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.

Hand Knitted Socks Demystified

I’m in the middle of teaching a sock class this month, so it’s a good time to bring up socks.

There seem to be two projects that scare the living beejeebus out of knitters; sweaters and socks until they conquer their first ones. It’s understandable, they look a little intimidating at first, never mind the fact there are literally hundreds of thousands of patterns for each out there, and for socks there are at least 12 different types of heel construction and just as many toe shapes. No wonder why even some very experienced knitters won’t go near socks.

Here’s the official pep talk. Can you do a knit stitch? Yes. Can you do a k2tog? Yes. Can you do an SSK? Yes. Then guess what? You can knit socks!

It’s time to suck it up, pick out a ball of sock yarn and needles and get over it. Your feet will thank you!

All socks have the same parts, although there is some variation in construction. There is the cuff; usually made with a few inches of 2×2 ribbing. The leg; the tube portion that travels down the leg to the ankle. The heel; this is where the leg turns 90 degrees to accommodate your heel and ankle. The foot; the tube that goes from ankle to roughly the middle of the ball of your foot. Lastly, there’s the toe; where stitches are decreased to accommodate those odd little nubby bits that are at the end of your foot.

Most socks are constructed one of two ways, you either start at the toe of the sock and work your way up to the cuff (toe up), or the exact opposite direction, cuff to toe (top down). This is another one of those personal preference choices. I use both but prefer toe up. Top down usually comes into play when I’m using specific yarns that have some sort of matching technology. Yes, there are totally sock yarns out there that will help you make matching socks faster if that’s your cup of tea.

Socks can be knitted using circular needles by using the magic loop method, or by using double pointed needles (DPNs). I encourage people to try using both needle types to see what works best for you. Make your first pair using one needle type, then yes, start a second pair using the other. Personally, I dislike magic loop and love double pointed needles, but it’s different for every knitter.

Most needle size recommendations will range from 0 – 2 for typical sock weight patterns. If you decide you love sock knitting, you’ll likely find a needle size that works the best for you and stick with it for most basic sock patterns.

Your yarn choice for your first pair of socks is important! As tempting as it is to pick up a $3-5 ball off the shelf at the local chain craft store, I’m going to beg you not to. Many of these brands are splitty, or have a higher than needed acrylic/nylon/other unnatural fiber content making them slick and harder to knit, not something I would recommend for a first sock. I recommend a high Superwash wool (washer dryer friendly) content 70% or better. I can hear a few people mumbling now. Doesn’t she hate non-natural fibers? For the most part yes, I hate plastics in my yarns but there are exceptions to be made, it’s either a very pretty yarn, or it’s for socks. A bit of nylon, polymide, plastic by any other name, will make your socks more durable. My all time favorite sock yarns are made by Regia, their blends make great wool socks that I wear year round. Other recommendations include, Cascade Heritage and Happy Feet, Zauberball, Berroco Comfort Sock, and any of the Supersocke 4 ply yarns. Color can make a huge difference. Think lighter colors for your first pair, you’ll want to clearly see every stitch.

You have your yarn, picked your needles…moving forward.

Measurements!

Break out that measuring tape, you are about to get up close and personal with your tootsies. The two most important measurements you will need are the width and length of your foot.

For length, you will need to start of the center, back of your heel and pull the tape to the end of your big toe. If you have flat feet that spread forward when you stand, stand on your measuring tape to get this measurement, you might need an extra pair of hands to help line this up.

For width, you will wrap the tape around the widest point at the ball of your foot. Same applies here, if your feet spread quite a bit when standing, stand on your tape and wrap it around.

Some patterns may have you take ankle and calf measurements if they have very long legs, don’t use these patterns for your first time. The point is to learn the basics and then get into the fancier stuff later on.

Now what?

It’s time to cast on!

These are my go-to simple patterns for newbie sock people.

Whirlsie’s Vanilla Socks – top down construction with very clear directions and three size options.

Appalachian Socks aka Purly Bottoms – toe up construction, once again very clear directions and three size options. Plus there’s the added benefit of having the stockinette portion at the bottom of the sock up against the skin of your foot, it makes already comfy socks that much more divine.

There’s also a very simple pattern generator at the Sock Knitter’s Notebook that will spit out simple directions for you. You’ll need a gauge swatch in your yarn with your preferred needles size beforehand.

There you have it, enough basic sock discussion to get you going. Socks are one of my favorite things to knit, after you get a few under your belt, you’ll find they are easy to travel with and with the exception of turning the heel, are easy knits. If you are still a little nervous about striking out on your own, I’ll be offering basic sock classes a bit more often in the new year. If you’re not in my neck of the woods talk to the staff at your Local Yarn Shop, there should be someone to help you get started or can schedule class time for you.

Just remember one thing, they are socks, don’t stress over them

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.

Knit your bit! Socks, WWI, and the Next Generation of Knitters

Yesterday, (April 8) a couple of fantastic knitters any myself combined forces to participate in an Family Day event at the Northeast Georgia History Center.   The History Center presented Over There: America Enters World War I, to commemorate the Centennial Anniversary of the United States entry into “The Great War” with living history interpretation and hands on activities.

img_0739So what does knitting have to do with WWI?

Quite a lot!  Knitting was more than a hobby during wartime.  It was an act of patriotism!  Thousands if not millions of women and children in Allied countries used their knitting needles as weapons of war.  What were they knitting? Socks.  Lots of socks. Millions of socks, to prevent a horrid condition called trench foot.  Take a moment, and google that, I’ll wait…….okay welcome back, and I’m a little sorry for the images that may be burned into your retinas.  Trench warfare was often wet and muddy, and the boots soldiers wore were not fully waterproof, or leaked like sieves.  Fresh dry socks were needed to keep trench foot at bay.  Knitters not only made socks but sweaters, vests, gloves, balaclavas and scarves, in attempts to keep soldiers warm.

Sock knitting hasn’t changed greatly in 100 years, many of us still use double pointed needles to create them.  More recent methods include knitting them on circular needles.  The patterns needed for soldiers were fairly simple, and had nothing fancy included.  Many of the free, top down patterns with heel flap constructions that you see on Ravelry (knitting heaven for the uninitiated) or how-to knitting sites, are very similar to the patterns used by WWI knitters.  These millions of hand-knit, no frill,  socks were collected by the Red Cross in the US, inspected, fixed by more experienced knitters if necessary, loaded up and sent to the military for issue.

So three brave souls did some research, packed up our socks and goodies from our favorite local yarn store, Yarn Rhapsody, started making historically accurate patterns to work on while at the event, and set up shop at the History Center.

 

I believe the three of us were left amazed by the interest our little tables drew in.  We had set up a bit of yarn on straight needles to show children how to knit a few stitches, the three stations we set up stayed full for the entire event.  One child would finish their row, and the next would sit down, occasionally an adult would make their first attempts.  Some of these children were knitting prodigies from the moment they sat down and learned the mechanics of their first knit stitch.  We had a blast showing the next generation of future knitters that they were capable of learning this craft.  At the end of the day, the three of us packed up, and left exhausted, we had no idea we would be so busy.  I’m hoping to see a few of these children pop up again with needles and yarn in hand.

 

 

Save our Soles!

Socks.

Most of us wear them, all of us know what they are.  Depending on the season they keep our feet warm and dry, or cool and dry.  Feet are pretty happy when they are comfy and dry, and with all the abuse they take, they deserve the best.  Right?

A good pair of hand knitted socks is quite possibly one of the best treats for the tootsies.   But why would we knit them when you can easily pick up a pack of six at Wally-World for about the same price as the ball of yarn required to make a single pair? 

COMFORT.  Period. End of conversation.  

Well, not really or this would be the shortest post I’ll ever compose. Comfort is a huge factor though. Hand knit socks are custom made to fit your measurements, this is awesome for folks who find store bought socks too tight or too loose.  After my first pair of socks came off the needles I immediately started knitting another pair and the collection is growing. If I’m wearing store bought socks it’s because the hand knit ones need laundered. 

Quality. Let’s be honest here, socks won’t last forever. You wear them and they take a beating. I can promise that a well made pair of hand knit foot covers will last longer than store bought, and even when they do begin to get a little thin in places they can be fixed with a little darning. 

Style. There are probably hundreds of thousands of sock patterns out there ranging from plain vanilla patterns to complicated cables and lace. Toss in the endless range of yarn choices and the perfect pair of tootsie toasters can be yours. 

Portablility. Socks are quite possibly one of the easiest projects to toss into a bag to keep handy for those situations where you would rather do something besides poke at your smartphone.  

Easy to do. Alright I can see people rolling their eyes here. Socks are actually pretty easy once you get through your first pair. They seem intimidating at first. I knitted for 7 years before attempting my first pair and laughed over the fact it took me so long to try.  Once a newbie knitter has knit, purl, and decreases under their belts, socks are a good project to learn short rows on, opening the door for bigger projects and greater skills later on.  

Seriously, stop being chicken, make socks!