Five tricks to using DPNs without pain (by Robyn Devine)

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Picking up your first pair of double-pointed needles can be both incredibly scary and supremely exhilarating. To make something using them instantly makes one feel like an expert knitter but to charge forward and use them takes a fair amount of “yarn balls”!

While it can seem overwhelming – why did five of them come in the pack, how do I go from one to the other? – mastering them is much easier than you may think. All you need are a few helpful hints to get you pointed (HAH!) in the right direction. Here are five tips I’ve picked up along the path to mastering my DPNs.

Trick #1 – Be sure your stitches aren’t twisted before you join for working in the round! This same advice goes for knitting with circular needles – by twisting the stitches around the needles, you end up knitting a Mobius at best, and a hot mess at worst. Take a few extra minutes to be sure your stitches are situated properly before you begin, and you’ll have much fewer headaches as you knit along.

Trick #2 – To prevent the “jog” that happens when switching between needles, move your stitches from one needle to the other. Most first-time users of double-pointed needles will comment on looser stitches at the change point between their needles. To prevent this, simply knit the first stitch off each needle onto the last needle, rather than onto your new needle.

Trick #3 – Use three different colored needles so you always know where you’re at in your round (ex: red, then yellow, then blue, done. Yellow, then blue, then red, done!) One of the biggest mistakes I made when learning to use DPNs was losing track of which round I was on. By using different colored needles, I was able to track where I was at in the process and keep my rounds straight!

Trick #4 – When decreasing for a hat, the space between needles can count as a stitch marker! This equates to less stitch markers used, and an obvious point for decreases!

Trick #5 – If you have trouble joining for working in the round, cast on with two sizes larger of a DPN, and then switch all stitches to the right sized needles. You’d be amazed at how much more room you feel you have!

Test out these tips one at a time or employ them all at once and you’ll find your double-pointed knitting adventures becoming easier and easier!

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Stitch Markers: A Knitters Best Friend (by Whitnee Humphrey)

April 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Needles, Hooks and Notions

I got a phone call the other day from my best friend. She asked if I could talk and that she needed help. I said sure and the first words out of her mouth were “my son has a giant head”. Naturally the first thing that goes through my mind is that this sweet little three year old has gotten his head stuck somewhere and she needs someone to calm her down while help arrives. Luckily this was not the case. It turns out she is knitting him a cute little hat and the pattern is too small for his giant head. My best friend has fairly recently begun to knit and has only done basic projects so she needs help modifying the hat. I whipped out the laptop, read through the pattern and told her exactly what she needed to do to make the hat larger. As I was reading through the pattern, I noticed that there was a pattern repeat. I explained that it would be wise to learn to use stitch markers for this pattern or she might just end up with a few gray hairs!

Stitch markers are a wonderful invention. They have kept me sane through a few projects, as well as made them fly by that much faster. Before the phone call from my best friend, I had never really thought about people not knowing what stitch markers were used for. I taught myself to knit from a book and they were discussed in there. I have taught several people to knit and I don’t believe I have ever once covered stitch markers in any of my lessons. Now I realize this was terrible of me!

Are all stitch markers created equal? No! There is the obvious difference between larger and smaller markers. Larger markers fit on larger needles. And yes you can use the larger markers on smaller needles, but be careful as big markers on small needles with small yarn can equal a big gap in the knitting.  A friend of mine, who used to own a yarn shop, taught me something wonderful to use for stitch markers: baby hair bands. These look like those rubber bands that you use on braces. They are multicolored and I believe they can be found in the toddler area, with the rest of the little girl hair accessories. The bands that I bought came separated by color in a plastic container. They are not sticky feeling like regular rubber bands so they don’t get stuck in the yarn. These do not create holes at all. I do find though that when I am working with a heavier yarn, I like a thicker marker.  There are also split markers which can be used like a regular marker but they can also be used to mark a stitch in the actual body of whatever you are knitting.

Stitch markers do not have to be used only when the pattern calls for them. You can use them any time you want to mark a stitch or a group of stitches.  The times that I most commonly use them are:

  • Any time there is a large number of stitches. You can break down that 400 stitch count into a smaller, more manageable number. This comes in handy when casting on or when you are KIPing and that wonderful friend of yours decides to count by tens while you are trying to double check your stitch count causing you to have to start over again and again.
  • Pattern repeats. *K1, P4 , K1* Repeat across row. By marking each repeat, you don’t have to wait till the end of the row to realize that you are one stitch off at the very beginning of the row. Tink, tink, tink. When you get to the end of that particular repeat, you should know that you are off. I found this saved me from pulling my hair out when knitting lace.
  • Places you want to keep an eye on. For me this is usually the borders. I am knitting a scarf for my mother right now that has a 4 stitch seed stitch border on each side. If I don’t mark the stitch, sometimes I will get going and not realize that the first stitch needs to be a purl instead of a knit. It may be only one little stitch, but it still takes time to tink and then correct.
  • Measuring length. Knit 4 inches ST st, increasing on each side on even rows. Then knit another 4 rows of ST st with no increasing. Where do you measure from? Sometimes it is hard to tell which row to measure from. If you mark that with a split marker in the middle of the row, it will be much easier to measure from.

So why use stitch markers? Because they can save you a lot of time in your knitting and keep you sane!

You’ll find colored rubber stitch markers (pictured above) in the ACCESSORIES section of the KNIT SHOPPE under the NAUGHTY STUFF page!

What’s In A Notions Bag? (by Robyn Devine)

April 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Needles, Hooks and Notions

Most advanced knitters carry around with them a bag, full to the brim with tools to help make their knitting time easier and more productive. But when you’re just starting out a trip down the knitting aisles of your local craft store (or a visit to the notions section of your LYS) can send you into a tizzy in a hurry – all those extras, many with little to no explanation!

Never fear, Robyn is here! With this handy list of my seven favorite items you’ll want to have in your notions bag from month one – along with what each item is used for and some possible substitutions! – you can be sure you’ve got everything you’ll need to make your knitting time just as productive as the pros!

Stitch markers. These bad boys can be bought in bunches of plastic, multi-colored packs, or you can purchase them from Etsy sellers and other knitters. I’ve had my plastic ringed stitch markers almost from day one, and have slowly acquired some pretty beaded ones that I whip out when knitting something extra special. Don’t feel like you need to spend a lot of money on these, though – especially at first. You can even substitute strands of contrasting colored yarn, safety pins, or hoop earrings in a pinch!

Yarn-only scissors. No matter how new you are to knitting, you’re going to need to cut your yarn ends off at some point. I recommend keeping a pair of “knitting-only” scissors in your knit-kit. This way your scissors won’t get dulled by cutting paper, hair, or anything else, and you always know where your scissors are! Mine came from the dollar bin at Target, although I know knitters who have spent up to $20 on their pairs.

Cable needle. You may not think you need this at first, especially if you’re not cabling quite yet. I’ve used my cable needle to pick up errant stitches, however – this is actually more often what I use it for! I got a three-pack at my local craft store, so I know I’ve got a cabling needle that will work for any size cable I want to make!

Darning needles. When weaving in ends, I’ve known knitters to use crochet hooks, but I prefer a plastic, blunt-tipped darning needle. Buy these in bulk, as you’ll find they are the item that most often goes missing!

Row counter.  I’ve pretty well stopped using mine at this point, thanks to an app on my iTouch – if you’ve got an iPhone or iTouch, you can find knitting apps for free! Most knitters, however, slip this onto their circular needle so they never lose track of which row they’re on!

Tape measures. I buy mine at the local craft store when they’re on sale for $1 – they’re known to be stolen by my kitties for play toys, and can break pretty easily. I should probably buy a nice one that won’t break, I guess. This comes in handy for measuring gauge, for measuring length/width of your knitting, and for determining sizing.

Pencil. I keep a mechanical pencil in my knitting bag at all time – perfect for marking rows and notes onto my knitting patterns, and great in a pinch to write something down or even pick up a stitch!

While there may be dozens of other tools knitters will tell you to pick up, or tools you’ll come to love in your years as a knitter, this basic kit will keep you happily knitting from day one!

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Knitting with wood, sticks & branches (by Knitting Doc)

February 24, 2010 by  
Filed under Needles, Hooks and Notions

My fifth birthday was quickly approaching. He kept calling them “knitting needles.” Some were brown and tan. Others, gray, black and very long. But the only needles I knew were the ones from the Dr.’s office which hurt.

Ah, Grandpap was my hero! What fond memories I have. My family called me a toe-head who was energetic, highly motivated and self-driven. For several years, I had watched Grandpap sit by the hour and move those hands so fast using roving and yarn from the sheep he raised on the farm. Being the eager little kid who always was curious and wanting to learn new things, I begged him to teach me to knit. It was one of those eye opening moments. He looked at me and just smiled in delight.

He grew up in Germany where all the boys and girls in elementary school were taught to knit as part of the normal curriculum. “Well,” he said. “I learned to knit when I was a boy so there’s no reason you shouldn’t learn how to do it too. It’s something that’ll help you and that you can do for the rest of your life. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. So, let’s go do some whittling!”

At the time, I obviously didn’t get the full gist of what he was saying — five year olds aren’t fully aware of stereotypes. I just knew Grandpap could do no wrong in my eyes. If he taught me how to milk cows, ‘slop’ the pigs, herd sheep, gather eggs and pull weeds, then knitting was no different.

Whittling? It all started to make sense. Grandpap whittled a lot. But Grandma said I was too young to be playing with a knife. I have vague memories of watching him whittle but never paid too much attention to it. Wow! When he said, “Let’s go do some whittling,” it all clicked!!!! All that time he was making his own wooden knitting needles. Not from dowels, but from wood, sticks, branches, etc. I still have that vivid image of us going to look for some wood to make me my own pair of knitting needles. He said he would have to make them bigger than his so that I could learn better. Since, I wanted to have the same ones which he had, I threw a little temper tantrum…..yuk! He was so loving and patient. “You’ll understand some day but it’ll be harder for you to wrap that sheep hair around the needle if it is too small.” And right he was!

Initially, Grandpap taught me to knit using the “throw” or English technique with very large needles in order to learn the mechanics and physics of knitting. Shortly, thereafter, I switched to Continental knitting so I could go “as fast as he could.” I remember the thrill of staying up late night after night practicing the long tail cast on for hours. I now laugh whenever I think of how frayed that precious yarn became after unraveling for the 10th time.

Funny. I could relate to “sheep hair” as a kid. Roving and wool as more abstract terms came later. I had watched Grandma clean, card and spin the ‘sheep hair’ many times but it wasn’t all that exciting to me as a kid. Now I long for those peaceful, loving moments spent with two wonderful people. Working with nature. Watching the lambs grow to adulthood. Shearing. Preparing the wool. Then using it to complete a garment to wear.

As I think about it right now, I was learning about life cycles. Biology, nature, mathematics, etc., all the while just thinking I was having fun with yarn and needles.

Fifty six years later I am still passionately knitting every day. I’ve weathered through some of those awkward years of being teased as a young man knitting. That stopped rather quickly after the bullies learned that I could do other “guy” things. Eventually, some of them asked me to teach them. Be true to yourself!

I’ve gone through the gamut of knitting throughout the years. Except for lace. Over the past several months, I’ve finally decided to go for it. Now I’m addicted to it. I didn’t know any better when I learned to knit and ended up cutting my own hair and trying to spin it. Guess I just figured that if it can be done with sheep hair then any hair will do! Sadly, though, I must say that after repeated attempts at learning to spin, I have never been able to do it. And it bugs me trying to figure out why! It looks so simple and smooth. Grandpap used to say, “Now just don’t worry about it. God will give you other gifts down the road.” How right he was.

It feels like Elizabeth Zimmerman and I were brother and sister. Having said that, “Knit on!”


Not All Needles Are Created Equal (by Aubrey Mayes)

October 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Needles, Hooks and Notions

We’ve all been there. Perusing our LYS or hobby/craft store, our heart all a-flutter with the prospect of the new pattern we just found, looking for perfect needles. But what exactly is the perfect needle? How do you determine which set to buy? It may seem like an obvious answer for some, but these are actually some of the most repeated questions I receive. Just like you wouldn’t buy the first yarn you see, the same should go for the trusty needles you depend on for your craft. There are many types of knitting needles, and all have their merits- and downfalls.

When purchasing new needles, always be sure it is a brand you trust. If it looks like something that would crack under the pressure you would put on it, then it’s probably not a financially sound choice. Also, though they may be more expensive up front, they do make sets of interchangeable circs, and I must say that they are worth the money in the long run. Interchangeable circs come in virtually any size, are usually made of quality materials, and do not generally need to be replaced as often as others may need to.

The first kind of needles I bought for myself came from EBay- a nicely sized lot of various gauges of needles, all plastic, save for an afghan set- which only cost around $5, including shipping. These needles demonstrate the importance of quality when it comes to the material the needles are made from. Slowly, one by one, all but two pairs of those EBay needles have broken. The plastic used in the needles was very low quality, and it could not handle the strain of garter stitch coaster knitting, let alone anything that required a purl stitch. It was not until I was stranded in the middle of a project with one and a half size 5 needles that I realized the importance of quality.

Not all plastic needles are poor quality. They are still not my personal preference, but they can be a little easier on the hands, and can come in handy when knitting something quickly, without dropping stitches. On the upside, plastic needles can be less expensive, and are definitely a good buy in a penny-pinch. On the downside, they can break very easily if they are very flimsy or have a small gauge. For instance, a size 2 may not endure as long as a size 10. When shopping for plastic needles, here are the things you should ask yourself:

  • Is the plastic strong enough even in a small gauge to complete my project?
  • Are the tips strong enough to not snip off as it enters a tighter stitch?
  • They may be the best deal, but is the lack of quality worth the price drop?

Granted, just because they are plastic, it does not mean they will snap on their first project- to the contrary, many brands have high quality needles at low prices, just be sure you know what you’re buying.

Aluminum needles are very popular with the knitters I have met. They usually cost a little more, but I must admit, I do love them myself. They generally have a long usage life, and are easily cleaned. They are also some of the best for knitting quickly, due to the slick surface. This quality can also be their downfall, as the slick exterior makes it easier to drop stitches, especially if you aren’t fully paying attention to what you are knitting (i.e. at a movie or a knitting circle) You can also not carry these onto an airplane or in federal buildings. When it comes to buying aluminum needles, I adore Susan Bates needles- not very expensive, high quality, and very durable. I also prefer aluminum needles when it comes to circs and DPNs, because it makes working in the round flow a bit better.  Here are some questions you should ask yourself when shopping for aluminum needles:

  • Am I buying these needles to use multiple times, or for a single project? (Esp. helpful when looking at prices)
  • Are these quality needles, or just showy?

Bamboo needles are really having a heyday, and I must admit, I am an avid supporter of bamboo needles. For instance, bamboo replenishes itself quicker that other trees, so I don’t feel as though I am damaging the environment as much. They also allow for quick knitting, but without the tendency to drop stitches like aluminum needles do. They are also a lot easier on your hands than aluminum needles, which can be especially helpful if you are a knitter with arthritis or carpal tunnel. On the other hand, they can be a bit more susceptible to breaking, though bamboo is highly sturdy and dependable. Also, dogs are very prone to chewing on them, and that is one test they do not endure well (Ask my size 8s…).  When you go to buy bamboo needles, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this a respected and reliable brand?
  • Is this something I can keep out of my pets reach?
  • Is this brand an environmentally friendly choice?

Some helpful, general tips:

  • Never buy needles you question before your project is cast on.
  • Lowest price does not always mean lowest quality, and highest price certainly doesn’t mean highest quality.
  • Don’t buy needles based solely someone else’s opinion or your own opinion. Always follow instinct, but don’t always allow your instinct to be driven by trends.
  • Remember that needles are not only a financial investment, but an investment in your project. How can you expect a quality finished object if you are not using quality needles?
  • Remember to always check gauge and length, whether the set is straight or circular.

Happy knitting!

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