Reed

Hello, and an extra warm welcome today! I sincerely hope that you are in good health and able to cope with life’s stresses in this strange and scary world we suddenly find ourselves in. And I also hope that you get all the support you need if you have health problems or are struggling with this new reality in any way.

I’ve been wondering what to do, here on my blog. I had planned to write about the area where I found the inspiration for a new knitting design, but it all felt rather futile under the circumstances. I could write about how the pandemic impacts everyday life here, in the Netherlands, instead. But how would that help?

After giving it some more thought, I’ve decided to stick to my original plan. I’m not a doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional. I can’t help anybody in that way. What I hope I can do, is offer some comfort, inspiration and cheer through my words, pictures and knitting. A breath of fresh air for everybody cooped up at home and something different for worried minds to focus on.

Would you like to join me on a short virtual tour of ‘our’ wetland?

We have the great good fortune to live close to two National Parks. To the North-East there’s a large area of woodland and heath. (For my regular readers: that’s where the flocks of sheep live.) And to the South-West there’s a wetland area.

This is, in fact, the largest lowland bog in Northwest Europe. It is ideal for cycling – there are miles of bicycle tracks and meandering narrow roads.

At this time of year, this open landscape can be rather bleak, with chilly winds. But one cloudy and windy day, about a fortnight ago, I braved the elements and took some photographs.

In summer the area is overrun by tourists from all over the world. Normally there would be some shivery visitors around taking selfies even in March, but now, with Covid-19 forcing them to stay at home, it is deserted.

The canoes and the soundless ‘whisperboats’ are waiting for busier times.

I could tell you about the picturesque villages, the crocheted curtains behind many windows, the various types of windmills, or the birds, flowers and butterflies, but I’m keeping all that for later. Today, I’ll focus on the landscape, and especially on reed.

Apart from lakes, canals and wet grasslands, there are extensive reedlands, often right behind the houses.

Mowing takes place in winter, and in March much of the reed has already been mown (right half of photo below). The rest will follow soon or is left as it is for the birds and other wildlife.

A statue in one of the villages shows a traditional reed worker taking a break.

Nowadays, the work is done with modern motor mowers. Then the reed is tied into bundles and stacked along a waterway…

… or in the corner of a field and covered with plastic sheeting…

… to be collected with a tractor and trailer or transported over water on a flat boat:

Not surprisingly, many houses around here have reed roofs. The oldest thatched houses are very small – tiny houses avant la lettre.

Most of these are now rented out as holiday cottages. On the outside they look exactly like they did 100 years ago, and they do still have an original bedstee (a bed inside a sort of cupboard), but otherwise they have all mod cons.

There are also some fairly modest new houses with reed roofs…

… as well as more luxurious ones:

Although I’m happy with our own house, and wouldn’t want to move at all, I always love looking at other people’s houses, especially if they’re as lovely as these.

I did say that I wouldn’t talk about birds today, but I just have to show you these storks I saw on a nest:

Many people around here provide storks with nesting places in the form of wagon wheels placed on high poles, or on a dead tree as here.

Just as I was heading home, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. Standing in the nippy wind, looking out over the shimmering water surface, with a couple of graylag geese in the foreground, a cormorant primping its feathers a little further away, and the sound of other water birds in the distance… a moment of bliss.

One of the inhabitants of this reedland (not in this photo) formed the inspiration for my new knitting pattern. I’m busy finishing everything and hope to tell you more about it soon. For now, take care and stay well!

Oh, and if you’d like to read more about this National Park, do visit the official website.

Funnel Beaker

Hello again, and thank you for your ideas, both on and offline, about last week’s grey yarn. More about that project soon, but today’s blog post is about something completely different.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, it won’t come as a surprise that making things is an important part of my life. It’s usually something to do with yarn or wool, but I also enjoy excursions into other mediums now and then. Recently I spent a Saturday morning at a nearby visitor centre (above) making something with clay.

The visitor centre is in the same area where I once had an interesting chat with a shepherd. It is, in fact, next to the sheep fold, so I arrived a little early to say hello to the sheep. Good morning!

The sheep didn’t answer, but quietly kept munching grass and hay before starting their daily walk on the heath.

Walking on, I ran into this big guy (or gal). Whoa!

Fortunately it was just a print on a big banner on the outside wall of the sheep fold.

I’m not just including this photo here for fun, but also because this morning was about going back in time. Not quite as far back in time as this mammoth, but almost. Wikipedia tells me that the mammoth died out around 4,000 years ago. On this Saturday morning, we were going back to the funnel beaker culture, which started here around 3,400 years ago.

The morning began with a short talk about the people who became known for their funnel-neck pots, but also made pottery in other shapes. They were not the first inhabitants of this area, but they were the first farmers, and thousands of shards of their pots have been found around here. They are also the people who built the dolmens and tumuli that are still visible in our landscape today.

Well, I can’t tell you everything I’ve learnt, but I can tell you that it was fascinating.

Then it was time to roll up our sleeves and make a funnel beaker ourselves. The artist who gave the workshop had made two examples. This is one of them:

Unlike the original funnel beaker makers, we didn’t have to travel a long way to find the right kind of river clay for our pots. We were given a slab of a similar clay…

… and started by rolling it out.

Originally the base would have been shaped by hand, and that’s what some of the more experienced participants also did. For those of us with little or no experience (like me) there were moulds to use.

My neighbour at the table was more experienced and had shaped her beaker in no time.

I used too much water to ‘glue’ the next layer onto the base and had to place the beginnings of my pot on a bench outside to dry a little before I could continue, next to those of two other beginners. Mine is on the right.

Several hours later we had all made something that looked more or less like a funnel beaker. Some of the pots were fairly small, like the ones that would originally have been used to store seeds. Others were a lot bigger, like the ones used to hold water or as cooking pots.

The pottery shards of the funnel beaker culture found around here are often richly decorated. In the past, people used feathers, pieces of wood or bone and their fingernails to make the decorations. I used a spatula for the lines and a stick for the dots on my pot.

It was while I was carefully pressing my stick into the soft clay to make dots, that I suddenly felt transported back a few thousand years. In my mind, I was sitting outside, in front of a wattle and daub dwelling, decorating my pot. There was a piercing wind, but dressed in animal skins, I didn’t feel the cold. I could hear sheep bleating and pigs grunting, and I could smell the sweet smell of the cows grazing nearby. I was looking forward to our meal of lentils and foraged greens. Life was hard and uncertain, but it also had its good moments.

Fast forward to the present, I finished my pot by adding a few details in white. Originally a substance made from ground bones and some kind of binder would have been used, but we used a modern paint of which I’ve forgotten the name.

Now my funnel beaker is drying in the artist’s studio, waiting to be fired in her kiln. It should be a soft rosy colour when it comes out. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it’s turned out.

Links:

  • The talk about the funnel beaker culture was held by someone from the Oermuseum, a small but interesting museum with archaeological finds and information about how people lived and worked in the north of the Netherlands from the last ice age to the iron age.
  • The artist who kindly and expertly taught us how to make a funnel beaker was Elisa van den Berg.

Miss Lazy Daisy

The route to the meeting I was going to attend in the city of Groningen ran right past a yarn shop. Because it isn’t every day that I visit Groningen, I packed my camera and took an earlier train to have some time to browse around and take pictures.

After a short walk from the railway station, I stood in front of Juffrouw Lanterfant (which translates into something like Miss Lazy Daisy). It is a corner shop with an old, tall and narrow door and other lovely old details. 

As soon as I entered, I was dazzled by the wall of brightly coloured skeins of yarn. I’m not entirely sure, but I think these are from Hedgehog Fibres:

Just the thing for a Stephen West design. I have met Stephen several times and know first-hand that he is a very friendly person as well as an incredibly prolific designer. Although we have very different tastes, I think what he is doing is really, really interesting and highly original.

On a coat rack there were several shop samples of shawls, loops, cardigans and sweaters. The short-sleeved top with the attractive all-over pattern and lovely neckline is ‘Sanctuary’ from Pompom Quarterly #29.

And, oh, that beautiful rainbow of colours in the small cupboard to the right of it! That must be Appletons crewel wool.

And what do I spy on the top shelf?

Several gift boxes filled with ArtYarns’ luxurious fibres embellished with beads or sequins. I once splashed out on one single skein of those, a silvery yarn with beads AND sequins. ArtYarns are a bit too blingy for an entire shawl to my taste, but in combination with other, quieter yarns – yum!

At the other end of the spectrum, the shop also stocks Icelandic Létt Lopi. A rustic, really woolly, sheepy yarn.

The shop lady was knitting a humongous shawl from it, in black, grey and white with fluorescent pink accents. She said it would be about 4 metres long when finished. Here it is, laid out on the reading table:

I love it when a yarn shop has a big table like this, even though (or perhaps especially if) it is rather messy. Nowadays, yarn shops aren’t just about buying yarn. They are also great places to find inspiration, leaf through new knitting books and meet other makers.

Having said that, I did buy something – one beautiful skein of yarn to complement several others I once bought in Germany:

If you’re ever in the area, do pop into Juffrouw Lanterfant. Their address and most (but not all) of the yarns they stock are on their website.

This blog post isn’t sponsored in any way. I sometimes write about yarn shops because I love chatting about the materials I choose and use, and also because I think it may be of interest to other knitters. I feel a bit silly repeating this every time, so I have now altered my ‘About’ page to explain once and for all that I don’t have a hidden agenda.

A New Visitor to our Garden

It was on a Saturday morning while I was vacuuming the living room that I saw him, the main character of this story – a sparrowhawk. He (we think it’s a young male) was sitting on the fence close to the house. I’d seen him several times before recently, but always in a flash.

This morning, he gave me all the time in the world to get my camera and take pictures. Many pictures. Before I show you some of them, here’s the ‘scene of the crime’:

Looking through our living room window you can see an evergreen shrub, behind the hyacinths. It plays an important part in this story. To the left of it there’s a rain meter, to the left of that a tepee filled with sunflower seeds, and further to the left (not on the photo) there’s a bird table.

That’s where it all happened.

And here are some of the other characters in the story – a large and noisy family of house sparrows:

The sparrows love the sunflower seeds in the tepee, the seeds and grains we put out on the bird table and the peanuts in another feeder. They have lived in our garden for years, but it is only now that the sparrowhawk seems to have discovered them.

A sparrowhawk isn’t called sparrowhawk for nothing. It doesn’t care for sunflower seeds or grains. And peanuts? Blech! Their favourite food is… sparrow!

As soon as the sparrowhawk flies over the garden, the sparrows and other garden birds are gone. They hide in the beech hedge or in the evergreen shrub in front of the living room window. The garden seems deserted.

For the sparrowhawk, it takes a while to sink in. Where are they? Normally there are lots of sparrows on this bird feeder:

He looks down. No, no sparrow in sight.

Then he seems to hear something in the evergreen shrub. Aha, there they are. He looks at it from the rain meter. No, he can’t get at them from there.

Then he tries a different approach. Sitting on the grass he looks up. Hmmmm…

He walks around the shrub and looks and looks. But there’s no way he can get at the sparrows.

Finally he perches on top of the shrub, waiting patiently for the sparrows to come out of their hiding place.

Beautiful bird, isn’t he?

The sparrows wisely stay where they are. But suddenly, whoosh, the sparrow hawk grabs another hapless little bird from the honeysuckle against the fence. It went so fast that I could hardly see it, let alone photograph it.

Wow, what an amazing bird.

Apart from the birds, there isn’t much to see in the garden at this time of the year. The only other thing that catches the eye is the witch hazel we planted last autumn.

I’m very grateful for its cheerful yellow flowers.

Everything else is brown and grey, with a little bit of green here and there. If I want more colour, I have to look for it elsewhere. Fortunately there’s always yarn! (More about what I did with it soon.) 

I can only show you static photos of the sparrowhawk here, but there’s an amazing 3-minute BBC video of a sparrowhawk if you’d like to see it in flight.

Happy 2020!

Hello again! 2020 has well and truly started. Maybe it is ‘officially’ too late for New Year’s wishes, but, really, can it ever be too late for good wishes? So, I wish you a very happy, healthy and fulfilling New Year!

In my last blog post of 2019, I asked myself some questions. I would have liked to start this year with some answers, but I haven’t organized my thoughts enough for that. And I am not ready to write about the things I have been knitting either, so I thought I’d ease into the New Year with an impression of our visit to the Dutch Open Air Museum during the Christmas Holiday (focusing on knitting and other fibre-related things, of course).

Houses, farms and other buildings from different periods and from all over the country have been moved to the museum over the past 108 (!) years. The first building we entered was this blue farmhouse from the east of the Netherlands:

The museum’s theme at this time of year was ‘Winter Jobs’. When there wasn’t a lot of work to do outside in winter, people did all kinds of other jobs. In this particular farmhouse the focus was on spinning (wool and flax) and knitting. There was a display of flax in different stages…

…from unspun fibres in different qualities to woven linen, from coarse and brown (right) to very fine and bleached (left).

One of the volunteers, dressed in period costume, was spinning flax on a traditional spinning wheel.

She showed us how long flax fibres are – much longer than any wool fibres.

Before flax can be spun and woven into linen cloth, it goes through many stages. The last stage before spinning is hackling. With a hackle like this one…

… the short fibres are removed from the long ones.

All this preparation before flax can even be spun! And then hours and hours of spinning and weaving. No wonder a woman’s linen cupboard was her pride and joy.

I could have spent an entire afternoon in this farmhouse alone, and if the museum wasn’t so far from where we live, I’d love to work here as a volunteer. But there was more to see, so on we went.

We saw several iconic Dutch windmills, of course, like the thatched one at the top of this post, used for pumping water, in order to drain wet low-lying areas, and this wood-sawing mill:

One of the parts of the museum I remember best from when I visited here as a child is this collection of green wooden houses from the Northwest of the country.

We were not the only ones who had this great idea of visiting the museum. In fact, it was one of the busiest days of the year.

I was dismayed when I saw the crowds at the entrance, but the park is so big that it could easily absorb us all.

The weaving shed was closed, but I peeked in through the window…

… and later bought two of the weavers’ lovely checked tea towels in the shop. This is one of them with some of the wafers I always bake on New Year’s Eve:

They are called ‘knieperties’ and are very thin, slightly sweet and have a hint of cinnamon.

Uh-oh, this is becoming quite a long blog post. I intended to make them shorter this year, but somehow there is always so much to tell. I hope you have a few minutes more.

Let’s hurry on to the cottage dedicated to knitting in World War I. On one wall there was a display of newspaper cuttings with articles urging women and girls to knit for our soldiers.

They were asked to knit scarves, mittens, socks (preferably dark grey) and balaclavas. The photograph on the left shows a group of soldiers wearing knitted balaclavas. And here is one in progress:

At the end of the afternoon we walked back to the blue farmhouse. The volunteer who sat there spinning earlier, was now knitting. She was knitting a sock in exactly the same way my mother and grandmother did and how I was taught to knit them.

Nowadays, I use a set of five short lightweight sock needles, with the stitches distributed over four and knitting with the fifth. But here you can see how it used to be done. Only four needles (long steel ones) are used, with the stitches on three needles and the knitting done with the fourth.

At this time of the day it was much quieter in the farmhouse and the volunteer had time for a nice chat about spinning and knitting. (It’s always so nice to chat with kindred spirits!)

She also showed me something I had never seen in action before – a knitting sheath. It’s a wooden stick with a hole in it, tucked into the knitter’s waistband. It was rather dark inside the house, so I hope you can see it:

The knitting sheath supports the working needle, carries the weight of the knitting, protects the knitter’s clothes from the sharp needle point and speeds up the knitting. Very interesting. I’d like to try that someday.

Well, that’s all for today. I hope to be back with a post about my own knitting soon.

For more information about the Dutch Open Air Museum, please visit their website. There is much, much more to see than I’ve shown you here.

An Afternoon in Antwerp

Friends of ours live near the Belgian border. That’s not exactly around the corner from where we live, and we don’t see them as often as we’d like. So, when my husband was asked to give a talk in Antwerp, we decided to drive down together and invited ourselves to a meal at their place afterwards.

This meant that I had an entire afternoon to spend as I liked in a city I had only been to once, years ago. I wanted to spend my precious time well, and planned my route carefully beforehand to include some sightseeing and some shopping.

I was dropped off on the left bank of the river Scheldt and took the ferry across to the city centre.

The ferry ride, even if it lasted only 15 minutes, immediately gave me a feeling of freedom and being on a holiday. From the water, I had a lovely view of Antwerp’s skyline, with its mixture of old and modern buildings.

My first port of call was the Grote Markt, the market square with its tall and impressive guild halls. They speak of incredible wealth. Flanders once had a booming woollen cloth industry, but I think that had declined before these guild halls were built. I know very little about Belgian history, to be honest, and have no idea where all the wealth on display here came from, but I have a feeling that it cannot all have been fair trade.

The gables are adorned with ‘golden’ sculptures. I don’t suppose they really are made of gold, but they aren’t brass either, or somebody will have to climb up and polish them once a week.

High up on one of the  gables, a beautiful golden galleon was sailing through the clouds.

Leaving the market square behind, I strolled through the surrounding streets and bought some of those famous Belgian chocolates for my loved ones.

Having crossed off the most important thing on my list of things to do, I went in search of the Vlaeykensgang. I’d read about this historic alley and had located it on the map, but still had some difficulty finding it. The entrances are so narrow and inconspicuous that I’d walked past one of them several times without recognizing it as an entrance.

I’m glad that I didn’t give up, because it’s a really, really special place.

A restaurant in one of the buildings looked very inviting, with flowering plants on the window sills and the warm glow of candles inside.

But my time was limited and there was more on my list of things to do, so I walked on to Julija’s shop. Julija sells fabrics and yarns, some of which she dyes herself, like this tweed yarn.

She is best known for her knitting patterns for young children and their mums, though. She has published four ‘real’ books and many small booklets she calls magazines.

Julijas patterns are easy to knit and make me wish that I had some small people to knit for. I mean, look, isn’t this simple garter stitch cardi adorable?

Even in big cities, I always feel drawn to green spaces. In Antwerp I found a lovely place to munch a snack and give my feet a rest in the Botanical Garden.

Den Botaniek, as it’s called, used to be the herb garden of a hospital. Part of it is still planted with herbs and there are also some beautiful trees, a pond with a small waterfall and big goldfish, a glasshouse with cacti and other exotic plants, and an intriguing sculpture.

The plaque next to it says that it’s called ‘Greening II’ and is by Monique Donckers. I haven’t been able to find anything else about it. What does it mean? Could this be symbolic for man on his way to pushing up the daisies?

Refreshed by my short stop, I walked on to another yarn shop – Lana. Visiting two yarn shops on one afternoon, made me realize how different they can be. Both of these shops sell yarn, obviously, but their selection and atmosphere is very different. While Julija’s is light, fresh and modern, Lana is warm, colourful and cosy.

Lana is a Rowan flagship store and the photos above and below show several knits in their Felted Tweed yarn. Some (or all?) of them are by the famous Kaffe Fassett. I recognize Vibrant Stripe (scarf above right) and Colours in the Mist (sweater below).

I’m not sure about the striped knits below – perhaps they are just swatches to show off a beautiful yarn, or perhaps they are scarves. And I don’t remember what yarn they were in either. I only photographed them because they were so nice to look at.

I must admit that I feel a bit iffy about writing about these yarn shops. So, to be absolutely clear about my intentions: I’m not sponsored by any of them. I just write about them because I hope that some of the things that make me happy, will make others happy, too. And also because the information may be useful to other knitters with some time on their hands in this lovely city. Besides, it isn’t as if these shops are huge multinationals. They are just small businesses that deserve all the support they can get.

And did I buy anything? Often, I am so overwhelmed by everything I see, that I think, ‘Oh well, I don’t really need anything’, and leave the shop empty-handed. But this time I was well prepared. At Julija’s I bought some beautiful Japanese fabric, in a blue-green colour that looks like wide brush strokes of watercolour paint. And at Lana I chose a few balls in a thick, soft, fluffy yarn in off-white for a cosy winter accessory.

Well, time to head back. Instead of taking the ferry across the Scheldt again, I walked through St Anna’s Tunnel under it. I wasn’t entirely sure about this, but because there is no bridge, I didn’t have much choice. My fears were unfounded, though, as the tunnel is clean, well-lit and feels entirely safe. And it’s quite an experience! It’s a pedestrian tunnel dating back to the 1930s, with escalators made of wood and brass that make a fantastic rattling noise.

If you’d like to visit Antwerp too one day, I’d say take an entire day (at least) and rent a bicycle or use public transport. (I vastly underestimated the distances and walked miles and miles.)

At the end of a lovely afternoon, an even lovelier supper awaited us at our friends’ place. They prepared a special Belgian meal, with Flemish chips, spicy red cabbage and a stew made with one of Antwerp’s special beers. Thank you, dear friends!

I won’t be here, on my blog, next week. After all this gallivanting, working in the garden and a terrible computer crash, I need some time to catch up with the rest of my life. And I want to finally finish the new design I’ve been working on for a long time. I hope to tell you more about that soon.

Thanks for reading and take care!

Basket Weaving

A knitter can’t live without baskets. At least, that’s what I think. There are baskets dotted all around our house, filled with knitting projects, yarn, unspun wool, more yarn and more knitting projects. Some of these baskets were made by Jannie, a basket weaver I often run into at fairs, markets and sheep shearing festivals. This summer I discovered that she doesn’t only make baskets, but also teaches others how to make them, and I entered my name for a workshop.

I asked a friend (who also knits and spins) if she’d like to join me. She said, ‘I’d love to!’, and together we set off early last Saturday.

As soon as we arrived, we were surrounded by baskets. Baskets hanging under the stairs.

And baskets stacked high on shelves.

There were small, fairly simple looking baskets.

And bigger, very complicated looking baskets. (The picture at the top of this post is a close-up of the basket below).

Something like this would be way too difficult for a first effort, of course. What we were going to make, was a round, medium-sized basket with handles. And this is the material we were going to use:

Willow shoots, or osiers. These were sorted by thickness and length and pre-soaked for about 10 days.

We started by slitting three thick pieces of osier in the middle and threading three others through them. With a thinner shoot we started weaving the base.

We continued weaving, while separating the spokes, until it was a reasonable size.

Then we cut off the starter shoots, stuck 24 new long shoots into the base, and added a few rows in a different ‘stitch’ as I would call it as a knitter. I have no idea of basket weaving terminology, but I looked it up, and I think the last few rows in the photo below are called a ‘randing’. They make for a firm base.

Now it was time to bend the shoots upwards. They were tied together near the top, to keep them out of the way and pointing in the right direction. The 3 shoots you can see sticking out on the floor, are the ones we were going to continue weaving with.

We were sat on low wooden benches, with a sloping wooden work surface attached to them. At this stage, a heavy weight was placed inside the basket in progress, to keep it from sliding down the work surface.

Phew, basket weaving is hard work! In need of a short break, I stepped outside. It was a lovely, sunny morning, and the garden around the basket weaving shed was idyllic.

Even outside there were basket-like decorations and structures everywhere, overgrown with plants.

The chickens (and a guinea fowl) were making soft, clucking noises. There were literally heaps of courgettes and tomatoes on the patio, and there were some gorgeous dahlias in bloom.

The same week I went basket weaving, I won a knitting pattern on Ravelry. Although ‘won’ isn’t the right word for it, perhaps. All I did was chat with other knitters about the things we were making and post some pictures. But still, my name was drawn and I received a digital pattern for a big, cosy wrap in a basketweave pattern.

Wasn’t that a nice coincidence? I’m really tempted to cast on straightaway, but I already have so many other plans for the coming months. I think I’ll keep it till later.

Well, after this short break I’m ready to get back inside. Are you coming?

It’s already starting to look like a real basket.

Our example was placed in the middle of the room for inspiration.

Using champagne corks we made even spaces for the handles.

After braiding a sturdy rim and snipping off all the ends sticking out, our baskets were finished. And here they are – tadaah!

And here’s mine at home, filled with some undyed Shetland roving. I’m so proud of my very first, slightly lopsided willow basket.

My friend and I made our baskets at Vlechterij Vinkenslag. Jannie is a very knowledgeable, friendly and patient teacher. Apart from teaching basket weaving, she sells her beautiful baskets, bird feeders and decorative ornaments at crafts markets and fairs.

Summer Walks Part II – Coast

On a day that was too hot for walking through woods or across heathland, we thought a walk along the coast might be a good idea, with hopefully a refreshing breeze. So we set off for my native Friesland. Our starting-point was the old town of Stavoren (photo above), and our destination was Hindeloopen, another small harbour town. (It was a one-way walk – we took the train back.)

This isn’t the coast as in sea shore, but rather the coastline along the IJsselmeer, a former inland sea that was closed off around 1930 and is now a big freshwater lake. The dykes are still there, and our trail ran right across the top. Well, it wasn’t really a trail, just grass, but you get the idea.

In reality the dyke is much steeper than it looks here. The narrow road on the right is a bicycle track. Nice when you’re cycling, because it’s sheltered from the prevailing wind. But not much fun when you’re walking, because you’d miss the lovely views over the lake.

With a delicious breeze from behind it was an ideal day for this walk. Looking to the left, we saw a choppy lake with some sailing boats.

And looking to the right, we saw agricultural land, with some farms and modern windmills. Completely flat, with endless horizons.

All along the dyke, there were lots of fences with stiles to climb.

The fences are there to confine the Texel sheep to certain sections of the dyke. The sheep are kept company by water birds, like these black and white barnacle geese.

The sheep were not shy at all. They didn’t run away when we came close, like they usually do. We had to step around and over sheep and lambs lazing and grazing on our path. And some of the sheep were downright pushy. When we sat down on the grass to eat our sandwiches, they came begging for a share. They must have been fed by other walkers.

‘Come on, give us some of your bread,’ they seemed to say. And, ‘I really like the smell of that cheese.’ They refused to be shooed away and were so insistent, that in the end we got up and walked on, eating the rest of our lunch along the way.

In the distance we could already see our destination. It wasn’t just a perfect day for walking, but for wind and kite surfing, too.

Against the big blue sky, Hindeloopen looked very small, with its church and the houses with their red roofs huddled behind the dyke. And, in fact, it is small now, with under 900 inhabitants. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when the lake was still a sea, it used to be an important harbour and trade centre, with three times the number of people and a fleet of around a hundred ships.

It’s nice to imagine merchant ships leaving and entering the town via the lock (photo below) that is now used by pleasure boats. On their outward-bound journeys they would be filled with gin and wool. And coming back from Scandinavia and Russia they would be carrying wood.

We slowly strolled through the old town centre and saw some monumental merchant’s houses – a sign of great wealth in earlier times.

There was a museum, too, as well as several shops selling local traditional crafts. Hindeloopen is renowned for its decorative painting style, with garlands and stylized flowers on a red, green, blue or cream background. Here are several trays and a ‘butte’.

A butte is a traditional travelling case used by seamen for their personal belongings. I think it’s a thing of beauty and would like to own one someday. But as it’s all handmade, it has quite a hefty price tag. It’s not that it isn’t worth it, but it isn’t an amount I’d spend on a whim.

I came home with some more modest souvenirs – two pieces of fabric and two postcards.

The fabrics are inspired by some of those used in the colourful traditional costumes of Hindeloopen. I don’t know what I’m going to use them for yet, but I’ll think of something.

One of the cards shows some of the typical decorative painting on a wooden platter. And the other shows a woman in traditional dress. (Unfortunately the postcard doesn’t tell us who the artist is.) In the painting, the fabrics are simplified to solid colours. In reality they would be flowered and checked, in mainly red, blue and white. There’s an picture of a complete costume on the town’s museum website.

And what is the woman doing? Knitting – what else?

Summer Walks Part I – Heathland

For me, one of the best ways to relax is walking. Fortunately I have a husband who feels the same way, so we spent large parts of our Summer Holiday this year (and any other year) taking long walks. Woodland walks, coastal walks, riverside walks, city walks, but most of all heathland walks. The heather is in bloom this time of the year and it’s glorious!  

As I wrote in a previous post, heathland needs to be grazed. Otherwise it would be overgrown with trees in no time and disappear within a few years. Usually this is done by sheep, whose cropping and munching is a peaceful sight.

But sometimes cows are recruited to do the job, especially highland cattle. I think they are beautiful, with their big horns and their shaggy red coats.

I prefer to keep a respectful distance, but during one of our walks other walkers and their dog didn’t give the cattle a second glance and just barged on, right between a bull and his harem with their calves. This seemed to agitate the bull, and instead of continuing to graze, it suddenly charged across our path.

I held my breath, but nothing happened. As it turned out, the entire highland family was just as peaceful as sheep. All they wanted to do was go for a swim together.

We live in a small country, and our nature reserves are comparatively small, too. This means that long walks are hardly ever exclusively nature walks. They almost always cross some farmland as well. I don’t mind, really. I even like it. Some less intensively farmed land can be very beautiful to walk across.

Besides, I love looking at farmhouses and their outbuildings.

They often have lovely flower and vegetable gardens. The vegetable garden of one of the farms we passed was a riot of colour.

So, so lovely.

And on some farms, there are animals to admire as well. On one farm we saw some magnificent long-haired Dutch Landrace Goats.

And on another a big, big spotted sow with a litter of piglets.

It’s so good to see them rooting about outside, with lots of space and freedom. The piglets were incredibly lively, inquisitive and cute.

Taking photographs for my blog makes me look at the world with different eyes, and appreciate my surroundings even more. Sometimes my camera seems to see more than I do, and I don’t really realize what I’ve seen until I look through my photos at home.

Take the photo below, for instance. We were walking along a grassy path when I spied something in the distance, very far away. Judging by the colour and the shape of the ears, I thought it was a roe deer. Roe deer are not an uncommon sight, but still worth taking a picure of.

When we came a little closer, the animal got up and raced away. At the time I thought, strange how small a roe deer can look from a distance, and how short its legs look in the grass, but didn’t give it  much thought.

Looking through my photos at home, I realized that it wasn’t a roe deer at all, but a fox!

We know that there are foxes around here. It’s something we know all too well, from the massacres they’ve caused among our hens. Twice! (Our chicken coop is now completely fox-proof). But we very, very rarely get to see them. In spite of what they did to our hens, I love foxes. I don’t know why, really. Is it the shape of their face, their big bushy tail or their speed and agility?

One of the best things about walking is taking breaks at spots that you can’t reach in any other way. Quiet, out-of-the-way spots. This was one of the best spots for taking a break that we passed on this walk. A pool surrounded by trees and tall grasses, with the wind cooling our skin and sending ripples out across the water.

The water birds in the distance looked like ducks, but they made curious sounds, not like our ordinary, everyday mallards. I couldn’t see what species they were with my naked eye, so I zoomed in on them with my camera. Maybe I could enlarge them at home and find out which duck-like bird it was that made such soft un-duck-like noises. But no such luck.

I’m not a very good photographer, and I don’t have any fancy photo equipment. So, I ended up with some very blurry pictures, and one that was sharp, but had a beheaded duck on it. As far as duck pictures go, these photos were a total failure.

But then I looked at the rippling water and thought, wow, look at that!

The ripples on the water look just like the texture of my knitted fabric!

This is a close-up of the Sideways Tee that I’m knitting.

When we’re on holiday, we often spend the evenings exploring the immediate surroundings of our holiday cottage or campsite. During our ‘staycation’ there was no need for that. We already knew the surroundings of our ‘holiday home’ through and through, so that I could spend almost every evening, all evening, knitting, reading or working on my crochet project.

I’ve made a lot of progress, but haven’t actually finished anything yet. I need a little more time to finish things up, organize my notes and take pictures before I can show you more.

I hope you don’t mind if I take you along on another walk next time. I’d like to show you a very different part of our country, and some crafty things I came across there, before I get back to some in-depth writing about knitting.

Apricot and Thyme Clafoutis

Hello, I’m back! Well, I haven’t really been away. Just away from my computer and my blog for a while.

We’ve had a really, really nice and relaxing ‘staycation’, with lots of lovely walks, visits to some old towns, cities and museums, and plenty of time to read, knit and crochet in between.

I’d like to tell and show you more, but I don’t know how just yet. I need to chew on everything we’ve seen and done for a bit first. In that sense I am like a cow. I don’t have four stomachs, but I also need to ruminate on things to digest them.

We met this beauty during our summer holiday, by the way. She lives on an organic farm that we passed on one of our walks:

The farmer doesn’t only take good care of his cattle, but also of the occasional passer-by. Between the barn with the red pelargoniums and the hay barn, where you can see a green parasol peeking around the corner, there’s a wonderful cupboard built into the barn wall. It’s filled with coffee, tea, biscuits and all kinds of other snacks. Just help yourself and leave some money in the box. There’s even a bowl of water for dogs!

Oh, there I go again, getting off course. It happens so often – one thing leads to another, and before I know it I’ve strayed completely from where I was going. Well, at least now you’ve had a tiny glimpse of our holiday at home.

What I had planned to do today, was give you a recipe. I may have told you before that we have a flock of hens – 8 hens and a cock to be precise. They are Frisians, and their colourway bears the poetic name ‘silver-pencilled’, which looks like this:

Our hens love tomatoes, corn, worms and taking dust baths. Apart from worms, we try to give them everything they wish for. In return, they provide us with more eggs than we can eat. We give lots of eggs away to relatives, friends and neighbours. And we’re always trying to think up new ways of using eggs ourselves.

The eggs are pure white and fairly small. I use 3 of these for 2 medium shop-bought ones. Some are oval and pointy, while others have a more rounded shape:

(I photographed the eggs on one of the dishcloths I’ve been knitting. More about those in another blog post soon. Or perhaps not so soon. There are so many ideas for posts whirling about in my mind that I don’t know where to start.)

Besides eggs, we’re also trying to use as many herbs in our cooking as we can too. This time I’m using thyme. We have three different varieties in our herb patch. Use any thyme you like – dried thyme from a jar is fine, too. Don’t use too much, though. It can be overpowering in combination with fruit.

The recipe below is for a Clafoutis – a French dessert that is usually made with cherries, but can also be made with plums or other fruit. I chose apricots because I thought they would work well with thyme. (I used canned apricots, because we can hardly ever get any fresh ones, and when we can they are often dry and not very tasty.) Here’s my recipe:

Apricot and Thyme Clafoutis

For a Ø 22 cm pie dish, serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 small Frisian eggs (or 2 medium shop-bought eggs)
  • 150 ml milk
  • 50 g flour
  • 270 g tinned apricot halves (drained weight)
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme (or ¼ tsp dried thyme)
  • 1 tbsp butter + extra for greasing
  • 50 g sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • icing sugar for dusting

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200 °C (fan oven 180 °C).
  • Grease the pie dish
  • Sieve the flour together with the salt and sugar.
  • In a separate bowl, loosely whisk the eggs with half of the milk. Stir the egg-and-milk mixture into the flour little by little to a smooth batter. Melt the butter. Whisk the rest of the milk and the butter into the batter.
  • Distribute the apricot halves over the pie dish (hollow sides down). Pour over the batter and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  • Eat warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar.

Enjoy!

The table cloth underneath the oven dish was embroidered by my late Mum. She was a great knitter, too, but she loved embroidering these colourful pre-printed table cloths most of all. For me, there are many good memories attached to it.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings and my recipe. And I hope to get back to some serious knitting in my next post, because I’ve received some urgent questions from readers that I need to look into…