Local Yarn Store Day

Saturday April 21 was the first annual Local Yarn Store Day – so of course I had to do my part and go shopping at my two favourite local yarn shops in St. John’s.

Wool Trends – the jam packed, multipurpose wool shop on Hamilton Avenue, has re-opened under new owners –  Deirdre Vey and Jake Brennan, and the shop is transitioning to a new name – A Grand Yarn.

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Deirdre and Jake have gutted, renovated, and re-organized the place, and they are in the process of stocking up and getting to know their customers.

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They are just getting started, but they have some intriguing plans. They are talking about using the upstairs for classes and events, setting up an online shop, and perhaps even home yarn delivery in the greater St. John’s area (!)   

Next – it was on to Cast On Cast Off on Duckworth Street. It turns out that April 21 is also Record Store Day, so my son and I carpooled to downtown, he went to Fred’s Records for the musical festivities, and I went a few storefronts down to Cast On Cast Off at Posie Row and Co.

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Katie Garibaldi has relocated Cast On Cast Off from the west end of Water Street to the Posie Row complex on Duckworth Street. It’s a smaller shop, but cozy and bright, and attracts both the knitting crowd and the general shoppers browsing through Posie Row.

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Cast On Cast Off, or COCO, as it’s known to its devotees, is where I go to get that one special skein for a special project, although Katie does stock some economical Briggs and Little and Cascade yarns. COCO is the only place I would pay $30 for a skein of sock wool. I don’t think I have ever paid that much for socks.

Katie is loads of fun, knows all her customers by name, and has comfy couches to encourage knitting and loitering.

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It was a productive day – I netted some everyday yarn for upcoming projects, and a fancy skein that I am going to use for an as yet to be determined, but classy, accessory.

Also,  I’m spending my money at local businesses, and I can’t ever have too much yarn.

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Yarn Sale

I love a sale. I pride myself on buying anything at full price as rarely as possible.

So when I heard Posie Row was having a big sale this past weekend – I got myself downtown as quickly as possible.  

Posie Row is a funky gift and clothing shop in downtown St. John’s, which has recently expanded. Upstairs, the rooms are small micro-shops, rented to other local businesspeople. It’s kind of a cool little indie mall.

It’s where Cast On Cast Off,  the knitting shop with the fanciest yarn in town, has relocated – to a scenic third floor space.

I headed directly upstairs to check out the sale at Cast On Cast Off. I also had a skein of yarn left over from a previous project to return for store credit.

Store credit in hand, I browsed the sumptuous shelves. What to buy? Struck with indecision, I surrendered to my woolly surroundings and let the yarn choose me.

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A Julie Asselin,  DK, merino and silk yarn, colour “kelp,” pulled me in.

On the main floor of Posie Row, I browsed through a sale dress rack and found a retro, black and white tweed shift dress, in my size, with a 75 per cent discount.  Obviously, I snapped it up.

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Home, I laid out  my purchases and receipts.

I was thrilled with my spontaneous dress purchase. And I love the yarn.

But wait – I paid how much for that yarn?

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At full price, obviously, the dress would  have been way more expensive than the yarn.  

However, on sale, the yarn was more expensive than the dress.

Ah, but I had a credit for the yarn, which means that I paid slightly less for the yarn than I did for the dress.

I know that dress will be in heavy rotation in my wardrobe. I’m wearing it to work this week. I can dress it up or down.

The yarn. There is enough of it to make one accessory item. I don’t even know what.

As I said to shop owner Katie while she rang in my purchase, “That yarn is speaking to me, but I have no idea what it’s saying.”

Katie nodded, understanding and enabling. “I hear you.”

So that’s where I am. I am willing to pay more for the raw materials to make a yet to be determined item of clothing than I am to buy a finished item.

It’s like paying more for the grapes than for the bottle of wine.

And, as you have read, I will go to great lengths (of yarn) to justify this to myself.

 

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.

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!

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?

 

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.

 

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