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.

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.

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.

 

 

The Great Knitting Update

It’s been an exciting week, knitting wise, and May was a nutty month period, I’m hoping June will bring a bit of breathing room.  Alas, I think it’ll be another case of no rest for the wicked.

I finally got off my butt and uploaded that pattern I’ve talked about a million times on this blog to Ravelry, and then crazy things happened.  It hit the Top 20 within 8 hours and the number one spot by Tuesday morning.  But knitting fame is fleeting and it’s backing down the list as other great projects climb the ranks.  You can download the beastie here.

After that pattern hit the top spot and I’m still a little awestruck that it did, I’ve already started work on the follow up.  I’m going a different route this time, it will be a long asymmetrical wrap in two colors, featuring mosaic motifs and inspired by the lace patterns of the Oomingmak knitters of Alaska.  The yarn is already on the needles and three pages in my infamous Moleskine are filled with notes with several pages to go before I can actually start typing it up.  I’m keeping the skill level in the range of adventurous beginner, mosaic is very easy to learn, but it’ll be helpful to have a little lace experience under the belt.

Square Web PromoSo that’s knitting life in a very small nutshell.  I’ve still got multiple projects on needles all in various stages of completion.  I may declare June no cast on month so I can catch up on things, but we’ll see how that goes.  World Wide Knit in Public Day is June 10th, if you’re near Gainesville, GA you should come.  June knitting classes begin this weekend.     July classes are mostly planned, I just need to work out dates and times.  I’ve got blog drafts in progress illustrating actual techniques coming up soon.

Personal life….well….work and knitting has consumed most of my time lately.  I’m okay with that.  Severus developed a bad urinary tract infection shortly after his pet guinea pig, Peanut Butter, passed on.  The vet said it was likely brought on by stress with the changes in the house, plus my neighborhood has had a severe problem with feral cats this spring, and several males were marking the house.  Sev is very territorial and  doesn’t react well to cats walking through the yard let alone marking his house.  He’s an indoor only cat, but he knows when and where the wild ones are passing through.  A lot of medication, fluids, and several calming remedies later he’s improved and is acting like himself again. Lucius, still thinks he’s a dog. Goober.

I watched one of my closest friends get married last weekend, and of course she looked absolutely amazing, and I’ve never seen a wedding so tailored to a couple before.  Everything from A to Z was tailored to fit their personalities. 

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.