Category Archives: Travel

Aran Knits

Oh, how I have wanted an Aran sweater. Not just any cable knit pullover, but a cozy oversized wool beauty. Not too soft, not too itchy, enough ease for comfort, not enough to look frumpy. I always imagined knitting myself one as a memory piece after my sister and I took a trip to Ireland. We have no such trip planned, and I am years behind on other memory pieces, so it’s fortunate that my mother-in-law took the trip for me and brought me back a cardigan. Knit in a blend of undyed wool with a loose gauge, this cardigan is everything that I have always wanted in an Aran sweater. I have truly worn it for part of almost every day since Christmas and plan to continue doing so until April.

There are enchanting stories about Aran sweaters and the provenance of their patterns. The stories say that these sweaters have been around for generations and generations. Families and clans have their own signature cable patterns. Aransweatermarket.com claims, “On the Aran islands, sweater patterns were zealously guarded, kept within the same clan throughout generations.” Alice Starmore unapologetically explains in her book Aran Sweaters that these stories are fictions and the sweaters are products of industrious folks capitalizing on a tourist market. I am inclined to believe Alice, as first of all, there is no way to keep a sweater pattern guarded, since knit stitches can be read and expert knitter can recreate cable patterns they like. Secondly, Aran sweaters with their larger gauge yarn and looser knit are comfortable and warm but not nearly as practical for fisherman, the supposed traditional wearers, as ganseys. I regularly catch this sweater on my ring, my bag, drawer knobs, etc. If I chose a practical sweater for a manual career like fishing the north Atlantic, it would not be an Aran sweater.

I don’t find Aran sweaters less special if they have been developed for the purpose of sale. I think their true story is just as interesting. And Aran sweaters now seem to be part of the islands as surely as if they were many generations old. Like the Icelanders and their Lopi and the Danes and their Maurus, the Isle of Aran knitters have developed a model that allows for maximum productivity without compromising quality. The knitter used a cable cast on and simple cables. My sweater body was knit flat and the vertical button band was knit right along with it. There is no additional finishing on the bad edge. If I had knit this myself, the button band would seem unpolished, but I don’t mind it at all on a sweater stitched by someone else. The sleeves and the generous collar are connected with by machine-sewn thread. I would never think to do this, but it seems to work well and was surely efficient. Perhaps it is a technique worth trying someday.

Goldenrod Vest

The yarn that I bought from the crowded Margaree Harbour Craft & Gift Shop on Cape Breton Island is thick and sturdy and wooly. The wool comes from Canada’s Atlantic providences and is spun by MacAuslands Woollen Mills on Prince Edward Island. We stuffed all six large hanks into our panniers and biked with them for over a week. Months later, I dyed it a pale yellow with goldenrod from my mother’s garden.

The night before this purchase, G and I stayed at the Cheticamp Motel. We arrived there late in the afternoon and found just one vacant room remaining. The elderly proprieter slowly added us to a handwritten logbook with a shaky hand. We paid in cash, and, as he counted our change, I admired his handknit vest. It was a natural-colored v-neck vest of stockinette stitch with a simple knit one-purl one rib. Comfortably fitted. “Did someone knit that for you?” I asked loudly. “Oh, probably. A long time ago. I don’t remember,” he responded.

I have been planning to knit a vest for G based on hotel proprietor’s simple well-worn garment. As a swatch, I worked up another basic baby vest for my child. Knit on size 10 needles, it still came out a bit stiff, so a swatch on 10.5’s will also be needed. I like this aran weight yarn and think the baby vest will wear nicely (better than his last of Lion’s Brand Fisherman’s wool), but a collared shirt underneath might also be required. The pattern (my own) is simple, with the stockinette body knit in the round and the garter stitch chest knit flat, allowing for straight stitch the whole way. An extra stretchy bind off at the neck makes it easy to get this on and off my squirmy little one.

Oregon and a Wee Vest

Oh Oregon, beautiful state.

In early October, we travelled to McKenzie Bridge, Oregon for a friend’s wedding. It was a short vacation, especially considering the time spent in airports and cars, but it felt worthwhile. The flights went smoothly and we had excellent views of the Grand Tetons and the Cascades. Seen from above, the forests of Oregon were dark green with bright yellow bursts of autumn aspens.

In the three days we were there, we celebrated love between two good people, ate delicious food, visited with family, and walked in beautiful forests. We were able to identify most of the trees, but the forest understory plants were unknown to us. Being in a place where we did not know the flora was both fun and frustrating. Why didn’t we pack all those field guides for the west that have been gathering dust on our shelves?! (Answer: no room between all the diapers.)

The understory plant with compound leaves shown in the photo below was abundant at the wedding venue and along every trail. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even after we retuned home. Searching internet photos led me to an answer. This plant is dull Oregon grape, also known as Cascade berry (Mahonia nervosa). Hurrah.

In preparation for our trip, I knit a wee vest for my child. I improvised the pattern, with careful consideration to fit and features as well as ease of knitting. It came out perfectly and, oh goodness, does he look adorable in it. Now I see why baby knits are worthwhile even if they are only worn for a few months or even weeks.

Island

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Island by Alistair MacLeod is a beautiful collection of short stories by Cape Breton, Nova Scotia‘s most beloved author. The unromantic lives of Cape Breton’s people are shown with simple, lyrical language.

The stories were written between 1968 and 1999, and touch on themes including family obligations, loss, tradition, and change. The land and sea of Cape Breton are essential characters in each. With each story, I reflected on my impressions of the places we had briefly visited on our loop of the Cabot Trail.

My only criticism is that all the stories have a similar tone as though there is one speaker, although they are each written as a different person. MacLeod tries but does not convincingly write from a child’s perspective, and he does not even try to write from any woman’s viewpoint. This tome took me over three months to make my way through as I usually took a break between stories, but it was worth all the library overdue fees.

Lupines in Wool

Route 4 through Nova Scotia does not have the vistas offered by many of the other roads in the province, but it does have lupines. In June, the verges were lined for miles with tall purple, blue, and pink inflorescence. Nothing, it seems, is more purple that a purple lupine.

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Upon returning home, I started knitting lupines. This is something that I have tried out with before without satisfactory results. It turned out that buying almost every purple available from Jamieson and Smith was essential, and I was able to design a motif that unmistakably represents a lupine in full bloom.

I have wanted to knit a sweater for my mother for a long time, and for a long time I have wanted it to be purple. This is because she once owned a purple Archie Brown & Son yoke knit of Shetland wool. She says that she bought it in 1983 while vacation in Bermuda. Sometime in the 80’s, the sweater was stored away in the basement and it remained there until my sister and I found it around 2000. There were dozens of moth holes, and I wore holes and all it for a decade before discovering darning. It now has mends, some more visible than others, as well as elbow patches, and I wear it regularly.

Shetland_SweaterThis photo was taken about two years ago, before the elbow patches.Shetland_Yoke

Using Kate Davies’ Foxglove pattern as a template, my sister and I decided to knit a lupine cardigan for our mother’s birthday. In July 2017, I shipped main color yarn to M, she knit the sleeves and shipped them back to me, and then I joined them with the body before knitting the yoke. When my mother’s birthday came in early August, I had just joined the body and sleeves. She was patient through the fall and early winter as I finished knitting the yoke, cutting the steek, and painstakingly sewing a ribbon over the steek’s raw edge.

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For those interested in knitting details, Kate Davies’ Foxglove pattern is available as part of her YOKES book. Kate Davies’ sweater sits nice and flat across her chest, but this is not the case for many other knitters. Based on Ravelry photos, I think that knitters have struggled with the yoke shaping and the neckline sits high and wide on many women. I modified the yoke, beginning with extra short rows in the back at the join of the arms with the body, and then more short rows at the top of the colorwork. I also decreased more within the yoke than is called for in the pattern. This allowed for a closer neckline that is wide enough not to scratch our mom’s neck. I cut the steek without reinforcement and then hand stitched it in place, rather than using a crochet reinforcement. The method that I used is described in Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting and works well with Shetland wool. My Ravelry project page is here.

We are all three – M, Mom, and me – very happy with this cardigan and hope it sees decades of wear.

Sister’s Lake

Back in September, G and I spent a warm weekend in the Adirondacks. I was desperate for the smell of spruce forests and the feel of cool water. We packed our car, loaded the canoe, and headed east after work on Friday September 22. It is a long drive from Buffalo to the Adirondack State Park, so it was well into the night by the time we pulled over at a trailhead and lay down across the trunk and back seats in our small hatchback. Gazing through the back windshield, the wide canoe on our roof cut a black gash across the starry sky.


On Saturday, we took our time reaching our final destination. We first bought cider doughnuts and coffee in Old Forge, then drove Uncas Road to the trail for Black Bear Mountain. It was a perfect blue-skied day, warm enough for mid-summer though technically autumn had arrived. The maple trees were burning red and orange across the landscape, with the birch just beginning to glow yellow.

When we first arrived, G and I were the only people at the summit, but we were soon joined by an extended family with young children. They reached the peak, and immediately began to search for something. When we inquired, the father explained that one of his sons had passed away a few years ago and he, the father, had carved his son’s initials into the rock as a memorial. Now they were back a year later and could not find the carving. They looked for at least an hour, with no success. Perhaps they were on the wrong mountain. At the risk of sounded insensitive, I must say that we were glad that they did not find their carving. Engraving the Adirondack granite is leaving a trace to say the least. It implies a sense of self-importance and a disregard for the value of a natural area. It affects other people’s experiences. Fellow hikers, please follow Leave No Trace ethics and keep your penknives away.

In the afternoon, we drove to Big Moose Lake, where we parked our car at the public boat launch and headed out for the night. Our destination was a lean-to that lies three miles past the far end of the lake and is only accessible through a combination of boating and walking. This lean-to is perched on the edge of Sister’s Lake, with a natural rock outcrop serving as a swimmer’s ideal entry. We shared the location with three men who were also out for the weekend.

I had brought my Acadian hat with me as the weekend’s knitting project, which I had first knit as a memory piece from our honeymoon to Nova Scotia. The hat is made with Quince and Co. Lark yarn in calming blue-greens that remind me of early twilight. The original was in need of brim modifications. One of the men who was staying at the lean-to saw me knitting and liked my Acadian hat so much, he requested that I sell one to him. And so, I did. Last week, PH received his own Acadian hat, with just a few modification. I hope it keeps his cozy and warm all this winter long.

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Tandem Cycling the Cabot Trail – Cheticamp Rug Hooking

Tandem Cycling the Cabot Trail – Part 4

G and I left came out of the Highlands against a strong headwind, arriving in Cheticamp in the late afternoon. The last several miles were a trial, and we were exhausted. We arrived just moments too late to view the exhibits at the Les Trois Pignons, the Museum of Hooked Rug and Home Life. I had been looking forward to learning more about the craft of hooking and was disppointed. I pressed my cheek to the glass exhibit doors for an oblique peek of Elizabeth LeFort’s famous portrait work.

Two employees were still standing at the front desk, waiting to lock up when the clock struck exactly 5. I asked them what breed of sheep grew the wool that was used in Nova Scotia rug hooking and they said, “Oh, it’s just wool. Good sheep wool.” They were fairly certain it came from Montreal, but had never thought about it further. I asked this question of three different rug hookers at different shops and none of them could tell me. Does anyone know?

We spent the night in a clean and simple room at the Cheticamp Motel (kind, helpful, and adorable owners dressed in handknit wool, clean room, quality laundry machines, all the motel stars). To our surprise, a bright red tandem was propped at the door to the next room down. Our neighbors were a couple from Australia who had been touring the world via tandem. They cycled from Vancouver, BC to Detroit, MI in 2016 and were now finishing up a Detroit, MI to Sydney, NS leg. Their plan was to take the ferry from Sydney, NS to St. John’s, NL and then fly to Europe. G and I loved hearing about their experiences and getting their take on different tandem set-ups and components. They were an inspiration!DSC_0442.JPG