Search This Blog

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Passage of Time

So much to look at in Tallinn. Even the architecture agrees.

I can’t believe it has been over a month since I returned. I had intended to get all my posts about the trip up quickly, but it has been hard to wrap it up. Writing the last posts means that the journey is well and truly over and I want to hold onto it as long as I can. So many expectations were exceeded and so many surprises unfolded, it was almost too fabulous to be real.

Front Side of the Haapsalu Train Station.

My last few days were spent back in Tallinn. I walked from my hotel over to the old Haapsalu train station, which no longer sees trains, but instead serves as the bus depot. (The station played a role in Dr. Zhivago, a film I shamefully have not yet seen.) Bus travel is a very organized, civilized way to move about in Estonia. The buses are clean, timely, and economical. While I was en route, my friend called to make sure I was set getting from the Tallinn bus station to my hotel. I assured him I was fine. The night before I had looked up tram routes and costs on my iPad, so I was pretty comfortable that I would be able to manage the short trip. I had read that trams cost 1 Euro if you pre-purchased a ticket from a newsstand, and 1.6 if you paid on the tram. Once you had a ticket, there was a machine in which you validate your ticket with the time the ticket was used. Good to go, right? When we arrived at the bus station, a depressing Soviet-era building, it was under renovation, so all operations (ticket booths, rest facilities, etc.) were in temporary quarters outside. Rather than try to find a newsstand in the chaos, I just decided to pay the extra money on the tram. I made my way to the correct stop with no problem, and a tram arrived fairly quickly. Then things got sticky. I muscled my large carry on up the steps, and  approached the enclosed area where the driver was located. There was a little metal drawer in which to deposit your money, which I opened, slipped in 2 Euro coin, then closed the drawer. The driver turned around and started to yell in Estonian, and none of the words she used was one of the six in my vocabulary. I said sorry, shook my head, raised my hands in the international indication of “I have no idea what’s going on here,” said sorry again, and smiled. With that, she slammed the drawer holding my coin open. I shook my head again, smiled somewhat more apologetically, and closed the drawer, hoping she’d just take the money and give me my ticket. I didn’t know if she wanted exact change, but I was happy to front the Estonian transit system a few extra cents just to get past the misunderstanding. Again, she yelled and snapped the drawer open. I looked around for someone who might understand, but no one wanted to involve themselves in my little kerfuffle. So, feeling the pressure of others waiting to just get on the dang tram, I took my coin, moved back and…I just sat down. I had the presence of mind to remove the hat I was wearing. (“She’ll never know it’s me without the hat!” I convinced myself, somewhat concerned that the ticket inspectors who do random checks were waiting for me at the next stop.) I kept my head down until my street, and I got off, never having paid. I still don’t know what the issue was, and when I saw my friends that night, they had no idea either. So, Estonia, I still owe you 1.6 Euros. Oh, and I never rode that tram again. The tram became my nemesis. I had to cross the track every day at least twice, and I was certain that the nasty woman driving the #2 was gunning for me.

The universe smiled upon me and granted me a touch of respite because my hotel upgraded me to a business class room (on the side of the hotel that doesn’t face the tram tracks!), and all was well with the world. I stayed at the Domina Il Marine, which was formerly a Soviet era factory. The building was interesting, and the pictures of the long-gone workers in the hall reminded me of the seat and sash factory my grandfather used to work in. (As I type this, I just realized that I must tell my friend what my grandfather did. My friend is VP of international manufacturing for a company that makes safety equipment (safety belts, seats, airbags, etc.) for the travel industry. I never before thought about the connection between my friend's business and my Pop Pop's trade, however separated by distance, years, technology, etc.)

The Gate I Entered Every Day
 The hotel was a five minute walk to the Paks Margareeta (Fat Margaret) gate into the old town, and for the next three days I wandered nearly every street within the walls. I spent a lot of time looking at the ground so that I didn’t fall on the uneven streets. (I did eventually fall, not on old cobblestones, but new ones. Of course. The bruise on my knee has just faded, but the scars an my knees and finger are an impressive plummy shade.)

On Monday night, I had a last dinner with my friends at a lovely restaurant in the old town. It was bittersweet, the culmination of my time with them, knowing my friendship with my old high school friend had grown to a new place, and having begun to form a new friendship with his girlfriend. Saying goodbye was a little hard, but he and I agreed that our average of seeing each other once every ten years going forward was wholly inadequate. We’re going to work on that. A few tears were shed, but they were both for the joy of a great few days together and confirmation of a teen friendship that has grown into a mature, mutually supportive relationship, and for the pangs of saying goodbye.

Olde Haansa
 The next days of wandering on my own were filled with taking photos of doors and windows, moments savored sipping cappuccinos in cafes, and handicraft stores scoured for souvenirs. Glasses of wine were sipped deep within the walls of the city, pastries were savored in patisseries, and elk and wild boar eaten at the Tallinn equivalent of Medieval Times, The Olde Haansa. (I bought into the idea thinking that it was a tourist trap, except that it was really, really tasty, and the honey beer was excellent.) I found a book of knitting stitch patterns in a used bookstore. It is in neither Russian nor Estonia, but Czech, I believe. I found a small, delightful yarn store that had yarns milled in the country. (Another yarn store in a nearby mall yielded lots of non-natural, foreign yarns.) I also found naturally dyed yarns in a handicraft store that became one of my favorite haunts. They had exquisite needle felted sculptures, fine mittens, and books. I think I went back three times. (I promise a post of all crafty swag will follow.)

Kristina Viirpalu Boutique

Intrigued by the knit motif on the front windows, I ended up in the Kristina Viirpalu Boutique. Viirpalu is known for incorporating tradition Haapsalu knitting techniques into contemporary clothing. She pairs the knitwear (diaphanous gowns and the like) with tailored coats and super funky accessories. I nearly had a come-apart caused by some boots that I would have had to wear as earrings to get home as there was no more room in my baggage. In the end, I opted for some super-funky printed socks that are also one of her signatures, and at 24 Euro, were much cheaper than the 750 Euro boots.

The boots (center) that were not to be mine.

Three days spent wandering about were perfect. I had my bearings, I was seeing things in minute detail, and I wasn’t rushed. I could wander and think, have coffee, think more, knit some, rest, go out and wander again. There are places I didn’t get to, and the list grows as my interest in Estonia continues to build. I am really and truly ready to go again at any time for any reason. And this time, tram lady, I am going to have more than six words at my disposal! (I'll also have correct change.)

Sunday, September 02, 2012

A Story With a Lot of Holes

Haapsalu is synonymous with lace knitting, and the delicate, intricate shawls that share their name with the town were in full display on the second day of the White Lady Days Festival. There were vendors and demonstration booths highlighting not just knitting, but bobbin lace, crochet, some forms of weaving, and embroidery. The festivities began with a choreographed tribute to the shawl and to the master knitters of the town who make them. The centerpiece of the event was a knitting competition, where knitters were given a complicated pattern (with plenty of nupps, of course), needles, yarn, blocking sticks, and just two hours to see how far they could get. No, yours truly did not throw her hat into the ring. I was thrilled to see many young knitters taking the challenge and, ultimately, doing quite well.

Nancy Bush was one of the judges for the event, as were many of the master knitters. Siiri Reimann, one of the authors of the stunning Haapsalu Shawl and Haapsalu Scarf books was a significant presence, too. My favorite photographic subject was Linda Elgas, Grande Dame of Haapsalu knitting. This woman's face was amazing, and those hands...hands that have knit thousands and thousands of nupps.

Siiri Reimann (left) and Linda Elgas

It seemed like this event was largely attended by Estonians and maybe some people from Scandinavian countries, and perhaps a few other eastern European countries. Based on listening for English and then accents, I am guessing there were just a handful of Americans there, Nancy Bush, Nancy Marchant (who is an American living in the Netherlands), and I may have comprised the majority. I certainly knew Nancy Bush on sight, and I had heard of Nancy Marchant, so I just marched myself up and introduced myself. While Nancy B. had lots of official tasks, Nancy M. and I were able to sit around and observe the knitting, share yarn business insights, and become acquainted. I really enjoyed her, and hope to catch up again while she is here in Chicago for Vogue Knitting Live. While we didn't get to speak much, I have gotten a very nice email from Nancy Bush, too, and it would be lovely to spend a few moments sharing impressions of the day with her, as well.

Many of the Haapsalu Shawl Masters

Lace Samples Blocked from the Competition. Knitters were given two hours to complete their swatches.

I has several moments of "I cannot believe I am here, in this place, this place I am clearly meant to be." I felt comfortable, at peace, and connected in a way that was visceral. It is the same kind of inner peace I get at a Springsteen show (different circumstances, same internal reactions) or when I am at on of Cat Bordhi's annual retreats in Friday Harbor. I do not pretend expertise in lace knitting that extends farther than, yes, I have knit some, but my fascination with it the meanings behind the patterns, and the ways that these patterns can be extrapolated into current fashion (just wait till I get to Kristina Viirpalu in Tallinn) get me excited.

I picked up several new books, piling on the pounds knowing my carry on situation was getting trickier bu the moment. One book, dedicated to just the motifs of Muhu Island is so inspirational. I could spend years just focusing on it. (In the end, I had 20 or 30 pounds of books alone! Yipes!) I got a bit of yarn, though the yarn used to make the shawls comes from outside Estonia. I also got a few trinkets, juniper wood items, and hand dyed Estonian yarns that are more rustic.

Pottery that I would have loved to bring home, but alas, no room.
Haapsalu really did take a big chunk of my heart those two days, and I would very much like to return someday.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Am I Really, Truly Here?

We loaded into the car Saturday morning to drive to Haapsalu, just about a two-hour trip from my friends' house. On our way in, we stopped at a small museum dedicated to Swedes who lived in Estonia. The centerpiece of the exhibit is an embroidered wall hanging that depicts the important events in Swedish/Estonian history. The whole place was homespun and charming, and our host was enthusiastic to show us around.

Somewhere along the way, I mentioned that Nancy Bush was going to be in Haapsalu. (The Internets told me so.) I told my friends that she was a knitting author who was primarily responsible for bringing Estonian knitting, specifically Haapsalu lace knitting, to the attention of American knitters. She was, I explained, a bit of a knitting celebrity. Despite our best efforts (and to my friend Stig's great disappointment), we did not manage to find Nancy on Saturday. (I suppose this entry could have well been titled "Confessions of a Knitting Stalker," though stalker has such negative implications. As it is, my mother has accused me of stalking a certain male rock star, to which I reply, "It's not stalking if I pay him to see him.")

Vendor Selling Smoked Fowl
The White Lady Days or White Lady Festival is an annual event named for the town's most famous legend. In short, it is a tragic tale of boy meets girl, boy sneaks girl into the cathedral dressed as a choirboy, boy and girl successfully manage said deception for a couple of years, then boy and girl are put to hideous, painful deaths upon discovery of their misdeeds. Girl then shows up as an apparition in the cathedral window during August's full moon. (There is even a lace pattern depicting her in the window.) There are craft and food vendors, singers and dancers, a large-scale outdoor pageant that begins at 10:30pm, bands, and the like. I will admit that I did have a hard time wrapping my American brain around the notion that people were buying and eating all manner of meats, cheeses, and fish that was sitting about unrefrigerated and open to the elements. I did not see anyone dropping dead in the streets, however, so it must have been fine. (While most things were smoked, it was still pretty warm out, and it did give me pause before tasting any samples. Clearly, I survived.) My friends took me to the most charming cafe in an art gallery on the main street. This place was so delicious, so delightful, that after we had lunch, we returned a few hours later for...CAKE! And, after my friends departed for home, I went back a third time, where I was greeted as a regular customer and treated to...FREE CAKE!!! (I ended up eating there one additional time before leaving town. Fortunately, my friends gave me a gift of the cafe owner's cookbook, which I am madly, passionately in love with. It is so charming and features two of the best things I are while I was there. In fact this was her second book, and I located her first book through a Russian bookseller, and it should be making its way to me soon.)

A Charming Building. A Former or Current Bakery, Perhaps?

Haapsalu is a delightful seaside town. The likening isn't quite right, but it shares certain characteristics with New Orleans. There are lovely frame buildings with charming details, but many are in disrepair. There is that essence of decadent decay that I quite love. The streets twist and turn, and the cobblestones threaten to reach up and trip you. Each time you walk the same street, something else beckons your attention. I quickly fell in love with the place.

This building reminds me of Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop in NOLA.
A lot of attention and capital has been dedicated to the promenade along the sea, and it is stunning. The walkways are lovely, and the views are magnificent. Apparently, in winter, this very shallow part of the Baltic freezes, and you can drive across from Haapsalu to a neighboring island.
The gem of the promenade is the Kuursall. This building, with the nearby band shell, and its lacy, gingerbread trim was the perfect backdrop the the Haapsalu Lace Day on Sunday.
I would be cheating you if I didn't give the Lace Day its own entry. There are pictures of lace, and ladies who make lace, and contests for making lace that deserve to be highlighted. My apologies for stringing you along. but the day was so full of "pinch me" moments that you deserve to see as much of them as I can fit in here.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Leaving Helsinki

Day 2, Helsinki: After the concert, I made it back to my hotel thrilled to have been at what was instantaneously a legendary show and a bit sad that I knew I'd be leaving town the next day. I'd gotten just the tiniest taste of Helsinki, and I really enjoyed what I saw, even through my jet-lagged haze. I would love to return.

In the morning, I decided to muscle my bags on the tram to get to the ferry terminal. What I didn't know was that the tram stop is some distance from the terminal, is in the middle of a construction wasteland with lots of barricades, rubble and gravel, but no signage.  You would think that I would be able to see the water and ships in the distance, but the nondescript buildings on the horizon blocked any view that might have been had. I finally reached the proper place covered in dust and somewhat worse for wear. Thank goodness for my compulsion for being early, because it left room for the wandering, and the ferry left six minutes prior to the published departure time. If you ever go to Helsinki and plan a ferry ride to Tallinn, spring for a cab. I certainly will next time.

A couple of glasses of wine on the trip over helped soothe my jangled nerves, and when I arrived in Tallinn and was met by my friend, I was relaxed and ready to go.

My time in Estonia began with what would become a familiar refrain: "Would  you like to go have cake?" Cake was a catch-all phrase for dessert and having it was a frequent activity. Desserts in Estonia are lavish in appearance, but are a bit lighter than what we're used to. Cheese-based cakes (cream cheese, ricotta, farmer's cheese) are prevalent, but are lightened with gelatin. I saw not one cupcake anywhere, whereas we can't seem to escape them. I also learned that decaf isn't an option, and so I just ordered a plain old cappuccino, not my normal double tall, non-fat, decaf cappuccino. This is a change I have maintained. It's so much less fussy. 

We went to a rooftop cafe at the Radisson which gave me a great view of the city. After that, he drove me all around, giving me a "greatest hits" tour: the Song Festival grounds, the Presidential Palace, the historic area full of wooden houses that are being renovated by ambitious homeowners, old Soviet housing, fascinating woodland cemeteries, the television tower that played a large role in the country's move toward independence, around the Old Town, and then out to the golf course where they live. Everyone should have friends who live in such a magnificent setting. Sitting on a deck in Estonia with a view of the Baltic knitting lace is the way to go, trust me.

On Thursday, we (my friend, his girlfriend, and I) toured the Old Town together, stopping in several museums (adorable, tiny ones consisting of one room, art museums, and, most charmingly, the puppet theater museum, which was very, very sweet.) We ate lunch in the square, at a restaurants that specializes in modernized Estonian cuisine. We climbed up to Toompea, the high part of the upper city. We stopped in at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. We walked and walked up and down twisty, uneven streets until I was  completely turned around. Fortunately, I would have three days on my own the following week to redi reorient myself and redisccover, which was good, because I was already intrigued and charmed by the place.

On Friday, I was given a choice: go for a hike or go eat cake. Um, cake please. We went to Kadriorg Park, to a charming cafe. Kadriorg was built and named for Peter-the-Great's wife, and is a beautiful part of the city. It was a great couple hours spent with me asking a hundred questions about Estonian life, and my friends inquiring about current events and life in the States. (My friend was a foreign exchange student at my high school, and has travelled extensively in the US (even living here for a time after), and he shares my interest in politics, so there was much to talk about. And shake our heads about. And commiserate over.)

We went to the Kumu, the large art museum. The building is interesting, and I did enjoy some of the collections, especially the room full of busts. After another day in the city, we headed back to relax at the house before going out to eat at a casual seaside restaurant. It was lovely--the air smelled briny and crisp--and the simple grilled fish I had was delicious. I loved the cucumbers they have in Estonia. They're small, nearly seedless, and have dark, bumpy skins. They were so very, very tasty, and I wish I knew what the variety was. One of the appetizers we had was pickles with sour cream and honey. Odd, and yet so good. I also tried herring in various forms, and confirmed that I am just not a fan. I don't think I was in a single restaurant that didn't have multiple preparations of it on the menu.

Seaside Cafe

 The next day, I was planning to say goodbye to my friends and take the bus to Haapsalu, but they decided they wanted to take me there and spend the day, which was a bonus. In Haapsalu, things were about to get yarny...

Monday, August 20, 2012


Sometimes circumstances align in ways too perfect to seem random. After two years of trying to arrange a trip to Estonia with false starts, cancelled workshops, and the like, things came together in such a remarkable way that it was clear that this was how it was supposed to be.

First off, I found out a few years ago that a high school friend who had grown up in Sweden now lived in Tallinn, Estonia. He was surprised when I told him how interested I was in the culture, specifically the history of knitting, of his adopted country. An invitation to visit was extended. I set about trying to find a knitting tour or gathering to base my trip around. I thought I had found a group of Irish knitters who were going to be going, but that fell apart. Then I found an Estonian pair (one of whom, coincidentally, was a friend of my friend) who were putting together a workshop.Then that disintegrated, delaying my trip for at least a year. When the Springsteen Wrecking Ball tour was scheduled, I decided that I really wanted to cross seeing Bruce play in Europe off my bucket list, and I could tie that to a trip to Estonia. I tried for tickets to the shows in Gothenburg, Sweden but got shut out. When tickets went on sale for the last European show in Helsinki (a short ferry ride from Tallinn), I went for that. The tickets I got were not good seats, but I had them. I was going. I cleared the dates with my friend, and then discovered another knitting workshop that would be starting the day after the concert and would include a trip to Haapsalu. Perfect. Beyond perfect. Then that got cancelled. Undaunted, I decided I was going anyway. The ability to combine my loves for Springsteen and could I not?

I took this trip alone. It raised a few eyebrows when I told people that's what I was going to be doing. I'm quite comfortable traveling by myself, and while going abroad to two countries I had never been to before, and whose languages I did not speak (save six recently learned words of Estonian), might have been somewhat intimidating, I was excited to face the challenges that Finnish trams and Estonian menus might present. (I should add that this was my first trip to Europe, so my choice of destinations was a little unconventional, I suppose.) And, I was going to visit with my friend for part of the trip, so I did have someone in the region should things get crazy.

I left Chicago at 3:30pm on July 29, landing in Helsinki at 8:30am on the 30th. I took a bus into the city, checked in at my hotel, had a shower to wake myself up (despite an Ambien, I hadn't slept on the plane), hopped a tram to the market square, and less than four hours after wheels down, I had Finnish wool in my mitts. I spent the day just wandering around in a bit of a jet-lagged haze. Something you should know about Helsinki: street names are on teeny, tiny little signs on corner buildings, and are in both Finnish and Swedish. Streets seem to change names at every turn, and there are a lot of curved streets. The map I had was not consistent in its use of either the Swedish or Finnish, and with my addled brain, I got a bit lost. Getting lost afforded me the opportunity to see some interesting streets and architecture that I wouldn't have otherwise, and I eventually got myself to a place where I could find a tram back to the hotel. At dinner, I had an incredibly delicious alcoholic Finnish blueberry cider. Yum. I retired to my room to watch the Olympics in Finnish. (It was fascinating to watch it when the focus isn't constantly on American athletes and teams, and the coverage isn't all wildly overproduced and interspersed with heart-tugging stories of personal triumph.)
On Tuesday, I had only two items on the itinerary: eat at Wellamo, a restaurant I had found on line and whose sign was too charming to pass on, and see the concert. I took the tram to the central area of the city and walked over to the neighborhood where Wellamo was supposed to be. The address put it in the middle of the block, but it was nowhere to be found. After asking someone, they directed me to a steep set of stairs at the end of the block. I descended. It was clear from the waiter's reaction that he was not used to American tourists finding the place, and certainly not on their first day open after a month's vacation. Despite the adorableness of their sign and the great reviews, it was just okay, and it turned out to be one of the few disappointments of the trip. I later went to the market building which was brimming with food stalls that had far more interesting options. Oh, welll, next time, and there WILL be a next time. I did a bit more wandering and shopping (I happened upon two yarn shops yards from one another, and more hand dyed yarn was procured), andwas walking toward another shopping area when I stumbled on a large group of people waiting in front of the Hotel Kamp, the poshest hotel in town. Judging from the number of familiar t shirts, I knew that I had come upon the faithful: those hoping for a glimpse of Bruce. When you travel alone, with no real schedule or firm agenda, you can do whatever you please, so I waited, too. I ended up next to a member of the Finnish press, and we chatted a bit. She shared snippets of stories from other times she waited to get celebrity shots, and I identified band members for her as they came out to their cars to head to the venue. After all the other band members' cars left (a production that takes the planning of a military operation, it seems), Bruce eventually came out of the hotel. He graciously signed autographs and shook hands around the entire line, which had grown to several hundred people. Somehow I had managed to stay at the front in a really great location, and was able to get a couple of fabulous snaps. After he got in his car to head out, the photographer showed me some of her best shots, one of which was in the paper the next morning.

The concert was, in all respects, amazing, and lived up to every expectation. There have always been tales of four-hour shows, but they were never actually true. Never, that is, until that night in Helsinki. After doing a 35 minute acoustic set for the general admission crowd (some of which I heard from outside), he and the band did a 4 hour 6 minute show: no breaks, no phoning it in. And, there was a full moon over the stage once the sun finally set. I couldn't have asked for a better night.  

Please note: Blogger is being evil about spacing and photo placement. Sorry for any weirdness that may result. Weirdness of content is solely mine.
(to be continued)


Thursday, May 17, 2012


I found my sneaky little camera cord camouflaging itself with my (somewhat neglected) Kindle and Kindle cord. (They're both white, and they were wrapped up together--sheesh.  So, now we have pictures!

Also found has been my interest in spindle spinning. The roving I dyed (which is a merino/silk/nylon/silver sparkle yarn) is spinning up so beautifully. I cannot wait to finish spinning and plying it so that I can knit it up into some little special something.

Today's "homebrew" is a green tea with white grape that I got at a Persian store a few blocks from my house. They have loads and loads of interesting varieties, so between them and a few other tea purveyors I use (David's, Steven Smith Teamakers, TeaGschwedner), I have nearly endless opportunities. Yum!

I finally finished a project I began months ago. My friend's sister had a baby, so I wanted to make something for the new arrival (Petronella--how cute is that?!) and her big sister. I had actually finished little Petronella's dress...three times. Each time, something just wasn't quite right. My OCD went into overdrive, and I ripped back three times for things that most people would have let go. I really need to work on that because I would finish things so much faster if I only knit them once! Oy.

The Dungeon is calling...gotta run!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Way Too Late Update

Poor, sad little blog, you have been sorely neglected. C'est dommage! Well, let's not dwell...

It's been a strange spring here in the city of wind. Temps have been either higher or lower than normal, and an early warm up put things into bloom a tad early. The weather and my desire to garden never quite seem to sync up. This year, with my biggest plans afoot, I am a bit late to the game. I decided to revamp our backyard, something that's only taken me 10.5 years in the house to do. The hard work has been digging out Jurrassic quantities of ferns that were threatening to birth Brontosauri any moment. I know it's going to take some time to go from point drab to fab back there, especially because I am taking a do-it-yourself (read: budget) approach, but I am in it for the long haul.

Spring/summer affords me one of my favorite luxuries: the daily mason jar of sun tea. I love switching up flavors, and it never gets boring. It's such a simple pleasure.

I recently returned from Camp Kip, where I was lucky to attend and and vend at both sessions. I was fortunate to have been chosen to dye the camp colorway, which everyone received in their goody bags. The colorway, Gnome, Sweet Gnome, was a big hit, and people have been making gorgeous projects with it, which is such a thrill. Of course, I do not have a good picture since my camera cord has gone AWOL. (I suspect it is hiding somewhere with my iPod, which has also gone on a walkabout, it seems.) It was a lot of fun, and I got to hang out with so many nice knitters and spinners.

There is a lot of dyeing happening in the Dungeon. I am prepping for the Midwest Fiber Festival, where Windy Knitty will feature Fleur de Fiber in their booth. Sadly, I will miss the festival since I will be at TNNA, but I'm not complaining! TNNA is a kid-in-a-candy-store-experience, to be sure. Everyone just floats along on the wool fumes, dazed looks on their faces. (Actually, not matter how wonderful the conference, it is a conference, and you have to fuel yourself with coffee and wine, and since it's in Columbus, the occasional taste of Jeni's Ice Cream.)

I have been doing some experimenting with dyeing roving, and it has been a spectacular success. I've got a spindle full of the goodness right now, and it has renewed my interest in handspinning. (Roving may make an appearance in the Etsy shop soon--just as soon as I can find that dang camera cord. Grr)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Why You Should Always Look Up

I took a quick trip to Philly and Bucks County, PA this weekend. The visit was two-fold: to see my friend Jerry Fritz's booth at the Philadelphia Flower Show, and to view the Bruce Springsteen exhibit at the Constitution Center. (This is the same exhibit that had been at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year.) Both goals were achieved, and I got to hang out with some of my oldest friends and their kids, and many, many calories were consumed. There were cheesesteaks and hoagies and soft pretzels and Goldenberg's Peanut Chews, just to name a few PA delicacies I indulged in. We also ate at one of celeb chef Jose Garces's restaurants, and I would happily go back again. I am now home and vow to eat only leafy greens for a week!

I flew into Philly on Thursday, and Jerry's wife, Amy, and I stayed downtown so that we could have dinner with him, and we could do a bit of shopping Friday before we had to head up to her house. On our way to the Anthropologie flagship store*, we were weaving north and west, crossing when we had lights, with no particular path in mind. All of a sudden, Amy pointed up to the facade of 1424 Chestnut, now a CVS, but formerly Jacob Reed's Clothing Store. There is huge arched entry that features Mercer Tile Mosaics from the Moravian Tileworks. These particular vignettes depict a weaver and loom, a spinner and wheel, and a sheep being sheared. Also, the tops of the columns are ram heads. My pics were terrible, but I found some here and here. (Do click--they are so worth it!) My research was quite cursory, but I want to delve deeper into this building's story. I also want to check into the status of its preservation. (One of the links indicates that the ground tiles have been removed.)

* If you've never been to the Rittenhouse Square Anthro, you should go--the building is amazing. The stained glass dome is stunning. I have been shopping there for 20+ years, back when it was the flagship Urban Outfitters. I just love, love, love the space. It its so different from the stores that they create now--this one is organically cool because of the building's architecture. Here is a blog post about the building's history.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mark your calendar!

So many exciting things are happening, and the Craft Dungeon is humming with activity. (Well, if one person dashing about can count as a "humming" level of activity, that is!) Some things are still secret, and I can't share details yet. One thing I can tell you is that Windy Knitty, my LYS, is turning a year old! Since opening, the store has established itself as a local favorite. Mandy's done a great job of stocking the shop with yarns people love--including my baby, Fleur de Fiber. To celebrate, there will be a party on March 24, and I will be creating four exclusive colorways for the event. The colorways will all be available in Acadian, the workhorse of the line. A nicely twisted, springy superwash merino fingering weight yarn, Acadian is great for socks, accessories, baby things, shawls, etc. I am currently knitting it doubled for a tunic for a 5-year-old, and I love it used that way. Additionally, each of the four colorways will be offered in a different luxury base--ones that are new to Windy Knitty. (Think silk, cashmere, etc.) Details of the colorways are secret, but each is inspired by places and things I love in Chicago. That's all I'm going to say for now...

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Close Knit

I've said it before, and I am sure this won't be the last time, but knitting has afforded me the opportunity to meet some really wonderful people that I wouldn't have otherwise met. Obviously, we all have this thing in common, this yarnlust that draws us in. It's the foundation on which the friendships are built. My yarn friends are young enough to be my children and old enough to be my parents. They are male, female, gay, straight, well-off, just making ends meet, retirees, professionals, stay-at-home parents, in the industry, master knitters, just learning, and so on. Some I see once a year or less, others I see nearly every week. Some have transitioned from knitting friends to friends without the "knitting" qualifier--where the friendship has expanded beyond. I feel so very fortunate.

For the first time in five years, I won't be going to Blue Moon's Sock Camp. I already scheduled myself for CampKIP (session 1), and it turns out that they are the same week. I will miss some of my fellow campers terribly--as well as the Blue Moon and Port Ludlow folk--but it is an opportunity to make some new friends in Missouri. Plus, it is drivable--though a longish drive--and I will be vending my yarns at the CampKIP marketplace. I'm looking forward to seeing some of you there!

Saturday, January 28, 2012


As you may know, I live in the city. There are normal hazards and challenges to an urban environment, and they are to be expected. Every once in a while, though, something unexpected pokes up its head, and we have issues with wildlife: the occasional raccoon gone bad, rodents of various sorts (let's not go there), possums who decide to make your roof their penthouse, and so on. Apparently, we have a coyote who has decided to take advantage of our delightful, tree-lined haven. Coyotes in Chicago aren't new. This one was apparently hungry for a sandwich. "Our" coyote seems to want to stay. He/she's been spotted more than once, both times on a street that crosses mine a half block away from the house. I altered my route coming home the other night because of it, as if the coyote couldn't stroll down another street. When I did, I saw a few people standing by the alley, talking and pointing. By the time I got there, they had moved on, but I wonder if I just missed seeing our new neighbor. I would like to see him/her, but from a distance. I think a coyote colorway may be in order, maybe utilizing some of these shades:

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Photo credit for sweater pic : Knitscene Spring 2012

This month's Knitscene features Beulah, a darling cardi by Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark. Mercedes recently shut down production on her Kitchen Sink Dyeworks line, and this particular piece was done in a yarn no longer available. Lucky for you, the called-for yarn is the same base as Fleur de Fiber Aries Oceanus, and is available in the Etsy store and in Chicago at Windy Knitty. Aries Oceanus is one of my very favorite yarns, shiny and drapey and it just radiates color. Not only do I like the lines of this retro sweater, but the scalloped stitching is just darling. The topper: I had a great aunt Beulah who was a delightful lady and she crocheted me an afghan to match my bedroom when I was a girl. This little piece just calls to me on every level.The pattern calls for 2-3 skeins, and I would be happy to dye custom quantities for you if you were making this piece.
My great aunt Beulah would approve of the sweater, and she would have looked delightful in it. Speaking as her great niece, I feel compelled to knit one in her honor.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

In a haze and in the glow

I am blogging in an altered state. My insomnia is at a raging peak, and even though I bogarted an Ambien from the husband, nearly 2 hours later, I am still up. Thursday night I didn't sleep at all, not one little wink. It leads to less than stellar thinking.

The delight of an afternoon and evening out with some of my dear knitting friends does some good for counteracting the negative forces that stolen sleep brings to the table.

I find these times to be ripe with new ideas, but not all of them reasonable, or achievable. I plan a lot of amazing trips in this altered state, only a few of them ever possible. We did lay the groundwork for a fiber trip in the next months. It can and will happen. As the owner of two tents, plus one gone AWOL, I declare myself Queen of Shelter. I will also name myself She of Things To Be Grilled. Why not? This should be glamping. Someone else needs to be Queen of Things to be Shaken with Ice and Imbibed. I have a housing philosophy: if it can't be 4 star, then it needs to be my tent. It's that wishy-washy in-between place that makes me uncomfortable.

Another trip was born of a late night. People who know me know that I am a huge Springsteen fan. One item on my Bucket List was to see him play in Europe. When a show was announced for Helsinki, Finland, I went for it. Helsinki is just a couple hours by ferry from Tallinn, and I have been hoping to go to Estonia for some time. Not only is Estonia a mecca for knitters and knitting, but I have a good friend who lives there. A side trip to Stockholm might be possible, too, as my friend also works there, and I would likely have a plane change there, anyway. There are a lot of details to work out, but I am excited about the possibilities.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Recall on the Recap

I know that I said I wasn't going to recap my goings-on since July, but there were so many colorful events that I couldn't resist.

In October, I once again headed northwest to San Juan Island for one of Cat Bordhi's Island Knitting Retreats. I love this annual trip for so many reasons. Of course, there's Cat, who always manages to amass a wonderful assemblage of personalities. A lot of us are repeat offenders, so there is a core group who has been together for a number of years. This time, six of us booked a private whale watching tour on one of our free afternoons. We saw many different whales from two of the three resident pods. Try as I might, I didn't get any good whale shots, but I did get this great photo of my friend Lynda's mitt!

It was a remarkable afternoon: sunny, cool, clear, with even more laughs than waves. This picture of me and my friend Ana is a great reminder of how much fun we had.
There are so many fabulous things to do on the island, and one of my favorites is to walk South Beach. It's a rocky and piled high with huge driftwood logs. There are wild foxes at the beach, though I've only ever seen one there, myself. I think this piece of drying kelp would make a great colorway, don't you?

The resort where the retreat is held is situated right at the edge of a small lake, and each evening we got a spectacular light show. These pics are from two different nights. Just gorgeous.

I am ready for October, and not just because it is in the single digits here today.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Did Any Hearts Grow Fonder?

I knew I had abandoned the blog for some time, but I really didn't realize just how long that it had been. Oh, the shame. So much has happened, and it is impossible to recap it all, so I shan't. Moving on...

Last year ended with a flurry of knitting, none of it for me. There were Pay It Forward gifts, and hats requested by the waiters who take care of our knitting group on Tuesday nights. The husband's firm does some work with a group that serves homeless people, so there were warm, washable hats and scarves made. January, February, and maybe beyond have been declared Months of Self-Indulgent Knitting at Chez PBW. This week I started and finished the Buttoned Skirt from the Winter 2012 Vogue Knitting. This pattern is not without issue, and I had to spend a fair amount of time figuring out how to fix a stitch count error. (Because it has a trellis lace pattern, a number of potential fixes were not practical because they would have disrupted the pattern.) I was the first to start the project on Ravelry, and I was in uncharted waters. (Well, they were charted, but you know what I mean.) Errata on the VK website was not helpful as it didn't address the actual problem, but another editing issue. After charting and counting and adding and ripping, I finally found a solution that worked, and I was able to finish quite quickly. Now, I'm just not sure that the piece is going to work on my figure, but that is another matter entirely. It's blocking now, and the quest for closures begins.

My next project may be Vitamin D. I have been holding onto 4 skeins of Aries Oceanus for just the right project, and this may be the one.

I will try to be better, if only to have a writing goal. I used to write a lot in my former life, and I miss it terribly. My vocabulary and spelling skills have softened and I need to exercise them. I am currently engaged in several games of Words With Friends, and I admit to being terrible at it. We didn't play a lot of Scrabble growing up, and I don't have a mastery of those weird two-letter moves and all those words that start with Q that don't need a U. I am getting better, but if you want to play someone and win, I'm your girl--at least for now.

Fleur de Fiber continues to grow and develop. After stockpiling a fair bit of yarn, I will be descending into the Craft Dungeon for more colorway concocting this week. A potential large-scale job looms, and I need to do a few test-dye skeins for the client. Wish me luck!