top of page

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium

And by Belgium, I mean Brussels. I was only there for two days, and (are you seated?) didn't manage to find a yarn store in my area. I do want to show you how gorgeous Brussel's Art Nouveau is, and it's got very little to do with the fibre arts (other than being arty and inspirational), so if you don't care about Art and Architecture, please, skip ahead to the knitting section, with a bit about colour choices, and update on the doomed Billion Dollar Blankie (see my earlier post here), which has gone horribly wrong in a whole new way. But you'll be missing out—Belgian Art Nouveau is stunning! (Unlike my horrible blanket).


We arrived with one goal in mind: soaking up Brussel's famous Art Nouveau architecture, as essentially invented by Victor Horta in 1892. It was known as Style nouille (literally, "noodle style") for its preponderance of curvilinear shapes. The style appears to have burst into life fully-formed, but is based on some important antecedents: the English Arts & Crafts movement and Pre-Raphaelite movement, the influence of Viollet-le-Duc's theories of architecture (who, incidentally, restored Notre Dame Cathedral in the 19th century), and the then-recent exposure of Europeans to Japanese art, especially the ukiyo-e woodcuts. If you're unfamiliar with these, here are examples of each.

First, Edward Burne-Jones' 1880 painting "The Golden Stairs" ... look especially at the sweeping curves that delineate the folds in the fabric, and the flattened graphic quality of the piece:

A drawing by Viollet-le-Duc for ornament related to the restoration of Notre Dame ... take the same ornament, amp up the curves and the curls, and you have something indistinguishable from fully-fledged Art Nouveau:

And a woodcut by Utagawa Hiroshige, "Mount Utsu" from 1832 ... the use of negative space, the flattened graphical treatment of the scene, and the stylized simplicity will all have an impact:

So, Art Nouveau begins, and it begins with this building, Victor Horta's Hotel Tassel:

The details are especially modern (the ironwork, the columns, the glass), but the structure itself is fairly sober compared to what Art Nouveau buildings will manifest as in just a few short years. Here are some more exuberant examples of what can be found in Brussels:

If your taste is for Scandinavian-levels of simplicity, this style might not appeal. But for me, it's pretty much the high-water mark of gorgeous domestic architecture: yes, most of these were built as single-family homes (the word "hotel" in French meant a townhome, not rooms-for-rent).

I'm sneaking in some photos gleaned from the web of the interiors of some of these Brussels' buildings, as for the most part I was unable to get inside, and if allowed in was forbidden to take photos, sigh. Ssh! Don't tell anyone.

The Hannon House:

The Paul Cauchie home:

The Hotel Solvay:

To die for.

In addition to the sumptuous architecture on display, we visited my new favourite museum, the Fin-de-Siecle Museum (fin-de-siecle means "end of the century" but normally the end of the 19th century). Yes, the Impressionists were doing some interesting things then (and the post-impressionists) but it's the other guys I'm interested in, whether you call them Art Nouveau, or Jugendstil, or the Aesthetic Movement, or Symbolists. I was thrilled to be face-to-face with paintings I'd only seen in books, as well as art that was brand new to me. And they let me take photos! No internet thievery necessary.

This is Gustav Adolf Mossa's "The Dead Women" from 1908.

Henri & Desire Muller's Vase (hard to tell in the photo, but it's decoration on top of clear glass, very attractive and unusual in person):

A detail from Baron Leon Frederic's odd and massive "The Stream" from 1898:

A closeup of the angel from Jean Delville's "The Angel of Splendours," 1894:

A detail, also from Delville, from his "Satan's Treasures," 1895:

Alphonse Mucha (famous for Sarah Bernhardt posters and Job cigarette ads) also sculpted:

And Carlos Schwabe's "Spleen and Ideal" from 1907. I can't get enough of these colours, teal, gold, blush, and white:

Actually About Knitting Now

Now, as I look at my artwork selections, almost all of them (save for "Satan's Treasures") have pretty much the same colourway, and they're my go-to colours for knitting projects as well! So there's my knitting hint of the day for the colour-impaired: find an artwork you like, and draw your colours from it.

Even better: go online (I like to use Image Colour Extract), upload the artwork, and it will limit the colours for you. Here's an example. Here's an original artwork, with attractive colour scheme (Mossa's "David and Bathsheba") that could be inspirational for a knitting project:

Upload your art to Image Colour Extract, and specify the number of colours to limit to ... I chose 10 for starters, I changed the delta to 50 (higher gets brighter, more saturated colours, lower gives more greys) and it gave me this:

And now you've got a colour scheme for your next project, including undoubtedly some colours you'd never have chosen, but which you know will work together because you like the original artwork.

Billion Dollar Baldie

Those of you who read about my earlier woes are well-acquainted with the billion dollar blankie. Intended to be a present for my sister, the blanket was to be composed of two spools of giant yarn, but sadly I'd wildly underestimated how much yarn was required. So I bought a third incredibly expensive spool of giant yarn, but only ended up with essentially a blanket border, not a blanket.

I stumbled across very well-priced on-sale jumbo yarn and snatched up all skeins. It was a different colour and material, but I was happy to take what I could get, as at this point I was in for about $400 dollars, for a Christmas present for my sister. Sigh.

I happily attached the new yarn and began knitting the body of the blanket. The beige border and navy body looked nice together ... until ... the unthinkable happened. The new, inexpensive, on-sale yarn because to come apart. It was like pilling, in the sense that the Titanic disaster was like a row boat upending. It seemed as though the nice navy fibre had been gently pressed up against some whitish inner core, and now that it was actually being knit up, the navy was being rubbed away. This was not going to be a blanket that would survive being washed. This wasn't even a blanket that would survive being made.

Here's a photo of one of the skeins—you can see clearly the coloured bits disappearing even before being knit up!

Outraged, I ripped out the new yarn and threw all the skeins away (ordinarily I donate unused yarn, but not when it's disintegrating).

I took the blankie border bit ... it's in garter, so it's soft and cushie and made out of insanely expensive yarn ... and I folded it, seamed it, and bound it off. Now it's either the world's most expensive hand-knit cushion or the world's most expensive hand-knit bag, I'll leave the choice up to my sister. And after all that, it'll be a joint Christmas/birthday present, maybe even Christmas/birthday/Christmas. Don't let this happen to you!

Off the Needles:

  • 1898 Hat (more on this in a later post)

  • River Rush Slouch Hat


On the Needles (and actively being worked on):

  • Arbor Cowlyoke (about 8.5 inches into the 9 inch cowl section)

  • 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)

bottom of page