Wednesday, September 29, 2010

For the Love of Violet

If the (invented, admittedly, by me) word lanaphilia means "the love of wool", then I need to invent a new word. Synthetophobia  is the abhorrence of acrylic, and all yarns not derived from animal or plant fibre. I HATE acrylic. I know, it's a strong word, and I do not use it carelessly here. Sure, acrylic is cheap. It washes and dries without care, lasts for a million years without wearing, feels really soft, and is unappealing to moths.

These acrylo-virtues do not override several facts: the colours suck. It pills when you wash it. It makes you sweat, without really keeping you warm (unlike wool, that wonder fibre, which keeps you warm even when wet). And perhaps worst of all: it SQUEAKS when you knit with it. I LOATHE the squeak of acrylic as it grunts gracelessly across my needles.

I learned to knit with acrylic, way back in its glory days: the mid-eighties. Back in those days, before the internet, before fancy local yarn stores, before Knit Picks, Wool Time, Yarn Forward, before even Walmart*, my mom would take me "downtown" (which is being generous: my hometown has a population of 1100), to "Daphne's"...our version of a local yarn/fabric/general craft supply store. I remember going there with my mom before I even started school. They'd sit me up in this half-tube that ran along the side of the cutting table; this was a place to lay the bolt of cloth. I marvelled to see it again when I was an adult; that my ass could fit in that little space is a wonder to me now. But I digress.

Daphne sold acrylic yarn. All of my first projects were made with some version of Patons yarn. I still have the first fair isle sweater I knit (when I was 12!); the yoke pattern was of little boys and girls (resembling paper dolls) holding hands, with green fir trees for colour. It's a nice gender-neutral grey. My kids could wear it! I'm still proud of the accomplishment, proud of the determined little girl I was, learning to knit and purl, increase and decrease, do ribbing and even real raglan sleeves. But it's acrylic.

 When I was introduced to wool, my world changed. You could say I am a yarn snob, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. The way I see it, if it's worth making, it's worth the best wool you can afford.

Enter Violet. The child who thinks a bug is biting her every time she feels an itch. If I put a pea under her mattress (or 20 mattresses), she'd feel it. You know the kind...sock seams, shirt tags, and bunchy elastic waists drive her crazy. After several flat refusals to where anything woolish, I made her a sweet cardigan out of Cotton Fleece, a lovely, very soft cotton-merino blend. Here she is, modelling the cardigan, after I'd wrestled her into it:
She loves it! You just can't tell because she's screaming so loudly.

This is the last time she wore it. Next I tried to knit her a vest, the Cobblestone-Inspired "Pebble". I casually suggested she tried it on (lest I scare her off with my intense desire for her to wear SOMETHING knitted); nope, no can do, mommy.

Everytime she sees me knitting, she asks what I'm making. She always follows my reply with "For meeeee?" So I've finally surrendered to what this girl needs.

She needs a mama-made sweater. In acrylic. I'm 4 inches into the back (colours chosen by her), and hating every minute of it. I hate the colour. I hate the yarn (which, incidentally, cost me $9...for the whole sweater). The pattern is cute. And I hope she'll love it so much that I'll have to peel it off her at night, coax her to pass it on to Margot when she outgrows it, and promise to save it for her babies. Even if it isn't wool. And even if my descendents think I was just some tacky acrylic-knitting granny, with no sense of the value of natural materials.

Because if she doesn't, she's not getting another damned knitted thing from me, ever.


  1. That picture of Violet crying is so cute, although I'm sure you weren't thinking that at the time. :)

    I understand how she feels. I am the same way. I'm sorry to say that I have not yet owned a wool sweater that I could actually wear without going crazy. I shudder when I read about the old days when people used to actually wear woolen underclothes...yeesh! My mom is actually allergic to wool though, so I guess it runs in the family!

    I will say though that knitting with wool is way better and easier than anything else. And you're right, the colours are so much prettier. I'm sure with all the fancy yarns out there today, there must be something soft enough for me to wear...if of course I was skilled enough to knit a sweater, which I am not.

    Laura @

  2. Yay, it let me post...the last couple of times I tried to comment on your posts, it wouldn't let me at all, nothing happened when I clicked...weird.

  3. I've only recently learned that acrylic is truly yucky stuff. I hope Violet likes her sweater. Bravo for putting aside your fiber prejudices for the sake of a Mama-knit sweater!

    Stephanie :)

  4. Aaaaaahcrylics ;)
    Luckily, even the world of acrylics is changing, but I also still prefer the 'real' stuff....

  5. Oh goodness I loved this post! The squeak is the WORST isn't it?? My own boy is just now occasionally putting on his sweater... the first sweater I ever knit and telling me he loves it..... and then ripping it back off again just as quick...... *sigh* The things we do to place a handknit on those kids! I'll have to get back to you on this, but my most favoritest yarn shop just started carrying an acrylic yarn that is supposed to be very nice... I'll have to let you know what it is for the next thing you knit up for Violet ;)

  6. Until recently I would have agreed with Violet! Back in 'the day' (ie early 80's) wool sweaters meant itchy and that's what I thought (since I have sensitive skin). Then I found THEM - merino and alpaca!!! These are the most beautiful wools in the world and I use them whenever I can. Most of Ella's sweaters are grandma-made (ie acrylic) but at least she wears them.

  7. Aww. poor little Miss! Her two cousins won't wear wool either- too SCRATCHY- so I don't even bother.
    You are a good, good Mommy to realize that it's not always about what you want. She will love this sweater (I hope) and you can tell her the story someday and all that will matter is the LOVE you stitched into it.

  8. Growing up, my mother knit all types of things for me.....all in acrylic, all from Daphne's. Because every attempt to learn knitting meant a scarf (BORING!), I never got around to knitting until I left home. Fast forward and I still have (and wear) the sweaters she knit me way back when, just because acrylic is so damn tough. However, I finally submitted to the urge to knit and started with socks (a Mom regular), again in acrylic becuase it is cheap and readily available. However, I fell in love with the wonderful yarn shops in my city and made the switch to wool; love the feel of the wool, the movement on the needles. Imagine my dismay when I found I had broken out in hives after the first day of proudly wearing my tres chic handknit self-striping German wool socks!!!! Sometimes, you just have to admit defeat and then cast on!

  9. If this doesn't work, might I suggest switching colours to neon pink acrylic?

    xo maureen


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