Knitting with dyslexia and dyscalculia: an interview with Danielle Alinia

Source: iTunes
A little while ago I got sucked into the Draw Something craze and was playing against my friend  Danielle (A Stash Addict) one evening. I had drawn a picture of Elvis. Danielle had to guess the picture and then spell out the word using the five tiles provided to earn us both some points.  If you don't know this game, you can watch a recording of the screen as the other person is guessing your drawing - it's fun to do this as you can see how much of the drawing they saw before they made a correct guess. 

While I was watching the recording, I could see that from the very start of the picture (the black quiff) she knew exactly what it was, yet it took her many attempts to rearrange the 5 tiles to spell out 'Elvis' - by which time  the picture was detailed down to the final rhinestone. I have always known Danielle to be dyslexic, and her first couple of attempts were a little bit amusing,  but as her repeated attempts to get the letters in the right order continued, I really had a sense of massive frustration for her and glimpsed for the first time how difficult it must be to do some of the things I take for granted. Danielle also has dyscalculia, which is the numeric equivalent of dyslexia

With a fresh understanding I thought back to the first few times I met Danielle. I remembered her sitting at 'Knit & Natter' bent over her crochet book without looking up all evening, so determined to find a way to decipher the instructions. I recalled the first knitting attempts that she posted on facebook and that we all chuckled over as they were NOTHING like the pattern. It gave me a real admiration for her - I'm sure many people would have given up! I decided to ask her about it and how it had impacted her life and her crafting. Here's our interview (Danielle's answers are unedited). 

When did you know you were dyslexic?
I wasn’t diagnosed with Dyslexia and Dyscalculia until I was 15, and unfortunately found school a Huge struggle, My English teacher couldn’t understand why, I could read fluently and out loud to the class, but couldn’t spell basic words right. Maths was even worse! I used to copy my friends work, just to get by, in the end I just stopped going. Unfortunately for my parents I was labelled a “naughty” child,  my general attitude for the education system was negative, because I just couldn’t cope and keep up in lesson, so I decided to stopped going to school altogether for a few month’s or only turning up some days for registration  and to take part in drama and art lessons . 
As a consequence my parents were taken to court, and teachers didn’t want me in their lessons, the head master, not really knowing what to do with me, stuck me in the “unit” and it was while in the unit that I my learning disabilities were discovered by one of the learning support teachers, to whom I will forever be thankful.
Danielle knitting her Pogona
What impact has your dyslexia and dyscalculia had on your day to day life?
Thanks to modern technology and the wonders of spell check, my dyslexia has not held me back professionally, things just take a little bit longer to do, and the only real problem I face is when spell check doesn’t understand what I am trying to spell, but thanks to the iPhone 4 S talk to text function, I can now just say the word I am trying to spell, and it appears right there before my eyes!

The only other recent challenged I faced was while trying to play Drawsome!! Some of you would have witness my dyslexia first hand as I repeatedly kept put the letters in the wrong order, which is really frustrating because I “know” I am spelling it wrong, and I know the letters are in the wrong order, but my brain and fingers get lost in translation.

Now Dyscalculia on the other hand, I really struggle with, because I can’t visualise numbers at all. I can’t do homework with my children (7 and 11), because I am at a lower math level than them {and I can’t spell}, I also get my left and right confused on a daily bases, and struggle to grasp and remember mathematical concepts, rules, formulae, and sequences.

Before chip and pin I used to suffer with extreme anxiety to the point that I would avoid going shopping so that I didn’t have to count out money when paying for things. In conversations I would feel intellectually inferior, even with my husband because I just don’t “get “measurements, nor can I subtract or do multiplications in my head. 

How has it affected your crafting?
When it comes to crafting, at the start I really struggled with the mathematical concepts of a knitting or crochet pattern,(and sewing for that matter) the sequences confused me, and stitch counting  was also a challenge because I have such a bad memory at retaining numbers (because I can’t visualise them), I kept ending up with too many or not enough, even though I had counted them repeatedly, was really frustrating! Then there are the increasing and decreases, and of course put a load of numbers on the same page and that’s asking my brain for trouble.

What advice would you give to other crafters or potential crafters who have similar difficulties?  Do you have any tips?
Over the last couple of years I have devised a set of procedures, which help me when tackling a new pattern.
  • I re write patterns in to a format that I can understand, doing small sections at a time so that I am not overwhelmed by all the numbers. E.g. inc four instead of 4
  • For patterns where stitch count is paramount, I place scrap yarn every 10 stitches. I use scrap yarn, so that I can still use stitch markers if the patterns calls for them. It helps that I can visually tell them apart.
  • I use a row counter on my phone, but I cannot rely on that alone, so I write down what I have done on every row, I find this helps with my memory as I get easily distracted and often forget what it was I was doing.
  •  Recently though, especially when working on my Pogona I am finding that I can pick up and put down and know where I am by visually looking at the wrong side and right.
  • And even though the hexipuff pattern took me ages to figure out, {see my vlog for more information} once I made a few, again i feel I have visually imprinted in my brain. Something I would not have been able to do if I had not persevered through the hurdles. 

Seriously I really do feel that as my confidence grows with the practical side of knitting, I am able to be A LOT more visual and instinctive, of course it also helps that I am not a perfectionist and i embrace my slips of concentration or miss calculations with being too hard on myself lol but with each project they are becoming less! So that’s progress right? So keep at it!! REALLY who needs a Nintendo DS???.. Knitting and crochet IS brain training!!! {Who would have thought!!}

Thank you SO much Danielle! This has given me a much better understanding of living with these kinds of disabilities and the daily impact they can have on the things I take for granted - I hope it will have given other readers some food for thought too. I've praised Danielle's perseverance in the past (after watching her knitting and crochet progress) but I really had no idea of how it was for her. What do you think? Have you experienced something like this? Would you have persevered? 


  1. My youngest two children have Dyslexia. My Son to a greater degree. I find it so hard watching him struggle and put off any reading or written work. He went undiagnosed for a while because he was seeing words as pictures. He saw the shape of his name for example in the same way you or I recognise a tree in a picture. He was IQ tested at a whopping 140 which explained why he coped so well before "hitting a plato". I don't feel he gets enough help from school, so I help at home with advice from a friend who is a teacher and doing an extra course at the moment on dyslexia. As for my daughter they are passing the buck and getting us to sort that too. She is starting secondary school this year and at least that school have a fantastic programme for dyslexic children.
    Guess what I am trying is Dyslexia has no respect for intellect. I have such admiration for Danielle and her determination to make things work for her.

  2. Great interview. I've never really thought about this before.

  3. Really really interesting - thanks Danielle and Sarah xx

  4. I have adhd.It affects my concerntration, time management, procrastination, and impulsivness. I have struggled in my career even though I have a high IQ and degree.I know work part time in a low paid job which I can do with ease. I find that knitting and crafting helps me focus and build my self esteem although its a struggle to focus.
    If your determined and focused and true to self it wont hold you back its part of your make up.

  5. A very helpful insight into dyscalculia and dyslexia, and shame on the education system.

  6. Brilliant! I also have dyslexia and problems with numbers as well, which wasn't diagnosed until I was 21 starting a Phd, in the end, I got so stressed about writing I quit because I spent my whole time frustrated in tears. Now I am in the fortunate position of being able to pay people to write the stuff I need, but for a long time people just thought I was stupid, which affected my self confidence no end. Its really great to read about this, knitting is something I felt I could reinterpret myself, and have had the same experience with writing the patterns out etc, its also meant that with the patterns (I'm a yarn producer now) we commision we make sure they are as straightforward as possible and clearly explained, and thats become a massive strengh for us. This is a lovely article, thanks for writing about it Danielle!

  7. A fab interview, really interesting.

  8. We have a few people in our family with varying problems due to dyslexia, my oldest son has mild dyscalcula, but since being tested and confirmed he has devised ways of working around things which is all down to his ingenuity....
    This has been a really interesting post, a great insight into how Danielle works around the patterns so they are easier to follow and other people can take inspiration from her.

  9. That was really interesting - thanks!

    Although I don't have dyslexia or dyscalculia, I do have some of the things that Danielle mentions - I can't differentiate left and right either (which makes following directions a challenge!)

  10. An interesting interview. I love how you were so sensitive to her needs during the game. I'm glad she has coping strategies to help her thru.

  11. Can you recommend and knitting books for people with dyslexia? My friend has recently taking up knitting and I'd like to get her a book for Christmas. Thank you

    1. Hi, I spoke to Danielle and she said she liked the book "The knitty gritty" by Anita Patel because it had nice simple large writing and some good patterns - it was easier to follow than some others. Hope that helps :)


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