After completely rewriting the wandering, highly unnecessarily chatty twenty-five (25!) page “Wonderful Wallaby” pattern into a one (1) page Neo-Norsk pattern, I must have felt I needed more challenges.  Testing both the pattern and my rewrite, I knit three wool sweaters for the men in my life: Son-in-law H, Thor and Grandson O.  Discovering pattern inconsistencies and sloppy styling throughout (oy vey ist mir!) meant I was continually ripping out rows, restyling and editing my Neo-Norsk rewrite.  (I wasn’t a happy knitter.)  In any event …

Toggle1Toggle2Grandson O’s sweater had a hood and a placket and cried out for a closure. Dritz makes a two-piece toggle button.  It is, simply, awful: The ends of the toggle chord are wrapped in a bit of masking tape and then glued to the (faux) leather toggle base.

I knit a toggle fastener from a skein of coordinating Toggle_olitapestry wool.  (Now what little boy wouldn’t like a button made from horn?!)

Thor didn’t want a placket (no problem), but he did want a hood.  However, he has an allergic dermatitis creation to wool (as well as alpaca and llama – not to mention an anaphylactic reaction to angora, poor guy).

HoodLiningEasy resolution!  I knit a lining for the hood out of a DK weight bamboo-silk blend.  (I would have knit a lining for the cuffs but that wasn’t necessary as he always wears a long sleeve shirt.)  I stitched the lining down at the base of the hood, at the top seam of the hood and along the hood edges.  Then, using the blue wool yarn and stitching a few stitches in from the edge, I created the tube through which I ran a cord.

Son-in-law H’s sweater had a placket but no hood.  (My daughter said H is “too old to be wearing hoodies.”  :)  I didn’t dare tell her I knit Thor a hoodie.)  I looked through books, websites and videos for ideas about toggle closures and knots.  (Here are two you might find interesting:  (1) A short “how to” on basic knit loop closures by Eunny Jang, and (2) a very detailed demonstration on making Chinese knot buttons.)

HusseinToggleAs you can see from this picture, I knit a simple toggle closure out of a two-stitch I-cords using the same yarn as the sweater.  (I wanted to try making a Chinese knot button but the yarn is was too textured to work well.)   The I-cord was too thick to work with the wood toggle button I selected for his sweater.

Hopefully there’s enough young boy left in my son-in-law to like a horn button adoring his sweater!

Posted in Knitting | 2 Comments

Another Useful “Womanly Art”

Starting as soon as I could walk (late 1950s), my mother impressed on me that there were arthurmurray“womanly arts” every “nice” lady needed to know.  Thus I took music and dance lessons from tutors while my mother instructed me on the ways “ladies” should walk, sit, bend, eat, et cetera.  Mormor (my maternal grandmother) taught me how to knit, crochet and an array of traditional Norwegian handarbeider (handworks), but it was in school that I learned to sew.

I have been following the delightful and informative blogs of two amazing seamstresses – thornberry (in Australia) and Fit and Flare (in the U.K.).  After a long hiatus from sewing (except for making my daughter’s wedding dress), their blogs have encouraged me to pull out my sewing machine.  As I did so, I reflected on sewing projects in my past.

sewingclassesWhen I was in junior high (late 1960s/early 1970s), all the girls had to take sewing classes (pic source), while the boys took shop classes.  I discovered I liked to sew so in high school took tailoring classes as electives.  All my sewing teachers taught us how to do a lot of hand sewing.  I sewed a lot when I was young  – both by hand and with greenkenmore7525my trusty (and oh so sturdy) Sears Kenmore.  It sat in a sort of desk and looked a bit like this machine (pic source), if my memory serves me right.  As an adult my sewing was limited mostly to mending.

My most memorable sewing experience, however, was decades ago, and it was mending for my ex-husband, Beelzebob – yes I know it isn’t the correct beelzebubspelling of this “highest devil … insidious and mean” (pic & quotation source) but – well, let’s just say it’s closer to his real name.  Soon after I left him, Beelzebob showed up on my (new) porch with a basket of clothes in his arms.  He asked (well, more like demanded) that I mend them for him, and, not surprisingly, I refused.  Beelzebob immediately dropped the basket and started to yell and wave his arms, scaring my houseguest who thought he was going to strike me.  She jumped in front of me, calmed down Beelzebob, and assured him that she would mend his clothes.  He was immediately contrite and sweet (toward her).  I think his parting words were along the line of, “It’s nice to know that there are still nice ladies” (as he shot evil looks my way and stomped off my porch).  As soon as Beelzebob left, I told my friend that as I would have no problem dousing his clothes in gasoline and dropping a match on them, she should do the promised mending out of my sight.

Kenmore-sewing-machine-parts-5The next day I received a telephone call at work from my friend asking me (in a very meek voice) how to thread my sewing machine (pic source).  She admitted she’d never sewn before, so it was impossible to explain over the telephone.  I agreed to mend Beelzebob’s clothes only if she agreed to tell him that she repaired the clothes.  I stayed up very late that night doing the mending.  Thankfully my friend was fast asleep or she would have heard me giggling.  Here is an example of some of the “mending” I did to his clothes:

  • I carefully removed the cuffs from one shirt and put them on the opposite arms.
  • I carefully removed the front plackets from another shirt and reversed them so the shirt buttoned “backwards” (i.e., like a woman’s shirt).
  • On another shirt I carefully removed the pockets from under their flaps (ensuring he’d be puzzled when he tried to put a pack of cigarettes in his pocket).
  • On two pairs of blue jeans I pulled out the thin material lining the pockets and stitched them closed right where the denim met the thin lining (so he could get no more than his finger tips into the pockets).
  • On another pair of blue jeans I sewed the hems of the pant legs shut – matching the orange stitching stitch for stitch.
  • On two dress shirts I shortened the little button holes on the collar points (now he wouldn’t be able to button down the collars).
  • On another shirt I removed the cuffs, shortened each sleeve by an inch or so, and then replaced the cuffs (making him wonder if his arms had grown).

Sewing had never been so much fun!  The coup de grâce, however, was when my friend asked me for directions for a dry cleaner so she could have his clothes dry cleaned (she JohnHancockSignaturewasn’t willing to do that!), before he returned to pick them up.  I sent her to a dry cleaner whose practice it was to stamp (with indelible ink) the last four characters of a customer’s last name into the clothes.  She shared her surname with a man prominent in U.S. history and famed for his flamboyant signature.

Oh yes, happy sewing memories.  :)


Posted in Miscellany, Other Fiber Arts | Tagged , | 31 Comments

McMorran & Mystery Yarns

A common problem frequently faced by yarnaholics is picking through our extensive stash and finding skeins, hanks, cones or balls of yarn that have no label.  How many yards do we McMorranhave to work with?  Do we have enough to make a hat? a small sweater? a large sweater? a pair of socks?  This is where the McMorran Yarn Balance comes in handy.

(And in case you’re wondering, it’s named for its creator, H. McMorran, a former lecturer in textile testing at the Scottish College of Textiles in Galashiels, Scotland.)

This yarn balance consists of only a few parts and is simple to use!  As explained on the McMorran Yarn Balance website:

The McMorran Yarn Balance is almost completely assembled “out of the box”.

205-McMorran-how-2TO ASSEMBLE:

  • Simply remove the balance arm (1) and pivot (2).
  • Place the pivot through the small hole in the balance arm (3).
  • Place the pivot, with the “V” (4) in the balance arm facing up.
  • Make sure the balance arm is clear of the side of the slot (5).

TO USE/MEASURE (US/pounds per yard):

Place yarn (6) in the V (4) of the balance arm.

Add/snip yarn until the balance arm is horizontal.

Remove from balance arm & measure the length.

Measure the total length in inches.

Multiply inches (including fractions) by 100.  The product is the approximate Yards Per Pound.  (For example, if length = 6.5 inches, then 6.5 x 100 =650 yards, the approximate Yards Per Pound of your mystery yarn.)

If you’d like a print out of instructions on its use, see Apple Lee Farm’s.  If you’d like more pictures of the yarn balance, see All Fiber Arts.  If you’d like to see a video explaining/demonstrating its use, watch Spinning with PattyAnne.

If you’re in the US and you’d like to buy one, try Halcyon Yarns or The Woolery.  (And yes, the McMorran Yarn Balance is available in metric too!)

Posted in Crocheting, Fibers, Knitting, Miscellany | Tagged | 6 Comments

Holiday Market Treasures

Many people whose blogs I read regularly are like me:  We like to buy and use the work of artists and craftspeople – especially when they’re local.  When we lived in San Francisco, I regularly attended arts and craft fairs.  Happily, Oregon has many arts and craft fairs, and here in Eugene (Oregon), its Saturday Market’s Holiday Market (an annual event), opened last weekend.  I went to the market three times in its first two days!

AmyYarnBowlsI found something that I’d never seen before:  A connected set of yarn bowls called “Sock Yarn Bowls” by Amy the Potter!  As any knitter or crocheter will immediately recognize, these are not simply for sock AmyYarnBowls2yarn; they are perfect when knitting anything from two skeins of yarn.

MyYarnBowls2I’m currently knitting two-colored “Cameo” by Paulina Popiolek out of Cascade Yarn’s Heritage Silks (100g/400m – 3.5 oz/437y)  So of course, I just had to buy one of Amy’s “Sock Yarn Bowls.”  (It was a necessity, don’t you think?!)

AmyWithBowlMeet Amy the Potter!  As you AmyYarnBowlsRegcan see, she also makes large and lovely yarn bowls that are deep and stable – AmyYarnBowlcloseperfect for holding a large skein of heavy yarn!

If you can’t get to the Holiday Market, I encourage you to visit Amy’s studio on her Facebook or Etsy pages.  (Note:  She takes custom orders too!)

ErnestEffortsBarretsAs I walked away from Amy-the-Potter’s booth determined to leave without adding to my purchases, I passed a woman knitting behind a booth displaying the woodworking of Earnest Efforts.  After my eyes registered the knitting, they were drawn to display of beautiful handcrafted wooden barrettes that were displayed in sizes (!) from tiny to extra-large!  As someone with long, heavy hair that regularly bursts free from its restraints, I was cautiously excited to see the beautiful extra-large clasps.

EarnestEffortBarret2When the nice lady (Ellie Earnest) put down her knitting and asked if I wanted to try one, I couldn’t resist.  I selected a beautiful one made from Oregon Myrtlewood.  Ellie and her husband use sturdy French barrette claps they then screw – not glue – into the wood.

IMG_0377Success!  The barrette easily held back my hair!  This morning I quickly twisted my hair and pinned it back with the extra large Earnest Efforts barrette.  Notice it effortlessly holds back my hair and, several hours later, it is still in place! (I definitely need another one of these gems!  This is the only hair clasp I have tried that actually works without needing frequent repositioning or re-doing!)

ErnestEffortsEllieEarnestEffortsMoreDrawersMeet Ellie (a knitter!) of Earnest & Ellie Efforts!  Earnie and Ellie also make beautifully crafted ErnestEffortsDrawersstorage boxes.

I think these would be wonderful for storing fiber-related accessories (and any other treasures, for that matter!).  And yes, you can visit Earnest and Ellie Efforts at their Etsy shop!

Though I went to the Holiday Market three times during its first weekend, I know I will be going again.  :)


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How Is Wool Made Machine-Washable?

Any wool (or protein fiber) is washable by hand and, often, in gentle cycles in cool water. Machine washable wool – wool that can be made into garments that can be tossed into a washing machine with no worry of shrinking – is readily available. Yet for years I have been reluctant to knit with machine washable wool; the wool always felt “different” to me, though I would be hard pressed to explain to someone exactly what “different” means. (Pic source)

In Fibre Facts (1981), Bette Hochberg sheds light on why machine washable wool has always felt “different” to me:

This wool is sometimes treated with chemicals to destroy the scales on its surface. This can decrease strength and durability, and impart a harsh texture to the wool. A less damaging method is to coat the wool with a resin which forms a thin plastic skin over each fibre. This film of plastic masks the surface scales, so they can no longer interlock.

Ms. Hochberg warns, however, that machine washable wool

will not behave like natural wool. When each fibre is sealed in plastic, so are some of its desirable properties. The finest qualities of wool are not used in such yarns.

Bette Hochberg wrote Fibre Facts in the ’80s, so I wondered how technology has changed in making wool machine washable. According to e-How:

Today, manufacturers bleach wool fiber to remove its outer layer and then add enzymes that eat the scales. The resulting yarn has a more lustrous appearance than untreated wool. These alterations also affect how the fiber takes dye, so make sure that any washable wool is colorfast.

Australia’s Michell uses:

KROY ‘Deep Emersion’ technology which is recognised globally as the best method for producing machine washable wool fibre. This method involves the continual immersion of wool sliver in a shrink-proofing solution, resulting in a fibre that holds supreme longevity and durability over synthetic materials, whilst retaining its shape and integrity. …

Another way to make wool fiber machine-washable is to blend it with other fibers that do not have scales. Yarn companies often add plant fibers like linen and cotton to keep the wool from shrinking. Man-made fibers like nylon, polyester and acrylic are also blended with wool to make it machine-washable.

The extra steps to process wool to machine washable wool explains the (generally) higher cost per skein than non-machine washable wool.

Over the last 10 years, I have knit five times with machine washable wool. I used Baby Ull (wool) from Dale of Norway to make blankets for my then-unborn grandchildren (so that was several years ago); a sweater out of Di.Ve’s “Zenith” (for the grandson); and a poncho and a sweater out of Dale’s “Falk” (for the granddaughter).  Okay, to be honest, I had a few more projects from machine washable wool:  I knit several Pineapple Stacks hats (pattern by Rebecca Marsh) from the yarn remaining from those projects!  (That pattern’s been a joy to knit!)

When I gift garments from machine washable wool, I always include instructions on washing, particularly noting that though machine washable, they should never be dried in a dryer!

Here is a useful chart of laundering symbols – many of which we see on yarn labels. (Source)  If you’re really bored, you could always pop over to the Federal Trade Commission website and read up on the “Care Labeling of Textile Wearing Apparel & Certain Piece Goods” (16 CFR Part 243).

Posted in Fibers, Miscellany | Tagged , , , , | 27 Comments

“But It Itches!” – Part II: What to Do

So the question remains: Assuming the wearer doesn’t have allergies to wool as described in my previous post, why is some wool sometimes itchy to some people? There is more than one explanation.

Though not allergic to wool, anyone who feels the “prick” or “scratch” from wool is feeling the end of a wool fiber that is sticking out of the yarn. Who feels the itch and to what extent depends on the person (a thin-skinned toddler or an adult?), the diameter of the wool, how the wool is spun, temperature (wear a sweater in the heat and you may feel some itch!) and how wet is the wearer’s skin (the more moisture, the more the wearer will feel an itch).

Microns: The diameter of a wool fiber is measured in microns – short for micrometer. (A micron is 0.001 mm, or about 0.000039 inches – or 1 billionth of a meter.) While the micron range of a wool varies depending on breed, it is also affected by the sheep’s age, nutrition and health. The lower the number, the finer the fiber.

According to The Naturalist, “a wool that averages 24 microns or more is likely to [have] at least 5% of fibers over 30 microns, and therefore trigger a prickly sensation. And about a third of wool with average fiber of 21 microns will still have enough 30 micron fibers to make it scratchy.”

Qiviut – spun from the underwool of the Arctic Musk Ox – is very fine and soft; it ranges from 11 to 13 microns. Wool from the Merino sheep usually ranges from 13 (though can go as low as 10) to 25 microns. The wool from a Cashmere goat is in the 14 to 18 micron range. Yak fiber has a micron count from 15 to 19 microns. While mohair averages in the low 20 micron range, it gets thicker as the animal ages which means the yarn spun from it will be harsher. In 2010 we saw a new world record with a 10 micron fleece from New South Wales (Wikipedia). (For more information about sheep and their wool, check out

Woolen or worsted spun yarn: Wool fibers are both prepared and spun in different ways depending on whether the spinner wants a woolen or a worsted yarn.

  • Worsted yarn: The fibers are combed to remove short fibers leaving the remaining fibers parallel and similar in length. The worsted yarns tend to be harder, stronger and smoother.
  • Woolen yarn: Fibers are uneven in length so they do not lay parallel. The yarns tend to be softer, fuzzier, retain more hair in the yarn, and have more stretch.

For more information about fiber, here are a few sources you might find useful:  Bette Hochberg’s classic  Fibre Facts (1983); In Sheep’s Clothing (1995) by Nola and Jane Fournierand The Field Guide to Fleece: 100 Sheep Breeds and How to Use Their Fibers (2013) by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius.

What to Do With Itchy Wool:

FIRST: People who regularly work with wool have a couple of methods to “soften” scratchy wool. Try washing your wool skeins or the finished garment in a basin of cool water with – in no particular order – (1) plain white vinegar, (2) hair conditioner, or (3) glycerin.

SECOND: If you find a garment itchy, there are several things you can do:

  • Wear another layer under it!
    • A woman could wear a camisole and a shirt under the sweater.
    • A man could wear a t-shirt and a shirt under the sweater.
    • Line your wool slacks or wear leggings or tights underneath them.
  • If you find that the neck and cuffs of a wool sweater irritate your skin, knit a cotton or silk facing on the reverse side of the neck and cuffs or line the neck and cuffs with fabric.
  • Knit a boatneck neck into your wool sweater so there is no high or tight neckline that might rub your skin.

Something to keep in mind: The person who laments (boasts?) to you that her/his skin is simply too delicate to wear wool is most likely NOT allergic. More reasonable assumptions you could make is s/he might be wearing wool that is:

  • high-micron (coarse),
  • loosely spun (so a lot of fiber ends stick out),
  • not well cleaned (thus retaining a lot of organic materials), and/or
  • treated with nasty chemicals (used in preparation, dying and/or cleaning).

Or maybe the person is sweating as she/he talks to you. :)

Posted in Crocheting, Dyeing, Fibers, Knitting, Miscellany | Tagged , , , , , , | 62 Comments

“But It Itches!” – Part I

Two years ago, I wrote a two-part post about itchy wool.  According to my WordPress statistics, it continues to receive a lot of visitors.  So I decided to repost!  Here’s the first!


I have lost track of how many (non-textile) folks who, while admiring a wool sweater I knit, sadly lament:  “Oh, I can’t wear wool; I’m allergic to it.”  (Source of pic at left)

Highly unlikely.

What’s the most common description of a person’s claimed allergy to wool?  “It itches.”  That is not an allergic reaction.  Further, there could be other factors one could be reacting to, including (but not limited to):  laundry detergent, the dye and/or mordant used to color the yarn, the chemicals used to dry clean the wool, the chemicals involved in original processing the wool, and organic matter (e.g., dust and pollen) remaining in the yarn.

With that in mind, here are allergic reactions to wool:

  • If whenever wool touches your skin you develop a bumpy, itchy rash resembling hives or eczema, that could be allergic dermatitis.
  • If you’re near wool and your nose starts to drip and itch, that may be allergic rhinitis.

  • If you develop pink, itchy, puffy eye irritation after each exposure to wool, that may be an allergic reaction in the form of conjunctivitis.
  • If you are driving a friend home and she’s in the front passenger seat of the car and you have a big bag of wool yarn in the back seat and she starts wheezing and having difficulty breathing, she could be having an anaphylactic reaction to wool.  Unless someone’s got an epi pin, either the wool or the passenger has to get out of the car.  (When this happened to me – I was the driver – I had to strap my precious wool to the top of my car and head for a hospital.  In this case, the wool was a blend, and it turned out she was reacting to the angora in the blend.)

So in conclusion, you may be allergic to wool if …

  1. you start to wheeze, have difficulty breathing, your nose begins to drip or itch or you quickly develop conjunctivitis when sitting in the proximity of wool, or
  2. you take off your wool clothing to find hives and sores (that weren’t there before you put on the clothing).

If you think you are allergic to wool, you might want to visit your physician and have a skin prick test.  You may find you’re allergic to things you would never have suspected!

What about the itching?  Ahhh, that’s coming in Part II.

Posted in Crocheting, Fibers, Knitting, Miscellany | 37 Comments