Last week at this time I was struggling to stay awake after my flights from London to Philadelphia, and Philly back to Albany. Today, with jet lag a memory, four loads of clean laundry waiting to be folded on the spare bed, and our lilacs not yet ready to burst as these had already in London, I’m finally able to sit down with the laptop to write about some of the vacation highlights.
I hadn’t been to the UK since 2005, and being an almost lifelong Anglophile (my earliest memories are of Beatles tunes coming out of the Hi-Fi), this was practically inexcusable, especially because I hadn’t seen some very good friends who live in Wales and London for a number of years. So, thanks to my Capital One Venture Card points, I managed a pretty inexpensive trip to make good on last year’s promise to reconnect. I started with four nights in Caerphilly, Wales, with a friend I’ve known since my semester abroad in early 1990 at Regent’s College in London’s beautiful Regent’s Park. She even enlisted her mom to join us on our day out sightseeing in the countryside.
Though this friend is not a knitter, she kindly acquiesced to accompanying me to the National Wool Museum of Wales. When you think of Welsh industry, mining, particularly coal, probably comes to mind first, but sheep farming in Wales dates back to prehistoric times, and Welsh wool is still in high demand today, despite the relatively small number of working wool mills. The museum, now a national heritage site, has free exhibits that include some of the machinery used in the woolen industry’s heyday. And it’s all still operational today.
Videos walk visitors through the wool processing steps, from willowing (on a machine nicknamed “the devil” because of its dangerous, sharp moving parts that had, on occasion, taken operators’ arms off), to carding, spinning and winding (the upper-left image is of the winders – I didn’t see this monster in action, but the videos of its workings were mighty impressive!), and then on to weaving. The Welsh woolen industry was best known for its fabrics and traditional woven blanket and tween patterns. As a knitter, I was fascinated by the processes the wool went through from fleece to fabric. It’s hard to imagine now, in this era of mass production, but also of a return to smaller batch production and focus on local farms, how craftspeople would have reacted to their unique handiwork being coopted by industrial age machinery.
After a whirlwind of activity in Wales that included a thrilling football match in Cardiff, with the hometown Cardiff City team triumphing over Brentford, a concert of ska cover bands at the Cardiff student union, a visit to the Caerphilly Castle, a stroll along the promenade at Cardiff Bay (with a stop to watch the boats moving in an out of the locks at the Barrage), and loads of fun times spent with my friend and her family, I steered my rental car onto the M4 and headed east toward London.
Though the London of my memories from that semester in 1990 and my subsequent stay on a student work permit in early 1992 is long gone, replaced in part by the inevitable gentrification and influx of chain restaurants and shops, I still have a very soft spot in my heart for the city. I stayed in a lovely Airbnb in Brixton – an area considered off limits because of its crime back in the early 90’s – and thoroughly enjoyed the laid-back vibe and quiet nights in my little flat. It was an ideal place to come back to evenings after walking endlessly through the busier parts of the city.
Luckily enough, one of my planned stops to have lunch with an old friend from graduate school landed me in Islington, the home of Loop.
Loop is everything a local yarn store should be – inviting, friendly, well-stocked, with knowledgeable, helpful staff. The yarns were displayed in a way that made browsing fun, the knitted samples were eye-catching and tempted at every turn to indulge in all the materials needed to recreate those lovely pieces, and, even though clearly a Yank with limited opportunity to return to this cozy store, I was still given a loyalty card, stamped for my day’s purchases and ready to fill in further on my next visit. And shop I did (within reason … I did have to cram everything into a small suitcase for the return trip).
Two of these gorgeous shades of angora/wool blend yarn are “bespoke colours” of hand-dyed in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, lusciousness (Magical Goose and Soot colorways). I may just make the cowl that was featured as a sample in the shop, or I’m toying with the idea of coming up with my own stranded color work cowl pattern.
My other purchase was a hat kit, expertly marketed in a bouquet of woolen locks:
What self-respecting knitter could possibly pass this up?! I’m sure, once I have this piece completed, it will bring a smile to my face every time I wear it. Much like the smile I wore after that lunch with an old friend.
My trip also included some breaks for working on the latest project, the Find Your Fade Shawl, soon to be known as the most colorful item in my wardrobe. Here it is with me on a bench in Queen Anne’s Garden in Regent’s Park (too early for the roses to be in bloom, but nevertheless, one of my favorite spots in London):
and in its more advanced stage this week after returning home:
I will put it aside soon to finish the Om Shawl and Swirl sweater, but for now, it’s sort of my link to a really enjoyable vacation and the time I was able to spend with some dear friends.