Stuff sacks

Bag behind the saddleNowadays, almost every foldable jacket or pair of waterproof trousers comes in its own compact little bag – a so-called stuff sack. That didn’t used to be the case, and I still own a lot of walking and cycling gear from the previous, pre stuff sack era. The final stage of my project to make a pair of bicycle transportation bags has involved sewing stuff sacks for them so they can be strapped neatly behind the saddle while we’re touring. In doing so, I realised that I could make stuff sacks for our ancient waterproofs too. No more dripping, unwieldy garments to stow away somewhere where they won’t dampen anything else once the rain has stopped. Now they each go in their own bag which contains the moisture until everything can be dried out properly at the end of the ride.

3 stuff sacksI used coated ripstop nylon for these stuff sacks. The coating makes the fabric waterproof and, to maintain the integrity of the finished bag I could have taped the seams on the inside. I haven’t bothered doing that, instead I’ve kept the seams to a minimum and, in the case of the longitudinal seam in the bike bag cases, I’ll make sure it’s on the underside in use.

IBike bag rolled up started by rolling up each bike bag or waterproof garment as small as possible, holding it in place with a couple of rubber bands so I could measure it. Then I made a stuff sack to exactly that size – it needs to be a tight fit to keep the package compact, but not so tight that it’s a struggle to get the item into it.

For the bike bag stuff sacks which will be carried in a horizontal orientation, I wanted to avoid any seams that would then be facing upwards into the rain, which precluded a circular base. Instead, I just sewed across the end and then “bagged out” the corners to make it square-ish. (See my metallic shopping bag tutorial for an explanation of bagging out.) All that was needed then was a casing and a drawcord at the other end. I put a loop – a belt carrier, basically – in the longitudinal seam to hold the strap securely that will attach the stuff sack behind the saddle. Inserting it in the seam avoided unnecessary stitch holes.

2 bike bag stuff sacksFor the strap, I used some of the polypropylene webbing and Velcro left over from the bike bags themselves. I adjusted the length of the drawcord so that it can be held in place by slipping the strap through it, rather than dangling.

Detail of strap and drawcordThe stuff sacks I made for our waterproof jackets needed to be larger, and I have given them circular bases. Mostly they’ll be kept dry in our panniers, and when it’s raining the jackets are likely to be in use anyway, so I wasn’t so bothered about water getting in the seams.

Washing detergent bag

Washing detergent bag

These bags took very little time to make, but I’m sure we’ll get a lot of use from them. When we’re not touring by bike we can keep our waterproofs in the car without it looking messy and, if we end up wearing them in the rain, they can go back in their stuff sacks and won’t drip all over the seats on the drive home. I didn’t need to buy anything extra for them except for one cord grip – unfortunately, I didn’t have enough of the small blue ones that I saved from the little mesh bags that used to come in boxes of laundry detergent tablets. Maybe these tablets (and mesh bags) are still available, I don’t know – I changed to liquid detergent years ago, but I couldn’t bear to throw away all the mesh bags. Some I use to hang moth balls in the attic and the wardrobe where I keep out-of-season clothes, after a friend suffered a severe clothes moth infestation.  The others have now been stripped of their very basic, but effective, cord grips which rely on what one of my university lecturers used to refer to as “the elegant polypropylene hinge”.

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It works!

I finished my Lazy Whoever and I’m finding it a delight to knit with. No more tugging at my yarn, wondering if I’ll break it. The turntable just spins happily on a table in front of me. And, as ever, part of the delight is knowing it cost me next to nothing to make. I didn’t need to go out and buy anything for it.

Finished yarn holderIt took a lot of effort with sandpaper to get rid of the ridges that my inexpert handling of the router had caused, but now that it’s polished it looks quite professional. I’m least satisfied with the slice off a log that I made the yarn-holding rotating platform from. It’s a completely different colour to the oak base. Some day when I come across a better-looking piece of hardwood I’ll replace it. We don’t have any oak trees in the garden, I’ll have to keep my eyes open for a suitably sized fallen oak branch when I’m out and about, then I can pop back with a saw and cut a cheeky slice from it.

Toothmarks in dowel

The dowel I used for the central spindle and the yarn guide needs replacing too. Again, it’s not oak but it is a better match colourwise than the beech platform. The problem is, its surface is covered in little holes. I must have let the cat play with it when he was a kitten, those tiny toothmarks are unmistakeable.

Hardwood floor suppliers usually make matching dowels for filling screw holes. I’ll have to try to buy a length of oak the next time I find myself near a flooring shop. In the meantime, I’ve shortened the yarn guide dowel by an inch or so, which suits the reel of linen I’m currently knitting with much better.

For anyone who might feel inclined to make a similar yarn turntable, I’ve written up the project step-by-step on Instructables: Lazy Kate Yarn Turntable. You don’t need to be a member to view it but if you are, please vote for it in the current woodworking contest which lasts for about three more weeks. I haven’t any chance at all of winning a prize – there are some real woodworking craftsmen and women out there – but getting a few votes will lift my spirits and may even convince me to spend more time on woodwork. But wait a minute, that would mean less time for knitting, sewing and everything else, wouldn’t it?

Purl Soho pullover

Lightweight Raglan PulloverTalking of that, I haven’t made much progress with my linen jumper this week, thanks to all the time spend sanding and applying Danish Oil to the yarn holder. But there isn’t too far to go now to the armhole, when I’ll have to stop and knit the sleeves instead.

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Lazy Whoever

I’m knitting a summer jumper in fine linen yarn, in the round. It’s going slowly and, frankly, it’s rather boring: 224 stitches per round and all of them knit. And the worst of it is, I have to knit several more inches (at about 10 rows per inch) with no shaping or other excitement before I reach the armhole and can stop and do the sleeves.

Linen swatch and reelApart from the dullness of all this plain stocking stitch, I have been suffering the annoyance of having all the yarn on a cylindrical package that is too heavy to unwind easily. Not being a cone, it won’t pull readily from the top, and even if it did I’d be wary that I was putting extra twist into the yarn and would end up with an askew sweater. (TECHknitting has written an interesting and illuminative post explaining how pulling from the centre or the outside of a package – whether a ball, a cone or a cylinder like mine – introduces twist. The way to avoid it is to pull from the outside while rotating the package.) I’ve been knitting with the cylinder of yarn lying on its side next to me on the sofa, and I have to give a hefty tug every so often to pull some more yarn free. I’m afraid I might break the yarn because it’s so fine – 2-ply / laceweight at a guess – so I’ve been using two hands to do it, one to pull and the other to help the package to rotate, a process which doesn’t half interrupt the rhythm of knitting. What I need is a gadget to take the weight of this 1 lb package and allow it to spin freely when I pull on the end. In other words, a sort of lazy Susan/Kate.

Fidget spinner bearingsI don’t think it’s strictly correct to call a one-package yarn delivery system a lazy Kate – don’t they have multiple spindles to allow spinners to ply two or three yarns together? But whatever the name, I’ve been meaning to make one for some time now. I even bought some fidget spinner bearings with that in mind (as well as a few other projects) last year. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, so today I have made a start on my lazy Whoever.

I chose a piece of oak for the base. I bought it on a whim from the late-lamented Boddy’s of Boroughbridge for the princely sum of £1.44. I thought it was American oak when I posted on the bearings, but it turns out it’s European.

Piece of oakI really miss that timber merchant, and its prices. Wish I’d bought lots more of its wonderful hardwoods before it closed.

The oak plank was about 6” wide so I cut a 6” square from it. I am absolutely hopeless at cutting wood straight unless I’m using an electric jigsaw that I can run along a straight edge or I use a mitre box with a hand saw. I couldn’t find any suitable blades for the jigsaw, which meant it had to be the mitre saw.

Using the mitre sawThen the difficult part. I want a base that’s basically round, but with one corner for a yarn guide in case it’s needed for certain types of package. As I can’t cut straight without a guide, there was no way I was going to be able to cut a teardrop shape by hand. And in any case, this oak is like iron, it took me forever just to make the single cut to make a square. (If forever is about an hour.) It was time to master the router.

My dear husband bought our router 15 years ago when we renewed the bathroom with bamboo flooring and panelling and needed something that would put fancy rounded edges on the shelves, skirtings, etc. He made a good job of it but found the powerful router rather scary to use and hasn’t touched it since. I got out the instruction manual and spent quite some time studying it and familiarising myself with all the knobs and controls before I dared put in a bit and try routing a piece of scrap timber. Then I practised using the device that allows the router to cut perfect circles. It took a lot of experimentation to find out the optimum combination of rotation speed, depth of cut and speed of cut – cut too deep or move the router through the wood too fast and the wood splinters resulting in a ragged cut, but moving too slowly means the bit overheats and scorches the wood.

After several practice runs, first on softwood and then on the unwanted corners of the oak square, I routed for real, cutting three quarters of the way round the circle a few millimetres deep at a time. Then I tidied up the fourth corner before fitting a round-over bit and going all the way round the edge of the teardrop shape to put a curve on it. I haven’t done it perfectly by any means, but I think it will look all right once I’ve sanded it and given it a polish.

Base after chamferingI’ve drilled out a hole in which to sink a bearing, and I have a length of dowel that fits neatly into the centre hole of the bearing. A platform of some sort needs to sit on the dowel, to hold the cone or ball. I’d have liked to use oak again for the platform, but a 6” diameter circle is about as small as it’s possible to go with the router. Instead, I had a look in our log pile and rescued a length of branch which looks like it might be from a beech tree we pruned the winter before last. I cut a slice from it, leaving the bark on – “live edge” tables and shelves seem to be all the rage nowadays, so why not a live edge lazy Kate? It will do until I find something better.

Components of the lazy KateAs of Sunday evening, after working on this all afternoon, I’m pretty much there. Just the sanding, finishing and assembly still to do. I’m really looking forward to being able to sit this on the table in front of me and just give a gentle pull when I want to unwind some yarn.

Lazy Kate before assembly


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Bike transportation bags – finished

So, here are the bags I’ve made, firstly (as modelled by my dear husband) containing a bike and with cardboard in the inside pockets. Even I can carry it for short distances like this despite the unwieldy size, and the straps go around the bike itself rather than being attached to the bag. His right hand is just steadying the package, not actually taking any weight.

Bike in bag being carriedThe other bag is shown laid out empty and minus the cardboard, with the dismantled bike ready to go in it.

Empty bike bag

Despite making a full-sized prototype first and a mini-prototype too, the construction of the second bag incorporated several improvements based on what I learnt from the first one. I’ve made copious notes and taken lots of photos, and I’ll write it all up as a tutorial when I get the time.

The proof of the pudding will be how well these bags (and the bikes within) survive the two flights they are going to be subjected to in a few weeks’ time. I fully expect that they will sustain a few rips, but hopefully nothing that isn’t repairable. Each one, complete with the removable carrying handles and shoulder strap, weighs only about 500g, a worthwhile saving compared with Cycling UK’s heavy-gauge polythene bags. Those bags come in one size – enormous – and even when the excess has been cut off they weigh about 700g.

I made the second bag in a weekend, and I certainly didn’t spend every waking hour slaving over a hot sewing machine, so the task is not too onerous.


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The missing magnet


I’m making preparations for a cycle tour in a few weeks’ time. Last year when we cycled along the Riviera I didn’t take my bike computer to track the distances because I found at the last minute that it had a flat battery. That meant I’ve only just noticed, as a result of finally putting a new battery in it, that when I bought a new front wheel before last year’s trip I forgot to take the “sender” unit off the old wheel before I got rid of it. So I now have the computer itself, the “receiver” which is attached to a front fork, but nothing to attach to a spoke on the wheel to tell the receiver every time it makes a revolution.

I say “nothing to attach”, but fortunately I have plenty of neodymium magnets because they are useful for all sorts of things, like ferreting cables through voids and finding lost pins, screws and the like. I taped a variety of different sized magnets in turn to a spoke and soon discovered that a pretty small one would work. I was thinking that I’d have to make some kind of bracket to hold it that could be fixed onto the spoke, then I realised that the reflector that was already on the wheel would do nicely if I just moved it along the spoke a bit.

New sender magnetI cut down a wine cork at an angle until I had a slice that was the right length and shape to hold the magnet at the perfect position, nice and close to the receiver. After sticking the magnet onto one side of the cork slice (I dug a little hollow for it first) with 2-part epoxy glue, I was able to give it a final test by fixing the slice temporarily to the reflector with a rubber band. Then I stuck it on with more epoxy. I’m leaving the rubber band in place for now, it won’t do any harm and it should make it a little more secure.

The effect is somewhat “sealing wax and string”, but who cares, it works and has avoided the need to replace a perfectly good bike computer that only gets used when I’m touring.

Another reel of linen yarn

As well as the reel of fine linen yarn in a natural light brown that I’m knitting a jumper with, I’ve found a reel of white. I need some new traycloths to replace a couple of ragged crocheted ones – I didn’t make them, my crocheting is pretty rusty and I hate darning in ends, a necessity for crochet work unless it’s something very plain.

White linen yarnInstead of crochet, I thought I might knit the traycloths. I started with a swatch in a design similar to a scarf I once made, Camino Bubbles. But it has turned out too lacy.

I’m going to have to double this yarn to give me an end product that’s robust enough for everyday use on a tea tray. And choose a less open lace pattern.



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Knit for the life you have

Linen swatch and reelAfter mulling over lots of patterns for rather lovely, loose, sleeveless summer tops (Slope was my favourite), I have decided instead to make a more practical long-sleeved sweater from the reel of undyed linen yarn I found in a cupboard. I’m someone who feels the cold and the reality is that I seldom wear anything short-sleeved or sleeveless unless I’m abroad, and never unless I’m outside in full sun. On the rare occasions when we do have hot weather at home and I’m able to take advantage of it, I generally want to wear something I can garden in, or cycle in, or paint the outside of the garage in. I’m too much of a do-er to be comfortable sitting around in beautiful, floaty, hand-knitted summer tops that require careful washing after each wearing. I must resist the temptation to make clothes for the balmy, drinks-on-the-terrace sort of life that I might wish for and instead knit for the spanner-or-paintbrush-in-hand life that I actually live.

Lightweight raglan pulloverTo that end, I have chosen Purl Soho’s Lightweight Raglan Pullover. It’s a basic, straight up and down, raglan shape with a dropped hem at the front and back, knitted in the round from the bottom up. I’ll wear it over a T-shirt on days that aren’t quite hot enough for short sleeves.

I couldn’t get the stitch tension the pattern calls for, even after buying a 2.75mm circular needle – a size too small for interchangeable circulars. I’m compensating by knitting the smallest size, and I’ll worry about whether I need to make adjustments to suit the different row tension when I come to the sleeves.

Corded hem of jumperThis jumper has corded edgings around the hem, cuffs and neck. They are worked by knitting each stitch together with the one from 4 rows below to draw the fabric up and make a little bulge that runs round the edge just inside the cast-on (or cast-off, in the case of the neckline). The idea is that it will stop the stocking stitch edge from rolling, while giving it a “finished” look. I rather like it and will use it again if it really does prevent the roll.

There’s an awful lot of plain stocking stitch, and on 2.75mm needles (that’s 12s in old money – yikes!) it’s going to take a while.

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