Yarn buying habits – a personal reflection

Recently, I wrote a paper (for my MBA studies) about digital marketing and the yarn industry.  While writing the paper, I looked at the range of producers in the sector, in particular new entrants.  I also researched how people buy yarn, for example, what kinds of things influence when and how we buy yarn.  This made me think about my own patterns of buying yarn.  I don’t have a record of all the yarn that I buy and where and when I buy it; some people use Ravelry’s Stash function to keep track of this, but I am not that organized.  However, I do have records of all of the projects that I have knit since joining Ravelry in late 2007, and of which yarns I used for each project.  I looked at 2008, the first full year that I was on Ravelry, and discovered to my amazement that every single project I finished knitting in that year was made with Rowan yarn!  I had only just moved to England in August of 2006 and was still very thrilled to be able to walk into my local John Lewis store and buy Rowan.  That seemed the height of luxury at the time to my yarn-buying self.

I then compared 2008 with last year, 2014, and a very different picture emerged, as you can see from the below:

blog my yarn use

I must point out that these charts show the percentage of projects made with each yarn and NOT the amount of yarn bought; nonetheless, they show a pretty compelling trend. To me, the most interesting thing about the 2014 distribution is that with the exception of Rowan and Noro, which is a Japanese yarn company founded over 40 years ago, each of the other yarn companies I have used in 2014 is a new company: Madelinetosh started in 2006 and Brooklyn Tweed, Quince & Co and The Uncommon Thread all started in 2010.  More than 80% of the projects I knit last year were made with yarn from companies that didn’t exist 10 years ago.  New entrants into the sector are rapidly changing the market, at least for premium yarns.

I didn’t show pie charts for 2009-2013, but I am a pretty eclectic yarn user.  During these years, in addition to lots of Rowan and the companies above, I knit projects using Debbie Bliss, Cascade, Studio Donegal, Hanne Falkenberg, Blue Sky Alpaca, Malabrigo, Mirasol, the Plucky Knitter, Blue Moon Fibre Arts, BC Garn and Wollmeise.

Though my Rowan projects have fallen from their 2008 pinnacle, I still find it a great product.  In particular, I am totally in love with Kidsilk Haze, Felted Tweed DK and Fine Tweed.  As long as Rowan keeps producing these (and maintaining quality), I will keep buying them.  This year, I have so far made four projects, and two of them – the spectacular Soumak Wrap and my Gossamer pullover – used Rowan yarn.  When I lived in Australia and Germany, I considered Rowan a luxury product; now that I’m in England, it is more like the standard for me – I use it as a benchmark to compare yarn prices and qualities.

I realize that my yarn-buying profile reflects the fact that I am willing to spend a lot for yarn.  In my mind, both yarn and books fall into my entertainment budget.  Let’s say that the yarn for a new sweater costs 100£.  Well, if that sweater will take 100 hours to knit, then I am spending 1£/hour on entertainment.  A bargain!  (Compare to a cinema ticket!)  A cashmere cowl that costs 120£ but takes only 10 hours to knit is very luxurious but still costs 12£/hour for knitting enjoyment.   While I might splurge now and then, my general idea is that if the yarn costs less to knit per hour than a cup of coffee in a nice coffee shop, then it’s a good deal.  This kind of thinking (where I consider the yarn as entertainment rather than part of my clothing, or gift,  budget) is perhaps reflective of the fact that I am still more of a process knitter than a product knitter.  On the other hand, for the past few years I have made fewer impulse yarn buys.  I tend to buy yarn for a specific purpose and this seems to be more in line with a product knitter.

I think that part of my willingness to buy expensive yarn reflects the fact that I am knitting less these days.  When I am knitting more, then I am conscious of cost and try to use more yarns that are good quality but affordable, like Cascade 220 for instance.  I seem to be edging now into a more active knitting phase and I find that this is accompanied by a wish to search out some new affordable yarns (Quince & Co, while very high quality, is pretty affordable; it is moving up fast in my go-to list.)   Having two daughters in university is another compelling reason to seek out more affordable yarns, or at least to knit fewer luxury projects.  It is good to have a selection of yarns to knit with, and some of them should always be outrageously luxurious to the senses, because knitting, like cooking, is a sensual art.  How about you?  Are your yarn buying habits changing?  Are you buying more, or less, luxury yarns?  Do you calculate cost per hour of knitting (surely I’m not the only one)?  Do you plan every purchase or are you an impulse buyer?  Do you only buy local, or organic, or machine-washable?  Inquiring minds want to know…….

Double feature

Perhaps some observant readers noticed that my last two projects used the same yarn?   I knitted both the Tolkien-inpired pillow for Leah and the super Batman-inspired mitts for Lizz with Quince & Co Chickadee yarn in the colours called Carrie’s Yellow and Frank’s Plum.  And, yes, I did manage to take a few quick shots of them together before giving the mitts to Lizz.

2-IMG_8305When I was planning the pillow, I hadn’t decided whether I would be knitting the back or whether I would use fabric instead.  So I ordered lots of yarn.  Then, when I realized that I had only two weeks to knit the mitts for Lizz’s Viva, and announced to Doug that I had to go buy yarn right away, he reminded me I had plenty of leftover purple and yellow.  “Will that work?,” he asked.  “Yes, quite nicely.”

1-IMG_8303I like the contrast in these two projects – the pillow is knitted with yellow on purple, and the mitts with purple on yellow.  The Chickadee is a wonderful yarn for colourwork.  The definition is really crisp and the yarn is sturdy and smooth and feels good on the hands.  You can find my previous posts on these projects here and here (the second link gathers all of the pillow posts in reverse order).

I also love the contrast between the medieval style script that Tolkien invented, all graceful and flowing, and the in-your-face graphic pop of the mitts, which anyone my age cannot help but associate with the 1960s Batman TV show.  From the elegant to the comic book.  Ain’t knitting grand?

3-IMG_8306

One gift to rule them all

Regular readers of this blog will recall the saga of Leah’s birthday present.  Well, it’s  finished!

13-img_8547.jpg

I made her a knitted pillow with the words from Tolkien’s ring (yes, the One RIng to Rule Them All) knitted in gold.  I finished the knitting in time for her birthday in December, but fretted about how to sew it to the fabric and how to do the finishing.  I am a pretty good knitter, but have little sewing experience.  I really didn’t want to wreck it.

04-img_8563.jpg

You can read all of the posts I wrote about this project here.  This was a big step for me in many ways.  I am pretty much a beginner at two-handed stranded knitting, so it was a leap of faith.  Also, it was my very first time steeking.  Bringing a pair of scissors to bear upon one’s knitting, especially a piece so special and time-consuming, is not for the faint of heart.  Having put so much effort into the project, I decided not to rush the sewing part, even if that meant Leah having to patiently wait a few more months.  I asked for suggestions on the blog and many of you were kind enough to reply.  The consensus was to find a professional to sew it for me.

11-IMG_8557

The only tailor I knew in the area was Sally Stevens, who runs a tailoring business out of her home in Berkshire.  Sally had done some work for me a number of years ago.  I called her and explained what I needed.  “Let me send you a link to my blog posts about this, so that you can have an idea of what I am looking for,”  I said.  The next day, I set off with the knitted piece and the fabric to take it to Sally.  I was a bit worried about whether I was doing the right thing.  What if she couldn’t envision what I wanted?

07-IMG_8573

When I got there she said “I was up past midnight last night reading your blog posts.  I think we need to sew the pillowcase out of a plain cotton fabric and then sew the knitted panel to it.  That will reinforce it so that you won’t need to use any facing.  Then, we can sew the fabric to that.”  The pillow would thus have an inner lining to give some structure to the piece.  She also suggested a long zipper along the back, instead of the alternatives of a side zipper or an envelope closing.  “Here,” Sally said “I’ve made you a sketch”:

08-IMG_8561

When I got home, Doug said “Do you think she gets it?” “Oh, yes,” I said.  “She’s going to to do this just right.”

09-IMG_8558

I don’t know how to say this without gushing.  I think this is absolutely the greatest thing I’ve ever knitted.  I love it!  It’s perfect!  I want to keep it!  (Just kidding, Leah.  Maybe.)  I think it’s the greatest birthday present ever.

01-IMG_8583

Every part of making this was fun, from conception through throwing it up into the air for the above photo.  Even the steek!  (At least, in retrospect.)  You can probably not help but notice that this pillow is huge.  It is defintiely not a standard size pillow.  I spent a long time searching for a pillow the right size to fit this case, and finally found one here.  This is a duck feather and down bolster pillow measuring 51x100cm (20″ x 39″).

10-IMG_8552

I love the fabric I chose for the back as much as I love the knitted panel.  They compliment each other so well.  (In one of the previous posts, see above link, I wrote about finding the fabric; it was a remnant so I have no details.)  See how it shines in the sun?  And the yellow yarn (Quince & Co Chickadee in Carrie’s yellow), while pale with slightly brownish  undertones on its own, gleams against the purple like burnished gold.  Leah is a Tolkien fan but also a medieval history fanatic and I love the way this project has a very medieval look to it.

02-IMG_8596Happy Belated Birthday, Leah!  I’m holding the pillow hostage until you come home to visit.

12-IMG_8545

February’s done!

Yes, February is done and gone.  This includes the lovely February scarf, just off my needles:

IMG_6104I love this scarf!  I can’t remember the last time I knit a scarf; they can be rather tedious and I don’t have the patience for them.  In fact, despite its beauty, I really only decided to knit this because I had five skeins of Quince & Co Osprey sitting in my stash.  Not enough for a sweater, too much for a hat and mittens.  And yet, I think it’s fabulous, and didn’t ever get to the stage where I wanted to strangle myself with it.

The pattern is by Beth Weaver for Quince & Co; you can find it here.  As I’ve mentioned previously, the pattern calls for six skeins of wool.  My finished dimensions pre-blocking were 7.5″x90″; it bloomed quite a bit with a wet blocking however, to 9″x102″.  The pattern, with six skeins, is 126″ long, but I think this one is plenty long enough, especially for Leah (she’s 5’5″).

I had some issues with the blocking.  Before blocking the cables are very thick and chunky; the texture is fantastic, with lots of shadow and movement.  The blocking flattened them a little bit, so to my eye the scarf loses a bit of its architectural quality. I’m probably being excessively picky, however.  The top photo is pre-blocking, the one below is post-blocking:

IMG_6128

Blocking, however, did have a lot of benefits.  First, the scarf is considerably softer post-blocking and thus more wearable.    It has gained over a foot in length and is eaiser to toss around and wrap multiple times.  It actually feels lighter, though of course it weighs just the same.  More importantly, pre-blocking the edges showed a strong tendency to roll, which the blocking has hopefully cured.

I should add that I didn’t do any stretching while blocking.  On the contrary, the yarn bloomed so much when wet, that the block was mostly an exercise in moderation.  I let the scarf soak for a good 15 minutes to make sure that it was completely saturated. Then I very carefully spilled off the water, without squeezing or stretching the scarf.  I laid it out on a towel on top of a tiled floor, put another towel on top, and then with bare feet, walked on it until both towels were soaked.  Then, I carefully picked it up and laid it out on a fresh towel, making sure it didn’t get stretched, covered it with another fresh towel and repeated the procedure.  (This bit is fun; I always imagine I’m Lucy Ricardo squishing grapes to make wine.)  I then laid it out on a layer of towels across the living room carpet (lots of towels because it’s very long) and pinned the edges down.  I’m not sure it even needs pinning; but I did it just to make sure that the two stitches along the edge in reverse stockinette didn’t roll.  You could use blocking wires; I used about 200 pins instead.

This scarf will keep you toasty warm, no matter how cold your February is.  You don’t even need to wear a hat:

IMG_6125

I highly recommend both pattern and yarn.  I have used this yarn before and know from experience that it wears well and washes well and resists pilling.  It starts off soft and stays soft.  The pattern is simple but arresting, and because of the thick wool and easy cables, it will fly off your needles.

IMG_6152

Sometimes a girl just has to have two

IMG_5859

Two what?  Why, two knitting projects of course.  Lately, I have been a fairly monogamous knitter – knitting away on one project until it’s done and then starting another.  Except for August when I was on holiday and working simultaneously on two cardigans (Killybegs and Ravi), I was pretty much monogamous all last year.  Well, the fact of the matter is that being faithful to a single knitting project is no fun.  It’s also not a productive way to knit (I know this seems counter-intuitive but stick with me.)

Sometimes I knit all by myself in a quiet spot with no interruptions and good lighting.  I can spend that time doing things that take a fair bit of attention – doing intricate colourwork, picking up stitches, knitting lace or finishing work.  Sometimes, I knit while holding a conversation, or watching a movie, or standing in line, or reading a book (yes, I can knit while reading a book).  Sometimes, I knit in very poorly lit places where I have to rely on my fingers and not my eyes to know what I’m doing.  Obviously, if I have two (or more) projects on the go, then I can tailor the project I pick up to the environment I’m knitting in.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Often, I want to grab a project to knit on the run, but the project I’m working on is big and awkward and bulky.  Some projects are more inherently mobile than others.  Also, sometimes I feel like knitting lace on tiny needles and sometimes I feel like knitting miles of stockinette.  Then again, sometimes a girl needs just the right project to knit in the snow!

IMG_5850

Yes, It’s snowing like mad in England today!  School is cancelled, work is cancelled, I’ve done the grocery shopping, I have knitting to hand, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!  (By the way, these photos were taken early in the day when it hadn’t been snowing for long.  Right now it is a winter wonderland outside and shows no sign of stopping.)

I have been working on Emma’s Venetian Audrey pullover, but for all the reasons above, I needed another project.  Audrey is knit in DK weight yarn and has a lot of shaping details to pay attention to; furthermore I am now working on the sleeves which means endlessly knitting round and round (in rib) on DPNs.  I wanted a second project that was psychologically quite different.  Because of the cold and the snow, I wanted to knit something warm and cozy.  And because I have had very long days at work the past two weeks, I needed some mindless knitting.    What I settled on in this:

weaver2_mediumThis is the February scarf, designed by Beth Weaver for Quince & Co Osprey.  It is a giant scarf that you can wrap around your neck multiple times.  It is knit in Quince & Co. Osprey, which is unbelievably lofty and squishy.  Osprey is a chameleon – it looks completely ordinary in the skein, but when it’s knit up it transforms into something lovely and soft and airy.

IMG_5873

I must be completely honest however and admit that part of the reason why I picked this particular project is penny-pinching.  With Emma at university and Leah about to start, I really have to watch my budget.  And it just so happens that I had 5 skeins of Osprey in Winesap, a nice solid red, just sitting in a box in my study.  I bought it a few years ago with the idea of making a pullover, which I then decided I didn’t like.  I have looked and looked over the past year for another sweater to make with it, but all the sweaters that I like take at least 6 skeins.  (I should point out that the February scarf calls for 6 skeins as well, but, hey, it’s a scarf.)  It’s pretty in red, as you can see, but really must be felt to be appreciated:

IMG_5871

The best part is that it adheres to Kelly’s creative accounting formula:  The yarn is already in my stash; therefore, I can knit this for free.