Sunday, February 21, 2016

Math4Knitters Episode 46

Show notes and more at math4knitters.blogspot.com.


I ran my audio through some filters this week. I hope it sounds better. 

The Story of Portyanki, AKA "Chemical Weapons"

Wrapping feet in cloth didn't end when knitting burst onto the world scene. Russian soldiers were officially issued footcloths, called portyanki, right up until 2013. Want more? Read up here.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FootClothFromFinnishDefenceForces.JPG
Russians weren't the only ones who used footcloths well into the modern era. Finnish soldiers, German soldiers and others from Eastern Europe did, too. (I got that from Wikipedia, so proceed with caution if you accidentally end up a soldier somewhere from the time period after falling through time. It could be wrong.)

Why would you do this to yourself? Footwraps are definitely cheaper and faster to produce than socks. I could see them being made, easily, from old clothes or other linens. They dry faster than socks. You can re-wrap them in a different direction, so they could still be used even if they had a worn spot or a hole. 

This reusable nature wasn't always a blessing, though. My favorite tales of portyanki have to do with the smell. From the Moscow Times

"They believe that footcloth smell could defeat any enemy, because no European or American can deal with such a smell," she said. "They just smell it and die instantly."

Bykov agreed, recalling, "They smelled terribly, and everyone said portyanki were chemical weapons."

...and another thing that didn't occur to me...

Sometimes footcloths are a blessing in disguise, Merridale said, because when soldiers get their boots, they don't necessarily get ones that fit them.

"If you are good at wrapping portyanki, then you can wrap up five or six and end up with boots that really fit," Merridale said.

I also have a general theory that people who didn't (or don't) wear socks and shoes every day simply have less sensitive feet. A soldier backs me up in this BBC article about wearing portyanki: 

"Your feet become so hard you can drive in nails with your toes".

So, there's that. 

And Now, A Little Tale of My Hubris

As modern knitters and knit designers, it's easy to get carried away and think that the way that we write knitting patterns is superior to writers of the past. 

We are working under different assumptions and expectations made by our audiences, our publishers and ourselves. 

When you read "Maintain decreases, in pattern," don't think the writer is just being lazy. She/he may have severe space restraints. She/he may *gasp* simply expect that her/his audience is well-versed in knitting and would be annoyed by stitch-by-stitch instructions. 

A little over a year ago, one of my knitting students brought me a well-loved slipper that her mother made her about 30 years before. She asked me if it would be possible to write a pattern from it. I did my best. Then, about a week later, a friend of mine dropped an old booklet on my desk. I think it was to tease me, but I was delighted. It included a pattern for those slippers!

The Bernhard Ulmann Co. gave these slippers the charming name of “Slippers No. 2260” in Bucilla Vol. 340, which cost $3.50 in 1976. The pattern is probably at least as old as 1950, and if anyone hunts around enough, I’m sure they will find several versions. I’ve already heard many charming stories of people learning how to knit with this pattern, which I absolutely adore!
I thought the pattern would be perfect for my beginning knitting students, so I tried just photocopying it for them. As we worked through it, together, however, I found several ways to make the pattern easier to use and, frankly, more fun to knit.
So, I rewrote it. Our beloved, invented-in-the-1980’s ssk didn’t exist at the time, so I added that in. I also added some slipped stitches at the beginning of most of the rows, to make the top edge of the slipper a little neater. I’m also not crazy about counting stitches on every other row, so I put in stitch markers to keep my place. To be nice to our friends everywhere, I’ve also added metric measurements.
The original pattern was amazingly concise. I actually covered it up with my iPhone and I don't have one of the huge ones! But, the original author did something well that I did rather...less well. 
The toe of the slipper is all in ribbing. I wrote out stitch-by-stitch instructions for keeping up the ribbing along with the decreases. She/he wrote: "Work 6 (6-8) sts..."
Well, I completely messed up the second decrease row. If you follow my instructions to a T, your ribbing will be off. It is the last row of the pattern and it doesn't really show if you mess it up, but I'm sure it would be frustrating to get all of the way to the end and have it look wrong! 
I could have charted the toe. I probably should have. Instead, I wrote it all out, stitch by stitch, found the center of each row, and ended up with this big slice of crazy. 

It looks like I stumbled when I thought that the center stitch will be the same on an even number of stitches, worked an even number of times as when it's worked an odd number of times. 
In other words, I probably thought about: 
P1 (k1, p1) worked once - where the center stitch is a k1. 
but:
P1 (k1, p1) worked twice - the center stitch is a p1. Written out: P1, k1, p1, k1, p1. 
Now that I see it, I'm like, well, of course! But, I hadn't thought of it before. The sizes for this pattern don't have large differences between them, just a few stitches, which I think makes a mistake like this more likely. But, having noticed this, I will be more vigilant when I write slipped-stitch heel flaps. It feels like this could happen very easily there, too. 
I will test-knit the final three rows of each size, just to be sure that it's correct before I unleash this madness on an unsuspecting world. 

If you have already bought the pattern, please accept my apologies. That's what I get for thinking that a simple pattern is easy to re-invent! I'll send an update when I finish. 
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