Category Archives: wiseNeedle


Another reason we moved String over here to wiseNeedle was to help me stay focused on wiseNeedle maintenance. I’ve spent my discretionary blogging time this morning answering wiseNeedle advice board queries, so I feel minorly useful so far today. Again apologies to those who have been waiting for answers – questions were stuck in a morass of spam that was jamming our to-be-processed box. We’ve winkled them out and all have been posted. But not are all visible.

One advice board feature people may not know about is that readers can rate answers (anonymously, of course). Questions remain on the open list until the aggregate score of all accumulated answers is high enough that we are reasonably satisfied that the question has been answered. So even if you aren’t intending on providing answers yourself, feel free to go over and review what has been posted. More unanswered queries lurk below the ones that have been addressed, but won’t be visible until items above them in the Open Questions queue are judged adequate.

Oh. And if you want to answer queries, please know that your assistance is greatly valued, not only by the original posters of questions but by everyone in the future who may search the collection looking for similar advice. Plus we remain open for new questions. Feel free to send them in, too.

On the knitting front, I didn’t get to do the grafting on the big red doily last night. My assistant photographer in residence had too much homework to help out, and barring growth of two more hands I can’t manage a camera and grafting at the same time all by myself. I did do some swatching for the Print o’ Wave scarf,. I am narrowing in on my chosen needle size for full implementation, but have no actual product to show off yet.

Technorati : :
Zooomr :
Buzznet :


Small progress on several fronts. First, I’ve finished the knitting on my red doily. I have done the ceremonial breaking off of the yarn, and am up to the grafting part. I will begin that tonight, possibly even documenting it with photos, if I can find a willing volunteer photographer in the house. I will also try to get to the blocking of both doilies this weekend, although pre-holiday preparations and work may intrude.

On the website front, our resident technical wizard is fine-tuning some aspects of the site and boldly slaying bugs. Comments should now be working properly. I have put some pointers on the old String site’s most popular pages, redirecting folk over here, so with luck some of the people who link to those pages will notice and make corrections before those pages go dead. I’ve also started to answer the backlog of questions on the advice board, add more of this season’s yarns to the database, and to learn Wiki syntax. I’m plotting out the KnitWiki structure right now, diagramming hierarchies and interrelationships on paper. Suggestions for areas not to miss, or for how content would be most usefully organized are most welcome.

In addition to all this stuff going on (plus heavy deadline pressure at work) I still haven’t worked the lace bug out of my system. I’m not quite sure what will be next up. I’ve got a ball of lace-weight linen in a natural ecru. It’s two-ply construction, with a small bit of thick/thin and linen slubbing going on. I got it at the one Maryland Sheep & Wool festival that I went to, circa 1996. For solid sections, it looks best on 1.75 or 2mm needles, so I suspect for a bit lighter, lacier look I’ll move up a size or two. Not quite sure of my yardage, but whatever it is, that’s all there is. I’m thinking of messing around and making something up, combining lacy stitches from Hither and Yon (two of my favorite sources), adding an edging, and ending up with something wearable. Perhaps a medium-sized rectangular or square scarf, able to be worn as a dress accessory (there’s not enough there for a huge shawl). One minor complication that should work itself out – I have misplaced my copy of Heirloom Knitting. I used it last when I was selecting the edging for the second red doily. The one I used came from its pages.

Or I might do Eunny Jang’s Print o’ the Wave Stole. She’s already worked out a simple layout using a traditional Shetland pattern and companion edging. The Print o’ the Wave design itself is visually complex, but very easy to work, with a logical 12-row repeat. Eunny has also done an excellent tutorial on lace shawl construction. The series goes on from the one on shawl construction (links are on the right hand side of her page) and includes a highly useful round-up of lace-knitting cast on techniques.

Technorati : , :
Ice Rocket :
Flickr :
Zooomr :
Buzznet :
Riya :
43 Things :



I’ve caught up on the by-hand port of last month’s entries from the Blog City incarnation of String or Nothing. I’ve copied over comments, too. It was much easier to do this for the months prior to June. In June BC changed their blog back-up methods, and stopped offering XML exports. Earlier stuff we were able to (mostly) automate, although there will probably be some links here and there that need to be replaced. My premium Blog City account will expire at the end of November. At that time all of the photos there will disappear. Shortly after that BC will probably pull the plug on the account proper, as I will no longer be posting anything new over there. If you have links that point to entries there, please take a moment and use the search page here to hunt up the comparable entry in this location. Otherwise your links will go dead. I’m afraid I can’t contact each of you individually (Google says there are thousands of links to String pages out there), so apologies on this blast notification.

I’ve also caught up on entering the backlog of yarn reviews and advice board questions on wiseNeedle proper, although there are lots and lots of advice board answers that remain to be written. Feel free to pitch in and answer fellow knitters in distress. Even though in some cases the questions themselves are no longer “shelf fresh” future knitters with similar queries will benefit from our assembled knowledge on file.

Aside from getting back to a semi-regular schedule of semi-regular postings here and updating the yarns database with as many new season products as I can find in catalogs and on-line listings, the biggest rock remaining to roll is our KnitWiki. I’ll be dividing my time between blogging and structuring that resource. Lots of reference material that I have posted on String will end up over there Plus there are books and books worth of other articles to create. But first I have to do the basic tree structure type index that ties the whole thing together. Everyone needs a hobby…

Doily progress? Here it is (click on pix below to enlarge):


As you can see I’m pretty close to finishing my edging. I estimate that by mid-week I’ll have completed it and grafted the seam.

Other than that, a hearty welcome to the ten people who have followed me here from Blog City. With luck and time (plus getting the word about our relocation out), the rest of String’s regular audience will find this spot, too.

Technorati :


Thank you to the two people who wrote in to report errors on wiseNeedle and String-or-Nothing associated with our port and update. We’re fixing them as fast as we can. If you find bugs or strange behaviors, please send them in. I have also processed in the backlog of yarn reviews and queries that were stuck among junk entries in a gigantic queue of spam posts. My sincere apologies if you have been waiting to see a query or yarn review appear. After noting that we received over 100 ads for questionable products on just one single night you can bet that we’re working on the spam prevention problem, too.

Next steps include catching up with reposting the last few String notes from July and August on Blog-City to the new String over here; beginning to answer the huge pile of backlogged questions on the Advice Board; putting basic structure into the Wiki; and getting as many of this season’s yarns’ basic data into wiseNeedle as I can. In my copious free time of course.

Oh. And knitting. I’m happy to report that the latest Red Doily progresses apace. My edging now marches three quarters of the way around the piece. There’s no point in taking an additional picture yet. It looks pretty much the same as it has. I promise pix when the thing is done. As ever, your patience is greatly appreciated.


Surprised to see this here? Don’t be!

We’re taking the wraps off our newest set of projects: porting over my whole String or Nothing blog over here; making various deep infrastructure changes to improve wiseNeedle’s base performance; spiffing up wiseNeedle’s overall look and feel; starting a knitting and embroidery Wiki; and even adding a new lace scarf knitting pattern for all to enjoy.

We’re not quite done. We’ve got some buffing up to do – some odd formatting to fix (most notably in the new scarf pattern); some recent String posts to copy over by hand; some links that need repair; and (a big undertaking) putting the flesh-and-bones on the wiki.

In the mean time, take a stroll through and see what’s here. After all, we don’t do a major overhaul very often. Only about every four years, whether we need it or not.


There are an awful lot of people in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and possibly points further north who will be needing an awful lot of help in the coming days, weeks, and months. And I’m not talking about knitting socks or hats for them either.

If you can afford it, consider donating money to the relief efforts just getting started to assist people affected by Hurricane Katrina. Here’s a link full of legitimate charties that can funnel aid to people in need.


Unless you have a personal contact at someplace that’s sheltering refugees, and a guaranteed way to get stuff to them (NOT US Mail, UPS, FedEx or chartered truck) – donate money instead of trying to send goods. Think about it. There’s no infrastructure to distribute goods, and there’s a far greater need for the assistance personnel down there to do search and rescue, transport of the vulnerable, wounded or sick, than there is for them to sort donated items for distribution.

More places accepting money donations:
American Red Cross
United Way


Monday I posted about teaching my sock class, and as part of it – teaching the backwards loop (half-hitch) cast-on for sock tops. I wrote that I thought the half-hitch cast-on was the stretchiest one I knew. I use it often both for sock tops, the bottom edge of lace pattern pieces, and the edge of watch caps – in fact, most things I want to stretch to their maximum potential. Sockbug wrote in to say there were other, stretchier choices.

I’ve heard people express skepticism on the durability of a simple half-hitch sock top edge, but not its potential for stretch. (For the record, out of around 30 pairs of socks in my own drawer, and easily another 75 knit for other people, I’ve never experienced nor had feedback that a half-hitch cast on edge has failed). Still, I’m always open to learning new things (there’s a nifty one below I’ll be trying out soon.)

Just to make sure we’re talking about the same thing, here’s the half-hitch cast-on:

Now I can’t say I’ve used every other cast-on out there (there are dozens and dozens). I’m always looking for more. Here’s a round-up of what I can find on the Web, and in some standard reference books. Today’s group is the family of half-hitch/backwards loop cast-ons, including a couple of rarely seen variants.

Reference book key:

Vogue Knitting. I have the old edition, (c) 1989. Page refs are good for that one.

DMC Encyclopedia is also known as Therese de Dillmont’s Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework. It exists in dozens of editions. Mine is the Running Press one put out in 1974. Page numbers can vary, but the fig numbers accompanying the text are uniform in all editions. Where possible, I’ve given the fig numbers as they appear in the knitting section.

Bantam Needlework. The Bantam Step by Step Book of Needlework I’ve reviewed this one before. It also exists in several editions. Mine is the 1979 issue. To my knowledge, page numbers are constant across editions.

Dictionary of Needlework. The Dictionary of Needlework by S. Caulfield, and B. Saward. This is a big wandering needlework omnibus, first put out in 1882. I have the 1972 Arno Press reproduction.

Stanfield. Encyclopedia of Knitting. This is a newer book, (c) 2000 – and is one of the easiest to grasp, yet unpatronizing or project dependent of the current crop of books for beginning knitters.

Apologies for not citing Mary Thomas. That book is Somewhere. Somewhere being defined as "within the house, but AWOL."

Half Hitch (Backward Loop; Single) Cast-On

This one is the simplest of all – just a series of loops mounted on the needle. I’ve seen people work the half-hitches in either the right or left orientation. I like to follow up this particular cast-on with a single row of plain knit before I launch into a ribbing. This seems to firm it up a bit, and avoids the untwisting purl problem that some people experience when working in the round.

Advantages: No need to measure out a long length, then hope you have enough set aside to accomplish all the required stitches. Very stretchy. Easy to teach to absolute beginners. A standard choice for adding stitches at the end of rows, or replacing stitches mid row (as in some buttonholes).

Disadvantages: Purls can untwist the simple loops of the cast-on row. Not the sturdiest, most stable edge. Some people think makes a sloppy, loose looking edge compared to other methods.

On line references:

Book references:
DMC Encyclopedia, Fig 420
Vogue, p. 25
Bantam, p. 16
Stanfield, p. 17

Double Loop Variant of Half-Hitch Cast-On

I haven’t tried this one myself, and just ran across it researching this note. The source cites it as being very suitable for lace edges in which multiple increases occur rapidly on the succeeding row. That leads me to believe it’s also quite stretchy. It also looks a bit more open than the plain half-hitch cast on.

The best way I can describe it is to form a standard half-hitch loop, but before pulling it snug up against the previously formed stitches, to take it and give it a half twist, then place the loop formed by the half twist on the end of the needle – in effect making two stitches from every half-hitch loop.

Book reference:
DMC Encyclopedia of Needlework: Figure 421

Double Cast-On or Thumb Cast On

I learned this one only recently. It’s a useful addition to my bag of ticks, but I haven’t settled on a best use case scenario for it yet, although I could probably substitute it for other places in which I’d do a standard long tail cast-on.

I’m grouping this one with the half-hitch family because the ultimate row formed at the bottom of the work is secured by half-hitches, although it could be argued that it more properly belongs in the long-tail family. It’s a simpler version of the long tail method, and starts by leaving an ample tail (about 3x the width of the thing to be cast-on); and making a slip knot. The knitter forms a half-hitch using the long tail, but holds it open with the thumb. Into this loop around the thumb he or she then knits a stitch using the working strand of yarn (NOT the long tail).

Advantages: Firmer than half-hitch. Slightly easier to teach than some other long-tail methods.

Disadvantages: Has a tendency to become too tight. I correct this by casting on over two needles held together. Needs a guesstimate on how long the tail needs to be to accommodate the required number of stitches (I sometimes cheat by knotting together two strands for the first row, cutting one at the end of the cast-on and accepting the fact that I’ll have an extra end to darn in later). Because the bottom end is half-hitch, it isn’t as firm as some other cast-ons. Some think it may be as prone to wear as the half-hitch.

On-Line references: (last link under long tail)

and an interesting variant – doing this in pattern for ribbing to create an edge with no visual ridge along it. I’d not seen this one before today either. I’m going to have to try this one out myself!

Book reference:
Bantam, p. 16
Vogue, p. 25 (long tail thumb method)
Dictionary of Needlework, p. 281
Stanfield, p. 17


Since writing about The Complete Book of Progressive Knitting last summer, I’ve found out a tiny bit more about Ida Riley Duncan.

First, she was a VERY big name in knitting in the 1950s. Not only did she write Progressive Knitting, she also wrote at least three works, including a book on sewing and dressmaking/tailoring, a comprehensive overview of needlework in general, and today’s subject: Knit to Fit, New York: Liveright, 1963. (My local public library’s edition is the reissue from 1966; another expanded edition was put out in 1970). Ms. Duncan was a professor of home economics at Wayne State University in Michigan. She also ran a knitting design school in Detroit that offered both on-site and home study courses. Her school was a perennial advertiser in knitting magazines of the 1950s including Vogue Knitting.

Knit to Fit is pretty impressive. This book contains the entire home-study text component of Duncan’s "Progressive School of Knitting Design" course. It’s framed as a study course, with chapters that have challenges at the end of each one, and an answer section in the back that provides the solution to each challenge.

It’s aimed at both machine and hand knitters, and goes far deeper into the transformation of body dimensions into garment patterns than any other vintage book I’ve looked through so far. She’s especially strong on skirts and tailored tops of all types. Her treatment of garment proportions in addition to plain old fit should be required reading for all too many of the people designing for contemporary knitting mags.

Among the proportion and fit problems she addresses in specific are saggy, overwide necklines, bunching under the arms; bubble-butt distortion on knit skirts (albeit it under a far more genteel label); armhole gap-itis in sleeveless garments and vests; the mistake of addressing front bust measurement and back chest measurements as one circumference; badly mated full fashioned sleeve caps and armscyes; the mystery of dart shaping and placement; collars and lapels that won’t stay folded down; fitted waists that aren’t; and and pigeon-busted raglans. In fact, she appears to be one of the first to write up the percentage system for raglan design.

Other bits that are covered include knitting with ribbon, and how to tame a ribbon knit piece with extreme blocking; and how to run a knit shop and what to charge (or what one would have charged in 1963). She also provides typical measurements of various US women’s sizes circa 1963 – very valuable info for those who are looking to knit from patterns of that era. For example, a size 18 in 1963 was predicated on a bust measurement of 36 inches, while a size 12 had a 25 inch waist. Ease was then added to those figures. It’s interesting to note that from childrens’ size measurements she provides that they haven’t changed as much over the years. One obvious lack here – there is no guidance provided specific to men’s measurements or sweaters, although some man-tailored details like points at the bottom of buttoned weskit style vests are discussed.

Yes, this isn’t a modern knitting book with photos and shelf appeal. It’s black and white mostly text, with lots of line drawings and schematics. No, there aren’t patterns in this book. Instead it’s a comprehensive course on drafting out your own. Even though the styles it details are not current, enough of a designer’s treasure to rate "seek me out" status. I will be looking to add both it and Duncan’s Progressive Knitting to my own reference shelf, where both books will take their place next to Mary Thomas’.


Mail and comments have brought some inquires:

How did the panforte turn out?

Looks great. It’s extremely dense, but not brittle-hard, with a deep cocoa/spice/fruit aroma. The recipe calls for coating the entire cake in bittersweet chocolate before serving. We plan on having ours at a party on Sunday. Since I won’t be tempering the chocolate, I didn’t want to coat it too soon. To do so would mean I’d have to find fridge space for it. So I covered it tightly in plastic wrap and let it sit out on the sideboard. (I might pour something spirituous over it between now and Sunday, just for fun.) Sunday it gets coated and served. Reports on Monday for sure.

And the cookies?

I’m still behind on cookie production. So far I’ve done the peanut butter cookies, the chocolate chip cookies, the brownie crinkles (to die for!). plain old sugar cut-outs (mine are flavored with lots of lemon), the rum balls, and the Mexican wedding cakes. Today’s agenda includes Oysters but with walnuts instead of hazelnuts (I ran out of hazelnuts, but have a ton of walnuts left), and a cookie with marzipan filling. I’d originally planned on doing a chocolate cookie with the almond filling, but I’ve already got several chocolate varieties. Perhaps a cinnamon cookie instead… I’ll be figuring this one out on the fly. That leaves two more before we’ve got the requisite 10 kinds in house, not counting the party-destined panforte. One may be orange drop cookies (recipe in hand from a dear friend who lives far away). Not quite sure what I’ll do for the last one yet. Suggestions are welcome.

The monitor?

"It’s dead, Jim."

It’s a classic case of you get what you pay for. I didn’t have much to spare at the time I got it, so I opted for a bargain basement model. There’s a reason it was so inexpensive. If you’re monitor shopping, avoid Samsun SynchMaster 997DFs, even if they’re so cheap they’re almost free.

However I’m happy to report that a solution is on the way. Having had the foresight to register this dog, it’s still under warranty. The horizontal control transistor problem is well known. The official Samsung remedy for blown horizontal transistors still under warranty is to replace the whole thing. So they’re shipping me a new unit. For free. When it arrives, I’m to box up the dead one and mail it back. (They do hold a credit card deposit until the dead one arrives back at the warehouse). So with luck, by the New Year – give or take a couple of days, I should be able to work outside my 3-inch square box. Which is just as well. Squinting at the type in this teeny window is tiring in the extreme.

What am I going to knit when the gift knitting is done?

Back to the Birds Eye shawl and the Crazy Raglan. The latter item just turned up. It sprang out of nothingness as I was hunting for the boxes in which we stowed the holiday cards. (I never found the cards…) Which proves the point. If you’ve lost something and can’t find it, look for something else and your problem child is sure to turn up.


First, a recap. I’ve covered these sites so far:

  • YMW I – Berroco, Knitting Fever
  • YMW II – Karabella, Adriafil
  • YMW III – Rowan, Spinrite/Bernat
  • YMW IV – Cascade, Classic Elite
  • YMW V – Patons, Lion Brand

Today we hop over and look at websites maintained by Debbie Bliss Knitwear, and Estelle.

Debbie Bliss Knitwear

The Debbie Bliss website is divided into three main sections – patterns, yarns, and information. It also has a retail section for direct orders. Starting with the yarns page we find a complete listing of the yarn lines and colors available this season. However, yarn information is rudimentary at best – listing only fiber content. There is no gauge info, no wash info, no recommended needle size, no ball weight or yardage indicated. There are no photos of retail put-ups, labels or swatches, but color is shown by a small chip style photo of the yarn, so you can kind of see the texture of the yarn. Sort of, because the chips are small. In the yarn section are also listings of retail sources. Looking up US sources generates a bounce over to the Knitting Fever website, where there’s a proximity to zip code search function (difficult to spot, in the upper left of the page).

The patterns section is a bit better enabled. Each current book is displayed. Most but not all have a link to view selected contents. These detail pages show a few of the designs from the book. A few of them go on to list the size options, the yarn used and the number of balls needed for each size. Even on pages with additional info, not every item shown is completely detailed. There are no links between the pattern and yarn pages. The patterns section also offers up an errata page with corrections offered for Baby Knits and earlier books. There’s also a free pattern for a button-finished pillow.

The information section provides contact info is listed for the major overseas contributors, but there is no eMail or ground address provided for Debbie Bliss Knitwear itself. (There’s also the caution that DBK is unable to provide help with individual patterns over the Internet.) Other offerings under "information" are pretty cursory. The newsletter mentions a trade show that happened two months ago, and the workshops listing shows classes that were held back in September. I did not attempt a retail purchase.

Overall this site is easy to use, but is sorely lacking yarn info. My guess is that this is done on purpose – to ensure that people making DB patterns use DB yarns and only DB yarns. Still, not offering up so much as care guidance for the yarn lines is an oversight. Major points are taken away for lack of basic yarn info. Some are earned back by having easily found pattern corrections, and for the half-hearted attempt to provide yarn use specs for a minority of the designs in the various books. More points are taken away for lack of direct contact info (What happens if you bought yarn direct from the site, and it was defective? While this is uncommon it can happen. To whom do you then report the problem?) Debbie Bliss Knitwear’s site gets a C-, especially considering that it offers retail capability and as such should be of more help to customers. There’s no way I’d buy anything from it without more complete information.

Estelle Designs and Sales

Estelle is another of the omnibus importer/distributors like Knitting Fever. They’re Canadian, and handle Estelle, Lang, King Cole, GGH, Dale, Tivoli, and Scheepjeswol yarns, plus Rebecca Magazine. Registered and pre-approved retailers can place orders through the website, but I don’t believe that they sell directly to end-user consumers. The site is divided into sections for yarns, books, contact info, a shop finder, and free patterns. Yarn shops have their own section (Customer area).

The yarns section is divided by maker line. Under each maker is a list of current and about-to-be-current yarns. Clicking on items in each maker’s list will pull up a detail page. The data contained on the detail pages varies from yarn maker to yarn maker. Estelle’s include fiber content; yardage/weight; suggested needle size; and suggested stitch and row gauge. There’s a large close-up shot showing the yarn’s appearance, plus color chips of each color and (for some yarns) a close-up photo of a knitted swatch. Each page is dated (a nice touch that provides assurance that the colors listed are current). Wash info is not provided for Estelle yarns. King Cole and the Scheepjeswol pages list fiber content, yardage, suggested gauge/needle size and wash info. All have color chips, but only a few have yarn close-ups. No King Cole pages show swatches. Lang has fiber content, gauge/needle size, yarn close-up and color chips (some of these show link broken); plus wash info for some but not all yarns. Dale is similar, with fiber content, suggested gauge/needle size, wash info, yarn close-up, label graphics, and color cards. GGH’s list is the most cursory. There’s a long roster of names, fiber content, yardage, and suggested needle size. No photos of the yarn or available colors, gauge or wash info.

No yarns on the site are shown in retail put-up, nor is there info on historical products. Yarn info pages list that makers’ booklets for some but not all of the lines.

The Knitting Books section shows covers of the various leaflets and books distributed by Estelle. Except for photo lists for Estelle’s own line of patterns, no effort is made to show the contents of any other book or leaflet, pictured either here or under the individual manufacturer pages. The Estelle pattern lists show leaflet contents. Each design names the yarn used to make it. No info on sizes or yarn quantities is offered. No links are provided back to the yarns themselves. Amusingly, all the Estelle projects (including the blankets) are shown modeled by the same woman, and there don’t appear to be any patterns for children, babies, or men.

The contact page includes eMail, telephone and ground addresses. The free patterns page offers up mostly scarves, but has a smattering of other projects, too. Few of them however are illustrated. (Note: the presence/absence/quality of free patterns do not affect my grade of the site). There’s a shop finder that provides shop names, towns, phone numbers and (if available) web links, but not street addresses. There’s also a "what’s new" page that describes the latest additions to the website.

Estelle has clearly aimed its website at shop owners as its primary customers. End user knitters are given thought in the free patterns and shop finder areas, but those services are secondary. Points are awarded for the availability of current yarn info. Points are taken away for the unevenness and partial completeness of that info, lack of info about the patterns, lack of historical info, and lack of pattern errata. I’ll factor the shop-owner focus into the grading here, as the thing isn’t intended to be a retail site. Even so Estelle emerges with a C+. If the yarn pages were more uniform in info content and included wash instructions, and if a list of historical info was provided I’d bump it up to a B-.