20 January 2007

My Very Own Yarn (and a KIPer review)

I got the yarn dyed for me by Krista!!!! Because I won her contest, she dyed the yarn specially for ME, and you all know what my color preferences are:

And of course she sent it in two separate hanks, which her contest-survey concluded is in fact the preferred way to have sock yarn, even though most sock yarns come in one skein. Why is that? Anyway. I love, love LURVE this yarn, and want to roll in it all day long. Krista named it "Strikke" for my blog, and had it on her etsy shop, though it looks like it might have already sold out! I've noticed that Krista's shop is updated constantly and there are always new colors - yum!


And now the long-promised review of my KnitPicks KIPer bag set! First - I think I figured out why there are so few photos of the bags on the KnitPicks site...black bags with black interiors are really hard to photograph. So, my apologies about the photos right from the start.

I've already said how much I'm in love with these bags. I've long been frustrated by the process of constantly moving all my stuff about from bag to bag and consequently never having the right stuff with me, and I've long day-dreamed about sewing myself something like this set, but never got around to it (because, frankly, I don't sew that well). Although I adore the many heartbreakingly darling knitting bags that have already been on the market since the brilliant Jordana Paige came out with her knitter's purse (in red!), my particular pauper's life in NYC has kept me from buying any one of them. Partly because I could only afford one such bag and how, how, how is one to decide among so many incredibly adorable bags?? More importantly, having invested in one of those adorable bags, my life would have become a constantly stressful mission to keep said bag from getting lost, ripped, scraped, or made filthy every time I stepped out into a subway tunnel or needed to set it down in a cafe. I don't need that kind of stress in my life. Instead, I very much look forward to a future where I'll have a car and live in a civilized place with trees and clean table-tops in cafes and I'll own at least one darling knitting bag that I'll carry with me everywhere. That'll be awesome, and I'm so looking forward to it. However, right now, I really needed something to carry my stuff in that was cheap, not ugly, sturdy, organized, and above all versatile. And in the city, the "stuff" that needs to be on my person at all times includes all the things that most normal people keep in their cars rather than their purse - things like water bottles and books and folders and whatever you bought or picked up while running errands. Yet, I also needed to have the smallest possible purse to grab for those rare occasions when we actually go to, say, a restaurant and a museum, and (since you can't check a purse, or lock it under the seat of your car) I needed to have something small enough to not look ridiculous and not weight me down (but still hold a book or a sock-in-progress for the train). I ask you, what was a girl to do? Ask Santa for KIPer bags, that's what.

I mentioned before that they turn out to look much less fake-pleathery than I imagined from the photos. In my opinion, at least, they're very respectable looking, if on the boring side, but that's what I was looking for. In every other way, as well, they are exactly what I needed them to be.

Here's how the set works (though each piece can also be bought separately): there's a small, simple notions bag, a purse with lots of pockets and credit card slots, then three bags of different sizes that can be attached to the purse. Everything except the notions bag comes with a solid, sturdy, adjustable pleather strap. So there are four possible bags to carry: just the purse, or purse+small bag, purse+medium bag, or purse+large bag. Each of the three attachable bags has at least a couple of interior pockets - one zippered, and one or more without closures. All of the bags have a one-way zipper to close them.

There was a small snag with my set at first - the smallest of the attachable bags had been damaged somehow (didn't look like in-transit, so probably at the factory), so that one of the clasps you use to attach the purse wouldn't open. We played with it for a good long while, but it wouldn't budge. The cylindrical piece that works as a hinge on the clasp had gotten bent:

This is what the undamaged clasps look like:

So, I was very disappointed and called up KnitPicks. Unlike every single non-yarn-related customer service line I've ever called in the past 5 years at least, they were very nice, very prompt, very clear. I explained the problem, and they sent a new small bag, and didn't even want the damaged one back (it's a perfectly good bag on its own, it just won't attach to the purse, so I suppose I'll use it to hold WIPs that say here at home; awfully nice of them to let me keep it, I thought). The replacement bag came in just two days, and was perfect, as were all the other pieces of the set. They seem very sturdy, and I can't imagine that the clasps could be damaged like that in any other way than being hit by a hammer or something along those lines.

This is the purse part:

At first I tried to put my large-size "ladies'" wallet in here, along with cell phone, pens, tiny datebook, chapsticks, etc, and though it certainly all fit, it bulged, and that annoyed me. So I dropped the wallet idea altogether, since there are credit card slots built right in anyway. The cell phone, pens, and CCs/metrocard/ID all fit neatly into pockets that are made for them. In the center zippered compartment I have my passport and random receipts/slips of important paper, etc. On either side there's still plenty of room for the obligatory chapsticks, datebook, keys, headache meds, thumb drive, and a small change purse for what little cash I ever carry. The zipper reaches all the way around three sides of the purse, so it opens very widely, but the interior vinyl lining is solid across each side, so nothing's going to fall out. The strap, if you wear only the purse, attaches to rings on the top edge, placed one on each side of the zipper. I found this slightly awkward when I'd crammed the purse over-full, with too much weight on one side. Now that it's less full and more balanced, it hangs very nicely. It's not a cute purse - but it's definitely a respectable, practical, and usable purse.

The purse has two small metal openings and two magnets on one side. Each connecting bag has two clasps that fit very securely into the metal openings on the purse, locking down inside the purse part, and two magnets below them to hold the bottom half of the purse flush against the bag it's connected to. I think it's very clever, and feels very secure.

This is the smallest attached bag, with the Widdershin in progress inside. About the only thing you can tell from this picture is that the sock practically disappears inside. That's because it's more than big enough for a bigger project than a scarf. Maybe not a sweater, but certainly a sleeve, most shawls, scarves, and of course hats or socks would easily fit in here, along with the notions bag. For my purposes, since I rarely take anything but very small projects with me when I'm on the move, I'm using this bag for almost all trips and put in it a sock or similar project and a book, or two books if Hubbster is along. There's room to spare for an extra ball of yarn or pattern, though I usually dispense with such things. I really like that I can sit on the train with the top of the bag open, knitting over it, while the part that contains my purse and cell phone is securely zippered (and the bag(s) can be carried so that the purse part is facing out for easy access, or against my body for greater security). Also, while running errands, it's really nice to be able to reach in quickly for phone, credit card, metrocard, or any other item in the purse without getting tangled in yarn or having a book either spill out, or swallow up the sought-after item between its pages, all of which was freqently a problem with the other bags of various sizes I've used, when everything was thrown into one big cavity.

This is the biggest bag, and as you can see it can hold the entire KnitPicks palette sampler - 30 balls of yarn - with room to spare. It's plenty big enough for an afghan or whole sweater project, again with room to spare for a pattern book, notions bag, and more. Obviously, this combined with the purse is slightly more awkward for running around the city, although like the other two attached bags, you can carry it either by handles or a strap around your arm/shoulder. It would be perfect for S-n-B trips if you drive - you could fit several projects to show off, its slight awkwardness is no biggie, and this way you don't have to worry about forgetting your purse, because it's attached. For me, for now, I'm thinking of it as the ideal weekend / carry-on bag. I can put a couple changes of clothes, essential toiletries, and a travel knitting project in here, and be totally ready for a train trip anywhere on the east coast. Cool. Now I just need to get my butt on the train more often! I can also see myself using it - though I haven't yet - for trips to friends in Park Slope or shopping in Brighton Beach where I need to carry along the various things that I used to drag in an assortment of plastic or canvas bags along with a separate purse and separate knitting bag. I could have all this connected to one set of handles, now.

There's also a medium bag between these two, which I forgot to photograph (but it looks exactly like the other two, but in-between in size, duh). Much to my intense JOY, it's just big enough to fit a standard-size folder on its side. I can put a few folders, two huge library books or an assortment of smaller books, a sock project and a bottle of water in this bag. I can put the sock and its ball of yarn each in separate open pockets on one side of the interior, so they don't get lost in the bits of paper and random crap that will inevitably eventually settle into the bottom of the bag once I've used it more. There's still an interior zipper pocket for a xeroxed pattern, or, say, a stipend check or other important document. This is the bag I've been dying for for years. It's perfect for trips to campus for teaching or library missions, but also holds some knitting for the train and, separately and securely, all the essential purse items. It's comfortable and not too ridiculous-looking to carry with the strap over one shoulder and across my chest, which is how I prefer to carry any bag in the city, though it looks more appropriate hanging on one shoulder. I love that it also has the comfortable, sturdy, handles for quickly picking it up and putting in down in the process of running around all over campus. So far, I've been keeping my current pile of folders and books in this bag, and putting whatever small sock or scarf I feel like working on in it on my way out the door. I keep a sock in the other, smallest bag and so far it stays there - I think I'll always keep a sock going to be worked only from this bag - so I can grab it and go for every kind of trip that's not to campus. The big bag, for right now, is holding my Palette Sampler yarn and still-not-fully-steeked sweater, in waiting for my next trip out of town (or at least to another borough!)

My only disappointment, really, is that the notions bag is just a small sack with no interior pockets. I would prefer a bunch of small pockets, slots, and loops in here so I could arrange my notions in a way that made them easier to get to, but I can understand why they didn't do it. Not only would it cost more, but every knitter would want a different arrangement. While I continue to fantasize about the customized notions insert that I'll sew myself someday, I've come up with something else, which is the result of another daydream I've had for a while:

In addition to the laminated cards that have crucial reference info on them, a thin graph-paper notebook, a needle gauge, waste yarn, extra markers and crochet hooks, I also have pinned into the side this chain. On my last trip to the going-out-of-business-really-slowly P&S Fabrics, the yarn was still only 10% (a couple of weeks into the sale!) but notions and random crafty stuff was at least 25% off. So I got this cheap little chain and few packages of various kinds of hooks and clasps. As you can see, I actually attached every hook and clasp I got to the chain, though I'm going to take off all but a few because they get so tangled. The idea was to have a chain like a charm bracelet that would hold the smallest essential things, the kinds of things that constantly roll under couch cushions (or subway seats): darning needles, coil-less pins, a row counter and a Clover cutter thingy so I don't scare security anywhere with my plastic children's scissors. I can just pull the chain out of the notions bag and leave it lying next to me on couch or table, or I can actually clasp the chain around my neck! (though so far I've only dared to do the latter at home - if you walk around dressed like Jesus and carrying a cross in NYC, you're not even looked at twice, but if you tie knitting notions around your neck in public you're a total lunatic). So far, I keep this notions bag mostly at home, because for the most part I'm careful to take out of the house only projects that require many ongoing rows of a simple pattern, with plenty of yarn/rows to last for the whole trip, specifically so that I won't require any notions. But since I've switched all my notions to this bag, I can easily grab it and drop it into any of the attachable KIPer bags whenever I want. I even fit in there some of the things I rarely use - like an extra-long darning needle, a mini-calculator, and for some reason that thingy for holding two yarns on one finger which I've never used at all. In addition, I have another notions stash of extras of everything plus the truly strange, unidentifiable notions and pom-pom makers are kept in my old, bigger notions bag in the craft closet. I really appreciated this new system when packing for our trip to Georgia - instead of sorting and deciding which notions could conceivably be needed for that specific trip, I just took this bag as it was.

I have really only one gripe, and it's not a gripe so much as my fantasy for the one improvement they could make in future versions of these bags: I would like to have two-way zippers. It's just a thing with me, but I really like to have them. For security in cities like Moscow and NYC, I like to be able to have the zipper end at the side where my hand is resting, so I know no one's opening it (lest you think I'm paranoid, I was pick-pocketed or almost pick-pocketed 5 times on a one-month trip in Moscow, and never had anything of substance stolen even though I was stupidly carrying lots of cash, my new palm pilot, and someone else's camera, all because I had stashed these items in hidden interior pockets or directly under my hand where it rested on the bag(s).) I also like to be able to zip up the sides of a bag but leave a small space open at the top, so I can leave the yarn inside while I'm knitting but still have the bag mostly closed. I can do this now, with the yarn coming out the side of the bag where the zipper is almost-closed, but because the yarn is coming out at an angle, it tends to get caught on the zipper. I wouldn't want to skip the zipper altogether - it seems like the most secure closure that doesn't add weight or take forever to get open, or require two hands - so a two-way zipper would be perfect in my humble opinion. Slightly more complicated, and probably less likely to happen on future bags, would be some kind of clever flap or loop near the top of the bags that you could feed yarn through, so you could have the bag itself actually closed while you knit. That would be neat. But not necessary. These bags are really, truly, great as they are.

All this new-found organization is really going to my head. I mentioned before that I also have this plan for a masterful knitting cheat sheet, on which I plan to gather every piece of knitting knowledge I could ever need in a form that can be folded small and taken with me everywhere. I already have a version that fits on one folded sheet and contains about 40 techniques (e.g., COs, BOs, incrs and decrs, when to use what, stretchy ribs, grafting, etc), about 30 patterns for the most versatile things or things I really will make over and over (e.g., EPS with all shoulder options, PGR sock and my new quasi-Widdershin with my own weird shaping, warshcloths, log cabin rules, fetching and Mrs. Beeton, etc), plus a small but growing list of small motifs that can be inserted into anything. I've included all those clever size-guessing hints in the Harlot's Knitting Rules book, also. How does it fit, you ask? The answer: tiny font. 0.3" margins. In 2 columns for readability. Printed book-style with 2 pages per side of each sheet, with a fold at the side, so it opens like a book and is read in that order. And I've abbreviated everything in my own idiosyncratic way that (sorry, guys) only I would ever understand. I use the shorthand I've always used for all knitting terms, and shorten words absolutely whenever possible (&, btwn, 'w' for with, etc). And I've taken out all parts of the patterns that I think - perhaps fatally - I don't need. Things like "join to work in the round, being careful not to twist" become "join" and "Bind off loosely. Weave ends" becomes "BO". Some of the patterns that I've done a lot are even more shortened, but patterns that confuse me no matter how often I do them - like when to do the first YO in the PGR toe - are written out almost fully. I've incorporated a lot of short cuts that I've only just recently learned from the EZ/Meg Swansen Knitting Glossary DVD (I've watched it all the way through 3 times now, and that's not counting the many, many times I've replayed a particular technique...like, 20). Most life-changingly, Meg has a super-simple way of explaining the otherwise insanely complex tubular BO (tho I'm still not certain it will work for double rib - will soon try and let ya'll know). Her explanations are also great - very intuitive - for a whole legion of cool cast-ons that I knew of from Montse Stanley but that had many times driven me to distraction. So I combined in my cheat sheet the awesome precis Montse gives for which CO/BO to use in which situation, but abbreviated the instructions according to the infinite wisdom of dear Meg Swansen. (Btw, Meg also finally de-mystified for me how to do tubular stocking stitch in the round. The explanations in books are always for flat knitting, usually without saying so, but I'd only ever tried it in the round, on cuffs, and could never figure out why it wasn't working. THANK YOU, MEG!!!!)

The only things that have defied my quest to be transferred onto a tiny sheet, so far, are charts for lace or color motifs (that may have to be a separate project), and the patterns for the various Bev Galeskas felted footwear items.* I would really like to have those, since I'm so likely to be knitting them over and over, and just at this moment I feel like I practically have them memorized so it'd be no big deal to type up a few reminders...but I know that I'm going to look at something like that a few weeks from now and be totally mystified. So maybe I should just separately laminate xeroxes of those patterns right out of the book, so they can be taken with me at the drop of a hat.

Eventually my plan is to laminate this cheat cheet, so I can mark it up with a dry-erase marker to help keep my place (since, after all, the text is miniscule), but right now it's still evolving constantly. I would really like to have it printed out in such a way that I could make it into a little book of index-card size, so it would fit into my notions bag and match the reference cards I have from Patternworks. But so far the best I've been able to get is book-size half-sheets, and that will still fit beautifully into the zippered interior pocket that's in all three attachable KIPer bags. The beauty, of course, it that I can laminate three or more cheat-sheets and stick one in every bag, or indeed, in every crevice in my apartment as well, so that it's always handy. Three cheers: I will never be at a loss to remember how to begin kitchener stitch again!!

*I seem to have convinced several of you to give the Galeskas book a try: so I might as well give you a mini-review here, especially since I saw one bad review of it on Amazon and I want to counter that. The bad review basically said that the patterns are boring. I would argue that, unlike most of the other felting books I've seen, the patterns are tasteful. But that's neither here nor there - it's not really the point of the book. The point as I see it is to break down the so-often unpredictable felting process in a reasonably scientific manner, so that the knitter can understand all of the things that happen, or can happen, and therefore get better at designing or adapting designs for herself and be reasonably certain of what to expect in the results. The patterns for purses, rugs, pillows and hats are indeed very plain, and obviously intended to serve merely as a template for how much yarn, needle size, and rough proportions you need - that is, the stuff that's really hard to just wing it with in felting - so that you can extemporize from there. Meanwhile, the patterns for the "ballet slippers", the moccasins, and the mittens - the only ones I've actually made from the book - are totally kick-ass by any measure and for any purpose. I've never seen a design so intensely clever and miraculous as her slipper patterns, and the resulting slippers are still the sturdiest and most respectable-looking of any felted footwear I've seen yet (though I still love fuzzy feet for quickness, ease, and the small amount of yarn required). I made the pair of mittens for my dad, too, and they're also wonderful, with some short-row shaping across the top of the upper hand to that they curl just so for greater mobility. That's the sort of thing that would have killed me to figure out on my own, which is what makes this book so valuable in my opinion.


kylieps said...

Thanks for taking the time to critique both the bags and the book for us. I hadn't known the bags even existed and I love the idea of grab and go. Thanks for being so thorough.

Anonymous said...

Thank you SO MUCH for the very detailed review of the KIP bags. It is much appreciated - by me at least. I have been pondering buying them and have actually been waiting for your review to make my decision. The photos on the site make the bags look cheap and don't really speak to the features (beyond, of course, the purse organizer). I'm glad they are as sturdy and useful as I hoped they'd be. I really want a grape Jordana Paige knitter's satchel, but can't stomach spending the money on one bag. $49.99 for the set is much more in my budget.

Thank you again for the review - I am definitely asking my husband for the set for my Valentine's Day gift! You convinced me to get them ... not that I needed much, but you definitely helped me move from "maybe" to "absolutely." Do you think you should get a royalty on each set sold from KnitPicks? :)

PS. I am a long-time lurker, first-time poster. I enjoy your blog ... it is one of my daily reads and I definitely missed you posting while you were in Georgia!

Sarah U said...

Great review. I'm really tempted to get a KIP bag now! :D

Anonymous said...

Oh Kate, holysweetlouise, that yarn is scrumptious! Beautiful! mmmmm.
Your review on the bags..just what I've been waiting for, and so informative, thank you so very much, I'll be putting the tool bag, purse, and probably the middle sized bag on my wish list.....that big one is HUGE, how cool is that!
Also a big thanks for the review on the book, and that pretty much settles that issue also....on the wishlist it goes.

Laura said...

Nice to have you back, but glad you got some rest. I recd the KNitpicks paper catalog in the mail yesterday and saw the KIPer back for the first time. Thanks for the review. I'm visiting NYC later in Feb and will have 2 full days while husband is in a conference. What knitty places are don't misses?

Soren said...

ha! when I was making the fiber trends felted clogs over and over again last year, I copied the pattern, cut it into pieces that I glued to index cards, laminated them, and put them together on a key ring so I could throw it in my bag. Everyone thought I was a little insane, but...!

Krista McCurdy said...

I want to be as organized as you when I grow up! Seriously, though, I love your whole approach to having everything you need for knitting. And I'm so glad you like the yarn! It went through like four applications of dye so I could get it really really red; I used a bunch of different shades. The extra skeins for sale on Etsy were totally named after your blog! :-)

Anonymous said...

What a great article/review on the KIPer bags! I've been wondering about them, what the size "feels" like (I am pretty bad at mapping dimensions to reality).