You may think that a prerequisite for kicking off a knitting project would be to have a reasonable level of knitting skill. But not so! Crochet I can do, but knitting has always been a mystery to me. That is until I conceived of it as a manual algorithmic process using yarn and sticks, and then it started to make sense.
And I guess that with Knitwitter, one hope is that people who have already got a familiarity with “sticks + yarn + hands = object” will be able to translate that understanding across into computers, data and communications technology.
Well, computers use binary code to interpret instructions. And binary code is a language of only two characters: 0 and 1. These characters are called binary digits, or bits. Each character of something like a text message can be converted in to a string of bits that a computer can interpret as text.
A knitting pattern can also be a binary language of just two characters (or stitches): knit and purl. By calling the binary digit 0 “knit” and a 1 “purl” a string of bits that make up a text message can be turned into a knitting pattern.
The string of bits that make up the word ‘knitwitter’ (using a 7-bit ASCII code) would read: 1101011110111011010011110100111011111010011110100111010011001011110010
Knitwitter then interprets this as (p=1, k=0): ppkpkppppkpppkppkpkkppppkpkkpppkpppppkpkkppppkpkkpppkpkkppkkpkppppkkpk
A knitted item is made up of combinations of knit and purl stitches and rows. To do a kind of stocking stitch knitting, take each Knitwitter bit and create a whole row (of however many stitches you like) for each stitch type, i.e. purl two rows, knit one row, purl one row, knit one row, purl four rows, etc. To do a kind of ribbing (like on a knitted jumper cuff), repeat each sequence (or part of a sequence, depending on how long you want your row to be) multiple times for several rows.
By encoding text in to knitting in this way, the text is obscured but not unreadable. The information you need to be able to understand the message is right there, knitted into the yarny mess. If they knew they were looking at a Knitwitter knitted piece, a seasoned knitter would probably have no problem decoding the sequence of stitches, recreating the sequence of 0s and 1s and then looking up what letter each group of stitches represents.
And this, encoding and decoding binary, is essentially what a computer is doing, all day long. Essentially, what I am saying, is that knitters have what it takes to develop an understanding computers at a fundamental level. Cool, eh?