What is the first thing to look for when choosing yarn? Is it color, weight, feel? Or is it the location that you purchase it from?
There are basically three options if you want instant gratification and want to start your project immediately. You can head to a local farmer’s market, a “big box” craft store – think JoAnn, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, Wal-Mart, etc., or a local yarn shop (LYS). What is the difference, really? They all have yarn and a good variety of yarn at that!
So, let’s start with the largest of the options: the craft store. This is a fantastic option if you are trying to a project on a small budget. A ball/skein of yarn can cost anywhere from $2.99 to $10.00 – and that’s the maximum of the range. There are always sales, and usually coupons.
There is a wide variety of acrylics, wools, cottons, sequins, blends, eco-friendly, baby yarns, and sock yarns to choose from. When I started knitting about ten years ago, you could basically get either acrylic or cotton yarns from the craft stores. The stock (and quality of that stock) has improved drastically in the last decade. Some of the latest additions that I’ve noticed have been the “Bamboo Ewe” and “Full o’ Sheep” from Debbie Stoller’s new line of yarns.
The craft stores are a great, economical option – especially if you are trying a new skill, like knitting in the round, or attempting to learn to crochet. The downside of the craft stores is that chances are, there might be one or two employees there that knit or crochet, and they probably won’t be working when you are there. It’s an “on your own” type of experience, and if you’re a novice, should the yarn your pattern calls for isn’t there; substitution might not be a possibility. There is also the environmental factor – these goods are shipped cross country in most cases, made in other countries, and the stores do little to support your local economy.
Next up is the LYS option… awesome choice! I’m a huge proponent of these, even though they are slightly pricier – anywhere from $7.00 all the way to $50. The stores are usually staffed with the owner and a small, select group of employees – who have experience with the product. They are on hand to make recommendations, substitutions, and help with pattern selection.
Often, patterns that your LYS carries won’t be available anywhere else. The variety of yarns might be smaller than at a big box store, but orders are usually possible and only take a few days… most also have websites or email where you can arrange an order a few days in advance.
Many LYS also have knitting space, serve tea or coffee, and are a great place to meet and chat with other knitters and crocheters. These shops are usually arranged by weight as opposed to by brand or type like in a craft store.
Smaller, more intimate, and based in your community, your local LYS usually participates in things like school fundraisers or “First Friday” events, and offers special discounts on classes and yarns depending on the month or season. These stores also tend to stock local products, and occasionally spun yarn from the employees themselves!
Finally, there is the option of the Farmer’s Market. Talk about choosing to support directly from the source! Many markets have farmers that also have sheep, and they will bring the wool (from sheep, alpacas, llamas!) as a side product – this is usually already spun, but you can find bags of straight wool. One of the farmers I’ve seen even puts the name of the sheep it came from on the label.
So when you name your sweater ‘The Maybelle Sweater’ on Ravelry, it actually came from Maybelle! A quick word about online shopping – yes, this is a great way to go if you already know the product or are prepared to make a large purchase so that your dye lot is consistent. Shopping via the internet – or trading too, is perfect if you are in the planning stages of a project and have time to wait.
No matter which store you choose, as craft stores are improving their selections, the LYS becomes more endangered. Support them! Go to a knitting night, escape from the house and go chat and sip tea and make new, knitty (or crochet-y) friends!
Over the past few years, it seems as if everyone is “Going Green”… current proposals where I live have local government discussing proposals to “Ban the Bag”, which would result in no more plastic shopping bags and a five cent charge for paper bags. So, as crafty types, this is a whole new realm to get involved in.
Many people ask, “Well, where can I start?” or “What is a good project to begin with?” Fortunately, there is a simple answer. In fact, it is so simple that it is easy to overlook! We started our household out with washcloths. Yep, an hour to make and a whole two dollars spent for two of them. This is also a great thing to pass along to friends and family – a set of three tied with a pretty ribbon and an organic bar of soap makes a great hostess gift!
Another option which is super popular is the cotton market bags. I’ve found several patterns for everything from a messenger bag size to totes to littler ones specifically for fruits and vegetables. The Lion Brand site has a couple really great patterns and Ravelry is always a terrific source. The thing about these that I really like about these patterns is that they’re customizable for any recipient (or yourself…) and can easily be adjusted in size or in color… just grab a different cotton!
Hand towels for the kitchen and bath, cute little reusable lunch totes, reusable coffee sleeves for those days when you forget your reusable mug, mug wraps for at home instead of using that paper towel, coasters, placemats, napkins. These are all fantastic, easy and decorative projects that are readily available. Look around your home and see what you can find… sometimes the inspiration for your next project may be in the last place you would think – like the top of a bottle of wine!
You’ll notice that a lot of these projects are made with cotton. There is, naturally (oh, yes, pun was intended), the debate between organic and regular cotton. In my opinion, yes, organic cotton is the better choice, and if you can find an organic bamboo/cotton mix, then that is stellar. However, that being said, I don’t like to spend eight or nine dollars on one little thing of yarn that is going to make me one washcloth. Call me crazy. I think the first step is to make products that are reusable and get not only yourself, but your friends and family into the habit of reusable goods as well.
One final thought… local farmers markets and fairs usually have farmers that spin their own wool (and if you’re really lucky and live in the southern part of the U.S., they should have cotton too!). Buy from them! Support your local growers. Not only are you helping build a sustainable local economy, you’re also cutting down on pollutants needed for shipping and manufacture of the mass market goods. Just make sure you are tossing those farmer’s market purchases in the tote that you made!
Yarn. That soft string we love to run over our fingers as we wrap it around a pair of knitting needles. Many a knitter has become obsessed with it, buying innumerable skeins that are stuffed away in every nook and cranny we can find. Often it is the texture, or color, or feel of the yarn that makes us want to have it, or rather, need to have it. And we don’t care if we have a use for it. Just owning that beautiful ball of yarn is enough.
But what is this stuff that we fawn over? Where does it come from? And how many different kinds of yarn are there really? Being new to the knitting world, I have become fascinated with the wonderful world of yarn. I once paid $37 for one skein and I can’t bring myself to knit with it. It is an incredibly unique yarn made from a cotton seed/ rayon blend and has a gorgeous chocolate brown color with a hint of silky sheen. And it got me thinking about all the different types of yarn out there and how they become those twisted strands we all love to play with.
Most of what I’m going to share with you is adapted from Clara Parkes Knitter’s Book of Yarn and her website, Knittersreview.com. These two sources have been invaluable in understanding the fiber arts world. What we will be exploring over the next five weeks are the four faces of fiber. Today I am going to give a quick overview of the different types of fiber used in yarn.
There are four main types of fiber used in making yarn, thus four faces.
“Now hold on a minute Johnny. Knitting for dummies said there are only two kinds of yarn, natural and man made.”
Ok, those are the two categories we can put these fibers in, but there are distinct fiber types within those categories, each with its own unique characteristics. Let’s start with the man made or synthetic fibers.
Many of you may wrestled with a scratchy ball of $3 Red Heart yarn when you were little. That cheap ball of yarn is made of Acrylic and can be processed to be very soft, or not so much. It is often blended with other natural fibers to make them softer and more affordable. Other synthetic fibers include polyester and nylon.
These fibers can be divided up into three types:
The darling of the knitting world is wool. But wool is only one of many protein fibers. These are fibers that come from animals, and in the case of silk, insects. They all contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur. And since they are almost all made of hair, theoretically your hair could be spun into fiber as well.
These fibers are those collected from plants. The most popular of these are hemp, linen, and of course, cotton. Cotton is unique not only because it contains the most cellulose, but it is also made from the seed pod of the plant, where as the other fiber are made from the stalks. Fibers derived from plant stalks are referred to as bast fibers.
These fibers are made from plant cellulose like cotton, trees, and bamboo. The difference is they must be processed before they can be turned into fiber. This process includes using a chemical to turn the cellulose into liquid, which is then extruded into a spinnable form. You will often see these listed as rayon, which is viscous from bamboo, and Tencel. This process is also used to make SeaCell, which is made from seaweed.
So there you have it. The Four Faces of Fiber. Which of these four types of fiber does your favorite yarn come from? Or is it a blend of fibers from different types? Right now my personal favorite would have to be Alpaca which is a protein fiber.
What’s so addictive about yarn? Everything – With so many choices and uses, it’s the perfect collectible.
Yarns today are being made from so many fibers-natural and synthetic. Natural fibers include sheep, llama, goats, buffalo, alpaca, angora, musk ox, possum, cotton, silk, corn, soy, bamboo, and milk fibers.
Our yarn supply is a truly global economy: Italy, Australia, South America, Turkey, China, USA. Many US distributors work with small cooperatives in developing countries helping regions to become self-sustaining.
Today’s synthetic fibers like modal, viscose, tencel, courtelle, nylon, and acrylic are spun using high tech spinning equipment to produce yarns far removed from the acrylic yarns of the 50’s and 60’s. Many acrylics feel like natural fibers and are wonderful to knit with.
Hand spinners are turning out artful yarns in small quantities and hand dyers produce rich, deep or delicate colors using many natural fibers as their canvas.
You can knit, crochet, weave, felt, embellish and craft with yarns. You can put them in a basket like a bouquet of flowers and just admire them.
Yarns are spun finer than human hair and as thick as your finger. Yarns can be a single strand or ply and many plies twisted together. Sometime they are even constructed of plies of plies twisted clockwise and counterclockwise (for a Z twist or an S twist). Some are smooth while others are highly textured.
You can make a collection of yarn from a particular designer, fiber, color, gauge, or even collect yarns as a souvenir from your travels. You can swap yarn like trading cards, buy on ebay and yard sales or make donations to worthy causes.
People buy yarn who have no earthly idea what they are going to do with it, some don’t even knit or crochet. They are seduced by the color, the feel. It might remind them of a place or a person. The texture might be soothing and calming to the touch. The colors may brighten your spirits. You just know that if you don’t buy this yarn, it may not be there the next visit. That if you don’t buy this yarn, you will think about it for days. That life is full of regrets and this shouldn’t be one of them.