Episode 2: in which I continue the guided tour of my knitting kit. We start with the most historic item and end with fat sheep, I mean sheep fat.
#6 Calculator – the most sentimentally charged item in my kit. This Texas Instruments TI-1100 has been with me since secondary school and thereby, of the tools in this baggy, it is the one that has been in my possession the longest. It isn’t solar powered, but I sometimes have to double check that it isn’t because I’ve never changed the battery. I think it might be magic. Oddly, I don’t remember where precisely the calculator came from; I’ve had it that long.
Tucked in the inside sleeve is a holographic sticker that has lost its stick. It once came from a bottle of guarana cola – when that first hit the shelves in the early 90s. You wouldn’t know that from looking at it: the name of the drink and ingredients have long since worn off. I didn’t drink the stuff, but my friend Eleanor did and she stuck it to the front cover of my calculator during a maths lesson.
I own a proper knitting calculator and have a calculator on my mobile phone, but this is the one I turn to when writing patterns. Sometimes I wish it had a backwards button.
#7 Stitch Markers – where am I? What’s going on? These safety pin type markers are from Clover and I love them. I like the fact they are removable. I can slip them as I pass them to keep track of circular knitting rounds. Sometimes I clip them in retroactively to flag up issues that need sorting in the next round. Often they get clipped in as reminders of what I’ve done where. In this way they help me trace my actions when I’m knitting a sample for a pattern to be fully written up later on. I have no less than a hundred of them. As well as being stored in the little zipper purse (item #2), I clip them onto the zipper pulls on my backpack, so I always have one handy. In a pinch I’ve been known to use sandwich ties, paperclips, safety pins and scraps of yarn in place of more official Stitch Markers.
Before shops in London cottoned on and started stocking these, I used to mule them back from the USA. Various family and friends would put in orders too. As much as I enjoy watching other peoples handmade stitch markers with characters and assorted other sparkly danglers, these really are my favourites.
While I was in the Philippines for Ricefield Collective, I found some that looked identical to these, in a wider range of amazing colours. Sadly they snapped one by one in the space of a couple of hours once I’d clipped them in to my knitting – brittle plastic. Aside from the obvious disappointment that caused, it was quite entertaining as they made little popping sounds akin to the satisfying ‘pop’ jam jars make when they seal hours after you have filled them with hot homemade jam.
#8 Stitch Holders – for keeping stitches live. They’re the Tupperware of the knitting world. I really like coloured ones, purely for aesthetic reasons. I’ve picked these up over the years from charity shops and second hand shops, I even bought a couple of them brand(less) spanking new from a 100 Yen shop – the Japanese equivalent of a Pound Shop or Dollar Store – when I was in Tokyo in 2001. They are useful when I need to free a set of needles for a different project or when I don’t want to commit to casting off. It may seem like I carry quite a few with me, but if I’m knitting a sweater in the round, I need 4 for the armpits and then I still like to have some spare. They are a range of sizes so they can be matched to what I need. When factoring which size to use, I consider how many stitches need to go on it and where. If they are attached to an in progress project, I prefer them to be smaller, so they get in my way less as I pass them and the weight doesn’t pull my stitches.
If I remember to slip them in facing the right direction, I can graft the stitches from the body and the sleeve straight off the stitch holders. This isn’t as easy to do if you save your stitches on scrap yarn, which works perfectly well and in some specific cases, better. Generally I find it quicker to use stitch holders, but scrap yarn is the no-need-for-extra-gadgets approach or what to do when all other stitch holders are already holding stitches.
#9 Pins – for pinning knits together before and during sewing. I got these at that same 100 Yen shop in Tokyo back in 2001. I wish I had gotten more. They are made of bamboo and have a large enough head to not slip between the stitches, blunt tips to not split the yarn and are long enough to actually be useful when pinning chunky knits. There is no plastic to speak of, so no risk of melting when the iron hovers over. I’m a big fan of mattress stitch when it comes to sewing together what I’ve pinned.
#10 Hand Cream – for lubricating the knitting process. I get really dry hands. I blame it on winter and having psoriasis, but I have a nagging suspicion knitting also has something to do with it. I try to be extravagant and slather it on all the time, but in reality I can get a bit thrifty, particularly with the nice stuff. I like a lotion that feels like it really gets in there; moisturising without leaving my hands too greasy or stinky and certainly not the sort that makes them feel weirdly sweaty a couple of minutes later. My current tube is from De Noord Kroon, a company based on Texel, one of the North Sea Islands of The Netherlands. It is highly sheep appropriate as it is made with 10% lanolin, a by product of the beautiful fleece that hails from Texel. It absorbs well, but since lanolin is the grease found in sheep wool, it wouldn’t matter if some got back on there. It smells like grandma hands. I got it when I visited Saskia in her shop, Ja, Wol in Rotterdam. And here she is…