Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Let's Talk About Yarn -- Yes, Yarn!

Okay, everyone knows what yarn is -- right? Well, think again. It used to be (back in the Dark Ages of my teenage years) that you had wool, cotton thread or man-made materials (acrylic, rayon, etc.) So, you ended up with scratchy items, lace or afgans and throws made with sometimes stiff yarn or soft yarn (which usually depended upon how much you wanted to spend).

Well, one step into the yarn section of a JoAnns or Michaels will change your outlook on yarns in no time at all -- natural yarns run the gamut from wool, alpaca, cashmere, angora, mohair, llama wool, bamboo, silk, cotton, as well as infinite combinations of these (at least it sure seems like it when I'm perusing the aisles or web sites). Of course, the man-made products are still basically acrylic, rayon, nylon and again, infinite combinations with each other and also with the natural yarns (such as wool with acrylic). These blends are beautiful and have a wonderful hand (in other words, soft). And don't forget the organics!

Depending on how much you want (or can) spend, you have some pretty amazing choices out there.

As for me, I am on an extremely fixed budget. I have a disabled husband who can no longer work and a son who lost his high-paying computer job and is now working part-time for a little over minimum wage. For me, the choices are pretty limited.

This doesn't stop me from creating wonderful crocheted items. I just have to be more patient (if I want expensive yarn), by waiting for coupons or BIG sales. I recently made a wonderful lacy tank top with silk bamboo yarn. Luckily I received a gift card for my birthday and was able to spend it entirely on this luxurious, lusterous yarn. Most of the time, I wait for sales -- even for more affordable yarns. In our household, it is money for food or money for yarn, so I have to be extremely miserly!

So, for yarn, here are some suggestions:
  • If you're making items that will touch bare skin, check the softness of a knitted sample. Yes, don't just feel the skein, sometimes the feel of a skein is not the same as after you crochet (or shudder, knit) a particular yarn. Not all stores provide them, so I'll take the time when I'm visiting a store that has samples to run one across my skin and make notes of how it feels. Then when I'm ready to buy, I can refer to my notes for brand / yarn type and purchase accordingly.
  • For blankets / afgans that will be used as decoration or on top a bed, you won't need something as soft and can go for the cheap. A lot of the money-saver yarns (in price or the one-pound type) are not as soft and pliable (when made into items) as the more expensive yarns (and I don't mean EXPENSIVE! Just costing a little more). Then again, sometimes you get pleasantly surprised by the money saver yarns! So always keep an open mind (see brands below).
  • I often choose yarns which focus on babies. Not all are lightweight, so I can make some thick, warm hats or scarves (for my cancer comfort hats which MUST be soft). My only problem with baby yarns are the colors -- they tend to be pastels, which I'm not particularly fond of.
  • When you find a brand you like, go to that brand first when looking for suitable yarn for a project. I have one or two companies that I consistently turn to for my various projects (Bernat, Vanna's Choice by Lion Brand, Caron). Note: my drool over yarn is the furs / eyelash types, which are small skeins and more expensive.
  • However, for cotton -- I go cheap! I shop at Walmart (where you can get some of the above yarns, too - check it out!) and buy the Peaches and Cream cotton. This is wonderful cotton yarn! It comes in great colors and works beautifully for washcloths, coasters, anything that calls for cotton. Of course, its counterpart Lily's Sugar N Cream is wonderful, too, but costs almost a dollar more -- I always get some when it goes on sale.
I used to ignore patterns that called for specific brands or types of yarn that I couldn't afford. Then I tried substitution (basically dragging out whatever yarn I had and trying it). That often led to scratchy or stiff finished products and an unhappy me!

Now, I've found that if I follow the weight category (I google the yarn the pattern suggests and read the weight class (fingering, worsted, etc.)) and the amount of a skein (in ounces or grams) then I have a better idea how I can substitute with a more affordable yarn.

Finally, test gauge, Test Gauge, TEST GAUGE! This really, really is important! Especially if you substitute.

So don't feel restricted by your budget or what a pattern is based upon. A little prep work and you can make exceptional items on a budget.

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