Monthly Archives: March 2015

A toothpick does not belong in a lock! [aka. Yarn balling is cheaper than therapy]

My yarn balling station. Not pictured is the huge additional sack of yarns waiting to be balled. 

I arrived home Friday evening to find that my kid had shoved a toothpick into our front door lock, which then broke off inside. My husband attempted to remove it using a small piece of metal but that just pushed it in deeper, effectively ruining the lock and locking us out of our house. Why they didn’t just go out and get a pair of tweezers to pick the wood out, I’ll never know. Worse yet, had they just waited until I got home I could have gotten it out because I had a pair of tweezers in my purse. To say I was irritated would be a gross understatement. Faced with either breaking a window, a vastly overpriced after-hours visit from a locksmith, or attempting to break the door down, my husband opted for breaking the door down. Scarily it wasn’t that hard to break down, but the damage was significant as you can see in this picture.

This was how my weekend began. Not awesome. Not awesome at all.

While my husband and kid went out to get some supplies to fix the door (new lock set, replacement wood for the door jam, a chisel, etc) I stayed home in part just to guard our now wholly unprotected house but mostly because I found this situation so hugely irritating that I just wanted some quiet alone time to process it all. I was in no mental state for knitting, my agitation and frustration would likely only lead to mistakes in my knitting which would just make me even more frustrated, so instead I put on some jammies, put on some stampylongnose youtube videos, curled up on the couch under a blanket and got to work balling my sock yarns. Earlier in the week I had received a couple of packages from some fellow Ravellers who donated some of their scrap sockyarn to my sockyarn blanket, so I frankly have a huge amount of yarns that needs proper balling.

The fruits of my labours. Lots of pretty little center pull balls of sock yarn!

One package I received has all the yarns done up in mini-skeins, and the other two were mostly balled up and still needed to be converted to center pull balls. On top of the packages I got in the mail, I also want to clean up and properly ball the rest of my sock yarn stash into center pull balls, so truly there is a lot of nostepinning (?) that needs doing.

Balling yarn is an undeniably tedious task. It isn’t thrilling or terribly interesting, but the tediousness and repetitiveness of it works like therapy for me. I find I have to focus on it quite a bit to do it properly and end up with nice, tidy, non-football shaped center pull balls. I am sure lots of people can mindlessly work up center pull balls using a nostepinne, and maybe with practice it’ll become a mindless thing for me too, but right now it requires focus. This is a good thing. The more focus and concentration required, the more distracted from the insanity of my life I get, the better I feel. And having something to show for it (ie. a box of nicely balled yarn) helps too.

It was about two hours before my husband and son arrived back at home, supplies in tow, and by that time the yarn had worked its magic. I was feeling better. The situation is still irritating, but it no longer felt like a disaster and I could even see some positives to the situation. The door is mostly fixed now, and honestly a lot more secure and safe than it had been before all this went down. I also finally got the new non-brass-coloured doorknob I had been wanting for a long time now. I’m also getting pretty good at using my nostepinne which is a skill that will likely serve me well over time.

Yarn therapy. Wool meditation. Zen balls. (Ha!) Call it whatever you want, but I felt better, thanks to the magic of yarn balling.

Nostepinne: the low-tech way to wind your own center pull balls 2

For a long time I was a big supporter of balling any yarn I purchase, regardless of how they were when I purchased them. I even balled some nicely wound center pull cakes, believing that a ball is much easier to use, tidier, and less likely to tangle. 017

Yarn Barf

noun, slang

1. A big tangled mess of yarn that comes out of a center pull ball when trying to retrieve the end.

The origins of this belief that center pull balls are terrible is due to the commercially wound center pull balls. Not the cakes, but the center pull balls, like the Kroy Sock Yarn balls in the adjacent picture. Those types of balls can be center pull and are supposed to be, but holy hannah they are very often a pain in the butt. Yarn barf, tangles, the ball collapsing as you go, etc. So because  I had such a miserable time with those kind of center pull balls I assumed ALL center pull balls (including cakes) were awful, and therefore balled every bit of yarn I got my hands on.

This was a mistake.

Balls DO have their benefits (they are pretty good at not tangling, and it is easier and faster to ball up yarn than it is to make a center-pull ball/cake by hand) but there is a bucket load of downsides, the biggest being that they are BALLS, and therefore roll all over the place, including under the couch to collect dirt and dust and the various flotsam and jetsam of life that resides under couches. There also is the problem that the ball needs to move around and roll to unwind, which means the yarn doesn’t always smoothly and easily unwind as you knit. I find I have to pull out slack from the ball, knit, then pull out more slack, knit, etc. It is a pain.

When I finally left a center pull cake as it was and just used it as a center pull cake I was converted. What a magical experience it was! No tangles, no collapsing, no rolling under the couch. Just smooth, easy, happy knitting. Once I discovered the wonders of center pull cakes I looked dejectedly at my stash and all the balls and got pretty sad. So many balls of yarn that used to be center pull…

I resolved to convert my balled stash into a center pull stash.

My spoon nostepinne

Now, the obvious answer for making center pull cakes is a ball winder. I have a pretty fantastic swift (courtesy of my mother-in-law and father-in-law) and have been eyeing a ball winder for a time to complete the set, but I’m cheap. It is going to take me a while to work up the will to spend money on a ball winder. I then looked to other options, including DIY ball winders, and came across a device called a nostepinne. Weird word for what is a pretty simple tool. Basically, its a stick. It is a smooth stick, usually made of wood, that you use to wind center pull balls. You can get fancy dancy ones that are carved, you can get them in various widths, some have notches or grooves to hold the yarn, but seriously… its a stick.

I dug through my kitchen drawers and found a nice fat, smooth wooden spoon and decided to give it a try as a nostepinne. 2015-03-27 11.27.29The basic technique isn’t complicated and there are a lot of tutorials and explanations online for how to wind a ball using a nostepinne (I linked to a few at the bottom of this page), but the broad strokes steps are the following:

  1. Wind a starter section an inch or so wide. Just wind it around as you would normally until you have a good core to use for the “real” winding.
  2. Begin winding the yarn in a diagonal fashion (bottom right to top left is how I usually do it). Either use your fingers to hold it or catch the loops on the edge of previous loops in order to keep the diagonal loops from just slipping down the side.
  3. Continue to wind in a diagonal fashion while slowly rotating the nostepinne.

That’s it.  Well, sort of. Obviously this is the simple way of doing it and there are other fancier and perhaps nicer ways of doing it. There is a criss-cross method that results in a nicer looking ball and that probably has more stability and that looks a lot more like the cakes you get from a proper ball winder, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet, and doing it this basic diagonal way gets the job done. Once you’ve wound all the yarn you just side it off your nostepinne and you’re done!

I must confess that my first nosepinne-wound ball was a bit of a disaster. I accidentally wound my end (the end I would be pulling from the center to knit with) into the ball without noticing. The next time I tacked my end to the spoon nostepinne using a little hair elastic so that I wouldn’t lose it and then wound away. Lo and behold, it worked! It wasn’t beautiful or perfect, but it was definitely a center pull ball! Huzzah!

I have done a few since I have have some tips, or things I have found helpful:

  1. Be sure to secure the tail end to the nostepinne so that you don’t lose it later. Some nostepinnes have little notches or grooves for this. I just use a little elastic band. Do whatever works for you, but do secure it. It is very easy to accidentally wind that end in.
  2. Make sure your starter wrapped core (step 1) is substantial enough. You want some yarn accumulated so that when you start going diagonal there is something for the yarn to grip against. Otherwise the diagonal yarn will just slip and become a weird loopy mess.
  3. Don’t wind too tight, that isn’t good for your yarn AND your diagonal loops are more likely to slide down your ball.
  4. If you are having trouble keeping your diagonal loops from slipping try using a finger and a thumb as guides. Each wrap will hold the previous wrap in place, so your fingers just need to sort of prop the wraps up long enough to get wrapped over again.
  5. A tiny nosepinne-made center pull ball! Hurray!

    When a ball is done you need to secure the wrapping end somehow. You can’t just leave it loose because it will unwrap and make one hell of a mess. What I have found works is to make the last few wraps around the center of the ball snugly, and then tucking the end into one of those last wraps. It doesn’t need to be perfect or fancy, you just need it to not unravel on its own.

  6. After you slide your finished ball off your nostepinne, it helps to give it a bit of a squish. This helps it to collapse (in a good way) inside.
  7. If you’re going to use a spoon or some other random household thing as a nostepinne, try to find something a little wider than you think you need. If the thing you’re using as a nostepinne is too thin/narrow it can be hard to wind. I’d say thumb thickness is best.
  8. The more you do it, the easier it gets, the tidier your balls will be, so just keep trying!


Here are some additional resources on using a nostepinne:

Knitted purses done right

As the warmer weather approaches I have been looking towards projects that aren’t so focused on keeping me warm. I have long wanted to make a knitted purse that I could use every day but I feel like this is a tricky project, and not because they are hard to make.

The problem with knitted purses is that they can end up looking really tacky.

There. I said it. I said the thing you aren’t supposed to say, but it is true! Weird Al is the only person who could pull off a lot of the knitted purses out there. (Sidenote: man do I love Weird Al! Going to his concert later this year! YEAH!) I love to knit and love the look of most knitted things, but I am fully and completely aware that it is very easy to make very tacky, kitschy, dare I say ugly knitted things. VERY easy. I am also prepared to admit that some of the things I have made are ugly. (Cabled Leg Warmers, I’m looking at you…) Knitting is already regarded as being a dorky hobby, no need to compound that by knitting tacky ugly things. I am far from being a slave to fashion, but I do think that how you look and present yourself to the world has an effect on how you are treated. Maybe it isn’t fair or right, but it is just how it is. Plus, I am a civil servant and (unfortunately) have the expectation upon me to look more or less professional and civil servant-y (whatever the hell that means) most of the time.

My other problem is that I have a long history of atrocious taste in purses. I LOVE purses and often end up buying the ugliest purses on the planet. I have literally had strangers come up to me and insult my purse. I have learned to approach purses very cautiously.

So, how do I do the knitted purse while still looking fashionable? There are a TON of patterns out there for knitted purses in every shape and style imaginable, so first I look for knitted purse patterns that have elements I like in the purses I would buy!

  1. Not too big but able to carry what I need without over-stuffing
  2. good pocket placement
  3. comfortable strap at a good length
  4. structured
  5. not overly detailed or fussy

Then I take out the ones that have knitted elements that I find tacky, like the use of novelty yarn. To me, novelty yarn is NEVER the right option. Never ever. (Except maybe in this cute hedgehog pattern…) I also assess whether I think a non-knitter would be likely to wear the purse. If not, well,… maybe it isn’t the best choice.

So what does that leave me with? A surprising amount actually! I think I have narrowed it down to the following patterns.

For purses on the more simple side of things, I love this Braided Cable Handle Tote by Amanda Silveira. (Free pattern) Uncomplicated but still interesting thanks to the cables. And it is felted, and we all know how much I like felting!

For something a little more detailed, the Bee’s Knees purse by Andre Sue is pretty fantasic. Love the pockes and the stitch patten, the straps are nice and wide, and a fun liner fabric can do a huge amount to make it extra exciting and fun (while still being fashionable and untacky). The only think I’m not in love with is the garter stitch for the handle, but that is easily changed.

This DROPS design Bag with cable pattern (free pattern) is pretty simple and I think could be nice if done in a solid colour. It is a pattern I keep coming back to but for some reason I just don’t think it is right for me personally. Maybe it is the shape.

This Pleats Purse I by Josephine Woo (paid pattern) is pretty, felted, and interesting with the pleats. I also LOVE the mustard colour of the purse in the project photos and it is possible I’m responding more to the colour than I am to the purse design.

One pattern I keep coming back to is The Cinch by Nora J. Bellows. Part of me thinks it is too big and bulbous, but man… I just love how it looks. The belted detail adds so much and would be well worth the hassle of having to buy the hardware and do the extra work to finish it. The pattern is a bit pricey at $8.50, but very possibly may be worth it for me.


But then I think, hey, a purse is just a big pocket with some straps… maybe I can design my own! And that may very well be what I end up doing. I do like all the above options (especially Bee’s Knees), so maybe I can take the different elements I like from the different patterns and create a brand new design that exactly matches what I want in a purse. It isn’t like designing a sweater where fit matters. Its just a purse, after all. And this is knitting. If it ends up ugly I can always frog. 🙂


I am always open to suggestions so please leave in the comments any other patterns or ideas!


Links to all the patterns mentioned in this post:

Flowers aren’t the only things that grow in the springtime

My sock yarn blanket is really starting to take on a blanket-y appearance! It keeps growing and growing and growing. I can see the progress and that makes me want to keep working on it, which is good because damn this is going to take a lot of work to finish.

People’s reaction to this project continues to amuse me. This is actually an incredibly easy project to do in terms of skill required to knit it. It is just garter stitch with a decrease, nothing at all fancy going on here. The only “hard” part is just the sheer volume of knitting required. It apparently looks like some sort of knitting rocket science because people generally react with awe and make “I could never do that!” type comments. I keep saying “You could! It is actually really easy!” because seriously, it is REALLY EASY, but no one believes me. I fear I may come off as being falsely modest or something along those lines.

Aside from that I have some notes…

  • My poor worn out needles.

    I’m at ~92 blocks now (still counting the big blocks as four) and inching ever closer to the 100 block mark. I know that this blanket is going to be a LOT more than 100 blocks (probably closer to 600) but the first hundred feels like a benchmark. I feel like if I can cross the 100 blocks mark I will have gotten far enough into the project to have to finish it.

  • I know last update I said how I was doing my decreases by slipping the two stitches purlwise and that the difference was negligible. Yeah,… changed my mind. I have switched to slipping the stitches correctly knitwise and yeah, alright, the “spine” of each block is more snug and defined now. It just looks a bit tidier, especially with the lighter weight yarns. So that is twice now that I have deviated from the pattern and twice that I have learned that it was that way in the pattern for a reason. Lesson learned (I hope).
  • My needles are in rough damn shape. This project is the only thing I ever used these needles on and already I have worn the coating right off of them, mostly from where the needles rub against my palm of my right hand. Don’t quite know what to do about that.
  • This is a scrap blanket. It is supposed to look scrappy and chaotic and a bit rustic (a word I hate, but it applies). I really really don’t think fussing about and edging the blanket or (worse) knitting the little triangles to square up the blanket honours the spirit of the blanket. Bygones to people who have done a clean edge on their scrap blankets, I understand why people would want to, but it just doesn’t follow what I envision for my version of this blanket. I have every intention of leaving it all saw-toothed and the edge “unfinished”. However, I still want the edge to be… tidy. I have found that using some of the heavier weight sockyarns that I have for the edge blocks give me the snappiest and cleanest edge while still maintaining the spirit of the blanket. I wish I had done this for the initial bottom edge because a couple of the blocks at the bottom are in some of the lighter yarns and are a bit looser and floppier than I’d like for an edge. Very tempted to knit a new bottom row of blocks.
  • I am getting really obsessive about block randomization. Before starting a new block I take time to inspect the blanket and make sure I don’t make a block using a yarn that occurred too close to the intended new block. I don’t have a set rule, I don’t enforce something strict like “blocks of the same yarn cannot be closer than 4 blocks away”, it is entirely just my eyeballing it. But I am getting pretty obsessive about it. I am also getting really obsessive about colour variance. I keep ending up with little pockets of similarly coloured blocks which drives me bonkers. Part of the problem is that I feel like I don’t have enough variety of sock yarns right now, which is hard to believe since I have an entire bucket of different sock yarns!
  • I still really love this project. I have basically set aside every other project I had in the works (including my Stripes Gone Crazy sweater) and am working exclusively on this. This may not be so smart. 20150323_074540

My kid thinks I am a knitting superhero 2

My kid, in all his splendor. The stupid faces in pictures is mostly my fault, because every time I take pictures I have him do a serious one AND a funny one. Also, note that he is wearing the very first pair of mittens I ever made for him. 🙂

For his birthday supper he asked for steak and Bearnaise. My not-yet-eight year old LOVES my homemade Bearnaise sauce and asks for it by name. I am raising this kid to be a proper gourmet. 🙂

My son  is fairly awesome. Technically he is my step-son, but I hate using that “step” qualifier. He’s my SON, full stop. I don’t have (or want) bio-kids so having him as my stepson is just about the most wonderful thing ever, and I am so thankful for him. Being a step-mom is pretty hard sometimes, but he makes it about as easy as it could be and I don’t think I would love him any more if he were my bio-kid. He really is fantastic. And yes, I appreciate that every parent thinks their kid is awesome, but seriously, mine is pretty exceptional. I never stop getting surprised by that kid. Take last night, for instance. I told him to think of something awesome to have for supper tonight because his father was going out with his friends so it would be just him and me. I figured he’d choose pizza or tacos… normal kid stuff. Know what he chose to have? The homemade broccoli soup I make. THAT was his “something awesome” choice. Name another kid who would choose that! His father just sort of shrugged and smiled at me as though to say, “That’s all your influence.” And hey, I’m more than happy to have broccoli soup tonight, it is easy and delicious, and I am the one that is always pushing foods like that on him so it is because of me he likes that stuff,… but you know, part of me is disappointed we’re not having tacos…

Taken a few years ago on one of our first family outings to the beach, but not much has changes since then. We bonded over our love of taking stupid looking pictures.

Anyway, my kid is awesome for many other reasons (not just for his apparent love of broccoli soup and Bearnaise sauce) and one of which is his appreciation of my knitting. I think the Creeper Hat I knit for him pretty much sealed the deal for him, he has worn that hat almost every day this winter, occasionally pondering over whether he should wear it on the green side or the black side (it is double knit so totally reversible). He thinks it is fairly magical that I was able to knit something that cool, and it is never a bad thing having your kid think you’re magical. Plus, having knit him a pair of mittens in one evening probably added to his “Lesley is a superhuman knitter” belief.

I have to wonder whether he really does think there is some magic involved in knitting because he is funny around my knitting. He is always very careful never to pull on yarns or anything, but it goes further than that. Once his foot apparently got wrapped around some of my yarn and when he got up and walked away from the couch it pulled the yarn with it. When he noticed he FROZE and said in this huge, totally serious panicked voice, “OH…. NO!!!!!!!” and then started hollering for me to come. It was a total non-issue, he didn’t pull out any stitches, all I had to do is ball up the bit of length he unraveled from the ball. I reassured him it was totally not a big deal and I said it was my fault for leaving my yarn about all messy like that, but it clearly freaked him out and ever since then he has been even more insanely cautious. Now, if my knitting is on the couch and in the way, he picks it up and moves it as though it were a bundle of dynamite and lit matches. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he’s careful with it, but its a bit overkill. Maybe he’s worried if he ruins my knitting by accident I may decide to never knit him things again. ha ha

2015-03-11 13.14.19My sock blanket has been a bit of an enigma for him. He has watched me work on it from square one, I explained exactly what I was doing, and when I started off knitting single squares I would toss them at him as I finished each one and let him play with them, but the whole project just seemed to confuse him. Tiny squares into a blanket didn’t compute, until two nights ago. I was knitting while he and I were watching Spongebob together and he started asking questions about it, asking if I had used up whole “bundles” yet (he meant balls of yarn), and asked what it was going to look like. I finished the square I was working on and then laid out what I had to show him.

His jaw dropped.

He could not BELIEVE what I have made so far. He thinks this sock yarn blanket is the coolest thing ever (I can’t help but agree) but then asked how big I was going to make it. I said “Big enough to fit on a bed”. He stood a couple of feet away from the blanket and asked if it would be “this long” and I said around that big. I said to him “It has taken me a few weeks just to knit this bit, so it is going to take me a really long time to finish the whole blanket! It takes a lot of people who make this kind of blanket over a year to finish it!”.

He just looked at me, smiled, and said completely confidently, “You’ll have it done a few months.”

Well, crap. Now I feel like I need to finish it in a few months so that I don’t ruin the “Lesley is Magic” belief he has in me. I refuse to lose my Superhuman Knitter status.