Embedding Meaning in Your Knitting (or other crafts)

I’ve known about Madame Defarge and her knitting code from A Tale of Two Cities for a long time, and have read a number of novels which include the idea of encrypting things in fiber arts. This may be what subconsciously inspired me to encode meaning in my first encoded knitting project — a personal shawl that I call the Secret Code of the Librarians shawl — and then to write up this series of posts.

Sometimes we knit for a special occasion: a wedding, a birth, graduation from college. In those cases, the beauty of someone else’s design can be wonderful, but it can also be fun to create something new for the occasion. Why not combine the birth dates of two people who are marrying in a special gift, or perhaps encode their names into it?

You might be knitting a gift for someone who is ill–why not knit your wishes for good health into the design? Or if, like me, you wish you were more patient, you could knit yourself a shawl with “patience” hidden in the stitches.

Choosing Words or Numbers

A first step in converting meaning to knitting is to find a way to express that meaning in numbers.

To reduce the number of steps involved, the easiest thing is to pick numbers that are meaningful: dates, phone numbers, and so on. Dates have the further advantage that they can be expressed in a variety of different ways. Take the third of May, 1990. 1990 could also be written as 90. Three could be either 3 or 03, five could be 5 or 05. The five could come first or the three could come first (depending on whether you use US date order or not). The different configurations of dates will change the way your stitch patterns can be arranged, providing better flexibility in their appearance.


(This code swatch was knit using the date I started college.)

You can also combine multiple dates in one stitch pattern: if making a stitch pattern for a wedding shawl, you could use the engagement date and the wedding date, or the birthdates of the people getting married.

Some of the methods I’ll explain later lend themselves more to writing long sequences of words, but I particularly like choosing one or two words to convert to numbers and then to stitch patterns.

I have limited these posts to the craft of knitting, but I am certain that some of the techniques I mention could be translated into other crafts. I would love it if someone gave it a try.

This series of posts assumes you are familiar with reading knitting charts.

Next in the series: Secret Code Summary

(If you like my posts about this, please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks!)

20 thoughts on “Embedding Meaning in Your Knitting (or other crafts)

  1. This is so amazingly geeky and wonderful! I’m having a lot of fun trying to make my own coded lace patterns now!

  2. Also, I found out about your secret codes in knitting because of Nim Teasdale’s shawl pattern Solitude Begets Whimsies, which I finished knitting up about a week ago. I love how organic a lot of these code lace patterns look, due to the different sized yarnovers and the unexpected placement of them. The lace edge on my shawl looks as if it has grown out more than having been knitted on!

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