We've reached Italy! We got here at 4am this morning, and even at that time we had to start removing layers. It's lovely to be back to the warm air and sunshine - today averaged about 23 degrees, a lovely temperature for this time of year!
After getting off the ferry at Calais last thursday, we headed towards Bruges and stayed the night at the same campsite we stopped at on the way up earlier in the year, Camping Memling. It's a lovely little site, with an eclectic mix of 1950's static caravans, wooden gypsy trailers and every type of tent, caravan and motorhome you could imagine. Our bus looks quite at home here, unlike some other campsites we've stayed at.
The trees behind the bus were sweet chestnuts, so we harvested a few to roast when we got to Italy. There are lots of little hedges and borders between the pitches, and we're told most of those are herbs, which you can use freely. Hot water showers are included in the cost, and those are solar powered - not surprising we like this site enough to go back again, really!
The next morning we headed into Bruges (the campsite is less than 3km from the centre) As you know, wherever I travel I love to pick up a bit of the local Textile culture, and in Bruges that means lace. There are shops after shops selling lace, but most of this is machine lace produced for the tourist market. Lace making (with bobbins and pillows, not the knitted variety) is an incredibly lengthy and detailed process, and would hardly sell for the price it is worth.
Not content with a few tourist shops, I wanted something more, and earmarked one of the local museums that specialised in applied and decorative arts (The Gruuthusemuseum). As we wandered, one of the lace shop owners told me about a craft shop that sold lace making equipment, and only having limited time to our city visit before we needed to hit the road again, we headed there instead of the museum.
Dear readers, if you ever find yourself in Bruges and only visit one shop, make it this one. Scharlaeken is on a side road just off the main square, and is a yarn crafters haven. I'd say their main focus was bobbin (or pillow) lace, yet I found a wall of Belgium yarn (I found wool!) and another for cross stitch, another for embroidery and so on. Perfect.
I asked the store owner to recommend a book to me, and she talked me through how the Belgian publishers work. She had English books and French books, yet she explained, the Belgian books are printed with 4 languages within.. they decided this would be a good business move since they're such a small country and didn't want to limit their market, so their craft books contain the same words and instructions in Dutch, German, French and English. Genius, huh?
After talking with her for a while, I found this locally published book. And as soon as I saw it, it had to come home with me.
This is a modern lace book, using Torchon lace techniques to create sculptures with the theme of Reflection and Symmetry. Not only does the book contain gorgeous photos, it also tells you how to make them! (bobbin lace patterns are called 'prickings') Can you see now why I was so excited about this book? Traditional techniques used in a modern, sculptural way?
To answer a question that may be popping into your head right now, yes, I can make bobbin lace. I've never talked much about it on this blog, and admittedly it has been a few years since I've had the time to sit down and do any, but I do keep meaning to at least show you my collection of bobbins.
Now, in the greater scheme of things, I'm far from being an accomplished lace maker. There is a hierarchy of the different types of lace, with Honiton (a native English lace) being up there near the top. I can make Torchon (well, am no doubt a little rusty) and Bruges flowers, and that's about it. But it's still lace, and still needs often hundreds of bobbins in one go and an awful lot of concentration, time and decent eye sight.
I promise I will blog about this one day. Whilst in the shop I bought some local style and souvenir bobbins:
These aren't the types of bobbins I use, I prefer English bobbins that come with a beaded spangle on the end. Nonetheless, I like to collect other types, and so these came home with me too. If you think knitting needles are a black hole for collecting, with their interchangeables and nice woods and pretty ends, you ain't seen nothing until you get into lace bobbins. These things are in whole other world unto themselves.
Of course, some yarn came home with me too (did you expect me to go into a shop selling yarn and not buy any?)
The grey/mink coloured yarn on the far right I found in a little boutique on a back street as we walked into the city, and is a French produced merino multi-plied yarn. The green and deep burgundy yarns I bought from the same shop as the lace book and bobbins, and is a Belgian yarn - a superwash Aran weight wool, and is a lovely sturdy yarn, what you might call 'a proper Aran'. As always, all in 100g quantities.
So I came out with a book, bobbins and yarn, all from the local region. I was very, very happy.
Bruges is a historical city with the most amazing architecture, and you can't help but take photos:
And that's about it for our visit this time - next spring when we head that way again, I've no doubt we'll stay at the same campsite and this time we'll head for the museum that interested me.
After leaving Belgium, we headed south through Germany into Austria, then finally into Italy. We didn't stop anywhere else interesting or exciting or photo worthy until we got to the Yard. It's nice to be back to our little plot and to see everyone again, and no doubt we'll have a few adventures here!