SkyKnit: How an AI Took Over an Adult Knitting Community

Janelle Shane is a humorist who creates and mines her material from neural networks, the form of machine learning that has come to dominate the field of artificial intelligence over the last half-decade. Perhaps you’ve seen the candy-heart slogans she generated for Valentine’s Day: DEAR ME, MY MY, LOVE BOT, CUTE KISS, MY BEAR, and LOVE BUN. Or her new paint-color names: Parp Green, Shy Bather, Farty Red, and Bull Cream. Or her neural-net-generated Halloween costumes: Punk Tree, Disco Monster, Spartan Gandalf, Starfleet Shark, and A Masked Box.

Her latest project, still ongoing, pushes the joke into a new, physical realm. Prodded by a knitter on the knitting forum Ravelry, Shane trained a type of neural network on a series of over 500 sets of knitting instructions. Then, she generated new instructions, which members of the Ravelry community have actually attempted to knit.

Fair Isle Sweaters

Fair Isle Knitwear Dropped Stitches

Mary Williamson, an 85-year-old resident of Whalsay in the remote Shetland Islands, knows all about globalisation. She makes hand-knitted Fair Isle woollen jumpers (a popular knitwear), and has orders from “a gentleman in Sweden”, “a gentleman in China”, and Hollywood producers.

Fair Isle knitwear is in vogue. Fashionistas say the recession created a taste for garments that look chunkily lasting and homemade. Customers “are looking for things which will last for a couple of years, rather than get thrown away after a season,” says Nick Fiddes of Scotweb, an internet retailer. Alas, Fair Isle jerseys are the subject of bitter wrangling—and imperilled by demography.