Hard-to-find Curiosities for Those Who are All Thumbs

I'm writing a book about mittens. Which means I'm knitting thumbs. Lots and lots of thumbs.

Know what's good when you're all thumbs? Little, short DPNs! And by short, I mean 4 or 5 inches long; not your garden-variety 6 or 8 inch-long ones.

And you can get those little cuties all day long, in sizes 0-4, from all our favorite knitting retailers. But what you CAN'T have, I found out, is any short DPNs in diameters larger than size US 4. So if you have the crazy idea to knit gloves out of, say, worsted weight yarn (super-exotic, right?), and you'd like to knit all 10 tiny little finger tubes on needles shorter than 6 or 8 inches, tough cookies. That's right. Knitting has failed us in this regard, for reasons surpassing understanding. Drat.

Until today, that is. Yes, just leave all the knitting problems in my impatient hands.

I suited up, took myself hunting, and bagged the wild DPNs. I give you Ostart brand bamboo needles, available HERE , for the low, low price of $4.69 US. Yes, for less than a cup of coffee, you can have all eleven sizes of 5" DPNs, in sets of five. That's 55 needles for those of you who like the Maths. 

I am neither an employee nor shill for Ostart or Amazon, but when I find something cool, I love to pass it along to you, Gentle Readers. I've never heard of Ostart before, and I didn't have much luck learning about the company. I'm pretty sure the needles are from Asia. Ostart makes lots of different sets of both circular and DPNs, all for sale through Amazon. Now I know that for a lot of us, the idea of buying needles from a 400-lb gorilla rather than our beloved LYS induces hives. And rightly so. So if any of my LYS owner friends, or our dear needle-making associates can find a better source for this somewhat obscure need, please please please let us know.

But for those who can place $4.69 into unknown hands with a calm heart, Let me share the following:

Short DPNs are specifically made for sock, mitten and glove knitting. Their abbreviated length keeps you from getting poked as you work, and makes them easier and faster to manage when knitting small tubular shapes. The small tubes these are intended for are more commonly knit with finer-gauge yarns, so their small diameters are appropriate. 

As I said, most short DPN sets include sizes US 1/2, 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4. This set is different, in that it includes those, plus US 1 1/2, 2 1/2, 5, 6, 7, and 8. It is extremely difficult to find short DPNs in any size larger than US 4, so if you have that need (I do: I'l be knitting 20 pairs of mittens ASAP), this is the set for you.

The needles are bamboo, about as smooth as you could expect at this price, and have medium-ish points. I'd say the points are sharper than a Brittany or a Clover, but more blunt than Hiya Hyia, Chaio Goo or Addi lace. Their surface could benefit from a once-over with emery paper and then waxed paper to smooth them out a bit. Or you could do what I do and just use them for a while, letting them smooth out over time. While extremely small and hard to read, each needle does have its size inscribed (perhaps with a laser?), expressed in mm. This can be a lifesaver if you ever spill or mix up the whole collection; just find a magnifying glass!

The set includes five needles in each of the following 11 sizes: 2.0 mm (US 1/2), 2.25 mm (US 1), 2.5 mm (US 1 1/2), 2.75 (US 2), 3.0 mm (US 2 1/2), 3.25 mm (US 3), 3.5 mm (US 4), 3.75 mm (US 5), 4.0 mm (US 6), 4.5 mm (US 7), and 5.0 mm (US 8). Again, these last 4 sizes are extremely rare to find in the short 5" length.

The set is a great price, so even if you already have the smaller sizes in a sock set, you'll be happy to keep them as spares just to get those 4 larger sizes. I wish Amazon's product information had been more clear - I had to buy the set just to find out what I would get. The low price and quick shipping made it seem worth the gamble though, and I'll do anything for you, Gentle Readers. Just one more service I provide.


Kiss My Kate

I fell in love at Black Sheep Gathering. Okay, me and everybody else there. There was something for absolutely every stripe of fiber artist! But my new old favorite thing this year is drop-spindling. Drop spindling is the perfect activity for keeping your hands occupied, while your brain and eyes are doing other things. Standing in the market booth, welcoming shoppers and answering questions, my spindle was the perfect accompaniment.

For the uninitiated, drop-spindling is the humble art of making string with the very simplest and most elegant of tools. First, you get some roving. This is a gorgeous silk & Polwarth blend from (where else?) Abstract Fiber, in the singular "Red".


Then, grab your favorite spindle. The one on top is my favorite go-to from Spindlewood. It's a square top-whorl, made from Birdseye Maple, and weighs a little under an ounce. I knew when I packed it that I'd be drop spindling at BSG, but not what fiber, so I chose this one because it's really versatile. I especially love it because when I need to stop spinning, I can lay it anywhere without it rolling away onto the floor.

Once I got to the gathering, I promptly filled it up to the point where the added weight of the singles made it too heavy to spin the fiber as fine as I wanted. So I had to decide what to do: Either wind the singles off onto something else (fiddly) or into a ball (harder than it seems), or stop spinning (Please! ). I could also have chosen to Navaho (chain) ply the singles, but I really wanted to make a nice smooth 2-ply yarn. Either way, the real problem was that I had no way to support the spindle in order to move the singles off. And then it hit me, as I stood at Ground Zero of Handspinning, that I could just buy another spindle and figure out how to move the singles later. 

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Duh. So I popped on over to the Spindlewood booth, where I found a beautiful sister to my maple one: It's Zebrawood, and weighs just the same. But of course, I filled that one up, as well. So with two full spindles, I was ready to make 2-ply yarn, but, with no way to hold the spindles, I was going to have (a lot of) trouble plying. At which point, I remembered again that I was in the Black Sheep Gathering Marketplace. And with almost no effort at all, I found my new favorite toy: A tensioned spindle Kate!

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This one holds up to three spindles, so you could make 3-ply yarn with it as well. I parked my full spindles in it as shown. The cotton cord you see acts as a brake to tension the spindles as you ply (no backlash)! Then I just plied onto a third, larger spindle (in my hand), to get this:

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Gorgeous, lighter-than-air, 2-ply laceweight. My 2 full spindles yielded 133 yards of finished yarn, without ever having to move the full cops. So sexy! 

Phillip Trifiro of Trif's Turnings makes the fabulous spindle Kate in your choice of woods, to hold 3 or 5 spindles. He told me he could also make Kates to accommodate as few as 2, or as many as 7 (!) spindles, on request.

By eliminating the need to remove the spun singles from my spindles in order to ply them, Trif's Kate has allowed me to fall back in love with my spindle collection. The tension brake on the Kate works perfectly, preventing backlashes and tangling. The brass swivels hold the spindle hooks securely and spin smoothly, too. I plied my 133 yards in under an hour, while stopping to help customers as often as needed.

Now I'm inspired to take my beautiful spindles with me wherever I go, knowing how easy it is to make yarn from them. Especially in the heat of summer, when knitting can be too hot in my lap, drop-spindling is just the ticket to keep me entertained (never easy).

Watching My Language(s)

One great thing about travelling is the treasures you can find.  This is a completely gorgeous book about Latvian mittens:

Which I totally cannot read.

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But it has fantastic patterns, and extremely clear photographs and illustrations.  I'm totally befuddled as to why it's not available in English, but it's not.  

So there you have it: In order to learn about Latvian mittens, you really should speak Japanese.

But if, like me, you have no realistic sense of your limitations, order a copy HERE , and you'll be really happy.