Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Etsy Treasure Trove And Happy 200!

Today I am celebrating more than 200 visitors! What a great gift to have all of you come. Thank you so much for reading, leaving comments, and following my tangled thoughts :-)

Today I wanted to talk about Etsy. For those of you who don't know it (which might not be all that many of you), Etsy is a website with the address http://www.etsy/. At Etsy all hand made goods come together, and are sold to hand-made-goods-loving customers, which--it turns out--are many. In this downtrodden economy, Etsy did record sales this Christmas. One thing Etsy is great for, besides many other things, is buying reasonably priced, (you guessed it) handspun, yarns. Some of these yarns are quite beautiful, so today I am goinng to introduce you to a few of these people--or rather to their shops.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration and Other Animals

Well, what can I say, what I did yesterday is probably what most people did yesterday: I watched the 44th President of the United States take office. I was amazed by the masses of people gathered in front of the White House, 1-2 million they say (I was just a little jealous that I was sitting in front of a TV--four hours away). I especially loved Rev. Joseph Lowery's speech: "...when black will not be asked to give back, brown can stick around, yella will be mella, the red man can get ahead man, and white will embrace what is right..." I hope I'm quoting it right. I believe many other people were more eloquent last night than I can hope to be, but I do feel very warm and fuzzy. Which brings me back to my blog.

I finished my husband's cap!

The cap matches his scarf rather nicely, I think. :-) (I made that for Christmas.) So far the alpaca has held up well. It's not losing shape, and its not fuzzing, either--and all of Adam's curls fit into it--amazing!

But lets move on to more animals:

Camel (Camel):

Camel is very similar to alpaca, although not as soft. It is not hugely common in knitting stores. Camel is often spun in its natural color, which is rather pretty. I would use camel for most of the same things as alpaca, but since alpaca is so much softer, I prefer it. Camel is not a good beginner’s yarn.


Buffalo is not unlike camel yarn, in that it is taken off the animal in warm, fuzzy bushels. The natural color is darker, so it does not lend itself to much dyeing. I would not use it as my first yarn, because it is rather expensive compared to easier to use kinds.

the site to go for for buffalo yarn is

A nice camel yarn is:

I think that wraps up most of the natural yarns I know. Next I'll dedicate one whole day to Etsy spinners, then one more blog about synthetics, and then I'll move on to New York yarn shops!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Is it cold enough out there?

Today it was -5 degrees Farenheit here in New York. It is the kind of weather where your hands and face hurt within seconds and you cry "cold-tears". Just the right time to pull out some soft alpaca and knit a hat for my beloved husband, who has been poking me in the arm every day: "I neeeed a hat, honey!" I got this unbelievably soft Blue Sky alpaca at the Yarn Company on the Upper West Side. Two days ago, I visited with the owners of The Yarn Company, Julie and Jordana, two spunky, driven New Yorkers. They met in college, and, although they both studied something else, bought The Yarn Company together when it was up for sale in 1997, and have been partners ever since (but more on that in February). The only other thing I'll mention now is that they publish knitting books, which was very helpful, because one of their patterns is a basic, simple, beautiful winter hat! How did they know? :-)

So today's yarn is alpaca:

Alpaca is one of my favorite yarns. When it is spun pure, it is very soft but also thick. It is almost like knitting thick angora. I love alpaca for men’s sweaters and scarves. In particular it is great for large, bulky sweaters that are worn instead of jackets. The yarn is naturally beige, light brown, dark brown, gray, or black. Alpaca can be very heavy. Coats or longer pieces of clothing made out of it can sag. As with angora, alpaca can come apart when pulled too hard, so try to knit loosely and don’t put too much pressure on your yarn while you are knitting. Do not use alpaca for your first project

Baby Aplaca:

An exception to the sagging nature of alpaca is baby alpaca. Today there are a number of companies that spin really nice baby alpaca. Since it is more forgiving, you can use baby alpaca pretty early on—perhaps not on your first project, but definitely on your second.

Llama (Llama):

Llama and alpaca are nearly identical. Do not use llama for your first project.

Two great alpaca companies are:


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Yarn made out of WHAT?

What a day! Although I am going to write about my visit in detail in February, I am just too excited to wait. I visited with Andrea Waller at Seaport Yarn in the Financial District today. She was so nice and welcoming and wonderful, and she educated me on some fascinating things about yarns. I thought I had heard it all, researched it all, and knew it all, but nooooo. What a surprise.

There is yarn made out of milk?

I'm still in shock. It's not really milk, but two byproducts of milk: curds and whey. There is a company that mixes whey and curds with cotton or wool to make yarn.

(Read up on curds and whey here if you don't know what they are.) "Creamy Yarn" is made out of 80% milk and 20% cotton; "Half and Half" is 50% milk and 50% wool. I held it in my hand. Especially the Half and Half was unbelievably soft.

Andrea also had corn yarn, which was surprising but not nearly as shocking.

Corn yarn is made out of the husks of corn, which is somewhat imaginable, I think.

The company making these exotic (or should we rather say "domestic") yarns is
Check them out if you don't believe me, or check them out anyway. :-)

More on my visit in February when I will give Seaport Yarns its due space. As always, thank you so much for visiting.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Tantrums, Rabbits, and Cashmere

I took my four-year-old daughter to pick up my two-year-old son from daycare today. She threw herself on the floor because she did not get to open the door first on the way out. I finally had to pick her up and carry her out; she continued to lie on the street. My son wanted to ride her toddler bicycle "by myself, Mama." Anna was fine with that because she got to sit in Andor's stroller. So I am pushing a stroller with my right hand and trying to steer my son on a much-too-big bicycle with my left. Every time I steer him away from the street he yells "No Mama! No pull! Push in back!" How do you explain to a two-year-old that he cannot steer by himself? That we made it home was a minor miracle. When we got to our gate, an empathetic neighbor looked at me and said, "That looks hard!" It was. :-)

In the meantime I have a cold that I cannot shake. Every time I think it's gone it reappears again. I've been wanting to visit knitting shops all this week, but instead I had to stay home and rest :-(. At least I made some appointments for next week. I'll be visiting Seaport Yarns on Lower Broadway on Tuesday and The Yarn Company on the Upper West Side on Wednesday. So far I am very excited about how welcoming everyone has been. I'll be posting the results in February. For now I'm still hooked on yarns, so let's continue:

Angora (rabbit):

ruby-eyed English Angora Rabbit (can you see the ruby eyes?)

Angora is probably the softest yarn on the market. Colors can look like they mix where they touch each other because the hair is so soft. I would not recommend it for lace patterns because the yarn is so fuzzy you won’t see the holes that make up the lace, but cables can look very pretty, though. Angora often pills a lot, and the yarn can break when it is pulled too hard. The individual hairs that make the yarn are not very long and sometimes untwist. It is best used when knitted with loose stitches; however, the knitting needle size should correspond to the thickness of the yarn. Don’t use this yarn for your first project. It is not as durable or as forgiving as cotton or wool when unraveled.

Chiengora (dog--from the French "chien"):

Chiengora is very unusual. It is yarn made out of dog hair. Collies, Sheepdogs, Afghans, Chow Chows, Lhasa Apsos, and Poodles are among the dog breeds used for chiengora yarn. I have not knitted with this yarn, but I assume it has the same attributes as angora. So wait and do not use this for your first project.

Cashmere (cashmere goat):

Cashmere is a very luxurious yarn--very soft, smooth, and not fuzzy like mohair or angora. Cashmere is often spun very thin, so it is perfect for mittens or socks (in combination with another very thin strand of wool to run along for support, especially in the heels). Cashmere can also be used for sweaters, linings, hats, gloves, and baby clothes—but be cautious as it does not like to be washed frequently). Cashmere is expensive and very delicate. Do not use this for your first project.

Angora can be a nightmare to knit with or a pleasure. If you don't get it from the right company, you might end up working with strands that break all the time. It's a yarn that Malabrigo does rather well. I'll research this over the next week or so and post another company if I find one. What can I say, I just love Malabrigo

If you want Chiengora from your own dog, try
I personally have never worked with Chiengora. My assumption is, that longer haired dogs like Collies make very good chiengora, which would have the same attributes as angora, but be less distructible because the hair is longer and can hold together better.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Vandalism and Mohair

Is it just my perception, or are boys more prone to vandalism than girls? My (two-year-old) son draws on walls with crayons; flushes things down the toilet; throws forks (he no longer gets metal utensils), food, and other things; bites and pulls hair (his sister only pulled hair). And why does he run after his sister with a giant straw screaming "Poooooke!" ? My sister's sons have scratched strangers' cars with rocks and cut pack-and-plays open with scissors (not sure where they found the scissors).

Needless to say, I hide my knitting in a box with a lock and key. Wouldn't want that to get flushed down the toilet! :-)

So here we go:

Mohair (Angora Goat):

Mohair is very durable, but it can be a little scratchy on the skin. This yarn has a wiry quality, and the long fibers make it look fuzzy. It is incredibly light and slightly transparent when knitted; this effect can be enhanced by knitting with larger needles. Unlike angora (rabbit), mohair looks great when knitted with larger needles. The hairs are very long and the yarn is very durable. Mohair is great for throws and blankets because it is so snuggly warm and because blankets don’t lie directly on the skin. Mohair is really hard to unravel (it sticks together), so don’t use it as your very first yarn. If it is pulled too often, the fibers start to fall out and the yarn loses some of its lusciousness.

Kid Mohair (Baby Angora Goat):

This yarn has the same qualities as mohair, but it feels much softer. It is more expensive but has a very long running length (the length of the thread in a ball of yarn), so you might need to buy fewer balls for a sweater than with other yarn, especially if you knit with larger needles. Kid mohair is great for baby blankets, sweaters, and scarves. It can be used to line hats (very warm ones) or sweaters. I would not recommend it for socks because it doesn’t breathe well in enclosed spaces—shoes or boots, that is. But as outerwear it breathes well, and is great for fall or spring months. Kid mohair, like mohair, is really hard to unravel (it sticks together), so don’t use it as your very first yarn.

I usually only use Kid Mohair, because I find regular Mohair a little too scratchy. My favorite company for Kid Mohair is:

This is one of their pictures.
Isn't it beautiful?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Back to School--Wool

Tomorrow, my kids are going back to school (and daycare). I thought having them home for two weeks would feel really looong, but it went by so quickly. No more staying up late and sleeping in in the mornings. 7 a.m., ouch! Who invented that? Why can't we all start our days at 9? It's almost 10 p.m. now, so if I want to get any sleep tonight, I better get going...

Wool (Sheep):

(I got this gorgeous image from Utah State University's website, I hope they don't mind :-) )

I love wool. It's almost worth writing a whole book about it. There are so many companies out there spinning and dying beautiful merino and regular lambs wool--a few are truly exceptional. But more of that later... First, let's talk about the basics: lists way over 100 breeds on the website. Not all of them are bred for wool. I won't go into detail about each breed, but simply say that there is wool, and there is merino...

Wool is incredibly durable. It is warm and can be spun in varying thicknesses. Machine spun, it is usually totally smooth. When handspun, its thickness can vary throughout the same ball of yarn, giving it a very attractive, uneven look. Natural wool appears in black, brown, and beige. The beige wool is highly absorbent and ideal for dyeing. Wool is sold in many colors, sometimes within the same ball of yarn. It can be smooth or scratchy, and may contain traces of hay. Sometimes wool is spun with little knobs to give it a three-dimensional, knobby feel.

Of all the yarns, wool is probably the most versatile. Thin wool (like lace) knitted with thicker needles can be used for summer throws, skirts, dresses, tank tops, and shirts. Thicker wool knitted more densely can make great sweaters and ponchos for spring or fall. Very thick wool works well for winter socks, hats, mittens, heavy sweaters, and coats. Wool is used so often that some people refer to all yarns as “wool.” When knitting with a different, less durable yarn, a very thin strand of wool can be pulled along to give the other yarn more durability. Wool is a great yarn for beginning knitters.

Merino Wool (Merino Sheep):

Spanish Merino is the most luxurious kind of Merino wool. The Spanish were so protective of it at one time, that only the Soverign of Spain himself was permitted to send sheep out of the country. Merino wool is known to be much softer than regular wool. Other than that there is no difference. Merino wool is a great yarn for beginning knitters. It is as durable as regular wool, but softer.

My favorite companies are Merino yarn companies. I will only name a few here, although the list could be substantially longer:


and Morehouse Farms, are probably my three favorite yarn companies at the moment. Check out all their sites. It's worth it.

Friday, January 2, 2009

More AboutYarn...

Hello again!

Today I spent supervising two four-year-olds (my daughter and her friend) and one two-year old (my son) for four hours. Its so cold outside that we can't leave the house. This time of year always makes me think that we are insane to live in New York with kids. They simply don't get to go outside for four months of the year. When they come home from "school" it's already dark out. This is why Santa Claus brought us a trampoline this year (a small round one), so everyone in our household can burn some much needed energy (and steam) and we don't *&@#$ each other...

But back to yarns :-).

Linen (flax plant):

Linen is a yarn harvested from flax fibers. It is highly absorbent and a good conductor of heat. Linen is a perfect yarn for summer months. It is durable, easy to knit, and breathes well. However, it is not the softest yarn on the body. Therefore, cotton is more popular and more widely available. I usually prefer cotton myself.

There is also Hemp, which I have seen once as a yarn, it's made out of cannabis (yummy :-), just kidding--I am a responsible parent! ;-) ).

They make so many things out of Hemp now: paper, biodegradable plastic, food, and cosmetics (according to Wikipedia). In China it is even mixed into cement... As a yarn I thought it was rather scratchy, so I haven't used it. Things might have changed by now, though, so if you find it, feel free to give it a try.


is relatively new to the market. If you manage to get a really good quality, it can feel and knit kind of like silk, except it is much much cheaper. Bamboo also has the benefit of being a fully renewable resource. It is the environmentally safest thing out there. If you can buy bamboo anything for your household (chairs, placemats, furniture... I highly recommend it).

Silk (caterpillars, mulberry silkworm):

It looks gross, I know...

Silk is a very interesting fabric. It is retrieved from the cocoons of the mulberry silkworm, so unlike all the other animal-harvested yarns, it is not harvested from hair or fur but is actually produced by the insect. It is literally a year-round yarn: it breathes in the summer and insulates in the winter. One problem with silk is that it is entirely un-elastic; it has the tendency to stay in whatever shape it was stretched to. Elbows and knees can be a problem as the yarn just keeps getting stretched and does not return to its original shape. Washing it is a problem, too, because wet silk responds to a mere touch but does not retract when it dries. You might knit a short and wide sweater, but find that it is long and narrow after you wash it in the sink. I always dry clean silk for that reason. It is a wonderful yarn that is very shiny and very smooth on the skin. It looks great in lace patterns and maintains its shape better when used in that way. Another trick to keep silk in shape is to knit along a very thin strand of wool or cotton in the same color (like sock yarn) to strengthen the silk. Silk is great for short summer dresses and tank tops, but it is also great for winter mittens, undershirts, and scarves. It is not cheap, however, so even undershirts should serve some kind of decorative purpose (perhaps peak out from underneath something else). Silk is extremely durable. It can hurt your fingers if you knit too tightly because it is so strong. It is nearly impossible to rip, and it is definitely a good beginner’s yarn (although it is not cheap).

A really nice yarn company for silk is Schulana. It's a Swiss company, but I bought their yarn in a yarnshop in New York. I got a wonderful natural cotton/silk blend (tey also make really nice cotton). There website is: Obviously, for most people the German will be hard to read. In the US, the company is distributed by, the same people who make those incredibly fast round knitting needles...

For Bamboo, try Sarah's Yarns

Thanks for visiting!



Thursday, January 1, 2009

All About Yarn

Rita of Downtown Yarns

I had such a great time today. I went downtown (Manhattan) to a small neighborhood yarn shop called Downtown Yarns. I hung out with Rita, the owner, for one hour and "asked a hole in her stomach" (that's a German saying...). She was very patient with me. I told her that I am about to start writing a blog about knitting stores in New York. I am going to review the stores in detail, with information about the owners and their staff. Rita was most obliging and, it turns out, she is an identical twin, like me :-). I wrote a lot of stuff down and took a bunch of pictures. Then I went home to take care of my kids (Andor, 2 and Anna, 4). When I looked over my notes in the evening, it occurred to me that I should probably write a little bit about the products the stores carry before I review the stores. That's why I will begin this blog with descriptions of different types of yarn, of spinning, and of different yarn companies that I love. Before you start hitting the road for yarns, it's really good to know what to look for. I will explain what it is like to knit with each yarn, and how best to take care of it. This month I will also interview Meera Kothari, an avid knitter and spinner, who is the owner of the shop Knit Knack in Maplewood, NJ. We will talk about yarn, spinning, and her favorite yarn companies...

So here goes:

There are lots of different natural yarns. They come from all kinds of places. Some are made from plants, some out of protein, and some from animals. The most widely known plant yarn is:


Cotton is a purely plant-based yarn (some cotton yarns have soybean protein fiber or ramie added). It is a very smooth yarn, ideal for baby and children’s clothing because of its durability. Cotton comes in a number of varieties. The cheapest cotton is “potholder yarn,” a smooth, evenly-twisted cotton that is great for—you guessed it—potholders, but can be used for sweaters and shirts as well. More elaborate kinds of cotton are BouclĂ©, CablĂ©, unevenly spun cotton, and mercerized cotton. Cotton can be used for any kind of sweater, for hats, for scarves, and for mittens. It can be washed often and generally retains its shape when treated right. Cotton feels good on the body. It breathes well and comes in various levels of thickness, although perhaps not as many as wool. Cotton is great for socks, although it might not keep your feet as warm as wool in the cold winter months. Since cotton is a plant-based yarn, there is a difference between organic and non-organic cotton. Organic cotton is raised with an awareness of the impact heavy pesticides and fertilizers have on the environment. Most often organic cotton is also “fair trade,” which means they pay the cotton workers decent wages. Of course, with all yarns there are chemical dyeing and plant-based dyeing processes. “Organic cotton” does not mean that the yarn is pure and free of chemicals; chemicals might have been added during the dyeing process. Cotton is a great yarn for beginning knitters.

For some really beautiful cotton yarn, check out
Araucania Yarns.

They have a nice blend of colors and produce very good quality yarns. You can contact them to find out where and how they sell. Or just visit your local yarn shop and ask to see some natural cotton. :-)

That's enough for one day, more tomorrow... Thanks for stopping by!