Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Meet-ups in Estonia and Latvia

Besides my more extended visits this year with Signe, Solvita, Külli, and the knitters on the Handicraft Tour to Setoland, I also had a chance to see other friends in Estonia and Latvia.

Kaidi is a young Estonian woman who was on the Knit in Kurzeme trip last year. A group of us met Kaidi for dinner at Moon Restaurant in Tallinn. In Estonian, Moon means Poppy. Moon Restaurant has "modern Russian food with great passion!" We had an entire room with a large table for our group of eight and enjoyed a variety of dishes including pirohzhki and borsch soup.

Reunion of five knitters from 2018 Knit in Kurzeme retreat
Patricia, Rebecca, Dayna, me, and Kaidi

Mari Pukk was one of my Estonian instructors for finger-woven flat braids or plaited ribbons when I attended Estonian Craft Camp in 2014. We met and walked to Faehlmanni Kohvik (cafe) for a light meal. My chicken curry soup was outstanding and very filling. However, Mari told me about the onsite baker and we couldn't pass up the eclair, filled with cream and cherries, that was just as good as the soup. Mari has been working on her dissertation - producing reproductions of historical cotton fabrics from the island of Kihnu. Original fabrics from the Kihnu Museum were used as the basis, but Mari had to extrapolate and interpolate missing bits to complete the designs. And then there was the matter of color. Well done, Mari!

Photo courtesy of Mari Pukk

I met Rauno, a young Estonian man, when he worked at the Viljandi Tourist Information Center in 2013 and have seen him each time I've returned since then - whether he's living in Viljandi or Tartu. My history with Rauno has been documented here in 2014, here in 2016, and here in 2018. On this trip, I thought that I would not have time nor opportunity to meet up with him and was disappointed. However, as the bus for the Handicraft Tour to Setoland rolled through Tartu on our way from Tallinn to Seto, I messaged Rauno to say hi. He offered to make the drive to Seto for a meet-up and I found a free evening, so our plans were made. He arrived just after dinner and I showed him around the Värska Spa (Värska Sanatoorium) grounds where our group was staying and then we had a drive to explore the surrounding area a bit. Thanks, Rauno, for taking the time and making the effort to get together. It was a delight!

A Japanese woman named Ai (pronounced I) was also on the 2018 Knit in Kurzeme trip. She spent months in Latvia last year and I had heard that she was back in Latvia again. At a bus stop on my second day in Riga, I saw the back of a young woman with dark hair. She had a backpack with miniature Latvian mittens hanging from it. I leaned forward to look at her face and it was Ai! So excited to see her on our way to the annual craft market!

Before my travels to Estonia in 2013, I had found a blog written by CarlaM, one of The Dutch Knitters ( I enjoyed reading about her knitting travels in Estonia and found her blog to be helpful and informative. I then met Carla in 2013 at the Conference on Traditional Knitted Sweaters Around the Baltic Sea. We've been friends ever since. We were both in Riga at the same time this year, having each just finished with different knitting-related tours, so we made plans to meet one evening. Carla was traveling with her friend, Titia, and the three of us met for drinks and dinner.

Carla, Titia, and me

Mara, a Latvian knitting friend who has twin toddlers and whose knitting time is now a bit more limited, was able to meet me on a Saturday morning and we decided to go to the Kalnciema Quarter Farmer's Market. It's a bus ride from the Old Town and a bit upscale for a farmer's market, but there was live music and we enjoyed walking, talking, eating, and shopping.

Mara shopping for a new hat

Well in advance of this trip, I had arranged for a half-day knitting class with Baiba Pilāne in Riga. I originally met Baiba in Strazde, Latvia on an earlier knitting trip. She offered to teach a class on "knitted ribbon cuffs" which are cuffs that are knit flat, rather than in the round, and sideways, which is not the usual direction. Eight knitters, including Ravelry friends, learned about these unique Latvian ribbon cuffs at the Craft House of Riga Culture Center "Ilguciems." In addition to the class, we also had a sneak peek at mittens that would be in an exhibit opening the following weekend.

Studious and diligent in the classroom

Baiba and me with mittens from the exhibit

I was lucky enough to be invited to join Ansis Grasmanis and his wife, Monta, for a small dance festival taking place in the town of Ikškile on a Saturday. Ansis works at Senā Klēts, the National Costume Center of Latvia, and is the son of Maruta Grasmane, author of the fabulous Mittens of Latvia book and owner of Senā Klēts. Compared to the Song and Dance Festival that happens every five years in Latvia, this dance festival was small, but so much bigger than I expected.

Look at all those performers on stage at once!

It was a very hot day and Monta picked me up in Riga for the half hour drive to Ikškile. Jeannie from Colorado (known as soxnsox on Ravelry and one of the moderators of the Knit Like a Latvian group) was also part of our entourage along with Ansis' and Monta's daughters. There were vendors selling food and handicrafts, incredible decorative displays of cheese, street dance performances on stages, and an interesting cheese power-lifting competition. In the evening, we went to a larger outdoor stage area for the folk dance performance. The dance performances were wonderful and we watched especially for Ansis who was performing with one of the dance groups.

Cheese power-lifting competitor,
photo from Siera Klubs Facebook page

Ansis in folk dance costume

Linda Rubena, organizer of the 2016 Knitting Retreat in Strazde, was available to meet on my last evening. We met and walked to her office at the Latvian National Cultural Center where I saw samples from a recent dye workshop that she attended as well as the amazing library of textile reference books in her office. I now have her latest book, South Kurzeme Knitted Jackets. Then it was off through the park to Herbārijs, a fairly new cafe on the rooftop terrace of Galleria Riga, a seven-story shopping mall in the city center. A light but delicious dinner was perfect for my last night.

Linda trying to blend in with the greenery

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Knitting Sojourn with Solvita in Ventspils, Latvia

When planning my trip to the Baltics for this year, I considered some possibilities for a three or four day side trip from Riga. I thought of some locations that I have not yet visited: St Petersburg in Russia, Warsaw in Poland, Kaunas in Lithuania, and Kaliningrad, an exclave of Russia (exclave is not a term that we use often but it refers to a "portion of territory of one state completely surrounded by territory of another" - Kaliningrad is part of Russia but is located on the Baltic Sea and bordered by Poland and Lithuania, and is not connected to any other portion of Russia). Instead, I decided to stay closer to "home" and have a sojourn within Latvia.

Ventspils is the sixth largest city in Latvia, a port city on the Baltic Sea, and known for its cow statues decorated by local artists. It is also home to Solvita Zarupska, a knitting instructor and master knitter whom I met in 2018 when I attended the Knitting Retreat in Kurzeme. Solvita was one of the Latvian instructors who taught her beaded knitting class in English, without assistance from a translator. We are friends on Facebook and I thought it might be nice to visit her while in Ventspils. When I contacted Solvita, she was excited to have me come to her city and she offered to show me around. As it turned out, we had two and a half days together and she was a wonderful hostess in her hometown. She is known as Solvitas Rozes and you can find her website here:

Solvita, stopping to smell the peonies

I chose an Airbnb apartment with a bicycle (lock and helmet included). Since I'm a daily bike rider back home, I thought it would be the perfect way to get around town. This also worked out great with Solvita who uses a bike for transportation. What I didn't count on was a very short bike (I am rather tall) with just one extremely low gear; what we call a "granny gear." A granny gear is great if you need to bike up a very steep hill, but on other terrain, you end up pedaling like mad and going nowhere fast.

After our first evening of biking around the sights of Ventspils, Solvita and I both decided that this bike was not suited to our next day's destination, a lake eight kilometers away. She offered me the use of her son's bike. It turned out to be a very nice mountain bike with a big range of gears, disc brakes, and an adjustable-height bike seat. It was almost perfect. However, her son is perfectly happy with a very narrow, very hard bike seat, unlike my comfort saddle at home. Also, the bike was equipped with clipless pedals which require a shoe with a special cleat. Therefore, my Keen sandals weren't resting on flat pedals, but rather on little rounded knobs. So, there were still a few challenges.

Biking to visit Ventspils' cows

I managed to ride to and from Būšnieku Lake, an inland lake, where we spent the entire day sitting at a picnic table knitting away and enjoying glorious weather. On our way to the lake, we stopped near Staldzene, an old fishing village on the Baltic Sea, with an iconic tree as its symbol. We had a picnic breakfast under the iconic tree whose fate has now been determined by erosion.

Earlier photo of Staldzene tree from

Picnic under Staldzene's famous tree,
no longer standing upright

Solvita and me knitting near Būšnieku Lake

I was happy to leave the bikes at rest on the third day. We took a bus to Kuldiga and walked around this charming town that I had visited briefly last year. In Kuldiga, there is the Ventas rumba (Europe's widest waterfall) and a picturesque bridge over the Venta river.

Me standing at the top of the low, wide waterfall

Solvita and Kuldiga's picturesque bridge

On our walk to these sights, we just happened upon the Čaupe knitting group. They were knitting together outside a museum and waiting for a TV crew to show up to film a segment on "Knit in Public Day" that was coming up on Saturday, June 8.

The TV reporter interviewed members of the knitting group as well as Solvita. During the interview, Solvita mentioned that I was a knitter from America and then the camera was on me. I got a few seconds of fame on the morning program called "900 sekundes" on LNT (Latvian National TV). I found the segment online and there I was, "Mērija Džermaine, knitter from USA."

The knitters had a display of knitted items available to view. I was intrigued by the series that members of the group knit using a traditional motif from the region.

Love the repetition and variety!

After our TV interlude and our river sightseeing, we found a gazebo in a park and continued with our knitting.

During the course of our two day mini knitting retreat, I'm sure I knit at least a dozen swatches of new stitch patterns and techniques. Thank you so much, Solvita!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Riga: Sometimes What's Old is Also New

After May's Handicraft Tour of Setoland in Estonia, I returned to Latvia's capital, Riga, just in time for the annual craft market, or Gadatirgus. The Gadatirgus always happens on the first weekend of June. Hundreds of vendors come to the grounds of the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia, where OLD buildings have been brought together from all over Latvia. The pathways through the woods of the museum grounds are lined with vendors selling their NEW handicraft wares, books, and food. You will find many music and dance performers as well as vendors dressed in traditional national costumes, blending the OLD and the NEW.

Food vendors

Performers stopping to pose in the crowd

Mittens galore!

Woven belts lined up for sale

OLD and NEW Ravelry (knitting) friends had a meet-up at the Gadatirgus on Saturday:

Photo courtesy of Lizzy who is behind the camera

Riga is known for its OLD Town and its Art Nouveau (literally, NEW Art, but also referred to as Jugendstil) buildings, most of which are located in the city center, just outside the Old Town. The largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in the world is located in Riga! I had toured the area of Riga known for its Art Nouveau buildings on other trips, but this time I also went on a free "yellow suitcase" Art Nouveau Walking Tour with guide Kaspars, whose background was in architecture. He was an entertaining and knowledgeable guide. In fact, my friends and I had already had him as a guide on an Old Town walking tour just the day before. He probably thought we were stalking him!

I also got a chance to visit the Art Nouveau Museum, which I had missed in the past. Be aware that most museums are closed on Mondays in Latvia. I made a point to get to the museum on a Sunday morning. When I arrived, with the help of a Translate app, I read a poster that indicated it was actually World Art Nouveau Day and that there was special pricing for admission to the museum. Unfortunately, that meant that the museum was busier than normal. However, it was not too bad and I was able to see everything I wanted to see and use some of the interactive screens to learn more about Art Nouveau. The very first Art Nouveau building in Riga was built in 1899. However, most of Riga's Art Nouveau buildings date between 1904 and 1914.

Looking up at the incredible spiral staircase
located in the Art Nouveau Museum

The Laima Chocolate Museum also warranted a visit. This OLD chocolate company began in 1870 as Rigerts, and after being unified in 1937 with a number of other confectioners, it was given the name of the most well-known company, Laima. The museum opened in 2013 and was NEW to me this year. I learned about the history of the company, the production process, and the benefits of chocolate: sharp mind, happiness, strong bones, energy, healthy skin, and improvement of metabolism and blood circulation. Well, they didn't need to sell me on the benefits of chocolate, but it was interesting material. My entrance into the museum provided me with a sample cup of dark hot chocolate and a discount card for the factory store. Not surprisingly, I brought some Laima chocolate home with me! There were many natural photo opportunities, and although I was viewing the museum displays by myself, I had some fun at the self-photo exhibit area.

Me at a much younger age

Me as the master confectioner

While in Riga, I returned to the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design. There was a NEW, temporary exhibit of works by Magdalena Abakanowicz as well as the OLDer permanent exhibit of historical decorative arts, which had changed since I last saw it.

Work by Magdalena Abakanowicz

A beautiful tapestry rug
in the permanent exhibit

Folk Dance, 1979, tapestry by Dzintra Vilks

I also made a repeat visit to the Central Market in Riga. These five OLD hangar-style buildings house a variety of products, and I found that they have updated one of the buildings to include a NEW food court. Throughout the various buildings and the surrounding outdoor space, you can find pork, fish, bakery, dairy products, fresh produce, salads of all sorts, and so much more. I found the best lunch of fresh-baked, stuffed naan at Registan.

Food court at the Central Market

Fish display

Colorful salads and pickles

Got Pork?

Naan and the wood-fired ovens at Registan

It was great to be back in Riga again, exploring the OLD and the NEW!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Classes, Sightseeing, and Cultural Experiences of the Handicraft Tour of Setoland

This is my second post about the Handicraft Tour of Setoland in Estonia that happened in May 2019. You can find my first post about the tour here.

The organizer of the Handicraft Tour of Setoland is Külli Jacobson of Nordic Knitters/Estonian Mittens/Kagu Kudujad. Külli organized an absolutely fabulous trip. Our handicraft classes included four half-day knitting classes and three classes on other traditional Seto handicrafts. Külli was one of our knitting instructors (intarsia in the round) and she was also our translator. We had a class with Marje Linnus on square-stitch embroidery, which is traditionally done with red thread on white fabric and is used to decorate traditional blouses, aprons, and "head-towels."

Marje and Külli showing square-stitch embroidery

Another class was with Jane (pronounced Yanneh) Vabarna on Seto Colored Crochet, which is also used to embellish blouses. In addition, Jane's mother, Maret Vabarna, taught a class on tablet (or card) weaving, where we worked in teams to create belts.

Contemporary example of Seto colorful crochet
by Master Craftswoman Ulve Kangro

Tablet weaving teamwork

One day, the location of our classes was an enclosed garden room in a charming building. Between our morning and afternoon class, lunch was served here and included the BEST homemade strawberry ice cream with tiny new-growth edible spruce needles that had been dipped in chocolate. Who knew pine needles could be soft and delicious?

A view of our garden classroom from the outside

We visited Sigre Andreson, one of our instructors, at her home which is a restored fortress-farm. Sigre taught three knitting classes. The topics were: traveling stitches, a colorful braided cast-on and other braids, and a Seto men's stocking sample with an interesting edge treatment and some three-color-per-round knitting. We had the added challenge of working those three colors per round while using the intarsia in the round technique from an earlier class with Külli.

My samples from our four knitting classes

We had a day where we toured around Setoland. Our first stop was a handmade soap shop (some soaps made with bog water, turf, Värska lake mud, and crushed cranberry seeds). Next we went to the village of Laossina, where we visited a chapel (tsäassona) in a cemetery and also got a demonstration of traditional dyed egg rolling (picture an egg on a bobsled track). From there we drove to Lüübnitsa to climb a tower for a better view of Russia across the lake. We ended our trip in Räpina, at a shop called Meistrite Maja (master's house), to see Ulve Kangro's master crochet work. It was a full day that included a stop for a delicious family-style lunch. The menu was a hot potato dish with barley and bacon topped with cold creamy soup, rye bread, and two desserts - rhubarb cake and kama. Kama is a mixture of roasted barley, rye, oat, and pea flour prepared with kefir or sour milk. It sounds odd, but it was so delicious that I bought a bag of kama powder at the grocery store to bring home and try making it myself.

One additional stop on our day of touring, was the Värska Farm Museum, which included a special visit to view its textiles in storage - a knitters' paradise. Our guide described the older traditional white Seto national costume and showed the extremely long blouse sleeves. She said "there are only two types of people who wear sleeves like these - Seto women and those in straitjackets!"

Between classes one day, we drove to the Saatse museum where we had a museum tour and a photo with an Estonian border post. No photos are allowed at actual Estonian-Russian border posts for security reasons. This real Estonian border post has been positioned a short distance from the border specifically for photo-ops.

There was a shopping opportunity one evening at Külli's home. Her workshop in Räpina was being remodeled and therefore all of her mittens, gloves, and hand-dyed yarn were at her house. Our bus driver agreed to drive us to her home and wait patiently as we looked over our options and made our decisions. There were at least four suitcases full of mittens and gloves, some of which were spread out on tables. Hand-dyed yarn covered Külli's bed and much of the bedroom floor.

A bed full of yarn

One of the suitcases full of mittens

One of our lunches was at a restaurant called Iti Leeväküük. Iti, the restaurant's owner, is a colorful character who is especially passionate about sourdough bread. Wow, that woman can bake! Her wooden sourdough barrel had been handed down from her grandmother. After a lunch of soup and sourdough rye bread, our dessert was another fabulous rhubarb cake, this time made with quark.

Baker Iti with her sourdough barrel

On our final night, we went to Obinitsa (where I had been once before on a field trip from Estonian Craft Camp). We met with Kauksi Ülle, the ethno-futuristic thinker and poet whose photo we had seen earlier in Tallinn (blog post here). We perused the craft shop that was located in an old Soviet sauna building and the art gallery nearby.

A special gala dinner was followed by Seto leelo polyphonic singing performed by a group of seven singers (one was the chef of our dinner and the other six were in traditional costume). Kauksi Ülle was one of the singers; you can see her on the far left in the photo below. An accordion player joined in, dancing ensued, and the current King of the Seto people arrived and shared with everyone present what appeared to be moonshine, drunk from a small communal cup. This was a very unique experience with a lot of laughter involved, especially when those of us with less skill tried dancing.

Click below for a short sample of Seto leelo singing

If you are interested in participating in this handicraft tour, see my prior post regarding details on how to sign up for the next tour which will take place Tuesday July 30 to Sunday August 4, 2019. The July-August tour will include a festival on Seto Kingdom Day, Saturday August 3. It is bound to be wonderful!