JKnit Knitting Project Assistant for IPhone

I recently invested in an IPhone. It has been amazing to be able to use every feature of a phone. I haven’t been able to do that since I lost my sight ten years ago. But, rather than gushing on all the wonderful things I can do with the phone, I’ll just tell you about one app I found.

JKnit is a knitting assistant app. It costs $5.99 so I was very hesitant to try it out. Luckily for me it works perfectly with voiceover. The app allows you to keep track of your projects by the piece and by the row. You can use the online web portal to input all your project directions along with the row numbers they affect. Then you sync the app and all the information transfers to the phone. JKnit has a built in row counter and each time you get to a row it shows the directions for that row.

I’ve really enjoyed having an easy row counter. I turned off screen lock within the app so all I have to do is position voiceover to the counter plus button and sinply double tap each time I start a row. It will keep your place on multiple projects and it’s just so easy.

I can’t say enough wonderful things about JKnit. As a blind knitter it’s even more helpful since it allows me to have an accessible version of the pattern wherever I am. It’s true that I can also read online and text versions of patterns with the IPhone but having one integrated with a row counter is even better. The online web portal is also easy to use. Copy and paste your individual pattern instructions and you’re ready to go. I highly recommend it and the price is well worth it.

Here are some links to more information on JKnit:

JKnit Knitting Project Assistant App

JKnit User Guide

Ravelry Group for JKnit App Users

Direct Link to JKnit in the ITunes Store

Spinning Time

The good news is spinning is taking a lot longer. The bad news is spinning is taking a lot longer.

The part I like about spinning taking longer is that I’m getting better at it. The singles I’m spinning are a lot thinner and more consistent. When I ply the two singles together it will probably be somewhere between a sport and worsted weight yarn. Much better than my first yarn which was bulky with very large slubs that look like little worm cocoons. The other good thing about it is that I’m not going through roving at such a fast pace. After I went through the first 16oz. in less than a week I was getting worried. Roving isn’t much cheaper than yarn and at that rate I wasn’t going to be able to afford to spin very much. This was very disappointing since I was having a great time doing it. Luckily for me, my spinning has improved and it’s taken me a couple of weeks of serious spinning time to finish my current 16oz. project.

This leads me to the bad part. It turns out I can spend a lot of time spinning. Enough time, in fact, that I’ve managed to make the muscles in my right hand sore. I’ve done this with knitting but I didn’t really see how it could happen with spinning. Last week I went to a spinning get together. I want to call it a sit and spin but that conjures up way to many funny images. Anyway, I rode with another spinner and she actually wasn’t spinning because she had done too much over the weekend and her wrists were hurting from it. Now I understand. It seems that any repetitive motion, no matter how minor, can cause stress and pain. I know it’s obvious but it’s so easy to forget when you’re having fun.

I had to take a couple of days off from spinning but now my hand is all better and I can get back to it. I’ll be sure to let you know how my latest yarn turns out after I get it plyed.

Winding Yarn the Modern Way

One of my favorite yarny gadgets is my Knit Picks Ball Winder. There are few things in life as miraculous and elegant as the center pull skein, a cylinder of yarn you just pull and pull from. Its one flaw, though, is that it gets misshapen and battered as it shrinks, so rewinding the leftover yarn becomes necessary when the project is finished or when yarn havoc is reeking as the work is still on the needles. “Grab a piece of paper, and wind around that,” you say. I can, but the paper slips out or loops of yarn drop off the ends, and I’ve got a tangled mess to take care of. This problem gets even bigger when I need to wind the yarn that comes in hanks, the braid-like twists expensive and handmade yarn is often sold in. For these jobs, nothing beats a ball winder or the cute cake-like center pull skeins it makes, and my favorite part of the ball winder made and sold by Knit Picks is that it gives users the option of a handle or a clamp, so they can pick where and how to use their winder.

This post is mostly about how to use a ball winder. The one I have is the Knit Picks Ball Winder, which sells for about 20 dollars, a good price, but the instructions should work for any ball winder since they all have a standard shape and work more or less the same. Mine is made out of durable plastic and is light-weight, so it’s easy to carry around the house. It’s relatively small, accommodating about 3.5 ounces or 100 grams of yarn, though thinner yarn works a little better than the thicker stuff.

The ball winder itself is a square platform with a tall wide-brimmed hat on top. One side of the platform has a crank, like the handle used to roll the windows in a car up and down, and on the other side of the platform is a sturdy L-shaped guiding wire that starts underneath and points straight up to the ceiling, like an arm bent at the elbow. These are the four important parts. The platform or base is the part that is clamped to a table. The “hat,” which is called a spindle assembly, is what the yarn wraps around. The crank is what turns the “hat” and causes the yarn to wrap evenly. The guiding wire is what keeps the yarn from tangling around the bottom of the spindle assembly and also lets the operator (you or I) put more or less tension on the yarn. The fifth part of the ball winder is the clamp or the fixed handle, depending on which either one of us is in the mood to use.

Clamping the Ball Winder to a Flat Surface

The clamp is a big L-shaped screw. The long leg of the screw has a wing nut and a large plastic wedge. The short leg of the screw has a small screw with a large head. To clamp the ball winder to the edge of a table, follow a few simple steps:

1. Remove the short screw from the short leg of the large screw.
2. Turn the ball winder so that the bottom of the base is facing the ceiling.
3. Locate a hole on the side of the platform. It is near the crank.
4. Insert the short leg of the clamp into this hole.
5. Locate a rectangular hole on the part of the base that is facing the ceiling now. It is inside a large recessed circle. You should have no trouble feeling the short leg of the screw in that rectangular hole.
6. Wind the short screw back into the short leg of the clamp. Make sure the long leg is pointing toward the ceiling.
7. Turn the ball winder right side up so that the bottom of the platform is facing the floor.
8. Set the ball winder on the edge of a table, slide the plastic wedge up to the underside of the table, and tighten the wing nut until the ball winder is firmly in place. For best results, place the ball winder near the corner of the table.

I position the ball winder so that the turn handle is to my left and the vertical guiding wire is to my right. Well, I guess I should say that I clamp the winder close to the corner of a table or counter and position myself in front of it so I can turn the crank with my left hand.

Winding the Yarn

Winding the yarn is essentially a three-step process, which involves running the yarn through the guiding wire, securing it on the top of the hat-shaped spindle assembly, and turning the crank. Here’s how that’s done:

1. Running the yarn through the guiding wire — Notice that the top of the guiding wire has a coil, really just a loop with a hanging tail. Lay the yarn between the two loops at the top of the guiding wire. The Yarn tail should be in front, and the ball end should be in back. Next, pull the yarn tail down, behind, and to the left of the wire tail. Then pull the ball end down, in front of, and to the right of the guiding wire. The yarn is now through both loops, with the tail end closest to the rest of the ball winder.
2. Securing the yarn — Notice that the top of the hat-shaped spindle assembly has two grooves, where the bullet grazed the wearer as she ducked down. Turn the “hat” so that one of the grooves is close to the guiding wire. Then lay the yarn across the “crown of the hat,” positioned in both grooves. I like to leave a longish tail, at least 6 inches (15 cm). Some people like to put a stitch marker or safety pin around the yarn at the “crown” so they can find it easily.
3. Turning the crank – Pull the guiding wire toward you as far as it goes. Place your right hand on the guiding wire, loosely holding the yarn against the wire itself or against the table near the wire. Then turn the crank clockwise with your left hand at a slow steady rate, and use your right hand to put a small amount of tension on the yarn that is being fed to the ball winder.

When I was new to winding yarn, my preferred method was to cup my right hand around the guiding wire. I could use my palm to keep track of the yarn being fed to the winder, and I still had my fingers free to check that the yarn was wrapping correctly around the spindle assembly. Now I don’t bother checking the spindle assembly because I can tell I’ve got problems when I feel heaviness or lightness as I turn the crank.

Winding While Walking

If, like me, you don’t have very many good flat surfaces to clamp your ball winder to, you can remove the clamp from the Knit Picks model and attach the fixed handle. The handle is about as long as the guiding wire, and its general shape is like the handles at both ends of a big rolling pin.

Attaching the handle is simple.

1. Turn the ball winder so that the bottom of the base is facing the ceiling.
2. Run a finger around the flat end of the fixed handle, noticing two small tabs around the edge.
3. Locate a large circular recess in the center of the base.
4. Run a finger around the circular recess in the base, noticing two small notches around the edge.
5. Position the fixed handle in the circular recess so that the tabs fit into the notches. (This is where technical manuals get all male-and-female).
6. Twist the fixed handle clockwise until you feel it click into place.

The winding process is the same. The yarn is run through the guiding wire, secured on the spindle assembly, and wrapped around the device with the crank. In fact, the first few times I wound yarn, I balanced the winder on my stomach or thigh while I did exactly what I described in the previous section.

Once I felt comfortable with the process, though, I grabbed the winder by the fixed handle, catching the yarn between the handle and my palm, and cranked away. I paused to check frequently the first few times, but eventually learned to trust the yarn and the crank to let me know what was going on.

I decided to get a ball winder because I had a few hanks of yarn to work with, but I bought the cheapest one I could find because I thought I wouldn’t use it very often. It’s turned out to be one of the handiest gadgets I have, and I really do use it fairly often. I’m glad I got the Knit Picks Ball Winder because, aside from selling at a great price, it gave me a chance to experiment with the clamp and the fixed handle. I discovered I’m a fixed handle kind of gal, so much so that I didn’t try the clamp until today as I was preparing this post.

Back to work on a UFO

I began working on this sweater for my mother about a year ago. I was in the mood to make something for her but before I got very far on it, I went into baby knitting mode. The baby was due in October and I spent all summer making baby blankets and little diaper soakers. It’s taken a while but I’ve finally found the time to get back with it. Better late than never, though.

The pattern is from Drops and is a cardigan style. It has 2×2 ribbing on the sides and sleeves with diagonal ribbing on the front halves and the back. In the back, the diagonal ribbing makes a V shape and comes to a point well below the waist. The front angles up just a little to the button band. The sleeves are either half or three quarter length. I haven’t gotten that far yet and I’m sure you could adjust them to be whatever you wanted. Overall I think it’s going to be a very pretty jacket when I’m done.

I’m using Knitpicks Gloss sock yarn in a dark blue. It’s a fingering weight yarn and has a nice sheen to it. It’s 70 percent wool and 30 percent silk. I needed size 3 needles to get gauge so it’s still going to be a while before my Mom gets her sweater. Hopefully it will be done by this fall. She’s still very happy to know I’m working on it again.


I’m going through one of my intense knitting phases. This means I’m thinking, reading, and doing knitting more than usual. The current obsession involves polygons, poetry, and grafting, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s uppermost in my mind is my loyal assistant Clump.

Clump is a sloppy ball of worsted acrylic yarn that is the remnant of a finished project. The name comes from his or her (depends on the color) blobby form when rolled into a fist sized ball. S/he serves me for two or three years, roughly the time it takes my mother to point out that I have lots of yarn around the house, none of it as scraggly. Other unpleasantness may occur between the remark and clump’s forced removal, but such memories are too yarn-tragic for this venue.

Anyway, Clump is always acrylic because acrylic is more forgiving than vegetable fibers and less dainty than animal yarn, so I get a fairly realistic sense of what I can expect. S/he is always accompanied by a longish needle so I can work my swatch flat or in the round, and the reason for choosing worsted is that the yarn is big enough to examine the work carefully.

Clump and the needle sit on my desk. I reach for them and work up a sample when I happen to come across a new technique while researching the translation of “drive-by shooting” or reading up on the Braunte brother. They sit on my nightstand or next to my favorite chair. I reach for them to exorcise the various possibilities for whatever I’m trying. They sit in the knitting basket with my project yarn. I reach for them when I want to make sure the experimental venture that just popped into my head won’t screw up my lace project.

And no, there’s no doubt in my mind that, when the nuclear bombs go off and life forms are down to a few mutant humans and the roaches, we’ll be wearing Red Heart Super Saver ponchos, leggings, and thongs, not any of the higher yarns, and we won’t have to worry about ruining our clothes. So why not make friends with Clump’s kindred?

I can’t imagine a knitting life without Clump and highly recommend that all yarnies adopt their own Clumps too.

On Display at the Smithsonian

Contributed by Dixie

My name is Dixie. Yep, from the deep south … of New England on the Connecticut coast. I have been crocheting and knitting for nearly forty years, the last seven of them in the dark. I also learned to spin a couple of years ago. I just returned home from a trip to Washington D.C., which involved my stitching and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

I was one of the volunteers who crocheted pieces of coral for the Hyperbolic Crocheted Community Reef, which was on display in the Smithsonian until last Sunday, April 24, 2011. I wanted to visit the reef while it was on display.

I guess I should explain what the reef was exactly. It was a three-dimensional reef made up of crocheted pieces of coral. The finished reef was huge, measuring 16 feet long, 9 feet high, and 10 feet deep.

Before going to Washington D.C., I contacted Jennifer Lindsay, the designer and organizer of the reef project, to ask what accommodations were available for those of us who are blind. She told me there were docents on duty with some touchable pieces, and she also said she would come into the Smithsonian when I was there so she could meet with me.

Sure enough, when my husband and I arrived, a docent was on hand with some samples that the public could see and touch. I got to check out a piece made into bell coral, which was very much like one of the pieces I submitted last autumn. I also got to touch a few pieces of dead coral crocheted out of VHS video tape, cassette tape, and plastic grocery bags. The very coolest piece I handled was a jelly fish. I have to find directions to make myself one: it was so very cute!

The reef itself was made out of 4,000 pieces submitted by 800 crocheters, who ranged in age from 3 to 101. There were three submission categories. the first was the healthy coral. These pieces were done in vibrant colors, all shades of reds, pinks, greens, blues, and purples. The second was the bleached coral, the coral that is dead. These pieces were in light neutral tones, various beiges, tans, grays, and whites. The third was the toxic corals. These were worked in found items and trash (like the plastic shopping bags) to show pollution in the coral reefs.

The highlight was touching my own pieces. They fell into the bleached coral category. One was a cream colored bell coral, and the other a tan brain coral with brown spots. When the reef’s designer met with me, she researched where my 2 pieces were placed, and she allowed me to reach into the display to touch them. This was not something others were allowed to do, but an accommodation she kindly made for me.

My husband took pictures of me standing by the reef, pictures of the 2 pieces I submitted, and a picture of the plaque on the wall with the names of all of the crocheters who contributed pieces.

The reef is now going to be moved, but no definite destination has been set. I am hoping it goes on tour to other museums so it can be seen nationwide. Still, it is very cool to say, “I have a couple pieces on display in the Smithsonian!”

Karen’s Alphabet Blocks

Contributed by Karen Schrade

This pattern makes stockinet cubes. Each side of the cube is worked in a different color with a print letter in the center of each side. Cubes are roughly 3x3x3 inches (7x7x7 cm) in size.

This is a basic recipe for the blocks. Lots of things can be changed to suit your own preference:

I used Peaches and Crème and Sugar and Cream Cotton Worsted. Originally, I tried these using Caron Simply Soft yarn. They were nice, but for a baby, I wanted something not so fuzzy.

To get the fabric right, I used size 1 knitting needles because I tend to knit loosely. That gave me a very dense fabric, which was what I wanted.

The stuffing is simply polyester fiberfill. I could use the blocks as covers for foam rubber cubes, but I wanted them to be totally washable. With the fiberfill, they can just go into the washing machine.

For my letters, I used Marjorie Arnott’s Charted Alphabet. Most of the letters are 8 stitches wide and 10 rows tall.


My blocks are coming out almost 3 inches (7 cm) square on each side, so if you knit tighter than I do, you can probably go up a needle size or two.


To make 4 sides of the cube, I make a strip of 4 squares, then seam the cast on and bind off edges together. I do a turning row between each square to give the cube its shape. Then I make two individual squares to sew into the spaces at each end of the box.

You can do whatever you want with the colors. I am making each block as bright and varied as possible. I’ve been doing my individual squares in white with colored letters, and on each strip, I’ve been doing two colored squares without letters and two colored squares with letters.


Cotton Worsted yarn, 7 colors including white.

Size 1 (2.25 mm) straight knitting needles or size to make a block the way you want it.

Polyester fiberfill for stuffing the blocks.


The Strip

With one of the bright colors, cast on 16 sts.

*work 18 rows in stst starting with a k row and ending with a p row.

Knit two rows for the turning. You get a ridge on the right side of the fabric.

Change colors.

**Work in st-st for 4 rows starting with a k row and ending with a p row.

Work your letter over the next 10 rows continuing in stst and changing colors for the letter itself. (I’ve been using white for the letters but you can use any color you want that will contrast with the background.)

Then work 5 rows in st-st, starting with a k row and ending with a k row.**

Do your turning row again, a knit row to create the ridge on the RS.

Work the next two squares of the strip by working from the * again.

Bind off loosely and join the cast-on and bind-off edges together.

For the individual squares

Make 2.

Cast on 16 sts.

Work from ** to ** as above.

Bind off loosely and sew into the side of the strip. The corners of the individual square will match the turning ridges.

Make sure to leave a small opening when joining the last individual square so you can stuff the block.


1. If you cut off about 2 yards of yarn in the “letter color” you can just let it hang behind the square till it’s needed again. That makes it easy to twist the yarns together to avoid long floats on the back of the square.

2. I’ve found that it’s better not to stuff the blocks too tightly. They tend to round out if they’re too firm.

3. Sewing the squares into the strip is the most time-consuming part of the whole thing. You can either overcast or mattress stitch the squares in place. If you overcast them, sew them firmly.

4. Any ends do not need to be woven in, but I’ve been tying the beginning and ending strands of yarn for the letters together. I don’t want them to figure a way to work themselves out!

5. Instead of choosing colors, I’ve been putting all of the yarn except the white into a bag. I randomly pull out a color for the square to be worked. When it’s finished, I put it into another bag and pick a second yarn randomly. Then when I finish the whole set of yarns, I start again. It’s making for some interesting combinations, like orange next to purple, but they’re children’s blocks and I want them to be as bright as possible. You can do the strip in a solid color, but remember to do the turning ridges. I’ve also done a couple with only two colors on the strips. Another option is to use a variegated yarn for the “non-letter” squares. That works well too, and you can do the other squares with a complementary color.

Tips for Braille Instead of Print Letters

If you want to put Braille on the blocks instead of print, you can work a popcorn for each dot: just knit into the front and back of a stitch repeatedly until you have five stitches instead of one; then pass the second, third, fourth, and fifth stitches over the one that is closest to the tip of the needle.

For contrast, you can make each side of the block in a solid color and later work the Braille dots with a different color.

Put a pin into the stitch you will make the popcorn in, and keep working. Then when you’re finished, pull a strand of whatever other color yarn you want to use from the wrong side of the fabric, pick up one of the stitches that has a pin, and work the popcorn. When it’s finished, pull the yarn back to the wrong side, and tie it to the beginning of the strand so it doesn’t come out. Repeat this process for any dots.

I’ve done this with bobble buttons and it works fine. It looks really nice to have a contrasting color button on a baby sweater.