Thursday, July 31, 2014

Estonia Adventures Part 4: Muhu Island

Muhu. This is the place that started our obsession with Estonian crafts and we couldn't bear to go all the way to Estonia without visiting this amazing island.

Amber & Jaime in traditional Muhu dress

It all started with a coffee table book that we carried here at Fancy Tiger Crafts that focused just on the handicrafts from this one island. Muhu style is known for its use of vibrant colors, particularly hot pink and super bright, saturated orange. All of Estonia uses these bright colors, but Muhu in particular embraces them to the max.

Like all of Estonia, knitting is big on Muhu, but embroidery is their most prevalent craft. In addition to using embroidery to decorate shoes and clothes, they make beautiful wedding blankets--large blankets that are usually made of dark fabric and then embroidered with flower motifs in bright colors. These blankets are truly stunning to see in person and the work that would go into them is staggering.

We took a day to explore this island which is a 2 hour drive and 20 minute ferry ride away from Tallinn. Muhu, like a lot of Estonia, is mostly rural with beautiful thatch-roof houses and a few windmills dotting the landscape. It is a surprisingly small island with few inhabitants - so it is amazing to think they created the extensive body of work that is featured in our coffee table book.

Of course we had to take an embroidery class while on Muhu. Our friend Malia of Penelope Crafts in Amsterdam set this up for us. It was amazing and difficult. I consider myself pretty adept at embroidery, but these ladies schooled us. I have a whole new level of appreciation for the intricate and often large-scale designs that decorate much of the textiles found on Muhu.

Our teacher, Tiina Saar, is a big name in contemporary Muhu embroidery, with her work currently showcased in the ornaMENTAL exhibition in Tallinn. She taught us a very traditional strawberry motif that we worked in bright colors on a black fabric. Adorable.

There was a bit of a communication barrier and it was hard at times to understand just what we were trying to do with our embroidery stitches. Also, Tiina is such a professional stitcher, her hands moving so swiftly that our eyes had a hard time keeping up. It took almost 2 of our 3 hours of class to finally grasp that the Muhu embroidery technique is couching! The long and purposefully uneven satin stitches are each tacked down with a tiny couching stitch. Once we grasped this concept our embroidery really began moving along. While it took us a while to catch onto this, we did impress Tiina with our proficiency at needle threading, so we weren't the worst students she had ever had.

After our embroidery class, we spent a bit of time exploring the island. Our exploration took us to Koguva, a wonderfully preserved village-turned outdoor museum. Thank god we went here because here we found the articles featured in our coffee table book and we were able to see them in person! Oh man are these beautiful. This is the work that inspired this trip and it was a truly amazing experience to get to see these exceptional examples of Muhu handicrafts in person.

Next up: the OrnaMENTAL exhibit in Tallinn

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Estonia Adventures Part 3: Tallinn, Estonia

Estonia! The next 9 blog posts are going to be about Estonia. I know that sounds crazy, but the handicraft culture and traditions are so rich here, we just couldn't pair it down. Estonia is a magical place and we hope some of our adventurous blog readers might make it there someday if you haven't already been. Our first stop is the capitol city of Tallinn.

Tallinn is an extremely old city - first traces of human settlement date back over 5,000 years. It boasts a beautifully preserved medieval center which is known as Old Town and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We hardly left Old Town. It was so beautiful and there is so much to explore.

We had the pleasure of being in town for Tallinn's annual Medieval Days festival. As if Old Town isn't medieval enough as is, this festival brings local artisans and crafters to sell their work and includes events, demonstrations and more. We hit the market first and boy was it amazing!

Wandering through the booths we instantly saw and fell in love with Külli. She is the powerhouse knitter behind these amazing mittens. She uses traditional Estonian designs from around Estonia. Each village, island and region has its own patterns. She spoke English very well and was happy to tell us about each design's origins and myths (some are meant to bring protection or luck to the wearer). She even gave us some on-the-fly knitting tutorials for the unique faux-entrelac borders that are often used.

We each bought a pair of mittens and then went back the next day for more. They are just so beautiful! Picking out your pair is the hardest part and we spent a good hour or so talking to Külli, trying on mittens and obsessing over which were the perfect ones. Impossible. You, too, can obsess on her beautiful mittens here.

We want all the mittens!

There is a section of booths at the medieval festival reserved for master craftsmen. Boy, did we get into trouble there. Let us introduce you to our new Latvian friend, Aija.

Aija makes amazing yarn. She travels around Latvia and Estonia to choose sheep fleeces to use from local farmers. She dyes the fleeces using locally sourced plant that she collects. She then hand spins these and finally, different colors are plied together to create a soft, loosely plied, naturally dyed yarn. We each bought copious amounts of this magical yarn, all of which are in natural hues of yellow and green.

Aija is also accomplished at the craft of naalbinding, an ancient form of making fabric with yarn and a large needle which pre-dates knitting. Aija sold her naalbinded hats and mittens that were made from her handspun yarn...swoon! If you're into historical reenactment, you need to go to Estonia right now and pick up everything that Aija makes.

We also met Monika. Monika makes lovely handspun yarns in a rainbow of colors and neutrals. She was on hand to give spinning demonstrations to the public. Monika had met our friend Malia of Penelope Crafts in Amderstam the year before, and helped put us in touch with some women on Muhu Island (check back for more on that tomorrow) to teach us embroidery. (Thank you, Monika!).

Handicrafts are ubiquitous in Tallinn. There are shops in old town selling Estonian knit items of all sorts, but one our favorite finds, Naiiv, featured modern garment designs based on the traditional bright colorwork of Estonia. We knew we had arrived by the very cool yarn-bombed bike outside the door.

Naiiv designs leggings, sweaters, jackets and even backpacks with their colorful knit fabric. We wanted it all...

Thanks for being so magical, Tallinn!

Up Next: Embroidery class on Muhu Island

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Estonia Adventures Part 2: Finland

When booking this trip, I learned that one of the more affordable ways to get to Estonia is by ferry from Helsinki, Finland. Reasonable Icelandair flights to Helsinki made this the best route for us and we couldn't resist spending a couple of days in a new city while we were travelling through.

In preparation for the ferry ride (since Megan had never been on a boat before!) we took this boat to a pizza restaurant in an island.

Helsinki is a clean and modern port city, surrounded by water. It is known for its architecture and design and we were able to take in both of these things in our brief time.

Also, great coffee and food! We checked out many coffee shops and spent quite a bit of time knitting at these stops.

There are fantastic markets in Helsinki where one can shop for food and veggies alongside touristy items like reindeer hides and juniper wood utensils. We bought chanterelles and the most delicious strawberries!

We were thrilled to find a yarn vendor, Riihivilla, among these booths. He sold handknit items and kits for making mittens and things, as well as yarn made of local Finnsheep wool, naturally dyed in an amazing range of color. We, of course, were all swooning over this Finnsheep yarn and I'm sure we made his day!

The skeins came in both natural, un-dyed colors as well as naturally dyed colors. Again, these were dyed using the country's local dye-plants - in this case: mushrooms! Amber loves both yarn and mushrooms, so she couldn't resist these. Can you believe this amazing red comes from a mushroom?

Finnsheep come in a range of colors, like Icelandic and Shetland sheep, so of course I had to pick up some fingering weight un-dyed wool in two natural colors. Yummy!

After the markets, one more stop we had to make was at Finnish fabric designer and icon, Marimekko. Marimekko has been designing patterns since 1951.

Marimekko is responsible for many iconic pattern designs and no trip to Helsinki would be complete without a stop in one of their shops. They make and sell all sorts of goods printed with the classic designs including clothing, umbrellas, plates and wallets. What were we most excited about? The fabric! 

The fabric came in various weights from home dec to woven cotton to lawn. Amber and I each bought a cut of fabric which we will covet for a while I'm sure before cutting into! I am absolutely in love with my black cat fabric since I have a kitty just like this at home. 

Next up: Tallinn, Estonia and the medieval festival!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Estonia Adventures Part 1: Iceland

Earlier this month, Amber and I went on an epic adventure to Estonian Craft Camp. We will get to Craft Camp next week - which was life-altering - but first, a quick stop in Iceland en route to Finland en route to Estonia (thank you, Icelandair!).

Iceland is one of my favorite places. This was my third visit and even though it was for a mere 48 hours, we were able to experience new magical places and revisit some of our favorite stops. Iceland is a must-visit for any travel-loving, yarn aficionado. Their love of wool and knitting knows no bounds. Free range sheep dot every landscape and Lopi yarn can be purchased in even the smallest town's grocery market.

You know of our love of Lopi yarn - the Icelandic yarn made from Icelandic sheep's wool since we have made no fewer than 5 Lopi sweaters between Amber and I. The hardy Icelandic sheep that produce all this yarn are the only sheep to see in Iceland and they are everywhere. Farmers let them graze free during the spring - fall and then they gather and sort them every September to keep them safe during the harsh winter months.

Sheep with her babies on a picturesque fjord

We hopped off our plane at 6am, rented a car and immediately headed up to the West Fjords - a 3 hour journey to a northern land of fjords. We stopped along the way to take in the elven magic of the moss covered lava fields at Glanni.

Magical Moss covered Lava fields of Glanni

Once we reached the West Fjords, we were greeted with the epic and otherworldly landscape of this remote part of Iceland. We spent a bit of time in Holmavik at the Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery and then stayed the night in a picturesque B n' B in Bjarnarfjörður that had its own hot pots.

Sheep and carin

Amber frolics in the West Fjords

On our way back to Reykjavik the next day we stopped at one of our favorite places - the wool shop Ullarselið in Hvanneyri. This shop stocks the beautiful naturally-dyed Hespa yarns by Gudrun Bjarnadottir. We all purchased mass quantities of yarn at this, our first yarn-buying opportunity of the trip! The natural colors that Gudrun achieves using Icelandic mosses and lichens are irresistible. She combines these native dye plants with indigo and madder for more depth of color. The yarns are all Icelandic wool and all of us purchased the lace weight - perfect for shawls.

Jaime has some tough decisions to make...

We ended our Iceland adventure with a late night dip in the Blue Lagoon in the midnight magical!

10pm in Iceland in bright!

Next up: Helsinki, Finland: Marimekko and Finnsheep wool

Friday, July 25, 2014

Cricket is Here and We ♥ It!

Cricket is here from Anzula!

The blend of Merino/Cashmere/Nylon gives this hand-dyed DK beauty the softest, plushest feel and the enchanting color palette makes colorwork a great choice.

We fell in love with this sproingy soft DK weight yarn from Anzula after seeing Olgajazzy's Fractals hat pattern.

We have always loved the insane brights from Anzula. Olga uses them to their magical max by mixing these neon shades with delicate neutrals in this new hat pattern!

We ♥ this soft yarn so hard.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Better Know A Crafter: Pink Pitcher

Pink is old school Fancy T. She has been coming to our craft night since the beginning of time. She's also one of the fastest knitters we know--always the first to finish knit-alongs, and she won't follow a pattern to save her life. She gets the gist of a pattern and then makes it up as she goes. It always turns out magically awesome. Because of this, we weren't surprised to find out the epic dragon sweater she has been working on is a little of this pattern and a little of that...

Pink Pitcher

How did you learn to knit?
I learned to knit when I was six, but I never really got in to it until I was 16 or so. My mother originally taught me, but everything after basic knit stitch I learned from trial and error. Along the way I also learned to sew, crochet, spin, weave, felt...etc. I am a seamstress, making bags from recycled materials (, so I knit to unwind from my other crafting.

Tell us about your project.
This project was inspired by a Ravelry find a friend forwarded to me: Betsala's Valhalla I Am Coming, a much hipper version of the Norwegian pattern, 9 Viking Boat Jacket. I loved the chart and it was nice to see it liberated from the original drop sleeves (I hate drop sleeves!). I found a colorwork yoke pattern 0611-1 Pullover, also entirely in Norwegian, that worked for the fingering weight yarn I used--Imperial Stock Ranch Tracie. 

Fortunately, since I was only using the charts from these two, the language didn't matter. I also used an altered version of the Deathflake chart, a chart from a book I bought in Norway about "Lice-Pattern Sweaters", and then I made a chart of all 24 runes of the Elder Furthark

Basically, I stitched together a Frankenstein's Monster of awesome Norwegian designs.

What inspired you to make this?
Plunder. The promise of Plunder. (There may have been some drunken boasting as well, I don't recall clearly.)

Does your sweater transport you to other lands/dimensions when you wear it?
I transport this sweater to other lands and times when *I* wear it! (But it keeps me mighty warm while I'm there.)

Did you put any protection spells on your sweater?
I asked my homegirl Frigga to do me a solid and keep and eye on it. She's a spinner, she understands.

What is your favorite viking weapon?
My fist.

OMG Pink, we love it. Thank you and happy knitting!