Sweaters

I usually knit for the extremities. Most often, I enjoy making hats, socks and mittens. Basically anything that covers the head, hands or feet and can be made with one skein.

But when I’m browsing through patterns online or in magazines, I get some serious sweater envy.  

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There are some spectacular sweater designs out there….from contemporary spins on  traditional fishermen and Scandinavian patterns, to cutting edge modern looks.

The February Lady Sweater has been in my Ravelry queue for a couple of years, and over the winter, I finally made one.  

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I love it, and I wear it everywhere. My friend, Danielle, loves it too so then I made one for her.

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We’re both really happy with our sweaters, but I have to say, I found knitting them a bit of a drag after a while. Even though the sweaters I made took only four skeins of Cascade 220, it seemed like I was knitting each project for an eternity.

In the case of Danielle’s sweater, double eternity, since I had an unravelling misadventure with that one.

I like the smaller projects so much because they are short-term. By the time I get bored with a pattern or a yarn or a colour, I am finished. Generally, an accessory takes about one skein of yarn. So if whatever I’m working on is not my jam, it’s a small investment.

I also still fret a bit over fit. Despite making gauge swatches, I’m still never sure if the sweater is the right size. And for a sweater to look good, the fit has to be good. Hats, mittens and socks can fit a wide range of sizes.

However, I think I have found a cardigan compromise.

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A few people I know have had babies recently. After mulling over what to knit, I found a one-skein sweater pattern that went well with some Berocco Vintage I had in my stash.

A fashion forward – and short-term – project.

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With my adventures in sweaterland, I have changed the way I look at all those super fashionable sweater patterns.

I now look at that edgy asymmetrical cardigan the way I look at a home decorating magazine – I may love that mid century modern dining room – but I have no illusions that I will recreate it in my house.

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Unravelling

There’s been a gap in my knitting blogging lately. Mostly because I’ve been spending a lot of time UN-knitting. I’ve been on a bit of an unravelling tear.

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Earlier this winter, I enthusiastically dug into my second February Lady Sweater project – this one for my friend.

I decided to make a small change – decreasing the number of stitches by seven under each armpit, thinking that this would provide a better fit.

Then, about halfway down the body of the sweater,I knit a round of the four-row pattern backwards.

I  kept knitting. By the time I was working on the right arm sleeve I noticed I had a LOT of yarn left over. So I laid the sweater out for a look.  

Even my husband, who is usually oblivious to the subtleties of knitwear design, looked at it and said “uh oh.”

I had to unravel. The entire arm. The body up to the yoke.

It’s a good thing I like to knit.

My knitting spidey sense has developed to a point where within a few stitches or a couple of rows max, I sense a mistake, stop and look, and backtrack.  

For me, to unravel or not to unravel is about risk management. How much damage will I do unravelling then picking up stitches to start again? If I knit past the mistake, will anyone notice? How obvious is the unravelling?

When I started knitting, I simply plowed ahead regardless, Hence, the first hat that I made. I accidentally started knitting in the wrong direction at one point. I call that garter stitch row a “design feature.”

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I can’t live any more with accidental design features. It’s a good thing I like to knit.  

So while I was knitting that sweater again, I got bored and looked for a short term project to mix things up.  I took out a skein of purple hand dyed wool, bought on last year’s trip to Portugal, with a mind to knitting a beret to spruce up my spring wardrobe.

I did a gauge swatch and got to work.

First off, I accidentally twisted the ribbing. Then, I realized the hat was about the size of a dinner plate. Then, attempting to try it on too soon, I ripped some stitches out.  

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I had to unravel that beret three times before it worked.

Eventually the sweater got finished – a month behind schedule.

What did I learn from all this?

Even with gauge swatches, I don’t have a good sense of fit.

However, I have a stronger sense of quality control  

Most importantly, do not fear the unravel.

Local Yarn Store Day

Saturday April 21 was the first annual Local Yarn Store Day – so of course I had to do my part and go shopping at my two favourite local yarn shops in St. John’s.

Wool Trends – the jam packed, multipurpose wool shop on Hamilton Avenue, has re-opened under new owners –  Deirdre Vey and Jake Brennan, and the shop is transitioning to a new name – A Grand Yarn.

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Deirdre and Jake have gutted, renovated, and re-organized the place, and they are in the process of stocking up and getting to know their customers.

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They are just getting started, but they have some intriguing plans. They are talking about using the upstairs for classes and events, setting up an online shop, and perhaps even home yarn delivery in the greater St. John’s area (!)   

Next – it was on to Cast On Cast Off on Duckworth Street. It turns out that April 21 is also Record Store Day, so my son and I carpooled to downtown, he went to Fred’s Records for the musical festivities, and I went a few storefronts down to Cast On Cast Off at Posie Row and Co.

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Katie Garibaldi has relocated Cast On Cast Off from the west end of Water Street to the Posie Row complex on Duckworth Street. It’s a smaller shop, but cozy and bright, and attracts both the knitting crowd and the general shoppers browsing through Posie Row.

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Cast On Cast Off, or COCO, as it’s known to its devotees, is where I go to get that one special skein for a special project, although Katie does stock some economical Briggs and Little and Cascade yarns. COCO is the only place I would pay $30 for a skein of sock wool. I don’t think I have ever paid that much for socks.

Katie is loads of fun, knows all her customers by name, and has comfy couches to encourage knitting and loitering.

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It was a productive day – I netted some everyday yarn for upcoming projects, and a fancy skein that I am going to use for an as yet to be determined, but classy, accessory.

Also,  I’m spending my money at local businesses, and I can’t ever have too much yarn.

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.

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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.

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The Wesleyville Trigger Mitts are done and in the mail.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.   

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.