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.

 

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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.

The knitting needle and the damage done

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Last weekend, the unthinkable happened. I ran out of yarn.

I finished a toque ahead of time, the rational part of my brain admired it and I put it with my finished knitted goods. No big deal, right?

Not a big deal until Sunday afternoon, when I got hit by a rogue wave of panic.

We were in the Costco parking lot, heaving a 50-pound box of cat litter into the car, when I mused aloud,

“I’m trying to resist the urge to go over to Michael’s and buy some crap yarn to get me through this evening, because the wool store opens at noon tomorrow, so I’m just wondering if I can hold off until then. What do you think?”

My husband stopped mid-cat litter lift and said, concerned, “Um, you’re thinking about this a lot, aren’t you?”

I didn’t go over to Michael’s to buy the crap yarn. I could wait it out.

That evening, we settled in for a bit of Sunday night telly. Netflix, not Knitflix. But my hands got fidgety. I tried working on a page of my Scenes of Paris adult colouring book, but it didn’t quite scratch that itch. I picked up the iPad, to look at knitting patterns online, but that just made me more twitchy.

I know, I thought. I’ll take photos of my completed knitting projects, just for my records.

So I did that. And then I just went to bed out of it. What was the point of staying up if there was no knitting to do?

The next day, I was at the wool shop at noon, and bought enough skeins to start a three-colour mitten project. Calm washed over me. The universe had righted itself.

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So yeah, maybe this is a bit of a problem.

But then again, I could pick worse things to be addicted to. With the standard vices, I’m a moderate kind of girl – although the idea of giving up coffee is as unthinkable to me as giving up wool.

In terms of money spent on my habit, I average about $30 every two weeks for knitting supplies. That’s reasonable, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t give up nights out or social time with friends to knit, although I do like to get a few stitches in after I get home and before I turn in for the evening.

I have this under control.

I won’t have time to knit tonight. I have tickets to an experimental music concert.

Should I take my knitting with me?

World Wide Knit in Public Day in NL

Saturday, June 18 was cold, wet and windy in Newfoundland – perfect conditions for World Wide Knit in Public Day (WWKIP). 

It’s the largest knitter run event in the world, and it costs nothing to take part (except the cost of your own knitting supplies). Considering the crappy state of affairs in the world at the moment, we could all use a bit of warm, fuzzy fun.

There were a few official events happening in my neck of the woods, and a few unofficial ones.

A craft collective in Bonavista optimistically planned to set up an outdoor tent on the road to the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse. Due to the sideways rain, the group quickly decamped to the dry and cozy Mockbeggars’ Plantation. Here is the group, in a photo courtesy of Joan Kane.

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There were other cool events, including a “Purl with Pints” event at the Captain’s Pub at the Anchor Inn Hotel in Twillingate. That’s my kind of knitting event.

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Here in St. John’s, I had to work. But hey, my job is in public broadcasting, so I celebrated World Wide Knit in Public Day at work.

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Please note, WWKIP is the only day I knit on the job.

It’s a good thing WWKIP took place on that rainy Saturday, because since then, we’ve been experiencing several consecutive days of warm, sunny weather. As this is highly unusual around here in June, all indoor activities, such as knitting and blogging, have been suspended while we expose our pasty white limbs to the great outdoors.

The weather will turn miserable again soon enough, and then knitting will resume.

 

The Brigus Knitting Mills

I’m working away at my first cardigan – the Harvest pattern from Tin Can Knits.

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It’s certainly not perfect, but I’m learning a lot and I’ll happily wear my prototype once I’m done.  

I brought the work-in-progress up to my parents’ house for Sunday dinner the other day and my mother said the pattern put her in mind of the sweaters from the Brigus Knitting Mills.

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The Brigus Knitting Mills?

My mother still has her mother’s prized sweater from the Brigus Knitting Mills, likely purchased sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

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It’s densely knit, high quality, and has that retro mid-century look about it.

My mother recalls the clothing made by the mill was all the rage in Newfoundland at the time, and fairly expensive. A coveted sweater, jacket or skirt from the Brigus Knitting Mills would have been an investment piece of workwear for my grandmother, who was a teacher and a single mother.

I immediately went to the Google machine to find out more.

The Brigus Knitting Mills started in 1953 as the Eckhardt Mill, an offshoot of an Austrian company.

It was part of  then-Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood’s industrialization plan for Newfoundland. Smallwood had appointed Latvian economist Alfred Valdemanis as Newfoundland’s Director of Economic Development in 1950, with disasterous results. Smallwood, with Valdemanis’s guidance, set up 16 manufacturing plants in Newfoundland in the 1950s, and most were Austrian and German companies.

Almost all of them, including the Brigus Knitting Mills, failed.

Noted Newfoundland costume designer Peggy Hogan wrote a journal article about the Brigus Knitting Mills in 2003. There are a few passing reference to the mills in other academic and government papers, but that’s pretty much the only trace of the Brigus Knitting Mills online – or anywhere, for that matter.

There are no vintage Brigus Knitting Mills outfits for sale on Etsy. No stock photos of fashionable mid-twentieth century Newfoundland women modelling the clothes. No modern fashion revival of the patterns.

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I’m pretty sure that the Brigus Knitting Mills building in Brigus, pictured here,  is long gone.

It’s a shame, really.

I have this vision of a Mad Men-style office, somewhere in St. John’s or Gander or Corner Brook, where Newfoundland women are as fashionable and current in their own way as women working in Montreal or New York City.

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Also, think of the possibilities of a retro revival of Newfoundland fashion that’s not about fishing and outport life, but has a more cosmopolitan spin on Newfoundland style.

If any of you know more about the Brigus Knitting Mills, please drop me a line and let me know!

Odds, ends and yarns

I just sorted out a big bag of leftover bits of yarn – which led me to the cat fashion experiment/disaster you see before you. But let’s back up first.

I’m catching my breath after completing two large gift projects. So I decided to tackle that big bag o’knitting supplies before starting something else. After pitching out a massive tangle of abandoned projects, perma-knotted yarn, and broken/missing knitted needles, I wound up with this:

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There are some very nice bits of wool here, left over from some toques and berets which turned out quite well, if I do say so myself. So I’m feeling warm and fuzzy towards this pile, which makes me inclined to keep on using those last little balls of yarn.

But what to make? I looked through Ravelry, then I broke out the needles.

A knitted flower is versatile.

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Sew a button in the middle and a safety pin on the back, and it’s a nice brooch. Or, you can sew it on to a toque, a headband, or just about anything as a decoration. I find this pattern works best with a bulky sized wool.

There’s also this sweet knitted bird pattern.

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This works best with a worsted weight. I made this one out of some Patons Canadiana acrylic yarn, but I have lots of Cascade 220 wool that would work well for this, too.

And yes, I eventually made it to this  –  the knitted cat hat.

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I know, it looks more like a knitted shower cap on Jess.  Cats neither need or enjoy knitted headwear; this sort of thing exists only for humans to take photos and post them on the internet.

Anyhow, using up bits of leftover wool appeals to my thrifty nature, and gives my wallet a short break from being emptied at the yarn shop.

If you have more nifty ideas for your odds and ends of yarn, I’d love to know about them.

Smiling Land pattern launch

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Yarn Cove had a night out on the knitting town on Monday.

Shirley “Shirl the Purl” Scott and Christine LeGrow threw a launch party at Cast On! Cast Off! in St. John’s for their new set of knitting patterns. That’s Shirl and Christine throwing down with their Smiling Land mittens, gloves and trigger mitts.

Here are some of Shirl and Christine’s knitted prototypes.

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The Smiling Land series has four designs created by Shirl and Christine, based on traditional Newfoundland and Labrador knitting designs. The gloves, mittens and trigger mitts are knit in the traditional Newfoundland double knitting style.

It was a wild(ish) and woolly evening. The regular Monday night Cast On! Cast Off! knitting crowd was there, and they were working on a range of impressively intricate projects.

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More on that crowd another time.

There was also a tin of homemade brownies and another tin of homemade shortbread for the occasion. All in all, a rockin’evening.

Smiling Land is available as a set of printed cards.

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They’re stocked at Cast On! Cast Off!, and will likely appear in other shops in the St. John’s area. You will also be able to order them through Briggs and Little Woolen Mills, and directly from Christine LeGrow at ChristineLeGrow@rogers.nl.com and Spindrift Knits.

You can also get their first set of patterns, Some Warm Mittens, at the same locations. That’s the set of patterns I’ve been using for my trad-style mitts.

Note that the Smiling Land patterns are available in hard copy only, and can be snail-mailed to you old school, through the post.

Newfoundland mitten patterns stay trad in every way.

My Knit Worth

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Prior to my knitting addiction, my experience with gathering supplies to make things to wear dates from my childhood in the 1970s.

The principles of knitting and sewing were, back in the day,  1. It was cheaper to make it yourself, and 2. You would have more options if you made it yourself.

I remember fidgeting as my mother and grandmother rifled through cubbyholes of yarn on sale at Giant Mart in Churchill Square. Whatever they made from that material would be much cheaper than a store-bought toque or mittens or sweater.

Whether the yarn they bought came from the finest merino sheep or from a vaguely petroleum base, I have no idea. Everything was “wool”. Even –  shudder –  Phentex.

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I have inherited the family love of a bargain. When it comes to what I wear, I pride myself on never paying full price. I’ll stalk items in shops for months until they go on sale. My go-to for clothing basics is the cheap and cheerful Joe Fresh line at my local supermarket.

So my view of shopping for yarn is stuck in a time warp.

I visited a knitting supply shop the other day, the one that I don’t go to so much. It has a smaller yarn selection than my usual shop, but one that these days, we call a “curated” selection. Everything there was appealing. None of it was cheap.

I saw one loose skein of wool with a price tag of $48. And many gorgeous ones in the  $20-40 range.

One skein of wool makes, approximately, one hat or a pair of mitts. And if I’m going to spend $48 on the equivalent of a hat or a pair of mitts, it’s going to be made by someone, somewhere,  who can do a much better job of it than me.

Then again, anytime I’m flicking through the sale rack at Joe Fresh, I’m not looking at the tag to see whether the sweater is acrylic or wool, or where the sheep that the wool came from spent their grazing time. I’m just looking at a trendy sweater that’s cheap and easy enough to pick up with my groceries.

With the emphasis these days on wool quality and provenance, selecting yarn for a knitting project can be more like trying to make wine and food pairings for a fancy dinner party.

Which got me thinking. These days, you have to have time, money, or both, to knit. Knitting, which in my childhood, was the practical, economical way to provide for your family, has now become a bit of a luxury.

As I made my way through the wares of that knitting shop the other day, I found a  selection of Cascade Yarn at $10 per skein. At that rate, I could knit myself a sweater for about $80 plus tax.  That’s still more than I’d pay for a sweater at Joe Fresh.

I did, however, splurge on this beautiful skein of grey baby llama yarn, as soft as the fur of my cat.

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What to make with it? I want to pick a pattern that’s classy enough for the wool. I want to knit it into an item that will get worn, but won’t get worn out or lost. I’m a bit tied up in knots about the decision.

I’m pretty sure this was not a dilemma my mother and grandmother faced as they brought their balls of Beehive yarn to the checkout at Giant Mart.