Posted by: jinniver | July 3, 2008

Improvise, adapt, and overcome

I heard that phrase quite a lot during my Navy career.  We used it most often during my first tour, on USS NASSAU (LHA 4).  NASSAU is an amphibious assault ship, specially designed to transport large numbers of Marines and support them during an assault.  It looks sort of like an aircraft carrier, with the large flight deck, but it has a special ability aircraft carriers don’t–it can be partially sunk in order to flood a well deck inside the ship to launch small boats.  It’s also one of the few conventional steam ships left in the US Navy.

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I loved my entire tour on NASSAU–my job in engineering, all three of my commanding officers, and the ship’s mission (including the evacuation of non-combatants from Albania in 1997).  The only thing I didn’t love was that amphibious warfare tended to be pretty near the bottom of the Navy’s priorities.  Aircraft carriers and the flashy cruisers and destroyers–they got all the support and money they needed.  Amphibs (also known as ‘gators) weren’t cool and didn’t have all the wonderful new technology that made them popular to support, so Gator Sailors learned to make do.  In training, in maintenance, and even during missions, we prided ourselves in improvising, adapting, and overcoming.

Nassau003_edited

These days, my ability to improvise, adapt, and overcome isn’t quite so life-or-death critical, of course…especially when it comes to knitting.  But I still like flexing my imagination and ingenuity at times, if only for the satisfaction of doing it.  So when I realized I was about to reach the end of the ball of yarn I was using to knit my Doodle Shrug, and I hadn’t yet balled the second skein, I knew improvising, adapting, and overcoming was called for.

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I’d meant to have this balled the last time I was at Knotty Girl, once Gloria balled up the first yarn I handed her.  Unfortunately, that skein was so badly tangled that we had to untangle the entire thing by hand, with each of us working from one end, before we could finally use the ball winder.  Remembering back to when I’d balled the first skein of the above yarn, it had been a nightmare that had taken me a couple hours.  So I wasn’t willing to inflict that on poor Gloria.  And now there I was, an unwound skein in one hand, a WIP in the other, and a strong desire to keep knitting.

At least this time I had an actual swift–handmade with all of the focus on function and none on form–but perfectly serviceable.  I realized that there was one other tool that could make my winding experience much better:  a nostepinne.

I’d never heard of a nostepinne until Ravelry, when someone asked about it.  One of the many helpful souls posted a link to her blog where she not only described the use of a nostepinne with step-by-step pictures, she even had a video of herself using one.  Quite simply, a nostepinne is a cylindrical tool used to turn a skein into a yarn cake, by wrapping the yarn around it.  There are some gorgeous and intricate nostepinnes out there, and someday–someday–I’d like to own one.  But right now I don’t…and I needed one quick.  As the website mentions, however, there’s no need for a fancy nostepinne, since something as simple as an empty paper towel roll will do.

I knew I wanted something smaller, especially since the skein I was winding wasn’t that big.  And I just liked the idea of the feel of wood.  So I dug through my collection of bamboo DPNs and pulled out the thickest one I could find–a 7″ size US15.  I’d hoped for something bigger, but that was the largest I had so I figured I’d give it a shot.

nostepinne (2)

So I got the skein set up on the swift and started wrapping the yarn around the DPN-nostepinne.  The advantage over my previous method–wrapping around my fingers several times and then using that as the basis for a center-pull ball–was immediately obvious.  Doing it the old way, I dropped that tiny starter ball more times than I could count.  It also tended to tangle, so I pulled out a lot of knots at first when knitting from the new ball, but I wasn’t going to know until I was done whether the nostepinne solved that problem.  Still, once I fixed the twist I had in the skein on the swift, the ball spun up in a matter of minutes.  Even though I was trying a completely new technique after watching a video twice, I had my first yarn cake in about ten minutes.

nostepinne (4) nostepinne

Isn’t it pretty?  It’s not quite as a neat a cake as my LYS can whip up on the ball winder, but that’ll come with practice.  Still, it’s much neater than any ball I’ve hand-wound before, and it does have a nice flat bottom (the top’s a little more domed, but since that’s where I pull the yarn out of it doesn’t matter) to set the cake down on.  And I have determined that the yarn pulls out of the center of a cake like a knife slides through butter.  I am definitely a believer in the power of the nostepinne…even if I have to improvise with a DPN.


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  1. […] Improvise, adapt, and overcomeI heard that phrase quite a lot during my Navy career. We used it most often during my first tour, on USS NASSAU (LHA 4). NASSAU is an amphibious assault ship, specially designed to transport large numbers of Marines and support them … […]


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