Knitting at the Sugar Factory

Last Friday I took the 8 o’clock train to Groningen, to visit the Northern edition of the Knitting and Crochet Days. I’d planned to add a few centimeters to my take-along project, a scarf in 4 shades of green, or perhaps even finish it. But after knitting less than a row, I discovered that I’d dropped a stitch quite a few rows down. I hadn’t brought a crochet needle to fix it, and as this particular yarn (Rowan’s ‘Kid Silk Haze’) is notoriously difficult to unravel, there was nothing for it but to stuff my knitting back into its bag.

Oh well, just looking out the window at the familiar landscape rushing by was very nice too. Along the route I met up with a friend, and together we arrived at the Old Sugar Factory, where the fair was held.

Sugar production is an important industry in Groningen, a city surrounded by large fields of sugar beets. I still remember the sweet and musty smell wafting through the air from September to January from the time I studied here. What you see on the photo above is only part of the original building – the rest of the factory has been demolished.

The rough edge of a partly demolished wall frames the window of the trendy in-house café, where my friend and I sat drinking endless mugs of tea.

For me, this edition of the Knitting and Crochet Days was very much a social thing, with lots of familiar faces from the North of the Netherlands, the region where I grew up.

Queuing for our tickets, we hugged our first knitting friend. The next familiar face was the cousin I am forever grateful to for teaching me my very first knitting stitches. And then there was a knitter whose blog about her knitting, walks with her dog and life in general I’ve been following for over ten years. And after that…

No, that’s quite enough socialising. Let’s get back to what we’re here for – knitting materials and inspiration. The fair as a whole was rather underwhelming, to be frank. But, focusing on the positives, some stall holders had outdone themselves with beautiful displays of yarns and knitting projects.

Here’s an impression (click on images to enlarge):

My favourite of all was Atelier Lindelicht, with its rainbow of hand-dyed colours:

The owner, Marianne, lives in a neighbouring village. She started out as a designer of felt ornaments, but now also dyes yarns in very small batches. (Sadly for those of you living further away, she only sells her yarns at fairs and markets.) What I like about her yarns is the quality of the materials and the depth of her beautiful jewel-like colours.

My eyes are drawn especially to her blues, pinks and purples (see the picture at the top of this post, too).

This time I didn’t buy any of her lovely skeins, though, as there are several in my stash waiting to be knit up. In fact I didn’t buy any yarn at all at this fair.

What I did buy was a set of interchangeable circular knitting needles:

I already have one exactly like it at home, so why buy another one? Well, I use some of these needles almost every day, and sometimes need more than one of the same size at the same time.

The set (Twist Red Lace small) contains 7 pairs of 13 cm long needle tips ranging in size from 2.75 to 5.0 mm, as well as three cables in different lengths. There are also 2 end stoppers (the white rectangular things), 2 keys (for fastening the tips to the cables) and a cable connector, 12 stitch markers in 2 different sizes, and a needle gauge (the white ruler).

It’s quite an investment, but I know that I’ll enjoy using it for years to come.

Before we knew it, it was time to go home. One last picture of some of the inevitable graffiti on the factory building:

The bicycle parked against it, gives an idea of the size of this work of art.

To be honest, I felt slightly out of my comfort zone in this industrial setting. I didn’t name my website for the blackbird (Turdus merula in Latin) for nothing. We (the blackbird and I) are birds of woodlands, gardens and other green spaces. I tried very hard to approach this days’ urban surroundings with an open mind. And my mind could really appreciate the raw aesthetics, but my heart… not so much.

My heart said: Ah, so happy to be back in my natural habitat!


Note: This post isn’t sponsored in any way. I just write about things I like because I like them.

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.

Weihnachtsmarkt

The first weekend of December we drove up to Germany for a change of scene. Our destination, the city of Münster, is not all that far away from where we live, really. It is the same distance as from our place to, say, The Hague. But it is an entirely different world. The same Euro, but different houses, a different landscape (hills!), different food and a different language.

Apart from visiting the Christmas Market, I had planned to visit a yarn shop and report back to you here with some inspirational photos and stories. I’d found the shop on the internet and looked the address up on the map. But… I forgot to go there!

How could I forget to visit a yarn shop? What was wrong with me?!?

The only explanation I have is that I was overwhelmed with all the sights, sounds and smells of the Weihnachtsmarkt. So that was my blog idea out the window. What to do now?

I could try to give you an impression of our day. Maybe you’d like a virtual mini-holiday abroad. And maybe then you’d understand why I forgot about the yarn shop. Would you like that? Come along then.

The Weihnachtsmarkt in Münster actually is not one Christmas Market, but five smaller ones, in different locations around the historic city centre. The booths are tiny wooden houses, some painted green, some painted blue, and some left untreated in natural wood. Many of them have lovely decorations along their gables and on their roofs. These life-size wooden deer were on the roof of one of them:

The warm smells of food and drink greeted us as soon as we set foot on the first market. First of all there’s glühwein, of course, with its wonderful spicy and fruity aroma, and similar drinks like Punch, Grog and Feuerzangenbowle, with or without alcohol. There is the smell of roasted chestnuts. The piney smell from the literally hundreds of Christmas trees placed all around the markets. And the smell of salmon roasting over a wood fire.

There are lots of delicious things to eat on the Weihnachtsmarkt. One of the things I like best is Reibekuchen, grated potato cakes, served with apple sauce. But this time we chose sautéed mushrooms in a creamy sauce and Rauberfleish, a sort of mix between goulash and chili con carne, for lunch. And we couldn’t resist the famous German Kuchen, of course. I was too busy enjoying the taste of spicy plums covered by a layer of crumbles to take photos. But I did take a picture of some of amazing loaves of sourdough bread.

They were absolutely huge. We estimated that they must weigh over three kilos each!

There’s music all around, too. Christmas music coming from the shops. Music from street musicians, some very talented, some not so much. And around noon, walking along a river from one market to the next, we heard church bells ringing, a deep and sonorous sound.

The booths sell all kinds of lovely stuff, from Christmas decorations, to jewellery, wooden toys, beautiful hand-carved wooden figures and home accessories.

There are stacks and stacks of hand-made soaps, some fresh, summery and flower-scented, and others spicy and fruity.

And candles, of course. Candles in all shapes, sizes and colours. My favourites are natural beeswax ones, with their beautiful golden glow and subtly sweet honey scent.

There’s some knitwear, too, albeit machine-knit. Socks, shawls, scarves and hats. And lots of wrist warmers. The ones in the photo below are made from alpaca. They looked a bit stiff and scratchy, but were in fact extremely soft. Gorgeous colours and patterns – I would really like to knit some like these someday.

So many lovely things, so much to see.

So, what did I buy? Ehm… nothing. Overwhelm at work again, I think. But I really needed some presents, so at the very end of the day, I rushed back to one of the booths selling teas and tisanes and bought some delicious fruity & spicy teas. Mission accomplished.

Now, almost two weeks later, writing this and looking at the pictures, I think: What a wonderful day. And at the same time I am still shaking my head and muttering: How on earth could I forget to visit a yarn shop?