When I was 16, I got a job at a local yarn store in Owen Sound. I was so excited even though I had to work until 9 pm on Friday nights and the school dances STARTED at 9 pm, however, it was a great job. This place was magical for me. Unlike the Paton’s Sayelle and Astra, that were the mainstay of my Grandma’s knitting, this store had exotic yarns from OTHER COUNTRIES!! Phildar, Annie Blatt, Irish Bainin, and other delights stocked the shelves. I officially became a yarn snob that year and have never looked back.
But the best part about working at the Darilou Wool Shoppe was that I learned so much about knitting! Once I mastered the Paton’s chart of yarn gauges and weights, I was able to move on to pattern reading (thank you so much Phildar for the crappy French to English translations) and I learned more about how different fibres knit up. And that little dream of having my own shop percolated for about 40 years!!
Anyhow, I want to give you some pointers on how to be a Smart Shopper, cause we don’t want you wasting your time and money on projects that are a bust.
Sounds fairly straightforward, but it takes some work and thought. I do both. Sometimes I find a pattern I love and then look for the right yarn or vice versa. With the advent of RAVELRY, this process has become so much easier, or harder, depending on how you look at it.
Sometimes, I pick up yarn just because I love it…the colour, the feel, the expectations….But how much do you need when you don’t have the pattern? One of the most useful tools I have found, and to which I refer in the store all of the time, is the Knitter’s Guide to Yarn Requirements by Ann Budd
Ann has written some wonderful books about the basics of knitting and I think her efforts have been under shadowed with some of the new “knit to fit” gurus. Like Elizabeth Zimmerman, Ann does the basics very well
Ann’s trifold laminated leaflet on Yarn Requirements for Knitters (and one for Crocheters too) gives you general amounts of yarn required for just about any project you would like to do in any weight or gauge. Pop that in your bag when you are travelling and shopping and you are good to go!
Once you have your yarn, you can go on Ravelry, log in the yardage you have and the project you would like to do and up pops every possible project available. Grab a cup of tea, review the patterns, get distracted by some other patterns and many hours later, you will have decided on your project!
OR, pick the pattern and go looking for the right yarn. Equally a challenge and just as much fun. I think, by middle age, most of us know approximately what designs work and don’t work for us, but not always. Sometimes we get stuck in a decade and cannot move out of it because it worked for us then….but maybe not now. For example, I swear I still have a 28″ waist, but somewhere along the line, I grew by several inches!. I am pretty sure my breasts used to sit closer to the top of my chest wall, but they are now inching closer to my waistline. Weird! So, no more cropped sweaters for me!
Anyhow, one of the BEST tools in deciding whether or not a pattern will work for you is to check out the Finished Projects on Ravelry. If you see someone who is your size and shape, evaluate how the Finished Project looks on them! If Rowan has posted an amazing picture of a Size 0 18 year old, walking the Moors with a ravishing young man in a kilt, check out what the Finished Project looks like on someone your age and stature. Looks good….then, go for it! Not quite the look you were going for….then find something else!
There are LOTS of blogs and articles about what pattern design works for what figure type. Amy Herzog has led the charge in her Fit to Flatter Books and has developed a unique business wherein she takes YOUR measurements and sends you a pattern based on your chosen yarn to fit YOUR figure… Brilliant!
Interweave knits, for example, has a wonderful series by Amy Palmer on knitting a sweater that fits. She does a whole article on sleeves and body types. For example, women with a large bust should do set in sleeves for a better fit and avoid the drop shoulder. Even a raglan sleeve can cause problems if you have bigger arms and some math is required (another yikes).
Have a look at your own wardrobe and see what feels good. If there are articles of clothing that you wear all of the time, take their measurements and find similar patterns and you will always be happy. And be aware of your REAL measurements. I had a lady in the store the other day, and when I asked her what size she needed, she said “44”. I knew she wasn’t a 44 so we measured her and to her surprise, she needed an extra 4″. Give a couple inches of ease so that you aren’t wearing a skin tight garment and that is an extra 6″ around required…..a big difference!
IF YOU AREN’T USING THE YARN THE PATTERN CALLED FOR, BE VERY CAREFUL IN FINDING A SUBSTITUTE YARN
And thus, we come to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man debacle of 2008. I had some lovely Debbie Bliss mohair, mint green, in my stash. I found a lovely vest that crisscrossed in the front and was the correct weight of yarn. I should have known, when the pattern called for a lovely wool and silk combination yarn, that some DRAPE should have been factored into my yarn substitution. Needless to say, it looked absolutely ridiculous AND you can’t really unravel mohair yarn so into the trash it went!
We move on to the Steeking disaster of 2014 when I made the lovely Oranje sweater by Ann Weaver. I love Shelridge DKW yarn. It is a Canadian company and the superwash yarn comes in a wonderful range of colours. So, I knit it up. When I came to steeking the extensive yoke, I realized that SUPERWASH YARN IS SLIPPERY. Despite my stitching, the yoke started to unravel and I had a bit of a meltdown. Of course it unravels…..making superwash yarn involves removing the “barbs” on the yarn so it doesn’t felt on itself. Apparently, with fair isle yokes, a bit of stickiness is a good thing. Another lesson learned.
My point is that I am still making mistakes. Now, I really try and either use the same yarn as the pattern requires (because the designers really have taken that into consideration) or else I use a yarn with near identical fibre content. If the pattern calls for 100% wool, that is what I use. If there is a linen/cotton mix, that is what I use. There are times when you can break the rules, but do a swatch and be prepared.
So, be a smart shopper
- Pick the right pattern for your body type as it is today, not 30 years ago. This means upgrading your REAL measurements as well
- Look at as many Finished Projects in Ravelry and see how they work up
- Ask your friends for advice…..not the nice friends, the ones who really tell you the way it is!
- Read some blogs, literature about your body shape and what design techniques will flatter your figure. Pull out your favourite knits and figure out why you love them. Then use those design elements when you are picking a pattern
- Make sure you match the yarn you substitute to the yarn suggested in the pattern. We substitute yarns all of the time, but there is a knack to it
- BUY AN EXTRA SKEIN OF YARN. I always feel slightly bad suggesting this as I am always afraid that people will think I just want to sell more yarn, but if you have ever run short and cannot find the yarn or the dyelot, you will thank me. So don’t make me suggest it….just buy an extra ball!
More smart shopper tips to come!