Thursday, April 20, 2006

Furby Syndrome

Today I got an e-mail from a used bookstore that has a great feature for finding a rare or out-of-print book. You give them your e-mail address and the name of the book, and they e-mail you when they find a copy of it. The notification I got was for a copy of Andean Folk Knitting, by Cynthia Gravelle LaCount. This is a cool book on, well, yeah, folk knitting in the Andes, and it's been out-of-print for a while. The price for the book? An astonishing $785.03. (I'd like to know exactly how that number was calculated, particularly the last three cents.)

Andean Folk Knitting is a fine book, and I happen to have stumbled over a copy for a very reasonable price in my travels since I first submitted that search request (which, p.s. was several years ago; apparently, this on-line bookseller has an excellent memory). I am very interested in ethnic and folk knitting, and there aren't tons of books out on this subject, although more have been forthcoming in recent years. But I couldn't help but wonder, after reading that email: is Andean Folk Knitting worth nearly eight hundred dollars to own?

I can't answer this question. I suppose it depends on a lot of things, beginning with your income and knitting budget. $800 is a hell of a lot of yarn and other supplies, and I certainly couldn't dream -- wouldn't dream -- of spending that much money on a single book. Even a very interesting and rare one. (It is at this point that I think of my mom, who always puts away for best her nicest Christmas presents. "Oh, it's too fancy for me to use every day," she says, tucking away the leather purse or pair of earrings. I can't help but think that even if I did have $800 to spend on a book, I'd feel the same way about it.)

Consider the apocryphal Principles of Knitting, by June Hiatt. This tome -- for it is one big-ass book -- has achieved a sort of mystique among certain knitters as The Knitting Reference Book To End All Reference Books. I do not own a copy (before publishing this blog entry, I checked prices and the cheapest copy I saw was over two hundred dollars. No Andean Folk Knitting, but still...) although I have examined copies owned by friends. It does indeed look like an exhaustive knitting reference book, but I simply didn't get it. I could not perceive exactly what it was about the book, other than perhaps its size, that I didn't already have, in one form or another, in my own knitting library. (Which, admittedly, is rather extensive, but you know what I mean.) Again, there was no way I could justify spending several hundred dollars for it, even if I had it lying around, which I don't. Nor did I have any real desire to acquire it, just for the sake of having it.

And then I got to thinking about Alice Starmore pattern books. A quick Ebay search of completed items (which reflects items actually sold, since so many Ebayers now snipe) revealed Pacific Coast Highway, sold for $241.58; In the Hebrides, sold for $246.95; and Aran Knitting, with an unmet reserve of $230. Certainly, pattern books with such exquisite stranded knitting designs are rare, and it's highly unfortunate that they've gone out of print (I know what you're thinking and please don't go there.) and Ms. Starmore's design and color talent are beyond peradventure (as judges like to say), but again, several hundred dollars for a book seems rather high.

Then I remembered the crazy run on certain colorways of Opal sock yarn, Opal Tiger and Opal Bumblebee come to mind, when a (what was then) $14 ball of sock yarn was selling for $100 just because it made a little pattern like tiger or bumblebee stripes. And a more recent fad involving pink Chibi cases, or maybe it was green Chibi cases? and how somehow one color on the case of your darning needles was "more desirable" or prestigious than others. And I wanted to hurl.

Yes, knitting is a passion, and yes, for some, it's a business, and yes, there are knitters (like any other group of people) with too much time and too much disposable income on their hands, but isn't this getting a bit silly? Have we lost all perspective when someone is willing to pay for the color of a plastic needle case? Has name-brand-ism and perceived prestige and keeping up with the (knitting) Joneses so infiltrated even a seemingly wholesome hobby like knitting?

I realize the irony of wondering aloud about this, given the extraordinary amount of yarn that is tucked away, stacked in some cases, in my own home. I have more yarn than I can knit in a lifetime. I give yarn away. I now make yarn and sell it, increasing exponentially the amount of wool that passes through my split-level slice of heaven. But I bought each and every skein of that yarn because I thought, even if it was just for a deluded moment, that I would use it someday. That I would make something with it, enjoy it, create with it. Some of it is "fancy" or "luxury" yarn, like Koigu, and some of it is down-to-earth yarn, like Paton's Wool, and some of it is from little producers and farmers and dyers that I may never encounter again, but every yard of it is something that I plan or planned to use, a garment that I optimistically thought I might someday make.

My friend Lisa thinks that consumerism and acquisitiveness lie behind a lot of people's attitude toward yarn and their stashes. That's a post for another day, I think, although I've touched on some of these issues. But when I see a particular kind of sock yarn that becomes "must-have," when I hear about items selling for absurd prices on Ebay, when I get an e-mail telling me a knitting book is selling for $800 if I step right up and click in the right place, well, I have to confess to wanting to shout out loud "LET'S STOP THE MADNESS!!"

33 comments:

Jocelyn said...

Funny thing about your mention about Principles of Knitting. DH worked at publisher Simon & Schuster in the late 80s, so books were easy to come by. I got a copy for my super-knitter aunt (who clearly didn't need it) and one for my mom. None for me (who could definitely use it). I heard that it was a hot commodity, and I mentioned the $200+ price tag to my mom. She was aghast that she had such a prized possession. Kind of like the knitting version of Antiques Roadshow

M-H said...

I've got those Starmore books on my shelf and some others as well - I like to kid that they are my superannuation fund! I've had them for years and I use them both for their patterns and for their inspirational qualities. I think that the lemming qualities of a lot of knitters on the internet is beyond belief and the Chibbi (Chhibi? whatever) cases thing is an expression of that. Like you, I have a stash that means something to me, that I use and that I enjoy planning around. It's not about acquisition for its own sake, or because it's trendy ot cool. I make and own and use things I enjoy.

Sara W. said...

Wow, how refreshing. The whole reason I got into knitting was to make my own clothes and accessories, as a means of self-expression, because I don't follow the brand-name worshipping herd and hate almost everything in stores. I was kind of disheartened to discover that there is this huge sub-culture among knitters of not only yarn-snobbery (which I can understand, to a degree), but needle-snobbery, knitting accessory-snobbery... Since knitters are a bunch of creative people, it's weird to see so many people put brand-name blinders on and try to out-snot everyone, like the mean girls in the cafeteria in high school. Who gives a rat's ass how much something cost or what brand name it is if it comes out exactly the way you want it?

This doesn't mean I'm not setting aside some money for the marketplace at the Seattle Knitting Expo next weekend, mind you... But whatever I buy will be bought, like your stash, for a purpose.

Marilyn said...

Like Jocelyn's DH, I worked for a craft publishing company in the late '80s and got my POK for free. No way is it worth the kind of money being asked. I rarely look at it but I'm with M-H--I think of it as an investment item as long as the maroons keep paying big bucks on eBay for it.

I'm missing In the Hebrides but otherwise have all the AS books.

I always find this kind of thing with knitters sad and amusing at the same time, paying ridiculous amounts of money for books that are at best worth a few minutes browse. I always used to joke that if you put "Knitting" on a bag of shit, some idiot would buy it.

Guess I'm right.

Mindy said...

Wow- I have about $750 in AS sitting on my shelves upstairs- got them back when they were in the $30s. I love flipping through those books- they are so pretty- but if I didn't already have them, don't think I'd be getting them now. Sounds like we all (here) feel the same about our stash- I'm very happy looking at it and dreaming of what I will do with it. As far as the Chibi cases- they can have mine if the freaking needles would just quit disappearing!

Mindy said...

$800 for a book???? I'm gonna have a hard time getting past that.

javede said...

I think I've never before written a comment on your blog,but this is just too funny. Just yesterday I was showing my mum the riddiculous prices of the starmore books and we discussed about it. I mean, over 200$ for a book??!!
I didn't even know about the craze of Opal sock yarn..., but then I always keep wandering what's so special about german sock yarn anyway that would make you pay 14$ to begin with as it only costs 6€ over here!

Joe said...

Great post. It made me think about my motives for owning yarn, books and knitting paraphernalia. I have to admint, that I think Lisa is right when it comes to my motives. Acquisitiveness is a great word to describe some of the reason I buy what I buy.

I can afford it, I like it, I buy it.

But there's more to it for me. I like have a fully stocked yarn closet (or two) that I can always go to to start a new project when inspiration calls. Knitting has become a large part of my identity and a huge stash is part of that too.

Thanks for the thoughtful commentary. BTW, I picked up my POK for $6 about a year ago in a used book store. I have never used it, but I'm still glad to own it.

Anonymous said...

$785.03 because $785.99 seemed like it was too high. LOL.

Kathy Merrick said...

Well, I could've predicted that the ubiquitous "yarn snobbery" label would rear its truly ugly head.
Me, I think there's a huge remove from wanting to knit with natrual fibers and high quality materials to the obsurdity of gargantuan asking prices (as opposed to paid prices) for books and accessories whose only virtues would seem to lie in the "I have something you can't have" category.

Carol said...

I like to think my readers agree with you, Kath. I think the label "yarn snobbery" ought to be exclusively attached to the idea of people who want to buy X brand yarn or needles or whatever because it's cool, or trendy, or because 68,743 people on the KnitList are buying it -- not because of anything they particularly like about the product itself or even because they intend to use it ever. The whole notion of knitting with the nicest stuff you can that's suitable for the project seems to me to be merely common sense along with a healthy dose of self-esteem. If my readers have any questions, they can go back to the Archives and find my Yarn Snobbery manifesto. Heh.

I'm about to list some gorgeous sock yarn in charcoal greys. Oh, it's so pretty I hate to sell it.

Deborah C. said...

$800. for a book ... it depends on the person, I guess. My dad collects antiquarian books, in a very specific category (chemistry/science before 1900). He has seen some absolutely beautiful examples that were thousands of dollars, which he loved looking at and didn't buy. I guess it's what you can afford. I also have a stash, like most - usually purchased with a specific project in mind, but not always, and sometimes the project changes. I have a lot of money in books sitting on the shelf - I have most (but not all) of the AS books; I remember looking at Pacific Coast Highway and thinking I wouldn't make anything in it, so I didn't buy it. I have POK because it went on remainder at Barnes and Noble forever ago - I think I paid $13. back then - I can't believe someone would pay over $200. when the Montse Stanley book is available!

Carol said...

Thank you, DeborahC! I love Montse Stanley and I don't hear people mention her very much. I've seen a "new" book by her on B&N's website, but I'm pretty sure she's dead so it must be a reprint or rehash. Unless she dictated it on a Ouija board.

carla rey said...

I used to work next door to a used bookstore, the kind that had little or no customer service, the guy just wanted to listen to classical music and sort and catalog his books. I stumbled across three Alice Starmore books there marked less than twenty dollars each. When I took them to the desk he glanced at the titles and said, "Knitting. Huh. Never thought I'd sell these."

Franklin said...

You struck a nerve with this one. I have a SERIOUS book habit (3,500 volumes and counting) and every once in a while have paid a hefty price for something rare and out-of-print.

But...almost $800?

The mind boggles. The most I have ever paid for a single book was $200, and that was for a very rare 1920s humor book by Emily Post, which was printed in limited numbers and has art deco illustrations by John Held.

For $800, it would have to be a first, signed, by an author who would definitely not lose value - meaning the edition itself would continue to hold a good price even if a reprint were issued.

I can totally understand Book Lust, God knows. But $800 seems just a teensy bit high.

Sherry W said...

I *do* want a black Lantern Moon sheep measuring tape. My white one is gross since kitty plays with it. Black hides the dirt so much better. I'm not going to pay more for it though.

Anonymous said...

So funny I just realized this Starmore craze a few weeks ago when someone posted FairIsle Knitting on one of my groups for $150, before screaming at her for being a thief, I checked ebay and could not believe it! I now feel like I have money in the bank with my half dozen Staremore books! Toni in New York

sara w. said...

Wow, I struck a nerve, didn't I? To clarify, what I meant by "yarn snobbery" is the designer-yarn name-dropping that some people do, not the desire to knit with quality materials that feel good.

BigAlice said...

Interesting post and comments, especially because I ran across an absolutely GORGEOUS book of Amish quilting the other day (yeah, I'm into the cotton as well as the wool) at the local independent.
It's used, it's probably OOP, and it's also $75. Oh but it's beautiful. But do I really *need* it?. What's the cutoff price that I'd justify this? I have so much stuff already, would it actually add anything to my life?

Cynthia said...

Welcome to America--we validate...

If you want to keep your stuff because you love it and use it, do. But if you are thinking investment, wake up. Sell your stuff now folks--this too shall pass.

Yarn sales have leveled off and, in certain areas, begun to fall. The end of the knitting craze will not stop most of your readers from knitting--but it will lower the value of your "investments"...

Who knows what the next fad that will command big $$s will be, but you can be sure, some celebrity will get all the credit.....

Evelyn said...

Hercules! Hercules! A new post. Thanks, Carol. To me it's beyond silly that people are willing to pay ridiculous prices for these items. I blame the herd mentality. I have many things that I like to buy (shoes, books - although Franklin is now my hero) but this is crossing the line. The older I get the less stuff I want to own. Except art - I do want to buy more original art. And shoes. Got to have me some nice kicks.

Does it amuse anyone other than me when pillars of the community talk about their stash? Stash didn't used to be yarn and fabric. Do you suppose they get that? I know which end to light, but I am a child of the late sixties/early seventies.

Sherry W said...

Evelyn:

Yes, we get it! :) It's intentional wordplay.

Zooks said...

Great topic, Carol. I blogged a little while ago about the eerie similarities of the online knitting community to the online women's fiction community I was very active in several years ago. I had foremost in my mind the silly little wars between knitting camps and the attitudes/egos of designers but now I must add your topic to the list as well: the lemming rush for the so-called popular item (though in the reading community, it was "glomming" an author's backlist). I'm relieved that I am so beyond that...I'll go my own way, thank you! :-)

Tara in Joisey said...

Ooo. Franklin, I am envious of your Emily Post book; I love John Held. Such verve in his drawings. I'm partial to many of the 20s and 30s era illustrators. I especially love the annonymous spots that were produced that Dover Publications reprints. Some of them are such little gems, I wish I knew who produced them.

I have the Montse Stanley book myself and I really like it. No way would I spend $200 for POK.

Alison said...

Seriously? Chibi cases?!

I get the book thing, more or less. Less because of personal finances, more because of kind of really wanting to be Lord Peter Wimsey in another life. Though I'm not sure he'd be buying knitting books.

But little plastic needle cases that are admirably practical but not much else??

Gail said...

I've always said (and I'm sure betters have said as well) that knitting is largely populated by women with lots of disposable income. So, prices escalate.

I actually bought POK when I was a brand new knitter at the 100 dollar price tag. I quickly realized that it wasn't all that useful, and resold it on ebay for a profit. Which I used to buy some Alice Starmore books, which are also not all that useful, but are at least pretty.

But, back when I was a brand new knitter, I managed to pick up Aran Knitting and Alice Starmore's Fair Isle Knitting for cheap, (maybe even a remainder book store - I honestly don't remember) and then forgot I had them until I joined the old KBTH. *thwacks self*

Dharma said...

$800 for that book? Really? I am trying to figure out why it's so high when other books are so affordable. It's amazing the aura some product develop regardless of their usefulness. I am still struggling to buy yarn and search the internet for free patterns. Would I love some classic books on the craft? Sure. I do love me books but jeez.

marylee said...

amen from the choir!!

Loopy said...

Dearest C,

I have this Andean book. How nice can you be to me?

Mel said...

We (by which I mean my dear partner, David) have that book. It really is a nice book, with some wonderful examples of chullos and other fiber work. It's really great for inspiration, but there's no way I would consider paying $800 for it.

Incidentally, after reading this I loooked the book up on Abebooks and they have a copy listed for $145.95, one for $175, and one for $785.09 (presumably the same one you referred to?).

Julie said...

I'm one of the lucky few who bought Principles of Knitting the first time around when it was in print, and I loveitloveitloveit, but I must agree, I sure wouldn't pay $275 for it now (which is the last price I saw for it).

Have you seen what discontinued Rowan yarns are going for??!!??

natasha said...

i make one of a kind art yarns and dye sock yarns(one of a kind) that are nowhere near the price of that stuff. it is ridiculous, particularly to buy something that a machine made for so much money. although, i guess in the end, it depends on how much money you have, more dollars than sense as my dad would say, and the people that drop cash like that so easily tend to not really understand what that money could buy in the real world. people buy purses for thousands of dollars. remember the beany baby craze? i am such a cheapster and prize the things i get for a deal far more than something i paid a lot for. i then question if it was worth that much money.

Pam said...

You can add the discontinued Brittany Birch Walnut needles to the list. I had 2 pair and the shipping and handling was more than the price of the needles when I bought them. They are lovely, but not practical to knit with since the decorative turnings take up too much of the needle length. The going price on eBay is $65. I gave a pair to a friend because I was scared to death that in a weak moment she would hit the "buy it now" button. She was thrilled and I don't miss them one bit.