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Episode 4 in which, much like the gay strip club in San Francisco that I once helped sew silver-lamé curtains for, there appear pouches, rings, devices for making perfect balls and some bent tips. After all ‘naaien’ which means sewing in Dutch is also a vernacular term for having sex.

This post wraps up everything that I have in my notions kit and to celebrate I’ve made a playlist to musically accompany read it. All of the songs have ‘notion’ in the title, except for the first one and you’ll hear straight away why it had to be included. I’ve weeded out the death metal tracks and a couple of others I just couldn’t take for diverse auditory reasons. Click the video and you’ll get the whole playist.

Oh yes, and I finally cover why I carry that lighter with me in my knitting kit.

#18 ZIPPER POUCH – where all the other stuff gets put. Crocheted out of yarn made from cut up plastic bags. Repurposing at it’s best and fondly referred to as “plarn”. It is made by The Invisible Sisters:  a livelihood project employing women in Metro Manila. I was in Manila regularly in 2013, on route to Ifugao where I was part of setting up Ricefield Collective. I love the way knitted and crocheted recycled plastic bags look, but personally find it quite an unforgiving process on my hands. I wouldn’t work with it as a hobby, so it’s nice to have someone who is earning some money from it make them.

#19 KEY RING – it’s a sheep and it dangles. It has no function beyond the immense importance of being decorative. It is softly strokeable and not vegetarian; being made from a little piece of sheepskin and leather. It’s the perfect dark red: a good reminder to myself that this (when done right) is one of my favourite colours. I got it at Ardelaine an amazing woolly cooperative in the Ardeche, in Southern France. In in 1975 they bought a defunct woollen mill and got it going again. Today they make wool clothes, yarn and mattresses which they sell in the shop. There is also a bookshop and a cafe that sells local produce. It can be found along a road that winds through beautiful country. My cousin’s son tipped me off about it when he gleefully told me that every kid on his school bus had vomited when they visited because the road was so bendy. It is absolutely worth the carsickness to go there! Wear your motion sickness bands, roll the windows down, eat ginger biscuits (or sweets) and stop regularly for the scenery. You’ll be extra rewarded if you go in lavender blooming or chestnut season.

When I visited with my aunt and uncle, we timed our arrival to coincide with one of the daily tours. We were shown around by Gerard, a founding member of the cooperative. Even those of us not so invested in all things woolly were enthralled.


That’s Gerard, talking to us about spinning.

#20 POMPOM MAKER – for quickly making the icing on the cake. You can make pompoms in many different ways. I like to think I’ve tried them all and then a new approach comes my way. There is nought wrong with cutting two same sized donuts out of a cereal box. That is how I made them throughout my youth and well in to adulthood. Of all the pompom specific gadgets I’ve experimented with, the ones from Clover are my favourites. They even make heart shaped ones, but I’m not going there. I have all the sizes for the round ones, even the giant one, but I rarely use it – it makes poms that are too heavy for the top of hats and require practically a full ball of yarn to make. It’s the medium sized yellow one that I carry around with me. It makes a pompom of around 4.5cm in diameter (depending how densely you wrap it and how much of a haircut you give it) which is perfect for the top of most hats.

#21 NEEDLE GAUGE – cause it’s hard to tell just by looking at them. A Susan Bates’ “Knit-Chek”: light weight and whatever, it’s a standard. I’ve been known to carry a second gauge that converts old English needle sizes to centimetre sizes too. I’d love one that combined all three. Even though the old English sizes are defunct, for those using second hand needles, they are useful to have included. I like the fact it has a built in ruler and the sizes are in a straight line. OK, yes, I totally have needle gauge envy with people who have cute shaped ones like this:

Or funny wooden ones like this:

I wonder which needle size pokes through the lobe that controls visualising numbers, cause I’d like to give that one a poke. It would make pattern writing so much easier.

#22 FOLDING SCISSORS – for surreptitious scissor action. Their foldability keeps the points protected and are cheap enough that if they get borrowed or confiscated, I wouldn’t be heartbroken. I’ve had at least one pair in my possession since I was little. They are just so clever. I lost a pair of these while I was in the Philippines. It was the only thing I lost while I was there, even though I had been warned by nearly everyone who had been to or was from the Philippines that I would have everything I had with me nicked.

#23 SEWING NEEDLES – for stitching together knits. I like to carry needles in a range of sizes appropriate for different weights of yarn. I certainly prefer using a needle that is too big rather than too small. Mainly I use them for sewing in ends. In general, I love me some bent tip needles particularly for grafting. Clover is the easiest brand to find them from nowadays. I have three sizes, perhaps more exist, but these do me well. I also keep a few regular straight needles in there and even some with sharp tips. Usually you don’t want sharp tips, as it can damage the yarn, but sometimes they come in useful, like when doing a knotted steek. The needles are also called in to action for the likes of embroidery and repairs, and on the odd occasion to get the sim card out of my phone. I store them in item #16.

#24 LIGHTER – yes, to set fire to yarn and knitwear. Burning a little piece of yarn is a great way of getting a better idea of what the fibre content is when there is no ball band or label to tell you. I’ve never been a smoker or an arsonist. I’m not that great at using a lighter and have been known to burn my thumb when trying. I prefer matches (they smell nicer), but somehow it’s a lighter I carry around for when I want to test whether there is synthetic content in yarn. Briefly, if the flame burns bright and leaves a powdery ash that smells a little like burnt hair, it’s an animal fibre. It will still be powdery, but not as stinky if it’s plant based. If it’s plastic based, it will melt in to a hard blob. It’s hard to tell specifics of blends, but it will show if there is a synthetic in there. If you intend to try this while out charity shopping, it’s best to quietly snip a little bit off and step outside, rather than spark up inside and risk the fire alarm going off or worse still, the sprinkler system.

#25 Hang Tags – see #17 – these are the same, but bigger. I like options.

And that’s it, I think that may have gotten me over the hump of starting to blog. I shall try to make it shorter and snappier from here on out. Or maybe not. My plan for my blog is to have a place where I can go in to things at greater length than makes sense on my sweaterspotter instagram feed.

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Episode 3, in which there is a cat related item, machine knitting has its influence and I share a tip for greater success when making pompoms. And I dream about row counting rings and yarn-toting unicorns.

#11 Measuring Tape – pull the cat’s tail and a tape measure extends. Press the button and it zips back in. This tape measures up to 150cm/60″, which is generally plenty long enough for the body parts I’ve knitted for and certainly long enough to measure a cats tail (unless you are illegally harbouring a panther). I most often use the side that has centimetres on it, but the inches on the reverse are essential for conversions so I can write my patterns with both metric and imperial measurements. This cat measuring tape was made by the ever colourful and humorous French brand, Pylones and was given to me years ago by one of my French cousins.

#12 Slippery String – a little habit I picked up machine knitting. I keep a length of synthetic cord for when I want to do a provisional cast on. The trick is that it is strong, densely spun and slippery, so you can pull it straight out when you have the stitches on your needle again. Silk could work too, if you are strictly natural fibre inclined. I keep it stored wound in a little thread tidier that snaps open and closed. It tends to get all knotted otherwise. I can’t seem to find a link for the type I have, but while looking I was reminded of these slightly less practical (for this specific application), but exceedingly more cute ones that I have coveted for a while. They are the brain babies of Missy Kulik. She makes sheep and sausage dog ones too.

#13 Linen Yarn – for the tying up of pompoms. This was one of those easy solutions that made me kick myself for not adopting it earlier. Who hasn’t had the strand you use to tie your pompom snap? If you are lucky you can remedy the situation, if not your room was sprayed with a thousand 5cm sections of yarn you just spent an age wrapping round a cardboard donut. This is because the lovely woolly yarn you used to make your hat is plenty strong enough for knitting with, but not really tough enough for tying high-tension knots to keep those densely wound softy fluffy pompom strands tightly bound together. If you secure your pompom with something stronger than the yarn you made it with, you’re in like Flynn, cause you can pull that knot really tight. This linen yarn is left over from a shawl pattern I am working on using the stitch pattern I designed for my Sceles Tshirt that appeared in Pom Pom Quarterly Issue 9.

IMG_5691#14 Universal Counter – for keeping track of what row or round I am on. This type of row/round counter can be slid to the end of straight needles or moved around with the stitches if you are knitting in the round (and your needle isn’t much thicker than 6mm/10US/4UK. It’s practical, but not much of a looker. I have a colourful collection of the kind that slides on to the end of straight needles. It is possible to convert that sort by threading them on to yarn and tying a knot to make a loop; they’re of no use for circular knitting if you don’t. There are devices you can place next to your knitting, which I haven’t made much use of and of course you can make prisoner style chicken scratches on the back of an envelope (or ideally on the pattern print out). There there are a growing selection of row counter apps too. I eyed up a little electronic finger ring that looked a little like a tiny digital swimming pool locker key when I taught at Gather DTLA in December. But this silver one from Kristan MacIntyre is the one to totally covet though…

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Now all I need to do is remember to change the number and remember whether I am changing the number when I start a round or finish it.

#15 Mechanical Pencil – it’s small and cute and you can click it. As much as I adore the smell of sharpened pencils, I am also a big fan of the mechanical ones. They are always sharp, so they don’t necessitate the carrying of a pencil sharpener or the quandry of where to dispose of the scented shavings. They don’t rub off on stuff. As a kid they just seemed so fancy and special. My Opa used them and I still have some of his. I got this tiny one at Marukai in Gardena, Los Angeles. It is miniature and therefore insanely cute and perfect to go in a travel case.

#16 Chibi Case – makes it clear where your needles are. Apparently the Japanese slang word ‘chibi’ is a combination of small, short, cute and deformed. Generally now it refers to a style of animé drawing that is all of the above. The Chibi Case from Clover is what their needles come in (see item #23). I don’t think you can get the case separately. A big plus is that when the needles are inside, it works like a rattle – all I have to do is shake my bag to know they are in there and I can safely leave the house with ends to sew in. A Dutch friend was really puzzled as to why I kept a spliff case with my knitting. The similarity is clear.

There’s this ‘official’ one…

And this less condoned one…

So if you’re somewhere where it is easier to find a koffie shop than a haberdashery, the second option could provide a more relaxing substitute.

#17 Hang Tags – quick, write it down! These little paper swing tags are intended to be price tags. I use them to hang from my knitting to keep track of what I’m doing. When I need a note in a specific spot, I can write it and attach it straight to it. When I knit a swatch I record the needles I used, the yarn, gauge and stitch pattern for prosteriety. At least that is what I am trying to facilitate doing. When I still forget I get to kick myself even harder!

OK, next time it’s the final episode of what’s-in-the-pouch.

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Episode 2: in which I continue the guided tour of my knitting kit. We start with the most historic item and end with fat sheep, I mean sheep fat.

#6 Calculator – the most sentimentally charged item in my kit. This Texas Instruments TI-1100 has been with me since secondary school and thereby, of the tools in this baggy, it is the one that has been in my possession the longest. It isn’t solar powered, but I sometimes have to double check that it isn’t because I’ve never changed the battery. I think it might be magic. Oddly, I don’t remember where precisely the calculator came from; I’ve had it that long.

Tucked in the inside sleeve is a holographic sticker that has lost its stick. It once came from a bottle of guarana cola – when that first hit the shelves in the early 90s. You wouldn’t know that from looking at it: the name of the drink and ingredients have long since worn off. I didn’t drink the stuff, but my friend Eleanor did and she stuck it to the front cover of my calculator during a maths lesson.

I own a proper knitting calculator and have a calculator on my mobile phone, but this is the one I turn to when writing patterns. Sometimes I wish it had a backwards button.

#7 Stitch Markers – where am I? What’s going on? These safety pin type markers are from Clover and I love them. I like the fact they are removable. I can slip them as I pass them to keep track of circular knitting rounds. Sometimes I clip them in retroactively to flag up issues that need sorting in the next round. Often they get clipped in as reminders of what I’ve done where. In this way they help me trace my actions when I’m knitting a sample for a pattern to be fully written up later on. I have no less than a hundred of them. As well as being stored in the little zipper purse (item #2), I clip them onto the zipper pulls on my backpack, so I always have one handy. In a pinch I’ve been known to use sandwich ties, paperclips, safety pins and scraps of yarn in place of more official Stitch Markers.

Before shops in London cottoned on and started stocking these, I used to mule them back from the USA. Various family and friends would put in orders too. As much as I enjoy watching other peoples handmade stitch markers with characters and assorted other sparkly danglers, these really are my favourites.

While I was in the Philippines for Ricefield Collective, I found some that looked identical to these, in a wider range of amazing colours. Sadly they snapped one by one in the space of a couple of hours once I’d clipped them in to my knitting – brittle plastic. Aside from the obvious disappointment that caused, it was quite entertaining as they made little popping sounds akin to the satisfying ‘pop’ jam jars make when they seal hours after you have filled them with hot homemade jam.

#8 Stitch Holders – for keeping stitches live. They’re the Tupperware of the knitting world. I really like coloured ones, purely for aesthetic reasons. I’ve picked these up over the years from charity shops and second hand shops, I even bought a couple of them brand(less) spanking new from a 100 Yen shop – the Japanese equivalent of a Pound Shop or Dollar Store – when I was in Tokyo in 2001. They are useful when I need to free a set of needles for a different project or when I don’t want to commit to casting off. It may seem like I carry quite a few with me, but if I’m knitting a sweater in the round, I need 4 for the armpits and then I still like to have some spare. They are a range of sizes so they can be matched to what I need. When factoring which size to use, I consider how many stitches need to go on it and where. If they are attached to an in progress project, I prefer them to be smaller, so they get in my way less as I pass them and the weight doesn’t pull my stitches.

If I remember to slip them in facing the right direction, I can graft the stitches from the body and the sleeve straight off the stitch holders. This isn’t as easy to do if you save your stitches on scrap yarn, which works perfectly well and in some specific cases, better. Generally I find it quicker to use stitch holders, but scrap yarn is the no-need-for-extra-gadgets approach or what to do when all other stitch holders are already holding stitches.

#9 Pins – for pinning knits together before and during sewing. I got these at that same 100 Yen shop in Tokyo back in 2001. I wish I had gotten more. They are made of bamboo and have a large enough head to not slip between the stitches, blunt tips to not split the yarn and are long enough to actually be useful when pinning chunky knits. There is no plastic to speak of, so no risk of melting when the iron hovers over. I’m a big fan of mattress stitch when it comes to sewing together what I’ve pinned.

#10 Hand Cream – for lubricating the knitting process. I get really dry hands. I blame it on winter and having psoriasis, but I have a nagging suspicion knitting also has something to do with it. I try to be extravagant and slather it on all the time, but in reality I can get a bit thrifty, particularly with the nice stuff. I like a lotion that feels like it really gets in there; moisturising without leaving my hands too greasy or stinky and certainly not the sort that makes them feel weirdly sweaty a couple of minutes later. My current tube is from De Noord Kroon, a company based on Texel, one of the North Sea Islands of The Netherlands. It is highly sheep appropriate as it is made with 10% lanolin, a by product of the beautiful fleece that hails from Texel. It absorbs well, but since lanolin is the grease found in sheep wool, it wouldn’t matter if some got back on there. It smells like grandma hands. I got it when I visited Saskia in her shop, Ja, Wol in Rotterdam. And here she is…

IMG_1299I will leave you with her lovely smiling face and give another instalment of details about my tools soon.

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This is my knitting kit: the essential paraphernalia I use on a daily basis. When I am not carrying it with me on my knitting travels, it lives under the couch in our flat. In conjunction with my hands and brain, these are the tools I couldn’t work without. Project specific needles and yarn get called up when needed, as does my ball winder and swift. They have a less cushy life: they live in the Siberia that is my studio.

Plenty of my kit is bog standard and has been with me for years. It’s what I’ve got and I’m happy to make do. There are a few things in there that I am sentimental about, but most of it is purely functional and easy to replace. The selection has been honed down through trial and error; I like it cause it works the way I want it to and maybe I don’t know better. My fantasy is, as I lose bits or give them away, I’ll upgrade them, item by item with lovely artisanal versions. The reality is, I probably already have a back up version found while rummaging through a knitting needle bin in a charity shop or one that was kindly bequeathed by a non-knitters’ grandma.

Recently a horror befell Karen of Fringe Association: she lost her whole pouch while she was travelling. This is the woman who has a regular feature on her blog called Our Tools Ourselves (which I contributed to last year). On instagram and beyond knitters’ have been showing their gear in solidarity with Karen’s loss. They have inspired me to record in detail what is in my kit. I realise I want to share more details than just a picture. Each item has a history and reason for being in there which may be both entertaining and useful to know if you’re building out your kit, couldn’t tell what it was from the tiny instagram picture or are just plain curious.

notions_pouch_nos#1 DPNS – that’s Double Pointed Needles to the unitiated. In addition to their obvious use for knitting cuffs, socks, mittens, fingers, top of hats, willy warmers, i-cord, small creatures and circular swatches to be steeked, I find it useful to have a pair of DPNs around for when I need to reknit a section within my knitting. That is, if I have gone wrong or just want to change something more than 3 rows back. I keep a set of 3.75mm/5US/9UK with me, as that seems somewhere in the middle of the needle sizes I usually use. They are short, 13cm bamboo ones I got from Tall Yarns some years back. I keep them in a corresponding size, vintage Milward plastic pouch from when needles were still made in England. The needles weren’t in there when I found the case in one of the aforementioned tubs of stray needles at a charity shop.

#2 Kiddy Purse – practical and cute. Just like the sort I had when I was little that possibly came from one of those vending machines that are like a giant gumball machine that dispenses plastic eggs filled with a surprise. You too?

It’s where I keep my stitch markers (see item #7) and if I really am paring down my kit to be lightweight, my Chibi case (item #16, containing items #23) and folding scissors (item #22). I must resist the urge to pick off the little decorative plastic blobs masquerading as beads, though like with a good scab or sunburn, the temptation is strong. It was a gift from Lori, who recently started blogging at Nothing Too Ordinary. I’m excited she’s keeping track of her epic gig going and sharing her cool musical knowledge, not to mention her eye for collecting cute stuff.

#3 Cable Needles – helpful for twisting stitches just how you want too. These are from Brittany, the company, not the place in France. They make beautiful wooden needles out of birch in California, USA, that only improve with age (and the application of greasy fingers). I like the way they are straight, but tapered at both ends to keep the stitches on. I used to have the full set of three sizes, but one didn’t return home after a night of pub knitting. Sadly it was the middle size: my most used one. I find this shape stable enough to keep the stitches on till I need them and quicker to use than the curved ones. Wood (and bamboo, which I count as wood) really is the way to go for cable needles (and DPNs) as they don’t slip about as much as metal. Plastic works too, but I’ve not found them in a shape I like. These I bought when my friend Paula Frazer, singer and weaver, briefly had a knitting shop in Bernal Heights in San Francisco. The replacement medium metal needle is probably the one thing in my kit I’m not so jazzed about, probably because it reminds me of the nicer one I lost. I hate losing things.

#4 Shorty Knitting Needles – for emergency teaching (when I’m feeling nice). I never know when someone will ask to learn to knit. These fit in my pouch and are easy enough to give away. They are also useful for testing things out and cast-ons or bind-offs that require 3 needles. These are 4mm/6US/8UK. Theoretically knitting goes faster if you use thicker needles and yarn, however I find for teaching that these medium sized needles are actually easier to manipulate. Plus having patience is a necessity when knitting, might as well start straight away. These needles, made by Pony specifically with kids in mind, work perfectly for bigger hands too. I think they are super – short so you don’t have to work out where to put the full length of the needles straight off the bat and they’re stumpy enough to prepare you for the feel of circular needles. And they have little smiley faces. Ideally I’d have the pair they make where each needle is a different colour, but these were from a charity shop. I often use an indelible pen to draw a face on one of the tips – the variation helps newbies grasp the concept as you demonstrate and talk them through it.

#5 Crochet Hooks – for free styling and quick fixes. I carry at least 2 with me, often more. Currently I have a 4mm, that’s G/6 in the US and an old English 8. The other hook is a finer 2.5mm. It says 12 on it, cause it’s an old English one, again from a charity shop bundle. That’s one of those in between sizes that doesn’t exist in the USA, but falls between a B/1 and a C/2. I use them for picking up stitches along edges I am going to knit from, embellishing knitted creatures with crochet extremities, doing a crochet cast-on or bind-off, picking up dropped stitches and very occasionally for straightforward crochet. They also come in useful when mending knitwear.

This is rapidly becoming an epic post as I am not even a quarter of the way through the contents of my bag of tricks. I shall leave you with this for now and flesh out the rest in the next couple of days. Otherwise I shall never ever start blogging.