Last Saturday I shared my thinking and my questions on what sort of yarn and pattern to choose. And, as ever, you have given me the very best advice, based on experience and offered with the utmost kindness and generosity. Wonderful experienced knitters from all over the world (many who I do not know) took the time to give me very wise, learned, thoughtful proposals on what sort of patterns would work for me, and what are the best yarns to use for comfort and colour work. Wow! It was an amazing and unexpected response and I have learnt a great deal. My thinking has advanced and I will share my plans soon.
You might wonder why I didn’t go to a wool shop and ask for help and advice there.
Well I did.
A customer walks into a major, central London department store with a large selection of knitting yarns, plus a reputation for fair prices and excellent customer service.
Two women sit at the craft table, knitting complex, colourful lace scarves. They cradle their circular needles, heavily loaded, and continue to knit throughout the encounter. There are no other customers in this part of the shop.
The customer feels excited. She assumes the two knitters include a customer and an advisor, so she waits for a few minutes for the conversation to conclude. Then she spots that both are wearing “Rowan” badges.
Customer: Oh great! Knitters! I hope you will be able to help me. I am a beginner knitter. I have only made one thing so far. A jumper! And now I want to make something colourful, as my jumper is grey!
First sales assistant (FSA): Well the wool is over there – (waves hand to the wool supply shelves)
Customer: Yes. The thing is I have a few questions I need to discuss first
FSA: OK. What do you want to know?
Customer: Well I want to use lots of colour and I was thinking of something like a Fair Isle.
Second sales assistant (SSA) with raised eyebrows: Fairisle?
SSA: Well you need a pattern. (Hands a weighty Rowan magazine to the customer).
There are lots of Fair Isle patterns in here. Find one and then you can choose your colours.
Customer: Well I need to ask some questions first, then choose my colours
SSA; No you need to choose your pattern first.
Customer: Actually I was hoping to look at the colours first as that will influence what I might want to make.
SSA: (interrupting) No you need to buy a pattern first.
Customer: Why is that?
SSA: Because there are lots of choice of yarns out there and a limited number of patterns.
Customer(who usually buys fabric before a pattern in her world of dressmaking): Oh. (Takes heavy Rowan magazine and holds it). Also I need to know about ply, and composition. What sort of yarn do I need for Fair Isle?
FSA: Double knit
Customer: Not 4 ply (customer had checked out a 1940s pattern which specifies four ply)?
FSA: No. There are more patterns for double knit.
Customer: Also I don’t want scratchy wool. This is very important to me. Apart from the colour. I want something really soft I can wear against my skin.
FSA: Merino. Look for wool that says Merino. Go and have a look at the wools.
Customer: What about other fibres that are soft?
FSA: Cotton. You can look at cotton.
Customer: For Fairisle?
FSA: Yes. Just go and have a look at the yarns (takes back the Rowan magazine).
Customer walks over the yarn section and starts considering cotton and merino. She spots two things – some yarns seem to be a mixture but this hasn’t been mentioned. There are also other options – such as silk, mohair, alpaca, bamboo and synthetics. And there are some knitted up samples that can be used to determine feel – this seems more realistic than just touching the ball of wool. The yarns are labelled and by reading and feeling she begins to work things out for herself.
FSA: (walks over still knitting). How are you getting on?
Customer: I quite like this one – Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. There are lots of tones of colour, which I like.
FSA: You don’t need lots of tones for Fair Isle. And you can’t use the variegated yarns. You don’t want tones, you want contrast.
Customer: Well I might like a subtle pattern. Customer shows her handpainted silk dress to show that tones close to each other can work well.
FSA: Very nice.
Customer: Can I mix yarns?
FSA: You can’t mix four ply with double knit.
Customer: No I understand that. I wondered if, assuming it is double knit, and say Merino, can I mix it?
FSA: Yes. But you should go with the Bliss Baby Cashmerino. It’s soft and it has lots of colours
Customer: Thanks. You have a lot of choice, so I will look around a bit more. The knitted up Baby Bliss isn’t quite as soft as the balls.
FSA: Yes it is. That’s as soft as you will get.
Customer: I will have a look round now. I think I prefer the colours in the cotton. In fact today is a research day. I don’t think I am ready to buy patterns and wool today.
FSA: OK. Wanders off.
The shop that sells yarn has a huge advantage over the online seller in that you can feel the fabric and see the colours. You can put the colours next to each other, and hold them up to your face. The prices may be a little lower on-line but once you have paid for postage it may not make much difference. The really wonderful thing about a bricks and mortar shop is that it is staffed by real people who can communicate. My experience with the Rowan experts was embarrassing. When I got home I looked (online) at the offered Rowan magazine. While I liked two of the Fair isle sweaters both were badged as advanced, and one has raglan sleeves that I wouldn’t want. But the idea that I might have been fobbed off with an unsuitable pattern beyond my capabilities and a lot of expensive wool is disappointing.
Thankfully my internet friends have given me amazing advice and support. I try to do the same for beginner dressmakers – I fan their joy and enthusiasm and try to make things easier for them. Maybe I just need to get a job in a shop. Or knit some Aran tights.