Commissions and voyages

I grew up in pre-oil boom Newfoundland and Labrador. Most of my friends from high school and university are scattered across Canada and around the world, simply because most opportunities were elsewhere.

So it was great to see my old buddy Gilbert in town. Gilbert is a pilot based in Nova Scotia, and his work takes him all over the globe. A few of us went out for a pint at the Duke of Duckworth to catch up.  Gilbert mentioned my knitting and wondered if I could make a pair of traditional Newfoundland trigger mitts for a retirement gift for one of his colleagues.

At which point, my friend Danielle added, “Yeah, Heather – I meant it when I asked if you could knit that sweater for me!”

Two commissions!

First, the trigger mitts, since the retirement gift was needed by the end of the month. I had been wanting to try one of the latest patterns from Spindrift Handknits, called the Wesleyville Trigger Mitt,  and this was the perfect chance.  

Everything went along smoothly, until I discovered I was running low on Briggs and Little Regal Yarn in Dark Grey.



I did the 21st century thing – put out an appeal on Facebook, and within the day, I had bought enough dark grey from a friend’s stash to finish the project.

I’m just throwing it out there to all purveyors of knitting supplies in the St. John’s area: Briggs and Little REGAL yarn is an essential supply for all the traditional N.L. knits – If you stock it, we will buy it!!

Anyhow – back to the commissions. Danielle and I needed to go wool shopping.

Danielle is a visual artist, and I wanted her seal of approval for the colour of her February Lady Sweater.

An aubergine shade of Cascade 220 caught her eye.


The Wesleyville Trigger Mitts are done and in the mail.



Now I’m onto Danielle’s sweater. I’m really digging the colour.

As we were talking that night at the Duke of Duckworth, I mentioned that of all out of my friends, I have probably lived the most of my life in Newfoundland. Which is fine, but I think it would be nice to spend an extended period of time somewhere else, just for a change.

Gilbert said, “Well, just put the money for those triggers mitts in your trip fund.”

As for Danielle’s sweater, it’s already prepaid. You see, Danielle and her husband Jean-Marc lived for a couple of years in the south of France. My husband and I got to stay in their vacant apartment for a holiday a couple of years ago.

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I should probably knit Danielle’s entire wardrobe for the rest of her life.


Yarn Sale

I love a sale. I pride myself on buying anything at full price as rarely as possible.

So when I heard Posie Row was having a big sale this past weekend – I got myself downtown as quickly as possible.  

Posie Row is a funky gift and clothing shop in downtown St. John’s, which has recently expanded. Upstairs, the rooms are small micro-shops, rented to other local businesspeople. It’s kind of a cool little indie mall.

It’s where Cast On Cast Off,  the knitting shop with the fanciest yarn in town, has relocated – to a scenic third floor space.

I headed directly upstairs to check out the sale at Cast On Cast Off. I also had a skein of yarn left over from a previous project to return for store credit.

Store credit in hand, I browsed the sumptuous shelves. What to buy? Struck with indecision, I surrendered to my woolly surroundings and let the yarn choose me.


A Julie Asselin,  DK, merino and silk yarn, colour “kelp,” pulled me in.

On the main floor of Posie Row, I browsed through a sale dress rack and found a retro, black and white tweed shift dress, in my size, with a 75 per cent discount.  Obviously, I snapped it up.


Home, I laid out  my purchases and receipts.

I was thrilled with my spontaneous dress purchase. And I love the yarn.

But wait – I paid how much for that yarn?


At full price, obviously, the dress would  have been way more expensive than the yarn.  

However, on sale, the yarn was more expensive than the dress.

Ah, but I had a credit for the yarn, which means that I paid slightly less for the yarn than I did for the dress.

I know that dress will be in heavy rotation in my wardrobe. I’m wearing it to work this week. I can dress it up or down.

The yarn. There is enough of it to make one accessory item. I don’t even know what.

As I said to shop owner Katie while she rang in my purchase, “That yarn is speaking to me, but I have no idea what it’s saying.”

Katie nodded, understanding and enabling. “I hear you.”

So that’s where I am. I am willing to pay more for the raw materials to make a yet to be determined item of clothing than I am to buy a finished item.

It’s like paying more for the grapes than for the bottle of wine.

And, as you have read, I will go to great lengths (of yarn) to justify this to myself.


Vanity Projects

Now that Christmas knitting is over, it’s time for a little “me” knitting.

Most of my gift and commission knitting tends to be Newfoundland traditional style pieces made with Briggs and Little yarn.  I’ve been itching to work with yarn that’s different in size, texture and colour. Plus, other people get to wear stuff I made, so why shouldn’t I?

It’s vanity project time.

I made a short poncho as a Christmas gift out of some hand dyed Queensland yarn I snagged at a sale a few months back. I had loads left over, and it’s really nice. Obviously, I need a beret.


This northern European style Icy Water pattern has been in my Ravelry queue for some time, and I’ve wanted to try more Fair Isle knitting.

I had some soft acrylic solid and variegated yarn left over from a dog sweater. In addition to looking sharp on a chihuahua, I thought those yarns might look pretty good on me.   


Despite knitting a gauge swatch, it quickly became clear that this mitten would be way too small for my hand. Also, both yarns were pulling in on the wrong side of the mitten, making it even smaller on the inside. But it was so pretty I had to finish it. It reminds me of a stained glass window.


Now for the biggest vanity project of all: a sweater. I have admired the February Lady Sweater pattern on Ravelry for  ages, and I calculated that it could be made it in one of my favourite yarns, Cascade 220.


Sweaters are a good idea in theory, but I get impatient with longer projects and I get nervous about sizing.


I’ve  made gauge swatches, I’ve taken measurements, I’ve even compared stitch numbers with another Cascade 220 sweater, and I’m well into the February Lady project.  I still can’t tell whether it will fit me or even be wearable once it’s done.  

Oh well, it’s January. The weather is miserable. There are new things to watch on Netflix. I have passed the point of no return on this sweater.  

It’s all about me!

Knit Night

I was looking forward to it far more than I wanted to admit. The first Knit Night at the Geek Bar.

The Geek Bar is a new pub on the west end of Duckworth Street in downtown St. John’s –  formerly (still?) known as the Rock House Pub. It’s a space for sci-fi enthusiasts, board game aficionados and avid crafters. If you are going to drink a pint and knit at the same time, this is the place to do it.

The excellent Katie Garibaldi, owner of Cast On Cast Off, organized it all as a way to celebrate her knitting shop’s new location, on the third floor of the Posie Row shopping complex further east on Duckworth.

She even had limited edition Cast On Cast Off beer glasses made for the occasion!



The evening started early – at 6:30 p.m. My friend Sheila and I were dropped down there a few minutes early, knitting bags in hand. There was a lineup outside. In the rain.


We joined the queue, and joked about the bad old days when we’d be standing out in the rain one street below us – on George Street – to get into a dance club or to see a band.

The doors were unlocked promptly at 6:30 and a bar staffer wearing a Stormtrooper helmet welcomed us in.

All the available seating was quickly filled by knitters and a few rogue crocheters.


Projects on the go ranged from the big (a crocheted afghan) to the small (a figure of Eleven, the character from Stranger Things).


There were some notable members of the St. John’s knitterati there, and lots of other people I’d never met before. Mostly women, and a few brave men. Sheila and I shared our table with an archaeology student from Ontario and one of Sheila’s former elementary school students. It was cool to meet younger knitters.


There are a few knitting groups that meet around town, but this was, by far, the largest group of knitters I have seen assemble in St. John’s. Also the most diverse, in terms of people, projects and levels of ability.

All hands agreed that this Knit Night was a hit – and many of us suggested to Katie that she make this a regular thing. As many of us knit mostly at home, it’s a good way to get out of the house and still scratch that woolly itch.  

As Shirl the Purl said when we said our goodbyes at the end of the evening,  “May the knit be with you!”

Craft Sale

You’d think with my obsessive knitting, I’d have a shop full of stock by now.

However, since I hold down a full time job and I live in a house with other people, I have plenty of distractions to keep me from knitting around the clock.

At this point, I make enough socks, mitts, and other assorted woolly things to keep everyone in my life in homemade gifts, with a small surplus left over.


There was enough surplus this year to bring a small selection of knitted goods to a staff  craft fair at my office.

We had a lovely selection of things on sale. Hand painted greeting cards, Christmas ornaments, jewelry, maple table centrepieces, and lots of baked goods. I work with a talented and crafty bunch of people.


It was a bit of a strange experience, watching shoppers  – my friends – browse through the wares. I found myself hoping they would select one of my things to purchase. It was surprisingly stressful.

It also gave me some insight into my own twacking/window shopping habits at craft fairs. I’m notorious for browsing, examining, then moving on to the next table, and the next. Until our little staff event, I didn’t realise that a browsing but non-committal customer can feel like a small hope dashed; a micro-judgment on your creations.  

After a couple of days, like all the others who took part in the craft fair, I made a reasonable number of sales. Through additional word of mouth, I am working on a few more pairs of socks, for later seasonal shoppers. So in the end, it all worked out.

From now on, I’m going to try to be less of a window shopper and more of a buyer when I’m oohing and aahing over locally made items.

The experience also makes me realise that I’m not a natural entrepreneur. I’m used to work diligently for a reasonable and predictable salary.  

Deep down inside, I likely have the heart of a civil servant.

Portuguese Knitting

Newfoundland and Portugal have a long, connected history. Portuguese fishermen came to Newfoundland for centuries to fish for cod – or as they call it – bacalhau – and here in Newfoundland, we have long enjoyed port wine from Porto in the form of Newman’s Port.


In modern urban Portuguese supermarkets, you can still buy an old-school salt cod. You can’t find this at my local Sobeys.

I was also delighted to find out that we share another thing in common: knitting.


I saw this bin of familiar looking wool socks at a souvenir shop in Aveiro, Portugal. (Which happens to be the place that, historically, made the salt that dried the cod from Newfoundland.)

Portugal has a long tradition of knitting. It was especially important in rural areas of northern Portugal, where women used wool taken from local sheep to knit socks and sweaters. Usually, the yarn was not dyed and of a natural beige/grey colour.

My father backs this up, citing the Portuguese fishermen he used to watch playing football (soccer) on the harbour apron in St. John’s several decades ago. He remembers them wearing “greyish” knit sweaters.

There’s also a style of knitting, called Portuguese knitting, which apparently did not originate in Portugal, but passed through there somewhere on its way from the Middle East to South America.

There were small fabric shops all over downtown Porto, which often had a small selection of yarn for sale.



Aveiro had this yarn shop, which, alas, was closed at the time we were there.

However, I didn’t see many locals wearing hand knit sweaters or socks. It wasn’t really sweater weather during our visit. I suppose most people doing outdoor work in Portugal probably wear modern technical fabrics, like outdoor workers do in Newfoundland.  

I’ve been doing a bit on online research on knitting in Portugal since I’ve been back. There’s a bit of information on the Wool Route of northern Portugal and northern Spain, and lots of information on the Portuguese knitting technique as used in South America, but surprisingly little to be found on the role of knitting in Portuguese life.  


This is a good reason to make a return trip to Portugal – there is knitting research to  be done!

Knitting trip

In my house, travel is our weakness. When faced with replacing a frayed couch or renovating a back deck, we’ll choose none of the above and buy a pair of seat sale airplane tickets.  

That’s how we wound up taking a trip to Portugal recently. Nine days we would be away. The burning question: how much knitting gear do I need to pack?


First thing: what to knit? Chunky traditional socks tend to be always in demand, so this seemed like a good time to top up my pre-Christmas inventory. Also, I knit socks on circular needles, so I wouldn’t be sticking my elbows or long straight needles into other airplane passengers.  

Next thing: how much will I knit? Assuming I`ll knit a lot while in transit, and not so much when in full blown tourist mode, let’s assume three pairs of socks at most.

Our holiday started when I cast on my first sock in the airport lounge in St. John’s.

For the next nine days I knit on airplanes, trains, even during a brutal two-hour lineup at customs in Lisbon. I also knit at cafes, and on sunny roof terraces.


When I look at the completed socks, I can remember where I was during the different stages of construction . I was just starting the second green sock when the stunning cast-iron bridges over the Duoro river came into view. I finished the red one at our rented flat in Porto. And I worked on the stripes of the grey pair on our sunny rooftop terrace in Lisbon.


The knitting came in handy in staving off air rage when we were delayed on the tarmac in Lisbon and then took a longer route back to Canada. I knit most of a complete pair of socks in the 12 hours I was squished into an economy seat. It`s healthier than drinking those little bottles of Chateau Air Canada.


Total projects completed: five and one-third socks. I ran out of green yarn on the Porto to Lisbon train.

Oh – and Portugal is beautiful. I managed to stop knitting long enough to notice.

The Shirley A. Scott Knitters’ Library

Many of us get our knitting patterns online these days, but Shirley “Shirl the Purl” Scott kicks it old school – and she has amassed an impressive collection of knitting books.


Shirl has been doing a bit of downsizing lately, and she has donated much of her large collection of knitting books to Spindrift Handknits.

I was lucky enough to be amongst a select group of townie knitters invited to the Spindrift Handknits HQ for the opening of the Shirley A. Scott Knitters’ Library.  

After the customary coffee, tea and cookies, we broke out our knitting, and sat down to listen to Shirl’s short and colourful talk about her collection.

Shirl had a long career as a librarian, and she has assembled a collection of knitting books with that trade’s attention to detail.

Most of her books focus on North Atlantic knitting.


There are books on Shetland,  Fair Isle and German Sweaters. Estonian and Norwegian Mittens. Swedish socks. American midwestern/Scandinavian jackets. There’s also the scattered Japanese lace manual thrown into the mix.


It’s all a bit mind blowing.

A few fun facts from Shirl:

American knitters are credited with most of the English language translations of these northern knitting patterns.

Most knitting books are published with a copyright, but not a copyright date, to make knitters less likely to judge whether a pattern is in or out of fashion.

Japanese patterns rely mostly on graphs and numbers, so even if you can’t read Japanese, you can probably figure out a pattern.

Shirl, goddess of knitting that she is, is like the rest of us mere mortal knitters in at least one respect. Although she has amassed this amazing collection of knitting patterns, she has attempted only a handful of them. We all have good intentions.

We finished off the afternoon with a round of knitting trivia and another round of coffee and sweet treats.  


I feel like I have entered a secret society of sorts; kind of like the Freemasons, but with wool.

The Shirley A. Scott Knitters’ Library is accessible through Spindrift Handknits by request.


The Stash

I approach my knitting needs the way I approach groceries. I buy ‘em as I need ‘em. I have a project in mind. I go to the yarn shop and buy the supplies. When I have finished that project, I buy another skein or two for another project.

Then recently, on a trip to my go-to yarn shop, I saw an ominous sign in the window.

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The owner is retiring and selling the building. She says the probable buyer wants to carry on with the yarn business, but a change in my yarn-drug dealer comes with a risk.  

I need to start a stash.

Many of you have epic stashes. I hear tales of rooms full of yarn that you know you will never live long enough to knit.

But I have to start somewhere.  

First, I made a list of all the yarns I have used in past projects, and that I’m likely to use again.

Then I hit the sale, which was a little underwhelming. “Sale” was more about thinning out the shop’s hoarder-like stock by a few skeins.

One of the yarns on my list, Diamond Select Ultra, was on sale, so I bought half of dozen of those. I bought some Cascade 220 at full price for a sweater I might make next winter. And then I picked up a few sale skeins that looked interesting. I’m just a wild and crazy gal.  


I’m also looking for alternative sources.

Briggs and Little, the yarn I use for most of the trad Newfoundland-style knits, is relatively easy to find. On some excursions around the bay I found some shops in smaller communities that sell it, so I snapped some up.


Yes, I know there is online ordering.

But to me, buying yarn in person is part of the process and part of the pleasure. I like to feel the quality of the yarn before I buy. I look at the colours in natural light. I put skeins side by side, colour by colour, to look at potential. I have often gone to the yarn shop with one kind of yarn in mind for a project, but leave with something completely different and way better.

So – in grocery terms – my stash is more of a  “Oh, hams are on sale! I should buy a couple for the freezer”  situation, than say, stocking up the bunker with several years’ worth of canned goods.

The funny thing is, now that I have all this yarn, I’m a bit paralyzed by choice. What am I going to make next?


Signal Hill Socks

I’m back! Due to the unusually excellent summer here in Yarn Cove, all non-essential indoor activities (ie. blogging) have been suspended for a while.

When weather around here co-operates, you have to drop the knitting, seize the moment, and take a hike up Signal Hill.


Signal Hill looms a steep 155 metres above St. John’s harbour, and it’s the most prominent landmark in the city.

I know it well – I worked summers at the Parks Canada National Historic Site there when I was at university. Walking and running up this hill has been part of my life for decades.

Of course, there is a knitting connection. Rayna Curtis, my knitting Obi-Wan Kenobi, has designed a stunning pattern of socks, called the Signal Hill socks.


The crisscrossing cables are inspired by the sign at the top of Signal Hill which points to cities all over the globe.

Parks Canada workers had to replace most of those arrows a while back after they were torn off by high winds.

So Signal Hill is spectacular, but not for the faint of heart. Kind of like the Signal Hill socks are for me.

Rayna set me up well, though – with a beautiful skein of hand dyed Tanis Fiber Arts Superwash Merino from her personal stash – and lots of encouragement and occasional emergency advice.

Like a hike up Signal Hill in high winds, this pattern requires my full concentration and skill.


I had to change my usual habit of knitting in front of the television, or in a waiting room, or in a car – basically any situation in which most people stare at their phones.  

I knit the Signal Hill socks sitting upright at a table, with an overhead light on, the drapes wide open, using my full concentration.

I tried several methods of cabling – using a cable needles, cabling without needles, and I finally settled on a hybrid technique, in which I put the cable stitch on a stitch holder, then slid it back to the left needle for knitting.


There was lots of knitting, squinting, unravelling, knitting, squinting again, unravelling again, etc.  

But like a hike up Signal Hill on a windy day, the sense of accomplishment I got when I reached the tops of the toes is as spectacular as the view. Here are my socks and I at the top of Signal Hill. 

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I try to wear my Signal Hill socks in a way that I can show them off – with cropped pants, shorts, etc. Like running up the actual Signal Hill, you have to brag a bit about the feat. (And about the feet). 


A word of caution: don’t expect me to gift you with a pair of Signal Hill socks anytime soon. Like running up Signal Hill, I don’t expect to be repeating these socks on a daily basis.