A Glimpse into the Yarn Industry

I thought this
article
, about Schaefer
Yarn’s
“Sock the Vote” effort, was interesting for the peep into
the yarn industry it gives.

(“Sock the Vote” is a set of 4 colourways of sock yarn Schaefer did to
represent the colours apparently favoured by Michelle Obama, Hilary
Clinton, Sarah Palin and Cindy McCain).

In particular, the article notes,

“Schaefer said her company […] did
some $850,000 in business last year, the best ever for the 16-year-old
company.

But the growth of those in the yarn business is exceeding demand. In
addition, the ailing economy is creating a slowdown.

She expects sales this year to dip into the $800,000 range.

Thus, she said, the popular “Sock the Vote” effort comes at a time when
it is indeed welcome.

Schaefer told of being able to weather the downturn, but predicted
others in the business aren’t going to make it because of growing
competition and the tight money market.

In her business alone, she said, her 16-person work force now is down
to nine because of the weak economy.”

The overall business number is good, though not huge.  Interesting
to see some kind of numbers — assuming an average of $20 per skein,
that suggests they move 40,000 skeins a year.  That’s more than
modest!

It is also interesting to note the pure business terms above — while
it’s good  to be in a business that deals with something you
really love, you never can lose sight of the fact that it is a
business, and you have to tune to the market realities or suffer the
consequences.

‘d like to know how the specialized colourway did — I didn’t have enough resonance with the campaigns to feel I had to buy a particular yarn (as a memento? to make a memento?), but I don’t know if others would have.  And, looking at the colours, I did think the ones that appealed to me most were not aligned with camps I would care to support.  So — did politicizing the yarn help or hinder sales, I wonder?

Seven Years Ago Today…

Crochet baby blanket

Seven years ago today, the project above was called to
action.   Happily, in the seven years since, I have learned a
thing or 2 about taking pictures of knitting and crochet
projects…!   And the recipient has been busy learning all
about more fundamental things!

Knitting Design Perils

Here’s an old project, still underway:

WIP

That picture was taken over a year ago (September 2007).  There
has since been progress — but only a couple of inches or
so.   And this is the first piece of the sweater — there’s a
front and 2 sleeves to go after this piece is done.

It’s from my own design, and there are 2 reasons it’s particularly slow
going.

  1. the patterning is inobvious — it’s painstaking to memorize a
    chunk of the pattern so that I can knit a row without having to look at
    the chart for every single stitch
  2. there isn’t anything like enough contrast in value between the
    different yarns to give this the punch it should have

So, I’m picking at it from time to time, between projects, pressing on
to finish but not with enough energy to actually make significant
progress.

The first issue is a matter of lack of experience in pattern designing
— I have gained a new appreciation for the value of building
interesting things from simple building blocks (e.g., easily repeating
motifs that build up in clear progression from one row to the next).

The second could easily have been handled by, say, doing a SWATCH, with
the real yarn, instead of relying on the colours I had chosen to
represent the yarns in the knitting design software:

Design

Sigh.  Lesson learned.

Here are a couple of closeups to admire the yarn, which is Green
Mountain Spinnery Mountain
Mohair
.  I do think it is a wonderful yarn, and this is not
the first time I’ve used it.

Contrast fail Contrast glow
Failed
contrast
Glowing
mohair

 
     

Of course, I could, and perhaps should, pull it all out and do
something more successful with the yarn.  I dunno.  The
overall project is over 2 years old.  Do I want to restart the
whole design process?  Or plug away until I have a finished object
to declare victory?  I guess I’m stubborn, and want to finish the
original design:  I think it will be perfectly wearable, just not
spectacular.  But at this rate, I could pull it out, redesign and
reknit it before I ever finish this original plan…

Looking back to get the picture

I feel I’m not making a lot of knitting progress this year.  
Maybe that’s really a “latter half of the year” problem.  Looking
at my completed
project gallery
,  it’s not like it’s empty for 2008.

Sometimes, I guess you have to look back at a progression of things
(trees) to get the picture (forest).  I know I can look back on
certain years and see almost no knitting output — and further
reflection reveals that they were very busy and distracting years
(usually not in a good way).

What is notable about the gallery for this year is the prevalence of
small projects:  travel
projects.  That would be because of the wild travel schedule this
year.  This is borne out by the almost complete absence of
progress on knitting machine projects — you have to be on the same
continent as the machines in order to use them!

So — how do you look back and measure progress/distraction?

KM Lace — at last!

I believe I finally cracked the mystery of getting my Brother KH930 to
knit lace properly.  I’d struggled with this before, to no avail.

Brother knitting machines have a separate lace carriage that is used to
transfer stitches.  That is, you use the regular carriage to knit
some fabric, switch to the lace carriage to transfer stitches from one
needle to another.  This is what creates the equivalent of “knit
together” and (on the next knit row) yarn over.  It can take
several passes, depending on which way the stitches are meant to lean.
  The electronic program you’ve selected controls which stitches
get slipped where.   And, once they are all set up, you go back to
the regular carriage and knit a row, two or more.

Simple, yes?  And — fraught with peril.  Lifting stitches
off a needle is rarely a challenge for the lace carriage. 
Depositing them on the appropriate other needle is sometimes less
successful.  My experience was that I’d get along mostly okay and
then the machine would drop one stitch in 10.  Well, that’s A
LOT!    More than you can reasonably keep an eye on to
fix if you notice a stitch that looks like it’s about to take a suicide
dive on the next pass.  And it just made a nasty tangle instead of
lace.

I looked at any number of things — more weight on the bar pulling the
fabric; less tension; more tension; bent needles… no use.

The following swatch was worked bottom to top.  You can see things
started out poorly (though this is hardly the worst example).  And
then I Figured It Out, and things worked almost perfectly.

KM Lace learning

I suppose I should work a few more efforts before declaring absolute
victory, but here’s the key thing that seemed to make a (logical)
difference:  I ran the fabric being knit down over the ribber
needles (i.e., I covered the ribber needles with a piece of cardboard,
and kept the knitting in the front of the machine instead of having it
drop down between the ribber and the main bed.  Put another
way:  remove the angle of the backwards tilt of the main bed
introduced when you attached the ribber.

Or, perhaps most succinct:  use the ribber OR the lace carriage,
but never the 2 at the same time.

Better?!

Geez! The grief I got for displaying non-handknit socks πŸ™‚

KnitFeetUp

So, here we are again — with socks
handknit from Fleece Artist SeaWool
that I bought at Cricket Cove,
St.
Andrews, NB, when we visited this part of the world last
year. (Yes — yarn does occasionally get used within the year it
was purchased… πŸ™‚ ).

Still — my feet, my socks,
my window, my view…!

Maryland Sheep & Wool 2008

Fairgrounds parking

It is that time of year again! Hard to believe it’s been a full
year since the
last time
.

Goodness knows, I haven’t knit up everything I bought last year, but
that didn’t stop me from exploring more work of some of the same fibre
artists (Spirit Trail Fiberworks; Ellen’s 1/2 Pint Farm), as well as
some new ones (Koenig Farms, Tess).

MDSW Haul

No, don’t worry — that’s not roving in the background; I have not
taken up spinning! That’s some really thick mohair that should be
fun to play with (and, I’d tell you where it was from, if there was a
label on it, or the company name had come through on sales slip!
Sigh πŸ™ ).

My one big takeaway from the day: I need to knit more. A
lot more. It’s not just because my stash is growing at a
frightening rate (although it is). Seeing all the knitting ideas
and possibilities around the festival brought home that there’s a lot
more to do and play with, if I’d just get on with it!

I will note that, although the blog has been quiet, I’ve been posting
knitting progress to my knitting
gallery.

Finally, it is the *sheep* and wool festival, so we actually did go and
watch one sheep competition…

Sheep competition

KM-FO!

That is, for anyone not up on their “l33tspeak” for knitting:  a
Knitting Machine — Finished Object!

KM Blue Jacket

It’s posted
in my drafty gallery.

Yes, I have had that knitting machine for just about a year.  Yes,
this is the first completed project from that knitting machine — since
swatches don’t count as completed projects :^) .   The two
major challenges have been: 

  • finding chunks of time to sit in front of the machine (since
    machine knitting is not something you can just do for 5 minutes, set
    down, and pick up again a week later, the way you can with hand
    knitting); and
  • finding yarns that are really fine enough to work with the
    standard gauge machine (in this instance, a Brother KH930).

For this sweater, I eventually wound up using 2 different yarns at once
— each one is really thread-like.  You can see them in this
detailed photo:

threads

You can also see the effect I got from knitting the two together — a
bit more stripey than variegated, but still interesting.  You can
also see that, even though I was working with 2 strands together, the
stitches are still NOT BIG AT ALL.  This machine makes a very fine
fabric.

The edging, of which you can see some detail above, is a crochet trim I
added after assembling the sweater.

WorkBench Inspector
Assembly Inspection

Yes, well, about the cat… See, I know that some cats are attracted to
knitting.  Guiness largely ignores mine, for which I’m thankful
(though she has certainly been known to hunt-and-capture dangling ends
when near-completed items are tried on…).  But, the blocking
sweater was *wet*!  And, she wasn’t anywhere near that room! 
And I wanted more air circulation to speed the drying!  So I left
the door open and wandered off to do something else. I think some
little kitty alarm must have gone off in the house, somewhere, because
as soon as I came back:  wham, plonk in the middle of this drying
sweater, one very pleased-with-herself cat!

A bit more about the sweater/project history… A long time ago, with
a plastic bed (toy) knitting machine and a very different yarn (Dale
“Svale”),
I made up the pieces for this jacket.  And
then discovered that plastic (toy) knitting machines are very finicky
about producing anything like even gauge throughout the course of a
project. 
Different sweater pieces were wildly different
proportions than the ones they were meant to line up with.

It was, in fact, that experience, that finally drove me to commit to buying
a metal-bed knitting machine
.

So, there is the sense of completing the circle with this project
—  I had to change the yarn and the machine, but I did manage to
complete it, by gar! 

I decided I had so much fun with that — I made another one, this
weekend!

Dragon Hide Baby Blanket!

This baby blanket is a finished object from (much πŸ™‚ ) earlier this
year…

DragonHide

The story is that I started out by thinking of making something
interesting with the knitting machine (and, at the time, I only had the
standard gauge machine — which meant I had to use very fine
yarn).  So, I settled on a mess of Dale Baby Ull yarn in these,
umm, vibrant colours.

Time passed, and the baby for which it was intended became more
imminent.  At some point, it became clear to me that I and my
knitting machine were not going to be in the same place for long enough
for me to do anything (interesting or otherwise) with it for this
project.  So, the question was — what to do with it by hand?

Two key facts drove my pre-design thinking:

  • Baby Ull has a posted gauge of 32 st to 4 inches (hint — that’s
    great for a sock-sized project, but somewhat daunting for a 32″ blanket)
  • The colours are vibrant!

I might have thought of doing something lacy with it, but for the fact
that my imagination was not coming up with anything that didn’t
emphasize the colours to the point of baby-frightening garishness.

So, I let the yarn lounge in my office for a while, hoping that it
would tell me a thing or two about what it wanted to become. 
Presently, the notion of “dragon hide” wafted out of the bag of
yarn.  Dragons are naturallly colourful creatures and the scale
texture could add a lot of interest. 

Which just left me with the small question of how to implement said
scale effect…  My first inclination was to try various shell
effects in crochet, but all I could produce was something akin to angry
granny squares:

Back to knitting… doing intarsia lozenges would have worked, but
would have been fiddly and, I thought, too “flat”.  Not so much
hide of dragon as sock of argyle.    I knew “entrelac”
would produce a basket weave effect. 

Of course, this meant I had to look up how to do entrelac (never having
done it).  And very shortly thereafter, I was educating myself on
how to knit/purl backwards, so as to avoid having to flip the work for
each row of 6 stitches or less.  Cool!  Two new techniques in
one project!

Here is the test piece, in progress:

Entrelac

Essentially — you knit each set of one colour rectangles across a row,
and then fill in the slots with the next colour, coming back the other
way in the next colour.  Each rectangle is knitted as its own
unit, and is attached to the adjoining rectangles (working live
stitches or picking up edges) as you go.  Pretty funky!

This project travelled — it had at least one trip to Europe, and
probably more than one cross-continent trip.  And I wasn’t
entirely sure I was liking the progress as I went:  still too
garish?  I’m not afraid to knit in public.  But I wasn’t sure
I was ready to show anyone this particular project…!

To clinch the dragon motif, I wanted to do the edging in triangles,
like the ridge down a dragon’s back:

No, that is not a logo.

Finally, done, I tried it on my local dragon to see if I thought it had
achieved the desired dragon hide effect:

WellDressedDragon

I’ve posted
this
in my drafty gallery.

Cables, Redux and Gallery

The eagle-eyed will have observed
evidence of a work in
progress
, some time ago.  I am pleased to report that the
remake of a cable sweater I’d made (17 years ago?), from a Family
Circle pattern, is now complete!

CablesRedux

I used the Jo
Sharp Silkroad Aran Tweed I’d bought a year ago
, in Perth.  I
really enjoyed the yarn — it felt nice to work with, and produced
excellent stitch definition and a lovely fabric.  It’s sort of
slubbed — a little uneven in thickness — so it’s going to produce a
textured surface whether the pattern includes textured stitches or no.

I know, I know — there are so many sweater patterns and possibilities
under the sun, why would you remake one you’d already done?  I
made  the original out of some generic acrylic stuff (I 
might even still have a ball band somewhere…), and loved the sweater
to death.  It was fast & easy to make.  It fit
well.  It looked reasonably well-crafted (which was particularly a
bonus, that early in my knitting efforts!).  And then one day it
just gave up — stretched out and didn’t stretch back.  The
sleeves dangled.  The collar fell off my shoulders.  You know
what I mean.

The recollection of the easy/fun knit and rewarding result lead me to
cast on for this as my mindless/road trip project, and that was pretty
successful.  Except that I finished it just at the very extreme
reaches of anything that can be called sweater weather in this part of
the world πŸ˜‰  Wear reports will have to wait.

If you’ve been adventurous and clicked on the image above, you’ll have
also discovered something else I’ve been slowly working on — the knitbot
FO Gallery
.  Obviously, I’m just beginning to populate it, but
I figured I’d test drive it on a few items and get it posted. 
I’ll probably be filling it in from both ends and the middle for a
while yet, from accumulated photographs.