Charity 101

Did you ever wonder what happens to the stuff you donate to charity after it leave your hands?

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of helping at the Cradles To Crayons warehouse where they collect and process donations of toys, clothing and other items for needy kids. It was loads of fun, but it was also an amazing learning experience that significantly changes the way I’ll handle my own donations in the future.

It’s just as easy to disappoint a needy child as it is to disappoint a privileged one.

How many times have you looked through the items on a store shelf to get the one that’s not in a torn box? Kids in need have enough trouble without having someone make them feel like they’re not worthy of shiny, new things.

If a friend were to give you that item you’re about to drop in the donations box for a birthday present, would you be immediately thrilled when you open it? Or is it more along the lines of something you might buy in a discount store because you’re getting a good deal?

All charities are not the same.

I worked the toy table where we had to inspect, clean and sort mountains of toys, games and puzzles. I had a puzzle that was in a clean box and had all its pieces, but one corner of the box had been sloppily repaired. When I asked the supervisor if I should clean up the repair job, I was a little surprised when she said “no, toss that one in the Salvation Army bin”. Then she explained. Salvation Army sells what you donate in their stores. Their customers have a choice as to whether they want to pay for an item that has a scuff-mark or torn packaging. The kids who benefit from other charities don’t have that same choice. They get what’s been chosen for them, so Cradles To Crayons has higher quality standards and things pretty much have to be in new or like-new condition.

When you donate, take a little time to visit the organization’s web site to learn about what they do. If you still have doubts, pick up the phone and call them. Most of them survive on volunteers who spend hours inspecting items for quality and completeness, and they’ll be happy to explain their donation policies and tell you what they’re looking for if you simply ask.

Before you donate your stuff, donate your time.

Do you know how long it takes to count 500 puzzle pieces? Or 1000? Or 1500? Now multiply that by 100’s because puzzles are a popular donation item and volunteers have to count each and every piece.

Next time you put a puzzle away, break it down into sections just small enough to fit in the box. When it eventually finds its way to a donations box, all the volunteer needs to do is re-assemble the large sections to determine whether all the pieces are present.

Organize toys and games in their boxes with instructions on top. If you know instructions and pieces are missing or broken, consider dumping it at a yard sale instead.

Secure bags and boxes so everything stays together until they’re ready to be processed. When donating items that go together, package them so they stay together — preferably in a clear plastic bag so volunteers can see what’s in them.


In just a couple short hours, our little team of eight did enough sorting and cleaning to put smiles on the faces of 142 kids that deserve better than what they have now. In the state of Massachusetts alone, there are 305,000 kids who need help and with the assistance of volunteers, Cradles to Crayons is only able to reach about 65,000 of them.

Hacking a Brother Cast-On Comb to fit a Mid-Gauge Knitting Machine

I used to hate the Brother comb, but now that I’ve gotten used to it I wish they made one for the mid-gauge machines. Since they don’t — and probably never will — I decided to buy a new one for my Brother SK860 standard and hack the old one to fit my Silver Reed SK860 mid-gauge.

The gate pegs on the Silver Reed are stronger than the hooks on the comb, so it turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be. Here’s how:

  1. Knit an inch or so of waste yarn across the entire needle bed.
  2. Mark the two center hooks on the comb with a bit of yarn.
  3. Position the comb with the two center hooks on either size of 0.
  4. Working from the center of the comb toward the ends, gently — but firmly press the wires of the comb between the gate pegs until the comb is hanging on the scrap knitting.
  5. Use needle nose pliers to bend any stubborn hooks out of the way of the gate pegs. Most of them should bend to one side or the other without any help.
Brother 4.5mm Cast-On Comb hanging on a Silver Reed 6.5mm

Brother 4.5mm Cast-On Comb hanging on a Silver Reed 6.5mm

Once the comb has been secured all the way across, use the needle nose pliers to bend all of the hooks that are pressing against a gate peg. In this photo, you’ll see 5 hooks bent back out of the way. All of the others are hanging between the 6.5mm gate pegs pretty as you please.

Brother 4.5mm Cast-On Comb hanging on a Silver Reed 6.5mm

Brother 4.5mm Cast-On Comb hanging on a Silver Reed 6.5mm

Grab the bent hooks with your needle nose pliers and bend the wire back and forth until they snap. Most of them will snap off inside the case. If you have a few that don’t, you might have to use a Dremel to grind them down so you don’t have any sharp edges.

It’s important to note that this method won’t get you a comb that hangs on every stitch, but if you like using the 9mm triangle weights on your standard gauge machine, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Also, the comb is 4-5 needles shy of covering the whole bed… so if you’re using the entire width, you might still have to use edge weights.

How Much Yarn Do I Need?

One of the questions that comes up a lot on Ravelry is “I have a cone of yarn that weighs this much… is it enough to make a sweater?”

The general rule of thumb is that a sweater takes about 1500 yards, but the fact of the matter is there’s no way to give any reasonable answer without having a lot more information. Not only does the yards per gram differs among fibers, the number of yards in a 1-pound cone depends on the size of the strand and in some cases, the spinning system used to manufacturer the yarn.

However, there is something you can do to get a pretty good estimate.

First, you must knit a swatch. That shouldn’t be a problem because you always knit a swatch anyway, right?

So knit a swatch thats big enough to get accurate measurements — about 80 stitches by 100 rows for finer yarns and 50 stitches by 60 rows for bulky yarns.

After washing and blocking the swatch the same way you’ll finish the completed garment, measure the length and width. You’ll also need to weigh the swatch to determine how much yarn it consumed.

Now you have all the information you need to determine the amount of fabric you can knit with the amount of yarn you have.

It’ll be easier to explain with an example, so grab your favorite calculator and follow along.

I have a cone of lovely but unidentified yarn that weights 600g. Most paper and plastic cones weight about 25 grams, so I really have about 575 grams of yarn.

My swatch is 8 inches wide, 4.5 inches long, and weighs 13g.

My sweater is roughly 38 inches around the body and 22 inches long. We don’t have to be exact here… rough measurements are ok. When in doubt, add an inch or so in both dimensions.

My sleeve is about 13 inches wide at the widest point and 23 inches long. Again, rough measurements are ok.

Let’s calculate the yardage for the body first. To make things easier, we’re going to work in one dimension at a time — first width, then length. I also want to err on the side of caution, so I’m going to round up to the nearest third or quarter (.25, .33, .50, .66, .75).

  • The body is 4.75 times the width of my swatch (38 / 8 = 4.75), so a 38 x 4.5 rectangle needs 62g (4.75 x 13g).
  • The body of my sweater is almost 5 times the length of my swatch (22 / 4.5 = 4.88), so a 38 x 22 rectangle needs 310g (5 x 62g).

Now let’s calculate the yardage for the sleeves using the same technique.

  • The sleeve is about 1 2/3 times the width of my swatch (13 / 8 = 1.625), so a 13 x 4.5 rectangle needs 22g (1.66 x 13g).
  • My sleeve is more than 5 times the length of my swatch (23 / 4.5 = 5.11), so a 13 x 23 rectangle needs 116g (5.25 * 22g).
  • A sweater isn’t of much use with only one sleeve, so we need to double that to 232g (2 x 116g).

Now, we just add up the numbers to get the total yardage requirement: 310g + 232g = 542g.

Here’s a little cheat sheet you can print and keep with your yarn so you’ll have it handy the next time you need it:

Knitting Yardage Worksheet

A = Swatch Width:
B = Swatch Length:
C = Swatch Weight:
D = Desired Width:
E = Desired Length:
F = (D / A) * C:
G = (E / B) * F = Total Yardage Required:

Stitch Patterns

I’m finally getting around to loading my collection of stitch patterns into DesignaKnit 8. Since I’ve done the work, I decided to make them available for others to use.

You’ll find them on my new downloads page.

Machine Knitting: How To Make A Garter Bar Hanger

I got inspired by one of Diana Sullivan’s videos where she shows you how to use a garter bar to shape a neckline. I fell in love with the technique because the results are superior to using hold position or binding off, but I kept thinking I could improve on the use of twist ties to hang the garter bar on the gate pegs.

And so, the jewelry wire garter bar hanger was born.

What you’ll need…

2 3″ pieces of copper jewelry wire — somewhere around 18 to 22 gauge
something to help you form a small ring about the size of a drinking straw

What you’ll do with it…

Make a loop in the center of the wire

Make a loop in the center of the wire

Insert the two ends through two prongs on the garter bar

Insert the two ends through two prongs on the garter bar

Bend the two ends to form hooks

Bend the two ends to form hooks

Trim the ends so the hooks are about the same size as the ring

Trim the ends so the hooks are about the same size as the ring

After transferring stitches to the garter bar, insert the hook with the prongs facing away from you and drop the rings onto the gate pages between the corresponding needles.

After transferring stitches to the garter bar, insert the hook with the prongs facing away from you, and hook the rings onto the gate pages between the corresponding needles.

Wicked Easy Pork Loin

Weekends were made for crockpot cooking. It’s the one time when you can actually sit down and enjoy a leisurely meal, but who wants to spend a lot of time preparing it? Crockpot to the rescue.

What you’ll need…

1 3-4 lb. boneless pork loin (not tenderloin — they’re not the same thing)
1 pkg. Superior Touch Crockery Gourmet Seasoning Mix for Pork
1 can Campbell’s Condensed French Onion Soup
2 cans water
course black pepper
dried herbs (optional)

What you’ll do with it…

Place the roast fat-side down in the bottom of a crockpot.
Mix the seasoning mix, soup and water with a whisk.
Pour the soup mixture over the roast.
Sprinkle on a liberal dose of pepper and herbs. Don’t add salt… the onion soup has plenty.

Cook on low 2 hours.
Turn the roast fat-side up and baste.
Continue cooking on low 5-6 hours more, basting every 2-3 hours.
Let it rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve it au jus with the liquid straight from the pot or use the liquid to make gravy if you want something a little thicker.

If you don’t want to worry about turning the roast, start it fat-side up… but I think it turns out better if you turn it and baste it.