Tuesday 19 August 2014

Inspirations - In which Mark learns to knit

This is Mark, my other half of many years. You may have come across him being terrifyingly efficient if a little bewildered at shows: 

Although always appreciative of knitting and all things woolly, he has never expressed any desire to learn to knit himself, dismissing it as "too fiddly". Until now.
In the van on the way home from Unwind Brighton, Mark suddenly announced that "he probably should learn to knit". Apparently this was due to the two lovely bearded gentlemen who visited our stall a couple of times during the show and asked what the yarns were like to knit with. Although Mark was quite capable of answering questions about fibre content, origin and meterage, he had to admit that he was, in fact,"not a knitter". The gentlemen recoiled and looked him up and down with such vigour that it shamed him into feeling that really, if he's going to be selling knitting supplies, he should know what he is talking about.

So that became our little project for the holidays. I picked up some short, not too thin needles from the charity shop (everything at home is cabled and there was no need for those just yet) and found some nice British Breeds Jacob aran weight wool at home. We decided on a garter stitch cowl as a first project - not as soul-destroying as a neverending scarf, and something that he could actually use once it was finished.

After the initial tongue-sticking-out stage, he seemed to relax naturally into it:

We left him alone for a morning:

And before the week was up, lo and behold, finished cowl!:

So thank you, kind bearded gentlemen of Brighton, you made Mark learn to knit :)

As for me, I was inspired by a visit to my friend Lina in Sweden. I've seen plenty of pictures of her house on her blog before, and the reality made me deeply jealous, in the kindest possible way. I am frustrated by the lack of architectural thinking in the UK, a long rant which I will spare you, and realising that what is considered a "tiny little house" in Sweden is in fact on par if not slightly bigger than our very middle class new-build (but with more windows and storage) was truly disheartening.
Just imagine waking up here every morning....

photo by LinaOJ

Even her studio a short drive away in town was breathtaking: you opened the door from a normal street and inside was this magical courtyard with ancient steps and tumble down outbuildings with painted doors, and of course, Lina's kingdom of fabric. :)

She even let me have a couple of goodies, some sunshine coloured sheets and that piece of orange fabric on the top, seen here with my other textile finds:

But at the same time, Lina's is a joyous, colourful, wonderfully Swedish home and it inspired me to try and do the best I can with what we've got and fill it with colour and crafts and ragrugs and fika.

Photo by LinaOJ

Photo by LinaOJ

I've even dug out my rigid heddle loom and set about making ragrugs - very handy as it's also helping me clear my craftroom of all the fabrics I don't really use anymore!

Sunday 17 August 2014

Linen re-packaged

Our lovely Lithuanian Linen is now presented in hanks rather than the previous cakes. This makes it less likely to tangle in transit and actually much softer to the touch!

We still have  few of our brights left:

Moody greys and indigos:

Subtle greens:

And of course, glorious purples:

Everything else is still the same, each 100gr hank contains 450 meters of heavy lace weight yarn, costing £8. For the full range, follow this link

Saturday 9 August 2014

Colourful Scandinavia part 2 - in which there eventually is some yarn

So after the shameless cake-orgy of my last post, let's talk about my other great love: vintage crockery. Sweden has some incredible charity shops, warehouses filled with rows upon rows of fantastic crockery and decorative ceramics, many of them in classic mid-century style. The heavier and more disgustingly brown or khaki, the more I love it....something which on this trip resulted in me purchasing extra hold luggage on the way home!
But when the shops look like  this, how am I supposed to stick to my luggage allowance??

It took every ounce of restraint and a lot of putting things back to assemble this little collection - and a decision to come over by car next time, because I didn't even touch on all the pine furniture!

One of the brands that I love finding is Hoganas, a well known pottery in Skane who are still going today, making lovely crockery in bright colours and timeless shapes which you will find in most Swedish homes. They have a great factory outlet in the town of Hoganas on the west coast which has now expanded to include Finnish glassmaker Ittala - those of Moomin mug and Aalto vase fame. In the older part of the town, there is a sort of mini-mall in one of the old factory buildings. Here they have a very atmospheric shop with some of their earliest designs - the salt-glazed "krus" - housed inside the now disused kilns. On the upper floor, there is a restaurant serving a great buffet of fresh, local food, layed out on the top of the kilns!

At the other end of the same building, much to Mark's delight, we found the Hoganas micro-brewery. Fantastic beer they had too, although there was a small culture shock when we realised that we couldn't buy the beer at the brewery to take home - this being Sweden, we would of course have to go to the state-run Systembolaget for anything over 4% proof. We did have a tasting session though.

One of my favourite finds was a Hoganas teapot which I found amongst a couple of flea market stalls near the station in Lund. We were heading to Copenhagen for the day, but the tea pot was too good to leave so poor Mark had to carry it in his rucksack all day. He was handsomly rewarded for his effort with beer and cinnamon rolls though.

Then there was....the yarn shopping the business research. All for the shop, of course, not for my own pleasure in any way...
Most places you travel to will perhaps have one good yarn shop in town. On the first day, we went to Ystad (home of Wallander, for those of you that way inclined) and saw three just on the high street (Stora Östergatan). The first as you come from the Market Square is a retailer of big brand Järbo - a huge range of colours in both mercerised and unmercerised cottons, as well as a selection of Icelandic Lopi and multicoloured yarns, some with manmade fibres, but impressive nonetheless and very well laid out.
The second shop down was unfortunately in the process of closing down, amazingly because "there are so many yarn shops on this street!". I would hazard a guess that she was being out-priced by the other two as her very interesting stock is at the more luxury end of the scale: gorgeous BC Garn, hand dyed Hjeltholts gradients and Kalinka Linen in stunning colours. It's always sad to see a yarn shop go, although I did get to enjoy her closing-down sale prices ;)

The last shop on the street is another big brand retailer, this time Svarta Fåret (who make our raggsock yarn). The shop is a bit dark and old-fashioned, but it is absolutely packed to the rafters with yarn of any shape, weight, colour, fibre content and then some that you can imagine. By the time we got there, I was genuinely too hot to think about any more wool (Sweden was having a freak 30+ all week) but my mother bought some very nice fine cotton for a crochet cardigan.

The second big yarn crawl was in Copenhagen - first up was Uldstedet, in their airy new premises by Nørreport. Funnily enough, their old basement premises in Fiolstræde now seem to be home to Uno Clothing - amazing hand dyed, creative linen clothes - a shop we'd wanted to revisit but couldn't find at their old location!
Uldstedet carries a big selection of Isager yarns - I bought some of their Alpaca/Highland wool blend to try, as well as Designclub's moorish Wool/Silk.  They also stock Danish Gepard yarns and a big range of Rowan, amongst others. It was here that I discovered that Mark has suddenly become much easier to drag around the shops, but more on that later.

Walking back through Fiolstræde, we came across a sewing shop stocking the full range of Onion yarns, with a very passionate and knowledgable owner telling us all about it - I bought a few samples to play with and will hopefully be able to tell you more about those soon.

Finally, the unmissable yarn destination in Copenhagen: Summerfuglen. Every cubbyhole, nook and cranny there is packed with quality yarn: plenty of Noro, lots of independent brands, small Danish companies and that huge bug-bear of mine: kits.

There is nothing wrong with kits as such, sometimes it's nice to have everything assembled and prepared for you so you don't have to worry about picking out matching colours in the right amounts and so on. Here, however, I saw a very interesting pattern knitted up and was told that it was only available as a kit. Being a bigger girl though, I knew that I would need to fiddle the pattern and add a little length to suit me, so I asked if the yarn was available on it's own so I could work something out and was told no. That particular yarn, which looked really nice, could only be sold in that kit at that specific size. It's even unlabelled, so the shop assistants couldn't even tell me the meterage was in the kit so I could try and work out if there was enough yarn to alter the design somewhat. It just seems to me like a very restrictive way of selling yarn, and felt like the designer was saying "only MY idea is worthy of being knitted in this yarn, you lowly pedestrian knitter".

So instead I picked out a sweater-amount in Dunlin - a lovely, soft cotton-linen blend I've worked in before and loved. It's rather fine, and the sweater I ve planned is all in garter stitch, so you may still hear me swear about it in the coming months, but I'm very pleased with my colour selection, widely inspired by the clothes of Gudrun Sjöden, icon of creative women in Scandinavia.

The last place I want to mention is Hemslöjden in Landskrona. Currently dramatically set within the castle - although they will soon be taking over the old train station - they specialise in keeping old crafts alive. There is a whole room dedicated to traditional Skanian wool embroidery - the range of colours is just breathtaking, as well as a second room of mostly unlabelled Swedish yarns from small spinning mills and hand dyers. They also have a section selling finished products from blacksmiths and woodworkers from the area, although these are not cheap.

It may seem like we travelled around an awful lot, and we did go to a different town almost every day, but things are close together in Skåne (no more than an hour drive) and with the bridge, Copenhagen is only 40 minutes away, and the landscape in between is blissful to drive through, mostly flat with rolling wheat fields and distinctive willows as far as the eye can see. The area is surrounded by coast on three sides and we stopped for refreshing dips after our arduous shopping most days.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Colourful Scandinavia part 1 - in which I seem to talk only about cake.

We have just returned from 10 days in Skåne, the very southern tip of Sweden where I grew up. I left the country before I was old enough to really shop by myself and have design tastes and opinions, so the trip was equal measures childhood nostalgia and seeing it all with completely new eyes. Whichever way I looked at it, there was joy and delight at every turn.
Scandinavia is usually associated with simple, understated design and muted, neutral colours, yet the overwhelming impression I came away with this time was one of COLOUR!

Maybe it was the stunning summer weather, or the heightened senses from being on relaxed on holiday, but everything seemed just full of rich, bright colour, from the many yarn shops to clothing design to food and even cakes.

I had three goals for my holiday: research lots of exciting new yarns for the shop, trawl the charity shops for retro scandi design and have "fika" in old fashioned Konditori's .

To understand a Konditori, you must first familiarise yourself with the Swedish notion of "fika". Fika is a national institution - on the whole, it is nothing more complex than a cup of coffee and something sweet. The sweet thing can be anything from a small biscuit to a great big piece of layer cake, depending on the occasion, or even an open-faced sandwich if the time of day is right. Swedish people fika almost every day - it is a chance to catch up with colleagues mid-morning at work, or with friends in the afternoon, or it can be a break during a weekend shopping trip or a journey. Fika is taken sitting down, and as such becomes more relaxed and sociable than just grabbing a take-away coffee. In my time working for IKEA in the UK, our weekly team meeting was called the Fika and we took turns bringing cake to honour the company's Swedish origin.

picture from yourlivingcity.com

As you may gather from that, the Swedes are big on their cakes. Whilst simpler sponge cakes and biscuits are expected to be baked at home, for more fancy things, one goes to a konditori - a kind of bakery and patisserie shop within a cafe, where you can, of course, also take your fika if you are out and about. Growing up, I took the konditori in town rather for granted - it existed in the same way as the supermarket or the pharmacy, but now that I am older, I appreciate them so much more for their retro look and feel. Many of them have been around for generations, and whilst they may have added fancy espresso-machines and gluten free cakes, the decor has often remained wonderfully mid-century with teak panelling and spindle-back chairs.

Cafe Valand in Stockholm, a beautiful example

We visited the beautiful Konditori Fahlman in Helsingborg (amongst others) which this year celebrates its 100th year in business. There is even a signed and framed document on the wall there declaring that King Gustav VI Adolf enjoyed a fika there. Apparently he enjoyed a lot of fika as he turned up in a couple of the places we went to. The cakes, of course, were exquisite.

It was also my mother's birthday while we were in Sweden, and I had long planned to buy her a Princess cake from Ramklints for the occasion. Ramklints are the longest standing konditori in my home town of Lund - it has just always been there and always had the same brown boxes with the gold ribbon and the 1950s logo.

The Princess cake is the go-to special occasion cake in Sweden. It's funny what being an ex-pat does to you: when we lived there, we both thought the Princess was a fairly boring cake, just sponge layers with jam and buttercream and the best bit about it was the bright green marzipan on top. As a teacher, my mother was also sick of the sight of it as it was wheeled out at all end of year celebrations and staff birthdays. But now, it is a thing filled with nostalgia and taste of home and suddenly marvellous.
The one I bought was so swiftly demolished that I didn't get a chance to take a picture of it, but here's a photo of someone else's :)

picture by ICA

As this seems to have become a post all about cake (and trust me, I could write much more!) , I will return later with some actual yarn content although I must still mention Flickorna Lundgren - a very different kind of cafe from the town konditoris I've been describing. Theirs is set in wonderful gardens in the countryside, the waitresses wear simple, folk-inspired dresses, there is a petting zoo of farm animals for the kids and the bigger kids who can't resist a goat and if you ever have a chance to visit Skåne and have a car at hand, I cannot recommend it enough!

Sunday 3 August 2014

Incredible Unwind

The first ever Unwind Brighton event went ahead last weekend, and what an event it was!
Of course, this was only Midwinter's second ever show and I'm still wide-eyed and excited about all of them, but even the seasoned pros came away in awe of what the Unwind team had put together.

We set off at quite a leisurely pace in the sunshine on Friday - the van seemed more neatly stacked than it had been for Wonderwool - and swiftly crossed the bridge then pootled down the scenic route through Bath and Salisbury towards Brighton.
Arriving in Brighton in the early evening, we had the great luxury of staying with my friend Cathy for the weekend. We had seen her house from 20 miles away on the road: the big white tower block on the seafront, 17th floor, no less, and the view from inside did not disappoint.

I may have been a bit smug about this when talking to people...I'm not even slightly sorry :p

But so much for lounging about eating cheese and staring at the sea view. Saturday morning meant serious business! We arrived to set up at 7am, in the beautiful Corn Exchange, right next toTriskelion Yarns in our little Welsh enclave. Welsh flag duly hoisted between the stands, Mark set about putting up our new racking while I want back to park the van and pick up some breakfast on the stroll back through barely waking Brighton..."Paris s'eveille" came to mind.

So there we were, all ready to go. What followed after that was a blur. So many wonderful, enthusiastic, interesting people coming by, all eager to find out about the yarns or tell us about their exciting projects. People from far and wide too, France, Canada, Germany, Scandinavia....Mark even got introduced to the special power we scandinavians have of conducting a conversation in two languages at the same time, in this instance, Swedish and Norwegian. I have come away with several tips of Norwegian yarns to look in to, which I'm very excited about.

The best-seller of the day was by far the Lithuanian linen, probably due to it being a stunning summer day outside....and sweltering inside! This was all we had left by end of Saturday:

but fear not, more is on order already!

I do wish I had taken some more photos of the rest of the event and the other stalls - the quality of the other vendors was just superb and the setting was so beautiful, but I must admit that between my duties as a vendor and being overwhelmed by the choice as a shopper, I just didn't have enough brain capacity left to remember to take pictures as well!

When I did get a chance to escape, I did a little personal shopping for my mother. There were quite a few stalls doing smaller skeins - maybe that is this year's thing? - perfect for colourwork or smaller projects or for just petting...

Clockwise from top left: Gotland colourwork skeins from The Little Grey Sheep, Lunar Flares fromFive Moons, Unicorn Tails by Madelinetosh from L'Oisivethe

As for myself, I kept getting inspired and distracted by the amazing array of knitwear I saw on visitors and other vendors and just wanting to make my own versions of them all! In the end, I settled for a hank of Juno which I originally saw at Wonderwool two years ago but didn't buy at the time, some lovely wooden toggles from The Little Knitting company, and the gorgeous Oosie yarn from Skein Queen. Quite how I missed the Oosie all weekend long until the last hour of trading is beyond me, it was EXACTLY what I was looking for after I had a customer wearing a similar colour cardigan at my stall. Actually, I first picked up and bought a beautiful inky blue-purple shade. Then I went back and asked if I could borrow the green and get some opinions. The opinions all said the blue was stunning and suited my skin colour and I should go for the blue. So I got the green. And boy am I glad I did....the more I look at that shade, the more interesting it gets.

And those two little hanks at the front? They're also from The Little Grey Sheep. They re going to make up the edging for the 4 big orange hanks that are being dyed for me as we speak....you didn't think I'd come away from an event like that with just those three things, did you??

So there we are, that was Unwind 2014, the first of I hope many more to come (please Dani, pretty please?) . We're back on the right side of the bridge again, tired but blissful and with my head buzzing with ideas and inspiration.