Everybody seems to be trying to figure out stuff, whether it’s knitting, life, or the intersection of knitting and life. In an effort to solve the world’s problems, we have engaged the services of Clara Parkes, the noted knitter/piemaker/yarn brainiac/NYT bestselling author, who will appear regularly to address your burning questions.
—Kay and Ann
The Thing about the Sheep
Sheep sheep sheep. We keep hearing about sheep. What is the big deal about sheep? Does it really matter what kind of sheep the yarn comes from? How is a knitter, who just wants to knit a nice sweater, or blanket, or snood, supposed to figure this out? HELP US DEAR CLARA.
Who Just Want To Knit
in Nashville And New York
Please Do Not Disclose Our Identities
Dear Completely Anonymous Strangers Whose Identity Is A Mystery To Me,
What a fine question you ask.
First things first: You can have a perfectly fulfilling knitting life using whatever yarn is available and affordable to you. Period.
Whether that’s a $3.99 skein of Brand X Acrylic or a $399 skein of Qlumbatiüt from the mythical Tikikeet valley of the Himalayas, if you’re pulling loops through loops on a needle and creating fabric and feeling good about it, that’s the most important thing. You’re knitting. You are a knitter. And you are a completely valid and beautiful and creative human being exactly as you are.
That said, I do maintain that your experience of knitting can be profoundly deepened when you pay closer attention to the materials you’re using—just like your experience of, say, cheese can be profoundly deepened when you start to pay attention to the actual kind of cheese you may be eating. And no fiber on earth offers as much nuance and variety for “taste-testing” as wool.
But how do you start?
Simple: Get your hands on as many different kinds of wool as you possibly can. Forward-thinking yarn shops and fiber festivals are perfect for this. With hundreds of distinct breeds around the world, each growing slightly differently depending on specific genes, climate, altitude, diet, cycle of the moon, and what piece of music is on the radio when they’re born . . . with all those factors at play, not to mention the countless small-farm Frankensheep crossbreeds that enhance the mix even more, you have the potential for a lifetime of experimentation and learning.
You’ll start noticing things. Like, how different breeds have slightly different fibers. Perhaps longer, crisper, more curly or crimpy, thicker or finer, brassy or matte. You’ll notice that one kind of wool is like a velvet sponge, another is crisp and airy, and yet another has the fluidity and slink of a cat. And more important, you’ll start to refine your instinct for what each wool’s ideal project may be.
The other reason why sheep are such useful creatures?
They help us maintain open space that could otherwise be carved up. They provide nourishing milk and meat, they provide the skin for your UGG boots, they provide invaluable manure for your garden, and last but not least, they offer friendly companionship. Get your yarn from a spigot, and all of that is erased.
I do understand that budget can constrain yarn choices. But if you have any ability to experience even a nibble of different breeds, I promise you, the tectonic plates in your yarn world will shift.
And that, my dear friends, is why sheep.
Send your questions about knitting, life, and everything else to Dear Clara at [email protected] She will answer as many as she can.