A Tiny Yarn Shop

Hello! It’s good to see you here again. For this week’s summer outing, I’m taking you to Vries, another small village in our part of the country. Vries isn’t as picturesque as last week’s destination Giethoorn, and I doubt if it sees many tourists, but it does have some attractive spots.

Generally, the church from the middle of the 12th century is considered the village’s main attraction. Granted, it is beautiful. Surrounded by trees, it wasn’t easy to photograph, but here is a view from the side:

The church is dedicated to Saint Boniface and has doors in a particularly attractive shade of red.

But to me, Vries’ biggest attraction is the smallest yarn shop I know. And when I say small, I mean tiny. It is called Wol zo Eerlijk (Wool so Fair) and is so small that it can only welcome one customer at a time with the 1.5 meter distance rule in place. This little gem is tucked away in a small corner between two other buildings.

Wol zo Eerlijk specializes in sustainable and fair-trade yarns, produced in animal-friendly ways and without child labour.

This may conjure up images of drab and scratchy yarns, but nothing is further from the truth. There are some neutrals, too, of course. But all in all, the first impression is a very colourful one. Let’s go inside to take a look.

Although the selection of yarns is fairly limited (it is a tiny shop, after all) there is a good range of materials, from cotton and linen to different kinds of wool and even yak.

To start with, here is Erika Knight’s ‘Studio Linen’ in some of the loveliest shades imaginable.

What makes this yarn sustainable is that 85% of it is recycled linen. Pure new linen makes up the remaining 15%.

The yarn in the photo below is mYak ‘Baby Yak Lace’. This is a heavy lace-weight yarn spun entirely from baby yak hair, also known as yak down, from Tibet. Soooo soft.

In my mind’s eye I saw those poor little baby yaks shivering and bleating after being shorn, but fortunately that isn’t how it works and there is no need to feel sorry for them. They are not shorn – the down is collected by combing. In fineness and softness this yak down is similar to cashmere.

Selling their yak fibres, enables the nomad families of the Tibetan plateau to continue herding their animals as they’ve done for centuries, in a way that keeps the fragile ecosystem intact. A further sustainable aspect is that the yak down is not bleached or decoloured, and that shows in the skeins. The overdyed natural colours give beautiful, slightly heathered shades.

And here is another yarn in some lovely colours – Rosários 4 ‘Belmonte’.

‘Belmonte’ is an organic wool-and-cotton blend in a dk-weight. Spun in Portugal, this yarn is GOTS certified, which means that it meets the toughest international standards for organic textiles.

Wol zo Eerlijk provides swatches of all the yarns in their shop.

I think this is a wonderful idea. It gives a much better impression of what the knitting will look like than just seeing a yarn in the skein or ball.

And here is one final yarn – ‘Pip Colourwork’, British wool spun and dyed in Yorkshire. Beautiful vibrant as well as more subtle colours in 25 gram balls. Ideal for fair-isle or similar stranded colourwork, but I wouldn’t mind knitting an entire cardigan in duck-egg Bramley Baths, turquoise Lotherton or raspberry Rose window.

I didn’t photograph each and every yarn at Wol zo Eerlijk. Please visit their website (in Dutch and English) for more information and yarns. (As always: I’m not sponsored in any way – I just love looking at, knitting with and talking about yarn. Besides, I think small, lovingly curated shops like this one deserve all the support they can get).

Well, shopping is thirsty work. High time for some refreshments. Take care, and see you next week!

Wool Stories

Now and then, I come across something in my diary I wrote down months ago. For last weekend, my diary said, ‘Knitting & Crochet Days Amsterdam’. Under normal circumstances, I would have taken an early train to the capital and then taken the ferry across the IJ for a day of meeting up with friends, chatting with yarn sellers and dyers, and finding new inspiration. I would also have taken pictures and shared them here with you.

I know that there are worse things in life, and I’m 100% behind the government’s decision to cancel all events until at least September, but I did feel slightly disappointed that I had to cross this event out (I’m only human).

I soon found a good alternative, though – I paid an online visit to a lovely dye studio and yarn shop in my part of the country.

It is called Wolverhalen, or Wool Stories in English. I also revisited the pictures I took during a visit in October 2019 (the ones you’re seeing here), and had a lovely long phone call with the owner, Catharina. She kindly sent me this photo of herself:

Catharina is a woman of many talents. Before she started her shop and dye studio about a year ago, she was an ambulance driver for many years. And before that, she ran her own flower shop.

I can’t say that the ambulance driver part of her career is reflected in her business, except in her friendly and caring presence, but the flower shop part certainly is. In addition to yarn, knitting books and tools, and Swedish woollen blankets, she also offers a great selection of plants and pots.

They give the beautiful light and airy space a relaxed and homey feel. For us, knitters, the most important part is the yarn, of course. Adjacent to the shop, there’s a sparklingly clean, well-organized and well-lit dye studio.

Here Catharina dyes her wool, silk, mohair, yak and suri alpaca yarns. (Don’t these materials just sound like music to your ears?) During my visit last autumn, there were some freshly dyed skeins in very bright shades on her drying rack. They were meant to be wound into sock minis – small skeins to be used as accent colours.

In addition to these bright and cheerful shades, she also produces sophisticated neutrals, refined pastels as well as gorgeous charcoals, deep blues, purples, greens and browns.

When I asked her why she decided to start Wolverhalen, Catharina told me about her life-long love of making things, and that she had been dyeing yarns as a hobby for several years before turning it into a business. Guess what her favourite colour is? Green, of course! I needn’t have asked.

Some of the yarns are dyed with natural dyestuffs and some with acid dyes. Environmentally friendly citric acid is used as fixative for the latter. (Acid dyes are not themselves acidic but require an acid to set them.)

The environment, sustainability and animal welfare are important to Catharina. (That sounds like music to my ears, too!) She avoids the use of plastic as much as possible, chooses recycled or recyclable materials for packaging, and all her wool is mulesing-free.

Well, let’s browse around the shop a little more. Below, on the right, is some økologisk Hverdagsuld and Tynd Lamauld from Danish brand CaMaRose.

(I don’t remember what the yarn on the left was.) I have no experience with these, but I love the range of colours and bought a few balls during last year’s visit to try them out. They’re still waiting patiently in a basket.

And here is some BC Garn Baby Alpaca, also from Denmark.

Not my colours, but oh so soft!

During my recent online visit, I ordered one skein of yarn that definitely IS my colour. It came wrapped in tissue paper with a lovely plant print, accompanied by a handwritten card with a personal message. Such a treat! I have an idea for it, but can’t tell you about it yet for fear of jinxing my creativity.

This blogpost is one of the ways in which I try to help small businesses survive this crisis. The world would lose so much of its colour if they were to disappear, don’t you think? I know it’s just a small drop in the ocean, but many small drops…

I hope your local yarn shop is still open for (online) business, or will be again soon. If not, there’s always Wolverhalen. The website is entirely in Dutch, but Catharina does ship worldwide and I’m sure she’ll be delighted to answer any questions.

Yarn Review: Manos ‘Fino’

Do you know that feeling – you see a yarn and immediately fall in love?

Nowadays I try to be sensible and only buy yarn with a specific project in mind. But it still happens to me every now and then that I see a yarn that is so beautiful I just have to take it home with me, even though I have no idea what I’m going to do with it.

‘Fino’ from Manos del Uruguay is one of those yarns. The tiny ball in the yarn bowl in an earlier post already gave you a glimpse of it.

Mini-skeins

The yarn I’m showing you in this blog post is a set of mini-skeins in a colourway called ‘Flora’:

Before I start describing the yarn, I need to tell you that these mini-skeins are exactly the same yarn as the full skeins of Manos ‘Fino’. A set of five 20 gram mini-skeins has the same yardage and the same weight as one 100 gram skein. And all of the colours in the mini-skein sets are also available as full skeins.

The yarn

Some Manos yarns are still spun by hand. Fino isn’t, but it is hand-dyed, and that shows. I realize that may sound negative, but that’s not what I mean at all. On the contrary. The hand-dyeing process yields beautiful colours, as you can see below:

From top to bottom the colours are: 433 Folly, 404 Watered Silk, 408 Crystal Goblet, 407 Velvet Pincushion and 423 Tincture.

Folly, Watered Silk, Crystal Goblet… it looks like they’ve found their colour inspiration at some 18th or 19th century mansion, doesn’t it?

None of the colours are completely solid. Some of them are semi-solids, with lighter and darker shades of the same colour, like the darkest green (Tincture). Others are more variegated, with a combination of different hues. For instance, overall the second colour from the top (Watered Silk) looks pale turquoise. But looking more closely at the yarn knit up in a swatch…

… you can see that there is pale turquoise and even paler turquoise in it, but also some purplish grey, steel blue and mauve. All in all, this gives a lively (but not too busy) effect.

Fino is a light fingering-weight blend of silk and wool with a subtle sheen. It is a single-ply yarn. This means that it consists of just one strand of yarn, unlike most yarns, which have several plies twisted together. I’ve taken a close-up, so that you can see what this looks like:

The yarn is not entirely even – it has slightly thicker and thinner bits. I think this adds to its charm on the whole. There were one or two blobs of silk in my yarn that were too thick to my taste, but I was able to remove them very carefully without damaging the thread.

I always like to know where a yarn I’m using comes from. What the story behind it is. So I did some research and discovered that Manos yarns have a very interesting story to tell.

Fair Trade

What I found out is that Manos del Uruguay (Hands of Uruguay) is a not-for-profit organization, comprising 12 individual cooperatives, owned by the women who work there. The cooperatives are all located in rural areas of the country and their products are certified by the World Fair Trade Organization.

There’s much more to tell, but the artisans can tell their own story much better than I ever could. In honour of their fiftieth anniversary they’ve made a 6-minute video that gives a great impression of their work. Don’t you just love those long, long lines with skeins of dyed yarn, drying on the air outside?

The knitting experience

So what is it like to knit with this yarn? Absolutely lovely, in my humble opinion. I’ve knit some small swatches, one in each colour:

I have a little more experience knitting with this yarn than just these small swatches, as I’m also working on another project in Fino, an easy-to-knit accessory that I hope to tell you more about later this spring. I first used the blues and greens shown here, and I’m making another version in a totally different (but equally beautiful) colourway now.

The yarn knits up to a fairly even fabric. Very fine, or more open and drapey depending on the needle size used. The yarn is so beautiful that just plain stocking stitch would be a good choice, but I think it will work equally well in a cable or lace pattern. Because it is so soft, it is perfect for accessories worn close to the skin, like shawls, cowls or hats. I don’t think it will stand up to frequent (machine) washing, so I wouldn’t recommend it for baby knits.

Some bleeding is common in hand-dyed yarns. But when I soaked the items I knit in a non-rinse wool detergent these colours didn’t bleed at all.

Yarn facts

  • Name: Fino
  • Manufacturer: Manos del Uruguay
  • Skein weight: 100 g (mini-skein sets 5×20 g)
  • Length: 450 m (490 yds)
  • Recommended needle size: 3-3.75 mm (US 3-5)
  • Recommended tension/gauge: 24-28 sts to 10 cm (4 in)
  • Composition: 70% wool; 30% silk
  • Made in: Uruguay
  • Available in: 40 shades
  • I used: Mini-skein set ‘Flora’
  • I paid: € 29.70 for a set (February 2019)

Yarn shop

In fact, I didn’t buy this yarn in a shop, but at a big annual needle crafts fair, where I spent a wonderful day with a friend who loves knitting just as much as I do. The yarn seller does have a shop – De Roopoorte, near Ghent in Belgium – but I haven’t been there, so I can’t tell you about it. What I can tell you is that Evelyne, the owner, has a good eye for beautiful yarns and interesting pattern books. And she stayed calm and friendly all day long, patiently giving people advice about yarns and patterns, no matter how big the crowds milling around her stand got.  

Silly but honest

You may (or may not) have noticed that I sometimes add notes to my blog posts saying something like ‘This post is not sponsored in any way’. I feel a bit silly adding these notes. I mean, who’d want to sponsor me?

The reason I’m adding these notes is that I want to make it clear that nobody is paying me to say nice things about their yarn, shop, designs, books etcetera. When I say nice things about something or somebody, it’s because I really mean them. This also applies to this post. Honesty and integrity are important values to me. So even though it feels rather silly, I’ll keep adding these notes from time to time.

Fun

I’ve had such fun playing with this yarn – winding the small skeins into balls, knitting those tiny swatches, taking lots of photos. I hope it’s been fun to look at and read, too. Thank you for spending some time here.

A Visit to a Norwegian Spinning Mill

Hello! Welcome on board the ferry from Kiel, Germany, to Oslo, the capital of Norway.

Today we’re travelling back in time to 2006. The year our family of three spent a Summer Holiday in Norway. One of our destinations is a spinning mill on the west coast, a little north of Bergen.

But before we get there, we’ll be seeing some sights along the way. I won’t bore you with our complete family photo album, but I do want to show you a bit of this beautiful, rugged country that has such a great knitting tradition.

Our accommodation for most of this holiday is a tent. It isn’t big, but it’s comfortable. And we’ve even brought some chairs.

From Oslo we are first travelling north, to Jotunheimen National Park. This mountainous area is ideal for hiking. There are miles upon miles of hiking trails, the main routes clearly marked with big red T’s on rocks.

The scenery is breathtaking, the air is clean and fresh, and – apart from the sound of wind, water and birds – silence reigns. (Click on pictures to enlarge.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed these walks and are not too stiff and sore from the unaccustomed climbing. Leaving Jotunheimen, we’re now travelling in a southwesterly direction.

At Borgund we visit a stave church from around 1200 AD. The roof of this wooden building is decorated with both dragon’s heads and crosses, and there are intricate wood carvings around the entrance. Inside it is rather dark, as the windows are small. The wood is charred and tarred for preservation, which gives off a very special smell.

Our next stop is Bergen, the second largest city of Norway (280.000 inhabitants). These are the wooden buildings at Bryggen, the colourful historic harbour front:

Bergen is notorious for its rainfall. There’s a well-known joke about it that goes like this:

A foreign tourist visiting Bergen in a downpour addresses a local boy, ‘Boy, please tell me, is it always raining in Bergen?’ The boy answers, ‘I wouldn’t know, Sir. I’m only six.’

We’d heard the joke and decided to rent a cottage in the area instead of putting up our tent again.

It is painted in Scandinavian red and one corner of the roof is supported by a knobbly tree trunk. Inside everything is made of unpainted wood – the walls, the floor, the furniture. On our menu is a lot of salmon, as well as Pytt i Panne, a traditional one-pot dish with potatoes, leeks and ham.

From the cottage it is only a short drive north to Hjelmås, where we are going to visit a spinning mill, called Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk.

Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk was founded in 1898. Some of the machinery from the early days is still in use. The front door of the building opens right into a small shop brimful with yarn and ready-knit socks, woollen underwear and sweaters.

We ask the lady behind the counter if we could, perhaps, take a look around the actual mill to see the yarn being spun. ‘Of course,’ she says, and she calls the general manager, who kindly gives us a tour of the premises. He tells us that all of the wool they process is from Norwegian sheep.

First he shows us how the wool is fed into the carding machine…

… and is carded by roll upon spiky roll to align the fibers, and produce a sliver ready for spinning.

Then we see how the carded wool is spun onto yarn spools.

The yarn is dyed in big vats, in over a hundred different colours. (Unfortunately we didn’t take any photos of those. At the time I had no idea that I’d ever be publishing this on a blog. Had I even heard of blogs in 2006?)

Back in the shop it’s time for another look at the colourful yarn display. After much deliberation, I finally decide to buy the kit for the ‘challenging’ cardigan I mentioned in my previous post.

Nowadays, Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk is an Economusée, which means that they are still a working mill, but now officially give guided tours.

Well, it’s high time to get back on the ferry for the return journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed your mini-holiday in Norway. Thank you for travelling with Merula Designs and I hope to see you again soon.

Note: This post is not sponsored in any way. I just like talking about knitting materials and where they come from. (Not that I would mind being sponsored by the Norwegian Tourist Board but, alas, they haven’t discovered my blog yet.)

Yarn Review: Rowan ‘Cashmere Tweed’

Recently someone not a million miles from here made a remark about my blog that set me thinking. He said: ‘I have to read/scroll through quite a lot of stuff to get to the point of your post.’

That stopped me in my tracks. To me, this reading/scrolling thing is the point.

O dear, am I doing this all wrong? Should I make my point first, and expand on it afterwards? There is something to be said for that.

Hunters and gatherers

After giving it some thought, I came to the conclusion that this is a great illustration of the difference between hunters and gatherers. A remnant from a time when we lived in caves and had to hunt for meat and gather berries to prevent starvation. Some people were better at one thing and some at the other.

I consider myself totally and utterly a gatherer. I often find lots of delicious berries (i.e. seemingly irrelevant but fun stuff) along the way and easily get distracted by them. And that is also the way I write my blog. But I do realize that not everybody is like that.

So, if you are a hunter type, and prefer to get straight to the meaty details, please scroll down to a box entitled ‘Yarn Facts’, followed by ‘Conclusion’.

If you are more of a gatherer, please read on.

A bit of history

A long time ago, I became a member of Rowan International. For those of you who don’t know: Rowan is a Yorkshire-based yarn company especially famous for its tweed yarns and innovative designs.

At the time Rowan International members received a beautiful, large-size magazine twice a year, packed with knitting and crochet patterns and some interesting background articles. Plus the new autumn/winter or spring/summer shade cards. And a free gift of yarn with a pattern for a small project.

I still have the original shade card folder:

Changes

After a while things began to change. The shade cards disappeared. We didn’t receive yarny gifts anymore. The company was taken over by a big international firm. The patterns were no longer all that exciting. The pattern sizes became tiny (in my country, I’m an average size person, but sometimes even the largest size was too small for me). And there were a lot of changes in the yarn lines. To make a long story short: I ended my subscription.

But in recent years things have gradually changed again. The pattern sizes are back to normal. The patterns are more appealing. And there are some really exciting new yarns. So, when I saw the new Rowan shade cards last autumn I decided to buy them.

Shade cards

Maybe I’ll go into my love of shade cards some other time. For now, I’ll just say: All those beautiful colours! So many possibilities! So much to dream about! Just look at these two pages. Don’t all those gorgeous colours just make your heart sing?

I looked at and felt the yarns and knew straight away that I had to try out some of them.

One day in October last year, I was in Amsterdam. I was there for a different purpose and didn’t have much time, but I quickly popped into De Afstap, a small but well-stocked yarn shop specializing in Rowan. I had an interesting chat with the lady behind the counter and bought three balls of Cashmere Tweed, in a deep burgundy colour called ‘Andorra Red’ (shade 006). It has flecks of a brighter red, orange, black and grey.

Cashmere Tweed is a mix of merino wool and cashmere. It consists of two plies of slightly irregularly spun yarn incorporating dots of wool in different colours for a tweedy effect. It is a dk-weight yarn that knits up to a lovely soft and filled-out (but not dense) fabric. Cashmere Tweed is available in 13 shades, including some natural browns and greys, a pale pink, several really bright colours and some muted and darker ones.

I bought the yarn especially to make the two pairs of Welted Fingerless Gloves I wrote about in a previous post.

The knitting experience

The yarn was a joy to knit with. It is very soft and woolly, without being itchy at all. There were no knots in any of the balls.

I’ve read some complaints about the yarn breaking easily. I agree that Cashmere Tweed is not a very strong yarn. It is easy to break the thread by hand. But I only had problems with the yarn breaking during knitting once. That was at the thumb hole, where I messed things up, had to unravel and re-knit a bit.

The yarn broke when I passed one stitch over the next with some tension on the thread. An awkward place. But, to be fair, I think that this was more due to my unravelling and handling of the yarn than to the yarn itself.

Yarn facts
  • Name: Cashmere Tweed
  • Manufacturer: Rowan by Mez Crafts UK Ltd
  • Ball weight: 25 g
  • Length: 88 m (96 yds)
  • Recommended needle size: 4 mm (UK 8 / US 6)
  • Recommended tension/gauge: 22 sts x 30 rows to 10 cm (4 in)
  • Composition: 80 % extra fine merino; 20% cashmere
  • Made in: Italy
  • Available in: 13 shades
  • I used: Andorra Red (006)
  • I paid: € 9.40 per ball (October 2018)
Conclusion

Rowan ‘Cashmere Tweed’ is a luxurious dk-weight yarn that gives a very soft fabric with a good ‘body’. It is easy to knit with, but may break after unravelling and under too much strain. Considering the price, I think it is especially suitable for accessories like shawls, scarves, cowls and hats. Just a few balls will make a lovely gift to a special person (or yourself).

The yarn shop lady

The lady at the counter of the yarn shop was none other than Carla Meijsen, who has just published her third book: Magic Motifs: Knitting with a Secret Message. I don’t have it, but I’ve taken a look at it. In one word: intriguing.

This post is not sponsored in any way. I’m interested in the knitting materials I use, and like sharing my experiences.