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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shop small, shop local.

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

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.

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.

 

 

Sticks & Cables: Knitting Needles

When I began knitting a little over 10 years ago, my teacher bought me a set of size 8 Takumi straight bamboo needles, and I’m convinced most of us that have started knitting in the past decade probably started on those needles, others started on aluminum, some on plastic.  Those sticks with capped ends got us through those first projects, and either made us or broke us as knitters.

Then, inevitably we begin to get adventurous and begin to look at projects that require a size other than an 8 and we start buying our own needles, and find that materials and options are endless.  Bamboo, wood, plastic, carbon fiber, straight needles, circular needles, interchangeable sets, double pointed, and on, and on, the options can get a little intimidating.  But we get over it and eventually find the combination of materials and needle type that fit our own knitting styles the best.  Then we all eventually get adventurous again and start find what preferences fit us best depending on what we are actually knitting or to fit yarn preferences.  I’m sure you get the idea by now, we can be a fickle band of people when it comes to the bits of sticks we work with.

Over the years, I’ve been trying to assemble my own master set of workhorse knitting tools, and with the arrival of a surprise gift yesterday think I may have filled the stable, with virtually every size I could need.   Am I saying I will never buy another set of needles again, no, of course not.  I travel now and then, knit on the road, and have a fear of having a favorite set of needles snatched by TSA during pre-flight screening so I will pick up a wooden circular set here and there that won’t crush my spirit if they are taken or lost.  Even though knitting needles are leagal to fly with all it takes is one misinformed or cranky TSA agent to ruin your day.

Picking out needles boils down to personal preference more than anything, but here are a few options to consider if you are on your own mission to build a master set of tools.

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My personal preference has led me to appreciate interchangeable sets, tons of options, plenty of cables, all wrapped up in a cute little package that’s easy to keep all the bits organized.  After switching to circular needles, I use straights once in a very blue moon.

The ChiaoGoo 4″ Twist set is a stellar set for someone that’s getting serious enough about knitting to invest some cold hard cash.  This package comes with a lot of bang for the buck with stainless steel needles ranging from sizes 2-15, a wide range of cable lengths, tightening keys, end stoppers, needle gauge/ruler, and stitch markers, pretty much everything you would need to start any project.  I’ve owned this set for a little over two years, and have put a lot of yardage on it.  The points are sharp, making them great for lace work, or yarns that have a tendency to split.  These are stainless steel, I think they are less slippery than aluminum, but still slippery enough that yarn will move easily for tight knits, and the tink tink of metal hitting metal doesn’t seem to be as loud on steel.  The cables are flexible, and have “no memory” they can stay wound up in the case for months, and will lay flat as soon they are pulled out of the case, so there is no frustration caused by a cable wanting to stay curled or not move freely.   The joins where cables and needles meet are smooth and stay connected well.  It’s a very rare occurrence when I can feel the cable beginning to loosen up from the needle, but always in ample enough time that I can pull out the tightening key and set things right again.  If I could recommend one set of interchangeable circulars for a knitter looking for their first set of interchangeable circulars ChiaGoo Twists are it. 

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Now on to the newest addition to the knitting arsenal, a surprise gift, and what I fondly call knitting porn because these needles are bee-you-tee-ful, it was love at first sight when I saw them at the local yarn shop.  These are the Lykke interchangeable circulars.  Even though the ChiaGoo set is extremely versatile, wood has a very different feeling to them, as odd as it sounds they feel alive and feel warm.  As soon as I was off  work yesterday I switched out the ChiaGoo set that was in my current project over to the these just to see how they felt, and yep, birds sang, the sun rose, and love happened.  But like I said wood needles are a different monster from metal ones.   This set ranges from sizes 4-17 and comes with cables, tightening keys, and end stoppers.  The cables are a little less flexible than the ChiaGoo cables but it’s barely noticeable.  The joins are the same size from 4-17 which I think is a plus.  There’s a few projects in my queue that alternate rows between two different sizes, I can put both sizes I need on the same cable and not manage two different sets.  Whoo hoo!  This set is made of birch and stained to look like driftwood, they are very smooth but “grippy” stitches aren’t going to slide off this set unless you intend for them to  but the yarn moves on and off of them well.  These are functional pieces of art, which I will use quite often, but they probably won’t be my go-to-set for detailed lace work or on yarns that are likely to split.  These are great and gorgeous, but a set that may not be the best option for a newer knitter.

img_0753And last but not least, double pointed needles make it into the discussion, and this set is the Knitter’s Pride Karbonz.  Personal preference has left me making socks and small toy knits on DPNs instead of circulars.  This set ranges from sizes 0-3 in groups of five for each size.  After snapping a few wood needles or finding flaws that caused snags while working, and loathing metal DPNs (tink scrape tink scrap ughhhh sound) I thought I would give these a shot and went all in on the full set, and didn’t regret it.  The body of these are carbon fiber, the sharp tips are nickel-plated brass.  So you have the benefit of a sharp metal point where you need it, the grip of wood in the body, and Herculean strength.  The size 0s can be used without fear of them snapping like little toothpicks in your hands.  When you break a needle mid-project and drop a bunch of stitches broken needle phobias develop instantly.

No matter what type of needles you prefer, my greatest recommendation is get the best you can get within your budget, like most tools, the better the quality, the longer it will last.  If at all possible please order from your local yarn shop and support your crack yarn dealer!