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Obsession: Coil-less Safety Pins

A good collection, improved

Many older knitting books mention a rather mysterious tool: the coil-less safety pin. I’ve been reading about them for years, and quietly wondering what the fuss is about. I’m always up for trying a new tool, but I could never seem to find them.

I do love me a good safety pin. I use them for all sorts of things: as markers, as stitch holders, as a crochet hook substitute for picking up dropped stitches, to keep track of a bunch of increases and decreases (just stick ’em in the knitting when you do the increase, and you can more easily count them). I even use big ones as shawl pins and instead of buttons on cardigans. I have a fair collection in a little tin – including the little plastic safety-pin style stitch holders.

The little plastic marker ones are good, but they are very small. And the traditional safety pin have a serious weakness: the yarn can get trapped in the coil. I’m doing a lot of lace knitting at the moment, and I’ve been nervous about using standard safety pins with delicate yarns. It occurred to me that coil-less safety pins might be the answer. But I’d never actually found any!

I’ve looked in every knitting shop I’ve ever been into, and never seen them.  Sure, stitch holders are basically giant coil-less safety pins, but they are too big. I wanted smaller ones.

Last weekend, a generous knitter (who also happens to quilt) was at one of my LYSs , waving around a bag full of coil-less safety pins. I cornered her and asked her where she got them. Turns out they are to be found in quilting shops. I’ve never stepped foot in a quilting shop in my life, so without her I may never have found them.

She gave me a few.

My life has changed.

I can use them for all the things I used to use normal safety pins for, but I need never worry about the yarn catching again.

I am indeed obsessed.  You know what to give me for my birthday…

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Obsession of the Moment: Doctor Who

The Eleventh Doctor & Amy Pond.  Image copyright BBC.

The Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond. Image (c) BBC.

Ok, I lie.  This has been an obsession of mine, oh, since I was about 7.

Doctor Who (Wikipedia link for full and wondrous history) is a science fiction TV series produced by the BBC.  Its initial incarnation ran from 1963 to 1989. I am a Brit, and I grew up with it.

It’s about a mysterious time- and space- traveling Time Lord who goes by the name of the Doctor, and is a great mix of science fiction, mystery, fairy-tale and old-fashioned adventure romp.  It’s funny and thrilling and cheesy in just the right balance. The clever trick is that Time Lords can regenerate their bodies, so that when an actor quits the series, he can be replaced by another. My doctor was Tom Baker, complete with awesome scarf (which, naturally, has its own website with patterns for the different versions from different seasons).  The series sorta petered out in the 1980s.

But in 2005 it was brilliantly revised by Russell T. Davies and his team.  And this new incarnation is, IMHO, even better than the original.  It’s funnier and thrillinger and cheesier, but all still in perfect balance. We’re on our third Doctor of the new incarnation, Matt Smith, and he’s turned out to be terrific.  No-one was sure he could fill the very large shoes of David Tennant, who left last year;  just as no-one was sure Tennant could fill the very large shoes of Christopher Eccleston, who was the initial relaunch Doctor. But each has made his own impression – and in the case of David Tennant, what a delicious impression that was.

The latest series is running right now in the UK on BBC One, and in the US on BBC America. (Choose your link carefully – the US is two episodes behind the UK, and the UK site has spoilers for upcoming episodes.)

If you’ve not given it a go, start with the Christopher Eccleston series.  Knitting television of the finest order – and not just because there is a knitter in the recent episode, Amy’s Choice.

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Outdoor Knitting Kit

Kate Knitting in Public

If you’re planning to participate in WWKIP day this coming weekend – and especially if you’re going to be part of the Toronto-based attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for most knitters in one place – you need to be prepared. You want to have your tools with you, but you also want to pack light so you’re mobile.

Here are the tools I recommend you carry if you’re going to leave the house with your knitting:

  • a handful of safety pins or removable stitch markers – these are great for catching dropped stitches or using as extra markers, or to keep track of your progress – I tend to just stick them in my knitting before I leave the house
  • a crochet hook – for picking up any pesky dropped stitches
  • a photocopy of your pattern or chart, in a plastic bag or sheet protector & a waterproof knitting bag – waterbottles do spill

As to other tools – consider your project and where it’s at:

  • will you need scissors? Only if you will need to change yarn, or be seaming or weaving in ends.  Many knitters find nail clippers good for out-of-home knitting, or you may be able to break the yarn – test an end!
  • will you need a tape measure? Will you need to measure anything? Did you know a US dollar bill is exactly 6 inches wide?  Know the length of your needle and use that to measure!
  • using DPNs? Take a spare, or change to magic loop for the day.

The objective is to take only the absolute essentials, so be ruthless about paring down your kit for the day.

Ideal outdoor knitting projects:

  • something small – do you really want to be dragging that blanket around town? lace! socks! kids’ garments!
  • something for which you don’t need to consult the pattern very often, but bring the pattern anyway (ok, make that easy lace)
  • something in cotton, silk or smooth wool – if it’s summer where you are, you’ll want it to be cool to handle (no mohair or alpaca)
  • something you want to show off

My all-time favorite knit-in-public project is a plain old stocking stitch sock – I get the cast-on and ribbing done at home, and then I’m off to the races just plain knittin’ for a while.

Non knit-specific but still very useful things to have on hand:

  • sunscreen & hat
  • water bottle
  • wet wipes to clean your hands before you start knitting – because ice cream stains are hard to get out of wool
  • a big smile – you may well be photographed

And just as for travel knitting, it’s not a bad idea to thread a lifeline before you do leave the house.

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Travel Knitting; WIPs on a Plane!

knitting at Newark airport

In the northern hemisphere, the summer travel season is upon us.  My friends and rellies in the southern hemisphere are planning their winter ski vacations.

And every traveling knitter, no matter where you are in the world, has one key question in mind: can I take my knitting on a plane?  The answer is an enthusiastic but qualified yes.

Within North America, the TSA clearly states that “Items needed to pursue a Needlepoint project are permitted in your carry-on baggage”.  Read their post for a bit more detail.  The Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority agrees.

Within most of western Europe and the UK, and between North America and Europe, they are also permitted.  These Heathrow Airport Security guidelines state that knitting needles are “widely prohibited”, and says that you should ask your airline, but doesn’t outright tell you not to bring them. I’ve flown in and out of Heathrow a number of times in the past few years, and not had a problem. The only exception seems to be France, which has an outright ban.

Although they have announced that the policy will change, right now Australia remains the most restrictive, qualifying knitting needles as “dangerous goods”. New Zealand permits them, however.

Ultimately, no matter what the airline and government regulations are within a given territory, you’re still at the mercy of whoever is manning the security checkpoint.

To reduce the chances of confiscation, take wood, bamboo or plastic needles rather than metal.  If you do want to take metal, I recommend short circulars – I’ve not had any problems with them.  And this sounds silly, but don’t ask the question or bring attention to them – just stuff your equipment in your carry on bag and send it through the x-ray machine.  “Needle” is a word that has many meanings, some of them scary, and you’re more likely to get attention if you’re overheard using it.  Have your knitting cast-on – I’ve heard of some people being questioned for having needles without knitting on them.

I also tend to pare down my kit when I’m traveling – to save space and hassle.  I leave my scissors, metal ruler and tins of safety pins at home or in my checked baggage.

You may be asked to surrender your needles, so don’t take your favorite ones on the plane. When traveling, I always transfer my knitting to inexpensive needles I wouldn’t be upset about losing.  If you don’t want to lose them, carry a self-addressed, stamped puffy envelope with you so you can mail them home.  Thread a lifeline before you leave for the airport so that if you do have the surrender the needles, your knitting can be salvaged.  And bring something to read, just in case.

And just because you arrived somewhere with your needles doesn’t mean you’ll be allowed to leave with them – there may be different rules at your departing airport.

But most important of all, remember that yarn bought while traveling doesn’t count as stash, it’s a souvenir!

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