a knitter’s trip to Berlin

Last weekend was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.  I have vague memories of watching the news as a kid and seeing the wall come down, but unfortunately I was still in primary school so my knowledge at the time was limited.   However ever since then I’ve had a keen interest in Berlin, and have wanted to go there for years.   I had even started planning a trip a couple of years ago, and have the travel guide on my bookshelf to prove it.  For some reason, I didn’t go.

So when my last birthday rolled around, the Amazing Molly knew it would be the perfect place to go for my birthday weekend.

I knew I’d love the city.  I just didn’t expect to love it quite so much.

Love love love.

autumn in Berlin

 

It just seems to have a mixture of everything I love in a city: that great clash of history and youthful energy, amazing creativity, lots of street food, incredible markets, and a public transport system that includes trams.  What’s not to love?

We were only there for a weekend, but I’d desperately love to go back for longer (and I have no doubt that I will).  Here is a bit of an overview of some of my favourite bits.

Whenever  I travel anywhere I do my research beforehand and try to find the best local yarn shops.  Unfortunately that’s a bit tricky for a weekend in Berlin, as pretty much everything is shut on a Sunday, and yarns shops tend to close early on a Saturday as well!  That’s a helpful bit of info I wish I’d known before I went.

So here’s a list of  yarn shops in Berlin, largely for my own reference for future visits:

  • Die Woll-Lust  Mittenwalder Str 49, Kreuzberg (open M-F 11am -7pm; Sat 11-5pm)
  • Boucle  Nassauische Str 11-12, Wilmersdorf (open M-F 11am – 7pm; Sat 10-3pm)
  • Fadeninsel Oranienstr 23, Kreuzberg (open M-F 10am-6pm; Sat 10am-4pm)
  • Handmade Berlin Monbijouplatz 9 (open M-F 12-7; Sat 12-5).

Handmade Berlin also do coffee, apparently.

 

Handmade Berlin

 

In between trekking across town to peer in windows of closed yarn shops, we found some lovely little vintage markets dotted around.  There was one (can’t remember the location!) that was full of beautiful mid-century furniture.  I love the way that there would be tiny little stalls that would specialise in just one item, like milking stools or vintage sewing boxes.

 

vintage sewing boxes

No trip to Berlin could be complete without spending some time getting to grips with some of the history of the wall.  Although much of it is now gone, there are sections that are still intact, including some that ironically now have to be protected themselves.

We went to this section of the wall, known as the “death strip” as so many people tried to make the crossing through “no man’s land” between the two walls.

Berlin wall marker

 

IMG_4880

It’s so powerful to see the tracks marked out where people built tunnels to try to escape, now delineated through freshly mown grass.

Right nearby is the amazing Mauerpark Flea Market, which I believe is quite a Sunday institution.   It is definitely one of the biggest markets I’ve ever been to!  Every time we turned a corner, we would think “ah, this must be the end!” only to be faced with yet more stalls ahead of us.

IMG_4859

Vintage buttons: my favourite rummage.

vintage buttons

It has an amazing array of general jumble, furniture, clothes, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.  I could have happily bought enough vintage furniture to fill a whole house, but had to be more restrained.

We quite happily had a rummage through tubs of these and came home with a carry bag of knobs for a fraction of the price at Anthropologie:

 

IMG_4862

There are still market stalls selling pieces of “the wall”, but bear in mind that it is now estimated to have been sold three or four times over by now!

The market completely wore us out, but over to the side of the park is an open-air auditorium where street performers ply their trade to huge audiences.  It was amazing.  We originally just went to have a sit down for a while before doing more sight-seeing, but the performers were so good that we spent the rest of the afternoon there, and gave up  on the rest of the sight-seeing that we’d planned.

Next time, next time.

(PS  If you like Trippen shoes, I found the factory outlet store at Kopenicker Str 187-188, Kreuzberg.  Nearest U-bahn Schlesisches Tor.  Keep it a secret until I get to go back again).

Gods Own Junkyard: a Walthamstow institution

more neon

 

For the past year or so I’ve been very very lucky to live only a short walk from Gods Own Junkyard  (yes, I’m fighting the urge to put in an apostrophe).  If you don’t know about it, it’s an amazing place filled to the rafters with nothing but neon.  It’s all the work of the Chris Bracey, who has been the go-to person for neon signs for the past few decades, ranging from the stripclub signs of Soho through to just about every neon sign that you’ll see in a film.  His work is just amazing, and you can even see it in Selfridges Oxford Street.

 

GOJY at Selfridges

 

I’ve been meaning to put together this blog post for a long time.   Sadly I’ve been prompted to post it now as Chris Bracey died last weekend.  Of course, I found out on twitter:

 

twitter screenshot

 

I was pleased to hear that his family will be keeping Gods Own Junkyard open and I hope you’re inspired to visit.  I’ve taken so many friends there, and no-one has been disappointed.  You can even stop and have a drink at the cafe while you’re there.  It will definitely brighten up a London winter’s day.

 

gojy

 

When I’m not knitting

My knitting time has been steadily decreasing to a point where it’s pretty much non-existent.  So many other things (ie work!) get in the way.  I know that lots of knitters are able to use any spare scraps of time to fit in a few rows here and there, but I just don’t seem to be able to do that.  For me, knitting is a creative process, and I find that I just can’t be creative when my head is full with so much other stuff. 

I may not be knitting, but I’m still doing knitting-related things.

I’m involved in one rather large project in particular:  I’ve just recently started as the co-ordinator for p/hop!

 

phop-logo

 

For those who aren’t familiar with p/hop, it stands for “pennies per hour or pleasure”.  It’s an amazing fundraising project that raises money for Medecins Sans Frontieres, and its success is entirely down to donations from within the knitting and crochet community.  Everything element of the project is community driven:  designers donate patterns, and knitters then “purchase” a pattern, making a donation of what they feel the pattern is worth.   We have stalls at knitting and fibre events across the country to help spread the word.  Knitters also offer their time and skills to whip up samples of the patterns to help promote the designs.  And then someone volunteers to co-ordinate it all and keep it ticking over.  And now that someone is me!

P/hop is such a unique project, and to date has raised over £47 000 for MSF’s work.  There are now 60 amazing patterns available, so if you’re looking for a new project to cast on, be sure to head over and take a look.

Oh, and if you see me at knit night or at a festival still carrying around the same half-finished sock from months ago, I promise that I’m still very much involved in knitting, even if I’m not actually doing it much anymore.

 

 

two exhibitions

One of the amazing things about living in London is the availability of just about any exhibition you can imagine.  And because London is so rammed full of people, there are many exhibitions that are on for extended periods of time.   I tend to think to myself, “oh, there’s plenty of time to go to that.  I won’t go right at the start when there’s a rush”, and of course, I then forget until the last day and never actually make it.

There have been two exhibitions recently that I have actually managed to see, so here’s a little review.

newspaper

 

Open for a month was The Cornershop,  a traditional corner shop in East London full to the brim with all the usual stuff (newspapers, chocolates, tinned food), with the difference being that all the items were handmade in felt.

I remember making a conscious decision to not go on the opening weekend, but in the blink of an eye I realised the month had gone past and it was the last day to see it.  I headed over to Bethnal Green on a Sunday afternoon, and found the shop appropriately located just round the corner from Quilter St.

 

quilter street

What I unfortunately hadn’t realised though, was that the shop was also one street away from the Columbia Road flower market, (a Sunday institution in London) and was therefore absolutely swamped with people.   I hadn’t been expecting such a queue outside!

 

cornershop

 

The Cornershop was put together by artist Lucy Sparrow, who had spent untold hours/weeks/months sewing together all the usual shop goods rendered in woolly felt (and kindly brought out sweets for those of us queuing!)

Eventually I made it in.  All the daily necessities were in stock:

 

felt crisps

 

biccies

 

newspapers

 

The downside to this exhibition though was despite it being billed as “the fluffy shopping experience”, there were signs instructing people to not touch the items.  It’s completely understandable (I hate to think what sort of state the work would be in after being fondled for a month) but a large part of the charm of nice woolly felt is in its tactile quality.  It was quite bizarre being part of a trail of people snaking through the shop just taking photos, moving along slowly in turn as if on a conveyer belt.

At the conclusion of the exhibition there was the opportunity to purchase various felt items, although I talked myself out of some smiley produce.

 

fruit n veg

 

counter

All good fun.

 

The other exhibition I went to was considerably different:  “Making Colour” at the National Gallery.  This was an exploration of the many different ways in which colour has been made throughout the centuries, and how this has affected the art that has been produced.

making-color

Each room focused on the creation and use of a particular colour, exploring its source and meaning.  I loved finding out about the different ways that colour has been extracted from various materials over the years.  Some of these I was familiar with (cochineal insects for carmine red, for instance) but some I hadn’t known about, such as images of men carrying massive pieces of  bright blue lapis lazuli on their backs, dug from mines in Afghanistan.

The emphasis of the exhibition was really on how colour was used in paintings, and pieces from the gallery were used to good effect.  I have very limited knowledge of art however, and while the exhibition also included some samples of yarn and other textiles (cochineal again), I couldn’t help but think how much I’d really love to see something similar focusing specifically on yarn.

Being held in the gallery, there were no photos allowed, and I’m aware that an absence of photos makes it difficult to write a blog post about colour!  I also felt that I needed some sort of souvenir to take away, so I got this print; a mid 1700s colour wheel by Moses Harris.  It should go quite nicely on my wall for inspiration:

prismatic

 

The theme of colour and colour wheels is also very much reflected in this month’s issue of the very wonderful Uppercase magazine, which I picked up last week.  It’s gorgeous and endlessly inspiring.  You can take a peek at Issue 22 here:

If only I could find the time to get creative and make a yarn colour wheel.  How amazing would that be?

 

after the show

Phew!  It’s been quite a summer for knitting events!

Last month I spent a weekend in Brighton, with the excuse of going to Unwind Brighton.  Unfortunately the class that I was booked on to had been cancelled a couple of weeks prior to the event, so I was left with plenty of time to wander around the city, rummaging through some of the many second hand shops, and catching up with knitterly friends.

I even cast on for a new knitting project (and a sock, no less!);  Pavilion by sock designer extraordinaire, Rachel Coopey.  This is a pattern that was designed for Unwind, and drew its inspiration from the famous Brighton Pavilion.  It was released as a mystery sock pattern, meaning that there was a “clue” or part of the pattern released on a weekly basis.  I’m far too fussy to ever purchase and knit a mystery pattern, but I was late discovering this one so had already seen other people’s projects, so I knew it looked fantastic.

Pavilion Sock in travelknitter BFL

I’m knitting it in the travelknitter BFL Supersock in a dark teal.  I have to say, I’m really in to teal at the moment, and seem to be dyeing up numerous similar-but-different versions.  I’ve decided that there’s no such thing as too much teal yarn.

Unfortunately I’ve barely touched the sock since Brighton!  I have so many excuses:  I’ve been too busy;  I can only work on this pattern during daylight hours as the colour of the yarn is quite dark; it’s a bit too complex for knit nights… all the usual stuff.

I’ve just landed myself a brand new job which I can actually get to on public transport (you have no idea of the commute I’ve been doing for years), so I’m hoping that will mean an hour or two knitting time of each day on the bus.  I don’t know if anyone has ever been excited about a long bus commute before!

Last weekend The Amazing Molly and I packed up the car and headed north for the Pop Up Wool Show in Chester.  Although I often sell my yarns at events locally, this was the first time I’ve travelled to do so.  It was all rather frantic beforehand (a week of rain didn’t help with trying to get yarn dry!) but I had good fun once I was there.

I always love getting direct feedback on what people think about my yarns, and of course it’s fabulous catching up with old knitting friends, and meeting online friends in real life.

mini suitcase of mini yarns

I had the world’s smallest suitcase filled to the brim with little 10g “travel size” mini skeins.  It’s actually a vintage suitcase I picked up in Brighton, but it was in quite a state so I had to put in a bit of effort cleaning it up (if you need any tips on cleaning a vintage suitcase, just ask!).  I was pleased to see how popular the mini skeins were – they’re just so damn cute, and a really good way of sampling different yarns, or adding sections of colour to bigger projects.  They’re actually just wonderful for admiring in their own adorable way, without even needing to do anything with them (stash as art, anyone?)

The following day we decided to so some local sightseeing, so before driving back to London we did a quick trip to Crosby Beach just outside Liverpool to see Antony Gormley’s Another Place.  The weather was rather autumnal and definitely knit-friendly!

Antony Gormley

on the beach

It’s a permanent artwork consisting of 100 cast iron statues of Antony Gormley (each weighing some 650kg) spread out at various distances across the beach, all facing the horizon.  The tide comes in and out over the day, alternately revealing and submerging the statues at intervals.  After being exposed to the elements for a number of years, the statues are weather-worn and barnacled, with the tidemarks visible.  I imagine you could see something different on every visit, depending on the weather.

Definitely worth a trip on a blustery day.

more knitting events

Since my post a few months ago there have been a couple of updates to the list of knitting events for 2014.  And guess what?  I’m planning on vending at both of them!

The first addition is the Popup Wool Show taking place on Saturday 16th August in Bebington, Cheshire.  There are some amazing yarn dyers attending (as well as travelknitter, of course!), including Fyberspates and Natural Dye Studio, so it’s well worth checking out.  It’s a part of the world that I’m not familiar with, so I’m looking forward to making a weekend of it.  If you live in that neck of the woods, I’ve been reliably informed that there are good transport links from both Liverpool and Chester.

PopupWoolShowflyer2

The second addition to the list is Hitchin Festiwool.  This is a brand new event in Hitchin, Hertfordshire on 2nd November.  Hitchin is a lovely market town, and an easy train ride direct from London King’s Cross.  I’m especially looking forward to it as I have friends who live  in the area, and I’m expecting it to be a lovely atmosphere.

festiwool

 

So, book them in your diary, and be sure to let me know if you’re planning on coming!

 

 

 

White Gum Wool comes to London

One of the highlights of my recent trip back to Australia was taking the opportunity to meet up with Nan Bray at her farm, White Gum near Oatlands in the midlands of Tasmania.

I’d heard about Nan’s ethical superfine merino wool a few months prior, and so we arranged to meet up on my trip back to Tassie.  I thought we might have a little chat, I’d pick up a bulk order of yarn, and I’d be on my way.  However Nan was so incredibly welcoming and generous with her time, we got a fantastic tour of her farm in to the bargain.

the farm

Even though I grew up “in the bush” in Tassie, I didn’t grow up on a farm, so I don’t know a lot about the intricacies of wool farming.  I loved hearing all about Nan’s stories of how she is raising the sheep.  The sheep all have access to such a wide range of grasses and plants in the paddocks that they get all the nutrition they need, and the sheep know what plants to eat when they need particular nutrients or are feeling unwell.   The sheep are kept together in their natural family groups, allowing them to pass on such knowledge through the generations.  The sheep are raised on strong ethical lines.  Nan is able to avoid using all mulesing, and has been able to stop tail-docking.  It’s so lovely to see the sheep running around with their tails waggling!

White gum sheep

It was a warm day, so we found the sheep all huddled together in a coil to keep nice and cool.

on the farm

To find out more about Nan’s farm (and yarn), you can check out this episode of Landline.

So, now we know all about where the yarn comes from, this is what it looks like when it’s all dyed up in a few of my travelknitter colourways:

London Skies

London Skies White Gum Wool

Autumn Spice

Autumn Spice White Gum Wool

Double Happiness

Double Happiness travelknitter White Gum Wool

It really is the softest merino I’ve ever come across, and it’s very light and lofty.  There’s an amazing 470m per 100g, so it goes a long way.  I love it!  It’s been really interesting developing new techniques to dye the yarn as it isn’t superwash, which means it keeps its lovely natural woolly texture and smell.  I love seeing how it takes the colour in very subtle, muted ways.

These skeins are all available at Wild and Woolly in East London.  If you’re elsewhere in the world and would like some, just drop me a line or send me a message through my etsy shop to request a custom order.