Yarn Snobbery: Justified?

Yarn-Snob-Pin-IvoryIf I’ve learned anything hanging out with knitting types is that there are varying levels of yarn snobbery.

I’ve met them before: the true, honest-to-god-, in the wild, classic yarn snob.  These are the people who only knit 100% natural fibers, usually with the highest price tag, and shrivel at the notion of touching any man-made fiber.   I’ve actually had a classic yarn snob say to me with a straight face that they were allergic to acrylic yarns and meant it. I’m not saying that an acrylic allergy is impossible but the gut hunch in this situation was this person felt the need to justify their fiber extravagance with a statement that many wouldn’t go out of the way to question.

There’s another classification of yarn snob; the acrylic snob.  Yes, they actually exist, and usually stand aghast in a local yarn store when they see the price of high-end yarns.  These folks love their yarn work, but they can’t justify the cost of pricier yarns for a myriad of reasons.

Both sides of the snobbery fence can make beautiful knitted or crocheted projects out of their materials of choice; and often stand in judgement on one side of the fence or the other.  The classic snobs are seen as pretentous the acrylic snobs are accused of beign cheap. Is it really worth it to park firmly in one camp or the other?

That answer is NAH!

I’ll admit that I’ve railed against certain brands of mass-produced commercial yarns (cough cough Red Heart cough cough) but even it has its purpose in the crafting world.  Most beginning knitters and crocheters begin with these types of yarns.  I fall into that category, dozens of projects were hooked in my childhood and teenage years.  Honestly, chain craft store yarn was really the only thing available to me for a very long time, and I really didn’t know any better.  I learned to knit in my 20s on the same yarns, and then I eventually wandered into local yarn shop and my knitwork began to change dramatically, and went through a few solid years of classic yarn snobbery.  It was lacework that forced me down the classic snob path, and I still won’t use a anything but a natural fiber for the thinnest of yarns, personally, I think it’s a risk to do fine lace work and then not have it block out correctly because of a too high man-made fiber content.

Being a classic yarn snob is expensive as hell though, and I evolved into a yarn connoisseur by necessity and a great deal of crafters fall into the connoisseur category.

Connoisseurs have learned the pros and cons to different fiber types and blends of those types.  An 100% acrylic yarn can’t be traditionally blocked and may not be the best for a garment, but an acrylic yarn with a 20-30% natural fiber content will block beautifully most of the time instead of dropping $150+ for higher end natural yarns for a sweater.  We’ve learned that there are some projects that an inexpensive acrylic yarn can really be the best choice, especially for items that could really end up taking a beating like toys and some afghans.  We’ve learned that the super squishy soft cashmere and wool blend would be gorgeous for that baby sweater for a friend but know that it would realistically be a burden on a new parent to have to hand wash it so it’ll end up worn once and put in a drawer, so we find a soft, washer and dryer friendly yarn instead. We all know that one craft-worthy friend that simply can’t wear animal fiber due to allergy or lifestyle choices, blends of cottons, bamboo, viscose, or other materials are acquired. Knowing fiber types and how they function and are made go a long way, and is absolutely worth taking the time to learn, and help others learn that walking down the middle path of yarn acquisition isn’t a bad idea.

While introducing crafty types to different yarns and manufacturing processes – they learn how to make an educated decision for their individual project needs.  But, what one ultimately chooses is entirely personal choice. Yep, totally personal choice.  Curling your nose and someone’s choice of yarn isn’t polite.

I personally prefer animal fiber or mostly animal fiber blends for myself.  I will admit that this preference isn’t the most budget friendly at times, but it helps if you have a talent for catching a good sale here and there.  If you take a good look at my horde though, you’ll find a pretty fair split between high-end animal fibers, and animal fiber and man-made fiber blends.  There’s even a fair amount of acrylics for oddball needs here and there.  It’s a balanced horde, and one I’ve sworn to work from for quite a while (well, unless someone asks me to knit them something specific as a commissioned project).

 

All in all, to each their own, it all really boils down to we’re making stuff for ourselves, and for others, and are having a great time doing it.

May Craftalong Schedule

At last, scheduled events are popping up again for Coffee and Wool, after taking a hiatus to get things reset and do my best to be helpful with the closure of Yarn Rhapsody.  It’s going to feel strange not walking into the shop on Saturdays like I have nearly every one for the past year.

With that tremendous change, of course a lot of how I manage events has changed as well. There’s a page with the new policies, procedures, and definitions for classes and craftalongs just for reference. You can read that here.  If over a couple of months I feel the new class and craftalong layout isn’t working, I’ll readjust back to shorter sessions, with more meetings.

I’ve included links to sign up in advance for an event. After you’ve registered for the event I will contact you with advance payment options.

So now on to the good stuff…
What’s on the calendar?

Sweater Knitalong

Sweaters seem to intimidate rookie and apprentice knitters, so let’s get rid of the intimidation factor and dive right in with tiny ones.  Baby and child sweaters are knitted just like adult sized ones, they just have less time and financial commitment.  There are two patterns to choose from, both require worsted weight yarns, so they are quick knit ups.  Don’t have a child around to give it to? That’s fine, the Atlanta Knitting Guild has a long running project were they make sweaters for stuffed animals given to children by police officers.  We can make arrangements to get your sweater onto one of those stuffed critters if you would like.

Dates: May 19th and June 2nd
Time: 12:30pm – 2:30pm
Location: Downtown Drafts – 115 Bradford St NE, Gainesville, GA 30501
Price: $40
Registration Link

coffeebeanSweater Option 1
Sizes: 3 months (6 months, 12 months)
Yarn Needs: Worsted Weight – 280-410 yards
Needle Sizes: Size 7 and 8 – circular with 24-36″ cables,  and DPNs in 7 and 8s if you do not want to magic loop the sleeves
Other Dodads: Scrap Yarn or Stitch Holders, Stitch Markers, and Buttons (these can be found and attached later)
Skill Level: A Strong Rookie to Apprentice
Link to Pattern and Further Info: Little Coffee Bean Cardigan

Back toSweater Option 2 
Sizes: Newborn to 3 months
Yarn Needs: Worsted Weight – 250-350 yards
Needle Sizes: 5 and 7 – straights or circular with 24-36″ cables, and DPNs in 5 and 7 if you do not want to magic loop the sleeves
Other Dodads: Scrap Yarn or Stitch Holders, Stitch Markers, and Buttons (these can be found and attached level.
Skill Level: A Strong Rookie to Apprentice
Link to Pattern and Further Info: Back to Basics Baby Cardigan

Sock Knitalong

Let’s get another intimidating project out of the way.  Socks are not as complicated as one would think.  There’s a choice of a toe up or top down pattern for this knitalong.

Dates: May 26th and June 9th
Time: 12:30pm – 2:30pm
Location: Downtown Drafts – 115 Bradford St NE, Gainesville, GA 30501
Price: $40
Registration Link

4909577039_153d473788_zOption 1: Toe Up
Sizes:
Adult and adjustable
Yarn Needs:
A skein of fingering weight yarn – 400 yards is more than enough to accommodate most women’s sizes, a 2nd skein may be needed for men’s socks beyond a size 10
Needle Sizes: 
1-2, to accommodate gauge, either DPNs or circular with at least 24″ for magic loop
Other Dodads:
 Stitch Markers
Skill Level:
A Strong Rookie to Apprentice
Link to Pattern and Further Info: Appalachian Socks

Vanilla SocksOption 2: Top Down
Sizes: Adult and adjustable
Yarn Needs: A skein of fingering weight yarn – 400 yards is more than enough to accommodate most women’s sizes, a 2nd skein may be needed for men’s socks beyond a size 10.
Needles Sizes: 1-2, to accommodate gauge, either DPNs or circular with at least 24″ for magic loop
Other Dodads: Stitch Markers
Skill Level: A Strong Rookie to Apprentice
Link to Pattern and Further Info: Whirlsie’s Vanilla Socks

A Shire Shawl

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a fun pattern with some great construction techniques that would be great knit up for Apprentice and Virtuoso skill levels.

Dates: May 19th and June 2nd
Time: 3:00pm – 5:00pm
Location: Downtown Drafts – 115 Bradford St NE, Gainesville, GA 30501
Price: $40
Registration Link

Sizes: One size fits all – pattern is adjustable
Yarn Needs: DK – 437 – 656 yards – or more depending on how wide you would like to go
Needle Sizes: The size recommended on your chosen yarn
Other Dodads: Stitch Markers
Skill Level: Apprentice or Virtuoso
Link to Pattern and Further Info: A Shire Shawl

Bring Your Own Project Sessions

These are great sessions for those projects that you have something you may be a little nervous about a section, or feel like you might need a helping hand here and there.  There also good for those times you just need to get out of the house and want an excuse to bring your knitting!

Dates: May 26th or June 9th
Time: 3:00pm – 5:00pm
Location: Downtown Drafts – 115 Bradford St NE, Gainesville, GA 30501
Price: $20
Registration Link

If you have any questions or concerns do not hesitate to reach out to me at the new number for Coffee and Wool 762-441- 1330, by email at coffeeandwoolblog@gmail.com or through the facebook page located here.

 

Avocados and Wool?

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Freshly Picked Hass Avocados

I have family that left Georgia and moved to Southern California and began rehabilitating and building up an existing avocado grove roughly 5 years ago. Within the past two years they’ve begun to incorporate coffee into the groves too. Coffee is a post for another day, most of the coffee is still in its infancy in the grand scheme of things and such a rarity in this region it deserves special attention.  Trust me here, Southern California as a coffee region is fascinating…but today…avocados.

 

Like all agricultural adventures there’s a lot more to it than sticking it in the ground and waiting for harvest. Avocados seem to be a special brand of pain in the ass. They aren’t ideally suited for the region. They require quite a lot of water, human intervention to keep from being sun burnt, protection from high winds, and extremes in temperature. California seems to be the epitome of where avocados, citrus, berries, and other amazing food crops shouldn’t be growing, but mankind has found a way and there is an enormous amount of produce that comes out of that state. The family works this magic and keeps these trees alive and producing.  I’ve heard the worry in my Aunt’s voice when winter days are predicted to be colder than they should be, and summer days scorching new growth. I’ve been in the grove myself hours after a driving rain and hurricane force winds to help cut away snapped branches heavy with fruit and seen pounds of it on the ground, now destroyed. Let’s add to it that this farm is also organic which is its own set of special rules and care  Every tree requires maintenance, and problems that may pop up need to be discovered and handled early before they affect greater portions of a tree or God forbid other trees.  On top of that, young trees may take 5 or more years before they start producing fruit.  Farming on a commercial-scale is by no means easy, especially when it’s on a small family ran farm.  A lot of man hours by only a tiny handful people keep the show going.

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Avocado Blossom

There’s a reason I don’t flinch much at the pricing when I see quality avocados.

 

I got the opportunity to pick for the first time this weekend.  The farm had an order for 600 pounds due for pickup Saturday morning, so I got the crash course in picking, sorting, and boxing.

There’s a lot to take away from this experience. First thing, I really need to mail an old pair of hiking boots to the farm for my future grove adventures when I drop in. This farm like many others in the region are on hillsides, some so steep pickers need climbing gear for safety reasons. Thankfully, the family farm is no where that steep, but these trees require mulching and it’s not hard to slip navigating around trees. The slip on, virtually no tread, shoes I brought with me just didn’t cut it, but the job needed done, so a baby stepped down the hillside and around the trees.

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The Damned Picking Basket

Picking ain’t easy. Low hanging fruit is plucked pretty quickly but you have to find it first.  I easily missed a few at knee height that my Aunt swooped in and harvested. The avocados themselves do not vary much in color from the leaves around them, I’m also somewhat convinced they have mini-invisibility cloaks they toss on when they sense their impending doom. Getting higher in the branches takes a bit more skill. Picking baskets are put on poles and you’re expected to maneuver this thing through the branches, position the fruit between some prongs, give a tug and hope to hell you don’t drop the damn thing. If the fruit hits the ground it’s toast, and not hipster toast, it can’t be sold.  Unless I wanted to eat all my dropped avocados as punishment (after a third avocado in a row, they lose their novelty) this skill had to be learned quickly.  I fought for five minutes to get my first basket picked avocado.  I was informed that cussing at avocados stuck in the tree is the first sign that my mind is going.  If that’s true, I’m in trouble.

 

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675 Pounds of Potential Guacamole

Bucket after bucket is filled and loaded on the farm utility vehicle to be transported back up the hill to the sorting space.  Walking into this space, there are mountains of boxes pre-made and ready to be filled in 25 pound increments.  Being on an organic farm, and following FDA guidelines, hands get washed, everything gets properly wiped down, and then the sorting begins.  Every single avocado gets weighed and sorted into a box based on its size.  Avocados are a little sneaky, and it’s ill-advised to sort them by eye.  It was surprising to see how many times I would think one these things would be a medium would actually be considered a large.  I’m using small, medium, and large loosely here.  These boxes are filled with sizes based on how many fruits should be in a 25 pound box. Oh and guess what?  If you drop it inside, it’s a dead avocado…again.  Sorting goes pretty quickly when you get into a rhythm, after a box is filled, weighed, and if need be adjusted by pound or so, it’s dated, labeled, and stacked on the pile for pickup.  Then shortly thereafter, because avocados begin ripening pretty quickly once picked, they are purchased, loaded onto the truck and on the way to the local restaurants this particular client owns.

 

That’s avocados in a nutshell.  Well, that’s more like avocados over simplified, and as I’ve said before, if it is an option in your area, shop small, shop local.  Local farmers depend on us too!

Keeping the Community Together: Crafters Unite!

91fc3c7db372acc3944a9bb98e9237d4I helped out at Yarn Rhapsody on the first day of close out sales.  The shop was busy, and I would like to thank everyone that came in to support Claudia as she works through the closing process.  A great deal of yarn left yesterday but there is a great deal of amazing yarn left.  The shop reopens Tuesday at noon.  Hint, not so subtle, hint.  Really, it all has to go!

I spoke to quite a few people yesterday and heard it voiced several times; where are we going to knit and crochet now?  There was always an open and available table at the shop for people to come in and work on projects.  Unfortunately,  when the shop goes, that table goes too.  There where a lot of good times and discussions at that table.

I’m going to do the best I can to keep ,and if possible build, the crafting community that started at Yarn Rhapsody alive, but it’s not an easy task.  It’s something we, the collective we, the lonely knitters/crocheters we, have to fight to keep. Let’s be honest, we’ve lost the yarn shop, the folks I spoke with yesterday just  realized how much we’ve taken things for granted and that sense of community can easily crumble with the shop closure.

A very active hunt for class locations began last night for what I hope mid-May class dates.  I had been putting out feelers, but didn’t want to hunt too hard until the shop had officially announced its closing.  I’m looking for quiet, well-lit locations that can host no more than 10 people at a time for 4-5 hours two Saturdays a  month.  If you are in the Hall County area and have a public location (or contacts at these locations) that can fit this bill, please give me a shout.

Knitalong/crochetalong locations have been solidified and once schedules are confirmed a few of these events will be ready to roll again early May.  The shorter times, and less structured nature of these events made finding host locations a lot easier.  Just keep an eye out on this blog and the facebook page for those announcements.

Now, for the stuff that doesn’t require a fee to attend…

There is a yarn craft group in it’s infancy that meets on the second Sunday of every month (except this month – long story) from 1:00pm to 3:00pm.  That would be Woolly Wonders, it is wide open to any fiber crafter, and changes locations every month for a little interest and to keep from stressing out one location.  It’s not a huge group now, but it’s growing bit by bit.  The next meeting is May 6th (not the second Sunday but the first – no one wants to compete with Mother’s Day) at Downtown Drafts on the Gainesville Square.  The June event will be announced once a location is decided on.

There is another crafting group in the works…more details on that later.  Summer tends to be a little busy at work, and before this group gets announced I would like to have a co-organizer confirmed for the times I can’t be there.

World Wide Knit in Public Day is Saturday, June 9th this year.  I’ve reached out to the city of Gainesville to see if an event can be hosted on the square, like Yarn Rhapsody had set up last year. There was a pretty good turn-out.  If the city approves this request, I would like a little help from the locals to organize prizes for a raffle.  This introvert isn’t great at approaching local businesses for sponsorship or prizes.  If this city does not approve the request for the square that day, a backup location is being worked up.

All in all, there will be places and events that us crafty types can get together and work on our common interests together.  Update: Claudia has announced that she’ll still be an active contributor to the crafting community by offering themed knitalongs, finishing services and get help sessions.

If you see an yarn themed event or group meet up, or are interested in starting one of your own, give me a shout with the details. I’ll help spread the word.

A Yarn Addict Without a Dealer: What’s Next?

It’s been officially announced.  Yarn Rhapsody, the home away from home, the place where I’ve met people who have become family and close friends, and the host site for my classes and knitalongs is closing.

I walked into Yarn Rhapsody early in 2015, and bought two skeins of deep purple Malabrigo sock weight.  I was on the verge of a knitting binge of epic proportions and finding a yarn shop in my own backyard was a blessing in more ways than one. When I needed a sense of community the most it was there.  It sounds cheesy but this little store on Dawsonville Highway changed my life.

Over the years watching others create beautiful projects one stitch at a time encouraged me to challenge myself with harder and harder projects.  It was Claudia (the owner) who encouraged me to begin teaching.  Without her, this ongoing project of mine would not exist.

It’s been heartbreaking to see customers fall away as shop hours became unpredictable last summer/ fall while Claudia was going through cancer treatment.  Even though she’s regained her health, the customer base didn’t come back despite efforts to pull people back in. Small business can not afford to lose momentum.

I’m deeply concerned for my friend (and German big sister), she’s loosing her livelihood and her dream job.  She’s a survivor in more ways than one, isn’t the type to wallow in self pity, and she’ll land on her feet and continue to move forward to her next chapter, but this type of transition is never easy for anyone.  So please, wish her well, and help her with her biggest request as the store wraps up its last days, empty it.  She would like to close the doors on the last day with nothing left to pack up.

I’m horrible at eulogizing Yarn Rhapsody, but this is a bitter loss, a blow to the local crafting community, the small business community, and Claudia.

Despite the resurgence of knitting and crocheting, local yarn stores are struggling.  Like most brick and mortar stores they battle online retailers that offer the same products for a buck or two cheaper with free delivery.  There’s also competition heating up between yarn stores and commercial chain craft stores, with the resurgence of yarnwork these retailers are slowly getting better yarns on their shelves at better prices, Red Heart even has a 100% merino wool line now. Everyone knows Red Heart, especially their super saver line with it’s scratchy plastic feel, known for decades for their 100% acrylic yarns.  How many millions of  blankets have been made out of it though? Are these yarns the quality you would see at most local yarn shops? No.  They certainly are tempting for some project types though, like the quick gift for the questionably knit worthy friend or family member, or for those that are ready to start knitting/crocheting larger and more difficult projects but are worried about the financial commitment.   All of this sends yarn stores a little further down the specialty store rabbit hole when lines like Encore Worsted and Cascade 220 have competitors readily available at Michael’s and JoAnn’s.

So what happens with Coffee and Wool now? Simply put, things are evolving.

First, let me make clear, that Claudia and I have discussed a lot of what I’m about to type out, even now, I have no intention on stepping on her toes.  She’s been a knitting mentor and a very good friend for several years now, if she decides she wants to teach and offer other project based services after the shop closes, I have no intention of doing anything to aggressively compete with her.  We have similar abilities, know what our individual strengths are, and have somewhat different teaching styles.  I can still see us working together on quite a few levels to make sure the educational/project help/repair needs of the local knitting/crochet community are still met after the dust settles and Claudia lands on her feet again.

Of course little of the blog side will change.  I’ll write posts, and share what information I can about the crafts we commonly love.  I’m still in search of people, places, and products that make yarnwork more interesting.

Locations for classes and craftalongs will change.  There may not be one single location in the end, and I won’t offer as many options per month.  I’m hoping to have the location issues worked out by mid-month and begin offering classes and craftalongs again beginning in May.

There will not be the convenience of a yarn store at the fingertips, so there will be need to be  better pre-planning and communication with students and participants to make sure every one has what they need before sessions begin. Options for a reservation/booking system and pre-payment are being researched. The duration of individual sessions and the number of sessions for each class/knitalong will likely change.  The current plan is longer sessions of 2-3 hours each with 1-2 meetings per class instead of one hour sessions. Craftalongs will more than likely remain at one hour each for a designated number of sessions.

I am working on creating a dedicated space in my home to serve some of the needs that the shop used to fill.  This will be space for finishing and repair services, that I intend to keep as pet free as possible.  It has always been a concern of mine when bringing home a client’s project to keep my cats (and their fluff) as far away as possible, both for the protection of project and reducing allergens.  Living in an historic small home, this is an interesting challenge but one well under way with some planning and rearranging.

I will continue to work with my private students and will happily take on more.  Individual classes will be offered at my home from time to time, a local coffee-house (the most likely option), or if the student is comfortable with the idea, I can travel to their home.  Unfortunately, my home isn’t well suited for group sessions, but I can work with a single student easily.

I am currently not interested in being a shop teacher at a single location again like I was with Yarn Rhapsody, at least not right now.  I have greater interest in possibly traveling for a half or full day group class with focus on a single project type or technique.  I am beginning to develop these type of classes and hope to roll them out late summer or early fall, more likely winter.

I would like to seriously begin designing more.  In fact, there’s a design project looming for a close friend that will be hilarious and adorable at the same time.

There it is, change is inevitable and rolling with the punches is necessary.  At a minimum I would love to stay in contact with the amazing people I have met through the shop since walking in the doors for the first time in 2015, and those that have waltzed through the shop doors since then.  The yarn craft community in northeast Georgia is special.

For those that aren’t local to northeast Georgia, its too late to save this local yarn store in Gainesville, but please, shop at your own local yarn stores for your crafting needs whenever possible.  These  business are ran by a lot of love and fairly small profit margins, no one is going to get rich selling yarn, but they are invaluable resources to the crafting community.  Too many of them have shuttered their doors over the years and we’re loosing another great one.

Shop small, shop local.

Sunday Morning Coffee and Stash Busting

I’m sitting here, still in my pajamas sipping on a cup of stove top espresso, a little classical music streaming from the Amazon contraption, and contemplating life.

Okay, maybe not life, but there’s quite a bit bouncing around in the ol’ grey matter.  Mostly it’s the great introvert conundrum, bouncing around ideas, trying to solve the great problems of the world (more like some close friends), realizing there’s little I can do to fix things other than being supportive, and plotting world domination.  I also think Sunday morning coffee triggers some of this great contemplation.  It’s just one of those things.

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I’m also contemplating the massive quantities of yarn I’ve amassed over the past few years and how many places it lives it this house.  It’s a byproduct of crafting, a lot of us also compulsively collect yarn with projects in mind for nearly every skein we put our mitts on, or see a skein in a colorway we fall instantly in love with and buy it to find a project for it later.  As the knitting mojo comes back (see previous post) with the knitting of a insanely cabled pair of socks I’ve come to another conclusion, it’s time to start stash busting.  It’s possible I have enough yarn squirreled away to open a tiny yarn shop.

With the exception of purchases for rare commissioned projects, it’s time to enlist some self-control and work from the stash bins for the next year.  There’s everything from lace to bulky to choose from so things may get a little interesting.

How about you guys? What are you contemplating with your Sunday cup of coffee?