Monday, July 23, 2018

So Many Dutch Knitters—Utrecht, Netherlands

Cathy and Rebecca, her daughter, finally finished their tour of Portugal and Spain. You know, I was quite neglected while they wined and dined their way around Iberia. But once Rebecca flew back to the States, I did get one unveiling in Spain… 

Miquela and Shania and ME!
In late May, I got two contributors in Spain and they were from the United States! Cathy was taking a few days “down-time” in San Sebastian after the whirl-wind tour of Spain and Portugal with Rebecca. In the hostel common room, she met Miquela and Shania, who, along with their friend Max, were traveling Europe. When Cathy discovered that both women were knitters, she brought me out of that tiny orange bag and invited them to knit! They had such fun with me. It was a good warmup to the workout I would get in the Netherlands!

Birth Picture: June 5, 2017
June 5 was my birthday and I turned one year old as Cathy loaded up and we traveled on a fast train from Spain to the Netherlands! 

Cathy discovered a very special place in Utrecht—the Sticks and Cups wolwinkle (yarn shop) and it kind of became our second home in Utrecht. 

Lovely Lili
Lili Van Wattum runs the shop with the help of her mother. They immigrated from Iran when Lili was only 4, and they radiate the hospitality their culture is famous for…sincere welcomes, tea all around, interest in everyone’s life, and gifts. 

We were overwhelmed. Cathy visited with Lili for quite a while on that Wednesday and then returned on Thursday to the Knit Lounge where I got passed around quite enthusiastically. It was a warm evening so we all sat out on the street while passers-by took interest.

Cathy had told Olivia, a young English woman in the hostel dorm about the Knit Lounge We were delighted when Olivia showed up to enjoy the stitching comaraderie and added a lovely flower stitch, writing in the journal, “Flowers for Utrecht, a city full of plants!”  

On Sunday afternoon, Cathy was knitting in the Strowis Hostel garden and a couple, Marja and Jon, were sitting nearby waiting for the café next door to open. Once Cathy found out that Marja knitted, she ran upstairs to fetch me! 

Cathy, Marja, and me in the garden at Strowis Hostel in Utrecht

On Tuesday evening, we joined a local Stitch ‘n Bitch at a pub on Breedstraat. We met Carla Meijsen, of The Dutch Knitters. Carla is a genius knitting designer and is soon to publish a book about the use of “Magical Motifs” in knitting. She discovered this traditional method for coding words, dates, and numbers into colorwork designs while in Latvia. Now she has written a computer program to create the geometrical patterns.

The knitters were very enthusiastic about my visit. Janne wrote in my journal, “It was nice to meet you! I envy your freedom and adventure.” Marjolyn used a special silk yarn dyed by Dutch fiber artist, Loret Karman. We really enjoyed the evening. 

On Wednesday, we returned one more time to visit Lili at Sticks and Cups before we left Utrecht. Cathy spent five hours chatting, knitting, and perusing the shelves! Between Lili’s gifts, including a new drop spindle and silk fiber, and the sock and lace yarn she purchased, we almost needed a new piece of luggage! Cathy made plans to return some day and promised Lili that she would do some lace-knitting demonstrations for her shop. 

Camille at Wollyhood's Knit Cafe
On Wednesday evening, at Lili’s suggestion, we visited the Wollyhood Knit Café. Cathy managed to be 45 minutes late because she got very disorganized. But despite that, four ladies were able to knit some rows, including a butterfly stitch that Camille constructed! Nice!

For our next stop, we were invited to stay with lace shawl knitter and designer, Connie Wolthius. Although we had yet to meet her, Cathy and I were destined to have some very special times together with Connie.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Return to Ireland: The Roscommon Lamb Festival!!!

And now we returned to magical Ireland…

It was so thrilling to come back to Roscommon in early May, and such a warm welcome we received. And guess who was there to meet us? Debbie Zawinski, the Feral Spinner, from Scotland! If you follow Cathy’s Travel Blog, you may recall that she made a video in honor of Debbie back on the Shetland Islands, even before they met. 

Then, while walking the Camino de Santiago back in October, Cathy met Gerry and Caitlin Browne. In different ways, they had mistakenly ended up in the same albergue (hostel) for the night. 

Gerry and Caitlin on the
Camino de Santigo del Norte
As they became acquainted, Cathy told Gerry, just conversationally, about Debbie and how she walks cross-country gathering wool from pastures and then spinning and knitting it. (Hence her nickname, “The Feral Spinner.”) Gerry got very excited, and said, way back then in October, “I’m going to call her and see if she will come to our Lamb Festival. Wouldn’t it be great if we had you and Debbie as our guest demonstrators at the festival?” 

Cathy replied, “Oh NO...I’ll be back in the States by then, but I think it is a great idea to see if Debbie would come!” (I guess back then Cathy actually believed there would be an end to this journey.) I think Gerry barely got home before he was on the phone with Debbie—and she accepted. When we turned up in Ireland "just to visit" in January, we learned that Debbie was coming to the Festival in May, So, Cathy made the decision to stay in this part of the world until May and return to Roscommon to demonstrate and teach lace knitting. 

In the meantime, we went to Scotland and actually got to  MEET Debbie in March. And so, here we all are! Thank you, Cathy! I am so glad that you and Gerry and Caitlin got mixed up in your Camino planning back in October! 

Debbie's lace shawl made from wool
gleaned from pastures.
On our second day, Gerry took us out to tour a farm. Almost all sheep in this part of Ireland are raised for meat with little profit for the fleece in mind. But as it turned out, the farmers became fascinated with Debbie’s passion for utilizing the wool. Cathy was wearing a shawl of Debbie’s that she had made entirely of fleece gleaned from the fields and the farmers were entranced. 

Then Donal Mee, the chairman for the Roscommon Festival, gave a shearing demonstration. He has been shearing sheep since about the age of 14 and is pretty darn good at it! The next day in the Woolcraft Marquee, Donal was the first one to drop by and add a few rows to me! Quite a versatile fellow, that Donal! 

An Irish sheep farmer has to possess many skills, and Donal is no exception. 
Gerry enjoyed watching!
Over the weekend, Debbie and Cathy set up demonstration tables each day in the Woolcraft Marquee and talked and talked and talked to visitors. So many enthusiastic people walked by, trying out Debbie’s spinning stick, learning about lace knitting, and adding to ME! 

Cathy was quite taken with a hat that Nancy Devlin, the tablet weaving demonstrator, was wearing. She had designed this unique toque with a fascinating construction technique. Nancy and her husband Paul are multi-talented with many skills, including beekeeping and being historical Viking re-enactors.

Caitlin and Debbie discuss a field-made drop spindle—
another of Debbie's many creations

Here I am on display, waiting for anyone to drop by and knit.

On Saturday, Cathy ducked out of the Woolcraft tent to go across the street to teach “Beautiful Holes,” a beginning lace-knitting class. With thirteen eager participants, they had a very productive three hours. Cathy was nice enough to display me during the workshop, so if folks got bored, they could admire my beautiful colors! 

We also had a great deal of fun with Bridget Banham who spent the weekend demonstrating spinning on her wheel. Cathy teased her about what a “tough” assignment that was—as if any spinner would not relish a whole weekend to just spin…Ha! Bridget donated a ball of her “Just an Old Black Irish Sheep” yarn to my stash. Thank you Bridget! 

Look at that smile! I think Bridget enjoyed herself all weekend!

On Sunday, more knitters stopped by. Some of them had heard about me by word of mouth. Some of my contributors: 
  •  Orla Leyden, Roscommon's lovely mayor 
  • Anna who had taught Orla to knit in primary school
  • Lena, who, beginning at the age of 10, was knitting Aran swearters to sell. Her entire family knit items to sell to make ends meet.
Orla, Anna, and Lena

Lorraine, a delightful fellow knitter, stopped by to apologize that she had not been able to make it to Cathy’s Lace Knitting Class. She asked if Cathy could still give her some pointers. She pulled out a beautiful partly-knitted lace shawl. Cathy exclaimed, “You didn’t need that class! This is wonderful!” Indeed, Lorraine even helped Cathy discuss lace knitting with visitors for the rest of the day. It is always good to have a helper. Thanks Lorraine! 

Lorraine, left, discusses lace knitting charts with Theresa.

Debbie with her
spinning stick
Debbie, Cathy and I got to be great friends during that week and I don’t know how many times one of them remarked, “I cannot believe this happened and we all came together like this! Isn’t it unbelievable?”It’s true: the feelings of friendship and colleague-ship and serendipity were quite phenomenal. 

We still cannot believe it all happened and was so perfect. We felt like dazzled celebrities, posing for photos and talking to reporters, and even being featured on one of the billboards!

Nancy Devlin, Debbie Zawinski, Cathy Fulton, Bridget Banham, and you see me?
At the end of the day on Sunday, Gerry Jago, a local radio reporter, dropped by and caught on camera evidence of how poorly I am treated at the end of each day—ouch! 

OK, OK…just kidding, Cathy… 

It was hard for Cathy to hug everyone goodbye and get on the train that would take us to Dublin; and then we would be flying to Portugal and Spain so she could meet Rebecca, her daughter. Oh GREAAAAT! They will just eat and drink and giggle for three weeks and give little thought to me stuffed in that tiny orange bag.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Back to Oban…One More Time

 We were welcomed back to the Oban Hostel with open arms. In fact, at the reception desk stood Abigail, an America from Sitka, Alaska. She knits! And right then and there she enthusiastically added a red and white wide four-stitch ribbing. 

A couple weeks earlier on one of our stays here, we had gotten to know Barbara. Before we left for the Outer Hebrides, she told Cathy that she is a knitter and she enthusiastically added some red stockinette and embroidered SYHA (for Scottish Youth Hostel Association) on top. 

Cathy and Barbara had some nice conversations during our many stays in Oban. When we returned, she presented us with another traveling companion, a tiny SYHA bear on a keychain, who was sold in the hostels. His official name was Hamish MacBear, but Cathy did not want to get us mixed up, so she re-christened him as Seamus. It is still cold in Scotland, so she immediately knitted a hat and scarf for him. (I DO think a pair of pants would also be nice, Cathy.) 

Seamus really likes to ride along on the front of Cathy's bag.
On April 23, with a few tears, we departed Oban. 

Our last sunset in Oban
Cathy spent a week hiking on the Scottish Isle of Arran (not to be confused with the Aran Islands in Ireland). She did not even take me out of my bag the whole time! Since Hamish is so much smaller than I am, he got to go on some of the hikes. Oh well….

Cathy did make this thought-provoking post on Facebook regarding sheep and golf courses:

But our next destination is back in Ireland! In Roscommon! (Remember Roscommon?) And this time it is for the ROSCOMMON LAMB FESTIVAL!!!  Wow...knitters, spinners, weavers, crocheters...lambs...wool, wool, and more wool! 
Now youre talkin!

In fact, Cathy and I were featured in a promotional article in the local Roscommon People newspaper
Now we are back to a destination I can really relate to! CAN…NOT…WAIT.

Here is a montage featuring Seamus as we traveled from Arran to Dublin—by bus…ferry…train…bus…ferry…bus…overnight in Belfast…bus…tram…and train!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

To the Edge of the Planet…The Outer Hebrides, Part 3: Grimsay, North Uist, and Berneray

If you follow this blog and Cathy’s Travel Blog, you have learned that she is constantly being bombarded by serendipitous events. While at Howmore hostel, we were told by a local farmer that we should visit with Hazel, the woman who lives in a cottage near the hostel. He said that she is a knitter and spinner. She also provided fresh eggs for sale in the hostel kitchen. We had passed the cottage several times and admired her chickens, but it seemed like she was always gone. Finally, on Thursday, we had to move on and miss meeting her. 

The bus took us north from South Uist, across the island of Benbecula and to the Isle of Grimsay, where it left us off right in front of the Uist Wool Center mill and shop. Cathy happened to mention to the woman in the shop that we had been staying at Howmore Hostel.

“Oh, I live next door to the hostel!” the woman said. 

Surprised, Cathy asked, “Are you Hazel??” She was! We got to meet her anyway AND, more importantly, Hazel added some rows to me using the Uist Tir yarn. Tir means “land” in Gaelic and this yarn is from a flock of Black Welsh Mountain sheep that reside on North Uist. 

The Wool Center and mill “emerged from a collective will to find a fresh purpose for local fleece that would reconnect the community with their cultural heritage of wool-working.” It took a great deal of effort to raise the funds and mount such a project for this small rural community and they have reason to be proud. 

Cathy shopped while Hazel knitted. She finally made some interesting purchases, including a “slubbing cake” which is the way the fiber comes from the mill after it has been carded, but before it is spun. Sometimes called “pencil roving,” it is very easy to spin…or held double on large needles it can be knitted into a very warm sweater. It is similar to the Icelandic unspun Lopi fiber that Cathy purchased in Iceland. 

Saying our goodbyes to Hazel, we had to walk two miles back down the road to the bus stop. Well, Cathy walked; I went along strapped to her pack.  

Hazel suggested that we visit the tea shop we would encounter along the way—seemingly in the middle of nowhere! But we were glad we went in because on the walls a series of community quilts were exhibited. The contributing artists had sewn, knitted, crocheted, woven, embroidered, glued, and felted all sorts of squares depicting life in the Hebrides which came together in a remarkable collection of four magnificent quilts. 

We found the bus stopagain, seemingly in the middle of nowhere—and caught a bus across North Uist to the Isle of Berneray and tonight’s lodging, another Gatliff Trust Hostel right down by the sea! 

We stayed two nights at the thatched Berneray hostel and met another warden, Georgie, who added some of the yarn from the Hebridean Woolshed to me. I’m getting pretty spiffy, if I do say so myself!

While on North Uist, Cathy left me behind one day to take a hike around the island. She almost did not go down to the beach but was later glad she did. Look at these amazing images she found in the sand there. It is almost like the ocean picked up some charcoal sticks and became an artist! This phenomenon happens when the tide slowly recedes creating tiny rivulets in a top layer of light-colored sand revealing the dark layer beneath. It took Cathy the longest time to walk around that beach, but she never saw a soul—she says that it was magical.

And now we return to the Scottish mainland and our “home” in Oban. To hear about THAT journey (and Robert, the Dog Optometrist), you will have to go over to Cathy’s travelblog: Cathleens Hands.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

To the Edge of the Planet…The Outer Hebrides: Part 2, Eriskay and South Uist

On to South Uist by ferry...

All the Hebridean Islands are connected by ferries. Our lodgings were in old thatched buildings with 34-inch-thick walls. There are three of these hostels in the Outer Hebrides and they are run by the Gatliff Trust Foundation to provide shelter for travelers—especially walkers and bikers. We would stay there for 5 nights enjoying the peace and quiet. 

Tommy, the hostel warden’s husband told us that he could trace his ancestry on the Hebrides back to the 1300s, and that a great, great, great….aunt on his mother’s side was the Flor MacDonald who smuggled Bonnie Prince Charlie to the Isle of Skye dressed as her maid.

Cathy walked along the coast of the island of Eriskay from the ferry dock and decided to stop in at the American Politician Pub (named after the ship that ran aground here during World War II carrying a load of whiskey of which the villagers took full advantage!). It was early for lunch, so Anne, the nice server had some time to knit a few rows of garter stitch and talk about being raised on the Hebrides. 
A warning to heed on the causeway between Eriskay and South Uist.
We would meet this family of cyclists in the evening at Howmore Hostel. 
Cathy continued our walk north and across the causeway to South Uist until we reached the Hebridean Woolshed, a remarkable studio and shop run by Denise Bridge.

The shop sits right next to the highway in front of Denise’s home and is self-service: “Make your selection and bring your payment up to the house.” 

The shop is beautifully laid out and features a nice selection of Hebridean yarn
as well as hand-spun and hand-dyed yarn. 
Decisions, decisions. Cathy finally chose a couple skeins, both of which came from the croft that the Bridges work. The black is shearling (lamb) Hebridean wool and the gray is a mix of the Hebridean and Cheviot sheep that are raised on the croft.

When Cathy walked through the luscious walled garden (even in late winter!) to the house to pay, Denise welcomed us in to her studio and added some garter stitches using her own Beínn Sgíathan gray yarn. The name comes from the hill where the sheep graze.

Before we left, she took us to the side of the house where there were some new-born black Hebridean lambs. One was being sequestered in a trailer with its mother. Its twin had died and Denise brought them in from the paddock for a day or so to be sure they bonded well before returning them to pasture.

Cathy had us all ready to leave the next morning and then at the last minute, she decided that we should stay an extra three nights at Howmore. We were mostly here by ourselves and it was so very peaceful! She took a local bus to visit the local Kildonan Museum that several locals recommended. There were some nice exhibits about the Harris Tweed that the Hebrides are famous for. But the highlights for me were Carol and Angela, who worked in the museum’s craft shop. They were delighted to add some lace (Carol) and basketweave (Angela) to me.

Returning to our hostel on the bus, the driver took an unscheduled detour. Cathy was curious but did not say anything. Shortly, the driver pulled over and peered into the field. In a minute, he reached for his phone, still peering intently into the distance. “That ewe is lambing,” he said. Cathy could barely pick out the sheep, but the driver dialed a number, engaged in a short Gaelic conversation, hung up, and continued down the road. In a minute, we passed a house and the driver pointed to a woman who was jumping into her SUV, “That’s the farmer.” These people look out for each other and their animals, even when it means the bus deviates from route and schedule!

That evening, Betty, the warden for the Howmore Hostel visited with us and added a 3-stitch ribbing using some of the “postbox red” Iona yarn. Nice!

The next day, Cathy took a hike up the coast and around some nearby lochs. On the beach she found razor clam and urchin shells which she thought might inspire some future knitted colorwork: 

Here are a few more images that will help you understand why it took us so long to leave Howmore:

Next stop: North Uist and Berneray