Monday, March 26, 2007

Ode to KPO's

You know I like knitting toys, and you may have already guessed that I love my Knit Picks Options (KPO) needles. I love everything about them!

As I progressed in my knitting skills, I quickly left straight needles behind for circulars. Because of my bad habit of having many WIP's at once, I usually bought a new set of needles for each project.

My original circulars were Susan Bates needles--those grey coated needles and slightly stiff cables. They were fine for the basic type of knitting I usually did. Occasionally, a plastic circular (I hated that! the tip was too flexible) or a Clover bamboo would join my growing needle collection. I also mastered double points (DPN's)--mostly clovers until I discovered the lovely texture and points of Crystal Palace bamboos.

Somewhere along the way I got turned on to Inox Express and Addi Turbo needles. I loved the sharp points (especially on the Inoxes), slick, smooth finishes, and the soft, flexible cables. Then I learned Magic Loop technique, and for my birthday 2 years ago I invested in a 40" needle in every size from 0 to 13 in Inoxes (Addi's for a few that weren't available). But I still had the problem of not being able to find the appropriate needle because it was in a WI (not really in Progress) at the moment. Finances had changed, and I could no longer afford to buy new needles for every project. I also knew when I took a needle out of a WIP and put the project on a temporary holder, it was highly unlikely that the project would ever make it back on needles again.

Around that time I made the holder a la circular solution (see "Pimp my knitting part two, below), but I wished that I had a neater, tidier way to organize my needles.

I started to lust after the Denise set of needles, but deemed they were "too expensive". I liked the organization of the case, the wide variety of needles, the fact that I could have many WIPs with the same size needles, etc.

I think the entire Denise set was about $25 when I started thinking about buying it. I hemmed and hawed for YEARS!!!!. I kept hoping I'd find them somewhere on sale, or at Michaels or Joanne's where I could use one of the 40% off coupons (I SWEAR I read posts on the Knitlist where people said they found the Denise set at one of those stores and scored it with a coupon), but I never found the Denise needles at Michael's or Joanne's or for less than list anywhere around here.

Finally, about a year ago, a local sewing store started to carrry some yarn and needles. Since it was the only non chain store in my town carrying yarn, word spread quickly and they expanded the knitting section. They even carried Denise needles. AND, they had online coupons for as much as 20% off your purchase. Good enough, I finally took the plunge--only now the set was about $46 dollars.

I swear, it was no more than a few DAYS after I finally bought my Denise needles that KnitPicks came out with the Options needles. AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!! I think I am wholly responsible for th release of the KPO's. The knitting gods learned that I had finally purchased the Denise set, and THEN decided to put my dream needles on the market. LOL!

Don't get me wrong--there's nothing at all wrong with the Denise needles. But I don't particularly like plastic, and the cables were thick and full of annoying memory--even though they were flexible enough to do Magic Loop, if you could put up with the memory part. I had been thinking for years that an interchangeable set of Inox-type needles would be my dream needles. The Denise needles were great, but they were not like the needles I prefer to knit with.

So, I plotted and schemed and finally decided that life was not worth living until I had the KPO's in my hands (OK, a bit of exaggeration there!). I asked for a gift certificate for my birthday and planned my own custom order of needles, the case, and accessories to fit within that budget (OK, I paid a little bit more, but not much). WG came through (at the last minute so I had to WAIT to get my birthday gift until 1st the gift certificate came and then for my order to arrive--but now he's forgiven).

Here's why I love them so:

1) The case: I almost didn't get the case. It looked kind of cheesy in the catalog, but I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. (See photo and description in Pimp part Two). It's beautiful and organized.

2) The needles:

a) I love a sharply tapered point. Addis are too dull (I haven't tried the new Addi lace needles yet). Inoxes are barely sharp enough. These are perfectly sharp. If you don't like or aren't used to a sharp point, you might find these annoying. You have to be extra careful not to split the yarn. But they make lace knitting so much easier, and I'm learning to be careful on the cotton bamboo yarn I'm using on the ruffled surplice.

b) I love the slick, nickel-plated surface. The knitting just glides along. Every once in a while I come across a yarn that I can't handle on slick needles, but it's pretty rare. When that happens, I still have bamboos around to handle it. But for most everything, the surface on the KPO's--just like Addis and Inoxes--is wonderful. Like "buttah"!

c) Smooth joins. I love not having to push the yarn over the place where the needle joins the cable. Even some of my Inoxes have a problem here. KPO's do not.

d) Flexible Cables--the most flexible cables I have found, bar none. Inoxes were my heretofore favorite, but the KPO cables beat them for flexibility and lack of memory. Once the needles are screwed on to the cable and tightened with the "key", they stay on very tightl. I've only had one needle loosen one time, though I keep checking in case it happens again. Luckily, it was just slightly loosened after a lot of knitting without problem, and I didn't lose a thing.

e) The "toys". I love having the end caps and cable "key". When I first got them, I was disappointed that I couldn't change needles every few minutes to play with my toys. I did find it hard to keep track of the cable keys and they weren't all that easy to grasp to tighten the needles to the cables, so I made my own "handle" out of polymer clay.

What do you think? I know my polymer clay skills can use some work, but I like it anyway.

I purchased a set of the tags, but instead of putting them on WNIPs (works not in progress), I put the tags in the plastic pockets holding the needles so I can see at a glance what size the needle is.

I also bought the KP needle gauge, but I'm not impressed with that. Too plastic, and the magnifier doesn't work for me to use for gauge determinations--I just can't see in the little window (this is a problem with my eyes more than the tool itself).

The whole "package" that comprises the KPO set is just sublime IMHO. I don't work for KnitPicks and have no affiliation, but I am one very satisfied customer.

I love my KPO's!


Monday, March 19, 2007

Pimp My Knitting: Part Duex--Contain Yourself

Well, I did not make it to post Part Two on Sunday because I was having too much fun! I am an only child, so all the aunts and uncles who spoil my kids rotten and whose visits are much anticipated come from WG's side of the family (he has two brothers and two sisters). But I have two very dear friends who I went to high school with, and their visits are as close as my kids get to family on my side. This weekend we had a visit from my dear friend, Susan.

I met Susan on the first day of the second semester in freshman physical science. In that class we sat at tables of three, and all first semester a very cute guy sat in the center seat of my table. I had a little crush on him. So on the first day of the second semester, Susan showed up and SAT IN HIS SEAT, and he was never seen in that class again. Ugh! I hated her. But she kept showing up in my other classes, and I soon learned that she was smart, funny, and very pretty but totally unaware of her own beauty. Soon, we became best friends.

It was an odd friendship from the beginning. Susan is very tall, I am fairly short. We looked like Mutt and Jeff when we hung together. Susan is incredibly brilliant, fast thinking, and articulate. I never thought of myself as smart, and I am shy and not articulate at all. She was perfectly at home with the popular crowd and every smart boy in our school had a crush on her. I blended into the background and hung out with the science geeks when I was being sociable at all (more often I had my nose in a book at lunch and between classes). Susan is athletic--she even played (Powder Puff) football. I am the antithesis of athletic. But something clicked and we were good friends throughout high school. She is the only classmate I kept in touch with when I went away to college and beyond. This year (oy!) we will be attending our 30th high school reunion--we've known each other for 34 years.

So, when Susan swoops in to town, it's never a dull moment. We visited, ate too much junk food, and shopped, schlepping the girls along. It was Susan who treated E to a floor rocker she was eyeing in Target (mean, mean Mommy would not buy it for her), and brought JB a beautifully illustrated copy of The Prnicess and the Pea.

Oh, and she brought me an amusing gift, too!

A toilet seat.

It is a very good friend indeed who can bring you a gift like that and not offend. 'Nuf said.

OK, on to the knitting:

Almost as much as the tools, I love containers for my knitting projects and for my tools. I have too many bags, baskets, and other containers for knitting around my house. I consider them decor, but WG is not of the same opinion. Recently he commented that he finds knitting bags everywhere, most containing just a ball or two of yarn, and he wants to know what that's all about.

Either I've finished the project contained in that container and that's the leftovers which have not been put away in my oddballs collection or charity bag, or it's an abandoned object. I tend to pick a particular container for a particular project, and it's gotta be "just right". So there are a lot of containers that just aren't in use at a given time--they may be when they are needed for some future project. Also, I sometimes move a project from one container to another to accomodate where I'm going to knit--in the car (while someone else is driving, of course!), on a plane, in a lecture, at a meeting, in bed, in the recliner, in the knitting room/office at our house.

My current most favorite knitting container is this basket I got from Trader Joe's for about $8. It must have been designed with knitting in mind. It's lined and there are four generous pockets inside. There is a drawstring closure to keep Jazmine's nose out of my yarn. The basket is lightweight and easy to carry. It's quite attractive IMHO.

Right now I am knitting the placemats from Sally Melville's Color book, and nothing could be more perfect to contain this project! There are exactly four colors in this project, so each ball of yarn has it's own pocket. There is plenty of room in the middle of the pockets for my thread cutter (hey, a favored tool that did not make it to Part One), the WIP, and my typed row by row description of the pattern. The woven surface of the basket even reflects the woven appearance of the linen stitch placemats. It's divine!

I wanted one of thes African Market baskets for quite a while, but couldn't spend $25. I found this one, slightly misshapen, at Ross for only $5. It has held many a project (like the ill-fated to the Cottage Sweater for WG), especially bulky ones like big wool sweaters and felting items. Recently, I found a "Purse Bright" organizing system (As Seen on TV!) for just $9.99 and bought it for this basket. It has lots of little pockets to store items needed for the knitting, and a light to help me find things in it's depths. I don't have a current project in this basket, but I think the Purse Bright will help. So now I have $15 invested in it.

For socks and lace weight scarves and shawls, I like this drawstring bag I made. It is made out of a remnant of Ultrasuede I got for cheap from the fabric store in a calming mushroom color. It's just the right size for a ball of yarn, a set of needles, and a small project. I can hang it on my wrist and knit standing in line or waiting in a waiting room. It tucks discretely in the center console of my car when I need a small project to have with me "just in case". I usually tuck a typwritten copy of the pattern in there too, and hang a few extra rubber markers on a safety pin in the bag in case they are needed. Sometimes I tuck in the little crochet hook (see Part One) to fix mistakes if necessary. If I carried a large enough purse (I don't, but I used to), I could tuck this in the purse.

I have a collection of various canvas bags WG and I've collected from conferences to carry the odd knitting project. I try to keep in mind that the bag advertises something, and be mindful of what the reaction might be where I carry it. Recently, WG got this great nylon bag from a wine conference, it is the best of this type of bag.

I like this small tin "lunch pail" for small projects like socks.

Another favorite for small projects is the felted Moebius basket I made following a pattern from Second Treasury of Magical Knitting by Cat Bordhi (these Moebius projects are the most fun you can have on one circular needle!). The hand pin belonged to a good friend of mine who died of lung cancer last year. Her husband gave out her collection of hand jewelry (she was an occupational therapist and certified hand therapist) to her friends. I only put the most special projects in that basket.

Occasionally, I use a cute shopping bag for a project. E wanted me to use this pink bag I got at W for her Ruffled Surplice. It matches the yarn!

As I said, I also love the containers for tools and notions. Here are just two of my collection of tins for holding stitch markers, tapestry needles, row counters, safety pins, the odd earring, etc. I have one of these beside my bed, one in my knitting chair, and one in the current WIP baskets or project bags. My favorite is the Celestial Seasonings Tea Bag box. It's a bit smaller than the others (i.e. Altoids), but very pretty, and it smelled like the tea (apple cinammon, yum!) for a long time.

I made a cover for this little tin out of FIMO, but never baked it yet. I can't decide if I like it or not.

When I travel, I use an old dental floss container to hold a few rubber ring markers and safety pins. The floss cutter on the container works for cutting yarn--great for airline travel. (Not pictured).

Containers for needles are another thing I love. I don't knit with straight needles except very large needles for scarves and occasionally with DPN's (rarely, I use Magic Loop for EVERYTHING). I just keep all the straight things in this glass vase by my knitting chair.

I tried all sorts of things for my circulars, but hated everything. I wanted something like the "Circular Solution", but I don't like the printed white fabric. So I bought a remnant of a heavy woven fabric and a purse handle, and made my own version (email me if you would like the pattern for this). There was a enough fabric to make two, and purse handles come in pairs, so the second one went to a Knitlist buddy in Pennsylvania (Hi Marty!). I think it's quite attractive, if I do say so myself, and I love how it lets the cables of the needles relax. I added the little number tags purchased from the scrapbook dept of the craft store so it would be easy to find the right sized needles. I also attached a needle gauge to check needle sizes.

Last but not least is the zipper case for the Knit Picks Options Needles. It didn't look like much from the catalog picture, and I was not expecting it to be as nice as it is. IT has an attractive cloth cover with leather (not sure if the leather is real) trim and a zipper all around. There are generous interior pockets at either end, including a zippered pocket. There is a pen-holder loop in the back. The rings are large and easy to open. This would make a great Day Timer notebook and I think it was very reasonably priced at $19. I don't have any of the KP project bags or the magnet board, but it coordinates with them.

The plastic pockets are just the right sizes to hold the needles, cables and notions and there is a good combination of two each with one section, two with two sections, two with three sections. My entire collection of KPO needles fits in without bulging. The whole thing is neither too small nor too big. It will stand on end like a book or lie flat. I am very happy with this case, as I am with the entire set. Way to go, KP!!!! NAYYY.

I had the Denise set for a time. I admired the organization of the set and it's plastic case, but I thought it was a bit cheap and kitschy. I didn't like that the cables and needles fit in there one way and one way only. I don't mean to dis it--it was a nice set, but I'm much happier with my KP.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pimp My Knitting: Part One (WARNING: Image heavy)

My current WIP is the Ruffled Surplice from the current issue of Interweave Knits. This is part of the left side. It is an odd shape right now.

I love knitting toys. Needles, tools, gadgets and notions!

People often ask me what all the appendages are hanging from my knitting.*

<- I use double rubber ring markers to remind me to decrease and change the pattern.

I like the rubber ring markers, but I also make my own beaded markers. Coil-less pins are used t0 mark increases and decreases, & pinch hit for markers on small gauge needles. (Click on the photos for larger images) ->

To keep track of rows, I mount a barrel row counter on a rubber stitch marker (sometimes I use those little figure 8 holders for eye glasses (see the sheep marker below) and place it a few stitches in on the row of knitting. Every time I pass the marker with the counter, I advance the counter to count the rows.

I try to pick these up whenever there is a sale and have some on hand for a new WIP.

This is a homemade row counter. It works like an abacus. On the left (dark blue beads) are the ten's and on the right (light blue beads) are the one's. This one is showing the 15th row because one ten is pulled down and 5 ones (the dark blue bead on the right is to indicate "5").

Right now my sheep marker is there to remind me which side of the knitting is the right side, but the sheep can also ride along with the knitting like any stitch marker.

<-(This sheep marker has the eyeglass thingie I was describing above).

My latest gadget is using a bread tie to hold the extra cast on yarn tail. This was something I learned from Tomme in my new office--Thanks, Tomme!!! What a great idea! She actually had larger ties from potato sacks, but we didn't have any large potato sacks lying around our house.

I like cute tape measures. The sheep on the left was my only tape measure and I couldn't find it for months and months. I finally decided it was lost and bought a new one at Stitches West (SW).
Just a few days after I brought the new one home, Jazmine decided to play with it. She bit into it and broke the spring. (I suspect one of my children participated in this destruction since the tape was pulled all the way out and the dog does not have hands to have accomplished that). So I did a bit of surgery. I removed the destroyed tape measure (the empty sheep carcass lies there with the tail pinned to the inside with a large safety pin), and I'm looking for a new tape measure to put inside.
Meanwhile, I found the doggie on sale for cheap and bought that as a consolation prize.
Of course, after buying two tape measures to, I found my original sheep. Just call me "Bo Peep".
I guess I have a collection now.

Well, I have a lot more to show, but this post is getting image heavy and long. That means I have blog fodder for another day, so check back soon--I'll probably post again on Sunday night.
Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions. I know I have a lot to learn about blogging, but I hope you find this interesting and fun.

*Many of these ideas are from Maggie Righetti, author of Knitting in Plain English. I mean no disrespect to EZ (Elizabeth Zimmerman), whom many consider THE Knitting Goddess (and she is), but Maggie Righetti is MY Knitting Goddess. I thought I could knit before I read Maggie's book, but after I read her book (and worked through her instructional projects) I could KNIT. I am forever indebted to her.

Monday, March 12, 2007

An Introduction of Sorts

Welcome to my knitting blog!

I'm new at this, so please be patient with me. I've been thinking quite a while about starting my own knitting blog, so here I am.

First, a little about me:

I am in my "latter" forties. I live in a beautiful town north of the Golden Gate Bridge in California's wine country. I am married to WG (a.k.a "Wine Guy") and we have two beautiful daughters, "E", who's 14 and "JB", who's six. (I am not using their real names to protect their privacy and safety.) I work in a lovely office in a fairly common (and legitimate--shame on your thoughts!) profession. We have a "brain damaged", yarn and FO-eating black lab and pointer mix we rescued from a shelter (her real name is Jazmine--who cares about her privacy and security!) and some fish.

I learned to knit as a teenager when my aunt from Florida visited. She lived in a senior retirement condo "village" where all the ladies sat out by the pool in the hot, humid Florida weather and knit hideous 70's fashions in acrylic yarn. She taught me to cast on, knit, and purl. I knit a square in some acrylic color that doesn't occur in nature under her tutelage and planned to make more for a patchwork afghan.

I never picked up the knitting needles again until E was born--many years later. She was born in December and it was cold, so I bought some Caron yarn (for acrylic, it's pretty nice) and a Leisure Arts book of baby patterns and made her a little cap with a ridiculously large pom pom on the top. And ear flaps! She and the cap were cute as a button together. I was hooked.

ASIDE: I'm not really a yarn snob (I'd just as soon use Lion Brand Woolease as expensive designer yarn), but remembering those scratchy (probably Red Heart) hideous 70's knitted objects still has the power to make my skin crawl.

After I knit the cap, I fell headlong in love with knitting and never looked back. I amassed an embarassing amount of knitting magazines, books, yarn, and tools on almost no budget and very little time.

When I discovered knitting on the internet--oh my!!!!! I read every post on the Knitlist every day and my awareness of the knitting world and my skills inceased exponentially. I went from very simple, basic knitting, to socks, cables, intarsia, and entrelac. I bought a Bond Incredible Sweater Machine and used it just long enough to figure out I didn't enjoy it at all.

I went to my first Stitches and even took classes. I met other knitters that expanded my horizons even more. I would drive to Berkeley, San Francisco, and all sorts of other places to meet my knitting friends and explore different LYS's. I loved to drive to Berkely (about 1 1/2 hours away) just to go to Straw into Gold (boy, I MISS that store!!!). I took up spinning and even bought a wheel (right before I began studying for my advanced degree, so I never really mastered the wheel).

Somehow, knitting survived my post graduate degree program--I worked two jobs throughout and little JB was born in the middle of it all--but still I knit. It has been my anchor. When I'm knitting, the rest of the world goes away, and sometimes it's the only time the stress doesn't feel like it's crushing me.

So what do I knit? I'm an eclectic knitter. I tend to have many WIPs going at one time, plus a host of abandoned projects (I'm slightly embarassed by that, and making an effort to be better about finishing these old projects this year).

I love knitting lace. I've knit an Orenburg Shawl (out of cashmere!), Eugen Buegler's Lace Dream, and I've been in the middle of the Lily of the Valley for longer than I care to admit (I've started and frogged it many times because I find the pattern very complex and I've made many unredeemable mistakes). I love to knit socks, but haven't made many lately. I've knit sweaters for myself (though not recently). I made the "To the Cottage Sweater" from Sally Melville's Purl Stitch for WG (but, he won't wear it because the neck is too wide), the Lion Brand strawberry sweater for JB (she is SO cute in it) and right now, I'm making the Ruffled Surplice from IK for E. I like felting and have made many pairs of Fiber Trends felted clogs and the felted fish (it was fun!)

There are many other AFO's (almost finished objects) lying around that I will report on as I complete them. Also on the needles right now are the linen stitch placemats from Sally Melville's Color book.

And I'm thinking of doing the TKGA master's program.

I love reading about knitting (magazines, books, internet lists, and blogs), I love the process of knitting, and most of all I love the toys (tools and notions). My latest toy acquisition is my KnitPicks Options needle set which I love more than fancy jewelry or pretty household objects. (Thank you, WG, for my birthday present!) In the near future, I will dedicate an entire blog post to my Options needles. The set is just so--sublime!

Interestingly, I'm not big on acquiring yarn stash acquisition unless I have a project planned--though sometimes I can't resist a ball of something lovely, soft and colorful. Still, I have a modest stash, mostly leftovers from abandoned projects and those oddballs I can't resist.

I hope this blog will be a fun place to visit and share about knitting and coping with life in general. I don't promise frequent updates, lots of photos (organizing all the steps from camera to computer to blog is often beyond my tired little brain) or the wonderful caliber of writing I enjoy in other blogs. I'm not artistic and talented in blog layout or anything. But I hope you find this a place to sit down and set a spell, put your feet up, take out your knitting and stay awhile. Welcome to my blog.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Under Construction

This Blog is under construction. If you are a knitter, check back sometime and see what happens.