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.


A Knitter’s Fantasy workshop

For the second time, I have had the delightful opportunity to attend a workshop in Youngstown, Ohio called “A Knitter’s Fantasy”.

The workshop has, in the past, been run as a rotation among three Ohio knitting guilds.  I understand however that the event has become too much work for one of the guilds involved, and it may no longer occur at all in future years.  It is too bad, because it is a wonderful event for attendees, although I can’t imagine the amount of work that is probably put on a few individuals from each guild.

The format of the workshop is what makes it really amazing, it’s like a mini-convention or expo (comparing to my other niche-hobby frames of reference:  boardgaming and quilting).  For $45 (this year), you get admission to a charming “Yarn Market” of about 20 or so vendors, access to a morning class and an afternoon class, and a lunch.  There is also a fashion show at lunch, door prizes, a “swap” table where knitters can destash and other knitters can pick up free yarn, tools and patterns, and, for the two years that I have attended, there has also been a demonstration room for machine knitting hosted by a machine-knitting guild.

The classes themselves are what really make this event great.  As far as I understand, all of the teachers are volunteering their time.  The cost of attendance is included in the $45, but some classes cost an additional small fee for materials or extensive hand-outs.  I find the quality of teaching and/or expertise of the teacher has varied widely, but all the classes have still been a lot of fun.  One year, for example, I took Tunisian crochet and the intended teacher had gotten sick, so two very enthusiastic volunteers learned the skill the night before, printed lots of handouts, and ran a great class!  It was tough for them to answer questions of any depth, however, I really felt that they made the class fun and I did successfully learn the basic Tunisian crochet pattern.

knitted broomstick lace swatch

Swatch of Knitted Broomstick Lace that I worked on in class

This year, I learned the Broomstick Lace knit stitch.    I was hoping there was a little more to the class than just the one stitch, as I have tried a little crocheted broomstick lace and there is a lot you can do with the crocheted version.  I’m not sure if there’s a lot you can do with the knit version, because the class really only covered the one stitch.  It was a tricky stitch to learn though, so I’m glad to have had the class to help me get into it.  If you’re curious, there is a very good video on this technique here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GerQQRmTuc0

Her written knitted broomstick lace pattern actually makes a little more sense than the version I was given in the class, which caused a lot of confusion for myself and other class participants.  Luckily, the teacher was able to straighten us out.

The Freeform Knitting class was really my favorite of this year.  The teacher, Sandy Hardy, was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable.  Someone had volunteered a load of plain and novelty yarns, and everyone was encouraged to bring in yarns to share as well.  This is the first time I’ve seen novelty yarns really go to an amazing and versatile use! Usually, I think of “novelty yarns” as the uni-taskers of the yarn world – they might do one thing really well, but you’re probably not going to want an every-day sweater out of it, and the appeal of the item you make might be limited to just a year or two before the look is out of style.  Normally I approach novelty yarns with extreme caution, but after this exciting class I’m wondering where I can get a grab-bag or someone’s destash!

Sandy began the class by trying to establish a relaxing atmosphere for creative exploration of a knitting form that is really versatile.  She then encouraged all the students to grab yarns from the share table, and gently pushed students with more subdued palettes to add in bits of yarn with more sparkle and contrasting color.

We received a handout with lots of resources as well as a few basic stitches, and she coached us through starting a mitered or garter block as a foundation, and then picking up stitches to make small units that could be pieced together later for handbags or other items.

Sandy had the most amazing example piece that she had created.

freeform knit purse by Sandy Hardy

Gorgeous Freeform knit purse by Sandy Hardy, front (photo used with permission)

She used a purse-form from a local yarn store (River Color Studio, which is my favorite yarn store, in Lakewood, OH, just sadly not very local to me anymore), but mentioned that plastic needlepoint canvas should work as well as a stabilizer and foundation to sew on the modular units.  I did admire the purse-form she had, as it was more flexible than rigid plastic canvas, however, I haven’t found the exact same thing online yet. [Update:  Sandy emailed me a link to the Lacis catalog, search TM22 to find the plastic mesh frame she used in her example.]  I think I might do ok with buckram (a stiffened linen) for my purposes.

From the resources in Sandy’s handouts, and the books she passed around, it seems like one of the luminaries of the freeform knitting arena is Prudence Mapstone.  Check out Ms. Mapstone’s inspiring freeform knitting gallery!

To add to the spirit of adventure, Sandy walked around the room and dropped small crocheted buttons or contrasting bits of yarn on the students’ desks and encouraged them to figure out how to add these extra bits.  I was very impressed by how she really got everyone to move beyond their comfort zones, and I found it quite liberating myself to stop thinking about pattern or count, and just pickup and add stitches, decrease and increase willy-nilly!

Gorgeous Freeform knit purse by Sandy Hardy, back (photo used with permission)

Gorgeous Freeform knit purse by Sandy Hardy, back (photo used with permission)

Just one more testament to Sandy’s skill as a teacher: in addition to teaching veteran knitters, there were actually two brand-new beginning knitters that had just learned to knit in a morning class and she coached them with equal finesse in the art of freeform knitting.  I think I remember that the brief teacher bios said that Sandy holds a TKGA educator certificate of some kind.  I’ll have to find out more about this, as I would like to try my hand at teaching again some day after I’ve gotten a little farther in the Master Knitter program.

The final dose of inspiration in the freeform knitting class was that one of the students happened to have a needle-felted handbag, which prompted a lot of discussion about the possibilities of needle felting by machine (either dedicated machines or with a needle-felting attachment to a regular sewing machine).  Thinking about this in context with freeform knitting had me visualizing all kinds of fun hybrid pieces with knit, crocheted, needle-felted, and sewn embellishments.

freeform knit swatch

The beginnings of my first freeform knitting project


My mind has been whirling ever since!  I hope I can capitalize on this momentum and have a great project or two to share in the next few months!


Spencerian Penmanship Theory – A review

In my quest to improve my handwriting, I have picked up some interesting reproductions of the Spencerian Penmanship school books that would have been widely used in the American classroom from the 1850s until about 1900 as more simplified, easier to teach writing styles became more popular.

My hope is that by reading (and in some parts re-reading repetitiously) the theory book, and doing the exercises (which will probably take me at least 50 hours, at a guess), I can really begin to retrain my hand/mind so that I can write with a script I can be happy with.

I’ll discuss my progress with the copy books in a later post, but the reason for obtaining the Theory book might be less self-evident, so I want to review the Theory book first.

The book

Disclaimer:  I’m trying something a little new here.  I’ve never made money from this site, and I’m not sure I ever will, but I want to try the whole “monetize by affiliate linking” experiment.  I apparently get over 350 viewers per month, and only one of them is my husband, so I assume everyone else who visits my site is lead here by search engines.  I am delighted that you’re visiting, and I have had an uptick in “likes” and “followers” lately.  I guess that means I’m writing about something that some people want to hear about.  But I don’t really know what lead you here.

So if this new commercial gesture offends some, I do apologize, but if people are here because they like my reviews, perhaps they will be interested in helping me buy more crafty things to review. As a matter of course, I was going to link to Amazon anyway, just to show you the book I’m talking about. Now perhaps, the links will do something for me.

Spencerian Penmanship (Theory Book)

If you buy the books from either of the links to Amazon on this page, I will apparently get some tiny percentage back as an “advertising” fee. However, my review as follows is my very honest unbiased own opinion, I bought the book with my own money earned from my day job, and I don’t need you to buy the book to eat, so please don’t feel obliged.

The texture of history

First, let me say that these are LOVINGLY reproduced books. When I bought this sight-unseen, I assumed like many historical reproductions that it would be a cheaply produced, copy of a ditto of a typed-on-a-typewriter reproduction with blotchy inscrutable copies of the woodcuts.  Instead, everything is nicely laid out with a crisp and clean font, and a modern sensibility for interline spacing.  All the diagrams of pen strokes have been redone, and the woodcuts that are present are as cleanly reproduced as one could hope for, given that they are presumably based on woodcuts from over 150 years ago.  The cover has a vellum-like satiny finish which I find to be an interesting texture, and is printed to graphically evoke a leather-bound book.  The pages themselves feel nicer than cheap copy paper, which is more than I expected.

Hand positioning for geeks

The Spencerian Penmanship Theory book goes into exhaustive and pedantic detail about every angle of how one should sit, how one should precisely hold a pen, what exact strokes make up the foundations of writing, exactly what angle the downstroke and connecting stroke should have to the horizontal, and so forth.  This is NOT going to be entertaining to everyone.  It’s pedantic and dry, and there are some terms and definitions that simply do not match up with the modern world.  Of course, I found it charming.

Reading this Theory book, I can really visualize the Victorian era classroom, the schoolmarm or master drilling fidgety pupils at little wooden desks in one-room schoolhouses or boarding schools.  It’s so Anne of Green Gables.  So charming!

And it’s such a product of the rote style of learning era, drilled questions, “measure and analyze the Capital C”,  “describe and form the First Principle “, etc.  And yet, I feel like I can get a lot out of some of the repetition.  I am finding myself opening the theory book every time I sit down to write, just to re-read the hand-position section in the beginning of the book.  I think I need to try the rote/repetitious style in order to overcome nearly 30 years of bad handwriting habits.

Here is my “normal” hand position.  I clearly need help!

hand gripping pencil in a fist

My lousy default hand position

Exhaustively detailed letter forms

The part I found less entertaining comprised the latter two-thirds of the book.  It contains lengthy descriptions of each letter and number form in a question-answer format.  I do think I will enjoy referencing this section as I approach each letter form through the practice exercises in the Copy Books.  But not being interested in memorizing the entire book like a 19th century school kid, it makes for a fairly dull read-through.


Adults:  If you are an adult trying to reteach yourself beautiful handwriting, I think you should only consider this book if you are:

  • Charmed by “old-timey” books or historical reproductions
  • Have a historical or re-enactment reason for wanting to pursue Spencerian handwriting
  • Learn really well from reading (there are not tons of diagrams for hand position)

I kind of fit all of the above.

Teaching Children:  If you are trying to teach your child cursive handwriting, consider whether your child learns well by doing drills.  If so, this might be a really excellent guidebook, but the rote methods of learning aren’t really in favor in the education world these days.  I won’t be able to test it out on my kid for many years yet, and I think I might consider modifying it for a modern audience unless he really wants to play “historical schoolroom” or something.  That is, assuming he’s even interested in learning cursive, because I’m 99% certain that no style of cursive will be taught in school by the time he goes through and I’m not going to force it on him.

If none of the above reasons apply, and/or you learn better by watching, there are a number of good videos out there that will demonstrate the hand position or the motions of writing.  Here’s a video demonstrating hand position that I thought was very nice (her old hand position looks a bit like my default one!). I’m sure it didn’t hurt me to get a look at someone practicing the skill.

hand writing in copy book

Better grip (correct? time will tell) as influenced by the Spencerian Penmanship Theory book, writing in Copy Book 1


I’ll review the copy books fully in a later post, but whether or not you get the Theory book, if you are on a mission to try Spencerian cursive, you should strongly consider the set of copy books.  I don’t think the Theory book really “works” without the scripted exercises in the Copy Book series.  You essentially spend an entire page working on the downslanted stroke, another page working on a downslant plus the connecting stroke, and eventually work your way up to letters, words, and phrases.  You might be able to find downloads of the copy books somewhere on the internet, because I think the whole lot fell out of copyright at some point before being picked up by the current publisher.  I could not find them, but didn’t try very hard since the set of reproduced copybooks seemed worth a shot.

Spencerian Copybooks 1-5, Set, without Theory Book (Spencerian Penmanship)

FTC disclosure:  Within this post, I have used some “affiliate links” which means that if you end up buying the listed product from Amazon.com, I will supposedly get a small percentage as an “advertising fee”.  So far, this is a hypothetical situation, as I have just started trying it out.  I am only going to share links of items that have been useful to me.  I am not going to write a more favorable review in the hopes that someone buys something.  So far, I have bought all the items reviewed.  Thus far, no brand or company has come by offering to give me product in exchange for reviews, however, I am open to that as long as you don’t expect an uncritical review of your brand/product.


The art of writing by hand

It’s been a severe limitation in my paper-craft journey that I truly, passionately hate my handwriting.  Whether block letters or script, my writing has always looked (to my eye) crabbed at best and sloppy at worst.   

The best I can say about it is that I think it’s legible, I’ve never had anyone comment that they couldn’t read it.  But not at all beautiful.  I’ve even had it suggested that perhaps I was really meant to be left-handed because my handwriting is so lousy.  I do have several reasons to believe that I was born to be ambidextrous, but the fact is that I learned most skills right-handed so the left hand just doesn’t have the fine motor practice for me to particularly want to train it in skills that the right hand already performs adequately.

While I’m not one of those who lament that no one learns cursive in schools, I do think it’s a valuable skill for many artistic reasons.  How can I make a beautifully titled page or do journaling that I’ll want to look back on if I can’t write beautifully?  I also adore the look of the recently-launched Ali Edwards subscription stamp club, but they seem pricey to me (especially if you also add the cost of her associated monthly Story Kit, which I want too), and what I really love about her stamps is that the style of writing on them is so juicy and vibrant.  What if I could write like that?  I could save a lot of money and a lot of fuss just by being able to write titles in a style that I like.  Not to mention the joy of being able to title things with my own words rather than what some other artist put on a stamp.  My story = my words, right?

I recently read that “there are a surprising number of people who do wish their handwriting was better”, from an article extolling the virtues of good penmanship from The Art of Manliness, (which, as a disclaimer, is a strange website and I can’t claim to understand or have an opinion on it’s point of view, I just enjoyed the article about cursive).  It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my wish to write more beautifully.  I have noticed this theme in real life as well, as many people comment on the typewriter in my office (we have required paper triplicate forms, I hate my handwriting, ergo typewriter), my response about my hated handwriting more often than not elicits a comment about the visitor’s own dislike for their handwriting.

I won’t belabor the history and practice of script-style writing versus block lettering versus machine-printing, there are a lot of great resources on the web to tell you about the evolution from Spencerian to Palmer to D’Nealian (including the article mentioned above).  What really jumps out at me is that the trend that was in place when I was a child was to make the cursive easier to learn at the expense of beauty.  I’m not faulting the schooling practice, and arguably the cursive form was already quite redundant and useless by the time I reached adulthood.  I’ve only ever used it to write checks after the grade-school learning process, and checks are nearly outmoded by electronic billing.  But maybe if the focus were on beautiful penmanship, a generation of now-adults wouldn’t hate their handwriting.  I have a feeling that beautiful cursive leads to better block letters, too.

So in the last couple of years since I’ve taken up paper crafts, I’ve felt increasingly convinced that I need to re-teach myself writing, both script and better block lettering.  I adore typography, and I have some artistic hand skills, so why can’t I work on perfecting some hand-drawn letter forms?

For a recent pocket scrapbook page, I even went so far as to seek out gorgeous handwriting-like fonts, learn how to use Inkscape since I no longer have access to Illustrator (a vector-based drawing program good for formatting type blocks with more flexibility than word-processor programs), set up a pocket-card sized template, typed up my journaling and titles, printed them onto transparency film, cut them to fit photo-pockets…. and all so I could avoid putting my ugly handwriting directly onto my pretty paper title and journal cards in my scrapbook.  The technique turned out beautifully, but I have to say I’m rather daunted by doing that process again.  And it also looks a touch impersonal.  I don’t think I can avoid it much longer, I’m a hand-craft kind of person, so I really need to work on my handwriting.

And to do this, I need practice.  

Some resources for writing practice workbooks:

Peterson Handwriting

Donna Young’s Cursive Handwriting

  • The Donna Young website also includes Free Printable Handwriting Paper including the 1/4″ size that might be suitable for adults trying to improve their script writing

I’m also eagerly awaiting some Spencerian copy books, which I hope to review in a later post.