On Competition: A Double Edged Sword

Participating in this event has me thinking a lot about the nature of competition.

Tour-de-Sock is well underway. Stage Two officially began on Wednesday at 10:00 am my local time. I completed my stage two socks in the wee hours of the morning today. Participating in this event has me thinking a lot about the nature of competition. I have always had a healthy dose of competitive spirit. Sometimes — a lot of times — that’s a really good thing. It can be an excellent motivator. Sometimes it can be a bit of a double edged sword; sometimes it can be downright destructive.

As a kid growing up in a German immigrant family, the expectation for excellence was a visceral thing. The desire and need to impress my parents and teachers was all consuming. Not measuring up was simply not an option. The trouble was that I never actually knew what I was trying to measure up to. So I learned to shake hands with my two best friends: Perfectionism and Competitiveness. Only what I didn’t realize was that they were actually, what is that word… frienemies?

As a card-carrying over-achiever, I pushed myself beyond anything sensible.

As a card-carrying over-achiever, I pushed myself beyond anything sensible. The drive to be best was encouraged without moderation. But it’s an empty quest. That set the stage for my whole life. Am I good at doing stuff? You bet! I’m very good at what I do. And there came a point in my life when I began to realize that this competitive drive was more than just a good “work ethic”. It became clear that it was a set up; it was a form of programming that kept me believing that no matter what, I would never be enough. I’d never be fast enough, thorough enough, efficient enough, skilled enough… or any number of other fill-in-the-blank enoughs too numerous to mention. Having that message running through your neuro-pathways in a never ending loop self deprecation. YUCK!

Many years ago I read a book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruis. One of the “agreements” that he speaks of is to always do your best. And it’s how he defines “best” that really helped me to re-frame this perfectionist subroutine in my psyche. Your best, is whatever your best is in that moment in time. For instance, if I had a great sleep and my perfect breakfast and I’m feeling fantastic, my best will be sparkly and impressive. However, if I have the flu, my best won’t compare very well.

When my kids were small, I wrestled with just how much I should encourage competition. A lot of the time, I’d simply avoid dealing with it because I simply didn’t know what constituted a healthy level.

Over the years of being an evolving work-in-progress

Over the years of being an evolving work-in-progress, I have come to understand that healthy competition is a great way to motivate growth and skill development. And IMHO, the best form of competition is when I deliberately compete with myself. I want to see how much I can improve my performance over the last time I checked it against a known benchmark. It’s with this attitude that I approach Tour-de-sock.

Each person competing has their own goal as to what they hope to get out of the TDS experience. I don’t know what all the other people’s goals are. Some, clearly want to be the fastest and take that first place spot. Some just want to knit socks and experience some camaraderie while they do. Others want to support the charity, Doctors Without Borders. Some want to use each stage of the competition to challenge their personal skill level, and in that perhaps learn some new techniques.

I am part of a team

I am part of a team; our team is pretty laid back and I like it that way. There is no expectation that we should all be super-knitters. The expectation is that we will each allow the TDS experience to be a good one: one that fills whatever it is we would like it to fill. So if that means that one of us would like to connect with other knitters who like to knit socks and don’t care whether they finish any of the socks within the cut-off period, that’s perfect. I want to be a team member who appreciates their presence for exactly what it is. This year, I want to push myself to see what I’m capable of (within reason). But I certainly don’t expect anyone else to share my specific goal. I just want us all to be able to feel the joy that knitting brings us.


A Zippered Lining Pocket

Today I thought I’d do a photo tutorial on how to install a zippered pocket into the lining of a bag. This assumes that you are making the bag from scratch, not attaching it after the fact. I won’t be showing the bag construction here.

Start with the lining fabric that you have cut out to fit your bag. I have cut it out so that the bottom edge is folded rather than seamed. I’m using a satiny lining fabric so I serged around the edge to keep it from fraying. Some people don’t bother doing this step to the lining because it will end up enclosed inside the bag where you won’t have access to it. In my experience,

anything you can do to strengthen the edges of the lining fabric will prevent it blowing out on you later on.

It’s up to you. I personally hate the feeling of the frayed edges as I’m working… it reminds me of getting caught in a spider web.

  • Measure down 2″ down from the top edge and identified the centre of the width of the lining.
  • Mark where the ends of the zipper extend to.
  • Using a Frixion pen (heat sensitive; so you can use an iron to make the marks disappear when you don’t need them any more) marka line where the zipper needs to sit.
  • Attach iron on interfacing on the wrong side of the fabric to reinforce the area where the zipper will be attached. (Some people don’t bother, but it does make everything nice and stable.)

Because I’ve used the Frixion pen, I have to remark it after pressing. I don’t mind, but you could just measure, align the interfacing and iron it in place without using the pen to mark it.

Step 4
Step 4

Refer to the photo (step 4) for this next bit.

  • Mark the placement of the zipper
  • Measure 1/4″ all around to show the seam allowance.

The end of the opening should be just barely past the top and bottom stops of the zipper. This way you won’t have to worry about those metal bits being in the way when you stitch it in place later on.

  • Draw a line to indicate end of opening (just barely past the top and bottom stops of the zipper).
  • Draw lines from the corners to the centre cutting line. You want this triangle to be big enough so that you have something to fold under and stitch.
  • Stay stitch along this line, then
  • Cut it open as shown in the photograph (step 6, top right image below).

For the stay stitching, you can use a fairly long stitch.

  • Align the zipper in the opening. Use the end triangles as your guide for the placement of the zipper. (see step 7 and 8, bottom left and adjacent image above) They should tuck under and sit just on either end of the zipper.
  • Pin this in place and then use that placement so you can pin the edges to the zipper tape along the top and bottom as shown in step 9 (bottom right above).
  • Stitch the zipper in place as shown in step 10 (below).
step 10
Step 10
  • Cut your pocket fabric to the width of the zipper tape and double the depth you want plus about 3/4″.
  • Serge the edges if you choose.
  • Pin the zipper to the bottom edge of the opening and stitch just along that edge as in step 12 (right image above).

You may have to move the zipper slider out of the way as you go. At this point, you can top stitch this portion of the zipper. It will be easiest to do this now. Do NOT top stitch around the ends yet.

  • Pin the zipper to the top edge of the opening and stitch in place.
  • Now, carefully stitch those little triangles at the ends of the zipper. Be careful that they are laying flat and not folded over the other seam lines.
  • Top stitch these ends. You will be stitching through all the layers of fabric at this point. Once they are stitched, top stitch the top edge of the zipper through all the layers.
  • Sew the side seams of the pocket closed. Step 16 and 17 (below) show this. I prefer to do two rows of stitching as these pockets tend to take a fair bit of abuse in my world. 🙂

Your lining now has a zippered pocket and is ready to be stitched into your bag.

You can use this technique to put a zippered pocket on the outside of the main bag as well, before attaching the lining and bag together.

step 18-turned

When you are ready to attach the lining to the bag, be sure to leave the better part of one side seam open on your lining fabric.

Once you have the opening of the bag attached to the lining, turn the whole thing right side out and then neatly stitch the side seam of the lining closed.

Happy Sewing!




CoBaSi and Alecia Beth

A couple years ago, a friend introduced me to a wool-free sock yarn called CoBaSi (HiKoo).

The name represents three main fibres in it:

  • Cotton;
  • Bamboo
  • and Silk.

At the time, I looked it up, hoping to bring it into my shop but until recently couldn’t find a Canadian distributor for it. I have since brought in the full colour line of this beautiful and interesting yarn.

CoBaSi is put up in 50g skeins, (201m) which to me is ideal. With a gorgeous array of solid colours (and coordinating multis) you can purchase it for stranded colour-work without buying loads more mileage than you need. Most sock yarns are in 100g skeins so you can end up with a lot of leftovers when doing colour-work.

It’s wool-free. The fibre content is

  • 55% Cotton,
  • 16% Bamboo,
  • 8% Silk and
  • 21% stretchy Nylon

All those folks that can’t or won’t wear wool have another option with this yarn. It comes in

  • sock weight,
  • DK and
  • Worsted as well.

(At this time, I only brought in the sock weight.)

From the moment it arrived in my shop I was chomping at the bit to knit something with it. My original thought was to have it arrive in time for the beginning of Tour-de-Sock (July 7th). I thought I would use it for a round of the Tour. I might still do that. However, it arrived in plenty of time before the beginning of the competition.

An overwhelming case of “Startitis” had me casting on a summer cardigan last Saturday evening.

My impression? I am in love with this yarn. It has a great twist to it and it knits very smoothly. I am finding that I’m actually knitting faster with it than I usually do. Very rarely do I split the yarn as I go. I am enjoying it so much that I can hardly wait to finish up the “must do” things in my life just to get back to my project… even when I’m feeling very tired. The more I knit it, the more I want to knit. As a result, I have made a lot quicker progress than I expected. When I set it aside at the end of the night yesterday, I was ready to separate the sleeves stitches from the body stitches already. For me, to be that far in less than a week is bordering on the magical and miraculous!

cobasi yarn sweater
Here is a photo of my progress on the Alecia Beth cardigan.

The colours are vibrant and the stitch definition is excellent. I have not washed it, but it is rated as machine washable.  I have knitted with a blend of cotton, bamboo and linen and that yarn (Nako Fiore) stood up to washer and dryer beautifully. After all the work in a cardigan made of fingering weight yarn, the jury is out as to whether I will risk the dryer on this project.

I want to do a shout-out to Polish designer, Justyna Lorkowska.

The design in and of itself is stunning. But just because someone is a wonderful designer doesn’t mean they can write a good pattern. Pattern writing is an art form completely separate from the design process. This is a beautifully written, thoughtfully laid out pattern. She has tables in each section with anticipated stitch counts between each set of markers. This allows you to see at a glance (no matter what size you are knitting) what you need to know so you can move along. She gives an overview of each section before giving row by row instructions. So you can go into each section anticipating what you need to pay attention to… rather than figuring it out after you’ve frogged a section in frustration. I’m excited to make more of her designs.

If you want to buy her patterns, you can find them here:


The first pattern for Tour-de-Sock drops on Saturday morning, so I will have the cardigan on hold while I’m knitting the competition socks. I’ll likely work on it as a “tweener” project. I’m so excited to wear it, I can hardly wait to finish it.

When you happen to find a pattern that is a pleasure to follow, of a design that you adore and you add in a fantastic yarn, you get BLISS!

Happy knitting!


And the Tour Begins

It’s that time again. “What time?” you ask. “Canada Day?” Well, yeah, that too. But that wasn’t what I meant.

It is time for TOUR DE SOCK!

(Judy’s doing a happy dance à la Kermit the Frog, complete with sound effects). I had so much fun with the tour last year that I signed up once again as a member of Team Sock Minions. We have a new local knitter on our team as well this year. (If you don’t know about the Tour, I did a write up about it around this time last year. Here’s a link to get you there: )

I diligently finished up some projects to get them off my needles before the competition begins. Although, I admit that I left a few for “tweeners”. And I started another knit-along with my daughters. It’s just a Whoopsie shawl though; super easy. My warm up socks, Miriam by Eeva Kesäkuu, have been knit, photographed and shared. Here they are:

Now I’m just planning out my work load in the store so that when the first competition pattern drops at 10 a.m. on July 7th, I will be ready to rock and roll!

The specifications have been released and I’m on the hunt for an exciting yarn to start the competition with.

The specs for the first sock say we should go crazy with colour. I’ve pulled a few different yarns I would like to choose from. Here’s a photo of the ones I like. I will probably wait until the pattern drops before I actually choose, even if it means I have to wind the yarn before I can start.


I have recently met a few travelers who came looking for yarn for TDS in my shop.

I even printed out the TDS shopping list for one. She wanted to be sure she would be ready no matter where she would be traveling or what pattern they gave us. It’s been fun meeting other competitors in person. What a great way to make new friends!

What with the long weekend (Canada Day, as mentioned above), the store will be closed an extra day.

That will give me a chance to get ahead on my sewing for my customers and open up a little knitting time.

Hey, I have my priorities, okay? I can do that and still attend the Canada Day parade… and make sure I get a nice big hamburger and a refreshing beverage in my belly too. And bacon…. there will be bacon… possibly during the fireworks. It will be RADIANT!

Happy knitting!



Sewing Machine Needles

Recently, I have seen quite a few people who just bought their first sewing machine. They are excited to get started and come in looking for  advice to get them started. One of the items that I try to take some time to go over with them is sewing machine needles. There are a variety of types and gauges to meet whatever your sewing needs might be.

First of all, no matter what type of needle, they all have a particular gauge.

The gauge refers to the girth of the needle; how thin or thick the needle is.

You will see numbers like:

  • 70/10;
  • 80/12;
  • 90/14;
  • 100/16;
  • 110/18.

70’s (10’s) are fine, 110’s (16’s) are thick. When choosing a gauge think of it being relative to the weight of the fabric.

Sewing chiffon? Use a fine needle. Sewing many layers of denim or canvas? Use a heavy needle.

For most sewing a 12 gauge will do the trick.

Needle tips vary depending on what they are designed to do. There are three main varieties:

  • sharp;
  • ballpoint
  • and leather.

Sharp tips are used for woven fabrics. It’s best to avoid these if you are sewing knits. Think of pantyhose; they are knitted. If something damages one of the threads (imagine a sharp needle cutting a thread as it sews) you get a run in the fabric. How do you know whether needles are sharp? You can be sure that packages labeled either Universal or Jeans will have standard sharp tips.


Jean Needles

Jean needles are sharp needles with a heavy gauge. These usually range from a 14 gauge to an 18 gauge. On my industrial machine, I use a 16 gauge for this type of work. If I were using a household machine, I’d probably go with an 18. Jean needles are rugged, because it takes a rugged needle to sew through heavy jean seams.

Quilting Needles

Quilting needles are sharp and have a particular taper to them that minimizes skipped stitches when either piecing or quilting. These can range in gauge from 10 to 14. In my store, I carry a multi-pack of quilting needles that has the entire range of gauges. In a dedicated quilt shop, you would find full packs of each gauge. Many quilters have a specific gauge that they like to use. Some prefer on gauge for their piecing and a heavier gauge for machine quilting.

Topstitch Needles

Topstitch needles are designed to be used with heavier topstitching thread. They are a heavy gauge needle, usually 16 or 18. What sets these apart from jean needles is that they have a large eye to accommodate topstitching thread. Assume that these will be sharp needles.

Ballpoint Tips

Ballpoint tips are used for knit fabrics. These are pretty cool. They look and feel sharp when you touch them. But the tips have a very fine ball point that allows the needle to gracefully move between the threads that makes up the fabric, rather than piercing through, like a sharp does. Because most people use their serger for knits, needle packs that are specifically labeled for a serger are safe to use for knits. Ballpoint needles are usually labeled as “stretch needles”.

Twin Needles

Twin Needles are a form of topstitch needle. This needle has a single shank that allows you to install it as you would any other needle. Then it has a bar into which two needles have been embedded. Your machine must be able to accommodate two spools of thread to use this type of needle. It only needs one bobbin for both. Many machines have a hole on the top of the machine, and a secondary thread holder to fit into it. You would find that in the accessory kit that came with your machine. If it was lost, you can order one specific to the make and model of the machine. Twin needles come in both sharp and ballpoint. The packages will indicate whether they are intended for stretch sewing, for jeans or are simply a universal needle. They come with different distances between the needles as well. If you are using these for the first time, definitely take the time to practice before sewing your garment. These will have a decent sized eye, depending on the gauge of the needle.

Leather Needles

Leather needles mean business! The ends of these needles have three sides that come down to a point. Each of the three sides cuts through the leather. There are no “take backs” when you sew leather. Once you make a hole, you’ve made a hole. It is there forever. You really don’t want to use these for any fabric that isn’t leather. Don’t even use them on vinyl. (If you are sewing vinyl, use a universal needle in a gauge relative to how heavy your vinyl is.)

Although for most things you can get away with using a mid-gauge universal needle, the many specialized varieties of needles allow you to have confidence in a consistently successful result.

Happy Sewing!


With This Ring, I thee Strand!

Sometimes you see something and your immediate reaction is: “Well that’s hokey.” Sometimes you’re right. But sometimes you need to set your first impression aside and give it a chance to prove itself. My “Well that’s hokey” moment was with a ring designed for use in stranded knitting. I gave it a very skeptical try, and now I wonder how I ever lived without this clever little device.

A year ago, I entered the 2017 Tour de Sock competition.

The warm up pattern was my first experience with stranded colour knitting. In the chatter thread on the forum, people were talking about devices they used to manage their yarn. Some people used rings or springs to separate the strands, yet hold them in one hand. They swore by them. I looked for these products but my catalogues never had them. Then one day, I got an email from my supplier about new products they had brought in and the “Boye Finger Guides” were among them. I ordered them thinking that at least I would be able to offer something of this nature to my customers. When they arrived, it was busy. So I didn’t think about them much; I just got them into the inventory and onto the shelf. I then promptly forgot about them.

Tour de Sock 2018 is in now underway (registration ends July 7, 2018). I’m working on this season’s warm up sock; a stranded project. I got to the point that I was ready to turn the heel, and I remembered about the finger guides I had brought in. I took one out of the package, took a good look at it and I will be completely honest. I was fully prepared to expose this stranding ring for being silly.  It comes with no instructions. There is a photograph on the package that shows someone combining 3 strands of light yarn together to make one strand of thicker yarn as they knit a project. Of course, the image is set up to make the yarn look pretty. So you can’t use that image as any guide to how you should hold your yarn or use the product (in the real world).

First off, my preference is to knit in continental style. I tension the yarn with my left hand and I pick the thread with my right hand. Up until now, when doing stranded colour work, I carried my main or dominant colour in my left and my contrast colour in my right. I picked the main colour from my left hand and I threw the contrast colour with my right hand.

When I first learned how to strand, it took me a little while to get past the awkwardness of carrying two yarns at once.

Throwing the yarn with my right hand was very cumbersome at first.

Once I got accustomed to it, I found that I was almost as fast knitting with two colours as I was with one. Remembering this, I gave my attitude a shake. Trying anything new is going to be awkward and I really did want to be fair in my assessment of this product. I decided I would keep on trying long enough to get past the awkwardness of it being new to me.

So the ring itself is rubbery. It stretches and I would guess that it should fit most adult hands. The top of the ring is flat with a couple little holes.

There are three platforms that each have 3 hooks.
These are designed to accommodate

  • light,
  • medium or
  • heavy yarns.

Now, the heavy one looks to me like it would accommodate a worsted yarn. It might be okay for a chunky, but definitely nothing heavier. On the bottom of the platforms are a couple pegs that fit nicely into the holes on the flat top of the ring.


I selected the platform that was right for my yarn. I had to fuss around with it to figure out how to hold my yarn and which direction to have the hooks facing to get a sense of what would actually work and not end up slower than what I was already doing. I spent about half an hour with very poor results before I had a brain-wave. I won’t bore you with the details of all the things that failed.

In the end what I found to work well for me was to have the hooks face toward my left wrist. I brought the two yarns together, wrapped them around my pinky (as I always do to manage the tension),  and then I hooked the yarns in from opposite directions. So the main (dominant) colour I brought from the front of my hand over the top of the ring and into the far left hook. The contrasting yarn, I brought from behind my index finger, across the top of the ring and into the far right hook. I hold my index finger relatively high. Some folks hold it lower. I don’t expect that this would make much difference. This puts your index finger between the working yarns. You can easily choose the one you want from the correct orientation.

It’s important that you always keep the two yarns in the same position relative to each other in this type of knitting. One will always be taken from the left, the other always from the right.

Inconsistency results in sloppy colour dominance in the finished work.

On this particular pattern, the heel turn requires stranded purling. I am delighted to report that it was just as easy to purl using this ring using this set up, as it was to knit. Although it was very awkward to figure out what would work, once I found it, it was great, and fast. I love it!

Happy Knitting!

Foot Loose – Knee Socks

Diamond Luxury Foot Loose is a fun, hand dyed, 4-ply yarn. At 75% super-wash merino and 25% polyamide, its fibre content is pretty typical of sock yarn. It is put up in 100 g skeins/ 396 m. The label lists a gauge of 30 stitches to 42 rows producing a 10 cm swatch on 3 mm needles. I personally wouldn’t use 3 mm for socks with this yarn. If I were making a shawl or a sweater, I probably would. The price point is lower than you would expect for a hand dyed yarn.

This yarn is very soft. I used 2.5 mm needles and it knitted up to the gauge I expected for any sock yarn. The colourways are interesting and fun. The result is a random-ish speckly fabric, absolutely lovely to the touch.

I used it to knit a pair of knee socks for my daughter. I used the Bintje pattern by Jatta Pauliina. The pattern is lovely. I have had it in my library on Ravelry for a very long time so I was happy to finally knit it up. I feel that the instructions assume that you have knit socks before. Other than one typo it was straight forward. In the heel turn, when you are knitting on the right side, where you normally slip the first stitch it says to k1.

I had to read the calf shaping section a few times to fully comprehend what I was supposed to do. That may have been because it was my first pair of shaped knee socks, though. It may also be that the designer’s first language is not English. This pattern is a free Ravelry download. I made the socks taller than the picture and I probably could have made them one or two pattern repeats shorter than I did. I had to start a second skein to complete them. My daughter has small feet (ladies 6.5 – 7) so the feet look a wee bit disproportionate to the legs. The photo has them stretched onto a large sock blocker. It distorts the heel a little but I wanted to show them off.


I worked a yarn-over hole into the outside of each cuff to pull elastic through. I tied the ribbon around the elastic. I love the look of the Foot Loose yarn. It’s quite beautiful.

I look forward to using it again in a different colourway.