In my unending quest for balance, I microscrutinized my recent post on wool and decided that I have to write a little something about synthetic yarns too, if only to be fair. After all, I’m not a complete yarn snob; I’ve actually experimented a bit with synthetics as well. As a matter of fact, years ago when I was knitting for my own little ones (during what I like to call my “Early Period,” before I put my knitting bag down one day and didn’t pick it up again for thirty-five years), I used synthetic yarns exclusively.
After all, until superwash wool came on the market, most of us mothers weren’t all that crazy about having to go through our kids’ laundry each week just to make sure there was nothing shrinkable hidden away in there – not to mention the inevitable hand-washing involved!
I even have about two sweaters’ worth of an acrylic-wool mix that I bought some fifteen years ago, thinking I’d jump right back into knitting again. Apparently I thought wrong; I discovered this yarn entirely by accident a couple of months ago, stuffed into the back of a closet along with two UFO’s. There was a good deal of yarn there, so I resurrected it for my present stash – although I admit that it’s not right there at the top of my knitting list.
However, and to prove my good intentions as I write this, I also bought some 100% acrylic yarn in a perfectly lovely colour last year – a colour, by the way, that didn’t seem to be available in any natural material. Go figure. It was the perfect shade of silvery light gray, and it was stunning, exactly what I wanted.
I had intended to use this yarn to knit a sweatshirt-style pullover for schlepping around the house, because my beloved schlepping pullover that I got for a birthday gift twenty years ago is literally disintegrating off my body as I write.
[By the way, I'm absolutely devastated over the demise of this pullover. Huge, shapeless, comfy, and comforting to wear, it has been the mainstay of my schlepping wardrobe for almost a third of my lifetime! Oh, well, such is life, right?]
So I cast on and began knitting my new pullover in Jared Flood’s gorgeous “Cobblestone” pattern, which I bought on Ravelry. As you can see, it’s a men’s pattern, but it’s perfect as a boyfriend sweater.
Very quickly I noticed that the yarn felt strange under my fingers, sort of like the feeling of running your fingernails down a blackboard. Truth to tell, the feeling creeped me out a little. I actually persevered to about halfway up the torso, but the feeling never went away….so unfortunately the sweater did. It’s now, perfect colour or not, a permanent UFO.
Jared’s sweater will be knit eventually; just not with that particular yarn.
Then just a couple of weeks ago, I had a truly unsettling experience. During one of my trawling expeditions online for yarn, I ordered enough of a huge, fat, brightly-coloured 100% acrylic bouclé yarn (the brand of which I shall not publicize) to make a fun hat and scarf for my granddaughter.
The package arrived in the mail, and the yarn was perfect! The colours were as bright and cheerful in person as they had been on my computer screen, and I was looking forward to using my biggest needles on this set. (Because I have a strong preference for lightweight yarn, those needles don’t normally get used very often, so this project was going to be fast and really fun to do.)
Heck, I was even beginning to envision starting another little “sub-stash” of completely synthetic yarns – that is until, purely out of habit, I lifted a ball of it to my nose.
Meh! Blech! Yuck! It stank! No, worse: it reeked! It was an assault to the nose. I couldn’t believe it!
Okay, so you know I don’t have all that much experience with synthetic yarns – but I do pass them in the local yarn shops, after all, and not one of them has ever reached out and offended my nose like this. It’s true that they don’t smell like wool, but most of them are lovely and soft and smell, at worst, only mildly “unreal.”
However, this yarn was simply…well…fetid is the only word that does it justice. If you can imagine ordinary acrylic yarn being steeped in cigar juice, let’s say, and then lying rotting (if synthetics could rot in the first place) in a dank cellar for several years, you might come close.
I’ve put that blasted stuff outdoors to air, and then into the dryer with dryer sheets, and it’s still disgusting. I can’t even lay it atop other yarns, or put anything on top of it, because then they too take up that extraordinary odour. It’s been quarantined until further notice.
I have no idea what happened to this yarn to cause that awful smell, but I certainly can’t use it as it is. In fact, I can hardly bear to go near it! And I certainly can’t give it away. Who would want it?
So my next step will have to be to wash it and see if laundry detergent will remove the stench. I’ve been putting off this last option because although I know how to wash yarn by the skein in theory, the actual practice of skeining, washing, drying and rewinding seems like more work than fun. Well, now I have no other choice.
If this unfortunate yarn comes through the laundry in the same state it’s in now, I’ll also have no choice but to chuck it, because I won’t even be able to give it away! It will remain forever in landfill, heaven forbid, reeking its little heart out.
I think I’ll go back to smelling some wool for the time being, and soothe my ragged nerves.