Agujas

The Art of Knitting

Category: Common Threads

College, a President and Needlepoint

During the Winter break, my son and I went to visit colleges. It was sort of a Mother-Son trip. We hung out, talked, tried new restaurants, and toured the campus. It was nice having that one-on-one time with my 17-year old. Soon enough he will be gone from home and I cherish these moments together.

While visiting the campus of Texas A&M University, we stopped at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. A long time ago, when I worked on the Hill, I came within a few yards of then President Bush (the elder, not “W”). Visiting the museum gave me a deeper appreciation of him. The museum chronicles his time in the service, how he was married with a baby during college, and his rise in politics. Coincidentally, while we were visiting the museum, he was hospitalized in Houston; and more recently, he and Barbara Bush celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary! Regardless of your politics, that is impressive. He even tweeted about this milestone – so sweet!

As interesting as all the artifacts and exhibits of his life were, my attention was diverted by several yarn-related installations. Much to my son’s chagrin, I spent a considerable amount of time admiring and photographing these adorable yarn houses and an amazing Noah’s Ark and Nativity Scene done in needlepoint. They were stitched by the Saintly Stitchers from Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. The Nativity Scene was presented to the President and Mrs. Bush in 1989, and the Noah’s Ark was presented to them in 1991 along with needlepoint ornaments for the White House Christmas tree.

I highly recommend clicking on any photo below to view larger images. That way you can see the detail of the needlepoint. So much care went into each figure. All in all, it was a wonderful trip with my boy.

In the Family

Everyone tells me that my niece, Victoria, looks like me. It makes me feel very proud especially since I do not have a girl of my own. So it brought me immense pleasure when I discovered that my niece likes to knit! She knit a scarf sometime in her teens. My brother sent me pictures of her with her needles. This first semester in college, she decided to learn how to crochet. She asked me if I could take her to buy some yarn and a crochet hook so that she could try to crochet a stuffed animal for a charity auction at her college. Of course, there was no need to go to the store, we just dug into my stash! She found a pattern and crochet instructions on YouTube. Twenty-four hours later, she had made this:

Amigurumi Bear by Victoria

She then remembered that my mother said she wanted a headband with a flower on it for her hair. So off Victoria went to crochet a headband just like my mom had requested.

Crochet Headband by Victoria

She would sit with me in the evenings with a hook in her hand and yarn on her lap while she meticulously worked on the headband. It will be her Christmas gift to her grandmother.

Crochet Flower by Victoria

I am so pleased that the arts of knitting and crochet still appeal to young ladies like my niece. It’s wonderful to keep the tradition in the family.

A Place for Weaving

During our trip to Comfort in search of yarn, we discovered another little gem in the quaint historic district. Comfort Crockery is immediately across the street from The Tinsmith’s Wife. The main area is dedicated to original artwork by local and regional artists. The items included pottery, glassware, jewelry and mesquite furniture. But what really drew me in was a sign that read “Loom Room.”

It turns out that Comfort Crockery offers weaving classes and all the tools needed by spinners and weavers alike. They had spindles, spinning wheels, fiber and looms. I chatted with the owner who gave me a preview of wonderful things to come. She led me through a hallway that opened up into a cavernous room that was to become the Loom Room. There were piles of lumber, saw horses and tools scattered throughout. The room was being carefully renovated.

As I soon learned, Comfort Crockery is housed in a historic building designed in the mid-1800’s by architect Alfred Giles of San Antonio. The town itself was settled by German immigrants who were “freethinkers.”

Freethinkers were German intellectuals who advocated reason and democracy over religious and political authoritarianism. Many had participated in the 1848 German revolution and sought freedom in America. They strongly supported secular education and generally did not adhere to any formal religious doctrines. They applied themselves to the crafts of physical labor and divided their time between farming and intellectual pursuits. Freethinkers advocated universal equal rights, and their moral values were dominated by their respect for life. They actively supported such social issues as the abolition of slavery and the rejection of secession. (Source)

So our quaint afternoon in search of yarn became a wonderful mini history lesson. These are some of the things I saw at Comfort Crockery.

Tesoros del Camino

My husband, the pilgrim, returned from a long walk of 863 kilometers across northern Spain. He walked westward from the Spanish-French border to the Atlantic Ocean. He followed the Camino De Santiago (the Way of St. James), a pilgrimage that has been walked by thousands before him since medieval times.

This was his trip, not mine, so I cannot write about its spiritual significance or the physical endurance required to make the trip. That is his story to tell, or not, in his own time. What I can relay are snippets of experiences and sights that he shared with me along the way.

The first day was the hardest. It was an uphill climb through ankle-deep mud in the pouring rain and winds that blew horizontally along the path. He told me that there were crosses and makeshift memorials covered in stones marking the places where pilgrims had started and ended their walks.

On his way from Roncesvalles to Burguete, he walked through the Sorginaritzaga Forest. Before entering, he came across a sign written in four languages. The caption read “Brujería” or “Witchcraft.”

The Sorginaritzaga forest, whose meaning is “oakwood of witches,” was where some of the most well-known witches’ covens of the XVI century were held, …

As he walked through the forest, he came across the White Cross placed there to protect the pilgrims from witches.

Sorginaritzaga Forest

Despite this ominous beginning, he found time to send me photos of the countryside and of sheep grazing in the fields. He spotted this flock of sheep near the Basque town of Zubiri.

Near Zubiri

He told me these were Manech sheep. They are black-faced free roaming sheep known for their milk and from which “ossau-iraty” cheese is made.

Manech Sheep

He even snapped photos of some of the yarn stores he happened to spot in the towns he came across. Mercería Nhilos is in Nájera; Lanas Lany in León.

Along the way, pilgrims stay in albergues. The albergues provide a bed and usually a meal, sometimes a community dinner or a light breakfast. Curfews are strict so as not to disturb the weary pilgrims. The bunk beds shown below are in a pilgrim’s shelter attached to a local church in Belorado. The albergue was run by German nuns. The bed was free although a contribution of 5€ to the nun’s fund was recommended.

Another albergue was at St. Mary’s Nunnery in the city of Carrión de los Condes. According to my husband, one nun will tend to your feet with an extensive first aid kit and all the patience in the world. That evening, they held a pilgrim’s mass with a blessing of the feet followed by a community dinner and some singing and entertainment for the weary travelers. The following day would consist of a brutal 20-mile walk in desert-like conditions.

Within 58 kilometers of Santiago de Compostela, my pilgrim made it up the side of a mountain in the province of Galicia where this stone marker is located.

El Camino Collage Summer 2014

This albergue was situated near Itero de la Vega in a medieval structure run by an Italian religious fraternity. The simple refuge had no electricity, only candles to light the way.

Albergue San Nicolás

In Burgos, he had a clear view of the magnificent cathedral.

Burgos Cathedral

Halfway between León and Santiago de Compostela, he stayed in the town of Vega de Valcarce, population 800. It was there he spotted this statue of an old woman knitting.

Statue @ Vega De Valcarce

From Ezcaray, arriving precisely on my birthday, he shipped this exquisite blanket woven with 73% mohair and 27% wool from Mantas Ezcaray.

Mantas Ezcaray

When he returned – a little sunburned, a bit achy – he came bearing gifts. For the boys, beautiful picture books about the Camino de Santiago and a myriad of stories, both funny and painful. For me, this book, Tejeduría Tradicional Galicia, or roughly translated, Traditional Weaving of Galicia. To complement this gift came a bookmarker knit by a local artisan made from a linen yarn spun from locally cultivated flax.

Tejedería Tradicional Galicia

We hope our boys make this journey some day. Perhaps my pilgrim and I will travel it together.

La Casa Rosada

You didn’t think I would pass up an opportunity to visit a yarn store, did you? Besides the beauty of gold, emeralds, textiles, art and salt mines, there was yarn.

Case Rosada - Inside

When I entered La Casa Rosada (The Pink House) I thought I was in the yarn candy store of my dreams. The proprietress opened the shop for me and let me ogle and touch to my heart’s content. I had the place all to myself.

Casa Rosada - Lana Motín y Algodón Orgánico

I found out about this jewel from an online search and from Classy Crochet’s blog. The shop is located in what looks like a residential street. It’s easy to spot, just look for the bright pink facade.

Casa Rosada - Lanas en color

La Casa Rosada sells yarns made from natural fibers including cumare (a native palm tree), yute (jute, a vegetable fiber), cabuya ripiw (a natural fiber from the leaves of the fique plant, similar to hemp), pita (fiber from agave plants), bamboo, and strips of leather.

Casa Rosada - Cabuya ripiw en fique

They carry wool and cotton in many weights, both dyed and in natural hues. Those large rolls are woven out of sisal and the barely visible sign below reads “fibra de plátano” on a basket filled with yarn spun out of banana leaf fibers.

Casa Rosada - Lanas sin color y Rollos de sisal

Casa Rosada - Lanas y Bambú

They spin their own yarn at La Casa Rosada, so all you see are natural homespun fibers turned into gigantic skeins of yarn. The diameters range from 2, 3, 4, and 8 millimeters up to 3 centimeters for bulkier yarn.

Casa Rosada - Lana para hilar 1 Casa Rosada - Lana para hilar 2

Casa Rosada - Lana moton

They hand weave tapestries and hammocks. I was tempted to get one, they were so impressive, but somehow didn’t think it would fit in my carry-on.

Casa Rosada - Tapiz 1Casa Rosada - Tapiz en fique y cueros

Prices are based on weight. They have a large scale on the floor where they plopped my selections. The rate was roughly $1.500 Colombian pesos per kilogram. The scale read 1.20 kilograms for a total of $175.000 pesos (about $89 USD). Given the massive quantities of beautiful, natural, hand spun yarn, I thought it was a fair price.

I would go to La Casa Rosada again in a heartbeat. Next time, I’m bringing an empty suitcase.

La Casa Rosada - Business Card