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.

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.

 

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.

NONIA needs knitters

If you’ve knit-bombed your friends and family with enough knitted gifts to set them up for life, NONIA needs you.

At my day job, I got to chat with Keelin O’Leary, NONIA’s manager, about their casting (on) call for knitters. This is Keelin with some of NONIA’s products for sale.

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NONIA stands for the Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association. The non-profit organization started 96 years ago.

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These days, NONIA is known for its shop at 286 Water Street in  St. John’s, which sells hand-knit toques, scarves, socks, trigger mitts, sweaters – you name it – to locals and tourists alike. It’s a Newfoundland and Labrador institution.

Here is how NONIA stocks up: The group mails out boxes of yarn and patterns to knitters. Knitters return the box, filled with completed items. Knitters get paid by the each. It’s old school and it works.

So if you’re interested, give their toll free knitters’ line a call 1-877-753-8062, or check out their website: www.nonia.com

You can find out more about NONIA from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Travelling yarns, part deux

My knitting and I recently spent two weeks in Sete, in the south of France and Barcelona, Spain.

The south of France is known for its linen and other cloth textiles, but alas, I did not find any sign of local yarn. Most of the farmland I saw seemed to be devoted to grapevines, not sheep farming. Not that that’s a bad thing.

I thought about taking my knitting to the beach, then ruled it out. I’d get sand in the yarn.

So most of my knitting was done while we hung out under the hot sun on my friends’ balcony, drinking rose and listening to some music.

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However, I did take out my sock-in-progress on our train ride between Sete and Barcelona.

Two freshly retired couples got on at Narbonne, and took a set of seats diagonally from us. One of the women in the groups said to the other, in English, “Look, she’s knitting.”

Then they took out their knitting – one woman was knitting an afghan, the other, a scarf.

So of course we got to talking.

They were from Brisbane, Australia, and the two couples were on a post-retirement, around the world travel binge. They had just spend a few months at a rental in the south of France, and then they were heading to Barcelona to take a cruise.

Why they were a) knitting in the 30-degree plus summer weather and b) why they knit in sub-tropical Brisbane, I have no idea. The love of knitting knows no climate-related barriers.

We admired each other’s works in progress, swapped pattern ideas, and even had some conversation in French with a neighbouring passenger. The French lady was a knitter, too. Pretty soon our section of the rail car turned into a mobile, bilingual knitting party.

As we pulled into Barcelona Sants, one of the Australian women mentioned the group was taking another cruise in the fall, this one in the North Atlantic, with a scheduled stop in St. John’s.  Any must see knitting shops there?

I told her about Nonia, Cast On Cast Off and Wool Trends and then we parted ways, moving onward in our holidays.

It’s funny how knitting can overcome geography, language, and climate.

Perhaps the next G8 summit or world climate change talks should include knitting sessions. World leaders would probably get a lot more work done together.