Sunday, January 20, 2008

Big Yarn

Builds Strong Bodies

I've been knitting with big yarn this weekend. After the last few projects with tiny little yarns, precise and delicate, this comes as something of a shock to the system. No neurosurgery here with sensitive little instruments, no fine motor skills, no grasping things gently. No, this is all muscles and sinews, pulling and levering sturdy yarn with big, thick needles.

I'm knitting hats with Lion Brand's Wool-Ease Thick & Quick, a super-bulky-weight yarn. This is no gently bred raised-with-a-silver-spoon yarn, it's a hearty, hard-working, level-headed, wheaties-for-breakfast-and- a-cup-of-strong-black-coffee yarn. You don't knit it with skinny little needles, either. The label calls for massive US size 13s. I'm using US size 11s for a warm, dense fabric. I suppose using smaller needles than recommended is adding to the physicality of the whole experience. But even at that, these are big needles. After weeks of knitting socks with US size 2s, they feel like cudgels. And if it came to that, in hand-to-hand combat between this yarn and me, I think I would win, but it would give me a good run for my money.

With each stitch, the yarn courses through my fingers in great inch-long bounds. My fingers and thumbs work hard, pushing and pulling. And, since I'm knitting in the round on double-points, the yarn constantly threatens to come off the ends of the needles. Although it's just a few stitches on each 7-inch needle, they sprawl and push their way to the ends of the needles through sheer bulk.

But when I get to the end of each row, I really feel I've done something. With big yarn, you don't knit row after row wondering if you'll ever get anywhere. Each row is a sizable chunk of visible progress. Inches of thick fabric practically leap from the needles. When I say I'm making hats, I mean I'm on the third hat in two days. It's not that I'm any champion knitter; it's just that it goes so fast with the super-bulky yarn. And not only do I see quick progress, but I feel it, too. I can feel the workout I'm getting in my biceps and in the meaty parts of my forearms.

I'd better get in shape, too, because I've got a whole sweater's worth of another super-bulky yarn waiting for me in the stockpile. Truthfully, though, it will probably be easier, because I most likely won't be knitting it at a dense gauge with smaller-than- recommended needles.

The yarns I'd been using lately are finely spun, made of precious fibers, individually hand-dyed, bearing the hand of the artisan. This acrylic-blend yarn is more redolent of large-scale production. And yet, part of it is lambswool. 20% of this mass-market juggernaut grew on a little baby lamb gamboling on a hillside somewhere. This whole business continues to amaze me.

Now, please excuse me while I go look for a hot compress and some Ben-Gay ointment.

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