Saturday, May 03, 2008

Sighting: A Meditation on Yarn Choices

I was teaching a class recently.

The shop was open, and shoppers were about -- cruising the yarns, checking out the books, generally being knitterly. An older woman wandered in, clearly looking for a new project. She went straight for the books and pattern leaflets. She sat near me, and as I am wont to do, I checked out her hand-knitted garments.

She had on a twinset, with lace insets. Lace on the front of the shell (couldn't tell if it had sleeves), and then matching lace panels down both of the cardigan fronts.

It was knitted in a fine, fine yarn, and she'd clearly taken a lot of time and care in its creation.

But I could tell even from a distance that she'd knitted it in acrylic. (Two clues: the yarn had a certain sheen to it, and it was also in a colour of peach that only seems to occur in acrylic "baby yarns".)

Ok, I'm a yarn snob. I've talked about this before. I probably spend far too much on yarn for a project. Certainly, I'm lucky enough to be able to afford good yarn. It's quite possible that this particular knitter didn't have a lot of money to spend a "boutique" yarn.

She clearly loves the craft, is proud of her skills, and enjoyed knitting her twinset.

But I have to wonder about how much more this knitter would have enjoyed her project if she'd worked with good yarn -- a yarn that felt good to work with.

I say this in my classes a lot: if you're going to spend that much time with the yarn running through your fingers, you should like how it feels. This to me is even more important than what it's made of, or where it comes from. And acrylic simply doesn't feel good.

I chatted with this knitter very briefly. She commented that knitting was undergoing a resurgence. Absolutely!

Knitting fell very much out of favour in the 1970s and 1980s. I don't believe that it's a coincidence that this is exactly the time when man-made yarns became so common, when they started to replace natural fibers as the most common knitting products available. When acrylic was the best you could hope for.

Knitting is back because the pleasure of the craft is back. We're lucky. The selection of yarn available today is broader than it has ever been.

There are so many more choices than the 100% acrylic yarns of the past 30-40 years. And many of them are affordable. Fabulous cottons, great wools, and all sorts of interesting new fibres like cotton and bamboo and soy.

Oh that I could have taken her hand and lead her to feel some of these new products, this unknown knitter...


shirleys said...

Your post struck chord with me. I too am an older woman, blessed to still be able to knit and enjoy today's beautiful yarns. Sure wish we hadn't been locked in to those acrylics for so many years.

mmj said...

An interesting socioeconomic post Kate. I might ask you to devise a knitting/ yarn policy for the GPO.