Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Pictures from KnitTraders Fibre Tour of Ireland, May 2017.

Left: The Mobius Cast On - in Dublin

Right: Lunch Pub on the Aran Islands

Left: Irish Cliffs

Right: The Aran Sweater Market, Innishmore.

Left: Irish Pub Music.

Right: Irish Coffee in Dublin.

Left: The Giant's Causeway.
Right: Doris and the "99" (the name given to this large soft serve with a cookie on top.

Left: Edel McBride's backyard (outside her studio),
Right: Sheep on a bough, Killary Sheep Farm.

Left: Sheep in Belfast.
Right: Dry stone walls on Innishmore.
Left: The gang at Nancy Hands.
Right: The Celtic Cross on the Aran Islands.

Left: At Una McDonough's Workshop.
Right: Una's headband with the ultimate Aran Sweater Book.
 Left: Leaving Galway. 
Right:  The climb to Dun Aengus Fort
 Above: Gordon at Belfast's oldest building.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Maple Leaves Forever - Adapting Patterns

 As 2017 approached I knew that I wanted to do some Maple Leaf knitting to mark Canada's 150th Anniversary. I had already fallen in love with, and subsequently ruled out Margaret's Gift from our very talented Canadian Designer, Sally Melville, featured a few months ago in the KnitTraders monthly newsletter (If you don't get our newsletter, be sure to sign up today; you don't know what you're missing.).

Being realistic about what I was looking for, I knew that it couldn't be a big undertaking as I had several other big (non-knitting) projects in my life for this coming year. I also suspected that a couple of smaller different projects might hold my attention better than a single larger one.
 Obviously, my first stop was Ravelry where I was pleased to discover that there was a manageable number of choices for maple leaf themed knitting. I found the Canucklehead Cowl to offer a sensible, clear and slightly stylized graphic chart version of our beloved Canadian Flag. Very classic and traditional.

And to bring a more artistic flair into the mix, I chose this stunning Maple Leaf Cowl by Wendy D. Johnson. If you look closely, you can see that she used a gradient dyed yarn for the background - not in our most traditional colours, but still very effective.

Of course, the trouble came when I concluded that neither of these accessories could be knit in colours that would work with either of my winter coats. And a cowl is not something that can clash with what you are wearing with it. Besides, I'm not a fan of cowls...I love big drapey scarves and shawls, not cowls.

I have, however, come to appreciate the value of a good headband. It's far enough away from your outer garment that it doesn't really have to coordinate like a cowl would. It generally doesn't give you hat head nearly as much as a hat does. It's easy to shove in a coat pocket if you don't need it, and in a pinch you can scrunch it up around your hands and make a muff of it.

What I also love (and no one cares what colour these are) is knitting and wearing mittens made of fine fingering weight yarn with the stranded/Fairisle technique. They are shockingly warm for such fine yarn, and knit up relatively quickly as compared to a sweater. And finally they are easier to transport and I wanted these projects to be travel friendly as I'll be spending quite a bit of time on the road over the next few months.

So I have now purchased the 2 patterns with different maple leaf graphs.
I have a head band in mind as well as fine Fairisle mittens.
I have disregarded any colour "matching" issues.

So on to the task of adapting these chosen patterns to create what I really want to make. Let's begin with the easiest: The headband using the Canucklehead Cowl pattern.

The Canucklehead Cowl was actually designed using Estelle's new Worsted Weight yarn, which is one of our best selling yarns and a personal favourite. So Estelle Worsted in traditional red and white, it is. I will simply make the size (they offer 6 sizes, after all) that will fit my head, and not drape around my neck.
I've decided to begin with a provisional cast-on (you'll see why in a minute.) The cowl seems a bit wide for a headband so to narrow it down a bit, I'll cut the length of the red ribbing by half; work the centre graph part; finish the top ribbing to the same length as the bottom.
I like a nice thick headband so I'll then PURL ONE ROW to create a nice clean line that will allow a fold for an inside layer of fabric that I will then knit using one size smaller needles. This inside layer will be worked to the corresponding number of rows as the outside, omitting the maple leaf stranded work. I'll then finish off by removing the provisional cast-on to then join the first row to the last with a purlwise Kitchener stitch.

The mittens require a much bigger job of adapting.

 Essentially I plan on using one of the fine yarn mitten patterns from Patons Next Steps Seven book for Mittens and Gloves. I'll use the graph from the Maple Leaf Cowl on the back of each mitten but...

...What I'm discovering while doing my swatch** is that the maple leaf in the fingering weight yarn (much finer than the cowl calls for) is just a bit more than 1/2 the length of the mitten, so too small to have a single maple leaf, yet too big to fit 2 of them comfortably one above the other.
(**Oh yes - believe me, when it comes to fingering weight stranded knitting, you want to take all the time necessary to swatch and avoid surprises if you don't want to end up with your single, almost finished mitten in the garbage and all of the time and yarn wasted.)

I can see myself with colouring pencils and knitters graph paper, recreating the motif to perhaps overlap the 2 leaves, or even begin the lower one in the cuff. And really, the design on the left hand should be the mirror image of the right hand one. Argh!
Whatever it comes to, you can be sure that I'll have a very clear layout on paper of where I'm going with the design before I even cast on the cuff.

So those are the plans. My purpose in sharing this with you is that many things are possible in adapting a pattern. One method is to choose something that is almost exactly what you want, as with the Canucklehead Cowl, and tweak it a little bit to suit your needs.

The other way of approaching it is to find components from several patterns that fulfill your requirements, then swatch for as long as is necessary until you are sure that what you envision is possible.

Oh yes - and most important of all: WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING - before you do it; while you are doing it; and perhaps even after you redo it. As sure as you decide to "just wing it" without taking notes, you may achieve levels of perfection, but I can guarantee that you'll never be able to reproduce them without precise notes to follow.

And as a wise teacher once told me: you can never underestimate the learning value of a major mistake!
Go for it.

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.