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.

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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.

The Shirley A. Scott Knitters’ Library

Many of us get our knitting patterns online these days, but Shirley “Shirl the Purl” Scott kicks it old school – and she has amassed an impressive collection of knitting books.

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Shirl has been doing a bit of downsizing lately, and she has donated much of her large collection of knitting books to Spindrift Handknits.

I was lucky enough to be amongst a select group of townie knitters invited to the Spindrift Handknits HQ for the opening of the Shirley A. Scott Knitters’ Library.  

After the customary coffee, tea and cookies, we broke out our knitting, and sat down to listen to Shirl’s short and colourful talk about her collection.

Shirl had a long career as a librarian, and she has assembled a collection of knitting books with that trade’s attention to detail.

Most of her books focus on North Atlantic knitting.

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There are books on Shetland,  Fair Isle and German Sweaters. Estonian and Norwegian Mittens. Swedish socks. American midwestern/Scandinavian jackets. There’s also the scattered Japanese lace manual thrown into the mix.

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It’s all a bit mind blowing.

A few fun facts from Shirl:

American knitters are credited with most of the English language translations of these northern knitting patterns.

Most knitting books are published with a copyright, but not a copyright date, to make knitters less likely to judge whether a pattern is in or out of fashion.

Japanese patterns rely mostly on graphs and numbers, so even if you can’t read Japanese, you can probably figure out a pattern.

Shirl, goddess of knitting that she is, is like the rest of us mere mortal knitters in at least one respect. Although she has amassed this amazing collection of knitting patterns, she has attempted only a handful of them. We all have good intentions.

We finished off the afternoon with a round of knitting trivia and another round of coffee and sweet treats.  

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I feel like I have entered a secret society of sorts; kind of like the Freemasons, but with wool.

The Shirley A. Scott Knitters’ Library is accessible through Spindrift Handknits by request.

 

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.

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.