I'll preface this post with an invitation and a helpful piece of information. Firstly, Ravelry; check it out. My account name is Qalupilluit if you're ever interested what I'm currently working on. Secondly, when packing your knitting project away, try storing it with the needles point up (unless you're worried about safety, such as someone falling on them). The reason is so that if little grabby hands pull out the needle, all your work doesn't slide off of it. I found this one out the lucky way. Ok, now down to business...
Almost immediately after I picked up knitting last summer, I also found the joy and wonder of wandering around a cozy local yarn shop. So many colours, and textures and fibres with unlimited potential, I love it. However, it was shortly after my first few projects that I realized that different fibres knit up differently, and that I had a lot to learn about yarn.
With no real place to start, I stuck to cottons and synthetic blends, but would always snuggle the beautiful poufs of wool I'd find (before putting them back and buying a yarn I could handle). Plus, you don't have to know much of anything to see that some wools are extremely expensive, while seemingly comparable others aren't. I needed to know more, so when I spotted Clara Parks' 'The Knitters Book of Wool', I was ecstatic. This was another example of where my husband just couldn't understand my excitement (I get the same way when I bring home my books about bee-keeping).
I tore through the tome and was well rewarded. While I still fall far from knowledgeable, I had a basic understanding of this wonderful fibre. In addition, about half of the (slightly daunting in size) book is patterns selected to best illustrate how each characteristic of the different wools can be put to best use, such as the wispy fine wools for lacy shawls and easily washed super soft wool for baby clothes. Anyhow, armed with this small piece of knowledge and a few patterns I wanted to try, I then waited for our vacation back east because not far from our home town of Fredericton lies the wonderful Briggs and Little Woolen Mill. Awesome; I know.
Also awesome was that a whole crew of us wanted to make the trip down to see it. Now sadly, the mill itself was closed for the season, but the store was open and that was good enough for me. Without getting into too much detail, it was wonderful. Even my cousin's 3 year old had fun.
I will admit a slight pang of disappointment though, not in the trip or the store of the bags of beautiful wool we bought, but simply in the in-opportunity to wield my new found knowledge. You see, the mill (it is a small town operation at heart) buys it wool as many do, in large bushels. This is fine, but it is normally a mixture of fibres from different sheep, losing any specific qualities that had been bread into the animal. Briggs and Little's quality and variance of selection comes from the milling process, not the wool.
My husband, son and I were travelling to PEI the following week and my aunt, unknowing of my unfulfilled woolly-dreams mentioned another mill she had stumbled upon there. And this brings us to the second half of our journey, the Belfast Mini Mills and Fibre Store (and tea room; which really is the best possible thing to pair with knitting). Hours out of our way, my generous, supporting husband happily (well, like, without too much begging) agreed that we could check it out. And to be honest, even he was glad that we did (what?!).
It was marvelous! Better than I imagined. We bumped down the long driveway, past fields and barns, around to a small dirt parking lot edged by fenced in herds of goats, llamas and alpacas. Down past the pretty little tea house was the store. Opening the door my eyes hardly had time to adjust from the sunshine before the lady behind the desk welcomed us to their little store. Seeing that it was our first visit, she called a girl from the back room (later we found it to be the loom room; more on that to follow) to give us a tour around the mill. I wasn't sure my husband and son would be interested, so I was shocked when he quickly told her we'd love to.
It started with the chickens. Bugaboo was most impressed, especially with the chickies tripping over one another, bustling around their mama. Then she introduced us to some alpaca and pointed out their llamas and goats as well (it may have been the other way around, I don't really know llamas from alpacas, although, they're both fun to say). Inside was a blur of machines and fibres whirring and spinning madly. A few workers were in among them, but it was hard to tell which machines they were working on and which were churning out the various stages of wool on their own.
And then, believe it or not, it got even better. The batch they were currently working on was a fibre called qivuit. Now, Ms Parks, in her book had called qiviut her favourite wool, hands down, and had mentioned though that it was pretty pricey, it was worth it. So obviously, I was madly curious about the fibre, especially because it's not from sheep, but rather muskox. Well, I won't go into too much detail other than we were able to see it in all steps of processing, and feel it at the various stages. It is famous for being eight times warmer than wool and still being softer than cashmere; it is.
We eventually made it back to the store, after stopping to meet a very friendly mama cow and calf. The store itself is divided into a front section where shelves of the most gorgeous and often time curious fibres lay in a rainbow of gentle to vibrant colours, all awaiting my perusal. Then there was the back room. Again, I'm restraining from going on too much, but it was set up with a series of looms so anyone interesting in weaving could come and work on projects there. It was just incredible.
Eventually we made our purchases (even Bugaboo and my husband found some treasures; a jar of honey from the bees they keep just out back of the store, and a felted wool ball) and made our way to the tea room passing yet another critter they make their yarns from.
(if you can't see the lable, it says '30% Golden Retriever')
So as a penultimate note to my eccentric new love of wool, I have mostly finished my sweater for luvingthemummyhood's Summer Sweater Knit Along, I just need to set it and sew in the ends. Also, I've been playing away with my beautiful wool. I'm in the middle of a baby sweater from the wool book, and have been knitting up a few quick projects just so I could feel it.
It's a wonderful new obsession of mine and it has leagues and leagues of room to grow and thing for me to learn, so I guess this is a little warning that there may be a lot of talk abut wool in the near future. Oh, and as a final note, I couldn't extend my turn with the wool book from the library because it was already being requested by other folks, but I didn't mind because I know next chance I get, I'm picking up a copy for myself (to read and re-read, because I'm insane).
Now, back to knitting!