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.

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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.

 

Curling Yarns

St. John’s has gone curling crazy. The  2017 Tim Hortons Brier, a.k.a. the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship, has slid into town.

Like most cold weather activities in Canada, the athletes and most of the fans have long abandoned hand-knit clothing for technical sportswear. Knitting, however, is still proudly tangled up in Brier traditions.

A bit of background first…

Curling is a deceivingly tricky sport. The game is full of strategy and it’s physically more demanding than it looks. The Brier is probably the hardest curling event to win in the world. This week in St. John’s, at least three Olympic gold medal curling teams are pitted against each other. Game action is serious.

On the other hand, the Brier attracts a crowd of the most intense and eccentric fans this side of the Grateful Dead. Fans across Canada book group holidays to take in the Brier.  They bring multiple costume changes. The post-game party scene is legendary.

Which brings me back to the knitting – and some of the glorious work spotted around Mile One Centre, where Brier action is taking place.

First, the curling sweater. It’s an iconic piece of Canadian winter wear.

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Here at Mile One Centre, Sandy from St. John’s wears her hand knit curling sweater with pride. Sandy got this as a gift from a friend who wore it while curling in Saskatchewan in the 1950’s.

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Here’s another curling sweater, on display as part of a Ford promotion at Mile One. The Ford rep told me the company bought it new, off Etsy. It’s distressed a bit to look like it’s a well-worn heirloom.

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Apparently curling sweaters have become a bit of a thing in downtown Toronto hipster circles, which makes the Etsy sweater plausible.

Now – hats. These are gleefully worn by four couples who drove in from Springdale to take in the week’s competition.

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Note that the women have red curling stone hats and shirts, and the men are wearing blue. They are wearing a woolen representation of the two sets of curling stones found on every sheet of curling ice.

Debbie from St. John’s is wearing a brand new crocheted curling stone hat.

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She said her daughter-in-law, inspired by the Springdale teams of curling stone hats, crocheted this one while watching the Tuesday afternoon curling draw at Mile One.

Over at the Brier Patch, Brian from North Bay, Ontario wears this hat, knit on a loom by his daughter.

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Brian was the forward operating scout for his buddies – who were still at the game, wearing matching hats.

Brier madness continues into this weekend. Which means there is still time to knit yourself a curling sweater or crochet your own curling rock hat, to wear during the final game on Sunday.

Sock it to ya

It turns out everyone who knows I knit seems to dig socks. Bulky, rustic, fisherman style socks. They look great, they are warm, and with all the talk of hygge and coziness, a pair of chunky socks knit by your friend are totally on-trend.

That small Yarn Cove sale I had before Christmas has resulted in a bunch of commissions.

That’s a pair of my socks in action!

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I deposited cash from the sale back at my local yarn shop for more Briggs and Little Tuffy sock yarn.

I’ve been knitting up a sock storm ever since – rushing some to get them ready for Christmas presents, and knitting the backlog in January. I’m only coming up for air now.

It was fun and flattering to be asked to knit items to order.

On the other hand, up until now, I’ve pretty much been following my own whims on what to knit and when. The item, the pattern, and the yarn have all been up to me.

As I was knitting my way through the pile of Briggs and Little Tuffy, my friend Penni came home for a Christmas visit. Penni and I go back to junior high school. She’s lived and worked all over the world and now she’s based in downtown Toronto. As long as I’ve known her, she’s been stylish.

These days, Penni is all about the faux fur. She came home with a lovely faux fur bomber jacket with three quarter sleeves in natural colours.

After I bored Penni with some talk about all my knitting projects, she said “Could I commission you to make me some long, sleeveless gloves?”

Could you ever!

I had just the pattern in mind, sitting in my Ravelry queue, just waiting to be loaded up on the needles. At last, something different!

I decided on a wool-acrylic blend, which could feel nicer on the skin than 100 per cent wool.

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For me, the greatest compliment is that others actually wear stuff I make.

However, I think I now understand why someone who enjoys cooking at home should probably not open a restaurant.

 

“The knitting needle is mightier than the sword.”

“The knitting needle is mightier than the sword.”

I saw that quote posted by Marc Hedlund on Twitter following the massive womens’ marches which happened around the world on Saturday.

This is a photo, courtesy of the Voice of America, of a sea of demonstrators in knitted “pussy hats” in Washington, D.C.

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Who would have thought, in the very digital year of 2017, that the analog activity of knitting would be a such of public act of democracy in action?

The Pussy Hat Project was started by Jayna Zweiman and Krista Suh, shown here in this photo by Lucy Nicholson of Reuters. You can find out more about the project, and how to knit one for yourself,  at www.pussyhatproject.com

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Here are some of my favourite photos of Saturday’s events.

Erin, a friend and dedicated knitter in Toronto, knit her hat and two others for friends. She says this was “Perhaps the most powerful, meaningful knitting experience so far.”

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This is a Washington, D.C. police officer, photo courtesy of JMBrinton on Twitter.

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How could you not have a smile wearing a bright pink, cozy, knitted hat?

The hats really pop in a crowd, as shown in this photo by Shannon Stapleton of Reuters.

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It makes me feel proud to be a knitter.

The events of the past few days have also reminded me of words Canadian politician Jack Layton wrote in an open letter to Canadians shortly before he passed away in 2011.

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New year, new projects

2017 is the start of my third year in yarn – and I have some exciting knitting ahead. 

Santa Claus brought me a wool winder! Now I can prep skeins of wool by winding them into large, orderly large hockey pucks. Until now, I’ve been stringing the skeins over the backs of two chairs, or more awkwardly, around my knees, to wind into uneven balls.

Plus, winding wool is almost as fun as knitting with it.

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Ain’t no party like a wool winding party.

Also for Christmas, my in-laws in Calgary gave me the Greatest Gift of All – yarn, made by the very Alberta-sounding Red Neck Goat Ranch. And it came in a brand new project bag!

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For me, yarn is almost a non-perishable item. Any brand new skein or ball that comes into the house must be consumed immediately. (Thus, my stash consists of half-used balls of yarn).

What to make?

After my pre-Christmas gift making frenzy, and a few commissioned pieces, I think it’s time to make something for me.

As with many small batch yarns, these three skeins came with no labels, so I had to do some guessing.

First, the size of the yarn.

Comparing it the other balls in my arsenal, it seems to be of worsted weight. And compared to other full skeins, there looks to be roughly 200 m per skein. I have three of them.

I think I may have enough to make this pattern.

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This short poncho would be great for me to wear at work on chilly early winter mornings. The question is – will three skeins complete the project?

I’m going to live on the edge and give it a try.

I have a couple other multi-ball projects I’d like to get at over the next couple of months. And then it’s back to socks, mitts, hats, and the small stuff that makes great gifts.

That new wool winder is going to get quite the workout.

If 2017 gets any wilder or crazier than this, I’m not sure how I’m going to handle it.

A Visit to Baynoddy

It’s been a while since my last post – and I have no excuse. I fell off the regular writing wagon, what with work, life, knitting, etc. But I’m back!

And I’ve been thinking about the whole locavore thing.

Occasionally for a treat, I’ll go out for a nice meal at Mallard Cottage, or another of one of the happening restaurants in St. John’s that specialize in local food.  Who would have known that root veggies and cod would be so trendy?

The meal is always delicious, the atmosphere and service makes for a lovely evening out, but for my wallet, it’s pretty expensive. A meal for two, with wine, comes in at around $150. So, it’s not every week I can do this sort of thing.

I got to thinking about this when I paid a visit to the Fahey Farm recently, out in Chapel’s Cove, home to Baynoddy Knitwear, Spinning and Weaving.  

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Linda Lewis creates the gorgeous Baynoddy knitwear and woven textiles I’ve seen at craft fairs for years. Her husband is part of the Fahey family, which has operated this farm since 1789, which makes it oldest heritage farm in Newfoundland and Labrador.

These days, the Fahey Farm’s main crop is fibre.

Linda and her husband raise sheep, goats, and alpacas who provide the raw material for the Baynoddy sweaters and scarves.  

It was great to spend a couple of hours with Linda, touring the small farm, meeting the animals, and seeing the process of getting the fibre from the backs of the animals, through the cleaning, carding and spinning process, and then, finally to the sweater.  

See that hand spun skein of yarn? That came from Henry the Alpaca!

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That woven scarf over there? Half Clover the Sheep and Gertie the Goat.

It’s also really hard, time consuming work. They run a friggin’ farm. That means year round early mornings, late nights, and everything in between.

Washing, cleaning, carding, and spinning wool is a slow and careful process which requires a lot of time and even more patience.

That’s before Linda even gets to the weaving and the knitting.

It’s one thing for me to knit for fun, as a diversion at the end of a work day, but it’s another ball of wool to make a living from it.

I can totally understand why yarn and the finished products from Baynoddy are a bit pricey. Even so, I’m still amazed – and impressed – that Linda and her husband are making a go of it.  

In an ideal world, me and all the other local knitting fanatics would be buying all our supplies at Baynoddy and a handful of other local wood producing spots.

But for me, on a modest budget, artisanal yarn is a special occasion thing, just like having a meal at Mallard Cottage.

Then again, when I’m gonna splurge, I’m gonna splurge local.

So, while I was at Baynoddy, I picked up two skeins of 50% mohair and 50% wool, which means half Gertie the goat and half one of the sheep (I can’t remember which one).

I made a set of fingerless gloves and a matching earwarmer headband.

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Fashion and function!  

I’ll use them to punch up an otherwise blah outfit in the middle of winter.

Just like a meal and a night out at Mallard Cottage can punch up an otherwise blah week anytime of the year. 

P.S. Here is the result of my visit to Baynoddy from my day job.

Woolen drawers

It started as a joke.

I was sitting in front of the television one evening, knitting, as usual. My teenage son was there, looking at both the television and his phone.

So, just to give him the gears I said, “Sure, if you play your cards right, I’ll knit you a nice pair of drawers for Christmas.”

Drawers is Newfoundland slang for underwear.

Eyerolls, cringes, and a good laugh followed.

Hey, wait a minute….

A quick internet search later, and I found a pattern, which proves that you can knit pretty much anything.

The pattern calls for a mid-weight wool, and I worked with my go-to, Cascade 220. Knit in the round, you start from the bottom of the legs. The left leg even has a nice cable pattern.

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After the legs are joined up, it’s a fairly straightforward knit in the round. A few straight rows are required to put the arse in.

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And voila!

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On the plus side, they’re seamless, they’re made of natural fibre, and they’re breathable.

On the minus side, they are, well, woolen drawers.

Interestingly enough, this is my first knitting sale. I printed the pattern at work, and one of my work buddies offered to buy them. Sold!

My work buddy, who’s hip to the scene, thinks that there could be a market for woolen drawers. He’s promised to give me a product review.

If there is indeed a market, I can make two versions of the woolen drawers: regular and extra scratchy.

Travelling yarns, part un

Yarn Cove has been busy for the past little while, making the most of the all-too-brief Newfoundland summer, and having an away adventure.

A last minute opportunity to take a holiday in the south of France and Spain came our way (yeah, life is hard in Yarn Cove) so immediately I planned out my Mediterranean knitting schedule.

First order of business: what knitting gear can you take on international flights? Air Canada says plastic knitting needles with rounded tips are acceptable.

Lion Brand Yarns also has some good travelling tips, and as it’s an American company, I figure their rules are pretty airtight, so to speak.

After figuring out which projects I would likely take on during the holiday (a beret, a toque and a pair of socks), I went to my local knitting shop and bought some needles.

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I was a little worried about the short 4.5 mm circular needle, as I wasn’t sure what material it was made of. So I cast on some stitches and knit a few rows of my beret pattern, just in case the CATSA workers at the airport had any doubt as to my intentions. But really, I can’t see any airport security staff in Newfoundland not recognizing knitting needles.

Anyhow, my bag went through security with no issue and off we went, to Toronto and then Barcelona.

The beret project kept me occupied on the red eye between Toronto and Barcelona and after some great progress, I managed to doze before landing.

We then had to transfer from airplane to train. Here I am knitting in Barcelona Sants, the city’s main train station, while waiting for the train.

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The world has changed quite a bit since I went backpacking in 1990, and Barcelona Sants had an airport security style x-ray system for our luggage. I hadn’t thought of that.

How do you say knitting in Spanish?

Anyhow, I kept my cool and I guess I looked non-threatening enough, so on we went, luggage and knitting, to the town of Sete, France.

More woolly aventures to come….

The Brigus Knitting Mills

I’m working away at my first cardigan – the Harvest pattern from Tin Can Knits.

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It’s certainly not perfect, but I’m learning a lot and I’ll happily wear my prototype once I’m done.  

I brought the work-in-progress up to my parents’ house for Sunday dinner the other day and my mother said the pattern put her in mind of the sweaters from the Brigus Knitting Mills.

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The Brigus Knitting Mills?

My mother still has her mother’s prized sweater from the Brigus Knitting Mills, likely purchased sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

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It’s densely knit, high quality, and has that retro mid-century look about it.

My mother recalls the clothing made by the mill was all the rage in Newfoundland at the time, and fairly expensive. A coveted sweater, jacket or skirt from the Brigus Knitting Mills would have been an investment piece of workwear for my grandmother, who was a teacher and a single mother.

I immediately went to the Google machine to find out more.

The Brigus Knitting Mills started in 1953 as the Eckhardt Mill, an offshoot of an Austrian company.

It was part of  then-Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood’s industrialization plan for Newfoundland. Smallwood had appointed Latvian economist Alfred Valdemanis as Newfoundland’s Director of Economic Development in 1950, with disasterous results. Smallwood, with Valdemanis’s guidance, set up 16 manufacturing plants in Newfoundland in the 1950s, and most were Austrian and German companies.

Almost all of them, including the Brigus Knitting Mills, failed.

Noted Newfoundland costume designer Peggy Hogan wrote a journal article about the Brigus Knitting Mills in 2003. There are a few passing reference to the mills in other academic and government papers, but that’s pretty much the only trace of the Brigus Knitting Mills online – or anywhere, for that matter.

There are no vintage Brigus Knitting Mills outfits for sale on Etsy. No stock photos of fashionable mid-twentieth century Newfoundland women modelling the clothes. No modern fashion revival of the patterns.

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I’m pretty sure that the Brigus Knitting Mills building in Brigus, pictured here,  is long gone.

It’s a shame, really.

I have this vision of a Mad Men-style office, somewhere in St. John’s or Gander or Corner Brook, where Newfoundland women are as fashionable and current in their own way as women working in Montreal or New York City.

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Also, think of the possibilities of a retro revival of Newfoundland fashion that’s not about fishing and outport life, but has a more cosmopolitan spin on Newfoundland style.

If any of you know more about the Brigus Knitting Mills, please drop me a line and let me know!