Thursday, May 17, 2007

Odds, Ends, and Another Skein of Yarn

Four weeks and counting until I'm paroled for the summer! Then I'll have vast quantities of time to spend messing about with fiber, and all the other things I normally do when I'm not torturing children (according to them) or grading papers.

I decided that 2 strands of the single "Corrie-Cot" blend might not be enough for the Monmouth cap, so I finished spinning another bobbin of Corrie-Cot, washed it, and got it dry. Before that, however, I spent nearly 2 hours trying to fine-tune my Reeves. Oil, new drive band, more oil, different drive band, a bit more oil (it was really thirsty), and finally, a change to a different whorl. Success! I think the issue was the small differential between the smallest whorl and the bobbin. They were nearly the same size (the whorl is only slightly larger), and I was having to treadle like made and ended up with horribly overtwisted yarn. I switched to a larger whorl, and things smoothed right out. It's still a bit difficult to switch back and forth between the two wheels (the Reeves and the Schacht-Reeves), but I have to keep my skills up on both, as I normally take the Reeves to workshops and demonstrations, while I just love spinning at home on the Schacht-Reeves.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

"Character"-building Yarns

I can honestly say I've now seen it all. Well...OK, I haven't seen Jesus riding down Market Street on a bicycle as part of Critical Mass, but that event can't be far off.

Last weekend, I trekked into one of the local LYS (Local Yarn Shop for the non-knitters). Normally, I seldom set foot inside one of these rarefied establishments--the yarns are costly, there is nearly always a group of expensively "casually" dressed women all gathered around a table knitting and gossiping, and, quite frankly, the atmosphere gives me the heebie-jeebies. I keep wondering if they're going to require a credit check before I buy the set of 000 Addi Turbos I need to knit the latest odd thing I'm creating. The yarns in my not inconsiderable stash have come from Michael's and Jo-Ann's (aka "the lands of cheap yarns"), the Internet, fiber shows, and what I can produce myself. Visits to LYSs usually involve buying equipment, books, and patterns for the latest thing that has captured my fancy.

Last weekend we finally had a blue moon, and this particular LYS had a sale: 25% off everything in the store. 25% off will get me into nearly any store dealing with fiber, so I dashed down after work, ignored the women sitting around the table gossiping about their latest vacations in the Caribbean and Hawaii, and proceeded to comb the store for the Addis and books I wanted. I also went through the yarns, looking for future projects waiting to happen. That's when I stumbled across it: the "character" yarn. I'm pretty tough, but I was frightened by this yarn. It was a blobby mess made by a beginning spinner, full of snarls of mohair and lumps of wool, with bits dyed different colors that appeared all randomly mixed together. It looked uncomfortably like a few skeins I spun years ago when I was a brand-new spinner, and hadn't yet mastered the intricacies of the spinning wheel. I've kept these skeins, marked with the type of wool and the date they were spun, both as a reminder of how my spinning was when I started in 1994, and to show me how far I've come. The photograph shows my improvement over the years. The bottom skein is some Suffolk singles I spun in late 1994 on my little Pipy Wendy wheel; the upper skein is some 2-ply merino I spun and plied on my beloved Schacht-Reeves last month.

I was frightened a second time when I saw the price: more than $25 for a tiny 50g (35 yards)hank of this yarn that looked so much like intestines, and labeled as "chunky" yarn. OK, that's just crazy. I've worked for years to produce to fine, consistent single that can be plied into a nice-looking handspun suitable for knitting or weaving, and some guy is making money off what I would throw in the trash as a disaster? Impossible. Surely the LYS owner made a mistake in ordering this year, as nobody would spend their hard-earned money and precious time making something out of this stuff. One would have to spend more than $150 just to make a small garment.

Just as these thoughts were drifting through my fevered brain, still reeling over the price, a well-dressed woman walked in, lugging her latest project. She had suffered that bane of a knitter's life, running short, and needed match the yarn used for her project (a small cardigan-type sweater). The yarn? That same horrendous handspun that had shocked me to my toes. I couldn't resist the temptation--I asked to look at her project more closely. I have to admit, I was not impressed by what I saw. The yarn worked up in a nasty, blobby fashion, with uneven stitches and bits of mohair sticking out at all angles. The color range--and remember, I am the queen of loud variegated--looked like random bits of colored wool all tossed together without regard for tone or color compatibility. In other words, the colors clashed violently. I mumbled a polite, "Oh, how every interesting!" and "Thank you," to the poor woman, obviously proud of her project, and beat a hasty retreat to the bins of Koigu until I could recover enough to pay for my items (5 sets of Addis and a stack of books and magazines) and escape to the relative safety of a nearby pub and a pint of cider. I can only hope that her little project is destined for fulling/felting, which might hide some of the "features" of the yarn, or this project, too, is one destined for the bottom of a drawer or the back of a closet.

I recognize that handspun yarns have character, and that the unevenness of handspun can be a desirable trait. However, there is such a thing as too much character. In my book, blobby messes marketed as "handspun" are both a rip-off and an insult to the rest of us who work so hard to produce beautiful handspun yarns. My plea to handspinners is this: Please, please, honor the rest of us that spin, and the good taste of needleworkers, and don't sell blobby messes as "handspun with character." You're giving me a headache, and the rest of the spinsters of the world a bad name. Produce great yarns--they have all your great character already built in.