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.

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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.

 

“The knitting needle is mightier than the sword.”

“The knitting needle is mightier than the sword.”

I saw that quote posted by Marc Hedlund on Twitter following the massive womens’ marches which happened around the world on Saturday.

This is a photo, courtesy of the Voice of America, of a sea of demonstrators in knitted “pussy hats” in Washington, D.C.

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Who would have thought, in the very digital year of 2017, that the analog activity of knitting would be a such of public act of democracy in action?

The Pussy Hat Project was started by Jayna Zweiman and Krista Suh, shown here in this photo by Lucy Nicholson of Reuters. You can find out more about the project, and how to knit one for yourself,  at www.pussyhatproject.com

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Here are some of my favourite photos of Saturday’s events.

Erin, a friend and dedicated knitter in Toronto, knit her hat and two others for friends. She says this was “Perhaps the most powerful, meaningful knitting experience so far.”

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This is a Washington, D.C. police officer, photo courtesy of JMBrinton on Twitter.

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How could you not have a smile wearing a bright pink, cozy, knitted hat?

The hats really pop in a crowd, as shown in this photo by Shannon Stapleton of Reuters.

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It makes me feel proud to be a knitter.

The events of the past few days have also reminded me of words Canadian politician Jack Layton wrote in an open letter to Canadians shortly before he passed away in 2011.

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New year, new projects

2017 is the start of my third year in yarn – and I have some exciting knitting ahead. 

Santa Claus brought me a wool winder! Now I can prep skeins of wool by winding them into large, orderly large hockey pucks. Until now, I’ve been stringing the skeins over the backs of two chairs, or more awkwardly, around my knees, to wind into uneven balls.

Plus, winding wool is almost as fun as knitting with it.

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Ain’t no party like a wool winding party.

Also for Christmas, my in-laws in Calgary gave me the Greatest Gift of All – yarn, made by the very Alberta-sounding Red Neck Goat Ranch. And it came in a brand new project bag!

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For me, yarn is almost a non-perishable item. Any brand new skein or ball that comes into the house must be consumed immediately. (Thus, my stash consists of half-used balls of yarn).

What to make?

After my pre-Christmas gift making frenzy, and a few commissioned pieces, I think it’s time to make something for me.

As with many small batch yarns, these three skeins came with no labels, so I had to do some guessing.

First, the size of the yarn.

Comparing it the other balls in my arsenal, it seems to be of worsted weight. And compared to other full skeins, there looks to be roughly 200 m per skein. I have three of them.

I think I may have enough to make this pattern.

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This short poncho would be great for me to wear at work on chilly early winter mornings. The question is – will three skeins complete the project?

I’m going to live on the edge and give it a try.

I have a couple other multi-ball projects I’d like to get at over the next couple of months. And then it’s back to socks, mitts, hats, and the small stuff that makes great gifts.

That new wool winder is going to get quite the workout.

If 2017 gets any wilder or crazier than this, I’m not sure how I’m going to handle it.

Yarn Cove sale

I reached a knitting landmark this month – my first product sale.

It was stuff I had left over, once I sorted out everyone’s Christmas presents.

I’m not entrepreneurial by nature. I get nervous about putting my work out there, and about spreading the word about it. Is it good enough to sell? What if I don’t have enough made? Would anyone really buy this stuff?

Or maybe I was overthinking it. My first Yarn Cove sale event was really just a basket of hats, socks and other small things that I placed in our staff lounge at work. This was not exactly a Dragon’s Den situation.

Anyhow – I made a few sales, and I got some commissions – for more socks.

I immediately took some of my (modest) profits from the sale and went to the wool shop, where I bought more raw materials.

I’m just in the process of finishing up two more pairs of socks for a work mate.

All in all, my pop-up sale wasn’t too traumatic an experience. And because some of my work buddies were curious about what else I could make for them on commission, I thought – why not put it out there on Yarn Cove?

So – please check out my new Shop Yarn Cove page.  I guess I’m now a micro-micro-micro business person. Let me know what you think!

Knit one, purl one, chill out

I’m working on a pair of socks right now and I’m thinking about one of the major reasons why I took up knitting in the first place: to stay away from screens and digital information overload.

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I’m an information junkie by trade and by nature. I spend most of my work day in front of a computer with an internet connection. On my off time, my smartphone and tablet are always near. I’m on Facebook and Twitter just as much as the next person.

But all that has changed in the past month.

I’m finding all the news from the United States quite depressing and distressing. The news from the rest of the world isn’t particularly cheerful either.

It’s getting to the point where I’m feeling panicked as I scroll through the alarming headlines I see shared on social media or on respected journalism sites.  The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert don’t seem that funny to me anymore.

I know I need to stop worrying about things I can’t control.

If I already hadn’t started knitting, I would be starting now.

Google “knitting and mental health” or knitting and stress reduction” and you’ll find many articles, such as this one and this one, which confirm what knitters already know: knitting is good for you.

Which brings me back to knitting as a way of pulling the plug on information overload. .  

The more I knit, the more my fingers and brain are occupied and NOT surfing the web. 

And when I’m not knitting, I’m retraining myself in my online habits.

If I want to do some aimless internet surfing, I have moved my bookmarks for Ravelry, Knitty, and online yarn shops to the top of my browser.

If I’m watching television, it’s home decorating and nature shows, and more soothing Netflix fare. I’m really getting into The Crown!

I’m glad I started knitting a couple of years ago simply out of my own curiosity and as a bit of a self-improvement project. That way, I don’t associate knitting as something I started as a result of something stressful.

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Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a heel to turn and an episode of Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party to watch. Martha is wearing an intriguing knitted sweater. 

 

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

Woolen drawers

It started as a joke.

I was sitting in front of the television one evening, knitting, as usual. My teenage son was there, looking at both the television and his phone.

So, just to give him the gears I said, “Sure, if you play your cards right, I’ll knit you a nice pair of drawers for Christmas.”

Drawers is Newfoundland slang for underwear.

Eyerolls, cringes, and a good laugh followed.

Hey, wait a minute….

A quick internet search later, and I found a pattern, which proves that you can knit pretty much anything.

The pattern calls for a mid-weight wool, and I worked with my go-to, Cascade 220. Knit in the round, you start from the bottom of the legs. The left leg even has a nice cable pattern.

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After the legs are joined up, it’s a fairly straightforward knit in the round. A few straight rows are required to put the arse in.

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And voila!

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On the plus side, they’re seamless, they’re made of natural fibre, and they’re breathable.

On the minus side, they are, well, woolen drawers.

Interestingly enough, this is my first knitting sale. I printed the pattern at work, and one of my work buddies offered to buy them. Sold!

My work buddy, who’s hip to the scene, thinks that there could be a market for woolen drawers. He’s promised to give me a product review.

If there is indeed a market, I can make two versions of the woolen drawers: regular and extra scratchy.