Some might call me a “Fiber Snob.”
OK, I might call me a “Fiber Snob,” but that’s only because I’m the only person I know who would call anyone that… And, to an extent, I am. I always check the fiber content on a garment I’m buying, and no matter how cute, I will likely put it down if it’s 100% acrylic. But that isn’t because I hate acrylic or synthetic fibers (I actually love synthetic fibers. I’m a science and social history geek, and in those worlds, artificial and synthetic fibers play a huge and fascinating role, but I’ll save that for another day…), or that I feel my delicate skin deserves only to be touched by fine silk or fluffy cashmere. I’m just the kind of person who likes to buy a garment that will last more than a few washings. If you have a sweater with any amount of acrylic in it, you know what I’m talking about… even if you’ve never looked at the tag, you know it because after a few trips through the washer and dryer, it looks like it’s actually taken a trip to Mad Max’s Thunderdome.
But, we’re not talking about clothes shopping, or Tina Turner. Today, we’re talking about yarn and knitting / crocheting. Specifically, Lion Brand yarn. One of the first yarns I encountered when I started knitting (as many do) was Lion Brand HomeSpun. I didn’t know then what I know about fiber-content now, so when I saw “100% acrylic” on the label, I didn’t much care. Heck, I probably didn’t even notice… Lion Brand yarns are widely available (JoAnn’s, Micheal’s, and I think even WalMart carry their lines), they’re inexpensive (who wants to invest a ton when you don’t know if you’ll even like knitting?), and they come in attractive enough colors (they’re good at keeping up with color trends), so they’re a great choice for the beginning knitter.
I think I was about six inches into my garter-stitch scarf, though, before the burgeoning Fiber Snob emerged and whispered in my ear “Do you really want to put this around your neck? It feels like soap…” And so I put it down, never to be finished. I had knit enough to know that I would continue knitting, and that knitting takes a LOT of time. If I just wanted a cheap scarf for this winter, I could go to Marshall’s. But, if I was going to put all this time into a scarf, I wanted something beautiful that I would love wearing that made me think of warm, soft, fluffy sheep, not a heart-shaped bar of soap in my Grandmother’s bathroom. If that meant spending more on the yarn, I was ok with that. If I was investing the time, I should also invest the money. And once I felt the difference (not just the finished product, but knitting with yarn that has a beautiful hand makes the knitting experience ever so much more enjoyable), I resolved never to knit with an “inferior product” like Lion Brand again. Years later, working in a high-end Manhattan yarn shop that had the most exquisite selection of cashmeres and other luxury yarns only fed the Fiber Snob within, and helped cement that resolution.
That was a few years ago, and since then, I haven’t knit much at all. I don’t know if I OD’d on yarn, or if the onset of arthritis just took away some of the joy, but at some point while setting up my craft room and seeing all my unused yarn (work at a yarn store, and try not to constantly be buying yarn… I dare you…), I started to wonder if I would ever use it, or if I should just pitch it. Then Mom started making those little Tawashi things and showed me the latest Lion Brand Catalogue…
I have to say – I was surprised. The catalogue impressed me. Not only were there a bunch of patterns that really caught my eye, there were a bunch of FREE patterns that caught my eye. Free patterns are not easy to come by, and when you do, they are usually not so great (you get what you pay for…). And in the catalogue, they advertise the Lion Brand Studio:
This is Lion Brand? Look at this place – and check out the website – this certainly doesn’t remind me of Grandma’s bathroom… I decided I had to see this place for myself. So I grabbed my friend Miriam who is an exceptional knitter, and we met for some coffee and a visit.
We were both impressed, and spent about an hour there. They were smart to call this a Studio and not a store – it’s much more geared toward supporting you as you work with yarn (be it knitting, crochet, or even weaving), and not selling you yarn. Here in NYC, space is at a premium, and yarn shops don’t ever have a lot of it. You go in, you get your yarn, you get some help picking out the right yarn or picking a pattern, but lingering (though they all say it is) is not encouraged. This place is big (for NYC standards) and the space is focussed on work / play space – not inventory space. Projects from the catalogue are all around, providing inspiration, and most of the patterns are available by simply asking an associate to print it for you (for free!). Miriam and I both had to have the Sardines Cat Toy pattern… And upon reading it, both really considered just picking up the yarn there to do it (before we remembered that we each have more than enough at home…)
And the yarn selection does not disappoint. They have all the classic Lion Brand yarns in all the right colors, which, with no JoAnn’s, Michael’s, or WalMart around, makes it the only place to get so much yarn so inexpensively. And while most are still 100% acrylic, at the studio and online only, Lion Brand sells a higher end line called LB Collection, comprised of a beautiful baby alpaca, a lacy silk mohair, organic wool, and even bamboo and CASHMERE! And the best part: the price. An equivalent amount of cashmere from any other manufacturer would cost you about $40 – 50. LB Collection Cashmere: $15! I was amazed and intrigued. I have to try it. My guess is it’s similar to the difference between a cashmere sweater at Sears and a cashmere sweater from J Crew, which because of the price difference makes you think there’s a big difference in quality, but if you’ve seen what happens after a while to cashmere sweaters from J Crew, you know that most of that price difference is for the label… I’ll give it a try and post a review, but honestly, it will probably be next winter…
So, I was impressed enough to retract my resolution. Not because the Fiber Snob inside has subsided (though it has a bit…), and not because Lion Brand has upped their game — because now I understand Lion Brand and their mission, and I have a newfound respect. It’s not about knitting heirlooms, or knitting something better than you could buy – Lion Brand’s message is simply “KNIT!” (or crochet or weave…). I took a free pattern for a very cute knit owl, and made it for a little friend of mine, and I remembered why I liked knitting and giving hand-made knit gifts. The benefits to body and soul reach far beyond what the end product is, both for the knitter, and for the recipient. Of course, a company in business as long as Lion Brand has been in business knows this, and I’m happy to see them committed to providing low-cost options so more people can reep the benefits of working with yarn.
Knitting toys is fun – there’s a lot of shaping and use of different stitches and techniques that add to your knitting skill-set without using a ton of time (like knitting an intricate sweater), and the end products can be really cute! A while ago, I’d stumbled on to some cute toy patterns, including this little robot. I made this for another little friend of mine, and both little dollies seem to love their new friends.
I’m glad to have knitting back in my life. If you don’t knit, I suggest giving it a try. And if you live in NYC, consider heading over to the Lion Brand Studio to get yourself started.