Sunday, October 30, 2011

Comfort afghans

Thinking about yarns, I am looking at the blankets around me. Between the weather and hormones, I have 4 blankets/afghans on my bed: One is a color block afghan I made back in the early 1970’s out of acrylic yarn from Woolworths. (Gosh, that was 40 years ago!)

Warning: the others are distinctly scrap afghans, which are not for just anyone, and that is okay, too. Another layer is made from a fluffy bulky weight yarn called Charleston that was discontinued some time ago, worked in a log-cabin style, with one ball of yarn for each block, starting in the center. A friend had bought bunches of it and then moved on to preferring something else, so she passed that bit of stash on to me. After making sweaters and blankets out of most of it, this came from using up the last of it.

It can be very satisfying to make what I call ugly afghans: pulling together different yarns or combining collections of motifs that different people started. It is always surprising to see how the motley-est collection of yarns takes on a solid personality in the finished piece. Most of these afghans go to charity, if they look decent, but sometimes, well,
the third afghan on my bed is an ugly afghan made in a log cabin style with lots of different leftover acrylic yarns: starting with a block made from one ball of yarn, I added rows on one side with each new ball of yarn, rotating the piece so each new block is on a different side. I did not get the gauge quite right, so the whole thing does not lie square. It is too ugly to give away, and too big to give to a veterinary clinic for the animals to use, so it is on my bed, where it works just fine.

And finally, another ugly afghan made from blocks that are fast to make and joined in the last round. I was very naughty with this afghan, using up single skeins of different fiber content from my stash: the yarn ranges from acrylic to hand-wash wool, so it will be a challenge when the day comes to launder it. All these styles and yarns made me think about the price of yarn and what the money to buy yarn really represents.

With the economy these days, the price of yarn is tricky to understand. Some yarn is expensive because you are paying for all the marketing and advertising around it. Some yarn is expensive because it is made out of really rare stuff that is carefully manufactured. Some yarn is cheap because it is made to be sold cheaply. Some yarn is cheap because it is an out-dated color or texture. Some cheap yarns last and last, while some expensive yarns are delicate and wear out quickly -- but the opposite is also true, so the sturdiness of the yarn is not directly connected with the price.

And then, of course, different people simply prefer different yarns. I have heard some women explain that they never use animal fibers because it makes them break out in a rash, but I have also met a woman who cannot work with acrylic because it made her fingers bleed. But back to pricing: after all that, some yarn companies and yarn shops are raising or lowering the prices on yarns depending on how well or poorly they sell. Yarns that don’t sell well to the independent yarn shops sometimes end up in dollar stores. In general, I have been the most creative with yarns I get cheaply -- it gives me a sense of freedom. I do very simple things with the really expensive yarns, not wanting to mess up with a limited material.

And aside from what is available at yarn shops - both brick-and-mortar and virtual - the thrift stores can have a surprising variety of yarn. Sometimes they have some real treasures. I have favorite sweaters are made from yarn I got at the thrift store. Other times, if I can afford it, I snatch up a basketful to donate: there are people who teach knitting and crocheting to young people, to people with handicaps, and to people in jail. All those efforts need yarn and tools to keep going, and the generous ladies who maintain that inventory and do the teaching don‘t have time to keep an eye on all the local thrift stores. Of course, there are lots of charities out there, too, for finished pieces. There seems to be a place and a time for just about everything, and it feels really good to be able to pay attention to that.





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