Why Worsted Weight?
New knitters/crocheters tend to have a few trepidations about yarn. With so many patterns out there knit up at different gauges, it can seem overwhelmingly as if there are no rules to the creation of a knitted object. The answer to that, as to many things in life, is yes and no. Knowledge of a few simple basics, however, will get you through those early forays, largely without any major disasters! My recommendation is to start with a good skein of worsted weight yarn.
Named after Worstead, an English town historically reknowned for it's thriving yarn industry, worsted weight yarn is a perfect happy medium for unsure hands. Thinner yarns can be fiddly for inexperienced fingers, and bulky yarns can be awkward. Worsted is the perfect general size for those first projects - a scarf, a warm hat, your first raglan sweater.
1: Look for ply
Durability and stitch definition are determined by how many plies are in the yarn. Find the yarn end and fray it slightly. How many seperate twisted strands are in the yarn? A good general use worsted weight should have 4 or so plies. This makes for a nice, strong yarn that doesn't split often while you're trying to knit it, that won't pill up too much, and with nice, round stitches that will accent your work nicely. There are many lovely yarns out there that have only one or two plies, yes, and those are fantastic for certain types of stitch patterns, and if you keep a lint shaver handy - but we're talking a general use, no-nonsense, first project yarn here. A 4-ply worsted wool is just about foolproof. In particular, if you are working in a pattern with lace or cables (or both!), you definitely want enough plies to make a nice, round yarn. It will emphasize the stitches in your pattern, and everything will look, well, better.
2: Quality + economics:
Most beginners start with cheap yarn. Truthfully, nobody wants to spend an unnecessary amount of money on good yarn when they know their skills aren't equal to it yet. But be careful not to get stuck in the acrylic funk; that is, getting used to using squeaky, plastic yarn, and never really falling in love with knitting as a result. Knitting is all about tactile pleasure. I have long since learned to give my knit or crochet students a skein of good, basic Indie20 when I teach them the ropes. It is a soft and squishy 4 ply worsted weight, 100% lovely wool that is a pleasure to work with, but still economical at $15/skein. Plus, a tonal or speckled yarn keeps the interest going when you're doing row after row of garter stitch or single crochet :) It makes all the difference in the world in learning a skill when you have materials you want to put your hands on!
3: So many patterns:
The current number of patterns on ravelry which call for worsted weight yarn is 83,290.
6,405 of those have a difficulty rating of "piece of cake".
3,001 of those are free.
927 of those require only one skein.
You are bound to find, somewhere in that exhaustive database, something that suits your taste, skill level and budget. And, in all probability, develop an addiction to ravelry. Welcome to the club!
When I am knitting in public, I find that almost everyone has a comment about what I am doing. Mostly I find that people are surprised I am doing it because they imagine it must take more patience than they personally would ever possess, or must take more time than they will ever have (even if we are both sitting in a waiting room, and they are doing literally nothing), or that sitting there focusing intently would create more tension and anxiety than they would like. I admit, I am still reeling from that last opinion. I have heard the previous two countless times, but the notion of knitting causing anxiety is personally baffling, since I use therapeutic knitting to curb my already very abundant anxiety.
Handwork has become significantly less common in our day. It's as if all of a sudden, work that people have been keeping their hands busy with since the dawn of humanity had suddenly been deemed "grandma stuff" 50 years ago or so. Coincidentally enough, crippling anxiety in that time frame climbed its way up to being a commonplace problem. Not that I'm saying that people are suddenly anxious because they sit around in their spare hours instead of keeping productive; it's just that it doesn't help matters in an age when they would be more anxious anyway.
I have generalized anxiety disorder. For me, this means I overthink ev-er-y-thing, I remember every blunder and every misspoken word all the way back through my entire life to my early childhood, and I still cringe over it all. This would all be no big, except that all of it is frequently accompanied by anxiety attacks, which feel like a fat man has sat on my chest and is performing open heart surgery with no anesthetic. "Yikes", you think, "you should probably get something for that."
The fact is, some medications do take the edge off, but only the edge. Others produce side effects that make me think, hmm, I would rather feel like a dying human than this non-human item I feel myself becoming. The very best thing I have found to manage my anxiety is knitting. When I knit daily, I am less anxious as a whole. I do still have anxiety attacks, but they are more or less manageable with a breathing technique, a quiet(ish) space, and... my knitting. It's kinda my wubby. Yes, it's addictive, but nobody minds. Especially when I'm making lovely things for them.
It is for this reason, I believe, that I have slowly been converting everyone in my life into a knitter. Or if not a knitter, an embroiderer, weaver or crocheter. Whatever technique you choose, yarn wields a soothing magic. Nervous disorders such as PTSD and anxiety can be quite well managed with a meditative and tactile task. Take a few minutes and read this article and do yourself a favor and Google search "Therapeutic knitting".
You don't need to be patient to knit; you become patient with knitting.
You don't need time to knit; you can be knitting whenever you're sitting. (Or even walking)
And most importantly:
We had a question emailed to us this week that I was thrilled to receive, and I think it is so important, that I want to address it in a blog post:
I love your yarn and batts. I try to buy from shops that source their fiber from humane and cruelty-free farms. Can you give me any info on where you get your wool, etc.?This is a question asked by a well-informed person. It is surprising all the preconceived ideas people have about my industry, and some of them are quite extreme. Here are 3 examples of opinions I have personally encountered.
To answer the first question, about where we at This Fancy Yarn source our wool, rest assured that we are well aware of these inhumane practices.
Our spinning wool, both raw that we process ourselves, and milled roving, come from local sources - either farms whose practices we know of and trust, or mills who can certify that they use wool from local small farms with humane practices.
Our pre-spun yarn bases are sourced from a mill supply that has the same values. All the wool contained in that yarn is from either north or south america, and is certified NO MULESING. These things are important to us, so it's worth it to do the extra work to ensure a cruelty-free product.
What is Mulesing?In an attempt to reduce the incidence of flystrike in Australia, the ‘Mules’ operation was introduced in the 1930s. Skin is sliced from the buttocks of lambs without anaesthetic to produce a scar free of wool, faecal/urine stains, and skin wrinkles. Over 20 million merino breed lambs are currently mulesed each year. Most will have their tail cut off and the males will be castrated (‘marked’) at the same time. (source)
The real problem here is flock size. A LOT of wool is required for all the things spun and knitted up in those asian textile mills that supply basically everyone with clothing. Australia is perfect for massive flocks with its seemingly endless flat, arid land. When you have a flock that contains millions of sheep (seriously, 3 million is an average size there), there is going to be a HUGE amount of shearing to do. When there are 3 million animals to shear, and you have deadlines to get the wool to the mill, every minute counts. How does that affect the sheep? Well, extreme lack of time + pointy sharp clippers + shearers who really don't care what they have to do to get more animals sheared in a day's time... it equals lots of blood, in addition to the fact that these poor things have had the skin stripped off their hindquarters.
It doesn't have to be this way. Owners of small flocks, experienced shearers with skill and empathy, can produce wool from sheep who are happy to be sheared. For example:
This sheep trotted out readily when it was her turn - actually they were all waiting near the front of the pen, like they couldn't wait to be free of their excess fluff. The level of trust this sweet ewe had for her shearer was touching to behold. She was so calm, and let him turn her in whatever direction he needed. Look at her face! She is so placid! Like she is getting a lovely haircut at the salon, which... she is. Not one nick anywhere on her skin; and when he was done, he gave her a little pat, and she moseyed away, in no great rush to get away from The Best Human Ever.
These are the kind of places we want to ensure we get our wool from. Beautiful wool from happy sheep (and goats, alpacas and bunnies) are what makes buying small and local so worthwhile.
Today, we shared our skills at a local historical site for Colonial Crafts Day in Tiverton, RI. It was a wonderful day, and I was so pleased to see all the lovely people who stopped and talked a while, and asked questions about spinning. I may be an art yarn spinner, but my craft is an ancient one nonetheless; and to be able to spark modern interest in a skill that has been around since man first noticed sheep's wool is a very great honor.
Closest to my heart was the 5 or 6 year old girl who stood nearby, entranced, asking me loads of questions about wool, and dyeing, and spinning, and when I stopped talking for a moment, prompted, "would you please tell me more?" She got her dad to buy her a skein of squishy art yarn, and walked away squishing it lovingly into her little cheek.
September has started out with a bang! Between retail orders, craft festivals, and new products to push out, we are swamped!
I have been so glued to my spinning wheel these days, that it is a positive relief to take an hour today to list a few things in the shop, dye some fiber, and write this blog post. I know my calf muscles are thanking me!
For all of you who are local, I will be doing my very first craft fair/spinning demo in Tiverton, RI!
Colonial Crafts Day - free admission!Saturday Sept 24, 11-3 pm3908 Main Rd, Tiverton RI
If you can come, there will will be a colonial museum house tour and all sorts of cool old-timey craft demos - chair caning, woodworking, weaving and more from local artisans (including me with my lovely spinning wheel, Paloma). I would love to see you there!