15 September 2010

Size matters.

As the saying goes, there are only two things in life that can be counted upon; death and taxes. I have to add a corollary for all yarn-lovers out there. Death, Taxes, and an inability to find a measuring tape when you need it.

I've just spent about 20 minutes rooting around the apartment, pecking into corners like a hungry chicken, up-ending couch cushions and disturbing the boyfriend's peace and tranquility to find one of about seven measuring tapes I KNOW are in here somewhere. They have to be here. I had one yesterday, but it's now nowhere to be found.

I'm becoming convinced that there is a blackhole somewhere in my home which tape measures and darnings needles trot towards in the dead of night.

So, I got to thinking how else one could go about doing a quick measure calculation of length in the perpetual absence of a measuring tape. For me, I have always measured a metre as being from the tip of my fingers, along my outstretched arm, stopping at my other shoulder. I test this regularly, and I'm always around 99 to 101 cm. That's grand for me if I have to leave a long tail on a project. Also, my wrist to my elbow is as close to a foot as makes no odds, so there, too, I'm sorted.

But if, like now, I need a fairly accurate reading of, say... 4 inches/10cm for tension purposes, what do I do? I have no tape to make this easy, so I have to go rooting aound for anything that is easily converted to 10cm without being able to check.

1 A4 size page, folded along its short edge is 10.5 cm.

The length of a USB key pluggy-in-bit is 1.2cm. Multiply that by 8 and you get 9.6cm.

The tip of your thumb to the middle of your first knuckle is approx 1 inch.

The short side of a credit card is 5.5cm, but if you ignore the slight curve on the edge and measure only the straight line, it's 5cm.

a European 5 cent piece is 2 cm in diameter.

a bohemian blade if 2cm tall.

The radius of a DVD, from the outer edge to the edge of the hole in the middle is 5cm

But, possibly my favourite measurement is the truly archaic "barleycorn".
Not only is this the measurement used for shoe sizes - so a size 4 is one barleycorn smaller than a size 5 - it's also one of the roots of the inch measurement. The Anglo-Saxons said the going size of an inch was three barleycorns. This was later written down with more accuracy by Edward II of England in 1324, when he announced once and for all that "three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end, lengthwise" constituted an inch. So, if you have a field of barley close at hand, you can go back to basics.


  1. Oh dear... I guess I know what to get you for the next gift-giving occasion?!

  2. hehe.
    The only think that'd be of any use'd be a black hole hoover. Or a measuring tape lock-box, and the ability to remember to use it. : )

  3. Two Wikipedia articles you can lose an afternoon to: "List of unusual units of measurement" and "List of humorous units of measurement"! My favourite is the smoot:

    "The smoot is a unit of length, defined as the height of Oliver R. Smoot. The unit is used to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge. […] The bridge was measured to be 364.4 smoots, plus or minus one ear, using Mr. Smoot himself as a ruler. At the time, Smoot was 5 feet, 7 inches, or 170 cm, tall."



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