Mr. Noodle

Mr. Noodle
Mr. Noodle

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Knitting considerations

This post may seem a little incongruous, given that it's just before Christmas and I have all my Christmas knitting done and wrapped. I have been thinking about a post like this for more than a week now, have even made notes! So here we go:

I listen to a lot of knitting podcasts and communicate with hundreds of knitters on the Internet. Lots of people have large yarn stashes to knit from and still seem to acquire more yarn. When the hot new pattern comes out, many people will simply go to their stash and find the right yarn for the sweater.

Knitting isn't really a cheap hobby. It can be if you choose to use acrylic yarn or yarn found at garage sales or thrift store yarns. Just over a year ago I came into a huge amount of yarn, which was mostly natural fibers but much of it was so old or had an acrylic content that I was not happy knitting with any of it, so I gave it all away. While working at Knits by the Sea in Tofino, I came to really appreciate knitting with good yarn and good fiber. So, here is my list of things to consider when knitting something:

1. How much money to spend on yarn?

While working at the yarn shop, I was given a generous discount on my purchases, which is mighty dangerous. I wasn't making a lot of money overall so I had to be mindful of how much I could actually spend. Depending on the pattern and the yarn, a sweater's worth of yarn can run anywhere from $50 for cheap yarn and averaging about $120 for anything I would want to knit. So that wasn't going to happen. They say it takes the same amount of time to knit a pair of socks as it does a sweater, and since one skein of sock yarn is much cheaper (ranging $18-30, most landing in the $22 range), that seemed a more economical way to go. Lace weight yarn makes your yarn dollar go even further, as lace is slower to knit and you get way more yardage per dollar.

Many new knitters opt for big yarns and big needles, but what they don't realize is that is the fastest way to burn through your yarn budget. If you give me a skein of bulky weight yarn, I can knit that into a hat in about three hours. (I know this for certain because it happened last Christmas). If you give me a skein of sock yarn, it will take me 40-60 hours to knit that up, which leads me to my next consideration:

2. How long will this take to knit?

I was at the Moss Street Market Christmas Fair recently and saw a number of hand knit garments. I don't think there is ever a way to make money selling hand knits, unless you think you are worth 10 cents an hour. As I looked at the garments and the prices, I thought - those handknit socks that have a $45 tag on them would take me 40 hours to knit, but a faster knitter could get them done in 30. Subtract the probable cost of the yarn and that knitter probably earns $1.25 an hour. While $45 seems expensive for a pair of socks, it's cheap compared to the labour that went into it. At another stall I saw a knitter selling hats made with bulky Lopi yarn. The yarn cost $6.00/skein (I know because Lopi is a favourite of mine), the hats probably took 5-8 hours, she was selling them for $20 per hat.

I was commissioned to knit a hat for a woman's baby while working at the yarn shop in Tofino, but when she heard the price of the hat, she decided not to pay for it after all. (I still have the hat). That made me realize that I will never make money from knitting so there is no point in even trying. The only way I would accept a commission is if it were for an art piece and I would be paid for my artistry.

As mentioned in a previous post, I have had rather a lot of time to knit in the past few years. I love knitting, so this is no real hardship for me. When I was planning my knitting before the Cookie A retreat last April, I figured I could bang out one sock per week, even working almost full time (I knit during every coffee and lunch break). That turned out to be optimistic, and instead of the planned eight socks, I got through four and a half. So now I am getting a sense of how long things take to knit and planning accordingly. How much time do I need to knit X amount of things before Christmas, for example?

Also, as mentioned in a previous post, I hadn't planned on knitting gifts. And then I ended up knitting ten gifts. Some of them were small, completed in just a few hours, some of them took a few days. I'm getting the hang of estimating how long it will take and I planned well; I finished everything yesterday. (What will I do with myself on Christmas eve if I'm not finishing last-minute projects?)

3. Knitting from Stash

As a part of my Great Migration and in an attempt to pare down my possessions to only what will fit in my truck, I have been knitting from my stash. In a #knitchat earlier this year, we had a conversation about knitting from stash as a way of coping with these rough economic times - that having a sizable stash insulates us from the brunt of less money to spend on our hobby. If I look at my stash as it is right now, I have enough yarn to get me through about six months, assuming I'll be working full time from February onward. That's pretty good. My informal goal was to not have more yarn than I could knit up in a year - partly for ease of transport but also because it felt insensible to me just have yarn laying around, yarn that I would have to keep track of, move, keep from getting dusty, organize, and think about. (Other people are way better at keeping track of their yarn, so I am not suggesting *you* are insensible, I just know my own habits). I am trying to be methodical about my knitting plans and goals, so I would rather buy yarn with a project in mind rather than just buy yarn because it's pretty. There will always be more yarn. I repeat: there will always be more yarn. I don't need to buy this bag of yarn because it's a screaming good deal - I've done that and then that bag sits and collects dust. No thanks.

4. Knitting for others: will the person actually wear and care for the thing?

This can be tricky, especially if you have never given a person your hand knits before. I lucked out with the family I married - everyone loves and appreciates my knits, which always encourages me to knit more for them. (I'm planning to do a post about some of the more creative knit projects I have done as gifts over the years, as a sort of recap). My own family needed a bit of training about my knitting - washing instructions, the mending of things, and how long it will take things to knit. My niece (my sister's daughter) asked me for yellow mittens, so I knit some and sent them off. She *loves* them, then asked for a scarf, some slippers and a pair of socks. All in good time, kiddo, but it is a tall order. I have fifteen other people to knit for too.

5. Searching for patterns versus being captivated by patterns

Okay now here I get a bit stuck. We all have our own pattern-searching methods. Ravelry makes it so easy to find just the pattern for the yarn, skill level, technique, and yardage that you want to knit from. It is the best database I have ever encountered.  For example, when Zola asked me to knit her a turban, I went to Ravelry and typed in "turban". A bunch of stuff came up. Some of the patterns were patterns that you pay for, so I rule them out. I clicked on the "free" search criteria and the list of turban patterns was significantly diminished. So if you are in a position to pay for a pattern, especially a popular one, then go for it. But I'm limited to free just now, so sometimes I just have to make something up. (I really do need to start writing down my one-off designs. I will have some time after Christmas, I think). When you find the pattern you want on Ravelry, you can either "cast on" right away or put it in your queue. Then you can organize your queue into categories (hats, neck, mitts, sweaters, etc.). If there are enough things in your queue, and you feel like you need to knit a hat, you can go to your hat folder in your queue and maybe find the yarn in your stash to knit it with. This all sounds very organized, right? These kinds of plans get derailed when the new knitting magazine comes out. It happened to me last week. I had to knit Escargot, it was haunting me. So is the Bandana Cowl, but I don't think I have the right yarn in my stash (and I can't buy yarn until I have a job) so it will have to wait.

Sigh. At the moment, given my dwindling stash, I'll be knitting mostly socks for the next few months, but that's good. I like knitting socks. In fact, through the knitting of the Christmas gifts, my hands were missing sock knitting. So, sock patterns? The only knitting book I have with me in Cowichan Bay is Sock Innovation. I do also have the Internet at my disposal, so we'll see how many socks I can knit between now and when I leave.

1 comment:

  1. I for one am very excited to read about your past projects! (Also it's a clever idea to blog about... I might steal it... and give credit of course ;D)

    I'm definitely one of those "Oh what a deal, I have to snatch it" people, but luckily, I'm also the kind of person who searches patterns backwards. I'll head into the stash, find a yarn I want to use, then start brainstorming based on how much yardage I have and the fiber content of the yarn. I'm also awash with teeny tiny knits because I can't bear to trash the scraps (but hey, those tiny things are stocking stuffers at the end of the year!)