Feb 22, 2010

Commuting with Fiber

Source unknown.  Received this photo via e-mail several years ago.  The man knows how to make a statement! 

I'm a commuter.  I take the bus and then the Metrorail (i.e., a subway that runs a significant portion above ground).  My door-to-door commute runs about 45 minutes on average but somedays, due to weather or a sick passenger, it can drag on another 15 minutes.  I used to think I was one of the lucky ones until I read that local commuters in the metropolitan D.C. area spend an average of 33 minutes getting to work, nearly 8 minutes a day more than the national average, according to data released last September by the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.  But, despite a commute that is 12 minutes longer than the regional average, I am still better off than the more than 100,000 local workers who spend 90 minutes or more commuting to work.  Most of them do it behind the wheel of a car.  I do mine behind the head of a bus driver or train operator.

Despite the seemingly cranky mantle I wear when I finally arrive at the office, I secretly like my commute.  Commuting via public transit provides the most wonderful opportunities to read a book in peace (no constant interruptions for "Can we go . . . " or "What's for dinner?").  Commuting via public transit also allows long stretches of down (as in sitting) time during which I can take out my project bag and start hooking away.  Despite the relatively short commute time, I can rock out a hat in two days of commuting, a small neck scarf in a day.  Although I miss listening to the radio (Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! rocks) during my daily commute, I no longer enter the building already the stereotype of the harried government worker.  What shape I am when I leave the building is another story altogether.

Unfortunaltely, the needle arts are not as popular among the commuting set as reading the Washington Post (or its unfortunate little offspring, the Express that often is left on seats for others to enjoy), listening to the latest tunes with expensive I-Pods with cheap earphones that allow folks two rows away to "enjoy" the music as well, or simply staring off into space.  But every now and then, I run across a kindred soul who industriously spends this precious time indulging in these ancient arts, unknowingly keeping them alive for future generations.  Sometimes our eyes will meet and we smile a knowing smile, sort of like an invisible nod of acknowledgement.  If we are within talking distance, we politely, so as not to bore the other passengers, inquire about the project but it's a bit like talking in a secret code:
  • "That's a lovely blanket you are crocheting/knitting" translates to "You go, Girl! I love public displays of fiber."
  • "What yarn/pattern are you using" translates to "You are not alone.  There are a lot of us hiding in plain site."
  • "Have you been to XXX local yarn store" translates to "There's a place where folks like us meet up. Perhaps you would like to join our secret society."
Then the train or bus stops and one of us departs for work or home.  Thus endeth the secret dialogue and we sadly pack up our yarn and hooks and prepare for what lies ahead on our desk or in our kitchen.

Perhaps my crankiness upon arriving at work is not a facade.

Feb 10, 2010

Size Matters ! ? ! ?

Source:  Flying Finger operates its YarnBus, a free shuttle from Manhattan to its store in Westchester, NY.  

Yarn, like so many other things (balls, underwear, people, crochet hooks, etc.) comes in a variety of sizes.  And with different proportions comes different labels - pool, tennis, baseball, basketball, small, medium, large, extra-large, thong, bikini, brief, boy short, short, tall, fat, thin, A, B, C, etc.  Endless labels for an endless assortment of the things that populate our universe.

As for yarn, its size, or weight, is determined by its thickness.  Yarns typically fall into six broadly-defined categories of weights:  (1) super fine or fingering or sock, (2) fine or sport, (3) light or DK, (4) medium or worsted, (5) bulky, and (6) super bulky.  There's also the  lace/cobweb/gossamer weight yarns that often are labeled 0.  Need visuals?  Cobweb (0) -- think of the ├╝ber-skinny women whose gassamer-thin limbs would be swimming in a size 0 top.  Super-fine (1) -- think of the haughty, ahem, God's Gift, ladies for whose anorexic bodies haute-couture is designed.  Sport (2) -- think of all the athletic non-running, non-gymnasts, non ice-skating women out there who look as if they can lift a 5-lb weight.  DK (3) -- well, you get the point.

According to the Craft Yarn Council of America, specific weights of yarn should produce a somewhat predictable number of stitches when using a particular sized crochet hook or knitting needle.  The higher the yarn number, the heavier the yarn and the fewer stitches per inch you will get.  But these are just general guidelines.  As most crocheters and knitters have found, not all yarns of a certain weight are exactly the same.  Thus the importance of swatching.  There! I've done my part to encourage folks to take the time to make the dreaded but necessary swatch before embarking on projects where size (stitches that is) does matter. 

My personal preference for yarn is driven by the project on which I'm working.  Lately, I have have been working in lighter or finer yarns so that I can make garments with better drape. Crochet stitches produce a series of knots that produce bulkier stitches than knitting.  So, to make a garment (whether a sweater or a hat) with a soft drape, we need to use a bigger hook, but by doing so, we risk creating a something full of holes.  Works great on lace but wouldn't keep a slumbering bear warm on a bitter cold winter night.  In general, it would be better to keep using your handy dandy G, H, or I hook and drop down to a skinnier yarn like light/DK and fine/sport weight, although sock weight works wonders.  Last year, I made a scarf using a fingering weight washable wool and loved how it turned out.  Hats made of any weight yarn will keep your head warm, while I doubt women of a certain age (we know who we are) would be comfortable in a sweater hooked up in a super bulky yarn. 

Yet, I also like to quickly work up a hat or scarf, or even, sweater.  Pair a big hook with some big yarn, throw in a couple of hours and you've got a hat. A few more hours, a scarf is born.  From skinnier yarns can come supple, lightweight fabric does not grow the fabric as fast as bulkier yarns.  Slow and steady may win the race but sometimes you need the heady rush of producing something of substance quickly.

Does size matter?  Well, yes and no.  As with life in general, yarn size just depends on what you make of it.