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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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.

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.

Welcome to the knitting cult. Here’s your project bag.

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Soon after I started my first lumpy scarf, I realized that I had joined a cult. A benevolent cult, of course. But once I started casually mentioning my new hobby, some seemingly normal people have swept away the (hand knit) curtain and I have been shown the light.  

Early on in my knitting career, I went for an eye exam. I’ve been seeing my optometrist, Dr. W,  since I was a teenager. She’s a pleasant but quiet woman, not terribly chatty beyond “How far down the chart can you read the letters?”

Dr. W asked me if there was any change in my usual crappy vision, or in my daily tasks involving eyesight. I mentioned that I had started knitting, which requires looking closely at tiny stitches.

“Oh, you knit? So do I!”

Dr. W then spent the next half hour showing me the details on the hand-knit cardigan she was wearing, talking about the differences in British and Newfoundland knitting techniques, and recommending knitting websites for me to check out.

Who was this woman, and what had she done with Dr. W?

Not long after that, through work, I heard about a set of traditional Newfoundland mitten patterns, by Shirley Scott and Christine LeGrow, of Spindrift Handknits. I placed an order.

The patterns arrived in an envelope at my desk, with a nice note from Christine, and this card.
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I wasn’t sure whether to be excited or worried.

And then there’s my friend Rayna Curtis. We first met in junior high school, and like many old friends, we reconnected over Facebook. It was her photos of her knitted creations which got me thinking “hmmm, maybe I should try this knitting thing.”

Now, Rayna is at a completely different level of knitting – which she refers to as one of the “fibre arts.” Here she is spinning her own wool.

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That’s her extremely cute dog, Kayleigh, hanging out in the background.

Rayna also dyes her own wool, she’s a test knitter for some well known knitting pattern makers, and naturally, she has her own blog, First Light Handcrafts.  So I guess she’s my Obi-Wan Kenobi of the knitting.

I reached out to Obi-Wan Rayna early on for some advice, and asked her to go yarn shopping with me.

I picked Rayna up at her house and she came out with a project bag and yarn for me, and a question “Do you know what a project bag is? Well, you do now!”

She was such a force of nature in the knitting store that other random wool shoppers came up to her asking for advice on yarn and patterns.

I’m looking forward to my next eye exam so I can pick Dr. W’s brain on her favourite Brooklyn Tweed patterns.

I carry that card in my wallet. And I use Rayna’s project bag every day.

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Now, I’ve never thought of myself as the evangelical type, but here I am, with my own knitting blog.

Someday, I hope to pass on a project bag, skein of yarn, or wallet ID card to another newbie knitter.

But if I ever wind up working crowds in the mall trying to recruit new addicts to the (knitting) needles, please stage an intervention.

Knit 1, Purl 1, Fail 1, Repeat.

From my first cast-on, I have been an enthusiastic knitter. That should not be confused with being a competent knitter. I have made many knit-pocalyptic projects. Which, oddly enough, have turned out to be quite helpful.

Exhibit #1: this simple beginner’s hat.

It requires knitting a stocking stitch in the round until it is done. Should be easy.

Not if you’re me.

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See that line of garter stitch?

That happened because I picked up my needles the wrong way, and reversed directions while knitting.

Actually, I did this for about 15 rounds before I noticed. I unraveled most of it, but I was afraid to keep unraveling any further. Hence the garter stitch, or as I call it, the design feature.

Of course, I learned my lesson, right? Wrong.

Exhibit #2: This fingerless glove.

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All kinds of wrong going on here. I was so excited about this silky purple yarn that I did the same thing with this fingerless glove, also knitted in the round.

I was afraid I would wreck the silk and wool blend by unraveling. So I persevered.

At least now I know, the working yarn ALWAYS comes from the right hand side.

Other random knitting truths I have discovered?

Always count your stitches. Otherwise, your row of 36 stitches will magically become a row of 39 stitches, or 34 stitches.

No matter how you feel about navy blue, it it a terrible colour to knit with.

And even if you don’t use it, buy extra yarn.

Back to my hat. As my ball of wool got smaller and smaller, I got worried that I would run out of yarn before I finished.

“Sure, that’s long enough,” I thought before starting my decreases for the crown and finish.  Yeah, good enough if your ears don’t get cold in winter. Or if your head is freakishly short and wide.

But I kept going.

I made pairs of socks with two socks of different sizes. Mittens with two left thumbs. A cute beret for myself that, because I never made a gauge swatch, became a cute beret for a five-year-old.

Each time, through trial and error, I learned something new. Now, when I make mistakes, I catch them quickly, and I’m able to backtrack and figure out where I went wrong. Once I relearn the correct method, I tend to remember it. I’m a better knitter because of my ability to commit to the disaster.

There’s also use for terrible knitted projects. I have a friend, Christine, who is into felting wool.

Exhibit #3: Christine’s project.

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MUCH better. And yes, I really like purple wool.

Sir Winston Churchill once said “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

So, knit big and fail big. Finish what you started, no matter how ridiculous it looks. You will then know – whatever you just did, don’t do it again. Your knitting will improve by leaps and bounds.

I keep and wear that really bad fingerless glove. It reminds me of how far I’ve come.

Also, I keep and wear that glove because I learned from my experience from the hat, and bought enough yarn to make THREE fingerless gloves.

But I lost one of the good ones.

Welcome to Yarn Cove!

Yarn Cove isn’t a place, it’s a woolly state of mind.

I started knitting a little over a year ago. No one is more surprised than me about how obsessed I’ve become.

I’ll tell you about my adventures in knitting. We’ll geek out over trigger mitt patterns, and share links, tips and info on who’s knitting what. Maybe we’ll settle once and for all, which is the better sweater animal: yak or llama?

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