..

  2. That’s all right Lucy! You don’t have to count. You just have to look pretty and purr lots and play with your toys and sleep.

    southparknitter (aka Timmie!)s last blog post..On the go

  3. This is good news..then I dont have to figure out why this would work and something else wouldnt….lol..

  4. Wendy I’m very impressed with your ability to write patterns if you have the math background you described. Bravo!

    (Math didn’t click for me until college- now up until the middle of calculus it makes a lot of sense to me. I do math writing for a living and often wonder if my high school teachers would pass out from laughing if they were told this.)

    Jesss last blog post..I long for knitting…

  5. Counting is highly over rated.

    Taras last blog post..Marching Along

  6. Tammy lost me on the third sentence. I like your math Wendy!

  7. I often say that if I had known my chosen hobby would have so much bloody math in it, I would have paid more attention.

    meshalius last blog post..Inedible

  8. Jennmoles says:

    Thanks for Saturday’s sock knitting class! I had a great time, and I LOVE the toe portion…. I believe, however, I have some kind of heel learning disability. Sadly, I have to frog the prettiest little Lacy Ribs sock. I shall perservere however! I am also going to restart…
    It was so nice to meet you! I enjoy your blog, and you were just as delightful in person!


  9. Debra I says:

    I’m convinced that knitting and mathematics do not go together. ๐Ÿ™ Not that I haven’t tried. It just takes lots and lots of tries to get a solution that seems to reflect the reality of yarn on needles. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Hey, I remembered algebra enough to figure out yarn yardage per pound when I know only some of the figures! X = Bwaaahhahhhahahaaaahhhahhaaaahahaha!!!!

  10. noallatin says:

    Your math career echoes mine with the exception of Algebra II. I never made it that far. I took (and barely passed) the Concepts of Mathematics in college. My textbook had M.C. Escher drawings in it. I can’t remember the number of remedial college math courses back when I went back to school for a computer programming degree. It still hasn’t sunk in.

  11. Ok. Your post actually made me chuckle out loud. I am soooooo not a math person. Despite graduating #2 in my class, I still had to take two remedial math courses when I got to college. My sister (three years younger) attended one of my classes with me, and she was like, “Seriously? You’re adding and subtracting. You can’t be that dumb.”

    Apparently I was.

    I’ve learned to trust y’all’s patterns and trust my hastily knitted gauge swatch (cough).

    Nathalies last blog post..Tuesdayโ€™s โ€œDoneโ€ List

  12. Some calculators you and your readers might find interesting. (Note: I did not create these, nor have I used them, so I cannot vouch for their utility or accuracy–I just follow a lot of links and am a mighty googler…) (sock calculator) (yardage calculator, buttonhole calculator, and increase/decrease calculator) (custom-fit raglan sweater calculator) (top-down raglan calculator)
    and finally: (more calculators than you can shake a needle at)

    Personally, I took a class in college called “Calculus for Poets”–we had open book tests that we took home to do. My kind of math!

  13. Colleen says:

    It’s funny how people react to math. I’m the mom the teachers want to talk to the kids, because I use my algebra in real life continually. I’m forever helping people change patterns, and I often end up setting up two equations in two variables to work out the new pattern! But I’m pretty sure that that is just algebra I, not algebra II. I use geometry, too. And then there is the really complicated geometry and algebra I use for quilt backs, but we won’t go into that (I didn’t work it out, but I do almost understand it, I might be able to derive it if I work really hard…maybe).

    But I hate calculus. REALLY hate it. The only math in college I could do decently was graph 3-D shapes (diff EQ) … I could visualize saddle curves, and all my friends had trouble with that (I went to MIT, so I had LOTS of math).

  14. Lynne E. says:

    Thanks for the belly laugh! I was feeling sorry for you, until I read Lucy’s comment.

  15. So you must be “visual-spatial”, not “auditory-linear”. Makes sense, as you are a great designer! Oh, and I accidentally clicked on Lucy’s picture and enlarged it–she is SO beautiful! You can really see how pretty her eyes are when you enlarge the photo. That is a lovely shot!

  16. I changed my major because of math. I began as an Economics major. Loved the prof, who emphasized theory. Then I got to advanced-level econ, and well, theory went out the window, replaced by ugly equations and math concepts. Welcome to Art History/Museum Studies.

    Idas last blog post..News from the Fibery World

  17. I can spell just about anything in any language (and I’ve studied six, including English), but math just whips my, er, brain!

  18. As a mathematician and statistician I find that sad. The math is half the fun of creating patterns and adjusting them for new yarns.


    Abbys last blog post..Raspberry Mocha Martini…

  19. Math! We don’t need no steenking math! But my son’s math teacher tells me he’s gifted in math; I think there was a switch at the hospital…

    pdxknitteratis last blog post..Ishbel, you heartbreaker

  20. I got through Advanced Algebra & Trig in high school, statistics in college, but what I use most is ratios for knitting & the hypotenuse of a right triangle for quilting.

  21. It must have been a bad year for math; I can’t do it either.

  22. I can’t count either. Totally math challenged.

  23. Alice in Richmond says:

    I understand. All the math I ever use is the math I learned before 6th grade. And I think I missed the day they taught long division.

  24. In your entire adult life have you ever needed to use the quadratic equation??? Think about it.

  25. I can totally relate to that story. I too have a math block. In fact formulas give me a headache.

  26. We are math twins. I had to take two remedial math classes in Jr. college in order to take the one that transferred. I somehow missed learning my times tables in third grade and it just never got better after that. I have a feeling I could have been good at it, but there is a missing link somewhere in my brain

    LoriOs last blog post..Bagel making continues

  27. True, as far as we know cats can’t count or do math, but boy oh boy can they tell time!!!

    claires last blog post..I told you

  28. I took that same college math class, it was called “The Nature of Mathematics”. Then I stupidly changed from arts to science and got hit with Statistics. It was excruciatingly painful.

    Kaths last blog post..Raindrops keep falling on my socks

  29. I no likes the maths either…..obviously, I’m a language person -lol…Halloween sends nips & pats to Lucy!

    Cindy Ks last blog post..Stash Room Re-do

  30. Liz in IN says:

    Totally understand this. My husband is into woodturning. He bought some dvds that illustrated and explained a rather complicated (okay, very complicated, precise, painstaking) technique for producing some rather spectacular and ‘artistic’ vessels.

    The woodturner on the dvd worked out the math (just simple geometry, really) using a whiteboard, markers, diagrams, and ‘pi’. “Therefore, if I set the angle at 29.085 degrees…”

    I had to leave the room.

    The less art (or even craft…or, well…life in general) has to do with math, the happier I am.

  31. I read Dickens during the math portion of the GRE.

    And our cats can’t count either, and they don’t understand pointing. When I point at a bird outside the window, they look at the tip of my finger.

    Susan Brocketts last blog post..2 + 2 = 4

  32. Beth P. says:

    It’s so nice to have so much good company!!
    I am O.K. with regular math (adding, subtracting, multiplying, etc.), in fact, when I was in 8th grade they put me in an advanced math class. Then came Algebra 1 in 9th grade, after the first quarter I moved to a desk at the back of the room and happily failed! We were only required to have one math credit to graduate (yes, it was a long time ago) so in 12th grade I took “General Math”!

  33. The only class I ever failed in my entire life of A’s and B’s was Algebra I – I received a 69 for the year. One needed a 70 to pass and as my summer was already mapped out I had to retake the entire stinking year. I managed to understand it through the 3rd quarter the second time around and passed for the year with a 75. I turned it all into ratios and a series of lower math logical reasonings in order to do even that. Plane Geometry, however, was a joy – go figure ๐Ÿ˜›

    That has got to be one of the best Lucy photos I’ve ever seen. If she needs a summer vacation I’ll be please to offer my little house and screened porch. The only thing she’d need to “count” on is that she’d be well fed and well loved.

    Leslies last blog post..Memorial Day Sunday

  34. Ha ha! You are not alone. I have exactly the same mathematics history as you, except my Algebra II teacher was merely brain dead, not actually dead. I sort of liked that college class with all the pictures, though, because it had logic and if p then q, and I understood that. I was a linguistics major and eventually realized it was sort of math with words. Knitting is math with yarn. I think I am actually not too bad as long as the math is disguised with words or yarn. Sadly, one of my children inherited my lack of math gene, only worse. I feel bad that I can’t help him, but at least I am living proof that you can manage to earn a living and feed a family with math impairments!

    Sunas last blog post..Bummer, Re-do

  35. I love math, but I still wouldn’t feel really comfortable creating a pattern out of whole cloth (I can make my own sock doodles, but I’m using my standard # of stitches and just putting something on them), especially fitted garments like sweaters.

    Sometimes I think that confidence is one of the true keys to designing something. If you believe you are skilled and creative enough to do design something cool, then you spend the time and effort regardless of your math or writing skills.

    Seanna Leas last blog post..Pass it along: books

  36. Denise K says:

    Thumbs up to you! We should have a club… except for the teacher dying you have described my school math career to a T. Thank goodness there are others like us!

  37. I think it I were given a 4th grade math test today, I would probably fail. the very idea of doing math makes me break out into a cold sweat.

  38. Theresa in Italy says:

    Your math career in high school sounds a lot like mine, even down to having geometry go marginally better than algebra. Which did not stop me from (briefly) taking a university job where I had to type research papers for engineers which included differential equations (luckily by then computers were doing most of the work). I got back at them by constantly correcting their English.

  39. Michele In Maine says:

    I had to take Algebra 2 twice (the second time was my senior year in h.s.) because I nearly failed it the first time. Now the only math I do well is ‘kitchen math” e.g., 1/2 c. of butter = 1 stick. Don’t even ask me about geometry -I think I got a “D”……

  40. I bet Lucy can to count. I bet she would know if you had two treats in your hand and only gave her one.
    Based on this theory, my dogs can count. Hmm, I should have them figure out gauge for my next project.

    Ann in CTs last blog post..Manufactured Urgency

  41. I also have a phobia of math. In college I was told I could either take Calculus II (I barely squeaked by in Calculus I) or Logic. Guess which one I took. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Kristens last blog post..FO-PALOOZA!

  42. Yet you write entire books full of knitting patterns which are little more than mathematical formulas in disguise. And sock patterns are, frankly, the most mathy of the lot. It’s funny how many people claim to be math phobic, when they are actually very very good at it.

    I’m not saying you should write up a formula for turning various sizes heels and share it with all of us. I’m just saying you shouldn’t sell yourself short. You’re better at math than you realize.

    Saras last blog post..Mom’s birthday present

  43. madonnaearth says:

    love that picture of lucy.

  44. I’m the opposite – I’m much more comfortable with a mathematical approach. When there’s numbers and math-y stuff involved, it makes me feel like there’s less chance of me messing up. It’s amazing how knitting can be approached from such different angles, and enjoyed no matter how your brain prefers to work.