The Genius of Number Knitting and Why I Just Can't Stop!

Number Knitting is like an old friend, offering, in a singular knitting method: a challenge, quiet insight, and soothing rhythm after a long day of work

I discovered Number Knitting around 1999, when I was in college. I was an avid reader of Knitter's Magazine and in one of their articles, Meg Swansen mentioned a book based on a patented hand knitting method, utilizing modular garter stitch. So I immediately ordered a copy of the book through the university library. It arrived, from a university in Kansas, via an interlibrary loan.

It was unlike any other knitting books I had thus encountered, and I was fascinated by its approach. As Number Knitting is the compilation of the author's six-part correspondence course, is firstly a technique book, and then morphs into a pattern book with progressively more challenging patterns. I had the book for about a month or so before I reluctantly returned it. But in those few short weeks, this book, based on the concept of knitting simple geometric shapes, was to chart the course for much of my future knitting.

You see, while I was in college and in my early career, I had an abundance of both free time as well as brain space. So I sought out the most complicated lace patterns I could put my hands on (such as Frost Flowers). But once my career in technical publishing got underway and I had spent eight hours each day learning new software, tools, and business skills, I no longer had the sufficient brainpower left at the end of each day to focus on persnickety knitting such as lace, brioche, colorwork, or anything involving to fastidiously following line-by-line instructions. So I returned to what I knew and could do without a great deal of mental processing, which was garter stitch.

For the next two decades, I made all sorts of blankets based on squares and rectangles, and even ventured into triangles

Those foundational characteristics of garter stitch which were outlined in Number Knitting, allowed me to design my own patterns using only graph paper. I did not have to follow line-by-line instructions, and yet I could still create useful, interesting, and beautiful items with using whatever yarn and brainpower that I happened to have on hand at the time. It was a perfect fit for me.

Over three decades have passed since I learned to knit. And it has been over two decades since I learned about number Knitting. My love for this method has not waned, but only increased. 

Since I began my republishing effort of the book in 2015, I have been knitting through the patterns in the book, cross checking the instructions and the charts. 

The author, Virginia Woods Bellamy, introduced me to such concepts as chain stitch selvedge, knitted-on cast on, designing on graph paper, floating the yarn across units to reduce breaking the yarn, and perhaps my most favorite: gauge shifting (using vary needle sizes to adjust a garments fit in certain areas)!

While there are many patterns and designers that utilize modular knitting, I think what draws me more to Number Knitting is that Bellamy designed her garments to be fashionable, classic, and straightforward to knit. Most of the sweaters use a single color of yarn. While for many knitters, knitting in a single color (especially in garter stitch) might seem boring, the patterns in Number Knitting are continuously interesting because of their ingenious construction. Some are top down, some or bottom up, some start at the bottom front, go up and over the shoulders, and end at the bottom back. There are even corner-to-corner (C2C) patterns for sweaters and afghans! Some shawls start at the center and work out. Some start at the outside and work in. Some start in the center and are worked concentrically. The variety is endless.

As the book seemingly didn't have an editor, I am likely the first person to cross check the instructions and attempt to knit all the items in the book. Even the original author credits many other knitters for knitting the various items in the book. With each new pattern I knit, I learn something new about Number Knitting, gain a better understanding of Bellamy's design process and how the various patterns evolved one from another: each one related to the previous one, but with sufficient differences to make them all truly interesting to knit. InNumber Knitting, very important details and instructions are mentioned casually, without any pomp, circumstance, or special formatting. At a glance, it's easy to overlook them... unless of course, one attempts to knit the pattern! Then, the genius of Bellamy's technique begins to reveal itself slowly, like a diamond in the rough.

My original intent was to republish Number Knitting in its original form, but with improved charts and photos. But along the way, as I knit each pattern, I discover a correction needed here or there, and areas of instruction that need clarification. So it turns out that this project is a form of experimental archeology. 

So, twenty years into Number Knitting, and six years into my republishing effort, I still have so much to learn from this amazing book.

I still can't wait to cast on my next project, and with each new project comes perhaps a new unit shape or construction path. In what direction will the unit be oriented? What will happen when I change needle size? I can't wait to find out! I keep thinking that I know all there is to know about Number Knitting, and with each pattern that I knit, I am proven incorrect.

While I work through Number Knitting with the end goal of publishing a new, revised, and updated version, I have made the original version available as an eBook

Would you care to join me as I knit the items in this book? I'd love to share this great resource with you. Click the link above for 25% off the digital version of the original 1952 edition of Number Knitting. 😁

Happy knitting!


Leave A Comment