Tag Archives: yarn

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?



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

Turkish Delights and Noro Inspirations

The Hagia Sophia

Our travels often influence both my own personal style and my knitting; but no trip was more inspiring this way than our 10 day sojourn in Turkey.

The surreal fairy chimneys of Cappadocia

In the spring of 2011, we had planned to visit friends teaching in Cairo.  Fortunately, we looked at our tickets, and decided that our 48 hour layover in Istanbul could be easily extended to fill the entire trip.  After long negotiations with Turkish Air (I’m reasonably certain at this point that our travel agent winces when we call) and extensive perusing of our Lonely Planet, we had a new itinerary.  Our friends met us in Istanbul, and we spent 10 days in what has become my favourite travel destination.  Our trip was limited to Istanbul and the surreal landscape of Cappadocia, but the seacoast and East remain on my bucket list!

Turkey is a feast of colour and texture for fashion and textile lovers.  The streets, clothes and buildings are a wash with soft yellows, oranges, blues and greens.  As a knitter, the gorgeous chaos of Istanbul’s bazaars was awe inspiring.  Sandwiched between piles of pottery in saturated mosaics, and artfully arranged spices from across Asia and the Middle East are some of the most beautiful, hand crafted textiles and accessories I have ever seen. On the way home, our bags were packed with scarves in pinks, greens and turquoises for our moms and friends, and colourful silk ballet flats and earrings.  A rug was mostly definitely not within my maternity leave budget, but I went home dreaming of thick, handcrafted swirls of burgundy and gold to rest my feet on.

The view across the Golden Horn (Istanbul)

Turkey is geographically quite spread out, but domestic flights are very reasonable, and we were able to escape the bustle of Istanbul, and visit Cappadocia.  A long history of bizarre geology (the fairy chimneys) and human habitation make it a fantastic place.  People are extremely friendly, the food is terrific, and everything is waaaaay cheaper than Istanbul.  If you make it to Cappadocia, do not miss the eight story underground cities, used by ancient Christians to hide from Romans, or the magnificent local cuisine – I’m still dreaming about the tomato soup!

The shops of Goreme

Since the trip, I’ve thought about designing a scarf pattern inspired by the intricate colourwork of Turkish rugs and scarves, but may, in the end, have to leave that to the experts.   However, one of my favourite yarns has given me an outlet for all of this Turkey love: Noro Taiyo.  The combinations of earthy and saturated colours bring me back to the Spice Bazaar, and the uneven, organic texture is reminiscent of Cappadocia’s surreal hand carved architecture. Since coming across this yarn shortly after our trip, I’ve been using it everywhere.

The yarn itself can be frustrating to work with.  It’s thickness is purposely inconsistent; which can give your work a beautiful organic texture, but can also be an absolute pain when a particularly slim section pulls apart in your hands (full confession: I’m a tight knitter).  Each multicolour colourway contains a clear outlier, a colour that looks nearly ugly in its contrast to the rest of the yarn.  In the right project, the outlier makes the entire work more beautiful, but it in the wrong project, it can make an intricate pattern or adult sweater look plain wacky.

My top Noro successes have been relatively plain patterns that embrace it inconsistency and 70’s colourways.  The Paintbox Log Cabin blanket (available for free at Katherine Keyes’ blog: Get Your Hook On) was designed with Noro in mind and it shows.

The Spice Bazaar

My log cabin blanket

This blanket took months to make (and upwards of $100 in yarn), but was worth every minute and penny.  Katherine Keyes used Noro Kureyon, while I used Noro Taiyo, it is less expensive per yard, and a little easier to care for.  This caused a major overestimate in the number of skeins required, and I’ve been experimenting with remainders ever since.

Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket has eaten up a few of the leftovers.  I used the 1968 pattern to make one for each of my two year old nieces, on 5.5 mm needles, it’s a perfect fit.  The pattern is technically really easy, but difficult from a reading comprehension perspective, and I highly recommend the 6 episode YouTube videos for anyone unfamiliar with her patterns.  It’s knit in one very strange piece, with a single pair of seams across the top of the shoulders.  The wacky colours and uneven texture make for really beautiful, obviously retro sweater.  The great thing about toddlers is that they can get away with a fashion statement this bold!

Amelia’s toddler surprise jacket

Finally this really simple Entrelac cushion cover is now a staple in our living room.  The variety of Noro colourways makes it easy to match any couch, or living room and I’ve since knit cushions for half the family.

Entrelac cushion