Wednesday, May 29, 2013

saving the world, one yarn shop at a time

We all find ourselves making decisions these days--for financial and ethical reasons. Whether food or shoes, we are thinking differently about what we buy, how much we buy, and where we buy it.

So, with this in mind, I'd like to share a sad story with you.

I was recently in a wonderful yarn shop (doesn't matter where). I spoke to the owner about what fabulous yarn she had, and she shared with me a not unfamiliar story . . .  that there are a significant number of customers who enter, fondle, leave, and buy the same yarn elsewhere--for a few dollars less.

So these were not people who had to buy online (those poor souls who do not live near yarn shop): these were people who
  1. wanted access to the yarn shop so they could check out the yarn but
  2. chose to buy it online for a reduced price.
I understand stretching dollars when times are tough. But we need to think long and hard about how we are doing this. Are we doing so in such a way that we undermine and threaten the viability of a much-needed business?

When we buy from a local yarn shop, we are supporting one of our community's entrepreneurs. And everyone tells us that the solution to economic growth is small business. These shops are essential to the well-being of our communities.

In addition, I will share with you some thoughts from The Watchman's Rattle. This is a book that lists the beliefs that hold us back from solving our problems. One of these beliefs is extreme business practices, which she defines as
  • the need for profit
  • the need for speed and efficiency.
When these, above all, are our motives, other important concerns can fall by the wayside.

So, to solve our problems and to save civilization as we know it,  we need to reject the need for profit and reject the need for speed for their own sakes. Neither of these will help us solve the huge issues that keep us awake at night.

Well . . . knitters are role models for this behavior! Given how expensive knitting is, nothing we do  can be done for the profit motive! Given how labour-intensive knitting is, nothing we do can be done for expediency! We should be rewarded for our rejection of business practices that don't serve the world!

(I would also guess that anyone who reads a blog about knitting is a role model for this behavior, so I am likely preaching to the choir??)

In addition, we could probably agree that pretty-much everything of value executed by human beings (art, family time, music, solutions to climate change, architecture, volunteer work) is, or will be, done without profit or efficiency as motivating factors.

So, back to the LYS. We absolutely must reject the need to go elsewhere to save a few dollars!!! The profit motive that drives us to do so might not be good role-modelling and does not serve us, our craft, our communities, our civilization.

Again, those ethical considerations we bring to bear on everything else we buy should be turned to knitting. Buy less? But buy local!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What is an appropriate gauge?

Many of us start knitting with shawls and scarves . . . which means that we learn to knit worsted weight on a 6mm / US 10 needle. Once we graduate to garments, we find it difficult to use needles many sizes smaller. Add to that the fundamental characteristic of knitting that we love—its drape—and we are inclined to want to knit garments that are knit too loosely.

Whether we follow patterns or draft our own, it is our initial inclination to like a fabric that is too loose. (I know this, because I did this . . . and have watched many others do the same.)

But what happens when we knit a fabric that is too loose for the yarn?
  • The fabric is more likely to pill.
  • The garment is more likely to stretch out of shape—especially after we wash it.

So how do we find the appropriate gauge for the yarn that will give the best results for the garment?

When I was first drafting and teaching, I wondered if the math would give us an answer. Considering that stockinette usually gives us 5 stitches versus 7 rows to-the-inch (which is .71), I wondered if that .71 relationship would go awry if I knit a piece that was too tight or too lose.

So I knit a whole lotta swatches, and measured their gauges, and then did the division . . . and still came up with .71. Sadly, whether it was way too tight or way too loose, it still came up as .71.

For once, the math doesn’t help. So what does? The feel of the fabric. We want a fabric that feels firm enough that it will hold shape over time: and most often this is a firmer fabric, knit on smaller needles, than we initially were inclined to go for . . .

 . . . especially if you consider that this fabric has to be relaxed before we accept its gauge. And what is this? We relax the fabric when we either steam press or wash it. (Many fibres and stitch patterns can be steam-pressed, which is certainly easier than washing, but there are some which must be washed—garter stitch, for example.)

Like every other knitter, I’ve tried to force a yarn to the gauge of a pattern. But if this produces a fabric that is too loose, I’ll end up ripping—after days of knitting and trying to talk myself into a fabric that is too loose!

So don’t do this! Please learn from my experience! Especially if you are knitting a vest or cardigan—a garment that will be worn over another garment—don’t knit a fabric that is too loose. Knit a good-sized swatch, steam press or wash it, and be really critical of the fabric. Be sure it is firm enough to hold shape over time and reward you with years of wearing!

PS If this is a gauge that doesn't quite match your pattern, go to my post of July 11, 2012, which discusses re-gauging a pattern.