Thinking about lace

This summer I am taking intensive courses in Organic Chemistry, which as you can imagine, takes up an enormous amount of time and energy. I’m doing things a lot differently than I did the last time I attempted summer classes, though, taking great care to be much more organized and live in a better balance. I’m making time to enjoy the gorgeous weather, to see friends and attend events in my beloved city, and to be a happier, calmer version of myself than I think I’ve ever been.

I draw almost every day in my sketchbook (on ferry rides to and from Manhattan, mostly). I notice it is making me much more attuned to organic shapes, curves, the forms and substance of nature, growth, and the magical little processes happening unassumingly all around us.


(Shadows like lace, on Water Street, in lower Manhattan)

I’m currently working on a second bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, a subject I find intensely inspiring and fascinating in elaborate and wonderful ways. A lot of the study of chemistry is recognizing patterns of behavior, which are based on the underlying structural tendencies of molecules that give rise to functionality. In essence, things act the way they do because they are what they are. I find that incredibly beautiful.

I also decided I’m going to minor in Mathematics, in part because my degree already requires all but one or two of the courses for the minor, but also because, like chemistry, I feel like math is this extraordinary way of unraveling the mysteries and intricacies of the universe, as a means to discover even more incredible ones.

The combination of these fields has me finding and accepting this system of order that governs the way things work, and it’s so effortless and elegant that it would be easy to miss entirely. Systems seek balance, but not homogeneity. Functions have inverses that aren’t opposites. And on and on, it’s just exquisite.

When I think about knitting, it’s a fantastic binary system. Knit or purl, basically, though I am inclined to also include yarn-overs, increases, and decreases as one’s knitting alphabet. Even these five elements seem totally manageable, if math can wrap itself around integers, fractions, positives/negatives, exponents, negative exponents, imaginary numbers, trigonometric functions, infinities… you get the idea.

When you put these elements together, you form much bigger and more ornate systems that have their own properties (similar to molecular functional groups comprised of only protons, neutrons, and electrons). Even very simple combinations (2 hydrogens and an oxygen, say) make a significant impact in a design. This is to say nothing of the properties of fibers, color, the way the yarn is spun, and so on and so forth, which expand in this seemingly infinite array of combinations and possibilities.

I’m knitting the Upstairs wrap/scarf, which I am finding extremely pleasurable. As a pattern, it demonstrates such satisfying elegance: each patterning section is constructed with a decrease, a yarn-over, and a combination of knit stitches that add up to 7. The yarn-overs move sequentially back and forth across the section, a perfectly-balanced little staircase. Can it get lovelier?

And yet the swooping, gorgeous shapes it creates as you knit are so much more evocative and organic than what are essentially zig-zagged lines. The delicate colors in this hand-painted yarn dance about in intriguing combinations that remind me of Monet’s paintings of sedge grass under rippling water. I am utterly, intrinsically enthralled with this project.

3 thoughts on “Thinking about lace

  1. I love reading your blog, and your take on the beauty of knitting and the patterns within it. I studied Chemical Engineering for my first degree. It translates Chemistry theory and mathematics into models of real-life – you might like it!

    I’m just recovering from carpal tunnel syndrome which came on during pregnancy. Now my little girl is 6 weeks old and my fingers nearly back to their old selves I am considering what my next knitting project should be. You might have inspired me to be more adventurous than normal and try a lacy pattern.

    Keep blogging xxx

  2. Chemical engineering does sound really fascinating. As is probably evident, I’m in the midst of an enormous love affair with science, so I am considering a lot of areas within or related to chemistry.

    Congratulations on the new baby! I’m glad to hear you’re recovering, and I can’t wait to see your lace projects. 🙂

  3. Pingback:Vickilicious Knits » Blog Archive » Knitting all the time

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