Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where's the Sheep?

As part of a project for my English IV class, my students created blogs where they reflected on their experiences learning how to knit or do other crafts.  One of my students cleverly entitled her blog Gone with the Wool, where she discussed the challenging process of making her first knitted hat.  The student used yarn that I had given her, some I had bought to create a black and orange scarf for my younger son’s former taekwondo teacher.  The scarf was going to be a Christmas present last year, but I didn’t finish it in time for the holidays, and then soon after, fencing replaced taekwondo as my son’s sport of choice.  I was left with $250 worth of sparring gear, new financial obligations (for fencing lessons and fencing shoes), and two big balls of chunky black and orange wool. 

While I had quite a few skeins of Red Heart yarn in my classroom, purchased because of its affordability, it was interesting to see how my students migrated toward the soft balls of wool I’d brought in (such as that orange stuff) that were leftovers from my personal stash.  I didn’t want to emphasize my fiber preferences to them, as I know that they don’t have money income to blow on yarn (although judging from their Smart phones and tattoos, they probably have more disposable income than I do).  I did tell them that natural fiber has more stretch, so it can be easier for a beginner to use.  I also didn’t share how I shy away from synthetic fibers and always have, even before I was a knitter.  When I was a teenager, I had a collection of 100% wool Shetland sweaters, purchased by carefully combing the aisles of discount stores and scrutinizing fiber content labels.  I couldn’t afford the expensive sweaters in the Rumson Roulette, a boutique in a neighboring town, a geographic locale that was included in Lisa Burnbach’s Preppy Handbook.  At this store, a bastion of horse-faced WASPY snobbery, one could purchase kilts, Shetland sweaters, cashmere scarves, and a variety of expensive home goods.  While I couldn’t afford to shop there, I could find comparable stuff with time and effort. 

I once shared my penchant for natural fibers with a friend and co-worker.  She was young, around 23 (close to my age at the time), and was the managing editor of a magazine where I worked.  She was a very dramatic emotional person, prone to self-destructive behavior  at times.  Her boyfriend at the time, with whom she was madly in love, dumped her in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, just before she went in to have her wisdom teeth removed.   (This really happened.)  This event occured in late August, and I’d been similarly deserted by my boyfriend around the same time.  I was a newly hired employee, and we instantly bonded over our heartache, sobbing and drowning our sorrows  together, night after night.  She had been raised by her grandmother in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and was the illegitimate child of her mother and a barroom piano player—the product of a one-night stand.  Coming from an equally dysfunctional family with an absent father, I was, like her, a bit too sensitive and naively romantic, relying too much on finding my own self-worth through my male partners.

In retrospect, I didn’t help this co-worker, but, rather, created a monster, when I discussed the inferiority and cheapness of certain materials when we were shopping together.  She apparently absorbed my comments, and, still horribly depressed because of her breakup several months earlier, sobbed hysterically on Christmas morning when she opened a package presented to her by her mother and found a polyester, rather than a silk or cotton, blouse.  Her heartache, coupled with her newfound appreciation for natural fibers, obviously put a dismal damper on her family’s holiday festivities. 

Although not sobbing, I was distressed during a recent trip to my local yarn shop, when I learned that wool yarn prices, much like the cost of food, are set to spike steeply.  I noticed, too, on an excursion to an upscale Charlotte shopping mall last weekend, that I could not find a pair of wool slacks—at least in the petite sections of two major department stores, nor were there many wool sweaters.   Of course, while saddened, I must take the positive view—I now I have a reasonable excuse for yarn and fiber hoarding.   Maybe they’ll be wool shortages?  Yarn speculation?  And I could make a fortune by selling my stash or my handmade knitted, wooly items.

Alas, even if prices go through the roof, I don’t foresee any profit in knitting and I’m not likely to part with my collection of yarn and fiber.  If bleak economic times come to pass, I can, however, find solace in lots of contented hours, crafting clothing for me and piles of handmade gifts for friends and family.  Whatever the economic woes or shortages of goods, I will cling to my yarn hobby.  Knitters such as I are industrious people (Marie Antoinette, when in captivity, apparently asked for knitting needles and yarn, and when refused these items, took apart a tapestry to use as yarn and made her own needles to use to while away the hours.) 

If shortages or steep price increases are in my future, I see myself standing amidst a paltry and declining stash, clutching a hank in my fist and raising it to the heavens, asserting, “If I have to go hungry, I will survive.”   Gone with the wool, or not. 

Recently completed mohair lace scarf.


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