From Paris With Lace, pt 4: The Sierpinski Gasket Shawl

Original photo of Miss Julia Sett wearing her shawl

Greetings my colleagues!  I hope you enjoyed our little side trip last week to share the amazing photos in the works for our book!   Things are really coming along now, and I can’t wait to show more teasers along the way.  Though those patterns are under wraps for now, as promised I have a special treat for you today!  One of our collaborative designers Amanda Williams has worked her magic yet again to re-create Miss Julia Sett’s lace shawl.  I’ll let her describe the project in her own words, and leave you to enjoy the wonderful finished product!  I’m sure Julia would be proud to know her cunning and creative design has reached a far larger audience than her original letters to Miss Alyssa.

Dear Archivist,

Thank you for the opportunity to recreate another of the Ladies items from the trunk. I enjoyed the Lace Gear last year, and this shawl was as much of a treat. Using Miss Julia’s notes and letters was a big help, as was having the original shawl itself. It was interesting to see she had issues running out of yarn; she wanted to create a true interpretation of the Sierpinski gasket which, with our charting, would look like this (click for full size view):

I did some calculations for that. It appears she would have needed at least 2100 yds of laceweight yarn to complete her shawl. Instead she created this variant, which is just as lovely and appears to use approximately 1100 yds.

When I wrote up the pattern, I charted the first section of triangles only, and provided a diagram and directions for the placement of that chart within the larger pattern. I thought that many of your readers would prefer a quicker, snuggly knit as we head into winter and gift giving season, and this smaller size works up beautifully in a soft, bulky yarn.

For your readers looking for a classic, elegant lace weight shawl they can substitute either of the full diagrams above in place of the one in the pattern.  The yarn in Julia’s original shawl is a spot-on match for Silk Hand Dyed Knitting Yarn – Lace Weight from Sunnyside Ellen (3 1/2 oz (100g), 1100yds (990m) 100% Silk in lace weight), which I would highly recommend for this project.  You can use 1 skein for the smaller version or 2 skeins for the large version.

Thank you again for the opportunity to bring a little history to life – I can’t wait to see what you find next!


From Paris With Lace, pt 3

Good day to you, my colleagues.  I have for you today the third installment of our latest adventure: In Part 1 Miss Alyssa Rynne found some artistic inspiration in Paris, along with some gorgeous lace yarn to send to Miss Julia Sett.  In Part 2 Julia replied with her plans for a most ingenious shawl, if she could get her knitting machine to cooporate.  Now let us continue the tale with a journal entry of Julia’s, where she is puzzling over that very thing.

From the Journal of Julia Sett:

I have been most fortunate with the operational guidance of the automated knitting machine. It was a bit tricky to begin with – the hooks were not moving smoothly and some would not engage at all. It turns out a moth had gotten into the mechanism and caused the issue. Once I had tracked down the bug and removed it, everything worked much better. I must say I’m not sorry to see that moth meet its demise; they are vile wool-eating creatures.
While the instructions did not work correctly at the first go I was quite pleased to be able to adjust and have it work from then out. I am using a method similar to what I use myself, whereby the machine “reads” the previous row to determine what operations to perform next.
I have finished several iterations of the triangular repeat. It feels about half done and yet I know I will need three times the yarn already used if I do another full iteration. Though I believe I might instead be able to repeat a smaller iteration alternated with two solid triangles for a total of five in that row. Much as the last row contained three triangles, one of which was solid.  We shall adjust our figures tomorrow to be sure.

Ah, the mind of a knitting mathematician is interesting place, that’s for certain.  However, this isn’t the first time I’ve tried to follow along as my knitter friends explained their on-the-fly pattern rewrites and clever solutions when faced with too little yarn.  We know that won’t stop Julia for long, and I’ll have the final exciting installment for you shortly.  You won’t want to miss it!

From Paris With Lace, pt 2

Hello my colleagues!  Time to continue with Part 2 of our most interesting exchange between Miss Alyssa Rynne and Miss Julia Sett.  The lovely silk yarn Alyssa sent off (in last weeks installment) made it safely to Julia and served as some ingenious inspiration.  Fortunately, her letter was in excellent condition and able to be scanned, so you can enjoy it in its original format.

As you recall, Miss Sett has been pursuing the idea of automated knitting for some time, so I find it quite exciting to read about her progress; even if it happened over 100 years ago, it feels as though I’m along for the journey!  As I admitted before, I had a hard time following a few of her concepts, but on seeing this lovely little sketch, the idea of “self-similar, self-referential figures” suddenly clicked (sometimes even us brainy folks need a picture).  We’ll see what continued progress Julia made with her wonderful shawl pattern next week!

From Paris With Lace, pt 1

A most lovely day to you, my colleagues!  We’ve all been so hard at work on the book, but I realized I must tear myself away for a moment and give you all a little treat.  I’m thrilled to share with you another lovely exchange between unlikely friends – and most entertaining pen-pals – Miss Alyssa Rynne and Miss Julia Sett.  But when a knitting mathematician and a glamorous international… diplomat put their heads together… well, you’ll have to stay tuned to see what brilliance ensues.

Darling Julia,
It was such a treat to catch up with you and the rest of our Ladies at the symposium. As always your intellect and innovative ideas sparked my own imagination. The samples you brought were stunning! My goodness! To think such fine, delicate pieces were created by an automated machine. You truly must be congratulated on your new invention.
After leaving the symposium I took advantage of being abroad and went home to Shanghai via Paris. It has been too long since I was there. The city has always been a magical place, but this new age of technology has brought new life and vibrancy to it. The recent World’s fair must have been quite something. This new tower of Monsieur Eiffel is a stunning testament to our ability to create inspiring works. I cannot imagine a better way to enter the city than via the dirigible dock they have at the top. I took care of some business while I was there and did manage to dine with that American entrepreneur. His conversation may be trying, but as always we ate well and I did indeed glean the requested information.  After that I did need a bit of fun. My contacts in Paris told me that a place called the Moulin Rouge is quite the place to encounter artists and other freethinkers. They were not wrong. It is indeed in a red mill and the people who frequent it are quite stimulating. I think I danced all night. I was also fortunate enough to be invited to the studios of some of the artists. The art I saw in progress at the Bateau Lavoir was shocking. The subjects are so different that what I’m accustomed to seeing and their way of portraying those subjects… I’m without words. I have no idea if the world is ready for this. Heavens, I’m not sure I’m ready for it, and yet those images haunt my thoughts in ways traditional paintings do not.
Before I forget, I am enclosing some silk yarn I found in Paris. It made me think of your automated knitting machine immediately. Perhaps it would be suitable for a shawl or other large piece.  I just know that the fineness of the yarn and the color reminded me of you. Please do enjoy dear sister and may the time between our meetings be shorter this time.

I will have the next installment along for you shortly!  In the meantime, enjoy these last fleeting days of summer and, if you’re at all like me, dream of Paris.


Hello again colleagues!  I’ve recently found another diary in the trunk, this one from Miss Julia Sett, our crafty mathmatician.  Though the entries are sporadic, I’ve found one that appears to chronologically follow her last letter.  It seems she may have found that second set of hands to knit for her after all.

March 13th 1885
The idea of an automated knitting fabrication device has quite consumed me.  Erma brought dinner to me in my library again tonight. I keep forgetting to stop for simple things like eating, and yesterday I even worked through the night and watched the sun rise!
I do believe I am close to something though. I am using the hooked needles found on the designs by Lee and Lamb but I’ve been experimenting with a gearing mechanism by which the needles may be manipulated to create lace patterns. It’s quite exciting to think this delicate craft may be executed in an automated fashion. What a wonder to live in these times. The advances I come across daily inspire me to reach for greater and greater ideas to enrich our lives.
I do hope to have this device fully fashioned and working by the time of The Ladies symposium this year. I believe they would truly appreciate its innovation.  I am nearly finished with the gearing.  My next steps shall be to fully automate the device and set up the steam powering system.  Perhaps the boiler can generate the hot water for my tea as well!
Oh dear, clearly I must get some rest in order to think clearly. Generating the hot water for my tea indeed!

It seems that her passing jest to Alyssa really got her wheels turning, as it were.  I’ve certainly been there myself – when one is of a scholarly persuasion, inspiration can strike from the most unlikely places.  And the good Dr. Erma Melanogaster appears to have been with her;  I had a suspicion those two were close, perhaps even frequent collaborators.  Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  I will get back to the diary right away to see if there’s any truth to my speculations, as well as to see what I can learn about The Ladies symposium Miss Sett mentioned.

Best regards,

~The Archivist

Knitting By Numbers

A lovely evening to you, my colleagues.  For your enjoyment tonight, I have just finished transcribing a letter between two friends – two NEW friends for our ranks – that I hope you find as interesting as I do.

Dearest Alyssa,

It’s been a most busy few weeks for me. I have to admit that while a letter from you is always most welcome, as it is sure to be full of your latest exploits, somehow they often are quite the distraction as well. The description of your  latest endeavour, with your need to convey an encoded message naturally piqued my interest as it fits nicely with the mathematical principles I’ve been pursuing of late. I haven’t had any time to address my knitting basket with my latest explorations into cryptography.

Ah..what joy it does bring to bury myself with nothing more than a pile of paper, a pot of ink and my own thoughts to spin through the possibilities found within the beauty of numbers. I shall have to think further on the best solution for the conundrum you posed. Perhaps I shall consult with Monsieur Baudot  for his thoughts on the matter of encoding messages in a secure manner.

Now if only I could knit and write at the same time. I’ve come across the most delightful self-referential, self-similar images and I would so love to render them with thread and needles. Perhaps I should be working on the idea of manipulating time instead of words and numbers! But alas, that is far beyond the scope of my own research. Perhaps a second pair of hands to knit for me would be more appropriate!

I look forward to  meeting again in the near future
All My Best
Julia Sett

I must admit, the concepts Miss Sett is referencing here go a bit over my scholarly head.  (Clearly math nerds have been around for some time.)  I’ll begin scouring the artifacts ASAP for any evidence of her knitted creations; with such a mind for codes and formulas, I’m sure they were quite impressive!  I’m also intrigued  by these exploits she’s pen-palling about with the mysterious Alyssa.  It doesn’t sound like Miss Sett gets out much (no offense), so I can just imagine what fun it would be to wait for the next titillating tidbit to arrive by post.   Mischief indeed…  I’ll be certain to keep an eye out for more information on this Alyssa as well.  So many ladies, so many questions!  It’s beginning to feel a bit like a certain desert-island-related TV show to me…  But fear not!  I’m nearly through the uppermost layer, which appears to have been simply thrown on top in a most disorganized manner.  For being so brilliant, our Ladies of Mischief clearly were in need of a secretary!  Well, I hope to make up for it as their self-elected Historian.  Until next time!

~The Archivist

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