Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The curse of the wool snob

Opening disclaimer – Whilst I respect the use of the American term “yarn” to describe all kinds of knitting/crochet fibres, I'm afraid my brain naturally gravitates towards the term “wool”. I know this term isn't as all-encompassing as the word yarn, but it makes more sense to me. I have Anglo-Australian heritage, and most of us speak “Wool”. So, bear with me and feel free to adjust your personal mindset, while I revert to form and use the term wool for most of the time (unless I forgot to edit or it just happens to fit).

Ahhh...that's better! Which brings me to today's little ramble...or should that be yarn?! Once upon a time the only fibre you had to knit with was wool. Good ole dependable wool. Warm, smelt nice, great insulator, somewhat waterproof, just don't stick it in a washing machine unless you want your size 14 cardie (Australian women's average dress size) to turn into a dolly coat.

Knitting was for many a necessity. I'm amazed at how women could knit so many garments using extremely fine wool, given that there weren't any time-saving appliances like we have today and time must have been at a premium. Limited choice of colours and plys ensured that knitting was for practical reasons more than glamour and decoration.

After the Second World War, knitting, like all types of fashion, became more glamorous and yarns (see it makes sense here!) were produced in a wider range of colours. This was all fine until the evil 80s, the decade where the hole in the ozone layer opened wider every time a teenager did their hair (figure it out!). The market was flooded with cheap imported machine knitted garments and the craft all but died. To be honest, when I flick through old patterns in my local opshop and stumble across a garish picture knit with huge shoulder pads, I can see why.

Bring on the noughties! The 21st century has given us the widest selection of yarns in history. We can now knit and crochet with angora, bamboo, synthetics that are as soft as silk (and machine-washable to boot) to name just a few. As for patterns, there is one for pretty much anything you can imagine. A quick google search for knitting or crochet patterns will keep you entertained for hours browsing through the hundreds of pages of hits. Go to YouTube and type in knitting, crochet, or even a stitch name, and you can watch video tutorials while you stitch along. I'm happy to admit that I've learned and re-learned so much by watching Youtube. Give it a go if you haven't already.

Now you would think that with the huge variety of fibres available, we would all be greedily building monumental stashes, and dreaming of piling all those balls of wool in the middle of a room and doing a swan dive right in the middle! And yes, there are some of us who try all sorts of fibres and textures just because we can. Then there is....pause....the wool snob! Yes, there live, amongst us, and not afraid to shout it from the rooftop, those dedicated souls who refuse to use anything else but that exclusive Tibetan hand spun, infused with essential oils mountain Yak wool. Marry this with a pair of responsibly farmed bamboo needles and you are in wool snob heaven.

Now, you may think I'm being harsh, and yes, you are right, I am. And with good reason. If we are to bring the humble crafts of knitting and crochet back to the masses, we don't need to scare them off by showing them a 5g ball of this wonderous fluff with a $100 per ball price tag now do we? By all means, when you have managed to knit more stitches than drop, sure, go ahead and impress all your girlfriends with the latest wool bling, but please, don't forget the more humble acrylics, acrylic blends, and of course, the fibre that started it all – good old, honest wool. Not yarn, wool.

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