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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Canadian Thermoregulation

Some of you may know that I live in the Canadian Rockies. It's around this time of year that I start to berate myself for the choice, wondering why I'm not living somewhere warmer...California comes immediately to mind. Also, Nevada, the Gobi desert or even BC. How cold is it here? The record low for this time of year is -50. Fifty! How cold is that? It's about this cold:

In typical Canadian fashion, I grew up knee-deep in winter. I could ski and skate as soon as I could walk. I could make a killer snowman by age five and an indestructible snow fort by age six. My winter adventures began in Northern Ontario, which is cold (the average low for this time of year is -20) and gets a ton of snow. My university years were spent on the East Coast, which not only got a ton of snow, but was also freezing cold (the record low for this time of year is -30) and very windy most of the time (which brings the temperature down significantly).

I did, in fact, spend one winter in the BC mountains, but although the warmer weather was a nice change, it also brought even more snow (it tends to not snow once the temperature drops too low - not that it can't but that's a whole other discussion). Even if you don't mind shoveling your driveway every day, there is still the small matter of where to put all that snow. I guess my point is that some of the stereotypes about Canada are true: east, west or in the middle, it's all cold and snowy. At least for most of the year.

But, despite my heritage (or maybe because of it), I am a sunshine girl. I love bikinis and beaches and drinking beer while reading on lounge chairs by the pool. But here I am. Only a fool would have a pool in this climate (hot tubs are more practical) and while we still drink a lot of beer around here, Baileys and hot chocolate is nicer by the fireplace at the end of a chilly day (with some knitting, of course). My goal during the winter months is singular: stay warm.

Some of you may also know that I adopted an ex-sled dog earlier this year. I am really smart because this means I now go outside three times a day in addition to regular outings (going to work, running errands, etc.). And every time I go out, I must bundle up. My wool parka was one of the smartest purchases because, not only is it warm (yay wool!), but it has a huge, trimmed hood which blocks wind and fits over any toque. Even with all this coverage, most days are so cold that I accumulate frost on the front of my scarf and it even collects on my hair. Some days are too cold for the dog, too, even though he is a tough little husky mix who survived on his own in the wild last winter. His frosty whiskers sure are cute, though!

I take it for granted that everyone understands what it's like to live in such a cold climate (typical Canadian arrogance). So here is some help for those who, like me, prefer to stay warm when it's cold outside. Because, although there are colder places to live, I am surely becoming a thermoregulation expert.

I used to tell visiting friends and relatives that the key to survival in this town is LAYERS. I must revise that advice. It's not just about layers - it's how you layer the layers. The goal is no gaps for the icy wind to sneak into. This means I am pretty much encased in wool: two pairs of socks (go for merino if you can); wool leggings or long underwear (layer alternately with the socks); pants; at least four shirts including a tank top which should be tucked into your pants for maximum warmth retention, a long sleeved merino shirt (key) and a wool sweater and/or hoodie. A hoodie is nice because the hood can stick out of the back of your coat, providing an extra barrier against the wind. However, most hoodies are cotton, meaning they aren't going to be nearly as warm as wool. I usually opt for one of each (no joke).

Now my favourite part: the accessories. Here is a top ten list of what I get the most use out of during the cold months and why. Most are my own patterns because I tend to make things for the sole purpose of staying warm which means designing for that specific objective.

 10. Shalom by Meghan McFarlane

This bulky sweater is great to layer under another long sleeved sweater for extra body warmth especially when it's knit with a real, hearty wool like "Northern Lights" by Cabin Fever.
Free pattern on
9. Hawking Gauntlets by Bohoknits

These bulky gloves give me dexterity (for picking up dog poop) while keeping my fingers warm. The huge bell cuffs provide some extra warmth whether I tuck them into my coat sleeves, or wear them outside.  They can also be cinched with ties.
Pattern will be available for sale soon.
 8. Citron Shawl by Hilary Smith Callis

I actually like to wear this under my "real" scarf, kerchief style (backwards). It's nice and light, making it a good secondary layer.
Free pattern on or

7. Noro Striped Shawl by Kate Gagnon Osborn

I have been wearing this all winter, so far. It's nice and woolly (mine is made with Silk Garden worsted, not the sock yarn) and the kerchief style is no-nonsense. My only complaint is that it tends to slip down.
Pattern is no longer available, but you can check out my project notes on (linked above).

6. Hydra Shawl by Bohoknits

The solution to the problem above: this triangle shawl buttons up at the sides so it stays put, but is made with fingering weight making it suitable up to -15ish.
Pattern is for sale on or my blog.

5. Abyss Legwarmers by Bohoknits

These are the ultimate leggings. They are so cozy and the ties are awesome because they never slink down, even while I'm skating! Made with a DK and fingering weight. Free pattern on or my blog.

 4. The Inga Hat by Sheila Macdonald

Every day I look down at my two big bins of hats and almost always choose my Inga. Because it is stranded, the double layer of yarn is extra warm.
Free pattern on

3. Hypatia Hat by Bohoknits

Ever since I knit up this prototype, I've been hooked. It has been tested up to -25 and is so, so warm. It is at least as warm as the Inga, which I can't explain. The yarn is magic.
Pattern is for sale on or my blog.

2. Siren Sleeves by Bohoknits

These are great to layer over a long sleeved shirt, but under a sweater. They are also a nice little barrier under mittens. I recommend a merino wool for these.
Free pattern on or my blog.

1. Glass Bottle Scarf by Bohoknits

The ultimate warm scarf. Simply because it's so huge. Almost two skeins of Eco+ by Cascade yarns and a bubbly pattern helps to trap in heat. Free pattern on or my blog.

So there you have it! It's true that I may look ridiculous (and not very sexy) while bundled up in so much wool, but staying warm keeps me healthy and happy. Hopefully you found some useful tips for staying warm this year. Drinking a cup of tea right before you go out helps keep your core warm and if all else fails, just go home and snuggle up to a loved one. Happy Holidays!