Reinvention

A good place to sit and think.

It has been a year since I wrote a blog post. It has been a year of reinventing my business and a bit of reinventing me. I am learning to teach in a new way. I have been deciding what our business should look like at it’s best. I have spent time with Finn (my adorable Miniature Australian Shepherd), thinking about raising dogs and kids and the intersection thereof. I’ve been outside more. And inside my head more. This pandemic has caused much change in so many ways. Winners bend but don’t break. They learn to move with the waves and not simply ride out the storm, but be better for it. As we have seen in the Olympics, sometimes winning means letting go for long-term health.

This year I “let go” of Knit Michigan. I co-founded the non-profit that serves cancer patients in 2006 and remained it’s president and executive director until this spring. I knew it was time to pass the hat, bring in new blood and allow the organization to be revitalized. Under the guiding hands of Sam and Mike (owners of the Yarn Stop in Clawson), this is happening. It was exactly the right thing to do. This year has become a transition year as I serve in an advisory capacity as immediate past-president. Already things are getting done that will make Knit Michigan an even more vibrant organization for years to come. Knit Michigan solicits, gathers and distributes hand-crafted comfort items for cancer patients, such as chemo caps, various types of pillows, blankets and breast prostheses. Read about it and how you can help at knitmichigan.org.

Finn came to me almost exactly a year ago, just as my cancer treatment was ending and I was starting to get energy back. He was nearly five months old, a bundle of energy, and a joyful distraction as the first Covid restrictions were being lifted. A beautiful dog with a heart bigger than his body, he needed additional training to be able to come to the shop and be around customers.

On our walks, Finn has learned that he can stop and smell the flowers when I stop and photograph the flowers. He always sits patiently when the camera comes out. Quite amazing, really. We are currently working on his AKC Canine Good Citizenship certificate which is requiring a LOT of work. It is exactly what we both need. Obedience classes are really to train the human. The dogs catch on pretty quickly.

I think that is what kids are good at, too. To train the parents. I recently had my grandkids, age 10 and 13, for a week. They reminded me so much of raising my children. My father told my husband that I raised myself. Not in a bad way, but in a single-minded way. I knew what I wanted. I wasn’t a bad kid, but I know it was a challenge to be my parent.

So, what does all this have to do with reinvention. Well, teaching adults has similarities with raising children, training dogs and growing up. All in a good way, mind you! These are all puzzles to be figured out. Learning should be fun, effective, energizing, skill-building and thought provoking. I need to be clear with Finn or we won’t reach our goal. Children need to understand what the boundaries and expectations are. Adults are more challenging than pets or kids. They often have bad habits and preconceptions that they bring to the table with them.

I remember a learning situation in boot camp. The range officers preferred having females on the range because they seldom had prior experience with rifles and 45 caliber hand guns. We were a clean slate, ready to receive knowledge. The men, on the other hand, seldom had a clean slate — or wouldn’t admit to it if they did — and were more resistant to receiving new information. I think of this situation often when I meet resistance in classes. Flipping that one switch can make all the difference in the world.

To this day, educators rely on the VARK model: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic (hands on) learning styles. When I design classes I always take these styles into consideration. Most people learn using a combination of all these styles, but most have one style that is dominant. Figuring this out in classes by observing students is imperative. Figuring it out long-distance via Zoom puts everything into a different orbit.

Our new video studio

In October, 2020, I learned that we had received a grant through the National Mainstreet Program from The Hartford, called the Hartbeat of Mainstreet Grant. We were one of only 67 companies in the US to receive the funding that was intended to help companies survive the brutal economic effects of the pandemic. Our projects were to build a video studio at the shop to deliver content for classes over the internet and to recreate our webstore and take it to the next level. Either one alone would have been a tall order, but both together has been an immense and time-consuming undertaking.

Since receiving the equipment for our studio, we have made educational videos for public consumption (see my YouTube channel here) and videos to support our classes (both online and in the shop). So far, we have made entire video sets for our introductory weaving class THREE times. We are getting better at the process, but there is definitely a learning curve. The next big step will be going from a simple Windows editing program to Adobe’s Premiere Pro. That will take total immersion to figure it out — it is similar to learning a new language. I know what I want to do, but figuring out what it is called is an entirely different matter!

I am very, very pleased with the impact using prepared video has in our classes. The Michigan League of Handweavers (MLH) really stretched me when they switched to a Zoom conference format from an in-person format. I was challenged to teach two loom-based classes remotely. Oh boy! Hyperventilating time, for sure. But, once I stepped back, broke it down into smaller pieces, we did it! Not only was teaching successful that way, I enjoyed it and the students did, too. There’s something to be said about working at home, on your own equipment, in your own comfy chair and sleeping in your own bed at night. The Learn to Weave class was so well received, that I have been asked to teach it again for MLH in an effort to encourage to new weavers to join the craft.

Our new J&S Shetland wool

Bringing a modern webstore on-line has forced me to examine our stock. What do we do well? What do you come to us for? What suits the brick and mortar store as well as the webstore? Lots of soul searching. Where I ended up is that we do best with family and traditional yarns. The kind of yarns that tie families together and you use to create heirlooms. So, you will see more of them. We are not the store to come to when searching for bulky or super-bulky yarns or yarn that you will make a trendy sweater from. That just isn’t us. You can come to us for the staples in garment quantities. You can also find help to support patterns like that.

We specialize in what we like to call North Sea yarns. Those that come from Shetland and Norway. We now have 325 different choices in Shetland jumper weight yarn–the kind of yarn traditionally used for Fair Isle knitting. We are expanding our Rauma Norwegian line of Finullgarn as well. I also ordered much more Berroco Vintage in multiple weights to beef up our “family” yarn. Vintage is a favorite because it washes, wears, and knits well thanks to a partial wool content. Changes like this don’t happen overnight, but slowly you will see shifts in our stocking. Meanwhile, the Sale Bin is an exciting place to visit!

A happier me

I haven’t really reinvented me, but I have come to honor myself more. After 21 years of owning a yarn shop and never having knit a sweater for myself because I wanted to lose weight, I cast on a sweater for myself. Nearly 400 stitches around on size 3 needles, I’m almost to the underarms. I decided that I deserved to have a sweater and now was the time. This coincided with wrapping my head around being the on-camera instructor for our videos. Now, that was not easy. Not one bit. I wish I was at my fighting weight, but I’m not. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have good stuff to share. Do you know how odd it is to edit yourself on the screen? To watch yourself for hours on end? Really weird! With so many screen hours, I had to get over me!

What’s next?

Over the next weeks, we will be focusing on our webstore and should have it live in September. What a relief that will be! Something I have looked forward to for 20 years. As we gain experience, our videos will come along in quality. Already, our sound is better and camera work more precise. Our content is good, as our YouTube numbers confirm.

Covid has provided opportunities to learn and grow. It forced us to look at the core of our business and exploit what we do best: family and traditional yarns, exceptional instruction, and sharing the love of our arts. We hope to be here to serve you for many years to come and appreciate your 21 years of support.





Ripping Back

“Perfect is the enemy of the good.” -Voltaire

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Ripping back knitting can be painful or liberating. Sometimes it is a transition from one perspective to the other. It is usually not easy to make the decision and many things can push you over the edge. Perhaps it is size — I remember a customer that was making a sweater for her husband and it was turning out big enough to fit both her and has husband — at the same time — yet she continued knitting. It will get better, she said. Denial is a powerful opponent.

Then there’s that small error in the lace pattern, “No one will notice.” Sure the scarf will still keep you warm, but will it bother you? My 3D art instructor told us that projects should look as good on the inside as the outside. Then she said, others will not see the inside, but you and God will know the difference. She had a point.

In working on a new hat design that required me to rip the crown off a fully completed hat because the color was “off,” I got to thinking that a few tips for ripping back and fixing errors might be helpful to others.

  • Get your head in the right place. Find the learning opportunity. I always try to fix errors if I possibly can. Lace, dropped stitches, forgotten yarn overs, whatever. Even if I don’t succeed in fixing it, I always learn more about how the yarn moves through the row and how the stitches relate to each other. That learning makes future fixes more successful.
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  • If you must take your stitches fully off the needle, use a needle at least two sizes smaller to pick up the stitches again. The smaller needle will make it easier to orient the stitches and nearly eliminate split stitches. Warning — make sure to resume knitting using the correct needle size.
  • Set a pattern in weaving in your ends. In the crown I recently ripped out, I was very grateful that I always weave in ends on my hats in the same way. I was able to find them and tease them out — no scissors needed.
  • If you are working with wool or other yarns that respond well to steam, it will help stitches stay where you want them if you steam them before ripping. It will not matter that the yarn is kinked from the steam. Reknit and block and the slight irregularities from steaming will disappear.

Be brave. Learn. Make beautiful work that you will be proud of. Learn to judge for yourself when “good enough” is indeed good enough. Learn when to rip and when to fix. Learn to be kind to yourself and enjoy every part of the knitting process.

Krokbragd on the Inkle

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Woven bands have had many different uses over the years – from keeping socks up, to closing feed bags, to securing bonnets to the head. Here they are used to exactly match a woven bag, providing the handle, trim and zipper strip. This warp was leftover from a student and repurposed to become a shop sample.

If you aren’t a weaver, it may be better to just enjoy the pretty pictures in this post. If you are a curious person, but not a weaver, some of this will probably stick and make sense. If you are a weaver, I am not providing a pattern, but rather discussing krokbragd and the technical details of these small pieces. I hope you all enjoy.

Krokbragd is a Norwegian term for a style of weaving that translates to “crooked path.” It is traditionally done using a floor loom and as a weft faced weave, rather than as a band woven warp faced. I first began working with krokbragd on the floor loom after seeing it in Norway in many variations. The simple structure relies more on color than structure for it’s interest. In Norway it may be woven as a coverlet, a table topper/runner, or even a cradle blanket backed with fleece. The colors are the colors that come from the land.

Since I truly enjoy weaving on the portable inkle loom used to weave narrow bands, it was only natural that I would try making krokbragd bands. These photos tell my discoveries, including oops and successes. The most challenging part of weaving krokbragd bands is getting the loom warped successfully. It is more tedious than difficult.

The first lesson I learned was that creating a pattern for a band is much different than creating a pattern for the floor loom. The turning of the weave structure changes the way the pattern is made. After a couple times through the design process, I figured it out. Using the correct grid paper is imperative. Next I set “standards” that I always follow. I name the heddles from the closest to me (heddle 1) to the standard inkle heddle (heddle 2) and the farthest heddle (number 3). My weaving rhythm is heddle [1, 2, 3, 2], repeat.

I have learned that wider warps are stickier and must be “broken” a bit at a time rather than making the shed all at once. Narrow warps are easier to get a clear shed. More stories under the photos.

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Color and contrast is everything. The colors looked great together on the cone, but once in the band, the green and the blue were too close in value to really make things pop. As weaver’s say, I cut this dog off the loom, leaving only enough of a sample to remember the “value lesson.” It is 1.25″/31 mm wide and used 5/2 cotton, 80+ threads.

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In which I learn to follow a pattern. This is one of my early experiments. It wasn’t intended to be asymmetrical. Staying focused when setting up looms and weaving can be a challenge. I will blame it on that. This is another band with value problems. There isn’t enough contrast between the yellow an the orange. It was this band that really taught me how to create a pattern that works.  1.5″/38 mm wide, 3/2 cotton.

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The sheep band is the band I teach in my intro to krokbragd on the inkle class. It is easy to see the sheep grow — the background, a leg, a nose, a leg, (Heddle 1,2,3,2). You can see that the back side looks very different than the front. This band used 5/2 cotton and is .75″ / 20 mm wide.

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The bag and the two bands were woven using 3/2 cotton. The krokbragd band is 1.8275″ / 47 mm wide. A full view of the bag is shown at the top of this post.

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A bright band. Nothing quiet about this one. 3/2 cotton 1.5″ / 38 mm wide.

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Tending toward more traditional Norwegian colors. This band used 5/2 cotton and is .75″ / 20 mm wide.

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I like the preciseness of this band. It is finer – woven using 10/2 cotton with a 3/2 weft yarn. It measures 1.25″ / 32 mm. I found that using the same size weft as warp thread resulted in a pattern that wasn’t square. With the thicker warp I was able to achieve a nice square of the black center threads. 

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The most ambitious band I have woven in this style used 5/2 cotton in both warp and weft. With over 160 threads, it is 2.375″ / 60 mm.  It pushed the limits of comfortable weaving on the Schacht inkle loom that used. I found that rubber bands on the ends of each of the pegs prevented a crisis. This was a very sticky warp that took extra time to tease it open to get a clear shed. I am really happy with the results and have no idea what it will be used for. For now I just like to look at it and feel the silkiness of the weave.

If you are interested in learning to weave in this style, I recommend that you become comfortable using an inkle loom, understand how to manage yarns without tangling and learning how to create a pleasing basic pattern using colors you like. I got started weaving in this style by applying my knowledge of the structure from the floor loom and by using Anne Dixon’s Inkle Pattern Directory as a reference. Krokbragd is a great first step after creating plain weave bands on the inkle as it is loom controlled and you get a very impressive pattern with no hand manipulation once the loom is properly set up.

 

Hemming Heaven

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Rep weave runner being hand hemmed assisted by hemming clips.

Yes, I do enjoy hemming my hand wovens by hand. It is so soothing. Find the rhythm, find the love.

So much of what we use in the fiber world is adapted from other crafts, hobbies or wood or metal shops. These clips have been used by quilters for a while now. They eliminate pin pricks (blood on fabric), hold even thick layers together and are just darned handy. I knew this several years ago when I started stocking them, but I never tried them until the other day. Oh. My. Goodness. This girl is in love.

First off, I didn’t poke myself. I did this once at the museum and bled on an artifact. I was mortified. thanks to the enzymatic properties of saliva, the dress was fine. I am still traumatized! Anyhow, I always pick myself when I am pinning a hem and I like a well pinned hem so that I get a more even product.

I tried them on a towel weight fabric and they worked great. I tried them on a very thick warp faced rep weave (above) and they worked even better. They are grippy enough to stay where you put them.

I can see using them to mark my way as I am weaving. Like when I know I have three inches to go. Easier to place a clip than a pin. Voila!

They can be used like paper clips, too. To keep all my well organized, perfect weaving notes together. Okay, well, all the scraps of paper I scribble calculations and drawings on. That is as organized as it gets in my world. But, keep them together it will. This is where I remind you to do as I say not as I do (it really does help to keep good and proper notes for future reference).

One thing these clips do not do is the actual hemming. Nor, did they make me sew any faster. I did feel that they distorted the fabric less and I didn’t have pins stuck in the arm of my chair. I just transferred the clips to the selvedge when I no longer needed them and they were all in one place when I was done. Neat and tidy.

So, worth a try. A small investment and we have them in the shop.

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Here’s the towel. Note that I used a double thread in the hem area. That showed me exactly where I needed to fold the fabric so I will have beautifully even hems when I am done. The hard part was remembering to do the double thread at the end of each towel. There’s where note taking comes in handy. Or, lately, I’ve been using my camera and capturing the moment. At least I have a record of what I did!

 

Joining when Knitting in the Round

Knitting in the round is easy. Sometimes joining to knit in the round isn’t. That’s when you learn the word mobius and perhaps utter unbecoming words. I’ve been there, done that and decided I didn’t need the headache. Yes, I still knit in the round, but I do it in a way that doesn’t cause anxiety.

It is simple. I knit one or more rows before joining in the round. The extra fabric hanging from the needles makes it easy to line everything up and ensure nothing is twisted. Photos below, but one last tip, no matter when you join to knit in the round, make sure to stop and check after you are ready to start your second round. Does it lay properly? Yay, continue knitting. You made a mobius? At this point you can still untwist because you only have one thread between the rounds connecting everything together. Manipulate the fabric until it lies properly and proceed as planned.

Hope you found this tip helpful!

Joan

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Here I knit several (4?) rows. I could get away with it in ribbing because ribbing knits at the same gauge flat or in the round.

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Then, I joined and knit in the round normally. I didn’t add extra stitches. After all, it is a hat, not a major piece.

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It showed a little when I joined it, but it certainly passes the galloping horse test.

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With this sample, I knit only one row before joining to knit in the round. 

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Joining after only one row shows much less after weaving in the end.

 

Sauder Village Fiber Festival

Being a history lover with deep farm roots, teaching (and vending) at this venue is a dream come true. A weekend of tractors, trains and fiber? That’s special! Learn about these and other activities at the Sauder page here. Classes are on September 30 and October 1. The 2016 Festival dates are October 1 and 2.

As for my part, I will be teaching two different kinds of entry-level weaving: inkle (band) weaving and weaving on the rigid heddle loom. Click here to sign up for one of my classes or from any of the others with well-known teachers Amy Tyler, Susan Cayton, Carol Larsen or Kate Larson.

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In my rigid heddle class we will make a fall table topper that I think is quite festive. We will use a simple worsted weight yarn and add recycled wool leaves as decoration. I think the braided fringe looks a bit like dried corn or braided wheat. Students will learn how to warp this portable little loom and how to weave, but may have some off-loom homework.

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Then, on Saturday, my students will learn how to warp and weave bands using an inkle loom. Most inkle looms are small and portable. This loom intimidated me for many years and then I took a one day class and I haven’t looked back since. I love simple plain weave bands, but it is also fun to push the boundaries of all the possibilities in weaving bands. Their history is long. Bands are as functional and useful today as they were in year’s gone by. Modern uses include camera and luggage straps, hair bands and ties, trim for clothing, hat bands, and much more. In this class students learn how to weave plain weave and how to do pick up to create patterns such as the one shown on the loom in the photo above.

We will also be in the vendor hall. Clara is wo-manning the booth on Saturday and we will both be there on Sunday. We will be demonstrating weaving and sock cranking (on an antique/vintage machine). In addition to do-it-yourself items such as yarns and looms, we will also have Clara’s hand-crafted items for sale that include handwoven towels and scarves as well as socks from the antique machine.

Sauder Village is only a two-hour drive from our store in Lake Orion, MI to northwest Ohio. Come enjoy the activities and Village and be sure to stop by and say hello!

Coastal Steamer

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This is not our ship, but we traveled for three nights and days on one just like it. Joy and I were lucky enough to have a room with a view … of the lifeboats. A lovely construction zone orange vista. That’s okay, we didn’t spend much time there.

The Hurtigruten’s Coastal Steamer adventure begins near the Russian border and ends in Bergen. The trip takes 11 days and each day one ship leaves from each end. We were fortunate to be able to jump aboard in the middle where there is no open sea to deal with and there is still plenty to see before the landscape flattens out as the ships sails toward Bergen. We sailed from Tromsø to Molde. The trip according to the Norwegian broadcasting system is 134 hours long. They did a “slow” TV show that records the entire voyage which has been condensed to 5 minutes and can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXKATEeB64U. This particular voyage was not made in mid-summer as it gets dark at night in the video. It is fun to watch, but I like my pictures better <g>.

We boarded the ship at 12:30 am and stayed up taking pictures for a while until the weather moved in and it was just too gray to bother to be out. Besides, it was well past bedtime!

There are quite a few of these photos so I will call some out and put others in a little captioned video for you.

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This is my favorite shipboard photo. It was taken in the Lofoten Islands, another important area during WWII. We were also lucky enough to find wool from the Lofoten Islands in three shades of gray. You’ll hear about that project when it gets on the loom.

One of the fun things they do onboard ship is to have a ceremony when crossing the Arctic Circle, which this globe marks. The ceremony involves a lot of laughter and consumption of a spoonful of cod liver oil followed by a glass of champagne to wash it down. At 9 a.m. Well, I did cross the Circle (for the second time), but I do not have the souvenir spoon from downing the castor oil to prove it! Eeew.

We had plenty of time to knit on board and scout out knit shops when we were in port. Probably a good thing it was evening and this yarn shop was not open. The ball of wool is from the Lofoten Islands and Joy made this beautiful ball using only her thumb as a nøstepinne. The group of knitters are in the “relaxing lounge” aboard ship. We kind of took over the area most of the day and into the evening. It was a very pretty space with homey decorations on the wall, doilies on the tables and even tables with jigsaw puzzles in partial stages of completion. My orange hand painted knitting was obviously not “conversational knitting” as I frogged the entire thing when I got back home. Oh well, I certainly had plenty of reasons for distractions, the scenery and even a few folks requiring knitting help.

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Parting Shot: This yummy looking ice cream may not be so appealing after I tell you what it is. Two scoops, one was beer and the other fish. The beer was good. The fish had chunks. Nuff said.

PS Don’t miss the beer

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If you are ever in Tromsø, be sure to try their local beer. It was sparkling and quite yummy. Sadly, at roughly $10 a bottle, we spaced ourselves and only drank one each evening we were there. Notice the print on the bottom of the bottle: 69 ° 39′ 07″ N 018° 57′ 12″. Certainly on the list of the northern-most breweries in the world (over which there apparently is an ongoing competition if you believe what you read on Google!). Skål!

On top of the World

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Traveling to Tromsø is almost like traveling to the top of the world. It is home to the northern most university in the world and is the largest city in northern Norway. It lies 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle and is quite proud of that. It has strong links to North Pole expeditions, which is over 1,400 miles away. Perhaps it’s most distinctive man-made structure is the Arctic Cathedral (above), which has the largest stained glass window in Europe and was designed to resemble an iceburg. Tromsø was also very active in the Norwegian Resistance during WWII, being just 60 miles as the crow flies to neutral Sweden.

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The two-plus hour flight from Oslo took us over some breathtaking vistas. Norway has many glaciers, this one near Straumen (according to my handy-dandy iPhone geodata).

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For two months every summer Tromso enjoys sunlight 24 hours a day. Conversely, for two months every winter the area is immersed in darkness. Those that live there “go with the flow.” Homes usually have light blocking shades or curtains on bedroom windows and hotels always do. It really is amazing to see this phenomenon first-hand. The photo of Deb, Barb and Joy was taken late in the evening, as you can tell by the shadows.

Shopping in Tromsø is no different than any other big city. We found several yarn shops, a couple thrift shops, restaurants with a sense of humor and tulips still in bloom as we walked over 10,000 steps on our “free” day in the city.

Any visit to Tromsø is not complete without a ride up the mountain in the newly upgraded cable car. Once on top you can wander above the tree line and spend time on your tummy taking photos of flowers and plants or enjoy the longer views. To help orient you to the daylight situation, these photos were taken at about 11 pm. Following our trip up the mountain, we went to the Cathedral and enjoyed a midnight concert. A spectacular end to our very full day.

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The Bunad Shop

One of the best parts of visiting Norway for me is seeing all the craft everywhere. Wood carving, metal work, glass work, painting, drawing, knitting, weaving, crochet, sprange, etc., etc. The appreciation survives and is being renewed. The “old” way began to disintegrate in the late 1800’s and before it was entirely gone, a group was formed to save the traditions. Today, the results of this work can be found in most medium-sized and larger cities. They are the Husfliden stores. There are also small shops catering to the crafts, such as Almankås, the one we visited last week in Bø.

Here are some close ups of the work they do and the yarn they use:

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FullSizeRenderIt was so special to go to a shop where there were people actually working by hand with needle and thread. Applique, buttonholes, intricate pleating, embroidery and such. You could tell that these women do it for love. It is more than just a job. Arnhild showed them a band I wove for her using sewing thread–a miniature of the center piece of her bunad belt. The shop ladies gathered around and wanted to feel it. They then pronounced that I would be just fine weaving my brikkeband (card weaving in Norwegian). Made me feel good. At left is a photo of my band and below photos of their working space in the shop. Working here would be almost as good as working at the museum.

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