Prior to my knitting addiction, my experience with gathering supplies to make things to wear dates from my childhood in the 1970s.
The principles of knitting and sewing were, back in the day, 1. It was cheaper to make it yourself, and 2. You would have more options if you made it yourself.
I remember fidgeting as my mother and grandmother rifled through cubbyholes of yarn on sale at Giant Mart in Churchill Square. Whatever they made from that material would be much cheaper than a store-bought toque or mittens or sweater.
Whether the yarn they bought came from the finest merino sheep or from a vaguely petroleum base, I have no idea. Everything was “wool”. Even – shudder – Phentex.
I have inherited the family love of a bargain. When it comes to what I wear, I pride myself on never paying full price. I’ll stalk items in shops for months until they go on sale. My go-to for clothing basics is the cheap and cheerful Joe Fresh line at my local supermarket.
So my view of shopping for yarn is stuck in a time warp.
I visited a knitting supply shop the other day, the one that I don’t go to so much. It has a smaller yarn selection than my usual shop, but one that these days, we call a “curated” selection. Everything there was appealing. None of it was cheap.
I saw one loose skein of wool with a price tag of $48. And many gorgeous ones in the $20-40 range.
One skein of wool makes, approximately, one hat or a pair of mitts. And if I’m going to spend $48 on the equivalent of a hat or a pair of mitts, it’s going to be made by someone, somewhere, who can do a much better job of it than me.
Then again, anytime I’m flicking through the sale rack at Joe Fresh, I’m not looking at the tag to see whether the sweater is acrylic or wool, or where the sheep that the wool came from spent their grazing time. I’m just looking at a trendy sweater that’s cheap and easy enough to pick up with my groceries.
With the emphasis these days on wool quality and provenance, selecting yarn for a knitting project can be more like trying to make wine and food pairings for a fancy dinner party.
Which got me thinking. These days, you have to have time, money, or both, to knit. Knitting, which in my childhood, was the practical, economical way to provide for your family, has now become a bit of a luxury.
As I made my way through the wares of that knitting shop the other day, I found a selection of Cascade Yarn at $10 per skein. At that rate, I could knit myself a sweater for about $80 plus tax. That’s still more than I’d pay for a sweater at Joe Fresh.
I did, however, splurge on this beautiful skein of grey baby llama yarn, as soft as the fur of my cat.
What to make with it? I want to pick a pattern that’s classy enough for the wool. I want to knit it into an item that will get worn, but won’t get worn out or lost. I’m a bit tied up in knots about the decision.
I’m pretty sure this was not a dilemma my mother and grandmother faced as they brought their balls of Beehive yarn to the checkout at Giant Mart.