I grew up in a world of woolly jumpers. And cardies. Some of them were classic, heavy, fairisle jumpers which had started life in my father’s possession but after so many years and washes made it to my mother before finally being cast on to me. Slightly strange but true. I hated woolly jumpers. They were synonymous with only one word in my young mind: itchy. I don’t do itchy. Still don’t.
So whilst I’m a little bit wary of knitting with pure wool yarns for that particular reason, there are also plenty of other reasons why I don’t often find natural fibres on my needles. I don’t knit garments for a start, waaaay to many numbers but I mainly knit toys and baby booties. Now if I was the receiving parent my primary concerns would be wearability and washability. So I use good old machine washable acrylic. Don’t start screaming in protest and hating me, please.
The next factor is availability. My nearest proper yarn shop is ten miles away. And this is England not the States. And I don’t have transport. The department store in town does have a crafts department with a reasonable (but dwindling) yarn selection. But it’s oh so expensive. And unhelpful.
As with everything, it also comes down to cost. Sadly. I can’t afford at the moment to spend a whole fiver on a wee smudge of pretty natural yarn. I’d rather concentrate on other luxuries like milk, bread and cheese. With the odd bit of fruit and veg too, don’t worry. And it’s not just a fiver, it’s several fivers to make anything more than half a bootee. Natural is going to be out of reach for a while yet.
I think it’s also a cultural thing. The American knitters seem to have cottoned onto (no pun intended) the whole indie yarn thing yonks before it came over here. Maybe it’s not so expensive, maybe it’s more available, maybe that’s the normal. Over here we’re still in a fifty year time warp where we knit in acrylic pastels on steel needles. Knitting is about making do and mending not luxury or pleasure.
When I started knitting, I trotted down to the corner of the basement where the crafts section (cross stitch, embroidery threads, odd but not useful haberdashery, yarns, a few rolls of patchwork cotton, not much else) lurks in the department store. You’d have thought that a young, new, enthusiastic learner would be welcomed. Oh no. Clueless was a crime and I was expected to fend for myself. Asking for guidance was not appreciated. Especially as having been promptly pushed towards the most hideous pastel variegated baby-victim acrylic, I revolted. Ungrateful urchin. I stamped my foot and pointed to something funky. I wanted my naff garter stitch scarf to actually be wearable. Relatively. Despite the holes and wobbles. I made it up in a wool yarn in slightly fluffy self-striping pink, red and orange (don’t worry, it does actually work) yarn. And it is mostly wearable. As a chest warmer, it’s not long enough to be a scarf. Under a thick coat in bad weather. But it is itchy. I don’t do itchy.
A little while later I announced to various knitting acquaintances that as I had made it through that first project I was planning on a long-term relationship with the craft and as such I was going to splash out on an entire set of needles. The shock, the horror, the scandal. And they were in bamboo too. (My fingers prefer it). Despite the reaction of these old hands, I felt that it was a canny move based on the very basic arithmetic of a set of goodness knows how many for £15 compared to one pair for about a fiver a go. Nope, still not good enough. Still not meant to have apparently luxury needles. Still not meant to splash out. I think that sums up the attitude. Spending money is not what knitting is about. It’s about making your children suffer strange shaped, odd coloured monstrosities. And victimising babies in twee self striping nauseating pastel combos.
The reality is that spending money is an inherent part of the crafting process unfortunately (most things in life actually), but when you start totting up how much you would have to spend on the yarn recommended in the pattern, you quickly start having a wheezy panic attack whilst jigging the calculator in shocked horror hoping that the numbers shift at least a decimal point. I can’t afford to spend hundreds on projects. Can anyone? I have to substitute. And there’s either fancy or acrylic. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. I can’t even find blends that easily. Only in Aran weight in that department store.
So what’s a girl to do?
I’m a knitter, I’m going to go on knitting. And that means I’ll go on knitting with whatever I can get my hands on. Even if that’s acrylic.