The Knit Knack's Blog

my handspinning, knitting, natural dye, weaving fibre home

Leave a comment

Philosopher’s Wool Love

It’s been such a long, long time!  There’s a lot I could do in the way of explaining but suffice it to say that yielding 4 entire days (and then some) to income earning has been a major shift.  Returning to this place where I can’t just dig off & do my own thing has been rough, I’m not gonna lie.  Basically, it has taken me this long to make peace with change and get a grip on having life’s work go into a hobby zone.  The start-to-finish time-line on projects is achingly slow but on the bright side, I can self-support this burgeoning fibre habit of mine!

As I told myself the whole way through – if I take pictures along the way, I can always catch up with you guys later…

One of the wondrous breaks over this Woe Is Me period was our trip to Philosopher’s Wool in Inverhuron, Ontario on Labor Day weekend.  It was an all-out blustery day but even so the 4-hour drive was spectacular.  Working farm after working farm nearing harvest.  Some had For Sale signs.  Others had Puppies for Sale signs.  DH was very good about entertaining my glee while not stopping.

We arrived around noon.  It was spitting rain.  The farm store could have been one of two buildings.  To our right is this building:

Quite clearly proclaiming itself the Philosopher’s Wool Company but also quite clearly closed-up.  And building no. 2 was the farmhouse behind us with this lovely walk-up:

The small sign to the bottom right reads the Philosopher’s Stone.

DH, not given to what he terms “aimless wandering,” insisted on calling from the car.  Directions were to turn around and walk in (groan)…  Two seconds later we arrive, and Ann Bourgeois greeted us like old friends.  She was tickled pink that someone had actually called from her parking lot… almost everyone gets it wrong but this calling in was a first!  She just thought DH & his initiative were the best.  He responded well to this treatment.

As you enter:

Now, I was pumped from the get-go.  Earlier this year, my knitting friend, Fen, gave me her copy of Ann & Eugene’s book, Fair Isle Sweaters Simplified.  Fen knew I that would love the story of how they built their farm, and wool yarn business from scratch right here in Ontario.  With Dorset sheep, no less.  In his Introduction, Eugene explains that selling his wool into the co-op system yielded $0.32 per lb.  In 1984 they sent the raw fleece to a mill for processing & sold the yarn for $2.35 per lb.  They became the co-op alternative for farmers, and eked out a niche in the yarn market by self-marketing & Ann’s fair isle sweater kits.

Over the course of the afternoon, and their generous sharing of lunch with us, we learned that they have exciting plans for the business and are as passionate as ever about what they do.  Debbie New was down for the weekend with her family, and Ann invited her to come and share with us.  Just wonderful fellowship.  DH was just as taken with our visit, and couldn’t get over their hospitality.  Here’s the yarn room & then some pics we took while (aimlessly) wandering around the farm itself:

DH scored one of those mugs.  I scored some roving, 3 wood buttons, a sheep mug & this worsted-weight yarn:

As you can guess, the postcard is of Ann & Eugene a few years aback.

He fled into the barn on my approach.

I swear DH loved the chickens!

Aside from hearing about the business we also talked with them about what it’s like having Bruce Power as a neighbour – very interesting stuff!  By the time we were done touring, talking and buying, I was ready to resign on Tuesday and follow Eugene’s lead into this farming life.  They were so warm, engaging and generous.

The weather was still on the nasty side but we did go down to Lake Huron for a gander.  The cottages:

I agreed with Ann about not wanting to be that close to her neighbours!  There was a fair amount of people swimming in the lake.  Windy, cold & choppy… mystified us!

How it looked as we walked down to the lake:



Easter report

Whad’ya know – my handspun has use!  I finished the Sweet Fern fingerless gloves over the weekend.  Ferns in the mini-roses:

The Polwarth is soft but firm at this gauge, and I even have a left-over skein.

The pattern was great as-is – no modifications this time!

I cleaned & decorated the house a bit for Easter because we threw a rather spontaneous BBQ for our Jamaican friends as they get ready to move out east.  These are the friends who had baby Eden last summer (I made her a kimono).  Her older brother, Zac, found the chocolate straight off the bat!

Opening right on cue:

Even though we were both v. tired from the efforts, we did make it out to St. Jacob’s Market on Saturday for the 1st time.  A cool day-trip.  First purchase of the day?  Sock yarn from Shall We Knit, upstairs:

Always wanted me some Crazy Zauberball!  Also in the marketplace:

We headed back downstairs for a bag of bagels, and clover honey here:

Hot-cross buns in production:

Farmers feed cities!

I have no idea how/ why but DH left without buying a single sausage, cut of meat or slab of cheese – huh?!?

We lunched at the Stone Crock restaurant in town.  It was a 20 min wait for the table – good enough to pull out the Bossie spindle & create a scene 🙂

Seriously?  75% is something to brag about?!

DH was fading fast but I did get to dip into an antiques store.  They had 2 spinning wheels that not even I was moved to acquire…   A better find?   This little ‘handbook,’ on natural dying, 8th edition 1972:

Very instructive but also covers dye recipes & traditions from around the world, including Canada & the Caribbean!

On both Sunday & yesterday we had perfect hand-combing weather.  It was sunny, warm & breezy.  I got through about a  bag of  my Romney… & have the scrapes on my hands to prove it.  It’s scary how easily the long tines on these little combs will graze you.  My hands are a little worse for the wear, today.

Leave a comment

Dips in.

Having an early trip has brought on all kinds of stellar organization.  I’ve had my moments but it does feel good to honestly say that cousin Charles is the only one without a gift on my list – and it’s not even December 20th!

Mark you, I do have quite a lot of packing to manage…. not there yet!

The cost of getting life in order was missing a few sit & knits.  I did make it back to The Wool Bin this Monday afternoon.  Boy oh boy was that a good move!  The turn-out was good & Fenella brought ginger shortbread cookies for all of us!  Let me tell you.  These were not just any old home-made cookies.  These cookies would make any pastry chef weep.  They even came with a back-story.  We were told that the recipe came from the sole Scottish keeper.  It must not go back to Scotland while the keeper is still alive (and she is).  Fenella promised not to pass on the goodness (potential profit!) until the keeper dies & then to just 1 person.

Ginger is in the fudge topping and the shortbread.  Man!

All of a sudden, my knitting picked-up pace!  Sugar highs are very good for that.  On my needles was the Slouchy Copy Cat Hat by Terra Jamieson.  Free to you here.

I finished it off last night & it’s going to my cousin, Amanda.

So, I’ve been going on (& on) about my self-directed Christmas.  The gifts that are now to hand/ in stash and queue are:

As good a time as any to learn a new knit knack, right?  Socks from the toe up courtesy of Wendy D. Johnson:

My general idea is that I’ll be ready when I have spun passable sock-weight yarn.  The Poems & its stash-mates will do in the meanwhile.

The next sweater project has also been facilitated!  It’s not just teeny projects around here folks!  We have 4 balls of Diamond Galway Heather wool yarn.  DH gets full marks for coming to the yarn store with me on Saturday and waiting while I touched everything remotely sweater-like.

DH also got me the Interweave pattern Notre Dame de Grace by Veronik Avery.  Doesn’t it look snuggly?

Snuggly sweaters are my answer to February in Canada.  That and long bouts of spinning yarn.

In case I drop out of the blog over the holidays, I want to wish everyone a very happy and safe season!


On Smelling up a House

Colour me happy!  For starters, I am happy that Joyja could not stand the sight of her ½ fleece of a champion Romney ram a second longer:)  We met up at LYS, Spun on Saturday morning.  Joyja was so excellent.  Right there in the parking lot, she gave me the 411 on ‘scouring’ wool.  That term is a total misnomer by the way.  Agitation of wool in hot water = felt.  There is no “scouring” per se.  Repeated dunking & soaking with patience & respect.  My crash course was even better because the lot has 1 big bag of it in the raw; a medium bag of it clean; and a small zip-lock of it carded.  She could show me what each step gets you.   The highlights are:  a)  the fleece smells well “high” – might want vicks to get you through, b) use blue Dawn as the soap, & c) scour first; spin later – fleece spoils.

Joyja was so excellent that she also showed me Spun’s wheel that rents for $20/hr, and offered hers for my spinning pleasure as well!  Thanks so much!  IMHO, knitters are at their best when helping other knitters:)

I have totally personified the fleece.  He has locks, hence his name is Peter Tosh:

One of many raw wool locks

Bunch of raw, very woolen locks

The geekiness knows no end… a lock from tip to cut-end is the staple.

Its a staple, folks - in the raw

It's a staple, folks - in the raw

Six pounds of staples is A LOT!  This is Joyja’s cleaned wool:

And the springy goodness of the carded stuff:

As soon as I walked the bags in, Toby set to sniffing at it.  Very businesslike & thorough & adorable!  DH?  Not so much!

There are no 2 ways about this… Peter Tosh The Fleece stinks to high heaven.  My approach?

Starfish Oil & Diffuser - Lemongrass & Rosemary over sheep

Starfish Oil & Diffuser - Rosemary & (better yet) Lemongrass over sheep

I also set up shop in the most ventilated room – our kitchen.  Close to the stove, a ceiling fan & a sliding door.  All of which only served to mask the Essence de Ram.  Yes, it smells.  But.  It smells like something I want to own:  a living, kicking sheep!  DH was not quite so sanguine.  By about batch 1 ½ he was crying mercy…

Although I am in the kitchen, I wasn’t about to use the sink directly.  Luckily, my pails fit in the sink.  I dump the lanolin/dirty water in the back garden.  The rinse water’s either for my compost bin or the drain.  Here’s a pail in action:

The stick is a skewer that I am using to tease out trash (with utmost respect) & plunge the wool.  I mix hot pipe water, blue Dawn & boiling water in the pail & then add the wool.  It’s taking 3 washes & 2 rinses.  The last rinse is with some vinegar.

Honestly, I have not had this much fun in years.  In between cleaning/ rinsing batches, I looked into the world of drop spindles.  You pull the wool into strands & the spindle twists it into yarn.  It spins like a top in mid-air.  Long have I coveted one.  Thanks again to Ravelry, I worked out that a Stephen Kundert spindle would be a good place to start.  I chose his red cedar over cherry whorl:

DH is quite possibly as excited to get this as I am.  It tickles his “How It’s Made” fancy you see.  May even give us a few laughs by trying it himself!  Believe you me, the knitting never got this much interest!

The results of yesterday’s work… 2 batches, smelling up the house:

Batch 1, drying

I’ve completed batch 3 & 4 is now rinsing.  Make wool cleaner while the sun shines… and DH is at work!  So far, batch 2 has the most varied colour.  There’s a shock of white in thar fleece!

I am on the last leg of the Hottie Hottie top & have more new stash to boast about – do that another time.  Walk good!

Leave a comment

Yardie Yarnie

This blogger might just be the world’s first yardie yarnie.  Just to be clear – I do not want this getting back to my Mother, Father or in-laws.  In this regard, TKK is counting on her dear brother to remember who kept all his tattoo news to herself.

It’s a long story the upshot of which is that in a few hours, I will acquire ½ a fleece.  Raw, untreated & probably rather unclean wool.  Shorn from a genuine Romney sheep here in Ontario this June.  The fleece of a champion grey sheep.  What possessed me?  Ahh well…

  1. The price was right.  $25 for this much wool – hello?!  Sirdar’s 100% undyed virgin Eco Wool dk yarn sells for $6.99 around here.  That’s $6.99 for 1¾ oz.  How much does ½ a ram yield you ask?  This one is 7 lbs for $25.  I am not skipping the part where I’ll have to wash, dry, and then comb the locks into the actual raw wool.  Then turn my hand at spinning.  I know. I know.  But still.  Listen, if someone else does the dirty work the roving from Romney fleece starts at $25 per lb.  My seller says she paid double for the raw fleece.
  2. Even my clueless yardie self knew that Romney wool is, to quote Martha, a good thing.  It has an even crimp & is relatively low on the lanolin.  That was my intuition.  Boy was it a relief to then look it up & see many a yarnie recommend Romney as the starter wool for spinning!
  3. I liked the fact that it is natural grey wool.  For all of this madness, I draw the line at spinning.  Dyeing isn’t pulling at me.
  4. Yonder farm is inside of 100 miles by half.  I am meeting my seller in the next town over.
  5. Drop spindles captivate me.  In the same way knitting used to before I got the knack.
  6. Felting projects have been occurring to me over-night.  Baby Sierra’s room might do well with a grey felted bunny, and so on.
  7. DH okayed the madness.  He was shocked at the offer price – he’s caught on to what a sweater’s-worth of yarn costs.  He wanted to trade permissions – I get this wool & he gets his coveted video card.  Well that effort flopped – the video card is 10xs that wool!

All of which is very true.  However, this might be a tad more bitten off than is chewable.  Where/ how shall I store this baby?  Can you hide 7 lbs of wool from a visiting in-law?  FIL arrives in a week!

Baa Baa Black Sheep have you any wool?

No sir, no sir I’ve given it away

Three bags to a crazy yardie

Irieknit is her name

Back in the now… My Hottie Hottie tank top hit an equipment roadblock.  My longer 4.0mm circular needle went missing.  For all the searching, it was well & truly lost.  One thing led to another, and now I have an Addi Turbo 4.0mm circ.  Talk about getting the knit knack!  Light, bright & beautiful.

Addi Turbos give you wings!

Addi Turbos give you wings!

Of course, I found the old aluminum needle the very next day… outside, chilling on the patio.  How rude!

While I was in the LYS why not stash for my MK Carroll Tillie Cloche Hat?

Just as a parting pic – this here is a backyard butternut!

Aint she a beaut?

Ain't she a beaut?

Leave a comment

Mini Yarn Crawl

I did my first yarn crawl of West Queen West, yesterday.  Typically, I just head straight to Lettuce Knit in Kensington Market when in Toronto.  It’s still a great store – no complaints here.  I just got the yen to explore.  I had a sketchy idea of things, so decided to walk.  About a year ago my old boss gushed about Romni’s and I had a vauge idea it was around Bathurst.  I also had the street addy of Knit Cafe.  It was a long, sometimes brisk walk.  Lunch was seeming like a problem until I noticed Pat’s Restaurant.  The people were great, and the food was authentic Jamaican.  The tamarind balls were sweet!

Romni’s is by far the biggest yarn store I’ve been to.  No pretensions and floor-to-rafters stock.  It took me a while to even adjust to what I was seeing.  At first I thought there must be filler or acryllics.  Wrong!  The scope was jaw-dropping.  The book section alone had me for many minutes.  Moving through the stacks, I realized what I was looking at – good yarn.  Better in some cases than I’ve seen before.  In every conceivable colourway.  That’s when I got the idea they might have a match for my lone hank of Colinette.  I managed to choke back the other ideas…  Moving away from the wool roving was difficult.  They even have silk roving – wow.  Camel yarn anyone?

I managed to crack up one of the store staff.  He asked me what my accent was.  Hilarious, eh?

Of course in all that warehousing I found my Colinette: –

Colinette Iona in Dusk - perfect match for my stray hank!

Colinette Iona in Dusk - perfect match for my stray hank!

I managed to leave with only this baby.  Then I kept on in search of Knit Cafe in the just-one-more-block mentality.  It was a bit underwhelming at first.  The yarn selection looked spare against the white & very high walls.  It felt unfinished as well.  The space under the sink/ prep area was open, full garbage bins and all.  I had a latte (over $3.50!), and am glad I stayed to knit.  The concept is excellent, and the yarn selection was actually quite good.  I was thrilled to see they carry Peace Fleece, and liked the store samples of projects.  Kristin showed me the most darling EZ Baby Surprise jacket, and I left with this:

Elizabeth Zimmermanns Kniting Workshop from the Knit Cafe

Elizabeth Zimmermann's "Kniting Workshop" from the Knit Cafe

My shrug is coming along as well:

Wedding Guest Shrug on April 30th

Wedding Guest Shrug on April 30th

I have a sneaking suspicion it may end up looking like an over-sized doily…

Lace Detail of Wedding Guest Shrug

Lace Detail of Wedding Guest Shrug

Do NOT want to frog again but the stripey effect will be vertical on my back.  Last thing I want is for it to clash with the dress.  See where thinking takes you?!  I’ll let you know…


Oil of Motherland

I went to Jamaica’s Consulate General in Toronto, today.  Panacea for homesickness, that.  The flag was flying high out front.  Most know it by sight but the black, green & gold mean – hardships there are but the land is green, and the sun shineth.  Hey, Anand Giridharadas, India isn’t the only place where Elizabethan English is still going strong!

It only got better.  Here are my highlights of the trip:  A lady closely observed me as I walked in.  That’s typical – after all, I am a white Jamaican.  She continued to stare as I pulled out each document for the receptionist to check them, and was speaking in my not-Canadian accent.  Boy was she perplexed.  So much so that she approached me, and scratched her itch thusly, “If you don’t mind me asking, which part of Jamaica are you from?”

Minding not, I answered, “Kingston.”  She caught the real terseness, and left it at that.  The question she had really asked was whether I am from Germantown in St. Elizabeth.  It’s a prejudice like any other.

Then, my  ‘number’ was called: “Next!”.  Only in a Jamaican government office could you find a card taped up onto the partition glass that proclaims the Prayer for Sinners.  Ah so.  We went straight into establishing that no, surname & whiteness aside, I am not related to one of the wealthiest men in the island.  It was all good – even the joke of being sent to take a 3rd photo down the road.  I should be okay for getting the passport back in 5 weeks, right?  I mean, I did read the Prayer for Sinners with some feeling…

I was also on the prowl for DPNs (double pointed needles) for the sock.  I was down a needle & my stop-gap measure was pretty bad:  moving a cable needle around to free-up a DPN for the knitting.  I stumbled accross a Mary Maxim store.  First time in one, I was astonished to find non-acryllics.  They only had 8″ long DPNs in my size but I had a Eureka moment in the sale bin…  Paton’s SWS (soy wool stripes)!  It’s been months of searching the GTA for some…  I know there are detractors but I love how SWS feels and felts.  My new stash, sock, and the bag that carried them all:

Patons SWS on sale; Straight up Socks; & Envirosax

Paton's SWS on sale; Straight up Socks; & Envirosax

Yep – Envirosax, baby!  Birthday gift from Cuz = a set of 5.  They are v. v. handy.  I couldn’t pull out the Lady B bag for a next-to-nothing project like this sock.  As you can see, I’m back into mindless rounds for the foot of the sock.  Did some in Starbucks, and the train home.

Leave a comment

Massive Man Socks

I present to you the massive socks I made for hubby.  No, friends, this is not an illustration of knitting blind… I took measurements, did the math, and casted on.  These socks are a perfect fit – up to and including the square toe.  He gladly wore them this winter, and they have washed rather well.

Massive Man Socks - Toby shows scale

Massive Man Socks - Toby shows scale

As I wrote yesterday, he asked for 100% wool & straight black.  In all honesty, these turned out to be the most expensive socks I’ve ever seen.  It was the only full-on black sock yarn at Lettuce Knit – we did ask if they thought 1 skein alone would do.  Had to go back for more.  In terms of knitting,  the yarn feels great & is true to name with the smooshiness.  But.  After even a few stitches the dye stained my hands.  I was knitting en route to work, and the black marks would not do.  I swallowed my pride, and re-purposed a white cloth glove (came with hand lotion) to avoid the marks.  This one started the most conversations in the history of my knitting in public.  Women just could not resist asking who had such a big foot, and why I loved him so much…

On top of the sheer size, the black was very monotonous to knit.  There’s a slight variation in hue thanks to the handpainting but it was totally mind-numbing.   He does love (and wear) his first (last?) handknit socks, so all in all they were worth it!

Leave a comment

Independent Yarn Shops

On a recent web crawl – yes, time is my friend of late – I found this post on Twisted Knitter:  Janet raises a great point – why do some knitters and crocheters refuse to cross the threshold of a LYS.  The comments are also very interesting.  The topic is alive and well on Knit Purl Gurl:

I came by knitting honestly and through a big box.  Like Janet, I’m a cross-over customer.  I browse Michaels, Zellers, and to a lesser extent the local Walmart.  It’s actually a lazy hunt for Patons SWS.  I knitted my SWS stash to the last nub.  For some reason it’s disappeared entirely from the community.  Next step will be the internet, but I’m still on the look-out locally.  This usually means I walk out empty-handed but I am on a cotton kick at the moment, so that works too.  I saw on a recent visit that Michaels is revamping the yarn department for this Spring.  There’s certainly room for improvement… it’s shoved against a wall.

Now if the good knitting/ big label yarns were stocked at a LYS, I probably would save the big box trips for emergencies.  I like me some variety, and would pay a shade more to the LYS.  I am seeing far too many small businesses of all stripes close in our community now.

After some hemming & hawing I made the big step of going into a LYS.  I’ve had only good experiences & I’m the type who wants to be left alone for the most part.  The first shop was Margaret’s Yarn Boutique.  She in no way made me feel odd about having been to Walmart first.  She helped, and I was happy to follow her advice.  It’s generally been hard for me to get to LYSes because of work/ life issues with their business hours.  I’m also no stranger to anxiety – I typically took an inordinate amount of time to try out new shops.  My worry was really that the cluelessness was bound to show.

It’s all good now, and if someone is on the verge of going local, I’d say try it.  I learned my lesson when a local Jamaican restaurant went out of business.  Managing finances seemed to be a problem for them but we could have gone more often.  As things stand, no more hard-dough bread hot out of the ovens!  My experience – for what it’s worth – is that these ladies (never encountered male sales help in LYSdom) don’t psych anyone out.  It’s okay to browse quietly, and they won’t make you feel like a dummy.  Then again, Canadians are said to be polite…

The good karma can’t hurt either.  I for one would love a bricks & mortar with a willing customer-base!