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If It's Thursday, This Must Be Holland

I've just come back from Europe, flying in the day before the Notre Dame disaster, and I've been busy, busy, busy, and thus not updating my blog. So sorry! But when you're in, say, The Hague, and your choices are (a) visit the Mauritshuis Museum, or (b) take a 15 minute train to charming nearby Leiden, or (c) eat a delightful dinner in a delightful bistro in a delightful Nieuwe Kunst (Art Nouveau) building, it's really hard to pick (d) update blog. I'm certainly not strong enough to do it, I don't mind admitting.

Typical distractingly-compelling Nieuwe Kunst building below:

This was a Very Exciting Trip for me, because it was (drumroll) my first European vacation since I became a knitter.

The Plane Ride

We travelled KLM, which was a bit terrifying, because while on the one hand they offer free meals and one free checked-in bag, on the other hand they explicitly state on their web site that "You may not carry pointed or edged objects in your hand baggage that could cause injury. These include ... Needles for hobby purposes and crochet hooks, made of metal or other material strong enough to be used as a weapon." Yikes! Those are exactly what I was planning to carry to get through the 9-10 hour flight (and I don't have needles made from soft, limp material, sadly).

So I carefully packed (in my checked-in bag) my ongoing projects, and in my carry-on I just brought a ball of yarn and a needle I was willing to abandon if forced to. But they let me through, yippee, and on the plane (and occasionally over coffee in Amsterdam or Brussels) I knit this:

It's almost but not quite finished—the pattern is called the River Rush Slouch Hat by Gretchen Tracy, and it's quite a fun knit. It used a stitch I've never heard of before that she calls a "Right Twist" stitch (but I've learned to be wary about the names of things ... just because one person calls something a certain name doesn't mean that the same name appears in, say, The Principles of Knitting.)

The Right Twist is easily formed by K2tog BUT don't drop the old stitches off the needle just yet—go back in and knit the first stitch, then drop the old stitches. Your stitch count never changes (you're making two new stitches from two old stitches), which is reassuring, but used strategically it will make for an interesting pattern (that you can't really see in the photo because my yarn is coloured in such a jaunty and jumbly way. It shows up more in person, promise).


First stop, Amsterdam (as I imagine it is for many travellers to the Netherlands). The itinerary was Amsterdam, Brussels, Den Bosch (the hub nearest my Dutch relatives), The Hague, then home. Apparently the Netherlands is Brioche-central, so I wanted to start a Brioche project while there. I even started a brioche hat beforehand so I could get the basics down (and then mucked it up, and frogged it, but it was great to practice failing-at-Brioche and I quickly learned, if not how to fix mistakes, at least how to fudge things so that one could carry on afterward).

Popular knitting pattern designer Stephen West apparently knits there, so I figured it was a simple matter to figure out where he lived and stalk him—I mean, I imagined that there must be a decent yarn store in Amsterdam. And there is, and it turns out he owns it: Stephen and Penelope.

It's on one of the cutest streets in Amsterdam—actually my favourite street in the city—I mentioned it to my cousin who lives there, and she said she thinks of it as an expensive street for tourists that the locals wouldn't bother to go to, so they're missing out.

Here I am below, standing, to prove that these attractive photos weren't just gleaned from the Internet. P.S. even fewer guys wear a man-bag/murse in Europe than in North America—it's all backpacks. I hate backpacks. I don't want to have to undress every time I need to interact with my portable storage container, that's nuts.

There are Stephen West patterns (and books of patterns) liberally dotted around the shop:

The shop has its own bespoke colourways, in Magnus DK, made from Scottish sheep (apparently Dutch wool is hard to get and generally goes straight into industrial applications, not to individual consumers), in a billion tempting hues:

Everyone in the shop speaks perfect English and they were very, very helpful to me, especially as I was a bit dotty from having travelled all day and then the 9 hour time difference.

You will recall that I was determined, in the Land of the Brioche Stitch, to do a Brioche project, and what could be better than the try a Stephen West pattern made with Stephen West yarn? Because the shop actually offers its own yarn brand as well, West Wool, in two sizes, Tandem and Bicycle.

The pattern I picked was the alluring Arbor Cowlyoke (it's half cowl, half yoke, sort of the centaur of Brioche Knitting patterns, and (at least in the example) knit out of Arbor, hence the name), and it's not too Briochey, which is great for a beginner. I've heard people rave about how clever Mr. West's patterns were, particularly with regards to construction, and I wasn't disappointed. In fact, he's more clever than I realised (at least I realised it once I was a couple of inches into the Cowlyoke). This became my go-to evening knitting project all through Europe:

Above, part of the cowl section, knit in the round. It alternates panels of garter with panels of brioche (and I love, love, love how the grey knit stitches sit on top of the speckled coloured background, West's suggestion in the pattern notes). The subtle cleverness of the construction is that by judiciously applying brioche increases and decreases, he's caused the brioche section to lean on an angle ... which makes its vertical row gauge match the garter stitch! Stunning.

I also ventured into the lovely Jordaan neighbourhood, and stumbled across another local yarn shop, de Afstap.

It has a close relationship apparently with Rowan yarns. Here I found that very elusive creature, the yarn made from an actual Dutch sheep! The proprietor was particularly charming and easy to talk to, and I was happy to walk away with a few more skeins, though a bit abashed that they weren't for a specified project—resolution broken!

And if that weren't enough, I had a special treat in store for me at the Dutch Costume Museum (not theatrical costumes, but traditional Dutch folk ensembles—different regions of the country have traditional modes of dress, not that they always adhere to them!) The folk costumes were amazing (see below), but that wasn't even the treat ... wait for it ...

The treat was that we'd also stumbled upon a temporary exhibition of Traditional Dutch Ganseys, as seen in the unparalleled books Traditional Dutch Ganseys and its nail-biting sequel More Traditional Dutch Ganseys by traditional Dutch gansey expert Stella Ruhe. In fact, we'd just missed her! I'd actually read one of them in preparation for the trip, so this was unexpectedly synchronistic. They hadn't put up the explanatory notes yet, but they'd hung garments that had been knit as examples of the craft:

And then, after three delightful (but jet-lagged) days in Amsterdam, we boarded a train for Belgium. But that's another post!

Off the Needles

  • Autumn Vibes hat, an experiment in brioche, unfortunately frogged.

On the Needles (and actively being worked on):

  • River Rush Slouch hat (almost finished!)

  • Arbor Cowlyoke (about 6 inches into the 9 inch cowl section)

  • 1898 Hat (my airplane knitting for the ride home, more on this later)

  • A swatch of stockinette in white worsted (third of three needle sizes) for my Master Knitting Course

  • Caldwell Vest (halfway through armhole shaping on the back)

  • Persian Dreams Blanket (round 6 of Hexagon 9)

  • Itineris Shawl (I'll pretend it's a scarf. I've finished the third repeat)

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