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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

History of the Toque

  Have you ever said the word “toque” to a non-Canadian only to be met with a blank stare? Full of Canadian pride, I decided to research this ubiquitous Canadian word. And what did I discover? A toque is simply a brimless hat… 
 In France, toques are most commonly known as chef’s hats. Yep, those tall, white, pleated hats, which, incidentally, are supposed to resemble a cooked egg and should have exactly 101 pleats. Next door, during the medieval period, the market for knit hats was controlled by the British guild and none were imported in order to protect local wool workers. Smuggling wool out of the country was also a no-no punishable by the loss of a hand (knitters, cringe!) and referred to as “owling” – this law was in place for over 450 years! Believe it or not, knit hats were a luxury item reserved for aristocracy. But they couldn’t keep the fashion to themselves for long… A different style of toque became popular with “common” men and women in 14th – 16th century Europe, often made of velvet or felt and plumed with feathers and other fashionable accoutrements (see Grace Kelly).
Finally, I found some reference to the Canadian usage of “toque”: derived from the French Canadian word, “tuque”, and first found in print in 1870, the definition is “knit winter hat” (see Mackenzie brothers). The fashion apparently began with the fur traders (now this is more like it, Canada)…the adventurous woodsmen had to keep their knitted caps on to stay warm during the harsh winter nights. Also, red stocking caps became a symbol for freedom and the pursuit of liberty during the 1837 Canadian Rebellions. Knit hats are contemporarily equated with the word “beanie” (see Jacques Cousteau), “stocking cap” or “night cap”, “skull cap”, “snow cap”, and so on.
According to a “toque” is “the ultimate in high Canadian fashion. Worn year round whether it's cold or warm outside. And yes it does get warm in Canada!” That’s right! Proud to be Canadian and proud to wear my toque outdoors, indoors, and sometimes at night. Proud to be a thermoregulation expert. Eh?
This article originally appeared in Knit and Caboodle's monthly newsletter. To sign up, visit: Knit and Caboodle

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mindful Knitting

Knitters and crocheters are already experts at meditating – even if you didn’t know it. It is a misconception about meditation that you need to sit with your legs crossed, think about nothing and chant “om”. Meditation is a state of mind and can be practiced anytime, anywhere while doing almost anything. Mindful knitting means knitting with awareness: reflect on what you are making, where that object will end up, who it’s intended for, and be aware that every single stitch is an integral part of the process.

Knitting is a slow craft. It takes time and you must sit (relatively) still while you do it. Not only does this force you to slow down and take time out of the “real world”, but you can engage your hands while letting your mind relax. Knitting is supposed to be fun - something to do at the end of a long day to unwind; it is not a punishment or something that you should feel obligated to do.

Being in the moment is crucial for a knitter.  Even if you are knitting something simple, more often than not, as soon as your mind wanders to bills, boys or bosses, a stitch will be dropped or a mistake made. Be aware when your mind wanders from your knitting and gently bring it back to your project. Don’t be hard on yourself when your mind wanders - that is the nature of the brain - but try to be aware of the feelings that mindful knitting might conjure up.

Knitting contributes to general well-being, but it is only a part of the puzzle. Read on for tips on how to further relax while you knit.

lavender flowers
Environment: Creating a peaceful space to knit might mean something different for everyone. For those with children, it can be an escape from hectic activities. You might need to seclude yourself in another room in order to get some privacy. Get creative. Have you ever tried knitting in the bathtub? In bed? For some others, the optimal way to relax might be to knit with your favourite TV show and a cup of tea. In any case, make sure you are in a comfortable place. And if that comfortable place is your couch, try to be aware of your posture. Most knitters report that they sit up straighter, but that their torsos are more relaxed while they are knitting – slouching is going to cause you some shoulder pain eventually.

Tea: It’s amazing what effect a few herbs steeped in water can have on your emotions. Having a steamy mug of tea next to you to warm your hands while you knit can offer nice, short breaks from the needles. Try lavender or chamomile to relax and magnolia or holy basil to inspire happy feelings.

taking a break to play with kitty
Pets: Many knitters seem to also be pet owners – it must be something about the calming, familiar feel of protein fibre. Spending time with your pets and taking the time to groom and pat them relaxes you as well as them. If your cat doesn’t mind a dpn in the eye every once in awhile, she might like to sit on your lap so you can stroke her now and then to relax. Just be aware that, speaking as a yarn shop employee, we get a lot of customers coming in to have needles replaced because their dog mistook theirs for a chew stick. Make sure your pup has his own (safe) things to chew while you knit.

Hand Health: Make sure to take breaks and stretch your hands at least every half hour. Hand health is important for knitters and shouldn’t be neglected. Injuries can happen! Betcha didn't know there was such a thing as extreme knitting, eh? Be sure to take breaks regularly and if you can, have someone massage your shoulders and upper back every so often (for the sake of your health, of course). 

Exercises: Make a “bear paw” by clenching the pads of your fingers to your third knuckles and stretching your palm. Hold for a few seconds and then spread your fingers wide and hold (think jazz hands), stretching for a few seconds. Then, hold your left hand in a “stop” gesture with fingers spread and pull back gently with your right hand and hold. Repeat with other hand. Roll your wrists. Do what feels good intuitively, but don’t push yourself too far and risk injury. Also, don’t forget to stretch your arms and roll your shoulders every so often.

Balance: Try to balance your knitting (especially if you are one of those obsessive knitters) with other activities like reading, yoga and meditation. If you are at a particularly sticky point in your pattern, take a five-minute meditation break. Don’t forget that this time of year is prime time for outdoor activities and fresh air. Put your needles down once in awhile and go for a springtime walk!

A final note: Knitting is a beautiful opportunity to learn to let go. When you have expectations about a pattern, yarn, or what your FO will look like, you can experience severe disappointment when you don’t get your way (and this doesn't just apply to knitting). Try to accept what comes your way and open your mind to possibility. Now, I just need to learn to take my own advice. :o)

Happy knitting!

For further help on meditating (or to just read a really great article) go to: