Odds and sods

It feels like a great many of my posts could be titled this at the moment, although I’m grateful to be feeling a bit more like my creative self again. Apparently the whack a mole I’ve been trying to play with the brain weasels is working, for the moment. I was pretty sure I’d been doing nothing at all, because I haven’t done anything especially exciting, but it adds up. I tell others, all the time, that everything counts (sorry for the Depeche Mode earworm), and apparently I don’t listen to myself very well.

So what HAVE I been doing while trying to get myself back on some sort of new normal ish? Let’s wander through the projects littering my house. (As a note, apparently having people over is what keeps the projects from Taking Over.. the spouse is lucky I haven’t taken over his spot on the couch yet, but it’s a near thing.)


The scrappy side, full of ends.

There’s been some plain knitting, as best as I can manage on the plague shawl. It started out using up what looked like a failed warp in an inherited stash, and now has been just using up bits and pieces of whatever else is in the stash in about the right colours. I can’t work on it much, my arms hate every second of it, and it’s going to be CRAZY warm (I started it when my house was FREEZING to sit in all day), just in time for the weather to warm up. It is literally a triangle made by knit 1, yarn over, knit to the end of the row. Continue until you run out of yarn, or patience. Wait, no.. keep going when you run out of patience, you’ll run out of that early, cause damn it’s boring and those rows get super long by the end.


There’s been some modern textile collage, which was something I did long ago with an embroidery mentor. Basically if Sharron was teaching at our modern needlecraft guild, I took her classes. She is an amazing artist, and I wish I had a 1/10th her skills with a sewing machine. (Not enough to practice.. I happily stick to hand stitching). A modern embroidery page is doing mini challenges every week, and one of them was a collage, and I couldn’t resist the nostalgia. I’m trying not to overthink it, it’s not a stunning masterpiece, but I appreciated the distraction working on it. I’ve only done week 2’s challenge, even if they are starting week 6, but I appreciate watching everyone else’s work.

I have been baking and cooking.. basically every day. Nothing overly exciting, mostly dinner every night, and lunch every day. Granola and yogurt and candied peel and bread, so much bread, another sourdough starter, more bread, cake and curries and pottage and muffins and and.. cooking and baking has been my standby for creative work when I didn’t have brain for string. I’d say I can bake in my sleep, but I over yeasted my bread this morning when putting the dough together before coffee, but somehow it all has survived and it is perfectly tasty bread.

The mending box is.. damn near empty. Apparently global pandemics make me want to darn socks and patch holes in skirts. The clothes that need major alterations, well they might sit for quite some time to come, but that’s besides the point.


A wee tiny bit of knitted lace, to potentially end up on another textile collage that I can see in my head, which is generally a death knell to it actually looking anything like that, and destined to be disappointing, but we’ll see. It might end up just being another random bit of lace hanging out in stash.

I’m sure there’s been more, but those are the highlights that I can remember right now. What have you been up to?

Thread comparison

Phew, apparently global pandemics are bad for my posting routines, but I hope to be back into the swing of things, even if I’m just not /doing/ much, or so it feels like. Except that I am, just not big amazing projects (or necessarily SCA projects), so be on the look out for a post of all the stupid little stuff I’m doing to keep my fingers busy (and arm irritated.. but that’s besides the point).

Part of the stupid little stuff I’m working on is a wee bit of knitted lace.

Brief aside; knitted lace is not SCA period, FYI. It’s my one true textile love. It’s one of the redheaded step children of the lace world, so we get no love from anywhere, but I don’t care. While there are extant examples of yarn overs in knitting (Some. Very few. But some), the elaborate use of them to make a hole filled thing that could be visually called lace is just not there. I want it too, but alas, no love.

Ahem. Right, I was doing a wee bit of knitted lace for another stupid irrelevant project that might not even pan out, and I picked out my edging pattern, and grabbed some string and knit up a bit of it. And hated it. Hated it so much, I ripped it out without a picture. Alright, next string. Better, right in some contexts, but not what I was looking for. I had the presence of mind to keep that one, and get out yet another thread and do it again. (It’s a damn fine thing I like knitting lace, but this would be exactly why my arm currently hates me. /sigh/)

I had the two pieces sitting side by each and decided to share them with you. The one on the left is knit from size 30 crochet cotton. The one on the right is size 8 perlé cotton. They look close, but not quite, so let’s talk about each of these threads in the sort of obsessive detail only someone who spends too much time out of their life talking string can. We’re going to look at these unblocked because I am a heathen who isn’t going to block these while on the needles, know that after a wash and stretch, it will change somewhat, but this lace is pretty firmly knit, it won’t change as much as some super soft ethereal stuff.


So, let’s look at the two threads, a quick overview and then I’ll get into the nitty of each. They’re both cotton, just to start, and close in colour. One is variegated, and one is solid, but that’s neither here nor there.  They are not quite the same size, but pretty close. I have knit them using the same pattern, on the same knitting needles (and with the same knitter, as that is more of a variable than anyone gives it credit for).  They are both mercerized threads. What does mercerized mean? It does not mean that it is cotton for hire in your army.  It means that in manufacturing, they took the thread (can also be done to fabric) and treated it with an alkali while under tension to make it perfectly smooth and a little bit shiny. It also increases the tensile strength of the yarn, mucks about with the fibre length, and makes it more water repellent. You do not want towels made out of mercerized cotton, but it makes for a lovely set of sheets, for example.

Alright, let’s talk differences.


The crochet cotton I’m using here is a vintage thread, its label is long gone (picture above from one of the bazillion others in my stash), but experience says to me that it is probably a Coats Mercer crochet (or near enough), which is a tightly spun, quite stiff thread and that tracks with what’s on this ball. My beloved copy of Threads for Lace tells me that it’s a twice plied yarn, which tracks with it being quite stiff. (2 singles are plied first, and then those plied yarns are plied /again/.. my hand spinning soul can’t even imagine fighting that twisted mess, but that’s besides the point.) So its numbers are 2S/3Z (ie 2 singles are S plied.. then 3 of those are Z plied into the final thread) at 22 wraps per cm.


The one on the right is knit with perlé cotton, this one has its label, so I know for certain that it is (also vintage) DMC perlé size 8. This is a much more straight forward 2S spin (ie 2 singles are S plied) and is just a shade thicker at 17 wraps per cm. This thread is also mercerized, which is how it gets its characteristic sheen, and gets to keep all sorts of that sheen thanks to not having been plied within an inch of its life. Over and above the fact that it is legitimately a bit thicker, it also is just more poofy, it has more cushy to it, it has curves. (All euphemisms for calling it fat, I’m realizing, but I’m not here to yarn shame. Especially not during pandemic snack-fest.)

So let’s look back at the comparison between the threads as they knit up. The left one in the crochet cotton is crisper, the stitches are very well defined, almost thin really. The solid sections aren’t quite so solid, but the holes look fantastic. By contrast, the perlé cotton on the right has softer holes, the solid sections have filled in, the whole thing looks (and feels) squishier. Neither is bad lace, both are perfectly acceptable products, but only one fits what I envisioned in my mind, and so the crochet cotton probably will get ripped out, and I’ve already doubled the length in the perlé cotton. (another reason my arm hates me. /sigh/) So which do you like better?

The Peacock

I’ve been teasing this project out on the book of faces and on instagram all through the progression of it, enough that I get surprised when I mention it as just ‘the peacock’ and someone is ‘uhh.. wtf are you /on/ about’. Social media, not always very social. But anyhow.


So it begins.

This project is over 20 yrs in the making. Allow me, if you will, to ramble a bit about the Good Ole Days ™ on the internet, aka the late-90s. It was a time when finding anything was /hard/. Google wasn’t yet a thing, but putting up a webpage, if you were at all technical, was pretty easy. Running a mailing list was very much a thing, most of us were some form of academics (students, staff, faculty) and the world didn’t much care what the weirdos did with the university computers as long as it didn’t break anything. Usenet was a thing, and most of us knitters found ourselves, at one point or another on The Knit List. It was THE list. A listsrv that required just having faith in arcane directions to join. It was where all the knitters of the internet hung out, and there was everything from ‘how do I start?’ to ‘I am knitting guru, and here’s some of my latest design work’. I fell into that first camp on the knit list, just so we’re clear.


Disaster dodged. (Spilled candle wax is bad for lace.)

Regular posters to the knit list became early internet superstars (very much like the ‘fame’ of costumers who are on YouTube these days. #Costube etc.) and I hung upon their every word and project. They were amazing, and one in particular was crazy. My sort of crazy. She knit tiny before knitting tiny was a thing, and I wanted to do that SO BAD. Not only did she knit tiny socks, and a tiny bag. She had knit doilies. A peacock doily. She noted that she’d used piano wire to make her needles and sewing thread for her yarn. I went out and found 0.3 mm piano wire (dutifully following her comments to the letter) and picked up a spool of navy blue thread from the stash to make a sample.


Hey look, peacock!

This was, in a word, a nightmare. That blue thread? Faintly fuzzy polyester of the ‘3 spools for a dollar!’ variety. Navy blue. About as easy to see as finding a black cat on a new moon night in a mud puddle. I never did get nice points on those damn wires, and it caught with every other stitch. I am notorious, legendary even, for having bulletproof tension. I was no different then, and even for sewing thread, I probably should have been up in the 0.75 mm or 1mm needles.

I knit a wee thing about 2 inches by 2 inches, determined that it was 36 stitches to the inch, and when we were packing to move almost 10 yrs later? Threw it in the trash. (I have regrets now, but at the time? It felt cathartic.)


But that peacock doily? I kept the pattern. Not only did I have the original pattern (found at a junk store back in those knit list days), but I had the reprint in one of my lace knitting books. And I was determined. The swatch may have been a hot mess of awful, but the doily.. that should be fine, right?

Reader, it was not fine. Terrible thread (at least I’d moved to a light colour!) and worse needles did not make a complex lace pattern easier than a swatch. I didn’t make it past half a dozen rows, ripped it all out and shoved the pattern back on the shelf.


The original

Fast forward, and I join the SCA. And I discovered more people who are quite reasonable about tiny knitting. And by now, I have acquired more than 20 years worth of knitting experience, and knowledge about thread, and some rather lovely tiny needles, and find myself in need of a distraction project. Thus, the peacock got another crack. An ode, perhaps, to how far I’ve come since the days of that hideous thread and those poor little wire needles.


Early in my bobbin lace learning, I bought myself a rather nice spool of cotton. (Brok 32/2 for those keeping track at home), and it’s been waiting for just the right project. This seemed like the time to break it out. I tried it with 0.75 mm needles (I know what tension is now!) and it was too tight, so 1.0 mm needles (5-0 for the Americans) and that was just about right. I am not going to say that this was the easiest pattern I’ve ever worked. There was language at a few spots and there’s a whole section that is just a mess of picked up tiny stitches and knit 3 togethers that is a nightmare at this size. I took off my glasses to get closer to see what was going on, and poked myself in the face with needles sort of miserable sections. The Interweave reprint has errata no longer easily available on the internet (thank you wayback machine) and even IT is wrong. Thank goodness for having the original available to refer to.



Most who, back in the day, knit the peacock in tiny (it was a /thing/ amongst a few crazy folks), stopped after the peacock section, and called it good enough, but I rather liked the extra border to make it a square, so I decided to do the whole thing. I have no regrets. It’s just about exactly 8″ square, and ultimately it will be tacked down to fabric, framed and hung on the wall. I’m not wholly delighted with my blocking, I might yet block it again, but for the moment, it is done.

Tiny Stupid Project

So those who know my crafting predilections, know that my happy place is putting holes in things on purpose and playing with tiny string. Usually it’s thin cotton, or linen, sometimes wool or silk. Pre-SCA, I tended to kick back with knitting doilies and table clothes and now .. well.. now I try everything, and weaving seems to have taken over much of my time, but that’s besides the point.

It’s been a stressy few months, for a variety of not dire reasons, but that doesn’t make it any less gnngargh in the moment and with not a lot of brain for taking on new things. So I turned to my one true love. (It didn’t hurt that I was trying to come up with an ornament to make for a lace guild exchange, so I was happily surfing small knitting lace patterns.) I found a little doily chart that was super basic, but cute enough. (Promenade for those following along at home.) A variation on a very classic spiral piece, knit from the outside in, which is unusual. (Not sure I’m a fan, but that’s neither here nor there.)


I decided that cotton was enh, fine, but enh, and then remembered that I had a small spool of copper wire that I’d acquired for wire weaving. Y’know, the stuff many in the SCA make lovely metal cords from, that I don’t love doing. I tried it, of course I did, but others love it more than I do (ditto with naalbinding for that matter) So clearly the only thing to be done was to knit a small doily out of copper wire. Because that’s what I apparently view as good stress knitting. (my tendonitis disagrees)


There’s something very satisfying about knitting lace that doesn’t need blocking beyond yanking it into shape, and I did learn that apparently when your tension goes funky you /can/ snap copper wire doing a knit two together. But hey, it’s not going anywhere, just squish that busted stitch in and move on.

I did find a lace pattern for my ornament exchange, so hopefully I can have that for you soon, as well as more silly ornaments. Apparently November is for tiny bits and pieces sort of knitting.

Tiny knitting

I am rather fond of my tiny knitting. I’m noted for working tiny, and I enjoy the heck out of it. Knitted lace out of size 30 crochet cotton is one of my happiest places. (Totally not SCA period, don’t even try. Think 19th and 20th centuries for that, and it doesn’t make it any less ❤ for me. )

What’s tiny? This differs for everyone, IMO, but pretty much if it’s more thread than yarn, it probably qualifies as tiny knitting. Certainly the article that’s been making the rounds about 80 stitches to the inch is tiny, but that’s an extreme. (I’ve never gotten much finer than about 32 stitches to the inch, but hey, perhaps it’s time for a virtual grudge match.)


I get a lot of requests to teach classes in tiny knitting, but it’s hard to get across the details in a class setting. Instead, while I’m starting <cough> another tiny knitting swatch for another piece, I figured I’d hit the highlights in blog form.

This is not a beginner project

I mean, I hate telling beginners ‘oh you shouldnt do that thing you really want to, go knit a dishcloth’. I hate it a lot. I am a firm believer in learning on a project that makes you happy, because then you’re motivated to actually progress. That being said.. shove knitting XP into other things before you dig out the thread and sub 2 mm needles. Hell, you want to start small, start with a sock (or two or ten). Sock yarn is small but not tiny, it gets you in the right habits. (Also, home knitted socks are delightful. It’s a lovely way to shove XP in a skill)


The first row(s) will suck.

This is a given for any project, but somehow it is felt so much more keenly when working in silk at (approx) 20 stitches to the inch. (A bazillion times more when you’ve got 8 stitches on 4 needles and they all want to fall out. Thank you doilies.) You get everything cast on, and you start knitting, probably in the round, and it sucks. The first row, or two.. sometimes even three.. suck. Always. Tension is weird, and stitches aren’t quite sliding right, and there’s nothing holding it together in the round and gnngh. It will get better. Keep knitting.

Starting over is not the end of the world

Sometimes, it doesn’t get better. Sometimes there’s a catastrophic dropped stitch and any efforts to catch it are just .. just no. Sometimes, there is less wailing and gnashing of teeth when you pull out the needles and reclaim the thread. This is not the end of the world. Look at all that xp you just put into this pattern! Win! (Still frustrating

as all hell, don’t get me wrong, but it happens. It’s okay.)


Good light is not optional

This might be less of a concern for those knitters who are under 35, but certainly for those of us who creep ever higher in that age tally, good light is essential. Actual natural daylight is the gold standard of good lighting, but let’s be realistic about the approaching winter, and the fact that I’m indoors a lot. The lighting sucks. I swear by my Ott light, but any good bright light is a boon. Some people swear by a lighted magnifier, I find it really distractingly disorienting, but see what works for you. Save knitting in the movies for when you’re doing a plain vanilla dishcloth or something.


This is not a weekend project

This seems to sneak up on people, and it should be obvious, but it is worth repeating. When you need to do 20 stitches (or more) to get an inch worth of stitches, there is a lot of knitting in a piece with tiny stitches. A few mm of progress is significant. This is not going to whip up in a weekend, so zen into the process. You’ll get there eventually. I find that crossing things off on the pattern really helps give me visual cues that progress is being made.


Practice in cotton

Or in wool, if you prefer, but if your aim is to knit in silk, then practice in cotton. Wool has stretch, it’s more forgiving to colour work, it’s more forgiving in general. Silk, and cotton are both threads with not a bit of elasticity, and they will put you in your place and show you want they don’t like, even if wool is easy going about it. There is no shame at all in doing pieces in cotton. It’s cheap, it’s easy to find, comes in a variety of sizes and if you rip it out 10 times and it’s grotty, it’s cheap enough to throw out. Know that different cottons /do/ look and work differently. Cotton can be mercerized or not, which affects its hand and shine. (Mercerized is more shiny, non is not)


Crochet cotton usually starts at about size 5 and as the number goes up, the size goes down, which makes it very natural for progressing through sizes as you want to try smaller work. My tension is unusual (aka bullet proof tight usually) so suggestions on needle sizes vary wildly, but for solid fabric I’m usually about 1mm needles with size 20 yarn, and for ethereal lace, I’m usually 3 mm needles with size 30 cotton. There’s no firm answer on needle size, use what gives you a fabric you like, your tension is yours.

I love tiny knitting, I love the challenge, I love the complexity, I love the satisfaction. The reality of slow progress is one I can live with, but tiny knitting isn’t really something one can teach in an hour’s class. Knit, and knit lots. Find something you love, and knit it smaller than you usually would. Do that lots.

Preparation: The project before the project

I decided to get a little bobbin lace project (or two) together to remind my hands that I did still know how to make lace. (And to confirm that it doesn’t tick off the arm too badly. Mixed results there.) Cotton thread (no sense wasting the linen thread I’d misplaced and then ordered new on effectively a disposable project), try some new to me bobbins (and my two favourite pairs). Cut a failed project off the pillow. Awesome. I have bobbins, thread, pillow and pattern.

And then the preparation starts. This is the bit that actually takes significant time, just the same as in weaving. Measure thread and wind onto bobbins. Take a good guess at the size of pricking you’ll need for the thread you’ve chosen (or be fortunate and have your pattern tell you.). Piece it together, glue it to card (if you didn’t photocopy it straight onto card). NOW pre-prick all of your pin holes. Important for accuracy, and when digging around with a tiny pin under a windmill crossing, you appreciate just having to find the hole, rather than peering to try and decide where a hole should be. This could easily take hours, if not days depending on your project.


Weaving is just the same. Pick your warp and weft, pick a pattern. Measure your warp, tie it off carefully. Sley those heddles, thread that reed with hundreds of threads in a very precise order. Hours if not days of the least ergonomic work in the world. (Make it more ergonomic, your back and sanity will thank you.) Wind onto the back beam, tie it all off, grumble that tension is funky, untie and tie again.

All the while, you are impatient to get to the REAL project! Finally! Actually weaving! Actually making lace!

Except that all that bit before.. it WAS weaving. It WAS lacemaking. It’s as (or more) important than the later steps! I have no magic cure for the impatience. I try and be mindful about enjoying the feel of the thread, of getting to know the pattern. It helps a little. If you find a way to make the prep time more enjoyable, let me know.