Estonia! The next 9 blog posts are going to be about Estonia. I know that sounds crazy, but the handicraft culture and traditions are so rich here, we just couldn't pair it down. Estonia is a magical place and we hope some of our adventurous blog readers might make it there someday if you haven't already been. Our first stop is the capitol city of Tallinn.
Tallinn is an extremely old city - first traces of human settlement date back over 5,000 years. It boasts a beautifully preserved medieval center which is known as Old Town and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We hardly left Old Town. It was so beautiful and there is so much to explore.
We had the pleasure of being in town for Tallinn's annual Medieval Days festival. As if Old Town isn't medieval enough as is, this festival brings local artisans and crafters to sell their work and includes events, demonstrations and more. We hit the market first and boy was it amazing!
Wandering through the booths we instantly saw and fell in love with Külli. She is the powerhouse knitter behind these amazing mittens. She uses traditional Estonian designs from around Estonia. Each village, island and region has its own patterns. She spoke English very well and was happy to tell us about each design's origins and myths (some are meant to bring protection or luck to the wearer). She even gave us some on-the-fly knitting tutorials for the unique faux-entrelac borders that are often used.
We each bought a pair of mittens and then went back the next day for more. They are just so beautiful! Picking out your pair is the hardest part and we spent a good hour or so talking to Külli, trying on mittens and obsessing over which were the perfect ones. Impossible. You, too, can obsess on her beautiful mittens here.
There is a section of booths at the medieval festival reserved for master craftsmen. Boy, did we get into trouble there. Let us introduce you to our new Latvian friend, Aija.
Aija makes amazing yarn. She travels around Latvia and Estonia to choose sheep fleeces to use from local farmers. She dyes the fleeces using locally sourced plant that she collects. She then hand spins these and finally, different colors are plied together to create a soft, loosely plied, naturally dyed yarn. We each bought copious amounts of this magical yarn, all of which are in natural hues of yellow and green.
Aija is also accomplished at the craft of naalbinding, an ancient form of making fabric with yarn and a large needle which pre-dates knitting. Aija sold her naalbinded hats and mittens that were made from her handspun yarn...swoon! If you're into historical reenactment, you need to go to Estonia right now and pick up everything that Aija makes.
We also met Monika. Monika makes lovely handspun yarns in a rainbow of colors and neutrals. She was on hand to give spinning demonstrations to the public. Monika had met our friend Malia of Penelope Crafts in Amderstam the year before, and helped put us in touch with some women on Muhu Island (check back for more on that tomorrow) to teach us embroidery. (Thank you, Monika!).
Handicrafts are ubiquitous in Tallinn. There are shops in old town selling Estonian knit items of all sorts, but one our favorite finds, Naiiv, featured modern garment designs based on the traditional bright colorwork of Estonia. We knew we had arrived by the very cool yarn-bombed bike outside the door.
Naiiv designs leggings, sweaters, jackets and even backpacks with their colorful knit fabric. We wanted it all...
Thanks for being so magical, Tallinn!
Up Next: Embroidery class on Muhu Island