a weekend in Margate

After the detour to visit The Yarn Dispensary in Faversham (see last post), we headed on to Margate for a weekend away by the coast.

For those of you who are reading this from far-flung places, Margate is a quintessentially English seaside resort town in Kent, just a short trip outside London.  Like many seaside resorts, Margate experienced significant decline in the face of cheap package deals to places like Spain, where sunshine and warm weather are virtually guaranteed.  It has however benefited from recent regeneration and development (including the Turner Contemporary gallery), and I joined the Down-From-Londoners in checking it out for a couple of days.

When going to the seaside, of course everyone wants to stay right by the sea, right?  Here’s the view from the window of our rather lovely Air BnB flat:

out the window

Couldn’t get much closer than that!

One of the big attractions is Dreamland, an original “pleasure park” funfair that suffered from neglect but is now being brought back to life in a retro kitsch way, complete with fabulous Grade II listed wooden rollercoaster.  We spent an hour or two enjoying the rides, racing around on dodgems, and I even got to try roller skates for the first time!  It was all quite good fun (despite the grim weather) and there are plans for more of the park to be refurbished.

dreamland

Margate has a lovely old town with lots of second-hand (er, vintage) shops which are good to have a look through (but at London prices).  Sadly I came home without any new purchases.

Gillian from The Yarn Dispensary gave me a recommendation to try GB Pizza Co, so we went there for dinner one night.   I have to say it was great advice: the pizzas were super thin, super crispy, and thoroughly delicious.  An unexpected bonus:  they have Prosecco on tap!  Brilliant!  There are no photos however, because I virtually inhaled the lot.

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If you get the chance to go to Margate, definitely have a pizza and Prosecco and enjoy the scenery.

yarn shop visit: The Yarn Dispensary

One of my special skills is finding yarn shops at any travel destination.  No matter where I’m going, I manage to search out some yarny goodness, and it’s my favourite kind of travel planning.

So when The Amazing Molly booked us a weekend in Margate, I set to work.

I’d never been to the Kent Coast, so had no idea about the geography of the area.  However there was one yarn shop in Kent that I’d always wanted to go to, and I wondered if it was in the same general direction.

Checking out some maps gave me the answer I had hoped for:  with only a teeny-tiny detour, we could drive to Margate via Faversham, home of The Yarn Dispensary (previously known as The Old Pharmacy).  Hurrah!

I’d seen photos of The Yarn Dispensary online, and was drawn in by the sense of the history of the shop, and the beautiful apothecary styling.  I was certainly not disappointed.

The Old Pharmacy Faversham

The location is lovely, just in the middle of the town market square.  The owners Gillian and Sam were there when I arrived, and I got the most wonderful greeting!  I was so fortunate that Gillian even gave us a tour of the building and a bit of the history.  Of course my photos don’t do justice.

The Old Pharmacy

The building dates back to the 13th Century, and has a long history as a pharmacy in the town.  Gillian and Sam spent a year renovating the building before opening the shop in 2015, and it has been done beautifully.  The history!  The beams!  The wibbly walls!

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It’s also extremely functional as a yarn store, with lots of natural light and a lovely room out the back for hosting workshops.  I bet the knit nights here are fabulous.

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There was no way I could leave without a souvenir, and I knew I wanted one of the amazing “knitware” ceramics by Rose Dickinson.  They are all unique and locally handmade, and sell out as soon as they come in stock (I can definitely see why).  I chose this wee vase with a lovely green glaze, which is just perfect for storing loose DPNs on my desk.

new vase

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I get to visit again soon, and hopefully I’ll get to explore the local area too.  I can’t imagine a more beautiful, welcoming, historic yarn shop anywhere.

a weekend at EYF

And what a weekend it was!  Having a stall at Edinburgh Yarn Fest is one of the most intense ways a yarnie can spend a weekend, but thankfully it’s also one of the most fun.

It’s taken me a while to write this post, largely because I simply needed time to process everything before  I sat down to write about it.  Plus I got back home late on Sunday evening and went straight back to the Day Job on Monday morning, so there wasn’t much time to do anything other than work and sleep.

The weekend began with a rather large group of knitters catching the train up on the Thursday morning, and I do feel for the other commuters (sorry!)  I think we were all slightly delirious with that combination of excitement and exhaustion after all months of preparation.

train treats

We rented a cute Colony House which actually managed to fit us all (that is, Helen, Amelia, Anna, and Jane).  I didn’t even get a photo – clearly I was too busy focusing on EYF itself.

I shared a stall with Helen of The Wool Kitchen, and Amelia of Woollenwords was a star at helping us out.  I heard our stall described as “a riot of colour”, and it certainly was!  There was never a dull moment.

Helen on the stall

It was something of a challenge to plan the layout of the stall using only minimal props, as everything needed to be shipped up from London.  Only two vintage suitcases for me this time!

suitcases o yarn

I loved how international EYF was: I met people from all over the UK and Ireland, people from the USA, people who had made a day trip from Germany (yep!), and the Copenhagen and Oslo yarn stashers were out in force (you can see pictures of their haul on Instagram and Ravelry).  I love the idea of my skeins of yarn travelling around the world even while I’m back in London.

By the end of day two we all started getting a bit silly; the crowds were thinning out and stallholders had a chance to wander about and chat to other stallholders.  Karie Westermann and her partner Dave came round to say goodbye but ended up staying for a while and taking part in some very fun photos.  Karie has a great pic of the four of us over on her blog post.

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Being a stallholder doesn’t allow much time to go shopping elsewhere, but I did make a couple of very special purchases.  I’ll show you those when I’ve finished unpacking.

Edinburgh in the sun

After being inside the Corn Exchange for three days, it was nice to see the sun on Edinburgh just as I was leaving.

Thank you so much to Jo and Mica for organising such a brilliant event, and for letting me be a part of it.  Thank you to everyone who came along and said hi and squished some yarn.  I loved making new friendships, and catching up with old online friends too.  There’s something very special that happens when knitters get together.

See you next year!

knitting retreats – UK edition

I like to combine holidays and knitting.  I’m not very good at just relaxing for extended periods (although I am very good at afternoon naps) so I tend to book my trips and holidays around a particular goal or purpose.  Knitting fits in nicely with this.

My last holiday was a couple of weeks ago, when I ventured up to the Lake District for the fabulous Woolfest.  I was really there for work, running the p/hop stall for a couple of days, but I managed to take a few extra days’ leave and tack a bit of a holiday on to the end.  Actually, I don’t think I’ve been anywhere this year that didn’t revolve around a yarn show.

knitting on holy island

If however you tend not to travel the country attending yarn shows but would like a knitterly holiday nonetheless, the UK is a fantastic place for lovely knitting retreats.

What is a knitting retreat you ask?  They generally involve the following:

  • A bunch of knitters getting together at a particular venue, often for 2-4 days.  Accommodation is usually part of the deal, but some events have flexibility to attend in the daytime only if you have other accommodation.
  • A retreat may include classes or tutorials with teachers, although some are more informal where attendees simply share and learn from each other.  Think curling up on a comfy chair with something nice to drink and long hours spent knitting with other lovely people.
  • Locations are generally either somewhere beautifully rural (and probably sheepy) or in a city location with excellent transport links.
  • There is usually always lots of cake.

If a knitting retreat is the sort of thing that tempts you, here are a few destinations to consider.

Shetland

Shetland is one of those destinations that is on just about every knitter’s wishlist.  Each year I wistfully imagine heading off to Shetland Wool Week (this year it’s from 26 Sept to 4th October).  It’s never yet been a realistic prospect for me, but it’s nice to plot and scheme.  The folks behind Shetland Wool Week have now started running six day tours of Shetland, and their first tour sold out within a matter of days.  I’m terribly envious.  There are more dates in the works, so there will be more opportunities to check diaries and bank balances.

Wales

Another place on my list of “want-to-go-but-still-haven’t-made-it”: Wales.  And gwlana would be an amazing excuse to go.  Gwlana is Welsh for woolgathering, and there are two retreats held each year, each very different in focus.  Their autumn retreat is scheduled for October 23rd to 26th..  Workshops for the October retreat include shibori, indigo Dyeing, and ombre knitting, and the teachers are the very lovely designer and podcaster Brenda Dayne and Caerthan Wrack of Triskelion Yarn and Fibre.  It’s taking place over my birthday weekend, so if anyone is stuck for gift ideas…

Scottish Highlands

Helen of Ripples Crafts has been hosting knitting retreats in Scotland for a few years now (I went to one on of Helen’s retreats on the island of Tanera Mor)  and this year she is again hosting a retreat at Glencanisp Lodge in Lochinver.  Helen’s retreats are kept very affordable by not having teachers running workshops, making for a very informal few days where people share and learn from each other.  I hate to tease you and then tell you that the retreat is all booked up for this year, but I’d recommend keeping an eye out in the future.

Manchester

One of the UK’s major cities, and I’ve never been!  For years people have been telling me all the great things about Manchester, and I’ve finally been spurred on to visit: I’ve just booked tickets to the Joeli’s Kitchen Retreat on 27th & 28th February next year.  It’s slightly different in that the retreat price includes workshops and talks but attendees make their own accommodation arrangements.  Workshop teachers include Karie Westermann, Kate Atherley, and Joeli herself.  If you’re interested I’d suggest reserving your spot as quickly as you can.

What do you think?  Do you have any plans to go to a knitting retreat?  I’d also love to hear about any that you’ve been on.

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

 

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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.

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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:

 

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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).

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.

A couple of hours in Sheffield

One thing that I make a point of doing in any city that I’m in, is scouting out local independent businesses, and Sheffield was no exception.  I had a couple of hours to spare last Monday morning before catching my train back to London, so I did a bit of internet research to track down a place to buy handmade items in Sheffield.  Despite spending a weekend surround by designer talent at the Folksy Summer School, it still was not an easy feat to track down!  I found it incredibly difficult to find anything on the internet about where to find crafty/handmade shops in Sheffield.  It was such a hard task that when I wanted to search out the shop details in order to compile this blog post, I couldn’t even find the link again!  After much searching, I managed to track down a lovely shop called Bird’s Yard (although even the website seems to only mention the Leeds store, not the Sheffield branch, but you can find them on Facebook). It’s tucked away down a cheery looking shopping lane, Chapel Walk.

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The shop stocks all sorts of handmade goodies by different local designers and crafters, ranging from jewellery, clothing, cushions, to gorgeous handbound books.  I can’t leave a city without a souvenir of some description, so came home with a handmade needle case, as I need just the right equipment for all that sewing that I do, right?

Whilst en route I also found the famous Police box, which is situation in Surrey St.  I walked past it the first time, went past two officers in the street, but didn’t dare ask them where it was!  Turns out it’s on a rather nondescript corner, and was hidden by a white van at the time.

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Apparently the box is still in use, but a peek in the window suggests it’s something of a storage unit.

The plaque on the front gives a nice potted history, which I’ll include a few snippets of here:

This Police Box, which is still used operationally, is the sole survivor of 120 boxes which served the Sheffield City Police for nearly 40 years.  Introduced in October 1928, the boxes were sited on Police beats all over the City and provided a contact point for police officers and members of the public.  The boxes were visited by patrolling officers at hourly intervals when information was passed by phone between patrolling officers and supervisory staff at police stations.  A blue electric lamp, controlled from the local police station, was located on the top of each box and was used to indicate that there was an important message to be passed out.  Occasionally the boxes served as a temporary lock-up for anyone who had been arrested and was awaiting transport to a police station.

That’s all very well and good, by why is it green, and not blue?  Police boxes are always blue!  Haven’t they ever seen the Dr Who TARDIS?  Someone needs to get out a tin of paint and sort that out.