'Wool' from My Stash

Yarn, in my experience of this country, is always called ‘wool’ but tends to be made from acrylic, slightly confusingly.  Yarn, or ‘wool’, usually comes in balls, you talk about balls of wool (although not necessarily of this fibre) and the language doesn’t really expand from there.  Sometimes I feel that knitting in this country is a good thirty years behind the States.  It shows in the language, fibre is something to do with bran breakfast cereals, a buzz word in health not knitting.  No one really cares what the ball is made from and it’s not always about value either (the French term for value perhaps highlights its true meaning best, ‘un bon rapport qualité-prix‘).  ‘Wool’ has to be cheap.  That’s why acrylic is so popular.  Mohair is best seen as a novelty yarn.  Posher knitters will stick with traditional labels where wool content is likely but scratchy and who, in my humble opinion, do not at all represent that bon rapport qualité-prix. Splashing out, new fibres such as alpaca and qiviut* (yes, I’m sure that the animal isn’t a modern invention but you know what I’m getting at), indie dyers, independents, hand painted, roving, breed specific, heirloom knits … they’re all completely alien terms. Well maybe not ‘heirloom knits’, we have our own version.  It’s called hand-me-downs, pass-ons.  I spent my childhood in those.

Let’s return to the idea of value.  Knitting is traditionally something that is done to fill a need.  There is a definite attitude, perhaps engrained from war years and rationing, that you have to make do with what you’ve got.  This is a good thing, we’ve all witnessed the downturn from a decade of cash splashing.  But it translates in other subtler ways too.  Whilst knitting and pass-ons are about filling a need, there is great parsimony.  There is a reluctance to part with any money when something you already have will ‘do’ and an even greater reluctance to spend more money than is necessary.   Spending money on knitting cannot be justified even when it is done strictly for the necessary, the need to clothe one’s family or they will go without.  When this almost outdated need is excluded, there is even less justification for a woman to spend money on a hobby for either her own pleasure or for satisfying a perception of what a good mother/grandmother provides.  Budget acrylic thrives.

However, it’s not just in the older generation that you see these traits.  I am like it.  Maybe it’s partly the way I was raised; maybe it’s partly my personality.  I don’t like spending money.  I don’t like spending money on something trivial, insignificant, not necessary.  My knitting does not clothe us.  It is a hobby only.  Admittedly, a hobby that keeps me sane and saves the health service goodness knows how much on therapy.  I cannot justify any expense on my pastime, especially not when we’ve been going through times when bread, milk and cheese have taken on proportional expense to luxuries.  Therefore, I don’t have a knitting ‘budget’.  I know where I can buy the cheapest acrylic.

But there’s a problem.

I’ve never been a huge fan of acrylic.  It has its uses.  Other than its ‘value’ status.  It works for many of the items that I’ve knitted.  I’ve recently been making items from ‘special’ yarns, yarns, that in my world, at least represented an investment.  They are beautiful to work with.  They make beautiful finished garments.  Returning to acrylic was horrible, it’s plastic-y and squeaky.  But it does have its uses.  Especially when it comes to its ‘value’ status.

I spoke of having to challenge Old Ideas in a previous post, or alluded to it at least.  The notion of having to buy the cheapest available yarn, regardless, is an Old Idea.  I see it people’s other spending habits.  People buy cheap clothes.  I don’t mean ‘basic’ necessarily, why would you want to spend tens of pounds on a white t-shirt?  Those clothes will always look cheap on them.  And sadly, it might be a mean thing to say, but those people will always look ‘cheap’ in them.  Investing in good clothes that fit well and look good is wise.  But is again something utterly alien.  I realised a while ago that I cannot and will not ever look ‘good’ in those cheap clothes.  (Whether I look ‘good’ in anything is seriously debatable).  I need to invest.  Many years ago, I learnt a wise lesson.  If you buy a skirt for a fiver and wear it once then that skirts costs a fiver.  If you buy a skirt for twenty and yet wear it a hundreds time then skirts only costs twenty pence.  I still have many of those clothes a decade later, despite size changes and IBS.  I cannot afford to buy new clothes at all anymore.  The good ones have lasted, sometimes I splash out and buy ‘good’ clothes from the charity shops.  They look ‘good’.  They last.

Perhaps I should apply this lesson to my yarn too.  I am learning, developing, growing.  I have learnt new words and terms so maybe it is time for a new ethos too.  I read other people’s views on hand knitting and I’ve learnt a few things that justify ‘investment’.  Spending fifty quid on yarn for one jumper seems ludicrous.  (Don’t get me started on designer labels, ethics, poor materials, low quality and an arm and a leg, no thanks).  Yet, what if that jumper lasted twenty years?  I cannot even begin to estimate how many times you would wear but at a cost per year?  Two fifty.  Now that isn’t quite so bad.  Usually you’d have to part with at least a tenner for some often badly cut, oddly sized acrylic special with nasty buttons.

Those knitters have other reasons to justify their investment.  A shop bought jumper won’t last as long as the hand knit one mentioned above.  Even if I coax and eke mine out to record times, they still don’t last well.  You can shop around for a fibre and brand that pleases your ethics.  You can choose a fibre that works best for you and your skin.  You can customise and tailor fit your jumper so it’s just perfect.  All excellent justifications.  Then I’ve starting seeing everywhere (you know how it goes, you see something somewhere once for the first time and then you see it everywhere) that people think that wool keeps you warmer than shop acrylic.  This would sell it to me.  I have circulation problems and feel the cold.  I’ve grown up with acrylic so perhaps cannot really tell the difference anymore, although I do remember being very warm the day my mother sent me to school in a wool dress, vest, t-shirt, jumper, wool tights, goodness knows what else when they said that the heating would be off (mid-winter, portacabin classroom) but then wasn’t.  But I think what clinched it for me was when I read someone saying that shop bought socks last no time at all and their first knitted socks have lasted them four years so far.  I have shop bought socks that are ten years old.  I started doing some vague mental arithmetic as to how long I could keep a pair of knitted socks.  I multiplied by four.  Suddenly spending out less than a tenner on some beautiful, colourful, stripey sock yarn (which has been tempting and calling me for the last few months, every time I go into the yarn shop) seemed a good idea.  (However, I just don’t want to know how old I would be when I’m still wearing them, it calls to mind that poem, when I am seventy, I will wear hand knit socks).

So this has been a long ramble about yarn, also known as ‘wool’.  Well, there’s a lot of knitting in my life at the moment.  Not just the actual stuff on needles either.  A week or so ago I took the time to organise my knitting life.  I wasn’t quite up to tackling other areas of my life, not just yet anyway.  It felt somehow metaphorical, that if I could succeed in sorting out this one field then there was hope for the others.  Maybe.  I sorted my stash, filed my patterns, created a database, stock checked my needles (and found that some of them aren’t the size they say they are), filled in lots of useful things on Ravelry like stash and needles and generally took control.  It was a pleasant feeling.  (Although my husband didn’t quite appreciate the piles of patterns being neatly sorted into categories across every available surface in the sitting room including every seat of the sofa.  Especially not after the third day).  I felt that I had succeeded.  And whilst perhaps it’s easy to say that I should have been devoting my energy and time to something more important, this is what I could manage.  And I did it.  I like that feeling.  I like the organisation and the control, I like knowing what I’ve got and where I’m going with it (I have lots of projects up my knitted sleeve now!).  I feel more confident actually.  Surely, that was worth it?

All I have left to do is talk my husband into holding each of my (many) circular needles so that I can measure them properly.  And I have, disturbingly perhaps, discovered that the only DPNs I own have been free with magazines.  I don’t own many.  This is something of a handicap to someone who has discovered the delights of i-cord and knitting in the round and who plans to go on using, and expanding, those skills in different weight yarns.  I might need to make an investment.

* For some reason, they had trouble marketing ‘musk ox’.

31 thoughts on “Investing

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  1. Pingback: In My Defence |
  2. Pingback: Woolly Thoughts |
    1. You can only make the best of either world by merging it with the other. Thank you for being appreciative of crafts like knitting, it means an awful lot to a wee knitter. Thanks too for visiting and commenting. :)

  3. I will probably never attempt the unmanly art of knitting but I remember some of the great things my mother used to knit for the kids. We always appreciated them on our limited budget. I also remember, as a kid myself, when she would drag me along to the yarn shop. Can you imagine how boring it is for a little boy in a yarn shop? Nothing to break.

  4. Funny that your post should be on knitting when I was just remarking this weekend to a friend that I would like to try my hand at knitting again. I haven’t done it in many, many years, and now I want to make a baby blanket for my niece’s baby who will be born in February. I know I could get a very nice baby blanket in the store, but I just want to make it myself because it seems to have much more sentiment attached to it. Every time my sweet niece looks at it, she will sigh and say, “This is the crappy blanket Aunt Susie made. It sure is ugly, but she made it herself.”

    1. Hehe, I don’t know if that is such a good sentiment but it made me laugh! You’ll make something beautiful, choose a lovely yarn and a great pattern and you’ll be away in no time. :)

  5. In the states you could never label something “wool” that was actually “acrylic” – consumers would freak out! Oh, and hobby’s that keep you sane are good and worth spending money on!

    1. Well it’s not technically labelled as such, it’s just a common name, one that even knitters use regardless of fibre. Only relatively sane though! Thanks for commenting. ;)

  6. Wow, you’ve touched on so many interesting and important topics. One is cost of yarn, but how we measure “cost” varies: the amount of money paid for the purchase? environmental effects (damages to environment due to petrochemicals in synthetic and artificial yarns)? durability measured in months or years? lowered winter heating costs because you’re wearing warmer wool sweaters? happiness/sanity (I’m like you – I love the soothing process of knitting)? One of the things I’ve done over the years is when I find an amazing sale price of good wool in a blah color (e.g., a lovely cream Irish tweed but the tweed flecks were pale blue and pale lavender), I buy the wool and fire up a dye pot at home. :) Another one of the (crazy?) supposedly cost saving things I did MANY years ago was buy a spinning wheel so I could spin my own yarns. (I don’t really do that very often.)

  7. I’m a R4 listener but not a Guardian reader – I’m worse, I’m a Telegraph reader (slinks away in shame) but I am not rich as you imply we all are. I’m also on a fairly reduced income being retired. I agree that it would be amazing to be able to afford expensive yarns but tough I can’t unless it’s a really special project or a potential heirloom. It isn’t The Knitter which offers a reasonable range of alternative – The Knitter wouldn’t lower itself (and I’ve been a subscriber for over a year). I must make an apologia for acrylic yarns. I’ve always been a wool knitter and very sniffy about acrylics – poor colour range, texture, sagginess in wear, appearance, etc., – but have become something of a convert of late. Colours are much more tasteful and less luminous these days and the quality is heaps better. Acrylic fibre is appearing in quite up-market expensive yarns. I do a lot of knitting and find that many of the people can’t cope with wool against the skin and as I knit a lot for a charity stall and cater for those who are allergic to wool, for vegans, and those lovely people who think hand-made should be cheap-made so acrylics are ideal for me. What really gets my goat is the amount of “luxury” yarns currently being advocated for baby knitting projects. These luxury yarns containing alpaca, baby llama, silk, etc., are hardly suitable for the harrassed mum who’s last wish in the world is for baby clothes that can’t be thrown in the washing machine. Don’t think I know any new mothers (or old ones for that matter) who would thank me for handwash only knitted baby knits.

  8. I taught myself to knit a year ago and I love it. My first hat I knitted on seom circular needles was so big it could’ve fitted an elephants head. After that, I took the trouble to learn to read patterns. Think I might get out my hat patterns for this winter and treat everyone to new gloves and hats!

  9. There is something wonderful about the sheer act of creation, and something home knitted is just priceless, like an embroidery sampler…it should be an heirloom!

    1. I guess, regardless of whether we knit or not, the lessons are still the same. Sometimes knitting is just a metaphor and I always try to make sure that my knitting posts can be of interest to non-knitters too, hopefully. :)

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