Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My Yarn Stash Gem

TSCArtyarns Zara Hand-Dyed

I mentioned before that I really don't like to have a large yarn stash, but I was the grand prize winner and an individual store winner of the Triangle Yarn Crawl, which made my stash grow considerably. I only made one purchase during the yarn crawl and that was for a gorgeous yarn that I had to buy even though I did not have a project in mind. I purchased this yarn only for the colors. I didn't know the fiber content or the yarn's weight. I didn't even pay attention to the brand.

I used mostly acrylic yarn that I purchased from chain craft stores before I did the yarn crawl. I have since broadened my horizons and fallen in love with wool and wool blends. One of the brands that I haven't purchased yet, but hope to get my hands on, is Artarns. I really like their line of shiny beaded and sequined yarn. But, that's for some time in the future.

I'm wrapping up several projects and decided to check out this anonymous yarn that I purchased during the yarn craw. It looked even more beautiful than I remembered and my brain lit up with design ideas. I pulled the label from the center of the ball and discovered it was TSCArtyarns Zara Hand-Dyed, which is a joining of Tahki Stay Charles and Artyarns. It turned out this whole time I had been window shopping Artyarns, I already had some in my stash.

I was slightly disappointed that I marked this yarn to make a gift for my mom. But, I enjoy working with fine yarns even if the product will be given away. I investigated the label and saw that it was “100% Extrafine Merino Wool”. I haven't knit with luxurious merino yet and it will be nice to compare some regular ol' merino that I have with this “extrafine.” I still don't know exactly what I will make with this yarn, but it has motivated me to finish up my projects.

I haven't posted for a while since I have been obsessively spinning yarn and doing very little knitting. I have been working on a post explaining how I do gauge swatches. I will also have some spinning posts coming up soon.

Have you been lucky enough to find gems in your yarn stash that you didn't realize were there?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Drop Spindle Your Own Handspun Yarn

My drop spindle that is stained green from my green fiber.

I was recently at the Carolina Fiber Fest and saw a booth with a few spinning wheels and price tags that let me know it would be a while before I could spin. I went to another booth to buy a book. In my peripheral vision I saw a woman at the spinning booth using this 12-inch stick thing to spin yarn. Unfortunately, it was time for me to leave and I didn't get to ask the woman what she was doing. I went home and searched online for something like, “spin yarn by hand.” I found dozens of videos for using the stick thing, which turned out to be a drop spindle.

That one demonstration has become a Pandora's Box for my fiber world. I watched every video I could find of people using drop spindles. This was my alternative to an expensive spinning wheel. I took a class for the drop spindle just last weekend. I haven't had much practice since the class, but I look forward to my next fiber purchase so that I can spin, spin, spin!

I wanted to show my drop spindle in case there are others interested in spinning yarn, but can't afford a wheel. I have seen some basic, but high quality drop spindles on Etsy for $10-$25 dollars. And then of course Etsy also has some gorgeous intricately designed spindles. A lot of yarn stores carry spindles and fiber and many spinning wheel manufactures make spindles. You can learn a lot from watching the videos available online, but nothing beats learning in person. I liked being able to ask questions and receive corrections.

Your first yarn probably won't be something that you can knit with, but you may be one of the lucky ones who picks it up right away. A spindle is not as fast as a wheel, but some use spindles exclusively. They are worth learning on because of their portability. I will take mine to some spinning groups when I get a little better.

My first 3-yard hank of handspun.

Do you already spindle or use a wheel? Or, may spinning be in your future?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Knitting Gauge: A Mildly Essential Tool

I consider the knitting gauge “mildly essential” but, I want to be clear that I am NOT saying that checking gauge is unimportant. Gauge is especially important when it comes to garments, but I'll make a post about checking gauge in the near future. I purchased one of those beginning knitting kits when I first learned to knit and I think that it came with a knitting gauge that I never used. It was a long time before I knit anything where gauge really mattered. The reason I say that a knitting gauge is mildly essential is that you can use a standard ruler to check gauge.

The pictured gauge is from my Boye set of interchangeable needles. The 2-inch vertical and horizontal windows on the left edge are what I use to check the rows and stitches per inch, also known as gauge. I use the needle gauge on a regular basis since sizes aren't marked on my interchangeable set. It also has a 6-inch ruler across the top for small measurements. Basically, I use this for a lot more than checking gauge. You can buy these alone and they are often packaged with kits. It's also worth looking into some unique and handcrafted gauges since it is a tool you can buy once and keep forever.

Do you use a knitting gauge or ruler to check gauge?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Knitting Aid: Row Counter

One of the tools I am using while knitting my socks is a row counter. After a decade of knitting I finally decided to buy one. My original method for counting rows or pattern repeats was tally marks. There is nothing wrong with saving the money and using pen and paper. I decided to make the change now because I have a toddler who likes to come and snatch things and its easier to keep up with one row counter than a pen, paper, and something to write on. I usually hide my row counter under my thigh so that he doesn't see it.

Most row counters I see are similar to the one I purchased, which is made by Clover. They count to 99 and then reset to 0. I have seen a few that will count to 999 and have separate number sections to count two things such as stitches, rows, or pattern repeats. I have also seen a few apps that have customizable counters. I also like the clicking sound they make. It is aural gratification that makes me feel like I am making progress. That click means I have just completed one more row, and then one more. It is much more satisfying than tally marks.

The only drawback I have found is that the top will sometimes get pressed if the row counter is bouncing around in my project bag. Then I have to spend some time figuring out which row I am on. This has happened a few times while working the chart for the socks I am knitting. I make a mental note of my last row at the end of my knitting sessions, but my brain sometimes fails me.

Do you bother with a row counter or use another method?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Unfinished Sock Woes

I wanted to share my UFO for this week. I am working on a pair of socks and I wanted to have the first sock finished this weekend, which did not happen. One of my knitting goals for 2014 was that every piece I knit have at least one element that is new to me. These socks have multiple new elements and they are driving me crazy.

It is my first time using fingering weight yarn, size 1 needles, and legit stitch markers. It is also the first pair of socks I have made and for some reason I decided to make it even harder on myself and knit them using the standard continental method instead of my usual combined method. In hindsight I think that I would have enjoyed making a sock in a worsted weight sock yarn with simple ribbing.

The sock pattern is called, “Elm” from The Knitter's Book of Socks. I instantly fell in love with the pattern and I rarely find a pattern that I want to follow to the stitch. This may have actually been a first, but I fell in love with the stitch pattern and not the overall sock design. I should have considered that I don't like long socks. The more I get into constructing this sock the less I think it is something I will wear and that has hindered my motivation.

I still really like the stitch design. It is basically a repetition of the 3 x 3 rib pattern used for the cuff. As it moves towards the toe the ribbing shifts and appears to crisscross in a beautiful way. I get a little fed up with the constant decreases and increases, but the finished socks will be beautiful. My only variation on the pattern is that I used Ty-Dy Socks Dots by Knit One, Crochet Too instead of the pattern's specified yarn. I saw this at my local yarn store and grabbed it on a thoughtful impulse. Its one of my favorite sock yarns.

I'm giving myself another week to finish the first sock and then I will work on another project before I start the second one. I need to give my hands a break from the small needles. Do you have any never-ending projects?  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Beginner Basics: Garter Stitch

I want to talk about what is usually the first stitch pattern learned - garter stitch. My Psychology teacher was not a knitting professional or even American, so terminology was not emphasized. Some of the early patterns I worked through would say something like, “work garter stitch until piece measures four inches.” I would then look at one of those teach yourself books to figure out what garter stitch is. Most newer pasterns write out the stitch patterns in the general notes, but you may run into “work garter stitch,” in older patterns.

What is Garter Stitch?

Garter stitch is simply performing a knit stitch across the row on both the right side (front of the work) and wrong side (back of the work) of the work. The first thing I knit with my Psychology teacher was a garter stitch scarf. I cast on around 45 stitches in a worsted weight yarn and knit every stitch of every row until the scarf was approximately four feet long. I ended up with a scarf that was too wide and too short. I never wore it, but I still have it.

I was very anti-garter stitch after making that scarf. I find garter stitch takes a bit more effort physically than stockinette stitch and I think there is a mentality that its too simple once you move on to more complex stitches. But, after knitting for years I have fallen in love with the humble garter stitch. I think that it is a beautiful stitch in all its simplicity. It also works beautifully as an edging to prevent stockinette stitch from curling. Many throws and baby blankets have garter stitch borders.

How to Count Rows

Garter stitch is also one of the easiest stitches to count the rows. Each ridge of garter stitch is made of two knitted rows. If a pattern calls for 15 rows of garter stitch it is easy to count each of the ridges and multiply by 2. That will give you the total number of rows that have been worked. It is important to remember that the cast on row is never counted and the stitches that are on the needle count as one row. Seven ridges, plus the row of stitches that are on the needle would equal 15 rows of garter stitch.

Below is a quickly and poorly knit two-color garter stitch sample. I started alternating white and blue ridges (six rows) followed by two blue and two white ridges (eight rows). Then, it is back to one ridge of each color. The cast on and bind off rows aren't counted for a total of 18 rows.
Please ignore the uneven tension and unwoven ends :-)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Product Review: Creative Comfort ™ Crafter's Comfort Glove

I decided to try the Crafter's Comfort Glove because I often suffer from swollen and stiff fingers after long knitting sessions. The box says that they provide relief for arthritis, swelling, pain and cold hands. I knew I had seen something like this at my big box craft store and of course none of the employees knew what I was talking about when I asked for their specific location. I had to walk the sewing aisle several times before I spotted them wedged in a tiny space that was surrounded by large cutting mats. They come in sizes small, medium, and large and have a guide on the box for choosing the correct size.

I first experimented using the gloves with my fingering weight sock yarn and they were nearly impossible to use. I found it very difficult to tension my yarn in my left hand. I hold the yarn in my palm for tension and I could not close my hand tightly enough to secure the yarn. It was more functional to wear one on my right hand only, but my size 1 needle kept slipping out of my hand when I tried to move into working position on the next double-pointed needle. I will revisit these gloves when I am working with larger needles and yarn.

One positive is that they make my hands feel a lot better while typing. They restrict my finger movement enough to add stability without losing speed and the open finger tips prevent any clumsiness. There is noticeable compression around my fingers and I think it will help with swelling. They are looser and very comfortable through the palms and wrist.

What devices do you recommend for hand comfort?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Crocheting My Stash

Yes, this is still a knitting blog even though I am talking about crochet. I am a terrible crocheter, but I have always been attracted to granny squares. They have that classic crochet appearance. People who are bold with color can make some stunning pieces.

I decided to use my easy center-pull ball stash to practice making them. I can do crochet stitches, but I have a hard time reading patterns and putting it all together. I crocheted along with a YouTube video to make these squares. Hopefully muscle memory will kick in soon. I don't love the colors, but I have high hopes for the final motif.

This post isn't about crocheting. I wanted to talk about some of my yarn stash habits. I don't like to keep a large stash, which is probably different from the majority of knitters. I rarely buy yarn just because it looks nice or because I may be able to make something beautiful with it. I like to have a project in mind with every purchase. Sometimes I will create a tiny stash because I buy yarn for a new project before I finish the current one. This bad practice encourages unfinished objects. Try to avoid.

It's hard to avoid a small stash of leftovers. I can't think of a time when I had a project that magically used every inch of yarn. Some leftovers are perfect for embroidery or other embellishments. I also use them to experiment with color and stitches before I am ready to do true swatching. 

Do you like to keep a large stash? How do you use your leftovers?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Tangled Mess

Just when I said I have not had any problems with tangled center-pull balls purchased from my local yarn store I end up with this mess, but this ball was already wound. I had a few close calls from the start. I would have to give a less than gentle tug, but it continued to pull from the center in one beautiful strand. My last major tug birthed a huge clump of yarn.

For most people this is a source of frustration, but I have to admit I was mildly excited. I enjoy untangling things. Untangling my parents jewelry was a reward for me. Fingering weight yarn did pose a bit of a challenge. I knit as much of the slack as I could, but stopped when I noticed the yarn was fraying. I had to cut twice and ended up with a little ball that I wound around my fingers.

It was unfortunate that I had to break the yarn in the middle of a sock – more ends to weave. It also wasn't the best idea to break the yarn at the end of a double-pointed needle. I had a hard time maintaining tension on the old and new yarn, which resulted in ladders for a few rounds. I still love center-pull balls despite today's hiccup.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Cheap and Easy Center-Pull Balls

I think center-pull balls of yarn are the bee's knees. I like that i don't have to put down my knitting to unwind yards of yarn to avoid the ball bouncing around. I used to distrust center-pull balls because they tangled so often. I only recently started shopping at my local yarn store and haven't had any problems with the balls they wind for me.

I had some yarn left over from my latest project and the skein was in a tangled heap by the time I finished using it. I remembered that my Vogue Knitting Knitopedia has directions for making a center-pull ball using an empty toilet paper roll. It was a very simple process and went by faster than I expected. I still don't think I will use this method for large hanks of yarn, but it is perfect for leftovers that will go into my yarn stash.

I pulled apart the roll at its natural seam to secure 
the yarn end pointing inside of the roll.

Then I wrapped the yarn around to form an X. I wrapped 
several times to form the left diagonal then changed 
directions to form the right diagonal. 

My third small ball. 

I did three progressively better balls, but forgot to insert label information before I removed the roll. The book suggests using a figure-eight, but I had trouble doing that method. I think that it will form a neater and more balanced ball. My real test will be if they all pull from the center without any snags.

Do you like to make your own center-pull balls? Have you tried using a ball winder or a nostepinne?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Beginner Basics: Long-Tail Cast-On

The first cast-on method I learned was long-tail, but I didn't learn the name of it until a few months ago when I was looking for another cast on method. My Polish Psychology teacher who taught me to knit just said, “Hold the yarn like this. Do this.” That was my casting on lesson. But, there is a reason it is usually the first cast-on method learned. It is extremely versatile and works for most knitting patterns. It's also fast and easy once you get the hang of it. It also gives you a row of knit stitches. Purling the first row will have you in stockinette pattern, but note that most patterns don't consider the cast on row as the first row. I wanted to share a few things about long-tail cast-on that I have picked up.

Estimate Tail Length

20 loops over 2 needles so that I could cast on 20 stitches.
The loops don't have to be neat and tidy.

For years I would estimate tail length by pulling out yarn until I knew for sure I had enough. I ended up wasting a lot of yarn that way. Eventually I started to estimate half an inch for every stitch I cast on. This method also resulted in tails that were too long and I didn't want to pull out measuring tape with every new project. My new favorite method of estimating tail length is by wrapping a loop around both needles for every stitch that I need to cast on.

I am left with a tail long enough to weave in
after casting on 20 stitches.

First row of purl stitches establishes stockinette pattern.

Cast-On Over Two Needles

I prefer to cast on using two needles so that the first row is loose and easy to work. If I need a tight cast-on edge I can use one needle, but there are rare occasions when I use one. Nothing will put me off knitting faster than a tight first row of 50 stitches or more. My first time using a cable needle I cast-on over 100 stitches and became extremely frustrated knitting the first row. Since then, I cast on over straight needles, two cable needles, or both ends of a single cable needle. It just makes life easier.

Please share your feedback if you have a different preferred cast-on or a better way to estimate tail length.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Recommendation: Knitting Over the Edge

Yesterday I mentioned a book that pulled me from my knitting rut. I had passed it several times at my local book store and always made a mental note to check it out next time. I wonder where my knitting would be today if I looked at the book years ago. I was very fortunate that this book was at the library at the right time.

The reason Knitting Over the Edge by Nicky Epstein appeals to me is that it has techniques that give knitwear a polished look. A recent project of mine was a baby hat. The pattern was very basic, so I browsed the book for inspiration and fell in love with a few of the applique flowers. The flowers were fast to knit up and enhanced the beauty of an otherwise simple hat.

I have to admit that appliques and cords were my favorite part of the book. I like having them as fast take-along projects and their uses are endless. One of the appliques in the book struck me with a pattern idea that I will show in a future post. Sometimes just the color choices will light up my brain with a completely new design. This is not the book for you if you want a lot of words and explanations. There are pictures of every design and patterns are often in chart form. Stitch counts are given so that you can work the designs into your own patterns.

If you have not purchased the book already, it is worth at least trying to find it at your local library. This has become a permanent member of my knitting library.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Welcome to Southern MaMa's Knits. Ten years ago, my high school psychology teacher taught me to knit. Hooked instantly, I spent most of my free time knitting as many things as my parents' budget allowed. My enjoyment gradually faded as I ran out of useful projects. You probably wonder how I could run out of projects. It wasn't that difficult. I don't wear knitted clothing at all, so I was left with a few accessories, home d├ęcor items, and gifts. My interest quickly faded as life got busy.

I didn't pick up needles again until three years ago when I was pregnant with my son. Knitting him a baby blanket brought back a little of my knitting joy, but a passion wasn't sparked. That didn't come until recently when I knit a baby blanket for a pregnant friend. I went to the library and checked out as many knitting books as I could find.

In the end, I went with a pattern by Lion Brand, but one library book made me feel like a beginner again. My mind started firing off with new designs and inspiration. I have been knitting daily since I read that book and I am not bored yet. I decided to document my knitting adventures to help others avoid falling into a knitting rut.

I would like this to become a community so, please share your thoughts! Have you ever had to pull yourself out of a knitting rut?