Tuesday, 2 December 2008

I'm not a yarn snob. Really.

Towards the end of last week, I learned of a yarn shop not too far from here in Uxbridge, so on Saturday I went to check it out.

Baron's don't have a website and their address in the phone book just says "Market Square, UB8 1LH". I'm not that familiar with Uxbridge, so wandered around for a while before I realised that the Market Square has long-since been subsumed into the Pavilion's shopping mall. (Town planning vandalism, don't you think, building a shopping mall on the site of an ancient market?)

It turns out that Baron's is little more than an indoor, overgrown market stall. I felt pangs of disappointment - I was half-hoping to find a shop that might just, possibly, be that rare-to-Britain gold-mine, an American-style LYS - but wandered in anyway to check out their range. There was a lot of yarn crammed into a space that is maybe 12 feet by 8. They had some fun fur, a small quantity of wool, a little bit of cotton and a large amount of acrylic.

After a bit of a search, I gave in and asked for assistance. I was after sock-yarn, not just because that's my default purchase when in a new-to-me-yarn-shop but also because I have a pair of socks to make as a Christmas present. "Do you mean wool for darning socks?" was the response. "No, I mean wool for knitting socks, usually 4-ply", I replied. I got the feeling that knitting socks was an unusual concept, rarely encountered before. Still, the teenage shop assistant was good at her job - she found me the only sock yarn they had: Elle Machine Washable Sock Wool in brown. I'm not sure who was more surprised: her or me.

On the way home, I pondered my reaction to the shop's range of yarn. The vast amount of cheap acrylics and acrylic blends found me mentally wrinkling my nose and curling my lip in distaste. What made me such a yarn snob?

The first three or four garments I ever knitted were made in acrylic. It was cheap and my mother didn't want to waste money buying wool for a teenager who might never finish the garment she was making. Then, when I was 16 or so, I knitted my first pure wool sweater and I've rarely touched acrylic since.

When I think about acrylic, I think about yarn that squeaks when you knit it, yarn that feels plasticky and leaves your hands clammy as you knit. I use it occasionally in baby garments (normally Plymouth’s Encore which is 25% wool), but the 100% stuff? Haven't knitted with it in a long time and don't intend to. Emblazoned on my psyche is a belief that acrylics are cheap and nasty and that if I'm going to spend my time knitting, then I deserve better.

And 99% of the acrylics out there just aren't good enough. There are some beautiful yarns out there that are acrylic in all-but-name (I have some silky soft eyelash made by Elle that is so beautiful to handle, I just sit here and stroke it), but they are the exception. Good marketeers know that putting "acrylic" on a yarn label is the kiss of death to people like me - we won't touch it, but we might look twice if it's described as "microfibre" or even "polyamide" and included in a blend with wool or cotton. However, no matter what is on the label, if it feels like cheap acrylic, I won't use it. Why waste my money on something that makes my skin creep?

I think that's the crux of the matter - I believe I deserve to knit with decent quality yarn. Anything else isn't worth my time and attention. If valuing my handiwork makes me a yarn snob, then so be it.

- Pam (will probably go back to Baron's, sometime)


amy said...

I feel the same way. I've a few garments (one or two?) knit with a "microfiber" blend, but I tend toward natural fibers. No question. My mom and aunt crocheted like crazy, always with Red Heart. So when I crocheted, that's what I used, too. I had NO IDEA you could get real wool yarn, or cotton, until I taught myself to knit. What a revelation!!

By the way, from the mom point of view, I'd rather have natural fibers on my baby than acrylic, and I felt this way even before I began to knit. One, acrylic melts. Yikes. Two, it's hot. Three, it can be irritating, mainly because it's hot. My first baby was prone to skin rashes and was a little furnace. He wore nothing but all-cotton clothes. All the polyester or polyester-blend clothes we were given got donated to charity, tags on. Now, as a knitter, of course I don't mind hand-washing a wool sweater or blanket.

Mother of Chaos said...

Funny, I'm the same way. I started out knitting cheap acrylic because that was what I could afford; but once I started using wool and alpaca, shoot. There's no living with me.

I've learned to deal with acrylic, though. Not only because of charity knitting requirements, but because when I'm making things for my kids, darn it, I get sick of "hand wash, lay flat to dry" sweaters. The ability to just toss it in the washer and dryer gets more and more important, when you're washing twelve or more of the things a week.

km said...

Oh, I so understand! (this is ellaluna, btw)

I started with acrylic when I first learned to knit, and now it just makes me cringe.

A few weeks ago, however, I gave in and bought some Berroco Comfort DK, which is an acrylic/nylon blend. I want to knit for my nephew, and my sister swears to me that if she can't throw it in the washer, he is NEVER going to wear it.

I haven't knitted with it yet, but I manhandled it in my LYS, and it seems very soft!

Brenda said...

Hi Pam,
I must be another yarn snob too. When I first started knitting as a teenager, I bought cheaper yarn because that's what I could afford. But, living in Montreal, you soon learn that wool is WARM, and acrylic just isn't. So if you actually want to keep yourself or someone else warm, I wouldn't bother with acrylics. It's OK for a "fashion" sweater though, especially as they do make some nicer blends nowadays.
Of course this is all moot now, as I live in Los Angeles :-)