Friday, August 3, 2012

Knitting is More Than the Knit Stitch

While visiting with a customer the other day, I heard a story about how quickly her grandchild learned to knit.  The little 6-year-old conquered the knit stitch, sat comfortably showing her grandpa how to knit, and exclaimed that knitting was easy!

I love these stories ....but I also cringe at these stories.
On one hand, we want to promote the "easy factor" in order to open the door for new knitters.

On the other hand, I tire of the disdain one hears from non-knitters who think that what we do is easy or talentless.  Ageism and anti-feminism ooze from comments such as ``my grandmother knits`` or `that`s woman`s work.``

Let`s remember that learning the knit stitch is entirely different from learning to knit.  To me, working the knit stitch is like learning how to print the letter "a".  When you can purl, you've learned the letter "b".  When you have a few ``alphabet letters`` under your belt, then you can read easy picture books.

The real fun begins when you take those two simple letters and learn an entire alphabet of variations - decreases, increases, cables, yarn overs, twisted stitches, colourwork patterns, short rows, seams, buttonholes, braids ...and variations on all of these, and more.  You learn to read patterns, decipher charts, and choose tools and fibres wisely for each project.  You learn about fit and design and color. 

You realize that the possible combinations of yarn and techniques are infinite.  As your understanding develops and your arsenal of techniques grows, shelves and shelves of great stories can be written with yarn and needles.

If there are skills that you have yet to discover, classes can open your eyes to ``novel`` ideas.  They can give you a chance to try a new technique under a watchful eye, help solve a mystery that has plagued you, or come up with a happy ending for the ``story`` on your needles. 

To me, knitting is much more than the knit stitch.  Knitting is a joy ...and a never ending journey of discovery.

Friday, July 27, 2012

There's Always More to Learn

Yesterday, I taught a seaming class to a group of 7 eager knitters.  Most of them were there because they had had bad finishing experiences in the past and really wanted to know how to solve their problems.  They were definitely of the opinion that, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well."

As I tried to squeeze as much as possible into two short hours, I heard comments about how much there was to learn about the topic and how many different ways there are to get the job done.  Since I am in the midst of putting together several more hours of finishing classes, this was good to hear. 

And, unfortunately, it is the opposite of what the general public thinks about knitting.  The public seems to think that if you can knit, purl, cast on and off, you know everything there is to know about knitting.  This is actually pretty sad, because they really don't have a clue about what they are missing. 

Maybe I'm just a slow learner, but I feel like there is no end to what I can learn about knitting.  There are so many different techniques, yarns, colours, stitch patterns and projects around that can then be recombined into new ideas ...that it just boggles my mind.  And that's just one of many things I love about this great art!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How do you eat an elephant?

Hmmmmm ...maybe it's because there's a monumental elephant statue across from the shop that I've been using the phrase, "One bite at a time," a lot lately.

It started with the goal of clearing up piles of paper.  You know the kind ...knitting patterns.  I've been sticking them into page protectors and sorting them into binders for three weeks now ...and I've made sure to do a bit every day.  And I can see progress.

And then there's the 60-80 hour lace shawl project that I'd sure like completed by late August; and the samples for an upcoming class; and ...and ...and....  I just keep reminding myself, "One bite at a time."

While talking with a customer the other day, she complained that she didn't have time to knit because of her gardening.  She was just too tired at the end of the day to knit for her usual few hours.  I suggested my one bite at a time approach. When sitting to take a break, she might find that ten minutes of knitting can really add up.  And, anyway is physically better for us to take breaks while knitting. 

She smiled and I could see the excitement in her eyes.  After all, is there anything better than playing hooky from chores, with your feet up, a favourite beverage at your side, and knitting in your lap?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Knit-in-Public Day

What fun!  At World-Wide Knit-in-Public Day, we spent so much time with activities that there was barely time to knit!  The weather co-operated and many knitters spent much of the day in the great outdoors.
6.5 hours of straight knitting would be a bit hard on the hands, so we tried to break up all of that hard work with in-store scavenger hunts, door prizes, a beer and cheese tasting, all kinds of nutritious food (well, it did seem to have lots of calories, at least), hourly sales, a how-to session on continental knitting and another on knitting backwards, and the piece de resistance, the yarn bombing at the Jumbo Monument. 

Check out Jumbo's tres chic ankle bracelet - apologies for the photo orientation! 

 ...and the St. Thomas Communities in Bloom sign is now in full bloom!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

History ...or Fantasy?

You never know where your mind will go when you glance at Ravelry. This time, it was Tir Chonaill by Kate Davies that caught my eye.  I love beautiful Fair Isle work and found myself daydreaming about a few of Kate's gorgeous designs. 

But the thing that really grabbed me was the name of the design.  A few miles west of St. Thomas lies the village of Tyrconnell with the cemetery of Colonel Thomas Talbot.  Talbot, who was granted much of the land in Southwestern Ontario in the early 1800's, was Irish.  According to Kate, "Tir Chonaill is the name of the last independent Gaelic sovereignty in Ireland: a kingdom which, until the flight of the Earls in 1607, covered most of what later became County Donegal". 

Doesn't it just fit that a man who was handed all of this virgin wilderness in Southwestern Ontario might fancy himself head of his own little Canadian "kingdom" ...and name his village after an historic one?  It seems perfectly plausible to me, considering his reputation as a despot and land baron.  Actually, I have no idea if Talbot even named Tyrconnell ...but it certainly was fun imagining this scenario. 

And maybe my bit of daydreaming was even more fun because of personal history.  Tyrconnell was the stomping grounds of my maternal grandparents in the early 1900's, and one or two generations before them, while Kate's home of Edinburgh was the birthplace of my father and generations before him.  I love connections, degrees of separation and all that ...
...hmmm ....I'd better take another look at that rams and yowes blanket ...and peerie flooers ...and sheep heid ...and dollheid ...and blaithin ...and ....

Friday, June 1, 2012

May is for Einsteins

My Einstein is done ...well, except for adding buttons and weaving in ends :) 
Less than 2 weeks ago, I worked up a swatch, cast on for the lower section of Sally Melville's Einstein Coat, stuffed a ball of Lamb's Pride Bulky in my knitting bag, and went to the movies.  Thick wool and addi turbos made for an easy knit-in-the-dark project.  No split stitches and no ripping back when I got home - woohoo.  I was inspired.  I set a goal of one ball per day for 12 days.  It took 13 days, but I don't feel like a failure.  Instead, I feel like a genius, an Einstein, if you will!!! 

So now I've made a Baby Albert ...

and an Einstein Coat. 

Several people have remarked on having to do "all that garter stitch", but I've honestly loved every minute of it.  What's better than garter stitch to allow you to relax, and yet still focus on other important things in your life?  And bulky yarn works up sooooo quickly - it's practically instant gratification - not too common in the world of knitting! 
Sally Melville's book, The Knit Stitch, is a masterpiece of well-written patterns, wonderful technical photos and instructions, friendly advice and thoughtful insights on life and knitting.  I look forward to having her visit us at Little Red Mitten September 28-30.  She'll be teaching 4 classes and talking to us (on the Friday evening) on "Why Do We Do What We Do".  More information and registration for classes will be available soon.  Hope you can "make it".

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why am I smiling?

I had a serious case of startitis this past week.  Besides the February Baby Sweater, I began a Pi Shawl, a Baby Albert, a Shape It! Scarf ...and I bought a huge pile of yarn for my own Einstein Coat.  Browsing through my Knitter's Almanac is the reason for the Pi Shawl (hey, I'm easily influenced) ... but what's with all those Sally Melville projects?!?!?

You might think that I needed an easy garter stitch project (Baby Albert) to work on while I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in Swedish, with subtitles.  And you'd be right.  One sleeve to go!
Or you might have been talking with me this week and heard that Sally Melville is coming to Little Red Mitten on Sept. 28, 29 and 30.  And you'd be right, again!  Can you see the big smile on my face?  :)

There"ll be more information in the coming weeks about classes, lectures, knitalongs, displays and prizes.  I hope you'll stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Here I go again

Whenever I teach a project class, I always feel like I want to join in and make the project, too.  I guess that explains why I have 3 February Lady Sweaters, 9 or so Baby Surprises, a zillion Felt Clogs, and last night, I started February Baby Sweater #4.  When I don't have time to think, it's just plain easy to start a project that doesn't need a lot of pre-planning.  Kind of like starting another pair of socks.  Comfort knitting ....ahhhhh

...and I really love the buttons!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Me ...a techie?

I've had a cheap cell phone for a few years for driving ...just in case.  
Really, when I spend my day indoors, with access to a phone, do I really need to carry a cell?  

Well, when post it notes failed to remind me of an important meeting, my husband thought it was time that I organized my life with a calendar a smartphone.

Then I discovered that I could listen to podcasts in my car.  Even a short 10-minute drive gets me through some interesting entertainment.

Next, I heard about the GoodReader App, below:  

I can take a pdf and enlarge it on the screen, then outline my row with an easy-to-see red box.  When I finish my row, I place my finger on the red box and just slide it on up to the next row.  I can even write little reminders with my finger tip that help me knit without thinking ...which is a lifesaver, some days.

Now this is what I call fun!

And sometimes I even make phone calls.  Maybe you should call me sometime - I need to practice that feature :)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Zen Yarn Garden Knit Along

What does it take to keep knitters happy?

Fabulous yarn, a new pattern, interesting speakers,
great conversation,
...and yummy, yummy baked goods!

Thanks, Roxanne and Neville of Zen Yarn Garden, for the interesting talk on your dyeing business
...and thanks to all of the attendees.
Can't wait to see your scrumptious new shawls!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Finishing a knitting project .... like finishing a good book.  The next time you sit down to knit and it's not there, you miss its familiarity, it's character, the time spent remembering the places you visited together, and the cosiness you felt with it on your lap.
Oh, well. 
It's not like there are no other projects waiting in the wings.

For the curious, this is Stephen West's Earth and Sky worked in Harrisville's New England Shetland (a fingering weight yarn).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Yummy Yummy Yarns

It's been an enticingly wonderful week for yummy new yarns:

First, we unpacked several boxes of scumptious Zen Yarn Garden in preparation for Roxanne and Neville's visit / talk / knit-along this Saturday. 
They have added two new colours to our St. Thomas Landmark Series - the grand unveiling takes place this weekend ...there are still a couple of spots left for this event!

And then came the boxes of Fleece Artist and Handmaiden.
Be still my heart.

Friday, April 13, 2012


I've been preparing for a class on gauge and couldn't resist this goofy little sign for the shop I thought I'd share it here, too. 

                                                       Plan ahead
                                                 Knit a swatch

Sometimes, customers just want to be told which needle size to use and don't want to bother with a gauge swatch. I think that it comes from a lack of understanding about gauge, being able to accurately count stitches and knowing what to do with the information when they have it.
When we understand what we are doing, we can make adjustments that will pay off in the long run. When we simply plough ahead, "because I just want to knit," then sometimes the results are a bit surprising ...and disappointing.

To help explain the concept, I knitted up a sampler swatch this week.  Using Galway, I started with a 2.0 mm needle and went up to a 9.0 mm.
Amazingly, we could think up a purpose for every tension of this swatch, but obviously, some areas were more desirable than others!  When Sue saw it, she insisted that we keep it downstairs to help customers understand the effect that needle size has on the fabric size ...and drape. 

And now I'm on a mission to come up with more swatches. 
  • How about one using different needle compositions, all with the same size needle? 
  • What if several of us knit up the same swatch?  Will our gauge be the same? 
  • And then we'll need one made up of different stitch patterns.

Because, after all, an educated knitter is a happy knitter!

(Interestingly, as I wrote this blog and tried to get consistent font sizes, the program kept hanging up on me.  It looked a bit like my swatch ...with tiny stitches and huge stitches ;)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Knitter's Heaven

A few weeks ago, I ordered a couple of copies of "Knitting with Two Colors" from Schoolhouse Press.  I admit it, ....mostly because I wanted a copy.  When Meg Swansen talks, I like to listen.

The book just makes me smile.  Not only does it have great photos of deliciously traditional stranded knitting, but it is full of the wisdom of so many knitters. 

For 39 years, Elizabeth Zimmermann's (and now, her daughter, Meg Swansen's) knitting camp has inspired knitters to stretch their skills and knowledge, discuss and challenge each other and share tips they have learned, or tricks they have worked out on their own.  Throughout the book, Meg credits other women with numerous "Why-didn't-I-think-of-that?" ideas.  I can just imagine the excitement at camp as one person comes up with an idea, someone else expands on it, several people try it out and improvements are made.  It must be like a think tank for knitters. 

Is it just me? Or does that sound like a knitter's heaven?

Out for a walk on Good Friday, snapping photos of the neighbourhood, and we got our first 'in focus' shot of Jumbo with our sign.  You can almost see him smiling!  Maybe he knows about the floral ankle bracelet that we have planned for him?!?!? 

The 60-inch green ankle band has been started and we have about a dozen flowers ready to attach ...but we will need way more than that!  If you want to whip off a knitted or crocheted flower, (they really don't take very long), you'll be putting a smile on a tourist's face!  To see how April Showers can bring May Flowers, we hope you'll join us for a
free knitted flower mini-workshop in April.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter

Sue had some fun with fibre last week making these adorable needle felted Easter eggs.

Hope everyone has a Happy Easter and Passover.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mark Your Calendar

If you've ever wondered about dyeing yarn, we hope you'll come and talk with the experts. 

Roxanne and hubby, Neville, of Zen Yarn Garden will be at the shop on Saturday, April 21 from 1-3 pm.  They'll bring their latest creations and colourways along with two new St. Thomas Landscape Series yarns, Springwater and CASO.
Here's a sneak preview:

...and another:

This shawl is Roxanne's free pattern, Mezquita, which will be an option for our Knitalong.  Once the bit of lace is done, the short row stocking stitch section couldn't be easier!  And I know you'll love the generous length of this dramatic shawl. 

Hope you can join us!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

If it weren't for teaching ....

I've read that bloggers are often people who love or need to teach.  During the winter months, I scheduled a lot of classes at the shop.  I think I may have filled my need by "teaching through my needles," as one student put it.  Now that spring is here and I can breathe again, I'm back at the blog.

Teaching always inspires me.  In my last Baby Surprise class, one of the students bounded ahead and was finished the basics by the second class.  Because it was a small class, we also covered several I-cord tricks (applied, I-cord cast off, and three-needle I-cord cast off).  We did a garter stitch hood and grafted it invisibly at the top.  By the time we were done, I was anxious to start my 8th Baby Surprise with new plans for longer sleeves ....and I don't even have any grandchildren ...yet!  So far, sanity has prevailed, but I'm sure that before the next class, I'll be casting on for another!

Since I had yarn leftover, I thought I'd make a hat based on the Baby Surprise and the Gull Lace Baby Hat, below:

Because of another baby sweater class, I searched for a matching hat ...but ended up designing my own.  Here's the Gull Lace Baby Hat based on Elizabeth Zimmerman's February Baby Sweater:

If it weren't for classes, I doubt that any of these projects would have come about. 
Thanks for the inspiration, knitters!

Friday, February 17, 2012

At last!

Yesterday, I got a present.  Okay, I had to buy it for myself, but it is still a gift.

Principles of Knitting, by June Hemmons Hiatt, was first published in 1988.  It has been out of print for years, now.  I remember reading on the internet how people were paying $400 and $500 for old copies of this book.  Since I had never seen it and had no idea how to find it, (and it was a LOT of money), I forced it from my mind.

Yesterday, it arrived at the shop and last night it went home with me.  I browsed and turned the 650 pages until my hand was tired.  What a treasure trove!

It weighs almost 4 and a half pounds ...and it is going on vacation with me!


Sunday, January 29, 2012

It's a Good Thing

True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

It's been a great month for new knitters at Little Red Mitten.  The number of young people who want to knit - for a new baby, for themselves, or because their friends have inspired them, continues to grow. 

It seems that when more people knit, more want to learn. Non-knitters watch the relaxed faces of those who knit ...and they want to go to that place, too.  And what could be more exciting than jumping into a hobby so full of possibilities, designs, colour, texture and cosiness?

So what prompts people to want to learn to knit?  Is it the popularity of handknitted garments?  Is it the desire to carry on a tradition?  Maybe it is mankind's innate need to create.  Or is it all about the comfort of creating something with love for someone you love? 

What do you think?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Congratulations, Roxanne!

Roxanne of Zen Yarn Garden hits the big times! 

You may know Roxanne as the talented dyer from Bright's Grove, ON who dyed our exclusive St. Thomas Landscape Series last year. 

The beautiful yarn colours were based on the Clark McDougall painting, Talbot St., 1964, and several of you knitted one of my Talbot Shawls in her yarn. 

Another one of her colourways was inspired by a photo of our Jumbo monument with the red caboose in the background.  (This is a Talbot Hill Shawl.)  Yummy!

Here's a Talbot Street Shawl done in one of her Landscape Series colours in Zen Yarn Garden Heavy Lace.

This week, Roxanne was mentioned in Clara Parkes well-respected Knitter's Review.
Clara got her hands on some "Serenity Silk Single" and plans to feature Roxanne's 75% superwash Merino, 15% cashmere, 10% silk yarn in one of her regular swatch tests.  Why is that a big deal?  Clara is the author of The Knitter's Book of Wool, The Knitter's Book of Yarn and the Knitter's Book of Socks. Her weekly online Knitter's Review has been devoted to all things "yarny" for eleven years and has a readership of 34,000. 

That's a lot of knitters!  Way to go Roxanne!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Roc Day 2012

Since January 7 fell on a Saturday this year, we just had to celebrate Roc Day
...and honour our spinning heritage! 

Did you know that some form of spinning has been practised by humans for approximately 20,000 years?  In France, there is a bone carving of the fertility goddess Venus wearing a string skirt.  The sculptor has engraved the twists in each string and has even included the fraying at the ends of the twists these skirts cannot have been made from leather or sinew, but must have been made from twisted fibre.  (For more info, see Women's Work - The First 20,000 Years by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.)

Fast forward many generations to experience a Roc Day or St. Distaff's Day celebration.  In the Christian tradition, spinners would take a holiday during the Twelve Days of Christmas.  On January 7, the women would get back to business using their spindles, wheels and distaffs.  The celebration would include pranks by the men such as setting fire to the spinning fibre while the women retaliated with buckets of water, drenching the men.  (The ploughmen had time to play because they didn't have to return to work until the Monday following the 12 days of Christmas - I wonder who made up that rule!!! )

The St. Distaff's Day poem, below, is by Robert Herrick (1648). 

Partly worke and partly play
Ye must on S. Distaffs day:
From the Plough soone free your teame;
Then come home and fother them.
If the Maides a spinning goe,
Burne the flax, and fire the tow:
Scorch their plackets, but beware
That ye singe no maiden-haire.
Bring in pailes of water then,
Let the Maides bewash the men.
Give S. Distaffe all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good-night;
And next morrow, every one
To his owne vocation.

The Illustration is from Wikipedia.  The distaff was used for storing the spinner's fibre while she worked.  And I did say, "while SHE worked."  Spinning was most definitely women's work, so much so that the legal term "distaff side" means the woman's side of the family.

And now to 2012.  Here's Jean at her beautifully restored wheel:

Doesn't it just seem to fit in with the old floors and windows in our 1842 upstairs classroom?  We had 12-14 spinners with us at our Roc Day celebration the tradition continues, but without the fire and water :)