Sunday, 26 March 2017

Yarn World in Lower Manhattan

Last week I had the exquisite pleasure of spending  a couple of days walking around Greenwich Village and Lower Manhattan. This was to be just a visit and had nothing to do with knitting, fibre, yarn, design, and was indeed to be a break from my busy work life. It wasn't until I returned and was unpacking that I realized to what extent knitting has become part of my DNA, how its effect on me is a reflex rather than a choice.

First I had made sure to pack my latest WIP, the  Groovy Shawl (see it now on display at KnitTraders) to keep my hands busy during the train ride from Syracuse. But before we left I had to pick up some reading material; I was looking for a more general magazine but was thrilled with Vogue Knitting devoting much of this latest edition to Canada, particularly highlighting Canadian knitting gurus: The Yarn Harlot and Lucy Neatby. There is also a large section on the Cowichan Sweaters of the West Coast and Jerimina Robertson Colvin whose friendship with the Coast Salish knitters fostered the development of the style and beauty of these sweaters.

Next morning, after a first superb New York coffee and pastry, we set out to walk around the neighbourhood where we were staying. Within a half hour we came across these random examples of knitting/fibre art on display.
This cutie is a giant billboard obviously left over from the Women's March last January when so many women around the world joined, wearing their "Pussy Hats" of bright pink, to speak up for those who were not being heard.

Then a few blocks later we came upon this window display of intertwined giant I-cord, each strand of which would have been about 8 inches in circumference. It was eye catching to be sure, but I really couldn't figure out why it held such a place of prominence in the display window of an upscale Manhattan boutique. Beauty and design say much more than we can gauge at first view, I guess.

No trip to NYC would be complete without a visit to the Strand Bookstore, which boasts 18 miles of books on display. One of my goals for these days in Greenwich Village was to check out some of the places that my heroine, Patti Smith, haunted and wrote of at different points in her life. The one book of hers that the Strand had in stock that I didn't already own was a small book of poetry called Woolgathering. This book has several editions but I loved the one that I got, which features this lovely reproduction of Jean-Francois Millet's Sherperdess with Her Flock. The poems and writing in this book are neither about sheep nor the knitting shepherdess, but about the other meaning of "woolgathering" - indulging oneself with time for daydreaming. I love Patti Smith's writing, no matter what the subject.

Later on in the day, I made it to Purl SOHO. It would feel downright ridiculous to be in the neighbourhood and not to make a point of dropping in to one of North America's most recognized yarn stores and have a chat and a look. I was very happy to get this copy of the Knitted Cable Sourcebook by Norah Gaughan. It's in reprint in Canada and we are eagerly awaiting its arrival. Meanwhile, we now have a store copy that I can share with those who have been asking for it.

I was a bit rushed for time, and the store was quite busy so I promised myself a walk back the next day to look around more thoroughly. Unfortunately the next day was March 14th, the day of Winter Storm Stella. Severe blizzard warnings for the entire eastern seaboard meant closed schools, transportation lines, and unfortunately, Purl SOHO. Oh well, a good excuse to go back another time. 

It really was a shock to realize to what extent I find myself instinctively drawn to that which guide my working life. Are nurses on holiday looking up medical museums? Do lawyers pick up copies of a Law Review for light reading away from the office? Do woodworkers bring along their latest work in progress when getting away from it all?  I'm not complaining. I'm just a bit surprised to realize how the themes of my working life feel so comforting that they are both what enthuse me and bring me rest and relaxation. What more can one ask of life?

"Let your dreams bind your work to your play". 
Bob Franke. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

KnitTraders shows you how to save 20% on Cascade's Knitterati Afghan

Cascade Knitterati Afghan
Cascade Yarns, one of North America's best selling and finest yarn companies,  is celebrating 30 years of business and they are sharing their good fortune with us.  
The Knitterati Afghan Knit-Along features 30 of our top knitting designers who have each contributed a block to this stunning afghan.   When you sign up at for their newsletter at the Cascade site, you will receive an email every few weeks with a copy of the latest pattern.  
knitterati_ square 2 
Block 2 by Shannon Dunbabin 
You will also find lots of helpful information at the
Estelle Yarns blog that explains how you can register and save each of the squares to your
Ravelry library. And it's all FREE!

And as everyone like sweets, let's sweeten the pot for our own KnitTraders' customers: 
Sign up for the KnitTraders Knitterati Afghan Subscription Club
- Prepay $100 towards the yarn for your Knitterati Afghan and you will receive 20% off all 23 balls/skeins of Cascade Yarn
that you purchase to make your own creation.
This is a limited offer - Join the Subscription Club
 by March 31st and SAVE!

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

What's in a Name? The question of the "Newfie Mitt".

When I was at University, my room mate in third year was from St John's, NL. I learned much from Anne but one of the main things was that it isn't politically correct - as we would say today - for non Newfoundlanders to use the term "Newfie", although they are more than happy to use it among and about themselves. 

So imagine my discomfort during the first few months when I had the store, and I would get people asking me at least a couple of times a week for a pattern for "Newfie" Mitts. And to add to my discomfort was utter confusion: not being familiar with exactly what a Newfie Mitt was, I would have them describe it to me. Unfortunately Customer Mary's description would have no resemblance to Customer Suzie's explanation of what a Newfie Mitt looked like. After a few weeks, I started keeping notes and researching for myself and discovered the following.

 Today if you Google Newfie Mitts, you will find pictures of the three styles of mittens that apparently all enjoy great popularity in Newfoundland and Labrador. And no wonder - the multi colour and multi layer aspects of all 3 designs lend extra warmth and durability to each.

Exhibit A - The Honeycomb Mitt.

 These worsted weight mittens are made using 2 strands of different colours of yarn and a slipped stitch pattern to create this honeycomb effect. What you can't tell by looking at them is that they are incredibly warm for  medium weight mittens as the honeycombs trap the warm air in their little pockets. They are also really fun to make and quite stunning when the contrast yarn is multicoloured. You can find the pattern for our version of The Honeycomb Mittens on our Free Pattern Site. We also offer KnitTraders Kits of these mittens in a wide variety of colour combinations available in store and soon to be featured online.

Exhibit B - The Thrum Mitt

 Back in the mid 90's when the store opened, thrum mitts were just becoming known in Ontario. There was only one commercial source of fleece (almost always white) to create these super warm mittens that incorporate tufts of sheep's wool into every 3rd stitch on every 4th row. Since then, their popularity has grown immensely and "thrums" are added to hats, slippers, socks, and muffs on a regular basis. You can choose to make these in either version:  Thrum Mitts on 2 needles. 
or Thrum Mitts on 4 needles.
These too are available in kits  at the KnitTraders store, featuring local wool from Topsy Farms and hand dyed, multihued Canadian wool thrums of the most stunning colours.

Exhibit C - The Trigger Mitts 

These Trigger Mitts are obviously popular in a region who's (nearly) official provincial motto is: "Gotta get me moose, b'y". Just about any mitts that free up the index finger can be considered Trigger Mitts, but the truly authentic "Newfie" Trigger Mitts feature some version of this easy, warm and durable fairlisle pattern of fine natural coloured pure wool. 

And finally, although not an official member of the "Newfie" Mitten parade are these: MY  Newfie Mitts that I began as my husband and I turned on to Hwy 401 at Montreal St. in Kingston a couple of years ago on our way to that amazing home of cod cheeks, Screech, Toutins (fried circles of bread dough) with jam, and tea as strong as molasses.  What a wonderful province!
I don't even remember the name of the pattern, but I fell in love with it when I read that the designer had spent some time knitting her version of these mittens when she and her family were on a trip to the Maritimes. They had stopped by the St Lawrence River somewhere near Cornwall or Morrisburg (my stomping grounds for a good period of my life) and she wrote a blog post about her lovely mittens. I felt a kinship with her and her delicate design. 

 I had decided that it had been too long since I'd given myself the luxury of knitting something so intricate for myself. In my version (which I wear constantly and they still look great) I chose the navy from Cascade's Heritage Sock yarn, and the multi hued gold is Fino from Manos del Uruguay.

It might be a good thing to point out that we hadn't even made it to Gananoque, 20 minutes down the 401, when I announced to my husband that it would likely to be a very quiet trip as the pattern was taking up every ounce of my attention. But once I got onto it I thoroughly enjoyed knitting the fine fairisle and have allowed myself such a treat-project each year since then.  

I'm in the process of planning my next pair to celebrate Canada 150.
These beauties are called Lonn and are the work of Solveig Larsson in her stunning book:

The background colour for mine will be "Mossy Rock" green in the Cascade Heritage (as it has held up so well in my other mitts,) and the leaves will be of a Regia multicoloured sock yarn that I've had in my stash, and shows flowing colours of fall maple leaves.

I guess there are two things that I want to get across in this little essay:
A. Don't get hung up on names and details. We could (with apologies to Mr Gershwin) sing our way through a version of : "You say cast off, I say bind off..." but there are often as many differences as there are areas where traditions surface.
B. Don't postpone any form of creative expression because you think that you don't have time for it. I can't tell you how much I've learned and enjoyed making my mittens. They remind me that it's important for me to focus on intricate things  in order to keep my balance in life. If you have the yearning and drive to long for something, these energies will help you figure out the How  to make it happen.

Fibres make us happy. Until next time.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

The Annual Crafters' ME Time Festival.

The earliest that I've had people purchasing yarn for Christmas projects was last year, on December 5th, 2015, for gifts that will be given next weekend - 12 1/2 months later. All year long, customers are planning their Christmas knitting: socks, mittens, a family set of sweaters, and so on - with dedication and love for all recipients.
But around this time of year, about a week to 10 days before the Holidays, we start to see the sweetest, most mild mannered customers arrive with a driven purpose in their eyes - they are coming to shop for their post-Holiday ME projects. It's the time of the year when they don't have to rush to a deadline and/or postpone the projects that they've perhaps cherished all year in the secret cubby of their creative mind; they've found a project that they want to make for its own sake and for their own pleasure. It's delightful to see how much these projects, and the time that people allow themselves for the shopping, mean to the purchasers.

This year, shopping for the ME Festival began in earnest this past week. Some of our glorious skeins of local, hand-dyed baby alpaca from Silver Cloud Alpacas found homes among these shoppers. Also a few of our Colour Your Own Infinity Scarf kits as well as the Felted Mitten kits jumped into shopping baskets. Baby Bamboo by Sirdar in a vibrant blue was purchased for a knitted chemise, but the next day the customer returned to the store to get more as the yarn told her it actually wanted to be a crocheted bolero jacket. What's that you say? Your yarn has never spoken to you to tell you what it prefers to become? All I can say is that someday it will and believe me, you'd better heed the call - beautiful fibre does not like to ignored nor contradicted.

Some folks want knitting that will absorb their concentration and refresh their brain over the Holiday Week. Others (most?) would prefer a mindless treat, something that simply occupies their hands while (binge?) watching TV. I've had lots of requests lately for "Bun Hats". Pictured here, they are simply a toque with an opening to allow a ponytail or "bun" to protrude. This one is called the Holey Hat and it's a free Ravelry download from Slip Stitch Designs. 

Last year, I fell into the mindless knitting groove and produced enough of these Tawashi knots to share with everyone I knew (including a full set of 7 for myself). They are delightfully addictive to make, and those who have seen mine will recognize the added value of the 4 rows of Scrubby yarn, as it gently but firmly removes the bits from most non stick surfaces.

This year, I was taken by our newest product from local indie dyer, H'ewe Phoria. At right I've begun a Feather and Fan scarf using Quint Essentials - 5 x 25g skeins of wool (and in this case, sparkling Stellina) fingering weight yarn, hand-dyed in 5 different values of the same colour. I'm beginning with the darkest and plan on working my way through these amazing tones to the lightest to create a sample scarf for the store. I love working the Feather and Fan pattern. I consider it to be one of the easiest lace patterns available: 3 nice boring rows and 1  row when you have to pay attention. Those are ratios that I can get along with.

And at the risk of sucking you all into the vortex of crazed popularity that the  Azel Pullover  has generated, this is another perfectly mindless knit that looks fabulous not despite its simplicity, but because of it.
The pattern ranges from size 2 to XL ladies. It can be made in any of the super bulky yarns that we carry, and each colour and texture of these yarns gives the garment its own flavour. This poncho/sweater continues to be one of the most frequently bought for patterns among our customers, and several have come in already to pick up the yarn to prepare for their down/ME-time over the Holidays.

No matter what your plans, whether you're traveling , hosting, or stay-cationing over the next few weeks, be sure to take time for yourself and enjoy whatever you are doing, honouring the gift of time that we are given during this season.
All the best. See you in 2017.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

A Brief history of our "Award Winning" e-newsletter.

Since January of 1997 I've been regularly putting out some sort of newsletter under the banner of WOOL-TYME Kingston and then KnitTraders of Kingston. In the early days it involved much  cutting and pasting (literally) to make the different articles fit on a single sheet of 8 1/2" x 14" paper to cut down on printing costs. The only visuals were a few small pieces of clipart and everything was kept to a minimum. When the legal size pages were done, off I went to Staples for the 1 000 double sided copies which were then folded and prepped for envelopes by my kids (for a fee of course).

The envelopes were a whole production in themselves: hours each month collating and updating addresses, wrestling with the home printer that didn't like the brand or size of address labels I was using, printing and pasting the labels on the envelopes. (Repeat the process for return address labels.)
Then there was the time when I sent out a "postcard" announcing our Annual Inventory Sale only to have all 600 cards returned by the Post Office as they were 1/4" too wide: 600 wasted stamps! not to mention the fact that no one knew about the sale for a full week.

Needless to say, in those days it was not a monthly newsletter. Usually 3 times a year maximum - September, January and the end of May. Then in 2006 I was introduced to the wonders of the e-newsletter via a third party delivery system. This takes 98% of the drudgery and the cost out of newsletter distribution, leaving much more time for researching content and enjoying the process of writing. When describing a new yarn I can put in a digital link to the colour chart or to the Ravelry project page for that particular yarn. Fun stories can include videos, like the crew of shepherds who outfitted their sheep with vests of LED lights and trained their border collies to run the sheep into formation to create Light Up Sheep Art.

As knitting and creative fibre arts in general have become more popular, there is more media mention of stories that are of interest to our newsletter readers, not to mention the army of bloggers, both private and company sponsored, who are also mining and presenting fabulous stories to keep us all interested and amused. Once the newsletter started being published monthly, I would sometimes worry as the deadline approached about where to find my next general interest piece, or a cute cartoon or quirky project. Now I have a list of ideas that I've squirreled away that haven't had the chance to make it in to the regular newsletter so here they are for your pleasure. Enjoy!

   A 3000 year old ball of yarn found in England.
I wonder where the rest of the stash is?

Did you know that some of the biggest names in swimwear got their start knitting wool! Fashionista has an interesting article about that history.

Have you ever dreamed of a whole weekend of knitting with people who are as interested in the rich traditions as you are? Read the blog post from North of 49 from last month as Kristie joined Sylvia Olsen's workshop to learn all about Coast Salish Knitting (sometimes referred to as Cowichan Knitting) which is considered to be the only truly Canadian knitting tradition. Kristie's report makes you feel like you were there too.

This Baa-ble Hat from the 2015 Shetland Wool Week is any sheep fan's dream. Find it on Ravelry.

If you aren't a regular subscriber to the newsletter, you can link here to sign up now and avoid missing any more news from KnitTraders and the outside fibre world. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The pattern (and magazine) that I still love - after 39 years.

In the fall of 1977 I was working in Montreal at a shelter for  pregnant teens. My boss and her flat mate had recently bought a hobby farm just over the Ontario border. We enjoyed a beautiful fall weekend raking leaves and putting the garden to bed for the winter. During a shopping break, I, an avid knitter for at least 1/2 of my life at that point, found this magazine at the checkout of the grocery store. I fell in love with the French flavour of the Irish patterns that were featured throughout this issue; Mon Tricot was  1977's version of Ravelry, bringing together knitters, traditions and patterns from all over the world to its monthly publication. 
It was love at first sight - I've been a sucker for the challenge, the beauty and the intricacy of cables ever since. I could feel the rich warmth of each of the garments, from the "True Aran Knit" pullover, which was the first and only Top Down constructed sweater that I'd ever seen until about 15 years ago, to this stunning rust coloured, hip length cardi with the wonderful collar that could almost go up over your head. There were cables on everything: pillows, a cloche hat and scarf, a poncho, a full baby ensemble, a gorgeous pieced afghan, even lacy curtains. 
But it was the cardi that got me. Can't you just see yourself even today, with this lovely piece thrown on over a little sundress, prancing on the sandy beach of an Irish coastline, with an Irish cutie at your side?

 It took me a bit of time to get the knitting started,  the spring of 1980 as a matter of fact. I was expecting our first child and while more practical and devoted mommies would be knitting sweaters and booties for the wee one, I treated myself to this project. I'm sorry to say that in those days I felt that I had much more time than patience and did not see the need to measure the pieces as they came off the needles. Alas, the magnificent cardigan would have easily wrapped around my 200 pound pre-delivery self, but looked ridiculous after the birth. I was not actually all that upset. I loved the experience and tore it out and made a simpler sweater from a Canadian Living pattern. 

Zoom ahead with me 35 years as my daughter (the one whose birth and the completion of the sweater came within the same week) mentions that she would like a sweater for her birthday. She showed me a pattern of a rather long and large, intricately cabled cardigan with curved edges, which to me looked like it would date an otherwise timeless garment. I looked for a similar but more traditional style among the books at the store and found a few contenders. 

Do you know that time when you're just falling asleep or waking up? A time when the most brilliant ideas, recollections or solutions jump out of the subconscious and right into the pit of things forgotten? Well it was at such a time that I remembered IT! My favourite pattern of all my 50 years of knitting. I realized that it was exactly what I wanted to make and appeared to be just what she wanted to wear. She gave her approval and I jumped in. 

 I diligently wrote out each pattern row on a separate recipe card so that I could work on it during the long days of traveling that I knew we would be enjoying during this spring and summer. The cardigan traveled with me from Portugal to Cape Breton and back again, and I loved every stitch of it. I did have to redesign the sleeves and re-knit the openings both front and back as (to be quite honest) I couldn't figure out what the pattern wanted me to do?
Anyway, here it is, the first sweater that she has had made for her in 20 years. How precious that we both will get to enjoy one of my favourites: she gets to wear it and I get to look at it. Sometimes I think that one experience is as enjoyable as the other. 

Thursday, 19 May 2016

From Arraiolos to Evora to Castelo de Vide to Guarda to Covilha

It's Friday morning and I'm writing from Guarda in the northern interior of Portugal where the landscape is much more rugged than the rolling planes that we drove through from Lisbon to Evora in the South. Here is a picture from our hotel window in Guarda, which, despite the pastoral scene in front of us, is built in the middle of a relatively large city on the side of a mountain. There's a horse grazing by one of the roads at the bottom of the picture who seems to be perfectly happy to coexist with the traffic going by.

On Tuesday morning we left Lisbon for Arraiolos (the final s is pronounced like the s in pleasure,)
 What a delightful town, with a stunning museum to the local and revived craft of rug stitching. It is essentially a variation of cross stitch on burlap of traditional oriental patterns. This is mine although it can hardly be considered a rug by virtue of it's 8x11" size.
 On our way to Evora, we stopped for a "health break" beside a park of cork trees, one of the symbols of Portugal. This is a picture of a branch that has not been harvested. Up to 75% of the bark is harvested every 9 years from the main part of the tree.

Evora is stunning city, a UNESCO Heritage site for it's walled fortifications and the Roman ruins of the Temple to Diana. We also visited the church of St Francis which took 103 years to build in the 13th Century and featured a richly painted wooden statue of Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus. (I do hope I have my facts right - after a couple of days of nonstop touring, details do become a bit fuzzy).

On Wednesday, we made our way north to Castelo de Vide. What a treat to walk through the centuries of living history. A large Jewish community with the first Synagogue in Portugal was an important feature of the tour, leaving very distinctive remnants of their passing through although most were forced to convert to Christianity, taking on family names from Nature which are still present to this day..

 Castelo de Vide is the town where we were most able to meet and observe people as they have lived for many generations. These folks are passing the time in front of the house at the foot of the ramparts of the castle.

 How fun! As we got off the bus in Castelo de Vide we found this tree which had been yarn bombed by meters of fashion scarf knitted of what is often called "ladder" yarn for it's construction of squares held together by 2 threads on either side.
 Thursday brought us to Covilha, in the mountainous wool region.
Here is our guide from the University's museum of wool production. What a stunning blend of ancient tradition and new ideas.
 THEN came the roller coaster part of our journey as we crossed over the mountains via switchback roads that led us through the national park area, well above the tree line to a landscape that featured boulders the size of a small house strewn across the territory by glaciers. For those who have read Yann Martel's latest book, The High Mountains of Portugal, THIS is the geography where part 3 takes place.

Our final visit was to the world class Burel factory where traditional wool spinning, weaving, dyeing and fulling meet new, fashion forward designers for creations that can be found everywhere from the walls of the new Microsoft offices to classic throw blankets on the lounge chairs of discerning customers. Here we have wooden footstools covered to look like a mama sheep and her baby lamb.

That's all for now, I'll be back next week to finish up.