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For the Love of Wool.... - Random babblings of a fiber-obsessed nutcase

About For the Love of Wool....

Previous Entry For the Love of Wool.... Jan. 4th, 2010 @ 08:29 am Next Entry
I’ve been involved in a discussion of wool yarn vs. acrylic on one of my friends’ blogs…and realized I’m taking over the comments. So….I’ll bring it here, instead. First up - I am a fiber/yarn SNOB. I prefer natural fibers over the plastic, oil-derived synthetics. So....there's that. Now then....

Yes, acrylic is, generally, cheaper than wool. However, it’s got a lot of things going against it – it’s not anywhere NEAR as warm as wool (and there IS scientific evidence to back that up!), it’s flammable (it’ll melt. NOT safe for children’s use),….and it’s not a renewable resource. It does have a few things going For it (I’m trying to be fair, here) – it comes in a wild variety of colors, some of it is sinfully soft (OK, not as soft as Cashmere or Merino, but still…), and it’s machine washable and dryable. (Wool CAN be machine washed – I do it all the time. The trick is to wash on Cold/Cold, and set it on the Handwash/delicate cycle. As long as there is no heat, and the agitation is low, you should have NO felting/shrinkage. Your mileage may vary – but I machine wash my handSPUN – handknits all the time. It is still more labor-intensive than acrylics, though.)

On the price issue, you CAN buy 100% wool yarn for as little (or even LESS, in some cases) as a comparable (well…as comparable as it gets. :giggle:) acrylic. Depends on where you shop – Smileys Yarns and KnitPicks have the best everyday prices; sales help, too. I bought the yarn for Sweet Geek’s cardigan from KnitPicks – 21 balls of Wool of the Andes, for (if I remember correctly) $2.19/ball. ($45.99 for the yarn; I got free shipping because I ordered a book or something with it to meet their requirement) I’m going to have some left over, I think – but I’d rather that then running short and not being able to match dyelots. My chullo? Was $16 for the yarn….and I have enough left for another hat (and possibly a 3rd one…we’ll see. Sweet Geek has already ordered a chullo for himself. :lol:) For comparison’s sake…Wool-Ease (a Wool/Acrylic blend) is $4.99/ball (last I checked)…it would take probably 12-15 balls (again, I’m working from memory here…..might take more) for the Cardigan. ($5 x 12 = $60. Whoa – the 100% wool works out CHEAPER!)

Now, let’s look at socks (since that came up too, and I am a sock-knitting addict). Sock yarn is NOT cheap – I mean, who, in their right mind, would pay $6/pair? (That’s a direct price from Smiley’s Yarn for 80/20 Sock Yarn. $2.99/ball; 2 balls per pair. That’s about as cheap as you can get for socks!) I mean, you can buy 6 pairs of socks from Wally-world for…$8? I think? (Call it $1.50/pair – it works out to $1.3333333/pair). Huh. OK. How long (honestly, here) do those commercial socks last? In our house, for Sweet Geek, they last MAYBE 1 month. So, $1.50 for 1 month of socks (he’s hard on socks, yes……Herself’s socks last maybe 2 months. So…commercial socks suck. :lol: AND they don’t fit correctly, but that’s not part of THIS discussion. Yet.)

Still, it sounds like commercial socks win this round, doesn’t it? Only…I am still wearing socks I knit for myself 7 years ago. So….7 years/$6….that’s $1.16/year/pair. Huh. Granted, that’s for the cheaper sock yarn – and I’m not sure it’ll last THAT long..so. Lorna’s Laces. $20/pair is the cheapest I’ve bought it….that works out to $2.87/year/pair. Still not that bad! And they're STILL going strong - some of the Fortissima Colori that I got from Germany when it first came out is starting to wear thin, but the socks are still in rotation. I'm just replacing them as I can, now.

Then, of course, there’s the whole “Fit” thing. I don’t know about you, but 1 size fits most generally DOESN’T include ME. I’m not Most. The commercial-style heels (I KNOW I’ve mentioned this before!) do NOT fit my foot right – they wiggle around, and slip down into my arch, and generally drive me crazy. Hand-knit heels (Flap-and-Gusset, if you please!) fit my slightly narrow heel/high arches perfectly. I can mimic that in a “High-Heel” on my CSM – and I usually do. There’s also the problem of foot length – most commercial socks are too long for my size 9 woman’s foot. I get the toe bunched up in the shoe, and it hurts. By knitting my own socks, I can customize the fit (even on the CSM!), and I don’t have those problems. Plus, you can’t buy commercial socks in the wild-and-crazy colorways you can buy in sock yarn. (If that’s a “thing” you like. I do….:grin: )

Speaking of color…you can’t change the color of acrylic. Not with home methods, anyway – RIT (which is expensive…but I digress) is only for wool or cotton (OK, silk too - but why would you dye Silk with RIT??). It won’t bind to acrylic at all (Yes, I’ve tested that. I managed to turn a red horse blanket red. With black RIT. It…was ugly. :lol: ) Don’t like the color of the wool yarn you got for pennies? Dunk it in a Kool-Aid pot. (Depending on what color you began with, of course. Don’t expect to change black/dark blue/dark ANY color yarn to something else – it won’t work. You can overdye yellow/white/light colored yarn, though. It’s fun – AND educational!) (Yes, Kool-Aid is a permanent dye. It’s why I won’t give it to my kids anymore. Yes it’s more expensive than “real” fiber dyes – but it’s also Kid-safe (well…..) and easily available. Easter Egg dyes/food color works, too. Just remember to add a chug of vinegar to the pot – it helps bind the color to the fiber.)

And then there is the whole flammability thing. Acrylic MELTS. “Ah!” you say. “I’m not planning on roasting my yarn!” Right. And you’re never going to use it in front of a fireplace, right? And you’ll never have a house fire (Hope not!) or firepit outside, where it’s just cold enough you need a blankie to snuggle under and keep your back warm. :nods: I’m sorry…but the risk is NOT worth it to me. I (back in my beginning knitter years, when $$$ was the main reason I chose This yarn over That yarn) knit a potholder out of Red Heart. It…..melted when I used it to pull a pan out of the oven. All over the counter. :shudder: NEVER again. Granted, the odds of a spark landing on your afghan is small……but I’d rather use wool. It self-extinguishes. (I’ve seen it myself – we tried to burn a bag of raw Suffolk wool a few months ago. Doused it with gasoline, tossed in a match…:poof: and :whump: Fire went out. Huh. Tried it again – same thing. I then remembered that wool doesn’t burn easily. It took…..a LOT of gas, with a lot of wood over it to get it to catch. We’ve been using the other bags as mulch. (Mice got into the garage, and the wool was their favorite place to nest. :shudder: It was free, I’ll get more next year, so…this stuff has to go.))

Please don’t think I hate acrylics – I don’t. I don’t use them often, but they do have their place. If I’m making something for someone who doesn’t want to mess with wool, I’ll grab some nice acrylic (NEVER Red Heart, though – that stuff is NaStY.) I’d prefer acrylic for toys…..and dog sweaters. NEVER for socks, though – your feet will sweat to death. Sweaters……well, for someone Not Me. (Again, acrylic yarn just isn’t warm enough for Me. I freeze year-round; I wear wool socks Year-Round. Even in August.) I wove a blanket out of acrylic, once – it pilled horribly, and once it got stained it was impossible to clean it. Plus the kids hated it. (I did the math on my friends’ site for a woven wool blanket; 3 yard warp, 60” wide. I think it came out to $60 (or less) for the yarn – not bad for a Custom-woven 100% woolen blanket! Yes, you can buy one cheaper – but it’s cheaper for a reason. Sub-standard wool, spun of uneven fibers, will pill like acrylic. You can full them to help stop it….but it’s still cheap wool. Plus, I LIKE weaving/knitting – and don’t mind putting in the time to make something like this.)

I know I can’t change everybody’s mind…..but wool really is better on a number of fronts. Yes, it can cost more….but honestly? I’d rather work with nicer stuff. My time is too valuable to work with plastic-feeling yarn, even if it is half the price of wool (although with KnitPicks and Smileys Yarns, THAT argument is moot!) I’ll continue to buy the less expensive sock yarns….but I will occasionally splurge (the $30/pair Cashmere blend sock yarn I bought from Simply Socks? Oh.My.Goodness! Super squooshy, soft – you just don’t know HOW soft these socks are! – and oh, the tactile feel of them! I consider it research costs – our goats will be shedding soon, and I don’t want to spend the time spinning sock yarn if the socks won’t last at LEAST 6 months. I haven’t worn my pair yet – I wanted to wait until Sweet Geek’s were finished….but I think I’m gonna go ahead. I need the data…:grin: ).
ETA: hugh_mannity pointed out that I didn't take into account the *full* cost of hand-made stuff. Yes, I figured in the cost of materials...but NOT my time. Even at Minimum wage (what is it now? $8/hour? I make...more than that at my job. Last time we figured, it was a little more than double that, I think) - the sheer cost of My Time would put ANYTHING hand-made way out of most people's comfort zone. Let's go back to the weaving example (since it's a LOT faster than knitting).....a while back, I got it into my head that I wanted a handspun, hand-dyed, handwoven blanket for my sofa. I got 8 oz of Bombyx silk, 1 pound kid mohair, and 2 pounds of Falkland Island wool. Dyed it all up a lovely range of burgundys (say that took about...oh....3 hours, all told. I'm guessing on that, though - it's been a Good Long While.) Then I spun it all up, and plied it (No Clue...but let's estimate a week....40 hours. The mohair was tail-spun, the silk spun Fine, and the FI...oh, yeah - I also used about a pound of Border Leicester! - were spun to ply up about worsted weight.) Then I had to calculate the warp, measure the warp, and dress the loom (make that another...oh...10 hours. The Glimakra takes longer to dress than a jack loom) We're at what, 53 hours so far? Then I had to weave it off....make that another...oh.....5 hours. (I honestly don't know - I don't keep track of it! Fiber-work keeps me sane, and I can't tell you how much time I spend *doing* it.) That puts it at 58 hours, all told.

So...58 hours x $8/hour = $464.00 WITHOUT the cost of the materials. Now...this "blanket" isn't. A blanket, I mean. I ended up with about 8 feet of beautiful, luscious, 28" fabric, after I wet-finished it (I knew in the warping process I didn't have enough yarn spun - but I was out of the BL and FI wool, and down to very, very little kid mohair and silk.) There's enough there for a nice jacket - IF I can find someone to sew it up for me (I suck at sewing.) I *could* cut it in half, and blanket-stitch the 2 halves together, and end up with a lap robe approx. 4' x 4' - and I might still do that. But cutting into this fabric is beyond my power (especially now I've run the figures.....WoW. That's one EXPENSIVE piece of cloth!)

Here's the thing - you simply can NOT match prices on mass-produced crap from Wally-world. Wally-world crap can't match the QUALITY of the stuff you make by hand - BUT. Using crap supplies will not make an heirloom - you can't improve on the quality of the yarn, much. Cheap yarn CAN make a decent project - look at my chullo, for example! - but using quality yarn will make something that lasts much longer. Sweet Geek's Cardigan? Should last for years. The yarn is inexpensive, but not cheap (if that makes sense - price isn't always an indicator of quality.) - it's well spun, I haven't noticed any pilling in all the months I've hauled the front around with me (in fact, that is VERY surprising, since it was loose in my (overlarge) knitting bag for the past 13 months or so, having stuff dumped on it, drug across it, stabbed thru it :shudder: - I'm impressed with this yarn. To the point that I think *I* need a sweater out of it next!) Yes, it cost more than Red Heart - but it also is making a much nicer, heirloom-quality sweater. Red Heart CAN'T do that!

Also...wool wicks moisture away. Acrylic holds it in. It's why acrylic/nylon socks are so NASTY for your feet (and it's why Socks for Soldiers requests natural fibers ONLY for the boys overseas). Natural fibers are easier to disinfect (or so I've been told - bleach + wool =/= good stuff!) They're better for the enviornment (but that's not a big issue for me.) They do require slightly different handling than the wash-n-wear mass-produced stuff - but you know what? Taking in the FULL cost of the item, I'd much rather hand-wash my socks, anyway! (Oh, let's run the math on socks!!! Let's see...$20/pair using Lorna's Laces. It takes me about a week per sock, fitting in the knitting when I can...call it....20 hours per sock, 40 per pair. Figuring at $8/hour, that pencils out to $320 for my time, PLUS the $20...so EACH pair of socks that I own, made of commercial yarn, cost approximately $340. I *really* don't want to do the math for my HAND-SPUN, Hand-knit socks...I think I'd pass out and not want to *wear* them. :giggle: Hey, wait - I've done a lot on the CSM - that only takes about 2 hours per pair, PLUS about an hour to graft the toes....That pushes the cost down to $44/pair. :nods: Still WAY expensive....but divide that by 7 (the current life-span of my socks) and it pencils out to $6.28/year/pair. (Yes, I work in accounting - why do you ask? :lol:))

The point is, to my mind, that Life is Too Short for me to spend my valuable time working with fibers I do not like. I can't make that decision for everyone, of course....but think about it. Why put in all those hours on something that will pill, bunch up, look like the cat drug it thru the garden? Wool at least will spring back from abuse. Oh - and if lace is your thing? Acrylic won't block, so the lace will stay in the limp-noodle stage and not look like much. Wool? Blocks the lace open, so it's airy and beautiful (blocking lace is AWESOME. I don't knit much lace, because I don't have much excuse to wear it, but oh - the magic when you pin out a shawl and *see* the whole thing for the first time! When wool (or silk!) dries, it holds the blocking...acrylic won't.

Oh, and on the whole "total cost" thing - I usually don't calculate MY time, because I knit while I'm waiting in line. Or waiting for an appointment. Or "watching" TV. Or.....you get the picture. Knitting is carried around with me, and worked on whenever my hands are free.....so I really can't tell you HOW much time I spend on something. Weaving is easier to quantify, since I'm basically tied to the loom....but I fall into a trance as the shafts lift and the shuttle moves.....and I wake up 4 hours later with a bunch of fabric on the cloth beam and NO Idea how long I've been there. To me, my time isn't really a part of it -especially in regards to knitting: It's just Something I Do. The way some people read books (I..can read and knit at the same time, and do frequently). I don't "watch" TV - I listen, mostly (and mostly to documentaries on PBS), and do something else at the same time. I knit while waiting for water to boil/food to cook in the kitchen. So....for me to justify charging for my time..I just can't bring myself to do that.



On that note.....the damn puppy ATE part of my sofa last night. She is banished outdoors for the time being (until Sweet Geek gets her in to Puppy School). Grand - we're supposed to be in the negative windchills by Thursday.....guess I need to drag out the crate. She will NOT be left loose in the house. I...can't take much more of this. She can NOT be taught, it seems........:deep breath:
Current Location: office
Current Mood: coldcold
spin a yarn
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From:hugh_mannity
Date:January 4th, 2010 03:51 pm (UTC)
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On socks and sweaty feet, it's worth noting that sweaty wool socks don't smell nearly as nasty as sweaty acrylic (or nylon) socks. There's something about acrylic that makes it smell really disgusting when it gets sweaty. Even sweaters.

Another thing that rarely makes it into discussions of yarn cost is the amount of time and work the knitter puts into the FO. I don't know about you, but my hourly rate is considerably more than minimum wage. If I spend 100 hours knitting a sweater or a shawl which then pills or doesn't look right because it can't be blocked properly. Or turns nasty after a couple of wearings and washings. Then that time (and the associated money -- at least $1,000 if I'd taken a second job at McDonalds or somewhere instead of knitting) is wasted.

Sweet Geek’s cardigan will last him years, will look gorgeous all the time, and it's worth the extra money to make it out of good quality yarn.

The first sweater I knit was an Aran for my kid brother, who was 8 at the time I knit it. It survived him, our cousin, and then (still looking as good as new) about 7 or 8 years later got passed on to one of the kids in my aunt's class. I have no idea what the yarn cost at the time, but even if it had cost $100 (unlikely for a kid's sweater) and assuming it lasted another 2 years, that's $10/year for a very warm sweater. You can't buy that kind of warmth.

I can appreciate that some people find the capital cost of a sweater's worth of good yarn hard to justify (or come up with). However I figure it's worth saving up some money to be able to afford it because the results are so worth it.

(And I won't even mention what it would cost me in lawyer's fees, bail money or counseling payments if I didn't knit :D)
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From:fiberaddict
Date:January 4th, 2010 04:25 pm (UTC)
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I didn't even go into the cost part of it, because if I had to actually figure up my time on top of everything else, well....*I'd* still make it myself, but most people wouldn't.

Think I need to edit my post....
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From:hugh_mannity
Date:January 4th, 2010 04:50 pm (UTC)
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The benefits to my psyche and blood pressure are very hard to quantify, but knitting is definitely good for my health. :D (Never mind that it stops me going postal when waiting in line, dealing with idiots, or staring at paint drying my databases.)
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From:fiberaddict
Date:January 4th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC)
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Yes! I updated the post, because I really don't consider my time during the whole process. Knitting is done whenever I have a spare moment - I don't (usually) dedicate a block of time to something. (Finishing the chullo was an oddity, for me - I usually just work on whatever project I feel like, WHEN I feel like it. I'm trying to concentrate on the cardigan...but it's at home. My Liberty sock is up here. Oh, well....:lol:)

You can't quantify the calming nature of knitting/weaving/spinning, either. How can I put a price on the peacefulness I feel when I sit in front of my wheel? Can't do it......:sigh:
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 5th, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
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I seriously can not see my self knitting socks...seems complicated. And it would probably take me seven months to finish one, then I would never make the other. Knitting a flat square is actually complicated for me. Crochet, I can do. But I never thought about the fact that wool socks would be softer, warmer and wear better...I am going to look for a crochet sock pattern and see if it is something I can do. I want a pair of socks that doesn't get cold and clammy!
~alidansma
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From:fiberaddict
Date:January 5th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
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Socks are NOT hard - not even the heels! And they're addictive - the first pair might take *forever*, but after that they fly off the needles.

There are crochet patterns out there...but I don't crochet, so I can't comment on them.
(spin a yarn)
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