Review: Easy-read Row Counters and Needle Gauges

Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of trying out tools designed specifically for knitters who are blind or visually impaired. For me, typical needle gauges and row counters are almost always useless to varying degrees because their use requires that you be able to see well enough to read the numbers. I have done many things over the years to adapt needle gauges, including adding braille labels and memorizing the sequence of sizes on the gauge. For row counters, I have never been able to use a commercially produced counter. Instead, I’ve use everything I could think of to keep track of my rows including an abacus, a score card for blind board game players, braille tags on a ring, and an app on my phone. Most of these have one drawback or another, even if the drawback is mostly related to having a young son who liked to move all the beads on my abacus to random positions because it looks fun to play with. He is old enough not to do that now, but there always seems to be a child around who doesn’t know the rules yet. The best thing I ever used was a bracelet with beads in two rows. It had a row for ones, a row for tens, and markers that slid over the beads to keep count. That bracelet was given to me by a knitting friend and was great, but my attempts to make more did not go well. With that being said, I was thrilled to test out knitting tools designed for the blind. The best part is that someone else did the thinking and the developing to make something that works, and for once, I didn’t have to be the one to think of ways to create and adapt something all on my own.

 

Jocelyne Denault, the designer of these products, lives in Canada and teaches knitting to French speaking people who are blind or low-vision. There are gauges for knitting needles and crochet hooks as well as beaded row counters. I will go over each of these separately and follow the review with ordering information. There are a few sections to this post, so I have used headings at level 1 for each section to make navigation easier with a screen reader.

 

 

Easy-read Row Counter Bracelet

 

 

The row counter bracelet consists of five round beads and five square beads that slide, with a stationary bead or jingle bell in the center. The bracelet had a simple toggle and loops system to fasten it on your wrist. I was able to take it on and off without unfastening it, and my hands are an average width for a woman. For reference, my bracelet is a little over eight inches around when fastened. The round beads count as one each, and the square beads count as five, so you can count up to 30 with the bracelet. I use it just like an abacus, when I get to four, I move all the round beads back to the starting position and replace them with a square bead that represents five. It is incredibly easy to do, and the convenience of having the row counter on my wrist makes it that much better.

 

I can see how the bracelet could get tangled on your yarn depending on how you have everything set up. I didn’t have that problem as long as I made sure the project bag with the working yarn was not at an angle where the yarn would touch my wrist. I knit with the yarn in my right hand, the project bag is usually also on the right, and I still liked the bracelet on my right wrist better. Since the yarn is wrapped in my right hand, the left hand is free to move the beads without having to drop the yarn at the end of every row.

 

I really like that the bracelet works by sliding the beads because there is nothing else needed to mark your position. Think about how an abacus designed for the blind has that padded backing so the beads don’t slide unless you want them to. The way the beads are strung on to this bracelet creates the same effect, without the padded backing of course. The directions for the bracelet recommend moving all the beads to the center of the bracelet and sliding one bead away from the center when you finish a row, a repeat, or whatever you’re counting. For me, I prefer to begin with all the beads away from the center so I can move them toward the center as I go. That way, the beads that indicate the completed rows are all together in the center, making it easier to count quickly how many I have. It also works well in my mind that way because that is how I was taught to use an abacus. The wonderful thing about this, as well as many other things, is that you can use it in the way that works for you.

 

 

Easy-read Row Counter Necklace

 

 

The necklace is a larger version of the bracelet with ten round beads and 10 square beads, which would allow you to count up to 110. Wearing the necklace feels a lot like the days in my early 20’s when I wore a braided hemp necklace all the time.

 

I have not used the necklace as much because I tend to use Bluetooth headphones to listen to audio books while I am knitting. My current headphones sit around the back of my neck, and adding the necklace feels extra crowded. If that’s not a problem for you, the necklace will work very well. I like the idea of using the necklace to count rows while the bracelet keeps track of increases or decreases, but I haven’t needed that set up since I received these products a few weeks ago.

 

 

Easy-read Knitting Needle Gauge

 

 

A while back, I realized that my interchangeable set of Chiaogoo needles was a disaster. Almost all of the short tips I have were missing along with about half of the standard size tips. There were things in the wrong place in the case, and I was having a hard time tracking down what was on projects or actually missing. So, I sat down with my new needle gauge to straighten everything out. It was a trial by fire, if you will.

 

First, it is important to note that these gauges use the metric system instead of US needle sizing, so a little conversion is needed to use these if you are, like me, used to thinking of needles in US sizes. I wrote a separate blog post about the metric system including a conversion chart that you can read if you need more information on that topic.

 

The knitting needle gauge is made with clear acrylic, which means that it is thicker and sturdier than typical gauges made with cardboard or thin plastic. Another advantage to this is that there is absolutely no way to insert the needle if it doesn’t fit because there is no give in the material. Also, because the gauge is a little thicker, it forces the needle in straight, and I found that this helped me feel confident that I had the needle in the best fitting slot.

 

In the past, I have had to memorize the sequence of US sizes so I could use a commercial gauge, and I always seemed to be forgetting where I was, or it was really hard to feel the holes once I got down to US size 5 or so. This gauge solves both of those problems. There are ten holes on one side for the measurements 1 mm through 10 mm, and the other side has 6 holes for the measurements 1.5 mm through 6.5 mm. There are no skipped numbers and the smallest holes on each side begin with 1 or 1.5, so there is nothing to remember. Very distinct bumps beside each hole on the gauge make it easy to use by touch. All you have to do is find the hole with the best fit for your needle, leave it in place, and count up from 1 by starting with the bump next to the smallest hole until you get to the bump next to your needle. If your needle is on the side with fewer holes, they are half sizes, so begin counting from 1.5 instead. It did take me a minute to think with millimeters but using a conversion chart made this fairly painless.

 

I tested my Chiaogoo metal needles as well as my Knitpicks wood needles with this gauge, and both worked great. The needles fit perfectly into the holes, and there is no question if you are in the best fitting hole or not. Basically, if the needle doesn’t fit snuggly, or wiggle at all, it isn’t the right hole. I was also happy to learn that this gauge works perfectly for all but three sizes in my Chiaogoo set, which includes US sizes 2 through 15. Apparently, if I paid more attention to the not so random metric numbers that always show up after US knitting needle sizes, I would realize that they are all whole or half millimeters. For reference, the thre exceptions in this set are 2 = 2.75 mm, 3 = 2.25 mm, and 5 = 3.75 mm. these still did not cause much difficulty because the 2.75 mm needle, for example, was too big for the 2.5 hole and still wiggled in the 3 mm hole.

 

I really enjoyed using this knitting needle gauge, and I was able to reorganize all the tips in my interchangeable set with ease.

 

 

Easy-read Crochet Hook Gauge

 

 

Having a gauge for crochet hooks is a new concept for me. I have never heard of, much less owned, anything that I could use to check hook sizes before. I suppose it is possible that such a tool already exists in the commercial market, but if it does, I’m sure it would not be as easy to use as this one.

 

The crochet hook gauge is set up exactly like the knitting needle gauge except that there are slots to slide the hook into instead of holes. Again, I had to look up the metric equivalents for the typical US sizing that uses the letter system. Like the needle sizes, the only sizes without perfect matches on this gauge are a few of the smaller sizes such as B, C, D, and F. After that, they all match up well.

 

This gauge is taking me a bit longer to get used to using because I have never had a tool to check hook sizes before, but I think it is going to be a great help when I need a certain hook size and there is no one around to look at the size on the hook for me.

 

 

Ordering Information

 

 

A quick note about using a screen reader with websites where the native language is something other than English:

 

Since the native language for the website is French, you might need to adjust a setting if you are using a screen reader to keep it from trying to read English words with French pronunciation. I use JAWS, so these directions are specific to that program. With the browser open, type INS + v to pull up the quick settings dialogue, type “language,” arrow down to Language Detect Change, and make sure it is not checked. After that adjustment, JAWS will read English text correctly, even if the native language of the website is set to something other than English.

 

The boutique section is still mainly in French, but it is dedicated to these four products and it is easy to pick what you want to order based on the price. In the shopping cart, the buttons and forms read in English, and you can pay with PayPal or credit card.

 

English Product Descriptions

https://www.questionstricot.com/english

 

To order from the Boutique

https://www.questionstricot.com/boutique

 

 

Just Hangin’

The other day, my mom, who is my crafty accomplice, was at one of those Dollar Plus stores, the ones that sell a little of everything, from the groceries and toilet trees you use everyday to the gadgets and containers you can’t find anywhere else. She found a perfect holder for the spare yarn that can’t be put away because it’s being used in a current project, but probably shouldn’t be cluttering up the coffee table or CD rack.

According to the label, the container is meant to hold stuffed animals and other small toys. It’s shaped like a drum or the sort of pan you boil vegies in. Well, it’s shaped like two, one stacked on top of the other. It’s made out of a fine netting or mesh, the stuff collapsible laundry hampers are made out of, and to give it shape, it’s got three plasticky wire rings, one at the top, one at the bottom, and one in the middle, where the two drums or pots meet. Each of the drums or pots has a hole in the side. This is where you reach in to fill the container with yarn or to pull another ball out. There’s a loop on the top surface for you to hang the contraption.

So far, it seems to be working, though I miss the lovely yarn accent in my decor.

Yes, it really is a Ravelry app for the IPhone!

And it works with Voiceover!!

 

I’m pretty sure I’ve been saying there needs to be a Ravelry app since I first got my IPhone. Just a little over a year later my dreams have come true. Yay me!

 

Wooly is a new app for Apple IOS. It’s definitely a work in progress but it looks like the developers have the potential to make this a great app. I’m already impressed. We all know about the trepidation every time we have to buy an app. Is this going to work with Voiceover or not? At first glance this app is almost completely accessible. The only thing I had a problem with was something called Happiness. First of all I didn’t even know this feature existed on Ravelry. Apparently it adds descriptive words based on how high you rate a project on the Happiness scale. My Petri Shell now says it is an Uggh! On the Happiness scale. I must have done this with the app but I can’t recreate the action. This project would have actually been something like 90% which is a lot better than Uggh! Other than that I could edit all the things the app says I should be able to edit. One very exciting thing is that I could adjust the progress percentage. I can’t do that on my PC. I tried to explain how awesome this was to my husband and it just went right over his head. Poor darling probably thinks his wife is crazy. So far though the most totally awesome thing about Wooly is its photo uploading feature. You can take a photo from within the app and upload it directly to Ravelry. Had previously mentioned husband take photo of me in Petri and I had it uploaded in about 30 seconds. We all know how long it takes with the usual digital camera to computer to Ravelry to project method. The app has the photo option from within each individual project so it eliminates that step. There are also photo editing features right in the app.

I’m really excited about this app. It has a lot of great features and the potential for many more. I’m going to contact the developers about the one issue I had with accessibility. Oh, and the edit button says 14gear. I think they could fix that without much trouble. Wooly costs $2.99. I would have paid more so this is a really great price.

 

For more information:

 

Wooly in the ITunes store

 

Ravelry group for Wooly

 

There are also Ravelry apps for Android and Windows users. Check out the article on apps for Ravelry on the Ravelry homepage. You might need a Rav ID to see the article.

 

One last interesting thing is that Ravelry developers are creating a mobile site. It can be found at m.ravelry.com. From my windows PC this site is totally inaccessible. From my IPhone it appears to work fine from a quick glance over. It looks like you can use it to browse all your project information plus a few other things. The developers say they are updating it as they add more features so it’s not finished yet.

 

 

Plano Organizer

A few of the knitters I know have been using little plastic organizers for their knitting accessories. I thought they were just really organized knitters and that was too much for me. I would just continue using my little bag system. This involved putting all the little bags of markers and things into a larger little bag along with all the other little odds and ends I need. So of course I’m spending a few minutes at a time digging through this little bag to find one or another of these little things. I thought I was being organized by having everything in one place but now I know the error of my ways.

Last week I decided to check the little plastic organizers out at Wal-Mart. The first nice surprise was that they were only a little over $3. I just love prices like that. Especially when I’m not entirely sure I’m going to like something. I still open one up in the store and investigate. The organizer has two identical sides. If you opened both lids they would open opposite to each other like the front and back covers of a book. I wouldn’t open it like this though; all your stuff would fall out. Each side has 5 long sections and there are little dividers you can insert wherever you want and create up to 10 sections. The whole thing is about 6 inches by 4 inches and a little over 2 inches deep. Not really too large for a knitting bag. I should also mention that these handy little organizers can be found in the fishing section at Wal-Mart. I did have some trepidation about having my husband take me into this section but he behaved himself and it didn’t take us long to get in and out.

After putting the baby to bed and feeding the rabbits and all those things that just have to be done before you can relax at night I was finally able to sit down to see just how organized I could be. At first I was disappointed that my folding scissors wouldn’t fit. I left the center slot open just for them. Then my husband pointed out that the side slots were longer because of the space needed for the latches to close the lid. So I moved the open slot to the side and the scissors fit. I put the things I use the most in one side and put a braille label with my name on it on that side just so I would know which side was which. They are identical otherwise. It’s made of clear plastic so the contents can be seen but that doesn’t help me. I put the less often used things in the bottom. The only things I couldn’t put in were things like larger cable needles crochet hooks and stitch holders. These went into another plastic case and I have everything I could possibly need all together.

Once I got everything where I wanted I really started to like this new organizing plan. I can just put the organizer on the table and leave it open during those times when you find yourself needing a lot of little odds and ends. For me, that’s when I start and finish a project. One major downfall I can imagine is leaving the organizer open beside me on the couch and forgetting it. It would be entirely too easy to sit down in the wrong place and spill all of the nicely organized stitch markers and things. I feel confident that this is bound to happen one day. It really seems inevitable for me. I just have to remember to close it when I’m through using it. For now, I’m just going to enjoy being super organized. At least with my knitting; we won’t talk about the rest of the house.

Interchangeable Needle Sets

I’ve been hearing about the Knitter’s Pride interchangeable needles for a few months now. I’ve also heard about a few other sets recently. I don’t think they are all new but the only ones I knew about when I started knitting were Knitpicks and Denise so I thought I would spend some time and do a review of some different sets. But, alas, another blogger has gotten to it before me. No surprise there but here is the link to her post listing all the different sets. There are definitely more than I thought.

 

The Knitluck Guide to Interchangeable needles

 

I’ll give a couple of thoughts on the two sets I have. The first set I acquired was the Knitpicks Harmony needles. I love these but it helps to have a tube of super glue around. Maybe it’s just that I’m hard on needles but I’m pretty sure they have all been super glued back to the metal joining at least once over the years. I’ve had my set for about 4 1/2 years. The cables did start coming apart and this is a little harder to fix. I chalked that one up to them being old so I just replaced them and the new ones are fine. It was pretty irritating when I dropped a lot of stitches because my cables broke though. Knitpicks is really good about sending you replacements if anything is wrong.]

I also have one set of the nickel plated tips. I love the way stitches just glide on the needles. I’m seriously considering a set of metal interchangeables. When I was a beginner knitter the metal needles were a little harder to manage but now I think the knitting goes faster with these.

I am not an acrylic fan. A lot of people love them but I’m just not one of them. I have a couple of Knitpicks Zephyr tips. They are fine for acrylic and the price is one of the best selling points.

I also have the Denise interchangeable needles. I really liked these for a while but the longer I knit, it seems I like the acrylic needles less and less. The Denise set has fatter cables which can make it harder to maneuver your work. They also come apart easy if the cable gets worn out. Also the flexibility of the acrylic sets has started to hurt my hands a little.

One important thing to note is that I’m a tight knitter. This makes the drag on acrylic needles much worse. If you are a loose knitter it might not bother you as much.

That’s all the ones I’ve tried for now. I’ll just have to decide which metal set I want. I have a feeling I’ll be sticking with Knitpicks but its fun to shop around. Also the metal tips are one solid piece so I don’t think I can break them.

 

So, go check out Knitluck’s wonderful guide to interchangeables. I found her articles very helpful and I hope you do too.

Ana and Crystal are on Viewpoints!

Ana and I did an interview for the Viewpoints Podcast. We talk about knitting with visual impairments and share some tips and advice for other blind and low vision knitters.

 

Please check it out:  ViewPoints 1214 4-4-12 Knitting for the Visually Impaired

 

Also, check out  ViewPoints

A weekly, half hour radio program for people living with low vision

Find out more about the show and get links to the podcasts at:

www.ViewPointsPlus.net

 

Getting Through the Boring Bits

Aside from socks, my favorite knitting project is capes, groovy substitutes for sweaters or jackets. The concept is simple enough: I make a collar or neckband as I would for a sweater; then I increase at regular or irregular intervals until the garment is 2 feet (60 cm) long. I just finished one, in fact, a frothy thing in spring pinks and greens made of a tulle-like cotton-silk ribbon yarn.

There one big drawback is that rows get longer as the cape grows, so the rows in the last few inches before the bind off can take one to two hours, depending on the number of stitches and on the complexity of the stitch pattern being used. Not surprisingly then, however exciting the project was in the beginning and however high my motivation is to wear it, the last vertical third of the cape turns the Zen of knitting into a twitchy fear of boredom and an unwillingness to keep on keeping on.

So how does one plod along?

By doing something else at the same time.

I think I’ve mentioned here that my mom taught me to knit when I was in kindergarten, but beyond a few scarves, shawls, and blankets for my dolls and an anomalous blanket for myself in college, I didn’t do much with the craft until my mid thirties, When I took up the needles again.

Initially, when I returned to knitting, I could not do anything while I knit. I had to concentrate on what I was doing, especially once I started working with interesting stitch patterns. After a year or two, I found my mind wandering, so I started knitting while my favorite TV shows were on, saving the tricky needle maneuvers for commercial breaks. Over time, I realized that I was getting wild and exotic with my needles even during the most dramatic scenes, a discovery which gave me confidence to try stitches that were more involved while my shows were on.

By this point, I had wholeheartedly embraced the power of multitasking during tedious stretches of yarn craft. My first intentional use of the power was when I came to terms with the fact that I’d put off fringing a shawl for over a year, so I cranked on AC/DC, Candlebox, and GodSmack, and fringed away. That worked so well that heavy metal became my cure for every-tedious-craft-related-thing from swatching to weaving in ends.

It occurred to me that I could move from music and TV to audiobooks. There really is no end to my gratitude for MP3 players and their capacity to play hours and hours of audio books without human intervention (the victor Stream rocks). I began with the comfortingly formulaic, steamy bodice rippers and murder mysteries, genres I read frequently and know well. I noticed the same pattern with audiobooks as for television: simple stitches (like stockinet, garter, or ribbing) at first with pauses for tricky knitting or complex listening, fewer pauses over time, and eventually, steady forward movement in both activities.

Since I learned to listen to books while I knit, I’ve gotten more knitting and more reading done, two fabulous outcomes. There are still times, of course, when I need to stop one activity in order to do the other well. Just yesterday, I got so caught up in a book that I kept screwing up the knitting. But for the most part, having an interesting distraction–like TV, music, or audiobook listening—is the best way to get through a long boring stretch of yarn.

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