Meditations on Novelty

Hi everyone, Katie from Saturdays here! I’ll be blogging here on knitting, sewing, and crafting in general – feel free to leave comments and to follow along. For my first post, I’ve chosen a rather controversial topic – novelty yarns! Didn’t know there was a controversy? Read on!

If you’re relatively new to knitting, you might be surprised to realize that there are Big Divisive Issues in the knitting world. Some revolve around techniques, like what hand you hold your yarn in. Some are about what kinds of needles you like to knit with. But then we get into debates about yarn itself, and it starts getting touchy, downright controversial. Talking about your stance on acrylic (or “baby melter”, as it’s not-so-affectionately called by some) around knitters is something like talking about the candidates for the upcoming presidential election. People can get really riled up about it (on both sides of the equation), and, like, politics, you learn pretty quickly that you’re best off holding your tongue until you know what the prevailing opinion of the crowd is.

And then there’s novelty yarn. A whole category of yarns that exist to be quirky or cute, to give special effect with a minimum of effort. We’ve seen sparkles, eyelash, railroad, ribbon, chenille, fun fur, and these days, ruffles.

What’s so bad about novelty yarns? They work up quick, and make a cool project. You generally don’t even need to know much more than the knit stitch to make them work for you. Sounds great, right? Well, although some people might not like the look, and others might not like the fiber content (remember that acrylic debate?), there are a lot of knitters who dislike (loathe) novelty yarns for the same reason that others love it – they’re so darn easy to use. And a lot of knitters, even if they can’t put it into words, have a problem with knitting being cheap and easy. There’s the feeling, almost never stated, that because a yarn exists that can be knit into a fluffy boa in an hour’s work, it somehow cheapens the prizewinning fair-isle sweater made by your Norwegian grandmother 50 years ago. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I also know that the feeling exists, and it’s probably shared by more knitters than you think.

I’ll admit that I’m a recovering yarn snob. When I first started getting serious about knitting in the early 2000s, I wanted only all-natural anything. It took at least a year before I bought yarn that had been dyed a color other than gray (seriously!), and once I got over that, it was only solids or semi-solids for me; multi-hued yarn was too gimmicky for my tastes, and self-striping? Hoo boy, no thanks!

Things have changed quite a lot in my knitting life. I now have an overflowing basketful of vibrant stripey sock yarn, and I even have come to terms with leaving mistakes in my work sometimes (really!). But I still have some trouble wrapping my head around novelty yarn, because it’s a one-trick pony. You buy a skein of ruffle yarn, and you get a ruffle scarf, right? Where’s the challenge? What’s a knitter to do?

Then I thought back to novelty yarns of years past…and recalled the fun fur craze that rocked yarn stores back in those early days of my knitting obsession. Ugh, I thought, fun fur. But then, a pattern came out that used fun fur in a completely quirky, tongue-in-cheek manner – Vegan Fox. Here was a pattern that took the yarn on its own terms, and also appealed to a wider range of knitters than just those looking for easy scarf projects. Heck, even today, this makes me sort of tempted to run to a big-box store and load up on fluffy stuff.

So here’s my challenge to you, yarn snobs and knitting masterminds of the world. Let’s come up with something actually novel to do with today’s novelty yarns. Let’s think of something ingenious that can capitalize on the ruffling nature of ruffle yarns, and to bring them out of the land of scarves-only.

And in the meantime, maybe I can let go a little bit and learn to love the one-project-wonder that is a ruffle-yarn boa.



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