Q for You: What was your first yarn?

Q for You: What was your first yarn?

Earlier this spring/summer, we renovated our bathroom, which also involved gutting and narrowing our coat closet. In the process, the contents of the bathroom, the coat closet and part of the living room all got dumped into the guest room in one gigantic mess. Six weeks or so since the bathroom was completed,* I’m still facing a large part of that mess, wanting to put it all back in a more organized fashion than it was before, and of course not having the time to do that! Among the piles is a big storage bag thing containing a load of scarves, hats and gloves that moved with us from the Bay but haven’t been worn since — many of them my earliest handknits. Among them is the first thing I ever bought yarn for: this simple camel-colored cowl.

With the caveat that I had crocheted (and very slightly knitted) as a kid — no doubt with some kind of craft-store acrylic — my first foray into a yarn store as a knitter was that fateful Nashville trip in 2011 when Meg taught me to knit by casting on Joelle Hoverson’s Pointy Elf Hat and walking me through the steps to completion. The red thick-and-thin yarn had come from her stash, and before we left for the airport on our last day, Jo (my friend, Meg’s mom) took me to Haus of Yarn, where Meg was on duty, and I surveyed the beautiful samples and yarns all around the store looking for something to knit on the flight home. Of course, I wanted to knit Julie Weisenberger’s loafer slippers (Meg: “Maybe next year”) but we settled on a seemingly simple bias-knit cowl that happened to have been knitted in the same yarn I had used for the elf hat. At that point, I only knew the knit stitch, so Meg and Jo taught me to purl and Meg gave me a little piece of paper with the instructions for kitchener stitch on it, and off I went. I find it not at all surprising that the first yarn I picked out was this lovely shade of camel! Albeit in this Thick ‘n’ Quick Merino that I would not likely choose for myself today. But now I’m wondering why I’ve never really worn this cowl, just held onto it as the first thing I knitted entirely on my own. And though my first two projects — this and the elf hat — were both knitted in this yarn, I’ve never knitted with it again.

I remember that day at Haus quite vividly, being bowled over by the incredible array of pretty skeins, especially all the multi-colored Malabrigo that was so prominently displayed at that time and all the rage, as I would soon discover. I can’t remember if I bought any other yarn that day, other than a ball of canary yellow dishcloth cotton (and a pattern booklet to go with it) that was my waste yarn for the next five years. But that brings me to my Q for You today: What was your first yarn? How long ago, and how does it compare to the kinds of yarns you knit with these days?

I look forward to your stories, and wish you a relaxing weekend!

UNRELATED SHOP NEWS: With the popularity of our knitter’s tool kit and our sashiko thread selection, we’re now offering a sashiko tool kit as well!

* If you’re waiting for me to post final bathroom pics on Instagram, I’m so sorry to be a tease. In typical fashion, I’m struggling to find time to do it as well as I want to, to do it justice. Hopefully this weekend in my IG story!

What I Know About: Breed-specific yarn (with Brooke Sinnes)

What I Know About: Breed-specific yarn (with Brooke Sinnes)

I’ve always counted Brooke Sinnes of Sincere Sheep Yarns as my original newfound friend in the yarn world, and she is still one of the most knowledgable and thoughtful people I know, in addition to simply being one of my favorite humans. When I first started knitting, the two of us somehow became aware of each other on Twitter, met for tacos in Berkeley, discovered that we both had Napa and Kansas City in our backgrounds, and became instant friends. Shortly thereafter, I designed  the Double Basketweave Cowl in one of her gorgeous naturally dyed yarns, and we recently decided to upgrade the recommended yarn for that cowl to her incredible US-grown and -milled Cormo — a breed-specific, single-farm yarn, still naturally dyed. So we’re relaunching the now-Cormo cowl kit in the webshop today, and I thought it would be a great time to talk to Brooke about what it means to make and knit with breed-specific yarns and get her highly informed take on where we are with known origins at this stage in the knitting world.

For more of Brooke and her yarns, check out the Sincere Sheep website, and follow her on Instagram @sinceresheep. Here’s Brooke—

. . .

When I first ran across you — when I first started knitting — I read the About page on your site about the name Sincere Sheep and that you were selling yarns made from identifiable breeds and farms, which made perfect sense to me as you live in Napa and I had lived in Napa, and that kind of awareness of “terroir” comes with the, er, territory. So I’m not sure I even realized how not-the-norm that was at the time. Did it seem groundbreaking to you when you set out with that as your mission?

At the time, although it was groundbreaking, I remember it seemed very natural to me. I moved back to Berkeley after graduating university in 2001, and I was living smack in the middle of an area known for progressive thinking. The slow food movement was really taking root. Seasonal eating, farmers’ markets and local food sourcing were a regular thing. A couple of years later, I moved to the Napa Valley and learned that wineries were creating single-vineyard wines, which was taking the concept of terroir to an even more specific level. I looked around at all of these developments related to food and the annual growing cycle and said to myself, “All of these concepts apply to natural fibers and dyes.” Every year sheep need to be shorn, and their fleece is a record of what happened to them during the year — just like grapes and other agricultural crops develop characteristics based on weather, soil, water, care, etc. The same is true of the plants we use for dyes. To take it a step further, each sheep breed has wool with different qualities that interact with the environment and make it appealing for different types of yarn. And actually, each sheep has its own individual characteristics.

Sincere Sheep came into being when I connected this concept with something I had learned while taking fiber arts classes in Berkeley: American wool prices were incredibly low. So low, in fact, that many small farmers weren’t even bothering to send their wool to the local wool broker. Instead they were throwing the wool away, composting it, or stashing it in the barn. I met with a shearer who specialized in small flocks and ‘lawnmower sheep,’ and they put me in contact with local farms where I could buy the wool. With that connection, taking the idea for terroir and translating it to fiber was doable. I had the local wool made into yarn and roving at a mill only 50 miles from my house. I dyed it with natural dyes, then labeled it with the name of the farm and its location, and also the sheep’s name if it had one. It felt really good to be supporting these farmers while making a highly transparent, local product that was fun to work with.

Like the larger “slow fashion” movement, it can feel like a new or trendy concept — knowing where your clothes or the fiber of your yarn comes from — when really it’s just an effort to get back to how things used to be. I know this is a book-sized question, but can you talk a little bit about the difference between “farm yarns” and where large-scale commercial yarns come from?

When I think about terroir in yarn, I think about texture. Farm yarns are typically made by farmers with wool from only their flock — which means all the wool comes from a specific place and reflects how the sheep lived that year. Mass-market yarns are different. They are made in large quantities, and made with wool that has been selected for specific qualities: fineness, length, or color. This means that a mass-market yarn will be exactly the same from yard to yard and from year to year. Their goal is absolute consistency. The fiber does not usually come from a specific farm, ranch, or even region!

One of my favorite things about farm yarn is how it has more texture — the wool can vary slightly from yard to yard, and it changes each year. This allows the qualities of the sheep breed(s) it is made from to shine through. For example, you get to experience the incredible elasticity of Cormo wool first hand in yarn form. Additionally this means you can revisit a farm yarn and experience how that year’s rainfall or temperature affected the character of the yarn. It is also more engaging for me to make — When I make a local, custom yarn I get to go to the farm and help with the shearing. I get to pick the fleeces that I want and send them to a mill to be processed into yarn or roving to my specifications. I think about the best yarn I can make with the wool I have just chosen. Other times, I work with a wool broker to find enough fleeces with the quality I am looking for from sheep that all live on the same ranch. From there, the wool is sent to the mill to be processed into custom yarn with specifications that we designate. It’s always interesting to open the boxes of yarn when they arrive and see how it has come out, how it is reflective of its terroir. My involvement allows me to create a yarn that shows the wool to its best advantage and a product with a unique, handmade story.

What I Know About: Breed-specific yarn (with Brooke Sinnes)

So you had this concept and named your business Sincere Sheep, but it’s a steep challenge. Was it as you imagined, or how would you describe the trajectory from where you started out to where you are now, and what you’ve had to navigate in between?

When I started Sincere Sheep 15 years ago I don’t think I was thinking long term. I saw that there was an opportunity for me to make a difference to local farmers who were hurting because of the low wool prices. That continues to be one of my goals today, even though American fine wool prices have almost doubled from 2017 to 2018. Regardless of wool price, small-scale farming is hard work and needs our support if we want it to continue.

What I didn’t realize when I first started making yarn was how little of the American textile industry was still around after the mass exodus of both jobs and machinery in the ’80s due to the push toward globalization. It was a real challenge to find a mill that could handle fine wool in small to medium quantities and then spin a yarn to consistent specifications year after year. It has been heartening to see some of these small-scale production capabilities return to the American textile industry over the past 15 years

As the business grew, I started to incorporate more international yarns that were Merino-based because of market demand. I semi-jokingly refer to those years as the era of the ‘cult of the soft.’ Throughout that time, I continued to make small farm yarns and roving mostly from California ranches and kept my eye open for when I would be able to offer more domestic bases. That happened about 4 years ago. Since 2014, I’ve been custom making my American-sourced and -spun Cormo yarn in coordination with Jeane deCoster of Elemental Affects. By working collaboratively, we can buy a large lot of wool and take advantage of large-quantity price breaks given by the mills where we have the wool cleaned and spun.

I’ve had yarns custom made for me since the beginning, and as my business has grown so has the scale of these projects. Scaling up has really changed a lot of the dynamics within Sincere Sheep. Most indie dyers buy [finished, undyed] yarn from wholesalers on an as-needed basis. This means that they only buy what they need, when they need it. The wholesaler is therefore the one who is shouldering the bulk of the production risk and inventory warehousing in order to fulfill orders. Currently, if you want to make a custom-spun yarn that includes wool from only one clip and only one location, you have to buy all the wool at one time that you are going to need to make all of the yarn that you will need for the following year. So it becomes more complicated: Not only are you forecasting how much wool is enough without being too much, but you also have to be prepared to outlay all of your cash at once. Then when the yarn is finished being milled it all comes at one time, and you have to warehouse hundreds of pounds of yarn. It is a lot of planning ahead. With everything that goes into it, it’s always an exciting day when we finally get a batch of yarn or roving back from the mill!

I know in the 6.5 years I’ve been knitting, the surge in visibility of farm yarns — and I’m referring here specifically to farmers who are having their fleece milled into yarn, and marketing it with some success, even beyond their own farmers’ market — and in yarn companies shifting more and more toward origin transparency and breed specificity has been really amazing to watch. Where do you think we’re really headed?

My mom is in sales and taught me the term ‘bleeding edge’ — meaning you are too far ahead of a trend and there isn’t yet a market for your goods. Fifteen years ago, when I was starting to make farm yarns from non-Merino wools, I was the bleeding edge. People were interested and supportive, but they couldn’t quite wrap their heads around using my yarns. Around the same time, Merino was really starting to make a huge splash as a breed-specific yarn and people were discovering that wool could be soft and wearable. Over the years since then, there has certainly grown a greater understanding of breeds and origins and that’s a very positive shift! People are now interested in single origin, non-Merino wool yarns, but I still have new customers who are surprised by just how many breeds there are. I am hopeful that this trend in origin transparency and breed specificity will continue and that people understand that they have the powerful ability to directly support farmers, mills and dyers with their purchase.

Double Basketweave Cowl (free pattern)

So let’s talk about this Cormo of yours. Cormo, to the extent it’s known at all really, is best known as an Australian breed, right? But you’re among a small number of people bringing US Cormo to the forefront. What is it about Cormo that lights you up especially, and how did you come to be making Cormo yarn?

You’re correct, Cormo is an Australian breed. The Cormo sheep was developed in the 1960s in Tasmania by crossing Corriedales (a medium-wool type sheep) with Saxon Merinos (a fine-wool type sheep). Cormo sheep were selected for breeding based on the weight of their fleeces (high); the diameter of their fiber (18-23 microns, which is relatively fine but still strong); high fertility so more lambs per litter; and body weight. Cormos were then imported in the 1970s to the US to improve the wool produced on rangeland ranches.

What I love about Cormo wool is its soft, downy hand and incredible elasticity. It’s common for me to have people unfamiliar with Cormo ask me if my yarn is cotton because of how soft it feels. We have the yarn spun and plied on the tighter side to help the yarn wear better and it looks equally great in accessories and garments. I love it when a customer wears their finished sweater to a show and tells me how much they loved working with the yarn — and then proceeds to buy more for their next project! It is incredibly satisfying to see someone love a specific yarn that much.

I first discovered Cormo wool via Sue Reuser who was farming Cormo sheep up in Orland, CA. She had the most amazing flock of white and colored Cormos. She was breeding them towards producing fleeces for handspinners. Sue had a strong and loyal base of spinners that would buy a fleece or two or three every year and would often reserve a fleece a year in advance and then come up for the shearing. I was at one of those shearings when Sue offered to sell me some white Cormo fleece that wasn’t already reserved. I bought the wool and made my first Cormo yarn from it. This continued on the next couple of years until Sue retired, and I convinced Jeane DeCoster to start making a replacement Cormo yarn with me. Now Jeane and I make four different weights of Cormo yarns every year and then each of us dyes the yarns in our own distinctive way. I love the hand of our yarns, and it takes natural dyes beautifully. I have yet to tire of knitting with it on a daily basis!

What makes you so excited about switching over to the Cormo Sport for the Double Basketweave Cowl kit?

I often talk about how much I enjoy being a part of and supporting the handmade community, and connecting with all of the people that I meet through Sincere Sheep. I’m passionate about providing makers with the best quality yarn that is both enjoyable to work with while knitting and results in a finished project that is richly textured and enjoyable to wear. I love the way the Cormo Sport feels to knit and it’s so cozy in the finished cowl. As a bonus, it’s a meaningful opportunity for your customers to support an American wool farmer, mill and dyer.

. . .

Thank you so much, Brooke! And for those interested, check out the free Double Basketweave Cowl pattern here on the blog, and find the Cormo cowl kit (includes the printed pattern and two skeins of Brooke’s beautiful yarn) over at Fringe Supply Co.!

Happy weekend, everyone—

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PREVIOUSLY in What I Know About: Gansey origins (with Deb Gillanders)

Elsewhere

Aiding Sally Fox, swatching buttonholes and more Elsewhere

Do you know about Sally Fox of Vreseis? (I hope you do, as she comes up around here from time to time.) Sally is a legend in the fiber world, having spent decades developing naturally colored cotton plants, pursuing climate-beneficial farming, supplying the wool for one of my favorite yarns, Pioneer, among so many other things. Her farm is in the path of the wildfire that’s currently blazing near Sacramento, and she has had to evacuate and relocate her sheep to an irrigated pasture where they’re hopefully safe, but all at great expense and jeopardy. If you would like to help, you can do so by ordering any of the amazing goods she offers in her shop, or by making a direct donation. Don’t miss the heartmelting story of Sally’s generosity to one knitter in @beththais’ IG story. And you can keep abreast of developments by following @vreseis on Instagram. My heart goes out to everyone affected by the fires, and this is one way to be able to help someone who does so much good work in the world. (photo above, top)

Beyond that, Elsewhere:

– “So if I can feel joyful in mismatched wrinkled linen with dark lipstick and silver temples in June well, then, that’s what I want to wear. Not because someone told me I’d feel joy but because I discovered it.”

Have you ever done any buttonhole swatching? (I have, but rarely) (See also: What is your favorite buttonhole method?) (photo above, bottom)

Truck driver replaces smoking habit with knitting (via)

I’d like to take a turn on the scarf-knitting bike (thx, Barb)

– As a Danish-modern furniture aficionado, how did I never know about the knitting chair? (via)

– Belatedly, I love this mini tribute to Eugene Wyatt, who I first learned about during Clara Parkes’s Great White Bale project several years ago. RIP, Mr. Wyatt — wish I’d gotten to meet you. (Dear Clara, if by chance you see this: Any way you might make those Bale posts available to the public at this point? As a subscriber, I know I would not mind a bit — so much amazing info in that odyssey.)

– And another good overlap KAL for Summer of Basics: see Plucky’s #thedogwalkerkal

Happy weekend, everybody!

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PREVIOUSLY: New tote + Elsewhere

Portugal part 1: Lisbon and Portuguese knitting

Portugal travel guide: Lisbon and Portuguese knitting

So seriously, where do I even begin? Our epic Portugal adventure breaks down into four parts, sort of, and while there’s a lot of yarny/sheepy stuff I want to tell you about, I know a lot of you are also quite eager for Portugal travel tips and specifics, so I’m going to do my best to cover it all by breaking this narrative into those four parts, with linked footnotes on each for specific restaurants, lodging, shops and such. I suppose the best place to start is at the beginning, so let’s talk about Lisbon!

Lisbon Tile Museum

I flew from Nashville to Atlanta on June 16th, where I met up with my pal Anna Dianich (of Tolt), and together we flew overnight to Lisbon, landing at 6:40am local time — that’s 12:40 in the morning my time, and 10:40 at night in Seattle, where Anna had started out. As you know, I am not a seasoned international traveler — my trip to Paris with Bob last year was our first time in Europe, and we never left the city. By contrast, this was a trip planned by my most intrepid globetrotting friends, but the group part wasn’t initially officially starting until we were meeting up to leave Lisbon on the 19th, so Anna and I were on our own the first two nights. I had read about Baixa House on sfgirlbybay last summer and knew that’s where I wanted us to stay, but they have a 3-night minimum, which turned out to be a blessing (and my new favorite travel rule). We went ahead and booked the room for the night of our flight, which meant when we landed we had a room to check into, rather than being at loose ends until 3pm with luggage and exhaustion and all. So we took a cab straight to the hotel, got our key and the full tour of our apartment, dropped our bags and washed our faces, and got to experience the best thing about Baixa House immediately: the breakfast. BH is an old apartment building — 13 units that are now rented as hotel rooms — and it’s the best of both worlds: a full apartment and kitchen and whatnot like an Airbnb, but staffed. Every day they leave little jars and trays in the fridge: fresh yogurt and cheese, butter, maybe some ham, definitely marmalade. And each morning, they leave a bag of freshly baked bread hanging on your door. So because we had rented the room for that night before (er, it was still night to us), our breakfast was waiting for us.

Lisbon travel guide: Baixa House hotel

Sitting in our beautiful sunny living room, savoring these treats, tired as could be (trying not to think how pretty and peaceful my bedroom was), it was tempting to never leave. But we were determined to stay awake until Portugal bedtime, and it turned out one of our fearless leaders, Fancy Jaime, was staying at Baixa with her boyfriend. (They had come for a week or so together ahead of the girls’ trip.) So Anna and I spent our first morning wandering aimlessly through the narrow, twisty, hilly streets of the Alfama district trying to find them at the super cool Copenhagen Coffee, after which the four of us did some major ogling at the tile museum, a little shopping at A Vida Portuguesa (the littlest one and our first of three, but we didn’t know any of that yet), and then went to an outdoor market back near BH. We parted ways for dinner — Anna and I desperately wanted something light and salad-y and found it at Eight — and finally climbed into our beds after however many hours of being awake!

Lisbon tile museum, Copenhagen Coffee, Eight - the Health Lounge

By the next morning, 7 of the 8 of us had arrived in Lisbon, and Rosa Pomar, who we had traveled to Portugal to meet, had generously offered to let us into the shop (Retrosaria is normally closed on Mondays) and give us all a Portuguese knitting lesson. When we arrived that morning, three of her colleagues were also there — one of whom, Anabela, was knitting my Anna Vest! — and they treated us to the best example of the famous local pastry, pastéis de nata aka pastel de nata (pronounced pashTEL de nada). Rosa’s shop is small but stunning, and it was incredible — as in, worth flying all the way to Portugal — to get to see all of her Rosa Pomar yarns, in all of their colors, together in one place. Rosa is doing amazing work, working with an assortment of Portuguese shepherds and mills to make a wide variety of local yarns, almost single-handedly reviving the wool industry in her country. I’ve been smitten with her Beiroa, in particular, and not only was I swooning over the big basket holding the full rainbow of it, but she had a little granny square sampler that was so beautiful I bought 10 skeins to try to replicate it on my own. She also sells a variety of shoes and boots, handmade by an elderly Portuguese man, and nearly all of us bought sandals. (They were actually out of my size, so I’m waiting for mine to be made, at which point they’ll send me both my shoes and my yarn. It’s that WHOLE ROW of skeins pictured next to her granny square quad up top!)

Lisbon travel guide: Retrosaria Rosa Pomar yarn and shoes

You may recall the time I knitted one of Rosa’s hat patterns in the Portuguese way (in short: working from the wrong side of the fabric, tensioning the yarn around your neck, and throwing it around the needle with your thumb — it’s brilliant), but relearning in Portugal, from Rosa, in a classroom I’ve seen on her Instagram so many times, was a wormhole experience, and one to cherish. And Rosa herself is even lovelier than I could have imagined. After having been Instagram friends for several years now, to get to know her and hear her voice was the best thing about the whole trip. But there’s lots more to be said about that.

When we left Rosa’s, we had lunch at a tiny, local, authentic place called Taberna da Rua das Flores — the start of what would become a daily bacalhau tradition — followed by Livraria Bertrand, the world’s oldest bookstore; our second A Vida Portuguesa experience, the larger shop on Rua Anchieta (below); and then a wander around LX Factory, a giant old warehouse compound now filled with little shops and eateries and bakeries and coffee shops and gelatarias and bookstore Ler Devagar. After which we all split up for dinner (some went to Belém) and a good night’s sleep before the real adventure was to begin the next day.

Lisbon travel guide: A Vida Portuguesa, sidewalks

. . .

While we’re talking about Lisbon, I’ll skip ahead for a second, because we spent a final afternoon and night in Lisbon at the end of our trip. After returning our rental cars (I’ll get to that), we paid Rosa one last visit at the shop, went to the nearby Burel wool store (lots more about Burel to come) where I bought the most amazing winter coat-vest imaginable, picked up dinner provisions at Prado Mercearia, and 7 of us spent the evening in our amazing apartment eating all the things (including some of my tinned fish I wouldn’t have room for) and striving to cram all of our purchases into our luggage before we took turns leaving the next morning. Keli Faw (of Drygoods) had found this place on Airbnb that was sprawling and had Lisbon-style tile in nearly every room, with a fully tiled kitchen, and balconies all the way around. It was splendid.

Lisbon guide: Prado Mercearia, Luminous Cibele

Regarding travel in Portugal, there are two main things I want to tell you. 1) Except in the tinier, more remote villages, nearly everyone speaks excellent English, so language is really not an issue. Even when we stopped for lunch one day in a little village in the mountains where the only person on duty at the restaurant (we’re pretty sure he was the cook as well as the server) spoke no English, we worked it out. 2) It’s quite affordable to travel there, apart from the airfare. We were not roughing it — as you’ll see. We ate very well (ranging from groceries at “home” to little hole in the wall places, to one very fancy meal), stayed in nice places (a mix of hotels and Airbnbs, although we shared rooms everywhere, which helped), and had two rental cars, and my share of all of that was about $85/day. Same with shopping: I bought a beautiful locally made cotton blanket at A Vida Portuguesa for 30 euros (you can see it in the shopping bag photo up top); handmade shoes from Rosa for 84 euros (far left in the shoe photo above, as well as on Anna’s feet in the cobblestone flower sidewalk shot). You can get perfectly good Portuguese wine for about 5 euros a bottle. We were pretty stunned at how affordable it all was. And as you’ll see, the country is truly beautiful and the people are lovely. I highly recommend it!

One other note about Lisbon in particular, though: Wear sensible shoes. It is very, very hilly (comparable to the hilliest parts of San Francisco, but all over) and the sidewalks are all ancient cobblestone, well smoothed by years upon years of foot traffic. They are beautiful, but not to be taken lightly.

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T R A V E L   D E T A I L S

Guidebook

The Monocle Travel Guide to Lisbon
Baixa House had a copy in the apartment for us to use, and it was so good I’ve ordered a commemorative copy for myself and will be sure to use more Monocle guides in the future.

Lodging

Baixa House
Gorgeous, sunny 18th-century apartment building that is now run as a hotel, with housekeeping. There’s no restaurant but they leave breakfast foods (yogurt, cheeses, marmalade) in your fridge and fresh bread on your door each morning. We were in Eduardo VII and Jaime was in Belem. This is my favorite place I have ever stayed and I would go back in a heartbeat.

Luminous Cibele
Our Airbnb for our last night in Lisbon. We would have been very comfortable there for much longer, as it was beautiful and sprawling, with amazing views of the city from its many balconies.

Dining

Copenhagen Coffee
Pictured above (bottom left under the tile museum photos), the Alfama location is a super chic little oasis of a space with both food and drinks and a pretty courtyard (unlike the other one we also went to, which was a fairly ordinary coffee shop). Get the cardamom bun.

Eight — The Health Lounge
Good clean food — salads and grain bowls and such — in a beautiful hipster-style space. Also good for shopping. (My dinner pictured above, bottom right under the tile museum photos)

Taberna da Rua das Flores
Rosa had told us this is her favorite, but it’s teeny tiny and hard to get a table — especially for 8. So we went for a late lunch and loved it. Super local and authentic Portuguese dining.

Manteigaria
Rosa and her staff say this place — just down the block from her shop — makes the best pastel de nata in Lisbon. I can tell you we had a few, and none were anywhere near as good as these.

Prado Mercearia
We never got to eat at the restaurant Prado (in town on the wrong nights) but did get to load up on local cheeses, hams, olives, crackers, etc, at their adjacent beautiful little market, the Mercearia.

Sites / Shopping

Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum)
The National Tile Museum is a very manageable size but does a great job showing and telling the history of Portugal and its famous tile.

A Vida Portuguesa
Specializing in Portuguese-made goods, AVP has some of the most beautiful shops I’ve ever been in. There’s enough that’s different about the smaller Rua Ivens and larger Rua Anchieta locations that we went to both (and a third in Porto), and I recommend you do too! Blankets (including a wide assortment from Burel, see below), ceramics, home goods, soaps, pencils and notebooks …

Retrosaria Rosa Pomar
In addition to her full line of Portuguese artisan yarns, she also stocks a few other choice yarn brands and a small selection of fabric, as well as shoes and boots handmade by an elderly Portuguese gent, which are not to be missed.

• Livraria Bertrand
The world’s oldest operating bookstore is also quite beautiful, and when you buy something, they ask if you’d like a rubber stamp saying you bought it at the world’s oldest operating bookstore: in English or Portuguese.

Icon
Also specializing in locally made goods, but more along the lines of jewelry, bags, a few clothes, and decorative objets.

Burel Mountain Originals
The shop of the Burel wool factory which I’ll be telling you about in another installment. A wide variety of goods made from their “burel” cloth, which is sort of like an even denser boiled wool, as well as their jaw-droppingly beautiful woven blankets, scarves and shawls.

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Photo of Anna and me outside the tile museum © Jaime Jennings; photo of Rosa Pomar and me © Anna Dianich; all other photos © Karen Templer

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Meeting my Blog Crush: Rosa Pomar

Meeting my Blog Crush: Rosa Pomar

Actually, I can tell you one thing we’re doing — right off the bat — is going to Retrosaria Rosa Pomar in Lisbon, a shop I’ve longed to visit for years and am proud to count as a Fringe Supply Co. stockist. I “met” Rosa on Instagram shortly after learning to knit, and wrote about her blog awhile back — a post a few of you cited when I asked for your favorites. The hat pattern of hers that I knitted in 2014 is still one of my all-time favorite knits. I knitted it Portuguese style, as taught to me by Brooke, and as much as I LOVED that, I somehow haven’t done it since — so I’m excited to relearn from Rosa and to finally get to see her beautiful shop and yarns and get to spend some quality time with her. Definitely check out these links and especially her Instagram feed @rosapomar.

*Which has probably already happened by the time this posts! 

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Q for You: What’s your go-to yarn?

Q for You: What's your go-to yarn?

When I was in design school, the professor who had the most influence over my taste in typography* used to say you really only need about 5 fonts. (And this was before the digital explosion of font libraries.) In his Swiss-trained mind, if you had two good sans serif families (those being the Helveticas and the Futuras), and one to two classic serif faces, you might ocassionally find use for one or two more style- or era-specific fonts based on circumstance. But mostly you should be able to do what you need to do with the basics, relying on creative design skills and not flashy typefaces to make you stand out. Of course, he was known to shift even on his own dogma. I recall one phase, for example, where he was all about Gill Sans. Anyway, I think of this often in regard to yarn, as I’m a knitter who tends to use the same tried-and-true yarns over and over again. And sometimes I find myself idly trying to figure out what would the Helvetica vs the Times Roman of the yarn world. The decorative fonts are easier to find yarn equivalents for, but I won’t go there!

This is on my mind again as I wrap up an O-Wool Balance sweater (my sixth, I think?) and contemplate two more in the coming months, starting with the sketch above left that I considered for Summer of Basics last year and am longing for again, along with my marlisle proposal. Balance would seem to be my favorite sweater yarn, judging simply by how often I’ve used it, and that makes sense: It’s my preferred gauge, slightly heathered, earth-friendly, a pragmatic blend of cotton and wool, and helpfully machine washable (but not superwash). It’s a very sensible, versatile yarn. If Balance then is my Helvetica, I guess Shelter and Arranmore are my Times Roman and Garamond, being more traditional tweeds, also relied on regularly and repeatedly, and lending themselves to a wide variety of applications. That rotating “fifth” slot for me tends to go to small-batch farm yarns or other special things (like my Clever Camel cardigan), and I have the notion that I’m more likely to use new and different yarns for accessories while sticking more to reliable old friends for garments, but I’d have to do a study to be sure! I clearly do audition new yarns each year, and when I find one I like to knit and to wear, I’m highly likely to repeat it. But within all of that, I always come back to Balance.

So that’s my Q for You: What is your go-to yarn or yarns? Do you stick to a few favorites, or is every cast-on a new yarn adventure?

*Which is not all that evident from the design of Fringe!

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Do you keep a knitting journal?

Lost and found at Stitches West

Lost and found at Stitches West

My whirlwind trip to Stitches West was a punch in the gut and a slap on the back. Flying into Oakland — looking out the airplane window across the whole of the bay — was more emotional than I expected. And then it was like Old Home Week being back in that convention hall, at the first knitting convention I ever attended as a knitter, the first I ever sold at as a vendor. It was a joy to see so many of my industry friends, longtime customers, new faces, IG acquaintances, former students, well-loved totes and Field Bags, and so on and so on. I can’t say thank-you enough to everyone who stopped to say hello to me. It can be a weirdly isolating thing, writing a blog and/or running an online business, and to have people with actual faces take the time to stop and tell me what they like about what I’m doing is the just the sort of encouragement a girl needs sometimes, you know? So thank you from the bottom of my heart — and of course thanks also to everyone who bought off the Fringe shelf in Verb’s beautiful booth. And to the Verb crew for making me feel like part of the family,

This might come as a two-part surprise to you, but A) I knitted some log cabin mitts and B) I bought some yarn. The California Rambouillet, Range, that Verb has used for their pretty Log Cabin Mitts kits, which is what I was knitting in the booth, was such a beautiful and surprising yarn that I had to have a few little skeins. And sitting next to the indigo-marl Pioneer of theirs that I’ve been coveting from afar left me incapable of leaving without any. I couldn’t decide what I might want to make of it, garment-wise, so I was a good girl and bought a single skein. For now. From my dear friend Brooke of Sincere Sheep, I bought naturally dyed US Cormo, special stuff, for my niece’s hat. And I also couldn’t resist buying a skein of Plucky Knitter’s new Yakpaka. (If Susan Anderson hadn’t been cleaned out of the worsted weight of her Wisconsin Woolen Spun by the time I got there, some of that would likely have followed me home as well.)

On Preview Night, in YOTH’s booth, I went straight to the display of Veronika’s project for the #fringeandfriendslogalong (FO post coming soon) and the yarn she’d used for it. Dubbed “Neighbor,” it’s a collaboration between YOTH and Abundant Earth Fiber mill in Washington state. I have a couple of skeins of Abundant Earth yarns in my stash — one I purchased at Tolt long ago, and one I kept from that time I sold a tiny batch of Wensleydale she’d milled. In this case, YOTH had dyed the wool and Abundant Lydia had milled it, and it was completely irresistible to me, in a slubby, true faded-denim blue. So I bought a SQ (I know!) plus one skein of the marl. And on the way out of the hall after the show that night, along with so many other vendors, learned of the terrible news about Abundant’s booth. On their drive down for the show, their entire trailer had been stolen off the back of their truck, with all of their yarn inside. It was so heartbreaking to read the sign posted in their otherwise empty booth explaining the situation. But it ended with “we’ll be back tomorrow” and I’m so impressed with how they handled it. Rather than letting the booth sit empty and licking their wounds, they filled the display panels with photos and text, spent the time telling people about what they do (from the mill to their new Wool Tinctures) and taking online orders. Such a brilliant show of resilience — my hat’s off to them.

It’s never possible to sum up a thing like a weekend among knitters (and there’s never enough time to see everyone!), but suffice to say I’m grateful for the experience. I only wish I had taken more photos!

p.s. If you’re the lovely woman who embroidered the Woollelujah! tote pictured above, please raise your hand — I didn’t catch your name!

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PREVIOUSLY in Craftlands: Scene at bought at Rhinebeck

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