Category Archives: Yarn

Not-so-controlled chaos: my Noro mitts

Elizabeth Zimmerman's mitered mitts in Noro Kureyon 326

Elizabeth Zimmerman’s mitered mitts in Noro Kureyon 326

Regular readers may have noticed that I took some time of knitting and blogging at the end of the summer, and as things geared up in September.  However, the colder weather here turned my mind back to cozy warm knits.  These mittens felt like the perfect project to get my knitting groove back with.  I love this pattern from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s classic Almanac.  It’s beautiful and simple, and with Kathryn Ivy’s excellent modifications, it can be completed without steeking.

This yarn, a new colourway from Noro, called to me the moment I saw. I have a bad habit of accumulating beautiful yarn, without a specific project in mind, but this yarn basically screamed, “Make mitered mitts out of me!”  After completing the first mitt (on the left), I felt like a yarn genius; the yarn and pattern seemed like a perfect fit.  However, when I picked up the second ball, I noticed something, this ball was nothing like the other: the blue, which was barely present in the first ball took up most of the second.  When I finished, my second mitt was blue and brown, while my first was pink and purple.  While I ordinarily love the controlled chaos of Noro colourways, this was too much, they looked like a completely mismatched pair.  (and the blue and brown, with a hint of orange was pretty awful to be absolutely truthful.) Fortunately, I had a fair amount of purple and pink in the scraps, so I cut off the tip of the right hand mitt (ironically, I had used Kathryn Ivy’s directions to avoid cutting into a finished project, but no matter).

While messing with a Noro colourway feels a bit like cheating, I’m very happy with the finished look.  They look great on my growing pile of Christmas gifts.  My only concern? I have two more balls of manlier coloured Noro Kureyon waiting to be made into mitered mitts for my husband…


Visiting Purl Soho

Purl Soho

Purl Soho

Visiting New York City can be a surreal experience.  At least for North Americans, it is the setting for so many of our most beloved movies, tv shows and novels. It can feel like you are visiting a (very crowded) theme park filled with the stores Carrie shops at, the builiding where Liz Lemon works, that toy store from Big, and, of course, Holly Golightly’s most famous breakfast spot. If you’re younger than me, those cultural references may shift to Brooklyn, but either way – New York is a city that feels disconcertingly familiar, even on your first visit.

That surreal familiarity definitely extended to the only place in New York City that I was determined to shop at: Purl Soho. I’ve been to New York a number of times over the years, and I live in a big city, so the shopping in Manhattan never really calls to me.  But that was before I starting following the Purl Bee.  Their beautifully photographed patterns and designs continue to inspire.  We have many fantastic yarn stores at home, but the Purl Bee suggested that this was going to be something really special. I spent a perfect afternoon in Soho with my girlfriends, eating at the L’Ecole (a fantastic restaurant where staff are all being trained in the art of French food), and shopping for yarn.

From the moment I stepped in, I’m pretty sure that the staff knew they were dealing with an unabashed fan girl. I picked through their selection of books, looked at the fabric and wished I could sew or quilt, saving the yarn for last.  It certainly isn’t a place to hunt for bargains, but they have a gorgeous and carefully chosen selection of silks, linens and cashmeres.  I have admired the sweaters and accessories on their blog for years, and then there they were hanging on a rack where you could touch them and try them on.  Like so many other spots in New York, there was that strange feeling of familiarity and admiration. I’ve seen this so many times, but here it is and it’s real.  Trying the sweaters on had a practical purpose too.  I was able to see exactly how they fit, much more clearly than you can from measurements on a pattern.  I could see that the cable back shell I’ve been working on is very short, while the silken tee shirt I bought yarn for is already the perfect length. For anyone else using their patterns from a far, despite what you may have heard about New Yorkers, the sweaters actually fit on the big side.

Silken Straw in Husk on the left and Euroflax Linen in Caribou

Silken Straw in Husk on the left and Euroflax Linen in Caribou

The service was helpful, knowledgable and friendly; they answered questions, printed patterns and wound my yarn, while we shopped across the street.  I cannot wait to cast on with the yarn that I bought: Alchemy Silken Straw is Husk (for the t-shirt) and Euroflax Linen in Caribou (for their raglan).

How yarn used to be made

Life on the (1860's) farm

Life on the (1860’s) farm

On our family vacation last week, we spent a fantastic day together at Upper Canada Village, in Eastern Ontario.  While my son is a little young to grasp much history, he loved the farm animals, train ride, and especially milking a cow (ok, he “helped” me milk a cow, but still!).

I was able to take in some history, when I wasn’t chasing him around the Confederation era farm.  As a knitter, it was the wool factory that really captured my attention.  I didn’t associate Upper Canada in the mid-nineteenth century with the Industrial Revolution, nor do I tend to think of yarn as a factory made commodity, but the woolen factory certainly proved me wrong. The Asselstine Woolen Factory was originally built in 1828.  Between 1828 and the 1930’s, it employed mostly women who carded, spun and wove sheep’s wool into roving, yarn and blankets.  The water powered factory has been restored to working order, using almost exclusively technology from the 1860’s.

The wool, outside the factory, waiting to be carded

The wool, outside the factory, waiting to be carded

Carding machines, where the wool is turned into a thin soft fleecy tape

Carding machines, where the wool is turned into a thin soft fleecy tape




The water turbine, which still powers the factory

The water turbine, which still powers the factory

Large machines carded the wool and spun it into 1-ply for weaving. Some of the 1-ply was then doubled, tripled or quadrupled for knitters to purchase at general stores.  A recreated sign reminded factory workers that while fashionable, hoops and crinolines are unsuitable for work around the large powerful machines.

Today water still runs through the turbines, and the huge nineteenth century machines still turn the wool into 1-ply for weaving into blankets and 2-ply for purchase in the Village Store.  I bought a few skeins of the wool in black and soft pink.  It’s much thicker than the 2-ply you would buy at most yarn stores, and is much closer to worsted weight.  I can’t wait to turn it into some classic mitts to remind everyone of our family vacation – any thoughts on a pattern?


Love my new house, hate my new moths

It’s finally happening! We’re moving into our house. After 4 months of waiting, the house was even better than I remembered from our pre-offer showings.  After several years of upheaval and change, I’m so grateful to be setting up a more permanent home for our family, one that’s all ours.  I feel blessed, excited, overwhelmed and utterly exhausted.

I’ve got my eyes on you moths (from Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately, our fabulous little house offered up one terrible surprise on closing day: moths. That’s right, the winged invader that every knitter and fashionista fears… moths. And before you ask, yes the clothes eating ones. While this unintentionally (?) hilarious trend piece in the Globe and Mail suggests there is nothing a priviledged urbanite can do, but buy new clothes, I refuse to admit defeat.

I hope the cedar and cinnamon will keep the bugs away

I hope the cedar and cinnamon will keep the bugs away from the stockings, now that we have a hearth!

I strive to keep things in our home as natural and healthy as possible, and I am teaching my son to respect all living things, but any insect that thinks it can eat our woolens is going to die. The scary chemicals in moth balls kept me from going the chemical death route, but I’m trying everything else; we have pheremone traps, cedar balls, tuperware containers, cinnamon and sheer determination.  I hope that the days the house spent empty will help, but our attic traps (by Aeroxon) were littered with moths this afternoon. Right now, I’m catiously optimistic that I can keep our clothes safe (since any larvae infested clothes were taken away by the last owner) but I’m keeping my yarn stash safe in our old apartment for now. One thing’s for sure, those bugs will not dine on hand dyed sock yarn tonight. And so my watch begins…

My Overby Sweater (or Why I Despise Seams)

_AWN4131My Overby sweater is done, and I sort of like it.  I rarely make sweaters for myself, because I’m almost pathologically picky about fit and I find wool really itchy (I know, it’s a strange confession for a knitter!).  However, when I saw this pattern, and the new cotton tape yarn it was designed for, I was completely seduced.  I love cotton sweaters, and the fit, texture and stretch of this sweater make fit less of an issue.

My Overby sweater, knit in Berroco Karma, in the spring sunshine

My Overby sweater, knit in Berroco Karma, in the spring sunshine

That said, I have mixed feelings about the results.  I still love, love, love the texture and silhouette. The actual knitting was as quick and easy as can be, but the yarn presented a few unique challenges.  Berocco Karma is a new yarn, with only 48 ravelry projects, so getting tips and help online wasn’t easy.  It’s a loosely woven cotton tape, making weaving in ends nearly impossible to do to my satisfaction.  On the advice of my LYS, I ended up attaching balls of yarn by sewing the two ends together with a few stitches in matching thread.  That didn’t solve to problem of the ends, and there are a couple places where they have worked their way to the surface.

I hate, hate, hate seaming, and this sweater is constructed in 4 flat pieces (the absolute worst method of construction if you ask me). This turned out to be the biggest hurdle and source of dissatisfaction with this sweater.  My inexperience with set-in shoulders made me reluctant to start messing with the pattern, and now I really regret it.  I should have knit as much as possible in the round, or even better used Ann Budd’s Knitter’s Handy Book of Top Down Sweaters to rewrite the pattern as seamless.

I started blogging, in part, to elevate my knitting skills and push myself to try new things, so I was determined to master seaming and finishing.  I scoured youtube, and watched Berroco’s own excellent videos.  It was a little too late; they recommended decreasing for the sleeve cap one or two stitches in for the sleeve cap to give yourself a firmer edge to sew into (thanks, guys, but next time put that in the pattern!).

A work in progress, sew in the sleeves

A work in progress, sew in the sleeves

I waited until my son was asleep and my husband was safely ensconced in the NHL playoffs to attack.  I laid everything out after diligently blocking. However, even with all that care, the seams do not meet my standards.  I hate wearing anything that looks amateurish, and these seams seem to have conspired against me.  The loose stitches make every misstep glaring, and somehow, I sewed one armpit slightly tighter than the other (not really visible, but still).

All that said, I loved this yarn, and the way it feels, I can’t wait to find another really great (seamless) sweater pattern for it. Please, share if you have any ideas!

The lure of multi-colour sock yarn

Basic gusset heel socks in Studioloo Bootsie (elephantgirl)

Basic gusset heel socks in Studioloo Bootsie (elephantgirl)

I just finished these socks in my favourite basic sock pattern, gusset heel basic socks by Wendy Johnson. They were made from impulsively purchased Studioloo Bootsie (yarn spun and dyed by a local artist) in elephantgirl. I loved watching the colours materialize, although I did hope they would pool a little more organically. Admittedly, the stockinette got a little tedious, but I’m a dedicated sock knitter. There’s something very satisfying about wearing a handmade pair, especially in this unseasonably cold and wet weather.

_AWN3315Whenever I drop in to a yarn store without a specific project in mind, I’m inevitably drawn to yarn like this; there’s something irresistible about the skeins of soft, gorgeous, striped, multi-coloured sock yarn.  Nearly every impulse purchase in my stash is a single skein of sock yarn in several saturated hues.

The problem (other than the obvious cost): what to do with them?  When I buy them, I tell myself I will find a choose a challenging new sock pattern, but in reality, most textures look muddy in multi-coloured yarn.  There are some rare exceptions, like Cookie A’s fab wedge socks, but there’s only so many pairs of those I can make.  And so I have a number of flat socks and an even larger number of gorgeous, unused stashed skeins.  What are your favourite patterns for multi-coloured sock yarn? I’d love to hear your suggestions for this part of my stash!

Some of my sock stash: (left to right) Studioloo Bootsie in Birthday Cake, Cascade Heritage Paints in Wild Roses and stashed yarn of unknown origins

Some of my sock stash: (left to right) Studioloo Bootsie in Birthday Cake, Cascade Heritage Paints in Wild Roses and stashed yarn of unknown origins

Getting to know my yarn at the Royal Winter Fair

Saying hello to the sheep at the Royal Winter Fair

This morning, we decided to catch the last day of the Royal Agricultural Fair, here in Toronto.  I had never been before, and we were motivated primarily by the opportunity to let our little guy get out and meet some animals.

The fair is a wonderful place for young children.  I grew up in a small town, and I sometimes mourn the lack of oppurtunities my child of the city has to connect to nature and to understand country life the way I did as a kid.   Fortunately, our son (whose favourite song is “Old MacDonald Had a


Farm”) really enjoyed the fair. While it felt a bit of a incongruous in downtown Toronto, there were all the trappings of a country fair, from prize winning produce, square dancing and butter sculptures to horse shows, a petting zoo and loads of friendly farm animals.  The sloppy kisses of a very friendly cow and the antics of the Super Dogs had all three of us laughing, in a way that reminded me  why we drag ourselves out of our pjs and off the couch on Sunday mornings. For me our “family field trips” are the absoloute best moments of any week.

What I had not anticipated was how interesting the fair would be for a knitter.  It was fun (and a little strange) to see where and how the wool, alpaca and angora makes it to my local yarn store.  The highlight for me came from a booth run by the friendly farmers of the Meadowview Alpaca Farm.  They breed and raise alpaca, and sell yarns, fibres and accessories produced from their livestock.  Their booth was stocked with fluffy and unbelievably soft yarn, and I was completely unable to resist dropping down my credit card.  They were happy to answer any and all questions I had about the yarns and about their animals, in a way that let me know they really enjoy what they’re doing.

Meadowview’s booth at the fair

Running my fingers through the silky raw fibre and talking to the farmers helped me think about knitting in a way that had never occured to me before.  For all my rhapsodizing about the beauty of making my own clothes, I had never really stopped to think about where all those saturated colours and textures at my local yarn come from.

I picked up this particularly soft, brown sock yarn and two thrum mitt kits.  I tried on a pair of these toasty marvels and had the technique for stuffing the mitts with fluffy lining demonstrated to me.  Tonight, I’m very tempted to abandon my holiday gift knitting and experiment with the thrum mitts – we’ll see how long my self-discipline holds out, and I’ll definitely keep you posted on what becomes of farm fresh alpaca yarn.

Alpaca yarn and lining from my mitt kit

Alpaca sock yarn

My mitt kit