Treasured Tools of the Trade

As I mentioned in Possibilities, a recent joy of mine has been collecting tools and oddments associated with needlework.

It is so much fun to come across these tools, used mostly if not exclusively by women, which were integral to their Making. I love the real materials they are made of – the heft of the metal, the solidness of their construction. And in so many there is a real beauty of design. I treasure them and have been using them with my own work; there is something special about using these tools that have been part of hand crafting for a nearly a hundred years or more.

A Susan Bates stitch and needle gauges for knitting and crochet, the ubiquitous standard. Same for the plastic stitch/row counter. I have had these for several years and they have served me very well:

But the gauge is made of very bendable, thin aluminum. And the plastic row counter always feels cheap to me when I have it next to my hand knits – so much work and such beautiful yarn seems to deserve better accompaniment.

Now look at some examples from years past:

A modern pine darner, unfinished:

It looks washed out and without character to me! Contrast with these two beautiful oak darners from my great-grandmother’s workbox:

A little rust and signs of wear that she actually used them to darn socks. I love that they are part of my collection and use.

One more:  a Jahncke’s Mitrailleuse knitting needle case:

This is likely from the 1880s; I am charmed by the brass end caps, beautiful enamelling, and the stylized printing on the case.

And there are even a few of the original “knitting pins” still within!


Do you have treasured tools for your crafts and making – be they old or new? I’d love to hear about them.


Well, I think I’ve found my favorite spinning fiber so far: merino/seacell blend! I’d knit with tencel before and loved it, but not seacell. And I hadn’t spun it until a few weeks ago when I started on a roving from Dragonfibers (no longer around), which I bought from Village Yarn and Tea (sadly, also no longer around).

Dragonfiber’s pencil roving in a colorway called Koi.

This fiber is luxurious: slick and slightly heavy, it is shiny and drapey.

I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to use it. As I opened up the skein I saw that what had looked like an already thin roving was actually two strands dyed together.

I split them, and spun each onto its own bobbin.

Then plied.

I had 188 yards of aran/bulky weight yarn.  This yarn is wonderfully soft and so I wanted something right next to my skin. I decided to knit a cowl. I modified this pattern to include some of the texture, but then simplified it to show off the yarn more than the original pattern allowed.

At first I wasn’t sure whether plying was the right thing to do because it mixed the beautiful colors so much. But as I knit I decided that the plied yarn was better than singles because the singles would probably have turned out too stripey and made the cowl look more Haloween-y than Koi-y.

Planning worked out just right – that little bundle of yarn in the top picture is all I had left over after casting off. Wouldn’t have made it another round. Perfect!

Now, since spring has just arrived, I won’t be silly enough to say that I want fall to come soon so I can wear this snuggly soft cowl. But if I *did* say such a thing, you’d understand why, right?

Sea & Sky

A couple of weeks ago I decided to try something different on the spinning wheel. I have a few things to knit for baby boys who are about to make their grand appearance, so I thought I’d try spinning up the blue cormo I got from Crown Mountain Farms last summer.

This blue-on-blue colorway is called ‘Clapping with One Hand’ in cormo, but ‘Sailing’ in merino. That name, Sailing, was a big influence on why I bought it last year: I got it just when Tom left for his trip to Hawaii.

I’ve never spun cormo before, and this was also the first fiber I’ve spun from Crown Mountain that hasn’t been corriedale pencil roving. But cormo is a cross of corriedale and merino, both of which I love spinning.

The colors were just right for what I wanted for baby knits, though, so I got to spinning. My plan was a 2-ply worsted weight, so I split the original bump into two equal (by weight) nests.

It was during this first step that some questions about this fiber began to form in my head. As lofty and soft as it looked in the bump, I was amazed (and more than a little disappointed) to find it incredibly dry-feeling, slubby, and not very smoothly prepared as roving.

The fiber was so dry – I can’t imagine that there was any lanolin left in it at all – that it was almost sticky. That’s not the right word… clingy or catchy, maybe. This made it quite hard to spin at first, until I decided to quit trying to spin what I wanted (smooth and regular worsted) and start trying to spin it how it wanted (irregular and aranish weight).

You can see how lumpy and uneven the roving was:

I didn’t split the lengths of roving before spinning for two reasons. First, the prepared roving was already split, totally unevenly, in a bunch of places. Second, I wanted to retain as much fiber alignment as possible for a worsted-spin method – so having a bunch of pulled fibers going every which way would not have been helpful. But I did pre-draft each section as I unwrapped it to loosen the fibers and make it possible to draft them somewhat evenly while spinning.

But… even with all of that going on, it was not nearly enough to stop me from spinning! It’s all learning opportunity, right?

The two bobbins of singles were lovely.

Plied and on the niddy noddy:

The final yarn ended up too bulky for the projects that I wanted, but it is very pretty nonetheless. The colors range from the robin’s egg blue of the sky, to bits of white recalling wispy clouds floating above, to a steely teal that so resembles the waters of Puget Sound. 

Sea and sky:

Sea & Sky:

I love the experience of trying new fibers and spinning methods. What new things have you been trying lately – especially anything that seemed like it might not turn out too well but provided some type of upside? I’d love to hear.

Sheep Sweat

Yeah, you read that right. Sheep Sweat. This week’s #1 search term for Contemporary Insanity!

What did we do?!

Here are some pretty pictures to distract you:

Mountain Fire

Blue Moon STR in SweetPea

Sunshine and frost.

Clean Jacob locks ready to card and spin.

First true flowers of the year

Puffs and puff yarn - 22


Although I haven’t mentioned it here yet, a few months ago I started offering some of my handspun and a few possibilities in a little shop on Etsy: MinkRoadMonkeys.

I haven’t done any promoting, just let the thing float. And along the way a thing or two has gone to a new forever home with much joy from me.

Well what do you know, but the wonderful CharmTopia selected this yarn, which I am now calling “Blue Berries”, to be featured in a Treasury List she created “Blueberry Surprise.”

How fun! Please check it out as a way to say ‘thanks’, and also because I’m sure you’ll want to see the pretty blueberry-ish things on her list up close, as well as the really beautiful jewelry in her shop.

Determined Denial

I am totally aware that for many Knitters, Gauge is a pretty major issue. But since I mainly deal in scarves, mittens, socks, and puffs… well, gauge just hasn’t been that important.

Until this happened last week:

uhhhh, WHA?

It all started so benignly. One lovely Turkish Bed Sock,

began who knows when but certainly over a year ago. Knit with lovely sock yarn from HelloYarn in a colorway called Swell, on size 2mm dpns. As I knit this first sock I get all kinds of sassypants, thinking that since it’s quite ridiculous to have to mattress stitch the sock closed at the end (and I hate finishing) I just join the sides as I go. Lovely! Excellent! Sock #1: Done!

Well, nearly. As usual, I balked at the Kitchener. So instead finishing it like a normal person, I left the toe open (because it will be less pain to do them both at one time, right?) and cast on for the second Bed Sock and knit the ankle wrap and heel. Since my contrived joining thing on the first sock was a bit fussy and time consuming, I decided to knit the second sock to pattern and don’t join as I go.  Brilliant!  It’ll knit like hotcakes. Decision made and bedtime approaching, I decided I was done knitting for the night at this point:

Sparklie things distract me the next day and the day after that. Eventually the sock parts get shoved into the UFO Knitting Projects cabinet. Before I know it, 12 months or more go by.

(Please note – all pictures from this point forward are dramatic recreations to help illustrate the finer points of this mysterious and astounding story.)

A couple of weeks ago I was overcome by a debilitating bout of finishitupitis. The Bamboo scarf came off the needles. Angelberry got several new repeats. I started rooting around in the UFO cabinet for other knitting misfits that I could quickly bust through. The Ishbel? No, too much lace left to knit. The Red Cap? Maybe… but that’s still a lot of knitting. The white mitts? Meh, too wintery.

Then I unearthed the socks.

Perfect! I convinced myself that I could pound them out in an hour or so of truly dedicated knitting.

  1. I’ve pulled out the original nearly-finished Sock and the second partially-finished one. I take a look at the pattern. Since the needles are still in the second one I’m all ready to go. I toss the original sock on the desk at my elbow, then start knitting on the second one.
    I power out the flat piece that goes across the arch of the foot. In minutes I’m cranking out rows like nobody’s business. Finishitupitis is AWESOME!
  2. I join in the round and start knitting the ball of the foot. It’s a set number of rows, and after I’m about halfway done I think offhandedly Hm, this section looks long to me.
    I glance at my first sock and it looks fine – and I followed the pattern with it, so no issues there. I keep knitting.
  3. I finish the foot and begin the toe decreases. At this point, I am definitely thinking that the second sock looks ‘a bit’ looser than the original… and possibly longer as well. I should check, but by now I’m knitting on the couch and the first sock is in my sewing room, an insurmountable 17 feet away. I keep knitting.
  4. I’m totally knocking this thing out. I’m knitting the toe. It’s nearly done. But… it does seem to be rather pointy. And big.
    Uh yeah. Really big. I wonder whether I omitted the knit rows on the first sock – a trick I’ve taken up to have socks match my squared-off feet. I can’t remember for certain when I started doing that trick, but I’m sure it wasn’t until recently and so I’m sure I didn’t do it on the first sock since I knit it so long ago. I keep knitting.
  5. Finally I’m done! Just the Kitcheners left to do! I walk the sock into my sewing room and pull out the original too. As I set them down side-by-side, I am actually stunned by what I see.

    That’s 2.5 inches of difference there, folks. And not just that – the left sock is too small for a 10 year old and the right sock is too big for a troll.  And here’s the thing: In my consciousness I knew that second sock wasn’t right, but my subconscious just kept overriding it and refusing to see the problem. Or wait – is that ‘subconscious’ and ‘conscience’? Conscious? Whatever, I’m confused enough as it is without worrying about homonyms and whatnot. And please, PLEASE, don’t get me started on Freud.

What else could this be besides a raging case of Determined Denial? I wasn’t drinking… though I probably would have done better had I been.

Turns out that at least three things were going on here – first, and possibly most importantly, the needles I left in the second sock weren’t the original needles, but a pair of placeholders that were a size larger. Second, since a year or so ago, I’ve been making myself learn to knit more loosely. I’d been knitting so tightly that I was putting a lot of strain on my hands and causing some pain. I can’t risk that with the sheer volume of knitting I have planned for myself! Third, I *did* skip the knit rows on the first sock’s toes. (OBVIOUSLY)

Seriously – I am at a complete loss to explain how I could have been surprised by this. I have no excuse, but it’s TRUE.

Do I frog and reknit? Frog and puffknit (PUFFS! WOO!)? Throw in the trash? What do you think?