tipsandtricks

How to Shop at Webs--America’s Yarn Store

Here’s a not-at-all-secret fact you might not know about me—I worked at Webs for almost seven years in various capacities.

All photos in this post © Webs/yarn.com

All photos in this post © Webs/yarn.com

Webs is a huge destination for many in the fiber community, and I saw countless stunned, amazed, and overwhelmed reactions from first-time customers during my time working there. Part of that was spent working the retail floor, so I’ve lived through multiple Tent Sales, busy Saturdays, holiday shopping seasons and regular old weekdays! If you’ve never been to Webs at all, or if you’ve shopped there before but never during a big sale, keep on reading for my insider’s perspective on how to shop America’s largest yarn store.

The front half of the retail store.

The front half of the retail store.

The Basics: Skip this part if you’ve been before!

  • The retail store is in Northampton, MA. If you’ve ordered online before and saw Easthampton, MA printed on your invoice—that’s the shipping warehouse. Don’t go to that address hoping to shop!
  • The front half of the store is full-priced items, most of which are eligible for the Webs Discount.
  • The back half is known as the warehouse, and that IS shoppable and is different than the shipping warehouse. (Yes, confusing nomeclature.) The warehouse is full of Webs’ own Valley Yarns Line, and yarns marked down in price like closeouts and discontinued yarns, occasionally overstock and so on.
  • Bathrooms are in the front of the warehouse.
  • A few years ago the store started printing ‘store maps’ that are near the front door. Since the store and warehouse are (mostly) sorted by weight, this points you in the general direction if you already know what you need. See what these maps look like here.
  • To work in the retail store, staffers must have fiber knowledge and preferably multiple disciplines. So don’t hesitate to ask them questions! Depending on the day of the week, you might get unlucky if say, you have a complex weaving question and the staff members who weave aren’t working that day, but generally there is good coverage for most questions.
The back half of the retail store, or the warehouse as its called. Yes, it's shoppable!

The back half of the retail store, or the warehouse as its called. Yes, it's shoppable!

Hack: Stop at a bathroom before hitting the store.

Especially during busy sales or weekends, don’t get stuck waiting in line for the bathroom when you first arrive—stop right before you reach the store! If you’re coming from I-91 North or South and get off at Exit 18, there’s a gas station with a Dunkin Donuts on your right before you reach the turn for Service Center Road. You can also stop at that gas station if you’re coming up from Holyoke on MA Rte 5/10. If you’re coming down 5/10 from Hatfield, you’ll pass multiple gas stations and fast food places before you hit the main intersection of downtown Northampton.

Have a plan.

How prepared you want to be is up to you. I suggest bringing a list that at the very least reminds you of projects you’d like to work on or gaps in your stash, ie ‘yarn for Tea Leaves Cardigan and Color Affection’ or ‘purple fingering weight yarn.’ This can keep you in check if you’re on a budget and become intoxicated by yarn fumes, or if you get overwhelmed easily and forget what you need. A more thorough list of specific yardages is helpful, especially if your pattern calls for a yarn that is no longer available, a little known indie yarn, or a yarn that Webs doesn’t carry. Telling a staff member you need 1000 yds of DK weight yarn for a certain type of project will get you to the right shelves faster. Knowing the names and colors of yarns you’ve been eyeing online is even better! If you can bring your pattern with you, whether it's on paper or your tablet/phone, that can help shortcut things.

Tempting shelves of Madelinetosh!

Tempting shelves of Madelinetosh!

Hack: In-Store Pickups

If you know you HAVE TO HAVE a certain yarn, I suggest ordering it in advance with an In-Store Pickup. In a nutshell, Webs has both a physical retail location (in Northampton) and a shipping warehouse (in Easthampton), where the bulk of inventory lives. The website displays the total amount of inventory for an item, meaning there’s no way for you to know how much of that total will actually be in the store when you arrive to shop. Ordering an In-Store Pickup guarantees that yarn will be in the store, reserved for you when you arrive so you’re not disappointed. You can read the guidelines on Webs’ FAQ page (note there’s a lead-time). I would place an ISP if your order falls into one of these scenarios:

  • The total amount in inventory is close to the number of skeins you want (ie, inventory says 7 and you want 5.)
  • You want a large quantity in one dyelot, like for a sweater or blanket project. Especially so if you are looking at hand-dyed yarns!
  • The yarn is limited edition, a closeout, or otherwise a one-time-only, get-it-while-you-can scenario.

You can always place an order in the store at checkout for any missing or out of stock yarn to be shipped to you when it arrives, but you know…then you have to wait.

When to shop.

This is not a hard and fast science, since you never know who will show up! To avoid crowds try to shop on weekdays and in the middle of the day. If you must shop on a Saturday or during a sale, I’ve noticed crowds tend to thin around lunchtime as people leave to grab food, so if you can wait and pop in then you’re likely to have more elbow room and less competition for that skein you’ve been eyeing.

If you're planning on traveling from out of the area and are looking for local accommodations, consider checking the calendars of Smith College, which is located right in Northampton, and the other four colleges in the area before planning your trip. Rooms can be hard to find around graduation, which frequently overlaps with Tent Sale, and during other big events of the year. Also note that Webs isn't too far from Rhinebeck, so many people will duck into the store on their way to or from their Rhinebeck weekend causing some extra traffic on those dates.

These are the tents of Tent Sale.

These are the tents of Tent Sale.

Expert Level: Tent Sale.

The annual Webs Tent Sale is a weekend event that occurs in May as part of the extended Anniversary Sale. This year it's May 20 & 21, 2017. Along with yarns from the Anniversary Sale that are already on sale, lots of special deals get put out under big tents in the parking lot. Stuff like a bag of yarn for only $10! It’s a really big deal—bus loads of knitters will field trip to the store on Tent Sale Saturday! If you have a chance to come to the store on a regular day first to get acquainted with the layout, that will help you navigate more easily. Saturday is the most popular day, since it’s the only day of the weekend that includes the Fleece Market of independent vendors selling their wares in the parking lot. To survive Tent Sale:

  • Go to the bathroom before arriving. Really. The women’s bathroom at Webs only has three stalls and the men’s bathroom is single-person.
  • BYO water or beverage of choice.
  • Bring a well-planned list so you can be as self-sufficient as possible. There’s not enough staff to go around, especially in the morning, and you’ll save time if you can find things yourself rather than having to wait behind 10 other people to ask a staff member.
  • Tent Sale is an all-hands-on-deck event, so there will be Webs staff from the warehouse or other departments working who are not fiber crafters and don’t know where anything is. Be patient with them! This is also not the weekend to ask for intricate, hands-on help with your projects in progress as there are just too many people attending.
  • If you can arrive slightly before or right at opening, you can get directed to a parking spot faster and be ready to spring as soon as things get going. There is usually a very narrow window at the beginning of Saturday where things are easily navigable, and then it’s a madhouse until early afternoon. Before then, the line to checkout stretches the length of the store and back into the warehouse!
  • Unless you really, really want to have first crack at special deals or want to shop the Fleece Market, I’d say come late afternoon on Saturday or wait til Sunday for less chaos.

Have you shopped at Webs before? What's your favorite tip for a newcomer?

Examining Bottom Up Set-In Sleeve Construction

If you listened to Episode 49 of the SweetGeorgia Show and shared their befuddlement on my design Ribbons and how the upper body is constructed, this post is for you! 

Bottom up set-in sleeve sweaters are my absolute FAVORITE way to work sweaters in one piece, but with the popularity of top-down knitting this method seems to be unfamiliar to some. (Other designs of mine worked this way include Turners Falls Cardigan, Polonaise Cardigan, Cables 'n Cats, Kitsunetsuki Cardigan, and Praline Pullover. Can you tell this method is my absolute favorite?!) I like this method for a few reasons. As a designer, my brain groks it much more easily than top-down sweaters and I can write and grade these designs across multiple sizes without knitting them myself. (Ribbons was knit by one of my awesome sample knitters, Joni.) As a knitter, I like getting the big, boring chunks of knitting out of the way first by completing much of the body and sleeves before finishing with the more interesting yoke. And of course, you get the bonus of attractive, well-fitting sleeve caps that have the appearance of set-in sleeves without requiring any seaming!

My drawing skills aren't the best, so here's my attempt to better illustrate this construction method for you. 

To reach the point shown above, you'll knit the body from the bottom up until the body reaches the underarms. For a cardigan, the body is knit flat; for a pullover, the body is knit in the round. On the last row or round, you'll bind off or set aside some stitches located under the underarms. This is so you can seam or graft the underarms closed once the sweater is finished. After that, put the body aside and knit the sleeves in the round from the cuff until they reach the underarm as well. Like with the body, you'll be binding off or setting aside a few stitches where the underarm is located before continuing. You now have one body and two sleeves...time to combine them!

(I reused scrap paper so apologies for the text showing through a little!) This step is the most fiddly and it's helpful to use a longer circular needle at first to accommodate the large number of stitches all at once. From here on out, I'll be speaking as if you're knitting Ribbons (or a cardigan) as opposed to a pullover, but the only difference is knitting flat vs knitting in the round. Otherwise the concept is still the same.

The joining row is worked on the RS. You'll knit across the right front of the body until you reach the stitches that have been set aside for the underarm. At this location, you grab one of your sleeves and knit across all the sleeves stitches (excepting the sleeve stitches which have already been set aside for the underarm.) Once the sleeve stitches have been joined onto the same needle as your body, you continue to knit on the body on the other side of that underarm gap. Knit across the back until you reach the second underarm gap, then knit across the second sleeve stitches to join the second sleeve to the body. Continue knitting the body on the other side of the second underarm gap, and knit to the end of the row which will leave you on the left front of the cardigan. Your work should look like this now:

Arguably, you could try it on if you wanted to but it's not going to stay on due to a super wide neckline! Now we need to shape the yoke to create the look of set-in sleeves and to ensure the cardigan becomes you know, an actual wearable thing. That will stay on.

This is the part that confuses most people, since the directions can look like a mess of decreases. It helps to remember what the armhole and sleeve cap of a traditional seamed set-in sleeve look like, since we're going for the same effect. We're simply recreating it as a 3D shape, instead of working it in 2D and relying on seaming to transform it into a 3D item.

A shaped armhole (left) starts with a series of bind-offs followed by a section of more gradual decreases to create the curve needed to accommodate your shoulder movement. A set-in sleeve cap (right) is designed to match that armhole curve on the front and back armhole, so each side of the sleeve cap also begins with a series of bind-offs followed by decreases. You'll generally wind up doing more decreases on a sleeve cap than an armhole, since you're attempting to create a bell curve to ease the sleeve cap into the top of the armhole.

How does this translate into Ribbons? The instructions look something like this:

  1. Decreases are worked only on the body.
  2. Decreases are worked on both body and sleeves.
  3. Decreases are worked only on the sleeves.

The rate of these decreases depends on the design itself, the gauge, and the sizes offered, so these steps might not all be followed if enough decreases can be satisfactorily completed in another step. For example, my Turners Falls Cardigan is worked in bulky yarn and I went straight to Step 2 for the yoke decreases since I had far less stitches to work with and didn't need to perform decreases only on the body.

When all yoke shaping is complete, you wind up with:

  1. A small amount of sleeve stitches.
  2. Stitches on the fronts equaling the intended shoulder width.
  3. Stitches on the back divided into three zones: the back neck, and stitches on either side equaling the intended shoulder width. These side zones should contain the same number of stitches as the fronts.

You finish off by working 4 short row sections. The first shapes the right front shoulder while slowly eating up some sleeve stitches to create that rounded top of the sleeve cap. The second section shapes the back right shoulder and eats up the rest of the right sleeve stitches. You repeat this process for the left side, so you're left with equal sets of stitches on the front and back for each shoulder. Then you graft, 3 needle BO, or seam to join the shoulders, and graft or seam the underarms closed!

The end result?

A beautiful, wearable cardigan with flattering, well-shaped shoulders and sleeves!

Are you ready to conquer a bottom up set-in sleeve sweater now? Let me know if you enjoyed this post and want to see more technical content from me!

Gauge is Good (Or How to Properly Break the Rules)

It's my professional obligation as a designer to tell you that swatching is important because I want you to swatch. I want you to check your gauge when you knit one of my designs so your project comes out the size you want and you're a happy customer!

My work has changed my relationship with swatching. We designers have it pretty easy, in that any patterns we write are based on our own personal gauges. Once we have a fabric we like, we're golden! Let's go do some math! Knitting from other people's patterns (OPP from here on out), however, means I have to (or at least am supposed to) swatch for realsies. If my gauge doesn't match, I have to keep trying if I want to knit that pattern.

Such was the case with Tinder, my first planned OPP project of the year. I've had 11 balls of Valley Yarns Greenwich stashed away for...several years. A friend of mine on Ravelry gifted me the pattern in December 2013. You do the math!

Like a good, dutiful, knitter I started my merry swatching with a US 8 as called for in the pattern. I felt confident, and excited. Finally I would have my grey sweater I had been dreaming of! The swatch was....too big. Like 1 st PER INCH too big. I dropped down to size 7 needles and tried again. Still too big, but getting closer--16 sts over 4" vs the called-for 18 sts over 4". The fabric looked great, much better than on size 8's.

1st attempt on top, 2nd attempt on bottom

1st attempt on top, 2nd attempt on bottom

I was cranky at this point, though my troubles made sense. Shelter, the yarn called for in the pattern, is technically a worsted weight and Greenwich is technically a slightly thicker aran. Not really apples to oranges in my book....clementines to oranges?

I tried to be good and swatch once more on size 6 needles, but quit about 3 rows in when I realized I hated the knitting experience of using small-ish needles with that yarn. Ultimately, while I really really want my awesome grey sweater, I need to enjoy knitting it too!

So I wound up cheating and casting on for a smaller size than I would normally choose, because with my gauge on US 7's it will come out to be the size I want.

There is a way to do this with more certainty though, as opposed to just guessing. Don't guess, especially not with a garment!

I looked through the pattern and found the stitch counts of each piece at the bust area. I'm not going to list the actual numbers here to protect the integrity of the pattern, but for example, let's say each front was 30 sts for the smallest size and 60 sts for the back piece. Subtract 2 sts from each piece to account for seaming the sides together and picking up sts along the front for the button bands--28 and 58, respectively. 28 + 58 + 28 =114 sts. If the pattern gauge calls for say, 3 sts per inch, that would turn out to be 38" around. Add in a 1" buttonband and you've got a 39" finished bust measurement. But if your gauge is 3.5 sts per inch, you'd wind up with a 33.5" bust (32.5" body + 1" buttonband). Big difference! That's why gauge is so important.

While I would have aimed for the 34.25" size if I was on point with my gauge, with my new gauge I'm going to be following the directions for the 31.5" size. If my math is correct, I'll wind up with a 34.25" anyways, which will give me just enough ease with my 33" bust. Yay!

You can use this technique even if your gauge is on point, but maybe your personal measurements don't jive with the sizes offered. If it's a sweater worked in pieces and seamed, you can even combine pieces from different sizes to get a custom size, like following the directions for size M for the cardigan fronts and size L for the cardigan back. Some adjustments might need to be made in length-based areas, like the body length of the piece or the armhole depth, since those measurements don't always stay consistent over multiple sizes. You'll just have to make some design choices and maybe rework some increase or decrease sections to fit your new franken-garment. If you're used to modifying patterns, you have the skills to tackle this technique!

Cirriform Cardigan Notes

I'm sure that you caught the Deep Fall issue of Knitty and with it, my Cirriform Cardigan. I wanted to share some tips for those of you planning on knitting it. Let's begin!

Photos by  Lindsey Topham

Photos by Lindsey Topham

Front Lengths

User sheilatoy on Ravelry knit up a modified version and noted that the pattern schematic shows the fronts as being asymmetrical when they are actually the same length. I wanted the schematic to show the front lengths as they look when being worn to help illustrate how one side hangs lower due to the bias of the fabric. But she is totally correct--each lace front has the same number of rows! For reference, I'm 5'3" and the longer front hits about knee length on me (see above photo.) The yarn you use will either enhance or change the effect of the hang, which brings me to my next point...

Yarn Substitutions

I've been flagged in several Ravelry discussions about yarn choices for this project. Berroco Kodiak is a pretty unique yarn but unfortunately it's discontinued! You can still find it on closeout at Webs, and one LYS owner wrote to me that she still had stock in her store. User foodieknitter on Ravelry pointed out that Kodiak is closer to an aran weight than a bulky, and seeing as I knit it up at 4sts/inch in this project, I'd tend to agree. Kodiak is a tube style yarn similar to Blue Sky Alpacas Techno. I know Techno is created by forming a silk tube and then blowing the alpaca into it, so I imagine Kodiak is formed similarly but I don't know for sure. It's super weightless, which is what really makes this design work. I hesitate to suggest traditionally spun alpaca or wool yarns for Cirriform for a few reasons. Most bulky 100% alpaca yarns I see are 2-ply and actually quite heavy with a tendency to sag and weigh themselves down over time. I worry that the extra fabric on the fronts of this cardigan, combined with the natural bias of the lace pattern would give you fronts that reach your ankles by the end of the day! (Ok, slight exaggeration.) A tightly worsted-spun merino, on the other hand, is so springy that I don't think it would add that lovely drape the Kodiak provides.

Aside from the yarn suggestions listed in the pattern, I think your best luck lies with a brushed alpaca or a lofty woolen-spun wool yarn if you must have wool. I'd suggest generous swatches, plus hanging your lace front swatches to dry (perhaps even with weights added) to ensure the best representation of how the final fabric will behave. However, if you plan to wear it closed with a shawl pin or belt, or if you want to add a button or two at the top neckline, you don’t have to worry as much about the drape because those will hold up the sweater fronts. Not to mention they are fun and very valid styling choices to switch it up!

Front Lace Patterns

Both the very talented tech editor at Knitty, Kate Atherley, and knitter Kerstin (who emailed me) pointed out that the left front lace pattern is not a true diagonal lace pattern like the right front. That's how I designed the pattern, since I found the left front lace pattern biased enough on its own to create a cheater diagonal effect. But you are totally welcome to adapt it to create a truly diagonal lace pattern! Kerstin adapted it to a 4-row repeat like the right front, as follows:

Row 1 (RS): K1, *yo, k2tog; rep from * to end.

Row 2 (WS): Purl.

Row 3: K2 *yo, k2tog; rep from * until 1 st remains, k1.

Row 4: Purl.

Sizing

The sizing on this pattern is a little unusual because it's designed to be worn with a lot of ease. The official finished bust measurements of the finished garment are 35.75 [40, 44.5, 48.75, 53.25, 58.75, 63.05] inches. However, as you can see in the above photo, the fronts overlap each other quite significantly when held closed because the cardigan is intended to be worn open with excessively large, drape-y swaths of fabric acting as the fronts. My full bust measurement is 33" and I'm wearing the 40" size in photos--that's 7" of positive ease!

As you can see, the cardigan fits across my upper back and shoulders which is really the key here for this style. The back width after all raglan increases are finished (aka in line with your bust) are as follows:

16.75 (18.75, 20.75, 22.75, 24.75, 26.75, 28.75) inches

Based off that, my personal recommendation is that as the wearer, your personal full bust measurement should be about 30 (34, 38, 42, 46, 52, 56)" in order to have the intended amount of positive ease. If you prefer a slightly more fitted look, match yourself up with a size based on your back measurement and go down rather than up if you are between measurements. The fronts will still be drape-y and excessive even if you go down a size!

(One final shot for atmosphere because I'm obsessed with this gloriously vine-y wall!)

Got any further questions on the Cirriform Cardigan, or want to show off your own modifications to the pattern? I'd love to hear from you!