May 27, 2015

Origin Stories

(sorry for the long delay in posts - was on holiday in Shetland, which I will post about soonish)

I’ve been listening to the KnitBritish podcast, which is absolutely delightful (and really REALLY enabley). The podcast grew out of a blog, whose basis is essentially knitting with British wool. Louise Scollay, the blogger/host, being British herself, took up a challenge to go a year knitting only with British wool. I am fully enamored with this challenge, as it hits on so many issues I hold near and dear: knowing the origin of your goods (yarn included), supporting local-to-you businesses and industries, making informed shopping decisions, and helping rescue rare and critical breeds. Added bonus is that I really like British yarns and sheep breeds, recent purchase history at Blacker Yarns bearing witness.

The thing is, though, I no longer live in GB. Much as I adore British yarns and makers, they are not, in fact, local to me. While I do place a greater value on them based on the above issues than commercially-produced yarn milled in big factories in China, the don’t actually help local-to-me businesses or industries.

I do my part to shop from farms and American yarn companies at fiber festivals (boy howdy do I!), but those make up a relatively small percentage of my yearly yarn/fiber purchases. The rest of the time, I am an online shopper, and sadly spend more money on European wool than anything else. (While I do try to support my LYS, I don’t buy much yarn from them – their stock is made up almost entirely of larger commercial yarn brands which don’t interest me).

I should clarify. When I say American yarn, I mean that the wool comes from American sheep and is then processed and spun in American mills. There are plentiful American yarn companies who use non-American wool, but I do not consider that yarn to actually be American. Kind of like a Ford that is made in Mexico. Sure, it’s a domestic brand, but not exactly “made in America.”

I must say that I do feel a little squinky about the whole “made in America” thing. The emphasis on buying American is too often associated with über-“patriotic” asshats with Confederate flags adorning their pickup trucks buying items made in America from stores whose profit and continued existence are tied directly to cheap foreign labor and the destruction of small business here. Additionally, as a dual-citizen with a good deal of foreign-upbringing and a healthy fear of all things nationalistic, I don’t wish to associate with this brand of fervent nationalism. This is not the “made in America” I’m talking about.

Anywho, I started doing a little research. GB has quite a few online resources for buying British wool. From yarn companies with excellent online presences (Blacker Yarns, Jamieson & Smith, Jamieson’s, Baa Ram Ewe, to name but a few) to websites that compile and link to sources for British yarn, to organizations that make it their business to promote British wool. The US sadly is lacking on all fronts.

There are some hodgepodge lists and old blog posts here and there, but it requires some digging. Additionally, many brands of yarn that I am pretty sure are American (or show up on lists), do not mention the origin of their wool at all on their websites, but go into great detail about how it is all processed and spun in the good ol’ USofA (which really is great, but still only half of the puzzle). Most farms who have their wool spun into yarn to sell have little to no internet presence. While each state and breed of sheep has organizations to promote their farmers, they either focus more on meat or, well, don’t give you much information on how to get yarn.

Basically, if you want to knit with American yarn, you either stick solely with the couple of larger companies, buy all your yarn at festivals, or do a shit-ton of research. Doable, for sure, but really who has the time and energy?

Have I missed some big website/organization that would solve all these problems? If so, for fuck’s sake, make yourself more visible – if you don’t show up in my google searches, you’re not really much help, eh? 

As someone with oodles of time on her hands, I am thinking about creating a website to help people find American yarn. I would call it “Origin Stories” (resisting the urge to preempt it with “Woolverine”), and I would start with a list of companies, farmers, small business, what-have-you who deal in American yarn. I would also conduct interviews/questionnaires with owners/shepherds/farmers/etc. to offer background on said American yarn. Essentially, I would like to help people find local-to-US yarn with a story,  while also highlighting smaller farms and yarn makers who don’t do much online.  I go to several fiber festivals each year, and can picture grabbing ALL the business cards and having chats with as many farmers and yarn makers as possible to aid in this. Would be cool, right?


I’m thinking about it…

Mar 29, 2015

Fucking Hipsters

I have been listening to a new podcast – Woolful. It’s a fantastic format: every episode features discussions with two people within the fiber world. Every episode is unique and interesting, and the podcast covers a full range of topics. My only problem with this podcast is that it can be the yarny podcast equivalent of the annoying flannel-wearing, Intelligentsia-Coffee-drinking, will-chastise-you-for-drinking-pilsner, douchebag hipster.

I suspect that every area of interest has this type of person – the one who does it the “right” way, who not only tries to find the old, real, authentic, sustainable, eco-friendly, earthy, intricate, difficult, way to perform and love their craft, but values that above all others ways. It is the last part that really burns my toast. I actually fall in line with a lot of these things: I love finding local, small-farm, minimally processed wool. I try to avoid commercial wool that was no doubt processed in China and is environmentally unsound. I enjoy small-gauge knitting. I will happily spend more on yarn or tools that people might call “artisan”. I will go for the lesser-known and rare breeds over merino. I do all these things, but the difference is that I don’t think that makes either myself or my knitting qualitatively “better” than that of someone who doesn’t. It is better for me, but not necessarily for my friend or for a total stranger on the other side of the country. 

The most recent episode I listened to (I’m way behind) featured a guest* who went on about how “worsted has its place” but the only way to really get true value out of your craft is to knit at a finer gauge and to knit pieces that take longer.  The exact quote that took me to threat level rage:

“If you look up knitting on the internet all we see is like worsted, bulky, chunky, worsted, worsted, chunky, and the reason for that is because it’s easier. I mean, more people are doing it because it’s easier. I mean, the craftsmanship is there, yeah sure, but I mean if you were to take the time to do something at a higher gauge at a higher resolution, so to speak, it would be more beautiful and would demonstrate your craftsmanship better. It would represent knitting much better, and that’s why I tend to do it more often is that not very many people are doing it for one thing, but also because it’s a good thing to commit to.”

The level of pretentiousness and highly insular, classist and downright snobby thinking is staggering.

I say insular because both people in this conversation (the interviewer went on to fully agree and support this view) are from California. They eventually do note that they might find more utility for heaver weights if they lived in colder climes, but there is no sense of a connection between utility and the values expressed above. You get the sense that if they lived in a colder climate they would knit more with heaver weight yarns, but only out of necessity, not desire. I would love to see one of them explain to people in Iceland or Ireland how their Lopi and fisherman’s sweaters fail to “represent knitting” in the best way possible.  That is, however, basically what they are saying: all you people in colder climates who knit heavier-gauge garments? sorry, but they’re lacking in beauty and in their ability to show off your craftsmanship! 

The thing is, beauty is subjective, and craftsmanship depends on the crafter, not the materials. This notion that a finer gauge “represents knitting” better is like saying “lemon mascarpone pancakes truly represent and show off the craft of pancakes best”. For starters, it is nonsensical. Any pancake can represent pancakes, no matter the style. But fine, you want something that is a true representation of a LARGE and VARIED craft. In that case, you look to the purest iteration thereof. THAT is why when you “look up knitting on the internet” you get a lot of worsted stockinette. It is the purest essence of knitting. It truly represents the idea, the craft.

But if it is faster, that makes it easier and reduces the value, right? Larger gauge knitting does indeed go quicker, but the larger stitches also mean that it is significantly more difficult to hide mistakes.  A slipped stitch, rowing out, uneven stitches, a missed or backwards cable cross, etc. is all more highly visible in a larger gauge than in fine gauge.  Sure, it can be quicker, but that doesn’t make it easier. 

Again, we come back to craftsmanship coming from the crafter. There is a reason that a plain, stockinette sweater can win over an intricate finer-gauge colorwork sweater in a knitting competition: craftsmanship. Craftsmanship comes from skill, knowledge and experience, not from the materials. In the same way that I could make a truly shitty cup of coffee from fair-trade organic, single-estate, unicorn-blessed coffee beans, I could also make a poorly knitted, terribly constructed piece of garbage sweater from finer-gauge materials. I could also make an expertly crafted bulky acrylic blanket. If you are relying on your materials to do the work of displaying real craftsmanship, then you are not a craftsman.

This type of opinion about knitting (or any other craft, really) also displays a level of classism. Not everyone has the means to knit the way you do. To place a greater intrinsic value on your preferred methods of knitting  by definition takes value away from others’ methods. As I stated before, I have certain preferences when it comes to my yarn. I know that, for me, a commercial superwash merino is pretty low on my desirability scale. FOR ME. That I desire it less, doesn’t mean it lacks value in the world of knitting. It only lacks value in my little one-person world. Same with acrylic or Big Box yarns. I don’t desire them and they hold no value in my knitting life, but only mine. That someone knits with a worsted acrylic from Michael’s doesn’t make their knitting any less knitting-y. It doesn’t make my knitting a better representation of knitting, nor does it mean that my craftsmanship is automatically better or that my knitting is more beautiful.


TL;DR: Don’t be the fucking pompous, douchebag, hipster knitter. Just because you value certain methods/materials doesn’t devalue the knitting done by knitters using other methods/materials. You can express your love of these methods/materials WITHOUT making other people feel worthless for loving other methods/materials. You can educate, share your love of methods/materials and try to convince people of their relative good without (nonsensical and false) blanket statements about intrinsic worth that alienates nonbelievers. You can be a force for change even without being a dick. DON’T BE A DICK.

*I don't want to call the guest/host out by name, because, while they exhibited a rant-inducing level of hipster pompousness, they are not the only ones who do so. I hear this shit all over the place in different forms from various types of knitters. This just happens to be the most recent (and, again, rant-inducing) version. 

Feb 22, 2015

Mile 2

Mile 2 is eating my dust! What a satisfying mile this was. I dug out a sweater that had been sitting in my UFO bin for years and pushed myself to finish it. I honestly cannot say why it was snoozing for so long - it's a lovely pattern in an amazing yarn. Finishing up a project that has been languishing since 2012 gives me a significant feeling of accomplishment; finishing up a sweater that looks absolutely smashing provides added joy!





I am freezing my tits off in these photos, but I do love this sweater! The neckline was a beast to knit - very hard on my poor hands - but ultimately worth the pain. The welt before the ribbing adds such a poshness to the whole sweater that I foresee myself adding this to future sweaters.

Yarn: Wollmeise DK in Petersilie
Yards: 1473

I also finished a pair of socks that had also been a bit of a monkey on my back, albeit for not nearly as long as the sweater. I wanted the highly variegated yarn to shine, so I went with a basic vanilla sock. I think my plan succeeded!

The photo does not do this colorway justice.

Pattern: plain vanilla with a 2x1 rib on the leg
Yarn: a glorious old label Wollmeise Twin in Türkis und Karneol
Yards: 383

Lastly, a few smaller projects to round out the second mile:


A wee troll hat for a friend's newborn. The pattern is for a larger baby using worsted, so I scaled it down a bit using DK. It's delightful when modeled on an actual baby rather than my macadamia wood bowl. 

Pattern: Troll by Gabriela Widmer-Hanke
Yarn: Wollmeise DK in Elsa
Yards: 103


This little number was the epitome of instant gratification. I knit it up in about a day, got to play with neon pink beads, and ended up with a very wearable and cute bracelet. This will not be the last of these... 

Pattern: Ribband by Laura Nelkin
Yarn: Three Irish Girls Adorn Sock in Carey
Beads: Toho Luminous Neon Pink 6/0
Yards: 20ish

And there we have it! Mile 2 is in the books halfway through February, sweater #2 of 12 is also counted, and two WIPs have been whipped! Pretty damn good, if I may say so myself. 



Feb 17, 2015

Secular Lent

Happy Shrove Tuesday! I hope everyone has a belly full of pancakes, paczki, king cake, or whatever delightful Fat Tuesday confection you indulge in on this day. Confession: I am not of the Christian religious/faithful variety. I was raised as such, but have thrown it aside in favor of a different belief system. I'd go into more detail, but I tend to check out upon reading/hearing about other people's beliefs, so nope. The reason I bring it up is that I do love Lent. Not the religious aspects, per se, but the tradition of making sacrifices during its duration. Granted, this practice of sacrificing during Lent is rooted in religious stuff, but it also has secular appeal. It's like New Year's resolutions (which, as we all know, I loathe) but on a smaller timeline, with greater support. 40 days is an excellent period of time to sacrifice something. It's long enough that it can make an actual difference in behavior post-Lent, but short enough to where you can face the hardship knowing the end is in sight. Plus, if someone gives you shit about your sacrifice, saying "it's for Lent" tends to shut them right the hell up.

What am I sacrificing this year? The motherfucking internet. Yeah, that thing that I rely on for all my information, most of my social time, my morning and evening time wasting, patterns and general frivolity. Two exceptions: work-related internet usage (three websites) and email. The latter partially for work, but also because on rare occasions I get time-sensitive emails. I'll be doing the "Sunday is a free day" both for sanity and to make sure I don't miss us going to war or something.

I will try to keep track of the agony and post here about it (on Sundays, obviously). I fully expect to fail. I do hope that not being constantly distracted by facebook and ravelry, not being enraged by idiots on the internet, not idly shopping etsy, ebay and whatever other shops pique my interest will result in three positive outcomes: increased productivity (work, knitting, cleaning, whatever), greater peace within and saving some moolah.

Wish me luck! If you are giving something up for Lent, I wish you the best of luck as well!

Feb 9, 2015

The First Mile

 Recap of the first mile of my year-long half-marathon of FOs:


You've already seen my Rare Breeds Rockaway. A little bit more about it: Knit primarily with some absolutely amazing yarn I purchased at Rhinebeck, this bulky jacket is my new love. I still haven't managed to get the husband to take a good photo of me wearing it, so here is a painfully awkward selfie instead:


The yarn is amazing. The grey and brown are both from The Ross Farm - the grey is Leicester Longwool and the brown is Shetland. The Shetland came from a ram named Boris, which just provides me with such joy - both knowing the name of the sheep that gave me such beautiful wool and also that his name provokes impromptu Boris & Natasha impersonations in our house. The white is also Leicester Longwool, from Maple Frost Farm. I feel good wearing this jacket. Not just because it is an excellent and warm garment, but because I know that the wool came from happy sheep and that my knitting this sucker helped in a very small way to support small farmers focused on rare breed sheep. 

Pattern: Rockaway by Jared Flood
Yards: 1,450
Happiness level: more than a woodpecker in a lumber yard


Onwards: Hugo.


I have little to say about Hugo, other than that he is big, squishy and well-loved by my nephew. He was a birthday present for him, and a total winner. My niece has already requested hers (which was of course already in the queue for her).

Yarn: Knit Picks Biggo in Green Tea Heather
Yards: 330
Happiness level: clam

There we have it: the first mile of yarn. I'm well into the second mile, and if I finish the sweater I am currently working on soon, I might be dipping into the third! I need to average 1.09 miles per month, and so far it seems I am on track!

P.S. I should also mention that I added another goal to my year by signing on to Tin Can Knits' 12 sweaters in 12 months challenge KAL. Thankfully, baby sweaters count! More info here, should you like to join the madness

Feb 3, 2015

Smile to Flatter

I feel there has been a lot of discussion in my twitter and Ravelry feeds, in books, in podcasts and even in Instagram hashtags about knitting sweaters that flatter your particular body type. I don't really have an issue with wearing clothing that flatters. I know, as a tall, fat 30-something, that I cannot pull off a tube-top paired with pedal-pushers. I shudder at the thought. When I clothes shop, I look for items that hide the rolls, accentuate the breasteses, and just generally give me a pleasing appearance. However, equally important (if not more so) is that I am comfortable and enjoy wearing the clothing. So, while a tailored, lined dress might look amazeballs on me, I would be constantly fighting the urge to go Hulk on it. I also find that if I am unhappily uncomfortable in clothing (be it the fabric, the bulk, the movement, whatever), it doesn't matter how objectively flattering it is, I feel like I am in that tube-top and pedal-pushers.

When it comes to knitting garments, these feelings are amplified and more complex. The time commitment of knitting means that if I knit something I do not find comfortable or pretty, I hate it and myself in it exponentially more than if I had bought it. That I knit for the enjoyment of knitting (I am 80% process, 20% product), if a pattern is full of aspects of knitting I find to be torture (more purls = more misery) or just boring, I'm going to both hate the knitting and the FO, and as such, hate myself in it. How I see myself in a handknit is influenced by the level of joy the knitting brought (a combination of pattern and yarn), general opinions on design (cables, lace, etc.), and fit. Emotion and preference are intertwined with objective elements of fit.

While I do consider objective fit and style - I do pass over patterns that I find unappealing based on that - it is not a primary criterion for pattern selection. This is mainly because when I look at sweaters that are meant to flatter my body type, they are all of a style that I find, well, hideous. My personal sense of style and preferences in clothing just don't mesh with what is "objectively flattering." When leafing through a certain book that caters to knitting sweaters that flatter different body types, I find my eyes drawn to precisely those patterns and styles that, apparently, look like dog shit has been flung upon my torso. I see people post photos of gorgeous aran sweaters and bemoan that it would make them look even heavier, or comment sadly on how heavy cables just aren't for fat girls. I see designers and knitterati champion accepting your body and knitting for it, I guess rather than for the body you wish you had.

Fuck that.

I accept my body, and I won't constrain it within clothing that others, not I, find acceptable. Isn't the whole idea of "flattering clothing" predicated on accepting that there is in fact a beauty standard and that we must dress in such a way as to get our nonstandard bodies as close to "ideal" as possible?

I say again: Fuck that.

Here's the deal: I love cables. I love big, heavy, intricate cables. I yearn to knit them. I don't give a rat's ass that they add weight to an already weighty body. Big girls can't wear cables? WATCH ME. Facts: I will enjoy knitting a cable-heavy sweater (a lot). I will find the FO to be exquisitely beautiful. I will have glee in my heart when I wear it. That glee will do something to my brain to make me secure in the knowledge that no other sweater could make me look as fucking awesome.

Perhaps a cabled aran sweater won't "objectively flatter" my body type, but so what? I am happy, and that is the most flattering thing for any body type.

Knit what makes you happy.

Jan 13, 2015

OMAHA! HARROGATE! GOTLAND! HUT!

A short post involving muggles exposed to yarny nonsense. 

Tomorrow is my birthday. This year, I decided that all I want is specific yarns for specific projects from my new obsession: Blacker Yarns. So I sent an email detailing such to the husband and the parents (have edited out all the links - for those new to the game, links are key to actually getting what you want):

Wish List:

Strokkur:
16 balls Norfolk horn
1 ball blacker classic Aran in turquoise
1 ball Hebridean/Manx Aran

Southwick:
19 balls Isles of Scilly Jacob guernsey

Epistrophy:
15 balls Castlemilk DK moorit
2 balls Cotswold DK

Harrogate:
18 balls Galway Aran

Dancette:
3 balls Gotland dark grey 4-ply
3 balls Gotland mid grey 4-ply

My dad opened the email while I was in his presence, and this was his reaction:

"What the...? What language is this?! STROKKUR! NORFOLK HORN! ARAN! MANX! HUT HUT HUT!"

My muggle dad truly believes yarn/pattern names would make for excellent football calls. It's hard to argue with him...

Jan 9, 2015

New Year, New Goals

Ignore the fact that 2015 is already over a week old. I've spent that week + down with the plague that seems to be making the rounds right now. I'm still recovering, but am at least human enough to type. Whether or not I can write in complete sentences and catch typos is still questionable.

Anyway. Happy New Year! The tradition for a new year is to vow adamantly to completely remake yourself, spend a few weeks making yourself miserable to this end, only to give up in an epic binge of netflix, oreos and beer... in other words, resolutions. I don't do resolutions. In fact, I hate the idea of resolutions. Figuring out what is wrong with me and pledging to change, knowing full well I will fail is a TERRIBLE way to kickstart a year. That being said, I do love me some yearly goals.

Don't start with me - goals are totally different from resolutions. A resolution is something that you will do to fix something wrong. A goal is something you will work towards achieving, and can by used for any part of your life. Sure, it's basically just semantics, and fuzzy semantics at that. I blame years and years of people resolving to lose weight, go to the gym, not drink so much, not swear so much, and other completely un-fun things. Resolutions = doing unpleasant shit you hate to somehow make yourself "better."

So, my goals! I have two of them, and they revolve around knitting, obviously.

1. HALF MARATHON

This past year, I completed 27 projects for a total of 16,902 yards. That's 9.6 miles. Not bad, really. But not a half marathon. This year, I will knit a half marathon. 13.1 miles of yarn. 23,056 yards. And when I finish, you better bet your ass I will be putting one of those obnoxious, self-congratulating stickers on my fucking car.

My rules are the same as they were for last year's projects: Project must be completed for the yardage to count. Doesn't matter when the project was started, only matters that it was completed in 2015.

2. Rhinebeck sweaters

No, not that Rhinebeck sweater. I'm talking sweaters made out of yarn purchased at Rhinebeck. I have now been two years, and have amassed six SQs (sweater quantities) in those visits. I am planning on going again this year, and it would to be a lot harder to justify buying shitloads of yarn when I have six SQs sitting at home. So my second goal for the year is to knit up all my Rhinebeck sweaters (or as many as possible). On deck:

  1. Rockaway by Jared Flood - Ross Farm Fibers Leicester Longwool, Shetland, and Maple Frost Farm Leicester Longwool
  2. Bailey's Irish Cream by Thea Colman - Foxhill Farm Cormo DK
  3. Castle Pullover by Cecily Glowik MacDonald - O-Wool Balance
  4. Reilly Pullover by Triona Murphy - Johanneshof Yarns Romney
  5. Fisherman's Daughter by Carol Sunday - Ross Farm Fibers Jacob Worsted
  6. TBD - O-Wool Legacy Bulky
I'm well on my way! Today I finished up the Rockaway:


This is it blocking! Better (non-phone) pics will come later. Needless to say, one Rhinebeck sweater down. 1,450 yards logged. Let's do this!