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.

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World Wide Knit in Public Day 2017

It’s the most wonderful day of the year – for knitters. World Wide Knit in Public Day!

Now, I usually keep my knitting life and my work life separate, but I thought – hey, I work in public radio. And this is World Wide Knit in Public Day.

So with the bemused thumbs up from my bosses, on June 10, I created an official WWKIP event, CBC Newfoundland and Labrador’s Knit Along on Weekend AM.

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I invited Weekend AM listeners to knit along at home

Naturally, I invited my three knitting mentors, Christine LeGrow, Rayna Curtis, and Shirley “Shirl the Purl” Scott into the studio.

For an hour, we took calls and we broadcast both on CBC radio and on Facebook Live.

You can see the results here.

Or catch a highlight reel here.

Even non-knitters seemed to enjoy it. Especially our camera operator, Mark Cumby (you can see him in the back of the photos) who got a pair of hand-made vamps from Christine out of it.

There were other rocking WWKIP events happening in Newfoundland and Labrador on Saturday.

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Including this one at Cast On Cast Off. That’s a big crowd balled up inside the shop.

That’s knitters for you. We’re a wild and crazy crowd.

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.

 

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.

The best of socks, the worst of socks

Recently, my knitting life has been a sock-o-rama, as I filled requests for chunky fishermen-style socks. As I finished off the last pair, I was ready to knit something else. Perversely, more socks.

There are knitters and then there are sock knitters. Sock knitters are the crowd who make intricately patterned foot covers with super fine wool, socks meant to fit in your shoes and under your pants legs.

I have neither the eyesight nor the patience for that. I also have a bit of vanity – if I’m going to knit something, I’d like it to be worn in a way that shows it off to the rest of the world.

I thought I wasn’t a sock knitter until I picked up Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Sock Book and I saw this pattern.

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These socks are a work of art I could show off with skirts or dresses. With these, maybe I could even start an adult knee sock fashion trend!

Off I went, pattern in hand, to my local wool shop. The nice saleslady talked me into the quality sock wool that matched the required gauge. Taxes in, that was $36.

I also had to replace my 3.25 mm circular needles, which had been destroyed during a previous sock mishap. Another $10.

That was $46 for the raw materials. I wouldn’t even spend that much money on a pair of technical running socks.

I started the project on a little holiday away. In the airport lounge in Halifax, I laid out my yarn and set to work.

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I spent the entire seven hour layover untangling and reballing the yarn, then starting and unravelling the sock several times until I got the hang of the pattern. By the time I boarded the next plane, I had a ribbing and the leg started.

I picked away at the sock during my 4-day mini break. I got used to the dental floss-like yarn, and I found the sweet spot in my eyesight where I should hold the needles. I started to appreciate the slow but intricate progress of the pattern.

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I slowly navigated the heel turn. A work of art, if I do say so myself.

Before I started the complicated heel decrease with added sole stripes, I tried the sock on.

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Yeah, yeah, I didn’t knit a gauge swatch. But the gauge on the yarn package matched the gauge on the pattern. Even if it didn’t match, there is no way I would mess with such a bonkers complicated pattern.

What now?

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I am not inclined to attempt another miniature feat of engineering to complete the pair.

I am not a sock knitter.

My husband offered to use it as a golf club cover.

What to do with all this sock wool?

I have a lifetime’s supply of very expensive dental floss.

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.