Friday, 31 May 2013

Knitting in Iceland

The Handknitting Association of Iceland
Rainbow-coloured unspun wool for sale at the Handknitting Association

I've just (reluctantly) returned from my favourite place in the world – the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, a paradise of beautiful friendly people, hot spring baths, smoked salmon breakfasts and midnight sun (not to mention delicious cocktails and homemade gin).

The Handknitting Association of Iceland
A pile of lopi sweaters, handknitted by Icelandic sheep. Or something

Icelanders just sort of seem to have their priorities right and, as you might expect in a country where cosy woollen clothing is a year-round necessity, and to describe the winters as long, dark and cold is an huge understatement, knitting is BIG here. 

The Handknitting Association of Iceland
The doorway to a knitter's paradise

Tucked up a side road off Laugavegur, the sweet main shopping street, on the way to the cathedral is The Handknitting Association of Iceland shop. Step through its humdrum front door, head to the back room and you'll be dazzled by floor-to-ceiling shelves stuffed with characteristic Icelandic lopi sweaters, each one a unique colour, pattern and size. Fashioned from Icelandic sheep wool by local women (and men?), it seems everyone in the country owns at least one of these super-warm circular-yoked sweaters – and what better place to buy one?

National Museum of Iceland
Mitten display at the National Museum of Iceland

The next day we paid a visit to the National Museum of Iceland. Partway through finding out all about the country's history and after marvelling at the rest room with an inviting single bed you can have a quick lie down on if you feel fatigued looking at the exhibits, we stumbled upon an area devoted to knitting. It was small and mainly consisted of colourful mittens displayed in a cute 'holding hands' arrangement. 

National Museum of Iceland
Hands up who loves these two beautiful pairs of embroidered rose mittens

Thence to the museum shop. I was so very tempted to buy these beautiful embroidered rose mittens but they cost 9500 ISK (£50) and, as I already have Icelandic mittens from my last trip, I made do with a photo – alongside a 'Happy summer' postcard, which I also regret not buying!

I have so much to learn about Icelandic textiles and I'd particularly like to find out more about the saumaklúbbur, or sewing clubs, that I've heard all Icelandic women belong to. If anyone knows anything about these, I'd love to hear it in the comments!

Bæ bæ Reykjavik, til next time!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

School library scoop

I thought my eyes were deceiving me when I happened upon a massive collection of 60s, 70s, 80s (and one 30s) craft books in my local bric-a-brac market yesterday. All from a school library in East Dulwich in south east London – and at £1 a pop, I bought as many as I could carry.

Sadly, for reasons of shelf space, I had to leave behind titles on macramé, plaiting, braiding, soft toy making and other skillz just a little out of the scope of my interests, but this little lot will keep me going for a while. Watch this space for some of the highlights.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Gay flowers

 stitchcraft magazine 1934
'Gay flowers on a trellis-work background' (detail)

I was delighted when my colleague and neighbour* gave me this copy of Stitchcraft magazine, published in September 1934. It's hard to believe it's nearly 80 years old, especially as the iron-on embroidery transfer is still folded up inside, in pristine condition.

stitchcraft cover September 1934
Autumn modes

Several colourways are suggested for the Gay flowers design, but I'm ever so taken with these bright blooms on black linen, reminiscent of a design by Celia Birtwell.

The Stitchcraft people propose making your finished piece of embroidery into a cushion and runner set, a dressing table set or even a Radio Times or telephone directory cover (it says you need to make two phone book covers if you live in the London area – back in 1934 was there one directory for north London and another for south, or perhaps one for inner and one for outer London?)

stitchcraft transfer
Iron-on transfer, free with Stitchcraft, September 1934

The clever thing about the design of the transfer is that you can use sections, separated along the lines of the trellis, depending on the size of your project. I adore the flower with the sunray (/eyelashes) in its centre.

stitchcraft transfer detail
The 80-year-old transfer (detail)

I'm desperate to put this truly vintage transfer to use soon, but it seems such a shame not to keep it. Think I'd better trace it instead!

 *(thanks Cleo!)