half-assed knit blog
half-assed knit blog
half-assed knit blog

Happy Venereal Disease!

(Oh come on, I can’t be the only one whose mind automatically goes there whenever someone writes “Happy VD!”)


Valentines Day is completely off my radar, usually. It doesn’t make me happy and it doesn’t make me bitter either. In fact, its only real significance is that it’s the day before my very favourite holiday ever: Half-Price Chocolate Day.

But, well, there’s all these Valentines-related knitting projects on Ravelry and elsewhere and I got to thinking. When I’d been planning the Secret Nerd Scarf, I thought it would have been a good idea to get it out before Valentines Day (which obviously did not happen), because- well, I’m getting ahead of myself here. I’d better first explain exactly what it was.

I’m a huge puzzle nerd. One of the things that you quickly learn from puzzle-nerdity is that there are a whole bunch of ways to represent the alphabet. One of these ways is with binary numbers. I won’t get into a big explanation here of how different base systems work (I figure those who care will look it up themselves), but binary uses two digits, 0 and 1, to represent numbers, and 5 binary digits can represent numbers up to 32. Which means, 5 binary digits can represent the alphabet. (And yes, there are other ways to represent the alphabet in binary, but this is the simplest one.)

So, let’s say, the letter M… that’s the 13th letter in the alphabet, and the number 13 represented with 5 binary digits is 01101. And if you wanted to write a whole sentence in binary you’d keep doing the same thing for each letter.

Now, encoding something like “01101” into knitting is way easy and can be done in tons of different ways – with knits for 1s and purls for 0s, for example. When I first had the idea of a secret-binary-message knitting project I was going to do it with colourwork. But, bleh. And then I had the idea of doing it with cables, which would be more versatile and look better and be easy to knit and yay! And then I spotted that binary cable hat that did it first. Yeah, yeah, we know this already. But that’s what the Nerd Scarf was. And I scrapped it. OR DID I?

Yeah, so I changed my mind. The Valentines Day thing, see? How cute would it be to knit “I love you” or something equally sappy into a scarf, but in a completely non-obvious way that would be known only to you and perhaps the scarf’s recipient? Totally cute. I could call it “Secret Admirer”. But I couldn’t do it. First, there was the similar-hat issue. And second, well, there was no time to get it out before Valentines Day. And there was no time to get it out on Valentines Day either. But…

Well, first things first. Why was I so hung up on the hat? It wasn’t the first binary-related knitting pattern and it wouldn’t be the last. Hell, off the top of my head, there’s this other binary hat, and the binary scarf from Knitty (both of which I think are awesome, by the way. Me = neeeeerrrrrd). And I don’t think any of those copied each other, or that the binary cable hat person copied either of them. So what would it matter if I put out a similar scarf? Well, I think the issue was the implementation – it would have just been too similar. From my quick glance at the hat pattern, it looked like it used very simple cables, with a twist representing a 1 and a lack of twist representing a 0, and that was exactly the way I was going to do it, so even though the hat had nothing to do with encoding a message, it would still look very similar.

And then I thought, wait, why did I choose that specific implementation anyway? Well, because it was the easiest way to do it. That’s it. I was being a lazy-ass, basically, just like I always am. But it really wasn’t the best way to go. Because I was trying for something that, at first glance, would look like a regular old scarf, with no hint that it was concealing a message. And the twist/no-twist 1/0 encoding, while reasonably aesthetically pleasing, would clearly look like a deliberate pattern of some sort. It would be obvious that something was up.

There had to be a way to do it such that the message would be hidden, but still visible to those specifically trying to read it. I stared at cable patterns for a while, when something occurred to me. Something that should have been very, very obvious.

When you knit two cable twists with some stockinette in between them, it looks kind of like a circle or oval.

When you knit two cable twists with one or more extra cable twists in between them, it looks kind of like a vertical column.

There it was, clear as day – a way to visually represent the actual numbers 0 and 1 with cables. If done very carefully, it would look just like any old cable pattern to a casual observer, but be incredibly obvious to someone who knew they were looking for rows of binary numbers. And if done in a smallish size, different letters could be encoded by changing just one line in each cable repeat, the one with the extra twist that differentiates a circle from a column, so it wouldn’t be complicated to knit at all.

So I posted the cable pattern at the beginning of this entry. Did you see it then? Can you see it now?


Or, to be completely obvious about it:


I LOVE THIS. Can I say that? Hat be damned, I had to do something with this – and in fact, I’d now wandered so far from my original implementation that there was now no visual similarity to the hat. And that’s good enough for me. I’m okay with there being multiple binary cable patterns out there, I just didn’t want to put out anything that was so similar that people would think I’d copied it when that was damn well not the case. Whew. Okay.

The other problem. Time.

Did I mention that I thought of this idea on the afternoon of February 13th?

I could not possibly knit a scarf in a day. But… but… I could knit a swatch in a day. And obviously that’s exactly what I did. I’d normally be wary of posting a pattern that I haven’t knit, but in this case, the swatch-version was just fine. I used the same beginning, end, and edging for the swatch as for the scarf, so the only difference is that it’s 3 letters long instead of lots of letters long.

(The three letters? “LUV.” Yeah, laaaaame.)

So I spent yesterday evening writing up bits of the pattern, digging in the yarn bin for some cable-appropriate yarn and finding half a ball of Patons Classic Merino, speed-knitting the giant swatch, and just barely having enough time to squeeze in 3 letters’ worth of secret-message. Splashed some water on it and pinned it out to block overnight. Snapped a picture today and finished the pattern write-up. Ahhh! So apprehensive. From conception to published pattern in less than 24 hours? Is this a good idea?

I’m reminding myself that Bamboozled was a very quickly-thrown-together pattern (although not in a freaking day), and according to Ravelry it’s the most well-liked and highly-rated of all my patterns. And people seemed to get a kick out of my goat cable, which was designed in an evening. Maybe it’s better that I speed-design than angst incessantly and draw it out forever. Maaaaaybe.

I don’t know.

But happy Venereal Disease… er… Valentines Day to all! Here’s the Secret Admirer pattern!

Now I’m off to prepare for the epic Half-Price Chocolate Day celebrations.


  1. Lindsey says:

    Whoa, you are amazing! I did not see where the scarf was going from Ravelry but I love it. My husband is a programmer, so nerdy binary things are hot to him.

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  2. Beverly says:

    You know, I looked at that first photo and thought, “There’s something not right with these cables, but I can’t put my finger on it.” So on I read (which is what I should have done in the first place instead of sitting here scratching my head). I just have to say: Brilliant! So subtle that a non-knitter would probably not even notice. But what an awesome secret for the knitter to have with his/her sweetie.

  3. Tara says:

    Very cool, and I’m very glad that you pressed on ahead. I’ve started modifying patterns recently, and I know I’m not too far from starting to create them from scratch (there’s already one percolating in my brain). I know I worry about being flamed for “writing” a pattern that’s already been written, and with so much exposure to other creations how do you know for sure you didn’t already see that somewhere else, before you thought you came up with it all on your own? This is one of the issues that is crippling my creative process.

    In this case you came up with something and then saw someone else had somehow also had the same thought and beat you to it. Bummer, but in the end I think your design is all the better for it! So kuddos and what not! Keep on keepin’ on.

  4. ekittie says:

    Dude, I love everything binary. I love this f’n pattern. LOVE it.

  5. errs says:

    Very cool! And nerdy! All at once. Incredible. ;)

  6. Sea Anemone says:

    I’m just a big dork, I can’t cop to nerdiness, but I kind of have a nerd-crush on your scarf. :)

  7. Amanda says:

    Now, even though I have a strict post-dissertation-I-wrote-a-frakkin-novel-that-nobody-(not even my defense committee)-will-read moratorium on, well…thinking….well, that’s just freakin’ sweet.

  8. Sarah R says:

    This is too cool! I am already trying to figure out what nerdly sort of message I could hide in a scarf for my daughter. Something loving like “Rax kicks butt.”

  9. CT says:

    HA, thats just awesome!
    When i saw the first pic i was like “oh thats nice isnt it” then when i read what you’d actually done… i scrolled back UP to the pic and was all like “Holy Cow, thats totally cool!”

    Then it dawned on me what a dork i am…. i mean you posted the pic again down the bottom too… DUH!


  10. MonkeyGurrl says:

    “And the twist/no-twist 1/0 encoding … would clearly look like a deliberate pattern of some sort”

    Ah, to be a science nerd such as yourself. Heck, even reading your dissertation on what you were doing and why and being a (novice) knitter, and knowing *some little thing* of code, DAMN, my eyes glazed over and all I could think of was Half Price Chocolate Day, which, really comes a good four times a year (still, not often enough).

  11. Avis says:

    This is so awesome I can hardly stand it. I have a friend with a t-shirt that says “I hacked,” which only we networking nerds find hysterical. Now I’ve got to knit this and see if she notices.


  12. Floderten says:

    I must have been really tired when I read this the first time.
    I thought the second problem was “Trine” not “Time”. I was completely shocked, not remembering how exactly I managed to mess up your scarf from half a world away. Duh. :P I are stupid.

    But those cables are really awesome, yo. The nerd in me also love-love-loves the fact that you can incorporate secret messages into your knitting that ONLY YOU CAN SEE!! :D Dig this, CIA! Soon the customs in the airport will be taking all our knitwear to check it for hidden messages that might compromise national security… Heh.

  13. Ladylungdoc says:

    I’ve always been a base 7 fan myself. You make my day, and have been justly awarded – details on my blog.

  14. marianne says:

    first glance at swatch…. ‘dude, she’s up to something’…
    I love it!
    I am ALL about the half priced chocolate.

  15. Kimberly says:


    All queued and favorited in Ravelry!

  16. Aunt Kathy says:

    WOW, that was awesome… I LOVE the scarf and the whole number letter thing. I can’t wait to send my friend Shelly over to read your blog,

    Now I have to go find you on Ravelry so I can keep track of you and your blogging.

  17. chris says:

    Very, Very cool.

  18. becca says:

    Damn you. now I’m going to need to un-cast that tam hat I started and put those three skiens I’ve got towards this, aren’t I? Sigh. I mean, for god’s sake, it’s raspberry colored yarn! Why do you do this to me?
    By the way, you are a clever clever minx.

  19. mostcurious says:

    Awesome! So nerdy!

  20. Mandy says:

    wow! Love (or luv) it!

    One to be stored away for next year but definitely a “to-do”.

    **goes off to her Ravelry queue…**

  21. Tanya says:

    This is so awesome I very nearly went to the yarn shop last night to start one right away to give to my guy sortof for VD. Then I remembered that I had something in my stash that would be fine. Then I remembered that I’m sick and have a ton of work to do and am going out of town this weekend and get real. Sigh.

    But it’s a fabulous concept! Cute, too.

  22. Dawn says:

    Congratulations: that is the first knitted item (that wasn’t thrust in his face) that my astrophysicist boyfriend appreciated. “It’s terribly geeky, but awfully cool” – quote.

  23. jamie says:

    You know, my husband is going to LOVE that.

    although I think the message I’ll write is “pick up your socks or I’ll stab you with my knitting needles.”

    It might be a long scarf.

  24. eve says:

    picked up the link from the tweedy list…. love the concept and also i really love your analysis of the work out. yes its very cool. you could write a screed on a sock!

  25. Michaela says:

    Wow! That is nerdy! I “luv” the pattern though. It’s really cute!!