Saturday, July 7, 2012

knitting with austerity

I wrote a 10-part series earlier, in defense of knitting when times are tough. And by tough times, we all assume a diminishment of disposable income. (Of course, there are other ways to define tough times, and much of that 10-part series spoke about the value of knitting as a calming, creative, and meditative act that would be helpful through difficulties.)

But there are few of us who have not felt some loss of disposable income over the past few years. Yarn shops say that their incomes have dropped (which always happens in the summer anyway) and  that their customers are spending less money on each purchase.

It’s okay to spend less money each time. We are all part of a new economy that must examine its relationship to consumerism. But how do we make the most of what we have?

  • What yarn you do buy, buy from your local LYS. (We cannot afford to have them go out of business. But this is such an important topic that I’ll cover its many reasons in a following post.)
  • When you do buy yarn, buy finer rather than heavier. (It’ll take more time to knit and probably be more flattering to your body.)
  • Knit something really big from yarn that is really fine. (I’m working up a pattern for a huge shawl of fingering weight yarn—some new, some stash. I’d like it to take months to knit, and I know that I will wear it because it’ll be big enough and the right shape for me—all mistakes I’ve made with previous shawls.)
  • Combine yarn + fabric: buy 5 balls of yarn for the shaped bits, buy 1 yard of fabric for the bulk of the ‘yardage.’ (I was in a fabric shop recently, introducing the owner to my friend Cat Bodhi, and the shop owner apologized for how expensive a piece of fabric was. We looked at each other . . . then at him . . . then spoke as a chorus. Do you know how much it would cost to knit that same surface area!?!? He was shocked that knitting was more expensive.) Here is a photo of my pattern that does this. I’m working on lots more—all to be available on Ravelry.

  • Knit gifts. (I am spending much of my summer knitting a version of Pat Ashforth’s A New Angle—as an afghan/wedding present—and I’ll post a photo here when it’s done. The afghan my grandmother crocheted was and is a treasured piece: I hope to offer the same to this couple.)
  • In the same vein, knit for Christmas (or whatever you celebrate)—decorations, presents, stockings, a Christmas tree skirt—and start now. (I have a favourite Christmas tree skirt and plan to make one for each of my children, but please don’t tell them. It’s in my book Warm Knits, Cool Gifts, it’s easy, and it’s gorgeous.)
  • Find something in your closet you love to wear then do the work to measure it, draft the pattern, knit it (which should include lots of ripping as you do whatever it takes to get it right). This will all take time but do wonderful things for your brain and your knitting skills. (If you don’t yet feel confident to do this, my next book will guide you through the process. But don’t let fear of failure force you to wait. Go for it now!)
  • If  a trip to the yarn shop is not within your budget at the moment, do not stop knitting! Find something you have knit but are not wearing, for which the yarn is worth recovering, then rip it out and re-use the yarn. (Before doing so, figure out what’s wrong with the piece so you won’t repeat the mistake.) I have a pile of sweaters ready for this and am currently knitting my Cable-Edged Vest from Mother-Daughter Knits in a brown yarn I’ve ripped and recovered.

I’m sure there are other ways to make the most of your disposable income + knitting time. Anyone have further ideas?


  1. I would like to know how you handle the yarn which you've ripped and reuse. Do you do anything special with it? Do you feel the need to treat the kinks?

    I've heard to be careful of mixing the reused yarn with unused yarn of the same type, because the gauge will be different. Like for the too-large vest that I ripped out but for which there was an extra unused skein. Have you found this to be an issue and if so, how do you approach it?

  2. GREAT questions! And I was just thinking about this today when I finished my vest.

    So, wool that has been ripped out is REALLY kinky--especially if it has been blocked. What I do with this is 1) skein it (by wrapping it around my arm (around my thumb and then my elbow), 2) tie it in 2 or more places, and 3) wrap it around the end of my ironing board to steam press it straight. (NO, I don't wash it: I am too anxious to re-use it!) It could, of course, be washed, but I don't usually bother.

    Cotton comes out not-so-kinky. So the vest I just re-knit in a cotton + wool, and I just re-knit it. I was (just today) admiring the DEFINITELY HAND-KNIT look it had--because it had little idiosyncrasies it would not have had if I had treated it as above. But I kinda like that.

    You are absolutely right about not mixing new with old. The knit-then-steamed yarn will be more wimpy and probably get a different gauge. Cotton, which has less elasticity and doesn't get wimpy when pressed, probably wouldn't be a problem?

    I decided to forgo the patch pockets on this new vest because I would have had to use new yarn. Because it had a high cotton content, it probably would not have shown, AND with patch pockets I shouldn't have to worry about gauge. BUT I did save myself $7 because I can return the ball.

    So the short answer to your great question is that it depends upon the fibre.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    1. PS One way to deal with mixing the old plus the "new wool" would be to skein and steam press the new stuff?

  3. One thing I've discovered (?) in this new economy is how to knit from my existing yarn stash. That sounds silly but it really is a learned skill. This isn't so much about a yarn diet (and I get it about the LYS) as it is about recognizing how rich in yarn I am. So much so that I sent fifty pounds of yarn to a knitting group across the country so they could use the yarn I had but that was not inspiring me! A lot of us have lots of yarn and need to revisit what we have with fresh eyes. Great post, Sally!!!

    1. ABSOLUTELY it is an art! Using up stash to make beautiful fabrics was the subject of my first book (STYLES) and the book that allowed me to do THE KNITTING EXPERIENCE series.

      Funny thing about that book is that the only criticism of it was that there were no "oddball" projects: Xmas decorations, egg cosies, scarves, etc. But the more difficult subject was to learn how to mix fibers, textures, weights, colours, and qualities of yarn to make something BEAUTIFUL.

      It's still a popular class, and I'm teaching it this weekend in Ft Collins. We all wanna know how to do this!

      And yarn shops never minded at all, because what we all found was that to use up our stash appropriately we often had to BUY MORE!

      Thanks for writing. And luckty those recipients!

  4. In the vein of "don't stop knitting", I use the no-longer-inspiring yarns in my stash to knit hats or other small items and toss them into a basket. I try out stitch patterns, test free patterns from Ravelry, etc., or work up designs of my own.

    I find it very liberating to not have to work up a specific design or try to please someone's particular taste, and often come up with great ideas in the process. Another benefit is that if I need a gift or donation for charity, it's all ready. The surprise has been I find my relatives "shopping" through the basket and being delighted in hats I never would have guessed they'd like.

    1. What an absolutely FABULOUS idea--a grab bag of knitting for family! I love it!

      Thanks so much for writing and telling us about it!

  5. New Book???!!! When???!!! Am on pins and needles because it sounds like a very timely book for me.

  6. The new book is on pattern drafting—and all the skills that support it (how to measure, how to draft, how to finish, how fabrics behave, how to fix, how to combine elements). The premise is that you can take a garment from your closet and re-create it!
    Mar 2013 is the proposed release date: I have already pretty much signed off on all of it except for one final edit.