Monday, April 10, 2006

Ply me a river

The Girl from Auntie makes some excellent points in her post on the Craft Yarn Council numbers chart. (By the way, hers was one of the first quality knitting-related blogs I discovered way back when I first got an internet connection. So I still get a little frisson of excitement when I realize Jenna reads my blog. I'm such a starfucker.) In fact, Jenna's not sure we (meaning knitter-consumers) even need such a chart. As usual, insightful and intelligent analysis. And segues nicely into the yarn substitution tome I am now in the midst of writing...

In my rant on plies, I want to clarify that I am not suggesting that yarns Down Under aren't consistently labeled using the "ply" designation; merely that considering the actual number of plies a yarn has won't help you figure out its weight or category in most cases. This reminded me of an anecdote I forgot to tell you about a customer I helped about two years ago. She was carrying a tattered, photocopied (yes, I know. I couldn't tell if hers was a working copy or if she'd copied it out of a library book or a friend's leaflet or what. I was afraid if I touched it, it would disintegrate into pieces, it was this old.) pattern that she told me she had made many, many times over the years. For someone who said she'd been knitting for upwards of thirty years, she was remarkably clueless or apathetic about gauge and yarn size -- she had no idea what the gauge on the pattern was, even though she'd made it a bunch of times, and she had no idea what kind of yarn to look for, repeating the description of the yarn from the pattern "4-ply wool," like a mantra. "4-ply wool, 4-ply wool," sure that if she repeated it enough times she would find knitting enlightenment. It was an easy gauge to fit -- 4.5 or 5 sts to the inch, I forget which -- and since cost was a factor, we looked at the Encore. I explained the notion of ply to her over and over again, yet when she thought I wasn't looking, I saw her pulling apart the end of a strand from a ball, trying to count the plies. When she couldn't be certain of the exact number of plies, she decided I was a liar and said she didn't want it, as "every time I've bought yarn at this shop the sweater doesn't fit right." [Of course, her poorly-fitting sweaters have everything to do with our yarn, and nothing to do with her failure to understand gauge, right?]

I sent her to a big-box craft store, wishing I could see her (a) trying to find help that was as knowledgeable there; and (b) pulling apart a strand of Red Heart to count the plies.

Heh.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I look at yarn classifications (traditional and standard)the same way I look at getting directions from Mapquest. It's a general suggestion, it will give you the lay of the land, but you really need to try it before you decide whether the suggestion is right.

There are times when following written directions to the letter will get you to the airport's service entrance, not to the passenger unloading zone. At least you can rip a swatch that turns out badly :)

Liz K. said...

How many times have I, a mental-math challenged librarian-type, wisedh that gauge was listed by the inch! Every time I have to divide, I get the shivers! I understand that to get an accurate gauge, you need to measure over several inches, then average, blah blah blah...

And speaking of getting shivery over "stars," you should have seen me this weekend meeting the Yarn Harlot herself. A total blithering idiot...

Michelene said...

You could have suggested that if she held a lighter to the end of the skein, and lightly burned the yarn the plies would untwist, making them easy to count. I'd like to someone try that with red heart. hehehehe

Kathy Merrick said...

Extremely cogent post, lamby.
I have seen Carol interact with customers, and, believe me, it takes a true arsehole to get her riled.
One like the secret ply-counter.

JenniferKnits said...

I work at a yarn shop, and I, too, have had this experience! It seems that once people get stuck on the idea of ply (and not the Australian system which, in of itself, is consistent) its very hard to unstick them. Its interesting that the woman you were helping had a very old pattern because I've noticed that old yarn labels seem to throw around the p-word much more capriciously than current ones. Often when we get a call that starts out "Do you sell Super Brand 3-ply?" these customers are looking for a yarn that has been moldering in someone's stash for 40 years. Whats especially sad is when the people who are on the wild goose chase are looking for a 100% acrylic Red-Heart Equivalent and act as if nothing but the original will suffice!