Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cheaper is not always better...

In these times of economic difficulties and uncertainty we are all trying to do everything we can to pinch pennies, save money, spend wiser, and stretch dollars farther (or is it further?). I digress-go figure.

There are, however, situations when that which costs less really costs more in the long run.

I have two situations in mind.

The first is when you shop at any of the "big box" type stores when there are small, local, momandpop equivalents available AND the item in question is NOT an absolute necessity. I have phrased it that way (with both stipulations) because when money is non-existant and your child needs some necessary piece of clothing or you need to put food on the table I am not suggesting you should patronize the local up-scale childrens boutique or the local gourmet shop. I don't have much in terms of common sense but I have enough to know that would be ridiculous.  When the item being shopped for is NOT a necessity AND there is a local alternative then I believe it is that local merchant that we should support.  When the "luxury" you are craving is something as simple as a bag of chips or a cupcake, visit the little corner store or the upscale bakery (especially the upscale bakery!!) There are local book sellers, markets, gift shops, all kinds of wonderful places.

I know time is as tight as money these days. And, why pay more for the same item if you don't have to? Well, for one thing, the change of scenery will probably do you some good.  It is far too easy to get stuck in a rut.  Go someplace new. Meet new people.  The service at a small local shop is almost guaranteed to be better.  The local shop keepers value your business in ways the huge stores never will and can't even fathom.  If you are looking for something special just ask the owner.  Try that at the local mega-mart. If you don't know where the local shops are--find out. You never know what other great "finds" you will find once you start looking. When you spend your money in these local shops much more of it stays in your community benefitting you, your neighbors, and the community as a whole rather than just benefitting greedy corporate america.

I understand that the same item at one of these smaller stores will most likely cost more (the shop owners have to pay themselves and their workers living (not minimum) wages AND offer health care at exorbitant rates. But we are talking about non-neccessities here.  So, save your money. If it takes a couple extra days before you get to reward yourself the reward will be a little sweeter.  Besides, the couple of extra days will give you the time you need to find that little cafe.  Or the local chocolatier.  Or the independent book seller. Or your LYS (local yarn shop for the non-knitters out there).

A few short months ago I had only one LYS that I frequented and I only knew of three others. I am now aware of six, have visited four at least once, and regularly frequent two.  You never know what is out there until you start looking. Or, ask your family and friends for recommendations.

The second situation where cheaper is not always better is a fiber related one.  A few weeks ago, National Alpacca Farm day to be exact, I bought a whole, unprocessed alpacca cria fleece.  When I did this, I committed several fiber related sins.

We went to two farms on the day in question.  At the first farm I saw a raw fleece.  The staple length was a gorgeous 4-6 inches.  With just my fingers I drafted and spun a few fibers. It was beyond incredible!  At the second farm the owners have a cute little shop with a number of finished garments, a small collection of alpacca and alpacca blend yarns, and a big assortment of alpacca and alpacca blend fibers from their own animals for sale.  Unprocessed alpacca fiber is much easier to deal with than unprocessed wool because you don't have to wash it before you spin it.  Alpacca does not have the greasy lanolin that makes sheep's wool so dirty.  In fact, for competitions the breeders are not allowed to wash the animals.  That is how clean they are.

This fleece caught my attention.  It is black with a dark red-brown at the tips from the sun. It was less expensive because it was unprocessed.  And, it was on SALE!! The processed rowing ranged from $4/ounce to $8/ounce depending on quality, color, and blend.  The unprocessed fleece was normally $3/ounce and was on sale for $1.50/ounce! The catch was that I had to take the whole fleece (26 oz. $39). So, for the same money I could get 26 oz of unprocessed fleece (understanding that a little of that weight is vegetable matter so my net fiber is probably I'm the range of 20-24 oz).  For the same money I could get 4.75-9.75 oz of processed roving.  So, we're talking anywhere from 2 to almost 5 times the fiber for the same price!! There was no question.  I was in love. The color is exquisite. Of course I forgot that knitting with really dark yarn is a Bitch! I also forgot one other teensy, weensy, little thing.  I neglected to check the staple length.

This fleece it turns out is this particular cria's first fleece.  A cria is the name for a baby alpacca.  I'm guessing this was a baby born in the fall. Alpaccas (like sheep) are shorn once a year-usually in the spring.  So, while this is baby alpacca (even softer than regular alpacca which is saying something) the staple length is at best two inches.  At worst maybe an inch. Ouch! Hindsight may be 20/20 but it also can hurt like a mother.

I started out trying to spin it as is much the same way I had been able to with the fiber I played with at that first farm.  Yeah, not so much. I only use a drop spindle (I dream of a wheel of my own but I've never even tried one and wouldn't know where to begin) and even as drop spinners go I am at best an advanced beginner (I did manage to make a respectable 3-ply sock yarn of 15 WPI from a Blue Moon Fibers kit). So, while I have learned how to make a very fine (25+ WPI) single for lace or socks with a fair amount of consistency, I have very little experience with a range of fibers, two dog slicker brushes for make shift hand carders, and no experience making a consistent thicker yarn or using a very short staple.

So, this morning I got out the dog brushes. For the record, I bought these specifically for this purpose-they were never used on actual dogs.  This beautiful dog of a fleece is a different story. I made six little mini-rolags and started to spin it with my "baby" spindle (it only weighs half an ounce). I'm trying to make the singles a little thicker than I usually would. 

I got the fibers unclumped and layered a bit better than what they were before.

At this point I am thinking I will andean ply it.  Another thought is to blend it with another roving. Is that an option given the "tools" I am using? Do I try to card them together? Will I ruin the other roving in the process? Or, do I continue carding this stuff (it seems to be helping) and just blend them as I spin them?

I'm usually pretty good at figuring fiber things out. And, while it may take a while (and some good resource materials) I have confidence that I will get there eventually. I'm just hoping that with so many amazing spinning talents out there one of you will take pity on me and my blinded by the sale sign purchase and offer up some advice on how best to proceed.

Of course, if all else fails I do have at least four other spinning projects started that do not have fiber issues...

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