Monday, April 29, 2013

What Makes a Great Yarn Shop?

My conversation with a fellow knitter on the bus in TO generated this post. I started the conversation rolling by asking her where she likes to shop in the city. (So many yarn shops, so little time and money!) Her response was "Romni Wools", but here are the points she made:
1. A good shop doesn't have a clubby or clique-y feel to it. Ever felt like an outsider at a "knit night" or while wandering around a shop where a group of shop regulars is socializing (and ignoring other customers)? In a good shop, everyone is welcomed warmly, perhaps offered a cup of tea, and engaged in conversation. The staff make you feel that they are genuinely interested in you and what you're doing.
2. A good shop carries lines of yarn in their entirety. Unfortunately, more shops than I would like to mention carry just three or four colours of a type of yarn, and they're usually based on the owner's idiosyncratic tastes. Don't care for 3 shades of orange? Go somewhere else!
3. Good sales people never lie or mislead. You want a double knitting weight of cotton? "Here," says the young woman behind the counter, "this skein is labelled worsted weight, but it'll be just fine for your project." Or, " this ball is a different dye lot, but you'd never be able to tell." This behaviour is even worse when the misleading occurs over the telephone, resulting in a wasted trip to the shop.
4. Great yarn shops carry classic, reasonably priced yarns in sweater quantities. I don't know if it is the trend toward making socks and shawls, but more and more shops seem to specialize in $28 skeins of hand-dyed precious fibre and fewer and fewer carry complete lines of "workhorse" yarns. If you knit a lot of sweaters, there's no way you can feed your habit with super-expensive fibre, not to mention the fact that classic yarns just wear better over time. My personal limit is around $100 for a good sweater, and I rarely come close to spending that.
5. This last point is my own addition. I prefer yarn shops run by owners who are interested in knitting design and designers. You'd be surprised at the number of owners who have absolutely no interest in anything beyond selling pattern books from the big distributors and the yarn specified in those patterns. If a customer shows up with a pattern off the internet, woe betide them. Smart shop owners understand that there's more money to be made from selling yarn than patterns. They may even provide access to a computer to check on yarn requirements or view other knitters' projects on Ravelry. A really smart shop owner supports local designers, with sweater samples labelled with suggested yarns from the shop. Hey owners, we're a great resource!

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Took the early train to Toronto yesterday to attend the annual Knitters' Frolic at the Japanese Cultural Centre. Great day, as always, with exposure to yarns and fibre not available locally, and also to knitters, spinners, designers, teachers, etc. It was so much fun, in fact, that the only photo I took all day was of the view of the lake from the train somewhere just west of Port Hope.

There are rules to follow for a successful Frolic:
1. Wear comfortable shoes,
2. Resist the urge to wear your most beautiful knits; it's hot in there with all those knitters milling around,
3. Bring only cash; the temptation to overspend is strong and urgent,
4. When your shopping bag is full, it's time to quit, especially if you want VIA Rail to let you back on board without going over your carry-on limit.

It appeared to me that everyone this year had jumped onto the hand-dyed superwash merino sock yarn bandwagon. It was slightly disappointing that so many booths were devoted to this product. Variety is the spice of life and all that. I would like to have seen more non-superwash interesting sweater yarns spun in Canada. Wellington Fibres stood out for me as a company with rather more interesting offerings. I bought this mohair/wool blend from them.

I enjoyed the Sheep's Ahoy booth with its display of Kate Davies' finished knits and kits. (I might have purchased a tiny one.) Also, I bought a little package of BFL/silk for spinning from Turtlepurl. After some tea with Deb Gemmell, when her teaching was done, I headed out on the bus bound for the Eglinton subway station and eventually the train station. Back home before 10:00 p.m.
One of the best things about such days is simply meeting up with other enthusiastic knitters. On the bus just referred to I sat next to two ladies also returning from the Frolic, only to discover that we have very similar yarn tastes. A discussion of yarn shops ensued, which will result in tomorrow's blog post (what makes a great yarn store). We have since friended each other on Ravelry. Isn't the internet great?
No recipe this week, for obvious reasons. (What, you expect me to take a train, attend the Frolic, chat with knitters, buy yarn AND think about food, let alone cooking?)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Guide to Techniques and Tutorials

Buttonholes in 2x2 rib:

Further Encounters with I-cord

I-cord Edges in Stocking Stitch

Blocking Work-in-Progress

Decreasing into Cables

When Grafting Underarms Isn't Quite Right 

Sewn Bind Off

Making Polymer Clay Buttons

Top-down Pocket Insertion

A Compendium of Spinning Posts and Other Random Spinning Links

Knitting Up Front Bands on a Steeked Cardigan

Preparing and Cutting a Sewn Steek

Colour Theory in Fairisle Knitting

A New All-in-One Shawl Collar http:

Grafting or Three Needle Bind Off?

Cabling without a Cable Needle:

Dyeing with Tea:

Perfect Picots:

Closing the Thumb Gap:

Knitting with dpns: Avoiding Ladders:

Yarn Overs: Getting Over the Confusion:

Rideau Wrap: Attaching I-cord:

RYO -- A Different Kind of Increase

Provisional Cast-Ons Part Two: The Crochet Chain Cast-On

The Cable Cast-On (With a Wrinkle)

Picking Up from a Provisional Cast-On

Provsional Cast-Ons Part One: The Crochet Cast-On 

How to Graft Underarms

Stranded Knitting: One Hand or Two?

How I Like to Spin

The Perpendicular Join

Picking Up

The Backward Loop Increase: Underrated and Underused

Shawl Collar Tutorial

In the Knit Lab: Adventures with Bobbles, Part 1

In the Knit Lab: Adventures with Bobbles, Part 2

Trellis: Decreasing in Fair Isle

Trellis: Steek and I-Cord Tutorial

Of Buttons and Buttonholes

Finessing Brookline

Tidying Up [Steeks]

Look Ma, No Blips [in I-Cord]

A Little Rule Breaking [I-Cord Edging for Sandridge]

Sandridge: The Knitty Gritty of Raglan Alterations

The No Sweat Guide to Gauge

How to Make [Crochet] Button Loops

Seam Stitches

CDD [Centred Double Decrease]

All Zipped Up

Sandridge: The Feminine Version (Helpful Hints)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Stranded Knitting: One Hand or Two?

Stranded knitting, or "fair isle", as most knitters I know call it, can be done in so many ways! Like everything else in knitting, there is no one method, and the best approach is to try several different techniques and then adopt the one that works best for you. You may even find, as I have, that your preferences change over time and with the type of project you are working on.
A good starting place for learning stranded knitting is the 2-handed method advocated by Elizabeth Zimmermann. Of course, it requires that you master knitting with both right and left hands first. No need to purl, thank goodness, because you can do all the work in the round, with the right side facing and use steeks to open up your tube at the end. A good demonstration of two-handed knitting can be found here. (Note that I don't advocate weaving in every second stitch as shown. Everything else here is superb.) There are a couple of advantages to the 2-handed approach:
1. The 2 strands of wool come from either side and are never in danger of entanglement. If you wind a couple of centre-pull balls, either by hand or with a wool-winder, then the balls can sit on the floor at your feet, one on either side and the knitting becomes smooth and efficient.
2. With this method it is easy to weave in the yarn that is being carried in back. Like Meg Swansen, I recommend that you carry nothing over an inch, so at a gauge of 5 sts per inch, you could comfortably carry the back strand over 5 stitches.
Two-handed fair isle is what I do most of the time when working on a larger circular needle. I knitted the "Trelllis Waistcoat" this way.
Eventually I progressed to 1-handed stranded knitting. Many knitters, like Meg Swansen, do this all with the left hand.Since I am predominantly a right-handed knitter who holds my needles underhanded in a sort of pencil grip, I use my right hand for one-handed stranded knitting. Here's how I strand the wool around my fingers:

A stitch with the main colour over the first finger:

A stitch with the contrast colour over the middle finger:

Note that the two colours are never twisted around each other; the pale green always travels under the navy blue. It is still possible to weave in the carried colour, but not quite as simple for beginners to master.
Which approach do I prefer? As mentioned above, I tend to use the 2-handed technique with projects on larger circulars. However, when I work on dpns, or when working a round with the colours alternating every stitch (as above), I prefer the one-handed method. This week, that is. Knitter's choice, as always!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ready for Rhubarb ( a Saturday Recipe)

Here I am AGAIN writing up the Friday recipe on Saturday. That tells you I've had a busy week. It's still a little early for this year's crop of rhubarb, given that it's snowing (actually, the stuff coming down looks a lot like dishwasher detergent granules) as I write this, but not too early to be anticipating what to do with it. Rhubarb is rather an old-fashioned food these days. When I did a little background research on it here, I discovered that indeed, it reached the peak of its popularity between the two world wars. In this neck of the woods, it has remained quite popular for two reasons, I think. One, it grows like a weed, with no gardening skills required other than the ability to harvest the stalks once or twice during the season. Two, it is one of the first plants to be available for harvest in the spring garden. Unfortunately, since our move, I no longer have any to harvest, and until I do some planting, I'll have to rely on our city market. In Eastern Ontario, that's not a problem; it's reliably and cheaply available. It was quite another story when we lived in Washington, DC. There, I could only find it in exotic locations such as Whole Foods (at exorbitant prices, imported from Washington State), and my attempts to grow it failed as it tended to be unhappy in the hot, humid summers. I suppose that also accounts for the fact that there didn't seem to be the same cultural familiarity with rhubarb in general.
Although it is a stalk, rhubarb is treated as a tart fruit. The best tasting has stalks the colour of ruby red grapefruit. BTY, there is also an ornamental variety with ginormous leaves, which is amazingly attractive, if you happen to have the space for it. The regular variety can be made into jams (rhubarb-ginger is wonderful on scones), pies, or eaten stewed. In our household, we prefer plain rhubarb pies, without the often-added strawberries. Today, I'm going to explain how to make the stewed version. Warm stewed rhubarb is right up there with other simple, but heavenly tastes, like warm homemade applesauce.

Stewed Rhubarb

enough rhubarb stalks to fill the top of a double boiler when chopped, and

Harvest the stalks by gently pulling them from the plant at the base. Remove the leaves, which are poisonous, and wash the stalks well. Cut into half inch pieces. It is easiest to do this with scissors. Fill the top of a double boiler with the chopped stalks and nothing else. Rhubarb is full of water, so much so that it can stew in its own juices. Fill the bottom of the double boiler with water, place the chopped fruit over it, covered, and simmer the whole thing until the fruit has broken down and is completely soft. Remove from the heat and add sugar (quite a lot will be necessary) to taste. 
Serve plain, preferably warm, or with custard sauce if you have any.

I seem to remember that there's an Agatha Christie mystery in which the murderer uses rhubarb leaves as the source of her poison. Don't know the title offhand. Is rhubarb part of your spring rituals?

P.S. Just got back from my regular Saturday morning trip to the market. Here's part of my haul:

leeks and parsnips. I passed this forsythia bush on my way there.

As you can see, it's only in the earliest stages of budding. In a normal year, it would be done and almost into full leaf. Sigh. No rhubarb in sight for a while, I guess.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Zora is the name Isabel chose for this design, from the water creatures in the game "Legend of Zelda". The double wave cable has a lot of movement in it. When I first noticed this stitch pattern in Barbara Walker's first Treasury, I was instantly attracted to it. You would think that since the cables are superimposed rather than intertwined, the stitch pattern wouldn't draw the eye in the way that it does. I suppose it is related in a way to the wavy cable I used in Sandridge. In both cases, the diagonal lines create movement in an uncomplicated way.

The written pattern isn't available quite yet (I first have to finish up a project for a fall publication), but here are some photos taken today a few minutes walk from our front door at the Kingston Yacht Club. Kingston was the site of the sailing events in the 1976 Olympics. The Olympic Harbour is a 15 minute walk from the Yacht Club, but the point remains that, even though we are far from the ocean, Lake Ontario is nothing less than an inland sea and the whole area has a strong maritime feel. We felt a watery location was definitely in order for Zora.

Can you catch the cuff detail? This design is an offshoot of "Wakefield", with the same silhouette, and I wanted to retain some cuff detail.

The last shot in this sequence is of the stones under the crystal clear water. See the slight ripples of sunlight? Beautiful afternoon, even if still a trifle cool. At least it was a good day for wearing wool!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Why We Knit

There's light at the end of the tunnel.

Things are finally growing,

and there's actually some green grass in front of the courthouse (with a very muddy path).

That said, there's still one small patch of snow--see it under the trees? Not quite time to put away the woollen socks and gloves, even though it's the second half of April...

This is why we Canadians knit!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Six Steps to Happiness

This day had a soul-crushing start. First the ice storm,

Grape vines in back garden.

Compost bin sealed shut.

then to add insult to injury, Isabel ignored my advice about not wearing her Valentine sweater all the way to the point where her elbow broke through a thin spot.

This would have been SO much easier to repair if the hole weren't there. (Yes, Valentine has the same lace and cable pattern as this, but it predates it. Alison Green Will and I have had a chuckle over it. The stitch pattern can be found in several stitch dictionaries. Hers is much lovelier than mine, which was my first design.)
I wasn't in the mood to work on my project for publication. The day was cold, grey, and miserable, and I was angry, depressed, and miserable. What to do?

Here's my 6-step self-help programme:
1. Make a fire in the fireplace. Always brightens a cold, wet day.
2. Add a half hour of baroque music.

3. Drink a large mug of strong, hot tea.

4. Notice that Isabel had changed to a sweater made entirely by herself.

It's Maree, by Julia Trice from Twist Collective. Isabel did all the calculations to work out the adjustments for her size without any input from me. This is Isabel, computer geek, not knitwear model. I'm fond of both versions.
5. Don't knit. Spin something in jewel colours.

6. Make tortiere for dinner. OK, so this is traditionally served at Xmas, and we hardly ever eat red meat, but if ever a day called for something out of the ordinary, this is it.


lb ground pork
lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
½ tsp salt
dash pepper
½ c water
¼ tsp crushed celery seed
1 large potato, grated
pinch cloves
bay leaf

Preheat oven to 400F. Brown the meat and drain off the fat. Add remaining ingredients and cook uncovered for 20 min. While the filling is cooking, make the pastry. Remove the bay leaf, then pour the filling into the bottom crust, place top crust over it, seal, and prick with a fork. Bake for about 40 min or until golden brown. Allow to cool for 10 min before serving. Good with ketchup and braised red cabbage.

BTW, when we were living in Washington, DC, we almost never ran into meat pies, whereas they're a staple here. Are meat pies more a Canadian thing? Thoughts?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Couple of Books Reviewed

This is a day of waiting...there's a winter storm warning and we're expecting ice pellets, freezing rain, snow, and thunderstorms before the end of the next 24 hours. (Yes, I'm aware that in the DC area they hit 90F yesterday.) This late storm is not usual spring weather for us here, but unfortunately it's normal this season. When it comes to weather, everything always evens out I say, and after the blissfully warm spring last year (which unfortunately destroyed the maple syrup and apple crops), I guess we should expect this season to be the reverse. Intellectually, we Canadians understand the dangers of global warming; psychologically, it's hard to get worked up about it.
So, with the grocery shopping done and with some logs ready at the fireplace, I'm finishing up part of a sample to go for photography for a Fall 2013 publication. Just so you know, designers don't get to choose the yarn or the colour for their own designs when they're published. I guess I got lucky this time. One of the colours is moss green, same as my eyes. I can look forward to wearing this sometime in the future.

Alas, it looks like grey in this photo. So hard to get colours, especially blue and green, to come out accurately!
Last week I went on a little shopping expedition to Kingston's west end and also up to Westport. I picked up a couple of books along the way.

Now, I don't buy a lot of knitting books, and when I do they're more likely to be technique books rather than project books, but "Knits at Home" is definitely in the latter category. I'm a sucker for photos of minimally decorated rustic but sophisticated rooms in neutral-coloured wools. Just fell in love with this. And it features lacy curtains, wall hangings, carpets--not just the usual cushions and afghans. The only dark cloud hovering in the background? Cost. The bed throw near the beginning of the book takes FORTY balls of Rowan Big Wool. Wondering how much that might set you back? Well, on WEBS, I found that Rowan Big Wool goes for US$15.95. Now, multiply that by 40 and you get...US$638. Ouch!! For Canadians, add HST (value-added tax) and duties and...just don't go there.
The second book, "Circular Knitting Workshop", is a real gem. There's stuff in here even for experienced circular knitters like me, and I really love the chapter on socks with round heels and toes, as well as all the details of jogless knitting in garter stitch.
What else did I buy? A cute linen jumper/dress from Cut Loose (my fave clothing company) in a bright periwinkle print that looks terrific with my alpaca Perth Cardi and can be worn year round in different ways, and a stand-alone mirror for our second-floor hallway. It seems we have a knack for purchasing homes with no floor-length mirrors. In the previous house that was solved by sticking an inexpensive Home Depot mirror onto the back of the bathroom door. Our current 3-storey limestone house has the feel of a London townhouse and called for a more gracious (and expensive) fix.

Here it is, complete with Bill's clutter in the background, including the last box in the house still to be unpacked. Just looked out the window. No precip yet. Maybe it won't come.

Monday, April 8, 2013

How I Like to Spin

I'm fairly new to spinning. I don't have a wheel; I have a little collection of drop spindles, a shoebox kate, a wool winder, a swift, and a lot of toilet paper rolls for bobbins. I'm not a sophisticated spinner, either, as you will see, but I'm happy with my results and that's my measuring stick for success. Here's how I'm spinning up some blue faced leicester top from Turtlepurl. I purchased it a couple of days ago looking like this.

A sophisticated spinner would undo the big braid and separate the long length of fibre into two or more long lengths with the goal of spinning graduated colour singles. Not me. First I weigh the whole thing so that I'll know when I've spun half ( I want to spin two bobbins of singles and then ply them together.) Then I pull off a handful of the fibre from one end. This fibre is a little matted (probably from the dye process), so then I tease it apart into a sort of thin square, opening up the matted bits, like this.

 I do it on my lap, but here you see it held up to the window. Then, I fold the square/rectangle in half,

and gently pull out a thick rope of roving from the top of the fold.

Finally, I wind the roving I've created around my wrist, ready for spinning.

The result isn't a carefully graduated set of colour changes, but rather a cloud of softly blended colour. I like it. A lot.

I don't fuss if now and then there's a slight bit of unevenness. This is hand spinning and my goal is to produce something uniquely beautiful, something that doesn't look as if it came from a machine or even my local yarn shop. Now, what to do with the final yarn.... Ideas?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Friday Recipe (with a Little Bit of Colour)

Here we are launched into April and still we've not had even one really warm day. At least it's sunny and the temp is above freezing, and the maple syrup producers are delighted to have an extended season, especially after last year's bust. To bring a little colour into our lives, I took a chance a planted some pansies by the front door this afternoon.

You wouldn't believe what a lift it brings to open the door to sunshine and bright purple pansies and pussywillows! The blue note you see hanging in the middle of the door wreath is an instruction to delivery people to knock hard because we don't have a bell and it's hard to hear the knocker from the third floor.

Bill bought me a book from the sale table of our local Chapters book store.

Very inspirational, and appropriate considering what I am knitting just now. Sorry, can't show anything; you'll have to wait until next fall.
At the same time, I'm chugging away at the chunky seed stitch jacket. This morning I opened up the pockets and, like magic, there they were, fully formed.

From the front.

From the back; look Ma, no sewing!

 Drove up to Westport yesterday for a little shopping. I'll show what I found another time, but here's a view of the lake up there with its receding ice.

The shopping is the cause of the Friday recipe arriving on the blog a day late. This week's addition is:


A galette is a free-form rustic sort of pie. It may be sweet, like a fruit pie, or savoury. I make them more often than double-crust pies because they’re so quick, and for company they look a bit special. Note that the recipe calls for the same amount of pastry as for a double-crust pie. The free-form shape requires a slightly thicker crust, so the same amount of pastry is required. Slightly less fruit and sugar is required than for a pie baked in a dish.

one recipe oil pastry

enough fruit to mound in the middle of your galette—remember that the fruit will shrink down during baking, so use a little more than you think is necessary

1/3 c sugar

pinch of cinnamon for apple pies only

1 tbsp flour; use more for very juicy fruits—2 tbsp for a plum tart (very delicious) up to ¼ c for frozen blueberries

parchment paper

a large baking sheet

Preheat oven to 400F. Prepare the fruit, if necessary. For frozen blueberries, nothing need be done; do not thaw before baking. For apples, peel and slice. For plums, leave the peel on, but remove the stones. Feel free to make fruit combos such as peaches with fresh blueberries. Use whatever’s in season. However, these instructions are not for anything with rhubarb, which is extra sour and watery (that recipe is for another day).

Mix the sugar and flour together in a large bowl. Add the prepared fruit and stir until the fruit is coated. Set aside.

Cut off two sheets of parchment paper much larger than the finished galette. Dampen the counter and place the bottom sheet on the counter. Top with the pastry and cover with the second sheet. Roll the pastry out from the centre to make a very large circle about ¼” thick—a little thicker than regular pie crust. Peel off the top sheet. Gently lift the circle of pastry on its bed of parchment paper and place the whole thing, paper and all, onto the baking sheet; let the edges hang off the sheet.

Fill the centre of the circle with the fruit mixture, leaving about 3” clear at the edges. Fold the edges up toward the centre. Sprinkle with a little sugar, if desired. Bake for about 40 min or until golden brown.


No sugar apple pie: Omit the sugar. After mounding the apples in the pastry, sprinkle with ½ c raisins and a dusting of cinnamon. Proceed as above.

Potato and mushroom galette: Make potato and mushroom pie filling (recipe given earlier) and use this to fill the pastry. Proceed as above. Perfect fall supper dish accompanied by homemade tomato soup.