A pattern snippet from one of Marie Grace’s original designs.

If you don’t knit, a knitwear pattern probably looks like a random selection of letters and numbers.  But that special code actually reveals beautiful creations–sweaters, hats, booties and blankets.  Marie Grace Smith is the founder ofMarie Grace Designs, and she lives these patterns.  You might be surprised to learn how much math is involved in developing these patterns.  Marie Grace was!

“If I had known how much math I would need to do to make a living playing with yarn I would have become a painter or something. Just kidding. Sort of.”

What does a children’s knitwear designer do? I design and write patterns for hand-knitting. I have my own pattern line and have had patterns published in various knitting magazines.

When do you use basic math in your job?  I use math for almost every aspect of what I do. It takes a lot of math to get from an idea and a ball of yarn to a written pattern somebody else can follow to make a finished sweater (or hat, or blanket, etc…)

The first thing I have to do to work up a new design is figure out the stitch and row gauges–or the number of stitches and rows in an inch of knitting with the yarn I’ve chosen for the design. To do this, I knit a square and then measure it, dividing the width measurement by the number of stitches across and the length by the number of knit rows. This gives me the number of stitches per inch (stitch gauge) and the number of rows per inch (row gauge). Every measurement after this–chest width, sweater length, sleeve circumference–all must be converted from standard inch measurements to stitch and row gauge. That means lots of math. Additional things like fancy stitch patterns, button and buttonhole placement, and shaping for armholes and necklines mean even more math.

Maggie Knit Blouse, one of Marie Grace’s designs

Once I’ve worked out all the counts and directions for my sample sweater I also need to figure all those same counts and measurements for various other sizes of the same design… sometimes as many as 8 sizes total. That way when you buy one of my knitting patterns you can knit sizes 2, 6 or 10 and have all the accurate directions and counts needed for the final product to turn out just like my original design sample. I also include how much yarn you’ll need for any given size which means–you guessed it–even more math.

Along with all the design stuff, I also have all the same responsibilities as any other business owner as far as figuring my incoming and outgoing funds, expenses, and taxes. More math!

Do you use any technology to help with this math?  Spreadsheets! Lots and lots of spreadsheets. I’m sort of a spreadsheet junkie. Most of the math I use is basic math, but its very repetitive so spreadsheets save lots of time and cut down on mistakes. It would take a ridiculous amount of time and effort to work up a new design from beginning to end if I didn’t have tools like spreadsheets.

How do you think math helps you do your job better? I couldn’t do my job with any sort of accuracy without math.

How comfortable with math do you feel?  I’m relatively comfortable with day-to-day math but I wouldn’t say I’m good at it. I have to stop and think things through one step at a time and I often scribble things down on paper even for simple calculations, just to be sure I’m on the right track. I’m much more comfortable with the math I do for work, simply because its so repetitive. Its sort of like doing multiplication drills on a regular basis.

Marie Grace Smith

What kind of math did you take in high school?  I went through Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus by the time I was out of high school. I didn’t like math, and I don’t think I was naturally good at it. But I can figure things out given time and scrap paper. I think that’s how I managed through all the math in school.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do this math?  The math I do for designing is all pretty much basic math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), along with some algebra and percentages. It’s all stuff we all learn in school.

Do you have questions for Marie Grace?  Ask them in the comments section, and I’ll be sure that she sees them.

I’m still on my virtual book tour, visiting a variety of interesting spots all over the blogosphere!  Due to a technical glitch, my scheduled podcast at Out of the Storm News is postponed to next week, but you can catch up on last week’s travels at these links:

CollegeSurfing Insider: Why Math is a Must for Any Career

Frisco Kids: Q&A: Math for Grownups by Laura Laing

Flynn Media: When It Comes to Math, Parents Should Chill

Credit.com: A Simple Approach to Your Debt and Finances