Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How Do You Make A Fabric Swap Work?*

The reason I ask is because I participated in a yarn swap with the Windy City Knitting Guild (WCKG) last night. I brought a plastic shopping bag's worth of yarn. It included a somewhat spartan spool of gold crochet cotton, some 1930s vintage yarn, a designer's wad of black-red plaid flannel cut up in strips for knitting. I didn't include any yarn that I might need to patch up another existing project munched on by a moth or that I sincerely want to write up on Ravelry. So it was a piddly pile, but very portable. It was made a little heavier with the plastic container of used batteries that I wanted to drop off for recycling.

Anyway, piddly is putting it mildly when I arrived at Sulzer Regional Library and saw the huge cardboard boxes of yarn that some women brought. I could only admire their stashing ability, since my yarn collection amounts to a mid-sized clear plastic shopping bag's worth on a hanger in my front closet. When I saw that the swap organizers were giving points to each yarn set based on rarity, the amount and type, I feared I might only get a handful of yarn "dollars" in exchange for my puny pile.

Surprisingly, when all was said and weighed, I was given 20 paper bills, which made me happier than a clam on Lake Michigan's shore. I figured my wad of "cash" had to get me something substantial beyond one or two skimpy skeins.

So anyhow, 50 or some yarn-meisters brought their collections. All the yarn was spread on tables tagged with points. Stuff like rare and pricey European blends went on one table, acrylics, on another, cotton, and worsted weight on still another surface. So that everyone would behave reasonably well when in a room filled with free yarn, each donor got a raffle ticket. When the yodeler called out your number, you could race up to the front and grab whatever your pacemaker desired.

I thought this was a great system. Overweight women and skinny Minnies all got equal opportunities. No one could bodily land on a lone Muench yarn and claim it as "mine;" the bean poles couldn't squeeze up between table crevices to snatch up a possum yarn blend (when I saw that in someone's hand, I thought for sure that manufacturers had gone crazy. I've heard about cat-, dog- and you-name-it yarn, but possum was a new for me. It turns out it's not the American critter by the name, but the very desirable and soft Australian version. Phew.)

So after what felt like an eternity spent on the no. 22 bus, my number "123" was called out. I flew faster than a hummingbird to the front. I aimed my body mass for the cotton table, looking specifically for Lion Brand Cotton-Ease, 3 complete skeins-worth, in one color. Unfortunately, I only saw two in the same hue. I'm thinking about making this top, but I need enough to cover my Lincoln car-long torso. When I didn't see what I wanted, I moved on. I had no secondary goals (You need to aim for the Stars as Ad man Leo Burnett says). I decided to focus on what looked pretty, felt soft in my dry hands (thank you water aerobics) and had a complete label on it. In no time tummy-flat, I had a cone of lace-weight indigo yarn (about 1,500 yards) and four skeins of Peruvian Collection Highland Wool that match these shoes (actually I just realized that this morning. I must have this color locked into my grey cells.)

When I sat down with my jackpot (which you need to take to the "cashier" - you turn in your mula, and you can claim your fiber finds as your own) I just looked at them. To no one in particular I said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with this." A far more worldly woman next to me said, "It doesn't matter. At least you have them now." Gosh, when am I gonna get that wise? When I'm 105?

Then I pondered the wisdom of these words. She's absolutely right in a way my sisters never are (you know how that goes. Yes, Memorial Day family plans are also taking up some space on the server upstairs). I'll study the yarn - show it off to friends, look it up online to see what might work with the newest closet tenants. Another yarnster suggested a hat and mittens might work with the orangy yarn bundle. I've got this pattern in mind for the Indigo Blue closet inhabitant, but there actually might be enough for a shawl. I dunno. But the thought of a spider-webby thin triangle of perfectly executed yarn-overs, slipped stitches and Heavens-Knows-What-Else backbend doesn't thrill me right now. Maybe never. Yarn this slender scares me more than the prospect of standing in long lines for the new Indiana Jones thriller (but you know what I'd do if I had to do that, right? You guessed right. Your prize? You get to read the rest of this post. Ha!)

So, right now I'm a happy pre-Summer camper. But this whole Yarn Swap got me thinking about how this could work in the Fabric planetary system. (By the way, this is apparently the first time that the WCKG has organized a swap on this scale. Seeing that no one died or attempted to maim a knitter in the process, I don't see what it won't be repeated. No beefy security guard is necessary!)

Here are some preliminary thoughts on how to make a Fabric Swap work. Add your thoughts in the comments if you like or simply vote in my brilliant "How Has the Economy Affected Your Sewing Habits?" in the left sidebar.

1. You need a big room and lots of table. This swap was held in the meeting room at a local library so there were a plentitude of tables, chairs, and lights.
2. Free food makes the shoppers happy while they're waiting in line. Actually, the prospect of complimentary Chex mix, cheese and crackers, green grapes and watermelon was what got me to the book-center in the first place. I'm always hungry, and I plan my days around what eats I can get for nothing or next-to-nothing. I actually bagged up my yarn thinking about what munchies might be at this meeting.
3. You Need cashiers who know their stuff and how to weigh things. This is important in a world where half of the store employees know not a wit about the stuff they're adding up on their computer registers. How does that box of Orbit gum taste? Huh? You know what I mean.
4. You also need lots of post-it notes, tape, and clear baggies. The latter is extremely important, because there can be absolutely no co-mingling of fiber. That furry yarn might make for a nice trim on a completed 100 percent wool sweater, but they cannot be giggling and whispering together beforehand. Even a lone Red Heart skein goes into a baggie. Post-it notes are for the price tags, tape, so no one removes a tag and replaces it with another...
5. You need someone willing to take the leftovers home or at least to a school or shelter. This is the hard part. It's one thing to fill your auto with yarns you love, but to take the unwanted icky stuff is quite another, and then to spend some precious gasoline to take it to school that actually wants is another. Bless the person willing to warehouse it for future teaching projects.

Anyway, I think this shopping system could apply to fabric and I'd love to help organize a store like this. It's just a matter of where and who's willing to participate and co-organize. Any thoughts, anyone?
* That's my very-expensive label (it was made in Germany) on a kimono-style wrap top I made. Totally unrelated to my post, but there you have it.

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