Friday, November 16, 2012

My Expandable Circular Needle Holder

I prefer fixed circular knitting needles as a general rule, for several reasons. I have some interchangeables, but the range of sizes is limited so they are usually my last choice, despite the undeniable lure of a case with a place for each needle tip, cable, tightening key, etc. (What is it about a custom-made case that gives me such a thrill??) I was keeping my needles in the original zip-loc bags, filed in an "elegant" cardboard box. I got tired of fishing them out of those bags, having the size labels fall off and having the cables permanently curled into a tight spiral.
I had a few requirements for alternative storage. First, I wanted it to be cheap. I spend so much on the needles that I can hardly afford to spend much on storage (besides, more needles is more exciting than more storage). I also wanted it to be space efficient. I wanted it to be easy to make and I wanted something that wouldn't require the cables to remain coiled. I wanted the needles to be organized by size and length and most of all, I wanted to be able to add new needles without having to move the existing ones around.
That last requirement was critical. We used to keep our DVDs in those binders with little pockets, four pockets to a page. The problem was that we have so many that we needed to keep them organized so we could find the one we wanted. We chose to alphabetize by title, but every time we got a new DVD, we had to move some of the ones we had to keep them alphabetized. It was a major pain and my husband (who did all the filing) grumbled a lot. I knew I didn't want to face the same problem with my knitting needle storage. That meant I needed to be able to "insert" a new needle whenever I wanted without having to shift the other ones around.
I thought about it a while (longer than I'm willing to admit, because I'd like you to think that I'm so brilliantly clever that the solution came to me instantaneously). In the end though, I figured out a solution that satisfied all my requirements. My needles are now hanging on the back of a door. The cables are still a little curly, but I think they'll relax with time. Here they are:
Each size and length of needle has its own little holder labeled with its "vital statistics." The holders are attached to each other with velcro. That means that I can take them apart and insert another holder. I can also carry off a needle and its holder for use if I like. Taking the holder along with the needle means I have its size and length handy so I don't have to wonder what needle it is when it's time to put it away.
The holders are made with extra firm heavyweight sew-in stabilizer. I bought a yard and I had enough for about 80 of them.
Here are the instructions, in case you'd like to do this too.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My Romanian Point Lace Odyssey

I love intricate needlework of virtually any kind. In the last few years, I've been especially fascinated with needle-made laces. I've inherited and purchased some incredibly beautiful table linens ornamented or made entirely with needle laces of various sorts. The most impressive is probably an immense Venetian Point Lace tablecloth. I think it measures about 6x12 feet, although it's late at night and I haven't got the energy to get it out and measure it. I have marvelled at the amount of work that went into it; every square inch of it is made entirely with nothing more than a needle and thread. It's almost impossible to imagine doing something like that. Here's a photo of a piece of it, in case you don't know what this kind of point lace looks like:

Now I'm gaining an even greater appreciation of this kind of work. I'm working on a piece of Romanian point lace, with the kind assistance of the knowledgeable and very generous Wendy Harbaugh (go visit her blog at and stefana 2712 (go visit her too at Now, what I'm doing compares in no way with the complexity and sheer size of my beautiful tablecloth, but I'm starting to really understand how much painstaking work goes into this beautiful lace. I'm afraid my work looks very amateur. As I work, I feel I can hear those generations of gifted needlewomen telling me to pick it all out and try again. Sometimes I listen and do as I'm told. Other times (especially after the second or third try with no noticeable improvement), I stick my fingers in my ears and sing "la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you!"

I'm awfully slow at it, and each new filling stitch I learn is a new challenge. I have several books with "instructions" for making the stitches. The simpler ones I can usually figure out, but as is generally the case with old needlework books, they expect quite a bit from the reader. They don't get everything they expect from me. Fortunately, the Ravelry Romanian Point Lace group is my lifeline and they drag me and my needle through the rough patches.

I've always been patient with long-term projects. I never minded spending a year or more working on the same project. I think I probably spent longer than that making four intricate needlework sofa cushions. My problem these days is that somehow, I've collected a world-class stash of yarn and I'm only getting older. That danged yarn keeps calling me, asking when I'm going to knit and crochet it all. The truth is, I'll never get through it all, so I'm trying very hard not to listen and to continue quietly with my point lace.

It all starts with a cleverly crocheted cord. It's clever because it easily unravels from both ends. You baste the cord to a backing material with a design traced on it, following the graceful curves of the pattern. This is where the special unraveling properties are important. Wherever you have to end a curve and join it to another, you can cut the cord a little longer than you need it to be, unravel it back to the exact length you need and use the tail to join it to the adjoining curve.

I'm working my lace on a board I made for working Irish crochet. I used a piece of  Masonite and covered it with a piece of the thickest carpet pad foam I could find at my local Home Depot. Over that, I put a piece of muslin. Using the carpet pad means I can stick pins in it and they're held firmly. I use T-pins to pin things down. It's a little unconventional, but it keeps everything nicely stretched and I can use pins to hold things in place as I work.

I traced my pattern onto a piece of old sheet. I used the kind of waxed tracing paper made for marking darts when you're sewing. I put a piece of butcher paper between the sheet with the tracing and my muslin-covered board, so I wouldn't accidentally catch the muslin when I was sewing things down. I'm prone to doing things like that, so I try to invent ways to protect myself from myself.

Here's a photo of my work in progress. You can see the cord on the right and the design partially basted down.

I drew the pattern from a grainy, photocopied photo of an antique piece of Renaissance lace. Renaissance lace is very similar to Romanian point lace; it just uses special tapes instead of crocheted cord to outline the design. I'll use my piece of lace as the yoke for a crocheted top. It was originally made as a handkerchief, but I don't carry one of those as a rule. At the size I'm making it, it would make a lovely table center or doily, but I seem to have enough of those, so I thought turning it into a yoke would be more useful. Besides, I like being able to wear the things I make. I modified the pattern a bit by dividing it where the back will be, so my head will fit through. I'll add a button and loop to fasten it. You can see the division in the photo above on the left side, where there are two parallel cords that don't appear in the pattern. They're tacked together at the base.

The outlines have to be filled with various decorative filling stitches. They're really beautiful and there seems to be a huge variety of them. A really skillful designer creates areas of "dark" and "light" using denser or airier fillings. The contrast makes the designs aesthetically interesting and highlights the most beautiful and important parts of the pattern. Here are a couple of photos of my filling stitches, also in progress.

These are done with tatting thread. The ones below are size 30 crochet cotton. I just love those little leaves.

And now, for the good part. Just in case you'd like to work along with me, I'm including a link to a PDF pattern for you: