I Love a Good Yarn

Yarns, stories, and sometimes stories about yarn


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Traveling knitter: J’adore Montreal

I’ve been waiting for a nice sunny day so as to get some bright shots of the lovely yarn I purchased on my Montreal trip last weekend, but April showers have finally gripped the Hudson Valley, and the forecast for the coming week is gloomy indeed, so I’ll just have to settle for rainy day yarn pics.

Luckily we did have some sunny weather while in Quebec, and my family and I made the most of it, strolling the gorgeous Jardin Botanique, taking in the lilacs and ancient bonzai trees:

eating our way through the city, including a stop for the most delicious vegetarian poutine around at the cozy and friendly Comptoir 21:

and of course shopping, starting with my favorite second-hand store ever, Eva B:

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and rounding it off with some gorgeous yarn purchases from two charming stores.

The first was a recommendation from a member of my Swirl knit-along group. At Espace Tricot, the staff is extremely friendly and helpful, and the shop is well-organized and inviting. In the back, a large table was chock-a-block full of lively knitters, working and chatting away. The group lent further positive energy to an already great vibe in the shop. Several staff members offered some background on the various yarns they stock, specifically the more locally made fibers, which was my main interest. What was even more amazing is that they actually recommended I visit another yarn shop in a different neighborhood of Montreal. This kind of cordiality and community is what I’ve come to expect from knitters, but it’s still always a joy to encounter it in such abundance as I did in Montreal. My purchases at Espace Tricot included the yarns below: a set of grey/black shades from SweetGeorgia Yarns (based in Vancouver) for a project I have in mind for a friend, and the earth-tone “stone” colorway from Tanis Fiber Arts (Montreal), which is going to become a lovely airy shawl for me some day (the merino, silk, cashmere blend is heavenly!).

My other purchase from Espace Tricot was a sweater pin for my now-completed Swirl. Finished objects (5 of them!) will be shared in posts later this week and weekend.

The shop recommended by the nice folks at Espace Tricot was La Maison Tricotée. Both shops are easily accessible by public transport – the former by Metro and either bus or walk along Monkland Avenue in the Monkland Village neighborhood, the latter just around the corner from the Laurier Metro station in the Plateau/Mont Royal section (and on the same road as another outpost of Comptoir 21!).

As with Espace Tricot, La Maison Tricotée’s staff was super helpful, knowledgable and welcoming. Both also accommodated my complete lack of French language skills. Though I do dream of someday mastering Québécois French, I’ve not put in the time needed to even get the basics down yet. So, the store tour, the helpful hints, and cashing out were all in English, and delivered with such warmth, I had a hard time pulling myself away. My rather colorful purchases below are single skeins (shawls and socks!) of Riverside Studio in copper & zinc and iris superwash merino (Ottawa), Biscotte Yarns self-striping sock yarn in brown, lime green and beige (Quebec), Hand Maiden Mini Maiden wool and silk blend in the stunning pink, lilac and yellow hues (Nova Scotia), and the only non-Canadian purchase – because I couldn’t resist the bright yellow and speckles – Hedgehog Fibre’s sock yarn in the banana legs colorway (Ireland).

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I’m hoping this fall will bring yet another nice getaway with more new yarn stores to explore. The question now is just where to go!


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Goodreads book review: Vinegar Hill

Vinegar HillVinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a brutal story, but it’s told so well, the heavy subject matter didn’t tempt me to abandon the book at any point. The story moves along at a good pace, despite the fact that there’s not much “action.” Most of the plot is internal to the different characters, and the focus changes throughout the book so the reader gets a clear picture of how the present has been shaped by what the characters endured in the past. The author’s language is accessible and clear, with wonderful imagery that is entirely appropriate, and not the kind of pedantic stuff one often encounters in modern literature. A great example of this is a short sentence about the protagonist’s negligent husband, as he settles into bed next to her:

“James punches his pillow into the shape of a mushroom and lets his head fall into it, a sudden release, like letting a suitcase drop.”

Simple language, but it says so much. The author masterfully conveys the atmosphere with such sentences, giving the reader much deeper insights into the characters, as well as the mood that surrounds them.

My only disappointment in the book, and the reason it’s not a resounding 5 stars is chapter 12. I will not add any spoilers, but I found the revelation in that chapter unbelievable: not what was done by Mary-Margaret’s mother, but how Fritz, Mary-Margaret’s husband, reacts. The reaction seems not at all realistic, but perhaps there’s something in Fritz’s character that I missed that would hint at his ability to fall for such an obvious deception.

All in all though, an incredibly well-written novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I will definitely seek out more works by this author.

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Goodreads book review: Happiness Sold Separately

Happiness Sold SeparatelyHappiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Unfortunately, I did not read the other Goodreads reviews before starting this book. If I had, I probably would have pulled it off the shelf and put it directly in the pile to be dropped off at one of the nearest “have a book, leave a book; need a book, take a book” bins sprouting up around the region.

There are absolutely no likable characters in story. A woman, frustrated by her inability to conceive and carry a child to term, treats her caring, thoughtful husband horribly. He reacts to this treatment by having an affair. The mistress not only dates this (married) man, but also a series of what can only be called losers – an alcoholic and a narcissist to name a couple. The mistress’s son is a manipulative jerk, who acts out and then wonders why no one wants to spend time with him. Back to the woman with the fertility issues – she uses her husband’s infidelity as an excuse to get wildly drunk and flirt with a boy half her age and have sex with a random horticulturalist who pops into the story to break the news to her that her favorite tree has to be cut down. The supporting characters’ sole function seems to be as enablers for all the screw-up main characters.

Other Goodreads reviewers mention enjoying the author’s debut novel, but after being so disappointed by this effort, I doubt I’ll come back to her other works.

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Goodreads book review: The Dangerous Husband

The Dangerous Husband: A NovelThe Dangerous Husband: A Novel by Jane Shapiro

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Dangerous Husband by Jane Shapiro is the story of a 40-year-old woman, who “had never managed to be married” but finds herself falling in love with a man she meets at a Thanksgiving dinner party. The courtship is swift, and, after a brief, passionate honeymoon period, they start to really get to know one another. And that’s when all the “accidents” start taking place.

Even before the marriage, only a couple weeks after their first meeting, he loses his job and decides to live off an inheritance and write a novel. Soon after the marriage, the wife begins to learn other things that surprise her – he’d been married several times before, he has a certain clumsiness that becomes more pronounced with time – but the many good characteristics, such as his desire to please her at all times, with gifts, attentiveness and affection, keep her firmly committed to the marriage … at first. But the clumsiness that accompanies these attentions soon puts her at physical risk.

Taken in a purely metaphorical sense, this is a fairly clever story. For a woman marrying for the first time at 40 when she meets someone charming, in a way giving in to societal expectations, perhaps after years of listening to questions like, “When are you going to get married? Don’t you want a nice husband? Don’t you want someone to grow old with?” and, as a consequence, not only not being happier than when single, but actually risking serious injury as a result of the union – it shows us that the grass isn’t always greener. And the negatives keep piling up, as friends fall away and even the household pets meet unpleasant fates.

But there was just something about the writing I didn’t like. The jacket description calls it a “witty, dark, brilliantly funny novel,” which I think gave me the wrong expectations. It was certainly dark, somewhat witty, but I found nothing at all funny about it. On the contrary, it made me rather sad: sad for the wife, who felt, even at 40, that her life would not be complete unless she tried marriage on for size; sad for the husband, who had married so many times, hoping to find the real thing, only to drive his wives away out of fear for their safety; and of course, sad that this kind of story has to be told. That being a lifelong single person still carries so much stigma.

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Naknicromo day 5: Any crafting heroes?

As mentioned in a previous post, Linda LaBelle, founder of The Yarn Tree, formerly a Brooklyn shop, now an online-only vendor, really helped shape my earliest knitting experience. And not just in my direct dealings with her as the proprietress of the store and knitting instructor, but in all that she did. She’s always been a sort of icon to me of what’s possible if you work hard at what you love. In addition to the yarn store, she’s traveled the world teaching women in impoverished communities how to dye, which provides them with valuable income in economies that don’t present many opportunities for women. She also wrote a book on the subject. She’s a very talented costumer designer, who worked with, among others, the visual artist Matthew Barney. And on top of all that, she’s a lovely person, who always took the time to give some pointers to a new, clueless knitter. I can’t say that was the case with many other yarn store owners/staff I encountered in New York City, where the inexperienced were often largely ignored or greeted with a roll of the eyes and a heavy sigh (hear that, Purl Soho?).

I would say my other big crafting hero is Maggie Righetti. I happened upon her book Knitting in Plain English when I worked for the parent company of its publisher, St. Martin’s Press. It is, exactly as the title indicates – an indispensable guide for the new knitter, written in language that is easy to understand. For a novice, it was a welcome resource, as there wasn’t the abundance of online videos, books, and helpful yarn store staff back in 2001 as there is now. Her approach is all about, “Yes, there’s lots to learn, but you don’t have to be an expert from day one. Here’s the most important stuff you need to know now.” So, it’s not a comprehensive resource for every type of stitch, cast on, and technique out there in the wide, wide world of knitting, and though I wouldn’t agree with the statement on the cover that it’s “The only book any knitter will ever need,” I do believe that every knitter should have this book. Because of its clear, concise instruction and easy-going tone, I also invested in her books Crocheting in Plain English, which I use whenever I have to add crochet stitches to my knitting (I am HOPELESS at crochet), and Sweater Design in Plain English, which I admit, I have only just perused. But I’ll come back to that on day 16, when the discussion will be about my “dream project.”


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My Swirl-along

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Last month I started a knit-along to make a “Swirl” sweater. The Swirl is the brainchild of Sandra McIver, whose gorgeous book knit, Swirl! contains four different sweater constructions, with multiple patterns for each construction. The sweater is knit in the round for the most part, starting from the outside and working inward. This creates a roughly circular (or really more octagonal) piece with a gap in the middle.

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Stitches around that gap are then used to create the back and front bodice and sleeves. The finished product is one single piece that needs only to be seamed from cuff to cuff. The four constructions – round and oval, each with either centered or off-centered gaps – create larger or smaller collars. The centered Swirls have collars so large they can be worn as hoods, while others can even be worn upside down to even more versatility to your piece. The off-centered swirls have narrower collars and hang lower in the back.

Because the sweater is worked from the outside in, your cast-on will be a test of patience; one German Ravelry user described the it as a schwere Geburt – literally a difficult birth. I chose to do the pattern from the book’s cover. The cast-on for the medium-sized Swirl was a whopping 569 stitches. I thought I could do the standard long-tail cast-on and even consulted a variety of sources for tricks to accurately gauge the length of tail needed for a cast-on of this size. But it still ended up taking me three attempts to get it right. The two-skein cast-on or casting on with both ends of the yarn from a single skein is definitely recommended here.

The other major difficulty with a cast-on of that size is joining without any twists. I was lucky enough to have the help of my knit-along leader to get this aspect right the first time. Other participants in the knit-along shared stories of their exasperation of finding a twist only after making some serious headway in the project. That’s a lot of hours lost if you have to frog multiple rounds of more than 550 stitches!

Session two of the knit-along meets in less than two weeks, and so far I’m pleased with my progress. If it turns out well, I’ll definitely try out some of the other shapes and fibers featured in the book. Though knit, Swirl! is now out of print in the hardcover, it can still be purchased as an ebook on the knit, Swirl! site, as can two individual patterns from the book. Or you can find it used on Amazon.


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Yarn-of-the-month club

This lovely box appeared on my doorstep yesterday.

img_1694It’s the first installment of a new yarn-of-the-month club offered by the wonderful The Perfect Blend yarn and tea shop in Saugerties, NY. Each month, the color of the hand-dyed skein will reflect some aspect of New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley. This month, the inspiration was Saugerties’ own lighthouse.

img_1271The lighthouse is also a B&B and has a gorgeous deck on the river side where the public can bring picnics or just sit for a while and enjoy the views. It’s well worth the visit at any time of year and a fitting theme for the first skein.

Because I love my local yarn store so much, I of course booked the entire year’s worth of deliveries, which means I’ll be treated to additional goodies:

img_1696Along with the yarn, cowl pattern, postcard depicting the lighthouse, and note from Mary, the store’s gracious and delightful owner, I received a set of jeweled stitch markers in a little canvas pouch, a paper ruler, and a della Q project bag. I’m so excited to work with this gorgeous yarn. I’m also thrilled to be able to support my local yarn store and Hudson Valley dyers.

The yarn-of-the-month club is open to anyone. Click the links above for more information on The Perfect Blend and how you can get in on this awesome program.