Category Archives: tools

Tools

Thrashing About

In the computer world, the term “thrashing” is used when a computer is swapping information in and out of memory so much that it can’t make progress on the task at hand. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of knitting on a lot of projects but not finishing anything, so it feels like all I’ve been doing is thrashing.

I’m making progress on the Pinkerton Shawl. It’s a good tv-watching knit. (My husband and I finally got around to checking out the PBS series “Sherlock,” and we’re totally hooked. Gotta track down season 1 on DVD now.) Each row is shorter than the last, so (in theory at least, even though it doesn’t feel that way!) the pace is picking up.

I added the other side of the buttonband to the Scalloped Lace Toddler Sweater… and it was too long. I picked up exactly the same number of stitches as I did on the buttonhole side, but it looks longer. Pondering whether I need to frog it and pick up fewer stitches (and if so, should I redo the buttonhole side, which seems fine?), or do I try to block it out? Nothing is ever easy, especially where my knitting is concerned…

I even pulled out my Linen Stitch scarf the other day, which I haven’t touched in months. I had a lovely knitting playdate with a friend (our kids played, she and I sat and gabbed and knit; bliss!) last week. She was working on a lovely linen stitch scarf using multiple strands of lace weight cotton yarn. It’s worked lengthwise, and you swap one strand of yarn out at a time, so it slowly transitions from one color to the next. Inspired by her scarf, I pulled out my own linen stitch scarf. I had about 12g of yarn left, and each round uses about 1g of yarn, so I only had about 10 more rounds to go before I could bind off. But man, these rounds are slow. The ball of yarn doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller, and if it wasn’t for my yarn scale slowly counting down the grams, I’d feel like I was stuck in an endless loop, knitting the same row, over and over and over.

I do feel a strange compulsion to finish something (or several somethings!) right now, so I think a case of Finishitis might be in the works. With any luck, I’ll have at lesat one finished object soon!

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A good time was had by all…

I am still tired from Saturday’s marathon Sheep and Wool Festival. But oh my: Such fun!!

Cherry Tree Hill Supersock and Cephalopod Bugga!

Cherry Tree Hill Supersock and Cephalopod Bugga!

Carla and Hope and I met up at the gates at 9am, just as the Festival officially opened. We started out at the All About Yarn tent, where Hope went a bit nuts with Shalimar Yarn. Then we got about ten feet past that tent, and I got sucked into a couple of skeins of Cephalopod Yarn Bugga! (I’m totally blaming Hope for this one. Somehow we’re having a little challenge to knit up simple sweaters using only 760 yards of Bugga!) Then I was good… for a little while.

At lunchtime, we met up with another fiber friend, Claudette, and hijacked her to join our merry band. We waited in line for gyros for entirely too long, but they were sooooo good I can’t feel too bitter about the wait.

Spindle and Fiber

Spindle and Fiber

And then we went a bit berserk in the main building. I splurged on a Golding Spindle that I’d been daydreaming about. (And I think I sort of talked Claudette into buying one, too.) And such a pretty spindle deserved some gorgeous fiber, right? So you can totally understand my next two splurges: some Handmaiden merino/silk in a beautiful deep purple and plum and some merino/silk from Chasing Rainbows (at the Carolina Homespun booth) in drool-worthy shades of blues, greens, turquoise, and purple. Hope knits gorgeous intarsia sweaters, so she stocked up on a whole rainbow full of fingering weight yarn. Carla (like me) is a sucker for pretty sock yarn, so despite her best efforts to be good, one or two skeins found their way into her bag.

Signature needles and other tools

Signature needles and other tools

I’d planned to buy a US size 8 circular from Signature Needle Arts, but while I was in line, I talked myself into getting size 7 DPNs too. (And now I’m wishing I’d gotten the size 6 DPNs as well. These needles are just too addictive…)

Buttons!

Buttons!

Sadly, Moving Mud did not have the perfect buttons for my purple sweater, but she did have some gorgeous blue and green swirly buttons that I fell in love with. I had picked up some pewter buttons at the Bartlett Yarns booth for my green sweater, but maybe I’ll put those buttons on the purple sweater, and the Moving Mud buttons on the green sweater…

Miss Babs Yet Color Affliction kit

Miss Babs Yet Color Affliction kit

I had not planned to buy yarn to make a Color Affection Shawl. In fact, I’d sworn I wouldn’t. For one thing, I have yarn for a Stripe Study Shawl (also by designer Veera Välimäki) that I’d bought at MDSW three years ago that I still haven’t finished. And for another, the Color Affection Shawl is just so popular right now. Why knit what everyone else is knitting? Ahem. Well, I went into the Miss Babs booth and made the mistake of looking over at the Wall o’ Affection kits. And of course, I fell madly in love with one of them, in her yummy “Yet” lace (merino/silk). Sigh. I’m really just a lemming at heart…

I also bought another nifty notions case, a knit fixer tool (crochet hook on one end and a knitting tip on the other), and some highlighter tape that I’d been meaning to order online. And a skein of sock yarn at Cherry Tree Hill in shades of purple and magenta and teal that was just too pretty to leave behind. And I got some yummy almond honey and creamed honey from The Bee Folks to bring home for my husband (a total honey fanatic).

Trying out the Pocket Wheel

Trying out the Pocket Wheel

I was pretty good about more expensive fiber tools. I drooled a bit over the Ashford Knitters Loom. (And I got to meet Richard Ashford, which was pretty cool!) I carefully avoided making eye contact with the Ashford Joy Spinning Wheel. I did succumb to the invitation to try out a Pocket Wheel, though. Pretty neat! I’m a long way from buying a wheel, but I’d definitely keep this one in mind.

The day had started out quite hot and sticky, and despite generous application of sunscreen, my face and the back of my neck got a bit sunburned. Then a cool front blew through and threatened rain, but fortunately it held off. Not that some rain would have dampened our spirits!

By the time I got home, I was totally exhausted. I had just enough energy to get a shower and crack open a nice, cold beer.

Now comes the hard part… resisting all the pretty new yarn and projects calling to me! I need to get a few works-in-progress taken care of first. First up, finishing the scalloped lace baby cardigan…

I hope your weekend was full of fibery friends and fun, too!

Tuesday is Tools Day: I ♥ Charts!

I’ve already talked about how I use my yarn scale and a spreadsheet to maximize my yarn usage or check to make sure I’ll have enough yarn to finish a project. I use a spreadsheet for most of my knitting calculations (figuring out stitch counts, increases, decreases, etc.). I also find spreadsheets really, really handy for making knitting charts.

Charts are one of those things that knitters either love or despise. Everyone’s brain works differently, so I suppose it depends on how your particular wiring is connected. We already know that my wiring is seriously geeky, so it should come as no surprise that I adore charts with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I love the fact that they take up less space than pages of written directions. I love that I can see how the different rows in my pattern correspond to each other. I love that I knit faster and with fewer errors if I know that the YO in row 11 should be directly above the k2tog in row 9.

I vastly prefer patterns with charts. I won’t even go near lace without a chart, so if a pattern doesn’t have a chart and I absolutely, positively must knit that pattern, I’ll create my own chart to use for that project.

One of the things that I love about charts is that they make it easier to substitute your own stitches if you desire. I was looking at a sitch pattern the other day that called for “slip 1, knit 1, psso.” This makes a left-leaning decrease. If I’d rather work that decrease as ssk, I can just substitute ssk for that symbol. With the written directions, I’d have to stop and translate it each time. Similarly, if you wanted to place a bead on a shawl instead of working a nupp or a bobble, you could just change what that symbol means to you and use the chart as written.

You can create basic charts in any spreadsheet program—or even just plain old graph paper— by making your rows and columns into small squares. (If you want to get really fancy—and this can be helpful for color work—you can adjust the size of your rows and columns to correspond to your row and stitch gauge.) You can use simple characters (/ for k2tog, \ for ssk, O for a yo, – for a purl stitch, | or a blank square for a knit stitch, etc.) or you can get fancy and use a knitting font. There are a couple out there, but I use this one by Aire River Design. It’s got most of the symbols that I need and use frequently, and best of all, it’s free.

Charts & swatchingI had a lace idea in mind for the green sweater, so I trolled around in my stitch libraries, looking for something that I could adapt to meet the design in my head. I found one in Vogue Knitting Stitchionary 5: Lace Knitting that gave me a good start. (I have several stitch libraries that I use frequently; the VK books include charts for all their stitch patterns, which makes them some of my most-used stitch references.) I made some changes to the shape and the size, added a section on the left, then mirrored it on the right. Then I decided to turn the pattern on its side and resize it to use on the sleeve. I stayed up far too late last night, but when I was done, I had several charts ready to go for my cardigan.

Tell me, do you like charts? Or do you prefer written out instructions?

Techniques: Beads and knitting

I still haven’t gotten good pictures of the finished Haruni Shawl, but in the meantime, let’s talk beads and knitting.

Haruni was my first shawl with beads. The original pattern didn’t call for beads, so I drew up my own version of the chart (which I had to do anyway because of my other modifications to the design) and marked where I wanted to place my beads. I knew there two basic ways (with loads of variations, of course) to place beads on your knitting: Stringing all the beads first, and placing the beads as you go.

The first method sounded like a lot of work, and (depending on how the pattern is designed) sometimes the beads can migrate to the back of the work, negating all that effort. It also causes extra wear-and-tear on the yarn, but since I was using a tightly-spun sock yarn, I wasn’t as worried about that aspect as I would have been if I’d been using a laceweight cashmere yarn.

The second approach, which is the one I opted for, was to place the beads as you go along. This can be done with a piece of orthodonic dental floss or with a tiny crochet hook. I tried both and found the crochet hook to be slightly easier to work. Plus, since I was using multi-colored beads, it gave me the flexibility of being able to select each bead individually so I could avoid placing two identical beads right next to each other. I also liked the fact that I could place a bead, then knit the stitch, so even if I dropped a stitch, I was less likely to lose the bead.

I took some photos and put together a small tutorial to show you how I did it. In the interest of thoroughness, I am using Sundara sock yarn, a US size 7 (4.5mm) Signature Needle Arts circular needle with stiletto tips, a US9 (1.25mm) Susan Bates crochet hook, and size 6/0 seed beads. (I strongly recommend using a very tapered needle for this method—the stilletto tips from SNA are perfect for this—so that you can replace the bead and knit it without distorting the surrounding stitches.)

  1. Scoop up a bead with the tip of the crochet hook. Turning the hook so that it faces up, insert the hook purlwise into the next loop on the left knitting needle and pull the loop off the needle. Placing beads, 1
  2. Using your finger, slide the bead down the hook and onto the loop of yarn, making sure that all strands of the yarn pass through the bead.Placing beads, 2
  3. Replace the loop onto the left needle, making sure that the stitch is oriented correctly. Keeping the stitch at the tip of the needle, use the tip of the right needle to knit the stitch. (If you try this with blunt-tipped needles or if you try to force the width of the entire needle, you’ll end up pulling yarn from the surrounding stitches and distorting your pattern.) Placing beads, 3
  4. Once you’ve knit the stitch and dropped it from your left needle, you can push the new stitch fully onto the right needle.  
    Placing beads, 4
  5. Admire your knitting and your pretty beads! Placing beads, 5
  6. Resist the urge to place beads on all of your knitting projects. (I have found that husbands and boy children are somewhat less enamored of beads than I am…)

What projects have you knit with beads? What technique did you use? Any suggestions for me?

Projects and parties and spinning, oh my!

Yesterday was the Homespun Yarn Party, and it was a blast. It’s a small indie fiber fest, and it really does feel more like a party than a festival. My partner in crime had to cancel on me at the last minute, and I considered (for about twelve seconds!) just staying home and knitting on the sofa (which is generally a pretty good way to spend a rainy day in my opinion). But then I came to, thought about what I’d be missing, and hopped in the car.

Plus, I admit it… I wanted to show off my new finery! I finished both the Haruni shawl and the Lanesplitter skirt over the weekend. (More details on both to follow.)

I’d noted on the HYP website that they were offering free drop spindle classes. I’d purchased an Ashford Turkish drop spindle and some lovely fiber last summer at The Mannings, but hadn’t worked up the nerve to actually test it out. Since I was on my own yesterday, I grabbed it on my way out the door and threw it in my bag. The first class was just starting when I arrived, so I decided to shop first and catch the second class later.

The thing I love the most about fiber festivals, and the HYP in particular, is getting to talk to each of the vendors about their products. It’s one thing to buy some lovely yarn in your LYS or online, it’s quite another to get to talk to the person who spun it or dyed it or raised the alpaca it was came from! These are people who love the fiber arts so much, they’ve made a career out of it. They’re all so happy to talk about what they do and why they do it. Even if I hadn’t made a single purchase, just talking with them was inspiring.

But yes, I did made a few purchases. I told myself that since I had time to shop quite leisurely, I could circle the room once without buying anything, just looking. If something called to me so strongly that I kept looking back across the room at it, then I’d go back and get it. Yes, this approach meant that I might miss out on a few things. (I heard that there was a long line at the door before the HYP officially opened, and lots of things disappeared within moments. But there was still plenty to choose from when I got there, so I wasn’t sorry to miss the worst of the crowds!)

Sock yarn is usually my downfall, but it takes me so long to finish a pair (when I keep interrupting them to knit sweaters) that I have quite a stockpile already, so I told myself it had to be a really unusual, special skein to come home with me. There was a gorgeous skein from Ashton Studio Arts that I would have scooped up, but alas, it was already in someone else’s hands when I spied it. (They assured me that they’d be at MDSW with more skeins in that colorway.) That Clever Clementine had some lovely fabric bowls, but they were mostly sold out by the time I got there, so I’ll be keeping an eye on her Etsy store.

Neighborhood Fibre Company, Studio Worsted in "Easterwood"

My camera hates dark colors! Much prettier in person. (Neighborhood Fibre Company, Studio Worsted in "Easterwood")

My big splurge was at the Neighborhood Fiber Company booth. She had several skeins of her Studio Worsted (superwash merino) in a colorway named “Easterwood” which is an absolutely gorgeous dark green colorway with hints of dark blue. While I was admiring the color, Karida told me that she actually dyes the yarn periwinkle first, then over-dyes it with the dark green to get the gorgeous shading I was admiring so. When I looked closely at it, I could see hints of the periwinkle in the blue sections. I hemmed and hawed (how many sweaters’ worth of yarn do I already have waiting in my queue?), but then I decided that I couldn’t leave it behind, so I purchased two skeins (800 yards) for a top-down lace sweater with 3/4 sleeves. 

Drop spindle & fiber

Look, Ma! I made yarn!

Then I made my way over to the drop spindle class. Because it was later in the day and the crowd was thinning out by then, I was the only person who showed up for the second class. Can’t argue with getting a hands-on private class! I’ve been admiring this gorgeous bundle of merino and silk fiber since I purchased it, but I was too convinced that I’d ruin it to try actually spinning with it. But in no short order, Lauren had me drafting and spinning with my drop spindle. Yay! It’s not the most gorgeous yarn ever spun, but I’m having a blast experimenting with thicker and thinner yarns. Of course, my fiber obsessions didn’t really need any help. Now at festivals I’m going to have to go in all the booths that have spindles and roving, too. Oh, dear…

One of the other neat aspects of the HYP is its location. Historic Savage Mill is a former textile mill that has been restored and converted into an artisans’ village. The shops are truly unique, and I enjoyed poking around in them almost as much as the HYP itself! One shop that I made sure to visit was Bead Soup. I purchased some very pretty beads there last year (which were similar to but smaller than the ones I used on my Haruni shawl). This year I picked up some pretty glass, stone, and silver beads. Not quite sure what I’m going to make with them yet… stay tuned!

The day turned out to be pretty terrific. Learning to spin was a huge plus for me, and probably something I wouldn’t have done if I’d been with friends. All-in-all, it was a great experience. I’ll definitely be back next year!

If you’re a knitter, have you tried spinning? Is it as addictive as it seems to be??

Keeping Count

Lanesplitter with stitch markers

Lanesplitter with bling

I love stitch markers. I use them on pretty much every knitting project. I use them to mark edge stitches, increases, decreases, anywhere I have to remember to do something. When I’m knitting any kind of lace, I put a stitch marker after every single repeat, even if it’s only a few stitches. On the wrong side of the work (often just purling), I count the stitches in each repeat as I work my way across, so I can catch and correct errors (usually missed yarn-overs) before I’m two more rows down the pattern & wondering why I don’t have enough stitches to finish the row.

For my Lanesplitter Skirt, I cast on 130 stitches with a provisional cast-on, then worked on the bias. The total stitch count doesn’t change, but at the beginning of every row, you decrease one stitch, and at the end of every row, you increase one stitch. Now this may be the sort of thing that other knitters can remember without any trouble at all, but I know myself well enough to know that at some point, I’ll miss one of those increases or decreases. (Heck, I did that somewhere in my tiny gauge swatch!) So what to do? I could stop every few rows and count the number of stitches on my needle, but I really don’t want to have to count 130 stitches over and over again.

Or I could use stitch markers. I used four of them, which I first placed at 5 and 15 stitches in from either edge. After the first right side row, I had 4 stitches to the right side of the first marker and 6 stitches to the left side of the last marker. So at the end of each row, I know that the stitches in front of the first marker plus the stitches after the last marker must equal ten. When I run out of stitches at the start of the row, I move to the next marker, and replace the original marker ten stitches in. (Using the second marker also lets me easily orient one or the other markers if I happen to lose one.) This system has worked like a charm for me; my stitch count has stayed constant, and I haven’t needed to stop and count 130 stitches yet.

Rajkovich Designs Stitch Markers

Aren't they pretty??

When I first started knitting, I just used the plastic stitch markers from my local craft store. I lost so many in the sofa that I swore I’d never use the nice, jewelry-like ones that I saw women in my local knitting group using. But then my friend Brenda (a talented jewelry designer) gave me a set of her pretty stitch markers, and I have to admit: I was hooked.

So I bought some jewelry wire and beads and a pair of pliers and I made a set of stitch markers myself.

Homemade stitch markers

Not quite so pretty!

They aren’t nearly as pretty or as beautifully crafted as Brenda’s, but I like them, and I can replace them as needed if my sofa gets hungry.

Plus… they make my Lanesplitter-in-progress look pretty, don’t they?

More love for the scale

How timely! Here’s a wonderful post from Clara Parkes at Knitter’s Review about the value of the kitchen scale. She gives great step-by-step instructions on how to weigh your yarn and how to use your scale to help you solve all sorts of fiber issues.

See? I’m not the only knitter who loves her scale!

Tuesday is Tools-Day: I love my scale

Yarn ScaleThis scale, that is. (I’ve never owned a bathroom scale, and after having two kids, I’m not planning to buy one anytime soon!)

I’ve been dwelling on tools a lot lately, and one tool that I use quite frequently is one that I don’t carry around in my knitting bag. My yarn scale (which is actually a small digital kitchen scale) hangs out near my yarn winder. It comes in handy for splitting skeins of sock yarn in half to ensure I have two equally-sized socks. (And for making sure my son’s Pinewood Derby car is under 5 ounces.) But I use it for a lot more than just that.

Last year, I was on a shawl/triangular scarf kick. I’ve made a Traveling Woman (that’s the red shawl in my avatar), an Ishbel, a Clothilde, and a Multnomah. They’re all lovely, and I knit them all in sumptuous yarns (Madelinetosh Pashmina and Sanguine Gryphon Bugga! yarn). Because the yarns were so nice, I wanted to make each scarf as large as possible, without running out of yarn at the end. This is quite the knitting feat!

Enter the yarn scale. And my other favorite-tool-that-doesn’t-fit-in-my-knitting-bag, Microsoft Excel. For each of these top-down scarves, I cast-on and knit a few rows. Then I stopped and weighed my yarn. Made a note what row I was on, then continued on for a dozen more rows and weighed the yarn again. Then I went into Excel and plugged in the number of stitches I had on the needles when I first weighed the pattern. Then I calculated how many stitches I was adding each row, and added up the number of rows I’d worked to get to the second time I weighed the yarn. From this, I calculated how much yarn (approximately) I was using per stitch, which gave me a ballpark estimate of how many stitches (at that gauge) I could get out of the yarn I had left. Then I could look at the pattern again and adjust it to use more or less yardage. I knit the Ishbel as written. I started the lace portions of both the Traveling Woman and Clothilde a little sooner, so I could get in an extra repeat of the lace pattern at the bottom. In all cases, I made the shawls as large as I could with the yarn I had to work with, while still leaving enough yarn to bind off comfortably.

For the Haruni shawl that I’m working on now, I changed the body of the shawl to be plain. I calculated that if I followed the rest of the pattern as written, I would still have more yarn left over than I wanted. So I modified the ends of the shawl to add an additional cluster of petals, thus using up as much of the yarn as possible. (And since I was already calculating in Excel, I was able to calculate how many beads I needed for the spaces where I planned to place them, so I was able to buy the right amount.)

This approach is useful for sweaters, too. I used my scale while knitting my Rhinebeck sweater. I knit the sweater top-down, and I wanted to make it as long as I could, while still having enough to do the cable detailing at the hem and bind off. I measured how many grams of yarn one row took, and then I calculated how many rows I could knit with the yarn I had remaining. Worked like a charm!

So I’m curious. Surely I can’t be the only knitting nerd who loves the scale??

Tools

Stitch MarkersA lovely and talented friend of mine gave me this wonderful set of stitch markers the other day:

Aren’t they neat?  I know I will enjoy using them.  Not only are they attractive, they’re  a knitting tool that will make my projects easier.  (I can’t imagine tackling a complicated lace project without stitch markers.  Ouch!!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about knitting tools lately.  My husband loves to say that you need the right tool for the job, and I think this one of those cliches that became a cliche because it’s so frequently true.  When you have the wrong tool (or the right tool in poor condition) a simple or enjoyable task can become tedious or frustrating, and the results may not be what you hoped for.  If you’re going to chop vegetables, would you prefer to use a dull, rusted knife with a flimsy blade or a well-balanced knife with a good, sharp edge?

Knitting tools are no different.  Good tools can make your knitting easier and more enjoyable, and can help you finish your projects faster and obtain the results you want. 

So what tools are in your knitting bag?  First off, of course, are your knitting needles.  I blogged about my new pair of Signature knitting needles the other day.  They have very sharp, slick points, so I can execute even tricky stitches like k3tog or p2tog tbl with ease.  The cables are very flexible, and they turn freely where they join the needle, so my stitches won’t become tangled or distorted. These needles are expensive, but they make lace knitting easier and more enjoyable for me, so I think they are well worth the price tag.  I also have two sets of Signature double-pointed needles that I use for sock knitting.

I also use and enjoy my Knit Picks nickel-plated needles.  They are also very slick, so even bulky sweater yarns glide along them with ease.  The interchangeable needles make it easy (and afforable) to always have just the right length of cable, and I have found that I can swap between the circular needles and the double-pointed needles as I work from sweater to sleeve without worrying about changes in gauge.

As you can tell, I prefer metal needles.  I started out knitting with wood needles, but my stitches were so tight that I felt like I was fighting to move the yarn along the slightly “grippy” surface wood needles provide.  But I know other knitters who refuse to use anything but wood needles; they find metal needles too slick or too cold or too inflexible to use comfortably.  Still other knitters prefer needles made of plastic, carbon fiber (the same material used to make Stealth Bombers), or even milk

So I’m curious… what needles do you use?  And why?