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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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.

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.

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.

 

Travelling yarns, part un

Yarn Cove has been busy for the past little while, making the most of the all-too-brief Newfoundland summer, and having an away adventure.

A last minute opportunity to take a holiday in the south of France and Spain came our way (yeah, life is hard in Yarn Cove) so immediately I planned out my Mediterranean knitting schedule.

First order of business: what knitting gear can you take on international flights? Air Canada says plastic knitting needles with rounded tips are acceptable.

Lion Brand Yarns also has some good travelling tips, and as it’s an American company, I figure their rules are pretty airtight, so to speak.

After figuring out which projects I would likely take on during the holiday (a beret, a toque and a pair of socks), I went to my local knitting shop and bought some needles.

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I was a little worried about the short 4.5 mm circular needle, as I wasn’t sure what material it was made of. So I cast on some stitches and knit a few rows of my beret pattern, just in case the CATSA workers at the airport had any doubt as to my intentions. But really, I can’t see any airport security staff in Newfoundland not recognizing knitting needles.

Anyhow, my bag went through security with no issue and off we went, to Toronto and then Barcelona.

The beret project kept me occupied on the red eye between Toronto and Barcelona and after some great progress, I managed to doze before landing.

We then had to transfer from airplane to train. Here I am knitting in Barcelona Sants, the city’s main train station, while waiting for the train.

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The world has changed quite a bit since I went backpacking in 1990, and Barcelona Sants had an airport security style x-ray system for our luggage. I hadn’t thought of that.

How do you say knitting in Spanish?

Anyhow, I kept my cool and I guess I looked non-threatening enough, so on we went, luggage and knitting, to the town of Sete, France.

More woolly aventures to come….