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A few weeks ago, I entered two knitting projects in competitions at the North Carolina State Fair. I’d never competed in a fair before, and I fully expected this to be an educational but ultimately non-victorious experience. But I loved going to the fair and seeing other peoples’ projects on display, so I thought hey, why not contribute?

Well, imagine my shock:

First place in Designed by Knitter, a category for items knitted from a personally designed pattern.

Second place in Shawls and Ponchos.

The uninformative bit is that I can’t post the first item (a cardigan) because I’m working up the pattern to submit to knitting magazines, and I can’t post the second item (a shawl) because the pattern has been accepted by a knitting magazine (and not Knotions, which takes a different view of pre-publication teasers), to be published this spring. So I’m left with two ribbons and nothing to show until the spring except those teeny 2″ swatches.

Of course, my proud bubble was rather burst when the nice little old lady manning the desk asked me if I was there to pick up the competition entries for my mother! And I had to say no, they’re mine… Clearly I need more hand-knitted items to drape about my person.

The Jade Wrap

The wrap designing has been going well. I have a bunch of green and blue Czech glass beads left over from an earlier project. I’m combining the more bluish ones with the yarn, and I think they’re going to look good. By the way, these photos are much more true-to-color than the last image of the yarn I posted. Now it really does look Jade.

I’m using the beading-as-you-go technique, which requires a crochet hook to place a bead on stitches as you knit. For reference, the yarn here is fingering weight, the crochet hook is a #10 steel hook and the beads are Czech glass seed beads, 8/0 weight. I should probably have included a penny for scale!

To do this kind of beading, just knit to the stitch you want to put the bead on. Then place the bead on the crochet hook (like above, only just one if you only want to place one bead). Then use the crochet hook to slip the stitch you’d like to bead (this can be before or after you work the stitch) off the needle, holding it on to the crochet hook. Then, just slip the bead off the crochet hook and onto the stitch. You end up with a bead that is placed horizontally, relative to the direction of your stitches. For vertically-oriented beads, you would need to pre-string the beads onto your yarn. This means a lot of shoving beads around as you knit, and can add wear to the yarn as the many beads slide around as you work.

Right now, I’m knitting leaves. I currently have nine, and I’m aiming for about 12, for a wrap that will be about 28″ high.

I’m placing the beads on the tips of the leaves. The leaves themselves are the Scalloped Leaves from Nicky Epstein’s Knitting on the Edge, but expanded by four rows to make them longer and larger. The scalloped leaves motif has quite a few errors in the original pattern writeup– I checked my corrections against the corrections described in this post by the sympathetic vibration blog. I also generated a chart, which I find much easier to read. If you would like to download the chart, click here. I’m not sure precisely what the legal ramifications are of posting a chart version of the corrected written instructions for an error-ridden motif in a knitting pattern book. I am irritated by the fact that Epstein’s website doesn’t appear to have errata for her books, nor was I able to find official Knitting on the Edge errata elsewhere.

Here’s a closeup of an unblocked scalloped leaf, where you can see the bead on the tip.

Onward!

One of the reasons I’m pursuing a year with no patterns is to slow my rate of consumption when it comes to knitting. This includes my consumption of pattern books, yarn, needles (because sometimes projects need new needles), etc. The unfortunate downside of this plan is that I move slowly from project to project, and y’all on the blog suffer.

At the moment, I should be finishing the Flutterby Socks, but I’m simply out of love with them. Instead, I’m thinking deep thoughts about rectangular wraps. I’m ashamed to admit that my wrap of choice on cool evenings like now is a blue acrylic thing from a friend. Yes– I’m a knitter, I even have a lace wrap on my shelves, and I’m wearing a pilly sticky icky to the fingers acrylic thing. Why am I doing this?

Well, for one, the knitted wrap is circular, and it just isn’t large enough for what I want to do. It was an experiment in art knitting, and it looks gorgeous— it just isn’t terribly wearable for me. For another, the acrylic wrap is wonderfully solid. It’s just several feet of woven acrylic thread, so it’s light, it has no holes to catch on anything, I don’t have to worry about tugging it out of shape through the various abuses I put it through, and it is so light that static cling alone keeps it on my shoulders. I’m not emotionally attached to it, so I can drop it and run my desk chair over it accidentally and pick it up again with no particular regrets.

The problem is that this wrap is ugly. It’s pilled, it has stains, and it’s just… well, you know. It’s a utilitarian thing. So I’ve been thinking about knitting something to replace it. Something mainly stockinette, light and without any complex textures to distract me from whatever I plan to be doing while I’m wearing it. Something that can take the damage. Something… machine washable, even.

And then– a surprise!


Image from YarnCountry. The reality is greener, much more Jade-like than turquoise.

Cascade sent me my replacement for the Cascade Heritage that gave me so much trouble. I asked for it in Jade, but since the color was currently out of stock, my expectations weren’t high. Imagine my surprise when I got the mail this weekend and saw not one skein, or two, or even three, but five skeins of yarn! That’s 2,000 yards of fingering weight yarn, 75% merino wool, 25% acrylic. Yarn that I suspect doesn’t wear well under pressure, but on the other hand, yarn that is machine washable and which was free.

It seems like a dream come true. It’s the right weight, a pleasant color, a good amount, it’s machine washable, if I ruin it under my desk chair I probably won’t cry, and I suspect that as long as I don’t walk on it, it will behave just fine. It certainly felt lovely as I balled up the first skein.

I’m signing off and casting on as we speak. Since I can’t sketch to save my life, you’ll all have to wait until I have a swatch or a significant bit of knitting before you see what I’m thinking.

I think just about everybody agrees that needle rolls are the best way to store straight needles and DPNS, but when it comes to circs, it seems nobody can agree. Personally, I’m a fan of the hanging storage method, which prevents the flexible parts of the needles from getting kinked up and keeps me from having to do any untangling to get what I want.

I made my own holder, and it hangs on the wall in my office-slash-craft-room. It’s not fantastically pretty, but it is ridiculously useful. The only drawback of this storage method is that it’s not very portable.

I made up whatever lace, cable or textured patterns I felt like using for each of the “spaces,” and the numbers are intarsia. I started at the top, with a horizontally-worked cable to make the “handle” a bit stiffer and less prone to sagging. I then picked up stitches all along the bottom of the cable, leaving a space in the center to become the handle opening, and knitted down from there until I’d made enough sections for all my needle sizes. As a final step, I crocheted around the edge of the whole thing for additional stability.

Hanging, the fabric does want to curl around on itself a bit. I keep it straight using two of my thicker straight needles (size 15, hollow aluminum) threaded through the top and bottom, but that’s not really important.

I just poke my needles through the fabric in the right space for their size, and they’re ready and waiting for me when I need them. No need to use size tags or my needle gauge, though I do have one.

Note: If you wanted to make a needle roll for your dpns, follow the exact same instructions but make the inner pocket piece straight instead of slanted and make all your pieces of cloth smaller to fit the length of your dpns instead of the length of your straights.

Final Dimensions: 21″ width by 16″ height

You will need:

  1. 5 fat quarters of fabric. Fat quarters are pieces of fabric that are 22″ by 18″. They can be found at almost any crafting or quilting store, and are generally pretty cheap– look for them in the scrap bin, since they’re often leftovers from a larger bolt of cloth. If you don’t want to work with fat quarters, you could also make the roll using one 52″ by 22″ piece of fabric, one 32″ by 18″ piece of fabric and some scraps to create the two notions pockets, if desired.

  2. Sew-on snaps, one for each notion pocket you decide to make.
  3. Two thin wooden towels, each approximately 15.5″ long.
  4. Needle and thread, or thread and a sewing machine.
  5. Straight pins.

Basically, you’re making a rectangular pouch with very narrow, tall pockets and an overhanging flap. The dowels keep the holder from being too floppy. If you don’t want to use dowels, you can make one of your fat quarters out of denim, courduroy or some other stiff fabric, and use that as the back.

To begin, take two of the fat quarters and pin them together using straight pins and with the patterned sides facing outward, folding the cut edges together on the inside on all sides. Pin all sides EXCEPT the side you have decided will be the top of the needle roll. If you start with two 22″ by 18″ fat quarters, you should end up with a piece that’s about 21″ by 16″ after pinning. This will be the back of your needle holder.

Next, take the two dowels and slide one into each side of the pinned-together back, aligning them with the two shorter sides. Think of the fabric as one of those horizontal scrolls people read in movies, and your dowels are the handles on the side. Once the dowels are slid in and you’ve made sure they’re flush with the sides of the back, add additional pins on the inward side of the dowels to keep them from sliding.

Next, make the flap. Take your third fat quarter and fold it in half. Pin the short sides together, but do not pin the long raw edge. Again, make sure to fold the cut edges inside before you pin. Make the flap as wide across as your needle holder body– in this case, 21″. The height of the flap is less important. If you want to make a notions pocket for your needle holder, use only about 14″ of the height of the fat quarter to create your flap, and cut off the other 4″ to make a pocket with, later.

At this point, you can sew the short edges of the flap together, if you want. Or you can go ahead and pin the entire needle holder together before sewing. It’s really your choice.

Next, insert the raw, cut edge of the flap you just made into the unpinned top of the needle holder back you’ve just assembled. Remember to fold under the raw edges of the top of the needle holder back. Pin the flap and needle holder back together– you’ll be pinning six layers of cloth (the first layer of the needle holder back and its folded-over edge, the two layers of the flap, and the second layer of the needle holder back and its folded-over edge), so keep the cloth used for the flap light, especially if the fabric for the needle holder back is heavier.

At this point, you have a needle holder back with dowels pinned inside the short edges, and a flap attached to the top, all with pins. At this point, sew the edges of the flap together if you haven’t already, and sew the flap to the top of the needle holder back. Use two rows of stitches about 1/4th of an inch apart, to anchor the flap most sturdily. In addition, sew the INSIDE STITCHES of the sides of the needle holder back, along the dowels. Not the outside edges, but the line of pins along the inside of each dowel that keep the dowel from slipping and sliding around inside the needle holder back. Keep the sides of the needle holder back pinned and do not sew them for now. Similarly, do not sew the bottom of the needle holder back.

Now you have a half-sewn back (inner dowel edges sewn, top sewn) with an attached flap to keep your needles from falling out. Next, you need to make the pocket you’ll keep your needles in. To do this, take two more fat quarters and pin them together on the bottom and sides, again making sure to fold the raw edges in as you pin. The pocket piece should be 21″ wide and approximately 16″ tall. Do not pin the top edge of the pocket piece.

To create the slant of the pocket piece, you will now cut a diagonal line across the two pieces of you have just pinned together. Start your line 8″ from the bottom on one side of the pocket piece (I started the pocket low on the left, but it’s your choice), and end 14.5″ from the bottom on the other side. If you have mostly short straight needles, you may choose to make the pocket shallower by choosing a shorter ending height (12″ instead of 14.5″, for example).

Once you’ve cut your pocket piece, fold under the raw edges of the diagonal, pin them and sew them together, creating a pocket that goes from 7″ high on one side to 13.5″ high on the other. You now have a pocket piece that is sewn on the diagonal edge and pinned the other three sides.

If you don’t want any external pockets to keep notions or dpns, then keep going here. If you do, now is the time to attach those pockets. Head to the “External Pockets” instructions at the bottom of this post before you go on to the next step.

The next task is to attach the pocket piece to the needle holder back. Align the bottom of the pocket piece with the bottom of the needle holder back, and align the sides of the pocket piece with the sides of the needle holder back. Pin into place. You will have eight layers of fabric all the way around– the first layer of the pocket piece and its turned under edge, the second layer and its edge, and the two layers of the needle holder back with their turned-under edges. Once you have the pocket pinned in place, sew all the way around the three pinned sides of the needle holder back, securing the pocket in place and sewing up any remaining open edges on the needle holder back.

You now have a needle holder back with a pocket and flap and dowels securely sewed in to the two short sides to keep the holder straight. Excellent! The next task is to divide the pocket into the many long, narrow pockets required to hold knitting needles. Here you can use your judgment concerning how many pockets you want to use. I included one 3.5″ wide pocket on the shallow side of the needle holder to hold circular needles (back when this was my all-purpose needle holder). All in all, I divided the 16″ of pocket into 12 separate pockets, each about 1″ across (with the exception of the large pocket).

To divide the pockets, again use pins to mark the divisions from pocket to pocket. These pins will help you sew straight. You can either pin out all your pockets and then sew them individually, or pin and sew one pocket at a time. Make sure to keep your pockets straight, as a crooked pocket can’t hold as many needles.

Once you’ve sewn your pockets, congratulations! You have a basic needle holder. Attach a tie of your choice to one end to keep the roll closed up when you aren’t using it, and you’re in good shape. Tassels are optional, but strongly recommended!

Making External Pockets

If you want to store needles, stitch markers or dpns in your needle holder, you will want some smaller pockets. I attach my smaller pockets to the outside of the larger, straight-needle-holding pocket. You will need fabric scraps that are at least 2.5 times as wide or tall as you want your pocket to be.

I have two pockets attached to this needle holder: a 2.5″ by 4″ pocket for darning needles and stitch markers, and a 2″ by 7″ vertical pocket for DPNS. The thing to remember is to never plan to store anything in your external pockets that is wider than 1″, because then your needle roll won’t roll up properly. Your objects can be as tall as your pocket is, but should never be wider than 1″.

To make a 2.5″ by 4″ pocket with a snap-closing flap, take a piece of fabric that measures approximately 5.5″ by 4.5.” Fold it in half lengthwise and fold the cut edges under so that you have a two-sided piece of fabric about 2.5″ by 4″. Sew across the top of the fabric. Sew a snap onto the side of the fabric that will become the outside of the pocket.

Pin this two-sided fabric to your as-yet-unattached large pocket, attaching the fabric on the bottom and two sides, but not the top. Sew the fabric to the pocket along the pinned sides, making your external pocket. Make sure to keep the snap on the outside of the pocket.

To attach the flap, take another piece of fabric that is about 1/2″ wider than your pocket and twice as long as you want the flap to be. Fold the fabric over, fold under the cut edges and pin, pinning the top edge of the flap to the large pocket directly above where the external pocket is attached. Sew down the flap and sew across the pinned sides of the flap. Sew the other side of the snap to the inside of the pocket flap so that it will connect with the inside of the snap when the flap lies flat.

Congratulations, you have made an external pocket! You may notice that you won’t be able to stitch all the way down the straight needle pocket if an external pocket is placed in the way. Fortunately, since straight needles don’t bend, all you really need to do is to stitch the first two inches of the vertical straight needle pockets– even if the rest of the larger pocket isn’t divided by your stitching, the needles will still stay straight and vertical in their pockets.

To make a pocket for your DPNs, follow the same instructions but make the pocket much taller.

Storing Tools

I love storage. It’s so orderly, in much the same way knitting can be. Just as each knitted stitch falls into place among its sister stitches, my needles have a home and a place they belong. I think that carefully storing my crafting equipment is a way of respecting myself. These are my tools, with them I accomplish things that make me proud. Why wouldn’t I want to take care of them?

It doesn’t hurt that knitters acquire a lot of paraphenalia. Straight, circular, double-pointed, bamboo, aluminum, nickel, plastic, casein– that’s only knitting needles! Then there’s darning needles for weaving in ends, t-pins and wires for blocking, needle sizers and stitch markers and crochet hooks and stitch holders and on and on. My feeling has always been that a tool is useful if it allows you to accomplish your goal without distraction. So my needles are only useful if I can find them, quickly and easily, when I want them. Otherwise, the tool is interfering with the creative process.

So how do I store my stuff? I keep my circular needles, straight needles and DPNs separate. To store my DPNs, I got the cutest DPN holder from Etsy seller Sarah Kincheloe. It has a cheerful, not-quite-seventies retro flair that always makes me smile. Plus, it has a clasp to keep it rolled shut, and multiple layers of fabric to keep me from getting poked and to protect delicate bamboo needles from snapping.

Isn’t it cute?

I wrote the numbers on with a Sharpie. The pouch is cleverly designed, with little narrow pockets for your teeny weeny needles and bigger pockets for those size 10 tree trunks, and the obligatory top flap so nothing falls out when it’s rolled up.

Yes, those are crochet hooks. Crochet hooks are cheap, and come in handy in many situations. That’s the one thing I envy crocheters– their equipment seems so much simpler. Of course, now a crocheter is going to come along and set me straight.

I love my DPN holder; it’s small, compact, brightly colored and now I don’t have to worry about losing my precious and dangerously pointy needles! I have definitely found myself using more DPNs now that they are so conveniently and easily to hand.

Tomorrow: Straights, and How to Make Your Own Needle Holder.

Sock Blocking

It does a sock good. Blocking in this case adds the “Surprise!” to the Surprise! Socks, not to mention making them look much more visually appealing, adding crispness to the lace and, most importantly, making the socks cling to the legs and stay up instead of scrunching down.

Both Surprise! Socks are now knitted and blocked, just in time for the weather around here to finally get Fall-worthy.

How to block these socks? You may notice a total lack of sock blockers. In this case, that’s because the ultimate goal here is to make the circumference of the sock cuff very narrow. That way the lace ribbing will have to streeeeeetch (and being lace, and ribbing, it has stretch!) to fit over the ankle and lower calf. In this case, I soaked the socks in water-and-shampoo (I use Suave for Curly Hair with leave-in Conditioner, for no real reason other than it’s what’s around), then took them out and squeezed (no rubbing or wringing, just squeezed) the water out. Since these socks are superwash, I didn’t have to be this nice with them, but it never hurts.

To block, I grabbed the toe in one hand and the top of the cuff in the other and stretched the sock. Not too strenuously, but definitely pulling on each end. This straightened out the ribbing and helped flatten the decreases in the yo,k2tog pairs used to make the lace ribbing effect (you can see in the picture above that the ribs unblocked are somewhat bumpy– all the bumps are k2togs). I then hung the sock, foot down, over a nearby edge (in one case a drum kit bar, in the other a lampshade) so that the weight of the foot would pull on the leg ribbing even more, keeping things straight and taut as the sock dried.

Note: This sort of blocking makes the cuff seem really long. In reality, wearing the sock will stretch the cuff horizontally and shrink it vertically, so that so-long cuff when blocked will be at just the right height when worn. My perception is that the cuff height pre-blocking is about equal to the cuff height when the socks are worn, so it shouldn’t be hard to get the cuffs the right length when knitting. Just don’t second-guess yourself when you start to block and things stretch out.

All this fuss probably isn’t necessary– my guess is that, if I were to simply wash them in the washer and dry them in the dryer, they’d turn out about the same as the sock on the left, above. But you can’t be too careful! If the socks do deform in the dryer after being worn, I’ll take more photos and talk about it.