Friday, October 28, 2016

Erna Jansons' Books on Latvian Mitten Designs and Latvian Textiles

Ordering information for Erna Jansons' books Latvian Mitten Designs and Latvian Style Wall Hangings and Pillow Designs can be found below.

Erna is a 96-year-old Latvian woman with a lot to share. I wrote about her in a prior blog post here.

Her first book, Latvian Mitten Designs (Latviešu cimdu raksti), was published when Erna was 85 years old. 100 original hand-painted mitten designs are featured along with some Latvian history and instructions on how to properly size a Latvian mitten. All photos are in full color for ease of color charting. This book is an inspiration for anyone in love with the brilliantly-colored patterns found in Latvian mittens. Specific knitting technique instructions are not included.

Her latest book, Latvian Style Wall Hangings and Pillow Designs (Sienas segu un spilvenu meti latviskā stilā) was published just this year. 73 beautiful hand-painted designs are featured along with some biographical information about Erna and historical information about traditional Latvian wall hangings. These designs are intended for use with weaving or embroidery techniques but would also be great for rug hooking and other textile arts. Traditional Latvian motifs and colors are used by Erna in her unique and beautiful style.


The books are written in both English and Latvian and showcase her unique hand-painted designs. The price for each book is $60 which includes shipping within the USA only. Limited edition copies are signed by the author.

Contact mgermain55[at]gmail[dot]com to order (a PayPal invoice will be issued) or for international shipping prices or with any other questions. Please include your mailing address with your inquiry. Please note that WI Sales tax will be added if the package is shipped to WI.

Alternatively, you can purchase Erna Jansons' books from my Etsy Site.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Knitting Up a Storm!

Precisely at 4:30 pm on Saturday, September 10, 2016, the scheduled time for the third annual Walk & Knit Event at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival, the winds picked up and rain started pouring down. But rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of participants or spectators, nor could it stop the Walk & Knit event from happening. We grabbed our knitting bags and went into a nearby building for a short 5-10 minute delay before heading back outside to begin the race.

So many prizes had been donated to be distributed among the top three winning teams. The bags of prizes were popped into a nearby Subaru and kept dry during the brief downpour. Disaster averted.

Eight teams with a total of 31 people participated in this year’s Walk & Knit, trying to walk (or run or skip) as fast as possible while still knitting as many stitches as they could without making mistakes like dropped stitches. 

The Starting Line: Get Ready, Get Set, Knit!

Fifteen volunteers made the event possible by registering teams, organizing the start line, working the time clocks, recording times, photographing the event, judging the knitting, and counting the stitches. Sixty-five spectators (as tabulated by our volunteer accountant) gathered to cheer on their favorite teams. Thanks to all who came for making this a fun and worthwhile event, raising money to support youth activities related to wool.

The winning team was the returning championship team from 2014, Fox Valley Spinning Guild, headed by Ann Krieg and including Tracy Pokrzywa, Brian Howard, and Annie Modesitt.

The (Very Excited) Winning Team

The Madison Knitting Guild provided volunteers and also put together the second place team of: Susan DuCharme, Nicole DuCharme, and Mary Kaiser.

Madison Knitting Guild Members: Second Place Team and Volunteers

The third place team, “By the Shore,” was anchored by Paula Prim, Debbie Lloyd, Emily Roman, and Kendra Ford.

"By the Shore" Team Members, just before the storm hit

All teams safely crossed the finish line, due in part to our compliance with OSHA regulations mandating the use of circular knitting needles rather than double pointed needles when walking while knitting. ;)

You can find out more about prior Walk & Knit events in my previous blog posts herehere, and here.

Monday, August 8, 2016

On the Russian Front

From Viljandi, we drove east towards Lake Peipsi, a very large lake on the border between Estonia and Russia. We stopped in Kolkja, located on "the Onion Road" and happened upon the Old Believers' Museum. We were the only visitors on a Sunday morning and our young guide provided a wonderful tour in English. Their website (Old Believers Museum website) states that you should call well in advance to arrange an English tour. We were just lucky!

We learned that the Old Believers are Russians whose ancestors left their country when the Russian Orthodox Church started practicing new ways about 300 years ago. The Old Believers wanted to keep practicing their religion as they always had, in the old way. As far as the onions, they are a traditional crop for these people and we saw people out tending their fields. Fish and onions are a staple of their diet but they also sell the onions in larger nearby towns.

I had gotten recommendations from Signe, an Estonian friend, for places to visit as we traveled through Eastern Estonia. We made many stops along the way as we traveled north, visiting an old cemetery in Kallaste for a beautiful view out over Lake Peipsi, a handicraft shop in Avinurme that featured lovely and functional wooden items, and an Orthodox convent in Kuremäe. The convent and grounds were enchanting and Kuremäe was definitely a highlight.

Kallaste cemetery

Kuremäe Convent and Grounds

Just a river separates Russia from the northern Estonian city of Narva, our final overnight stop before arriving in Tallinn. We saw cars and trucks waiting in line to be checked at the border and cross over the bridge into Russia. Signe had told me that "even for us Estonians, it's like a different world. Exotic!" She was right. There were menus in Estonian and Russian, many other signs in Russian, and many voices speaking Russian. But we were still in Estonia!

Here's looking at you, Russia

Thank You and Farewell, Tallinn . . . Until Next Time

Our trip finished in Tallinn where we saw the sights, bought some yarn and books, and met with friends. Although I had shopped for yarn a little along the way, I knew that I also had a package waiting for me in Tallinn. I had been waiting patiently for the new Estonian Knitting book by Anu Pink, Siiri Reimann, and Kristi Jõeste to be published by Saara Publishing in English. As it turned out, ordering information for this book became available while I was traveling. Saara Publishing also sells HEA wool yarns in a variety of weights that are good for traditional mitten knitting and shawl knitting. I knew I wanted to try some of these yarns so I put together an order for the book and some yarns and had them shipped to an Estonian friend rather than having the heavy package shipped to the US. The cost of shipping to the US is very expensive. As long as my luggage didn't get too heavy, this was a good solution. Fortunately, I stayed below luggage weight limits for my trip home! Thank you, Signe, for delivering my package to me in Tallinn!

Signe's delivery service

We visited the Estonian Handicraft House at Pikk 22 to view a special Latvian textile exhibit, check out the shop, and visit Riina Tomberg's Workshop in the lower level. I had no idea that Riina would actually be onsite that day, so I was pleasantly surprised to find her in the shop and happy to have a little reunion with her. Riina is an author and teacher of Estonian knitting and handicraft. Her knitwear is beautiful and I own one cardigan of hers that I bought on my first trip to Estonia. While we were chatting, my husband was lamenting that fact that I have not knit a sweater for him in a long time (you might say it's a case of "the shoemaker's children always go barefoot" syndrome). Riina thought that he was lucky to have as many handknit sweaters as he does, so she did not sympathize with him. Fortunately, Chris found a beautiful Riina Tomberg Design sweater that fit him perfectly, so he is now happy with his newest pullover and I am free to knit mittens, shawls, or sweaters as I choose, rather than "on demand." Thank you, Riina, for the wonderful selection of sweaters that you have in your shop!

Riina Tomberg in her Workshop

We planned a visit with Mari, one of my Estonian Craft Camp instructors. Although she teaches near Viljandi, we met near her home in Tallinn and took a walk that included Kadriorg Park and the Song Festival Grounds (Lauluväljak). We stopped at the statue of Estonian composer, Gustav Ernesaks, for some photos. Thank you, Mari, for teaching me to make plaited ribbons, Estonian-style!

A Mari, Mary, and Gustav composition

On our last full day in Tallinn, we met Monika for lunch at Kaerajaan restaurant on the Town Hall Square. Monika made sure that we checked out one of the unique features of architecture in this restaurant. All I'm going to say is that you should go to the second floor to use the toilet. During lunch, I mentioned that I was looking for Käsitöösalong Hiiupits, a particular shop featuring handicrafts based on Hiiumaa island traditions. Coincidentally, Monika's friend owns the shop, so we stopped together for a look after lunch. Thank you, Monika, for your knowledge of all places Estonian!


To round out the trip, we visited the Tallinn TV Tower (Teletorn), which has been important in Estonian history as the terminus of the Baltic Way. The Baltic Way was an event that took place in 1989, with approximately 2 million people joining together hand-in-hand from Vilnius through Riga to Tallinn to show their solidarity in the pursuit of independence. I had begun this trip in Lithuania and had visited the other terminus of the Baltic Way, Gediminas' Tower in Vilnius (see my prior blog post about the Baltic Way here) so it was fitting that we should end our trip here.

Trees, Bays, and Bogs

Our drive from Narva in northeast Estonia to Tallinn included a stop in the town of Rakvere. I'd seen Rakvere in the news as they are becoming well known for their distinctive Christmas tree displays, claiming a spot on Huffington Post's list of "The Most Over-The-Top Christmas Trees of 2014." You can see all 14 Christmas trees from 2014 here including Rakvere's tree made of recycled wood that stood over 33 feet (10 meters) high. In 2015, a tree made of recycled windows and standing 12 meters high (39 feet) was erected in Rakvere's town square. I read about the 2015 tree on Estonian World's blog here. Well, it wasn't December, but we checked out this little town with a big town square, and imagined what it would be like at Christmastime.

Next stop? We couldn't miss a stop in one of Estonia's National Parks. Lahemaa National Park is on the north coast and we took a nice hike near Altja, a formerly thriving fishing village. The hike included a walk along the beach, over a small suspension bridge, and views of some large erratic boulders, old wooden buildings along the shoreline, and some interesting wooden fences. We may have gotten just a little lost, but we did eventually found our way back to the car.

Our second hike of the day was a bog walk near Kolga. Viru Bog is known as the most accessible bog in Estonia. It is located about an hour from Tallinn. At the beginning, the bog's boardwalk is actually wheelchair accessible. This wider boardwalk will take you to a lookout tower but from there, the boardwalk narrows down considerably.

An Artist in the Making

After Riga, it was time to leave the city for the countryside. My husband, Chris, and I rented a car so that we could travel at our leisure, making our way slowly from Riga to Tallinn. We headed first to Gauja National Park in Northeast Latvia. This area is known as the Switzerland of Latvia, but the landscape is more like rolling hills than mountains. In a land where the highest elevation is Gaizinkalns at 312 meters (1,024 feet) above sea level, everything is relative. Switzerland or not, this is a beautiful area for sightseeing and hiking. The town of Sigulda is the gateway to Gauja National Park and we stopped briefly to explore. From Sigulda, there's a view across the Gauja river valley to Turaida Castle.

Our hike in the park included a stop at Gutman's Cave, a grotto containing carved inscriptions (also known as graffiti) from as early as 1668. Unfortunately, newer carvings have eradicated some of the earlier carvings. Now, it is no longer permitted to write on the cave walls.

We stayed at a lovely country hotel that I found on Trip Advisor - Kārlamuiža. The quiet country setting was relaxing and, in the fading evening light, we were able to watch storks in a nest just outside the window. The nearby town of Cēsis was our destination for dinner and we found an interesting restaurant in a converted fire house - Izsalkušais Jānis. Lettering on the glass doors of the restaurant read "rustic blend, hemp, forestfood, dill, goosebumps, no chef, seasons, nordic," as well as other words in Latvian. We had a delicious meal there.

On our way north to Viljandi in Estonia, we traveled through the border towns of Valka, Latvia and Valga, Estonia. Viljandi is a favorite stop for me especially because I'm able to visit friends that I've made on previous trips. This town houses the University of Tartu's Culture Academy and because of this, a very good selection of handknitted mittens and socks can be found at Viljandi Käsitöökoda, a local yarn shop at Lossi 14. I picked up a great pair of mittens that was knit at 13 stitches to the inch and I was told by the shop owner that the traditional design of these mittens is from the nearby town of Pilistvere.

One evening we were invited to dinner at a friend's new home in an old schoolhouse outside of Viljandi. On our way to dinner, we stopped at our hostess's pottery studio, Mulgi Savikoda, where classes are taught and distinctive pottery is sold.

I found that clay is not as forgiving as knitting. With one-on-one instruction from Külli, our hostess, I started throwing a pot on a wheel. It didn't take me too long to put my thumb through the side of my pot and "splat" it went! Then Chris sat down at the wheel and in spite of his Adrian Monk tendencies (see TV show starring Tony Shalhoub) and his aversion to having dirty hands, he got right into the wet clay and produced his first piece of pottery. An artist is born!

Then it was on to the old schoolhouse that's being converted into a home, a walk in the neighborhood, a fabulous dinner, and interesting conversation. Special thanks to Rauno and Getter who befriended me on my trip in 2013 and have since introduced me to their families (see prior blog posts here and here).

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Sweet Time in Riga

The day Mitten Camp ended, my husband Chris arrived on Latvian soil for the first time. I hopped the bus from the city center and went to the Riga International Airport (RIX) to meet him and bring him "home" to our hotel, Radi un draugi (the name translates as Friends and Family). My Latvian weaving friend, Vita, had recommended this hotel to me in 2005 and since then I've stayed here any time I've had the opportunity to visit Riga. It's a comfortable place to stay even if I happen to be traveling solo.

View of St. Peter's Church from my quiet room at Radi un draugi

One of the first places I wanted to visit in Riga was a little handicraft and gift shop located just a short distance from our hotel. Latvju Lietas at Audeju iela 6 is owned by the very friendly and talented Ieva. I had read about her shop on a Ravelry forum and although I had never communicated with her, I felt that we had a connection. When we stopped in the shop I found the connection that I was looking for -- a mitten-shaped purse or tote bag that Ieva had designed and knit. I had pinned a photo of her bag from an Etsy listing over 2 years ago on Pinterest. The bag turned out to be the inspiration for me and a number of others in the Knit Like a Latvian group on Ravelry when we did a Maxi Mitten KAL (KnitALong) in the autumn of 2015. I introduced myself to Ieva, told her about the Ravelry KnitALong, and showed her a photo of me with my mitten bag; I had styled the photo just like her original photo. Well, I didn't need to buy a mitten bag since I already own one but I did find some nice Latvian-design coasters, postcards, earrings, and a beautiful wooden butter knife at Ieva's shop.

Ieva and the infamous mitten bag

My version of the mitten bag

In February I contacted the National History Museum of Latvia about a visit to the stacks (or as they say, the funds) to study some of their mittens and socks. I had studied knitwear at the museum before when it was located at the castle, but things have changed a little since a fire at the castle a few years ago. Good news! Nothing in the museum was damaged, but everything had to be moved out so that restoration work could be done on the building. Ilze was my museum email contact and she helped me with the logistics of selecting items and with the formal request that I needed to write to the director of the museum asking for permission to study items from the funds for my own personal education. My request was granted and we made plans to meet at the building that currently houses the funds (items in storage). I was able to chart and photograph a number of items but the photos are for my personal use and I cannot share any of them here - sorry! Following my research time, we walked with Ilze to the museum's current location and she provided us with an in-depth, personal tour of the museum. It was an educational and interesting day!

Ilze from the Department of Museum Pedagogy and Exhibitions

Mara is a knitting friend of mine who lives in Riga. I met her just two years ago (see my prior blog post here) but her life has changed a bit since then. She is not knitting quite so much these days; her twin babies were born in August, 2015! However, we were still able to meet for a walk one afternoon with the babies in their double-wide baby pram. 

We were also invited to join Mara, her husband, and the babies for a picnic on May 4th, a national holiday. We met near the Latvian National Museum of Art where there was a grand reopening following restoration and reconstruction, and admission was free for the day. That meant there was a tremendously long queue, so we skipped the museum and had our picnic instead. Art will have to wait.

Mara made individual servings of a very interesting Latvian dessert - Rupjmaizes kārtojums. I had previously seen this dessert listed on a restaurant menu and thought that rye bread as an ingredient in a dessert sounded rather strange, so I hadn't ordered it. Well, we had our chance to try it - rye bread crumbs, cream, and berries. Unusual but delicious! I can now recommend it.

My husband and I enjoying our dessert
Photo courtesy of Mara