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.

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

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.

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