NET 000: Learning to Knit

Social media is good for sharing and reaction but bad for findability and preservation, so here, for anyone interested, is the “knitting for IT people” (or IT for knitting people) thing I designed for my IT classmates (and our instructor) out of my frustration with the “just play with it” mentality that tends to pervade when people who like computers try to teach people who don’t like them or find them scary or confusing or hard. (So pervasive is the tendency that I confess, reader, I have used the phrase myself.)

I wanted to come up with something that was comparable in terms of learning curve and where, when you start out, someone nonjudgmental and patient is there to help you out–and then just hand it out without that person there to help. It also had to be easy to transport and cheap to implement, and knitting fit the bill.

Below is a brief description of how I organized the project, the costs incurred, and the handouts I used. Please feel free to adapt, reuse, modify, and spread the gospel that while “just play with it!” has a place in pedagogy, it isn’t always the place to start.

A ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles with a small row of stitches cast on. Next to them is a handout entitled "NET 000: Learning to Knit." The full text is in the documents attached to this post.
Knitting for IT


I picked up of balls of unidentified but probably acrylic yarn from the thrift store for $0.75 each and then divided them into two smaller balls, since making the point did not require a full skein. “This is not very good yarn,” I told my class. “There are… different kinds of yarn?” someone said.* I also brought it several finished pieces, including a lace shawl designed and knit for me by a friend of my mother’s and a pair of legwarmers my mom made for me that I wear all the time, so they could get some idea of the variety of things you can do with binary in physical form.

I also got several pairs of knitting needles, ranging from size 5 to size 8, at $1-2/pair. There was a circular needle that was perhaps a 4 in the Goodwill pile at my house, so I grabbed that, too. With the help of the Knitting Deployment System (aka my mom, who is an actual knitter), I cast on 20 stitches on each set of needles. (I wanted to do 32 or 64, but 64 was more work than I wanted to do, and 32 bit operating systems are more or less obsolete.)

On the last day of class before finals, I handed a kit with the needles, the cast on stitches, the ball of yarn, and the handout [available as a PDF if you’d like to use it as is or as a Word doc if you’d like to modify it]. There are only three other students (plus our instructor) in the class this semester, so it was an easy small network to set up. Scalability would depend on your time, budget, and, perhaps, how many knitters you know who might be willing to help out with materials or labor.

A few final thoughts

I often think that my skills in tech and knitting and sewing and any number of other things are entirely self-taught, and while it’s certainly true that I taught myself HTML from a webpage linked to by my ISP in 1999 and have been teaching myself to sew my own clothes primarily by looking at tutorials, fucking up, ripping out, starting over, and fucking up again, I also know that I have had so much help from friends and strangers along the way.

Few if any of us are lone geniuses: even writers toiling alone and in obscurity stand on the shoulders of the authors they have read. I owe so much to the people–too many to name here–who have inspired me by example, answered my questions out of friendship or care for the practice or simply because it was in their nature. We operate in communities, whether we know it or not, and the best thing we can do is to be kind to those around us–by not laughing at the people just starting out, and by helping them learn as we can.

*I got a similar reaction after explaining gauge, and that if you knit in the round you’d come out with a different effect from knitting straight back and forth, and….

Leave a Reply