Saturday, February 17, 2007

Reducing the Stash and Other Exercises in Futility

The new year always gets people excited about resolutions, and striving to be "a better person in 20XX." Fat people go on diets, lazy people join gyms, and fiberholics go on yarn, fiber, or fabric "diets," with the goal to finally finish those UnFinished Objects (usually referred to as "UFOs"), get rid of all that excess [fill in the blank], and even resort to swearing off buying anything new until a certain portion of the stash is gone.

This is an exercise in futility.

Fiberholics are unable to stop buying fiber for any length of time simply because we can't create without the raw materials: fibers. OK, maybe we really don't need the fibers for 8-10 different projects sitting around waiting for us to get to them, but unlike horses and sailboats, fiber doesn't "eat while you sleep." As long as as the fiber is stored properly, it can sit for years--even decades--and still be ready to be used at a future date, when it will only be more expensive. This probably seems like rationalizing an addiction; I'll remind myself of that as I'm busy using up some of the horridly expensive camel hair I got free years ago, and have stashed away to spin into yarn at a later date.

My own fiber stash is relatively small. Only 23 of those 12-gallon "tuff crates" of fiber and yarn, and another 30 full of fabric. This may seem like a lot for the average person, but not for somebody that works with fiber, fabric, and does historical reenacting. That fact was brought home last weekend when a bunch of us moved everything out of a friend's attic in preparation for reroofing the family manse. This was an organized move--as things came down out of the attic, costumes went one place, armor went another, and fabric went into the back parlor. As the boxes came down, they were neatly stacked until each stack was 6 feet tall.

We filled the entire back parlor, a room the size of a small storage facility space.

When we finished, we threw a tarp over the last set of shelves, still full of boxes of fabric and trims, and called it "done." There simply wasn't any room left to move more stuff into the house proper.

My own "stash reduction program" (which I prefer to the word "diet"), is a haphazard affair, as I have so many different things I'm working on at any given time. I have knitting projects for when I'm in knit mode, crochet projects for crochet mode, embroidery projects, and of course the ever-present need to do historical costuming. Add to this the projects for meetings (they don't require the same level of concentration), and I have a sizeable UFO stash. However, they will eventually get done; it just takes time, of which I have precious little.

I'm still managing to crank out a fair amount of stuff, in spite of a much too busy schedule. I finished Charity Scarf #1, a navy and winter white garter stitch scarf for the National WWII Museum's scarf drive. I also started (and have half finished) Charity Scarf #2: an olive and winter white crocheted scarf for the same scarf drive. Picked up the yarn to make Charity Scarves #3 and #4. Cleaned and tuned up my Reeves parlor wheel and started spinning some "mystery wool" (polworth?). Hung new Venetian blinds in the studio. Wound into balls 8 oz. of merino superwash sock wool in beautiful heathery shades of blue that I had purchased as roving and spun in 2001. Not a bad week's work.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A question to ponder: Which is more difficult--knitting or crocheting?

I switch back and forth between the two, and I've done both for so long, I've never given it much thought. I do know, however, I can't do both at the same time--each requires a different mindset.

Knitting, with a long and honored tradition, is really pretty easy. There are really only 5 things you can do with 2 sticks and a piece of yarn: knit, purl, knit or purl multiple stitches together, slip a stitch from one stick to the other, and wrap the yarn around the stick. All knitting "stitches" and patterns are composed of these 5 things. Add to this the "grid concept of knitting" (the idea that each stitch equals 1 box on a grid), and you reduce the most difficult knitting pattern to a simple structure. Knitting could be considered the fiber form of Legos.

Crochet, on the other hand, seems to be more complex. It also uses a lot more fiber, which may be the reason it didn't come about before the price of spun fibers started to drop in the Industrial Revolution. in crochet, you are working with just 1 stick, but you use that stick to make loops, and then manipulate the loops in lots of different ways, working them off the hook 1 or 2 at a time. Add to this the ability to work into the front or back of the fabric already created, and you have something that is pretty sophisticated. A perfect medium for Victorian "ladies" (as opposed to "women") who wanted to show off their needlework skills in a form of conspicuous consumption.

Consider the Navajo stitch, used in the Fibonacci afghan: after chaining the length you need for the finished piece, you work 4 rows of single crochet (with 1 loop already on the hook, go through the back loop of the top of the chain, pull back making a loop, yarn over, pull through both loops so you have a single loop on the hook. Repeat in the top of the next chain), you begin your 5th row with 4 single crochets, then a double crochet--a single crochet with an extra yarn over before the first through--into the front loop of the top of single crochet 2-3 rows below. Repeat the entire sequence until you get to the end, then break off the yarn, go back to the beginning, and repeat, but move the entire pattern over 1 stitch. No wonder crocheters spend so much time frogging (the needlework term for ripping and reworking to fix a mistake)--mistakes frequently don't show up until you've worked to the same point in the next row, and then it's rip, rip, rip back to the mistake and beginning the work again. It's enough to drive a saint to drink!

OK, enough on knitting v. crochet for today. I've got more important things to do.

Firstly, I had a chance to listen to Syne Mitchell's podcast from last year's Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene, Oregon. She had a wonderful interview with Russ of Robin & Russ, the late and much lamented weaver's store in McMinnville, OR, and she managed to make Black Sheep sound like so much fun I actually pulled out the Reeves and got spinning again. Whatever it is, it's wool, and a complete mystery, as I've managed to lose the information on it. It might be Suffolk, or it might be Falklands, or it might be Leicester. However, it does spin up nicely, so I'll have to spin up a bunch and see what I can make.

Next, a friend offered me a small stash of silk blend roving. For some reason, she doesn't like how it spins up (she's a drop spindle enthusiast), so she thinks I'll have better luck spinning it on my wheel. She also asked if I could knit her a biggin/coif. OK, maybe this is why I've suddenly started spinning again--to make her handknitted coif out of handspun yarn. We'll have to see.

Enough questions and thinking for today--I'm off to act like a spider and spin.