Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I've not been completely idle and have been spending a lot of time doing background reading--at the moment for the one to Italy. My desk is piled high with reference books and a detailed map, and I’ll be taking a site-inspection trip to Italy in January. I’ll be sending details to Garth, my talented, long-suffering website designer and a preliminary itinerary will be there very soon.
Concerning this tour, it's been a difficult decision to finalize the itinerary--there are just too many wonderful places to visit. However, I've narrowed our main stops (where we will stay in hotels) to three places: Florence, the small Tuscan village of Anghiari (described as being located in the "geographical heart of the Italian Renaissance") and ending with wonderful Venice. This tour will take place in late September.While I've been thinking of a trip to Italy for several years, it seemed a matter of serendipity when Nicky Epstein's book, Knitting in Tuscany, was published. This book has been an inspiration and has validated the areas which I had been planning for our itinerary.
We'll spend at least five nights in Anghiari and while we're there will take excursions to the nearby villages of Siena, Assisi and Arezzo. Throughout the tour, our days will be spent enjoying the Italian cuisine, marvelling at the wonderful scenery, visiting centuries-old buildings and viewing treasured art. Just a few of the activities you can look forward to: a cooking class with a chef who will take us to the local market and then prepare a memorable meal; a private tour of La Tessitura Busatti, a family firm of talented weavers which has been in existence for over 170 years; visit with a glass blower on the island of Murano; Sansepolcro, site of a lace-making school; a tapestry weaver in the mountains of La Verna.
Season’s Greetings to all! My sincere wishes for a healthy, happy 2010.
Monday, November 23, 2009
My omission was neglecting to talk about our visit to Lucy Neatby's home and studio while we were in Halifax. This was another highlight for our group and was accompanied by much anticipation and excitement to be visiting the home of such a respected, innovative and amenable professional. I know this is getting to be hackneyed, but it is still true that our group left with smiles and arms full of yarn and patterns that they just couldn't live without! http://www.lucyneatby.com/
I was especially happy to meet her assistant Dawn as we had spoken a number of times by phone. I told Dawn she could be an inspirational speaker--she even had me thinking I could/should plan a tour to Botswana and tie it in with the books by Alexander McCall Smith. (Maybe I should try to contact him the next time I'm in Edinburgh!)
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Although we arrived in Baddeck, the capital of Cape Breton, too late for the group to do any yarn shopping, many of our group went across the street from our hotel and looked longingly through the windows of Baadeck Yarns. However, our keen knitters made up for this during the following five days and again many newly-purchased skeins of yarn appeared on the bus. Pat Fields, owner of Baadeck Yarns, and her assistant Betty were very knowledgeable and helped us to make choices from their extensive stock of yarn, books, patterns and needles. Have a look at Pat's website: http://www.baadeckyarns.com/. Pat carries a special yarn called 'First Flight' which she developed to mark the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight in Canada by the plane called the Silver Dart.
The rest of our time helped me to gain an appreciation of the Gaelic traditions of the Scots who settled the island, after they were forced off their lands by cruel landowners during the Highland Clearances. Their traditions are honoured and enhanced by the program at the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts & Crafts at nearby St. Ann's. People come from around the world for a variety of subjects: studying the Gaelic language, learning the bagpipes, even an apprentice program for kilt making. It's important to remember that the Scots weren't the first to settle Cape Breton, as for 10,000 years, the Mi'Kmaq Tribe called this area their home.
I really enjoyed my visit to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and it's stunning setting on a hill overlooking Bras d'Or Lake. From the museum, it is possible to see the original Bell family summer home, Beinn Bhreagh. I was so intrigued by the many accomplishments of Bell and his colleagues, that on my return I read the biography about Bell entitled Reluctant Genius by Charlotte Gray.
There were several more highlights for me: one was a visit to Iona and the Highland Village. It's a living history museum, with authentic period buildings, farm animals and costumed staff. It was though we'd stepped back in time as we visited a progression of cabins, homes and other buildings. We saw demonstrations of traditional activities, with a pleasant interlude for a stop for tea and freshly baked bannock and oatmeal crisps baked in a wood stove. This is an active place with courses in Gaelic culture and studies throughout the year. http://museum.gov.ns.ca/hv/index.html
I also loved our visit to the Fortress of Louisbourg, a reconstruction of part of the original fort from 1744, originally built by the French. Louisbourg is sometimes called "the Williamsburg of Canada" and members of the staff are dressed in period costume. I haven't done it justice in this blog--to get a better idea of the scope of the project, have a look at http://www.louisbourg.ca/fort/
My only disappointment was the cloudy weather while we went around the Cabot Trail which prevented us from seeing the beautiful scenery. We did stop in the little village of Cheticamp and visited the Les Trois Pignons (which means 'three gables'), an information centre with a great collection of hooked rugs and hangings. I should have mentioned the importance of Acadian history on Cape Breton. Cheticamp is the reference centre for the genealogy and history of the many Acadians who were forcibly removed from their homes. http://www.lestroispignons.com/troispignons/en/welcome.html
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
A welcome surprise was the plate of freshly baked, chocolate chip cookies in the lounge. I later learned the cookies were baked by Josh, a young man who also did double duty at the reception desk. Whenever Josh saw the cookie supply was getting low, he would go to the kitchen and bake another double batch. He also generously gave us copies of the recipe.
The next morning we had a short walking tour from the hotel to Province House. We were accompanied by our costumed guide, Rebecca, who in her other life is a student at the University of P.E.I. Even though I'd been to Province House many years ago, I enjoyed our visit and hearing about the rich history of the building, which still is the venue when the provincial legislature meets.
Our touring day was warm and sunny. No one wanted to go swimming at Cavendish Beach but most took off their shoes and at least got their feet wet in the (cold) Atlantic Ocean, and walked on the fine sandy beach. We visited nearby Green Gables, the home of the fictional Anne Shirley and the setting of the famous stories by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
An unscheduled but enjoyable stop was to the P.E.I. Preserve Company, located in the beautiful village of New Glasgow. The company produces a wide variety of preserves on site, using fresh local fruit whenever possible. The beautiful setting is enhanced by twelve acres of gardens and the company has plans to build a respite cottage next year. It was too early for lunch when we visited, but there is a nice looking restaurant attached to the shop. http://www.preservecompany.com/
Another memorable stop today was our visit to Fibre-Isle Fine Yarns. Owners Sylvie Toupin and Jacques Arsenault welcomed us and gave us a guided tour of the mill and explained the numerous blends of fibres which they combine into stunning yarns. The mill equipment is manufactured by nearby Belfast Mini-Mills, and the Toupins said how well it is suited to processing different fibres, especially the bison they use in most of their yarns. Sylvie knit all the beautiful shawls and scarves which were on display in the showroom. I don't know how she had the time to create so many beautiful objects. When she was questioned, I seem to recall she said it's a passion--a feeling which struck a resonance with our group.
Again, we found much yarn which we couldn't live without and left Fibre-Isle with arms full! I came away with several skeins: one was a mix of 70% bamboo, 15% bison and 15% cashmere. Another one was a mix of 65% superwash fine merino, 25% Lyocell cellulose and 10% Canadian bison. All the yarns in the shop were in beautiful colours. Have a good look at their website and perhaps join their mailing list. http://www.bisonyarn.com/.
The next day we left P.E.I. but not before another memorable visit--this time to Belfast Mini-Mills. http://www.minimills.net/html/store/index.html I think I can safely say that we were all impressed by the dedication and ingenuity of the family who design the mill equipment, which is exported all over the world. (Some of our group had seen proof of this when they visited the tiny Orcadian island of North Ronaldsay and saw the equipment from this company in operation. ) The mill wasn't just equipment but there was also a large shop with yarn, roving, knitting and woven goods.
Next, off to Cape Breton Island.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Before leaving Halifax we experienced another highlight of the trip with a stop in the Hydrostone Market. Initially we gathered at an interesting, well-stocked yarn shop, LK Yarns, where our group (again) discovered more yarn and patterns which they couldn't live without!
We were soon met by Kathryn Thomas, founder of the unique Fleece Artist Yarns. Kathryn divided us into two groups and in turn, we were privileged to have a tour through her studio and to see a detailed dyeing demonstration. We were all impressed by the quality of the materials and the dedication of Kathryn and her staff. (For instance, we learned that the silk in the yarns comes from Switzerland, where the quality is far superior to that from China.) Kathryn was very generous with her time and forthright in answering our questions. It gave our group a deeper appreciation of Fleece Artist Yarns and everywhere we travelled throughout the rest of the tour, many more purchases were made and orders placed.
After a light lunch at a busy bakery in the Hydrostone, we boarded our coach for the trip to P.E.I. and our hotel in Charlottetown. We anticipated a journey of no more than four hours, however, approaching the Confederation Bridge, our driver explained the significance of the flashing lights: the bridge was closed to high-sided vehicles (coaches and transport trucks) due to high winds.
Actually, in the end, our enforced change in plans was serendipitous -- it gave us time to visit London-Wul Fibre Arts, located in the countryside outside Moncton, N.B. Again, a memorable stop as it was the favourite shop of our friend Dorine Gould, who died in August. (Most of our group had travelled with Dorine a number of times, and were very fond of her and enjoyed her gentle nature.) We all miss her and it seemed appropriate that events should have meant we had an 'unscheduled' stop at London-Wul. (http://www.thewoolworks.com/) Heidi Wulfraat is the owner and a visit to her shop is not to be missed. Most of our group bought her beautiful handspun yarn.
I was concerned that the Bridge wouldn't open in time for us to reach Charlottetown, and was worrying about having to make alternate accommodation arrangements for nineteen people. There was also the concern that even if the bridge opened that evening, that our coach driver might be approaching the limit of the number of hours he could drive that day. It all turned out just fine and although it was dark and the group couldn't appreciate the bridge structure, we made it to Charlottetown and received a warm welcome from the staff at the Islander Inn.
Next installment: Our time on P.E.I.
For most of the tour, we had wonderful weather--starting with our stay in Halifax and the chance to explore this historical, beautiful city. I spent a great day walking along the harbourfront, visiting Pier 21 and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and just enjoying the day--with a stop for a lobster roll lunch at one of the many great restaurants. For those whose legs weren't accustomed to the hills and many places to see, the city offers a free bus service called FRED (Free Rides Everywhere Downtown). This frequent service is comprised of a number of city buses which circle the central city area, stopping at museums, historic sites and major hotels. There are guides on each of the buses who answer questions and provide an interesting commentary and a historical background of the buildings throughout the route.
Our hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton was conveniently located within walking distance of just about everything. The lobby was spacious, with comfortable chairs for sitting and knitting together. (As soon as I can figure out how to add photos, I'll show you the projects of our talented group.)
One evening we also visited a yarn shop called The Loop. (http://www.theloophalifax.ca)%20it/ It was fortuitous that we were in Halifax during their evening knitting get together, and our group enjoyed the chance to see what the shop carried. We received a warm welcome of tea, coffee and cookies. I think the shop was also happy to have us come by as our group left with arms full of purchases.
Another evening we had a special group dinner at the Halliburton Inn, a heritage property which offers charming rooms and outstanding meals. Two surprise guests, Shirley Scott and Carolyn Green, were there to greet the group and to add to our enjoyment. It was a memorable evening, both for the excellence of the food and the enthusiasm of our group!
Next: On leaving Halifax and going to Charlottetown.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
You can read the details of the competition on the hotel website: http://www.townhousecompany.com/townhousecompany/scotland/index.aspx. The deadline is November 30th to upload an image and send it along, with a brief description of your 'experience'. There are a number of desirable prizes for the winners.
Have a look at the hotel site and get out your photos!
Sunday, August 23, 2009
The shop had a small, but interesting selection of yarns, books and buttons, and I came across several brands from mills which I hadn't known of before. One thing which especially impressed me was that the shop used attractive bags of recycled newsprint from India for purchases. Not only did they have the purpose of helping the poor, but they were also sturdy. You can learn more about the project at the site: http://www.theindiashop.co.uk/.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
An international group of talented tutors have been booked and space reserved at the university, which is ideally suited for a gathering of this kind. There is ample onsite accommodation, meeting rooms and recreational facilities. A number of other activities have been planned: yoga, whisky tasting, a ceilidh, dinner with the tutors. As long as a minimum number of children are registered, there will even be a Kids' Camp, offering child care for those from 6 months to 12 years.
Saturday, 14 August will be U.K. Ravelry Day at the same site--a good reason to stay on.
Have a look at their website to get an idea of the plans: http://www.britishyarn.org.uk/
Friday, August 7, 2009
It has been my personal experience (and that of the travel industry in general) that people are delaying finalizing their travel plans until close to the time of departure--however, don't leave it too late to make your decision. Due to the special places we visit and the talented local people we meet, the size of the group will not be expanded. This unique itinerary won't be repeated next year, as I have other destinations in mind.
You can read about the details and highlights of this trip on my website: http://www.joycejamestours.com/ then click on Nova Scotia/Prince Edward Island at the top. Please contact me with any questions you have and if you wish to register. My telephone number is: 613-695-0889 and email: email@example.com.
Don't miss out!
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Members of our Scottish Skeins group in July were privileged to have workshops and to meet with talented members of the Shetland Guild. As we looked at their beautiful lace in detail, it gave us all a deep appreciation for the talents of the Guild members . We even made the local newspaper, The Shetland Times, which featured a photo of our group with members of the Guild, and an acknowledgement of our contributions to the building fund of their new museum.
We also met with Liz Lovick at her home, which is just across from the Workshop. Liz has produced two CD-Rom discs, "Knitting Ganseys" and "Knitting Shetland Lace." I've just had a quick look at them and intend to view them in detail--they have a lot of history, instruction and patterns. Liz's website is: www.northernlace.co.uk/
I was reading the latest KBTH today and in addition to the many positive comments about an Estonian book of lace, there was a link to a submission Liz prepared for the KBTH Lace Virtual Conference, dated March 2006. Have a look at:
www.knittingbeyondthehebrides.org/lace/SameButDifferent.pdf. It is subtitled 'Shetland Lace in a European Context'. A lot of work and research went into this paper.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Several years ago, Anna decided not renew her lease and she subsequently held a sale and quickly sold the stock. The Fibre Hut has been missed by many, not only in Calgary but in a large area of Alberta.
Since that time, Anna has been very busy: she and her husband Colin have moved near the hamlet of Buffalo Pound Lake which is north of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, where she now creates beautiful art quilts in her studio, plus teaching and exhibiting her artistry at venues all over North America. She has won a number of awards and her quilts are frequently included in prestigious juried exhibitions. Have a look at her website: http://www.annahergert.com/. Anna also sends out a monthly e-newsletter, which you can obtain from her website.
I don't know how she accomplishes so much!
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Only three Canadian provinces (Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia) have similar acts which protect and reimburse travellers if an end supplier--a wholesaler, hotel, cruise line, airline--does not provide the services for which the consumer has paid. It is therefore important that a traveller books with a registered agent in one of these three provinces, although it is not necessary to be a resident. The fund is largely supported by payments from travel agencies and travel wholesalers. The amounts levied are based on a percentage of their sales and have to be remitted to the fund twice a year.
Compensation will only be paid to travellers after they have sought and did not receive reimbursement from a credit card or travel insurance company. It must be for the non-provision of travel services due to the bankruptcy or insolvency of a registrant, or the failure of an airline or cruise line end supplier. While such incidences rarely occur, it is fortunate that such potential support does exist. In the recent bankruptcy of the tour company, Conquest Tours, TICO was instrumental in ensuring return flights were arranged for stranded travellers. The limit for compensation from the fund is a maximum of $5000 CAD for those who qualify.
I passed the exam!
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The tweeds of Breanish are unusual as they are frequently woven in a lighter weight to those from Harris, using Shetland yarn, lambswool and cashmere, either alone or in combination. The yarns are all dyed and spun in Scotland. They even offer a Robbie Burns check to mark Scotland's Year of Homecoming and the 250th anniversary of their national poet and cultural icon.
I am not a weaver and from watching the video, can now understand when I've been told that the warping and tying on the traditional Hattersley looms can take longer than the actual weaving.
During our visit last year we met Iain Finlay Mcleod and several of the weavers, and I can attest that some beautiful lengths of tweed were purchased by our tour members. At that time, Breanish Tweed was located in a trailer but with plans for larger, more permanent, premises. We'll be able to see the changes during this year's tour in July.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
My home guild is the Ottawa Guild of Knitters: http://www.ottawaknittingguild.ca/. They have a large membership and well-planned meetings with enthusiastic attendees. Their newsletter is called 'The Tangled Skein'--I always look forward to receiving an issue.
I also belong to the Gilli-Hook Heritage Knitters Guild in Calgary: http://www.gilliknitters.org/. Since I haven't been able to attend their meetings, for several years, I keep up with their activities through the newsletter. I think the most talented knitter I've ever met is my friend, Gladys Vallance, a member of the Calgary guild. For anyone who doesn't know, a 'gilli hook' is of Nordic origin and was used by knitters to hold their yarn, so they could knit while going about their other duties.
One of the Toronto area guilds of which I am also a member is the Downtown Knit Collective, also known as the DKC: http://www.downtownknitcollective.ca/. This is a large, active guild and they have a number of well-known designers and authors, in addition to many talented knitters amongst the membership.
Probably one of the older guilds is the Knitting and Crochet Guild in the U.K.. which recently marked their 30th anniversary: http://www.knitting-and-crochet-guild.org.uk/. Take some time to look at their comprehensive website in detail--there is a lot to see. Their twice-yearly journal is called the 'SlipKnot' and I found each issue has an interesting collection of articles. Recent topics were, "The Home Front in World War Two" and "Thoughts on the cataloguing and classification of knitting patterns", news from regional guilds, techniques, announcements of upcoming events, ads. In fact, I've been reading through a recent issue and was reminded of how much I enjoy the 'SlipKnot', plus it's time to renew my membership! For anyone planning a visit to Yorkshire, the guild has a permanent home with a knitting collection and an extensive library of books and patterns.
Although not just for knitters, the Textile Museum of Canada: http://www.textilemuseum.ca/ should not be missed. Their mission statement is: "Explore the continuum of textile art through time and space, from 2,000 years in the past to the day after tomorrow"--something they do very well. The attractive building, easily accessible in downtown Toronto, offers a variety of exhibitions and an extensive library. Two displays at present are: "The Cutting Edge" and "When Women Rule the World; Judy Chicago in Thread".
I also belong to the Tucson Handweavers & Spinners Guild: http://www.thsg.org/. This guild started in 1973 and have many study groups--not just limited to weaving and spinning, but to knitting, rugs and baskets. Their newsletter is called "Woolgather" and in addition to its printing, the guild sends out frequent email updates. Although the primary interest of the membership seems to be spinning and weaving, there is much for knitters too. They are a very active group and hold events and meetings for those interested in any of the textile arts.
Whether knitting is a craft which gives us independent pleasure, this quick review of some guilds and newsletters shows us how we are all part of a much larger community. I'd be interested to hear of other guilds. Please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be able to mention your guild in future posts.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Our first stop is in the receiving area where the farmers bring in their clip, and it is weighed and graded. Oliver Henry, known as 'the wool man' is always there to speak to us about the process of grading. There are enormous bins of different qualities of fleece and Oliver shows us how he decides if the end result should be the fine cobweb yarn or destined for a wool carpet, plus all the gradations in between. He is very obliging and well deserves his reputation as an expert.
The very helpful retail staff are there to give us advice on choosing colours and amounts for any project. Frequently, one visit isn't enough for the tour members and they often make time to go back again if not once, but several times during our five days on Shetland. The staff are also experts in mail order and for those who want to take their yarn back home with them, offer us the courtesy of bundling up the purchases and sending them to our last hotel in Glasgow, thus avoiding the luggage restrictions on our domestic Loganair flights. In fact, mail order is a speciality of the firm and several years ago they won a national postal award for their services. In the office upstairs, the phones seem to be constantly ringing with orders from around the world.
It is amazing to see their stock room with the myriad yarn colours in boxes reaching to the ceiling. J. & S. also carry the famous knitting belts, a woolly board for blocking sweaters, plus a selection of patterns and books. They carry a wide range of yarn weights and colours--from the one-ply lace weight which is used to make the treasured shawls (including the beautiful 'wedding ring shawls), through the 2-ply lace, jumper weight, to the heavier Shetland aran (formerly known as 'Brora Soft Spun'). A range of nine natural shades is found in their 'Shetland Supreme Natural' line, which comes in 2-ply lace and cobweb weights, plus a jumper weight. For spinners, there are 'Shetland Combed' tops which is in white. Have a look at their blankets--completely woven from Shetland yarns. As another option for spinners, depending on the custom import regulations where you live, it could be possible to order a fleece which Oliver will select.
More about yarns from Shetland in another post.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
This will give us all a chance to reconnect with friends and travelling companions, and to discuss the many interests which our tour members share.
As long as you have a Ravelry account (and it's not hard to get one); look under Groups and then Joyce James Tours. Hope to 'see' you there.
Friday, April 17, 2009
We just have six places left for this tour. If you've been planning to join us, send in your registration deposit to Vision 2000 Travel Group as soon as possible. If you have any questions please contact me at: email@example.com or phone at: 613-695-0889.
A larger photo of the finished project above can be found on:
The pattern is from the book Fisherman's Sweaters by Alice Starmore. If you need to order a copy, the book is available from Marsha White at the Needle Arts Book Shop ; http://www.needleartsbookshop.com/. (There will not be any copies of the pattern made due to copyright laws.)
The gauge for the sweater is 34 st and 45 rows per 4 inches (or 10 cm.) over a knit/purl pattern. This is a fine gauge and is well suited to the Frangipani 5-ply Guernsey yarn available from Jan Stanland in the UK; http://www.guernseywool.co.uk/. Many other sport weight yarns would work well.
Those participating in the Nova Scotia trip in September could bring the project along to work on or as a finished sweater. All are welcome to join KAL even if not attending the trip. Email Judy Pearce at http://firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to sign up for the KAL. Details will follow as they develop. Meanwhile, check out the project and start thinking about color and yarn.>>
Kudos to Judy for this project!
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I'd heard a lot about the BSJ and wanted to give it a try. I thought I was a fairly experienced knitter but learned some important lessons about the garter stitch. This was the first design I've tried by Elizabeth Zimmerman--her stellar reputation is well deserved.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
It's easy to spend way too much time looking at the details on their informative website! Still, I think it's time well spent--I learned a lot about silk care, the various types of silk fibres and creative uses of their many products. If you don't live close to Salt Spring (and unfortunately few of us do,) they offer a mail order service for the many ribbons, threads, skeins for knitting, rovings and fleece they carry. This store will appeal not only to knitters and embroiderers, but to spinners and weavers and all textile lovers. The colour choices seem limitless.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Last summer, I had a wonderful trip to the U.K. with my daughter and her family. We spent a memorable time in Wales, primarily to attend a family wedding, but it also gave us an opportunity to reconnect with relatives. They all made us very welcome and made sure we saw as much as possible of this beautiful area. It was difficult to leave.
En route to Wales, we spent one day in London -- although it didn't seem like enough time to see this historic, exciting city, I think we made the most of our day there. One of our stops was the Natural History Museum and I've posted photos of two of my grandsons, thoroughly engrossed in the exhibits. To me it shows the wonder of children and their boundless curiosity.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Have a look at the video and learn more about Liz's approach and dedication to her weaving: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfMf0Hef9Vw.
Those who came on the tour to Ireland will remember meeting Liz at her studio. We loved having the opportunity to see the beautiful scarves and shawls, woven in colours inspired by Liz's love of Monet and his gardens at Giverny. I expect you will enjoy having a look at Liz's blog at: http://swallowstudios.wordpress.com/
Friday, February 13, 2009
Suzanne Pedersen, founder of this highly popular event, has again included the Shetland Textile Museum as one of the four designated charities. This year to raise funds, sock kits with specially commissioned, hand painted colours from the Madrona logo are available for the four days during the show.
I was fortunate to attend Madrona in 2008. Have a look at my post from last year to see some of the other attractions in Tacoma.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Our time on these unique islands is always a high point of our travels -- from the time our favourite coach driver, Magnus Smith, meets us at Sumburgh Airport, to our last day when we check out of our hotel in Lerwick for departure to the airport. As in previous years, our time on Shetland was a mixture of visits to archaeological sites, workshops of talented knitwear designers, a jewellery design workshop, the home of a talented basket maker, shops including a cooperative selling local knitwear, and a visit to a farm to see a flock of traditional Shetland sheep breeds.
Special additions to this year's tour were two morning workshops, where we were privileged to meet with especially accomplished Shetlanders for tuition in Shetland lace and Fair Isle knitting. Not only did we learn the fine points of these techniques, but tour members commented that it was a treat to just sit and chat casually with these ladies. Another highlight was a visit with the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Weavers & Knitters. Guild members welcomed us with a delicious homemade lunch and an exhibition of their handiwork. The venue was a community centre within sight of their ambitious project, the new Shetland Textile Working Museum. Once a nearby manor house is restored and enlarged, the Guild will have a permanent home for their collections and a space for meetings and workshops. Our group was pleased to present them with a contribution to help with their many expenses.
Another special visit was with Dr. Carol Christiansen, an American who is curator of the textile collection at the Shetland Museum and Archives. Dr. Christiansen showed us around the exhibits and explained their historical significance and how the Museum was able to acquire them, and talked about the importance of conservation of the collection. A visit to this stunning centre is not to be missed. The Museum is extremely interesting and Shetlanders are rightly proud of this building located on the Lerwick harbour. Although it only opened in 2007, the Museum had already received a five-star status from Visit Scotland.
After a memorable stay on Shetland, we had more wonderful experiences awaiting us on the nearby Orkney Islands. Orkney doesn't have as strong a textile tradition as Shetland, however our days here were filled with visits to the incredible archaeological sites of Scara Brae and Maeshowe, and to the many talented jewellery designers for which the islands are well known. We also took a short ferry ride from the mainland one afternoon and had a tour and tea at Balfour Castle. Before leaving Orkney we visited the small town of Stromness, where in previous centuries, Hudson Bay ships sailed for North America. One day, some members of the group took the short flight to the island of North Ronaldsay, home of the primitive breed of sheep of the same name.
Our last island stop on the tour was to the Outer Hebrides, now known as the Western Isles. Our very comfortable hotel, the Cabarfeidh, is located in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. Our popular Blue Badge Guide, Joan Morrison, spent the next four days giving us a memorable introduction to both Lewis and Harris. Our days were a mixture of touring and free time: we visited talented Harris tweed weavers in their weaving sheds; the control room of the Coast Guard Station (responsible for marine rescues over a wide area of the North Atlantic Ocean); galleries and the Neolithic site of the Calanais Standing Stones, which are older than Stonehenge. Our visit ended with a very special stop at Gearrannan Village, a restored collection of traditional thatched blackhouses, where we enjoyed a talk by the guide there, followed by a delicious dinner prepared by a local chef.
After our flight from Stornoway to Glasgow and checking into our hotel at the Glasgow airport, we went to the nearby Paisley Museum where one of the curators of the collection of traditional Paisley shawls gave us a private tour and showed us two of the huge looms which the weavers used.
The next Scottish Skeins & Skerries Tour is scheduled for July 2009. The details of this unique tour are on my website. www.joycejamestours.com