Addi FlexiFlips – The Good – The Bad – The Ugly

Since my last post, I decided I would get my knitting mojo back by putting my current projects on hold for a bit and knit up something tedious and challenging and touch no other project until this one is completed.  It sounds nuts, but its technique I’ve used when I’ve been in a funk with other things.  Just hit pause and find a good challenge.

I cast on the first of a pair of Coffee Cantata socks and got to work.  There’s a brain melting amount of cable work but my God are they gorgeous.  I’ve considered framing these when I’m done as a joke.  Imagine that on the wall as a conversation starter for guests.

When it comes to socks I break out the double pointed needles.  Always.  I’ve made socks using the magic loop technique before and I don’t find it enjoyable.  I use magic loop on plenty of other things like sleeves and toys just not socks.

After casting on these tediously cabled socks I ran into a minor issue with my beloved double pointed needles.  I started hitting multi-stitch cables and twists spread between two needles in the middle of sides.  It’s fidgity where you don’t want fidgity. Ugh.

I began looking a little more seriously at Addi Flexiflips.

So all of us knitting junkies have seen Addi FlexiFlips appear on the market, and they apparently have been a big hit.  They’ve either been unavailable for order, backordered, or when found have had pricing that is grossly inflated.  The worst pricing I’ve seen is $45 per set for immediate shipment.  It finally looks like after several months these needles are popping up more often with reasonable pricing, but some of  the most common sizes are still hit and miss on availability. The concept looks intriguing, essentially they are circular needles with very, short fixed cables as a join.

I located two sets from the same seller in sizes that would be good to have the arsenal, Size 0 and 2.75mm (1.5 or the larger size 1 – it drives me nuts that there are companies out there that are marketing two size 1 needles Addi is one of them) at a bargain basement price of $18 a set.  They arrived in the mail box yesterday and once I got in from an evening of shenanigans with friends I worked them into the socks and flew through enough rows to feel comfortable writing a review.

Time to break it down…

The Good:
The design itself is pretty sound, and will please both magic loopers and double pointed fans alike.  It’s an excellent blend of the two.

For double pointed needle fans, you are juggling fewer needles, but absolutely have the feel of four in the sock and one to work stitches.  There are only four pointy ends poking out of your sock instead of eight reducing the places your working yarn can catch when you’re in the knitting groove.  I can’t quite articulate it, but having the short flexible cable between tips makes the process feel more compact.

For the magic loop folks, yes you’ll have more than two tips to manage but guess what you don’t have to do. The loop dance.  You know what I’m talking about, the pull one needle tip, re-folding the cable, and all the fidgeting that needs to happen to switch from one half of the sock to the other.  You simply will move from one needle to the next without all the readjusting.  Besides the addition of more pointy ends and learning to manage those, there isn’t much change in the rest of your normal knitting process.

These needles will travel well.  I’ve used several versions of double pointed needle/sock holders and I can fold these needles up to fit any of my existing holders.  Realistically, I could go without these holders once I secure the third working needles into either the yarn ball or the sock itself.  Magic loopers will find that the project itself will be more compact and with the loss of the actual loop, won’t have a snag point.

The Bad:
The points themselves…
Addi ment well by offering their dual tip technology on these needles.  Each needle has one sharp tip, the other side is a more rounded one.  This is great if you’re working a simple sock without a lot of design features.  Simply pick your preference and consitantly use it from one needle change to the next.  If you’re doing cables (especially without the assistance of a cable needle, the pinching method or drop and shift method) you will be arranging and rearranging stitches on both a sharp point and a rounded one. If you’re working a yarn that is on the splitty side, this can be a frustration point.  It’s not a huge issue, but it would be nice to have a choice of all tips being one shape or the other.

The Ugly:
The issue I’ve consistently had with every single set of Addi circular needles that I’ve touched…the joins.
If someone at Addi reads this, why can’t you make a smooth join between cable and needle?!? For what would be considered a prestige or luxury brand of needles, having joins rough enough that yarn doesn’t easily slide ir worse yet splits at the join is disappointing.

Overall, are these worth the investment? Yes.  They are a great concept, and despite the concerns will get the job done.  Are they worth paying the demand pricing for?  No, be patient and wait until you can find the size you need in the $18-25 range.  These are already more pricy than an individual set of double pointed needles or standard circular needles, but for die hards, a worthy tool.  Will these replace all of my beloved double pointed needles? Nope, but they will be a standard fixture on my traveling sock projects. When I have a little money in the fun budget I’ll pick up another size 1 (the smaller size 1 LOL) and a set of size 2 and that’ll be it.  That covers the sock gamut for me.  I will finish out my current socks on these despite my feelings about those variable tips and intricate cables.

Now it’s time to get some photos in.  By mid-morning it was warmer outside on the porch this morning than it was in my house, so the photo shoot was on my porch table, which needs a fresh coat of paint and a good cleaning, so just excuse that. Click on the images for some captions and info.

If you’ve tried these for yourself, tell me what your thoughts are.

 

 

Hand Knitted Socks Demystified

I’m in the middle of teaching a sock class this month, so it’s a good time to bring up socks.

There seem to be two projects that scare the living beejeebus out of knitters; sweaters and socks until they conquer their first ones. It’s understandable, they look a little intimidating at first, never mind the fact there are literally hundreds of thousands of patterns for each out there, and for socks there are at least 12 different types of heel construction and just as many toe shapes. No wonder why even some very experienced knitters won’t go near socks.

Here’s the official pep talk. Can you do a knit stitch? Yes. Can you do a k2tog? Yes. Can you do an SSK? Yes. Then guess what? You can knit socks!

It’s time to suck it up, pick out a ball of sock yarn and needles and get over it. Your feet will thank you!

All socks have the same parts, although there is some variation in construction. There is the cuff; usually made with a few inches of 2×2 ribbing. The leg; the tube portion that travels down the leg to the ankle. The heel; this is where the leg turns 90 degrees to accommodate your heel and ankle. The foot; the tube that goes from ankle to roughly the middle of the ball of your foot. Lastly, there’s the toe; where stitches are decreased to accommodate those odd little nubby bits that are at the end of your foot.

Most socks are constructed one of two ways, you either start at the toe of the sock and work your way up to the cuff (toe up), or the exact opposite direction, cuff to toe (top down). This is another one of those personal preference choices. I use both but prefer toe up. Top down usually comes into play when I’m using specific yarns that have some sort of matching technology. Yes, there are totally sock yarns out there that will help you make matching socks faster if that’s your cup of tea.

Socks can be knitted using circular needles by using the magic loop method, or by using double pointed needles (DPNs). I encourage people to try using both needle types to see what works best for you. Make your first pair using one needle type, then yes, start a second pair using the other. Personally, I dislike magic loop and love double pointed needles, but it’s different for every knitter.

Most needle size recommendations will range from 0 – 2 for typical sock weight patterns. If you decide you love sock knitting, you’ll likely find a needle size that works the best for you and stick with it for most basic sock patterns.

Your yarn choice for your first pair of socks is important! As tempting as it is to pick up a $3-5 ball off the shelf at the local chain craft store, I’m going to beg you not to. Many of these brands are splitty, or have a higher than needed acrylic/nylon/other unnatural fiber content making them slick and harder to knit, not something I would recommend for a first sock. I recommend a high Superwash wool (washer dryer friendly) content 70% or better. I can hear a few people mumbling now. Doesn’t she hate non-natural fibers? For the most part yes, I hate plastics in my yarns but there are exceptions to be made, it’s either a very pretty yarn, or it’s for socks. A bit of nylon, polymide, plastic by any other name, will make your socks more durable. My all time favorite sock yarns are made by Regia, their blends make great wool socks that I wear year round. Other recommendations include, Cascade Heritage and Happy Feet, Zauberball, Berroco Comfort Sock, and any of the Supersocke 4 ply yarns. Color can make a huge difference. Think lighter colors for your first pair, you’ll want to clearly see every stitch.

You have your yarn, picked your needles…moving forward.

Measurements!

Break out that measuring tape, you are about to get up close and personal with your tootsies. The two most important measurements you will need are the width and length of your foot.

For length, you will need to start of the center, back of your heel and pull the tape to the end of your big toe. If you have flat feet that spread forward when you stand, stand on your measuring tape to get this measurement, you might need an extra pair of hands to help line this up.

For width, you will wrap the tape around the widest point at the ball of your foot. Same applies here, if your feet spread quite a bit when standing, stand on your tape and wrap it around.

Some patterns may have you take ankle and calf measurements if they have very long legs, don’t use these patterns for your first time. The point is to learn the basics and then get into the fancier stuff later on.

Now what?

It’s time to cast on!

These are my go-to simple patterns for newbie sock people.

Whirlsie’s Vanilla Socks – top down construction with very clear directions and three size options.

Appalachian Socks aka Purly Bottoms – toe up construction, once again very clear directions and three size options. Plus there’s the added benefit of having the stockinette portion at the bottom of the sock up against the skin of your foot, it makes already comfy socks that much more divine.

There’s also a very simple pattern generator at the Sock Knitter’s Notebook that will spit out simple directions for you. You’ll need a gauge swatch in your yarn with your preferred needles size beforehand.

There you have it, enough basic sock discussion to get you going. Socks are one of my favorite things to knit, after you get a few under your belt, you’ll find they are easy to travel with and with the exception of turning the heel, are easy knits. If you are still a little nervous about striking out on your own, I’ll be offering basic sock classes a bit more often in the new year. If you’re not in my neck of the woods talk to the staff at your Local Yarn Shop, there should be someone to help you get started or can schedule class time for you.

Just remember one thing, they are socks, don’t stress over them

Blocking: A Necessary Evil

You’ve finally cast off a project that has taken ages to complete. You hold it up, and it looks, well, kinda blah. It sorta looks like the photos from the pattern but, it isn’t, quite right, even though you followed the pattern to the letter.

Well…

That’s where blocking comes in.

It’s like making gauge swatches and weaving in ends, no one really enjoys it, but if you want your handiwork to look amazing it just has to be done. So what is blocking? Blocking uses moisture to align all your stitches correctly, and the case of lace knitting, opens up all of those yarn overs.

I’ve had a small pile of finished work that need to be blocked, and an older piece that needed to be re-blocked after some cleaning (coffee soaks into wool pretty quickly, just saying). So I thought it was a good time do do a little tutorial on wet blocking. Yes, folks there are several ways to block but wet blocking seems to be the most universal.

First things first, you need to find a large, flat space away from the family pets and small children. In my case, I use my bedroom floor and shut the door. You can block on carpet, cardboard boxes, I’ve used my own bed to block large pieces, but the easiest thing is to pick up a few of those puzzle piece children’s play mats. You’ll be pinning your knit work, so the play mat surface holds pins well and since they are plastic, moisture won’t bother it at all.

For wet blocking you will need to soak your finished project. So grab an appropriate sized bowl, fill it with water, and a bit of specialty detergent. I prefer Soak, it smells great and it seems to get things a little cleaner. Eucalan has it’s own benefits but surprisingly I’m not a huge fan of the smell of wet wool and Eucalan seems to amplify that smell. These detergents condition the fibers and gently clean while soaking your project. There are a few other options out there, so find whatever you like the most. Just look for detergents that don’t require rinsing. Okay, so why are we getting everything wet? Natural fibers can stretch quite a bit more while wet, and as the fibers dry while in a stretched state, they will lock into that position. After drowning everything for about 15 minutes you’re ready for the next step.

After your items have finished their bath, it’s time to start getting them dry. You’ll need to squeeze all the water you can out of your work by hand. Whatever you do, DON’T WRING IT. Wringing can do some irreparable damage, so squeeze, squeeze, and squeeze some more. To get out additional water, lay your project flat on a towel, roll it up and either stand or kneel on it. Your project should feel damp to the touch when you’re finished.

Now to the fun part. Besides your flat surface you’re going to need quilting or T-pins at a minimum to pin your project into the its final shape. If you’re an avid knitter, one of the best investments you can make is in blocking wires. These are just simple metal wires that you can weave into the flat edges of your work to guarantee a straight line on your finished projects. For this tutorial I’m using both quilting pins and wires. My wires have taken a beating over the years and have gotten bent here and there when I was first learning how to do this myself. I was bad for over stretching on yarn weights that were a little too heavy for the wires. They still work fine. I’ve used three wires to define the flat edges of this cowl, and used pins to shape the points at the top edge. I only needed to stretch this project enough to open up all the lace work. In some projects, blocking will require you to stretch to certain dimensions or shapes. This cowl is actually the project that is being re-blocked after the coffee incident. Re-blocking does need to happen from time time after an item has been cleaned, or if an item looses its shape over time and use.

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There are also another handy tool out there for larger pieces. Knit Blockers are several pins mounted into a flat plastic handle. They let you cover a large area quickly and evenly, used with wires, they are a time saver as well.

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Now that everything is blocked out the way I want it. What’s next? Nothing. Well for a while anyway. You just go find something else to do for a few hours, because these projects will need to be bone dry before you do anything else. You can speed things up a bit by blocking in a warm room with good airflow. Good airflow = big ol’ box fan. Don’t go overboard and try to use a hair dryer or a space heater to speed things up, bad things could happen, like shrinkage. Once everything is good and dry, remove your pins, pull out your wires, and you should see significant improvement in how your project looks. With lace, the improvement can be downright dramatic. Weave in your ends and call it a day. Your item is ready to go!

Nerdy Knitting Tools: Knit Companion

All of us crafty folk have had it happen, we’ve printed our patterns, broke out our favorite methods of keeping track of rows such as highlighters and post-it notes and have gotten to work.  Days, weeks, maybe months into the project something happens to that piece of paper, the pattern itself disappears, or the post-it you’ve been using as a tracker falls off.  You’re lost!

Okay, maybe it’s not the end of the world, you figure it out and keep going but managing piles of paper can be a real pain in the ass, especially if you’re as guilty as I am for working multiple projects at the same time. I teach, make shop samples for my LYS and make stuff for myself completely unrelated to the first two types of projects, it’s not unusual for me to have 4-8 projects going at once.  I’m trying to reign that in a bit, 8 is a bit much right now but I’ve gotten behind on things. 

Recently, I found myself able to replace my ancient iPad with the latest and greatest (Verizon has some awesome deals once in a while) and rediscovered Knit Companion.

Knit Companion is a pattern management app that has come a long way since I tried it out several years ago when it was in its infancy.  So what does this thing do? Knit Companion (KC) allows you to import patterns from both Ravelry, KC Designs (they have partnered with several designers) and your own PDF patterns from a personal Dropbox into the app.  From there KC gives you a ton of options as to how you’re going to manage that pattern.

img_0041-1At the simplest of set ups you import a pattern, select the pages you need, and it goes straight into the user interface.  From there you can flip between pages through a drop down option at the top of the app, have a moving marker bar to keep track of your place on the page, and have several counters available at the right side of the app.
Then you can get into beefier features with a bit of work on your end to set up the pattern as you like.  KC is an extremely powerful tool if you take the time to work with it.  It’s not entirely intuitive but KC has quite a few tutorials and a user guide available on their website.

img_0040-1If you have a love for complex patterns that include a bajillion charts and page after page of instruction you’ll appreciate the advanced features.  KC can be programmed to track charts with the press of a button. The example here is just a quick one I set up for a shawl I’m designing (much more on that little project later).  I have yet to unlock all the features for myself, there is a feature called Magic Markers that will read your charts and highlight special/repeated switches for you when you set up.

Ultimately you can take a pattern, load it in so that you have access to flip through pages using the top drop down bar.  Counters can be renamed on the right hand side to track repeats, stitches, whatever else that may need counting.  The pull up from the bottom can be programmed to include keys or special instructions for charts.  Then there are options to add notes, highlight specific places within the pattern, and the best part is, once you set up the project it will auto save your every move until you delete it from the app. Switching between multiple projects doesn’t phase it.  My knitting bag has lost what feels like 15 pounds of paper, post-it notes, highlighter tape, and markers.

Since my introduction to KC as a iOS only app, they now have an Android version too.  The app itself is free, but it will limit you to KC only patterns and tie your hands on a lot of awesome features.  A 1 year subscription that unlocks all features is $12.99.  Yeah, yeah, I hear some of you groaning, but with the abilities of this app it’s worth it for an avid knitter or crocheter. If you are doing a project or two a year I could understand passing on it.

Give it a shot!  Look at the tutorials and the user guide, you’ll be amazed at what this little thing can do, and keep an eye out on the class schedules at your local yarn shop, there are a few out there that will offer classes on how to use all the features of this app to your advantage.

The Return of Mosaic Knitting

Trends are cyclical and mosaic knitting is on it’s way back into the spotlight.  It’s a trend that unlike jelly shoes and eyelash yarn I’m happy to see reappearing.  A cult classic since the late 70s mosaic Knitting (also called slip-stitch knitting) is amazingly easier than it looks.

In mosaic knitting, you alternate between two contrasting colors, but instead of working every stitch in the row, some stitches are slipped, and you only have to manage one of those colors at a time. That’s really all there is to it.

For a beginner that thinks fair isle knitting is a little intimidating for a first attempt at color work, mosaic is a good starting point for chart reading and managing multiple colors.  More advanced folks may find mosaic patterns faster for those “emergency gift” projects that pack a punch.

A great deal mosaic patterns out there are variations on the patterns established in the 70s, BUT over the past year I’ve begun to see mosaic mixed with other techniques.  In fact Barbara Benson (another Georgia knitter that I’ve yet to run into) is releasing a new book, Mosaic & Lace Knits: 20 Innovative Patterns Combining Slip-Stitch Colorwork and Lace Techniquesdue out at the end of the month, mixing mosaic with lace, and the teaser pieces I’ve seen are drool-worthy.

I’m currently working on a sample for a mosaic technique class I’m hoping to get on the img_0730schedule in April or May at Yarn Rhapsody in Gainesville, Georgia.  I began working on this sample last night during one of those time-change caused sleepless nights.  Don’t get me started on what spring time-change does to my sleep schedule, and as expected I’m blazing right through the mosaic pattern portion.  I’m also using a new yarn carried at the shop. It’s Harvest Fingering Weight by Feza Yarns.  The colorways are organically died rubia and oleaster and the photo does not quite do the colors justice.  This is certainly one of those yarns that would feel great in a garment of any sort.

If you happen to be in north Georgia or metro-Atlanta and are interested in attending classes or are interested in private lessons please feel free to contact me through the form below.  If you are interested in group classes, I will send a reminder email with upcoming classes, dates, and times.  If your interest is private lessons, this is just a little ice-breaker.