I was knitting with some friends the other night and the subject of acrylic was, literally, raised. One friend had received a “gift” of fuzzy, sticky, baby pastel acrylic yarn from her sister. As she received this, the giver said “here, this is for you. I found it on sale. Can you knit me a shrug from it?”
Did you have to re-read that? I can’t imagine what I would say if I were in my friend’s place, but she was making lemonade out of lemons, or more precisely, a shrug from acrylic baby yarn. This is an act that will surely recommend her for sainthood one day, the miracle being the ability to complete such a task. You could literally hear this particular acrylic ripping its tiny little feelers apart every time she needed to pull more yarn from the skein. The rest of us surreptitiously petted our own yarn in a reassuring sort of way, whispering to it soothingly “There there, it’s all right… we would never force you to blend with chemicals. Shhhh now.” In a sublime twist of irony, she used a wonderful cashmere/merino blend as the waste yarn for a provisional cast-on. Acrylic has its place, mind you, as in hard-wearing afghan yarns (preferably blended with copious quantities of wool), but this particular yarn was a tragedy of mass proportions.
I was reminded of my last visit to Montana, where I was preparing delicious yet simple caramelized pears, a recipe I found in an old French cookbook. You peel and quarter the pears into a baking dish, put 1/2 teaspoon of butter on each quarter, sprinkle vast quantities of sugar over them, and then put them into a 500 degree oven until the sugar begins to brown. After removing them from the oven you immediately pour in a cup of cream and mix it up with the butter/sugar liquid. It’s a divine dessert that never fails to please.
On this particular occasion I preheated the oven, but when I was ready to put the pears in, I discovered that my mother-in-law’s storage for extra pots and pans was where? That’s right– in the oven. I spied two potholders on the counter, pretty ones that had obviously been hand-crocheted. Using them, I began to pull out an iron skillet. In a 500-degree oven an iron skillet gets really, really, really hot. And those beautiful potholders? They melted. Melted! I had to drop that skillet to avoid being burned. And what was the culprit? Say it with me now: “Acrylic”. Acrylic is most often better Avoided. (I was so upset about having ruined her beautiful potholders that as soon as I got home I recreated them twice over in a good heavy cotton (though she never complained at all that they were ruined). I never crocheted so fast in my life. I mailed them off to her within a couple of days of our return.)
Anway, all this observance of and discussion about the provenance of the acrylic on the table that night led to discussions of large families and, somehow, a taxonomy arose for the categorization of the level of a sibling within a family. Obviously, my friend was the Acrylic sister in her family. The oldest in the family must be the Cashmere sister, followed by Merino, Blue-Faced Leicester, Corriedale, Romney, Lincoln, Ramie, Rayon, Acrylic, and Baby Alpaca/Silk (the baby of the family gets all the attention!). I guess that would make me a Corriedale.
Which reminds me that Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat is coming up soon! As a Corriedale, I need to learn to spin my own wool better, and so I am taking Judith MacKenzie-McCuin’s class on spinning medium breeds. I love her classes and look forward to this one with alacrity. (Alacrity is in no way related to Acrylic.) I am also looking forward to a two-day class with Jean Wong, who teaches Nihon Vogue. I once thought I would never want to be as fussy with my knitting as she requires one to be, but after a few sizing failures I realize how desperately I need her. And after seeing what her certified students, like Joni, have knit, I realize that the opportunities for improvement in my own knitting are vast. I’ve been knitting for 42 years: it’s time to learn new tricks. Hope to see you there– baaa-baaa now.