Getting Through the Boring Bits

Aside from socks, my favorite knitting project is capes, groovy substitutes for sweaters or jackets. The concept is simple enough: I make a collar or neckband as I would for a sweater; then I increase at regular or irregular intervals until the garment is 2 feet (60 cm) long. I just finished one, in fact, a frothy thing in spring pinks and greens made of a tulle-like cotton-silk ribbon yarn.

There one big drawback is that rows get longer as the cape grows, so the rows in the last few inches before the bind off can take one to two hours, depending on the number of stitches and on the complexity of the stitch pattern being used. Not surprisingly then, however exciting the project was in the beginning and however high my motivation is to wear it, the last vertical third of the cape turns the Zen of knitting into a twitchy fear of boredom and an unwillingness to keep on keeping on.

So how does one plod along?

By doing something else at the same time.

I think I’ve mentioned here that my mom taught me to knit when I was in kindergarten, but beyond a few scarves, shawls, and blankets for my dolls and an anomalous blanket for myself in college, I didn’t do much with the craft until my mid thirties, When I took up the needles again.

Initially, when I returned to knitting, I could not do anything while I knit. I had to concentrate on what I was doing, especially once I started working with interesting stitch patterns. After a year or two, I found my mind wandering, so I started knitting while my favorite TV shows were on, saving the tricky needle maneuvers for commercial breaks. Over time, I realized that I was getting wild and exotic with my needles even during the most dramatic scenes, a discovery which gave me confidence to try stitches that were more involved while my shows were on.

By this point, I had wholeheartedly embraced the power of multitasking during tedious stretches of yarn craft. My first intentional use of the power was when I came to terms with the fact that I’d put off fringing a shawl for over a year, so I cranked on AC/DC, Candlebox, and GodSmack, and fringed away. That worked so well that heavy metal became my cure for every-tedious-craft-related-thing from swatching to weaving in ends.

It occurred to me that I could move from music and TV to audiobooks. There really is no end to my gratitude for MP3 players and their capacity to play hours and hours of audio books without human intervention (the victor Stream rocks). I began with the comfortingly formulaic, steamy bodice rippers and murder mysteries, genres I read frequently and know well. I noticed the same pattern with audiobooks as for television: simple stitches (like stockinet, garter, or ribbing) at first with pauses for tricky knitting or complex listening, fewer pauses over time, and eventually, steady forward movement in both activities.

Since I learned to listen to books while I knit, I’ve gotten more knitting and more reading done, two fabulous outcomes. There are still times, of course, when I need to stop one activity in order to do the other well. Just yesterday, I got so caught up in a book that I kept screwing up the knitting. But for the most part, having an interesting distraction–like TV, music, or audiobook listening—is the best way to get through a long boring stretch of yarn.

Advertisements

Solids, Heathers, Jewels, and More

Colors can be something of a headache, and asking sighted people for clarification doesn’t help because each has a different notion of what color matches what and which color looks good on whom. So I’m not even going to pretend to go there. Instead, I’ll mention a few general bits and pieces about colors that may come in handy while working with yarn.

Some Basic Characteristics

Light and dark are contrasts. If you’re musically minded, think of light as one octave above middle C and dark as one octave below it. Think of muted, a dull version of the color, as quiet (piano), and think of vivid or saturated, a bold medium dark to dark variation, as loud (forte).

While most colors can be light medium or dark, white, yellow, pink, and lavender are light by definition, and black and red are dark by definition.

Solid yarns are the same color all the way through and make fabric that is uniform in color. A textural equivalent is the smooth public side of a store-bought knitted sweater.

Tweed yarns are solid yarns with flecks of different colors and make fabric that is uniformly not-solid. We all did a little weaving in elementary school or summer camp. (Remember the potholder?) The yarn and loom were big enough that the fabric we made had a definite grain and a clear textural pattern: the longer lines of the weft lay across the vertical warp, which was mostly hidden to the touch. This texture is like tweed: the solid background color is like the horizontal lines of the woven potholder that are easy to find with our fingers, and the flecks are like the tiny vertical bits that we can also feel. The foreground and background colors are so uniformly distributed that the fabric isn’t described as being two different colors though the two colors are seen.

Heather yarns are different muted shades of a single color. The different shades would be something like light blue, light-medium blue, medium blue, maybe a turquoise that’s more blue than green. Muted means that the colors are visually soft or grayish, like a dusty or fuzzy surface. The overall textural equivalent of a heathered fabric is like the fabric that results from working with slubby yarns, the yarns that are thick in some places, but thin in others. This type of fabric is full of subtle, but unmistakable variation. It has loose, almost lacey areas where thin yarns form a meshlike fabric; it has dense areas where thick loops interlock; and it has normal areas where thick and thin loops come together.

Variegated yarns are a dramatic version of the heathers. Variegation progresses through unmuted shades of the same color or more commonly from one color to another. The cape I’m making now has several shades of pink and peach, , a related lavender, white, and green. Texturally, the general effect is like making a slubby fabric, only imagine that the different fabrics—mesh, dense, and standard—are made of different yarns, maybe silk, wool, and cotton, so while the way one color or texture blends into the next is subtle, the over all effect is not.

Jewel tones are vivid medium or dark colors resembling gemstones (e.g., ruby red, emerald green, sapphire blue). They’re usually solid or nearly solid (meaning subtle variations of the same bold color), and they draw the eye, so they’re best for items that make a statement, comparable to a melody heavy with fortissimos, allegros, or slinky syncopations.

Colors and Stitch Patterns

To show off stitch patterns, solids and heathers in light to medium shades work best.

The darker the yarn, the less likely people are to see the stitch patterns and the more impressed they’ll be by the person who could see well enough to knit or crochet with the color.

Variegated yarns are best for no-frills crafting, like stockinet, garter, or ribbing for knitters. People never see the stitches amid all the interesting color activity, so take it easy and let the variegation do the work.

Jewels are also good for no-frills stitching. The colors tend to be darker, and their vividness is pretty damn interesting in and of itself.

All of these are generalizations, of course. A sighted friend with color and craft sense can discourse on various nuances or, more likely, point out a specific yarn that does or doesn’t do well with intricate stitch patterns, but knowing broadly what these color terms mean and how they affect our work is takes some of the uncertainty about what to do with our yarn.

Winding Yarn the Modern Way

One of my favorite yarny gadgets is my Knit Picks Ball Winder. There are few things in life as miraculous and elegant as the center pull skein, a cylinder of yarn you just pull and pull from. Its one flaw, though, is that it gets misshapen and battered as it shrinks, so rewinding the leftover yarn becomes necessary when the project is finished or when yarn havoc is reeking as the work is still on the needles. “Grab a piece of paper, and wind around that,” you say. I can, but the paper slips out or loops of yarn drop off the ends, and I’ve got a tangled mess to take care of. This problem gets even bigger when I need to wind the yarn that comes in hanks, the braid-like twists expensive and handmade yarn is often sold in. For these jobs, nothing beats a ball winder or the cute cake-like center pull skeins it makes, and my favorite part of the ball winder made and sold by Knit Picks is that it gives users the option of a handle or a clamp, so they can pick where and how to use their winder.

This post is mostly about how to use a ball winder. The one I have is the Knit Picks Ball Winder, which sells for about 20 dollars, a good price, but the instructions should work for any ball winder since they all have a standard shape and work more or less the same. Mine is made out of durable plastic and is light-weight, so it’s easy to carry around the house. It’s relatively small, accommodating about 3.5 ounces or 100 grams of yarn, though thinner yarn works a little better than the thicker stuff.

The ball winder itself is a square platform with a tall wide-brimmed hat on top. One side of the platform has a crank, like the handle used to roll the windows in a car up and down, and on the other side of the platform is a sturdy L-shaped guiding wire that starts underneath and points straight up to the ceiling, like an arm bent at the elbow. These are the four important parts. The platform or base is the part that is clamped to a table. The “hat,” which is called a spindle assembly, is what the yarn wraps around. The crank is what turns the “hat” and causes the yarn to wrap evenly. The guiding wire is what keeps the yarn from tangling around the bottom of the spindle assembly and also lets the operator (you or I) put more or less tension on the yarn. The fifth part of the ball winder is the clamp or the fixed handle, depending on which either one of us is in the mood to use.

Clamping the Ball Winder to a Flat Surface

The clamp is a big L-shaped screw. The long leg of the screw has a wing nut and a large plastic wedge. The short leg of the screw has a small screw with a large head. To clamp the ball winder to the edge of a table, follow a few simple steps:

1. Remove the short screw from the short leg of the large screw.
2. Turn the ball winder so that the bottom of the base is facing the ceiling.
3. Locate a hole on the side of the platform. It is near the crank.
4. Insert the short leg of the clamp into this hole.
5. Locate a rectangular hole on the part of the base that is facing the ceiling now. It is inside a large recessed circle. You should have no trouble feeling the short leg of the screw in that rectangular hole.
6. Wind the short screw back into the short leg of the clamp. Make sure the long leg is pointing toward the ceiling.
7. Turn the ball winder right side up so that the bottom of the platform is facing the floor.
8. Set the ball winder on the edge of a table, slide the plastic wedge up to the underside of the table, and tighten the wing nut until the ball winder is firmly in place. For best results, place the ball winder near the corner of the table.

I position the ball winder so that the turn handle is to my left and the vertical guiding wire is to my right. Well, I guess I should say that I clamp the winder close to the corner of a table or counter and position myself in front of it so I can turn the crank with my left hand.

Winding the Yarn

Winding the yarn is essentially a three-step process, which involves running the yarn through the guiding wire, securing it on the top of the hat-shaped spindle assembly, and turning the crank. Here’s how that’s done:

1. Running the yarn through the guiding wire — Notice that the top of the guiding wire has a coil, really just a loop with a hanging tail. Lay the yarn between the two loops at the top of the guiding wire. The Yarn tail should be in front, and the ball end should be in back. Next, pull the yarn tail down, behind, and to the left of the wire tail. Then pull the ball end down, in front of, and to the right of the guiding wire. The yarn is now through both loops, with the tail end closest to the rest of the ball winder.
2. Securing the yarn — Notice that the top of the hat-shaped spindle assembly has two grooves, where the bullet grazed the wearer as she ducked down. Turn the “hat” so that one of the grooves is close to the guiding wire. Then lay the yarn across the “crown of the hat,” positioned in both grooves. I like to leave a longish tail, at least 6 inches (15 cm). Some people like to put a stitch marker or safety pin around the yarn at the “crown” so they can find it easily.
3. Turning the crank – Pull the guiding wire toward you as far as it goes. Place your right hand on the guiding wire, loosely holding the yarn against the wire itself or against the table near the wire. Then turn the crank clockwise with your left hand at a slow steady rate, and use your right hand to put a small amount of tension on the yarn that is being fed to the ball winder.

When I was new to winding yarn, my preferred method was to cup my right hand around the guiding wire. I could use my palm to keep track of the yarn being fed to the winder, and I still had my fingers free to check that the yarn was wrapping correctly around the spindle assembly. Now I don’t bother checking the spindle assembly because I can tell I’ve got problems when I feel heaviness or lightness as I turn the crank.

Winding While Walking

If, like me, you don’t have very many good flat surfaces to clamp your ball winder to, you can remove the clamp from the Knit Picks model and attach the fixed handle. The handle is about as long as the guiding wire, and its general shape is like the handles at both ends of a big rolling pin.

Attaching the handle is simple.

1. Turn the ball winder so that the bottom of the base is facing the ceiling.
2. Run a finger around the flat end of the fixed handle, noticing two small tabs around the edge.
3. Locate a large circular recess in the center of the base.
4. Run a finger around the circular recess in the base, noticing two small notches around the edge.
5. Position the fixed handle in the circular recess so that the tabs fit into the notches. (This is where technical manuals get all male-and-female).
6. Twist the fixed handle clockwise until you feel it click into place.

The winding process is the same. The yarn is run through the guiding wire, secured on the spindle assembly, and wrapped around the device with the crank. In fact, the first few times I wound yarn, I balanced the winder on my stomach or thigh while I did exactly what I described in the previous section.

Once I felt comfortable with the process, though, I grabbed the winder by the fixed handle, catching the yarn between the handle and my palm, and cranked away. I paused to check frequently the first few times, but eventually learned to trust the yarn and the crank to let me know what was going on.

I decided to get a ball winder because I had a few hanks of yarn to work with, but I bought the cheapest one I could find because I thought I wouldn’t use it very often. It’s turned out to be one of the handiest gadgets I have, and I really do use it fairly often. I’m glad I got the Knit Picks Ball Winder because, aside from selling at a great price, it gave me a chance to experiment with the clamp and the fixed handle. I discovered I’m a fixed handle kind of gal, so much so that I didn’t try the clamp until today as I was preparing this post.

Clump

I’m going through one of my intense knitting phases. This means I’m thinking, reading, and doing knitting more than usual. The current obsession involves polygons, poetry, and grafting, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s uppermost in my mind is my loyal assistant Clump.

Clump is a sloppy ball of worsted acrylic yarn that is the remnant of a finished project. The name comes from his or her (depends on the color) blobby form when rolled into a fist sized ball. S/he serves me for two or three years, roughly the time it takes my mother to point out that I have lots of yarn around the house, none of it as scraggly. Other unpleasantness may occur between the remark and clump’s forced removal, but such memories are too yarn-tragic for this venue.

Anyway, Clump is always acrylic because acrylic is more forgiving than vegetable fibers and less dainty than animal yarn, so I get a fairly realistic sense of what I can expect. S/he is always accompanied by a longish needle so I can work my swatch flat or in the round, and the reason for choosing worsted is that the yarn is big enough to examine the work carefully.

Clump and the needle sit on my desk. I reach for them and work up a sample when I happen to come across a new technique while researching the translation of “drive-by shooting” or reading up on the Braunte brother. They sit on my nightstand or next to my favorite chair. I reach for them to exorcise the various possibilities for whatever I’m trying. They sit in the knitting basket with my project yarn. I reach for them when I want to make sure the experimental venture that just popped into my head won’t screw up my lace project.

And no, there’s no doubt in my mind that, when the nuclear bombs go off and life forms are down to a few mutant humans and the roaches, we’ll be wearing Red Heart Super Saver ponchos, leggings, and thongs, not any of the higher yarns, and we won’t have to worry about ruining our clothes. So why not make friends with Clump’s kindred?

I can’t imagine a knitting life without Clump and highly recommend that all yarnies adopt their own Clumps too.

Learning to Love the Loom

Contributed by Renee Van Hoy

Why would you want to try loom knitting?

Well, it is fun, but that’s not the only reason. People who are challenged by reading patterns for crochet or knitting often find they can loom knit without difficulty. People who have trouble with their fingers, hands, and wrists often find loom knitting causes less pain, which is a huge plus. People who want simple and fast can find projects that suit them and so can people who like projects that are detailed and complicated.

How can you start?

Looms come in a wide variety of sizes and materials. They also come in different gauges just like knitting needles and crochet hooks. Most loom knitters start with the Knifty Knitter, a set of 4 round rings found at local craft stores. This basic set is a good way to try loom knitting for a small investment. When you find that you love to loom, you can expand your loom collection dramatically.

Where can you find patterns?

Although there are not nearly as many patterns and tutorials available for loom knitting as for other needle arts, there are enough to keep you busy for a very long time.

For books about loom knitting, Bookshare is a great resource. Here are some titles to start with:

• The Loom Knitting Primer
• Learn New Stitches On Circle Looms
• Learn to Knit Cables On Looms
• Round Loom Knitting Patterns
• Loom Knitting Pattern Book
• Learn to Knit On Circle Looms
• Knifty Knitter Booklet 2
• Knitting With The Knifty Knitter

For contact with other loomers, there is a very active on-line community ready to help the new loomer. The Knifty Knitter Loom Group at Yahoo Groups is hosted by a talented blind loom knitter from the UK, Helen Jacobs-Grant. Helen spins her own yarn, dyes it in natural dyes, and looms it into wonderful creations. She also writes and shares many of her patterns, and gives freely of her loom knowledge.

For an online looming reference, go to Loom Knitting Help. While there are many other tutorials for loom knitters on the internet, most of them use video clips or PDF files. Loom Knitting Help has tutorials that can be accessed with a screen reader. There is so much information that the site can be overwhelming at first, but it’s worth getting to know as it’s a great place to find looming tips and instructions.

For individual patterns, check loom knitting blogs or Ravelry. The majority are free, with some of the more complex offered for sale. The patterns often come as PDF files. Some of these files are accessible as is, but if my screen reader cannot work with them, I can often access them by using the “read aloud” function in Acrobat Reader. If I still can’t access the content, I have found that the pattern authors are usually happy to send me a plain text file on request.

These are some of my favorite pattern writers:

The Loom Lady: Brenda specializes in patterns for small toys and decorations, and has created “loomchet” a loomed version of crochet.

Kelly Knits: Kelly has written wonderful patterns focusing on Intarsia and designs within the loomed fabric.

Bev’s Country Cottage Loom Page: Bev has put together some great lists of loom patterns, and has an especially nice collection of baby patterns and patterns for the beginning loom knitter.

Invisible Loom and Craft: Well, this is my own blog. I focus on loom knitting for the visually impaired and blind, and offer over 30 patterns. The patterns come as large print PDF files, but just contact me and I will send a plain text version. My goal has been to push the boundaries of loom knitting, and I have focused on lace patterns for the past year.

As with other stitch arts, loom knitting can be as easy or as complex as you want it to be. There are many reasons to try it, inexpensive looms to start with, and lots of resources to get yourself going. So why not give it a try?