I Love a Good Yarn

Yarns, stories, and sometimes stories about yarn


A new-to-me technique: Two-at-a-time socks

Next week I’ve got a business trip to California, which will involve a good amount of time in airports and airplanes (I live on the east coast, and quite a distance from a major metro airport at that), so I needed a smallish project to take with me that would involve a) minimal/simple pattern repeats, b) easily packable needles and yarn, c) a minimum of additional tools (I do love cables, but have you ever tried to retrieve a dropped cable needle when sitting in an airplane seat?) but also d) enough actual work that I won’t run out of project before I run out airport/airplane time.

Socks are the obvious choice, but socks are sometimes tough for me when it comes to choosing patterns for the yarn I have. Most of my yarn is multicolored, whether variegated, self-striping or speckled. Finding the right pattern to feature the beautiful color in the yarn while also allowing any lace, cable or other interesting stitch elements to come through is a challenge. And I often fear my spindly little double-pointed needles won’t survive all the tossing around when projects are as mobile as they are when I travel. I solved this conundrum for the upcoming trip and even hit the trifecta of great pattern for the yarn I wanted to use, simple yet satisfying pattern that doesn’t need extra tools and cool new-to-me technique to add to my repertoire that allows me to leave the double-pointed needles home.

First, the pattern and the yarn: I’m making the Vintage Fairy Lights socks by Helen Stewart. The pattern calls for yarn “with a bit of sparkle,” so the Mt. Rutsen Studio Yarns Firefly fingering (colorway “Patti’s Holly Bush”) I received in my December yarn-of-the-month club delivery fit the bill perfectly. The thin silver thread that appears here and there among the white, pink, cranberry and blue-grey provides the sparkle, while the pattern that runs for about 25 rounds below the ribbed cuff is meant to mimic bulbs on a string of Christmas lights.

Fairy lights socks 2

I have only ever knitted socks, gloves, mittens and the like on double-pointed needles, but I’ve been curious about the magic-loop method for a number of years. I’ve just never gotten around to trying it. I searched YouTube for videos from which to learn the technique and had to sift through a lot of bad instruction, teases for paid instruction, and poor video quality before I found just the right one for my purposes. But finally I happened upon this video, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it:

First of all, I have mad respect for Therese Inverso, the knitter in this video, who is knitting gloves from the finger tips down. Think about that! It boggles my mind. She also shows two different variations on the two-at-a-time circular technique–one using a single, long circular (magic loop), and one using two shorter circular needles. She covers everything you need to know to be sure you’re keeping your knitting organized and accurate, and she points out the possible pitfalls and how to avoid them. I chose to use the two-needle technique, as I was concerned that with all the jostling around in my project bag while traveling, I’d run the risk of loosing that “dog ear” on the magic loop and messing up my work. I’ve solved the problem of keeping the two needles distinct by using one metal and one bamboo needle (Therese has needles with different-color cords), and, as the yarn came in a single skein, I’m knitting one sock from the center of the cake and one from the outer strand. So far, I’m thrilled with the results, but I’m very curious as to how things will go once I get to the heel flap and have to stop knitting in the round and start up again after picking up the gusset stitches. I’m sure it will work out fine, but that’s the kind of thing I have to actually wrap my hands around, as I’ve no capacity for visualizing without doing.

The initial plan was to just get the project on the needles and knit about five or so rounds into the cuff and then set it aside for the trip next week. But I’ve had so much fun with this new-to-me technique that I’m already 40 rounds in and at the end of the Christmas light pattern. So, to be sure I don’t run out of knitting before the trip is over, I’ll be bringing a backup sock project. This one will be a simple Vanilla Sock pattern, also knit two at a time on two circulars, but using two skeins of this gorgeous Koigu Painter’s Palette Premium Merino:


My first-ever socks were made with Koigu, so it’ll be fun to work with that brand again. It doesn’t contain any nylon or other material to help with stretchiness, but I see loads of socks made from this fiber on Ravelry, so I’m sure it will be OK.

I’ll be back in a little over a week, hopefully with some fun reports about Bay Area yarn stores!

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Naknicromo day 30: Crafts you’d like to learn

Both of the other crafts I’m interested in would require significant investment of time and money, which would therefore take time and money away from my investment in knitting. I will some day soon try my hand at spinning. I have roving, and I have a drop spindle, and it does look very relaxing and meditative when people do it – people who know what they’re doing. And sewing clothing is the other craft – I could go hog wild in material stores, stocking up on all sorts of great fabrics, with lovely fiber content and motifs, to make patterns for all sorts of wonderful garments.

But, when it comes to spinning, I’m not sure I’d ever be able to create a yarn that matches what I can find in my favorite LYS. I don’t really have the facilities to dye fiber or yarn either, so I’d be reliant on buying roving in the color I wanted to work with. And for sewing my own clothing – to be honest, it’s expensive. Just like with knitting, you’re not saving money by making your own clothes. If you’re truly skilled/talented, you can make garments that fit you perfectly. While you’re learning and honing your skill, though, you can expect that some of your efforts will result in ill-fitting clothes you won’t even want to keep. And god forbid you gain/lose weight to the point that something you’ve made no longer fits. That’s not such an issue with knitting, as even more fitted knit pieces tend to have some give, and positive ease is natural with many other garments, as you want to be able to layer, so it’s a more forgiving garment type – much more forgiving than, say, an a-line skirt or a sundress.

So, for now, I’m happy to focus on knitting. Maybe someday I’ll have enough sweaters, shawls, hats, and scarves. Maybe when I retire, I’ll move to the desert, where I won’t need as many knitted garments as I do in upstate New York. But I hope not.

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Naknicromo day 23: Favorite type of project?

There really is no favorite type of project I can point to and say that I enjoy doing it more than any other type of project. The main thing for me is to learn something new or try a different technique as much as possible with each new project. I really enjoyed learning entrelac, but I doubt I’ll use it much beyond the Lady Eleanor Stole I finished last year


I had a ball knitting gloves for Christmas presents this past year, as this was also wholly new to me, but each pair I make from now on will have to contain some element, like a shaping technique I’m not familiar with, or beading, or some such thing, that’s something I’ve never tried before.


So, I guess I would say variety and challenge are key to my enjoyment of a project. I really value these opportunities to learn, whether it’s on my own, in a class or knit-along, or from a YouTube video. It’s what keeps me interested and excited about the craft.

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Naknicromo day 20: Favorite tip or trick?

Happy first day of spring! We’re still snow-covered here in the mid/upper Hudson Valley, but the sun is out, so the white stuff is receding. Let’s hope the longer days push progress along on that front.

I’d say the best tip I got recently related to casting on when you’ve got a lot of stitches. Unless the pattern specifies otherwise, I always use the long-tail method, which is the one I learned when first starting out. The way the yarn wraps around the left hand and the needle in the right darts in and out, catching the yarn here, and looping it there – it reminds me of those string games we used to do as kids, where we’d make cat’s cradle and jacob’s ladder.

But when you’ve got a lot of stitches going on the needles to start your project, the long-tail method is sometimes a tough one, as it’s hard to gauge exactly how much yarn you need to allow for that long tail. There are a lot of different methods out there for calculating the right tail length, but about the best way to avoid both a lot of extra tail hanging down or, even worse, running out of tail before you’ve put all the stitches on the needle, is to use yarn either from two different skeins or both ends from the same skein. This method is illustrated wonderfully on cocoknits. Something to remember when using both ends from the same skein is to first decide whether you want your working yarn to be pulled from inside or outside of the skein. The leader of my Swirl knit-along referred to this as whether you’re an “innie” or an “outie” (and here I thought she was talking about bellybuttons at first!). This will determine which end of the yarn is used as the tail, and which end as the working yarn.

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Naknicromo day 5: Any crafting heroes?

As mentioned in a previous post, Linda LaBelle, founder of The Yarn Tree, formerly a Brooklyn shop, now an online-only vendor, really helped shape my earliest knitting experience. And not just in my direct dealings with her as the proprietress of the store and knitting instructor, but in all that she did. She’s always been a sort of icon to me of what’s possible if you work hard at what you love. In addition to the yarn store, she’s traveled the world teaching women in impoverished communities how to dye, which provides them with valuable income in economies that don’t present many opportunities for women. She also wrote a book on the subject. She’s a very talented costumer designer, who worked with, among others, the visual artist Matthew Barney. And on top of all that, she’s a lovely person, who always took the time to give some pointers to a new, clueless knitter. I can’t say that was the case with many other yarn store owners/staff I encountered in New York City, where the inexperienced were often largely ignored or greeted with a roll of the eyes and a heavy sigh (hear that, Purl Soho?).

I would say my other big crafting hero is Maggie Righetti. I happened upon her book Knitting in Plain English when I worked for the parent company of its publisher, St. Martin’s Press. It is, exactly as the title indicates – an indispensable guide for the new knitter, written in language that is easy to understand. For a novice, it was a welcome resource, as there wasn’t the abundance of online videos, books, and helpful yarn store staff back in 2001 as there is now. Her approach is all about, “Yes, there’s lots to learn, but you don’t have to be an expert from day one. Here’s the most important stuff you need to know now.” So, it’s not a comprehensive resource for every type of stitch, cast on, and technique out there in the wide, wide world of knitting, and though I wouldn’t agree with the statement on the cover that it’s “The only book any knitter will ever need,” I do believe that every knitter should have this book. Because of its clear, concise instruction and easy-going tone, I also invested in her books Crocheting in Plain English, which I use whenever I have to add crochet stitches to my knitting (I am HOPELESS at crochet), and Sweater Design in Plain English, which I admit, I have only just perused. But I’ll come back to that on day 16, when the discussion will be about my “dream project.”

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Naknicromo day 4: How long have you been knitting?

I started knitting sometime in 2000, as mentioned in yesterday’s post. I’ve been at it pretty steadily since then, though I have had stretches where I’ve not had any projects underway, such as when I’ve been wrapped up in job changes, moving, or dealing with the negative things life sometimes throws at you. But somehow, I feel like the roll I’ve been on lately, the satisfaction I’ve felt with my finished objects, and the wonderful feeling I get just walking into my favorite yarn shop will keep me from putting my knitting aside for any length of time. I might not be so gung-ho if we have another steamy summer, but I’ll be sure to have lots of smaller projects in the queue so I can keep at it even in the warmest of weather.

Something I noticed that’s not on this challenge is the question, “Why did you start knitting?” I already talked about my admiration for my colleague’s finished works as the reason I asked her to teach me to knit, but there was something bigger at work for me at the time. Living in Germany, not knowing very many people, missing New York City and my friends there, and realizing that I’d probably be spending most of my vacation time flying back to the States to visit my family, as they really weren’t going to be coming to see me much (I give kudos to my mom, who did come see me once in the year and a half I was there), I sank into a pretty deep funk. When I’d first arrived in Germany, I tried to strike up conversations with folks in some of the local pubs, as I had always easily done in Brooklyn, despite being an introvert, and despite New Yorkers’ reputation as being standoffish. But it never worked. There was not much of a warm, welcoming community in my new home.

So, many nights were spent in my apartment, watching too much TV – it was a good language exercise, but it did nothing to improve my outlook. The knitting, I thought, would at least give me a means to keep my hands busy on those lonely nights at home. And it worked like a charm. I looked forward to adding more length to my goofy scarf, and, once I felt that it should stop growing, I got a little thrill from seeking out my next project.

I like spending time alone at home now. It no longer goes hand-in-hand with loneliness. Quite the opposite – I look forward to my relaxing evenings at home with my knitting and my cats. It’s a creative outlet, it’s a balm after a taxing day of work, and it results in some really awesome wearable art. I can’t think of anything better.

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Naknicromo day 3: How did you learn your craft?

In the summer of 1999 I moved from New York City to Stuttgart, Germany. The opportunity arose from a casual conversation with one of my company’s executives about the weather. Learning that the conditions in Germany were stellar over the long Easter weekend, compared with the damp chill in New York City, this colleague commented that I might be better served working in the Stuttgart headquarters. A few months later I was making the move.

My time in Stuttgart had its up and downs – the downs being largely a feeling of isolation, as I only knew a handful of my colleagues and had no other connections in my new home. But I made a few very lovely friends, one of whom was a woman hired on in the office about 9 months or so after I’d arrived. Many days she’d bring her knitting to the office, and, as mentioned in an earlier post here, I’d first thought it sort of a quaint throw-back. But when I’d see her wearing the items she’d been working on weeks earlier, I became more impressed with the skill involved as well as with the idea of having a pastime that resulted in such beautiful garments. She graciously offered to teach me, gave me some leftover yarn from her projects and needles, and I got started on what turned out to be a very long, very colorful, uneven, kinda kooky scarf.

First Ever Scarf

It’s a great reminder of my early knitting days, and I still wear it with great pride.

Because I learned to knit from a German friend, I knit Continental style, which suits me wonderfully, as I’m left-handed. I like the control I have in holding the working yarn in my left hand. If I’d have learned the English/American method, I’m not sure I would have taken to it as readily.

After moving back to New York City in February 2001, I started frequenting the unfortunately now defunct shop, called The Yarn Tree, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. There, the wonderful proprietress, Linda LaBelle, taught a class that was also highly valuable to my evolution as a knitter. It was a sock and mitten class, which introduced me to the proper method of knitting in the round. I had been doing it completely backwards, knitting along the inside of the piece. When Linda pointed out my error, I was at first very defensive, but then quickly realized that I was no expert, and it’s best to heed the wisdom of the experts if I truly wanted to improve my skills. It was an important lesson from a very patient teacher, and I’m forever grateful to her for gently driving that lesson home. She still sells online at www.theyarntree.com and has done wonderful works in sharing her deep knowledge of fibers and dying with women in impoverished communities the world over, giving them a means to earn income they hadn’t had before.

And she showed me the light when it came to knitting in the round, and my first pair of socks and first pair of mittens turned out pretty darn good because of her.