Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Life is not a Labyrinth

There is an essential difference between a labyrinth and a maze. Even good dictionaries ignore the difference but historians and fans of such intricately woven webs of pathways will be quite passionate about the definitions. Here you have it in a nutshell.
A Famous Maze
Maze:  "With a history stretching back to the late Middle Ages, puzzle mazes, like labyrinths, were simple at first, then underwent periods of rapid development. Developed initially from medieval labyrinth designs, the earliest mazes in the gardens and palaces of Europe were designed by rearranging the walls of a labyrinth to create a pathway with choices; often including a number of dead-ends."
Labyrinth: "Popular consensus also indicates that labyrinths have one pathway that leads inexorably from the entrance to the goal, albeit often by the most complex and winding of routes. These unicursal designs have been known as labyrinths for thousands of years, and to qualify as a labyrinth, a design should have but one path.
Gillian Hill: Felted and Embroidered Collar
One could say that LIFE is most probably not so much a labyrinth but a very extended maze through which we wander and attempt to find the best route to take. Although most certainly not the shortest or the sweetest, the most rewarding one will be the one opening up new horizons and adventures, acquiring friends and wisdom. Dead-ends of mazes are no dead-ends for me - they were choices of paths and directions, turning into chances to pick up new experiences on the way there and back, looking at the other side of what we think we already know!

Gillian Hill: Felted and Embroidered Collar
I always loved wandering through unfamiliar towns and cities, listening to the new sounds, the language, the bird songs, looking at the gardens, the houses, the people - with interest and curiosity. On one of those walks through the town of Clitheroe (UK) I chanced upon a house with a sign in the window, that this bookstore was closing down. While I was standing there a lady (Gillian Hill) arrived and smilingly invited me in. I gladly followed and this truly must have been a short stretch of a maze turning into a labyrinth: I just knew I had been looking for a place like that and had finally found it.
Gillian Hill: Felted and Embroidered Collar
Please read the article in the Burnley Express, relating the story of Gordon and Gillian Hill:
Gordon and Gillian Hill had run a bookstore, an "Aladdin's cave of rare and elusive volumes". But not only that! The upstaires textile art gallery held further treasures - truly a dreamlike combination of literature and textile crafts. Their life history is a-maze-ing, the door to one career closing, another opening, making decisions along the way, based on their success as booksellers and textile craft work.
Gillian  Hill: Felted and Embroidered Collar
I was lucky to have met that lovely couple before they closed their shop, and I wished I could have invested heavily in all of their treasures just to be able to look at them every day. I bought a few books and the above really beautiful felted and embroidered collar made by Gillian Hill. If you are interested in purchasing it, please contact me. The proceeds will go to charity: Spinal Research Center. And please don't forget to enroll in Wings for Life World Run on 4 May, 2014 - wherever you are!
Gillian Hill - Felted and Embroidered Collar

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Many Meanings of Moving

The avant-garde painter, poet and typographist Francis Picabia is said to have thought of this bonmot: "Our heads are round so that thinking can change direction", while John Maynard Keynes - when being accused during a heated argument with a high government official of being a bit inconstant with his opinions - replied: "Once the facts change, I must change my opinion. And what are you doing, Sir?"
A peaceful morning in the Lauragais country-side
Yes, it is perfectly acceptable and even advisable to change one's opinion if the facts change. A few years ago I realized that "eventually I will have to move closer to a larger city", and the "eventually" has become now. Moving - with all its meanings. In the languages I know "moving" always has several meanings. Changer l'adresse, déménager, changing, moving, umziehen, verziehen - the verbs denote change and, depending on your interpretation and mood, also hold a corcucopia, a corne d'abondance of options, beckons with new chances and experiences.
Japanese Ornamental Apple  (Malus Floribunda)
A move is moving in many ways. We consciously say good-bye to local friends we made and are not simply torn apart with no farewell. We say good-bye to things we learned to love or were the very reason we picked as our home so many years ago in the first place. Moving is the farewell to the environment we appreciated and became accustomed to. Moving is the realization that our friends will no longer be in the vicinity for a quick face-to-face visit. Consoling and moving in a different sense is the realization that the nightingale will keep on singing her song, that the barn owls will spread their wings and glide silently through the night, that the occasional deer will stilt elegantly through the high grass around the house, the red squirrels will chatter up in the 400 year old oak trees and the hoopoe family will raise their young ones in the same hollow tree as every year.
Sunrise in the Lauragais
We have to accept change or even trigger it ourselves because the facts changed.
So almost two years ago, I started packing and sorting, donating and giving things away, reducing decades of accumulations to a few cartons and just basic furniture. Accumulations, which were bestowed on me by grandparents, parents and friends - lovely books, linen, china, each holding special memories of family and friends. Despite all efforts, I found no home for 45 years of National Geographic Magazines, a complete collection from 1968 to 2010. I found no home for yellowed pocket books from the Sixties, which were so essential to me at that time, nor for almost all the other books of my library comprising more than 60 years of reading. 
Hoopoe guarding golden silk
I almost felt I betrayed the authors... Ralph Ellison, Rachel Carson, Nadine Gordimer, Gail Sheehy, Oliver La Farge, Mari Sandoz, Vine Deloria Jr., and James Welch, whose Winter in the Blood moved me to tears - but burning their books was less painful than throwing them into the container at the tip. I watched the smoke rising into the clear sky and thought of how their thoughts have changed and enriched my life and, in effect, that of my children, so their work lives on in the mind of many.
I parted with Leonard Cohen, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Pete Seeger and the very early Beatles. Parted with The Platters, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Miriam Makeba, Floyd Red Crow Westerman. Van Cliburn and Glen Gould, playing Tchaikovsky and Bach. A record with Yevgeny Yevtushenko reading his powerful poem of Babiyy Yar. I am certain that my US friends of old would have appreciated these treasures, but of course, they hung on to their own copies as well, we were the sixties generation.
The doors to a different setting are opening and I will see the positive and joyful options and remember gratefully the past - and I am glad I didn't miss a single day of appreciating what I have and had.
Occasionally though, I need to take my mind off from saying farewell - time to relax a bit and instead concentrate on something less emotional, knitting a lace pattern for example - just difficult enough to stay concentrated but allowing thoughts to ramble in between repeats - knitters know that phenomenon, how one's hands seem to memorize the rapport faster than one's brain! As most of my stash is already keeping precious antique books in their moving boxes safely cushioned against jolts, I quickly saved ArtYarns Beaded Silk Mohair from becoming stuffing material, treating myself to one of the most treasured yarns in my stash for making a lace cowl.
Flared Lace Smoke Ring Cowl with Art Yarn Beaded Silk Mohair
Flared Lace Smoke Ring Cowl with Art Yarn Beaded Silk Mohair
Art Yarns Beaded Silk Mohair
The cowl pattern is by Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer, it is called Flared Lace Smoke Ring. The picture below is copyright Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Spring Time in California

My god-daughter's smile needs special blog posts - please first read this post "The Most Precious Gifts". By now, the woolen reversible hat made its way across the ocean and the United States and finally into the hands of Braden, whom I have known even before she was born...
The double layers are indeed providing a lot of warmth during those winter season trips to New York or the Windy City.
For Igloo-cold weather conditions
Black on one side, blue with a black brim on the other side
I am now thinking of a spring / fall version in cotton and linen lace...
For information on how to knit this 2-color reversible hat please read this post in my blog

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Most Precious Gifts

Once again we realized during Christmas that the most precious gift we can give or receive is indeed very personal: it is the person itself, spending time with us. What joy the visit our our daughter and god-daughter brought us! Add to that the first hand-written Christmas Card envelope by our grandson Victor! Another special gift were those thoughtfully phrased Christmas mails I received from Ravelry friends across the world. A wonderful way to start the year 2014. 
Friendship across continents
OMA + OPA - written by grandson Victor in December 2013
On the first day of the new year, we had the traditional German New Year's Brezel (Neujahrsbrezel), made quite unconventionally by our daughter - and I was wondering why I was always taking the long route for making a yeast dough while her accelerated method definitely produced the same results, or even better! It is said that haveing a slice of the New Year's Brezel for breakfast will bring luck throughout  the coming year. Write to me for the recipe if you are planning ahead...
New Year's Brezel - Neujahrsbrezel - (©) Picture by Valerie Mader
It is still winter, a very harsh one in many places of the northern hemisphere, especially in the United States and Canada - and although my god-daughter lives in the US sunbelt she still loves warm hats. It adds to her personal look and comfort. A personal look evolves over time, deviations are allowed and even called for, depending on the season, mood and occasion. And today, the liberty of wearing what one likes and can afford is an immense advantage from the situation just half a century ago. Luckily, the sixties were the time when designers like Mary Quant and model Twiggy came along and triggered an avalanche of fashion changes.
So for my amazing Californian god-daughter often traveling into colder areas of the world, here is the prototype hat in the making: Some bulky wool, a lacy layer of thin mohair, and the reversible hat, knit in the round, is ready for those colder days in two looks. See the finished hat in the next post.
I have seen this free pattern idea somewhere (probably on Ravelry), while the origin of the hat design is unknown. Please contact me if you happen to know the source as I wish to give credit to the designer. It might not be exactly the same because I just memorized the basics some time ago and then winged it. 
The lacy side provides extra warmth and makes the hat unmistakable if worn lace outside. I cast on 72 stitches with a stretchy cast-on method, trying out The Chinese Waitress method, a new one for me and I have no idea from whence it got its name - a bit cumbersome but veery stretchy. Join to knit in the round. Knit the brim of the hat k4, p4 until you have the desired brim height. See the finished hat in this post.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year - have a Sparkling 2014 !

2014: sparkling with new ideas, new impressions, new insights, new experiences, 
new yarns and fabrics, new designs and new patterns, and many new textile craft friends!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Joie et Fortune en 2014 !

Wishing you happiness, contentedness, cheeriness, joy,
good spirits and everything else you might need for
having a delightful and fulfilling year 2014!
New Year's Day Brezel - made by Valerie!
Pyrenees New Year's Eve 2013
My grandfather's clock from 1890

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

In Dulci Jubilo - Kindness is a Gift for Life

Many decades ago I was singing in an elementary school choir. All four classes were in the choir at the same time, willy-nilly, the school comprising only four grades and altogether 45 children who were all taught more or less simultaneously by the only teacher, Mr. Alles - meaning Mr. All in German, and indeed, I thought of him as being the kindest person and the one who knew it ALL!,,15857862_303,00.jpg&w=700&h=394&ei=yra5UpHZJsqO0AWOwoCYDg&zoom=1&iact=rc&dur=768&page=3&tbnh=137&tbnw=210&start=63&ndsp=33&ved=1t:429,r:81,s:0,i:329&tx=95&ty=93
 Picture by
Indeed, times were chaotic. The church was very cold, the roof leaked, rubble was on the floor, the aisle full of pot holes, most benches had been used for kindle and the early morning December wind blew through shrapnel holes in the wall. We huddled closely around the altar, and Mr. Alles encouraged us to sing with fervour, the birth of Jesus Christ was an event needing to be celebrated with all we could give and besides, we would forget a little bit about the cold.

Not any more now, but then as a child, I had a nice voice and could easily learn and carry a tune and, above all, I could very well disguise the fact that I could not read music. So when the time came to choose a soloist, Mr. Alles, my wonderful teacher, picked me. I was dancing on the rubble with joy, in my elder brother's spacious shoes, my handknit grey stockings slipping down and bunching around my ankles. In front of the class choir my courage sank quickly when Mr. Alles handed me a sheet of music, asking me to sing the first part of the song we were about to learn for Christmas.

Not even looking at that sheet of music, I felt like sinking into a black hole, painfully aware that I could not read music, thinking that everybody else could,  and hoping fervently he would sing the part first I was sure I could repeat it ... What would he think of me, I was probably the only person in the church not being able to sing at sight. Mr. Alles looked a bit surprised at my worried face... But the next surprise was mine: "Oh dear, I am so sorry, I forgot that this is a new song for you, with strange words, and I think I might just have to sing it to you a couple of times and explain the words before we have a go at it." I felt so relieved and later sang that solo part with confidence and joy. And on my way out my beloved teacher looked at me smilingly and said with a twinkle in eye: "What a lovely voice you have". It was my best Christmas gift.

The choral was: In Dulci Jubilo. And it became one of my favorite Christmas chorals. Click here for a rendition of the choral sung by the Vienna Boys' Choir and here a version by the Choir of the King's college, Cambridge.
Merry Christmas, happy Holidays and a peaceful New Year!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent Candles

Advent time - so special for children. Decorating the Christmas tree, cards and gifts arriving, school or church Christmas plays, shops and markets with adorned colorful lights and lots of golden, red and green garlands strung across the streets, the first snow falling and the delight of using the sleigh on a snowy hill - who from the northern parts of the globe doesn't remember this fondly. And every Advent Sunday in December another candle will be lit until it is time for the Christmas tree.
Copyright Valerie Mader
The frosty weather reminded me of the time I knitted beanies for just about every child I knew.

Various beanies for children
In the evenings, I have been busy with my new project "Scarf n' Half" - ready to be photographed, all I need now is a model! Pattern to follow soon.
Entangled Scarf n' Half

Bunched up Scarf n' Half

For the light mauve colored string I used my precious handspun and dyed silk, and will use some of my tailspun yarn to add more "Halves" to my scarf project. If you are wondering about tailspun yarn, here is a good blog post explaining it all.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

... 11. 12. 13 ... and counting

One of those tempting dates again: The 11th of the 12th month of the year 2013! Of course, I could have gotten up early, too: 08:09:10, or published this post at 13:14:15- at any rate, I just can't let this pallindrome-suitable date 13/12/11 at 11:12:13 pass by without a blog entry. This time about a fake cable and how effortlessly it is made. Not that I don't like real cables, nor do I find them difficult to make. But this illusion version is very nice as well:
Illusion of Cables
See the original pattern - and here my changes to it:  I made only two repeats, with center stripe of 4 stitches (knit WS and RS), each framed by "RS 2 p WS 2 knit" stitches.
Illusion of Cables Scarf with Mohair Flower Brooch
Increased 4 extra stitches each side one row before Cast Off to knit them together (= 4 stitches) in Cast Off row. This gives extra ease and I like the little wingy ends :-) I like the relatively short length, doesn’t get into the way when bending down.

Illusion of Cables Scarf with Mohair Flower Brooch
The fake cables at the left appear to be a bit narrower than the ones to the right, hmmm, no idea why because a) pattern repeat is identical and b) I did not steam the scarf during blocking, just pinned it down evenly and put a wet cloth over it overnight and let it dry. Keeps its original "fuzzy" look very well. Click here Mohair Flower Brooch for instructions for the flower brooch.
And of course I cannot resist a complimentary color: golden yellow as in this non-illusionary Hefezopf (Yeast Braid), its look certainly related to cables, right?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Taking a Turn

Life consists of crossroads, doesn't it. Constantly, we are making binary-code decisions, consciously and, supposedly, subconsciously, with all its ensueing consequences. Sometimes the road we chose appeared to be the easier one, sometimes we purposely tried the rocky path, both serving their momentary or longrange purpose. In the last post of this blog, you were introduced to Elisabeth, who had made a courageous decision to open a store - and taking that turn appears to have been an exciting, positive and very successful choice!
Being surrounded by colors is like taking a vacation for resting and stimulating the senses at the same time - and such as we perceive music quite individually, we see color just as individually, triggering sensations and feelings and bringing forth personal and individual memories - and which yarnie could resist the sight of such lovely eye-candy yarn!

Part II, Interview with Elisabeth:
The first question was: Q: Elisabeth, you launched your yarn shop in May of this year. Even before the lovely little shop opened its doors, I’ve been pressing my nose against the window, admiring the tempting display, the wide choice of premium brand yarns and accessories, ranging from wooden shawl pins to the attractive specialty of this region, le Lauragais, the Pastel Blue. What was the reason behind opening a yarn store in these difficult ecomical times and how come you picked Revel? (See Part I, Interview with Elisabeth)
Vous avez ouvert votre magasin de laine en mai de cette année. avant meme que la jolie petite boutique a ouvert ses portes, j'ai été me coller le nez contre la vitre, admirant l'etalage tentant, le large choix de fiet d’accessoire haut de gammes, allant des broche de bois pour châle à la spécialité attrayant de cette région, le Lauragais, le bleu pastel. Quelle était la raison de l'ouverture d'un magasin de laine dans ces conditions difficiles de l'économie et comment se fait que vous avez choisi Revel?
True Treasure Cove for Yarnies
A ) Elisabeth:  It is true that the economic conditions are not favorable and that is why I am renting a very small place for an affordable rent. Actually I am still a little bit anxious but my faith is stronger than my fear. And as yet I do not pay a salary to myself. I pay the rent and charges and pay my suppliers, at this time this is the most essential task. I gave myself a year to assess the trend. My choosing Revel is primarily for proximity (I live in close-by Sorèze). Revel is a small town that I love, it is also my hometown. I also think that Revel had to have in a shop in its streets offering precisely this merchandise and using the services offered: I give lessons in knitting and crochet. [[And as we have heard since even men are beginning to take knitting lessons at "Elisabeth Tricoter"!]]

Luxurious Selection
Il est vrai que les conditions économiques ne sont pas favorables et c’est pour cela que je loue une toute petite surface pour un petit loyer. Effectivement j’ai une petite angoisse mais ma foi est plus puissante que ma peur. Et puis pour l’instant je ne me verse pas de salaire. Je paie mes fournisseurs, mon loyer et mes charges, c’est l’essentiel pour l’instant. Je me suis donnée une année pour évaluer la tendance.
Si j’ai choisi Revel c’est avant tout pour la proximité, j’habite Sorèze. Revel est aussi une petite ville que j’aime, elle est ma ville natale. Je pense aussi que Revel se devait de posséder, dans ses rues commerçantes une boutique proposant ces produits là et ce service là car je donne des leçons de tricot et de crochet.   
NORO - what else!

Q: You are also carrying beautiful items related to the Pastel Colour, such as Pastel soap, a heavenly hand cream, lace doilies. Also you sell some exquisite knitted Baby clothes, which are indeed hard to resist, any mother’s or grandmother’s heart will start beating faster…
Plus, you have another store in Durfort, dividing your time between your two shops. The Durfort shop is open during the summer season and is well-stocked with many Pastel-related items, above all yarns in the incredibly intense yet very pastel blue. When and how did you become aware of these special dye-ties exisiting in the Pay de Cocagne?

Vous vendez également dz beaux objets liés à la couleur pastel comme le pastel savon, une merveilleuse crème à main napperons en dentelle. Aussi, vous vendez des vêtements de bébé tricotés exquis, qui sont en effet difficile de résister, a faire battre tres fort le coeur de toute mère ou grand-mère... De plus, vous avez un autre magasin à Durfort, divisant votre temps entre vos deux magasins. La boutique Durfort est ouvert durant la saison estivale et est bien approvisionné avec de nombreux articles lies au Pastel, et plus particulierement les articles de laine dans le bleu incroyablement intense mais très pastel. Quand et comment avez-vous pris connaissance de l'existance de cette teinture (ou pigment) speciale au Payes de Cocagne?

Perfect marriage of yarns and colors
A: The boutique in Durfort opened its doors in April 2011. I was virtually seduced, as if struck by a thunderbolt, by the marvellous color, this Blue Gold, this hue of color, the blueish gray: the color PASTEL. It is a blue that emits very specific vibration giving the senses an impression of serenity. Every day clients experience and tell me about their feeling of the same happiness, and I am also told they don't wish to leave because it is a place for feeling wonderful. So I got interested in this dye plant with its many and varied virtues. Leaves are used for the pigment with which the fabric or fleece is dyed, houses' shutters are painted, watercolors created...
 With the oil extracted from the seeds a whole range of cosmetics is being produced in Toulouse.  
I learned the technique of dyeing, and every day I grew a bit more passionate, always on the lookout for pastel-dyed yarns for knitting. I made many different designs and creations with the Pastel yarns, scarves, mittens, wraps, baby booties and so on. These creations sell very well and find an appreciative clientele, American, Dutch and English visiters to the store are very fond of them. 

La boutique de Durfort a ouvert ses portes en avril 2011. J’ai été séduite, (un véritable coup de foudre) par cette couleur, cet Or bleu, cette teinte, gris bleu qu’est le PASTEL. C’est un bleu qui possède une vibration très particulière donnant une impression de sérénité. Tous les jours j’entends les clients partager le même bonheur et nombreux sont ceux qui me disent ne pas vouloir repartir de ce lieu ou l’on se sent bien.
Je me suis donc intéressée de prés à cette plante tinctoriale aux vertus multiples et variées. On utilise les feuilles pour obtenir le pigment avec lequel on teint le linge, on peint les volets on réalise des aquarelles etc ….
Headlong into Blue
dancer and choreographer Zoe Scofield in one of Mandy Greer's crochet works - #freeform

Avec l’huile que l’on a extrait de la graine on fabrique sur Toulouse toute la partie cosmétique.
J’ai donc appris la technique de la teinture, me suis passionnée  chaque jour un peu plus, j’ai cherché partout des fils à tricoter teints avec cette plante. J’ai tricoté de nombreuses créations bonnets, écharpes, mitaines, des chaussons pour les bébés etc… que j’ai très bien vendues. Les Américaines, Hollandaises, Anglaises en sont très friandes
Some more information on Le Lauragais and the small town Revel, beteween Carcassonne and Toulouse in south-west France? Yes, because it is still relatively undiscovered, no major tourist streams, still truly a place of genuine natural beauty. Quaint timbered houses, cobbled roads, even the archetypical bistros that have been disappearing fast in most parts ot France are found here. And there are the odd finds to discover right at the center of town such as this antique car, a shop for quail eggs and one for buying everything dyed Pastel blue.

The rolling landscape of le Lauragais is soothing and gentle, pleasing and calming to the senses. There is nothing confining the sweeping view but nature itself, the majestic mountain range of the Pyrenees to the South and the wooded Montagne Noir on the other side of a wide flat channel once connecting the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, its alluvial soil beneficial to the growth of trees, wine, and many agricultural crops such as corn, sunflowers, melons, potatoes and so forth.
Musée du Pastel - Château de Magrin
The 3rd president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, passed through this area during the time he was minister to France, however he did not see too many of those endless rolling fields, instead he admired the huge oak tree forests that were covering most of the area around Revel at that time. He visited the Canal du Midi in 1787, as told in "Thomas Jefferson's Journey to the South of France", by Roy & Alma Moore who followed Jefferson's route through the south of France. The book, a gift to us from our wonderful friends Mary and Lucien from VA, includes beautiful drawings, highly interesting excerpts of letters and notes by Jefferson.
Le Lauragais (For Sale): Artist: Cisco Centofanti
Elisabeth divides her time between her yarn shop in Revel and the store : Bleu Pastel en Cocagne, 81540 Durfort, ouvert l'aprés midi, 15-19 h , fermé lundi (open in the afternoon from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., closed on Monday).
Store address: Elisabeth Tricoter, 26, rue de Vaure, 31250 Revel, France (Tel. 0033(0)7812851)
Encouraging comments are welcome:
Visit her website at