Ten Ways to MacGyver Your Knitting

In This Chapter

Getting yourself out of a knitting bind Knitting with unconventional supplies. Some knitters always have what they need. They have a cute box or bag that they carry all their supplies in. They always have a tape measure and a matching set of stitch markers. Most of the time I just make do. I enjoy the duct-tape-and-chewing-gum approach that got MacGyver out of so many tight spots on late-80s TV. If you’re ever stuck on a desert island without your tools (or it’s Saturday night and the knitting shop won’t be open again until Tuesday morning), this chapter shows you how to make do with the stuff you have.

Winding Your Yarn with Power

If you buy your yarn in a hank, you have to wind it into a ball before you start knitting. You can always accomplish this task as our foremothers did, but who can resist the lure of power tools? To wind yarn into a ball in a flash, put a toilet paper tube over the beater on your hand mixer, attach one end of the yarn to it and let ‘er rip — “stir” is probably a smarter speed than “whip” if you don’t want to court disaster. You need a swift or an assistant to hold the yarn on their outstretched hands, of course. Oh, and don’t try this with delicate or wildly expensive yarns . . . or those likely to tangle.

Crafting Your Own Knitting Needles

True, it’s difficult to knit without knitting needles, but check out the tips offered in Chapter 15 for some workable substitutes. Or, if your desert island has a hardware store, you can make your own needles using wooden dowels. Dowels come in a variety of standard widths. A %6-inch dowel is about the same as a US 7 needle; a 34-inch dowel is almost a US 1034; and a Xe-inch dowel is a US 11 needle. Cut the dowel to your desired needle length using a saw, a kitchen knife, or a pair of pruning shears. Then sharpen one tip of the dowel in a pencil sharpener and glue a bead or glob of clay to the other end. Sanding, staining, or polishing can be nice ways to finish your needles, but those are optional steps. The hardcore adventurer may attempt to make circular needles using dowels and line stolen from the weed whacker as the connecting cable.

Using Makeshift Cable Needles

If I decide to throw a cable into a project and find myself without a cable needle (which I invariably do), I use a spare double-pointed needle. With thicker yarns, a pencil does the trick. With skinny yarns, an unbent paperclip works just fine.

Measuring Your Knitting with Handy Items

The tool that I’m always wishing that I had handy is a tape measure. I have a bunch, but they never seem to be where I want them to be! So what are the alternatives? Instead of holding up my knitting until I can measure the piece, I commit to memory the measurements of things that I can count on having handy. For instance, my index finger from the tip to the first knuckle is exactly 1 inch, and my hand is 7 inches long. A dollar bill is just a tad larger than 234 inches by 634 inches. And an 834- by-11-inch piece of paper obviously measures exactly that. Fold the dollar bill or the piece of paper in half to come up with smaller measurements.

Substituting for Stitch Markers

Stitch markers are cheap and plentiful, which is good because they always get lost! In lieu of stitch markers, I have used safety pins, ponytail holders, O-rings from the bead box, washers from the hardware store, and bits of pipe cleaner formed into loops (to name just a few). Usually, though, I just grab a piece of scrap yarn, and tie it into a small loop.

Storing Your Notions

As a knitter you’ve probably found that you have a few little notions that you always want to have on hand, such as stitch markers, yarn needles, and the like. Since these things are so tiny, they often go missing in the bottom of your bag. Try keeping them in little metal tins (for example, the ones that gum or mints come in). These little containers have lids that stay put, they’re nice and sturdy, and they’re just the right size for storing these little items.

Smoothing Out Your Rough Edges

An imperfection on a wooden needle or a broken fingernail can stop your knitting cold. Your yarn will catch on any rough edge, and sometimes even on ones that you can’t see. Keep an emery board with your knitting supplies and you’ll always be able to smooth out these rough edges and keep your knitting on track.

Putting Your Stitches on Hold

A stitch holder can come in quite handy, but here are a few options on what to do when you don’t have one: any spare needle, straight or circular (use a cork as a stopper on the pointy end); a length of scrap yarn (use a yarn needle to slip the stitches onto the yarn and tie the ends together so you don’t lose any stitches); a pipe cleaner; or a safety pin for a small number of stitches.

Counting Stitches and Rows the Low-Tech Way

A stitch counter is another tool that can come in handy. However, almost always, you can simply count your stitches or rows to figure out where you are in your knitting. Or you can make tally marks on a scrap of paper, provided that you actually remember to make the mark each time you finish a row. That is my trouble with counters — I never remember to advance them when I finish a row!
If you’re working a pattern like cable or lace, you may find that you’re having trouble remembering which row of the pattern you’re on. My solution for you is to make what I call a “Kate” (after the person who showed it to me). Double a length of scrap yarn and then tie a series of knots making a chain of little loops. Make one chain link for each row of your pattern repeat. If I have a cable that turns every 4th row, for instance, I make four loops. I stick the knotted scrap yarn on my needle with the needle through the first loop and then knit the first row. Each time I finish a row, I move the needle up to the next hole in the chain. When you get to the last hole, you know that it’s cable time! A Kate is a delightfully low-tech solution.

Cutting Yarn without Scissors

Lots of yarns don’t need to be cut. Instead, you can just break them if you pull hard enough. Try holding your hands farther apart as you pull to make breaking the yarn easier. For other yarns, you need to find something sharp. Those who carry dental floss in their purses or bags may try the floss cutter on the box. Others may try to surreptitiously bite through the yarn. Or you can try sawing yarn with your keys or a nail file in a pinch.

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