Thursday, October 28, 2010


This is one of the things I do in my spare (hah!) time.

This is the first time in five years I've had the space to set it up!  But what's that?

Yup, high hat stands make a GREAT stand for coned yarns.  I pull the outside end, and it rotates nicely, giving me a smooth, tangle free working yarn.  Score one for clever!  This is some 100% cotton don't know what that I'm using to make bath mats for the kids' bathroom.  Go team cotton!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Everybody needs an editor

My secret sweater has just entered testing, which has gotten me to thinking about the whole design process.  In my pre-yarn life, I started as an editor of translations.  Well, before that I was a translator, but that's fairly irrelevant.  Any editor will tell you, everybody needs an editor.  I gather that a lot of folks think that's just us defending our jobs, but it's not.  See, my brain does not work the way your brain does.  What I may think is perfectly clear may be confusing to you.  I may miss that I misspelled "biology" as "boilogy" even though I reread my draft fifteen times.  And in design, this is, in large part, where pattern testers come in.  Now, testers are not and should not be expected to be tech editors or copy editors, altho they will often catch the same kind of mistakes.  But a test crocheter can tell me if my sweater actually fits a ten year old.  I don't have the time (or yarn!) to make every one of my patterns in every available size, and even if I did, I probably wouldn't have a model to test the sizes on.  I have done so many crochet yokes that they are automatic to me, so sometimes I forget to say in my pattern where, exactly, the fsc bridge should attach... and you bet testers catch crap like that!  So to all my testers, past, present, and future, a hearty thank you... I'm going to do my best to not need you any more, but boy do I appreciate your help!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Speaking of buttons...

Look what I've been up to today.  Carefully, carefully stitching these cute little ducky buttons onto a top secret project.  It is nice to have hands that work again!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

204 MOP buttons

It should be no secret, I suppose, that I really, really like buttons.  Generally speaking, I go for simple, classic buttons, the sort that integrate with the piece without distracting the eye.  But at the same time, I want to be able to say, "hey, that's a pretty button" when I look close.  So when I saw these beautiful mother of pearl buttons on eBay?  Sold.  I am now the proud owner of 102 half inch MOP buttons and 102 one inch MOP buttons.  I've avoided having a button stash this long, but I guess it couldn't last forever.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sweet Violets Cardigan

For finally, my sweater pattern!  Worked in one piece from the top down, the yoke is designed so that the overlap can easily be adjusted to fit a wide range of body types without making the sweater lie funny.  Check it out on Ravelry, my available patterns page, or click through right here!  Available in girls sizes four through ten.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thoughts on fiber: Alpaca

Yup, I got tired of coming up with cute titles for these.  Blame the children... they have been throwing up on me all weekend, and I am exhausted!

Alpaca is currently a very popular fiber.  This is understandable, as alpaca is (generally speaking) delightful to work with.  It is soft and smooth.  If you like natural colors, alpaca can be your friend, as the beasties come in about fifteen kajillion different colors.

The downside of alpaca is it has absolutely no memory.  Seriously, look at South American fashions from back in the day... see any ribbing?  Cables?  Nope, not a chance.  Ribbing done in alpaca just sort of sags out of shape, and doesn't do any of the things ribbing is supposed to do, except maybe look cute.  Even for lace, many knitters complain that 100% alpaca is too saggy to properly show the pattern.  Of course, this isn't necessarily a BAD thing... you just have to figure out how to use it.  One of the easiest ways is to just mix your alpaca with a nice, springy wool, like merino.  That makes you loose some of the unique alpaca qualities though.  My advice is simply to choose your patterns very carefully.  Crochet edgings can lend your work support.  Make something that's supposed to be soft and drapey, and it will work just fine!

The other big deal with alpaca is that it is supposedly hypoallergenic.  This is true, but not the way most people think it is.  Hypoallergenic simply means that something is less likely to cause an allergic reaction than similar substances, not that it's impossible to be allergic to it.  Believe me, you can be allergic to alpaca!  It is simply less common than wool allergies.  In addition, alpaca contains no lanolin, which eliminates lanolin allergies entirely.  So if you're allergic to wool, it is certainly worth a try.  But don't pin all your hopes and dreams on it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ulnar nerve impingement

Most hand crafters have heard of carpel tunnel syndrome, however I have discovered another chronic wrist problem that I think deserves some attention.  You see, the carpel tunnel nerves only control half of your hand -- the thumb, fore finger, and middle finger.  The pinky and ring fingers are controlled by another nerve entirely, the ulnar nerve.  This nerve runs through the elbow along the ulna (one of the bones of the fore arm).

Why am I talking about this?  Because I have it!  And to be effective, you have to treat it differently than if you had CTS.  The main reason for this is because the ulnar nerve is usually pinched off not at the wrist (where you feel it), but in the elbow.  That's why I am typing this from far, far away from my computer, in order to keep my elbow straight.  Immobilizing the wrist can help UNI, but it will not make it all the way better.  My tips:
  • Wear a wrist brace AND elbow brace at night, keeping those joints straight, as long as you have pain.  It's annoying, but it really helps.
  • Ice baths.  I recommend this for carpel tunnel, too.  Fill the sink with cold water, and float some frozen water bottles in it.  Get it as cold as you can!  Then dunk your hand and arm (up to the elbow) in your little ice lake for five seconds.  No more!   Repeat frequently as long as you have pain.
  • Go to this website.  They have a series of exercises that seem to help a lot.
  • Pause often while crafting to rest and stretch your shoulder, elbow, and wrist.
  • Don't be afraid to go to your doctor!  This is the next step for me.  Don't assume that they will just want you to have surgery.  There are a number of therapy options for UNI.  In fact, surgery is seen as an absolute last resort, and is usually only recommended if you have muscular degeneration in the area.
So take care of your hands and arms!  Rest them if they are sore!  Don't end up like me, unable to crochet until my arm feels better!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Silk, glorious silk!

Silk is, without question, one of my very favorite fibers.  Nothing quite says "luxury" like a little silk  Which is funny, given that silk is basically caterpillar spit.  It is made from the cocoons of the silk worm, a little caterpillar that eats mulberry leaves.  It is not a vegan fiber.  The first step in the process of turning cocoons into yarn is dropping them into BOILING WATER!  Needless to say, the little larva isn't coming out of this one alive.  After that, either an end is picked up and the cocoon is unreeled from there (reeled silk), or the cocoon is stretched out over a frame.  If you're a spinner you may recognize this part -- it's where we get silk hankies, caps, and bells.

The biggest misunderstanding about silk, I think, is that everyone thinks of it as an extremely fragile fiber, handle with care.  This is both true and false.  Individual silk fibers are actually incredibly strong, as long as they are dry.  They are just incredibly fine, so they catch on things easily, and shockingly fragile when wet... especially if it's hot water.  That's why they dunk the cocoons in boiling water before they unwind it.  It opens up the fibers and softens them.

What does this mean for us silk users?  Well, silk does have to be washed very carefully, lest it break.  I treat silk like I do fine wool that I'm afraid will felt.  No agitation, no wringing!  The other option is to get it dry cleaned.  Once it dries (flat!), however, silk is pretty durable.  I think that silk blends are great, for example, for a very special baby item that you wouldn't mind hand washing.  My youngest's coming home sweater, for example, is a silk blend.

Pure silk is also very expensive, generally speaking.  There are some exceptions.  If you were to say order your silk from eBay, where there are a number of sellers from overseas who carry 100% silk yarns, you can get a real steal.  That being said, it's difficult to say if it's really silk, or if it's actually rayon.  Of course if you conclusively proved it to be rayon, eBay's fraud department would help you out, but it's difficult to prove one way or the other.  That being said, there are a number of very affordable silk blends.  I'm very fond of Misti Alpaca Pima Cotton and Silk, and of Crystal Palace Yarns Panda silk.  Both give you that sheen and silky hand, without the crazy price tag.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My first knitting injury

I have always been quite pleased in that I seem to have very durable hands.  Hours and hours of yarn work do indeed make them a little sore, but a bit of rest has always made things right again, even when the pain is from using itty bitty needles or hooks.  No more.  I seem to have found my gauge of pain, and it is, surprisingly to me, bulky yarn on US 10 needles.

I don't usually work with bulky yarn, and when I do, it is usually crochet.  But... it is such a cute little bag.  Today, however, I have a serious ache through my left pinky finger and into my wrist, despite having done no yarn work today whatsoever.  Surprise!  A knitting injury!

I have therefor put together a list of tips for craft related hand pain.
  • Try to go back and forth between projects of different gauges.  Different sizes of needles and hooks put strain on our hands in different ways, and by spreading out the stress, you can avoid injury.  It is also helpful to go back and forth between knit and crochet, to mix up the use of your hands and wrists.
  • Loosen up!  Knitting or crocheting tightly places more strain on the muscles and tendons of the hands.  Try wrapping your yarn around fewer fingers to tension it, and try to relax as you're working.  You will naturally loosen your stitching.  You may need to change needles to accommodate your new more relaxed gauge.
  • If you do develop pain, take a rest.  Don't try to push through... that's how injuries happen.
  • If you have persistent soreness, try hot or cold compresses.  Whether heat or cold works for you will depend on the exact nature of your soreness.  Cold works best on inflammation and swelling, and heat works best on tension.  A combination of both may work very well for you.  Experiment and see what helps.
  • Try taking an anti-inflammatory half an hour or so before a long yarn session.  Having the medicine already in your blood stream can prevent inflammation from occurring in the first place... this is however something of a last ditch solution, as pain is how our bodies tell us we are causing damage.  As inconvenient as it is, it is a useful signal.
In summary, the best way to stay out of my position is to take care of your hands.  They do a lot for us crafters, and we are very demanding of them.  Here's to hopefully fast healing, and a long lifetime of pain-free yarning.