Because of an early snowfall, I am not getting out much these days, so I like to find things to do that can be accomplished while sitting on the couch. Those things include writing for this blog, reading, and making hats for homeless people.
My daughter-in-law works for a non-profit group that finds homes for the homeless, and there is an ongoing need for all sorts of things for the participants in their programs. Last spring, I volunteered by helping some of them to use computers. I am only moderately qualified as a computer lab supervisor, but my skills were usually sufficient for the task. I also contributed by donating some hats that I had made the previous winter. It had been several decades since I had previously knitted, but I found that the skills came back to me fairly quickly. I was helped by some YouTube videos, for which I am very grateful.
Yesterday, as I finished making a cowl and started making another hat, I wondered why knitting and crochet patterns persist in measuring items horizontally by stitches and not by inches or centimetres. Now that I think about it, my first musing was actually about the peculiarities of pattern abbreviations. Here, to give you a taste of this is a section of the pattern I am currently using.
Rnd 10: Switch to larger hk, ch 2, hdc2tog by inserting hk in same st as join and next hdc, ch 1, *hdc2tog, ch 1; rep from * to end, sl st in beg hdc2tog.
Rnd 11: Ch 2, hdc2tog beg in last ch-1 space made at the end of the previous rnd, then in next ch sp, ch1, [hdc2tog by inserting hook in same ch-1 sp as last st, then in next ch sp, ch 1] around, ending the last hdc2tog in same ch-1 sp as beg of rnd, join with a sl st in top of 1st hdc2tog. Rep Rnd 11 for patt until piece measures 9 ½(10)” from beg.
To be honest, I haven’t actually completely understood Rnd 11 yet, but I plan to get to it later today. I feel pretty good about myself that I actually think I can do this. In any case, if you look at the end of this instruction, you will see that the piece is measured vertically by inches, but the horizontal measure is by stitches.
The workaround for this is a gauge that one is supposed to do before actually beginning the project. For this hat, the gauge is “12 hdc x 20 rows = 4” on smaller hook.” The pattern also helpfully suggests that it saves time if you do this first. I, of course, have not done this. I suspect my hat is going to end up much bigger than the one in the illustration. Maybe there is a homeless person with a big head or lots of hair who will appreciate it anyway.
Here’s the thing. If you do the gauge sample piece and find that your stitches are bigger or smaller than they are supposed to be, you have to do the math to figure out how many more or fewer stitches or rows would be required to get to the desired size. Alternatively, you have to experiment with different needle or hook sizes to achieve the same result. Presumably, there are fastidious crafters who actually do this, but I’m willing to bet there are a lot of ho-hum crafters like myself who prefer to bumble along and see how things turn out.
So, that’s why I ask the question, why not just specify a measurement in the pattern instead of stitch numbers? I have a feeling that the originators of knitting and crafting patterns back in ancient history were really good at math, or at least better at it than I am. Alternatively, there may have been a secret coven of crafters who worked tirelessly to ensure that they all always worked with the same tension on their yarn. It may have been like the women who lived together for so long that their menstrual cycles coincided. Or, maybe they are the same group of women. Who knows?
Not being in a coven or coinciding my cycles with anyone, I am left with the uneasy feeling that the tension on my crochet hook is probably not what it should be, but I feel only slightly guilty about not having done the little gauge piece in the beginning. I mean, really, how much can it possibly matter?
Don’t answer that.