Category Archives: Gadgets


I just got back from a quick business trip.  Sadly, I came back with a hitchhiker – a bad cold.  But to cheer me up upon arrival was my package from Hedgehog Handworks, with my new Hardwicke Manor sitting hoop frame:

trifles-15   trifles-16

As you can see, I was so excited, I had to try it out right away, even before wrapping the inner hoop in twill tape.  I’ll do that this weekend.

First the specs of my long-coveted indulgence.  There are two joints providing freedom of movement.  Looking at the back of the thing, the first is a slider that regulates height.  The turned barrel at the base of the main vertical has a wooden screw tightener, allowing the vertical arm to be raised and lowered.  Minimum height (pushed all the way in, with the frame positioned parallel to the ground) is 13.5 inches measured from table top to BOTTOM edge of the frame.  Max height on which the tightening screw can be brought to bear is about 18.5 inches. The vertical stick also allows the frame to be rotated left and right, provided the wood screw is loosened to avoid damage.

The second degree of freedom is the y-shaped joint at the top of the vertical stem.  The fixed attachment piece from the round frame fits into the slit of the y-shape, and is tightened by a bolt with a metal wing nut.  (I will probably replace the wing nut with something a bit more finger-friendly in the future).  This allows the frame head to swivel up and down, allowing access to the reverse of the work.

“Orthodox” use position and all of the pix I can find on line show the large paddle piece at the bottom being slid under the left hip, so that both legs sit upon it, and the frame is presented across the user’s lap. Users are also shown sitting bolt-upright on a chair or a sofa.

I’m a bit more relaxed.  My favorite stitching chair is a Morris chair, with wide wooden arms, like mini-shelves left and right.  It reclines.  Instead of sitting upright, I tend to stitch in the reclined position.  I also don’t want to bark the chair’s woodwork with the frame, so instead I straddle the base, with the paddle-bottom underneath my right thigh.  I can adjust the position of the hoop so that it’s perfectly comfortable and accessible in that position.

All in all, I am VERY pleased, although I may need to stitch myself a small bolster on which to rest my left elbow when working with that hand beneath the frame.  The chair arms are too high for comfort, and some support would be useful for extended sessions.  Oh heavens.  A quick project to make something useful that I can cover with MORE stitching.  However will I cope?  🙂

In the same order, I also received some tambour embroidery hooks.  I won’t show them here, but will save them for a future piece.  Hmm…. that elbow cushion…  What do you think?

And finally as a cheer-me-up, Younger Daughter, Needle Felting Maven and all around good kid, saw that I was in need of a small, weighted pin cushion that was presentable to leave here in the library next to my chair.  Although she usually does far more intricate shapes (dragons, tigers, airplanes), she made me a little sea-urchin, weighted in the bottom center with a couple of big rupee coins, for extra sentimental value.  It’s adorable, simple, in colors that match the rug in the library, and at about 1.5 inches across, with the coins giving it a low center of gravity, so it doesn’t go skittering off – the perfect size and weight.


Finally, I have been making progress on Trifles.  As you can see, I’ve got less than a quarter of the surround left to go.  And every single gear uses a different filling.



I haven’t  made a knitting gadget post in a long time. Here’s a frugal crafting tip, echoing something I posted in 2004.

Save those little, rectangular plastic clips that seal up bags of commercial bread, pizza dough, bulk food purchases, and other groceries.  They are very handy for knitting and crochet. Here are some uses.

Stitch markers.  Very obvious.  All of the standard and exotic stitch marker tricks can be done with these, marking repeats, separating design panels, using them to delineate a group of stitches that will be added or decreased away, using them as an in line abacus to keep track of row or pattern repeat counts.

Progress tags.  Like fancier plastic clip style closeable markers, tags can be fastened onto in-progress knitting to mark spots of interest, like centers of pieces to be matched together later while seaming.  Because tags are larger than commercial clips, and disposable (in my house, a renewing resource like wire hangers), they can be written on with a Sharpie marker, for one-use notation.

Seam basters.  Use the jaws of the tags to hold pieces together when seaming instead of pins.

And here you see another use:  pick-up tracking. I have a lot of stitches to pick up along the edges of my current project’s center entrelac panel.  The desired number works out to ten stitches per edge triangle. It’s very easy to lose track, an annoying to constantly repeat the count. But if I clip a tag onto the needle, pick up ten stitches after the tag, then I clip it and repeat, the process is relatively painless.


Marching along. As you can see, I advanced the piece on my rollers. Due to the orientation of my chair and frame stand, I’m most comfortable stitching in the lower third of the available area. Plus, being a new gizmo, I wanted to see how full slack, restacking the bars and tightening worked.

My working thread is marking the center point for the next band. That one will probably be in long armed cross stitch, worked both horizontal or vertical, and on the diagonal to create the foreground. Some museums call this “Punto Spina Pesce.” Modern stitchers probably know it better under the name Montenegrin stitch.

I’ve been having a lively discussion in another forum on useful needlework tools. In addition to the standards, I can offer up this:

Tweezers! Not just any dime store pair. I saw some specifically made for electronics assembly at work. They were so perfect, I went out and bought myself something similar. Electronics tweezers are long and pointy, with precision grip ends. The final half inch or so is nicely rounded, and is a good stand-in for a laying tool (for those who like the economy of a minimal tool set). Further up the shaft the profile switches to more of a D. On mine the 90-degree sides of the D are just sharp enough to cut through thread, so inserting the rounded end into a stitch and pushing ever so slightly will break the stitch without harming the ground cloth. Then the fine grip tweezers can be use to remove any thread detritus left over from ripping back. Electronics tweezers are available in many price ranges. Since nonmagnetic/non-conductive isn’t important for stitching, the least expensive pairs work just fine for my purposes.

I also made a blindingly obvious discovery about needles. I usually use fine tapestry style needles on ground cloth that’s 40+ threads per inch. But I often stitch those finer cloths with one strand of embroidery floss. One strand of floss has the annoying habit of falling out of the needle’s eye, something that drives me batty. But over the weekend I found these:


Ball point hand sewing needles, made for use on tricots and fine knit fabrics. You can see in the un-thumbnailed photo above that the eyes are tiny – just big enough for one strand of floss. The points are not quite as blunt as tapestry needles, but they are far less pointy than embroidery or plain-sewing sharps. They slide nicely between the threads of my ground cloth. And the small eye retains the single strand, reducing the time and annoyance of re-threading mid-work. Not orthodox perhaps, but effective.

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Folk who know me either through String or in person know that I’m generally not prone to enthusiastic gushing. Passionate ranting, perhaps, but prancing around in delight is not part of my idiom.

Until today.

I’ve been pacing the floors since my last big embroidery project ended, keeping busy by knitting small things:

Two pairs of socks and a pair of Fingerless Whatevers. Socks are headed to Elder Daughter, whose pitiful pleas will now be gratified.

But finally, my Needle Needs Millennium Frame has arrived, all the way from the UK:

I’ve wanted to get a new flat frame for quite a while. My old one having been bought in the early ’70s, using babysitting money when I was still in high school. Frame technology has advanced. I was very impressed by the review of the thing over at Needle ‘n Thread. Her pix are better than I could manage, and I agree with her observations wholeheartedly. The frame is well made, and works exactly as presented. It’s easy to load with the work (minimal frame dressing), easy to adjust, and a delight to use. All in all a quantum leap over my old one.

The only problem is one faced by all round frame enthusiasts when they “move up” to a flat frame. It’s large. You need three or four hands to use it. One or two to hold the frame, and two to stitch. But I’ve faced this problem before. Behold my ancient Grip-It frame, bought about 20 years ago when I started working on my Forever Coif:

It holds my Millennium nicely in its omnivorous grasp. Just barely, though. I will take the three bolts that make up the fastening mechanism of the jaws to the hardware store this weekend, and look for some that are a bit longer.

And if having this miracle of modern needlework support infrastructure wasn’t enough to hyperventilate about, I have more to celebrate!

If you’re familiar with 16th and 17th century embroidery – the long red pattern strips that probably bordered domestic linens – you’ve seen that odd mesh background. Some museums call it “Punto di Milano”. Others call it “Point Lace” “Punto Quadro” or “Tela Tirata.”


This is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s artifact “Strip.” Accession number 79.1.81.c

Stitch attributions range all over, in part because there are several ways that a mesh background can be achieved (withdrawn thread; withdrawn thread to make a grid, then darning; pulled thread, etc.) Some books specify that these patterns used Italian Two-Sided Cross Stitch, others say Four-Sided Stitch in addition (or instead) of using an Italian stitch/style name. At this point, I’ll agree with them all because all are feasible. But after long experimentation I’ve finally found a method that’s achievable.

I played with several pulled thread stitches before coming up with this:

It’s the same pattern as the museum piece. I’m working the mesh in two passes. The first is an easy to count pass of double sided cross stitch, worked double and pulled very tightly. The second is a pass in which the bars formed between the cross stitch are whipped four times (two times on edges butting up on un-mesh areas). It’s totally two-sided, identical front and back. While not exactly speedy, using the initial pass to establish the counted pattern is easy, and the fill-in whipping to create the mesh is far less think-intensive than working the same pattern in hard-to-see-the-count long-armed cross stitch. Is this Punto di Milano or Tela Tirata? I am not sure. But it’s darn close!

Requisites for production:

  1. Flat frame on a stand. You need two hands to do this.
  2. Relatively loosely woven ground cloth. Most modern even weaves are too dense. This nice, airy piece of linen was provided by StitchPal Pam (Hi, Pam!), who found it too gauzy for her needs. But it’s perfect for mine.
  3. High thread count ground. Although the weave density on this is good, it’s a bit coarse for this work. To achieve the compression that leaves nice big holes, stitches need to span 3-4 (or more) threads. I’m using 40 count here, stitching over 4 threads. 60 count would be MUCH better, although I’d have to find finer silk thread. I’ll have to investigate this on a future project.
  4. Silk thread. Cotton isn’t strong enough for all the pulling. Linen would have the strength, but it would be thicker, filling the holes more (and it was also done in linen historically, for white on white stitching).
  5. Slightly blunted slender needle with a small eye. This is only one strand of silk floss, and you need to spread rather than pierce the ground cloth threads. Still, a total tapestry blunt is too rounded for this delicate work.


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Spring floods here. A minor one in the basement, brought on by the inordinate amount of rain we’ve had in this area this month, and at work, with more deadlines rushing one upon the other. Which must be good for business, but is exhausting none the less.

Last post I promised two things. The first one is a dream project. Something I will probably never have the time or resources to accomplish (especially the time): my own embroidered casket. Not the kind you’re thinking of.

Back in the 1600s the crowning achievement of what passed for female education was the completion of a small box covered with embroidery. These were called cabinets or caskets, and often featured dimensional embroidery. They were about the size of a large tabletop jewelry box and were truly spectacular. The Peabody Essex museum in Salem has one one dated to 1655.. Here’s a particularly nice one in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s collection. They’re highly sought after by collectors.

Via Needleprint, I stumbled across this:


It’s a modern chest base, made by a woodworker specifically for creating cabinets. If you click on the link you’ll see that the individual panels are made to be removed. All that needs to be done is stitch up a piece of the correct dimension and lace it onto the panel, then refit the panel into the cabinet. Now all I need do is set aside two years, a pile of silks and metal threads, some excellent linen, and $800 for the box base (including shipping). Another item on my ever growing never-never list…

The second thing I promised was word of a snail invasion in the Antipodes. Again, not the kind you’re thinking of. Garden plantings are safe. But Friend-of-Friend Fred Curtis, resident in Australia happened upon my book and is doing all manner of happy things with my snails. Here’s a trial for a man’s necktie to be covered with snails. He also stitched a camera straps using TNCM patterns (shown in process), and has used another of its patterns on a baby bib. But back to the snails. Here’s another of his pieces, offering up early spring inspiration to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere.


(Photo reproduced with permission). I’m always tickled to see stuff worked up from patterns I’ve posted, both for knitting and embroidery. If you’d like to see them posted here in the Gallery, please feel free to send me an image or a link. Fred – thanks for the smile!

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More progress on my Do Right sampler.


It’s going slow due to mounting work-related deadline pressure, but it’s moving along. Here’s a close-up of the latest strip:


Half cross stitch doesn’t provide anywhere near as dense a background cover as regular cross stitch or long-armed cross stitch, but it does give an interesting twill-like effect to the ground. Plus it uses far less thread.

And in the realm of improvised tools and gadgets – today’s is the lowly thread reel. Flower Thread comes in pull skeins. Or I should say – alleged pull skeins. They are not as well behaved as standard 6-ply floss skeins. Because I hate putting my work down to wrestle with my materials I tend to wind each skein of the Flower Thread as I use it. This is a very traditional thing to do. Little flat thread winders of various configurations were common work basket items prior to the introduction of spooled and reeled threads. You can still buy bone, mother of pearl and wooden thread winders. They’re a wonderful addition to one’s general stitching ambiance, especially for those who pursue needle arts in costumed settings.

But me – I’m cheap. Very cheap. I also am mostly retired from SCA events these days, and no longer need to keep up appearances. I make my own thread reels from business cards. Business cards are a renewable resource for me, new ones cross my desk almost daily. Once I transcribe the giver’s information into an electronic storage, I have little need for the small cardboard rectangles. But they are made from thicker, higher quality paperboard than index cards, manila folders, magazine inserts or other similar items. As a result business cards make sturdier, more durable thread reels. And did I mention that they’re free?

One business card yields two thread reels. As you can see from my samples, precision snipping is optional.



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I noticed quite a few hits in the past couple of days from people looking for my Visio knitting symbol stencils (templates). They’re the tools I use to do all of the charts here on String. However those files appear to have gone astray. I’m having problems going back and editing the original posts to edit the links there, so I am offering up this set of links instead.

I’ve got two sets, both for older versions of Visio. For Visio 5 here’s a Zip file containing the basic shape set, increases and decreases, and cables. And here’s the same thing for Visio 2000. I know for a fact that my stencils work with Visio 5, Visio 2000 and the last version of Visio in MS Office 2003. I haven’t had an opportunity to test the latest Visa version of Visio with my templates yet.

Here’s a link to the original post describing my method, but in short – I’ve built a series of “alphabet blocks” each bearing a standard knit symbol. I build my patterns up block by block. I can group or rotate blocks as needed. Once my blocks are in order, I add chart notations, including my grids and row numbering, and a key. I can also use the same system for colorwork charting by assigning my desired colors either to the whole block, or to a small square unit in a block’s center, as needed.


I offer up these stencils to anyone who wants to use them. For the record, I’ve heard that these blocks can be imported and used in other less expensive graphics programs including Edraw. I know that Edraw can open Visio files, but I don’t know if it uses a stencil or template library that can import Visio stencils. I suspect that to adapt my symbols you’d take one of the files in the zip dowloads above, then use Edraw to open it and copy the symbols out.

If you do use my files to create your own charts, I’d greatly appreciate a link back or a line of acknowledgment in your final work. I hope that someone else finds these useful as I do.

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The modular baby blanket continues to grow. To get an idea of large it is, the wooden Brittany birch DPN in the upper left is about 7.5 inches long. I’ve used approximately four balls of yarn so far. Although this yarn is rather ho-hum in its color gradients, I am really liking the effect.


Done in brighter colors, this might have an effect reminiscent of the wonderful play of narrow striping exhibited by larger Kente Cloth pieces made from many strips of narrower weaving.

The Batika yarn is turning out to be a minor annoyance. It’s one of those slipperies, put up in self-destructive puffballs. The balls implode when worked center out, and tangle when worked from the outside end. I’m doing both in order to swap around the color progression. But last night as tomatoes were sliced for dinner, I had a brainflash. The little foam nest that protected the tomato (and that can often be seen around Asian pears) can be repurposed as a yarn tamer for puffball put-ups:


It works quite nicely for this shape yarn ball, even better than the green mesh cylinders that the wine store uses to cushion bottles if you buy more than one (which I also use to tame cylindrical pull skeins).

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Techknitting is posting an interesting series on stranding, and as part of it, mentioned the use of Strickfingerhuts (knitting yarn guides/knitting thimbles), linking back to my original post on the subject.

For those who are unfamiliar with them, they are those gizmos that sit on the end of the left hand index finger, that are used by Continental style knitters (pickers) to hold and separate two or more yarns while doing stranded colorwork.

Adding some more detail on the subject, I’d like to address a problem TK points out as being common among those who hold two yarns in one hand while stranding – differential feed.

If a row has more or less equal numbers of stitches of both colors, both yarn strands are consumed at the same rate. But if a row has lots of Color A, but very little Color B, A will be eaten at a much greater rate, eventually causing the knitter to readjust his or her grasp of the yarn to even things out.

Those of us who do use Strickfingerhuts find that the differential feed rate problem is greatly minimized compared to trying to hold both yarns in the left hand unassisted. Yes, eventually the difference in yarn consumption catches up with us and we have to yank the strands even, but no where near as often.

We do however find that over time we prefer to put the dominant color (the color most represented on a row) in either the left or right eyelet to minimize the feed problem. There’s no hard and fast rule to this, it’s a matter of personal preference.

In stockinette in the round, I prefer to have the dominant color in the right eyelet, and the less represented color in the left. This helps when I lock in my floats:


Although I usually work stranding in the round, occasionally I have to do it in the flat. If I’m knitting stockinette in the flat using a Strickfingerhut, and I’m on the purl side, I prefer to have the dominant color in the left hand eyelet.

For the record, I notice no difference in the appearance of the finished product if I mix eyelets – sometimes putting the dominant color in one, and sometimes in the other. I do however note that some other Strickfingerhut users do, and advocate always keeping the background color in the same eyelet regardless of its relative dominance on any one row. Again, experimentation is your friend.

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The idea I hinted at yesterday has to do with magnetic boards. It’s not
something I can make at home, but it’s a set of improvements I’d like
to see made.
To recap, the standard issue magnetic board is very useful and very inexpensive, but it has some shortcomings.



appears to be the leading (possibly only) seller of magnetic boards.
LoRan appears to have been bought by or is marketing through the Dritz
line of sewing and crafting notions. LoRan boards come in several
configurations. Some have easel backs, so they stand up on their own.
Some of the easel backed ones have small pencil-holding ledges along
their bottom edge. Sizes appear to be 6"x10", 8"x10", and 12"x18".
There are also supplemental accessories including separately packaged
easel stands, plain gray metal/plastic magnet bars, magnetic bars with
rulers printed on them, see-through magnifying magnet bars, and special
packaged bundles of the base model boards plus accessories. There are
also "after market" vendors that sell other types of place-marking
magnets/magnifiers for use with magnetic boards.

My problem with the LoRan line are:

That it does a lousy job of protecting the charts while the work is in
progress. I didn’t realize exactly how lousy a job until I began using
my improvised solution. The largest LoRan size is bigger than I need
for 99.9% of my knitting charts. But the two smaller sizes are smaller
than standard US 8×11" paper (or the standard Euro A4 size of
210x297cm, for that matter). Charts put on the boards get bashed up –
even if both the board and the page are slipped into a page protector.
This damage is especially bad if the board/chart combo is stuffed into
knitting bags in between working sessions. My el cheapo scavenged
cookie pan’s raised rim did an excellent job of keeping my project
together and unrumpled, and keeping the magnets in place in between

2. The boards are flimsy and prone to bending and denting.
Once they are no longer flat magnets have a more difficult time
sticking. Again, my cookie sheet was thicker and (for non-cooking
purposes at least) resisted warping and denting better than the
commercial product.

The magnets are wimpy, and can’t grab
through more than a page or two, or are easily displaced in between
working sessions. This one is a balancing act. There are incredibly
strong magnets out there, but they would be difficult to move while
working. Finding just the right amount of stick to stay put when needed
and still be easy to move when necessary is difficult. Even more so
when you remember that for most low adherence magnets, the magnetism
slowly dissipates over time. What worked last year might be less useful
this year. My cut up promotional fridge magnets did a fine job
through up to two sheets of paper, but I like to keep all the pages of
a pattern together when I’m working. I’d want something a bit
stronger, perhaps something that could stick through a plastic
protective cover, plus three sheets of paper, but not necessarily
something thicker. The thicker the
magnet, the more difficult it is to read Think thick rulers vs. thin
rulers. Thick rulers are visually offset from what they are
measuring, making taking accurate measurements more difficult.

What I want is something like this:

Wouldn’t it be nifty if
that transparent magnet-through plastic cover was a full-sheet magnifier page?

Now, how much more would I pay for something like this above and beyond
the flimsy market standard? Not sure. If the least expensive packaging of the LoRan 8×10
sells for about $5.00 US (more or less), I’d pay around $15
for something this elaborate, provided the quality of the piece was
commensurate with the price.

Remember – if you see this product for sale out there, you saw the idea here first. [grin]

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