We’re moving in 2 weeks, so what better time to take a week-long vacation?
We all flew out to Seattle on Saturday night, and have been soaking in the unexpectedly beautiful weather and sheer bliss of a blank agenda. Why, I think I’ll knit until lunch while the baby naps.
Probably my all-time favorite thing to knit is socks. I love their portability, their practicality, and the way that no matter how outrageous your sock yarn is, you can make a very wearable garment from them. Case in point:
Yum, socks. Yum, sock yarn.
But knitting with great yarn is only part of the equation. The needles are a big deal too, and the point of this post is to talk a little bit about my preferences and experience with a variety of sock needles. Hopefully some of you can find this helpful in your own knitting ventures! A note: I’m not affiliated with any of the companies or products I’m about to mention, and anything I own I’ve purchased out of my own interest with my own money.
Here’s my (long) roundup of sock needles!
When I first started knitting socks in 2003 (goodness, that long ago?), I did it with big-ish needles and heavy yarn, because it was less intimidating that way. My LYS, A Stitch Above in Providence (long-gone), turned me on to Brittany needles, which were beautiful pieces of craftsmanship, and so my early socks were knit on size 4 Brittany DPNs.
These needles hold a special place in my memory, and are very functional and aesthetically pleasing. The tips are not too sharp but not too blunt, and the surface is just a tiny bit waxy, which gives a nice resistance to a slippery yarn (although possibly annoying if you’re a tight knitter. I’m not).
So, when I wanted to make “real” socks, I turned again to Brittany DPNs, this time in a size 2. And wouldn’t you know it, very soon in, my DPNs started to break. This is how I learned something fundamental about the composition of knitting needles – grain matters. The Brittany needles are made out of a sustainably-harvested birch, chosen for its tensile strength and stability. But, at a small diameter, the fact that it’s a hardwood with a grain means that it has inherent fault lines and is prone to breakage, particularly in conditions of heat and moisture causing swelling/distortion, and applied pressure. Oops, that sounds quite a bit like my knitting experience. Brittany was amazing about sending a replacement free of charge as soon as I contacted them, and these days they include a 6th needle automatically, because they’re not surprised that they break. For me, I decided there had to be a better option. (For the record, this is also the main reason why I don’t recommend people snag the very affordable KnitPicks sock needle set. I have other beef with KP too, but in this case, it’s a simple problem with small diameter wooden needles, and I suggest you avoid the hassle.)
On a trip to Russia, I picked up some random 2.75mm DPNs, which I used to make my Clessidra socks. They’re possibly Pony or Inox, or something like that, a painted aluminum, and about 7.5″ long. Uncomfortable, but they let me make a hat and some socks, so they served their purpose.
My next sock needles were Susan Bates aluminum needles. I was in a big craft store one summer break, and saw that the set ranged from 000-1, and was pretty cheap. To be fair, they’re not bad needles. They bend, as aluminum does, and the smaller gauge needles seem too flimsy for the job, but they work. My biggest complaint was actually the length. They’re 7″ long, which just feels unwieldy in my hands with an average sock on them. They also sort of hurt my hands Fun (gross) fact – one of the size 1s punctured my calf during a car crash in 2009, while I was knitting these Interlocking Leaves socks on a trip to Quebec! Fun times!
I didn’t really like the Susan Bates needles so much, and by that time, I was working part-time at Stitch House, so I had access, and discount, to other varieties of needles. My next choice were the Clover Takumi DPNs, which came in an appealing 5″ length. These became my go-to, and still are in many ways. They are made out of bamboo, which don’t have the same grainline problems that the Brittanys had, but are still warm to the touch and have a nice friction unlike the metal needles. The length fits perfectly in my hands, long enough for the palm of my hand to have some power, but not too long to be awkward. The slight bend they take is nice, although they can indeed break from time to time. Still, much less often than the wooden ones. I now have the Clovers in size 0-2, and tend to reach for these first for socks.
On a whim, I picked up a set of Lantern Moon Sox Stix, which are beautiful. Sadly, one broke (wood! grain!), but customer service was awesome and sent a new one pronto. They are made of rosewood, and are just a delight to work with. Sharp tips, smooth finish, nice feel, and gorgeous to look at. If I were made of money I’d have lots of these, but probably no smaller than a US 2, because of breakage. And I so seldom knit socks on anything larger than a 2. Alas.
During the Great Rhody Yarn Crawl in 2009 I bought a set of 4″ HiyaHiya steel DPNs in size 0. They were so cute! Unfortunately, I realized that 4″ is just too short for the way I knit with DPNs, and the back end of the needle pokes me in the flesh of my palm. I’ve kept them around for glove fingers, but that’s all they’re good for right now it my book, which is too bad, because they’re adorable and nice needles with a good feeling otherwise.
Then, there was Sock Summit, in 2011, and I got a chance to see and try out some needles I’d only heard about – the Signature stilettos, and the Blackthorn Carbon Fiber needles. Swoon. I really loved the Signatures - the feel, the sharp tip, the warm fuzzies you get from a small American company…but I just could not justify the price tag. At $47 for a set of DPNs, I had to pass. The Blackthorns were interesting, though. Carbon fiber meant lightweight, unbreakable, and still warm to the touch unlike metal. Like a high-tech bamboo. I caved in, and when I got home ordered a set of 5″ size 1s, for $35. I wanted to love these needles, and yet… Two issues. First, there was the squeak factor. Knitting with these needles felt unmistakably like writing on a chalkboard, with the way the needle tips rubbed against each other. Not so nice. And also, I’d often get the uncanny feeling that a sliver of carbon fiber had gotten stuck in my hand. It wasn’t visible, but I’d get these red irritated spots and it felt just like a tiny splinter. So, I moved these along to a new home.
I was delighted, then, to discover the new Knitters’ Pride Karbonz needles – carbon fiber, with nickel tips. I’m really happy with them – they’re tough, and light, and pretty. The only thing that bothers me is that they absolutely don’t flex – which isn’t a fault, but more a realization about what I like in a needle. The rigid straightness of the Karbonz is part of what makes them so tough, but I think that my hands prefer a gentle bend after all. So I may be more of a bamboo lover after all. However, if I ever need to knit cables or anything where I’m applying pressure to the needles, the Karbonz are going to be great. And, they were pretty affordable at only $14 for the set.
So that’s a lot about DPNs, but what about Magic Loop? you may ask. Yes, I magic loop, and although I haven’t sought as far and wide for the perfect circular needles, I have some thoughts.
My go-to? Addi lace. For socks, I’ll use a 32″, and I like the Addis because they are sharp and the cords are very flexible. The brassy finish tends to tarnish in my hands a bit, which is a disappointment, but in the interchangeable set (which only goes to size 4, unfortunately), they’ve swapped out a nickel finish.
I don’t particularly like the joins and cords on the Clover circular needles, so I’ve stayed away from them for socks. I find the cables are too rigid and thick for my liking. I have stayed away from small hardwood circulars, like the KnitPicks, because I’m pretty certain they’d break. And KnitPicks and I are in a fight anyway.
After hearing great things about Chiaogoo, I bought a fixed circular (red lace), and honestly didn’t like it as much as I was hoping. The cord is a plastic-coated braided steel, and is more rigid than I’d expected. The whole set is just a bit heavy, although the joins are great and the red cord is very pretty. I got to play around with a Chiaogoo interchangeable set, and I was impressed by the swivel joins, which I imagine are necessary with the rigid cords. I think these would be fun to work with, but probably not the best for magic loop.
I’ve had my eyes on the Dyakcraft Heavy Metals, and am waiting to try them out. They come in sizes 0-3, and are a steel tip with a flexible cord. At $155 for the set, I’m probably not going to get them, considering how much I prefer DPNs for socks, but you never know! I do love that they’re handmade in the US, but to be honest, I’m sure I have all those sizes of circulars somewhere in my house. Maybe someday.
And that’s my roundup of sock needles – for now! Do you have a favorite sock needle to talk about? Something I should really try? Leave a comment!
In my last post, I wrote about an overlap of my academic research and my fiber obsession. This post is another synthesis, and is a rough-hewn idea I’ve been working through.
I’m in the process of putting together a pair of workshops that wed yoga and knitting as they deserve to be, highlighting the mindful meditative qualities of the handicraft and bringing some reflection and release to knitters who want to zen-out even more in the process, and to give a new set of creative skills to yogis who want to learn the basics of knitting.
One workshop of yoga for knitters, one workshop of knitting for yogis. Making mindfully. Coming to an LYS or yoga studio near you soon? Definitely more details to come.
I live for those little moments of synchronicity, where different interests come together or overlap in interesting ways. I try not to be too superstitious, but when the stars align just so, it’s hard not to take it as a cosmic “thumbs-up” that you’re headed in the right direction.
I had one of these moments recently in the process of researching for my dissertation. I’m looking at the ways that 19th- and early 20th-century Russians used medieval imagery and allusions in the creation of modern art and objects, and one hallmark medieval element is a decorative cyrillic script that adorns churches, monuments, and manuscripts. Here it is in its medieval form, on a church bell in Novgorod:
Here it is in its 19th-century incarnation, in a menu prepared for the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II in 1896:
Wanting to talk about it intelligently, I set about finding its proper name. “Decorative majuscule” was just not going to cut it, even though that’s the best description I could find for its Byzantine predecessor, as we see here in the Theodore Psalter:
What is it called? After a whole half hour of tireless searching, I found my answer, and it was a delightful one – this script is called vyaz’ (вязь), which is very closely related to the word vyazat’ (вязать), meaning “to knit”! That’s right, friends, this is “knitted” calligraphy (more accurately, probably, intertwined, or knotted, but I’m taking some liberties here…). Sweet!
Yesterday, a woman came into the yarn shop clutching a grey shawl to her bosom, asking about repairing moth holes. Knitwear repair is one of my sidelines, so I nodded enthusiastically and asked to take a look.
The shawl was a charcoal grey swath of fine-gauge stockinette, in a cashmere that had been lightly felted from years of loving wear, probably one yard wide by four yards long, and had been absolutely ravished by clothes moths. Moths happen to fancy cashmere quite a lot, in all its buttery sumptuousness, and eat it right up. The shawl had a half-dozen large holes, the size of a silver dollar with the fabric completely gone, a dozen or more moderate holes where a line of stitching had been eaten away (almost always vertical or diagonal, wouldn’t you know, which is harder to fix as more live threads are cut), and twenty or more pinholes, where just a few threads had been nibbled on, but live stitches were exposed.
Insert a sad sigh here.
The shawl’s owner had been to a different repair person on the North Shore, who had reknit some of the holes in this customer’s sweaters (as the infestation of moths hadn’t been restricted to just the shawl, oh, no), and who had told her that the cost to do the same for this shawl would simply be astronomical. I’m not sure what response she was expecting to get from me, having already been told as much, but the reply she got was worse.
I refused to take the job, for any price.
In fact, I refused to quote a price. I sized up the project quickly, and realized that it would be sheer misery to fix this shawl. The trifecta of a painful repair was here – fine gauge stitches (hard to see, hard to replicate), dark color, and huge, numerous holes. I explained that we were easily looking at 15-20 hours of work, and that I could do it, but that with my life as it is (full-time graduate student, 1-year-old at home), there was no way I would do it. After she left, I thought to myself, well, maybe I should have offered to do it for $2000, and I’d plan on a 6-month turnaround time, because I could probably stand to spend 1 hour a week on it, for a very protracted number of weeks. But even then…
What I did was explain what I would do if it had been my scarf, which is to chop up the undamaged pieces and sew them into something – a little neck cozy, a cushion cover, a teddy bear. Or, chop up the pieces and sew them together into a skinny patchwork tube scarf. She was unconvinced.
Then, she asked how, if one were to repair this, one might do such a thing. I have no secrets, so I explained. You’d take a sewing needle, and you’d thread a matching yarn through the fabric and stitches in a manner like duplicate stitch, “reknitting” as you go, but anchoring the new yarn to the existing stitches on the side. I directed her toward an instructional book that helped me learn how to do knitwear repair, Flawless Knit Repair by Rena Crockett. And I assured her that, yes, the repair was possible. But would be tedious. And that I simply could not take the job on, nor did I know anyone in the area who I could direct her to.
And you know what? It’s been haunting me. Not that I want to do the job, or that I need the money (although, let’s be honest, I’d be happy with extra pin money), or that I was interested in working on this shawl. It boils down to an ideological issue, and one that I’ve been on the other side of before, with Felix Shoe Repair, the guy who just won’t fix my shoes. The issue is that I think good things deserve to be repaired, and should not be thrown away. At least three times now, I’ve brought a pair of shoes to Felix in Harvard Square, and each time, he looks at my (admittedly cheap and run-down) shoes, and says that he won’t repair them. It’s not worth it, and the repair won’t be a good one, even if he spends a lot of time on it. Every time I’m incensed, because I know that the repair is possible, I just don’t have the tools and materials to do it. He does! And I know that it’d cost the same to buy a new pair of shoes, maybe even less. But these shoes are still good, and have life left in them, and isn’t this part of the problem of today’s society where everything is so disposable, that we’re not attached to anything, that we just waste and waste, and don’t worry, we can just buy another cheap plastic…
And so here I was, on the other side of the counter. This woman was saying the words I know so well, “But I’d hate to just throw it out.” “I can pay, it’s not that.” “How many hours do you think it’d take?” “Well, if you won’t fix it, how would you recommend I do it myself?” “Sure, I understand. No, I know, I understand. Thank you.”
Dear woman, I wish I had unlimited hours in my life to fix your shawl. I wish that I had a summer vacation where all my needs were met, and all I needed to do in a day was roll out of bed, stroll out onto my veranda by the sea, and work on restitching what the moths so violently and thoughtlessly effaced. I wish that for this work I’d do for you, I’d be paid handsomely in gold and silks and champagne and strawberries, and in dividends paid into a 401K so I could live comfortably into old age without worrying about how the bills will get paid. While we’re at it, I wish that the shawl were actually a different shawl, more interesting and less felted, maybe in a light cream color. Because even in this fantasyland of fixing your shawl, we’re talking a lot of hours of tedious work, on a boring project, and really, I’d rather be going for a walk or reading Mother Goose with my little guy.
How do you put a price tag on that?
So, I like socks. I like knitting them, wearing them, buying them, fondling sock yarn, the little itty bitty sock needles, all of it. And I love teaching other people how to knit socks, too. The problem is, knitting a sock can take a while. Sure, there are some people who crank out a knitted sock a week (ahem, Yarn Harlot), but the sheer number of stitches on tiny needles can be daunting for a new sock knitter.
For my beginner sock classes, I like to have students work with worsted-weight wool and larger needles, so they can knit up a finished product faster and see their stitches easier, too. Despite the fact that this is a pretty basic project, I wasn’t totally satisfied with the patterns available to me or my students, so I set about writing my own.
This pattern comes in 6 sizes, from a woman’s small through a men’s large (that should fit through a size 13+ shoe, if you’re brave enough to knit socks that big!), and the sizes are color-coded throughout to help you keep track of your project numbers. All the instructions are spelled out with particular clarity in the notes, so even a very beginner knitter can feel comfortable taking on his or her first pair of socks. You should be able to knit and purl and join in the round in order to knit these.
The pattern is for sale on Ravelry for $4 (click “buy now” below), and I hope you check it out! Soon, maybe you’ll be as crazy about knitting socks as I am!
Life as a new parent is hard, and in Cambridge the logistics can be tricky – sidewalks are narrow, strollers wide, and many shops are crowded and up or down a flight of stairs! Add to that the general challenge of getting out the door with a wee one, and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming (understatement of the day?). This is a list of resources that I found incredibly helpful (as a car-free city-dwelling student-type), places with changing tables (because sometimes you just don’t want to have to change a squirmy baby on a public restroom floor), and some tips for getting that stroller on public transit so you can go further than where your two legs will carry you. I hope you find these useful, and please, if you have additions or corrections, let me know so I can keep this as up-to-date as possible! (current as of 2/2013)
May you have an easy time getting out the door, somewhere fun to go, and no diaper disasters while you’re out!
Most recommended resources:
- Cambridge Public Library – Baby Lapsit, Monday mornings except for holidays (program from 10-10:30, but should arrive by 9:30 to get a ticket).
The library is great for hanging out in any case; the play mat at the far end is a congregation area for moms, nannies, and kids of all ages, but particularly before the lapsit on Mondays, you’ll find other parents with similarly-aged kids. The lapsit itself is a 20-minute singalong for pre-walking babies (birth-12mo), and is led by one of the sweetest librarians you’ll ever meet. Also at 11 is the big singalong for little kids of all ages, so from 10-11 there’s always a big crowd of kids and caregivers.
This is a great way to get some staple clothing items without breaking the budget. The program exists for anyone who could use assistance in providing clothing for their growing children – you don’t need to prove financial need. You need to bring a health insurance card or birth certificate with you the first time you go, and they’ll give you credits for 10 items (tops, pants), plus things like onesies, bibs, shoes, baby food, and lots of other things. They have very restricted hours, and close for a week or two each season to restock, so check their website.
- Babywearing International of Greater Boston - this group teaches you how to properly use baby carriers, which in my opinion is the absolute best way to transport your baby in the city!
BWI Boston has a lending library, where you can borrow a carrier (for a deposit, bring a check) for a month to try it out before you buy it. Their meetings change location each month, and they usually have one weekday and one weekend meeting a month, so check the website or their facebook page for the schedule.
Free new moms’/parents’ groups:
- JFCS - despite their name, these moms’ groups are totally non-denominational. They organize great support groups which are a little bit structured and meant to give moms a safe space to talk about how they’re really doing. There are meetings in most of the Boston-area towns, including Cambridge and Arlington.
- Stellabella Toys in Inman Square runs a New Parents’ Coffee Hour, with free muffins, coffee/tea, and toys for the babies to play with. Bring a small blanket for the baby to lie on, and get some coffee. Coffee and muffins supplied by 1369, which is across the street and darn near impossible to get into with a stroller. Group meets Friday mornings at 10:30 (double-check their website).
- MAMAH postpartum support - run by the midwives at Mount Auburn, but anyone can go. They bring a baby scale, and light snacks, and everyone hangs out and chats for an hour or so. Not so structured. Unfortunately, they’ve moved to out-of-the-way Waltham.
- Cambridge Center for Families – organizes many programs, including baby massage, playgroups, and educational/discussion groups for parents, all free to Cambridge residents.
- Check out Meetup.com for new parents’ groups; at the time of writing, the Arlington First-Time Moms & Pregnancy group is active and has meetups for expecting and new mothers.
- Cambridge Health Alliance has a free breastfeeding support group, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-noon.
- Isis Breastfeeding drop-in groups (free) - the Arlington, Prudential, Merchant’s Row (Charlestown) and Needham Isis stores offer a breastfeeding support group with Lactation consultants on hand.
Go see a movie:
Baby matinees are a great way to spend a bad-weather day, and catch up on cinema culture, since you’re probably not going out for dinner and a movie so often.
- Coolidge Corner Theater’s Box Office Babies- every other Friday at 11am, $7
- Capitol Theater, Arlington – every other Monday at 1:30pm, $6
- Somerville Theater, Davis Square – every other Thursday at 1:15, $6
Where to change a diaper around Cambridge:
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and revolves around Harvard Square, which has long been my center of operations. I’ll note that changing tables are harder to come by than you’d think – there’s nary one to be found in any of the dozens of Starbucks (or many other coffee shops), nor in many public restrooms in Cambridge. Here are the good ones I’ve found (or which have been recommended to me):
- Harvard University Health Services (UHS) has changing tables in all of its restrooms, although they’re “not for public use.” If you’re nervous about the receptionists saying something to you (they won’t), use the basement restroom. – 75 Mt. Auburn St.
- Harvard Yard: Boylston Hall, Memorial Church and Barker Center both have changing tables in their basement-level accessible women’s rooms.Dudley House’s basement women’s room has a sizable counter space to use for changing.
- The women’s rooms in Harkness Commons and Wasserstein (Law School), have a changing table, as does the 2nd-floor women’s and 3rd-floor men’s room in Longfellow Hall, Harvard School of Education.
- The Cambridge Public Libraries all have changing tables in their children’s sections (the Children’s section of the main library is the 3rd floor).
- The Harvard Coop has a changing table in its 3rd-floor women’s room, as well as its basement restroom.
- The upstairs bathroom in the Charles Hotel has a great restroom with padded changing table.
- Diaper Lab, between Davis and Porter Squares, is a great baby-friendly store, with a great changing table.
- Magic Beans, with its many locations (Huron Village, Prudential Center, Coolidge Corner, Wellesley) has a great changing table.
- Porter Square Books has a changing table – get the restroom key from the register.
- The Porter Exchange Mall (Lesley) women’s room (through the food court) has a changing table.
- Dwelltime, on Broadway in Cambridge (between Inman and Central) – a spacious coffee shop, fancy pastries, and, of course, changing tables
- Border Cafe, Harvard Square has a changing table in the women’s restroom
- Full Moon Restaurant, Huron Village – caters to parents with kids, and has a play area!
- Coolidge Corner cinema has changing tables in its 1st-floor accessible restrooms
- Jam’n Java in Arlington Center has a changing table
- Isis Parenting has nice changing tables in all their locations.
For clothing your rapidly-growing baby, you can’t really beat free, which is why the Cambridge Children’s Clothing Exchange sits at the top of the list, with the most valuable resources. But, for cheap, high-quality clothes, there are some other good options in the area:
- Little Fox Shop - East Arlington – This is a second-hand “shop” set within the Fox branch of the Arlington Public Library. Everything is incredibly cheap here, and the selection runs the gamut: maternity clothes, car seats, pumps, baby clothes, books, toys, shoes, baby carriers, swim diapers…you name it, they probably have it, for a great price. Limited hours – check their website.
- Two Little Monkeys – Union Square – Across from Market Basket, the home of cheap produce (and the best place to buy Happy Baby organic babyfood pouches and puffs, when you get to solids), lives Two Little Monkeys, a kids’ consignment/resale shop. They’ve got a nicely-curated selection, with good prices, including larger furniture and baby gear, as well as a selection of cloth diapers.
- Old Navy – Cambridgeside Galleria – Okay, this isn’t such an insider secret, but ON has a lot of kids’ and baby clothes, and if you check their sale rack, you can come away with some fantastic deals. Definitely get your baby socks here, the long triple-roll kind. You’ll thank me when they stay on all day.
Most of these email lists require manual approval (sometimes with a requirement that you submit a bio or questionnaire) before you’re added to the list. You may want to use the “digest” setting for high-volume lists, as they can get up to 100 messages per day.
- Arlington Parents Group (very high volume)
- SomervilleMoms Group (very high volume)
- Cambridge Families Group (high volume)
- Huron Village Parents Group
- Harvard parents list (nearly inactive)
Tips for navigating public transit with a stroller:
Bus: Most MBTA busses are the newer, “kneeling” kind, which can be lowered to meet the curb and are easy to get a stroller into. For courtesy and conservation of free space, lift up one of the benches in the front to make space for the stroller. These benches either lift straight up (no latch) or unlatch via a hook or lever on the bottom of the bench, about 3″ back from the front, on the right or left side. Lock your stroller wheels, and then you can comfortably stand or sit. When exiting the bus, be sure to back out – otherwise, you may feel like you’re dumping your baby out of a wheelbarrow when descending. If you can manage it, it’s good practice to lower the bench back down for other passengers on your way out.
On older busses, you may have to use the handicap lift at the rear door, or enlist an assistant to help you carry the stroller up the stairs.
Subway: Avoid rush hour (weekdays 8-10am, 4-6pm). All other times are relatively stroller-friendly, but you should aim to enter at the first or last door of the car, where there’s extra space for the stroller (note: on the Green Line, the accessible entrance is in the center of the car). Almost all MBTA stations are now accessible with elevators where necessary, but double-check on their website if you’re headed somewhere new.
Commuter Rail: All commuter rail trains are accessible; at some stations, you may need to board at the front of the train where there is a ramp.