Monday, June 13, 2005

The relentless march of evolution...

The now infamous $100 red hat

Well, today starts a whole new chapter in the Odd Ball existence…I’m picking up my knitting machine in about an hour’s time. Not that I’m counting the 72 minutes left until that happens..71 minutes..…

I have no idea what brand, size or description it is. All I know is that Trish called me up and said “Whoa, woman, found a knitting machine for next to nothing. You want it? Hundred bucks?”


A hundred dollars? Hell, I’ve spent that much on a hat, which even I’ll say was a whole lot of money for a hat but the point is, was and remains, I wanted the damn hat. And so I bought it. And furthermore, the hat didn’t cost a hundred bucks to start with but I took so much grief from the Odd Ball IT and Technical Support Division about the $100 hat, that I went out and promptly bought a red purse to match said hat -- now it’s a $100 hat. Watch it, honey, your pay day is just around the corner. But I digress…back to the knitting machine.

Lynn Laagland of Yarn Haven demonstrating machine knitting

The knitting machine purchase is a little ahead of schedule. I was planning on starting to look for one in September. I’d half-assed started talking to people about different kinds, what features there are, fine gauge versus heavier gauged needle beds and giving some thought as to what I want to use it for. Every time I’ve seen a machine knitting demonstration, I’ve always made a point of chatting up the operator to glean a little more information. In fact, last weekend at the Gagetown Fibre Festival I spent a good deal of time talking with Lynn Laagland of Yarn Haven about her knitting machines. Lynn is strictly a machine knitter and oh-la-la, what she can crank off that puppy. I was amazed.

I think the biggest bit is the time savings. Liz and I have kicked this around a thousand times in conversation -- labour costs kill us as commercial producers. There seems to be this Hobbesian choice between making a living and making traditional art forms. Me, I love knitting. I love everything about hand knitting. It takes me a minimum of 40 hours to knit a lace shawl. Even at minimum, unskilled labour wage rates, we’re talking a retail price on the shawl of $250 before materials. The retail cost of said shawl would be in the vicinity of $350 - $400 by the time I worked in all my material costs and selling costs such as gallery fees. Retail reality -- no one in Atlantic Canada is going to buy a $400 shawl, regardless of how pretty it is. A woman would be lucky to sell one a year and personally, I think after a while, it would just feel like rejection on a cosmic scale.

The alternative is to work for $0.50 an hour, literally. That would bring the labour costs on the shawl down to $20 -- with materials thrown in and selling costs, we’re in the vicinity of $80-100. That people will spend. I’m just not willing to go there. And I’d been a union girl/labour barking radical too long to ever go that route.

In fact, just this past weekend, la famille et moi were down in Saint Andrews, a charming little seaside tourist clip joint that I love totally. There’s not much to see or do in Saint Andrews really. The entire town is built on the premise of shopping and I personally can’t help admire the means and varied methodologies they’ve devised to separate the visitor from his cash. You can go there for an hour, determined not to buy anything, and leave town $200 poorer.

One of the places we visited was a knitwear shop where they have stacks and stacks and stacks of wonderful hand knit New Brunswick sweaters, retailing for $150 - $200. Cables, bobbles, pattern galore…these are not simple sweaters. I recognize the yarn as my old standby, Briggs and Little, so I know the material costs are running in the vicinity of $40, probably less for wholesale bulk purchase. My point is that somewhere, someone, probably some woman, is knitting for pennies on the hour.

But, let’s face it, knitting is culturally seen as ‘women’s work’ and therefore is without value to our society. I know, historically speaking, knitting, weaving and the other textile guilds were dominated by men but I’m trying to keep this discussion out of the 17th century.

Bottom line, through all the jigs and the reels, the only way out of this conundrum is to upgrade to the mechanical age. A knitting machine it is. I used one, once, in my teens when a neighbour showed me her new purchase. I was impressed at the time that I’d made a baby sweater in an afternoon.

The other thing I’m looking forward to is being able to execute what is in my head while it’s still in my head. Again, I love hand knitting but it is time consuming and frequently, I get bored senseless prior to finishing the project. See any of the previous columns on my husband’s Argyle sweater that has all of 4 inches of knitting left to do on it. I know there’s no more than about 2 hrs left on it but the thoughts of touching it again is enough to make me hurl. What's going to save me is that some day I'm really going to want my size 6 Addi Turbos back and they're currently buried in the sweater.

So with all due consideration and the malice of forethought, the Odd Ball is going to step into the machine age. It should be a trip.

Talk at you’se all laters; thanks for reading.


At 5:51 p.m., June 13, 2005, Anonymous liz said...

I love the hat and feel that it is a perfectly fine use foe the $100 dollars that was hiding in the bottom of your old purse. And we know how I feel about purses, so that one is a given. I believe Mirandafish Millenary has found another convert. I am weaving fabric for my winter hat very soon.God bless the canadian forces for sending Shona and Mike back to Gagetown. Ontario's loss is definately our gain. Watch out hubby the quantity of hats in your hous is about to grow

At 12:24 a.m., June 14, 2005, Blogger Radona said...

oooh, happy dance for you and the knitting machine! Maybe I should get mine out of the closet and try it again. I went back to needles because it feels more like knitting. have fun experimenting and using up your stash! Great way to use little pieces, make a wonderful afghan and accomplish it so fast your eyes will spin!

At 7:19 a.m., June 14, 2005, Blogger Kate, the Odd Ball Knitter said...

Sigh...update...the knitting machine didn't actually arrive. It's current momma went away for the weekend and Trish didn't get at chance to pick it up.

At 7:20 a.m., June 14, 2005, Blogger Dudleyspinner's Tie Dye Rovings said...

The Twisted Sister Sock Workbook has a description of how to knit socks on a knitting machine, you have to seam them and add the heel by hand, but what a timesaver!

At 8:20 a.m., June 14, 2005, Blogger Kate, the Odd Ball Knitter said...

Yes because one of this summer's projects has been knitting a pair of highland dance socks for my little Miss TinkerBelle, a job I have been putting off for a while. Argyle knees socks in a retarded guage. Although I think the machine I've bought is for the heavier yarns.

At 10:22 a.m., June 14, 2005, Anonymous The Hubby said...

By the way the IT support division has nothing to do with the HAT, that is a hubby issue. After spending 100 dollars on a hat and 100 dollars on a knitting machine, I am wondering if the machine does Sweaters?

At 10:24 a.m., June 14, 2005, Blogger Kate, the Odd Ball Knitter said...

NO, the machine doesn't do sweaters but the hat just might if you're really nice to it.

At 8:11 p.m., June 14, 2005, Blogger Liz said...

The best friend? well she don't do sweaters either. she does however loan out small boys for war games, and burping contests.


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