I’m sure I mentioned that last week, on Wednesday to be precise, I got hit by a yarn bus. I was at my local, hanging with my knitbuddies and the next thing I knew I was standing on the corner, getting on my bike with a big bag of yarn, a dented debit card and a vaguely dirty feeling. I bought 12 balls of Debbie Bliss Donegal Luxury Tweed Aran, which was really the prettiest thing I’ve seen in a while. Me and the yarn had big plans, and I put the moves on it the next day, knitting a little "get to know you swatch".
I knew right away that something wasn’t right. The yarn was lovely, I liked how it felt – and just to ice the cake, I got gauge the first time out, but there was a smell. I feel just awful talking about it, probably because I’ve got some pretty unnatural attachments to my yarn and I worry about its (non-existent) feelings, but really, I noticed it as soon as it came out of the bag. The yarn smelled… like chemicals, or gas, or something like that. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it definitely didn’t smell like wool or angora (the two fibres in this yarn) and for the record, it didn’t smell like any other natural fibre – or any unnatural dye I’ve ever been around. I reckoned that maybe it was spinning oil that hadn’t been washed out, and finished the swatch, waltzed it into the kitchen and gave it a beautiful long bath in Eucalan and water hot enough to take the oil out, if that’s what it was.
The swatch looked great afterwards. Really great. Still had gauge, I still liked what I was seeing – and although I could still smell the oil on the swatch, I thought it was because it was still wet, or because I was worried about it. I put it in the backyard to dry and enjoy a little fresh air and sunshine, which I was pretty sure would straighten it right out.
Later that day, Natalie arrived to help me out, and the yarn and swatch were on the table. I expected, because I was pretty wound up about the whole stinky yarn issue, and I know that I can get weird and fixated on things. that Natalie would reel me in. That she would tell me that the yarn wasn’t that smelly, that I was imagining it, that it smelled like the plastic bag it came in and the smell would go away with time, that the swatch didn’t still smell like gas after its bath and that I think too much, that I was getting weird again and that I needed to stop coming into the living room to sniff the yarn and that I should just knit the damn sweater and get on with my life.
Instead, Natalie agreed – and she’s really sensible and not at all a neurotic over-smeller, so that meant something. Not only did Natalie think that the balls of yarn were particularly odiferous, she agreed – somewhat reluctantly, because I think she knew that her answer meant that I was going to get weirder, that the swatch still smelled.
I washed it again, this time putting it into a warm soapy bath for almost forever, then put it out into the sunshine to dry, and tried not to think about it, which was sort of hard, because I was pretty sure the swatch still smelled, the other balls of yarn were still reeking away, and for some bizarre reason, I was knitting with it.
It made sense to start the sweater, that’s what I think. I was confident that whatever this smell was, it was at least temporary. I’d hopped online, read some reviews of the yarn, visited the blogs of some people who knit with it – and while some people didn’t like its construction (which is personal and subjective, I don’t mind it) not a single person wrote in their yarn review that it smelled like a 65 year old truck stop that’s had an environmental incident, so I started knitting. The yarn is made of wool and angora. If it smells, it’s something on the yarn, not in it, and if it’s on it, then I can wash it off. So I knit.
Mostly I knit. Partly I worried, because a sweater is a lot of work, and this was a big smell, and also, as the knitting continued, the smell was bothering me as I was working. It was making knitting with it unpleasant. I went outside and sniffed the swatch. I was pretty sure it still smelled, but I was also pretty sure I smelled like the yarn just from working with it. I washed the swatch again, this time in Soak. Who knows. Maybe the Eucalan wasn’t cutting it.
I went back to knitting, but round about the time that I was exclaiming for the fifty-seventh time that the yarn stank, I decided to twitter about it. I just asked if anyone had any experiences with this yarn and a "chemical smell". The responses started coming in, and as they did, I felt crazier and crazier. Knitters were telling me that they had this yarn and it was lovely and soft and smelled like nothing except for beautiful sheepy wool. There were lots of them, and they all thought it was totally weird that my yarn might smell that way, and the more I read, the more I thought that I was probably freaking out over something stupid. This happens all the time – I get scared by a spider in the bathroom, so then I’m all jumpy and I see spiders out the corner of my eye everywhere – or I leave the tap on once by accident, and they for a while all I can hear is water running… it’s just like my brain gets stuck in a caution zone and can’t get out. I bet the yarn is a little stinky, but not as stinky as I think, and now I’m just all fixated on it and I should just move on. After all, the yarn is really, really good looking, and I’m getting gauge and its going to be a great sweater, and when I go get that swatch from outside, it’s going to smell like roses, and holy cow Stephanie, you really lost it on this one. I kept knitting, and I told myself that the headache I had wasn’t coming from the smell on the yarn, it was from worrying about the smell on the yarn.
I came back to Twitter in a little while, and there were more warm and lovely comments about the yarn, but there was also this one from A Good Yarn:
Yes! Just got a shipment of the new Copper colour at my shop & it smells like diesel fuel! Older one’s don’t stink tho, weird.
In that moment, I had two flashes. The first one was "Holy cow, diesel fuel- that is EXACTLY what this smells like, this lady is bang on" and the second one was "Really? When did St. John’s, Newfoundland get a new yarn shop?" (Which is slightly less relevant but my in-laws have a house near there and where the closest yarn shop is can be a really good thing to know.) Right then, the whole thing was confirmed. It does smell like diesel fuel, and right then, I stopped thinking I was nuts, put down the knitting and went and washed the swatch again. I still like this yarn, and I’d like for it to work out, but if the smell wasn’t going to wash out, then I wasn’t going to do it. I rewashed the swatch, this time with dishsoap and hot water, then put vinegar in the rinse water and let it soak, then rinsed it again, then back out to the sunshine to dry – for a fourth time.
Yesterday I wondered again, I think because I really, really like this yarn, if I could stand the smell and just knit it, that maybe I was just fixated on a smell that was going to dissipate over time – but truthfully, sweaters take a long time to knit, the process is supposed to be pleasant- so I went and collected the swatch up, gave it a sniff, decided it still smelled like a truck, washed it for a fifth time, and put it back outside to dry. While I was working with it, I noticed a few things. I noticed that it still looked fantastic. I noticed that the stitch definition, despite five washes and rinses and being manhandled and soaked and left in the sun, was still pretty darned awesome.
In short, I noticed that if I
had no sense of smell, this yarn would be wicked good, and so – for some crazy reason, I decided that the yarn really was good, and I went back to knitting it. This had to be a solvable problem. I was sitting there, pile of yarn beside me, churning out a sweater (with a crushing headache that I was still pretending wasn’t related to the smell) when Joe came home from work and stopped dead two metres from the couch and said "Why the hell does it smell like diesel fuel in here?"
It was a crushing moment. It was exactly like when you’re in high school and you discover that the outrageously handsome boy you’re crushing all over finally seems to like you back – and you’re actually sitting with him just the way you’ve always dreamed, and suddenly, he opens his mouth and says something and in this terrible moment that shatters the whole fantasy, you can see for the first time that he’s got all the good sense and intellect that God gave a rock.
I stopped knitting. I bagged it all up. This morning, when Natalie came back to work, I gave the yarn one more chance. I fetched the dry and pretty swatch from the backyard, where it had been resting in the fresh air and sunshine, and I gave it to Natalie to smell. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell her I could still smell a truck. I didn’t tell her I had my suspicions that it wasn’t going to work out. I just told her I’d washed it, and asked her to smell it.
Enough said. I don’t know what’s up with this yarn, or why it is the way it is, and I even accept totally and completely that there are other whole batches of this yarn that smell sheepy and woolly and wonderful. This batch doesn’t, and so I am going to do something I’ve never, ever, done before in my whole knitting career of 38 years.
I feel bad about my plan, I feel guilty that our love can’t be requited, that this really great yarn has a fatal flaw that I can’t live with, I even feel shocked that after years and years of believing that all yarn is good yarn, you just have to seek it’s purpose…
I’m returning the yarn to the store.
I guess there really is a first time for everything.