Yarn Bacchanal

I’m not a “fun” person. I don’t scream “Woooo!” while falling sideways in platform heels at a bachelorette party. I choose reading, hiking and silence every time. My husband is more generous in his assessment, saying we just have a different idea of what fun means. It was ever thus. As a child I knew when I didn’t meet adult expectations for fun, when things intended to provoke unfettered glee — like clowns or caged zoo animals — instead frightened or depressed me.

Recently, the shoe’s been on the other foot. My knitting felt a lot like… me. It was insufficiently fun. In an effort to knit from my stash, I’ve been grudgingly working on a sweater for months after setting it down years ago. It’s structured. It required lots of measuring, swatching and shaping. It has two cable panels on the sides of the torso, so I need to pay attention and knit cables properly twice on every single row. No zoning out on this one.

The yarn is 100% alpaca. I know it’s going to pill like crazy. (Pills are already floating off the yarn!) The alpaca may give good drape, which the pattern calls for, but I doubt the sweater will hold its shape. It’s a gorgeous pattern, but it feels like spending a lot of money on a nice dress that you’ll only wear once a year, when you won’t allow yourself to spend the same amount of money on jeans you’ll wear four days a week, for years. This sweater is not a staple that I’ll want to put on most days of the week.

And that is, perhaps, the true crux of the matter. I want to be the person for whom this cute, girly sweater would be a staple, and I’m not. In order to enjoy my knitting, I need to own just what it is that I wear every day, which is not as stylish as it could be.

There is, for instance, what I know I look good in and what I probably should wear, and then there’s the effort to put it on when I’m going to bike commute 14 miles round-trip up and down San Francisco’s hills, and walk a few miles in the course of an average day. I hate being cold. Iwear jeans. I wear simple, hip-length tunics. I wear women’s Pendleton shirts as jackets. I can’t wear shoes with any heel anymore, due to ballet feet and genetics, which means I live in Soft Star Shoes and Birkenstocks. I prefer natural colors (gray, black, brown) and a few colors found in nature that I look good in: olive, red, navy. I like basic, well fitted shapes. Because I sew, I know fit is the most important thing in looking good.

So if I’m really going to own my lifestyle and thus my style, what does that look like in terms of knitting? There are some clues.

All I want to knit with is the undyed, rustic, 100% U.S., laundry bag full of yarn from Black Sheep Gathering. I oggle the contents of that bag all the time and, recently, could not resist knitting up a skein of Romney I bought there. I had SO much fun doing it. I delighted in handling that yarn the entire time. The pattern was an easy-to-memorize, six-row repeat that showed the yarn at its finest. The project was over before I knew it and I was sad when I blocked it.

My fiber tastes have changed in the last seven years.  I used to buy primarily for softness and affordability. Since attending my first Fibershed Wool Symposium; reading the Knitters Book of Yarn and the Fleece and Fiber Source Book; and getting exposure to different breeds and their fibers by shearing them, I’ve come to not only appreciate but to absolutely adore un-dyed, rustic wools that wear well. Teeny bits of hay and a little bit of thick-and-thin make my heart and hands sing.

Take the sweater I knit my husband from Allegan yarn. It is un-dyed. He still remarks on how much he likes the color. It’s rustic, not for next-to-skin wear, but it wears like the dickens. Years on and it barely has any pills on it. It’s holding its shape. It may outlive both of us (and will certainly age better than either of us) at this rate. It’s a simple, timeless style with not too much going on. The terrific fit makes it.

Yes. I want a sweater like the one I knit for my husband. I’m taking that stunning, un-dyed so-dark-brown-it’s-almost-black, 2-ply Merino from Crabtree Farm, and I’m knitting it up to be an Elizabeth Zimmermann classic Brooks style sweater, with saddle shoulders.

And I’m going to wear it into the ground, like the work horse it will be.

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