Checking out the Toronto knitting scene

I spent a week in Toronto at the beginning of the month and having heard it was a great place for yarn shops, I decided to check out a few recommendations (in between trips to the baseball and Niagara Falls). 

And I found the reputations was well deserved and they held up the city's reputation for friendliness.

Lettuce 1

First up was Lettuce Knit about which I'd heard good things from more than one knitter. So when I checked out the website it was a shock to discover I would be visiting on the first day of the shop's closing down sale.

This is a real pity because the staff were charming and when I introduced myself were very helpful, showing lots of Canadian yarn (either grown or dyed in the country). 

Here I was introduced to Topsy Farms wool - very sheepy, lanolin rich and beautifully dyed as well as very good value especially in the sale. It is approximately an aran weight and I look forward to create something cosy with my five skeins.

Lett yarnMy Lettuce Knits haul: Northbound Knitting sock left and
the two Topsy Farms colours I fell for

But much as I loved the Topsy skeins, it was a skein from Northbound Knitting that had caught my eye as soon as I walked in. I was very glad that this mix of browns, blues and grey in a sock yarn fitted the Canadian only criteria I'd set for my yarn souvenirs.

Lettuce Knits had one other great feature to recommend it. A set of chairs outside which meant Mr Penguin could enjoy the sunshine and watch the activities of Kensington Market's pedestrian Sunday while I checked out the yarnie goodness.

Lettuce 2

From a closing to an opening. When I visited EweKnit, the team was still unpacking in the new store they's just reopened in that day. It was fun visit when I even managed to answer a question about some yarn I've worked with at home and had a chance to look all round this large space which is perfect for workshops.

EweKnit seemed to carry more mainstream brands than Lettuce Knits but it still had some Canadian options among them some SweetGeorgia yarns. I've seen a little SweetGeorgia at shows in the UK but it was more affordable in the Canada, so I treated myself to a skein of Toughlove Sock in the Spring Garden colourway which made me think of suffragettes.


The final stop on my tour was to Romni Wools which was complete contrast to EweKnit. Every square foot of this shop is stuffed with yarn making it amazing to explore. I was lucky enough to have guide, on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, who showed me round all the Canadian stock.

In return I shared my views on Baa Ram Ewe yarns because the team had just unpacked their first shipment - luckily I've been trying some out recently and Romni even stocks my favourite colourway. I also admired their planning on placing the Baa Ram Ewe stock opposite some from West Yorkshire Spinners to create a Yorkshire section - it turned out to be coincidence (not anymore!).

The staff were very informative about Canadian yarns and produced lots for me to squish and admire. In the end I choose some purple Fleece Artist Nor'East to make a cowl and a skein of Hand Maiden Sea Lace (silk and sea cell) in seaweedy colours (perfect for someone as obsessed with seaside inspired shawls as me).

Romni yarns

All in all I would recommend any knitter travelling to Toronto to set aside some time to visit a knitting shop or two (there are more) - and leaves a little space in their luggage for a few momentoes.

I'll report back on how the yarn behaved in due course.


Inspirational thinking and memory

What inspires you to create something? 

With me, it can be so many things that I carry a notebook with me all the time - if I don't I inevitably ended up having an idea and drawing on a scrap of paper or even a ball band - plus I have a section on the Evernote app to gather images that inspire me.

Sometimes it is a view or something else I see that gets the creative juices going, or a shape or a texture. Sometimes I look at a skein of yarn and it tells me what it is going to be. But I am also heavily influenced by memory and familiar sights and images. Or they combine as for this scarf created when a skein of yarn reminded me of beech trees in Belfast when I was younger.

Barnet park Collage

Recently memory and childhood have been strong influences on a series of shawls, wraps and scarf I've been designing.

As a youngster I spent a great deal of time on the north west Irish coast (an area that now forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way route). It is an area of rich shape and colour and beautiful and stupendous views.

Sea shoe sky CollageThese images stick in my mind with the result is I have been playing with textures and stitch patterns to reproduce the the shapes and textures of the landscape - as well as spotting yarns that evoke memories of these places.

Sea shoe sky Collage 2

Some influences will be clearer than others - for example bright turquoise may not seem a fit until you understand this was the colour of the salmon fishermen's ropes and nets.

There is some writing up and some photography to go but soon I will share this very personal project. If for not other reason than I need to at least take pause in this obsession. So I'm setting myself a summer deadline to complete this set.

But that's not to say that other patterns and ideas aren't crowding my head and my notebooks. On a recent return to the north west coast I saw these tulips and then this decor on the dusty entrance to a famous house (with some particular childhood connections) in quick succession - they are now gelling into a plan for some vibrant skeins of nordic yarn that have been the subject of a half-formed idea for a couple of months. 

Sligo tulip Collage

And so the cycle of inspiration continues.

French knitting – designing a project for a knitting holiday workshop

In April I will be travelling to France with Arena Travel as the knitting expert on a knitting holiday to Reims where I will teach a day of workshops as part of the trip.

So recently I’ve been designing the project for the workshop and thought I’d share a little about the process and what I’ve come up with.

One highlight of the trip is a day visiting the Bergere de France factory in Bar-le-Duc, a short drive from Reims and as the company is kindly supporting the workshop we will be using its yarns. I am certainly looking forward to that outing and meeting some of the Bergere design team.

It was this that gave me the theme for the workshop. I associate Bergere yarns and patterns with texture and cables so I decided that it would be interesting to look a double-sided textures including reversible cables, choosing stitch patterns and travelling patterns.

And if we are thinking about reversible patterns, it seemed the project should be an accessory as this and homewares are where being double sided comes into its own. But I wanted to add a bit of fun which meant I finally decided on a true moebius cowl where you knit outwards from the centre of the strip.

The moebius cast-on can seem daunting when you first encounter it, but once you learn it can be addictive because it creates such lovely cowls. So I’ll be showing everyone how to get started.

Reims cowl1

So then I had cables and texture and a moebius cowl. Next was the choice of yarn. I wanted something with good stitch definition and a chunky yarn because it would both be warm (which is good for a unisex cowl) and allow us to make progress in the workshop. So after exploring a selection of sample cards from Bergere I decided on Magic+, a worsted wool and acrylic yarn that shows off texture beautifully and comes in a wide range of colours which again is great if you want a unisex pattern.

image from

And finally I wanted to link the project to Reims and so the way the cables travel on the cowl could be seen as a faint echo of cathedral – also why I choose the main colour for the first sample.

Reims cowl close up 1

We will be offering three or four colour combinations for participants to choose from.

And so the result is a chunky, completely reversible, cowl that can be extended length and width-wise.

Reims cowl 2

I’m now really looking forward to working with the Arena traveller on the trip and sharing my knowledge and the project with them. As well as hearing their knitting ideas and experiences because that can make a great workshop.

Find out more about the trip here.



The Italian Alps - snow, Romans and love for yarn shops

So why start a post for Yarn Shop Day and the Love Your Yarn Shop campaign with this:


Well a recent trip to the Italian Alps made me think about different countries' attitudes to yarn shops.

This was my first time back on skis after a nasty injury so I planned my week to have some other activities so I enjoyed some skiing and didn't overso it.

During the week I headed down into the valley (still pretty high) to visit the regional town Aosta and its extensive Roman remains including an amptheatre, a theatre (pictured), the forum and much more.


Being fascinated by history and the development of towns and cities,I also thought I might fit in the archeology museum and some medieval churches. What I didn't expect was to spend a large amount of my day in yarn shops.


On this main street that runs right across the town (it is Roman after all) I found three yarn/haberdashery shops. There was plenty of yarn - lots of it good quality - buttons, fabric and beads. And all three shops had other customers when I visited on a Thursday afternoon.

It really got me thinking. I'm lucky living in north London to have two localish yarn shops: Loop, a half hour on the bus, and Nest, a pleasant 40 minute walk each way. They are great yarn shops but both could be seen as specialist, destination shops, very different from these Italian versions. 

The Italian shops seem much more a part of everyday life like the hardware shop, two toyshops, stationers and the cafes in the same streets of this not very large town. But then in the UK local stationers and hardware shops, etc, are also becoming rarer.

In Aosta it seemed the local was valued more and I wondered why in the UK our high streets have developed in such a different way - or so it seems to me - we increasingly seem to have specialist suppliers than great local businesses you can pop into for a variety of usful crafting items.

I don't know whether Italy experienced the same decline in household crafting/making as the UK did - if not, it may explain the Aosta haberdashery boom. Or perhaps Aosta is unusual. 

But it is important that we support our local yarn shops - we might eventually get back the the Aosta level, but mainly we don't want to lose any.

Given how much I love good haberdashery shops , I did have to offer a little support in Aosta despite travelling light. So I have a new yarn to try.


But that doesn't mean there wasn't knitting on the trip.

A sunny slopeside bar, some fingerless mitts and a beer is all you need for some lovely knitting time in the fresh air.


image from


DIY souvenirs

It seems that my memories of my first trip to Sicily will be in the form of things that do not yet exist in their final form. 

There will obviously be the online photo album and the new silver charm for my "travellers tale" bracelet just requires a jump ring but this is merely the tip of the iceberg. 

In Cefalu, where we were staying, two things caught my eye; the number of shops featuring beaded and wire jewellery and a little outlet for a traditional weaving and textile business featuring shawls, crocheted items and what from a distance appeared to be skeins of yarn.

So one evening I arranged to meet my very craft tolerant other half in an establishment that purveyed beer and set off for a browse/shop/inspiration-seeking wander. Several jewellery shops later, having being intrigued in particular by what you can create with half a zip (watch this space), I stumbled across one featuring exactly the types of wires and bead/semi-precious stone jewellery I've been learning about. Even better it had a large basket of these:

  Pic 001

Elasticated bracelets length loops strung with beads and stones which you could just wear as a bangle - or like me have mentally reworked into necklaces and earings by the time you reach the till.

And then I popped into the interesting textile outlet and made a fascinating discovery - in Sicilian terms all we knitters and crocheters have been wasting our time. If you want a scarf, all you do is takes a skein of yarn like so...

  Pic 002

... tie a couple of strategic knots or add a piece of ribbon and lo, you have a scarf.

Pic 003
Me being me, I'm already unravelling the knots and winding the yarn so I can turn it into a different type of scarf.

Happy memories.

 Meanwhile check out more of this week's Making Monday posts


Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Knitting time courtesy of poor train service

6knitbloglogo The train service I travel to and from work on is famous for two things: poor service and delays. 

My problem is that while being regularly late for meetings or stuck shivering on platforms is irritating and frustrating, this poor service regularly extends my knitting time. This is because the hour each way is time I use to listen to podcasts and to, yes, knit and knit some more. 

I'm lucky, I commute in the opposite direction to most folks so have space as well as time and use it productively to craft away the work stress. 

So my fellow First Capital Connect passengers, my apologies if I don't get as irate as you but I could share my way of coping.

Knit 151
My handbag sized knitting kit

Hello Possum!

I'm now working on the third of my 11in11 project to knit 11 shawls or wraps from my stash and have pulled an interesting yarn from the cupboard - Cherry Tree Hill possum sock.


This hand painted 4ply yarn from Vermont in the US  contains 80% merino and 20% possum - yes, 20% Australian possum fur.

The effect is a soft yarn that in some ways reminds me of alpaca but with less fluff at you work.Also the merino givesit a bit more body.

Overall very pleasant to work with and I'm liking how the colours blend over the first 50 rows of the wrap.

I'm not sure if it is available in the UK because I found my four skeins in a yarn swap in aid of MSF p/hop.

I'm using it for a version of the Dropleaf Wrap by Miriam L. Felton.

Meanwhile having been to Australia, I was sure I had pictures of possums but I took more than 1,ooo pictures and it seems not all are labelled, so the picture below may or may not be a possum. 

But it is  definitely Australian and definitely cute!