Wednesday, 30 July 2014
In a little town called Listowel, Ontario (population 5,000 and located about a 45-minute drive north of Kitchener), there is a factory that manufactures much of the yarn that is sold in Ontario and an accompanying factory outlet store that draws many yarn shoppers from many miles around. The selection of yarn and other crafting materials is quite good, the prices are very reasonable, and the store also has a lot of seconds and clearance yarn available for very little.
As a teenager I lived in Listowel for three years. My parents still live there, and I visit the store a few times a year when I'm back visiting family. As you might expect, I've invested much money and time in the Spinrite store over the years. I think fondly of the time that, for $14, I purchased enough rose-coloured mohair to make a skirt, a sweater and an afghan, and of the time I single-handedly kept three sales associates busy waiting on me for my entire visit (it was Christmas Eve day and I was the only customer there at the time). The yarn store employees know me by sight and tease me about how I should move back from Toronto to work there. I tell them, "Stock options, and then we'll talk," and they say, "Oh honey, we all want stock options!"
The Spinrite Factory Outlet has several big sales a year, and they have big tent sales which are crazily well-attended. Countless minivans pull into the parking lot with full loads of purposeful-looking crafters, and it's not uncommon to see buses arriving with a full load of avid day-trippers. At the entrance to the tent, Spinrite staff hand out enormous plastic bags (think larger than the standard black plastic garbage bag), and many shoppers do actually fill them. I've always enjoyed watching other Spinrite shoppers shop, because they do so with such an intense focus, and one sees many funny little vignettes.
Most of Spinrite's clientele is female. My oldest brother once visited the store on his own, armed with a Christmas shopping list written out for him by his wife, to get a gift certificate for me. He's a farmer and like most farmers he is very skilled at working with his hands, but he doesn't do any sort of needlework. Arriving Spinrite customers are usually greeted in passing and left to browse about by themselves, but when he walked in the front door, he was instantly approached by a store employee who asked if she could help him. My brother said, "This isn't really my kind of place," and the salesperson said, "That's all right sir, we get your kind in here sometimes and we can help you." I so wish my Christmas present had included video of this incident.
Such stray non-knitting men are a less common sight in the store than the husbands or boyfriends in the tow of female customers. Some of these male companions do enter into the shopping with an affectionate indulgence and spirit of fun that's adorable to see, but most look very bored, in either an impatient or a grimly resigned way. One time I saw a woman trawling the store accompanied by a husband who was lugging two enormous upholstery cushions in her wake. She'd pick up a skein of yarn, hold it up to one of the cushions, purse her lips, shake her head decidedly, put the skein back, and then move briskly on to the next set of shelves with her husband trailing along behind, physically compliant but with the most palpable look of frustrated resentment on his face that I ever saw. I hope he at least ended up liking the resulting afghan or throw pillows.
The video above shows how busy the Spinrite tent sales can be and how one such male hanger-on occupied his time while his crafty wife was shopping. A possible veteran of previous such sales, he had come equipped with a folding chair, a guitar, his sense of humour, and a song entitled "I Lost My Wife at the Spinrite Factory Outlet Store". I note that his wife has already purchased a big bag of yarn (visible in the vehicle behind her husband), so it's a safe bet she'll be returning eventually. She won't want to leave her yarn.
Wednesday, 6 November 2013
In April 2013, the CBC reported on the story of Leonard and Mae Fine, who were retiring after running their Toronto-based knit-wear business together for more than 50 years. Marni Knits produced and sold high-end knitwear to retailers across Canada. Their customers included Holt Renfrew, Liptons, Chadwicks, and Goodman's. The Fines, who originally met in New York in 1938 and are now both in their nineties, didn't especially care to retire just yet but were urged to do so by their son as he wished to retire himself. "We're still going to have a life, without the business," said Mae. "I may get a job, volunteering or something."
When they cleared out their shop, the Fines donated an assortment of yarns, notions and buttons to the May 2013 More Than Just a Yardage Sale, with proceeds from the items going to benefit the Toronto-area Textile Museum of Canada.
If you'd like to see some vintage Marni Knits clothing, you can do so on the website for the Toronto-area business Rent frock Repeat, and if you should live in Toronto it's even possible to enjoy renting and wearing Marni Knits creations from Rent frock Repeat. Some Marni Knits creations also seem to be for sale from various vintage clothing internet dealers. The photo above is of one Marni Knits creation from 1970.
Friday, 11 October 2013
Saturday, 7 September 2013
Thursday, 22 August 2013
"The Knitter's Curse" is a catchy and all-too-true little ditty by The Savoy Ballroom. Unfortunately a number of the examples of "knitting" that appear in the video are actually crochet, but perhaps that's just The Savoy Ballroom going the extra mile to portray a knitter's life as realistically as possible.
Sunday, 12 May 2013
When I began casting about for a Mother's Day-themed topic for today, my Google searches returned a lot of links containing suggestions of projects knitters can make for their mothers. And all I could think was, other knitters knit for their mothers? Their mothers like having things knitted for them?
This has not been my experience. My mother knits very well, though since her late thirties she has not been one to knit often as it makes her hands ache to do very much of it. And knitters don't tend to knit for other knitters in general, because knitters can knit anything they like for themselves, and they'd rather. I don't think anyone has knitted anything for me since before I learned to knit myself. Not that I mind — anyone can see it would be coals to Newcastle. But I have knitted a number of items for my mother in the past, and try as I would to please her I almost never could. Something was always wrong with the things I made: she didn't like the fit, or the shape, or she didn't think the colour was quite right for her. One August in the late nineties, she thought I should enter some of my knitted items in the local fall fair knitting show and competition. I said I didn't have anything ready, but she helpfully produced the four or five sweaters I'd previously made for her from her dresser and chest of drawers, and brightly suggested I submit them. After all, they were still in pristine, just-finished condition because she'd never worn any of them.
I'm not the only knitting offspring of a knitting mother in this situation. A former co-worker of mine, Barbara, once told me a tale of the time she'd knitted her mother a sweater and mailed it across the country to her mother's home in B.C. as a surprise gift. A month or so later Barbara received a package in the mail from her mother. It was a sweater, not the sweater she had sent to her mother, but a different one... knitted from the same yarn. Barbara's mother had decided she she didn't like and would never wear the sweater her daughter had made for her, frugally ravelled out and re-knitted it in a different style, and then sent it back to Barbara for her to wear and enjoy. I have to say, of all the "Mother still knows better than her adult children" cross-checks I ever heard of, that has to be the nastiest. And when I told my mother that story, expecting her to feel the same way about Barbara's mother's destruction of her daughter's work as I did, Mum's response was a horrified, "She sent it back?!" My mother would have done exactly the same thing as Barbara's — she just wouldn't have told me about it.
Well, it hasn't been all bad. My mother taught me to knit when I was eight, and though the lesson was something of a battle royale (I desperately wanted to learn to knit, but did NOT like having all my stitches ripped out), next to reading and writing, knitting is probably the skill I've used the most and enjoyed the most in my life. Mum has worn a few of the things I've made her — there was a scarf and hat set that was quite a success. And she does genuinely respect my knitting skills and admire at least some of the items I make. Even though when I show her something I've made, the first thing out of her mouth is guaranteed to be some kind of criticism, she was incensed when my knitted entries didn't win any first place ribbons at the aforementioned fall fair, so much so that though it's now fifteen years later, it's still not a topic that can be safely mentioned to her. We talk about our projects, I loan her my knitting magazines, and we visit the wholesale yarn store in her town together. Our shared love of needlework and making things has been common ground and a bond between us much more often than it's been a cause for contention, and that's nothing to be taken for granted when the life I've led doesn't otherwise resemble hers.
I recommend this lovely Oregon Live article in which Mary Mooney reminisces about the day her mother taught her to knit back in 1981, when Mooney was ten. Mooney's mother died suddenly only two months later, and Mooney muses that because her mother was always making things, knitting has always been synonymous with her mother and with love, that knitting is a way to remember and to feel close to her mother, and also a reason to feel sure that she could connect with her mother if her mother was still alive, regardless of what kind of relationship they would have.
Many knitters got their first lessons in knitting from their mothers or grandmothers, and though each knitter's experience will differ, it's a memory very likely to be positive and to have created a bridge between the two. Here's hoping whatever form your Mother's Day takes, that today you too can enjoy thinking of how your knitting has connected you to whomever taught you, whomever you knit with, and whomever you knit for.
Friday, 26 April 2013
Franklin Habit of The Panopticon brings us an animated drama showing us what would happen if Queen Elizabeth, who is a knitter, were married to a roller-skating Albert Einstein.
Tuesday, 9 April 2013
It seems that as long as there have been those who are avid knitters, there have been non-knitters who complain about it. One of my exes complained that it made him feel as though "he must not be very important" when I knitted while we watched TV rather than cuddling with him. Sorry, darling. Here's hoping your current partner has two left thumbs. Another pointed out that it was "not cost-efficient" for me to knit when I could earn the money to buy the item in much less time. He also kept quoting Anthony Robbins at me. I'm sure he's still out there somewhere making facile and condescending observations to some woman who, happily, isn't me.
The Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian published the poem below on Saturday, December 11, 1847, only a few decades after knitting had become commonplace among English women of all classes. The poet, though he felt he "must speak out his mind", did so anonymously. He was, after all, criticizing an armed camp. I can't help wondering if he got the kind of wife he wanted, one who never did needlework for pleasure but instead was happy to only attend to the necessary sewing and mending and "every duty prize". Because if he did find such a woman, I bet she either developed an addiction to laudanum or decamped with the chimney sweep within a few years.
The Knitting Mania
I really must — it is no use — I must speak out my mind
And wonder how the ladies can delight in knitting find;
Such pointed, pricking, sharp-edged tools, such rolling balls of thread,
Such puzzling over bewildering rules with such bewilder’d head.
My mother and my sisters four are clever in this way,
They knit at morning, noon and night; they knit, in fact, all day;
Their little bags, their pointed pins, are in their fingers ever;
In short, I really do believe, they’ve got the knitting fever.
And, after all, what good results, come from such industry?
It is not comforters, or socks, they ever knit for me;
But pence-jugs, purses, smoking-caps, while over chair and screen
Are knitted clothes of every kind, and newest patterns seen.
We’ve mats for every standing thing, we’ve covers for each dish;
We’ve knitted cloths for bread and cheese, for fruit, and flesh, and fish;
Our rich dessert dish is fill’d up with bobbins starch’d and clean,
We wipe our mouths in d’Oyleys of every pattern seen.
How many a scratch and prick I get! I could not count them all!
How many a time about my feet I get the tangled ball.
And often have I borne away a handsome square of knitting
Which clung unto my buttons from the chair where I’ve been sitting.
Alas! Alas! each stitch of work I now must pay for doing
My sisters they will knit for me, but cannot think of sewing.
No buttons can I get put on; no gloves can I get mended,
All little comforts of my home are now left unattended.
I might get married, certainly — but I’ll not think of this —
I know how much a knitting wife can marr domestic bliss;
There are such things as knitted caps, and robes, and trimmings too,
And many other pretty things the ladies now can do.
No — I shall wait until I find a wife as wives should be —
Who for all taste of fancy work of every kind is free;
One who will gladly make, and mend, and every duty prize,
Which may increase her loveliness in a fond husband’s eyes.
Sunday, 7 April 2013
My Knitted Boyfriend is a short yarn about a poor, lonely knitter who decided to take her love life into her own skilful hands. Alas, she appears to have forgotten to make her knitted boyfriend anatomically correct, but in every other way he's perfect. He's cuddly, he's no pill, and he's even machine washable! My Knitted Boyfriend is the work of Noortje de Keijzer, who knitted herself a boyfriend for a masters' project at the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2012. You can see more of de Keijzer's work on her website.
Friday, 5 April 2013
Saturday, 30 March 2013
With the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments concerning the legal recognition of gay marriage this week, and given that the Gay Pride parade season only a few months away, you may be looking for a way to show your support for gay rights. If so, rest assured that you can easily knit something gay! The pattern for the pretty, simple, and quick-to-knit Rainbow Pride Scarf shown above is available for free on Ravelry.
Thursday, 14 February 2013
I try to ignore Valentine's Day. Mine have, frankly, always sucked. The only one I ever got to celebrate with anyone was in 1992, when I got a card. From a guy who a) turned out to be gay and b) when I found out about his actual sexual orientation and reproached him for not telling me, claimed I'd just imagined that we were ever romantically involved. So maybe that card doesn't count, because it just might have been a figment of my imagination too. All my other Valentine's Days have just been non-events, with the possible exception of Valentine's Day 2012, when I was coming home late from work and got hit by a car. The driver was a young guy on the way to see his girlfriend. I don't imagine they had too pleasant an evening either, even after he eventually arrived at her place a few hours late.
But I'm not going to ignore Valentine's Day on this blog, because I do love researching and writing holiday theme posts (I'm even looking forward to creating a St. Patrick's Day post), and in this post I offer a bouquet of knitting project ideas to you that I hope you can enjoy regardless of your romantic status. Knitting, after all, is inherently a self-sufficient activity, and you can make one or two of these items for yourself or for someone whom you love, and you'll find it won't matter whether you love them in a romantic, platonic, or familial way — they'll appreciate the item and your efforts just as much.
A number of these projects employ hearts as a design element. I don't normally like heart motifs as they tend to look cheesy and too child-like for adult wear, but in these cases they've been incorporated into the pattern with such intricacy, cuteness, or attitude that they all work.
The above picture is the first of the project ideas I'm suggesting. It says it all, doesn't it? If you think it doesn't, you can always replace the text with something else (e.g., "Prenup Okay?", "Trading You In", "Now You Tell Me" or "Expletive Deleted"). The pattern is available for sale on Domiknitrix.com for $2(USD).
Seeing a little kid run around the house in the LoveSocks, designed by Devon Clement, would make my day. It's a free pattern.
Beautifully designed Coeur D'Or, by Heatherly Walker. If they look too much like Valentine's Day wear to you, just make them in another colourway. This pattern is available for $6(USD).
Love these Heart mittens, by Matilde Skår. Making these mittens in different colours would make them all-winter wear. It's a free pattern.
Here's a Valentine Envelope, by Cindy Craft, that could be used from year to year. Or if you make it in some other colourway, it could be a nice vanity case. The pattern is available for $2(USD).
Gorgeous, intricate Little Valentine shawl pattern, by Sylvie Beez, and apparently it takes less than one 100g skein of fingering yarn to make it. It's a free pattern.
This Lucy's Chemise Nightie, by Joan McGowan-Michael, is a romance in itself. The pattern is available for $8(USD) at White Lies Designs.
Lace stockings for the woman who has a fetish/love affair with awesome hosiery. The Marlaina Thigh-High Stockings design, by Joan McGowan-Michael, is available for $7.50(USD) at White Lies Designs, where all the designs are romantic — the whole site is worth checking out if you like a touch of that style in your wardrobe.
And if you need a lift today, here's a story a friend of mine told me last year to make me feel better. One year back in his university days, he had no money to spend on buying flowers for his girlfriend, so he decided to make her a bouquet of paper flowers. He stayed up most of the night, cutting and pasting. The next day when he presented his girlfriend with the flowers, she looked puzzled, reluctantly accepted the flowers, and said, "I didn't know we were going out."
This story does indeeed cheer me up whenever I think of it. Even I have never experienced a burn like that one.
Wednesday, 13 February 2013
This is the frontpiece of the sheet music for a song published in 1917 and written by one Harry Von Tilzner. One might think it's a song to encourage knitting for the war effort, but it's actually not quite that. The lyrics, which are below, are about a woman who won't stop knitting for the soldiers, to her beau's dismay. Ah, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Pretty little Kitty's got the patriotic craze
Knitting scarfs for soldiers day and night
Silly little Billy now is spending all his days
Watching Kitty knit with all her might
She even knits when out in his canoe.
She knits while Billy tries to bill and coo.
He'd take a hug
Then he'd hug her some more
While she'd knit knit knit knit knit
He'd steal a kiss
Then he'd take an encore
And she'd knit knit knit knit knit
Under a tree
He would rest with a smile
She'd lay her knitting down for a while
A bird in a nest
Said oh give us a rest
Go on and knit knit knit.
Pretty little Kitty said, now Willie do your bit
Here's some yarn and needles you can start
Come and sit beside me and I'll teach you how to knit
That's the way that you can win my heart
He'd knit a while and then he'd want to woo.
He'd look at her and drop a stitch or two.
He'd take a hug
Then he'd hug her some more
She'd say knit knit knit knit knit
He'd steal a kiss
Then he'd take an encore
She'd say knit knit knit knit knit
One day a tug
Passed them by in a squall
Looking through glasses was captain and all
They both heard a yelp
Do you need any help?
And she said knit knit knit.
And a word of caution to non-knitters who are trying to get their knitting significant others to knit less... DO NOT take hold of a yarn end and pull as these men seem to be doing to the woman's knitting in this picture. It will make the knitter you love very, very angry. And remember, your sweetheart is holding two pointed pieces of metal.
Friday, 18 January 2013
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Did you ever hear that old joke about what happens when you play a country song in reverse? You get your spouse, pick-up truck, and dog back. Here's a country song called "Pardon Me (I Didn't Knit That for You)". If you played it in reverse, you'd have a ball of yarn and an intact relationship, but I think most knitters will like the song exactly as it is as they'd prefer to keep their work unravelled and to ditch the partner for whom the sweater wasn't intended.
Incidentally, the tasteful yarn ball arrangement on the mantlepiece behind the two vocalists is a nice touch.
Thursday, 27 December 2012
The title of this book is a real conversation starter, or perhaps equally a conversation stopper.
Not tonight Darling, I'm Knitting is available on Amazon, with an updated cover. If you're thinking about buying it, do read the reader reviews before you click "add to cart", because some of the reviewers claim the book's content didn't live up to its title. It appears to be a book of basic knitting history and basic knitting instruction, laid out in "design circus" format (i.e., lots of visuals and tidbits of information). It could be fun book for those who are just learning to knit and want a general overview of knitting history, but more skilled knitters who want a more in-depth approach to knitting history will want to take a pass on this book and buy another more suited to their existing level of knowledge and skill.
Monday, 10 December 2012
Lo these many years ago, or in the fall of 1993 and of my second year in college to be exact, I had a boyfriend who was a composer and a piano player. He asked me to knit him a piano scarf. I thought piano scarves were terribly tacky, but I dutifully drafted a pattern and began knitting the scarf with the idea that it would be his Christmas present. Then we broke up in early December.
I finished the piano scarf shortly after the break up (it looked almost exactly like the one depicted above, though the one I made didn't have the colour reversal on the second side), and then had to decide what to do with the scarf. I sure as hell didn't want to wear it. Normally I'd have ravelled it out, but as a poor student, I'd used some cheap acrylic sport weight, and it just didn't seem worthwhile to spend a couple of hours ripping the whole thing out in order to salvage that yarn. I knew none of my friends would want it, even if I could bring myself to give it to them. I contemplated just giving it to my ex, but he hadn't behaved that well and we weren't really on speaking terms. I finally offered it to my sister, who plays the piano. She took it, but unenthusiastically. I think the scarf wound up in the dress-up box my parents kept at their place for when my nieces and nephews came over. It may still be there, though it would be much the worse for the wear by now.
After the piano scarf fiasco I resolved that I would never again make anything that I really didn't like myself, no matter how much someone else wanted it, that instead I would aim to make items that both the recipient and I would be happy with. I've not only kept that resolution, but enhanced it. I don't think I ever again knitted something with such poor quality yarn, and over the years the patterns I choose have gotten more complex and better designed. Somewhere along the way I arrived at the conviction that I'd rather make a handful of things that I can really be proud to wear or give away than dozens of items that are nothing special.
In late 2006, many years after that piano scarf project ended on such a sour note, my ex and I reconnected via the internet, and after a profuse apology from him, we soon got to be on the friendly terms we still enjoy six years later. In the spring of 2007, when I was shopping for a used piano on Craig's List, I asked him if he'd help me with my purchase by vetting pianos for me. He did, even spending one of his Saturday afternoons to go to South Etobicoke with me and assess the piano I eventually bought.
I promised him something knitted for a thank you present. My ex again asked for a piano scarf. I started laughing and told him about the piano scarf he'd never gotten or even known about, and he was disappointed, saying he wished I'd given it to him. However, he was very pleased with the scarf I did make: a reversible cabled design in a silvery gray yarn that went very well with the black wool pea coat he wore in winter, and that set off his prematurely silver hair.
Over the years there have been a few other occasions when I tried to knit something for a man for Christmas and the project had some farcical outcome. In the fall of 2004, I began to knit a intricately cabled scarf out of a beautiful gray blue wool for a man I was dating, but he called me one night in early December to tell me he didn't want to see me anymore. As soon as we hung up, I sat down on my kitchen bench and grimly ripped out what I'd got done of the scarf, and not long after used the yarn for something else.
In the fall of 2008 I knitted a pair of cashmere socks for a man I cared a lot about (we weren't going out, but had grown close and had what I believe are euphemistically called some "moments"), and sent them to him, along with some other things, as a surprise gift for Christmas. He wouldn't even open the box, and offered to return it, saying he felt it had "strings attached". He did later apologize for his reaction, and added belated, cursory thanks for the gift, but never told me whether he'd opened the box or what he thought of the contents. For all I know he is still staring at it in paranoid suspicion, or just threw it in the dumpster.
Knitters joke about the "sweater curse", which dictates that if a knitter begins a sweater for a partner, the relationship is doomed to end before the sweater is finished. This curse is not supposed to apply to scarves or socks, but then I seem to be especially luckless. Heaven knows what would have happened if I'd ever gotten so far ahead of myself as to knit a sweater for a man I was dating. However, at least I can say that over the years the lesson of the piano scarf has proved a good one, with far-reaching applications.
Knitting for others, like being in a relationship, requires an awareness of and a sensitivity to what the other person wants, but it's never a good idea to lose sight of what you want, to just do what the other person wants, or to put in too much effort and give too much of yourself to someone who won't even give you respect in return. Keeping these principles in mind won't guarantee that all my projects will turn out well or that I'll never get hurt, but it does mean I can count on feeling some pride and satisfaction in what I've done, and that I'll be able to salvage something from the situation. While I might very well get left alone and with an unfinished project anyway, at least I'll know I've done right and can put the experience and yarn gained to good use. And I won't be left holding a piano scarf.