The Knitter's City: Toronto
Pom Pom has spent a lot of time in Canada lately, thanks to Knits About Winter, our new book with Emily Foden of Viola. Editors Meghan Fernandes and Lydia Gluck ventured to Emily’s studio in northern Ontario last year during deepest winter, for a photoshoot full of snowy trees, wood cabins, and knits in the sparkling Canadian wilderness.
To celebrate the publication of Knits About Winter, we are hosting a launch party with pop up market and a weekend of winter workshops taught by Emily in Toronto, Emily’s hometown before she moved up north. With some of our workshop participants travelling from far away, it’s high time for a new Knitter’s City guide!
Your Toronto guides are the collaborators for our Toronto event: Emily Foden and her assistant yarn alchemist, Britt Piper; Arounna Khounnoraj of Bookhou; plus Sachiko and Kiyomi Burgin, our models for Knits About Winter and talented knitting designers in their own rights and whose work you have seen in Pom Pom. Sachiko is also the designer of the Hedgeling jewellery featured throughout Knits About Winter, which will also be available at the pop up. We think you will find Toronto full of crafty inspiration and fun - especially in deepest, coldest winter.
We’ve also added a bonus day trip to Hamilton, an adorable city that’s an easy hour’s travel and where Emily will be teaching in January, too!
Historically a collection of ramshackle hut-like shops and crumbling Victorian mansions, Kensington Market has witnessed rapid gentrification in the last few years and is distinctly shinier than we (fondly) remember it. Here are a few old favourites that have lived to tell the tale:
Yarns Untangled is small but mighty, stuffed to the brim with unique Canadian yarns and some of the friendliest LYS staff anywhere on earth. Come here for yarns from Canadian hand-dyers and small producers you won’t find anywhere else at incredibly reasonable prices.
Courage My Love is the grand dame of Toronto vintage shops. Spend hours combing through embroidered cashmere sweaters, 60s party dresses, 50s overcoats, and all manner of 80s madness. Even those who don’t love vintage will be seduced by their enormous selection of buttons, beads, costume jewellery, and the grumpy cat.
You’ll need reviving after all this and we suggest Fika, a cute cafe with Scandinavian snacks. Sachiko recommends the fig, chocolate, and cardamom cookie! Emily and Britt also love Pow Wow Cafe, whose menu incorporates regional ingredients (e.g. venison and forest berries) and typically-Toronto international influences with traditional First Nations foods (e.g. “tacos” made with Ojibway fry bread). You have to try it to believe it! One of the city’s best low-key dives is also here, Ronnie’s Local 069. It’s not fancy but we’ve all spent many an evening in Ronnie’s and the grilled cheese shop across the street delivers all night.
If you head from Kensington Market toward Queen West, be sure to stop at the Textile Museum of Canada. Temporary exhibitions on the calendar now feature historic indigenous beadwork and intersections of First Nations weaving traditions with pioneer-era quilting. The permanent collection holds textiles from around the world of all kinds - everything from historic costumes to textile sculptures made by contemporary artists.
Another institution worth a visit on this route is the Art Gallery of Ontario. The permanent collection holds key Canadian artworks - highlights are the encyclopaedic masterworks by the Group of Seven and installations by pop artist Michael Snow. This winter, they will also be hosting an unmissable exhibition by contemporary art darling, Mickalene Thomas, whose eye-popping work probes representations of black women in popular culture through a queer feminist lens.
Queen Street west of University Avenue was historically Toronto’s fashion district. Factories all along Queen West once manufactured buttons, fabric and clothes, with fabric, bead and trimming shops lining the streets. The factories are now nearly all condos but some of our favourite textile spots remain.
Mokuba is an entire shop of top-quality ribbons, trims, and nothing else. Good luck leaving without spending anything! Romni Wools, near Bathurst Street, is one of Toronto’s oldest yarn shops. Spread over two enormous floors, rack after rack of yarn stretches as far as the eye can see. Virtually every creative person in Toronto shops here, from artists to knitters, because they have everything (often in sweater quantities) but don’t chase trends, which means you make the most surprising discoveries as you dig through the bins. Everything is sorted by stitches per inch and the amazing staff know the stock like the backs of their hands if you feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of yarn.
Farther west along Queen is The Paper Place, full of magical Japanese paper, stationery, and crafty gifts. The paper is such good quality that you can sew it into curtains and room dividers! Nearby Type might be the best independent bookshop left in Toronto. The jaw-dropping window decorations are as good as their selection of books.
Directly opposite The Paper Place and Type is Trinity Bellwoods Park, home to the city’s beloved albino squirrels. Keep an eye out for them as you walk farther west; they are quite tame and will eat snacks out of your hand.
Even farther west, toward Parkdale, is The Workroom, Toronto’s sewing mecca. You’ll be greeted by walls full of carefully curated fabrics, an entire wall of vintage buttons, and, our favourite: table after table of the best sewing tools you can dream of. If you’ve walked all that way, fortify yourself at Grand Electric in Parkdale. Kiyomi is obsessed with their cauliflower tacos.
Once grimy, the artists moved in and made Dundas West into Toronto’s offbeat weekend destination. It’s host to some of the city’s best bars and restaurants, alongside boutiques packed with special finds. Even the trendiest spots in Toronto are down-to-earth and unpretentious, in keeping with the city’s character. You don’t need to dress up to go anywhere, as long as you’re friendly and polite!
Bookhou is on Dundas West, bordering Kensington Market, and is one of our absolute favourite places in the city. The shop is full of light and love; most fixtures are handmade by owner Arounna’s talented husband and collaborator, John, and you might walk in to find Arounna’s mum behind the sewing machine! Arounna herself is a force of nature, somehow being the international punch needle expert of the moment at the same time as running her longtime business of handmade purses, pouches, and bags made of exquisite hand-painted fabrics. Bookhou isn’t a knitting shop, but Arounna makes absolutely the best project bags around (needles don’t poke through!) and her little hand-painted leather pouches are perfect for stitch markers and oddments.
Arounna loves Saving Grace, just down the road and one of Toronto’s best brunch spots. Everything is delicious but the mere mention of their corn fritters sends locals into a drooling frenzy. She also likes nearby Queen Margherita’s amazing Neapolitan-style pizza.
Communist’s Daughter at Dundas and Ossington is one of the best places on earth to sit and chat the night away. Farther along Dundas, the cool factor goes up and Sachiko loves Easy Tiger Goods, which sells unique clothing, accessories, and housewares by local artists and designers. Some of the best coffee in the city is at cozy Ideal Coffee, and they’re environmentally and socially responsible in their sourcing, to boot. Loveless bar and cafe is an ideal place to snuggle up with someone special (or just your knitting). The bar/cafe serves amazing cocktails and excellent local beers (Canada’s reputation as a beer destination is seriously underrated). Nearby Hanmoto is a tiny, hidden away Japanese Izakaya, with street market decor. Sachiko recommends the Salmon Aburi! You’ll quickly notice that Toronto is one of the best destinations outside of Asia for East Asian food, thanks to its super diverse population (Golden Turtle at Dundas & Ossington is a legendary Vietnamese place nearby, for example). Steambox Dumplings makes dumplings with all kinds of unusual fillings - you’ll probably struggle to choose from the menu.
Eweknit is a beautiful knitting and sewing shop with perpetually well-stocked high-end inventory. It’s in Koreatown and surrounded by delicious food options.
The Knit Cafe is a cute little shop in the Junction with an exquisite selection of cult yarns from Canada and beyond, including our beloved Julie Asselin and an entire Lichen and Lace wall. Their thoughtful staff will treat you like family; we once had someone there insist on hand-winding skeins with us when the winder would not cooperate! Plus the Junction is another great area to discover.
The Purple Purl is in the east end of Toronto (not far from the real life Degrassi Street!!) and is one of Toronto’s veteran destinations for small batch yarn. The Purl has a cafe and cosy chairs that invite you to spend an afternoon among soon-to-be friends.
Knit-o-Matic is a friendly neighbourhood shop at St Clair & Bathurst that carries Pom Pom faves like Handmaiden, Quince, Studio Donegal and Madelinetosh, among others.
The Knitting Loft is a brand new shop on Wilson near the Allen. A little birdie tells us they sell lots of carefully-chosen, woollen-spun yarns like Julie Asselin’s Nurtured, as well as a second-to-none selection of macrame supplies.
An honourable mention goes to Wonderpens, Emily’s favourite pen shop. She takes pens very seriously so this is a major endorsement! Near Wonderpens is Woodlot, Kiyomi’s hot date spot with her husband and a tiny gem, perfect for staying warm by candlelight on winter nights. Local and wild ingredients dominate and they have a special vegetarian menu. Be sure to make a reservation.
Finally, if you go around Christmas, Britt loves the Christmas market in the Distillery. Bundle up in your Knits About Winter best, get some mulled wine, and browse stalls lining cobbled streets lit by original gaslights, then warm up with a coffee at Balzac’s or possibly the best sausage roll outside of Britain at the Brick Street Bakery.
The Rose Garden B&B is in a quirky residential neighbourhood called the Annex, a 20-30 min walk from Bookhou, a few stops on the Bathurst streetcar, or a quick taxi ride.
The DoubleTree Hilton is a standard hotel in Chinatown with good reviews that’s close to public transport, conveniently located to all the main sites in town and a 20 min walk or easy Dundas streetcar ride from Bookhou.
The Kimpton Saint George is a more upscale option, between the university and the so-called “Mink Mile” section of Bloor Street, a 20 min walk or short taxi ride to Bookhou. They are currently having a sale on rooms on the dates of our events, so act fast!
Most tourists go for a day trip to Niagara Falls but we recommend Hamilton! It has become a destination for creative young people and families, enjoying a kind of small-scale Brooklyn/Manhattan relationship with Toronto. From downtown Toronto, take a very civilised Go Bus from Union Station about an hour to Hamilton and then you are a quick walk from Handknit Yarn Studio, one of our favourite yarn shops and Emily’s teaching destination in January. A class or two makes the perfect excuse for a weekend away!
Your guide to Hamilton is Tracy, one of the proprietors of serene Handknit. Walk 10 minutes from the bus station (an amazing vintage design itself) to James Street North, Hamilton’s main drag. Full of unusual shops, restaurants, cafes, and art galleries, there are so many options that you’ll will wonder why it took you so long to visit.
Begin exploring James Street North at Handknit, of course! Handknit is known for its careful selection of yarns, from Canada and farther afield. When you walk in you won’t know what to touch first - Tracy and her team really know what’s going on in the knitting world. The walls are packed with eclectic choices like Julie Asselin, Rosa Pomar, Kelbourne Woollens, Hedgehog Fibres, and Isager, all at really fair prices.
Just up James Street North from Handknit is Needlework, an inspiring hub of activity with amazing fabric choices and beautiful tools. They even carry Bookhou’s fabrics from Conservatory!
Tracy’s other favourite shops nearby are White Elephant for Canadian clothing and accessories that are stylish, well-made, and wearable. O’s Clothes has clothing for men and women, as well as surprising gifts like Emma Smith’s locally wood-fired ceramic tableware. A little farther down the road is i Fiori, a stunning florist.
Give yourself a rest at Smalls, which might make the best coffee in town. Or have a more substantial lunch at one of Tracy’s faves, The Burnt Tongue, whose menu is based around soup and also has amazing grilled cheese, salads, and burgers. Another of Tracy’s picks is Nique, which reimagines familiar basics like broccoli, salad, and fish & chips with adventurous ingredients.
Image source: Tourism Hamilton
Hamilton is famous for its sheer number of awe-inspiring waterfalls owing to rock formations nearby. There are said to be over 100 waterfalls within the city limits, all without the neon and crowding of the more famous Niagara Falls. In Hamilton, you can take in Canada’s famed wilderness without straying far from a drool-worthy dinner destination. Webster Falls (above) is the biggest, Tiffany Falls sits within in an entire conservation area, and magical Devil’s Punchbowl shows colourful geological strata formed over millenia. Check out cityofwaterfalls.ca for a guide to all the falls in the Hamilton area.
Hamilton has become a truly impressive food and drink destination and you’re spoilt for choice come dinnertime. If you need a bit of a rest between shopping and dinner, start with the brewpub Merit, where everything is made in-house and the seasonal choices are so extensive that they offer tasting flights. If you get a bit too comfy to move on, they also serve the ultimate gourmet hot dogs.
Once you summon the energy to move on to dinner, Saltlick Smokehouse offers a Canadian take on barbeque if you’ve worked up an appetite. For something more refined, try Berkeley North, a completely unpretentious and cosy spot which specialises in simple but delicious meals inspired by Canada’s west coast. Or Rapscallion, which is so good people travel from Toronto just to eat there. It serves local ingredients prepared to reflect Canada’s diverse cooking traditions and has an extensive vegetarian and vegan menu, too.
If this isn’t enough urban life for you, Hamilton has a whole other downtown area on Ottawa Street with equally wonderful options - but we’ll leave you to explore that one on you own!
It’s probably clear by now that Pom Pom has a major love affair with Canada. There are so many creative Canadian businesses to explore and talented makers to meet. In a country so vast and spread out, Toronto is the perfect friendly base to experience a bit of everything and easy-to-visit Hamilton is full of treasures if you already know Toronto. Come join us in both places to celebrate Knits About Winter!
Thank you so much to our collaborators and guides, Emily, Britt, Arounna, Sachiko, Kiyomi, and Tracy, for sharing their favourite spots!