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.

2018 – Changes for Coffee & Wool

Coffee & Wool is about to have its first birthday, and I’m sitting here thinking that jeez this year has gone by quickly. In this past year, I’ve knitted more than I’ve ever knitted, started teaching classes and in general have learned more about the fiber arts. In case you haven’t noticed I love it. Also in this past year I’ve been encouraged by like-minded friends to do more and over the past few weeks I’ve started to come up with a game plan to turn this little hobby page into something greater.

That’s where 2018 comes in.

I’ve heard it said a few times that the fiber arts community is dying, that its practitioners are aging, and fewer people are interested in learning how to knit, crochet, weave, or manipulate fiber in general. That is simply untrue, the fiber arts community is strong, albeit a little quiet. Beginning in 2018, I want the voice I provide to the fiber arts community to go from a 2 to a 10. There will be more informative posts, more tutorials, and eventually video (someone has to get over her camera fear first).

No matter what, I’m turning up the volume, but I’m going to ask for your help. I’m asking for your patronage. Small monthly donations can go a long way towards helping me promote this page, purchase supplies, and travel to fiber festivals and fiber producing farms for content. If you would like to help me expand Coffee and Wool please visit my Patreon Page. As Coffee and Wool grows not only will you be supporting a fiber artist and the community you’ll get exclusive content and updates in the future.

Blocking: A Necessary Evil

You’ve finally cast off a project that has taken ages to complete. You hold it up, and it looks, well, kinda blah. It sorta looks like the photos from the pattern but, it isn’t, quite right, even though you followed the pattern to the letter.

Well…

That’s where blocking comes in.

It’s like making gauge swatches and weaving in ends, no one really enjoys it, but if you want your handiwork to look amazing it just has to be done. So what is blocking? Blocking uses moisture to align all your stitches correctly, and the case of lace knitting, opens up all of those yarn overs.

I’ve had a small pile of finished work that need to be blocked, and an older piece that needed to be re-blocked after some cleaning (coffee soaks into wool pretty quickly, just saying). So I thought it was a good time do do a little tutorial on wet blocking. Yes, folks there are several ways to block but wet blocking seems to be the most universal.

First things first, you need to find a large, flat space away from the family pets and small children. In my case, I use my bedroom floor and shut the door. You can block on carpet, cardboard boxes, I’ve used my own bed to block large pieces, but the easiest thing is to pick up a few of those puzzle piece children’s play mats. You’ll be pinning your knit work, so the play mat surface holds pins well and since they are plastic, moisture won’t bother it at all.

For wet blocking you will need to soak your finished project. So grab an appropriate sized bowl, fill it with water, and a bit of specialty detergent. I prefer Soak, it smells great and it seems to get things a little cleaner. Eucalan has it’s own benefits but surprisingly I’m not a huge fan of the smell of wet wool and Eucalan seems to amplify that smell. These detergents condition the fibers and gently clean while soaking your project. There are a few other options out there, so find whatever you like the most. Just look for detergents that don’t require rinsing. Okay, so why are we getting everything wet? Natural fibers can stretch quite a bit more while wet, and as the fibers dry while in a stretched state, they will lock into that position. After drowning everything for about 15 minutes you’re ready for the next step.

After your items have finished their bath, it’s time to start getting them dry. You’ll need to squeeze all the water you can out of your work by hand. Whatever you do, DON’T WRING IT. Wringing can do some irreparable damage, so squeeze, squeeze, and squeeze some more. To get out additional water, lay your project flat on a towel, roll it up and either stand or kneel on it. Your project should feel damp to the touch when you’re finished.

Now to the fun part. Besides your flat surface you’re going to need quilting or T-pins at a minimum to pin your project into the its final shape. If you’re an avid knitter, one of the best investments you can make is in blocking wires. These are just simple metal wires that you can weave into the flat edges of your work to guarantee a straight line on your finished projects. For this tutorial I’m using both quilting pins and wires. My wires have taken a beating over the years and have gotten bent here and there when I was first learning how to do this myself. I was bad for over stretching on yarn weights that were a little too heavy for the wires. They still work fine. I’ve used three wires to define the flat edges of this cowl, and used pins to shape the points at the top edge. I only needed to stretch this project enough to open up all the lace work. In some projects, blocking will require you to stretch to certain dimensions or shapes. This cowl is actually the project that is being re-blocked after the coffee incident. Re-blocking does need to happen from time time after an item has been cleaned, or if an item looses its shape over time and use.

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There are also another handy tool out there for larger pieces. Knit Blockers are several pins mounted into a flat plastic handle. They let you cover a large area quickly and evenly, used with wires, they are a time saver as well.

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Now that everything is blocked out the way I want it. What’s next? Nothing. Well for a while anyway. You just go find something else to do for a few hours, because these projects will need to be bone dry before you do anything else. You can speed things up a bit by blocking in a warm room with good airflow. Good airflow = big ol’ box fan. Don’t go overboard and try to use a hair dryer or a space heater to speed things up, bad things could happen, like shrinkage. Once everything is good and dry, remove your pins, pull out your wires, and you should see significant improvement in how your project looks. With lace, the improvement can be downright dramatic. Weave in your ends and call it a day. Your item is ready to go!

The Stories Strangers Tell: Knitting Adventures at 39,000 Feet

As a habitual knitter there’s always a small project that lives in my bag or backpack to work on if there’s a bit of downtime. It’s much more appealing to craft something tangible if a couple of rows can be thrown into a project than sitting and poking at a smart phone screen.

While sitting on a flight I pulled out a pair of Knitted Knockers (hand knitted breast prosthesis) to work on since I was trapped in the dreaded middle seat and there was absolutely no chance of a nap. Once in a while I’ll get a question or two about what I’m working on, but largely the yarn fidgeting goes unnoticed, other times like several other knitting in public adventures, there will a conversation I won’t forget.

Being trapped, both passengers on either side saw what I was up to pretty quickly. The first was a man in his mid-twenties who had just pulled out a game system. He commented that if he wouldn’t be teased that he would love to learn how to knit. Our conversation fell along the lines, of why worry about what his friends think, if he wanted to he could just knit in private, and there were plenty of men who knit. He asked a few more questions about where and how to start, and he was pointed towards his local yarn shop in Pennsylvania.

Now on the other side, sat a woman, well into her retirement years with a thick Brooklyn accent. “I knit. Mom taught me. Nothing fancy. Mom could really knit.” Really?

Her mother would knit her and her siblings new sweaters every year, ripping apart the sweater from the year before, knitting it a little larger and adding more yarn when necessary. When the yarns were finally too worn to reuse for the next year, the kids would pick from a handful of colors for their next sweater. Nothing too bright, nothing to extreme, simple colors that could matched if more yarn had to be added to in following years. She missed her yearly sweaters.

She asked me how I learned, and I filled her in. She asked where I bought yarn in Georgia, since she was going to be staying for a few weeks and wanted to make a couple of scarves for her grandkids. Filled her in there too, and how I was always there on Saturdays, but since it would be a long drive for her, I told her about a few shops I knew about near the family members she would be staying with.

Then she asked the big question. “What are you making anyway?” Knitted Knockers were explained and her expression changed entirely. It’s hard to describe what I saw on her face. Pain, grief, a touch of happiness, surprise. It was hard to read. I froze, and didn’t really know what to say.

She spoke first. I can still hear her story in my head.

Mom died in the early 80s. She found a lump in her right breast, and went over a year before going to the doctor about it. You’re far to young to know how cancer of any type was treated then. It wasn’t talked about, like it is now. There wasn’t support groups. There wasn’t information out there. The treatments were brutal. Mom had her breast removed. It didn’t heal well. It was always painful, there was no reconstruction choices. She was told to stuff the empty place in her bra, and go on with life. She began isolating herself. She was a housewife, she only left the house for errands stuffing her bra and wearing the baggiest clothes she had.

Mom found another lump in her remaining breast two years later. She chose to let it take her and was gone within a year. If she had one of these knitted things and felt better about herself, maybe things would have been different for her.

The woman went silent. I didn’t know what to say other than I’m sorry.

She spoke again.

The woman who started this organization and the people who are knitting these things are doing a great good in this world.

She picked her book back up and began reading. I took that as a sign that I should pick my needles back up and not speak further.

Others around us had heard her story and began sharing their own stories about family members that had fought cancer in many forms. I sat, worked, and listened. My neighbors in the row sat and listened.

The woman next to me, put her book back down, sat and listened in silence. Knitting triggered her memories of both happiness and pain. There were no more words between us for the rest of the trip.

I hope that the happy memories of the childhood sweaters and the scarves that she will make for her grandchildren will bring her comfort.

It’s been a few weeks since our conversation on the plane, she never made it up to Yarn Rhapsody during the time she said she would be in Georgia. I wish her nothing but peace.

November Classes

It’s time for class signups again! So what’s in the works for November? A bigger project that is always in demand this time of year and some smaller ones that you can crank out and bind off before Thanksgiving. All classes will be held at Yarn Rhapsody in Gainesville, GA, you can sign up by calling 770-536-3130 or as soon as its available I’ll post a link for online sign up through paypal. All yarn, patterns, and supplies should be purchased at Yarn Rhapsody.

First things first, Christmas Stockings, one of the most requested holiday gifts a knitter will be asked this time of year. Never made one? Don’t worry I’ll get you through this one. This is a 3 session Apprentice Level Class. Sessions will be held November 4, 18, & December 2 at 10:30am and ending at 11:30am. Price $60.

You should be confident with most basic stitch techniques, cast on, bind off, knit, purl, basic shaping (decreases).

You will learn stranded color work techniques and afterthought heel techniques.

Homework: Choose your colors and chart choices from the pattern before session 1.

Bring to class: Size 7 – 16” circular needles and your chosen yarns

Session 1. Begin leg, learning stranding techniques for color work.

Session 2. Learn how to put live stitches on hold and continue working.

Session 3. Learn how to pick up stitches on hold and finish heel.

There’s a bajillion of beanie patterns out there, but you’re on mission for something specific, something one of a kind, something…Just. For. You. Why not Design Your Own Beanie? This is a 2 session Apprentice Level Class, with two separate offerings. Price $40

Set 1: Wednesday, November 1 & 15 at 6:00pm and ending at 7:00pm.

Set 2: Saturday, November 4 & 18 at noon and ending at 1:00pm

(Please note, the set dates are not interchangeable, you’ll either be committing to Wednesday only sessions, or Saturday only sessions)

Basic hat construction knowledge and stranded color work knowledge would be helpful but not necessary.

Homework: Turn on your imagination and think about what you would like to design

Bring to class: Markers or color pencils. Size 6&7 – 16” circular needles and your color choices in Worsted weight yarns

Session 1. You will learn how to lay out a stranded color work design for your own hat, and a few pointers on how to make your knitting life easier once you cast on your completed design.

Session 2. Trouble shooting, and finishing.

Nothing says snuggly warm like a good cowl, but it’s Georgia, so snuggly warm usually means lighter weight yarns and some lace work so that good feeling doesn’t evolve into smothering hot. The Daylight Savings Cowl is a good fit! This pattern features Japanese lace motifs (Scared of charts? No worries there are written directions too.) and is designed to make the most of a small gradient kit or ombré yarn. Personally I think it would look just as wonderful in a solid or a slightly speckled. All you need is 400 yards of a fingering weight yarn you are in love with. This is a 3 session Apprentice Level Knitalong (I’ll help you along if you hit a sticking point while you work at your own pace). Sessions will be November 4, 11 & 18 at 1:30pm and ending at 2:30pm. Price $30

Bring with you: Size 5 – 24” circular knitting needles and 400 yards of fingering weight yarn

Sessions 1-3: Knit at your own pace (Knowledge of basic lace work needed)

And for the last offering of the month, meet the Beeswax Scarf! This is a bold pattern knitted in worsted weight yarns, so it’ll work up fast and would be a great gift for anyone, male or female. This is a 3 session Apprentice Level Knitalong. Sessions will be November 4, 11 & 18 at 3:00pm and ending at 4:00pm. Price $30.

Bring with you: Size 7 needles (straights or a shorter circular will work) and at least 600 yards of worsted weight yarn. This pattern has several size options from a standard scarf, wide scarf, or a wrap. Yarn requirements increase accordingly.

Session 1-3: Knit at your own pace (Knowledge of basic lace work needed)

So there it is! Some solid knit work waiting for you to pick up and cast on.  I hope to see you soon.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Knitting on the Road

planeI’m escaping Georgia tonight for some shenanigans with friends this weekend.  Being the fanatical knitter that I am, there is always at least a pair of socks on needles in my purse and there is always a project bag tossed in my luggage for downtime on trips.

I’ve been asked at nearly every gate waiting for boarding about the legalities of traveling with knitting needles, so it’s time for a quick primer on air travel with projects.  My experience here is limited to domestic air travel, other rules may apply to international flights.

Are knitting needles and crochet hooks allowed in your carry-on bag?
The simple answer is yes.  But when is the simple answer ever the complete one?  All it takes is one misinformed TSA agent or a flight attendant to think your needles look intimidating and you’ve got a problem on your hands.  As much as some of us love our nice, pointy, metal ChiaoGoos or Addis you may want to leave those home.  Kick over to wood or plastic, and circular needles would probably be preferred over straight.  Besides using straights in a tightly packed airplane may be uncomfortable for you and the passengers seated next to you.

How about scissors?
This is another yes, but, answer.  Blades must be shorter than 4-inches, and the type that fold up onto themselves are recommended.  Those nifty thread cutting pendants, or anything that looks like it may have a razor style blade are a no-go.

Regular needles, you know the ones you finish projects with?
Ummmm this one is a bit gray.  I’ve flown with finishing needles with rounded points, but I’ve heard more than one person complain that theirs was taken.  So, you may want to leave those at home.

So what do I do if TSA tries to confiscate my needles or hooks?
The most important part of traveling with craft projects is to be prepared, just in case.  Carry a copy of the TSA policies related to your particular project, there are some agents that may not be clear on the guidelines, but screeners can confiscate any items they feel are unsafe despite of the guidelines.  You can find some help with this information on the What Can I Bring section of the TSA website.

If you think an item may be pushing a guideline, put it in your checked bag, or have a self-addressed, pre-paid mailer to ship your item to your destination or back home, and don’t risk flying with expensive or sentimental items.

Always be polite, and informed if questioned.  From personal experience here, I’ve only been questioned about my knitting once, and after showing the screener the policy from the TSA site all was well.

Now that the technicalities are out of the way, now what?

Bring something small with you, socks, scarves, and other items of similar size are perfect on adventures.  Just think about projects that don’t require grand gestures to manuver when flipping over to do the next row, since space is limited, and your row-mate may not want to be covered with a half finished afghan.  Simple projects are best for a couple of reasons.  Patterns that require you to reference printed patterns may become fiddly in a limited space, also it helps if your project is simple enough to be able to stop quickly (God-forbid mid-row but it happens) and is easily memorized.

Other things to consider…
Yarn:  try to have yarn caked or rolled into center pull balls so you can leave your yarn in a project bag while you work.  Having a ball fall to the floor and roll halfway down the plane isn’t as funny as it sounds. Trust me.

Needle Holders: Travel isn’t alwasy the safest things for needles, find a way to protect  your needles when they aren’t in use.

Project Bags:  I’ve always had great luck with project bags that have carry handles built in.  You can loop the bag around your arm and have the yarn feed from it while you work.  No worries about anything falling in the floor there.

Knitting in airports and on the plane is an excellent way to pass the time and maybe spark the interest of your fellow passengers, so enjoy it!

Are You Knitworthy?

I had to come up for a bit of air in the middle of a knitting marathon.

I have two projects that I need to have completed, blocked, and packaged for gifts before the 20th.  They aren’t simple projects either!

I’m working on the Knitangle Shawl  and need to start a Nine Dwindling Cables Hat.  Both will be given to work acquaintances as gifts at a conference.  The shawl is going to a woman leaving her current, very secure job, to begin her own business.  It’s a good luck gift.  The hat, it going to the wife of an acquaintance that is having brain surgery shortly before the conference.

I’ve given away more of my knit projects over the years than I have kept.  I find more joy in the act of knitting than the finished project in most cases, and in the case of these two gifts, knowing the backgrounds of the recipents, they would apreciate hand-made items.

The longer I knit, the more I realize that there are some folks that just aren’t knitworthy.  For anyone uninitiated, knitting a project can take a good amount of time, and good yarns aren’t cheap.  It’s not unusual to drop $40-70 into a shawl.  $20-35 into a hat.  Sweaters?  If you receive a hand knitted sweater from anyone you wear that thing no matter what it looks like, that knitter not only sunk tons of personal time into making it but easily sunk $100-200 if not more into the yarn.  But once again, it’s the process of making the item most of the time, cost becomes a factor when I’m not certain how the recipient feels about my handiwork.

I don’t mean to come across as snobbish with gift giving but nothing drives me nuttier than making a gift for someone and then finding out that the gift sits unused in a drawer somewhere because the recipient doesn’t want the item to get damaged or begin to look worn.  My own mother has been removed from the knitworthy list.  I even knitted very pink gifts (I LOATHE PINK) for her, she wont use them.

So, what do you folks think?  Who’s on your knitworthy list?  What will get someone removed from it?

Time to get back to work.  If I’m sitting I’m knitting until this projects are done.