Sweet Tomato Heel

I love knitting socks. Whenever I grab a pair of skinny circs and a hundred grams of equally skinny yarn, I get fizzy and tingly, and all thoughts of chocolate and earthly delights leave my brain.

So imagine the biological upheaval that took place when I discovered that Cat Bordhi developed a new heel technique last summer, which she calls the sweet tomato. It produces a smooth, round heel without holes and other weirdness, and it’s one of those things that works right the first time. The heel uses short rows, but there’s no wrapping or picking up stitches, and once you practice it on medium weight yarn, you will understand what to do when working with the skinny stuff.

After you learn to do it, you can purchase her ebook for patterns. The book is a pdf file, which you can save as text, and it includes both text and charted instructions.

The Sweet Tomato Heel Explained

Bordhi describes her technique for the sweet tomato heel in a YouTube video. Her directions are easy to follow until, of course, the crucial step—hence this tutorial.

For our purposes, let’s say you’re making a slipper sock with medium weight yarn and 4 or 4.5 mm needles (i.e., worsted weight yarn and size 6 or 7needles). Because you like your slippers roomy, you’ll make them 36 stitches around, and because you’re a great planner, your math will be simple and your yarn will be big enough for you to identify things without too much trouble.

1. Start your slipper sock in the usual way. You can work cuff-down or toe-up. It doesn’t matter. Just do what you do until you’re ready to work the heel. (For this example, remember your slipper is 36 stitches around.)
2. For the heel, you will use two thirds of the stitches (24 of the 36), so separate the heel stitches from the instep stitches. You can use a pair of markers to let you know where the heel stitches begin and end, or you can put the instep stitches on one needle and the heel stitches on a different circ or on two dpn’s.
3. Knit across all (24) heel stitches, and stop.
4. Turn the work, slip one stitch, and purl across the rest of the heel stitches. Make a point of tightening the two stitches after the slipped stitch by giving the working yarn an extra tug as you finish each.
5. Run a finger over the work. You’ll notice a wide space between the stitches at the point where you turned in Step 4. A new gap like this one will appear every time you turn the work. Get to know it since it’ll help you decide when to turn again.
6. Turn the work, slip one stitch, and knit across the heel stitches. Stop when you are two stitches away from the gap. Make a point of tightening the two stitches after the slipped stitch by giving the working yarn an extra tug as you finish each.
7. Turn the work, slip one stitch, and purl across the heel stitches. Stop when you are two stitches away from the gap. Make a point of tightening the two stitches after the slipped stitch by giving the working yarn an extra tug as you finish each.
8. Repeat Steps 6 and 7, always turning when you are two stitches away from the nearest gap. Stop when there is about an inch or 2.5 cm between the two center most gaps. The last row is a purl row.

If you’ve played the video, you got this far without any problems at all. The trouble begins with what comes next. Here’s a sampling of my notes:

1 st before gap:
Let me lift this off.
Daughter, mother, grandmother; ignore grandmother.
Mother says, “Let me ride that horse with you. I’ll sit in front.”
Put Mother on the horse.
Call this “thanks, Ma.”

Now, if the movie in your head didn’t feature a lonely prairie and a cowboy with lots of stamina, you’re not as normal as the rest of us.

But I digress.

9. Turn the work, and knit the entire round. Do the following as you work across each section of the round:
a. As you work across the first half of the heel stitches, pause when you’re one stitch away from each gap. Insert the tip of the left needle into the stitch below the one you are about to knit; place that stitch on the left needle; and knit those two stitches together. You are not working a k2tog across the gap: you are knitting the stitch before the gap together with the stitch below it.
b. As you work across the instep, knit all stitches if you’re making a plain slipper sock, or work in pattern if you have a cable or some other fancy stitch going.
c. As you work across the second half of the heel stitches, pause after you knit the stitch before each gap. Insert the tip of the left needle into the stitch below the one you are about to knit; place that stitch on the left needle; and knit those two stitches together. You are not working a k2tog across the gap: you are knitting the stitch after the gap together with the stitch below it.
10. Knit two or 3 rounds even.
11. Repeat Steps 3 through 10 two more times, working three heel wedges in all.
12. Continue the slipper sock in the usual way.

Tips for Finding the Stitch Below

In Step 9, locating the “stitch below” is tricky the first couple of times, so practicing with larger yarn is a good idea.
• Some knitters suggest putting a pin in those stitches. This way, you can just grab the pin and lift the stitch onto the needle. This method works, but it can stretch the stitch out a little, which is what you’re trying to avoid in general.
• Another approach is to use your thumbnail to find the correct strand. When you’re working the first half of the heel, the strand is easier to locate on the public side, and when you’re working the second half of the heel, the strand is easier to locate from the wrong side of the slipper. In both cases, the strand is the outermost vertical line.
• A third way to find the “stitch below” is to make the “stitch above” submissive. When you’re working the first half of the heel, separate the needles so that the stitch you just worked and the one you are about to work are far apart; then use your thumb or the tip of the right needle to slide the “stitch below” toward the left needle. If you’ve got the correct stitch, it’ll slide. When you’re working the second half of the heel, slip the stitch you are about to work to the right needle and separate the needles; then use your thumb or the tip of the left needle to slide the “stitch below” toward the right needle. If you’ve got the correct stitch, it’ll slide.

Variations on a Theme for the Sweet Tomato Heel

I haven’t been working with this heel long enough to have strong opinions about it, but two things I noticed during my early experiments are these:

A. The heel might be a little tidier if you use k2tog tbl in the second half of the heel.
B. You can use this technique when working a more traditional short-row heel. Just make each row one stitch shorter than the previous one as you would when working the first half of the standard short-row heel. Then as you work Step 9 (above), knit each of the sloppy short-row stitches together with the stitch below it. Work the foot right after that, or work a couple of rounds even then do exactly what you did before.

Magic Cast On

The third provisional cast on of the series is Judy Becker’s magic cast on, which was described in the spring 2006 issue of Knitty. It’s the most seamless of the cast ons if you’re doing stockinet or garter, and it’s perfect for making closed tubes, like socks and purses; for projects that start in the middle, like scarves and afghans with ends that are mirror images of each other; or for the start of a top-down triangular shawl. . It’s also fairly stable, so unlike the figure-8 cast on, you can freely put lots of stitches on the needles. The original directions are pretty clear, but Steps 4 and 5 of Becker’s article, where the actual stitch is being described, require much rereading and experimentation, so here’s an alternate explanation of the way it works.

For this cast on, you’ll need two needles (circs or dpn’s) or maybe one long circ and some practice yarn. My instructions aren’t identical to Becker’s, but they’re very close. The biggest difference is that, in Step 2, she has the knitter hang the tail end of the yarn over the index finger (opposite from the long-tail cast on), while I’m satisfied with holding the yarn in the standard long-tail cast on way. I’ve tried both methods, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference, so ….

1. Tie a slip knot around one of your needles, leaving a longish tail (about 12 inches or 30 cm).
2. Hold the yarn as if you were doing the long-tail cast on.
a. Your left hand is holding an imaginary glass of water.
b. Lay the yarn over the thumb and index finger of your left hand, with the tail end hanging from your thumb and the ball end hanging from your index finger.
c. Curl the middle, ring, and pinky fingers of your left hand into the palm and tuck the hanging strands of yarn into them.
d. The yarn itself forms an inverted triangle. A horizontal strand goes from your thumb to your index finger. One diagonal goes from your thumb to your middle finger, and another diagonal goes from your index to your middle finger. The needles are resting on the horizontal line at the top of the inverted triangle. The one with the slip knot is farthest from you, but we’ll get into that in the next step.

As you continue reading the instructions, it helps to think of the clock: 9:00 is to your left; 12:00 is in front of you; 3:00 is to your right; and 6:00 is behind you.

3. Hold both needles in starting position.
a. The needles are in your right hand. They point left to 9:00, and the needles are lying side by side, like the planks of a floor or the seat of a rocking chair.
b. It’s helpful to put the thumb of your right hand on this floor, so you always remember which side is the top.
c. The slip knot is on the needle that is farthest from you. Call this Needle 2.
4. Twist the needles so they point away from you to 12:00.
5. Tip the needles so that Needle 2 is above Needle 1. Imagine they’re a rocking chair you’re tipping to the left; your thumb is no longer on top, but to the left.
6. Twist the needles back to 9:00. On your way, make sure the horizontal part of the triangle that is nearest your left index finger slides between the two needles. When you are all the way back at 9:00, tip the needles back to starting position, with the right thumb on top and Needle 2 behind Needle 1.
7. Twist the needles so they point toward you to 6:00.
8. Tip the needles so that Needle 1 is above Needle 2. Imagine they’re a rocking chair you’re tipping to the right; your thumb is no longer on top, but to the right.
9. Twist the needles back to 9:00. On your way, make sure the horizontal part of the triangle that is nearest your left thumb slides between the two needles. When you are all the way back at 9:00, tip the needles back to starting position, with the right thumb on top and Needle 2 behind Needle 1.
10. Repeat Steps 4 to 9 until you finish casting on all of your stitches, ending with Step 6. If you do things right, you should feel a ridge forming on the underside of the needles.
11. Twist the working yarn and the cast-on tail once.
12. On Needle 1, knit all stitches (k), and on Needle 2, knit all stitches through the back of the loop (ktbl).
13. After that, do as the spirit moves you.

Once you get the hang of this cast on, the movements become smaller and subtler, a flick of the right wrist as the needles swing back and forth catching the yarn on their way.

Instead of starting with a slip knot, you can just twist the yarn around Needle 2. This sometimes produces a tiny hole at the end farthest from the cast-on tail, so if I’m making socks, I often work a couple of rows back and forth and just pick up stitches at the ends.

The never ending Project

Most people who know anything about what I’ve been knitting lately know that I’ve been working on a sweater for my mother for a while now. Since May of 2010. I wrote another post about it here.

After a mistake last November I decided to take the advice of friends in the BlindStitchers group and put the project away until I wasn’t so frustrated with it. Just before New Year’s I pulled it back out with the intention of going into eat, sleep and knit mode so I could finally get it done. Well, I knit like crazy for a week and a half. I got quite a bit done. So much done that I was having daydreams about handing it over to a friend of mine to be sewn together.

That’s when my needle broke. The cable just came loose from the needle and there goes about 20 stitches. 20 stitches in the diagonal ribbing section. With size 3 needles and fingering weight yarn, I’m just not looking forward to trying to fix it. Nevermind that I knew I should put a lifeline in. I was just too lazy to do it. Nevermind that I knew the needle was weakening in that spot. Oh, it won’t break. I’m just being paranoid.

All this makes me think that I’m bringing the problems with this sweater on myself. There’s a point where you just have to face the facts and admit that bad things do happen to good knitting. If I can manage to fix this sweater again without having to knit practically the whole back piece over again, I’ll be inserting a lifeline immediately. Lesson learned, finally.

New Group For Blind Spinners

There is a new group for blind spinners on Yahoo Groups. The blindstitchers list is such a wonderful resource, another blind spinner and I thought it would be great to have a list just for spinning.

 

To join, go to The Blind Spinners Yahoo Group page.

The Glory of Great Mistakes and Greater Influences

Contributed by Timothy Harshbarger

Who knew knitting would lead to so many bad influences and so much good folly? After four months of knitting, I still feel like quite the novice. So far, the only thing I’ve completed is what I am calling the misshapen-pink-Barbie-dishcloth-with-built-in-button-holes.

My friend Stacy, the bad influence who got me into knitting in the first place, and I went to a yarn store where we both bought lots of … well … yarn. I picked up a bunch of small skeins of cotton blend to make dishcloths, and the first skein I happened to grab when I got home and broke out the needles was bright pink, a fact I discovered when the guys were over talking and drinking beer—while I worked on my dishcloth. They all stepped up to their man-friend duty and informed me of the color. Fortunately, I think I carried it off manfully myself.

But I was talking about bad influences. After the misshapen-pink-Barbie-dishcloth-with-built-in-button-holes, I started on a scarf. I was doing really well until I snapped the yarn while sitting out front waiting for my ride to work. I am undaunted, though because my knitting list, a passel of bad influences, has helped me believe that I may theoretically have either a very thick woolen dishcloth or the world’s smallest, squarest scarf, or I can always try to pass it off as a coaster with a little salesmanship.

It’s like this. I realized, when I finished with the dishcloth, that I had two choices. I could decide that I had done a bad job of it, or I could change the name of the project, thus encouraging myself in turning it into a success. I pause here to reiterate that both my friend Stacy and my knitting list are the reason I am turning out this way.

My conversations with Stacy usually start out like:

Me: I really messed up. Can you tell me where I went wrong so I won’t do it again?

Stacy: Let me take a look at it?

Stacy takes the fabric from me and checks it over.

Stacy: Tim, you discovered the yarn over.

Me: I did? Goodness, I am just a creative genius and don’t know it. Now if I could only make mistakes on purpose.

Stacy: You are doing better all the time. Here’s what you did to create the yarn over ….

And she goes on to tell me all about yarn overs, how to make one (on purpose,) what I might use them for, and we finally discuss how to fix the mistake. Thus she encourages me to make as many mistakes as I possibly can so I can learn all sorts of new things. Such a bad influence.

Then there is my knitting list, with all their talk about the yarn sometimes telling you what it wants to be, their seditious nonsense about making patterns your own, and blasphemy of blasphemies, their outright support of making mistakes. They are happiest when I take chances and experiment. True instigators.

They all make knitting just too enjoyable, too risky, and too exciting, and I really want to be daredevil enough to do some fancier things, though topping a misshapen-pink-Barbie-dishcloth-with-built-in-button-holes will take some skill indeed. I’m looking forward to the first time I give a finished project to someone, and I know I’ll do it with so many knitters to lead me astray.

Figure-8 Cast On

The figure 8 cast on is similar to the Turkish cast on. It is done with two needles (circulars being ideal), and it produces an extra row of live stitches, which can be used as a top or bottom edge or as a way to work in the round. The only real difference is that, instead of wrapping the yarn around both needles at the same time in one direction (Turkish cast on), you wrap around the needles individually, moving the yarn around one needle in one direction and around the other in the opposite direction in a figure 8 (hence the name). Since the wraps aren’t anchored to anything, the stitches tend to loosen as you work across, so this cast on works better with fewer stitches, like the toes of socks and centers of scarves.

“So what is a figure 8?” you ask. It’s one circle stacked on top of another circle. Think Peeps, those odd little marshmallow chicks sold around Easter, only figure 8’s are two dimensional, so think Peep sliced vertically (Crossagital Peep. How gruesome). For a more precise sense of figure-8-ness, place two cups or cans next to each other on a table. Then wind a piece of yarn clockwise around one of them, making sure the yarn goes completely around it, and wrap the yarn counterclockwise around the other cup or can. If you trace the figure formed by the yarn, you notice two circles that touch where the yarn crosses between the cans, a little like a pair of eye glasses with a really short bridge. This is a figure-8, and if you keep alternately wrapping clockwise around the first can and counterclockwise around the second, you are making a figure-8 cast on. Here’s how you do it with needles and yarn.

1. Make a slip knot around one needle.
2. Hold both needles in your right hand, and point the tips left. The needles should be side-by-side, like the planks in a floor, and the slip knot is on the needle closest to you.
3. Grab the working yarn with the thumb and index finger of your left hand and guide it around the needles in the following way, keeping the needles more or less still.
a. Guide the yarn over the needle that is farthest from you, lead it down behind that needle, bring it under the needle and toward you, then pull it up between the needles. This puts a yarn over on the needle.
b. Guide the yarn over the needle that is closest to you, lead it down in front of that needle, bring it under the needle and away from you, then pull it up between the needles. This puts a backward yarn over on the needle.
c. Repeat A and B until the right number of stitches has been cast on to each needle. I always cast on one extra stitch so I can ignore the slip knot that is on one needle and the partial wrap that is on the other.
4. Gently tug on the tip of the needle that is closest to you, stopping when the wraps or stitches are in the center of the needle or on the cable if you’re using a circular. Then drop the tip.
5. Knit the wraps or stitches on the other needle in the usual way. The stitches are sloppy and loose so it helps to hold them in place with the fingers of your right hand.
6. Continue working back and forth on that needle, or work in the round as you normally would.

When it’s time to work the stitches on the idle needle, remember that they’re wrapped in the opposite direction (backward yarn overs), so you’ll need to knit or purl them through the back of the loop to untwist them. If that sounds too daunting, just slip each stitch to the right needle as if you were going to knit it, and then go back and knit or purl them in the usual way.

Making the figure-8 wraps is not difficult. The first few times, remembering what direction to wrap feels complicated. Then your left hand finds the rhythm, and your stitches are on the needle in no time.

One Thing Leads To Another

Since I’ve been spinning yarn I’ve discovered two things. One is that I don’t have enough time to knit all the yarn I’ve been spinning. That’s not really a problem; I’ll just have a stash that includes handspun yarn. The other thing I’ve learned is that roving isn’t really any cheaper than buying commercial yarn. That’s not really a problem either but I can’t buy nearly as much roving as I wish. I think we’re almost all in that boat whether it’s roving or yarn. One solution to this problem is to buy bare roving from Knitpicks and dye it myself. I’ll still be buying dyed rovings but the prices at Knitpicks are too good to pass up as usual. It’s also really fun to dye your own yarn.

Yesterday my sister-in-law and I went to a workshop through the local knitting guild. I died two skeins of sock yarn. I am told that they turned out beautiful. I used a medium brown, a forest green, and a color called deep maroon. I think the yarn is going to turn into the Multnomah shawl. You can find it on the designer’s blog. Skip through the hedings until you find the list of patterns. The shawl will be the third one down.

At the workshop we learned how to dye yarn in the microwave. It’s surprisingly easy. I had to have a little help to make sure the dye covered the entire skein but I can already think of ways to solve that issue. One idea I had is to dye the entire skein a light base color and then over dye it with darker shades of coordinating colors. I’m still working out the best way to pull that off. I’ve ordered a hot plate and I’m going to turn my canner into a dye pot soon. Then I’ll be able to compare both techniques. My thought at the moment is that both ways are going to have their advantages and disadvantages in regards to both the results you get and visual impairment issues. The bottom line is that I think it is entirely doable for a blind person to dye their own yarn. We just have to be a little more systematic about it and we’re all used to that already.

Turkish Cast on, One Way to Go Provisional

The first real provisional cast on that worked for me was the Turkish cast on. It’s simple and elegant, really just wrapping the yarn around the knitting needle. It’s best for when you have a small number of stitches, like for the toe of a sock or the middle of a scarf. You can try it for larger numbers of stitches, and it’s doable, but things can get a little messy.

Turkish Cast on with Two Needles

The usual way to do this cast on is with an extra needle. You can use 3 double pointed needles, but I think two circular needles work much better.

1. Tie a slip knot around one needle.
2. Slide the slip knot about 2 inches (5 cm) away from the tip.
3. Hold the needle with the slip knot and a second needle in your right hand as if they were a single needle.
4. Point the needles toward your left hand.
5. Grab the working yarn with the thumb and index finger of your left hand, and pull away from the needles so the yarn is lightly taut.
6. Move the needles up and in front of the working yarn, away from you and over the working yarn, down and behind the working yarn, and toward you and under the working yarn. When you finish, you have made a yarn over.
7. Repeat Step 6, using the fingers of your right hand to keep the yarn overs from bunching and to slide the growing number of wraps away from the tip of the needles. Each of these yarn overs is a stitch.
8. When you have the right number of wraps or stitches on the needles, move the needles to your left hand.
9. Gently tug on one of the needles until the wraps are in the middle of the needle. If you’re using a circular, the wraps are on the wire.
10. Knit the stitches on the other needle. This is awkward because the needle in Step 9 is in the way, but it’s not bad if you’re using circs.

The cast on is complete. If you’re working in the round, do what you normally would with dpn’s, two circs, or magic loop. If you’re working flat, put point protectors or wrap rubber bands around the tips of the needle in Step 9, and continue working with the needle in Step 10. Either way, ignore the slip knot, dropping it off the needle when it is no longer handy.

Turkish Cast on with One Needle

The same general idea can be accomplished with a single needle. The method is no longer called the Turkish cast on, but since I haven’t found any consensus about what it is called, we’ll pretend they’re variations on a theme.

It’s also much easier to do than to explain. The hand is held as for the long-tail cast on, except that the working yarn hangs over the thumb, and the tail hangs over the index finger. For these instructions, the thumb yarn is the strand that goes from the thumb to the needle, and the index yarn is the strand that goes from the needle to the index finger.

1. Tie a slip knot around the needle, leaving a tail long enough to go along the entire cast-on edge with about 6 inches (15 cm) to spare.
2. Hold the needle in your right hand, and point it left.
3. Position your left hand as for the long-tail cast on, only hang the working yarn over your thumb and the tail over your index finger.
a. The thumb and fingers of the left hand are holding an imaginary glass of water.
b. The working yarn hangs over your thumb; the tail hangs over your index finger.
c. Curl the middle, ring, and little fingers like a fist, and tuck the hanging yarn into them.
d. If this is done correctly, the yarn forms a triangle that goes up from middle finger to index finger, horizontally from index finger to needle to thumb, and down from thumb to middle finger, .
4. Move the tip of the needle down and behind the thumb yarn, under the thumb yarn and toward you, and up and in front of the thumb yarn. This puts a yarn over on the needle.
5. Relax your left hand, and with your fingers, bring the tail/index yarn forward to the right of the working yarn, then in front of the working yarn, then to the left of the working yarn. This motion is a lot smoother than it sounds.
6. Repeat Steps 3 through 5 until the right number of yarn overs is on the needle, using the fingers of your right hand to keep the yarn overs or wraps from bunching and to slide them away from the tip of the needle. Each yarn over or wrap is a stitch.
7. Examine the work. Along the bottom of the needle is a ridge. This is the yarn tail that got tucked in under the wraps.
8. Slip a safety pin through the slip knot.
9. Knit the stitches in the usual way, careful not to pick up the yarn tail by accident.
10. Continue with your project.
11. When you are ready for live stitches along the cast-on edge, carefully untie a knot that is at the point where the cast-on tail enters the work.
12. Gently tug on the safety pin at the opposite end of the cast-on edge.
13. Slip the live stitches onto the needle as the tail is pulled out of the stitches. If you can slip the stitches onto the needle without pulling out the tail, that’s fine too.

This method is for working flat, not in the round. The cast-on edge is ragged and fragile. It’s a good idea to slip a skinny needle, one with a diameter of 2 to 3 cm, into those stitches early on, then wrap rubber bands around the tips to keep it from sliding out.

The Turkish cast on is simple enough to learn, even when you’re fairly new to knitting. The hardest part is keeping the wraps tidily on the needle. Once that’s mastered, the rest is no trouble at all.

Three Easy Provisional Cast Ons

Sometimes you don’t want to start a piece of knitting at the top or bottom edge. For example, you may want to make an afghan or rectangular shawl that you will be putting an edging around, or you may want to make a sweater, mittens, or socks, but you don’t know if you have enough yarn, so you start with the essentials—the body and sleeves of the sweater, the hands of the mittens, the feet of the socks—and leave the button bands, collars, cuffs, and thumbs for a matching yarn. When this is the case, you don’t want a real, definite cast on. What you want is a provisional cast on: a cast on that lets you have live stitches to knit from along the starting edge.

There are a number of ways to cast on provisionally. This post covers 3 easy methods that are technically not provisional cast ons, but when the project is finished, no one will ever know.

Leave a needle in the work

This method doesn’t necessarily produce a row of live stitches, but it does help you find stitches to work with, and it is definitely the easiest of the three described in this post as well as my favorite at this time.

It requires the use of a very thin needle, a needle that is 2 or 3 cm in diameter. Even if you have no intention of ever knitting with such an artifact, including one in your kit is a good idea as such needles are great for lots of things, lifelines being the most practical.

1. Hold your project needle and your skinny needle together as if they were a single needle; then cast on in the usual way. Hold them in your right hand for the simple and long-tail cast on, or hold them in your left hand for most other cast ons. When you finish, you have a row of stitches with two needles inside.
2. Place rubber bands around the tips of the skinny needle so the needle doesn’t accidentally slip out of the work.
3. Work the first and subsequent rows with the project needle as you ordinarily would.
4. When you finish your project and are ready for live stitches at the cast-on edge, you can either knit or graft directly from the skinny needle or knit a preliminary row with the skinny needle in the left hand and the project needle in the right.

Cast on with Scrap Yarn

This seemed the least complicated method when I decided to learn a provisional cast on. It takes some practice, but it works.

It requires the use of a piece of scrap yarn that is smooth, like dishcloth cotton, bamboo, modal, or nylon cord. Its texture should be different from the project yarn so you can easily tell the two apart by touch, and it should be a little over 3 times longer than the cast-on edge, so if the cast-on edge will be about a foot long, then you need a piece of scrap yarn that is a little over 3 feet long.

1. Cast on with the scrap yarn in the usual way. The crochet cast on is definitely the best method; just remember to put a pin in the last cast on stitch. The cable cast on is probably the second best method. If you prefer the long-tail cast on, tie the scrap yarn to the project yarn, lay the project yarn over your index finger and the scrap yarn over your thumb, then proceed as usual.
2. Work the first and subsequent rows with the project yarn. If you have a skinny needle, hold it together with the project needle to work the first row; place rubber bands around the tips of the skinny needle; and continue working with the project needle only.
3. When you finish your project and are ready for live stitches at the cast-on edge, pull the scrap yarn out of the work. Start with the last stitch you cast on. If you used the crochet cast on, simply pull the pin out of the last cast-on stitch, and tug gently on the tail. If you used another cast on, pull the scrap yarn out of the work, using your fingers or a knitting needle.
4. As you pull the scrap yarn out of the work, put the live stitches onto a needle. Obviously, this step is not necessary if you inserted a skinny needle into the work in Step 2.

Give Yourself a False Start

When I tried this method, I found it to be easier than the previous one. It gave me a chance to settle into my gauge, but when I was anxious to get a project going, the first few rows called for in this method felt like a big waist of time.

It requires two types of yarn in addition to the project yarn.
• The starter yarn can be anything though it helps to choose a yarn of a similar gauge to the project yarn. You’ll be working 3 or 4 rows with it, so you need a not so small amount.
• The scrap yarn is a piece of smooth yarn, like dishcloth cotton, bamboo, modal, or nylon cord, and it should be a little over 3 times longer than the cast-on edge, so if the cast-on edge will be about 30 cm long, then you need a piece of scrap yarn that is a little over 90 cm.
I use yarns with different textures so I can easily tell the starter yarn, scrap yarn, and project yarn apart by touch.

1. With the starter yarn, cast on the correct number of stitches, and work 3 or 4 rows. You can work in pattern just to give your hands a chance to learn it, or you can do some basic stockinet or garter.
2. With the scrap yarn, knit one row.
3. Work the next and subsequent rows with the project yarn. If you have a skinny needle, hold it together with the project needle to work the first row; place rubber bands around the tips of the skinny needle; and continue working with the project needle only.
4. When you finish your project and are ready for live stitches at the cast-on edge, pull the scrap yarn out of the work. You can start at either end. While you can use your fingers to remove the scrap yarn, picking and lifting it with a knitting needle works very well.
5. As you pull the scrap yarn out of the work, put the live stitches onto a needle. Obviously, this step is not necessary if you inserted a skinny needle into the work in Step 3.

The next few posts will cover other provisional cast ons, which actually do produce a row of live stitches. The methods described in this ost, however, work and are especially easy to do.

Embossing Patterns Directly from the BrailleNote

Those of us who like braille love the luxury of embossing braille patterns and tutorials directly from the computer. I say “luxury” because braille embossers are expensive, two to three thousand dollars being the low-end price; they usually require the purchase of extra software–another seven hundred fifty dollars–for translation from print to standard braille codes; and they pose the challenge of keeping them in good repair, not to mention form feed card stock in standard paper sizes. So a relatively small number of people own them and tolerate their quirks, even putting off upgrades to other systems in order to continue access to quick braille.

I’ve had a Braille Blazer (now discontinued) for over ten years. It’s temperamental, and if I don’t guide the paper, it jams or does peculiar things to line spacing, but it puts a nicely brailled hard copy of a pattern or pattern stitch in my hand within minutes of my finding it on the web. And there are few things as blissful to a yarny as referring to a brailled pattern while enjoying a TV show or waiting for a ride.

During the past year, I’ve upgraded my home office (computer, printer, scanner, and telephone) but haven’t been able to finish the transition to 2011 technology because I couldn’t find a way to use my embosser on computers that no longer have parallel ports.

Then the other day, while talking to a friend, I remembered that the BrailleNote, which I also own, should be able to convert print documents into contracted braille, and it should be able to connect peaceably to an embosser, so I did some reading of the manuals of both devices, Googled around a bit, and learned that I had three options: serial connection (always a PITA), Bluetooth adaptor and connection (described as iffy), and USB converter and connection (discussed more confidently).

Since I had a USB to parallel converter lying around, I used the third method. The converter is a Cables To Go 16899 USB To DB25 IEEE-1284 Parallel Printer Adapter Cable for Windows, which I bought from Amazon for about eleven dollars. The process worked beautifully the first time, so I decided to pass along the steps for embossing directly from the BrailleNote to a device with a parallel port. I have an mPower and Braille Blazer, but the steps should work for other BrailleNote and embosser models.

Translating the Document to Braille

The first step is to make sure the pattern is a braille file, so start by saving it as a brf or KeyWord braille file. The quickest way is to open the document in KeyWord and use the save As feature:
1. Open KeyWord, then open your pattern document after locating it on the SD card or in one of your folders.
2. Press Space+S or ctrl+S to save the document.
3. Press Backspace once to change the folder, or twice to select the drive where the file will be saved.
4. Press backspace+X or ctrl+X repeatedly to change the file format to brf.
5. Write the file name and press Enter.

Take a moment to read your file to make sure abbreviations have been translated correctly.

Setting up the Embosser

The second step is to set up the embosser. This only happens once, so you shouldn’t have to do it again.

1. Connect the usual parallel cable to the braille embosser.
2. Screw the USB to Parallel cable to the free end of the cable in Step 1.
3. Turn the Braille embosser on.
4. Turn the BrailleNote on.
5. Plug the USB end of your extra long cable into the BrailleNote. the BrailleNote says, “Printer ready.”
6. Go into the Keyword main menu, select Embosser, press space+S or type S to adjust embosser settings, set the port to USB, and the page and line lengths to 25 lines and 32 characters, exit and confirm that you want to save settings.
7. It’s a good idea to restart the embosser after changing the settings, so you may want to turn the Blazer off and on at this point.
8. The BrailleNote manual strongly recommends that you test the embosser right away by brailling the two practice documents in the General folder.

If the practice docs emboss correctly, your embosser is ready to go.

Embossing the File

The third and final step is to emboss the pattern. It’s the easiest of the steps.

1. Open your braille pattern file in KeyWord.
2. Press space+dots 2346 or ctrl+read+b to Go into Formatting, and make sure the page and line lengths are consistent with the embosser (25 lines and 32 characters).
3. Go back to the KeyWord main menu, select embossing, press enter, and respond to the prompts about the folder and file name, and so on.
4. The last promt is “Embosser ready.” Press enter, and after a pause that goes on a couple of seconds longer than you expect, embossing begins.

Nothing to it. Once the USB to parallel cable is connected and the embosser is set up, making braille patterns directly from the BrailleNote is a matter of converting the document to a braille format like brf, choosing the Emboss option from the KeyWord main menu, and following the prompts. A yarn crafter’s life doesn’t get any easier.

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries