Sunday, January 31, 2010

String Theory

Okay, I really know nothing about the physics side of "String Theory," but I do manage to find lots to do with the stuff.

For instance, I have a little trick with crochet cotton that makes one of the world's cheapest and handiest row counters. As it dangles from my knitting, people look at it curiously and wonder. I tell them that it helps me count to ten, saving my eyes from counting 60 rows in black sock yarn after sunset!

With my string counter, I avoid carrying around a row counter or a notepad. And my socks, mittens, sleeves and sweater fronts can still match exactly.
When working cables, lace or pattern stitches, it becomes an extra check for recognizing when it's time to cross cables or know where I am in the pattern.

In the photo above, I can easily tell that I am knitting round 4 because the knitting needle is in the 4th loop.

The string marker is really simple to make:

  • Take about a 30 inch (75-ish cm) length of light-coloured crochet cotton and fold it in half. Near the fold, tie an overhand knot leaving a space sized to fit easily on your knitting needles. This is loop/hole number one.

  • Tie another nine knots making another nine spaces for a total of 10 spaces.

  • Because my eyes and hands have been known to play childish tricks on me, I now have a trick which sometimes outwits them: I colour in every other loop with a "Sharpie" or permanent black magic marker. All of the even numbered spaces are now black.

And it's simple to use:

  • Place loop #1 onto your knitting needle at the beginning of the round.

  • Treat it almost like any stitch marker: when you come across it on round 2, just slip it over to your right needle, but into the 2nd loop (which is black).

  • On round 3, slip it onto your right needle into the 3rd loop (which is white).

  • Round 4 is the 4th loop (black) - you get the idea.

When I have finished 10 rounds, I write the number 10 on either a tag attached to my knitting or on my pattern. If there is no pen handy, no problem. When I think I'm done, it's far easier to count 60 rows when I know I'm dealing with multiples of 1o. If my counting is off by a little, I still know that it's 60 rounds - not 59 or 61.

I never place the yarn between two purl stitches because the working yarn will lay over the string and trap it there. Not a problem ...just fiddly. When working on straight needles, I hang the marker on the non-purl side.

Another favourite use comes while working decrease rounds on socks. If alternate rounds need decreases, then I decrease when I'm in a "white loop" (odd-numbered rounds). I knit even (no decreases) when I'm in a "black loop" (even-numbered rounds). If I put my knitting down for awhile, I simply look at the marker: if it's in a white loop, I decrease; if it's in a black loop, I don't. No need to carry around a pattern or a notepad - it's all attached to my knitting!

Give this string marker a try and you'll give your eyes and brain some rest. I'm sure you'll soon enjoy its advantages.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Case for Natural Fibres

Snowball weather. The temperature is just right for 'packing' the cool white stuff, building a snowman and having a snowball fight. Remember those fun times?

Do you also remember how cold your hands got when your acrylic mittens got wet from having too much fun? The lucky ones among us, those who had handknit woollen mitts, won't know what I'm talking about because when their mitts got wet, their hands stayed toasty and warm.

Somehow, the miracles of modern technology cannot match the many wonderful qualities of wool. If your feet get cold while wearing nylon, acrylic or cotton socks, try wool. If you easily over-heat while wearing a synthetic sweater, try wool or a natural fibre. You won't need dryer sheets to stop static cling when you wear natural fibres.

The following is one of my all-time favourite quotes about the benefits of wool:

"Wool has a natural ability to resist absorption of moisture, insulate against heat and cold, resist flame, and maintain resilience. Wool can absorb as much as 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling wet to the touch, compared with cotton at 8% and synthetics at less than 5%. An added bonus is that when wool goes from dry to wet, it gives off warmth, with a single gram of wool producing 27 calories of heat."
- from Folk Mittens, by Marcia Lewandowski, Interweave Press, 1997

Let's keep the International Year of Natural Fibres in our thoughts. It's a good thing!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Well, I'd have to say that 2009 was one of my most exciting years. Opening Little Red Mitten was definitely a dream-come-true, full of wonderful people, challenges, great experiences, learning by-the-seat-of-my-pants, and ...oh yes, I can't forget all that fibre!

Maybe a bit more importantly (wink, wink), 2009 was declared the International Year of Natural Fibres by the United Nations. The goal was "to focus world attention on the role that natural fibres play in contributing to food security and poverty alleviation".

If you'd like to explore this further, has lots to offer, from an interview with Linda Cortright (the founder of Wild Fibres magazine) to stories about 15 natural fibres and their micron count. You can also learn 5 main benefits of natural fibres and how they are a healthy, sustainable, high-tech, fashionable and responsible choice.

As we look forward to 2010, we can hope that 2009 caused a change in how people think about their fibre choices. Maintaining the diversity of animal breeds and plants should be on our minds as we see how our ecosystem will handle potential climate change. Awareness is half the battle.

One of our customers started a mini-craze with the "Ilene Bag" pattern from Ravelry. It is an easy-to-knit, lacy shopping bag (green idea!) that she knitted in our Hempathy yarn. Granted, the yarn is only 20% hemp, but that's a lot more than was available a few years ago. And considering the fabulous benefits of hemp, promoting the fibre has got to be a good thing!

Peaceful knitting,

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Piecework magazine's annual historical knitting issue arrived in the shop last week. If you are a mitten lover, you'll certainly enjoy this magazine. In it, you can read about a Latvian mitten knitter /artist whose work is in the Latvian National History Museum or about a 16th century mitten recently unearthed in London, England. There are stories about knitting for a living in Scandinavia and in Eastern Europe which connect us to our past.

What charmed me most was a children's story that takes place in Newfoundland. It was written by Robin Hansen, the author of one of my favourite knitting books, Favorite Mittens, and includes the pattern for traditional stranded and felted mittens. These are definitely on my must-knit list!

Here's hoping your hands are cosy and warm in your favourite mittens. When you next put them on, you'll truly appreciate this historic article of clothing.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jumbo's Winter Snowsuit

Check out the photo (by Robert Chaulk) that appeared in the St. Thomas Times-Journal, and later, in the London Free Press.

Jumbo is all decked out in his new winter snowsuit!!! Look carefully and you'll see his hand knitted scarf.

Breaking news: There may soon be another photo. Jumbo looks like he has been shrink-wrapped: his orange snowsuit is covered with a huge one-piece blue tarp ...and a scarf!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Roc Day or St. Distaff's Day

Roc Day? St. Distaff's Day? ...ancient history and continuing tradition.

I first learned of Roc Day from fellow spinning and weaving guild members in South Dakota. Our Brookings FiberWorks Guild celebrated this ancient holiday each year on the first Saturday of January. Members would get together for a meeting, a potluck lunch, a chance to spin, knit or weave together, and demonstrate their craft to the public. It was always such fun to sit and spin on a cold, cold day with the sun streaming through the old library windows.

While we spent the day having fun, the day brought other important benefits: through the curiosity, enthusiasm and education of visiting adults and children, we were helping to keep tradition and ancient skills alive.

So what is this special day, anyway?
  • Roc can be another word for distaff.
  • St. Distaff's Day has nothing to do with any saint. Instead, the European tradition signifies the return of women to their daily spinning chores after the 12 days of Christmas. (Interestingly, the women went back to work several days before the men - no surprise there! Plough Monday, after the ploughs had been blessed, marked the return to work for the men.)
  • According to some 17th century poems, St. Distaff's Day was a day of pranks and fun, with the men setting fire to the flax and the women throwing water and soaking the men :) Our guild was never that rambunctious!
So just how important was spinning?

  • The spinning or twisting of fibres is an ancient craft that may date back to 15,000 B.C. The making of rope and nets from these twisted fibres was so important that mankind's survival may be connected to this discovery. Later, whorls were added to spindles to increase momentum. Some think that these round whorls were the precursors to the wheel. Wow!
  • The words "distaff" and spinster" were legal terms: while a father's side of the family was referred to as the "spear side", the mother's family was called the "distaff side." (A distaff was simply a staff onto which the wool or flax were wound before spinning.) A "spinster", as you know, was an unmarried woman.
  • And then there is clothing. Weaving (working over and under each thread as in darning) may have existed for thousands of years before a faster form of weaving (done by lifting many threads at once) was developed around 6000 BC. Most historians believe that modern knitting has about 1000 years of history while crocheting has been around for not much more than 200 years!

Working with fibre has been an important part of society and survival for millenia. Are the feelings of calm and relaxation that we get from working with fibre related to this long history? ...a primal urge perhaps? Definitely a tradition worth maintaining.

I hope that you will honour the tradition by playing with fibre on Roc Day or St. Distaff's Day - Thursday, January 7.

Maybe next year we can celebrate these ancient skills together.
Happy New Year,

History buffs might enjoy: Women's Work The First 20,000 Years by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.