Most of us have favorite yarns and can fondly remember the projects where, in all the hours of working with these yarns, we experienced the merits and attributes of well spun fibers. I have to admit that I am a bit embarrassed that a yarn won my heart before I even cast it on. Queensland's Kathmandu Aran had me at "Tweed".
It all began when I saw Kathmandu at a meeting with a mutual friend, the Euro Yarns sales rep. Coming from a prominent family, I knew that I was meeting a quality yarn. Its card, which I slipped into my file, gave impressive references, my two, old, highly respected friends, silk and cashmere. Although I didn't see my new yarnie interest for months, one day a huge package arrived with the return address of EuroYarns. Every day since, Kathmandu has joined me at Rare Purls, though I have delayed any permanent commitment. After all, I am a busy gal and spend my days (and nights) with many yarns. There are not so many that I decide to take home and even fewer that I find worthy of an enduring relationship. Just because a yarn is a real looker and makes my heart skip a beat every time I lay my hands on its luscious plys, doesn't mean that I am going to wrap my body up in it. I do have a reputation to uphold and cannot be seen with every yarn that promises a fine hand and nice drape.
But then last night, I curled up on the sofa and really got to know Kathmandu. We were making an aviator hat for a friend of mine and in just a few hours, I felt that I had learned all there was to know about this handsome yarn. O-kay, so the two plys were a bit uneven. It only added to the rustic charm. The colorful flecks held my interest and the silk fiber content made me a little heady. Together, we made beautiful fabric and (dare I say it) - I think that I have fallen in love with this yarn.
At this point, I began to make future plans. I could imagine myself cuddled in a comfy cardigan with simple stitch patterns, made beautiful with Kathmandu's rich colors and complimentary tweed flecks. Yes, I had designs on this yarn! I even felt safe venturing my thoughts to include my family. My son Luke would look so handsome in a traditional, button front vest, made possible by my new love Kathmandu, and I know that my son Will would enjoy some new socks, knit with the soft comfort of cashmere and the durability made possible by a bit of nylon. You see, although this yarn is equally comfortable with knits for both men and women, I know my guys will relate to its traditional elements, the blend of strong wool and exotic silk. Yes, this is a family yarn!
But just as I was ready to commit to a great room throw, I got the news that Kathmandu has a new brother, Kathmandu Chunky. With all of the wonderful traits of the first born, Kathmandu Chunky requires less of my time, a quality that truly appeals to both my busy schedule and my need for speed in order to satisfy a long, holiday gift list. Upon hearing of the more magnanimous sibling, my fickle heart began to conjure up thoughts of warm hats and snuggly mittens, just meant to hold hands. Please do not make me choose between these yarns! After all, no yarn can be all things to all knitters, right?
For the present, I am enjoying projects a plenty. Two wonderful, reliable yarns are filling my days as partners in a rewarding collaboration, ending in beautiful and stylish garments and accessories. How long will this infatuation last? God only knows. Maybe there is an alpaca blend in my future that will steal my heart. I take it day by day. But my affection for Kathmandu will be remembered in rows of sweaters and rounds of boot socks. Yes, good, honest, and reliable yarns are hard to come by and this one is a keeper.
Copyright October 2009
Four years ago, our family moved back to Metro Atlanta to be closer to family and the Southeast's cultural crossroads. At that time, my son Luke and I forecast that within 5 years we would open our own local yarn shop in the historic district of Duluth, Georgia. We began studying the yarn industry in earnest and morphed my love of yarn and his business prowess into a plan for a brick and mortar store. To be honest, there were times when our dream seemed a bit ambitious, especially when the economy took such a steep turn for the worse. An internet shop seemed far more practical and attainable, so Luke began Rare Purls as a "dot com" venture. But fate seemed to have a different plan for the Mather family. When a charming retail suite became available at the Knox House in Duluth's historic district in 2008, I peered through the French doors every time I met friends for lunch at the Park Cafe, my favorite local bistro. It seemed such a perfect space! We also became regulars at the Atlanta Knitting Guild and Gwinnett's own local group, the Noble Knitters. We saw that needle arts were alive and well in the Southeast and made plans to participate in the first Stitches South. By winter 2008, our inventory of luxury yarns was beginning to overflow our storage facility and it became apparent that we had enough yarn to fill that shop space on West Lawrenceville Street. We figuratively held hands and made the leap. In May 2009, Luke signed the lease for my beloved shop space and we began the creation affectionately named Rare Purls Yarn Boutique and Knitterie.
On opening day in June 2009, many friends and well wishers came to see the newest yarn shop in Greater Atlanta. In the weeks that followed, knitters from all over the Northeast Atlanta area visited our shop and some have already become repeat customers. I have to chuckle when the nonknitting naysayers peek in and just don't understand such things as fiber lust and yarn addiction. "A yarn shop? You're so brave!" or "Is yarn ALL you sell?" Then the second glance, often followed with "Do you give classes?" Ah, yes, the power of gorgeous fiber! I grab some needles and show them how easy this creative craft using simple tools is to begin.
Absolutely, this is my dream job. Surrounded by elegant fibers from around the globe, inspiration is nestled in every nook. Old friends and new friends come by to chat and cast on. We always welcome visitors to come in and just relax. Whether we are working through the latest lace knit along or finishing up the last few rows of a prayer shawl, the 110-year-old wood floors, walls, and ceilings are the perfect backdrop for an hour (or two) of creative bliss. There is a lovely view through the original old glass in the huge front window overlooking the enclosed porch. Our knitterie is the perfect place to experience the zen of knitting.
Of course, there is somewhat of a formula when opening a yarn shop. A large selection of good wool worsteds, DK yarns in a number of fibers and blends, their bulky cousins for quick and cuddly knits, and sock yarns in exciting patterning and colorways are the basics. Add to that a selection of uber lux yarns and unusual fiber blends, plus an exciting array of designer patterns and you have a good start up inventory. To keep up with trends, new yarns, and the latest in hand knit design, I personally read every issue of seven knitting magazines from cover to cover. I enjoy the meetings with our suppliers when they come by with new yarns and new colors of old favorites. Most importantly, I listen to the feed back from local knitters. It is the best guide as to what yarns we should order.
As Luke handles the paperwork and all the finances, I find the only drawback to working at Rare Purls is that I have less time for my own personal knitting, but I must admit I love teaching and our customer's creative pursuits, a kind of vicarious knitting. On Monday, our one day off, I find myself missing the shop and its inspiring atmosphere. This is when I catch on on paperwork, correspondence, and work my new designs. I give my own house a lick and a promise, then sit in front of the TV, the TIVO filled with simple plot programming, and work on projects that require little concentration, using the pause feature if something begs a bit more attention. This multitasking allows me to enjoy what I otherwise consider a guilty pleasure. It is a good life.
Yes, this is truly my dream job. The fact that our Yarn Boutique is a family business is a joy. I am able to work with both Luke and my husband, Bill. Bill took an early retirement from anesthesiology, and he has not only helped Luke build all our fixtures, but also works in our separate office space. As we rework the retail section of the website, Bill is assuming the responsibility of new listings and filling orders. Each of us are a key figure in the operation of Rare Purls.
We do want to thank all of our fellow yarn lovers for the encouragement and support that helped us to make that leap. The Mathers have begun a new phase in life, new job titles, new challenges, but best of all, a bevy of knitters as new friends.
At my knitting group, the Noble Knitters, there are always a few crafters knitting socks. Until you actually knit a pair, the appeal of sock knitting isn't so apparent. Why spend $10 to $25 to knit socks when discount and department stores have oodles of pairs for a fraction of the price? First, the wide variety of sock yarns give us an abundance of color options and fibers. Hand knit socks can be as unique as a fingerprint. Also, socks can be knit in fair isle, solids, lace patterns, cables, or basic ribbings, choices not available in store bought varieties. Hand knit socks are a fairly quick knit, very portable, and very enjoyable. They make great gifts, but surely you will want to keep a few pairs for yourself.
When first exploring sock knitting, it is important to learn about the commonly used materials. Sock yarns fall into the #1 category on the yarn standards (yarnstandards.com) chart. That is they are usually knit on size 1-3 US needles with 27 to 32 inch stitches per 4 inches. But sock knitting need not be limited to fingering weight yarns. For socks to brave very cold weather and hiking boots, worsted weight yarn can be used with an appropriately gauged pattern. DK weight or #3 yarns are considered "heavy weight" sock yarns and medium weight usually falls into the #2 or sport yarn category. You can choose whichever weight yarn suits your needs and dive right in. Personally, I prefer fingering weight, as the socks knitted with this yarn are not so bulky as to make my favorite loafers too snug.
When choosing a sock yarn, the fiber or blend of fibers used to spin the yarn determines not only the look and the hand, but also the laundering method of the finished socks. My preference is a machine washable (superwash) wool blend that includes 20% nylon for durability. Bamboo, soy, alpaca, wool, nylon and cotton can all be used in sock yarn fiber blends giving a variety of desirable characteristics. Currently, self striping and self patterning yarns are all the rage and hand painted sock yarns are flying off the shelves. Expect to see some beautiful, colorful, hand knit socks worn with both tie up shoes and sandals this summer. The cotton blend sock yarns are absorbent and comfortable, even when the temperature is in the 90's.
There are several techniques available when choosing a basic sock pattern. You may use double point needles (dpn's), two circular needles, or one circular needle with a 40 inch cord. When using dpn's, the stitches are divided on multiple needles, usually four, and worked with a fifth needle. Each needle takes a turn being the working needle as the stitches are worked in the round. My favorite technique utilizes two 16-29 inch circular needles. One needle works why the other rests, working one side of the stitches, then the other, when working in the round. The magic loop technique uses the cord to separate parts of the round and makes it possible to knit both socks simultaneously. There are an abundance of books on sock knitting, some available teaching the various techniques. I suggest that you choose a technique and a simple basic pattern for starters. Eventually, you may want to experiment with all of the different techniques. They all have their strengths and all make beautiful socks.
Yes, sock knitting is a creative, practical, portable, and just plain fun project. The next installment of Kay's Korner will explore basic sockitecture and the two circulars method of sock knitting, based on Cat Bordhi's book Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles.
Copyright Kay Mather 2009
OK, maybe it is not quite that bad. Yet. But I hear an increasing number of knitters, crocheters, and spinsters referring to their love for fiber as an addiction. Actually, I do start feeling a mild withdrawal when I go a couple of days without knitting. In the past, I have slipped bags of yarn from my car trunk into the house when no one was looking and hid them in the back of a closet. And yes, I have fudged when telling my husband the amount that I spent at the yarn shop. It is sounding more like an addiction all the time.
By the way, I suppose I am a yarn dealer, as well. If someone comes to me looking for some yarnie happiness, I am going to do my best to satisfy their fiber lusts. I understand their need for softness and their attraction to color. Many of us justify our fiber cravings by saying there are gifts to be made, feet that our cold, but more often the truth is that we see a particular yarn as a must have, then find a need to rationalize the purchase. This usually involves some line about love or someone else's need or both.
But truly, if I must have a vice, this is not a bad one to have. Hey, it is legal! And after all, isn't fiber supposed to be good for us? No one goes without food to get a yarn fix, although Cat Bordhi has suggested eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch in order to save money to buy good circular needles. Yes, I am afflicted with yarn lust. I even go to support groups at least once a week to share my experiences with other knitters. But the way I see it, if I am going to have a monkey on my back, I want it to be one of those cute knitted ones with floppy arms, red mouthes and feet. Hmm, I could knit the body in kettle dyed alpaca and the feet in...
On Kay's Needles
In a word, socks! For our 29th anniversary, I am knitting my husband a pair of socks using OnLine Supersocke, a wonderful German sock yarn spun from 75%Superwash wool and 25% nylon. The self patterning yarn keeps the knitting fun, as I watch the stripes and patterns spring alive from simple stockinette and ribbing. Next week, look for my thoughts on sockitecture and some advice for those wanting to jump on the sock knitting bandwagon for the first time.
In 2008, designer Elsebeth Lavold introduced Calm Wool to her yarn collection. Of course, as a buyer for Rare Purls, I am always quick to order any yarn with Lavold's name as they are always top quality and have her wonderful pattern support. As a favorite bulky luxury yarn had been discontinued, initially I thought Calm Wool might be a good replacement. But the fat, lofty appearance of this yarn is deceiving; it is not a true bulky weight yarn. Most of the patterns call for a size #7 US needle, putting this yarn in the aran or worsted weight category on the yarn standards chart. Even the yardage, 82 yards /50 grams, is comparable to many bulky yarns. But if you choose this yarn as a substitute, you will want to stay close to the suggested gauge. The two lofty plies knit into stitches with character. Simple seed stitch has beautiful definition and cables are plump with distinct edges. Even a simple garter ridge visually pops next to rows of stockinette.
But beautiful stitches aren't the only reason to choose Calm Wool for your next cool-cold weather project. The camel/alpaca/wool blend is marvelously soft, characteristic of high quality camelid fibers. If any of you are old enough to remember the highly regarded camel hair coats of the mid 20th century , camel fiber is both soft and durable, truly a fabulous exotic, luxury fiber. I'm also a huge fan of alpaca, adoring its soft hand and highly insulating qualities. I suspect the wool has been added for elasticity, as no fiber equals the crimp of wool. The end result of this balanced fiber blend is a yarn that exceeds my every expectation.
Lavold's pattern book, Touch of Romance, where Calm Wool and another new yarn, Bambool, are featured, is also a success. (I will review Bambool at a later date). The nine designs knit in Calm Wool are appealing, especially Phoebe, the sweater coat with an easy stitch pattern that delivers both textural interest and visual impact. Imogen, a versatile vest is classic fashion and Lady, a pet sweater, is simply charming. The mens pullover, Cameron, is possibly the most handsome mens sweater I have ever seen. Masculine details (Lavold was inspired by barbed wire when designing the stitch motifs), a textbook use of relief, and this wonderful yarn team for design success.
This yarn is truly imspiring. Already I am busy designing an accessory set knit using two colors of Calm Wool. The twelve debut colors mix and match well, all of similar saturation (Hopefully, Ms. Lavold will give us a striped sweater in an upcoming book, capitalizing on these agreeable colors.) Consider using it for accessories or your next cabled sweater. You will simply love the way this natural fiber blend delights both visually and tactilely. It is easy to get excited about Calm Wool.
On Kay's Needles
For the past couple of weeks, I have been knitting a mixed bag. I finished half of a summer shell in an easy diagonal stockinette, knit in Laines du Nord Zahir, a ribbon yarn of silk/cotton. The colorway of lovely spring pastels will be perfect with white slacks, a summertime staple. The fabric has great texture, yet is very light and airy, sure to be cool and comfortable casual wear. I started a student on a garter stitch wrap in this same yarn, but on #13 US needles for a lacier look. It is always interesting to see how different projects turn out using the same yarn.
Even still, I am continuing the reknit of Happy, from Elsebeth Lavold's Book 11, The Sunny Side Collection. Having ripped and began the reknit with a needle two sizes down from the original, the stretching problem has been eliminated using the tighter gauge. I am nearly finished with this warm weather pullover and have to admit that although I adore both the yarn, Hempathy, and the design, I will be happy when Happy is no longer in my knitting bag.
Copyright Kay Mather Rare Purls 2009