County Fair Entries

Here are my county fair entries, four out of the five.  First up is The Colors of Whirlwind.  This is handspun two-ply, from a fleece purchased from Whitefish Bay Farm in Wisconsin.  The pattern is my own, using a horseshoe lace stitch separated by purl columns, and has only left-leaning decreases to make it Combination-Knitting friendly. It got a third place ribbon in handspun garments. The judge’s comments suggested alternating skeins to decrease the color variations; I chose not to do this because I like the variation to show what Whirlwind the sheep looks like.

brown_sweater_062214_mediumNext up is some handspun yarn in the skein and a swatch.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it but have now decided it will be an op-art vertical striped steeked cardigan, for me, with some dark purple Mission Falls sport weight.  The fiber is Polworth, from Blue Moon Fiber Arts fiber club in a colorway called Prism, spun into a four ply of approximate DK weight. The  skein won an honorable mention; the judge thought there were unacceptable areas of overtwisted ply.






My Madrona Scarf, handspun from a batt dyed by Grafton FIbers, was not judged.  The rules required a bit of unspun fiber but I had none left, the scarf used every inch and gram.  I love it and post its picture here.

purple_scarf_062214_mediumNext up is my Groove Scarf, modified to be shawl sized.  This used a combination of handspun purple and commercially spun green.  The scarf pattern is by Stephen West, modified and enlarged with an added mesh border.  The judges thought it would make a nice warm shawl but because it was entered in the scarf category it got no prizes.

purpleshawl_062214_mediumThat’s it for today!

Only for Knitters

In public real knitters spit splice

And sometimes knit sweaters with lice

You may not agree

Just try it, you’ll see

A quick lick and the join turns out nice.

This morning on BART I spit spliced

The yarn for my sweater with lice

Discreetly I licked

My palm became slick

One pass of the tongue did suffice.



After a hiatus of several months I am climbing back onto the blogging horse.  The number of spam comments is astonishing; almost enough to make me abandon the whole idea.  I finally figured out how to completely ban comments unless I approve the commenter first.

Back to knitting.  I have been engaged with a knitter on Ravelry about swatching: how we do it, why we do it, and how much we love it.  Does that make us knitting geeks?

I am seriously math challenged, plus I often knit swatches way ahead of starting projects. I find it easier to count stitches while casting on rather than after a swatch is knit so I have standardized my non-specifc swatching.   Here is what I do when trying out a yarn that isn’t for a specific project.

Most of the yarns I like to work with are knit on a US size 8 or smaller needle.  If the suggested needle size is 7 or 8,  I cast on 30 stitches using the suggested needle size.  I knit 2 rows for a stable bottom edge, purl 1 row, then work a row with YOs and K2togs to show the needle size: one YO/K2tog per needle size (7 holes for a size US 7).  If the needle size is a half size (3 mm equals about a 2 1/2 US) I knit 2 YO/K2tog combinations plus a purl stitch on the right side to indicate the half size.

I knit for 20 or so rows in stockinette after the marking row.  I lay the swatch flat and measure, then divide the width by 30 to get stitches per inch, and the height of the swatch by the number of rows I knit to get rows per inch.  For finer yarns on smaller needles I cast on 40 sts and knit for 40 rows. For really fine yarns or when I am swatching for a specific project I knit in pattern – casting on enough stitches to do at least 3 pattern repeats plus a few extra stockinette stitches on each side.

If I don’t like the fabric because it is too flimsy or too dense I purl a row on the right side, switch needles and knit another 30 or 40 rows.

Then I wash the swatch according to yarn directions, lay it out flat to dry, usually pinned in shape, and re-measure after the swatch is dry and has relaxed a couple of hours. It is the blocked and dried swatch numbers I use for a sweater, but if there is a difference in row gauge between blocked and unblocked, I count rows instead of measuring. Then I attach a hang tag  (if I can find my box of hang tags in the stash) showing the gauge before and after blocking, and with the needle size and type of needle – metal, rosewood, ebony, bamboo, etc. The kind of needle can make a difference in the gauge, especially over 44 inches of a sweater body.

Being one of the rare knitters who loves to swatch, I allow myself the treat of swatching a new yarn after completing a particularly tedious bit of knitting. I also measure my work to check on gauge after a couple of hours just to be sure the yarn isn’t being sneaky.

Do you have to swatch? For a sweater or other garment that needs to fit properly you only have to swatch if you want the sweater to fit.   For shawls and other non-fitted items, I swatch only to be sure I am getting a fabric I like.  And for socks – which I use as a mindless plain stockinette project – I don’t swatch.  For sock/fingering weight I use a size 0 or 1, cast on 64 stitches and carry on.  I knit a lot of socks using sport weight – for these I use a size US 1 1/2, cast on 60 sts, and carry on.


My Views on Interchangeable Needles

In a recent post in the Ravelry Group for Interchangeable Needles I summarized my take on interchangeable needles, and thought I would repost it here.

I have numerous sets of interchangeable needles. The first set I got were Denise. I sold them as fast as I could. The cables were so thick I had to tug on the stitches just to get to the join. I suppose if you knit with size 10s the cable would work okay but I don’t. And the points were so blunt even a simple k2tog was difficult.

Next I tried the Knit Picks that were machine made and had rough joins that came apart, and tips that broke in my hands. I gave these away.

Then I got a set of HiyaHiya sharps, in the longer length. The point is great and the join fairly smooth, the needles themselves were very slick, too slippery for silk lace or other very fine yarns. And the cables got kinked easily and were too flimsy. I still have these in the back of my needle drawers, and pull them out occasionally for magic loop socks.

Next were a few Knitter’s Pride, but not a whole set. Promising, but when the join came apart on a silk and wool lace project with over 300 stitches on the needles I tore my hair out. I can’t remember what I did with them, but they are no longer in my needle drawers.

Next up, Addi lace interchangeables. I am not a particular fan of Addis, whose “lace” points aren’t really sharp enough for very fine lace. But I like the click connection and for regular knitting on sport, DK, and worsted weight they are fine. The main problem was the connector that is supposed to allow you to connect 2 shorter cables into one longer one came off twice in the middle of the project. As long as I stick to 1 cable I still use these. I then got the Natura Bamboo click set. Can you spell blunt? But they were perfect for a bulky sweater, on size 9, that I knit in a thick slightly felted single that split easily. I like the grabby surface for this particular yarn and they also worked well with some merino ribbon yarn I used. I keep them around in case I come across another yarn they calls for a grabby surface and blunt points.

Once Chaio Goo came out with a Red Lace set I added those. I had used the fixed circulars for a long time and I love the join. On the interchangeables the little key thing is kind of a pain. The points are great, the cables have no memory, and the surface is not as slick as my Hiyas. I use these a lot.

Then a good friend tempted me with a set of Carbonz needles, in the “limited edition” special box. I was sold mostly by the box, but the needles ended up being quite nice. There are more joins than usual, because the point is metal, the shaft of the needle is carbon, the join to the cable is metal, making 3 joins. I am still in the middle of my first project with these so I haven’t made a final decision yet but I have noted that the cables are flexible but not kinky and the surface of the needles has some grip, just right for the handspun i am using for that project.  Knowing they are made by Knitters’ Pride I am cautious about checking that the join is tight every few rows.

Finally, Dyakcraft. I just ordered a set so I won’t have an opinion for 6-7 months but I am looking forward to them.

And finally, we get to the needles I use most, the ones I come back to over and over again, the ones that have great points for most knitting and come with lace points if you want them, that have a very good (but not perfectly smooth) join, and come in rosewood or my favorite, ebony. They feel great in my hand, are beautiful to look at, have cables that are flexible but not too kinky. They are handmade from pieces of wood left from making musical instruments. They are not interchangeable, but come in any length tip and cable you want. You can even have one rosewood tip (for more slippery yarns) and one ebony tip (for a slicker surface). But, they are not available in the US or Canada except for a few shops that have a small leftover stock from when they were sold here. They are Holz und Stein, made in Germany. And although I would love to be, I am not associated with the company.

My bottom line about needles is that there isn’t one perfect needle (not even my H&S) for every yarn or project, or for every knitter.  That’s how I justify my (carefully curated) collection. If you have read this far you just also be a nut about needles, as I am!

A New Way to Mark Pattern Repeats


My knitting project bags always include (more than) a few stitch markers to help me keep track of where I am in a pattern or chart.  I have quite a collection of markers in the various project bags that live near each of my knitting chairs, by the door ready for a short trip, or in the quiet room where I  work on complex lace or color patterns.

I use rings, locking markers, coiless pins. loops of yarn; even paper clips in a pinch. image






Recently I “unvented” (acknowledgement to Elizabeth Zimmermann) a new way to mark pattern repeats that start or end with a decease that uses stitches from two separate pattern repeats.

These types of pattern repeats start and/or end with a decrease require moving every stitch marker one or two stitches left or right with each decrease.  Moving the markers while in the middle of doing a centered double decrease (CDD) or a slip 2, knit 1, pass the 2 slipped stitches over (PSSO), or even just a knit 2 together (K2tog) or slip, slip, knit (SSK), is risky business.  You have to slip the stitches to the right of the marker to the right needle, take the marker off and stow it somewhere, put the slipped stitches back on the left needle, perform the stitch maneuver and then find and replace the stitch marker.  Markers of any kind that sit on the needle don’t work well in this situation.

I recently finished a shawl on which half of the right side rows needed to have the stitch marker moved so a 2 stitch cable could be worked using one stitch from each side of the pattern repeat marker.  The stitch that started out in the repeat to the left of the marker became the last stitch in the repeat on the right side of the marker.

To mark these split pattern repeats I “unvented” a method using a smooth crochet cotton thread cut in 8 inch lengths.

imageA fine smooth yarn in a color that contrasts with the working yarn would also work.  When I got the place where the cable is worked (in this case, without using a cable needle) I knit the second stitch, wound the cotton thread around the working yarn leaving a short tail in front and a long tail in back, then knit the first stitch and slid both completed stitches onto the right hand needle.  The marker thread ends up between the two stitches which is where the next repeat starts.  On right side rows the thread is in front showing where the repeat ends and ready to be moved; when the stitches are completed the long tail is on the back side of the work.

thread over working yarn

thread over working yarn

When the work is turned the thread is again on the front, ready to be moved.  On the first row I wind the marker thread around the working yarn; on subsequent rows I just lay the long tail of the marker thread over the working yarn.  When you have worked several rows the long tail can be gently pulled to free up a bit more for the long tail while the short tail remains in place in the work. The marker stays put and doesn’t get lost.

Next I tried this method on a lace pattern that had a CDD that used 2 stitches to the right of the marker and 1 stitch to the left of the marker.  The resulting single stitch becomes the last stitch of the repeat to the right of the marker.  With the cotton thread used as a marker, I simply worked the CDD, and place the thread over the working yarn after the CDD and motored on down the row.  The next time I got to that spot in the row I moved the thread marker from the wrong side of the work to the right side over the working yarn, showing where the next CDD should be worked.












When you need to free up a bit more of the marking thread it can be done with the forefinger and thumb of one hand, so you don’t need to retension the yarn.  It is so much easier than using safety pins or markers over the needle that have to be removed, held, and then replaced

The thread markers work for any kind of flat knitting; I have not yet figured out how to make them stay put on work knit in the round, but that is next on my list of making my knitting easier, allowing me to concentrate on the pattern and stitches I am working, without searching for dropped or lost markers.

The latest pattern I am using this method for is the Madrona Scarf, a free pattern by Evelyn Clark at   On Chart 2 rows 9, 11, and 13 in the repeat there is an SSK that uses one stitch from the right of the marker and one from the left of the marker.  This happens again on Chart 3 rows 1, 15, 17, and 19.  The thread-over-the-working-yarn method works perfectly on this pattern!


Hip Replacement Recovery

Two weeks out from hip replacement surgery I am hobbling around on a walker.  I can get up and down stairs only with  Jim’s help.  He also feeds me, brings me water, reminds me to take my meds, and generally waits on me.  Sheila was here the first week out of the hospital, providing more help and company. The occupational therapist suggested I hang a bag on the walker to carry things with me, so to the bag stash I went to find one with long enough handles.  As always, Meg Swansen had the solution:

imageA medium size knitting project fits, a water bottle fits, a shawl fits, my phone, my iPad, a book …






I am still working on the pattern for the Cushy Cozy socks.  Two test knitters came up with the same problem so I guess I have to correct it.  This pattern writing business sure eats into actual knitting time!  I added the missing information and am trying again with some Lorna’s Laces sport weight at a looser gauge.








Yesterday three knitting buddies came over.  Morgaine, ever the enabler, brought a set of Carbonz Interchangeable needles in a lovely box.  I hadn’t tried these needles so of course I had to try them.  Lovely.  The box itself is a beautiful thing, and the needles, US sizes 4-11, are great to work with. They have metal tips, carbon fiber shafts, flexible but not kinky cables, and a medium sharp point.  She had four sets, three were sold before she left.



New Knits for Julia

Just off the blocking board – Welcome to the Flock for Julia.  Little black and white sheep frolicking on a green meadow.


image Her mom asked for labels in her sweaters, so I dug out some old ones from the last time I tried to make a go of knitting for others: Nina Custom Knits, last heard from sometime in 1982.  Couple more hats on their way to Baltimore as well – but no more three color-in-a-row sheep.

Nina on Needles

Aero Needles in set

Aero Needle



I am somewhat obsessive about knitting needles.  I have definite preferences and I know what my favorite needles are.  I keep trying others just to see what is out there, and because some projects or yarns need different kinds of needles and different points and surfaces, I keep on buying needles.  I think of my needles as a carefully curated collection.

My first set of needles appeared in the beginning of the 1970s, with this collection of Aero needles, in a cute red case.  They are 14 inches long, moderately sticky, have medium points, and are marked in English sizes.  I keep them mostly for nostalgia.

This part of the collection is a random assortment of needles collected over the years. It includes one pair of handmade wooden needles with round knobs and one pair of painted knobs, some more Aeros marked in millimeters, some Susan Bates aluminum (the ones I learned to knit on) and a few other oddments.

image image








Next is a small grouping of wooden needles, I think made by Colonial, 12 inches long with nicely turned knobs.

I do have a collection of double points, some bamboo, some ebony, some rosewood and one set of 4 inch Signatures.  Mostly I knit socks using one circular with the magic loop method.  I do use DPNs at home for small circumference knitting such as the top of hats, sleeves on baby sweaters, and starting circular projects.  The best small needles are Crystal Palace bamboo.  They have nice points, and the bamboo is infused with some kind of hardening material making them difficult (although not impossible) to break.  I also have Clover bamboo in larger sizes (US 4 and up) for sleeve cuffs, and some lovely Darn Pretty Needles in small sizes that are 4 inches long and useful for the fingers on gloves.  There are a few sets left of brands I will no longer use such as Suzanne’s ebony.  These are so blunt doing even a K2Tog is difficult.  I had a set of Blackthorn carbon fiber DPNs but they were so sharp they could have been used to start an IV.  Sold those babies to a friend who thinks there is no such thing as too sharp.






Next we move on to interchangeable circulars.  I work on so many projects at a time that, despite have an extensive collection of fixed circulars (which I prefer) I like having the sets in case all the fixed ones are in use or on a walk-about.   My first set of interchangeable needles were a set of Denise plastic needles.  I kept them for about 3 months and then got rid of them.  I seriously hated these needles. The cables are so thick that unless you are knitting on a US size 7 the stitches had to be pushed or pulled along on the cable and onto the tip, which stretched out the stitches and slowed my knitting to a crawl.  The points are so blunt they are difficult even to knit stockinette and complex maneuvers were impossible.  Next I tried a set of Knit Picks Harmony.  They were okay for a while but the joins were not as smooth as I like, and they loosened as I knit and ultimately the tips and cables came apart. I liked that they were inexpensive but for me on this item you get what you pay for.  These were given away.  Very similar to the Knit Picks are Dreamz, and I have a few fixed circulars of this brand.  The join is not smooth and yarns catch and pull.

unknown bamboo set

This is a set of bamboo interchangeable needles. Senior moment on the brand -maybe someone out there can jolt my memory?  They have moderately blunt points, with medium smooth joins but the taper on the point is a bit short for my taste.  There are lots of cables with cable connectors so you can put 2 cables together for a really long needle.  I used these on a sweater made of merino tape yarn because points any sharper would split the yarn too easily.  I did have some trouble with sliding the stitches over the join.   I have to admit that the main reason I keep these around is because of the neat case, in orange and turquoise sik.  I’ll go into what I like in knitting bags later, but I am a sucker for neat packaging.

Addi lace image

Then there are two sets of Addi interchangeables, one bamboo and one “lace” turbo. Both have  5 in. tips.  The bamboo points are good with slippery yarns.  The join is tight and so far has never loosened or come apart but it is not as smooth as my favorite (coming. . .)

Although the turbo needles are marketed as “lace” needles the point is not sharp enough for complex stitch combinations. I know these are a favorite with lots of people but, as my mother would say, to each her own.

Both Addi sets come with a connector so you can combine two cables for an extra long circular.  The connector that came with the turbo set doesn’t fit the cables and cannot be used.  And the connector that came with the bamboo set once came apart in the middle of a large lace project resulting in a torrent of swearing and a whole bad day that was needed to recover and repair.  Fortunately the yarn was merino and not silk or cashmere which would have been a total disaster.  I will not be using the connector again.  Without the connector the turbo needles worked extremely well on a sweater for my son-in-law with slightly fuzzy yarn knit on a size 9 needle – which to me felt like broomsticks.  Bamboo and even ebony needles were too grippy for the yarn.

Currently on a walk-about somewhere in the house is a set of Hiya Hiya 4.5 in interchangeables.  The case is the best part of these needles. The points are excellent for lace but the join is kind of rough and has come apart while in use.  If I need the sharpness of a Hiya Hiya I use one of the fixed circulars I have.  And for socks I almost always use a 32 in. US size 0 Hiya Hiya; very flexible joint for magic loop, and the join is excellent on the fixed circulars.

Next up is my favorite set of interchangeables:   Chiao Goo Red Lace needles, “small” set (US 2-8) with 5 inch tips.  The points are sharp enough for most lace maneuvers but won’t pierce your fingers.  The joins are smooth and stay connected.  There is a little tool used to tighten the connection, so there is a little hole through which you can thread a lifeline.  This method of using a life line only works if you don’t use ring markers because those will end up on the lifeline and cannot be removed until you take out the lifeline. It should work fine if you use moveable markers, the plastic kind that look like safety pins or rings that aren’t completely closed.  You can get an extra set of points in 3.0 mm, which I use frequently.  And they come in this really neat case with room for the cables, stitch markers, and a variety of small tools.

ChiaoGoo interchangeables







Oh, did I mention I have a second set of ChiaoGoo interchangeables?

travel set

This is my travel set of needles.  The case is by Erin Lane and it holds a full set of interchangeables (did I mention I have 2 sets of  ChiaoGoo?)  It also has room for a large selection of DPNs, and a small selection of fixed circulars as well as a pocket for cables, stitch markers, and other small notions.

The needles that I actually use 90% of the time will have to await another post. Time to knit!

Kitchenering the Easy Way

Kitchenering the Easy Way

Kitchener stitch is a way of joining two sets of live stitches. Useful for the toes of cuff-down socks, underarm stitches left on hold, and a variety of other knitting situations where you want a flexible join with no visible seam.  I don’t recommend this for the shoulders of sweaters; it is so flexible the shoulder will stretch too much.

Start: have an equal number of stitches on two needles (or two ends of the same circular, or on a thread). Cut the working yarn with a long tail. Hold the wrong sides of the work together, one right side of the work facing you and the other facing away from you.  Thread the yarn through a tapestry needle (TP).

Set-Up: Front needle – put the TP in the first st. as if to purl. pull thread through and leave the st. on the needle. Back needle – put the TP in the first st. as if to knit, pull thread through and leave the st. on the needle.

After the set-up all stitches are worked as follows:

put TP through st. on front as if to knit, slip st off; TP in next st. as if to purl, leave on needle

put TP through st. in back as if to purl, slip st off; TP in next st. as if to knit an leave on needle.

The card in my knitting tool kit reads as follows:

START: Front: P on.  Back: K on.

CONTINUE: Front: K off, P on.   Back: P off, K on.

Work loosely to match gauge of knitting; this can be tightened but  loosening is difficult.  When done correctly the resulting join looks just like a row of stockinette stitch.  It can also be done in other patterns, including garter and rib, but those are for another day.