How is a mitten like an academic article?

(Insert comment about long absence from blogging here.)

As noted, it’s been a while. I’ve changed jobs—and countries—in the interim, but Spanish literature still remains my jam. What many who stumble across this blog might not realize, is that I am also a knitter. Hence the question I propose to answer today: how a mitten is like an academic article.

My current knitting project (or one of, I should say) is a pair of mittens. But these are not just your standard mitten, no, these mittens are special. Exhibit A: They are made out of a lovely silk-merino blend, not at all scratchy. Exhibit B: they have a fun pattern that is made out of knitting intarsia (a colour-work technique usually constructed flat) in the round. The latter is a new technique to me, so even though I’ve knit a number of mittens before, I’m still learning something new.

Most of a mitten in green and purple yarn.

Exhibit B: Magically a tree appears on a knitted background…

And that, in part, is how a mitten is like an academic article. We tend to write what we know, sticking within the limits of our minor field of knowledge… but a good project will test those limits, forcing us to learn new things.

Still these things are variations on what we are already familiar with. Note how the green stitches slant to the right more than the background, purple stitches? Those are two-stitch mock cables (meaning the left (or second) stitch is knit first and then the first, or right stitch, forcing the left to cross in front of the right). Although this is a technique I was familiar with from previous projects, it is not one that I have used in many years. And yet, this pattern, plus two sock patterns I’ve recently worked on, all have variations of this stitch. All of them, however, have slightly different patterns, which in turn make them all look very different as final products:

crossed socks

Exhibit C: same technique, different outcomes

As we apply our knowledge to different scenarios, we sometimes come up with varied conclusions. Or, sometimes, we realize that many of the things that appear different on the surface are much more closely related that we originally thought.

In knitting, just as in writing, we can make mistakes. Sometimes these are easy to fix, but sometimes they aren’t. In knitting, the hard-to-fix mistakes, the ones that would require you to rip back to the beginning, are often called “design features”… those things that make the project unique to that knitter, sort of like Persian carpet flaws. In academic writing, however, those mistakes can incur the wrath of reviewer number 2… Let’s just say I’m glad my knitting isn’t held to quite the same standard!