As previously mentioned, I booked myself as many classes at Vogue Knitting Live as I could. It’s not every week that I have the chance to study with the best of the best, so I took full advantage when I had the opportunity! I’m generally a pretty adventurous knitter – I don’t really care about making mistakes if I have the opportunity to learn something, but I do get very frustrated if I spend alot of time on something and then can’t use it once it’s done. As with so many problems in knitting, the answer is to swatch.
I took a class in vertical color stranding in cables with Lorilee Beltman. The swatches in the photo above are from that class, although we only had time to do two of them in the class period. I knitted the rest at home because I didn’t want to forget how to do it, and I wanted to explore it further. As a designer who is moved first by color, this class was incredibly inspiring. I have never done this technique, so Lorilee opened a whole new world to me. It is a bit involved, and to be honest, I was very happy to learn it in a class instead of staying up half the night watching Youtube videos like I usually do when I’m figuring things out on my own. (For those of you who are wondering what this is, it’s a way of introducing different colored strands of yarn that work their way up your knitting without having to be wrapped and twisted as in Fair Isle or intarsia.)
I took other classes over the weekend also, which I will be sharing soon. However, all weekend long, I heard a recurring theme from all of the teachers, which was to swatch, swatch, swatch. After learning my lesson the hard way once, I have always been a person who swatches to get gauge before casting on for a garment. This truly is the best way to ensure that a garment will fit! But I’ve never really thought of swatching as a learning tool until I kept hearing every teacher mention it last weekend. Of course, it’s common sense. If you want to try or explore a new technique, there is no better way to do it than to work through a series of swatches. You can try all the variations without having to knit an entire sweater or shawl. Of course, if you are knitting a garment, it’s advisable to knit bigger swatches to get a feel for the drape of the fabric.
I was a bit burned out this week, as you might imagine (see my previous post). However, I did spend alot of time knitting swatches based on the things I learned in class. It was really relaxing and stimulating to simply knit swatches without having to worry just yet about how I’d apply it to a design. If you have certain techniques you’re interested in learning, I would encourage you to browse the knitting books at your local library, and start knitting swatches. Even though it feels like you’re not accomplishing much, you are expanding your skills and it will pay off when you start a new project!
Thanks to the teachers I was privileged to study with, I will now look at swatching as a chance to explore, rather than as a chore that needs to be done before I start a project. I hope you will too.
One of my favorite things about the fiber community is the fact that in so many ways, we still ARE a community. There are big companies with big money, yes, but it still one of the few industries left that still supports small, family-run businesses. I read about Knit Denise in Vogue Knitting (if memory serves correctly) and enjoyed reading their story and browsing their helpful tips and tutorials. Even their manufacturer is a US-based family man, and one of the few people left in the United States who knows this business. Enjoy!
There was a booth at Stitches I came and went from and then dreamed about in my sleep. The colors and textures of their yarns spoke to me, which by the way, is the best time to buy things. If the yarn speaks to you that much, you will love it and use it forever! Their site is equally lovely, and I may just end up buying some more yarn on there when I’m done with my Stitches goodies. Enjoy!
When people come in our store, I can always tell the ones who shop in chain/discount stores by the way they pick up a ball of yarn, look at the price, and immediately put it down again in shock. I truly hope they never visit one of the shops in Beverly Hills that only sell fine cashmere or they might actually faint. Our shop sells a variety of fibers, at a variety of prices, but like any yarn shop, and even online retailers, our yarn is still priced above what you pay at Michaels or JoAnn Fabrics. Sometimes people are so rude I just want to tell them to stop being so cheap, but alot of the time, it seems like they simply don’t understand why it costs more than what they’re used to. I hope the following list helps in understanding what you’re paying for, regardless of what your budget is.
- The majority of yarn shops (at least all the ones I’m familiar with) carry mostly natural fibers, while the chain stores are generally filled with acrylic and other synthetics. And, if you really want to research it, take a look at the prices in your favorite chain store – the natural fiber yarns they do carry cost more than the synthetics, right? Natural fibers are a little like diamonds – they’re a commodity, and there is not a way to industrialize the process. Animals only grow hair/fur so fast, and when a commodity is in limited supply, the value of it, relatively speaking, goes up.
- Animals (or plants) growing the fiber is only the beginning. There is so much more in the process before it arrives at your local yarn shop! The beautiful part of the fiber/handcrafting industry is that it is filled with small business, traditions that have lasted for centuries, and personal touches. However, in business terms, the more steps and handling a product needs before it goes to market, the more costs associated with getting it there. There is a local dyer who sells in our shop, and aside from doing all the dyeing herself, she also rewinds all the skeins. That’s so many more hours of work than producing synthetics in a factory! Another company stopped re-skeining their yarn after the dye process just to cut out an extra step to keep the costs lower for the consumer. However, no matter how much these small businesses try to be efficient and keep costs low, the reality is that it’s impossible for them to sell their products at the same price as a $5 ball of mass-produced synthetic yarn.
- It’s cliche, yes, but you do get what you pay for. When it comes to making clothes, socks, and other wearables, it is extremely important to consider fiber content. Until I started crocheting and knitting, I was completely ignorant of fiber qualities, as I suspect many people are. For example, did you know wool will keep you warm even if it gets wet? There’s a reason that Scandinavia has such a time-honored tradition of wool sweaters! Alpaca is even more warm than wool, and also has the property of providing warmth when wet. This article covers all the great reasons wool is a great buy. Bamboo is also environmentally friendly and has antibacterial properties. On the other hand, I don’t hear very many positive things about acrylic other than how well it holds up to abuse. This is not to insult fans of acrylic, and I use it to make blankets because it stands up so well to the washer and dryer (I’ll pass on handwashing a huge blanket!). However, crafters should be aware that there are major differences in fibers, and if you want all the perks the natural fibers have to offer, then that’s what you should invest in.
- Sometimes, the problem isn’t price – it is that some people really are just too cheap. Once I became a knitter and crocheter, I started paying attention to what stores were selling. For instance, all the cheap knitwear you can buy at Target, Walmart, etc. is all acrylic. When you move up to Macy’s or Nordstrom, for example, the price goes up, but you start seeing fiber blends, like 10% wool, 90% acrylic. If you want a sweater made of completely natural fibers, you have to go to a high-end retailer like Saks or Neiman Marcus, where of course, you pay top dollar. The amount of money you have to spend at one of those stores for a good quality sweater makes the cost of the yarn at your local yarn shop look like a steal! People who complain and act rude about the price of yarn that was produced by hand and is pure, top-quality fiber need to rethink their expectations. No one in their right mind would expect to walk into Saks and buy a sweater for the same price they’d pay at Walmart.
- And now, a note about customer service. I would be retiring on my own private island if I had a dollar for every time someone came in the shop with their cheap yarn from somewhere else, wanting me to teach them what to do with it. As long as the shop isn’t busy, I’m happy to help someone, even if they didn’t buy their yarn with us. But I do wonder why it is that people don’t go back to where they bought their stuff if they have questions about it. The only conclusion I’ve been able to draw is that they can’t find the help they need at the chain stores.While no one can be expected to be a walking encyclopedia of every single yarn ever in existence, generally, yarn shop employees are very knowledgeable about the yarns they carry. We are VERY supportive and happy to provide top-quality customer service to people who shop with us. However, if you do all your shopping at a chain store, you don’t have the right to expect yarn shop employees to go out of their way to solve your customer service issues. Even a chain store can’t stay in business if people only come in to get free tutoring, and they certainly aren’t going to provide customer service for someone else’s product! If you are truly interested in the fiber arts and want to be educated, you can’t put a price on buying your supplies at a place where you can always go back in and get support when you need it.
I’m a big believer that you get what you pay for. Unfortunately, in the case of ballwinders and swifts, you always end up spending a good amount, even for the ones on the low end of the cost spectrum. I will be nice and not name the company I bought my swift and ballwinder from, but let’s just say it’s one of the inexpensive ones, relatively speaking, and sure enough, I’ve had tons of problems. Usually when I want to wind my yarn, I just take it up to the shop, which defeats the purpose of having the equipment at my house. The main problem with my swift is that the screw you use to hold it in place after you expand it to the size of your skein has never worked. It seems like the company never made it properly, and it has never held the swift up. The company even sent me a replacement, which didn’t work any better than the first one!
Then the other day, my husband dug around on a shelf and came up with what you see in the photos. It works like a charm, and I can’t believe it took us this long to figure out such a simple hack! But then that’s the thing about hacks – they are genius, yet simple at the same time.
I appreciate when life offers us little periods of time to reboot. For many (and for myself too), this is New Year’s. Starting a new year fresh with goals in mind and a new energy is great, but for me, the fall is an even better time to try to develop good habits. I’m much more rested and refreshed after the summer than I am in January, and I always consider how I can make the school year a good one for the kids as well as more productive and creative for me while they’re in school. So, here are five habits I’m working to develop, and I’d love to hear yours!
- Work in sketchbook daily. I do work in my sketchbook quite often, but I wish it was a more developed habit. Every successful designer I know does this, and when I was in art school, it was the first thing all the teachers encouraged us to do. My drawing skills aren’t up to the standard I’d like, but a sketchbook is invaluable for remembering ideas. I write alot of notes, but honestly, no matter how fast and scribbled my drawing might be, the visuals are always easier to go back to later.
- Set specific goals and build in rewards for when I accomplish them. The last few years I struggled alot. I got very sick for about 6 months, and had to go back and forth to the doctor to get myself sorted out. I was so tired I could hardly make it through a day without a nap. I also worked nonstop, and as soon as one thing was done, I moved onto the next. I realized I was losing the joy in life, even in the things I most love to do. The key, I think, to avoiding such complete burnout is to set specific goals, and to celebrate accomplishments with a day off. I plan to allow myself the pleasure of a day out shopping (or a day at home with a good book, depending on my mood) before rushing into the next big challenge.
- Even when you have a job you love, there will always be tasks you just don’t love doing. And they mount up very quickly when you procrastinate! My new goal could be termed “Don’t procrastinate”, but more specifically, get the tasks you hate out of the way. Even though this takes discipline, it does help free your mind for the things you love!
- Learn to focus. Sometimes life requires us to shift gears more than we want to, but especially when it comes to crafting, we have alot of control over this. In my previous post I mentioned how I had way too many projects going, or just sitting around because I lost interest. What I learned over the summer is that it is so much more productive to focus, and it’s also much more likely to get things finished when I do!
- Give more, share more. I really love this video. I think it’s extremely important if you work by yourself to keep up interaction with other people in the same situation, to know when to ask for help, and to also be willing to give other people the same support. I want to get better at this, and plan to spend at least a little time each day keeping up with what my fellow designers and crafters are doing.