Wednesday 27 July 2011

True confessions of a yarn addict

I really should stay away from yarn shops.

At lunchtime today, I went to Hobbycraft to buy a couple of row counters.  All the ones I've got are in use and I'll need one for my next project. Naturally, I browsed the yarn aisles, while I was there.  I had to - the knitting notions were buried in the middle.  I wasn't looking for anything - normally, I can resist the yarns at Hobbycraft because many have that cheap-and-nasty plastic acrylic feel.  Not today.

On an end-cap, I found a shelf of something that intrigued me:  Palette's Vintage, a worsted weight 70% wool, 30% soy blend.  The label knocked me for six - you never see a yarn labeled "worsted" in this country, it just doesn't exist.   If you didn't like brown, there wasn't a huge number of other skeins: 9 white ("Macadamia"), 6 blue ("Enamel"), 9 red ("Red Bud") and 20-odd brown ("Otter").  But there was no price.  I nabbed a shop assistant, who checked - it was 99p a ball and the stuff on the shelf was all they had. 

The yarn-lust took hold of me.  Worsted weight?  Less than a Pound a ball?  And it's 70% wool?  I stared at it for a few minutes.  Was there enough to make a sweater?  I did a swift calculation in my head, 9 balls at 125m/ball is 1125 metres of yarn.  Not quite enough for, say, a Must Have Cardigan.  I scrabbled on my phone to access Ravelry;  was there anything suitable in my favourites that didn't use much yarn?  Amy Christoffers' Acer Cardigan fitted the bill.  As did Bonne Marie Burns' Basic Chick V-Neck Cardigan and her Twist.  I could knit an entire garment for £8.91!  That's my sort of price.

In the end, I couldn't decide between the red and the white.  At 99p a ball, I decided I didn't have to.

- Pam (It's not stash enhancement if you have a pattern for it; it's project acquisition)

Monday 25 July 2011

Taking frugality to extremes

Louisa at the Really Good Life raised an interesting point on her most recent blog: when you take frugality to extremes, how far is too far?  Although I replied over there, I thought I'd spend a minute or two here working out my thoughts on the subject.

To me, extreme frugality is akin to being miserly it’s forgetting about the “living” part of “living below your means”. If it makes your quality of life suffer, then it’s too extreme. Frugality for me is about making choices that enhance my life but keep me within my budget.  Back in March 2009, Channel 4 ran a program, The Hunt for Britain's Tightest Person  where a woman demonstrated how to bathe in a bucket in the kitchen - something she had to do because her boiler had been broken for months and she hadn't bothered to get it fixed. She had the money to fix it but she preferred to boil the kettle and wear extra layers in winter rather than spend money on her boiler.  Winter 2009 was very cold - we had two weeks where the temperature didn't get to zero - and I remember thinking she'd flipped over the edge from frugal to miser.

For me, frugality is making the best use of your resources.  It may be about getting the best price for something, or buying the best quality item you can afford or ensuring you have cash set aside for car repairs, etc.  However, it is also about living the best life you can on the budget you've got.  It's living a champagne lifestyle but only spending beer money to obtain it.  It isn't about depriving yourself for the sake of it or being a martyr to the cause.  Yes, you have to make choices because nobody can afford everything, but it's about making the choice to spend money in ways that reflect your goals and dreams.

- Pam

Saturday 23 July 2011

Entering the Lion's Den AKA Purl City Yarns

On a back street, five minutes walk from Manchester's Piccadilly Gardens, is a knitterly haven: Purl City Yarns.  I staggered in there yesterday afternoon laden with laptop, trolley case, etc, and, within seconds, wished it was my LYS.   The staff were incredibly friendly and encouraged me to dump my bags by the couch and take a good look round.

 When I planned my work trip to Manchester this week, one of the things on my wish-list was this visit to Purl City Yarns.  I'd seen their ads in the knitting press as had the other customer who came in while I was there - she'd heard me say as much to the owner and chimed in "me, too!" producing a battered knitting magazine from her bag, open at the page showing their advertisement.

Purl City Yarns stands on a street corner, with windows on both exposed sides.  In a former life, I think it was a typical British "corner shop" (think Open All Hours meets an Aussie milk bar).  Certainly, it sold ice-creams - the shop's threshold carries an advertisement for them.  The walls are covered in shelving, while two welcoming couches occupy the foreground of the shop.  The counter is at the back, tucked against the stairs, with their needle and hook displays beyond that.  I think, upstairs is a classroom.

The shop is small but very well organised, with yarns displayed by weight and then by brand.  They even had a section labeled "Worsted Weight", which is almost impossible to find in this country (we have to substitute Aran, which is fractionally thicker).  It was full of yarns I'd only heard about before:  Zealana, Noro, Austerman, Drops;  as well as ones I know/already own:  Blacker Designs yarns, Fiberspates, The Natural Dye Studio and Debbie Bliss.  What they don't carry are the standard yarns you can buy at Hobbycraft, i.e. Sirdar and Rowan.  Also, I didn't spot any 100% acrylics.  (That alone earns them a big gold star in my book - no plastic masquerading as wool.  Blech!)

Luckily for my no-stash-enhancement-goal, no yarns leaped out and screamed "buy me".  That isn't to say I left the shop empty handed.  I didn't.  I just wasn't inspired to buy yarn.  Instead, I bought the three sizes of crochet hooks I'll need to make the Moth Wing Shrug from last summer's Interweave Crochet and a large bottle of eucalyptus scented Eucalan wool wash.

They've been open since last November and are filling a much-needed void.  Knit-Night is Wednesdays, from 5 to 8.  Next time I travel to visit my Manchester project team, I plan to be there.

- Pam  (giving them 5 out of 5)

Wednesday 20 July 2011

I broke it!

My beloved Contigo travel mug that is. -(

It is 7am. I'm on the train to Manchester. Going there for 3 day's work. Being frugal, and a coffee snob, I thought it was a good idea to pack my own coffee so I loaded up the Contigo. I rested my mug on my case while I retrieved my ticket from the machine and promptly forgot about it. I was too busy panicking because i'd just realised my train was at 10 to 7 rather than 10 past and I only had a minute to get to the platform! My mug rolled off my case, hit the concrete floor with a heavy "Thunk!", landed on the side of its lid and now leaks.

Thank God I'm wearing a coat because I'm now wearing half my coffee on it!

If I tilt the mug, coffee pours from the self-seal mechanism. If I push the button to drink, it pours out from below the drinking spot, from around the lid. Damn! Damn!! Damn!!!

- Pam

Friday 15 July 2011

Frugal Friday: Sweating Your Assets

There was a thread on Ravelry recently about saving money for the down-payment on a house.  It got me thinking about how buying a house is more than just buying the roof over your head. There's a business concept called "sweating your assets", which is where you maximise the usage of your assets to get the most value out of them. The classic business example is where a manufacturing plant introduces a second or third shift in order to make as much product as possible without having to purchase another factory.

How this applies to owning a home is all about making the most of that house and the land it sits on while doing the things that cost nary a penny.   Our house is tiny by American/Australian standards, coming in at less than 900 square feet (that's less than 9 "squares" in Australian terminology).  Our back garden is approximately 70 feet long by 22 feet wide, including the patio and a concrete pad at the far end.  Thanks to the shared drive, our front garden is even narrower and about 15 feet deep.

Sweating our assets means maximising our living space and our storage space while still living within the footprint of our house, so that our home is a welcoming, happy and efficient place to be.  Consider the layout of your home, would the lounge work better if you moved the door six feet to the left?  Ours does.  And it makes the room look much bigger as a result.
It's about having a productive but pretty garden, growing vegetables and fruit trees alongside the flowering shrubs, a la Alys Fowler or Mother Chaos or The Cottage Smallholder, so that we can lower ourfood bill, do our bit for the environment, acquire a hobby and improve our quality of living all in one stroke. One thing I have to do this weekend is phone the garden designer whose services I won in a charity auction and book my alotted hour of her time.  Hopefully, she'll give me a managable plan for the wilderness we own.  (If I could borrow anyone for a week, it would be Alys Fowler.  I always loved her segments on Gardeners World, I love her writing (see these posts for the BBC) and I wish she was back on our TV screens.) 

And, finally, it's about using things that are free or that I've already paid for instead of forking out my hard earned cash for something new. It's asking myself: "Do I need a new dress/shoes/whatever?" when there are four perfectly good ones in the wardrobe that only need an iron to become presentable and usable again.  Oh, and using one of these to dry our wash efficiently in the garden instead of running the drier (we don't even own one).

- Pam