Saturday, May 31, 2014

Penelope Craft Night

On Thursday nights, the folks at Penelope Craft host knit night and I was so excited that part of my stay in Amsterdam fell on a Thursday.

Penelope Craft

I got the chance to knit with some Dutch folks who live in the States and some Americans who live in the Netherlands! Of course their were local folks as well and we all had a great time knitting and enjoying drinks, treats, and conversation.

Stephen West is among the regulars on Thursday nights & the whole group was so fun to knit with!

I loved the diversity of this group and it was really interesting hearing the conversation go from English to Dutch and back again. Not only did we get to hang out knitting, but I also checked out the great yarn slection at Penelope. She's got some things I'm quite familiar with like Tosh and Malabrigo, but it was particularly fun getting to feel wooly wool from Texel (an island north of Amsterdam) and a wide selection of Quince and Co. I haven't ever actually seen Owl before and it's so completely lovely. I adore the color palette too.

Appropriately for Amsterdam, the shop has a bike theme and I loved the sweet yarn bombed bike that sits out front. Don't forget my trunk show and meet & greet at the shop tomorrow, Sunday, June 1 from 13:00-16:00. I'd love to see you all there!
Kerkstraat 117
Amsterdam, Noord-Holland 1017GE
+31 (06) 142 77733

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bike Travel in the Netherlands: Part 2 (Air Travel)

When we started planning our bike tour, I was really curious how other people get their bikes on planes. It seemed kind of nerve wrecking and complicated, so we read a whole lot about what kinds of experiences other cyclist have had, and that was really helpful. Here's how it worked for us.

Our gear setup

We arrived early at the Vancouver airport so we could be pretty careful about prepping our bikes for air travel and take our time doing it, but it wasn't too involved. We removed the pedals, lowered our saddles (after marking the seat posts with sharpie to remember the appropriate height), turned the handlebars so they were parallel to the rest of the bike, and secured the front wheels to the frame with some webbing straps to keep them from flopping around. Since rear derailleurs are so delicate, we detached them and wrapped them in styrofoam padding and then secured them to the frame. We also let all the air out of our tires. It seems like that wasn't really necessary for the bikes themselves, but the airlines seem to prefer it, and the fellow at inspection did ask us, "Any CO2?" I assumed he meant the air in our tires, though I suppose it's also possible he was asking if we had CO2 cartridges on us.

The plastic bike bags all folded up
We did all our prep at the outside entrance of the Vancouver airport after riding from Cowichan Bay to Vancouver (via two ferries). After prepping the bikes and putting tags on them with our names & address, we put them in giant plastic bags, which we sealed with duct tape. (We ordered the bags online from a company called Wiggle in the UK.) Unfortunately, after we'd taken such care to pack and seal the bags, a security officer inspecting the bikes cut a hole in each of our bags in order to put the explosives-detector wand in there. I know I had the most horrified look on my face as he was cutting because I really didn't want to just damage the bags for no reason. He put a big piece of tape over the hole that said "Inspected". We'll definitely use the bags to get the bikes home, but I don't know what kind of shape they'll be in after that and if we'll be able to use them again.

Bikes packed and ready for transport
After the security inspection, a guy from the airline came up and hand carried the bikes down to be put on theplane. He seemed to be treating them with care and told us they were in good hands.

One quick note - Vancouver airport security confiscated our chain lube, and at every security checkpoint we went through, we got searched extra. The things that seemed to invite scrutiny were our U-locks/cables (we always use both in combination to secure our bikes), our bike pump, and our tools - more about that later.

Our nearly 9-hour overnight flight from Vancouver to London went by surprisingly quickly. I actually slept most of the way, so much so that I didn't take out my knitting once, which is really unusual for me.

We flew on British Air and I was surprised that they actually gave us some things for free - most importantly, they checked our bikes free. They let you take at least one free checked bag per person and the bikes don't cost anything extra! Beware, though, that they'll probably tell you that you get two free checked bags rather than one; we discovered after we'd bought our tickets that our economy class tickets only came with one even though we were told on the phone that all tickets include two free checked bags. We had to spend an extra $160 to check a box with two of our panniers in it, so it brought the cost of our ticket up, and we had to ride to the airport with a flattened cardboard box on the back of one of our bikes, but it still wasn't too bad.) We also got free wine, dinner, and breakfast on the long flight. I can't remember the last time I got a bag of peanuts for free on a plane, so that was pretty nice.

Our time at the London airport, where we had our layover, was probably the most stressful part of our trip. Having been worried that our checked box could get lost, we kept some essential gear, including the tools, in our carryon luggage. I think we'll risk checking the tools next time, though, because we had a slight scare at security when a security officer thought she ought to take away our wrench and bike tool kit, without which, we'd have been stuck stuck at the Amsterdam airport, unable to reattach our pedals, raise our saddles, or turn our handlebars. Happily a supervisor said there was no need to confiscate any of it.

I have to say, too, that the London (Heathrow) airport security apparatus felt very much like that of a Distopian Police State. I appreciate them keeping us safe, and I don't have the background info to judge how necessary or successful it is, but it did seem that every person was treated as a suspect, and the whole thing felt creepy and invasive. The security officers were very polite, though, and seemed to be doing their jobs well. (Maybe it was the matte black rubber gloves they all wore that freaked me out.)

Getting through the Amsterdam airport was much easier. Apparently cycle touring is not something that gets extra scrutiny, because we breezed through customs after just a few questions. The security officer also spoke English, which was expected, but still so helpful. It's really nice how much English is present here.

We've never flown with our bikes before, so we were pretty nervous about them being okay after the flight. But just like a baggage handler had hand carried them to the plane, someone hand carried them into the baggage terminal for us! They were never even on a conveyor belt that we saw. (I did see two bikes packed in those big canvas bike bags come rolling down the luggage belt, so I'm not sure how carefully they were treated in comparison with our plastic-bagged bikes.) Our plastic bags had huge gashes in them next to the top tubes where people had obviously cut them to make carrying easier, which was a little distressing, but the bikes themselves were totally undamaged. It took us about an hour to re-assemble and adjust the bikes, as well as re-pack. No one seemed to care that we did all of that in the baggage claim area.

The bags were damaged, but at least our bikes weren't

It was intimidating to do for the first time, but overall, traveling with our bikes went really smoothly. Next time, like I said, we'll pack our tools in our checked luggage to avoid any chance of them being taken away. I think I'll also try to pack more heavy stuff in the checked luggage and just have faith that the box will make it. It was pretty uncomfortable carrying a full and very heavy pannier through several airports. I adore my Ortlieb panniers for on-bike use, but off the bike, they're pretty uncomfortable and unwieldy to carry.

One thing to mention is that I'm carrying some extra non-cycling stuff that makes everything heavier - a bunch of knitted samples for my Penelope Craft trunk show, some printed patterns (paper is heavy!), and five knitting projects, which, I obviously need. (They're for work!) The patterns and the samples will be left at Penelope Craft while we're on the road, so I won't be doing the rest of the tour with them, though the knitting projects are, of course, coming along.

We haven't done our return journey yet, so I'll have to report back if we have a significantly different experience going the other direction.

How have you traveled with bikes? Any recommendations?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bike Travel in the Netherlands: Part 1

I'm happy to say that my husband and I arrived in Amsterdam yesterday with our bikes perfectly intact. And, we were able to bike from the airport to our campsite without much trouble, even after dark.

Since we were planning to spend a little time in Amsterdam before setting off for the rest of the country, we booked a little "wagonnette" at a campsite just outside the city for our first few nights instead of camping right away. The wagonette is like a tiny cabin, and staying there meant that we didn't have to pitch a tent when we arrived at eleven thirty at night after more than a day of travel. The area with the wagonettes looks like an adorable and cheerful little caravan encampment set alongside a lake.

There are some overly-friendly ducks who are obviously accustomed to getting free meals, and they've been our constant companions so far.

Our wagonette is right on the shore and there's a perfect spot out front for my early morning yoga practice. I haven't practiced outside very often in the past, and it was revitalizing to look up at seagulls flying overhead and turn to the side to see the drops if dew on the blades of grass and tiny flowers.

It's been a little gloomy and rainy here since our arrival last night, but fortunately this morning was dry enough for me to enjoy my practice. I brought along my Manduka travel mat, which is heavy (about 850 grams), but packs up really small. It's perfect for practicing on grass since it has a great sticky surface but no padding at all.


I didn't know I practice with such a serious face! I think tomorrow I'll work on smiling while I stretch.

I'm planning to share all about air travel with bicycles, cycling in Amsterdam, as well as my trunk show at Penelope Craft, so stay tuned. This month is likely to be pretty bicycle-heavy in its topics since I'll be spending so much time traveling by bike, but I'll throw some knitting in there too - you'll definitely get lots of pictures of me in my hand knits! And if you're interested in seeing more photos of the trip, follow me on Instagram.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Picea and the Beauty of Modified Drop Shoulder Construction

You may have heard that drop shoulder construction (and it's close cousin, modified drop shoulder) tend to make a sweater that looks sloppy and has too much fabric at the upper arm and underarms. While that's true of the classic giant eighties sweater, it doesn't have to be. Drop shoulder construction offers a very relaxed fit that can be perfect for active pursuits (anything that might make you sweat) and for lounging. The construction allows a lot of movement at the upper arm (movement can sometimes be restricted by a set in sleeve cap), as well as extra room at the underarm to allow some air flow.

The key to making a beautifully-fitting drop shoulder sweater is to work the body with a whole lot of positive ease and work the sleeves with just a standard amount. (Ease is how big the garment is in relation to your body - positive ease, as in this sweater, is bigger than your body, while negative ease would be smaller than your body and have to stretch to fit.) Picea, for example, is designed to be worn with 7-9 inches of ease at the bust, but just 2-3 inches of ease at the upper arms. This combination makes a sweater that doesn't bind at the underarms and looks casual but chic. I've got a 30 inch bust and 8.5 inch upper arms and I'm wearing the size 38" with an upper arm of 10.75" in the pictures, just so can get an idea of how it works. The sweater has 8 inches of ease at the bust on me!

Photo copyright Anna Dianich 2014

Beware that this won't work if you knit a size smaller than the recommended ease. You're likely to end up with sleeves that are too short and too tight at the top. That's because part of the sleeve length is created by fabric dropping down far below that little bone on your shoulder where a set-in sleeve would stop. (See the top photo in this post for a good view of this.) The sketch below shows the intended fit - a lot of positive ease on the body, and a slender sleeve that ends well below the shoulder.

This sketch shows the potential problems with making a size smaller than the recommended body ease - sleeves that are too short and too tight at the top, as well as a neckline that doesn't quite fit right.

All that is to say, I encourage you to try something new! Knit a sweater with modified drop shoulder construction and a ton of positive ease at the body! I think you may love it as much as I do.

Photo copyright Anna Dianich 2014
I think carefully about the details in my designs, especially for sweaters. Picea is a cardigan that's all about the details - from the ease at bust and sleeves, to the seamed, modified drop shoulder construction, to the big, functional pockets and snap closures. All of these elements combine to make a sweater that looks effortless and feels wonderful.
I have to mention the stunning yarn I used in this sample - it's Anzula Oasis, a hand dyed blend of silk and camel! It is every bit as luxurious as it sounds. It has shine and drape, but also a lovely wooly-ness and a very soft halo that makes it feel like a incredibly special garment. Thanks so much to the folks at Anzula for creating such a unique and gorgeous yarn.

If you'd like to get a closer look at/feel of the sample and/or ask me questions about sweater construction, I'll have this cardigan and a bunch of other samples with me at a trunk show and meet & greet at Penelope Craft in Amsterdam on Sunday, June 1, 1-4pm (or as they say in the Netherlands, 13:00-16:00). The samples will be at the shop for most of the month of June while I'm on my cycle tour, so even if you can't make it that day, I encourage you to stop by at some point!

If you're not likely to be in Amsterdam this June, but would like to see this sample, tell your local yarn shop to contact me! I'm accepting trunk show requests and I'd love to send some beautiful knits to your town.

Photo copyright Anna Dianich 2014

It's been really fun to see Picea on Ravelry's Hot Right Now list, so as long as it's in the top 20, the pattern will be on sale for 15% off when you buy it on Ravelry! No coupon code is necessary to get the sale price. Please share the pattern with your friends to extend the sale!

Sale Update: Thanks so much to those of you who took advantage of the HRN sale! I really appreciate so much enthusiasm for the pattern! The sale has now concluded.

I'm grateful to Julie Hoover, whose brilliant work inspired me to design with this kind of construction, and to Anna Dianich of Tolt Yarn and Wool, who took all of these lovely photographs.

Got questions about this sweater? Please post them in the comments below! I'd also love to hear about your favorite sweater construction and why you love it.




Monday, May 19, 2014

Netherlands, Here I Come!

I mentioned a few posts back that my husband and I were planning a trip to the Netherlands, and now the time has almost come!  In just a week, we'll be piling our gear on our bikes and heading to Amsterdam.


I've been planning what to pack and even though I'm generally a light packer, this will be my most minimalist trip ever.  We'll be traveling by bike with just two rear panniers each, for a total of 40L of gear capacity per person.  (That's about what fits in a carry-on suitcase.)  The only thing that will be traveling outside those two packs is my sleeping bag, which I'll admit is a bit large and luxurious.  (I'll carry that on the rear rack between the panniers.)  

Of course, the first thing I thought about when planning my packing list was, "What kind of woolens will I need?"  Since I'm traveling in June, you might think that I don't need much in the way of hand knits, but I know I tend to get chilly at night and in the early morning when I'm camping, even at the height of summer.  And besides, it was the perfect excuse to knit myself a new wardrobe!

If you read my "Dutch" post, you know I decided on a colorful sweater in Brooklyn Tweed Loft.  That's because I wanted a very lightweight sweater that would also be warm.  Loft is a fingering weight woolen spun wool, so it makes a toasty cardigan that doesn't take up much room or weigh me down.  I also expected to need:

  1. 1. A thin, light hat that could fit comfortably under my helmet, but still keep me warm

  2. 2. Fingerless mitts - I don't usually wear these while I'm riding, since I prefer gloves that provide a good grip and protect my hands.  Instead, I like these for off the bike getting prepped or just walking around.

  3. 3. A very soft and light cowl buff.  To keep down bulk and weight, I wanted the kind that's a simple tube that you pull over your head.

  4. 4. A vest that could keep my core warm without being bulky under my sweater or making me too hot

I also thought a pair of hand knit socks would be great, but I didn't quite get around to them.  Next time.

And here's what I came up with!

My Dutch Cardigan:

Richting, a hat also made from Brooklyn Tweed Loft in the colors Woodsmoke and Sap for an accent:

A coordinating set of fingerless mitts and cowl, made with Anzula Cloud, a gentle 2-ply MCN fingering:

And a very clean and simple vest made with a stunning rusty orangey-red color of Hazel Knits Artisan Sock called Henna:

Now that all my knits are made, I'm feeling much more prepared.  All of the designs above will eventually be patterns, but it won't be until after I get back from my trip.  If you'd like to test any of these patterns, keep an eye out on my Ravelry group, Facebook, and Twitter for the testing announcements. 

The whole trip is, of course, a big adventure, but one thing I'm very much looking forward to is visiting Penelope Craft, an Amsterdam yarn shop that I've been told is wonderful!  I'm bringing some samples for a trunk show and I'll be at the shop on June 1.  If you're in Amsterdam, I'd love to meet you!  Keep an eye out for more details.

I'm hoping to post blog entries and lots of Instagram photos while we're traveling so you can see what we're up to.  Have questions about knitting for a bike tour?  About taking a bike tour?  Ask away!  I love talking about knitting and about bicycling, so please leave me a comment if you'd like to hear more about any particular aspect of the trip or the knits. 

What adventures do you have planned for this summer?  If you've taken a bike tour, did you bring any hand knits?  I'd love any thoughts or tips on touring too!

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