Thursday, April 6, 2006

Yarn Addicted

I never thought knitting would lead to an addiction, but now I wonder if there's some sort of twelve-step program to help sufferers of the strange phenomenon that is yarn addiction.
When I started knitting (again) in late December of last year, I accumulated enough acrylic yarn to fill a 50 gallon RubberMaid tub by visiting both Walmart and Michael's often enough to drool and dither over the gorgeous range of colors and textures arrayed before me on the shelves... and then picking skeins of yarn from the colors that appealed to me most. That was before I fell in love with natural fiber.
My first experience with natural fiber was with Peaches & Creme yarn from Walmart. It's stiff and fairly coarse, but the colors were pretty and I thought the price was fairly reasonable. However, after I completed what I thought would be an adult woman's size 8 sock, I was dismayed to find that I couldn't get the fruit of my labor over my heel! As a result, I have a bunch of balls of yarn that I have no plans to use for socks. The colors are lovely, but I've lost the receipt so I can't return it to the hell that is Walmart's Customer Disservice.
By the time my birthday rolled around, my knitting addiction was a full-fledged mania; my interest in natural fiber yarn, though, was just beginning to blossom. I went searched for local knitting supply shops, but the closest ones were -- I thought -- in Frederick and Winchester, neither of which I have any great desire to drive to; and then I found a listing for a shop in a small town about 16 miles away. I wrote down the directions provided by MapQuest and took off in pursuit of the most dangerous game known to knitters: the local yarn shop.
When I walked through the door, I went into sensory overload. So many textures ranging from the soft, fringed eyelash yarn to the bulky yarn used for felting, and two whole shelf units devoted to sock yarn, and another shelf unit with yarn made from soy and bamboo fiber. And the colors! Right as you walk through the front door, you're met with a piece of clothesline strung across a staircase and hung with hanks of hand-painted cotton yarn that literally glows with color. And did I mention that there's a cat in-house? I'll withhold her name since she's young and innocent and isn't likely to want obscene phonecalls; she's adorable: a fluffy calico who doesn't bat at the balls of yarn displayed on the antique sofa in one of the rooms, and who snoozes in a basket lined with one of the owner's felting projects. Both the owner and her cat (maybe that's the other way around since cats like to think they own humans) are very personable; the owner, Susan, is also extremely knowledgeable and helpful if you have questions.
That first visit, I tried to limit myself to a small number of things even though I knew I wanted a dozen of everything, cost be damned. Especially the gorgeous cashmere yarn by the window, and the hand-painted cotton yarn on the staircase! I left that day with two types of Lang Jawoll sock yarn (it comes with its own cute little spool of thread for reinforcing the heel and toe of the sock, and the thread is dyed to match the yarn), a ball of wool yarn made by the Brown Sheep Co. in a lovely medium green called Limestone, and some Sierra Quatro yarn. Subsequent trips also ended with the acquisition of more sock yarn, as well as more Sierra yarn in a different dyelot (see "Tanzanite Socks" under Completed Sock Projects).
Then, on Superbowl weekend, Susan held a sale. I went the day before and found some Brown Sheep Co. yarn -- sport weight this time -- in a sort of burnt orange color called French Clay. It was an unusual color, so I grabbed the last two -- the yarn was cleverly arranged for display in an antique baby pram -- and bought a couple more skeins of sock yarn. The French Clay yarn has since been knitted into a pair of socks for my father as a belated birthday gift (there's a picture posted under "Completed Sock Projects"). Most of the yarn I've gotten from Susan is housed in a plastic box to keep the moths out... just in case.
In March, during Spring Break, I went to Minnesota to visit my father and meet his companion. I'm not going to say very much about the trip, but St. Paul is much quieter than I was expecting, and the people were -- mostly -- much nicer than I expected. As part of the entertainment on the trip, Dad took me to the opera (fabulous production of Don Giovanni set at the turn of the century) and to Hamlet at the Guthrie Theatre., as well as a 1950's style malt shop called Snuffy's. If you're ever in St. Paul, go to Snuffy's and have a milkshake. They're absolutely the best milkshakes in the entire western world. I'm not kidding! The hamburgers are about the size of a dinner plate and delicious.
He also took me to several yarn shops recommended by folks on the sock knitters' forum I'm on, and that was quite an experience. The first yarn shop was Three Kittens. I was a bit disappointed that there weren't actually kittens or cats on the premesis, but there was a huge amount of yarn, and that alone was worth it... even though there were no kittens! The shop stocked more mainstream yarns like Lang and Sierra, but had one whole wall devoted to kettle dyed yarn made by a company in Uraguay, and a whole display unit for Mountain Colors hand-painted yarn. There was so much stuff I had a hard time limiting myself, but I finally picked some alpaca-merino yarn in a pine green, and got some reinforcing thread in a much lighter hue to make a contrasting toe and heel... and I splurged and bought a hank of Mountain Colors hand-painted yarn in a colorway called Ruby River. It's variegated reds and the picture I took doesn't do it justice at all. In fact, no pictures I've seen do the yarn justice... even on Mountain Colors' own website!
The next stop on the yarn shop list was The Yarnery. It occupies half of what used to be a residential building; it was a little hard to spot until you were on top of it, and then you knew it was there by all the little bits of yarn that had drifted out the door and down the front steps. Again, there were too many options to choose from, but they had amazingly organized displays and the staff were vere friendly; no fewer than three employees came to check on me while I was looking around. I had to limit myself there, too, so I only bought some pure alpaca yarn.. just enough to make a pair of socks. It's hand-painted shades of turqoise and white, and it's so soft it's almost decadent.
The third and final stop on the tour of yarn shops was Borealis. Borealis, I think, was my favorite of the three, but it's really hard to say that because they were all so wonderful. Borealis was also very organized, and the staff were also very helpful and friendly. The yarn was displayed on shelves, hanging on the wall, on little bookshelf units arranged throughout the shop, and in bins and baskets. The colors were grouped more in the way the spectrum works: ranging from red to violet and beyond with tints and hues of every possible variation. I went a little nuts at Borealis and left with NatureSpun sport-weight wool in Bordeaux, Lana Grossa in a sort of variegated wine red, and two skeins of silk-wool blend in a beautiful sort of cross between turqoise and sky blue.
Fortunately, I didn't buy so much yarn that I ended up having to ship things home for lack of space in my luggage. Yarn is pretty squashy, though, so I didn't have any trouble stuffing it into my duffle bag. Since I got home, I've finished one pair of socks (the Tanzanite) and started two more (the Mallard and Blueberry), and I still have several a couple pairs to do for some friends. And I still haven't knitte a pair of socks for myself!
Once Spring is fully sprung, I'll have more to write about because I'm going to clear one of the raised beds and plant some dye plants: amaranth, safflower, indigo, woad, and beets, and possibly coreopsis and a few other things if I have space.
If Mr. Snowyfox has his way, I might move to New Zealand and raise sheep... and dye plants. If that happens, then there'll be no stopping me, or breaking this yarn addiction!

Oh..and, yes, I'm actually using the yarn I've accumulated. And I haven't bought any more since I came home from Minnesota. See? I'm being good! Sort of...

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