Two bits of nostalgia and a rant today, but no fine needlework, just some knitting. Apologies for the disappointment.
First a bit of fun nostalgia, and a reminder that family heirlooms needn’t be pricey bits of bling. As I was putting my new backgammon board away I found my chess set. It’s an unusual one, but not by any stretch of the imagination, precious. Except to me.
My grandfather Mack gave me the set around my 9th or 10th birthday. He had a jobbing print company back when you needed presses, engravers, and actual lead-set type. The company printed magazines including New York’s Social Spectator; pamphlets, brochures and catalogs; small private run books, luxe bespoken stationary, and even precision hand-engraved items like stock certificates. This chess set was part of a late 1950s/early 1960s catalog of some sort, but I have no record of what company it might have been made for. The board/box in which it came was damaged during the photo shoot, so he was able to keep it.
The set itself is housed in a very ordinary storage case/playing board. The damage is to one of the two velvet lined nests into which the pieces fit, but it’s not fatal. The figurines look to be inspired by fancy hand-carved antique ivory sets, but I believe they are some sort of plastic, each with a little “Made in Japan” sticker underneath. Still they are nicely designed with a netsuke-derived look. Especially the pawns, which come in two flavors – four bearing conch shells and four bearing scrolls.
Now my grandfather didn’t play chess – not to my knowledge at least, but I did. My dad had taught me the rudiments a few years earlier, and I read up on some beginner strategy. I never got good although I have retained a peripheral interest, even hanging out with the chess team in high school (they teased me by saying I was seventh board of a five man team). Younger Offspring is a far better player than I ever was, proving it by beating me soundly three times in a row many years ago, in spite of playing as a 14-year old hospital in-patient with a ruptured appendix, high fever, and under sedation.
I have designated this set as “an heirloom of our house” and in some ways, it’s fitting it’s only plastic.
Now on to the rant, plus some wistful but non-visual nostalgia.
I just finished yet another pair of heavy slouch socks – mindless knitting to occupy the fingers while The Resident Male and I campaign through the first computer game we’ve played in more than two decades. I can watch for Imminent Peril, monitor vital statistics, and consult on strategy and puzzle solving, but not while doing more complex attention-sink type handwork. So socks it is.
I admit I was seduced by a yarn that even under best conditions would be marginal. It’s a sport weight polyester/acrylic blend from Lion Brand, “Moroccan Nights.” I was weak; seduced by the colors. I knew it was a long-repeat variegated, and bought two balls of the same color number and dye lot. They looked identical with the same repeat section on the outside of each ball. But….
This yarn is the absolute worst knitting or crochet product I have used in a very long time. So bad I would swear that this yarn was spun from the devil’s own nose hairs.
Yes, these two socks came from two balls of the stuff with the same color number and dye lot number (Magic Carpet, color 514-307, dye lot 16561). I don’t mind a long variation, but the color jumps on these socks are largely NOT due to continuous change in the yarn itself. Instead they are due to multiple knots in each ball that united color discontinuous sections. Every major color transition you see here means that there are two more ends to darn in because the knots were too slippery to trust. One sock has three knot-induced extra end pairs to deal with, the other has four.
In addition to the poor quality control in skeining, the yarn itself is impossibly unruly. It has a severe overtwist which makes it rat-tail around itself. The structure is two very flossy, barely spun strands of acrylic plus one thin thread of mylar or other shiny polyester metallic, wound together to make a rag-style yarn. The flossy strands split and fray, fusing together in the overtwisted rat-tails, and make stitch formation a nightmare. Constant stopping to let the work spin out and ease the overtwist is required. Decreases and increases are wrestling matches because the needles catch on every microfilament.
Yes, I concede that using this yarn for socks was over-ambitious. Perhaps big needles and plain garter stitch or crochet would have been a better choice. But usage aside, the basic twisty, frizzy, fraying, fusing nature of Lion Brand Moroccan Nights makes it an unpleasant experience at any gauge.
Now for the wistful nostalgia.
For many years I ran the on line Yarn Review Collection at wiseNeedle, my former website. It started as a plain text document passed around the old pre-Internet KnitList mailing list, in the early days when email systems were just beginning to branch out and connect with each other. Eventually, with the copious help of The Resident Male, it transformed into a searchable on-line database.
The whole thing was volunteer run. I was the shepherd, confirming yarn detail (gauge, yardage, ball weight, proper spelling/manufacture), and combed retail catalogs entering data for new base entries as yarns were released for sale. Anyone who wanted to could contribute a review, and many did. We appreciated achieved gauge, some indication of what the yarn was used for, and any comments – good or bad – about the experience of using it. Stuff like “tons of knots in each ball”, “yardage seems very short,” “sheds dye on the hands and needles while working,” “falls to pieces in the wash,” were common comments. So were things like “fantastic for the tight detail on a traditional gansey,” and “wonderful stuff, soft, and a at great price.” I even computed a value score, calculating the cost per yard for each review that reported the retail price, so folk could compare relative value.
The Yarn Review Collection ran for 13 years. The wiseNeedle website never accepted direct advertising payments although I did have some general audience ads (tightly controlled) to defray expenses of running the thing. But I took no in kind gifts or monetary payments from anyone in the industry, and refused all planted information – supposed “reviews” furnished by retailers, wholesalers and makers. For the most part wiseNeedle broke even or ran a bit behind, and I floated it from my own pocket. UNTIL.
When the Ravelry site broke big time, traffic at all independent knitting websites plummeted. People stopped contributing reviews to wiseNeedle, stopped asking/answering questions on its advice boards, and even traffic to its free patterns plummeted. Eventually I was the only person contributing reviews, and my own views represented 80% of my weekly traffic. The String-or-Nothing blog subsection was the only thing that had even minor residual visits. So I threw in the towel, killed wiseNeedle and ported String to a new stand-alone venue.
Why dredge all this up now?
I really wanted to post a review of Moroccan Nights. I added a comment to the Ravelry yarn page for it, but in doing so noted that actual comments about the yarn are not exactly up front and center. You can see data on it and pix of it, see how many people have stashed it, see how many projects people have worked from it, and see a combined satisfaction score of the projects (not the yarn itself); but the comments section is a second tier behind the data cover. What’s presented is superficially and inadvertently deceptive. A 3.9 star out of 5 review for this stuff? Not. Will anyone page through and see the actual feedback? Probably very few.
Moral of the story: If you ever want to use Ravelry’s yarn pages to find out more than simple data about a product, do hunt around for that comments link. Leave comments for yarns you have used if you feel that feedback would help others. And don’t rely on that star rating to indicate actual usability, quality or value of the yarn being discussed. It has nothing to do with the yarn, it’s all about those finished projects.
Am I going to reinitiate wiseNeedle and the yarn review collection? No. It’s too time, money, and materials intensive. There’s no way anyone can catch up with Ravelry, which is now a social and industry juggernaut in its own right. The halcyon days of the non-monetized Internet are over, and I refuse to accept subsidies. By doing so I compromise my principles by becoming a paid influencer.
Nostalgic and a bit exercised? Yes. Today I am. Maybe I need to go and knit something to calm down.