what wool means to me

You may have heard that the month of November has been claimed as the month of ‘Wovember‘ as a celebration of wool.  It’s an idea I can heartily endorse & it inspired me to write a post about wool.

I remember how common wool was when I was young.  Winter sweaters, coats, hats, gloves, blankets – EVERYthing to do with winter was woolen.  Very little of it was scratchy, in my memory.  In my teens, the quality of moderately priced woolens had dropped considerably, so it fell out of favor in my wardrobe.  In the 80’s & 90’s, cashmere ruled, and the humble woolen sweater was rendered obsolete.

I bought a sweater at Saks in the mid 90’s that woke me up.  It was a deep brown Italian merino vest, and the softness, pill resistance & warmth was far superior to the cotton & cashmere that also hung in my closet.  I had forgotten how wonderful wool was to wear.  Lightweight & comforting – more so than static-y acrylic fleece or junky, pill-y department store cashmere.  An old friend to rely on.  I began to take notice of wool garments wherever I found them.

Some years later, I began to knit.  Alpaca was the fiber-darling of the day, and wool yarns were pushed to the lower shelves to make way for all of the cuddly alpaca yarns.  Yes, it was soft.  Yes, it was a pleasure to work with.  But man, did it stretch in the blocking process & pill in use.  I found Karabella Aurora 8 & was immediately smitten with its softness, but I was thrilled with its durability, light weight, ease of washing & wearing.  It was – & still is – far superior to alpaca yarns, in my opinion.  There are other favorite wool yarns in my stash: String Theory Merino DK, Jamieson’s Spindrift, Bartlett Yarns Sport, Sanguine Gryphon TravellerHarrisville ShetlandMadeline Tosh Vintage, and the ever-popular workhorse yarn Cascade 220.  Each one a treasure in its own way.

I later discovered the wonders of Shetland wool.  Elizabeth Zimmermann’s books extolled the virtues of wool over all other fibers, and I wondered if she was raving about yarns that were no longer available, and that I had missed my chance to use such yarns.  I missed the fair isle yokes of my youth & reading Elizabeth’s words made me realize how much I’d like to make one.  The yarn wasn’t carried in any of the LYSs, and I wanted to hear the general consensus amongst knitters before I took the plunge to buy it.  I still laugh when I think back to my early days on Ravelry when I asked for other knitters’ opinions of Shetland yarns.  The Americans that responded said it was quite itchy, but the Brits that responded said it was soft & perfectly suited for baby clothes.  Quite a range of opinions, and not terribly helpful at the time, but now that I have used it for myself, I feel I must side with the Brits.  While it can be a bit rough off the skein, it softens with washing, and softens even more with further use & washing.  It provides greater warmth than other fibers weighing twice as much, making the garments a pleasure to wear.

So what does wool mean to me?  It means warmth.  It means tradition.  It means rain-resistant.  It means practicality.  It means comfort on a level that no other fiber can touch.

What does it mean to you?


Rhinebeck 2011

Be warned, this is a cranky post.

Well, I wish I could say I was as enthusiastic about my Rhinebeck experience this year as I have in years past, but I can’t. The company was superb: I went with my good friend Susie, of Knitting Knoobie fame.  The view was as lovely…

The sheep were just as cute…

The donuts were as yummy…

But the weather was an issue this year; heavy rains the night before rendered much of the grassy parking areas unusable due to flooding. This means it took earlybirds like myself an hour and a half to drive the short distance from the Rhinecliff Bridge to the fairgrounds. After a long drive from the city, that’s torture. My first stop, needless to say, was the restroom. I consider myself lucky – those who arrived later than I did had an even longer wait.

I have written & re-written this post over the past 2 weeks, as I was unhappy with the tone of it. Suffice it to say, that there were numerous things the fairgrounds staff could have & should have done better. And I don’t blame them, the folks who should have been managing & training their staff to accommodate their customers didn’t prepare well. This is a large, popular festival & people come from all over the world to attend. It’s unfair to make people wait for so bloody long to get in. Unfair to those waiting to get in, and to the vendors inside wondering where their customers are.

After the positive experiences of last year, I had planned to go to Stitches East to do my major yarn shopping, and use my Rhinebeck time for socializing & shopping more for non-yarn items: buttons, tools, gifts, foods. Alas, most of the vendors I really wanted to see [Tess’ Yarns & Sanguine Gryphon] said they wouldn’t be going to Stitches this year, only to Rhinebeck, which is a pity. Stitches East is an indoor, well lit, spacious shopping experience. Last year I wound up buying a lot more than I had expected to because it was laid out so well, I got to see more yarns than I knew I would find there. So I spent my time at Rhinebeck hunting for yarn & nothing else.

After the frustration of getting there, I must admit my enthusiasm had waned a bit. I didn’t get to see all of the vendors I had planned to, and the popular ones booths were so crowded, it was hard to get in to shop, and harder still to find what you wanted. But I managed to get a tidy haul for myself.

Tess’ Designer Yarns was in attendance this year, and I was happy to have found them. I first discovered them at Stitches East last year, and I loved the Superwash Merino I had purchased from them. I turned it into a February Lady cardigan. I was pleased with the yarn & was determined to get some more this year. Their booth was a bit small for their needs, and navigating it was difficult due to the crowded layout & the throngs of people. It didn’t help that their location was misprinted in the map of vendors & no explanation was available in the location where they were supposed to be.

I bought this lovely Superwash Merino in a deep cranberry red for a Christmas sweater for my Mum.

Sanuine Gryphon was even more crowded than Tess’ booth, with a line of patiently waiting customers that extended out of the building, and wound its way around & around. This was too much for me after the traffic fiasco, so I decided to spare myself & leave them for the next day.

The next day, we arrived early & were first in line for Sanguine Gryphon. They booth was decorated as festively as we have come to expect, the yarns were put out and ready & the girls were in costume. By the time they opened, the line extended out of the building. We waited, ran in & grabbed whatever we could of whatever was left over from Saturday.

It. Was. Chaos. Pushing & short tempers are not what I associate with knitty folks, but that’s how it was.

Here’s what I bought: A sweater’s worth of beautiful Bugga in Ruddy Daggerwing…a beautiful coppery color that embodies autumn…

…+ a couple of skeins of  purply Vampire Moth for contrasting trim.

Considering the sad news of Sanguine Gryphon’s closing, I’m glad I got as much as I did.

There were other vendors that I never got to see: Blackberry Hill Farm has some beautiful yarns, Melissa Jean makes handmade ceramic buttons that are both beautiful & affordable, Bartlett Yarns  makes a nice sport weight in cones, but they didn’t have many colors with them this year, Miss Babs who I found at Stitches East last year & has such pretty colorways. And it didn’t help that I came down with a cold & left early on Sunday.

I will go back to Rhinebeck next year, but if it’s as crazy & inconvenient as it was this year, I think it will be my last. Without the room to move, shopping becomes a chore to be endured, rather than an experience to savor. These days, you can shop online anytime. I used to wait for the festivals & buy there, but I think I’ll be happier just buying what I want online or at my LYS. I pray that next year is better than this year.

Stitches East 2010

The buzz from Rhinebeck had *just* about worn off when I hopped into the car again & pointed it in a yarny direction: north to Stitches East in Hartford, CT.

I have been to Rhinebeck twice now, and have never attended any other wool festivals, so I really didn’t know what to expect. Stitches seems to be more of a shopping experience, whereas Rhinebeck is most thrilling for its social aspect. Ravelry does not have a presence at Stitches, at least not on the day I went, and that was a pity. I love meeting up with people I’ve been chatting with online & finally putting a face to the ravatar! However, Stitches had loads of great sales & deals on beautiful yarns to console me – too many to pass up. I bought a LOT of yarn – even more, I think, than I came away from Rhinebeck with.

I went on Friday, before the major crowds arrived for a weekend of fun, so I got to enjoy an easy, unrushed shopping experience. The upshot of this lack of frenzy was that I got to really peruse & consider the yarns – perhaps this is why I bought so many.

Shelter! at the Harrisville booth


Socks that Rock

I didn’t get pics of every booth, in fact the more enamored I was of the yarns, the less presence of mind I had to whip out the camera.

Sanguine Gryphon, String Theory, Tess’ Designer Yarns, Tree of Life patterns, Green Mountain Spinnery, Lisa Souza, Stitchuary, Black Water Abbey Yarns, Harrisville, Isager, Kauni, Shelter, Socks that Rock, WEBS, Patternworks, Flying Fingers, Debra’s Garden, the Mannings, Lion Brand, Yarn Barn of Kansas were in attendance, and many, many more. Many, but not all, offered nice discounts. There were a few indie producers, and dichroic glass artists that offered beautiful buttons, as well as jewelry & hair accessories.  Most shops had at least an armload of beautiful knitted samples of their patterns & wools to try on, and the colors & textures were amazing. I am definitely going back next year!

Next time, I will post pics of the great stuff that came home with me.

Rhinebeck: the stash

I was a busy girl this year! I bought some great yarns & some really beautiful buttons at Rhinebeck. Wanna see?

From the Sanguine Gryphon: amazing yarns from really lovely people

Sarah & Gryphon came in Renaissance dress!

now for the goods: cat approved

Little Traveller in Eastern State Penitentiary

Q.E.D. in Schrodinger's Cat

Q.E.D. in Mandible

Free Range in Ruffled Grouse

Free Range in Woodcock

Traveller in Tenochtitlan

I’d never bought any yarns from Sanguine Gryphon before – every time I checked out their website I had timed it badly, so that the colors I liked were either sold out, or in quantities too low for sweater-making. I’ll be watching their website more closely from now on, I assure you!

The only other yarn I bought was from an indie producer called Blackberry Hill Farm.

Beautiful, undyed worsted from Blackberry Hill Farm

They had some nice looking fleeces, but this yarn really caught my eye. This yarn looked handspun to me, but apparently it isn’t. Still, it’s beautifully made, long staple & it has that new-sheep smell. 😉

And finally, I also found some fantastic ceramic buttons from Melissa Jean Design. I have a hard time finding buttons that I actually like. At this booth, I had trouble making a final decision – I wanted them all!

handmade buttons from Melissa Jean Design

I had a wonderful time at Rhinebeck & a fairly productive shopping trip, to boot. I can’t wait ’til next year. *sigh*

Ahhh, Rhinebeck.

Ahhh, Rhinebeck. Also known as the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival to those with lots of spare time on their hands. I dreamt of it for a whole year, and it finally came.

This year’s festival was just as much fun as I had anticipated, but the pleasant weather provided an unforeseen twist; crowds. Last year was my first time at Rhinebeck, and the weather was decidedly…damp. Not so this year.

What attracts folks to this festival? The promise of beautiful new yarns? The chance to meet up with like-minded people? The chance to see a breathtaking parade of hand-knit garments and their creators? Or is it just the donuts? 😉

The weather was glorious & folks came in droves. It’s amazing that in a sea of people you can still manage to run into people you actually know. I managed to see Susie (KnittingKnoobie), Allyson (Thru the Back Loop), Ann (Pinneguri), and a whole bunch more people – some from Ravelry, some from Twitter, *all* of them, lovely, but having missed both Ravelry Meetups, I feel the loss of those I missed (like Kristin & Mary Jane!). Why did I miss the meetup? I had an EXCELLENT reason. I was standing in line to make a purchase. It was *the* longest line I had seen in the whole festival, and it was long for a reason. The yarns that folks were waiting to buy were divine.

I believe this was the Sanguine Gryphon‘s first year at the festival, and I really hope they return next year. Their sense of color is unparalleled, and their yarns are really beautiful.

Sunday was less crazy than Saturday, and I got to hit the vendors I really liked for a second time, and enjoy more of the scenery. I didn’t take any classes this year, instead I came away with a very nice little stash of new yarn and other knitting-related goodies, which I will show you next time.

I’ll leave you with some piccies of the sheep, goats & alpacas we saw. The sheep & goats had been friskier the day before, but they had been sheared & I guess that makes them a little cranky. :p