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.  

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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.

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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?

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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). 

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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.

The Woolly Workshop

I just came back from a whirlwind holiday in Europe – first with friends, then with family.

In our action packed couple of weeks, I managed to indulge in some knitting tourism.  

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Durham, U.K. is a lovely cathedral and university town in northern England, not far from the Scottish border. My mother and I were there to visit an old friend of hers. Judging by the number of sheep we saw on the train as we neared Durham, I thought there might be a knitting scene there.

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The epicentre of that scene seems to be The Woolly Workshop. It`s a little shop tucked away down a steep staircase from the historic old town, which then opens up into a small courtyard. The Woolly Workshop is easily spotted due to the faux sheep near its front entrance.

Inside, there is a yarn shop on the first floor, and a project room upstairs. The shop stocks mostly smaller yarn sizes, such as fingering and sport, suitable for socks and delicate shawl work. There’s also some raw fleece and other knit/crochet supplies.

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I had a nice chat with Alyson Mason, textile artist and the owner of The Woolly Workshop. We compared our favourite yarns and knitting patterns. I showed her some photos of my work; she showed me some of her completed projects on display in the shop. We talked Fair Isle and Tunisian crochet. My mother`s eyes had glazed over by this point, but she was game to browse amongst the colourful shelves.

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Alyson was quite excited about northern England’s upcoming WoolFest on June 23-24. From what I could gather, WoolFest is like Glastonbury for knitters, featuring many independent yarn makers, fleece providers, and even the sheep providing yarn for the event.

I left The Woolly Workshop with a couple of lovely multi-coloured balls of fingering yarn, and I’m browsing through scarf and shawl patterns to find something that speaks to me.

Great wool and knitting talk from a cool shop beats a souvenir tea towel for me any day as a lovely reminder of my time in Durham.

Another Kick at Socks

I have just finished up a pile of multi-coloured mittens, trigger mitts and the like, using up all the different skeins I bought for the project, and now I’m ready to knit for other parts of the body again.

In the meantime, my feet are cold and damp just like the weather, so the time has come to go back at socks.

I went off them a bit, after my expensive wool sock disaster in January, but now I’m ready.

So I went wool shopping.

First – the classic materials for the trad Newfoundland work sock.

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These seem to be a big hit for gifts, so it’s always a good idea to have a few pairs on hand. Briggs and Little Tuffy yarn is easy on the wallet. Also, I’m going on a trip soon, so this will be a straightforward and portable project to take along.

But – dare I venture into something more…refined?

The smallest knitting needle my eyes can stand is  3.25 mm, so I dug up a pattern and bought some Patons Kroy self striping sock yarn.

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The Kroy is a step up from the Briggs and Little, and the pattern is a bit more tangly. I still have to break out of my black, grey and white sock colour rut. Baby steps.

Since I’m a sock novice, I turned to Rayna Curtis – my knitting mentor – and queen of socks – for advice.

Rayna thinks I am ready to try her Signal Hill pattern.

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This was the pair of socks that Rayna displayed proudly on Facebook a couple of years ago. These socks were part of my inspiration to take up knitting. Never in a million years did I think I would be casting these on.

Rayna even kindly suggested some wool out of her own personal stash.

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Tanis Yellow Label. Sounds more like a wine.

That’s fitting, because Rayna’s yarn stash is the woolly equivalent of the mahogany paneled wine cellar. My previous two yarn buys would never make it to one of Rayna’s project bags.

I have promised Rayna that I will keep her posted on my sock progress. I’ll warm up with the trad socks and the Kroy socks first. Gotta be able to do a 5k and 10k race before considering the marathon.

It’s an honour to be at the sock starting line.

On Colour

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“Spring” in Newfoundland is generally fiction, but this year, it’s been especially so. As I write, a mixture of freezing rain and snow is pelting down. Most of the coast has been socked in with pack ice. It’s spectacular, but brutal.

And monochromatic.

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Life here at the moment is happening in black, white and grey, with a touch of brown. Which, as fashion choices, are pretty good. You can’t go wrong with a wardrobe built on these colours, or lack thereof.

But – you need to accessorize in colour.  In St. John’s in April, that means in both  wardrobe and life in general.

I’ve never had a good grip on working with colour, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

My knitting mentors Shirley Scott and Christine LeGrow are particularly inventive when it comes to incorporating colour into traditional Newfoundland patterns. So I thought of them when I went to pick out some wool to make some mittens and trigger mitts.

I laid a rainbow of Briggs and Little skeins on the floor of the local wool shop, and rearranged them until I found a combo that looked good to me. I picked out a navy (which reminds me of blueberries) a maroon (partridgeberries) and a light brown (dirt, twigs, or something from nature in general).

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So I wound them up and set to work.

Voila! Newfoundland berry mitts. Plus some fingerless gloves, in which I clung on to grey as a neutral colour for safety.

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On these projects, I had to think quite a bit about which colour should go where. I also wonder whether these mitts would match with their eventual owners` wardrobes.

It’s time for a deep dive into colour theory, methinks.  In the meantime, regardless if these mittens clash with outfits or not, they are an important safety feature in a black, white and grey world.