Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Knit Thoughts

On this dark and rainy day (so what else is new, it’s January in Vancouver!), I thought I’d muse about the differences between me and regular knitters. First off, I’ve been knitting a very long time although there was a fairly large gap in my teen years where I was crocheting instead. I learned the English throwing method from my mom (adopted, in case you were wondering which mom) and my great aunt (who was the closest thing to a grandmother I had growing up, even if she did live in Wisconsin) when I was a child. I switched to Continental picking in my 20’s thanks to a German girlfriend. It was somehow closer to the crochet that I was better at because the tension finger is the left forefinger just like in crochet. In English knitting I never did get any good at looping the yarn over the needle with my right forefinger. My fingers are very short — at least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! I can still knit with both hands for 2-colour work but my tension is a bit off and needs practice every time I try it. I can’t put both yarns on my left like some people do and just pick which one they need for each stitch. I get hopelessly tangled up. One real advantage of Continental is the ease of switching between knit and purl stitches making ribbing and brocade patterns easier to work. Even my numb left forefinger (from nerve damage in my neck) doesn’t slow me down. Not that I’m a fast knitter or anything.

OK so I’ve been knitting for a long time and I’ve also been spinning for 30 years. That, I believe, is the reason why I’m not locked into certain yarns or published patterns. I had to make my own patterns or adjust other people’s patterns to work with my handspun yarns which never resembled the commercial varieties called for. I actually got spoiled for the unevenness of handspun (even though I’m a pretty good spinner) because it hides any sloppy tension and it feels somehow more real, more earthy, more satisfying to work with. I mean when you start with dirty raw sheep’s fleece and end up with a nice warm colourful sweater, you’ve invested yourself in every step of the way. Washing, dyeing, teasing, carding, spinning, knitting — it’s a lot of work but it’s also fun. Your results are much more personal than going to the store, picking out a pattern and yarn (from whatever colours and brands might happen to be available), and knitting to somebody else’s directions. It’s also a lot cheaper when you have more time than money. Starting with raw fleece it might cost $10 or $15 for a whole sweater, including hot water, soap, dyes, and heat source, whereas it can cost upwards of $100 or more for a sweater from commercial yarns and pattern. We aren’t counting the many more hours of fun and entertainment you had preparing your own yarn! Another advantage is that you can have the yarn of your choice in the colour of your choice and know that it’s relatively “alive” and unprocessed, much closer to nature and the environment. (You could buy fibres from organic farmers and use botanical dyes or leave it natural if you want to get even closer.) The picture is Sleeping Beauty, my first spinning wheel that I got as a kit in 1976. Pretty isn't she?

One of my biggest complaints with commercial yarns is the dinky little balls they come in. Gee, 50 grams is nothing! Especially when the heavier yarns only have a small number of yards per ball. I’m used to balls that weigh as much as will fit on my bobbins. On my Louet (which has pretty big bobbins) that’s about 200 grams of medium-sized yarn. It might take 4 or 5 of these for an adult sweater instead of 15 or 18 of the dinky ones. That’s a lot less joins! But the excuse I hear is that knitters don’t like to have a lot of leftovers so they wouldn’t buy that last large skein if they only need 1/4 of it. So how come I keep seeing pleas for that one last ball of a discontinued yarn in blah-blah colour to finish a project? I’d rather have lots of leftovers, way more yarn than I can possibly need, and not run out. But I guess if you were spending $12 for each little ball, you wouldn’t spend $48 for a 4-times bigger skein if you didn’t need all of it, would you? Hmmm…maybe there’s something to that.

On the other hand, there are yarns that I can’t (or won’t) spin. Fine sock yarns in superwash wool and nylon are popular with me. They last a lot longer than handspun socks no matter how well-spun and tightly knitted. I hate mending! Sometimes I like the printed faux-fairisle sock yarns and sometimes I dye plain ones to put my own stamp on ’em. And I buy the occasional novelty yarns like eyelash, brushed mohair (my mohair yarns don’t resemble these cloud-like confections), ribbons and the like. However, I won’t spring for the popular Noro yarns since it’s pretty easy to spin a multicoloured fat singles if I wanted to. (I prefer plied yarns though.) Noro feels quite coarse and scratchy to me too, particularly considering how expensive it is. I’m sure it’s the magic they do with the colours that keeps everybody interested. That and the fact that it fulls up beautifully into great bags and purses. The wool is relatively unprocessed. That’s why you find bits of straw in it! It hasn’t been carbonized. I always tell my newbie spinners that they’ll be able to make their own Noro-type yarns eventually. It makes a great incentive.

Speaking of which, I have no idea if we have a Beginner Spinner class tonight. Hope I hear before too much longer or I’ll be waltzing over at 7 pm on spec. T-Man has his computer class tonight too so we’ll be eating early anyway. Hey, it’s stopped raining!

1 comment:

Eve said...

Eeek eekk, finally I have found "MY" wheel. I have that very same wheel other than the Mother of All is the wrong way on mine. yipppie Is Sleeping Beauty its name or is that just what you call it. Oh boy.