Alan Turing

On July 15, Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, announced that Alan Turing  will be the face on the new £50 note. You may not be surprised to know that we have Turing-related knitting.

In 2014 the film The Imitation Game was released. It is described as a historical drama. Shortly afterwards I came across a page on the web site Information is Beautiful. David McCandless, the owner of the site, had analysed several recent films which claim to be based on true stories. From his data, the least true of them all was The Imitation Game, which tells the story of Alan Turing cracking the Enigma code at Bletchley Park. The way he represented the data made it look so much like a scarf that I felt compelled to knit it.

David compiled a spreadsheet which breaks down the film scene by scene then compares the action with information from other sources. He gives the beginning and ending times of each element, and the duration. Below are the categories he used to indicate the various levels of truth:

  • UNKNOWN (White) We couldn’t verify it or the sources were secret (i.e. personal diaries).
  • FALSE (Red) Out and out didn’t happen, or outrageous dramatic licence taken.
  • FALSE-ISH (Pink) Pretty false but with reasonable/understandable dramatic licence.
  • TRUE-ISH (Light blue) Some tweaks but true in spirit. Or a mix of true and false.
  • TRUE (Blue) Pretty much as it happened,

I omitted some of the film’s credits then took the rest of David’s times and converted them to seconds. I divided by ten and rounded to the nearest ten so that I could use one row for every ten seconds of the film. That gave a scarf with 667 rows.

I had to make the scarf in 4 ply yarn otherwise it would have been much too long and heavy. It was quite difficult to find two close shades of red and two close shades of blue that were different enough to be noticeable. The lighter red is still not showing well in the photos. (Reds are notoriously difficult to photograph.) I used grey instead of white.

I used a very short circular needle and knitted in the round so all the ends of yarn were hidden inside. The finished length is just about six feet.

I gave the scarf to Timandra Harkness, who is a writer, presenter and comedian, with a special interest in data.


The amazing portrait below was made by someone who learned the techniques for designing illusion knits from Steve’s (free) online tutorials.

When you look at illusion knitting from directly in front you only see narrow stripes. The apple and binary code use illusion knitting, the other lettering is intarsia. When you look from an angle you see Turing’s face in the apple and his name in the code.

The creator was a bit disappointed with her work. I think it was a triumph! If you want to read everything she wrote, including the transcription of the code, go to her page on the Woolly Thoughts World of Illusion Knitting web site where she ended by saying:

I’m really glad I made it though – Turing is one of my heroes and I really wanted to make a tribute to him. And I love the way his face turned out. Overall I’m probably pleased enough – I just wanted it to be fantastic!

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