Blocking Makes a Difference

Blocking a piece of knitting is when you use steam or water to set the stitches of the knitted piece. It is considered the final step in most knitting projects, especially projects knit with wool.

I am a convert to the idea that blocking a finished project has any real value at all. I first noticed it when I washed a sweater I’d made recently. I was unhappy with the sweater. It has some bunchiness in places, and the braid at the hem and sleeves didn’t quite sit right. Well, after I washed the sweater, I laid it out to dry and decided to smooth out some stitches and generally see if I could set the knitting right.

By gum, it worked! In fact, it turned it from a sweater I wasn’t entirely happy with to a lovely creation that I am happy I made.

I know blocking will not solve every problem you encounter in knitting, but it does cure that “slightly sloppy and homemade”1 look you sometimes get when you bind off a project and weave in the ends.

I am making a pair of mittens for my son to match a hat he’s fond of. I just finished the first mitten, and since it is stranded colorwork, I decided to try out this new world of blocking.

On the left is my pre-baptismal knitting. Notice the stitches are a bit bunchy and don’t lie neatly. I gave it a good dunk in water, and being raised Southern Baptist, I did hold it under until it bubbled.2 Then I gently squeezed out some of the water, rolled it in a towel and got some more water out. With the piece damp, it is fairly easy to coax the stitches into proper shape. You can see on the right how the pattern is much cleaner and clearer, the stitches neater. When they dry, they’ll dry in place giving a nicer-looking mitten.


1 As opposed to hand-made. My grandmother used to differentiate between the two. Quality custom was hand-made. Half-assed, sloppy work was home-made.

2 One of the advantages of wool is that it doesn’t saturate quickly and retains insulation holding up to 30% of its weight in water. It takes some time to get it properly wet for blocking. Cotton wicks quickly, which is why you wear it when you desire cooling by evaporation, and why you hear the expression “Cotton kills” among people for whom hypothermia is a concern.

I Hate Stitching and Seaming

I’ve mentioned before that I knit in the round because I hate stitching and seaming sweaters. But even a sweater knit in the round will need some finishing. You have some “live” stitches at least under each arm when you attach your sweater to the body, and those stitches need to be taken care of.

There are several options. You could knit and graft a gusset. I’ve never done this, but if you needed greater range of motion than a knit fabric will usually give you (I’m presuming you’ll be doing yoga in it or something, as knitted fabrics generally don’t bind much), or if you have very very large upper arm, attaching a gusset might not be a bad idea. (I sometimes do that in the crotch of pants because I do have heavy thighs).

Otherwise, you’ll just be grafting together your knitted pieces.


The first picture shows the live stitches. They’re not attached to anything. The second picture shows those live stitches attached by the Kitchener stitch. I mostly hate the stich because I’m not very good at it. I actually have to knit a couple of swatches and practice before I try it on a sweater I am making. That may sound a bit retentive, but I’ve put a long time into making a sweater, so I don’t mind a little refresher to try to make a structural seam work properly.

Knitting Help has a great video on how to do the Kitchener stitch.

And yes, I have to chant to myself, “Knit, slip, purl, purl, slip, knit,” as I am doing it. Stop laughing at me. I can’t help it.

Knitting: The Expensive Hobby

I was reading a discussion board recently where someone was complaining how expensive knitting was as a hobby, and quoted a price of $75 in materials for a sweater, saying that was really an expensive sweater.

Retail? Not really. At least, not for the good, well-constructed stuff of good materials. Hell, a Dale of Norway authentic Norwegian sweater costs over $300, and I have never spent anywhere close to that in materials for a garment I’ve made.

That being said, I’ve also never walked into a department store and dropped $75 on a sweater in my life!

So, is knitting an expensive hobby?

Certainly it can be. If you’re buying the Martian spidersilk yarn dyed with crushed rubies, yeah, it’s going to be expensive. Me? Wool of the Andes for many of my projects. Or even Lion Brand’s Fisherman’s wool for bulky projects. You’re still looking at way under $50 for most sweaters. Since I expect at least ten years of wear out of a sweater, I don’t feel like that’s really a poor investment.

And the perception that acrylics or acrylic blends are automatically cheaper is quite inaccurate. Wool-ease, a common alternative to 100% wool yarn , is actually a bit more expensive than my usual Wool of the Andes. In doing the math, Wool of the Andes is actually cheaper. $2.26/100 yards for Wool of the Andes v. $2.29/100 yards for the Wool Ease acrylic blend. That’s a no-brainer for me, who actually prefers to knit in 100% wool. A sweater for me runs around 1350 yards, so you’re looking at a little over $30 for a sweater.

Me? Since it takes me a bit over 40 hours to make a sweater, you’re looking at less than a dollar an hour for entertainment, and I get a garment that I can expect to last me into my mid-fifties that fits me better, is unique, and costs me less than I am likely to find in a department store.

For me, it’s worth it and then some. I assure you I drop many times the amount I spend on knitting materials for books, audiobooks and my Netflix account! You who have cable TV with its millions of channels? I bet your spend even more than I do on other forms of entertainment that do not give you anything tangible at the end.    


* I could count Internet with some legitimacy, but I don’t. It’s a necessary business expense.

Not a Real Knitter

I’ve been reading Knitting Rules: The Yarn Harlot’s Bag of Tricks, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I am not a real knitter. I have a yarn stash, yes. It’s contained in one, one bin in the bottom of my closet and is mostly made of leftover yarn from former projects. If I go to a yarn store, I know exactly what I need for my current project, and I buy exactly that. I do not fondle yarn. I’m not in love with yarn. While I do prefer 100% wool for my knitting, friends, Wool of the Andes is my go-to yarn.1 I don’t fondle the skeins and think about what the yarn “wants” to be. I think about what I want to make, then select the appropriate yarn. It’s not that I don’t love good construction materials. I live in Northern New England and there is a reason I love wool!

But apparently the real knitter has a stash that’s big enough to be embarrassing, but not so embarrassing that there isn’t a bit of brag going on. The real knitter hides how much one spends on yarn from partners. The real knitter could happily use the stash as a mattress. The real knitter is obsessed in yarn stores, fondles the different yarns and consults with it so that it is possible to discover what that yarn wants to be.

I admit it. I’m not a real knitter. I just make sweaters and socks and hats with sticks and string.


1 It’s about as inexpensive as you can get and still be knitting in 100% wool.

How to Know a Geek Knitter Loves You

The Yarn Harlot is knitting a Doctor scarf.

If you are not a knitter, but you are a Doctor Who fan, you might want one of the scarves of your very own. You might even think, “Hey, I wouldn’t think of asking someone to knit me the 7th Doctor vest,1 but a simple scarf? Surely (s)he wouldn’t mind!”

No, it’s not that the scarf would be hard to knit. It’s just 12 feet of garter stitch.

That’s the point. Twelve feet of garter stitch. Friends, unless you’re a knitter, you have no idea in the world how tedious that can get. I mean, you can talk about the idiot knitting of a sweater all you want to, but twelve feet of garter stitch… My word. Yes, I’ve done it, though it was years ago, and it turned me off learning any more complex knitting for about fifteen years.

What brings this to mind?

The sweater I am knitting for my son. I asked him what he wanted in a sweater. He wants a plain color –red. He doesn’t want any fancy patterning in the stitches, but a simple knitted hem and raglan sleeves. Thank goodness for sleeve and neckline shaping (I’m making a Seamless Raglan Sweater from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitting Without Tears) or it would be almost as bad as that Doctor scarf.

If you have ever been knitted a Fourth Doctor scarf, never doubt that you are loved by that knitter!


1 Reality check: This would be a pleasantly challenging but not too insane knit, especially if you could figure out way to do it in the round.


I like grapefruit. For whatever reason I hadn’t bought them for several years. No, it’s not that I’m the only person in the house who is really fond of citrus fruit. I buy cases of clementines and gorge on them without a qualm every winter. I just… well, haven’t bought them.

I was searching the produce aisle recently and noticed that there were Ruby Reds on sale, so I picked some up and have been having them with my lunch. (You don’t have to have them only with breakfast, right?)

Grapefruit are kind of a nostalgia food for me. Every winter, my parents would buy a case of citrus fruit from a neighbor and we’d all enjoy them for a month or so. Typically it would be the grapefruit with breakfast thing, and I always liked it. It wasn’t only that I liked the taste, but that it was something you made a small game of eating. While of course we were not permitted to play with our food, there was something fun in spooning out the grapefruit sections. But even more fun to me was after all the pulp had been eaten.

You see, Mom would let us squeeze whatever was left into our finished juice glasses. I always got a kick out of it – fresh-squeezed juice and all. I can remember squeezing the shell with my little hands, trying with determination to get a few ounces of juice out and feeling really satisfied if I reall could get a couple of swallows.

Today as I was finishing up my lunch, I found myself doing the same thing. My hands are stronger now, I managed to squeeze out a lot more than I could as a kid. And darned if it isn’t still kind of a satisfying little thing to do. Certainly grapefruit juice I buy in the store can never taste so good!

How to Tolerate Cold

It gets fairly cold in the winter where I live. This means that you either spend a fortune heating the house or you’re miserably cold, right?

Not really. My house thermostat is set on 60oF right now. What we usually do is turn it down to 60oF at night and then bump it up to 65oF during the day. I had been working for an hour when I got chilly and thought about turning up the thermostat when I decided I wasn’t going to bother for a few hours.

Am I miserable?

No. In fact, I’m toasty warm.

Do I tolerate cold naturally very well?

NO! I feel uncomfortably cold when sitting still and clad in one layer if the temperature dips below 70. I hate being cold. Hatey hate hate hate cold. It’s an utterly miserable feeling for me.

So how can I have the thermostat down so low and be physically comfortable?1


I do dress in layers in the winter. Microfiber long johns as a bottom layer help retain a whole lot of body heat. Then I add a sweater, or possibly a jacket or cardigan. Today, it’s a polarfleece jacket. Very warm. I’m wearing a broomstick skirt, but long johns keep you plenty warm even with such a light lower garment, if your body core is sufficiently insulated. For all my preference for bare feet, I also wear socks and slippers in the house – especially hand-knit wool socks, those paragons of comfy warmth.

If you’re not allergic to wool, I highly recommend it for its insulating properties. But polarfleece garments are also light and warm. I have a couple of pair of polarfleece jammies that I adore as loungewear as well as some fleece socks, and they’re wonderful for my Scroogish attitude towards the thermostat.

Heat source

Since I’m sitting for a while writing and coding, I’m not generating a great deal of body heat.2 To combat that, I have a couple of rice bag warmers that I’ve heated in the microwave – one at my back and one at my feet. When one’s feet are toasty, one feels warmer all over.


Over all of this, I’m using my Slanket. This not only keeps the body heat in, but helps retain the heat from the rice bag warmers. My hands, though exposed to type, feel perfectly comfy even though the air is cool because I am heating this tiny space in which I am working.

I’m not going to keep the house that cool all day, as I’d just as soon the family is a bit more comfortable when we eat dinner at the table this evening. Still, it’s useful while I’m doing office work. If you’ve decided that you really want to turn down the heat (or if you are so strapped for cash that you have no real choice), using some of these principles can keep you safe and comfortable while still keeping the house cool.


1I only do this occasionally when I’m going to be sitting for long periods because I am working, by the way. If I’m going to be moving about the house, I turn up the thermostat.

2Yes, another solution is to bring up the body heat with exercise before putting on the layers and the small heat sources. It works. I just didn’t do it this morning.

The 1950s Housewife

Most of you have seen the How to be a Great Housewife thing. Snopes has been unable to verify it, but it’s interesting that we’re willing to believe that it was the way things were done in the 1950s. My commentary is going to be from memory of family stories, but my grandmother was a 1950s housewife. (She started working in the 60s, IIRC, when the kids were old enough to start making meals and doing housework). Commentary will be in italics.

Have dinner ready: Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready for your husband. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home, and the prospect of a good meal is part of this warm welcome needed.

My grandmother was the primary household cook until she got a job. While I do not know if she had dinner on the table the second my grandfather got home, I do know that meals had regular times and she would pitch a fit if she came home from work and dinner wasn’t ready. Food was important Chez Nanny and meals generally were on time.

Prepare yourself: Take 15 minutes to rest so that you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.

Knowing Nanny, I’m betting she did at least clean up a bit before dinner. I do have memories of my mother repairing her makeup before Daddy got home, but she sure as hell wasn’t taking 15 minutes to rest. She was doing that quickly so she would have time to finish dinner and wrangle my brother and I. While I doubt my mother, aunts and uncle were nearly the monsters my brother and I were, I also doubt Nanny exactly had 15 minutes to rest before Popie came home.

Clear away the clutter: Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives gathering up school books, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Light a candle. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift, too.

I doubt like all get out that Nanny did this. It is just possible when the children were older, she got them to do it.


But “haven of rest and order?” Around my grandmother? That’s a bit unlikely.

Prepare the children: Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair, and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

Nanny was fanatic about making sure the children were clean and moderately-groomed. My own face still stings at the memory of one of her rough face scrubs before dinner. But the charming little treasure bit? I doubt it.

Minimize all noise: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer, dishwasher or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Better yet, have them in bed.

My grandmother? Not. A. Chance.

Don’t Complain: Don’t greet him with problems or complaints or complain if he’s late for dinner. Just count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day. Speak in a low, soft soothing and pleasant voice.

If something bothered Nanny, she’d let you know. In a loud, clear voice. She did not often wait for the opportune moment on this. Just sayin’.

Listen to him: You may have a dozen things to tell him – the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

Pretty sure she never let Popie talk first, either.

Make the evening his: Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.

BWAHAHAHA!!!! I won’t say Nanny didn’t wait on Popie. Truth to tell, she did, but it was more like a mother caring for a child than putting Father on a pedestal. Nanny and her sisters loved men, thought they were incredibly interesting and great accessories, but they never really saw them as full grown-ups. The idea of a man’s concerns being more important would have had them staring at you in sheer, blank system error. And once they got over that you could learn some really entertaining new words if you were a kid.