Monday, November 20, 2017

A knock-off project (?)

On a recent shopping trip I tried on a top that I liked but it was a little small and I didn't like the way the vertical stripe in the plaid wasn't exactly centered. I didn't find this top in a larger size and suspect that it would probably be too big in my shoulders anyway. But I can sew! I can make one to fit me, and if I make it in a plaid or stripe, I will make sure it lines up.

Dressing room picture
I like the side panels, the 3/4 length sleeves, the curved hem, and the dart. I wasn't sure whether the collar was supposed to be folded over or unfolded and floppy like I'm wearing it.

Side panel on the bias

I saw a lot of these boxy little tops on the racks, so they seem to be very "in" right now. I think this one I tried on could be suitable for work when worn with black or gray pants. It's a polyester/rayon mix with a little lycra. The other tops I see are made in textured knits and seem more casual but not "sloppy", so they could be work suitable too. Perhaps the "sweatshirt chic" of a few years ago has evolved a bit.

I scoured my vast pattern collection and although I didn't find an exact match, I found some Burdastyle patterns that are close and could work as a base:

And then these patterns would give me a similar look also:

Note that the pink/gray top is from the August 2017 issue - Burda is often "spot-on" with the latest trends.

So now I just have to make it, right? I think I might make the black one from the 9/2012 or the pink/gray one from the 8/2017 issue first - or maybe even instead of the knock-off.

Oh and I found two patterns in Knipmode that would work, but would you believe that out of all the Knipmode magazines I have, which is nearly every month since 2015, the two tops are in the two issues I don't have, and they're not patterns that are available for download from their website. Go figure. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Wearing the purple paisley

Thought I'd show a picture of me wearing the purple paisley top I made this summer. I wore it during a trip to Barcelona a few weeks ago, and it was perfect for the temperature and "vibe" of the city.

We're headed back to Spain for a weekend in Seville and Cordoba, and this top is going with me again!

Monday, November 06, 2017

More weaving and more travel

The houndstooth scarf is off the loom and ready to be finished, which means twisting the fringe and washing it so that the fibers fluff a bit and lock together. And seeing as how I hate finishing things (lol), I decided instead to warp the loom for a new project.

Another scarf!
It's another scarf but this time I'm doing a simpler, plain weave. The yarn is a hand-dyed 50/50 merino/tencel blend from Maple Creek Farms (I don't think they're dying or selling yarn anymore, but I could be wrong). I opted for a plain weave because I wanted the yarn to stand on its own, but I sort of wish I had done a twill instead because twill makes a more fluid fabric. But maybe it will soften up more after I wet-finish it.

If you're still interested in my travels (or if you ever were!), here are days 5 through 7:

Day 5: Grotte de Niaux

I've been very fortunate to be able to travel and see incredible sites and works of art in person. But I'm of course not the only one who'd like to see these things. Often crowds can make the experience less than ideal, and sometimes the very presence of tourists causes irreparable damage and the sites have to be limited or closed entirely to the public. Such is the case for seeing prehistoric cave art in France and Spain. The Lascaux caves are perhaps the most famous for cave art in France. Discovered in 1940 they were opened to the public in 1948 and closed in 1963 because the paintings suffered damage due to carbon dioxide, heat, humidity and other contaminants. An exact copy of the caves was opened nearby in 1983 for tourists to visit instead.

One cave that is still open to the public is Grotte de Niaux, in the southern Pyrenees. It's about an hour and a half north of Andorra La Vella, so we were able to time our arrival for the one English tour of the day (you must book tickets in advance). The group is limited to 25 people and you walk single file in the dark with a flashlight through the cave for a 1/2 mile to get to the Black Room (Salon Noir). The rest of the cave is off limits or inaccessible. There are some paintings along the route that the tour guide stopped and pointed out but the final Black Room contains the best ones. Not many, but still pretty incredible to see something painted by humans about 12,000 to 15,000 years ago. Of course you can't take photos inside, but there is a display outside the cave (in French) that shows some of the drawings.

Schematic of the cave
Look at that face on the bison! 

The location was beautiful!

Day 6: San Sebastian, Spain

The ocean! We arrived in San Sebastian late so didn't get out to explore until the next morning. The rain didn't deter us, it just made for a gray day. After a long day of driving, we planned to relax and enjoy the sites and scenery. We strolled through the old town, ate some tapas, had a beer in the old bullfighting ring while multiple rain showers passed through, and I found a yarn shop and bought some Spanish yarn

September weather wasn't exactly beach weather

Some people ventured into the water. Our hotel was on the top of the hill!

Lots of information and things you can't do on the beach...including Olympics???

The old town with the steeple of San Sebastian Cathedral in the distance

Mid-day siesta in the old bullfighting square

The view from the hotel at night

Reminds me of the California coast
Panorama - (click to view larger)

Day 7: Dune du Pilat

Since the drive from San Sebastian to Bordeaux was not too long, we took a detour to visit the tallest sand dune in Europe. It was a beautiful day and fortunately not too hot. If you ever go here, be prepared for the elements! It's a steep walk up to the top.

Plastic stairs help you with the ascent.

Just sand and forest, into which the dune is encroaching

What a view from the top!
Having spent many summers at the New Jersey shore, I wanted to put my feet in the ocean from this side of the Atlantic.

It doesn't look that far to the water!

Made it!

And then we had to walk back up. It's less steep on the ocean side due to the way the winds deposit the sand, but it was still a good workout.

So my next and last travel post (until the next trip) will highlight our visit to Bordeaux and then the drive back to Châtel with a couple stops along the way.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Weaving and more travel

Here's a look at my latest weaving project. This picture is from a few days ago - I finished weaving the scarf yesterday and now need to wet finish it, then trim and twist the fringe. 

The fiber is alpaca wool, purchased at a local yarn store and packaged under the store label, Kiko

The loom wasn't empty for long. I spent a few hours this morning sleying the reed and threading the heddles - weaving terminology for some of the tedious steps in getting the warp threads tied onto the loom. The next project is also a scarf using knitting yarn; this time it's a wool/silk blend. Even with setup of the loom, weaving a scarf is much faster than hand-knitting one. I'm planning to give these scarves as Christmas gifts, so time is short. 

And now a bit more of the travel log...

Day 3: Millau to Andorra

I'm an engineer, so I appreciate when challenging and difficult problems are solved, especially with something as cool looking (at least to me) as the Millau Viaduct. I had watched a show on TV, perhaps it was this National Geographic Megastructures episode, that showed how they built it, so I specifically routed our trip so that we could drive over this bridge (a viaduct is a bridge that has multiple spans supported by towers). The bridge was built in 2004 to ease congestion along this Paris-Spain route, which is well used by trucks as well as vacationers. 

Seven masts - the highest is 343 meters, making this the tallest bridge in the world

View from below

The town of Millau looked nice, but we didn't stay long enough to really see much of it. We did take a quick walk through their large market the next morning, where I bought some mohair/silk yarn. The yarn comes from a co-op of small farmers who raise goats - here's a link to their website (in French):

Just south of Millau we stopped at La Couvertoirade, a fortress built by the Knights Templar in the 12th and 13th centuries. We were there during the mid-day, when just about everything was closed, so I didn't get to see what was inside this shop with a spinning wheel in the window and a sign that says "hand-made fabrics." 

Spinning wheel! Fabric sign! Too bad it was closed! 

The sign may have been for this shop, which was closed for the mid-day break:

Picture taken through the window of the closed door. I spy a loom! 

It was still pretty fun to walk around this old, very well preserved place. I felt like I was stepping back in time. 

Castle towers

Medieval streets

Just the cats are out in the mid-day sun

Our next stop was unplanned. While on our way to Andorra, we came upon the high walls of a medieval town and many cars trying to find parking outside of the walls, so we decided to find a parking spot also.

The fortified town of Villefranche-de-Conflent was founded at the confluence of three rivers in the early 11th century to protect the valley from invasion. In the 17th century it became a strategic point between French and Spanish conflict so it was further fortified. Today you can walk the ramparts and shop for souvenirs inside its walls.

Weaver Street - but unfortunately no weavers in sight these days

The ramparts

Church tower

Day 4: Andorra

Andorra is a tiny country in the Pyrenees mountains sandwiched between Spain and France. The country is about twice the size of Washington DC and they have a population of about 77,000. Tourism is very important to Andorra, with most visitors skiing, shopping, or both. We stayed in the capital city of Andorra La Vella, where shopping is the big draw. Andorra has no sales tax, so many Spanish and French go there to buy cheap alcohol, cigarettes, gasoline, chocolate, clothing and other stuff. 

We arrived in the evening to find nearly everything closed. It turns out that there are four days out of the year when stores close and we happened to be there for one of them - National Day, also known as the Feast of Our Lady of Merixtell. We really didn't come for the shopping, but most of the restaurants were closed as well, which presented a bit of a challenge. The next day, a Saturday, was packed with shoppers, perhaps because they couldn't shop the day before or maybe that's a typical Saturday in Andorra. Other than looking for a warm jacket for me, we didn't do any shopping. And I wasn't even successful finding a jacket. 

Salvador Dali sculpture near the main shopping area

The mountains surrounding the town are very lovely, and there is a very small old-town area.

Església de Sant Esteve - church built in the 11th-12th century

The rest of the city is more modern.

As usual, I was on the lookout for yarn and fabric stores and found a few listed in town, however, one of them had gone out of business and the another one didn't really have anything I liked. I did see this statue of a young bobbin lace maker out in front of a church.

Statue of a young girl making bobbin lace

We left early the next day and on the winding roads north through the mountain pass we were treated to the first snowy peaks of the season:

My next travel post will include some very, very old art, a visit to Spanish Basque country, and a lot of sand.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Driving trip through France (and a little of Spain and Andorra) - Day 1 and 2

In September I went on a driving trip with my husband through southern France, and I thought I'd share it here. One of the many things I like about France is how proud they are of their regional products. It's not just wine and cheese, but pottery, knives and even lentils. You can buy many of these products throughout France, but they are still produced in the original region and not at some mega-factory/farm elsewhere (or out of the country). In fact France places strict control over these products by awarding a certification called appellation d'origine contrôlée, or AOC

Earlier in the summer I decided that I wanted to go to Bordeaux. Of course I knew they had good wine in Bordeaux, but I also just wanted to see that area of France as well as visit the Atlantic ocean from this side of the world. So I built an itinerary to drive to Bordeaux and back and include as many interesting stops along the way as I could. The trip took about 10 days, starting and ending in Châtel, in the Rhone-Alps region of France. 

The route - we went clockwise, from Châtel.

With so many regional specialties, our car soon filled up with goodies.

Many goodies from different places

Starting from the wood box on the left and continuing clockwise:

  • Roquefort cheese - bought in the region but not from the town itself (and yes, there is a town called Roquefort)
  • Hand crafted chocolate from a patisserie in La Mure - a much, much tastier "Nutella"
  • Knives from Thiers, the French cutlery capital (actually bought in Bordeaux)
  • Green lentils from Le Puy-en-Velay - prized by cooks apparently!
  • Chocolate caramel from Bayonne, which is called the French chocolate capital (actually bought in Bordeaux) 
  • Vichy candy purchased in Vichy
  • Touristy caramels in a tin bought in San Sebastian, Spain - only included here because they're in the picture :-) 
  • Chocolate from Kloster Bonneval - bought in nearby Millau (the wrapper got a little wet in our cooler, hopefully the chocolate is ok)

I didn't seek out all the fabric and yarn stores along the way, but did make two purchases:

Yarn from a market vendor in Millau

Yarn from San Sebastian, Spain

Years ago we had bought some French Alpico pottery from Williams Sonoma. I had planned to visit a large Alpico outlet near Bordeaux and add to our collection, but I found out that they closed a year ago. Fortunately our route took us near Limoges, where the pottery is actually made, and we squeezed in a visit to an outlet store there.

French pottery from Limoges

And of

Day 1: Châtel to La Mure to Le Puy-en-Velay

The first stop of our trip was specifically to buy some chocolate. We'd received a jar of a Nutella-like chocolate from a friend as a gift, and it was devoured rather quickly, although not so much by me, so I wanted to find some more. According to the label it came from a pâtisserie in a little town south of Grenoble. 

We managed to locate the store - nothing special from the outside. 

But inside, mmmm, delicious treats. Note the empty shelf above the case. They'd been closed for August vacation and it was their first day back open, so the shop was rather sparsely filled. More alarming, I didn't see any jars of chocolate! Fortunately, my husband spied two jars on another shelf. Whew! It turned out we were very lucky as these were their only two jars, and they wouldn't be making any for another week.

So much deliciousness!

Our fancy pastry selections, which we ate on a picnic lunch the next day...and the next. They were very rich.

I took this picture on the drive down to La Mure. It looked like a wave of clouds rolling over the mountains, which I thought was very cool.

A stop in Grenoble was not on this itinerary, but perhaps on a future trip. As we drove past, and through the mountains to the west of Grenoble, we saw many nut trees. Apparently the Grenoble walnut has an AOC label. 

Day 2: Le Puy-en-Velay to Millau

I initially chose to stop in Le Puy-en-Velay because I'd seen a video on Facebook about lace making at the Bobbin Lace Learning Center. I had high hopes to see an interesting museum and the machine making lace that I'd seen in the video, but I have to say that fortunately the town has some other very interesting things to see. 

First the lace. The exhibit is not very large, maybe two rooms plus a hallway. They do have some very fine lace on display, and there's a cabinet that holds some pieces in drawers you can open. The labels are all in French. In my opinion, there are much better lace museums in Burano, Italy and Brussels, Belgium, but if you're in the area and like lace, then you might as well stop by. I was disappointed that the only demonstration of lace making that I saw, by humans or by machine, was in a video that we watched (in French only) seated in a dank little cave-like room. Perhaps a group that has made arrangements in advance would have a different experience, and perhaps I misunderstood that this is more of a place to learn lace making and not so much a tourist stop. I saw a room and caught a glimpse of people in there who were possibly working on lace, but although the door was open, it was roped off and looked private. The young guy in the gift shop, who sold us the entry tickets (3.50 €), was pleasant and probably a bit surprised that two Americans were there to see the place. My husband said the guest book hadn't been signed in a few days. There is a gift shop that sells both souvenirs and lace making supplies. Though it was tempting, I decided not to add another hobby (and I actually have a beginning lace making kit in storage in the U.S. that I bought from Lacis a while back).

The town of Le Puy-en-Velay is very quaint and well worth a visit. I wish we'd had more time to explore it. I was so intent on visiting the lace museum that I didn't put much research into the town itself before we went, and we only had half a day to enjoy it. 

Le Puy-en-Velay is most notable for being the starting point of one of the main pilgrimage points in France that lead to the shrine of St James (Jacques) at Santiago de Compostela. 

Tower and dome of Catherdral Notre-Dame on the left and the Notre-Dame de Puy statue of The Virgin Mary on the right
Chapelle St. Michel d'Aiguilhe built in 969

Front of the Cathedral Notre-Dame (12th century) from the street

The symbol of the pilgrims is a clam shell, either because early pilgrims brought them back to prove that they made the journey, or to identify them to others as pilgrims, or because the shells were handy to use for drinking water along the way...or maybe all of these reasons. In French, scallops are called Coquille Saint Jacques. Many people today walk the pilgrim trails and we saw quite a few while driving the little roads south from Le Puy-en-Velay.

A pilgrim path marker 

The town was decorated for an annual festival the following week. I had only learned of this festival when I went to book a hotel and found prices were 5x higher the next week - over 300 Euro for a room at a budget Ibis (like a Super 8 or Motel 6). We stopped for coffee and the barista there said that the streets next week would be absolutely clogged with visitors for the festival. I'm not one for massive crowds like that so I'm glad we saw the town when we did. 

Poster for the upcoming festival. 
Not sure what the hanging "laundry" signifies, but it was eye catching
Lots of color in the streets!

I found plenty of shops in town selling lace...and walking sticks for would-be pilgrims.

I spied a mechanical lace machine in one shop, like the one I'd hoped to see in the Bobbin Lace Learning Center. I didn't get to see it operate, but at least I saw one.

Another thing that Le Puy-en-Velay is proud of is that they were the starting point for stage 16 of the Tour de France this year. This was actually our second experience with Tour de France 2017 because La Mure was the starting point for stage 17. Both towns had quite a few bicycle themed displays in and around town, and on the roads nearby we saw the remnants of some of the messages people write for the riders. 

Window display of a store promoting the town's part in the Tour de France this year.

Whew! That was a big blog post!

Next up: a bridge, medieval towns and a tiny country