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.

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.

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.