Book Review – The Knitter’s Life List

Confession time:  I’m a library junkie.

Related confession:  I use my library shamelessly like a “try before you buy” service.

I order online and have other libraries send my branch all the latest (and oldest) popular pattern books, stitch books, and technique books.  Why, back when I was doing the Master Knitter Level I, I ordered the original June Hemmons Hyatt Principles of Knitting, and was able to renew it for months on end… and this was back when it was out of print and it’s secondary market value was inflated to $300+!

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I voraciously preview crafting books from the library.  So far, I haven’t done much to review the hundred or so craft books that pass through my hands every year.  Most don’t intrigue me enough to pursue past flipping through the patterns.  But today I’m going to give a review, simply because the book I found was such an interesting oddity.

During a recent rare browsing visit to the library (usually I just pick up my holds and dash), I found a book called The Knitter’s Life List.  As far as I know, a “life list” is a term from birding, in which the birder has a list of all the birds in a region, maybe listing rarity, and checks them off as they are observed in the wild.  I think it’s kind of a self-competition thing, a goal to try to catch a glimpse of the “rare whosiwhatsit bird”, and it also provides hobbyists with a point of reference when conversing with one another.  I think I went on a field trip as a kid where we were given life lists to inspire us to search the area carefully and quietly for wildlife.

And inspiration is certainly the point of The Knitter’s Life List.  The book is chock full of entertaining tidbits about our knitting hobby, the “who’s who”, and what this author feels are the big accomplishments.  The book’s chapters are organized by categories such as yarns, fibers, techniques, and types of commonly knitted objects such as scarves.  In the beginning of each chapter, there is a “life list” for the category which is subdivided into categories such as who to meet related to the category, resources to discover, knitting techniques to try or learn, and maybe other sub-categories like places to visit or “extra credit” questions.  Reading the rest of the following chapter will help explain some of the items on the life list, which give you a sense of being lead through a lesson.

On the whole, this is a fun book to get from the library.  There are lots of odd little facts, quotes from the luminaries of the current knitting world, tips and tricks, bits of history, and lists of movies or books that contain some knitting homage.  It’s fun to flip around and discover something new.  There are one-page biographies too, that offer a little more insight into some of our favorite knitters:  for example, Barbara Walker who is famous in our industry for creating some really great reference books of stitch patterns, is also an award winning author in comparative religion and a painter.  It’s nice to have a little more insight about an knitting author than the back of a book jacket might provide.

The life lists themselves have challenging and intriguing tasks and accomplishments, even for a moderately advanced knitter such as myself.  Almost every crafter ever has some area that they are more accomplished in than another.  Let’s take a look at a few from the socks section, as I’ve only ever knit about a half-dozen pairs:  “Make two socks at once on one circular needle” – done, but didn’t like it.  “Knit a sock using double-point needles” – done, definitely my preferred method.  “Knit a toe-up sock” – you know, I don’t think I actually ever tried this!  Don’t revoke my knitter’s license now!  “Knit and donate a historic Red Cross pattern.” – well, now, that’s a really cool idea that I would never have thought of!  There’s a good page and a half more to the sock list, as well as blank spaces for your own ideas.

So the lists are pretty cool, and a fun idea if you like to challenge yourself to try new things in the world of knitting.  And the rest of the chapter between each of the lists is fun and enjoyable, in kind of a knitter’s Mental Floss way.

And yet, I wouldn’t really want to own this book.

There are a few reasons why.  First, I don’t enjoy writing in books.  Obviously, I didn’t write in the library’s book!  But in general, I dislike the concept of writing in a book like this. It feels like a regular, bound book, with semi-glossy pages, and the kind of book one is not supposed to write in.  I don’t even think the page texture will take a mark very well, and would probably get kind of smeary if you used pen.  Although again, library book – I didn’t actually try.  If it was spiral bound or something though, and they had the list section with a different page texture, maybe I would feel more “invited” to write.  Semi-glossy, soft-bound, 320 page books do not feel like an inviting medium in which to work on a list.

Then let’s talk about this layout a bit.  While I’m skimming along through the chapters, it is nice that there is a list and then information that explains the stuff on the list, but this isn’t a great layout for returning to reference a specific fact or list. I’m not going to flip through an entire book every time I want to see if I’ve accomplished something I can check off.  A discrete list, reprinted at the back might solve the problem.  Better yet, a discrete list reprinted at the back with perforations so I can tear out the list and carry it around in my knitting bag might be better.  Or even maybe, like the textbooks do it, a one-time use code that leads me to a code-locked website where I can download and print a personal copy.  Or a downloadable PDF I can keep on my phone for reference when I’m at a class or guild meeting.  But no, it’s like this book invites you to enjoy it’s list and then mocks you for wanting to check things off.  Indulge my hyperbole, if you would please, it’s fun to pretend to be a book critic for a moment.

So, I’m not running out to buy my own copy, but I did find The Knitter’s Life List to be inspiring and entertaining.  If you see it at the library, check it out!  And I think I’ll use it as a jumping off point to create my own “life list” of crafting accomplishments and techniques I want to learn as a challenge to myself.  But, I think for mine, I’m going to use Wunderlist or something, so that I can carry my list around wherever I go.  Digital is a very good medium for lists.

What about you?  Do you have a list of knitting accomplishments that you want to try or master?  Would you keep a list for yourself to challenge yourself, or would you rather learn new things as they come up in service of a particular pattern or class?

Until next time, keep your needles clicking…


Why doesn’t my knitting machine work?

While it is frustrating not to have objects behave as expected, I also find that this can be a very fun challenge.  Asking myself ‘why doesn’t my knitting machine work?’ is an invitation to better understanding all the little brushes, switches, flappers, and levers that are interacting between the machine bed and the carriage.  Non-electronic knitting machines are (presumably) a solvable equation.  If it doesn’t work, there is almost certainly something you can fix about it (although it might require replacement parts up to and including a whole ‘spare parts’ machine).  No advanced degree in machine knittery or rocket science required.

But mechanical aptitude and willingness to experiment are valuable attributes.  I will point out that I’m far more apt to experiment on the knitting machine than other types of things around the house.  Our furnace, for example, is temporarily knocked out and while we have opened it up and adjusted and cleaned some things to temporary good effect, I am quite ready to have a professional look at that dangerous and integral system.  See?  After staring at the guts of my furnace and all it’s gas and electrocution hazards, knitting machine repair seems like quite a soothing hobby!  The worst the knitting machine can do to me is snag my yarn and suck away my time.  It’s all about perspective.

Since I have 3 machines in my home that require some TLC and trouble-shooting, I think it’s time I develop a process.

Here’s my first few steps in assessing the “health” of a new-to-me knitting machine, (and I expect this process to evolve with practice):

  1. Check for really obvious missing parts (refer to manual for what should be present), look for bent/broken needles.  Try running the knitting carriage back and forth a few times.  If all goes well, no carriage jamming, move on to step 2.  If carriage jamming, skip ahead to step 4, Trouble shooting.
  2. Basic cleaning and lubrication – this means brushing needle beds and carriage with a medium-firm brush, removing excess lint, and rubbing everything with a soft cloth that has knitting machine oil on it.
  3. Check the sponge bar – if it has a sponge bar.  Disintegrating or permanently squished sponge bars are a really common problem in used knitting machines.  It’s an easy, relatively cheap part to replace.  I have read elsewhere that if the spongy part sits less than 3/8″ above the metal part, you should replace it.
  4. Try to knit a basic sample per machine manual instructions.  If that succeeds, great!  Move on to a test of the punch card operations, and then the lace carriage (if applicable).  If knitting a basic sample fails, move on to trouble-shooting mode.
  5. Trouble shooting mode.  From here, I want a flow chart…  but until I develop one, here is a nice chart on Needles of Steel for Troubleshooting tips.

So far, I have one machine (the KH 881) that won’t close stitches and I’m hoping it’s the sponge bar because I just ordered one for it, and the other machines (the bulky and the KH 800) are knitting the basics fine but may have other issues.

I’m also hoping to try Jack’s cleaning method, from The Answer Lady Knits & Ask Jack video series.  I watched a bunch of the videos while I was home sick one day last week.  It was kind of like listening to the Click & Clack of knitting machines.  The two people have a great rapport and cover a lot of really useful material about how to clean, test and repair knitting machines.  So far though, I haven’t noticed a video that covers a starting troubleshooting process for the beginner, which is why I want to develop my own process.

Also, it might be worth noting that, if you don’t feel you have the wherewithal to troubleshoot and repair your own knitting machine, people like Jack or others can be paid to service your machine.

Until next time… keep those needle beds zipping!


A little history of knitting machines

I started writing a “page” to tell a little bit about knitting machines, and I got on such a roll that I decided it needed to be a separate post.  I hope to come back and update this some day with real research from real books, but for now, here are some tantalizing bits of knitting machine history gleaned from around the internet.

Knitting machine history:

Human beings have a long history of creating fabric with various tools.  If we loosely define a knit as a stretchy fabric made of loops, then early examples of non-needle knitting included peg knitting which is similar to today’s loom knitting and spool knitting, which appear to both date back to the Renaissance, if not the Middle Ages.  I need to do more research to see if I can find references earlier than that or specific dates.  The first more mechanized instrument seems to be the stocking loom that was said to have been shown to Queen Elizabeth I, who was said to have rejected it with the prescient fear that it would displace the nation’s hand-knitters (although some of this story may be apocryphal)… which it much later did causing social unrest (this is what the Luddite Machine Breakers were actually concerned with – it was a labor protest regarding knitting and other textile machines in industry).

A more modern, horizontal board of latches version of the knitting machine came at the close of the nineteenth century.  Followed by Japanese and European (Passap) machines for home use in the 1920’s and 1930’s respectively.  See the KnitTree for more details on that history.

The “modern” vintage knitting on a knitting machine is kind of like weaving on a loom except latch-hooks make a knit stitch by pulling in and out when you crank a carriage across.  A knitting machine may be electronic, but most are not.  The machine may require hand-manipulation of every stitch that is not intended to be plain stockinette as well as hand-manipulated increases and decreases.  Some machines have patterning options, the most popular being the punch card reader – I had an early 12-stitch punch card machine from 1971, but most are 24-stitch punch card readers.  The punch card reader works by engaging and disengaging the needles in a sequence defined by the holes in a plastic card.  This allows the creation of fair isle patterns with multiple colors, as well as tuck or lace textures depending on the other accessories of the particular machine.

Knitting machines were marketed to housewives in the late 40’s through the 60’s, and home fashionistas(?) in the 70’s and 80’s (the disparity between the 80’s poshness of the models in the beginning of this marketing video and the prim and bespectacled lady in who demonstrates the machine may say a lot about the decline in success of these machines). Knitting machines seem to have had a last gasp of niche hobby popularity in the 1990’s and have been slowly dwindling out of the mainstream of the textile hobby ever since.

The last magazines to print regular patterns and columns on machine knitting seem to have closed their doors in the early 2000’s and the major brands of knitting machines have stopped manufacturing too (Brother, Toyota and Passap are done, and I think Silver Reed/Studio/Singer ended production around 2012).  One knitting machine brand that MAY still be currently manufactured as of this writing (2015) is the Artisan.  The other, is of course, the readily available Bond, which can be found at many big-box stores including Joann Fabrics.  The Bond is something of a different animal, however, as it has a modular board and a very different style of cast-on, but it is most certainly a knitting machine of the flat-bed latch-hooking variety.  I think the Bond deserves it’s own whole post, however.

One last fun link – this lady seems to be, like me, enamored of the whole knitting machine phenomenon and determined to house every machine she can find in a “knitting machine museum”.  I don’t think my husband will let me store many more knitting machines in our small house, so please enjoy her website instead.


Before we get too comfortable…

Lest anyone think I could focus on any one craft genre at a time…

Just when I have re-committed myself to pursuing the Master Knitter program, I got a tantalizing email from another knitting guild member offering up knitting machines and a garter carriage to anyone who might want them… for FREE.  I called and said that if no one else was interested, I would take the whole lot.  And that there were a couple of the machines that I would like dibs on even if there was a line out the door behind me.  It seems I was the first to call.

So far in my life, I have spent about $200 on three knitting machines and maybe $35 on some parts/accessories.  The first one was a gift for my sister, and the only knitting machine that I think is still sold new on the mass market:  The Bond Ultimate Sweater Machine.  I didn’t know much about knitting machines at the time, but she had a dream about felted squiggly curtains, which sounded like long tedious plain rows of knitting.  I was trying to be supportive, but it turned out that it’s a lot to have a knitting machine in one’s small apartment with cats, finding the right table for it is tricky, and ultimately the machine came back to me.

Before that machine came back, I got my own first knitting machine cheap on ebay.  A few years later, my Mom’s friend gave her (who gave me) a free 12-stitch punchcard machine, the Brother KH 800 from the 1970s.  And just now I’ve gotten a carload of machines and accessories!  It’s an embarrassment of riches!  Or maybe a lot of people are getting out of this dying art.

In truth, it’s challenging to get started when there are few teachers, the machines are (usually) prohibitively expensive to get sight unseen, I don’t think any book or magazine publishers are currently publishing sexy modern patterns for machines, and unlike hand knitting, it’s hard to take your problem project over to a friend’s house for troubleshooting.

In any case, I feel very lucky, this is a whole lot of machine value for the cost of a car ride.  It pays to join knitting guilds, folks.  One guild member’s clutter can be your future clutter… er, treasure!  But seriously, we didn’t talk much but I got the impression that my benefactor had enjoyed machine knitting but was having difficulty taking the bulky, heavy machines to classes and was now ready see someone else enjoy these machines. Carol Murdoch-Miller, you are an angel of the knitting world.  You have given a stranger a beautiful gift of crafting happiness.

As for the added equipment to my small home – my husband smiles, and groans, and teases about the space my stuff takes up.  But I am grateful every day that he appreciates the value of tools.  He really gets it – he was genuinely excited for me to get such an awesome collection of machines and accessories.  And then he lets me store as many knitting machines as I can find in our tiny house!  At least they fold down flat and slide under the bed easily.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually planning to keep all of the machines currently in my house.  I have friends and family who might putter around with them too, and are eager to take them on.  I think I’m just the obsessed one who gets other people going along with these kinds of things.

The ones I’m keeping are the new-to-me 24-stitch punchcard Brother KH 881, the compatible garter carriage, and the KnitKing Bulky punchcard (because I love worsted!) .  I’ll probably pass along the 12-stitch Brother KH 800, since this new one is a real upgrade.  The KH 881 is about 15 years younger, and has two noteworthy features:  the knitleader – which appears to be some kind of guide in which you trace your pattern shape onto a thin plastic sheet and it helps guide your progress; and the punchcard reader takes a 24-stich card.  The old one was from a short-lived period before the 24-stitch card was standardized, there are plenty of patterns that can be halved, but there are a lot more available that cross 24 stitches.

For the recipient of the KH 800, there is a really good video on troubleshooting the card reader – I never got around to that fix.  I’m happy to try to fix it with you, if you’d like!

I looked at the KH 881, and I don’t think it needs a new sponge bar, that seems to be one of the first things that break down, but this one seems to be in ok condition.  I cleaned and oiled and tried to assess if there were missing parts.  So far, it seems like the only missing thing is the extension rails for the lace carriage.  Luckily, there are still shops that sell parts, even if no one is apparently manufacturing new machines of this type anymore.

By the way, while the Brother FTP site seems to be down (unless they moved or something), I found a great many knitting machine manuals over on this site:  http://machineknittingetc.com/ and specifically Brother manuals (even some service manuals) on the Mostly Knitting Machines site.

Investigating my new machines will keep me busy for quite some time, I am sure.  As will finding new places in my house to stash my new equipment!

Until next time, keep those needle-beds clacking…


We now return you to the original purpose of this blog…

Way back when (in 2009), I started this blog with the purpose of recording my journey through The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA) Master Knitter program.  My craft interests, and thus this blog, have taken a circuitous journey since then.

The Master Knitter program is a correspondence program designed to test a knitter’s ability and comprehension of knitting technique, history, application, and design.  Much like an academic Master’s program (ask me how I know), there is a lot of research, writing, practice, and independent learning required.  TKGA also offers correspondence courses aimed at teaching beginner and intermediate knitters that have more hands-on help from instructors, if you do not feel you are at a level where “mastery” might be in your grasp.  For the Master Hand Knitter program, the expectation is that while you may not be at a “master” level when you begin, through the questions and assignments of the program, you will learn independently, and when your work is evaluated to mark a high level of understanding and achievement, you can pass onto the next level.

How long?  There are three levels to the program, and I passed Level 1 back in 2010.  Considering the rather slow pace of knitting projects in the past few years, completing something on that scale in just 22 months seems kind of extraordinary when I look back.  Although at the time, I was chagrined that it took me so long.  In any case, my husband has just started a Ph.D. program this fall, and our joking challenge to each other is that we are having a race – me to finish the 2nd and 3rd levels to be officially a “master knitter”, and him to earn a Ph.D.  Right now, I consider it fairly even odds… and considering that he is taking the program part-time and it may take him more than 4 years just to complete the coursework (let alone dissertation), you can guess that I’m expecting a slow slog on my end.

What’s my motivation?  Unlike my with husband’s PhD, achieving this Master Knitter distinction probably won’t immediately lead to new job prospects – maybe for some it would, but not for me.  I’m already in a career I like.  I do hope to be a knitting teacher, artist, and knitwear designer in my retirement career, but I’m a looooong way from retirement.  I probably have a good 20 years or more (the way they keep pushing back those things) before full-time knitter/artist becomes my new line of work.  So the Master Knitter distinction wouldn’t get me anything in the immediate sense other than a sense of accomplishment, and probably some props from other knitters.  I think there might also be a shiny pin.

Instead, the real benefit is the motivation to learn and challenge myself to be a better knitter.  I haven’t knit much in the last 4 years.  Between work pressures, finishing that other kind of Master’s, some issues with having a baby, and then actually having a baby, my knitting energy and enthusiasm slowed down for a while.  I’ve been disappointed, as I’ve gotten my mojo back, at how much I feel like my skills have atrophied.  And how slow I knit now!  It’s time to get back on the proverbial horse, get back to the program, and start “leveling up” as a knitter again!

The cost:  Back in 2010, when I passed Level I, I purchased Level II for $95 (the price appears to have been raised to $97 since).  In addition, in order to interact with the program (i.e., buy a level, or submit anything), you must also be a current member of TKGA.  This is, currently, $35/year with possible discounts for choosing the digital subscription to Cast-On magazine or for going with the two-year membership.

Then there are yarn costs:  There are some worsted weight swatches, a couple of laceweight swatches, a colorwork wristlet, one argyle sock (although seriously, I’m going to want to knit a pair so my husband can wear them once approved), and a vest required.  I might actually be able to manage all of this from stash, as I think I optimistically bought all the materials needed back when I purchased the level… the only question is whether I used some of it up for other projects in the meantime.

The requirements (as of Rev. 5/1/15):

Written materials:  A 3-page report on the history of knitting, four book reviews, 16 questions, gauge worksheets based on a couple of the swatches, and a written pattern for one of the swatches.

Knitted materials:  

  • 19 swatches – mostly demonstrating finishing techniques like seaming, buttonholes, and necklines, but also some for colorwork, lace, and demonstrating cable problem-solving,
  • a fair-isle wristlet
  • an argyle sock – demonstrating intarsia and duplicate stitch, as well as sock construction and seaming (because the fancy part of the argyle sock is knit flat!)
  • a vest… I think it’s supposed to have side seams – but maybe there’s an exception if you want to do Fair Isle… I need to find out more as I do love the look of Fair Isle vests.

I think I’m most intimidated by the prospect of the vest and sock, since I haven’t finished anything that technical or shaped or large (in stitch count) in a very long time!

Until next time, keep those needles clicking…


Knitting with scales

‘Tis the season for me to obsess about costumes.  For most of the year my crafting obsessions are largely to do with gifts, or sometimes a new thing for home or everyday apparel.  But in June, just before my favorite (and sometimes only) gaming convention of the year, I think obsessively about what new technique-y thing I can learn to make my costume-idea-du-jour the most awesome.

Every year, I try to add a few new things to the costumes I wear to the June gaming convention.  This year, I have too many ideas left over from last year, plus new ideas. Last year’s innovations included prosthetic ears, wigs that I learned to style myself, and a new bustle and overskirt.  And the effect was awesome!

Also, I have since realized, that I’m not just a person who attends convention in costume, I am a cosplayer.  I didn’t realize until last year, that cosplayers weren’t some special people doing something different than me, it’s a thing I also do.  If you, like me, don’t know much about the word “cosplay”, it means that you like to dress up in costume just for fun (probably at appropriate venues, where other people are in costume, like a geek-culture convention of some sort), beyond something you would do for work (say, if you worked at a museum), beyond historical reenactment activities, and beyond halloween.  You just like to assemble and wear elaborate costumes (you can buy or make them).  And it doesn’t have to be a costume representing a specific character from a movie, graphic novel or book (another area in which I was confused).  So far, I dress up in costumes as a character of my own creation.  But down the road, I have a vaguely formed wish to make a costume to represent each of the Pathfinder Iconics in a victoriana-ish style, just to meld together some disparate geek passions of mine.

So I actually did accomplish a lot of new things on the costume front last year despite May having a nearly-walking baby to chase after, a husband finishing graduate school, a graduation, and getting the longest-lasting cold of my life.

One of last year’s ideas that I never capitalized on was the idea of knitting with scales.  The Crafty Mutt has some beautiful tutorials and patterns, and there are sellers on Etsy with finished projects for sale as well if you are intimidated by the idea of knitting with scales.  From what I could find though, The Crafty Mutt seems to be the only one out there designing patterns for knitting with scales.

I picked up Crafty Mutt’s “Knitted Scale Mail Gloves” and “Scale Choker” patterns, and got myself a big sack of various scales from TheRingLord.com.  Ready, set, knit!

Buying Scales: 

For the patterns I bought, the needed size was the “small” scales from TheRingLord.com (other places sell scales for scale-mail too, and their are some etched ones on Etsy, but this was the best place I could find good deals on bulk plain scales).  I got some polycarbonate plastic and some aluminum. They are all very lightweight individually, but since I was buying online, I couldn’t be sure, so I planned my project to be mostly comprised of black plastic scales.  I don’t think it will matter for the gloves so much, but I also have a notion to convert the design into knitted scale spats, and I think at that quantity, and because they would be worn vertically, the scaled material might be too heavy for the fabric and sag.

I also went mostly plastic because they are much cheaper:  bag of 1000 plastic was $0.01 per scale vs. aluminum which are about $0.03 per scale.

I figured that even if I hated knitting with scales, I could probably make some jewelry out of the metal ones, so I did get a variety of small packs to experiment with, as well as a sampler pack of different sized scales.

Knitting with Scales:

Not nearly as difficult as I feared.  I’ve never even knitted with beads before (although I always fancied that I would at some point).  The hole on the scales is pretty huge, so even though you stick your needle in the hole and pull the yarn through, it’s not too difficult.  I had some trouble getting the scales oriented the way I wanted on my swatch, but figured it out half-way through.  Crafty Mutt’s directions are really quite good, but it might be worth re-reading the section on scale orientation.  I noticed that in some of the other projects that people show on Ravelry, their scales are sticking out funny.  I had this problem too in my swatch, until I realized that I was not following the directions correctly.  Each scale should be curved inward towards the fabric when you put it on the needle, but the act of pulling the stitch through flips the end-point of the scale to the wrong direction (vertically up instead of down).  Before you knit the next stitch, you manually rotate the point downward and lock it in with the new stitch. When I did it this correct way, the scales hugged the fabric nicely, making the scales naturally lay in a nice smooth fashion.

 My tension on this project is also pretty loose and the non-scale fabric pretty squishy, so that may be a factor in them laying nicely too, but I think the biggest factor is how the legs of the stitch pull the scale down and inward when you get it right.

Before long, I was whipping through the rows pretty fast.  Since the fabric is just garter stitch, the yarn is worsted, and the scale-attachment is only for 6 stitches every other row, it really moves quite quickly.  Happy day!  I might get this part of the costume done before the convention!  Even if I only knit during commutes!


Reviewing craft storage – Recollections Combo Cube

With a craft studio move planned for over the summer, I was given some birthday money to spend on craft storage solutions.  This coincided with a sale at Michael’s on storage items, and I was able to pick up some of the Recollections line of storage cubes.  I was intrigued by their relative cheapness per unit and modularity, but I thought I should test out one or two before envisioning some long-term project to line my entire future studio with these modules.

Here is a brief review of the second cube that I have assembled: 

The Recollections Combo Cube, or 2-shelf with 2 drawer cube

Cost:  Regular price $39.99, ding & dent price $9.99

In the box:  Various panels, assembly hardware (screws, dowels), a drawer pull, and some decorative screw/dowel hole covers.

Some assembly required:  Let me preface this comment by saying that I enjoy assembling, following directions, I build with LEGO even as an adult, and I generally like putting things together.  I found this overall FUN to assemble.  The parts are all labeled, small hardware is in labeled bags, the instructions are very nice and clear, i.e., attach A to B using screws from bag #8.  So easy.  Everything was machined very precisely, I had no adjustments to make.

Drawer pull, screws would not go in easily/straight

The main parts of the cube were easy to assemble, although unlike with the last cube, I did have trouble screwing in the drawer-pulls on this cube.  It felt like those pilot holes were not large enough or something.    I have read a lot of reviews where people were very intimidated by the assembly of this item, or had difficulty with the assembly.  I can only say that I had no major problems with the ones I have worked on.

Quality of materials:  I go on a bit about what MDF is, and how I feel about it in my first post on the Michael’s storage cube line.  The short version is that I would have expected a little damage to the corners anyway due to the nature of MDF materials and the way these products are packaged.  I was pleasantly surprised by the first cube’s relatively good condition, and entirely unsurprised that my “ding and dent” cube had some slightly crushed corners.  I will also say that Recollections customer service was very kind and sent out replacement hardware for me with relatively little effort on my part, since my “ding and dent” cube was missing some screws and such.  And to be clear, I don’t have a problem with some minor dings in my cubes, even if I had bought them at “regular” sale prices, because I expect that these cubes are not going to stay pristine in my working studio space.

The one hardware issue is worth mentioning again – I didn’t even try the strange domed hole covers this time.  I went straight for the little white vinyl stickers as an alternate solution to covering the holes.  This worked just fine, and isn’t terribly noticeable, but again, some people might be disappointed by the look.

Use:  I haven’t put it through it’s paces over time yet, so I will update this later when I see how it holds up.  My expectation with MDF is that if the unit is exposed to any flexion through rough use or moving while full (or disassembly, which I don’t intend), the screws would begin to strip the small particles within the screw holes.  Over time, this would break down the units to a point of unusability, so I plan to be as careful as I reasonably can be when it comes to moving them around and ultimately moving them into the new space.

Drawers just rests inside open area, no stops or tracks

Deep drawers hold Sizzix Bigz dies with ease

With a couple of horizontal shelves, this cube has at last provided me with a place to store some 12×12″ paper pads.  [Update:  this may not be ideal for the paper pads either!  See my note at the bottom of the post.]  Because paper pads are so dense and heavy, I discovered that the Hanging File cube from Recollections is really better for loose 12×12 papers.  Now that I’ve got a couple of these 12×12″ shelves, I might go for the 4-shelf organizer as my next cube purchase to give myself more room for those paper pads.  But I think I better wait until I’ve moved my studio at this point, since I still have a rolling shelf set to build and I’ve largely run out of floor space.  The two drawers are quite spacious and kind of deep.  I think they will work for large dies like the “Bigz” Sizzix dies, of which I have many.  My only concern is that since the drawers are not on rails (they just float in there), I might pull too far for the weight of a heavily-loaded drawer and have an unpleasant experience when they all drop (on my feet, perhaps).  I’ll try to be mindful of it, but I also have a small child “helper”, so who knows what might happen – I’m going to try to keep him away from it..

Two Recollections storage cubes stacked

As part of a storage system:  Now that I have two cubes, I can check out the stacking aspect.  Each cube includes stacking dowels (or caps if you aren’t planning to stack), to make a sturdier tower of cubes.  Don’t take that “tower” idea too far, I think they recommend going no more than 3 cubes high.      was skeptical at first that the four little dowels would really make a sturdy tower, but it does feel really secure.  It took a little maneuvering and patience to get the dowels all lined up just right, it’s a snug fit.  In fact, I suspect that if I tried to unstack them, I’d need a helper and maybe a pair of pliers to get the dowels out.  I don’t feel like it’s going to tip, the sides are all very flush and smooth, and it looks great as one 2-cube tall unit.

Verdict:  I’m actually more excited about this versatile cube now that it’s finished than I was about the uni-tasking hanging file cube.  Time will tell how well they hold up to the usual craft-room adventures, the rearrangement, and so forth.  And time will also tell if those drawers end up causing a problem with heavy paper-cutting dies in them, if I find something lighter to store in their unusual dimensions, or what!  Overall, I still appreciate the quality-for-price ratio of the Recollections storage cube line, I think the look is plain but not distracting, and I think their storage versatility means they deserve a place in my craft room.  I plan to buy at least one more of them.

Update:  A few weeks after assembly, I was working with the dies that were stored in the drawers of this combo-cube and I discovered a problem.  The shelf just above the drawers, currently holding a couple of12x12″ paper pads, was so bowed by weight that after the drawer was removed, I couldn’t put the drawer back because the shelf above the drawers dipped down into the space required by the top edge of the drawer.  Argh!  Now, as soon as I removed the paper, I was able to get the drawer back in, so it’s not permanently warped – yet.  I don’t think this bodes well for my idea of getting a 4-shelf cube for 12×12″ paper pads.  I think the MDF might be too flexible to store such heavy things well.  I’ll have to give it some thought.