All the yarn that's fit to knit!

Come on in, the yarn's fine!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

She Blinded Me With Science

Please tell me you know that song!  Long live the 80s!!

My house is smelly right now.  I've been conducting science experiments.  On yarn.  Veeeeery interesting, I must say.

Let me start with a bit of back story.  I have a friend of mine who had given me a large amount of yarn, therefore he has first dibs on either of my kidneys, should he need them.  But they were mystery yarns.  I had no labels, and they were already wound.  They seemed to be made of wool.  They were rather scratchy.  I was keen to use them, but I also had no idea how many yards there were in each skein, and the weight of the yarn was somewhat less than worsted weight, yet not exactly was hard to say what was going on with them, actually.

I wanted to make some mittens for my son, so we picked out some yarn out of my stash.  He was interested in some of the mystery yarn.  I pulled it out and set to swatching.  But it didn't feel like wool in my hands.  Sort of inelastic, really.  I finished my swatch and washed it and then the weirdness hit a peak.  It didn't smell like wool.  No weird, funky wet-dog/wet-sheep smell.  It was more of a smell reminiscent of leaving your CD in the microwave and setting the timer to three weeks.  That kind of a smell.  The "uh-oh-we-have-synthetics" smell.  No bueno.

Now, I admit, I prefer wool (and I would hardly scoff at cashmere) to synthetics, but they definitely have their place, and I think they're getting better all the time.  You've got to admit, they were freaky-deaky back in the day when they first came out--I think we can all agree on that?  Nowadays, they can be very soft, come in an amazing array of textures and colors, and of course they are machine wash-and-dryable.  On the other hand, they don't do the amazing things that wool (and other natural fibers) can do.  Wool is warm, breatheably warm.  It takes some effort to make wool truly wet, since most liquids bead up on its surface, and (isn't this so cool?) wool exudes heat as it dries.  I read somewhere that in Scotland, in the bitter cold weather, they would dip their wool in water before putting it on (!).  I'm wondering who the first person was to try that little experiment.  "'s so freakin' cold, I'll just nip off to the pond to get my clothes wet before I put them on.  This'll be great!" 

Another plus for wool--it does not burn on its own.  It can smolder, but will extinguish itself once the source of the flame is removed.  That is why wool is such a great thing to put on small children, and why things like nylon and acrylic are a bad idea to put on children, considering those materials can catch fire, burn and melt like gangbusters (shudder). 

I wanted to find out what was up with this mystery yarn.  What was it made of?  Was my nose off?  Maybe it was wool, but I wasn't sure.  How could I find out, you ask?  Easy.  All you need is this:

No one can see my messy kitchen.  You've all been hypnotized.  It is spotless....yesss....

And this:

Lest you think I am some kind of chemist/genius, all I am doing has been done before and wonderfully explained in Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's book, Knitting Rules!  Can I confess something?  The first time I borrowed that book from the library, I apparently misplaced my sense of humor there and thought she had written a real Rule Book.  Dork!

So, Stephanie (aka the Yarn Harlot) has this tidy table that shows what to expect when you submerge various yarns/fibers in bleach.  Basically, if it is a natural fiber, it will eventually dissolve in full strength bleach.  Man-made fibers will not. 

The most fun came from testing the yarn with fire, however.  In the beginning, the yarn was looking so innocent...

but the seed of mistrust had been sown.  This is what it looked like to me:

Guess who learned how to doodle on photos today?

I started out with every intention of being a good little scientist.  I had a kitchen timer, a dish of bleach, a candle, a pair of scissors, and the camera.  But after a while, the fumes of burning yarn combined with the glee of burning stuff led to lots of blurry shots of yarn on fire.  It was hard to hold the yarn (whilst on fire, mind you) with my left hand while trying to focus the camera and take cool shots with my other hand.  The first victim sample did this:

Did you see that?  Those three shots all happened within maybe 2-3 seconds.  The fibers shrank from the candle flame (another sign it isn't a natural fiber--cotton, wool, silk will not do that), then flared into flame.  This yarn showed a blue tinge at the base of the flame,

and the smell was enough to knock your socks off.  It also dripped long black crumbly plastic-y ash.  Yuck.  This was a wonderful reminder to me that, as the mother of two small children, to never use such a fiber for their knits. 

The mystery yarn was horrified.

I tested all of the mystery yarn.  I was determined to learn the truth.  And the results?

All acrylic.  All of the skeins shrank from the flame, then went up in flames.  It smelled of burning chemicals.  None of the samples I submerged in bleach ever showed any hint of dissolving, even after 15 minutes. 

I decided to try some yarn that I knew had natural fibers in it.  I busted out some good old-fashioned kitchen cotton yarn:

And the flames were noticeably different.

Here you can see that there are no flare-ups, even though the entire strand is on fire, it is a steady burn.  There is no black crumbly ash, but instead you can see at the bottom of the strand, an ash gray remnant, still showing evidence of the plying done to the yarn.  Isn't that cool?  The smell of burning cotton was akin to burning wood, a relief to my nose at that point.  

I also burned a tiny strand of Noro.  Look away if this is shocking to you.

Noro has all kinds of fiber in it.  Wool, lambs wool, nylon, silk.  And it went up in flames, too, with the old crumbly black ash.  Bummer.

I decided to try some alpaca/wool blend yarn, and was surprised that it also went up in flames completely.  I had hoped that the yarn would behave like pure wool is supposed to.  That is, it would only smolder when flame was applied, and that would cease once the flame was removed.  I finally went for the Cascade 220 wool and decided to put it to the test. 

It did burn a little bit, I was surprised to note.  But the flame was very small and very quickly put itself out.  

All in all, it was a really fun experiment to do.  Even better was when my husband came home after 45 minutes of me burning acrylic yarns and was almost knocked backward by the smell.  "What the $%&# are you doing?" he asked.  I had burning fiber in one hand and our family camera in the other.  I can only imagine what he must have been thinking....

PS:  Even though you may do your experiment at the kitchen sink (handy place to put stuff on fire, and water is easily accessible, just in case), do not presume to wash your burnt yarn and bleached yarn bits down the drain:

PPS:  There is not enough apologizing you can do on a Saturday when the disposal is clogged by bleached, burnt yarn. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Process Versus Product

Where do you fall?  Are you about the destination, or the journey? 

I have come to the conclusion, slowly, that I am a process knitter.  That is the only sane and logical way I can explain how many dang unfinished objects I have.  I must reeeeealllly like the process.  Yup.  That's why I have so much stuff on the needles and what feels like only 2 finished projects to my name, and I have been knitting for almost four years now. 

I know I've finished more than two, maybe four things.  But still, if I finished everything in my closet and project bag...s....  well, I would have a sizable pile of handknits.  How can you tell which category you fall into?  Here are some probing questions.  A word of caution beforehand, however.  Do not ask yourself these questions if you are A) uncomfortable with facing the truth, B) uncomfortable with the size of your yarn stash, C) operating heavy machinery.  Drowsiness may occur. 

Do you have many unfinished objects in your stash?  More than two? 

Do you find yourself making up reasons why you must cast on another project?

Do you have little or no problem "shelving" a current project for finishing at a later date?

Are you bothered when you cast on for another project when you "should" be finishing your current one?

Are you only working on one thing at a time?

Do you buy yarn with no clear project in mind, but simply because of sheer desire for it? 

Are you running out of places to put your unfinished projects?

I find I am unconcerned with finishing things anymore.  I mean, I might finish a sweater, which would be no small thing, considering, but the risks involved in blocking it and sewing it up!!  I mean, people, it might not fit!!  One sleeve may be two inches longer than the other.  If I don't finish it, and just knit here and there, on into eternity, I have this lovely sense of heading towards a finish line without the bone crushing reality of making something that won't fit a humanoid, but perhaps a giraffe.  My self-esteem just can't handle something awful of that magnitude.  Miles of yarn and months of hard work leading up to...the desire to swear loudly and awfully for a full 48 hours straight. 

I remember (vividly, still) one of my first finished projects.  I knit a nightgown.  No, really.  Guys, please stop laughing.  I know...a nightgown???   Really?  But yeah, a nightgown.  It was very gorgeous; it was in Mason-Dixon Knitting (I love those ladies), and it was knit in Louet Sportweight linen.  At the store, I decided to swap out the yarn for Knit One Crochet Two Ty-Dye.  In worsted weight.  And...being the newbie that I was, I sort of scrapped the basic tenets of gauge.  I set to work with the needles recommended in the pattern, but not the yarn.  I knit.  I knit some more.  I knit for two months, monogamously, on this.  Vine Lace patterned hem....waist shaping...seed stitch top.  Then I knit the front, all the same, but add in bust line shaping, etc. etc. etc.  Finally I was ready to block and sew them up.  I had been dealing with some doubts since I was working with something that was giving me wavy ty-dyed pink and purple horizontal stripes that would make a twig look chunky, but I kept telling myself it was going to be great.  Oh, and it was.  A great disaster, right up there with Krakatoa.  It was sooooo big.  I mean huge.  It was so wide that it looked like a hair scrunchie for an Ent stuck in the 80s.  It would have made a smashing tractor tire cozy.  I would have a picture of it put up here, except the picture, along with the knit, has mysteriously disappeared....  That sucker hit the frog pond with enough velocity that people in France had their hair blown back.  I believe that may have been the moment when I was profoundly, psychologically placed firmly in the process knitter column. 

That being said (boy, wasn't that a lot of rationalization for this next sentence?), here is a new project I have started:

This is Cascade 220 in Denim Heather and Merlot Heather.  I'm playing with fire, trying to design a sweater from a pattern book, like this one:

Doing a swatch (I can be taught), and going for it.  I am not sure what to do with the neck, the sleeves, and whether weeping will be involved, but I'm going to try anyway.  All the Elizabeth Zimmermann I've been reading lately has me puffed up like a Scotsman from "Braveheart" to be a fearless knitter rather than a blind follower. 

Stay tuned....

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Field Trip

I thought it would be fun to take a bit of a field trip this week.  A little look-see around the blogosphere to see what is going on in the knitterverse.  I'd like to show you some of my most favoritest blogs out there, and also give shout-outs to our local bloggers, too.  If you blog and would like a shout-out as well, post a comment and we'll get to know all our cyber-neighbors.  Nerd alert...who says "cyber-neighbors"?  What am I?  Running for mayor of the web??

So, that being said, the very first place I run to every day, the blog that has its own button on my tool bar would have to be, no doubt, the Yarn Harlot.  From the first post I ever read, I have been a faithful follower of the Harlot.  If you haven't been, I strongly recommend you visit.  Strongly.  I also recommend that you read her archived posts, as well.  This blog represents to me that a knitter can really find friends, her place in the universe, and a smashing career/life calling if she just keeps knitting.  Not to mention that she is a published author of...knitting humor.  Seriously.  She also invented the word "Kinnear" (as a verb) and Greg Kinnear complimented her right back by calling her the "Michael Jordan of knitting."  She is my superhero. 

Another place I visit frequently would have to be Mason-Dixon Knitting.  I have used the books that Ann Shaye and Kay Gardiner have published (Mason-Dixon Knitting and Mason-Dixon Knitting: Outside the Lines) and let me tell you that I have purchased so much dishcloth cotton yarn because of them! 

I also have to mention that, even though it is not a blog, Ravelry is also a phenomenal place to visit.  If you haven't been...well, I'd say it's like Facebook for knitters, crocheters, weavers, and crafty folks, but without all that really annoying upgrade junk.

Brooklyn Tweed has patterns that just kill me, they're so beautiful, and so beautifully photographed.

A list of blogs to visit would not be complete without mentioning Wendy Knits.

And now for some local flavor....

My friend Wendy (not the aforementioned Wendy) has her own website:  ChickenStitch Creations.  She is one seriously talented woman!  Let me tell you that she has entered handknits into the State Fair and she WON

Another recent comment on the blog led me to a new blog I've been exploring:  Wool Durham.  Sara just finished a gorgeous Acer Cardigan that has me feeling the itch to cable myself one, too.  Check it out!

Also I visited the mysterious PfeifferGrad's website:  House Of Tater.  She's mysterious because I couldn't squeeze her first name out of her blogger profile (d'oh!).  At first glance she mentioned a fiber hangover, so you know she's one of us!

 And a last one (for now) would have to be Connie Chang Chinchio's website. I always fall hard for her designs, even if I don't always finish them (ahem...cardigan..cough cough).

That being said, I have to tell you that the cardigan appears to be getting very irate at me.  It has been two weeks since I've knit a stitch on it, and I think something is going to have to be done, if I want to not be smothered in my sleep.  Look at this craziness:

The dang thing's GOT A SHIV.  It has its nasty little knitted sleeves wrapped around a frackin' weapon!  Send help!

I can't tell if it's aiming for me or the Malabrigo.  Help.

PS:  In an epic blogger fail, I forgot to mention another very cool, local blogger.  Ms. Nik of the comments also has a beautiful blog:  Nik's Knits.  You must go see it, it's very pretty and lots of great projects!

Sign up for our email Newsletter!