Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Be There Or Be Square

Susan Moraca of Kollage Yarns was our guest speaker at the guild meeting last Thursday. She and her husband drove over from Birmingham and she gave a very interesting talk on yarn, mainly a sales pitch for her products. I'm hearing from some members that they were surprised to get a sales pitch, to which I would say, "what did you think? you invite an entrepreneur to give you a talk on knitting in the south, and then you're surprised when she talks about her business--which is developing lighter knitting options for the south?" Oh, well.

Anyway, I ended up buying wayyyyyy more of her stuff than I had intended, which worked out well since Knitting Emporium, one of my favorite LYSes was selling it. (Go, Wanda!) Kollage Yarns are natural, mostly vegetable and man-made fibers, although some of the bamboo had some merino mixed in. All the yarn was very soft but had nice body. I ended up with 10 skeins of Cornucopia -- guess what that's made of? No, really, guess. Yep, you're right.

But the most interesting things I bought were Susan's square knitting needles, in two sizes (8 and 5). Of course, I had to try them out right away. There's just something about a square knitting needle that doesn't compute--and, by the way, she has square crochet hooks too. Anyway, the "selling" point is that they are "ergonomic."

Now "ergonomic" is one of those buzz words that people love to use but almost no one knows what it means. Actually it relates to the study (nomics) of work (ergo). The science of ergonomics studies how to apply human needs to the design of work to improve it. (Yes, I realize that's an extremely simplistic explanation--sue me!) Anyway, when people call something "ergonomic," they usually mean it makes work better or easier, and an ergonomics program in the workplace (such as the one I'm responsible for) is supposed to improve the way employees work by redesigning their working conditions.

All of which is a long way around this: Susan suggested in her talk that square needles could reduce carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion injuries. A big promise, and one that I probably wouldn't have made (but that's just me). The website says:

"Yes, they really are easier on your hands! Handcrafted to our exacting standards, KollĂ ge's square knitting needles are designed to be ergonomically suited to your hands, decreasing stress and strain for those who love to knit. The needles are handmade in Vietnam from a hardwood called Forest Palm."

So, here's my review after my admittedly amateurish testing process:

First, they feel great. The wood is smooth, with a nice dark walnut color. The point is sharp enough, though I guess I wouldn't want to knit a nupp with it. (Now that I've knit with Addi Lace needles, no nupp will ever be knit with anything else.) The size is burned into the upper end. (This is a pet peeve of mine--just put the size of the needle somewhere on it, for God's sake! Don't make me get out the gauge every time!) Okay, I'm calmer now. So, let's see how it works.

I picked up Branching Out. Yes, the same Branching Out that was a disaster last week and a Finished Object this week. Go figure. But in between those two extremes, there was the knitting part. I've been knitting BO on Clover Takumi bamboo straight needles (size 8, 9" long). And, yes, I know you're not supposed to change needles in the middle of a project. Again, sue me. (Well, actually, don't.)

And so I learned why you don't change oars in the middle of the lake, metaphorically speaking. Because I had to tear out the part I did on the square needles. The Kollage 8 needle is probably a 9 in reality. I'll have to do some major swatching to figure this out, but that's my estimate. The difference was noticeable. (I should have known this because the stitch counter that was whirling around the Clovers in an unrestrained sort of way barely squeezed onto the square needle.)

But the needles do feel good in the hand. I suspect that the reason people think they're easy on the hands is that you don't have to clutch them so hard. The square shape is intrinsically easier to grasp than a round needle. Now, I am an English thrower who holds her right needle in the classic "writing with a pen" position and grasps the left needle with thumb and first two fingers. This means (to me, at least) that I'm not really clutching the right hand needle so much as gently cradling it. So maybe I'm not the best person to speak to this. But the needle did feel good in my hands, once I got past the "knitting needles are not supposed to be square!" problem.

Let me say here that most repetitive motion injuries (RMIs) are the result of repetition (go figure!) of a motion over a long period of time. You don't get carpal tunnel or tennis elbow or whatever the problem is overnight. But sometimes the "fixes" can give almost immediate relief, so if these really do make someone's hands feel better, don't let me rain on the parade. I'm happy for you, if it works.

What I didn't like is the length. The Kollage needles are about 14" long, and only come in one length. For me, a dedicated circular needle lover, that's just the wrong length. If I'm going to use a straight needle, and I do occasionally, it needs to be short, just because of the way I hold the needles. (Could it relate to the fact that my fat belly sticks out too far and hits the needle? Let's not go there.) But this is a quibble, and admittedly a personal preference.

Finally, price. Each pair was $19.95, sort of a bite compared to other wood needles. I've paid more for ebony and rosewood needles, but those were gifts. I'm too frugal to buy those for myself, although I have an embarrassingly large collection of needles overall, including the original Aero set I knit with 40 years ago.) Typically, I'd expect to pay somewhere in the $7-13 range for a bamboo needle, and maybe $15-22 for a rosewood or ebony needle. So I guess this is in the range of acceptable prices. It just felt high because usually I don't knit with specialty wood needles. (But you can bet I'll knit with these puppies because I've invested 40 fricking bucks in them.)

So, report card:

Tactile: A
Appearance: B (it looks a little homemade but in a good way)
Size (diameter): D (you gotta be able to trust the sizes, especially when it won't fit in your gauge thingy)
Size (length): C (for me anyway)
Price: C
Ergonomics: Incomplete, but maybe...I'm just sayin'

Overall, I'm giving them a C+ with an A for effort and entrepreneurial spirit.

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