a new skill

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I’m guessing that today many people are going to be writing about steekingentrelac and spinning. I, however, have a much simpler skill whose lack looms over my head like a dark cloud. It’s not so much a skill, actually, as knowledge. Knowledge of yarn.

Where I started knitting, in Croatia, there aren’t that many yarns on offer. There is one yarn factory which mainly does wool-synthetic blends in various ratios, and the range of weights is pretty limited (I never saw real bulky yarn nor lace-weight). So, when I started, being ignorant of the different weights and compositions of yarn, life was pretty simple. I chose yarn primarily on the basis of colour. It did not even occur to me that you couldn’t make any project with any type of yarn! I would use the needle size recommended in the pattern, but I didn’t worry about the yarn weight… This resulted in some interesting outcomes, such as this hat below. I was making it for myself, but while I was working on it in public, a lady came up to me and asked me politely if it was for a baby!!! Erm, I managed to get it onto my head eventually, and wore it for quite some time, but in hindsight I think I know what she meant!

And then I started noticing the swatch instructions in patterns. The indications of what yarn to use. The world of weights and fibers opened up to me. And I was completely lost. I found some good guides, like the one on Ravelry, or this one, but I can’t carry them around when I go to yarn shops and whenever I am choosing yarn I am always terrified that the shop assistants are going to realize that I don’t have a clue! Now, why, tell me why, aren’t yarns organized by weight in yarn shops?! I still don’t get it!

Then came the types of yarns by composition. Ok, I’m not so ignorant to not know what silk, cotton and wool are, but then there is also tweed, mohair, malabrigo, alpaca and heavens knows what else! Well, heavens may know, but I don’t. So when buying yarn, I try to wing it as much as I can and figure out what is what.

I am utterly annoyed by the fact that different companies have different names for the same yarn weights, and that some do not mark them at all! I pray that the shop assistants think that I am just unable to decide for colour while I am furtively trying to figure out if the yarn is even approximately the right weight for what I need! What I usually do is check on Ravelry before I head out shopping, but once I reach the shop (especially the lovely local yarn shops here in London), I am faced with a bunch of unfamiliar and bewildering (while gorgeous and irresistible) yarns! I recently considered applying for a part-time job at a yarn shop, but one of their requirements was that you were “a good knitter”. That scared me off – not because of my stitching capabilities (I am pretty confident with those), but because I was scared they would expect me to know a good deal about yarns and that I would have to retreat in shame… On the other hand, working there, if they had accepted me, would have been a great crash course in yarns. Otherwise, I’m afraid, it’ll take me years, probably even decades. You don’t really know a yarn until you’ve worked with it, and there are so many to discover.

So, that’s my big secret. I love yarn. I am eternally grateful for the huge variety and choice I have here in London. I could spent hours in the yarn shops. But I am still clueless about it. :(

Do you have any good tips? How did you get your yarn knowledge? Am I really going to have to be patient and only able to say I know yarn when I’m like that grandma from the beginning of the story, or is there a shortcut?