Product v. process

I have always been a product knitter – I almost invariably knit because I want the finished object (and since it’s me, because I want to wear a particular sweater). I regularly frog projects partway through if it becomes clear that I won’t wear the finished item, and out of this “the right final product is what I want” mindset, I also frog projects that I’ve finished and worn and have decided don’t really work for me as is. That takes a little bit more resolution, but I’m pretty comfortable with those decisions (in fact, I am considering frogging my Boxy & Buttony pullover – it’s amazingly comfortable but it’s quite a lot of fabric, possibly too much to be really flattering on me, and I think that this yarn would benefit from being knit at a tighter gauge – maybe something like this, or this, or this – or at least something with seams. No rush on deciding, though, since it’s too hot here to wear wool sweaters for the next 6 months again).

Which is why I was kind of surprised recently to find myself pushing the items I want to own and wear to the back of my queue in favor of items I simply want to knit, for the sake of knitting them.

Craftsy had a big sale in the last week or so and it included Malabrigo Rios. I first encountered this yarn when I wanted to make a baby blanket for a friend and their stone-colored gray-yellow-beige colorway was perfect for my friend’s gray and yellow nursery.

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But then I went and made myself a sweater out of the leftovers because I loved knitting with it so much. I don’t normally knit worsted weight stuff, and I haven’t even been able to wear the sweater yet because it got too warm before I finished, but I love having the sweater and I loved making it. This yarn is just so lovely and soft and squishy and yet bouncy and a joy to knit with. It’s probably not as springy-bouncy as your average non-superwash, but it was still amazingly fun to work with, and it created a lovely fabric that had a nice amount of drape without being droopy or draggy. I don’t need super-hardy tough-as-armor sweaters, and I don’t like wearing those kinds of fabrics. This stuff was great.

So there I was, at the Craftsy sale, finding that Rios was on sale for less than I’d ever seen it, and finding myself powerless to resist buying a swack of it. In Teal Feather, because I’m a sucker for a good teal, and a semi-solid seemed more practical than the beautiful but harder to wear variegated stuff.

(I’m also in a particularly labor-intensive, energy-draining, confidence-beating moment at work – which is why I’ve had no time for blogging or even photo-taking – so the yarn was a promise of good times to my future self. Which is a whole other ball of emotional wax, of course.)

And now I just want to make things with this yarn for the sake of making them, not having them. Right now I am obsessed with the idea of making the Waking Tide pullover by Courtney Spainhower.

Waking_Tide1_medium2Photo © PinkBrutusKnits, borrowed off Ravelry; will happily remove if requested.

I just love this sweater. I love the yoke, I love the way the body of the sweater falls from the yoke, I love the minimal eyelet trim at the hem, I love the amount of ease, I love how good the pattern looks in a tonal or semi-solid, I love that it’s knit in the round and in one piece, I love that there’s lots of stockinette but that there’s also the yoke for a bit more challenge, I love that the yoke provides texture and movement but that the sweater is still fairly minimal and not fussy.

And don’t get me wrong, part of why I love it is that I think it would look decent on me – I have broad enough shoulders to hold up a sweater without shoulder seams, my bust is very average-sized so I don’t run into the problems busty ladies face in trying to figure out where a yoke should fall to be flattering, I like having the visual interest closer to my face, I like that it’s not fitted around the waist, and the length and hem treatment should work with my pear shape.

But chances are good I would wear this maybe five times a year. I would only be able to wear it to work on days I don’t have to wear a suit/jacket (i.e. no meetings), and I would only be able to wear it in comfort during our very short winter. It’s not the most practical choice for my lifestyle, is what I’m saying. Honestly, worsted weight wool, period, isn’t the most practical choice for my lifestyle but there are workarounds (I think a cardigan would be more versatile weather-wise than a pullover, especially something short-sleeved or shorter with some lace; or I could go for a short-sleeved pullover).

Nonetheless, I want it. Because I want to make it; I want to see the shape develop under my needles, I want to see how the transition to the yoke works, and what kind of shaping creates the yoke and the neckline. I want to see what this yarn will look like in this sweater. And I want to see what the sweater looks like when it’s done, and what it looks like on me.

For maybe the first time, that’s enough. Maybe I will make this sweater and try it on. Maybe I will love it, and keep it, and treasure it for those few times a year I can wear it. Maybe I will love it, and put it in a drawer, and nonetheless frog it a year later to make something else with the yarn. Maybe it will be meh, and I’ll decide right away to frog. But whatever I decide, I will have had the pure pleasure of making, which seems to be what’s hooking me now, more than the pleasure of having.

(Or maybe instead I’m hitting my annual discontent with the desert and want to knit this as an expression of homesickness for places that have what I think of as a normal climate. With winter. And cold. And a legitimate need for wool sweaters. That, too, is a whole other ball of emotional wax.)

Yarn Review: Pacifica Company’s Zephyr DK

Back in the fall sometime, on Twitter, I took notice of a campaign to fund a new American yarn company – Pacifica Yarn Company, by Argyle Sheep. In addition to supporting the American textile industry by sourcing, dyeing, spinning, and packaging their yarn in America, Pacifica Yarn Company wanted to produce garment-quality yarns for warm climate knitters:

The goal is to create yarns that can be knit with every single day of the year regardless of the weather.

We’re a team of Southern California knitters who understand that although alpaca is lovely and soft, it’s just not practical for our temperate climate. Even 100% wool yarns can be too much to bear during much of the year. But cellulose yarns like cotton and bamboo lack the spring and life of their wooly counterparts.

We love knitting and wanted to create an affordable yarn that feels great against the skin, like a warm breeze on a cool summer evening.

I mean, you knew they had me at warm-climate knitting, right?

So I forked over by $15 to support this endeavor, in return for one skein of their first yarn, Zephyr DK, which arrived in December. I promise you their 16 colors are lovely, even though I chose Ink (black/gray).

24467607935_c8402f868e_oI’m afraid I didn’t take a picture of the skein until after winding it and swatching, so this is what’s left – you’ll have to imagine it showing up in classic skein form.

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Zephyr DK is a woolen-spun yarn made of 55% Texas wool and 45% California cotton. It’s spun in Wisconsin and dyed in Maine, and Argyle Sheep describes it as follows:

Zephyr DK is woolen spun, meaning the fibers remain in a lofty jumble that traps air, reminiscent of an ocean breeze. Its three plies are lightly twisted to preserve its buoyant quality, while maintaining a sprightly bounce. It was specifically designed for making garments that are comfortable to wear in temperate climates.

This woolen-spun yarn has an adaptable gauge, which can compress to a tight sport weight or grow into a light, drapey fabric when worked on large needles. Zephyr DK has a soft but dry hand and a slightly rustic nature; woolen spinning can result in small variations of thickness, and you’ll find the occasional speck of vegetable matter, which shows this yarn is never treated with harsh chemicals.

Comprised of a modern palette with 16 colors, Zephyr Dk has a lightly heathered appearance due to the wool and cotton taking the dye at different levels. This creates a muted, variagated colorway that will bring depth and visual interest to your finished garments.

Garments knit from Zephyr DK realize their full potential after a wet blocking, as each stitch relaxes and bonds with its neighbors to produce an even, light, soft fabric.

Zephyr DK is designed to be a workhorse yarn with incredible stitch definition, perfect for textural patterns or plain old stockinette. We think it’s ideal for sweaters of every variety and warm weather accessories.

I wouldn’t normally quote someone else at such length in what is supposed to be my ownreview of this yarn, but I found the above to be so accurate that there didn’t seem to be much point in trying to paraphrase.

In the skein, it feels matte, dry, and a little bit stiff. It does have a rustic, heathered look, from the combination of fibers, and is very light – much lighter than most DK cottons I’ve used. I wound it, dug out some size 8 needles, and swatched: stockinette to measure gauge, a random lace pattern, a couple of cables, a little moss stitch, and then a brief bit of ribbing.

24441358726_6561cf96fe_oThis picture is a little over-exposed – I’m still figuring out my new camera – so the color appears a little lighter than it actually is; the picture of the wound yarn above is more accurate.

I started with some KnitPicks Caspian needles, which are (very pretty teal and turquoise and blue) wood, because they’re one of the two size 8s I have, and they’re beautifully sharp. However, I found this yarn a bit too sticky for knitting on wood – I am a tight-ish knitter who prefers speedy, slick needles, and the Zephyr was a bit slow on the Caspians. I switched to Chiagoo Red Lace needles, which are lovely smooth stainless steel, and had no further problems.You can see the relatively loose plies in this yarn, but I didn’t have a problem with splitting the yarn, even with my sharp lace needles (however, I am devoted to sharp tips so you may find a blunter tip preferable with this yarn).

The yarn was relatively stiff on the needles, without a great deal of stretch, but not unpleasant to work with. The lesser elasticity would probably make complex lace a bit more difficult, but then, the weight and appearance of this yarn isn’t suitable for really elaborate lace patterns anyway; I just picked something relatively simple from a web stitch dictionary (Wave stitch) to give a sense of how lace would look.

23839359984_63805e009c_oAgain, a little overexposed.

I was too lazy to try the yarn on different sized needles, but the stockinette fabric I got on the size 8s was a nice balance between drapey and tight, at 17 1/4 stitches and 27 rows per 4″ (the tag suggests you will get a gauge of 4.5 stitches to the inch on size 8 needles, or 18 stitches per 4″). It passed Amy Herzog’s sweater fabric test, in that you certainly can’t poke your finger through it. It’s probably more on the drapey side, so you could go down a needle size or so if you wanted a somewhat sturdier, more independent kind of fabric.

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I threw in a couple of cables to see what the stitch definition was like, and while this is a more rustic yarn with what I’d called brushed edges, rather than sharply defined, the cables show up very nicely, even in this darker color.

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And here’s the seed stitch and ribbing (color is a bit more accurate at this angle). I think you’d want to go down a needle size or two to get much elasticity out of your ribbing, but then, I usually need to do that with whatever yarn I’m using.

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As I noted above, it felt a little stiff and rough in the skein, but it softens up a great deal when blocked. (I’m afraid I didn’t measure to see whether the gauge changed after blocking – my apologies.) The stitches bloom a little bit and stitch patterns become more cohesive. I haven’t done enough of a wear test to comment on pilling, but I have given the swatch some vigorous rubbing, which seems to lead to a tiny bit of cotton-based fuzz, but overall seems quite durable.

If pressed, I’d say it feels much more like wool than cotton. Although it has that bit of stiffness in the skein, and the resulting fabric isn’t quite as springy or stretchy as wool, it’s also very light, with the matte softness of woollen-spun yarn.

I stuck the swatch in the neck of my shirt and wore it there for a few hours and found it decently comfortable. You have to keep in mind that I am a bit of a pretty pretty princess when it comes to woolly wool, and even apart from the warm-climate thing, tend to stick to plant fibers because I find most wool prickly (except baby soft merino and superwash). This is not superwash, and while I don’t know what breed “Texas wool” is, it’s clearly something sheepier and more rustic than merino. I can definitely feel some prickle, but it’s much more wearable for me than most wools. It’s also only been washed the once, for blocking, so may well continue to soften up as it gets washed and worn.

What I really like about this yarn is that it provides a warmer-weather alternative to the more rustic, sheepy (often breed-specific) yarns that are very popular right now, and (in my experience) are really really hard to duplicate in plant fibers. Although my personal experience with these yarns is limited, it reminds me a bit of Brooklyn Tweed’s Loft and Shelter (or maybe Harrisville Design’s line). You don’t get the same variety of shades within a single colorway as you see in the 100% wool yarns, but you do get a heathered depth of color that seems hard to reproduce in purely plant-based yarns. Although Brooklyn Tweed patterns are written for fingering- and worsted-weight yarns and Zephyr is DK, so the patterns wouldn’t translate directly, Zephyr would work well in patterns with a similar aesthetic to Brooklyn Tweed – textured, rustic, woolly. It would be particularly great for those big sweaters involving quite a lot of yarn – waterfall cardigans or sweater coats or the like – that you don’t want to knit in cotton or silk or bamboo, because you know by the end of the day the weight of the yarn will have stretched the sweater down to your knees.

For me, the slightly ironic consequence of this is that while Zephyr is intended as a warm-weather yarn, I think it would look particularly good in very wintry kinds of sweaters or scarves – substantial, with lots of cables or ribbing or other texture. So maybe it’s most suitable for garments to wear when it’s seasonally winter, but that’s still not very cold where you live? I think it would also make lovely fingerless mitts, but may need a bit more elasticity to work for hats (I don’t think it would be great for socks, for the same reason, but would have to defer to sock knitters on that one).

All in all, Pacifica Yarn Company has produced a really nice yarn in Zephyr DK. I hope their future endeavors continue to enjoy success, and that the crowdfunding method works to support this enterprise. Their next project is supposed to be another warm-weather yarn, in 100% wool this time, again in DK, called Indian Summer, and I may have to back that campaign as well, to see how it turns out. Purely selfishly, I would love love LOVE to see them make a fingering weight yarn (but not everyone may be as devoted to fingering-weight sweaters as I am).

Has anyone else tried Zephyr DK? What do you think?

 

Consumerism: the third and fourth days

Okay, time to wrap this up. My third day of shopping, I braved public transport (the bus system was completely easy and efficient) to go to the Alberta Arts District. It’s across the river and it was interesting to see something other than downtown, especially a more residential area.

First I went to Close Knit, which was a lovely cosy yarn store with a good selection of more mid-range yarns. Lots and lots of Cascade 220, which is a great workhorse yarn, as well as some more high-end brands. I really only wanted to buy a needle (I needed a 40″ size 6 with pointy tips for a lace shawl), but on my way to checkout I was seduced by the “40% off” rack and grabbed a ball of Schoppel Wolle XL Kleckse Cat Print, in the colorway Beerenauslese. (Still within my guidelines – on sale!)

IMG_1813excuse the overexposure – it was the best shot of the color

At the time, I had convinced myself that I would make a pair of socks with this – and I may yet do that, as I’ve never made socks that actually fit, and while I rarely wear socks (as opposed to tights/stockings or athletic socks), having a handknit pair would be pretty nice. However, I think I have other plans (see below).

I also went to a lovely little fabric store, Bolt. I did not fulfill my goal of fondling/figuring out knits, because they had knits, but not a vast selections. But (similar to my experience at Powell’s) it was great to see in person fabrics I’d only looked at online – and of course I bought some. (The best part is that it was day one of their Fall Sale and EVERYTHING was on sale.)

The top is I think a J.Crew fabric? (didn’t know such a thing existed), and the photo turns the dark print black, but it’s actually navy, and a beautifully light and breezy voile. The middle is a Robert Kaufman chambray (with colored flecks that don’t show up especially well here), and the bottom is an Anna Maria Horner crosshatch.

The sale was clearly a big thing – there were a number of customers getting their fabric cut when I first walked in, in a not very big space (but well organized and laid out). While my fabric was being cut, one of the women working (she sounded owner-y or manager-y) was talking about how her son (clearly little) wanted attention while she was preparing for the sale, and so how she had him hold the bolts of fabric on his lap while she put the sale price stickers on, and how she kept checking periodically to make sure his legs hadn’t fallen asleep as she piled more and more on.

Then I wandered up and down the street looking in all the shops, bought my husband a slice of banana cream pie at a pie bar, bought me a Belgian waffle at a waffle shop, and bused it back downtown.

The last full day, a friend of my husband’s joined him and me to re-explore the downtown knitting options, as she is also a knitter and hadn’t had a chance to do so yet. So we went back to Knit Purl, and…um…I bought more yarn (which is still beautifully wrapped so again, no picture). But hey, the husband picked it out, so that doesn’t count, right? It’s Tosh Merino Light in Citrus, which is the world’s greatest orange, and I also bought a printed copy of Olga Buraya-Kefelian’s Tabi Mittens, to make my husband a pair of incandescently orange lobster-claw mittens. (He loves tabi socks.) Even in the desert, it’s probably wise to have one pair of mittens.

We stopped at Pearl Fiber Arts, where my husband’s friend bought some yarn, and then the owner (seeing our Knit Purl bags) asked us if we were going to complete the circuit? Circuit? we asked, and found out there was a third downtown yarn store, not too much further north. Armed with directions, we marched ourselves along to Dublin Bay Knitting Company.

To make a long story short, this was yet another gorgeous yarn store, with yet more brands I’d never seen in person, as well as friendly and helpful staff. As befits the name, there were traditional Irish and British yarns, but also lots of more modern companies as well. I fell madly in love with everything Hedgehog Fibres and bought a skein of their sock yarn in the Typewriter colorway. As with the Schoppen Wolle, I thought, “Eh, I can use a pair of socks, right?” But once I got them home and put them together, I decided that a two-color shawl of some variety might be a much better way to put these two to use:

So that was my crafty tourism in Portland. There are at least three other yarn stores I didn’t even get to, as well as two fantabulous fabric superstores (on the edges of town, so harder to get to on vacation) – so now I absolutely want to move to Portland, where there is lots of yarn to be had, and lots of opportunity to wear garments made from it! (And fabric, too, but you can wear that in the desert without difficulty.)

Reboot

I was traveling for much of this week.

IMG_0179It reminded me what it looks like where water falls from the sky on a regular basis.

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IMG_0121And I got to see a cat catch a lizard:

IMG_0096And I bought some shoes.

IMG_0108I also brought some knitting with me:

IMG_0075One of the things I love about travel knitting is how guiltless it is. There’s no concern that you should be doing something other than knitting; you’re away from home, you can’t really put a dent in your to-do list or clean the house, and often you’re trapped on public transport anyway. Knitting transforms tedium into pleasure. Four hour layover? Great, lots of time to knit! So I very much appreciate the opportunity I had to knit the above project.

But as the yarn shrank and the knitted fabric grew, I finally had to admit to myself: I just didn’t like it.

I liked (and still like) the pattern, the Harvest Moon Blanket by Aimee Alexander. (All her blankets look lovely.)

And I like the yarn fine – Comfy Worsted Special Reserve Heather by KnitPicks (in Overcast Heather – much lighter than it looks photographed above). I had wanted to use cotton (or in this case, a blend) because it seemed more functional here in the desert, and I have some fingering weight Comfy, and I thought the acrylic in it would be fine, and help keep it a bit stronger and lighter than all cotton. I looked at the project pictures on Ravelry, and thought the cotton ones looked perfectly nice.

But I just didn’t like them put together. In part, that’s because the Comfy Worsted is fluffy, fuzzy, and soft-edged. The stitches don’t get completely lost, but there isn’t the kind of stitch definition that I think would highlight the pattern best. Beyond that, though, I didn’t love the fabric. It was extremely soft, so perfect for a wee baby in that respect. But it was also supremely floppy. And word choice matters here, I think. If I said the fabric was drapey, that would sound fairly positive, but when I say floppy, that doesn’t sound so good. And it’s not so good. I don’t want something stiff, but I would like a little body, a little bounce. I think that would benefit the stitch pattern, too.

And it matters mostly because this is a gift, and I want it to be as nice as I can possibly make it. In part because I really want my friend to love it, and in part because I want to give her something that looks handmade, but not so much homemade.

So back to the drawing board. I’ve ordered new yarn – wool this time (superwash, because I hope for my friend to use this, and making her handwash it seems cruel). And now that I’m back, will start over again.

(And figure out something else to make with floppy cotton yarn.)

New to me yarn: KnitPicks Diadem & 28’s Cousin 53!

I’m sure you are all already familiar with KnitPicks, a lovely lovely company selling all kinds of goodies for knitters and crocheters, including lots of different yarns, at very reasonable prices. In those late-night Ravelry-surfing sessions where I pick out a couple gazillion patterns I’d like to knit, there’s something strangely reassuring about being able to go to the KnitPicks website, price the cost of the various projects, and realize that I could actually afford to knit them. (I almost never buy anything in those late night sessions, but it’s reassuring to know that in the hypothetical distant future when I run out of yarn, affordable options are out there.)

KnitPicks also produces an informative and entertaining podcast series. I haven’t worked my way through all of them by any means (I only stumbled onto podcasts around the beginning of this year, and they have 200+ episodes by now). However, I responded to a call on their blog for comments/stories for their podcast, sent an e-mail, and got my comment included (which is about as close as I’ve ever come to internet fame). The attention would have been reward enough, but in return for my comment they sent me a “charm pack” of yarn – one of their project bags stuffed with sample skeins! It was extremely generous and I’ve been having fun playing with yarns I might never have purchased on my own.

One of those yarns is Diadem. This is a fingering-weight yarn, 50% baby alpaca and 50% mulberry silk. It comes in skeins of 329 yards. And I’ve been intrigued enough by this yarn that it was the first of my freebies that I wound into a ball and cast on, to test it out. (I was too eager actually to make a proper swatch, so you get a finished object instead.)

FullSizeRendersorry, I forgot to take a picture of it in the skein/wound until mostly through the project!

The first thing you notice about this yarn is that it is incredibly soft to the touch. If I could sleep in a bed made only of skeins of this yarn I would be a very happy woman.

It simultaneously has a notable sheen and a subtle but definite halo, which may sound a little contradictory. The halo is very fine and soft, less obtrusive than the kind of halo found in, say, mohair. Perhaps because of that halo, it doesn’t have quite the glossy, almost metallic sheen you can see in polished silks. It’s a dry shiny, not a wet shiny, if that makes any sense. It feels matte rather than slick.

Structurally, it’s a very loosely spun single ply. It reminds me of the way that lopi yarns are described online, as a yarn very close to roving. The end of my cast-on tail seemed to lose its structural integrity quickly and devolve into a vaguely linear piece of fluff.

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Casting on was fine (although I realized that using dark wood needles to knit dark green yarn wasn’t my smartest move). That aside, it was still tough at first to distinguish the individual stitches. There’s so little twist holding the yarn together that the stitches spread out on the needle and the edges aren’t very clearly defined.

The looseness of the spin and the yarn’s inclination to spread makes it very very susceptible to splitting (though it probably doesn’t help that I prefer pointy-tipped needles). I found it helpful to insert the tip of the right-hand needle a bit lower in the stitch, closer to where the stitch emerges from the row below, rather than right up against the left-hand needle, because it can be hard to get the needle under those diffuse, undefined edges. If you do split the yarn, the resulting loops and pulls are pretty conspicuous. If you just catch the very edge, you might end up pulling away a wee piece of halo rather than actually splitting the yarn. It’s a little like what I imagine it would be like to knit with cotton candy.

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The yarn also has very little elasticity, which isn’t surprising given its components. Frankly, that lack of elasticity combined with the blurry stitches made knitting the first couple of rows pretty annoying. I tend to knit more tightly, and for the first couple of rows I had a hard time getting the stitches over and past the join between needle and cable in my circular needles. I had to make a conscious effort to knit loosely (which I don’t normally have to do even in cotton or other non-elastic yarns). Once I did that, things started to move along.

Knitted up, the fabric is extremely soft and fluffy. The halo is more obvious when knitted than in the skein. On the one hand, this halo obscures stitch definition, but on the other, the yarn’s sheen highlights stitch definition, so it’s a little bit of a wash.

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A yarn this soft and fluffy positively begs to be knit into something worn against the skin. I’m not sure it has the body to be an effective sweater, but that may just be my own preferences speaking, as I don’t always find fuzzy halo-ed yarn very flattering on the scale required for a whole sweater. I’m also not convinced this will be very hard-wearing, given how loosely it’s spun and how easily the halo seems to pull away from the fabric. If I were going to try to make a sweater out of this, I’d try smaller needles (I used US size 6 on this project) and make a fairly tight fabric, to try to reduce abrasion and give it a little body. Alpaca and silk also tend to stretch without springing back, so a sweater would be likely to grow, which knitting at a tighter gauge might also counter, at least a little. This also seems to produce the kind of fabric that might benefit from the structure provided by seams, if I were inclined to knit a garment in this.

But obviously if you’re not me you might be interested in knitting something other than a sweater. I don’t think this is going to be hard-wearing in any context, so it’s probably not the right yarn for a workhorse sturdy item you wear every day. In cold weather it would be lovely snuggled around your neck and ears, so I can see this making an excellent cowl (I especially envision one that’s long enough to wrap around twice, knit generously), with a slightly dressy twist from the sheen. However, you’d probably want to avoid a pattern dependent on wool’s inherent springiness and bounciness (for instance, something that relies on cables’ tendency to pull fabric inwards?), because this is fluffy but neither springy nor bouncy. I also think this would make lovely mitts – not so much actual gloves or mittens to wear in nasty weather as fingerless mitts to wear indoors in the winter or air-conditioning. That’s maybe not very practical either, in terms of wear, but they’d be so light and soft and warm, and not require very much yarn, that I think I wouldn’t even care.

Rather than swatch – which would let me give you some information about gauge, though it feels like a thicker fingering to me – I dove straight in to 28’s Cousin 53!. This is a free pattern for (as you have seen) a fingering-weight scarf with a little bit of simple texture from garter stitch ridges, yarnovers, and ribbing. It’s a pretty design and the pattern was clear and straightforward (although I’ll admit I chose it mostly because of the amount of yarn it required – I wanted to use as much of the skein as I could). It makes strategic use of straightforward knit-front-and-back increases to create a close-to-crescent shape without short rows, so would be a good beginning project.

IMG_1847 I wet-blocked (which I always do), and the result is a lovely, drapey, soft fabric that feels like wrapping kittens around your neck.

(So, I mentioned I wanted to get as much out of the skein as I could? I actually ended a couple of rows short of the pattern – and in fact, I ran out of yarn with something like 20 stitches left to bind off. The HORROR. So I hacked my knitting: I have been knitting another sweater from Lindy Chain, another Knit Picks yarn, in Ivy. Ivy is a dark green… pretty much the exact same dark green as Diadem Emerald. I thought, eh, no one will ever notice, and finished binding off with a piece of the Lindy Chain. Which is a cotton-linen blend chainette yarn with a texture about as different from Diadem as you can get, but I figured, for a free scarf I can’t complain. The overexposed pic shows where the patch is, but in ordinary light it’s pretty hard to see.)

IMG_1851 Tl;dr: Soft, luxurious, and snuggly; drapey; inelastic; probably not particularly sturdy; great for next-to-the-skin accessories.

(Thanks again, Knit Picks!)

Yarn clubs, updates, and fear of missing out

I own a lot of yarn.

I mean, there are plenty of people who own more (not even just people who make a living from knitting), but I have plenty. More than I can use in, say, at least a year? A couple of years? Eh, I’m totally guessing, because even the prospect of using up all my yarn makes me hyperventilate.

And I love my yarn. I have plans and goals and backup plans and goals for almost all of it. Sure, I have a few remnants of very early purchases that don’t work for me any more (Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride, I’m looking at you… you’re a lovely economical yarn and I made a hat for charity out of you, but a bulky wool/mohair mix isn’t really where I’m at right now), as well as orphaned leftovers from finished projects. Neither of those categories are going to get used up soon, but if I were put on house arrest and all my assets were seized and I absolutely could not, in any way, ever buy more yarn, they’d keep me going a bit longer.

This is all to say: I do. not. need. more. yarn.

But did that stop me from ordering this a few weeks ago?*

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excuse the overexposure; this seemed to show the color best. I’m still terrible at photographing yarn

 This is Delilah Lace, from Posh Yarn, in the “Every Neighborhood Should Have a Great Lady” colorway (I love Dee’s color names, even though – because? – they rarely have anything to do with a specific color; if you scroll down at the link you get her picture, too). I can’t really tell you anything about it as a yarn yet, because I haven’t wound it or knit with it – all I’ve done is stroke it and ooh and aah over the softness and the gentle sheen and the spectacular color.

I didn’t need any yarn, but it’s 1) purple 2) silk 3) lace – my nemesis. I was powerless. Really.

And, crucially, Posh Yarn operates on a limited-time basis. Once a week the shop opens with a new batch of yarn. There are a number of bases, but they don’t all appear every week (one week may be a lace week, the next a sock week, and so on). The colors are all one-offs, unique and unrepeated. There’s no going back to buy anything later; if you like a color and base, you need to buy it when the update opens up (or perhaps scour Ravelry later in the hopes that someone will sell it to you, but that’s not very reliable).

These kinds of updates are such a great way to suck in knitters like me. I bought the yarn above at the tail end of a Posh update, fueled by that pleasurably frantic feeling of “This yarn is perfect and if I don’t buy it now I will NEVER see it again!!!”

Similarly, yesterday evening I stumbled into the middle of a Plucky Knitter update over on Etsy. If you follow that link you won’t see anything now, because those updates sell out FAST. Those yarns are gorgeous, but I don’t need any yarn (duh), and I can’t really afford to buy a sweater’s worth of yarn from them right now. Nonetheless, I still found myself putting random single worsted skeins in my cart because OMG IT’S A PLUCKY KNITTER UPDATE I ALWAYS MISS THEIR UPDATES PRETTY PRETTY SHINY.

I hesitated long enough that the skeins got bought out from under me, which is good, because I don’t really have any realistic uses for a couple hundred yards of worsted yarn right now, and they would have sat in my stash to be admired but not used, which would be sad. It was a relief to miss out, really.

But it still also felt like missing out.

So then I was scrolling through my e-mail and saw a notice I’d saved for Madelinetosh’s Magnolia Society Yarn Club (you sign up to get three shipments of different yarn bases, for which you choose the general color family, but the specific color within that family will be a surprise, and exclusive to the members of the club). I’d been thinking about signing up, but I hadn’t yet, because (once again) I don’t need more yarn and wasn’t sure exactly what I’d use it for. But when I saw the e-mail tonight I thought, “I know! I’ll buy Madelinetosh yarn instead! That’s a great idea, because I know I love Madelinetosh and I totally deserve to sign up for the yarn club, because I missed out on the Plucky Knitter update!” And I clicked over to the MadTosh page… to find that the signups had closed.

And there was much disappointment.

So here I was, practically lousy with yarn, having convinced myself that I had missed out by not managing to get something I didn’t need (even though I would very much like it. And a trip to Europe. And a pony).

Marketing is an amazing thing. I could take the cost of the Madelinetosh yarn club and buy myself some amazing stuff – including regular issue Madelinetosh that’s available in plenty of online stores, which I would love just as much, and for which I would choose the exact color and amount I want – but that doesn’t hold any appeal at all. Well, buying yarn is always appealing, but there’s no urgency. There is pretty much always going to be some color of MadTosh yarn that I like available somewhere on the internet, and there’s no reason I have to buy any right now, because (say it with me) I don’t need any yarn, and I don’t have the money to just start keep buying more willy nilly.

Call it a “yarn club” or an “update,” though, and make it limited edition of some kind? And I’m all over it – even when all that’s needed for entree to this exclusive group is the cost of admission and being at the keyboard at the right time.

Clearly this works on many more people than just me, or yarn producers wouldn’t do it. Nor is it exactly an obscure or complicated principle that scarcity/exclusivity make something more attractive. But it amuses me how well it works, and how easy it is for sellers to manipulate one’s FOMI (fear of missing out). While FOMI’s usually understood to result from viewing others’ carefully curated/sanitized lives on social media like Facebook, somehow in the consumer context (because it’s not limited to yarn) it endows a physical object with emotional, social significance. It makes me feel not only as if I need and deserve this yarn – despite the fact that it is entirely a frivolous, if beloved, luxury – but also as if purchasing that yarn will make me part of some kind of in-group (for lack of a better term).

Because these kinds of updates are very social experiences. There are Ravelry groups devoted to each of these yarns, to discussing the updates, and to sharing pictures of the yarn, plans for future projects, and photos of finished objects. If you join the Magnolia Club, before each shipment you get to vote on what color it will be, by choosing from a selection of inspiration photos. Even though voting on a very general color family is really not a significant part of the creative process, it makes the members feel involved with that process – much more so than simply plunking down a credit card at a store or online.

To be clear – I’m not criticizing these limited edition updates/yarn clubs. I love them. I love being part of a group of people geeking out over the same pretty, shiny, fuzzy, colorful hanks of string. I love that yarn producers/dyers make the effort to involve their buyers, and are responsive, and have an emotional connection to what they do. The apogee of this is probably Clara Parkes’ Clara Yarn, which is perhaps the most intentional, mindful example of creating a community around the production of a good, about which the producer is incredibly and genuinely passionate, and including consumers in the process in a way that’s thoughtful, educational, and exciting.

I’m also not knocking these practices for being centered around luxuries. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying things you love and will use, if you can afford them. Really, there’s nothing wrong with accumulating great piles of yarn if you love it and can afford it and have space to store it, even if you may not really knit with it for, well, a long time, if ever. People love and collect a lot of different things simply for the sake of having them, and yarn is no worse or better than most collections. (My mom has a beautiful collection of eggcups.)

And “manipulate” isn’t a great word to use here because it implies some kind of sinister purpose, which isn’t what I mean at all. It’s just that it’s the nature of a market economy that people who create things for others to buy must find ways to convince said others that those particular things are worth buying, or go under. This doesn’t preclude producers from also being warm, kind, generous people who are genuinely interested in and supportive of the communities who use their products. In the context of yarn, that has certainly been my experience so far. But they must be businesspeople and marketers, too.

Well. This post has taken a much more philosophical turn than I intended when I started writing, when my intent was really only to say, “Look at my new pretty yarn!” But I continue to be fascinated by the dual nature of crafting communities on the internet – at once commercial and creative, artistic and business-savvy. And it seems to me (as very much the amateur/hobbyist) that there must be quite a bit of pressure on designers/producers of yarn and knitting patterns and other craft items. How to be at once the warm, friendly, maternal/grandmaternal/crafting buddy stand-in that consumers want, to enhance their experience of crafting as something social, that builds community and addresses emotional needs; and at the same time, the businessperson who has to be responsible to a bottom line? Maybe that’s not really a tension for most people in the industry; maybe it would just be a tension for me, and I’m reading too much into things. But it does seem to me that people who buy yarn and yarn patterns have different expectations than people buying, say, glue, or flour, or some other kind of staple.

In any case, I’m still super glad I caught that Posh update.

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Weighty talk 

What weight yarn do you prefer? Do you have a favorite? Do you have one that you keep buying and then not using?

IMG_2037I am a huge sucker for lace weight yarns. They check a whole bunch of boxes for me:

• warm-weather friendly: they’re very lightweight and tend to be used for airy, almost weightless fabrics.

• economical: they often come in cones (as at left) or hefty skeins of 800+ yards for not much more cost, or even less, than their weightier cousins who show up in lengths of 400-ish.

• good knitting return on your investment: it takes quite a long time to knit 800 yards of lace weight yarn!

(These last two are not original to me; Elizabeth Zimmerman points them out in Knitting Without Tears. But I wholly agree with her.)

• frequent non-wool content: lots of lace yarns blend wool with drapier kinds of fibers like silk or alpaca, which is good if (like me) you tend to find wool a bit itchy.

• elegant: this is obviously subjective, and depends on what patterns you use. But generally speaking, the small diameter and significant drape of laceweight yarns seems to me to offer a more refined, formal, dressy look than heavier, more rustic yarns do. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no need to aim for a more formal, dressy kind of look all the time, and a good rustic wool has its own kind of elegance. But it’s a different kind of look, and I like the elegance lace offers.

HOWEVER…

I am not actually the best at knitting lace weight yarns:

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• it takes quite a long time to knit 800 yards of laceweight – which is great, until you get tired of the pattern, and of feeling like you’ve been knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting, and your fabric has grown two millimeters.

• the yarn is so light that the resulting fabric can lack structure. That’s great for flowing shawls, but not always flattering in other kinds of projects.

• knitting lace can be discouraging because it often looks terrible until blocked. Obviously this is the case if you’re knitting proper lace stitches, but even if you’re just doing stockinette, lace seems to show every last uneven stitch (unless done on truly tiny needles and then you really do take forever). Pretty much every project benefits from blocking, and if you can make it through a lace project and block it properly a magic wonder awaits you, but sometimes it’s hard to have faith that the crumpled thing hanging from your needles is going to turn out properly.

• I’m not really a lace shawl kind of person, so am usually trying to use it for other things – but there’s a reason so many designs for lace yarns are shawls.

• did I mention knitting laceweight takes a long time?

So, I keep buying lace yarn, but my finished objects have all pretty much been fingering weight, sport, or DK. I have some worsted weight that has been through various attempts at projects, none of which are yet finished, but I think the only thing I’ve knit out of bulky yarn was a hat for charity. (I think this is due to wool-aversion – many bulky wools are too warm/itchy for my current climate, but bulky cotton can get really really heavy, and I’m not a big fan of acrylic. There are a few bulky cottons of interesting constructions – tape or chain – that I’d like to try, but I’ve been too cheap to take the chance so far.)

I do have a couple of laceweight projects on the needles right now: The first is Carol Feller‘s Adrift in the pinky-maroon Misti Alpaca on the right in the picture above. I cast on at some point last fall, but it’s been languishing since I hit the short rows for shaping the neck – I really wanted some uncomplicated in-front-of-the-TV knitting, and kept screwing up the short rows in in the tiny yarn, so put it aside in favor of other projects and…well. (Nothing against the pattern, which is lovely, or the yarn, which is ridiculously soft.)

IMG_2050The second is Kate DaviesFrost at Midnight out of her amazing book, Yokes. I cast on a couple of months ago when I had been playing with the yarn, swatching and trying other projects for which it turned out to be unsuitable. It’s a heavy laceweight from Posh Yarn, 55% superwash BFL and 45% silk, and the color is amazing. That’s it to the left. I just ordered a bunch of different pinky and purplely beads to see which would work for the beaded yoke; can’t wait to see which are best!

(And oh, hey, it’s yet more brightly-colored variegated yarn! And more purple! The more things change…)

I’m not very far into Frost at Midnight yet; I made it through the provisional cast on and a few rows, but got distracted by baby gifts, Dalyla, and Stratum. Stratum had been going well, but I came to the end of the first skein of the gray yarn and didn’t want to wind another, so picked up Frost at Midnight again.

For some reason, this time I’m finding knitting lace especially soothing and meditative, and I’m enjoying the process almost more than the prospect of the final project. Maybe this time I’ll actually finish it, and acquire the knack for knitting lace? Maybe I’ll start using up my lace stash? Or, maybe this time next year, I’ll be talking about getting back to this project, and totting up how many more skeins of lace I own now (I bought two more last week…).

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