Thursday, May 15, 2014

Oh, Canada

Last week I got to go on a business trip to the great city of Toronto, Ontario Canada.

Skyscrapers, construction. It felt like most of the city was getting a facelift. 
"Ripple Deck" at the Waterfront - beautiful area.
It is a beautiful city, but it is also home to a vibrant knitting and spinning community. Whenever plan I travel to a new city, one of the first things I do is a quick Google or Yelp search for "yarn store near [city name]". Usually I might expect to find one or two shops.

In Toronto I found this:

10 actual LYS's, and that's just the first page. Notice that they all have reviews on Yelp, too - as in, people actually go to these stores and care to rate them. The scale on the map is hard to see, but these stores are all within about a 5-mile radius of downtown Toronto. Many of them are cafes, serving coffee, tea, and various treats; most of them carry spinning supplies as well.

For perspective: I have no LYS's within 5 miles of my house, and the sum total of shops that are within reasonable driving distance (less than 20 miles) is 3. They are all in different directions and none of them carry any spinning supplies.

Once I got over the shock, I started scheming. Could I take an extra day in Toronto, after my business was concluded, and do a yarn crawl of the city? It turned out that I could! I wanted to explore the city, too, but those are complementary aims and I had time on Sunday afternoon and all day on Friday to explore and shop.

I started with grand schemes to hit as many stores as possible, but I quickly realized that I would need to prioritize. On Sunday I had from about 2-5PM (after which, stores would close). On Friday, I had from 10AM-5PM before I had to head back to the airport. That's a total of 10 hours: with a 30 minute travel time between stores (I didn't rent a car, so I was relying on my own two feet and public transit), if I wanted to truly take in a store and spend an hour there, I'd only be able hit 6 at the most over the two days.

My top contenders were:
  1. Romni Wools: by some accounts the largest yarn store in Canada? Perks: bargain basement full of discontinued yarns, their own store-brand yarn line, loads of spinning supplies, vast array of brands represented, very close to my hotel.
  2. The Knit Cafe: fun local shop, with spinning supplies, and a built-in cafe. On the same street as Romni and Americo.
  3. Americo: stand-alone branded store producing their own line of luxury yarns. I've never heard of any other LYS's like this.
  4. The Purple Purl: further away, but by all accounts delightful. Specializes in local Canadian hand-dyers, has a cafe, and carries spinning fiber.
In the end, I got to three of these shops: Americo, Romni, and The Purple Purl. The Knit Cafe moved shop the week I visited, and their new location didn't fit into my plans as well. 

My goals were simple: 
  • Procure 2 or 3 colors of spinning fiber to combination-draft, according to Felicia Lo's Craftsy class (I mentioned the class here), to make confetti yarn for a sweater
  • Get representatives of as many local Canadian dyers & yarn companies as possible
  • Only purchase things I can't get at my own LYS's
  • Find a 3rd yarn for my Color Affection shawl, to match two of my own hand-dye experiments


Americo is a yarn company and design studio with a single store on Queen St, and it was the first shop I visited.  

Americo is quite unique. It's a luxury brand - the value of the yarns they carry is actually very good, but their fiber content pushes their prices into higher arenas. Americo understands their brand and definitely caters to a discerning clientele. The store is beautiful: yarn lines the wall in loose hanks, creating tactile rainbows of color that begged to be touched and inspected. Full-size sample garments hang next to every yarn base, along with a pattern printout and yardage requirements. The lighting is soft, cozy leather chairs fill knitting nooks in the corners, and the (helpful, friendly) staff were all wearing hand-knit sweaters out of Americo yarns each time I stopped in.

Here's what I bought:

Sedoso in 'Nude Blush': 60/20/20 baby alpaca/cashmere/silk; 100g/765yds; 2 skeins
Abrazo in 'Rococo': 45/55 pima cotton/bamboo; 100g/1028yds; 1 skein

And here is the sample that compelled me to buy it:

I wish you could feel it. This is a 3/4-sleeve pullover knit with the two yarns held together, at a very loose gauge. Between the baby alpaca, cashmere, silk, pima cotton, and tufts of silky bamboo, it slips through your fingers like water. Soft as a cloud and surprisingly warm. It's hard to see when looking at the two skeined yarns, but when combined they create the most delicate, soft blush of pink. It is stunning. I've been wanting to knit a sweater like this for years - I had a similar but terrible-quality top for a while, which I wore to death. I always dreamed of re-making it myself in something nicer. I think this fiber combo will do, don't you?

I wound and swatched in my hotel room that night, but I only had tiny needles with me and it came out too small. I ripped it out, and now that I'm home I'm exercising amazing restraint and NOT allowing myself to swatch until I have some WIPs cleared up. I don't care that summer is almost here. I can't wait to knit and wear this.

Final Take: If you want excellent, personal service, love to see & feel sample knits, don't mind paying for quality, and want to add bit of luxury to your stash, definitely check Americo out. Hop over to their website for prettier pictures and information about their yarn line.


Romni was my first stop on Friday, after my work conference was concluded. I got there right as they opened and was amazed to find it full of people. People working, shopping, admiring hand-knit sweaters... I met Sachiko Burgin, who works at Romni, and is the cover designer for KnitScene's Summer 2014 issue. She was wearing this amazing sweater, and several ladies were there admiring it. We chatted for a bit, but she was really shy about all the attention everyone was pouring on her, so I left her alone and went to explore the store.

Oh. My.

Main floor (about 1/3 of it). Yarn stacked to the ceiling.

Fingering weight/sock yarn section, included this whole aisle and the wall-o-sock-yarn behind me
(apologies for the blurry photos, I was using an iPhone and trying to be inconspicuous)

One of the many corners in the bargain basement, overflowing with discounted discontinued yarns
A small portion of their spinning fibers
I know people say WEBs is overwhelming, but I've been there, and it was nothing like this. I was OK at WEBs. This store actually made me dizzy. 

In fact, it was so overwhelming, that I bought NO YARN. I looked at all of it, but only came home with 2 skeins of Malabrigo Nube spinning fiber.

Malabrigo Nube in "Baya Elektra" and "Whale's Road"; 100% Merino; 4oz

Malabrigo is not Canadian, but I can't get any spinning fiber locally, and for this project I wanted to see colors in-person. I'll share more about what I'll be doing with this later, but meanwhile you can check out my spinning Pinterest board to see my inspiration.

Everyone I met who worked at Romni was delightful and helpful. I was floored by the number of fellow shoppers I encountered while I was in the store. Here in Massachusetts, it is quite normal for me to be the only shopper at my LYS. Maybe 1 other person, but no more than that. But in Toronto, there are enough knitters that the shops are always full of people. How weird and cool is that? I had a blast.

Final Take: Romni carries almost every yarn I've ever heard of, except for some indie brands. The staff were all friendly and helpful, and although the store is huge and overwhelming, their stock is well-organized. I'm sure you could find anything at all that you were looking for within their shelves. Probably a lot more, too. 

The Purple Purl

Last but certainly not least, I went to The Purple Purl

This was by far my favorite part of my entire week in Toronto. I had such a lovely time at the Purl that I took no pictures, besides the one above - I was too busy having a lovely time. To get a feel for the shop, try a Google Image search. You'll see that all of the pictures are full of people. Happy, smiling, friendly people enjoying a good time. 

The Purl is a smallish shop. Yarn lines the walls, much of it from local Canadian producers, and there is a small barista station in the back corner where hot beverages are made to order. Cookies and pastries line the counter next to the register. The center of the room is all comfy chairs, knitting books & magazines, and a large table to spread out on. When I walked in, once again there were already people there. Just hanging out, sitting, knitting, drinking tea. The owner greeted me with a smile, told me I could take off my coat and stash my things on a chair, order a beverage, and stay a while. My initial thoughts to hunt down the TFA and Sweet Georgia and move on vanished. 

I unloaded my things, and two knitting ladies introduced themselves to me. I'm horribly sorry to have forgotten everyone's names, but they learned mine and pulled me right into their conversations. I took out my color card with the two yarns I had selected for my Color Affection, and everyone joined in helping me choose a third color (answer: Tanis Fiber Arts 'Velvet'). The owner gave me a tour of the shop and pointed out all of the indie Canadian dyers, which was exactly what I was looking for. I hunted out some Sweet Georgia fiber and a few other things, got myself a 'Purly Fog' (steamed Earl Grey tea latte with a shot of vanilla), and settled in to knit for a while. 

I must have spent 2 or 3 hours there. It was wonderful. We talked, and laughed, and knitted, and admired each other's work. More and more people came in and joined the crowd. All the stress of being at a busy work conference for a week, and traveling in a strange city, completely disappeared. I was blown away by their kindness and friendliness. I know it's a stereotype that Canadians are super friendly, but this was unreal. This does not happen in New England. 

This skein of Handmaiden, which was not on my original list, was staring at me the whole time. It's simply gorgeous.

It eventually found its way into my bag, along with a skein of SweetFiber (which was on my list), because they matched perfectly. It's not a random single-skein if there are two of them...right?

Here's my haul:

Tanis Fiber Arts Blue Label in 'Velvet': 80/20 Merino/Nylon; 115g/420yds
sweetgeorgia polwarth + silk in 'tavern'; 85/15 polwarth/tussah silk; 100g
Handmaiden Casbah in 'Mineral': 81/9/10 Merino/Cashmere/Nylon; 115g/355yds
Sweet Fiber Yarns Super Sweet Sock in 'Smoke'; 80/20 Merino/Nylon; 115g/415yds
'knitter' stitch marker; unknown brand

Eventually I did have to leave. I didn't feel like going to any more yarn shops, even though the ladies there said I really should check out LettuceKnit (maybe next time). Nothing could top this and I didn't want it to. 

Final Take: I want to live at the Purple Purl. If you're local, please go, shop, hang out, and support this wonderful establishment. The real highlight is the local content, but they have plenty of workhorse yarns as well (Cascade 220, Shelridge Farms). The owners are helpful and friendly, even to random non-knitters who are just trying to get out of the rain (I saw this first-hand). A must-visit, for sure.

The Distillery District

The Distillery District is part of historic "Old Toronto", and it was my last stop. Mills and distilleries were built here in the 1830s, and preserved until 2001, when the city decided to overhaul the since-closed factories and re-open it as an arts and entertainment village. 

The village is pedestrian-only, so ancient iron gates were left intact to block cars from entering. Inside, cobblestone streets and Victorian architecture make it feel like you've stepped back in time.

I walked through artists galleries, saw numerous boutiques, and went to a real British bakery where I got my very own authentic Eccles Cake.

I was famished by the time I got it, so I'm very sorry but I don't have a better photo for you. However, I am happy to report that it looked exactly like mine, and my version tasted a bit better (more citrus). Success!

Time was short, so I didn't have much of it to explore the district. I got myself a tasty dinner at the Mill Street Brew Pub...

I couldn't fit this burger in my mouth. It was a beautiful thing.
bought an adorable handmade sheep pin from the galleries...

and hastened back to my hotel, to finish packing and fly home.

For more pictures and history, do check out the Distillery's website. It is a truly unique area, and if I'm ever in Toronto again I would definitely go back to explore some more. 

So long, farewell

Back to the airport in a drizzly fog, and my Toronto trip was over. The city was a lot of fun, but I have to say it has been nice to be back home in the woods of New England.

It was a bit of a culture shock to go from all of this to Alpaca shearing the next morning...but that's a blog post for another day :-) Talk to you soon!


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Still here

Time flies. Two weekends ago, I was on a plane to Toronto and didn't have a chance to write. This weekend was consumed with Alpaca shearing (YES) and a friend's wedding (Congratulations again!). Today, I'm finally back home and settling in to a routine. Lots of exciting things have happened since I last posted, and I have tons of fun things to share with you. However, pictures will take a while to sort through and process, so I thought I'd pop in today to say Hello! and give you a sneak peek of what's I've been up to.

Since we last spoke I:

Finished my Cotton Candy Fractal Handspun, and began a shawl which I have no pictures of (but it's almost done, so you'll see it fairly soon!).

Went to Toronto...

CN Tower
Unexpected waterfront beach
 where I toured several local knitting shops...

Romni Wools

Americo Original
The Purple Purl
and came home with a fabulous yarn and fiber haul.

Oh Canada! Besides the Malabrigo, everything here is from Canadian indie dyer/yarn/fiber companies.
Helped with the Spring alpaca shearing at Plain View Farm...

and left with the promise to return in a few weeks to help process alpaca fiber, and teach the farm-owner's wife how to spin.

I also built a wee drop spindle:

0.8oz; standard-size spindle in the background for comparison (2.2oz)
and can finally spin cobweb-thin Merino. I'm a little worried about the logistics of spinning copious amounts of this (can I spin 4oz of 2-ply laceweight this way?), as the weight of the spindle will grow as I spin and I may need to spin each single in sections, and then graft together to ply...?

I'll be back soon to share more about my yarn tour of Toronto. I am insanely jealous of the knitters who live there and get to have these shops as their LYS's - they were absolutely delightful, and I only got to 3 of the ones on my list because the ladies at The Purple Purl were so nice I decided to knit and chat with them for a few hours (!!).

Talk to you soon!