Thursday, July 22, 2010

A priori

I've been teaching my students about the concept of "a priori," in other words, the premise that we take for granted, often without even thinking. In Toulmin argument (which makes my head hurt and I generally try to avoid), this concept is called the "warrant."

I asked a group of students to speculate about the causes for the dramatic increase in children born outside of marriage (currently 40% in the U.S.) and every single one of my students assumed those babies were accidents, unplanned. No one even considered a single parent might consciously choose to get pregnant and have a child. The possibility just never occurred to them.

Question someone's warrants, as I am currently with my student arguing for the flat tax, and he or she tends to get defensive, even hostile.

Er hem, CWNeedleworkers group on yahoo, I could just as easily be talking about you.

As I read the instructions for scribble lace, I had a eureka moment about my own a priori assumptions about Civil War knitting.

In 1865, Godey's Lady's Magazine published the pattern "Gentleman's Neck-tie, in Brioche Knitting." It called for working in the flat and produced a four-color striped tie using brioche stitch.* What no one could figure out was how to deal with the instructions which called for changing colors on odd rows, like every third or seventh.

Must be a mistake, we thought. Every knitter knows you need to knit over and back to change colors. Otherwise, you've got to cut your yarn and weave in all those ends. I tried to figure out if the pattern could be converted to knitting brioche in the round, but that didn't seem to be right either.

No one wanted to weave in all those ends. Definitely must be a mistake in the pattern.

Likewise, the pattern for the knitted under petticoat (Godey's, December 1864) calls for breaking up the red sections with one row of white. One of the doyennes again declared the pattern to be in error.

When I read the terribly modern scribble lace pattern, the proverbial light bulb lit up.

Of course.

When we modern knitters knit in the flat, we use straight needles. Straight needles with little knobs on the end.

Civil War needleworkers, however, didn't necessarily have a knob on the end of their needle. We know they made I-cord. There's no reason to assume that they couldn't have worked from both ends of the needle.

The brioche neck-tie is totally possible to make without cutting the yarn. Now if it were just as possible to convince my student that using terms like "death tax" and "socialism" is going to alienate his audience.

*in partridge wool, no less. But you don't really want to get me started ranting about partridge wool.

1 comment:

Stephanie Ann said...

Your knitting is so beautiful! I can't ever imagine knitting that much! It's funny, a lot of period instructions don't seem to work and when you get there and try it, it works--they knew what they were talking about. :D