Sunday, July 19, 2015

Just the yarny bits

We’ve returned from a Trip of a Lifetime vacation to Europe. What started as a relatively simple plan to visit France with some friends who spend part of each year there morphed into an itinerary that included France, Austria, Germany, and Iceland. And while I didn’t totally intend to buy yarn everywhere I went, I ended up doing so.IMG_6931My first yarn sighting was in the village of Saint Chaffrey, France, where my friend Nathalie’s parents have a delightful vacation apartment.This is the threshold of a little mill called Longo Maï. We saw cobblestones everywhere in Europe, but these “pavers” were wood instead of stone. So lovely!

IMG_6932This is the place where Nathalie bought me that grey yarn that became my first Custom Fit sweater…remember? We were there on a Friday and the sign said that tours were on Thursdays only, but we managed to talk ourselves into a bit of a tour anyway. Well, Nathalie did the talking. (Sorry about the weird photo of our usually photogenic Nathalie – we were rushing as it was beginning to rain.) She showed the owner a photo of my grey sweater on her phone, and then she offered to show us around the main level of the mill, which wasn’t in use that day. IMG_6934

Want to go in? IMG_6938Here is the owner showing me how yarn is made. Nathalie had to translate everything of course (I took German in college, not French). But the more involved I got with my hands and my expression, the less basic her explanations became. I think it was clear that I knew a bit about yarn construction. 


Here are some samples of the breeds they use in their yarn. It sounded to me like all these are blended together in the final yarn, except for some merino (which is actually spun in Italy rather than on site). I believe this is woolen spun yarn.


When she beckoned me back to one corner and I saw this machine, I knew instantly what it was – a sock machine! But it is so much bigger than the ones I see at fairs and festivals.IMG_6944That’s because it uses much thicker yarn. Here are some socks that came off the machine but still haven’t been separated from each other. The machine knits 25 socks and then shuts itself off.  IMG_6942We also saw some looms, and this one was working a lovely blanket fabric:


I wanted to buy another sweater’s worth of yarn in the shop. Their inventory was low (it is only replenished once a year) and I didn’t want to get the exact kind of yarn I used before. Besides, they only had that in white and I learned that it was also spun in Italy. I wanted something that was spun right there on site. I ended up with this 2-ply yarn, which is kind of an oatmeal-y light tan in color:IMG_8309The sign said that it was 100 grams, but there was no indication of how many yards/meters each skein contained. No ball band - just a sign that said it was 4€/skein. The woman strongly recommended that I get 800 grams for a cardigan. That seemed like an insane amount. Maybe if I were knitting a huge, drop shoulder, boxy cardigan with 10” of positive ease… but that’s not the type of sweater I knit. I thought I would be fine with 6 skeins. Maybe get 7 for insurance.

In the end, I bought 8. It made her happy and hey, it was only 4€. (It did NOT make S1 happy, from a luggage perspective.)IMG_8311 I’m thinking of dying this before knitting it. This is something I’ll need to consult with Annette about, and she is our resident dyer. I’m sure I have plenty with which to sample!

So that’s the French yarn. I actually have no Austrian yarn. We spent 2 days in Munich and there are plenty of yarn shops there, but I pledged not to actively seek them out. Still, if one presented itself in our path of normal tourist activities…IMG_7768 We saw a beautiful display window of knitted and sewn items for a big department store called Ludwig Beck right off the main plaza. In we went! They organize the yarn by color and it’s quite striking. The sock yarn is at the bottom. They seem to have a particularly good selection of solid sock yarns for colorwork. IMG_7765They also had these “YOU MAKE ME” signs on various things… I think that means you could get the pattern there. Check out that feminine version of the classic alpine hat! In my colors!

IMG_7773Steven, I took this pillow picture for you. I like yours better, though. 


Boy 2 really dug these groovy lampshades. I couldn’t quite tell how they were made… maybe Tunisian crochet or regular crochet? If there had been a “YOU MAKE ME” sign on those, I might have gotten the pattern.IMG_7772 I asked Boy 1 if he saw any sock yarn he really liked, and he picked out this Regia. It was only 4.50€/ball (so about $9.75 for a pair of socks), which I think is cheaper than we generally find it here. That will be a nice souvenir for us both.


We flew Iceland Air on this trip, and they have this great stopover deal. You can pause your trip for 1-7 nights and not change your fare. So when we left Munich, we stopped in Reykjavik for 3 nights. I have always wanted to visit Iceland so this was a real treat. IMG_7890The Handknitting Association of Iceland has a nice little shop on the main shopping drag in town. Their place is full of sweaters and blankets and accessories and lots of completed itemsIMG_7895 … and if you go to the back room, they have some yarn, too. Here are those “plates” of unspun roving that you can knit. I think Elizabeth Zimmermann popularized those here in the U.S.: IMG_7893 I was completely overwhelmed by all the Lopi yarns, as I knew I would be. The Icelandic sheep grows a multi-coated fleece, and parts of it are much rougher than others. The resulting yarn is not really soft. It’s spun woolen-style and many of the yarns are singles (so, not plied). They are meant for colorwork and those fabulously warm Lopi sweaters. The trouble is, I can’t really wear a sweater like that. I tried to resist the urge to buy either a sweater or the yarn to make one.


They do have one plied yarn, and I decided to get some of that to make a hat or mittens or something. In a nod to traditional colorwork, I got a few colors: IMG_8299 I also got this adorable children’s book about someone who learns to stay warm, both inside and out. It’s in English.


The shop has great windows. Here you can see their ingenious logo, as well as my reflection with umbrella. It rained a lot while we were there, but nothing torrential that kept us indoors. IMG_7925I also talked myself into buying a blanket, which is more likely to be used at my house than an extremely warm sweaters. IMG_8295I love the way the chevrons look like knit stitches.

(The luggage implications of a blanket purchase also caused S1 to pause … but it was fine. I got my blanket home.)

IMG_7950 That evening, I ventured out along to the local cinema to see Rams, and Icelandic film (English subtitles) about a pair of Icelandic sheep farmers. It won something at Cannes this year. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You must see it if only to see the farms and the landscapes!

On our second full day in Iceland, we ventured out in the rental car to do The Golden Circle, a driving path that takes you through a gorgeous national park, geysers, and waterfalls. But just 15 minutes out of Reykjavik, I saw the sign for Alafoss Wool. From my reading, I knew this was a large wool shop right by the mill. The water that originally powered the mill features in the logo:IMG_7962 IMG_7953Now… I really didn’t need more yarn, but the fumes got to me. They had a much larger selection of colors than the small shop downtown did. 


They also had some neat old machines on display, like the Komet Knitter:

IMG_7960 I bought some sock yarn here. I thought it was Icelandic but it turns out to be Danish.


I got some buttons, too, which I forgot to photograph. Almost everything was so expensive in Iceland, but the buttons seemed nicer and less expensive than plastic ones from Joann here. So even though I normally don’t like to buy buttons before a sweater is done, I went ahead and got 3 sets of 7 buttons each. What the hey!

On our last day in Iceland we didn’t have to leave downtown until 1:15 in order to catch our flight. We went to the Arbaejarsafn, an open air museum of about 20 buildings that tell something of the town’s history. A few of the turf houses were original to the site, but most had been moved there. This is the type of museum I love best, a living history setup with emphasis on the 19th century. I could have spent ALL DAY there. The place was filthy with fiber equipment and products. There were so many fiber prep tools, spinning wheels, knitting machines, looms, sewing machines… Here are just a few:

IMG_8240IMG_8241IMG_8243IMG_8244IMG_8247IMG_8273 IMG_8198

One of the things I really enjoyed about this museum is that you could go almost anywhere, with none of the usual signage about being careful. This was not the easiest staircase we climbed in a home, but nor was it the most difficult:


I stumbled across something I’d never seen before, too – this is a lokkur and it’s a cross between a spinning wheel and a musical instrument:

IMG_8223 They had a video running that showed someone playing the stringed instrument. It wasn’t clear to me if you could play the instrument at the same time you spun yarn, or if someone just rigged up their spinning wheel to power the instrument. All the text was in Icelandic so I was left in the dark.

The Keflavik Airport runs you through a ton of gift shops and duty free shops on your way to the gates, so on our way out I saw EVEN MORE YARN. I thought long and hard about whether to buy some of this Hespa yarn, which is naturally dyed with Icelandic plants. But none of the kits were totally “me” and they weren’t cheap, either, so I resisted. I will just have to remember this gorgeous display in the airport – this is a wooly interpretation of an Icelandic waterfall, done in balls of yarn: IMG_8284 So those are the yarny parts of our amazing European vacation. I took two projects with me to work on and didn’t finish either one of them. Between the VERY active schedule (I haven’t walked so much in a very long time – one day my FitBit recorded over 30,000 steps!) and the cognitive overload of being in non-English-speaking places, I didn’t knit very much. But that is a story for another day.

For now, we’re happy to be home.


  1. What a wonderful vacation! It may not have been planned as a fibery trip, but you surely found plenty. Boy 2 has great taste in sock yarn, and I love that feather and fan shawl(?) in the Arbaejarsafn. Your blanket is a truly beautiful blend of color, design, and warmth. I may be overcome by the fumes just from photos. Thanks for sharing your great trip!

  2. What a wonderful family adventure. Thanks for including so many photos in your post so others can share your experience. I have long been curious about Iceland and your comments and pictures have convinced me to add it to the bucket list.

  3. So happy you got to go and so happy you got to do all these fibery things! Thanks for the pillow shout-out -- I agree -- I like mine better. I think you showed great restraint. And I think S1 showed great patience. All those gadgets and machinery must have been pure heaven. Can't wait to get get to Iceland myself some day.