With our first winter under COVID-19 about to descend, people are searching for a cozy hobby to pass the time, but are also yearning for a sense of community. Simone LeBlanc of Birch Bark Yarns has found a way to create both simultaneously.
Starting November 1, the LaVallee-based yarn shop will be hosting a four week online Mitt Knit-A-Long.
Often referred to as a KAL, a Knit-a-Long is a group of knitters, knitting the same pattern at the same time, usually with milestones, deadlines and prizes. It gives a sense of community to an otherwise solitary hobby, and support for those who are working towards mastering their skills.
“It’s a great way to connect with other knitters and learn new techniques in a safe and supportive space,” said LeBlanc “It’s a great way to get out of your comfort zone and try out patterns you might not choose yourself.”
LeBlanc, who has been a knitter for about 10 years, has participated in several KALs. One was a large lace shawl with picot edging, which would have intimidated her if she had ventured into it alone.
“It was a great experience.” she said. “The support of the fellow knitters helped develop new skills. KALs are also great motivators to work through a project as there are usually suggested timelines to work towards.”
More than 40 people have already signed up for the month-long event, which has far surpassed her expectations.
“It has had an amazing response,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are curious about knitting, but unless they know a knitter who can help them get started, it can be pretty intimidating to try to make something.”
“I think there are a lot of people craving community right now. And with winter coming, looking for a cozy craft. This group is intended for all knitters, crocheters and makers from beginner to advanced. It’s a chance to share and learn from each other.”
The pattern the group will follow is a simple, beginner- friendly mitten, created on the flat, which is considered easier than on the round. The project will be split into four milestones, giving each participant a completed pair by the end of the event. Each week, a video tutorial will be provided to help the knitter follow along. The event is interactive, allowing knitters to share ideas and expertise.
Those who crochet or use other materials are also welcome to join. They can bring their own pattern, and create alongside the knitters, and still submit their results to the month-end contest. Each participant will be entered for a chance to win a prize for each mitten completed and pictured; a completed pair gives participants two chances.
Prizes include a skein of your choice of hand dyed yarn by Birch Bark Yarns, handmade stitch markers or handmade progress keepers.
LeBlanc launched Birch Bark Yarns to fill the demand for natural fibres, which weren’t locally available. Online shops require large orders to qualify for free shipping, forcing her to pay as much in shipping as the cost of the wool for smaller orders.
“I assumed there were others who wanted to be able to buy yarn one skein at a time and be able to touch and feel the fibre prior to purchasing it – something online shopping lacks,” she said.
She began hand dying wool in 2018. When she brought her dyed wool to Emo’s Holly Daze last year, her products generated so much interest, she has continued to expand. During the pandemic, she’s been busy selling on the Rainy River District Local Artisan & Crafters Market Facebook group.
“I started to sell yarn there and there was a lot of interest,” she said “I have met a number of amazingly talented crafters and fibre artists!”
Her shop has since expanded to sell 100 per cent wool, organic cotton yarn, linen/cotton blends, Superwash Wool/Nylon blend sock yarn, hand spun yarn made from local wool and alpaca and hand dyed roving (for felting & weaving). She also has tuque kits for beginners, learn to spin (drop spindle) kits, and handmade stitch markers and progress keepers.
To join the November Mitt Knit-A-Thon, you can join its private Facebook page, message Birch Bark Yarns over facebook, or e-mail email@example.com. The event is free of charge and anyone can join. The supply list includes 50- 75 grams worsted weight yarn, depending on the size of mitten, 3.5 mm/US 4 needles, a progress keeper or safety pin, measuring tape or ruler, scissors, and a tapestry needle for assembly of the pieces. The Facebook page is currently live and active with chatter, with the project officially launching November 1.