Spring Blooms

For Easter weekend, our family congregated at my sister’s home in San Antonio, Texas. It is a three-hour monotonous drive between Houston and San Antonio on Interstate 10. As I was traveling alone, I decided to make the trip a bit more interesting. I took a detour north on State Highway 71 headed to La Grange, Texas – population just under 5,000 and home of the Texas Quilt Museum.

There were three exhibits on display that were particularly impressive. The first, “Modern Quilt Guild at the Texas Quilt Museum” showcased the guild’s first juried quilt show. Photography is not allowed inside the museum but you can see photos at the Modern Quilt Guild’s blog. Here is one sample.

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Source: MQG Blog

Also on display were the Magna Carta Quilts from the UK. There are a total of eight quilts. According to the Magna Carta Quilt website:

…four Medieval Quilts will tell the story of the Magna Carta in a graphic novel style… The story starts with the death of Richard the Lionheart, which lead to the ascension of his brother John to the throne of England, runs through the events leading up to the sealing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede… The Magna Carta was the first document ever imposed upon a King of England…by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their rights. The four Legacy Quilts…will be the shields of the 25 feudal barons who drew up the terms of the Magna Carta…

The detail of these quilts was mind-boggling. The figures depicted all had singular expressions, carried different items in their hands and wore varied medieval clothing according to their rank.

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Medieval Quilt IV (Source: Magna Carta Quilt)

The third exhibit of note was called “Wild Fabrications” sponsored by the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA). You can view the entire exhibit online at the SAQA website in a slide show format. I highly recommend viewing it in full screen mode. My favorite was the polar bear.

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Now You See Him by Cat Larrea (Source: SAQA)

Wild Fabrications celebrates a world of animals both real and fantastical. The theme not only lends itself particularly to bold colors and whimsical imagery, but also to beautiful realism, and humor that can be ebullient or dark.

On the exterior side wall of the building that houses The Quilt Museum is this stunning mural that depicts traditional 19th century quilts.

Quilt Museum Exterior

The mural serves as a backdrop to Grandmother’s Flower Garden.

Many quilt makers…are also gardeners, and many quilt patterns were inspired by flowers, plants, trees, and nature in general. We named the garden for a beloved Depression-era quilt pattern, “Grandmother’s Flower Garden.”

Grandmother's Flower Garden 1

Grandmother's Flower Garden 2

Grandmother's Flower Garden 3

And if that isn’t enough to tempt you to visit, next door to The Quilt Museum is a fabric and YARN store called The Quilted Skein.

The Quilted Skein

There were four rooms of fabrics in all colors and patterns. And WALLS OF YARN.

The Quilted Skein - Yarn Wall

The staff was busily climbing ladders to hang up beautiful new quilt displays. They were having a good time making sure no one toppled off ladders and took time to assist me as I perused the yarn and picked out some fabric squares.

The Quilted Skein - Sock Yarn

It was time to get back on I-10 and continue my trip to San Antonio. From La Grange, I took a leisurely drive on Farm to Market Road 609. The countryside was littered with bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes – picture-perfect scenery.

Bluebonnets on FM 609

Indian Paintbrushes on FM 609

Back on I-10, I made another stop in Seguin, Texas, the pecan capital of the world – so-called because of the large production of pecans in the area. Seguin has a quaint downtown historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places. My destination was You’re So Crafty, a crafts store for making pottery, painting, beadwork, knitting and spinning. One could spend weeks here and not run out of crafty things to do.

You're So Crafty - Spinning Tools

This display was full of yarn spun from locally produced fibers. These skeins are from Windmill Crest Farms, a small alpaca farm of about 50 animals located in Seguin.

You're So Crafty Local Yarn

Content with the day’s discoveries, it was time to make the rest of the trip to my sister’s house. Both my brothers from back home and my mom and aunt were there, plus some neighbors. Between all of us, there were 25+ kids and adults hitting piñatas and cracking cascarones on each others’ heads – brightly colored confetti everywhere! After the meal, the older kids (teens and college students) gathered at the dining room table for a fierce game of Monopoly. As my siblings and I sat outside, we reminisced about how once upon a time, it was us running around the yard and competing at board games. Now we sat around comparing what medications and maladies we had in common. We had good laughs and good food surrounded by family. It was a glorious weekend full of spring blooms.

Toy Shoppe and Needlework

When we took our son to college orientation sometime mid-summer, I had an opportunity to stop by a store I had been wanting to visit for some time. I am so glad I did. Ewe and Eye is as enchanting inside as it is outside.

Ewe & Eye - Toy Shoppe

Stepping inside Ewe and Eye is like walking into a fairyland. They carry the prettiest toys from all over the world. Their life-like dolls are just the right size for swaddling. There is a full array of Paddington Bears from England and all shapes and sizes of hand crafted whimsical fairies in almost every room.

Ewe & Eye - Rabbit

Ewe & Eye - Carousel Horse

Each room has delightful surprises and a curated selection of unique toys.

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Just look at this incredible Wizard of Oz collection!

Ewe & Eye - Oz

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Now what could be more perfect than a toy store that carries yarn?

Ewe & Eye - Needlework

They carry a lovely selection of yarns including Rowan, Prism and all colors and weights of Colinette, among many others. They even had yarn dolls.

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Mr. Jimmy, the Owner and Toy Man Extraordinaire (really, it says so on his business card) was charming and quite knowledgable about the yarn inventory. He can also tell you about every line of toys they carry. After perusing the store and chatting with this delightful gentleman, I selected these skeins to take home with me. Just look at this chunky raspberry gorgeousness.

Ewe & Eye - Raspberry Yarn

This ridiculously soft skein is to become a pair of socks for my husband.

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If you are ever in Boerne, stop by Ewe and Eye and say hi to Mr. Jimmy.

Knitting Tools

Besides yarn and needles, there are a few tools that come in handy for knitters and crocheters. These are some of the knitting tools that I’ve been using lately.

DPN Tubes

Now that I’m knitting socks, I have found these double-pointed needle (DPN) tubes to be absolutely necessary. With DPNs, there is a higher risk of stitches slipping off the ends. With these tubes, you can store your knitting safely inside without fear of losing stitches. Just carefully line up your needles so that they are side by side and your work is concentrated in the middle. Lay the needles and your work inside the opening of the blue tube. Most of your knitted piece will stick out. Next, slide the red tube over the blue one lining up the openings. Twist slightly to hold your knitting in place.

DPN Tubes 1

I picked these up at the Must Stash Yarns booth at a fiber festival. (Try saying “must stash yarns” three times very fast). It came with two DPN tubes and a set of tubes without the opening to store and carry your DPNs or crochet hooks.

DPN Tubes 2

Cable Needles & Stitch Holders

I already have a reliable and boring cable needle in my toolkit but when I saw these colorful chunky cable needles, I had to have them. They’re so much fun in pink and green. Those little round felted thingies are stitch holders. They are handmade locally and come in several colors. I like using these stitch holders made out of felted fibers instead of those rubbery point protectors, although I have some of those as well.  (The cable needles are from WC Mercantile; the stitch keepers from Yarntopia.)

Cable Needles Collage

Nøstepinde & Set Gauge

Then there are these beauties in black walnut and oak. The one on the left, a nøstepinde, is used to wind a center pull ball. No kidding! Sometimes the simplest tools are the best. To read how to use this tool, try this post from Hatchtown Farm.

The tool on the right is a set gauge. The thinner section at the top of the gauge is 1 inch wide. To determine the weight of your yarn, wind it around this part of the gauge from end to end. Keep count as this will give you the wraps per inch, which you can then translate into yarn weight.

Both of these simple yet beautiful tools are hand carved at Marsh Mellow Meadows. (Not to be confused with marshmallows. Lots of tongue-twisters!)

Nøstepinde & Wraps Per Inch Tool

Blocking Mats

Until very recently, I’ve been blocking my knitted items on large towels. Not always effective because they don’t always lay flat. I looked for blocking mats online and in stores in the arts and crafts and children’s sections and frankly found them way too expensive. Then I found these at a dollar store. $1 each! I even like that they can be broken down into even smaller mats. Or I can make them as long or wide as I need depending on the size of my project.

Blocking Mats 1

Of course, for a dollar, you can’t be picky about the colors. These come in all shades princess!

Blocking Mats 2

Do you have a favorite knitting or crocheting tool? Do you like it because it’s simple, cute, one-of-a-kind, handmade, fast, or budget-friendly?

To Spain or Bust

Another knit hat is off the needles. Simple pattern with reliable results. This hat is intended for a gentleman my husband met on his trip to Spain last year.

Another Beanie

On his walk along the Way of St. James, he stopped for the night in León in northern Spain. There, he befriended the owner of the Taller de Grabado y Estampa. He spent a few hours talking with the owner and artisan, José Holguera, in his engraving and stamping studio. My husband came home with these beautiful limited edition lithographs of the Catedral de León and a pilgrim’s staff imprinted by Holguera on his lithographic press.

Holguera Lithograph Catedral de León

Holguera Lithograph Staff

Over the holidays, an envelope stamped with Correos España arrived. It contained a beautiful lithograph of a modernist starry night.

Holguera Lithograph Star

As a token of appreciation, my husband wanted to send his friend a gift – so he asked me if I would hand knit a hat. The hat needed to be special, even in its simplicity. I went through my stash and selected the yarn I brought back from my trip to Colombia. It is 100% hand-spun wool in natural, undyed hues.

Natural undyed wool 1

I used the darker brown. The photo of the finished hat was taken under different outdoor lighting conditions so the richness of the brown does not come through as in this photograph.

Natural undyed wool 2

I was concerned it would be a bit scratchy but it is soft and warm. I doubled the yarn as I knitted to make it especially cushiony. It seems fitting somehow – 100% undyed, hand-spun wool from Bogotá, Colombia, hand-knit in Texas, for a friend in León, Spain.

A Day at the Fiber Festival

My very first spinning lesson was at the Kid’N Ewe And Lamas Too fiber festival a couple of years ago. This past weekend, I revisited this annual festival which is spread out over three large barns at the Kendall County Fairgrounds. There was weaving, spinning, felting, knitting and crocheting everywhere!

I spent hours swooning over fibers from animal and plant sources including camel, yak, buffalo, sheep, goat and silkworm as well as hemp, bamboo, and cotton. Many were hand dyed in stunning colors like these wool batts …

Gorgeous merino, bamboo, and angelina batts from Yorkieslave Artworks. (www.orkieslave.etsy.com)
Gorgeous merino, bamboo, and angelina batts from Yorkieslave Artworks. (www.yorkieslave.etsy.com)
Luscious browns and golds from Yorkieslave Artworks. (www.orkieslave.etsy.com)
Luscious browns and golds from Yorkieslave Artworks. (www.yorkieslave.etsy.com)
Glistening waves in a deep blue sea from Yorkieslave Artworks. (www.orkieslave.etsy.com)
Glistening waves in a deep blue sea from Yorkieslave Artworks. (www.yorkieslave.etsy.com)

… and this hemp fiber in deep tones.

Hand-dyed natural plant fibers from the Fiber Lady. (www.fiberlady.com)
Hand-dyed natural plant fibers from the Fiber Lady. (www.fiberlady.com)

There were countless hand crafted tools throughout including this lovely assortment of spindles and shuttles.

These wooden spindles are from Yarnorama (I think). I didn't pick up a business card. (www.yarnorama.com)
These wooden spindles are from Yarnorama (I think). I didn’t pick up a business card. (www.yarnorama.com)
Turkish and top whorl drop spindles from Heritage Arts. (www.heritageartstexas.com)
Turkish and top whorl drop spindles from Heritage Arts. (www.heritageartstexas.com)
Unique hand painted wooded spindles from Yorkieslave Artworks. (www.orkieslave.etsy.com)
Unique hand painted wooded spindles from Yorkieslave Artworks. (www.yorkieslave.etsy.com)
Hand crafted glass and wood spindles from Yorkieslave Artworks. (www.orkieslave.etsy.com)
Hand crafted glass and wood spindles from Yorkieslave Artworks. (www.yorkieslave.etsy.com)
These wooden shuttles are from Yarnorama (I think). I didn't pick up a business card. (www.yarnorama.com)
These wooden shuttles are from Yarnorama (I think). I didn’t pick up a business card. (www.yarnorama.com)

Behind rows of vendor stalls in one of the barns, several teams were in full swing for the Fiber to Fashion demonstrations. Spinners using spindles and wheels were busily turning fiber into yarn. The yarn was fed to the weaver who meticulously wove it on a loom. The goal was to create a finished product – a 20″ x 72″ shawl – in one day.

One of the Fiber to Fashion teams working on their woven shawl.
One of the Fiber to Fashion teams working on their woven shawl.

The team pictured here held a raffle for their shawl. I bought one ticket for $1 but, alas, did not win. I watched them as they were making the fringe and putting the final touches on the shawl. It was absolutely gorgeous.

The air was cool, the sun was out, the animals were adorable, kindred spirits were plentiful, and there were three barns full of fibery goodness – perfect!

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.

February FO: Azzu’s Shawl

While I didn’t write out any knitting goals for the year, I knew that I should put my ever-growing stash to good use (besides just being beautiful to look at and soft to the touch).

Azzu's Shawl 1

I decided to use this hand spun that I bought at a crafts fair. The combination of Bluefaced Leicester and silk (80/20) felt luscious in my hands.

Wool/Silk Handspun 1

Wool/Silk Handspun 2

There were 490 yards of it to play with and the color changes were lovely to look at as they unfolded.

Azzu's Shawl - In Progress

Azzu's Shawl - Blocking 1

Azzu's Shawl - Blocking 2

The size is just right to use as a scarf, a shoulder wrap, or to keep Bear warm on chilly nights.

Azzu's Shawl 2

Here are some colorful close-ups.

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This was the perfect little gift to me.

Azzu's Shawl 3

Wishing you a happy valentine’s day full of love and yarn.

Ashley's Art illustration {source}

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.