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The Russians Used a Pencil

There’s a story that goes:

When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they discovered that ball-point pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat this problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 million developing a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 300C*. When confronted with the same problem, the Russians used a pencil.

Even though this anecdote isn’t true (partly because of the problem of graphite dust in the space capsule), it points to the elegance and obviousness of using something pedstrian rather than a bloated Rube Goldberg-type solution.

Rube Goldberg could have worked for NASA.

I practice voluntary simplicity, which is how I can fund my life by teaching yoga so I can stay home all day designing knitwear. I don’t have an iPhone or an iPad or any other iThingamabob (and its associated costs), so I don’t use any apps.

I do, however, know of several knitting apps—knitCompanionVogue Knitting iPhone App, JKnitBeeCount, etc. that enable you do such things as count rows, view charts, store patterns, take notes, keep track of yarn stash and needles, and advise you on the best snack to eat while knitting a lace snood. They’re mostly designed for usage on-the-go, but I knit and design at home. Plus, I’ve been knitting long enough to know how much yarn I need for a sweater, so I don’t need to consult an app if I stumble upon a sale at my LYS. And except for counting rows and viewing charts, I use Ravelry (free) for all the other stuff.

When it first came out, this Sirka™ counter made all the knit blog rounds.

Tracks three different counts AT THE SAME TIME (all caps theirs).

I appreciate the thought that went into its design, and I love that it’s analog, but it comes with a manual and video tutorials, which makes it twice-removed from obvious and pedestrian. Plus, it’s $20.49 + $2.49 shipping, so almost $23.00** for a dedicated device to do something that can be accomplished thusly:

Tracks as many counts as I need AT THE SAME TIME (all caps mine).

That’s Clover’s clicky analog Kacha-Kacha row counter [which isn’t absolutely necessary, but it speeds up my knitting (until I can learn to make tick marks with a pencil held between my toes)], some graph paper from a custom cabinet maker that I got for cheap at a thrift store, and a pencil. [Yes, it’s a mechanical pencil. (Graphite dust in my space capsule and all that.) And apparently, I like things that click.] Plus, I can use all three items for other things, like counting the number of times my redneck neighbor’s Doberman barks in the middle of the night and writing a note to them to please teach him that white-tail deer are not a threat to his safety.

When I use charts, which is often because I love cables and stranded colorwork, I make copies of them and pin them to a Lo-Ran Magnetic Board set against a music stand.

Pedestrianism at its best.

With this setup, I see the entire chart and can easily flip among multiple versions of a chart I’m testing for a new design. Can you do that with an app?

I’m not anti-technology. I own a computer and a netbook; my car has electric windows; I have a flip phone; my house has central heating and air conditioning; and I would save my Cuisinart in a fire. But I want technology to make my life simpler***, which is why when it comes to my knitting, I’ll always используйте карандаш.


 *Astronaut or not, if I’m in a 300C-degree environment, I’m not going to care if my pen works.

**With the right sale, I could buy a sweater’s worth of yarn for $23.

***I acknowledge that technology does enhance other people’s lives. My friend Angie uses an app on her iPhone to track her rows, because with two dogs, three kids, five cats, and a ferret, a Kacha-Kacha counter would get kachewed, kaclicked, or kahidden, and she’d never finish anything.

Divested Buttons

One of my favorite forms of entertainment is thrifting, as in shopping at thrift stores. I especially love small-town stores because they haven’t been picked over by everyone trying to pay their rent from eBay or Etsy sales. I’m blessed to live in the country, surrounded by other small towns and their thrift stores, so an entire day of thrifting can fill my car with treasures.

I recently donated some items to the little thrift store in my town, then wandered the aisles not really wanting to shop, but not wanting to miss anything. I have a certain route I follow, starting with the crafts and crafting books section (there was no knitting-related anything, though there will be after they put out my donation); then the coffee cups, looking for anything with a Starbucks logo (which goes for Seriousbucks on eBay); then the women’s tops in search of vintage sweaters; then the scarves and belts hoping to duplicate my find of the decade—a Gucci silk scarf for $1 that I sold on eBay and paid my mortgage; then the vests and “blazers.”

I have been known to wear blazers later than 1985, and I like and wear vests (it sounds much classier to call them waistcoats), but when I’m thrifting, I don’t look at these garments, I look at their buttons. They’re usually well-made, of good size, plenty, and coordinated. (Well, okay, I’ll make my first pass through the garments, assessing for possible inclusion in my wardrobe, then I make a second pass looking for buttons.)

Have you priced buttons lately? A quantity of yarn for a cardigan can cost less than the buttons. (I don’t knit cardigans; maybe this is why.) But a thrifted item goes for$1-$5, which can take the cost per button to well under $1.

I used thrifted buttons on my Irene Adler Pillow. Metal, embossed, shank buttons with a white patina that look like coins of the realm.

Regal detail on these buttons.

On this thrifting trip, I found a vest I liked for $2 that had worthy buttons. (Yes, I like this vest. Even if I hadn’t been watching reruns of Northern Exposure, I would like this vest. I’m not influenced by television shows.)

Yes, I actually like this vest.

Even the checker at the thrift store likes this vest.

Who can resist a grizzly bear on a patch of snow?

But the vest didn’t fit me. Too small. So I snipped off the buttons and reclaimed these beauties.

These buttons are dirty, not corroded.

A few light scrubs with Bar Keepers Friend, and:

After the magic of Bar Keepers Friend.

I have five clean, pewter 1-1/8″ shank buttons ready to adorn a handknit sweater or jacket.

As for the vest, I think I’m going turn it into a pillow for the little cabin in Alaska I’m strangely eager to live in some day.

Organizing 134 Knitting Magazines

A couple of years out of college and into my “career” in the 90s, I had lost interest in knitting, so (it still makes me queasy to think about this), I gave away all of the needles, magazines, and yarn I had accumulated since the early 80s.

And it wasn’t even to a knitting friend. I didn’t have any at the time. I threw everything into bags and dumped them at a thrift store. Yes, years’ worth of now-vintage Vogue Knitting.

When I picked up knitting again—on a trip to Monterrey, Mexico of all things—I had to rebuild my stash and library. And since I had money and an eBay account, it happened pretty quickly. According to my Ravelry library, I have 134 magazines, which seems like a low count compared to what I can see on my shelves.

Eventually there came a time that I needed to organize them, which was on January 6th, apparently, because that’s when Amazon says I bought eight of these magazine files—with two-day shipping because I was motivated. But the files have been sitting on the floor of my studio since January 8th because I’m not sure how to go about organizing them.

By publication, in issue order is the obvious answer, but that’s not how I like to use my magazines. Sometimes I’ll grab a bunch of fall and winter issues and look through the designs, or I’ll want to compare Vogue Knitting‘s spring designs with the spring designs of Interweave Knits. (I don’t know why; I just do.)

So, do I break them up into seasons? Or split them into two types: warm weather, which includes the spring and summer issues, and cold weather, which includes fall, winter, and holiday. How do I handle all the different publications I have? I own one or two copies of other magazines, like Knitscene, Knit Simple, Rowan, etc. Do they get their own magazine file or do I mix them in with the big ones? And what about all those kitschy vintage leaflets?

I also have to consider that I’ll have to put them back where they came from after I use them, so I need a system that allows me to do that easily or I won’t do it and I’ll be back to the same mess I have now.

I looked online to see what other people had done, but it appears that no one but me has this problem. I had a glimmer of hope when I found this post about organizing magazines by month, but these are for home arts magazines that offer seasonal ideas, so in that case, it would be helpful to have every July magazine filed together when it’s time to plan a picinic for the 4th.

After much thinking and mulling, considering and rejecting, and a glass or two of merlot, here’s how I finally decided to file them: by publication, in issue order. Yep, the obvious answer. It’s really the best way, because of how I use them most of the time. I’ll do a pattern search on Ravelry, looking for, say, pullovers with cables in worsted weight yarn, and choose the option to show me patterns in my library. So, chronological order is what’s going to work best when I go hunting for the magazine.

After purging almost every vintage leaflet and several of the magazines that I know I’ll never use, the onsie-twosies are lumped together in one magazine file. Rowan gets its own section because its size demands it. And Vogue Knitting and Interweave Knits each have their own shelf.

On the bottom shelf, notice that Vogue Knitting changed from colored spines to white around the year 2007.

My Ravelry library is now accurate, reflecting 150 magazines. (I hadn’t added absolutely everything to the database, apparently.)

How do you organize your magazines?

A Bit of My Knitting History

I learned to knit in the fifth grade, but it wasn’t until high school in the early 80s that I started serious knitting. I knew and used only three things: Vogue Knitting magazine, straight aluminum knitting needles, and the long-tail cast-on. I didn’t even know there were other ways to cast on.

I didn’t understand anything about gauge or those stupid swatches that were always recommended to obtain the correct one, so I substituted whatever yarn I liked, regardless of weight. I did, however, always use the recommended needle size. Needless to say, I never adjusted the pattern to account for the different raw materials, so sometimes the sweater fit and sometimes it didn’t, and I never really knew why. I just cast on for my size and started knitting.

And they were always sweaters. Not hats or scarves or anything easy. And on top of that, they were designer sweaters that now no one knits because they’re so involved. (Hey, Vogue Knitting—look at the number of projects on Ravelry for these silly designs and get a clue to stop publishing them.) Nothing in plain old stockinette stitch, either. Everything I knit was charted.

I had never heard of stitch counters (or stitch markers, for that matter), so I used tick marks on a piece of paper—usually one of the little subscription cards that came with the magazine—to count the rows. I never thought to use a ruler or other sort of straight edge on a chart, so I was always having to find my place and count stitches. (As I remember and write this, I’m not sure whether to think I was a dummy or the bomb.)

I knitted Perry Ellis’s #27 Theatre Sweater from Vogue Knitting Fall/Winter 1985. In acrylic. (Please, please forgive me.) I knit it in the original primary colors with a bright blue background with mustard faces and red ribbons. I don’t have the sweater anymore because a younger, dumber me donated it to a thrift store.

My knitting formula in the 80s.

I also remember knitting a sweater that was a sort of sampler of bobbles and bells and other complicated stitches. By Adrienne Vittadini, I think. It’s so old vintage, it’s not in the Ravelry pattern database. It was supposed to be a cropped sweater, but I wasn’t paying attention to that part of the pattern, and it ended up tunic length. I used Sugar ‘n’ Cream cotton (a yarn usually reserved for dish rags) in white, and the thing weighed a ton. It was knit in pieces then seamed together, but I didn’t trust myself to execute the seaming (i.e., set-in sleeves) properly, so I took it to a yarn shop and asked the owner to seam it for me. She said it would be a couple of weeks before she could get to it, but called me two or three days later to say it was done. She was anxious to see how it would turn out. I don’t remember how much I paid her, but it was worth it. The sweater was fabulous. I don’t have that one anymore either, because I bleached it one too many times trying to remove a rusty water stain on the left shoulder. It came out of the washing machine in shreds. (I didn’t know anything about doing laundry, either.)

As I’ve matured as a person, I’ve matured as a knitter. I knit with wool or wool blends almost exclusively. I understand the importance of dye lots. I discovered circular needles and knit everything I can in the round. I know a bunch of different cast-ons, the Chinese Waitress Cast-On being my current favorite. And I use proper knitter tools, like stitch counters and magnetic boards for charts.

I still don’t knit swatches, but I think everyone else should.