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.

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.

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.