‘The capital of Estonia, Tallinn, is just a ferry ride away from my home in Stockholm. Leaving around 5.30pm you arrive in Tallinn at 10am the next morning, local time (an hour ahead from Swedish time.) The crossing towards Tallinn was smooth on a sunny day and a live band entertained us into the wee hours to get the holiday started. It was a rough ride back with the wind and rain but, one power nap and two cups of coffee later, I am hoping to share the crafting highlights…
My Swede and I were lucky to pick a comfy and well-situated hotel in the Old Town, Baltic Hotel Imperial. We found ourselves situated in a knitter’s paradise. There were endless shops and markets selling a variety of crafts, but I soon learned to be discerning about what actually constituted authentic Estonian knitting and design. Some of the souvenir shop sellers can be a bit pushy in selling their wares so be warned. I was helped greatly finding my way around by my clever Russian-speaking Swede, who patiently followed me around the shops. The younger generation are confident English speakers but having Russian on hand was a real advantage when we went around the local markets or wanted to ask for directions.
I spoke with a few shop owners, including the very kind and talented knitter at Madeli Kasitoo. This lady and members of her family knit and sew everything by hand following traditional Estonian patterns and using local wool. She pointed out that many of the street market sellers are Russian who tend to sell mass-produced sweaters in a variety of colours attractive to tourists, but not actually traditional in terms of Estonian design. Most authentic patterns stick to blue and white two-colour knitting and have quite specific patterns and she herself adapted her work to appeal to tourists who like to have a wide choice of colours to pick from. That said, there was a seller (pictured) who made mittens and gloves in a multitude of colours which she said were based on historical patterns. Of course, Estonia is also famous for its lace knitting and the shop owner gave me the name of a book to buy and the address of the book shop. She recommended “The Haapsalu Shawl – A Knitted Lace Tradition from Estonia” which is named after the town where this type of knitting originated. I was very pleased to find this “bible” of knitting as this heavy tome provides a detailed history and countless patterns.
I also went to Domus Linum where the owner, Urmas, was selling a whole rainbow of colourful yarns. A knitter’s paradise! I have been thinking about buying my own spinning wheel for a while… and now that I have bought a stash of “pre-yarn” ready to spin I think it might well be time! This type of prepared yarn is a good way for a beginner like me to get the hang of spinning without having to do the carding or washing preparation. And to be honest, I just loved the colours! Also, when I told Ormas of my plans to study knitting/spinning, he kindly gave me a student discount, usually only giving money off to the locals. So that hefty stash was 39 Euros.
I also got a good price on yarn from Estonian House. A lovely blend of colours in a fine yarn suitable for Fair Isle knitting and comparably cheaper than a similar grade of yarn I purchased on my holidays in Edinburgh. I got a lot of high quality wool and a bookmark for just over 28 Euros. Considering the constant temptation around me in this yarn heaven, I think I did quite well in restraining myself! Definitely an inspirational visit and a place I would like to go to again.
Time was limited so with heavy rains we braved the outdoor museum. It is a bus ride out of town and we felt the need to explore wider than just Old Town. The Kolu Inn is by far the most inspiring part of the trip – a cosy restaurant with beautiful wall hangings around a spacious room. Unfortunately, the wooden benches had a few splinters so I managed to rip my favourite tights before we rather wearily went around a series of very similar looking wooden huts while being rained on and bitten by mosquito. One house was rather charming with traditional lace decorations but the staff, although dressed for the part, did nothing more than sit and read (older generation) or sit and iPhone (the younger.) A disappointment, I must say. Plus it was a fair walk to the bus stop back to town. Anyway, I was pleased that in the morning we had first visited the local markets by the railways station. I got a couple of groovy bags perfect for knitting for only 3 Euros each. And the one we used managed to hold out against the endless rain. Bargain!
I would add you should wear trainers/comfortable shoes to allow for the uneven cobbled streets and steep steps. Also it is quite a changeable climate, so having a raincoat/umbrella (as well as sunglasses!) is a good idea. Plus, don’t forget a large suitcase to carry all that yarn home! Tallinn’s tourist info site is useful: http://visittallinn.ee/visitor
I hope you enjoyed my yarn-related travel story. Do share yours!