Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Do you Know Sheep?

I spent a few days on the islands of Muhu and Saaremaa.  My home base was the town of Kuressaare.  I arrived on a Sunday which is a pretty quiet day during the month of May.  However, I went exploring and I found KnowSheep based on a friend's recommendation. 

The facility is officially named The KnowSheep Sheep Resource Centre and it is operated by the Saaremaa Wool Association with a project grant through the Central Baltic Interreg Programme.

The door was open (at least ajar) and I heard voices, so I walked in.  It turned out they were not actually open, but I had a nice, long chat with Alar Allas, who is a dedicated volunteer for this nonprofit organization which is promoting sheep farming on the Estonian and Finnish islands in the Baltic sea.  Alar is Canadian-Estonian and we chatted on for some time and found that we had a connection from my prior trip to Estonia in 2005 when my friend, Sandy, and I met Gilleke who, at the time, was focused on preserving the native Estonian sheep.  It turns out that Gilleke was instrumental in spurring the formation of the Saaremaa Wool Association. 

I keep hearing that it's a small world in Estonia.  Rather than 6 degrees of separation, Alar told me that there's probably only 1 or 2 degrees of separation.

Here's Gilleke in Tallinn in 2005:

I recommend that you get to know sheep at

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Inspired Journey

In mid-January, I booked my flight, signed up for the sweater conference, and ordered some Estonian knitting books including Ornamented Journey by Kristi Jõeste and Kristiina Ehin.  Kristi is a talented knitter who is currently focused on knitting gloves (and mittens) using traditional Estonian techniques and patterns.  I happen to be a mitten knitter, not a glove knitter, but have been inspired by this wonderful book and made this pair of mittens in the Mustjala style. 

The cuff is traditional from the Mustjala parish of Estonia and the overall pattern with a cross of crosses pattern is traditional for the area.

There's been quite a range of weather while I've been here in Estonia from abnormally hot weather requiring short sleeves for many days in a row to abnormally cool weather where I just about need to wear these mittens to keep warm enough!

I met Kristi Jõeste, the talented glove knitter and author, at the sweater conference.  But I also arranged to stay an extra day in Viljandi to meet with Kristi and see some of her work in person and to get feedback from her on my samples and on various techniques in which I am interested.

Another virtual friend becomes real for me!

You can see some of Kristi's knitted gloves on her blog.  She writes in Estonian and English.  A link to her blog is here:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Haapsalu - A Lacy, Seaside Town

Haapsalu is a picturesque town located in Western Estonia directly on the water.  It has been a resort town for 150 years and has been visited by royal families and celebrities.  I am staying on the promenade which provides me with a beautiful view, the sounds of water splashing, swans a-swimming, and some fierce winds today.

This is not my hotel but the Haapsalu Kurhaus or Resort Hall where I ate lunch on my first day in town.

But more important than the resort aspect, this little town is known for its lace shawls and scarves - Haapsalu lace is known to many knitters and non-knitters.  With that in mind, I made arrangements to visit the Haapsalu Rätiku Muuseum (Museum of the Haapsalu shawl).  May is not quite tourist season, so hours can be shorter or non-existent.  Aide promised to be at the museum from 11-2 on Friday, so I took an early bus from Tallinn to Haapsalu.  The museum is small but hosts many samples of Haapsalu lace including shawls (rectangular), scarves (square or triangular), and even some dresses that were inspired by the traditional lace.

Knitters familiar with Haapsalu lace may know that 85-year old Linda Elgas is a Haapsalu master knitter.  Besides my museum guide, Aide, there sat Linda Elgas knitting lace at the museum!

In addition to meeting Linda Elgas, I also found a narrow lace scarf knit by Linda Elgas that I purchased for my collection.  It was an unexpected surprise to meet this famous grande dame of Haapsalu lace knitting!

In order to further my Haapsalu lace skills, I met with another famous Haapsalu knitter, Siiri Reimann, who is the author of two large books - The Haapsalu Shawl and The Haapsalu Scarf.  I introduced myself to Siiri through the internet, but met Siiri in person at the Sweater Conference last week.  Today I was able to meet with Siiri for a one-on-one Haapsalu lace knitting class.  She is a delightful person and a wonderful teacher.  The meeting took place in her classroom at the school where she teaches.

I was very happy to spend time with this extremely talented and generous woman.  Now it's time for me to get knitting!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Meeting The Dutch Knitters

In November 2012, I started reading a blog written by CarlaM, one of The Dutch Knitters.  I found the blog when I started to consider a trip to Estonia to attend the Conference on Traditional Knitted Sweaters around the Baltic Sea.  I googled "knitting estonia" or something like that and found an informational and entertaining blog written by a Dutch woman who has travelled to Estonia and teaches knitting in the Netherlands (and elsewhere) along with her cohort, Hilly.  You can find CarlaM's blog here:

Carla & Hilly (the combo that is The Dutch Knitters) have written a wonderful book about Estonian mittens titled Warme Handen/Warm Hands.  It is a bilingual book; in Dutch and English.  Well, maybe trilingual, since it's also about Estonian mittens.

I began a virtual friendship with Carla 6 months ago and finally met both of The Dutch Knitters in person at the conference.  We sat together in front row seats at the conference and later that day connected at a kohvik (cafe) over beer and cider.

Hilly and Carla, The Dutch Knitters
The conference was a great opportunity to make real friends out of virtual friends!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

OmaMood 2013

OmaMood 2013 was the kick-off event for the Conference on Traditional Knitted Sweaters around the Baltic Sea.  It was a very exciting fashion show of knitwear presented in Viljandi at the Estonian Traditional Music Centre.  The designers were Estonian textile artists and students using Estonian traditions as inspiration to design collections of knitwear.  OmaMood translates as National Fashion.

Artwork by Kati Stimmer

The knitwear was beautiful and the presentation including the models, their movement, the lighting, and the music made for a very energetic and fun event.  At the conference the next day, many of the pieces from the fashion show were on display and we had a chance to view them "up close and personal."

The following video will give you an idea of the creativity of this group (posted to YouTube by OmaMood):

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Results of the Käi ja Koo 2013

The Käi ja Koo, or Walk and Knit Contest, took place at the Heimtali Craft Fair on Saturday, 18 May, with sunny, unseasonably warm weather.  I was not on the winning team, but was happy to participate in the event.  There were a total of 6 teams so the event began with a semifinal round and moved on to a final round.  Here I am with my three Estonian teammates.

And adorned with my official race number.

I even made the news in Estonia – at least in an article posted by Lossi Gild, the guild that sponsored the event.  Here's what they said about me (maybe someone will translate this so I know if it's good or bad):  "Rahvusvahelise mõõtme andis võistlusele ameeriklanna Mary Germaini osalemine."  Here is a link to the entire article by Lossi Gild (in Estonian):
I thoroughly enjoyed my Käi ja Koo experience and made new friends!  Here are the winners of this year's sporting event.  I'm not sure what speeds were reached or how many stitches were knit, but we certainly had fun and cheered a lot.
Anu Pink, Siiri Reimann, Anu Kabur, and Mai Meriste

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rocca Al Mare

The name sounds Italian, not Estonian, right?  I visited the Rocca Al Mare Open Air Museum on Wednesday.  The name (in Italian) means "cliff beside the sea."  It was named this by the original owner of the estate when purchased in 1863, according to something I read.  It is located on the outskirts of Tallinn.  After a tram ride, I walked towards the museum and stopped for a picnic lunch at this beautiful spot on the water looking straight across at the spires of Old Town in the distance.  My picnic lunch included rhubarb yogurt - why haven't we thought of that flavor for yogurt in the States?

The Open Air Museum is similar to Old World Wisconsin with old buildings that have been brought together from many areas of the country.  It is in a beautiful, wooded setting located right on the water.  There were a variety of fences - some mossy stone, some wood.  I found this wood fence particularly intriguing.

One of my favorite architectural elements at the museum was the doors on this structure from the island of Muhu.  I love the Muhu doors!  I'll be travelling to Muhu shortly after the knitting conference.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Living Right or Blessed?

I booked my flight to Estonia back in January and selected my desired seats and thought everything was set until I tried to check in online the day before my flight.  I was unable to check in; I got an error message.  This did not sound good.  It brought back memories of my flight to New Zealand a few years back which went just fine until I arrived in Christchurch without my luggage.  I became known as "Minimalist Mary" for the duration of my 2-week hiking trip.  Eventually my luggage made its way back home after a lengthy but quiet sojourn in Los Angeles.

So, I got a little worried and I made some phonecalls to Delta/KLM but no one seemed to be able to help me.  I arrived in Chicago and was assigned a different seat from my original selection.  "Oh well, this will be fine."  When boarding started, I got to the gate attendant and she scanned my boarding pass, got an error message, and told me that I needed to go back to the gate desk and get a new boarding pass printed.  I know what's coming next - back of the plane, next to the toilet.  Thank goodness I was wrong!  I was upgraded to business class (first time ever in my life).  I called my husband to tell him the news.  He said "Act like you've been there before."  Thanks for the advice, Lombardi.

Here's what was in front of my knees when I sat down in my seat.

I spent 20 minutes in the morning with the remote control getting back to a position to eat breakfast.

Life is good.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Käi ja Koo

While in Estonia, I will take part in my first ever Käi ja Koo, loosely translated as Walk and Knit (or Walk and Work). I'll tell you more about this competitive sporting event after I experience it.

Go, Team, Go!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Flight Bonus

Did you know that you can fly from the US to Estonia for less than it costs to fly from the US to Amsterdam?  That's what I discovered when I was booking my flight to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.  I considered stopping in Amsterdam to visit some new-found Dutch knitting friends and their LYS (local yarn shop) on my way to or from Estonia.  However, I found out that if I flew from Chicago to Amsterdam, I would pay quite a bit more than if I flew THROUGH Amsterdam to Tallinn.  Well, I'll have to visit Amsterdam another time.

Tallinn is a 2 1/2 hour flight from Amsterdam and Tallinn is known as the best preserved walled medieval city in Europe.  I'm looking forward to my return to Estonia in just a few days.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Return to Estonia

Knitting has taken me many places. It will soon take me back to Estonia for a knitting conference.

I'll be meeting with knitters from Estonia, Norway, the USA, the Netherlands, and other countries around the world. We'll be learning about Traditional Knitted Sweaters around the Baltic Sea.