Monday, February 06, 2006


I needed some inexpensive yarn and needles for a class I'm teaching, so I made a trip out to the 'burbs to visit a Big Box Purveyor of Craft Supplies Which Shall Remain Nameless.

I should make a point of visiting one of these stores every few months to remind myself how lucky I am to have access to such great yarns and books in Toronto's stores. The Big Box stock is horrendous. It's all acrylic-based chunky and larger novelty yarns. The selection is three times what it was five or six years ago, but it's all pretty horrible stuff.

It was instructive to look around at the clientele, at what they were buying. 250gm balls of 100% acrylic worsted weight yarns for $2.97. I couldn't actually bring myself to touch it.

I wandered over to see the needle selection -- at least they had a good quantity of bamboos. An older woman (70+, I'd say), was helping a middle-aged novice knitter choose some needles for a scarf project. The novice was cradling a couple of balls of a very common brand eyelash yarn. The older woman was pointing her to 4mm needles.

I'm not sure what possessed me to actually get involved -- perhaps the desperate look on the face of the novice.

I took one look at the yarn and leapt in and suggested something "a bit larger". "Oh, no," said Older Woman. "You should never do a scarf on needles that big.... it would have holes in it." I pointed out the gauge indicator on the ball band -- which suggested 8mm needles. "It will be great with the needles the yarn manufacturer suggests. It would certainly be eaiser to work with than on much smaller needles."

"Oh, no, no, no. Definitely not." The Older Woman was giving me this terrible look -- how dare I correct her? How dare I question her expertise? "I made this scarf," she said, with a touch of aggression. I hadn't noticed her garter stitch fun-fur scarf until she held it up for me to admire.

I briefly considered pulling off my boots to show her the Fair Isle fingering weight socks I not only knit but also designed... but took a deep breath and went in search of Diet Coke instead.

Once I got over the implication that I was a mere dilettante, (although I did take some small consolation from the fact that I obviously look too young and too hip to be a serious knitter) I wondered about how many potential knitters we've lost.

How many knitters have been been scared off because they didn't enjoy working with the acrylic/fun-fur/novelty yarns that have seemed to become the standard of late? Yes, the results look interesting, but they're just about the most difficult and least pleasurable yarns to work with, even for an experienced knitter.

How many knitters have been put off by the well-meant but misguided advice of another ill-informed knitter? You couldn't pay me to knit a chunky weight eyelash yarn on 4mm needles, even if it was in a light colour.

And how many more knitters are there who will never progress beyond scarves, because they find those difficult enough?

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