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

Three Days in Bogotá – Día Dos

The highlight of our second day in Bogotá was a visit to the Museo Botero. Fernando Botero’s paintings and sculptures are characterized by disproportionately large people and objects. I felt as if I was looking at the portrayals through a different lens. They made me smile.

Museo Botero - Monalisa

Museo Botero - Pareja Bailando

Museo Botero - Concierto Campestre

The museum is located inside a roomy house built in the early 1700s for the local archbishops. It has wide verandas and beautiful gardens with views of the nearby mountains.

Museo Botero - Casa 1

Museo Botero - Casa 2

The museum also has a collection of art by international and local artists. This large textile was another favorite. It is the work of Olga de Amaral, a textile artist from Bogotá.

Museo Botero - Muro Tejido No. 98

The tapestry is called Muro tejido No. 98 (Ca. 1972), made from animal and vegetable fibers.

Museo Botero - Muro Tejido No. 98 a

Museo Botero - Muro Tejido No. 98 b

Our last stop was all about shopping! The Galería Artesanal de Colombia had countless tienditas (little stores) full of local arts and crafts

Galería Artesanal de Colombia

I fell in love with these exquisite crochet bags handmade by Wayúu women. The bags are crocheted with cotton thread and come in vibrant colors and interesting designs, each unique to the woman who made it. Multiple threads are woven together to make the straps.

Bolsos Wayuu 1

As young Wayuu women come of age, they learn to weave and crochet Wayuu Mochila bags. According to legend, the tradition comes from “Wale´kerü”, a spider that taught the women how to weave their creative drawings into the Mochila bags. Each design incorporated into every Mochila bag is unique to the weaver, telling a story through the bag’s colors, patterns and shapes. (Source)

Bolsos Wayuu 2

Along the long aisles of hammocks, baskets, bracelets and hats, there were more crocheted bags.

Colombian Crochet Bags

There were also textiles woven in bright colors.

Colombian Textiles

By the end of the day, my head was spinnng, possibly due to the explosion of color, or the altitude! Another amazing day in Bogotá.

A Sweet Surprise

an unexpected package arrived in the mail
from across the ocean

Jaffa Cakes 1

it contained all sorts of sweet surprises
light little cookies with a coating of chocolate on one side
and a burst of orange inside
called jaffa cakes

Jaffa Cakes 2

and chocolate bars
lots of them

Chocolate Bars

then the best surprise of all
a hand made knitted book marker
that also has a pocket for a pen
(i happen to be one of those people that reads books
with a pen in hand)

Knit Pen Holder / Book Marker
the gift was from idiosyncratic eye
who received one of the “made in China” care packages
she had already written a wonderful thank you post
so the last thing I expected was a care package in return
it certainly is nice to give and receive

Weaving in Ancient China

After a three-month stint in Beijing, I went home for a month. It’s funny how being away makes you appreciate every little thing. Of course there is family – my husband, sons, my mom, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues. Then there are blue skies, clean air, the sound of quiet, driving my car, air conditioning, clean bathrooms, ice …

A month later, I am back in Beijing. It’s different this time. While it is still a fabulous adventure, it was much tougher leaving home. The first time, there was the mystery of Asia and the challenge of the new business venture. We still have challenging work to do but I miss the rhythms of home.

While here, I continue to explore the city. My first free day, I went to the Summer Palace. It is 20 subway stops from where I stay and took almost an hour to get there.

Summer Palace 1

The property is huge like most everything else here. It covers an area of 2.9 square kilometers (720 acres), most of which are bodies of water. It is kept immaculately groomed and landscaped. I walked for five hours straight that day, up and down steep stairs and around the lake.

Summer Palace 2

I enjoyed …
The walk.
Being out in the fresh air on a cool day.
The rich vegetation of the gardens.
The earthy smell of the pine trees.
Seeing families camping on the grounds, having picnics and taking naps.
Watching ladies dancing under gazebos.
Listening to an old man playing his flute by the lake.

Summer Palace 4

Summer Palace 5

Summer Palace 8

Summer Palace 6

Summer Palace 7

Along the corridor of the Studio of the Jade River (Yuhe Zhai), there was a series of stone carvings. According to the placard, the original scenes were painted on woven silk by the painter Cheng Qi during the Yuan Dynasty (mid-1700s). The scenes portray men farming and women weaving in ancient China. I selected the ones showing women’s work.

The stone carvings were framed and the bright day cast reflections on the glass.

Farming and Weaving 1
Farming and Weaving 2

Farming and Weaving 3

Farming and Weaving 4

Farming and Weaving 5

Farming and Weaving 6

Farming and Weaving 7

Farming and Weaving 8

Farming and Weaving 9

Farming and Weaving 10

It was a beautiful day but there is still no place like home.

Hanazono Shrine and Antiques Market

The Hanazono Shrine was founded in the mid-17th century. It was the only shrine we saw in a vivid color.

Hanazono Shrine, founded mid-17th century

Hanazono Shrine - roof detail

A male and female lion flank one of the entrances. Here is the male.

Hanazono Shrine - lion

I saw several people walk up this path to pray. They would drop coins in a box as an offering, pull on one of the ropes to ring a bell, clap twice and then hold their hands together silently.

Hanazono Shrine - path to altar

Hanazono Shrine - close-up

On Sundays, there is an Antiques Market on the grounds near the shrine. This particular market had old kimonos and sashes for sale.

Hanazono Shrine Market - old kimono sashes

Hanazono Shrine Market - colorful kimono sashes

There was scrolled artwork …

Hanazono Shrine Market - scrolled art

… a box of wooden dolls …

Hanazono Shrine Market - wooden dolls

… old prints …

Hanazono Shrine Market - old prints

… and all sorts of interesting items.

Hanazono Shrine Market - random objects

After a day of sightseeing, we had a wonderful dinner at Kurosawa Restaurant in Roppongi Hills. They walked us into a cozy room with sliding doors covered in thin white paper. One by one, they brought us beautifully presented dishes like this shrimp and vegetable tempura and chicken teriyaki.

Tokyo - Kurosawa Restaurant - Tempura

Tokyo - Kurosawa Restaurant - Chicken Teriyaki

It was a nice way to end the day.

Of Yarn and Kimonos

It was almost time for my 60-day visa to expire and I had to leave China to renew it. So off we went to Tokyo. My first priority was yarn. I googled yarn stores in Tokyo and several blogs had recommendations. I made my list and went in search of yarn.

My first attempt was a fail. We took a long circuitous route in search of Mother Earth supposedly located at 3-3-39 Minamiazabu Minato-ku. We strolled through some very interesting neighborhoods, but no Mother Earth.

The second attempt was also a fail. I was in search of Avril, which is known as Habu Textiles in the USA. From examining a Tokyo Metro map, the stop was somewhat off the grid. Given that I had some lovely yarn from Habu Textiles in my stash already, I decided to forego Avril.

Attempt #3 was a home run. We took the Tokyo Metro from the Roppongi Station to the Shinjuku Station. According to Wikipedia, “the station was used by an average of 3.64 million people per day in 2007, making it … the world’s busiest transport hub.” I believe it.

Finding the yarn store required navigating the streets with our smart phone map. It isn’t too far from the station, but it is tucked away on a busy pedestrian street. Okadaya is an arts and crafts store. Different floors house sewing supplies, buttons, ribbons, wigs, and yarn. Photos are not allowed but just imagine yarn nirvana. There was Noro, of course, but I selected Japanese brands that I had not seen in the United States.

First I found Sonomono in this natural color. Each ball is 40 grams, 64 meters of 40% Alpaca, 30% Wool and 30% Linen.

Sonomono Yarn 1

Sonomono Yarn 2

After my husband checked on me to make sure I had not suffocated in a crate of yarn (I guess I was up there a long time), I picked up two of these cotton cupcakes by Nicotto. Each cupcake is 30 grams, 50 meters of 100% Cotton.

Nicotto Yarn 1

Nicotto Yarn 2

We also took some time to visit a couple of museums. The Tokyo National Museum was a highlight with its display of beautiful kimonos from the Edo Period (17c-19c). The garments were in glass display cases so the photos may have reflections.

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Gifts from Southeast Asia

My wonderful, amazing, sweet, gorgeous husband not only took photos of places that would interest me during his trip, he also brought back a few mementos.

Woven Baskets 1
The woven tube contains a sample of raw yellow silk. He picked up this souvenir at the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT) in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Raw Silk 2
The small woven box contained these small pottery bowls. These came from a ceramics factory in Chiangmai, Thailand.

Small Pottery 3
This yarn is made in Thailand. My husband found a yarn shop in the Farong District, the old part of Bangkok. The original Mandarin Oriental Hotel is located in the Farong District. Around this area are countless craftsmen specializing in silk, silver, gems, antiquities and other items.

Yarn Made in Thailand 4
This is a beautiful silk scarf from the museum shop at the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok.

Jim Thompson Silk Scarf 5 Silk Scarf from Bangkok 6
Even the packaging it came in is beautiful. The paper envelope is imprinted with scenes of the silk-making process.

Silk Scarf Packaging 7
He picked this up during his visit to Chiangmai in northern Thailand. This silk scarf is from Jolie Femme, a Thai silk factory.

Butterfly Silk Scarf 8
This crumpled silk scarf is from the Old Market in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Crumpled Silk Scarf 9
Finally, he brought these two illustrated books that tell the history of the Thai silk industry. The Thai Silk Sketch Book contains beautiful watercolors depicting the reeling, spinning, dyeing and weaving of silk textiles. The House on the Klong is a lovely picture book about the art collected by Jim Thompson over his lifetime and which is now on display at his home turned museum.

Jim Thompson Books 10
I may not have been there but he made sure to give me a sense of the place through photographs, retelling what he saw, and bringing these lovely things to make me smile.