Trachtenfest!

It has been a very full week here in Germany. Since my last blog we attended the Schlitzenländer Trachtenfest, checked out Driessen Leinen Fabrik, saw the Gutenberg museum in Mainz and moved along to St. Goar on the Rhine.

Trachtenfest, or “folklore festival” was a lot of fun. We watched traditional dancing by groups representing Hamburg, Hessen, Czech Republic, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, Potugal and Greece. Although not all of them donned their traditional cultural costumes, it was wonderful to see the joy and the themes that spanned every culture.

We watched dances that expressed themes including courtship and marriage; seeding, crop tending and harvest and the celebration of these themes. From earnest to cheeky the variety was delightful.

If we didn’t get a good enough look at the costumes during the dance performances, we certainly got the opportunity during the parade. There were no motorized floats allowed. We saw horses, goats and oxen though.

The local Schlitzer costumes are very complex in their construction. The heavy skirts are smocked at the waist down to the hip. This affords a very good fit. There are multiple layers underneath that give the skirt fullness. No worries about being cold! Over the blouses the women wear a shawl that wraps in a criss cross fashion. These are cross stitched with wool in floral themes and decorated with fringe along both edges. In winter the underskirts were made of felted wool. The socks worn were hand knit of lace weight yarn. Many are heavily embroidered along the sides. Some of them wore shoes onto which the uppers were knit. Lace caps top it all off.

To me, the big thing that stood out about these costumes was how many textile techniques were required to make them.

Some of the fabric is woven while some is felted and still other is knit or crocheted. These days people buy ready made lace but generations ago the lace would have been hand made as well.

The men wore short pants (knicker bockers) with woven shirts and suspenders done in the same style as the women’s shawls. Their shoes and socks were one piece, knitted together. They wore small fur caps. At first glance I would guess they were made of beaver or something similar.

In contrast, the Mexican and Brazilian costumes were bright, colorful and made you want to celebrate. Their lively dance styles were quite a contrast to the German folk dances. The Brazilian dance costume were covered in brightly coloured feathers, mimicking the exotic birds of South America. The Portuguese costumes were more earthy and less fancy.

I suspect that most North Americans think of the dirndl and Lederhosen when they think of German traditional garb. Truth is that each region has its particular spin. I was hoping to see some Black Forest outfits with the big pompoms. Sadly there weren’t any at this year’s festival.

I didn’t take any photos of the linen factory. I was completely self indulgent and shopped for myself. The owners were lovely. We had a nice chat. Later that evening when we were looking for seats at the final dance performances, we ended up sitting with them. Turns out one of the owners grew up in the same southern German town where my father grew up. Small world.

I feel like I have babbled on enough for today. I hope you find a reason to celebrate and dance.

Happy Summer!

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Greetings from Germany

After flight delays, missed connections, rerouting, failed messages and roughly 24 hours in transit, we may have arrived 6 hours later than expected; but we made it to Germany safe and sound.

It was a relief to arrive at my cousin’s house in Schlitz. We celebrated our arrival with some delicious wine from the area. Located about half an hour from Fulda, this gorgeous little town is the home of the biannual Schlitzenlander Trachtenfest. (Link to the website). With a rich textiles history what better place to start our German itinerary. The festival begins tonight (Friday July 12) and concludes on Monday. Obviously, I can’t tell you all about this year’s festival yet since it hasn’t started. But I can tell you about some of the things I found charming and interesting here.

On Saturday I will be checking out the local factory outlet for Driessen Leinen. They specialize in the weaving of fine linen fabrics, bed and kitchen linens and more. It will be difficult to stick to my budget! I absolutely love linen. Driessen also offers a cotton/linen blend. I’m excited to see what they have.

On Wednesday we went to see the Vorderburg Museum. It hosts a collection of items relating to weaving, shoe-making and local history. We went with the intention of hearing the glockenspiel and then touring the museum. We were told that the glockenspiel would play at 3pm. After taking the lift up to the top of the nearby tower and taking in the panoramic view, we visited the neighbouring church and then made our way to the Vorderburg Museum. We waited patiently for almost 20 minutes for the chimes to play a song. Alas, after chiming the hour… nothing. We waited a couple more minutes before heading into the museum. We paid our admission and after a little while we realized we could just barely make out the sound of the glockenspiel. If we had been patient just six or seven minutes more we could have heard it in the courtyard. Oh well. We were told it would play again at 5pm.

The museum is small but packed with interesting items. I was particularly interested in the artifacts directly related to textiles. The looms, spinning wheels, examples of hand crafted folk costumes and linens dating way back gave a sense of how incredibly long people have had a mastery of textiles. There were samplers of traditional redwork embroidery, typical of the region. The samplers were a way for women to perfect their technique before advancing to the embroidery of garments, bed and kitchen linens or decorative projects.

In the shoe making history display, I was delighted to discover a treadle version of the industrial sewing machine I have in my store for doing leather repair. If not for the patina that the passage of time has given it, and lack of a motor, it could have been my very machine! When something works well, why change it?

The folk costume display highlighted the wide variety of skills needed to complete these textile works of art. I was so engrossed by the array of techniques (tatting, cross stitch, smocking, knitting, embroidery, sewing, leatherwork and beading) that I left without taking any photos!

After viewing the last of the museum displays we decided to check out more of the local sights. The market place was bustling with carpenters setting up stages and booths in preparation for the festival. We walked through the park and checked out the music academy. We zigzagged between the medieval half timbered houses and headed back through the cloister garden. Suddenly we realized we could just make out the sounds of the glockenspiel in the distance! Yes, we missed it again! We were so carried away with all the beautiful buildings and surroundings that we had lost track of time.

Thursday morning we got up early to head to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Despite our train out of Fulda being cancelled, and clouds giving way to a steady, desperately needed rain (there had been a heat wave leading up to our arrival), nothing could stop us from having a magical time in the walled medieval city. Exhausted, we were happy for the comfort of the B & B at the end of the day.

Today we will be taking in the sights of Nuremberg… including at least one yarn shop and the museum and home of artist Albrecht Durer. Early Saturday morning we head back to Schlitz to visit Driessen Leinen and take in the Trachtenfest.

Happy summer!

Reminiscing

This past week has been a whirlwind. I feel like I only just wrote last week’s blog. It’s Friday now and I have one more day in the store before I head to Germany for three weeks. It feels very strange to think that I won’t be in my store for three weeks. In anticipation of my trip, I’ve had so many memories bubbling up; I thought I’d share some with you today.

At eleven years old, I quite honestly didn’t understand the magnitude that living in Germany for a year would have on my life. I was definitely aware that this was the opportunity of a lifetime — as much as you can at that age, at least. And I was deeply grateful for that opportunity. In the week leading up to it, I remember laying awake at night, giddy with excitement, to the point that I would burst into tears and giggle fits. I had never been on an airplane before; I had never been away from my family before. And before Aunt and Uncle arrived, I had never met them. I had met my grandmothers though: Friederike (Friedchen) and Amalia. They had each been to Canada to visit us on multiple occasions.

Friedchen was a yarn lover. Every year she would send us crocheted dresses for Easter and knitted pullover sweaters for Christmas. There would be delicious little treats scattered throughout the parcel and it was so exciting to watch Mom unwrap it all and figure out what was intended for whom. The contents of the parcels had a particular scent that I associated with Oma.

Isn’t it funny how we can remember scents?

I can remember when my aunt took me to Oma’s house for the first time. We walked through her beautiful flower garden to the door. I remember the peonies and roses most. She opened the door and I breathed in that familiar scent. She stood there with her arms open wide and it was all so much to take in that I burst into tears. I threw my arms around her and although I had never been in her house before, I felt like I was coming home. She had baked a cake, and was shocked to learn that I didn’t drink coffee. She insisted that I try it. She served it in a teal and gold fine china demi-tasse. It felt like a fancy tea party. Man, that coffee was strong! It wasn’t quite as strong as espresso, but just about. I must have made a memorable face, because she and my aunt almost fell off their chairs laughing. When the cake was polished off, she insisted that I sing her a song. I happily complied, and her dachshund, Benny, joined in. I considered it a compliment!

I wanted Oma to show me how to knit, but we didn’t have time.

It was only a long weekend jaunt. She had a number of projects on the go and she showed them to me one by one. As a way of quelling my disappointment that there wasn’t time for her to teach me to knit, she pulled out the patterns she was knitting and had me try to read them. I did my best, but they were terribly confusing. She assured me that one day, I would understand them and be making beautiful things out of yarn. She was right.

Oma loved animals. She had two dogs (a German Shepherd that would not have hesitated to take a grizzly bear down, and Benny, the dachshund) she also had two angora rabbits. The small vegetable garden in her back yard hosted a tiny chicken coop and a number of chickens that happily wandered through the fenced yard and garden behind her house. Her front yard was a beautiful flower garden. When I was there it was warm and breezy and the scents of the flowers would tease my nose every so often. You could hear the insects buzzing and the birds singing. (The first time I heard a cuckoo was on a walk through a beech forest in Germany.) Being at her home gave me a sense of where I had come from. I discovered that I had a lot in common with her. More than I had ever realized.

I found that deeply comforting.

Sadly, Oma has been gone for many, many years. So I won’t be able to sit and knit with her in Germany. But that’s okay. I like to think that she sits with me sometimes when I knit. Perhaps I’m sentimental, but I like to think that. When I feel sad that my children never got to meet her, I have to remind myself that they do get to meet her. When I share my memories of her with them, they get to meet her. That’s pretty wonderful.

There will be so many interesting things to do and see in the three weeks that we are in Germany. The challenge will be to make certain there is enough quiet time in between the activities to ensure that we can really take it all in. I want it to be more than just a big blur of busy. What a gift that I can share this trip with my daughter.

It’s easy to get so caught up in day-to-day tasks and working that we forget why we work so hard.

It’s good to take some time to reminisce and remember — and appreciate. All those experiences built the context through which we now navigate. They built us into who we now are. Sometimes we need to take time to set the business of life aside and remember the path that brought us to today. In doing so, past, present and future exist all together in one moment: now.

I hope you are able to take some time to set the busy stuff aside and just be this summer. Even if it’s only for brief moments here and there.

Happy Summer!

Countdown to Holidays!

The summer of 1976 was a big deal. That summer my aunt and uncle brought their son to Canada to stay with my family, and I got to go to Germany with them. I stayed with them for a year of school, exploration and language immersion. It changed my life.

At eleven, I was the perfect age to be immersed in a different culture and language.

Having been primed in my early formative years by hearing nothing but German at home, within 6 weeks of attending school in the small Bavarian town I was already speaking fluently and cracking “Häschen Witze” (bunny jokes). They were the big thing that year. I was reading and writing and excited to be given such an amazing privilege. My aunt and uncle made sure that they took me to see examples of all the important forms of architecture: cathedrals, castles, fortresses, city halls… breathtaking examples of the advancement of engineering and design through the ages. Frescos ranging from early Medieval to Rococo. They took me to museums and galleries and beautiful areas where nature still shines bright in all its glory. They spent time helping me to understand the nuts and bolts of the language and enrolled me in the children’s choir to sing my heart out.

Some of the places we went to were so memorable that I shared my stories about them over and over with my own children years later. One of my daughters took German in high school. We always talked about going there together. When she was studying art history, I was studying music history. We were studying the corresponding eras at the same time and would spend hours at night comparing notes — sharing the scandalous stories that made those long ago composers, painters and sculptors come alive as real people.

It reinforced our desire to go to Germany together.

Well, summer is officially here! WOOHOO! Canada Day weekend is upon us; kids are out of school until fall; and for many, t’is the season for vacations. For the first time in a very long time, I’m taking time away. I’m heading to Germany for three weeks with my daughter and I’m closing the store while we’re gone. As you can imagine, I’m getting pretty excited.

Before I leave, I’m increasing the opening hours of the store to give people a better chance to pick up their completed sewing jobs and to stock up on supplies they may need for July projects.

Under normal circumstances the store is closed on the Saturday of long weekends as well as Sundays through Tuesdays. But for the Canada Day weekend, the store will be open Saturday 10am to 4pm and on the Tuesday after the long weekend from 1pm to 4pm. The rest of the first week of July will be regular hours. So it looks like this:

Saturday June 29: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Sunday June 30 – Monday July 1: Closed
Tuesday July 2: 1:00pm to 4:00 pm
Wednesday July 3 to Friday July 5: 8:30 am to 5:00 pm
Saturday July 6: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (a little later than usual)
Sunday July 7 through Tuesday July 30: Closed
Wednesday July 31 to Friday August 2: regular hours
Tuesday August 6: 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm

From Wednesday August 7th on we are back to regular hours

I’m looking forward to taking a break from being in the store every day. I have good intentions to do some blogging while I’m away. I won’t promise a lot of posts, but I do hope to minimally keep up with my weekly blog.

I plan to check out yarn shops along the way to see what they are doing differently over there and to seek out some inspiration for my store. I look forward to meeting with the folks at Rohrspatz & Wollmeise in Pfaffenhofen, Bavaria.

With less than two weeks until I head out, the time will fly and next thing I know, I’ll be flying too! My lists are slowly getting checked off, including the contents list of my abbreviated knitting bag. I want to have something to work on during the flight and train rides between cities. No point taking too much, mind you. Since I’ll be visiting as many yarn shops as possible, I anticipate purchasing some treasures. Between my Ravelry library and my Knit Companion app, I should be able to come up with something to make those treasures into as well. For now, it’s back to work though.

And in the meantime I wish you: Happy Crafting!

Keeping out the Evening Chill

Heading to the lake? Evening barbecue in the backyard? Camping for the weekend?

It may be hot during the day, but when it cools off in the evening (if you’re anything like me) you’ll be reaching for something to throw over your shoulders to keep the chill away. Summer wraps are the perfect thing! With all the gorgeous patterns available to hit every skill level and every taste, add in all the lovely yarns… and the possibilities are endless.

I love shawls, wraps and ponchos. They fill that gap when you need a little something to throw on, but a sweater or a jacket are just a little too much. They are practical, cozy and can be as casual or as fashionable as you want. With the help of a shawl pin, you can clasp it to keep it right where you want it. No fuss or bother required.

Depending on the design you choose, you can challenge yourself, you can “Zen out” with something “brainless”… or you can hit the scale somewhere in between the two. As much as there are some highly complex lace shawl patterns out there, there are just as many easy ones that allow you to sit back and relax as your hands auto-pilot you to a lovely summer wrap.

Some of the designs that are referred to as cowls nowadays are really more like mini-ponchos, or capelets. These are really cute and don’t need any fasteners. If you’re going for an evening walk, they are just enough to keep you from getting goose bumps from that chilly breeze. Ponchos are a great and easy cover-up option too. Look for a pattern that starts at the neckline so you can simply keep on knitting or crocheting until it is as long as you want it to be.

Triangular shawls can be made in any weight of yarn and usually, you can simply keep on adding to them to make them as large as you would like them to be. You can tie them or use a shawl pin to fasten them where you like them. You can wear them in a few different ways so that they cover more or less of you.

Rectangular wraps are essentially just a really wide and long scarf. Using bamboo or cotton and a very simple stitch pattern can turn something we normally associate with winter into our “go-to” cover up through the summer months and during the “shoulder” seasons (pun definitely intended).

There are some lovely summery yarns available that can give you the perfect texture and weight for your shawl or poncho. Whether you prefer cotton, viscose, bamboo or linen blends, or you are a die-hard Merino lover, we are fortunate to have access to many options in a vast array of colourways. If you work up something in a worsted weight, it comes together quicker than you might think. I have a lovely gradient cotton/wool blend in DK weight (Rainbow Autumn) from Estelle Yarns that makes a gorgeous cover up that would be perfect for summer evenings at the campsite or beach. Looking for something with a bit of shine? Cotton/Viscose blends are what you are looking for. Bamboo is very strong and durable. CoBaSi gives a gorgeous summer fabric comprised of Cotton, Bamboo and Silk. The possibilities are endless!

I adore Knox Mountain Knit Co’s patterns; that’s why I sell them in hard-copy in my store. Her patterns are gorgeous and easy to follow. Once I start one, I can’t put it down. If you’re local, pop in and check out my binder full of Knox Mountain shawl patterns. If not, here’s the search result for her shawl patterns on Ravelry.

Here are a few pretty crochet designs I found on Ravelry:

Secret Paths by Johanna Lindhal (© Johanna Lindahl)

Shawl for Rachel by Hilda Steyn (© Hilda Steyn 2015)

Maple Leaf Shawl by Kirsten Ballering (© Kirsten Ballering)

Klaziena Shawl by Kirsten Bishop (by mola1971)

Striped Poncho by Crochet – Atalier (© Luba Davies Atelier)

These cover-ups make great projects to knit or crochet at your campsite. After all, that is what camping is for, right?

Happy Knitting and Crocheting!


Cobasi

Rainbow Autumn

Summertime

Tropicali

Mulberry

Nako Fiore

Baby Bamboo

Technique: Let’s Talk Lace

For many novice knitters, the thought of knitting lace can be daunting. Intricate lace patterns create images of mandalas, flower petals, paisley or leaves simply by combining basic stitches in clever ways. It can look like magic! But take heart, with a little bit of patience and perseverance, you too can learn to knit lace. Here’s an overview to take a little bit of the mystery out of it all. If you can knit, purl, increase and decrease, you can learn to knit lace.

There are a few things that you do need to understand about knitting lace.

Working off a chart:

You will definitely be working from a chart to knit lace.

And trust me, you want to be working from a chart. A chart is a graph of what stitches make up the pattern. It’s a visual representation of what you will be knitting. As much as it can be nice to have written instructions, (and many patterns will have both) once you get accustomed to following a chart, you will likely come to prefer it over written out instructions. A chart allows you to see what went before and what is to come in the pattern, all in a glance. It removes the step of translating words into instructions and then into an image in your mind.

As you work your way through the chart it is imperative that you mark, in some way, to show where you are.

I use a pattern holder for my charts. These come in a couple sizes. They are usually a folder of sorts with a metal sheet inside so a magnet will grab onto it. This allows you to use a long skinny magnet to keep track of where you are in your pattern. I prefer to place the magnet directly above the row that I am working on. This way I can see the stitches I have already done below the current row I am working. What I see on the chart matches what I see when I look at my knitting. I also use a pencil to place a tally or a check mark beside each row as I complete it.

Working flat versus working in the round will impact how you read the chart.

Charts usually show you how the right side of the fabric is going to look. Therefore, if you are knitting flat and turning your work; alternating right side and wrong side, the wrong side rows will be read as such. Usually the legend will say what a symbol represents on the right side and what that same symbol represents on the wrong side. Generally with lace, any increasing, decreasing or other fancy work is usually done on the right side of the fabric with the wrong side simply knits and purls. I have knitted patterns in which the wrong side is always simply purled. On those charts they only showed the right side rows of the pattern on the chart because once you know to just purl the wrong side, you don’t need a chart to tell you that. If you are knitting in the round, each symbol on the chart will only have one meaning as you will only be working the right side of the fabric.

Feeling a little confused? That’s okay.

Like with most things, you really have to try it out to be able to wrap your brain around it. Hang in there. This info will settle into the back of your mind, and when you do try out some lace knitting, it will come back to you.

Lace is made up of repeating patterns.

We refer to these as, you guessed it, “pattern repeats”. When you are first learning to knit lace, I recommend that you start with a very simple pattern. I also recommend that you place a very thin stitch marker at the end of each pattern repeat in your knitting. Knitting lace does require focus, but as you work through the pattern repeats, you will start to get a sense of what needs to happen in what order. The more repeats you complete, the more you’ll begin to anticipate what comes next. By having strategically placed stitch markers, if you miss a stitch or do a wrong stitch in one section, it’s easier to figure out what you did wrong and fix it.

It is very important to take your time and double check your work as you go.

Minimize distractions as much as possible and when you start to tire mentally, set it aside and give yourself a break. When you take a break, mark your pattern clearly and carefully to indicate where you left off.

Tinking (undoing stitches one at a time to back track and fix a mistake) can be tricky when you work with lace, especially when there are a lot of yarn-overs in the pattern. Depending on what happens, it is possible to end up with an unrecoverable mistake. For instance, if you drop a stitch and it runs down through a section that was built on a stack of decreases you can end up with a big mess that you simply won’t know what to do with. Therefore, it’s a really good idea to run regular “lifelines” as you go. Using a darning needle, you run some smooth heavy thread or light yarn through your stitches and tie it off so that it can’t fall out. Do this at regular intervals so that if you make a mistake or drop a stitch you will minimize any potential trauma. If you do drop stitches, they can only go back as far as your lifeline. Make a note on your chart to indicate where that lifeline sits. Then, if you do need to go back, you will know where to start knitting. I encourage you to always place your lifelines in the same pattern row.

I’ll be offering in-house beginner lace workshops this fall. Let me know if you are interested in participating and I’ll put you on the list!

Happy Knitting!

Review: Katia Fair Cotton

After a significant time drooling over this yarn, (trying to decide what I wanted to make out of it) I finally started a project. This gorgeous cotton yarn comes from Katia Yarns of Spain. It is organic, fair trade cotton. It is very soft and comes in 200g balls with a self striping section and a solid neutral section. The mileage is fantastic at 620m! The colours are summer-yummy.

One ball goes a very long way. The sample Katia sent with my yarn order is a long sleeved child’s sweater. I would say it should fit a 10 year old. That only took one ball. Katia has other patterns on their website for this yarn as well. One is a child’s dress (also 1 ball) and a ladies’ dress (2 balls).

I decided I wanted to make a tank top out of it. Now, there isn’t a tank top pattern specifically designed for this yarn so I knew I would have to wing it. After some trial and error I settled on a 165 stitch cast on. I knitted the hem in garter stitch for 8 rows flat and then joined it in the round. (In hindsight, I would have been better to just do a couple rows; just enough that it was easy to avoid having a twist when joining it.)

I started with the striping section of the yarn at the hem and I’m working my way up from there. Although the label suggests using a 3.5mm needle, I wanted something just a little looser so it would be a bit breezy without being holey. I am using a 4.5mm needle and I’m very happy with the result. The gauge is working up much like a DK for me with these needles.

I divided it to knit between the armholes at the back and actually completed the back, but I was not happy with my division of stitches. I had overestimated how many I needed for the front. Also, it wasn’t as long as I like it. I weighed the yarn I used for that section after I frogged it and it was about 17g. So I figured I’d keep knitting until the ball weighs 45g and then work the sections between the armholes. But that would have made it longer than I want. I kept checking the weight and thinking, “wow, this ball goes on forever!” Amazing yield!

I kept this project really simple so that I could fly through it. Also the yarn is so pretty and the stitch definition is so nice, I figured I would just let the yarn do the talking. Anyone who knits a lot of cotton knows that just like with Bamboo, it can have a tendency to split as you knit with it. That is just the nature of the fibre. It’s better than some of the cottons I’ve worked with in that regard. It’s knitting up very fast and evenly.

I was hoping to have the top finished for this week’s blog but I’m not quite there yet. I will try and add photos to this post as soon as the top is done.

Katia Fair Cotton is a lovely summer yarn. If you are thinking about making yourself a little top or a wrap I would encourage you to. You won’t be disappointed.

Happy Knitting