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.

September Classes and Knitalongs

It feels like I just posted a class schedule for August a few days ago. This year has done nothing but move at high-speed!

The less than scientific experiment for alternating weeks for classes has been a success, so I’ll continue offering sessions on alternating weeks allowing class participants to have more time to work on projects between sessions.

In other news, I’m changing up my skill level terms. I’ll admit they’ve been a little vague, so I’ve taken the advice that I learned from an old friend and have reverted to the KISS Principle. Good ole, keep it simple, stupid to the rescue! The new terms are:

Rookie: You picked up needles and yarn recently, know knit and purl, and you’re ready to add more skills to that knitting toolbox.

Apprentice: You’re confident with knit, purl, basic increases/decreases, and have likely begun adventuring into knitting in the round, and have began creating shapes other than long scarf like rectangles.

Virtuoso: You’re confident in your abilities and are looking for challenges, unique projects, and new tricks. There isn’t much out there that you would shy away from trying as long as you were in love with the pattern teasing you on Ravelry.

Genius: You are a knitting master, nothing stops you, not even a bad pattern. You’re looking for a challenge, continuing to master skills, and love projects with very complex construction and stitch work.

All classes will be held at Yarn Rhapsody in Gainesville, GA. Please call 770-536-3130 or drop in to reserve your spot at least 48 hours before classes begin and purchase patterns and materials.

So what’s up for September?

Well first, I can announce that you can still sign up for any nine sessions of Building with Lace knitalong by Michelle “Knit Purl” Hunter for $45, as long as the book is still available for purchase at Yarn Rhapsody. There’s already been one round of books sold, and round two just arrived. Weekday sessions will be offered Wednesdays, 6pm-7pm beginning September 6 and carrying on through Wednesday, October 25th. Weekend sessions will continue on Saturdays, Noon-1pm until October 14th.

Skill level: All skill levels – this is truly a skill building knitalong, the book, associated videos, and the support of the rest of the knitalong participants will get you through if you’re a beginner, and teach you a few more tricks even if you’re a knitting expert.

There are also two more knitalongs featuring Michelle Hunter’s patterns for September.

img_0084-1Hat season starts up towards the end of October in the south, mid-September virtually anywhere else, so it’s time to start WIPing some up. Corkscrew Hat by Michelle Hunter, uses an interesting, yet easy to grasp two color technique that creates an almost braided appearance and unisex design. This pattern is also available in three sizes, baby, child, and adult.

Offering Type: Knitalong
Skill Level: Rookie/Apprentice
Techniques Used: Knitting in the Round, Multiple Colors, Shaping
Price: $30
Dates: 10:30am – 11:30am, Saturdays, Sept. 16, 30, Oct. 14

img_0085Oh wait, glove and mitten season is coming up too! The second of Michelle’s patterns this month is the Reciprocation Fingerless Gloves. These fingerless gloves will keep your hands warm and your fingers free for chilly weather knitting.

Offering Type: Knitalong
Skill Level: Rookie/Apprentice
Techniques Used: German twisted cast on, special design stitches, stitch pickup, thumb gussets
Price: $30
Dates: 10:30am – 11:30am, Saturdays, Sept. 23, Oct. 7, 21

September for me means, cooler weather, hints of gold and red appearing on the landscape, and the fact that we’re just that much closer to HALLOWEEN. It’s time to start working on some spookier projects.

img_0089First up, these Spider Socks are going to be a blast. I’ve already started on my pair, I couldn’t wait! These will look great in a solid, or subtly variegated yarn, you want your handiwork to show through on these.

Offering Type: Class
Skill Level: Apprentice/Virtuoso
Techniques Used: Top down construction, heel flap & gusset construction, mock cables, cable stitches, special design stitches
Price: $60
Dates: 1:30pm – 2:30pm, Saturdays, Sept. 16, 30, Oct. 14

img_0088Counting Crows fits the bill for chilly, late October evenings with a few secrets hidden inside. These are a great challenge for someone wanting to increase their color work skills.

Offering Type: Class
Skill Level: Apprentice/Virtuoso
Techniques Used: Knitting in the round, color work and chart reading, shaping, stitch pickup, thumb gussets and finger construction
Price: $60
Dates: 1:30pm – 2:30pm, Saturdays, Sept. 23, Oct. 7, 21

And now for something completely different….

This particular pattern has been sitting in my queue for months waiting for the right time to bring it out.

img_2345Inspired by the Mesoamerican deity Kukulkan this scarf/shawl is striking. This is certainly one of those projects that will having people asking “where did you get that” and then it’s up to you how you spill the beans about being an accomplished knitter. The unique shape and construction of this project, as well as the use of gradient sets should keep anyone motivated to finish this project before the fall chill really sets in.

Offering Type: Class
Skill Level: Apprentice/Virtuoso
Techniques: Color changes, short rows, stitch pickup, cast on mid-project, shaping
Price: $60
Dates: 3:30pm – 4:30pm, Saturdays, Sept. 23, Oct. 7, 21

And as always, I’m available for private instruction for those wanting to start knitting or need a refresher after a bit of time away from knitting, all you have to do is contact me and work out dates and times.

Classes Vs. KALs: What’s the Difference Anyway?

snake knittingWhat’s the difference between a class and a knitalong (KAL)?  This question has come up a lot in my knitting life lately since I began offering both options since beginning to teach group classes earlier this year.

A knitting class is easy to define.  Classes are situations where students will be learning specific knitting techniques, styles, or working through a complex pattern with the assistance of a hands-on teacher.  There’s several ways classes can be taught.  Some lead participants through a pattern row by row, step by step, others encourage a go-at-your-own-pace situation and will come to you as you reach a certain point and give individualized instruction.  In both scenarios you’ll have a certain amount of homework to try to complete before the next session.  I’m a fan of option two, with my own classes, I’ve seen a range of skill levels within the same class and feel that if I taught a row by row style class a more advanced student will inevitably get bored and shank me with a needle.  I don’t need any extra holes in my body at this point.

Knitalongs are a different beast.  KALs are group meetings where multiple participants will sign up to work on the same project togther, and if need be, help each other.   KALs are an opportunity to work through a project you know is within your skill level but you may be a little nervous about, or just a project you think is awesome and would like to work along with peers.  KALs typically do not offer the benefit of the dedicated teacher from a knitting class, in fact the KAL leader is most likely going to be sitting at the table working on their own version of the KAL project with you.

Hopefully that clears some things up.