Because I totally did! It was great, not least because of the fiber-craft scene there, which is small but vibrant. The impetus for this trip was the Orphan Film Symposium, which was being held overseas for the first time, at the EYE Film Institute, housed in a spectacular new building overlooking the Amsterdam waterfront. But I found plenty of ways to intertwine this trip with yarns, fabric, buttons, and knitting, of course!
As some of you may know, when I'm not knitting, I'm an audiovisual archivist. My specialty is the preservation of home movies and amateur film, and researching how those media have been integrated into our larger cultural heritage over the decades since their introduction. I'm a co-founder of the international Home Movie Day event and the nonprofit Center for Home Movies; my Billington Bag pattern is named for the current Librarian of Congress, and proceeds from sales benefit CHM and their efforts to preserve and provide access to amateur films from all over the world.
While these two sides of my identity may seem distinct, they're quite closely related. Home movies and handknits have lots in common: First off, there's the fact that they are both made of yards and yards of long skinny stuff, and they both have lots and lots of little tiny holes in them. They are also deeply personal, and highly reflective of the time and place they were made, not to mention the people who made them. They're often far more colorful than their mass-produced counterparts, and of course they're totally unique. With careful preservation, they can last for many years in pristine condition, but even when they're worn almost to tatters, they're still special.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, therefore, to hear that I wasn't the only person in the audience knitting my way through this symposium! One of my cherished colleagues, Catherine, had a lovely beaded shawl project going, and she was clicking away softly in the dark next to me while I worked on a baby blanket for my friends' son-in-progress. There was definitely at least one sock project in the works in that auditorium, too, but I didn't get a chance to ask the knitter about it--the program was jam-packed, as always, with amazing new discoveries, preservation premieres, rarities and one-of-a-kind productions, and there was hardly time to breathe during the meal breaks, let alone wolf down a delicious plateful of Indonesian food, before heading back into the theater for more screenings and talks.
Under the circumstances, I was truly glad that I'd built a couple of extra days into the trip earlier in the week--mostly to stave off jetlag, but also to ensure that I had time to meet with my counterparts in the Presentation and Preservation of the Moving Image master's program at the University of Amsterdam...and to go yarn shopping, of course! Catherine was kind enough to show me the highlights of her city, and through her I met some truly lovely fellow-knitters. The night I arrived, I joined her at the Thursday-evening knit night hosted by charming LYS Penelope. Everyone there was lovely, wearing lovely things they'd knitted themselves, and they were all very much knitters after my own heart. Someone even baked a rhubarb cake to share with us, which was divine. (Since coming back, I've made that recipe twice...yum!)
On the weekend, Catherine and I met up again to make the rounds of fabric, yarn, and button shops all over town via bike. The bicycle is the dominant form of life in Amsterdam, and the whole city is way more navigable on two wheels than four--a major, albeit very pleasant, change from auto-centric Los Angeles. I swear, I haven't ridden bikes with friends this much since I was ten years old! Although the cargo capacity of a rented three-speed cruiser (not to mention the ever-tighter restrictions on free checked baggage for international flights) puts a natural cap on shopping, and on the whole I was pretty restrained, I did manage to bring home a lovely haul. Behold!
One of our first stops was at A. Boeken, a stoffen and fournituren (fabric and notions) shop on Nieuwe Hoogstraat recommended by a lovely Raveler in the Stitch 'n Bitch Amsterdam group (thanks for the tip, briocher!). Like many places in ancient, canal-crossed Amsterdam, this shop is taller than it is wide, but packed to the rafters with lovely things. I got several yards of re-embroidered lace and a dead classy three-season tweed in a color blend that's part charcoal, part coffee. Then we hit De Afstap on Oude Leliestraat, which has one of the best selections of Rowan yarns I've seen in a long time. Their prices were either really reasonable, or else I was doing the Euros-to-dollars math wrong; regardless, I scored some Rowan Fine Lace in a dusky violet and their last four balls of Regia 4-fadig in a pale silvery lavender color (which will go great with the browny tweed, whatever that becomes). We rounded out the expedition with a wander through the Albert Cuyp market, which has a handful of fabric shops, each with its own specialty: quilting cottons, decor, fashion fabrics, couture textiles, imported batiks. Finally, we browsed respectfully through the collection at the Knopenwinkel button shop, got some chocolate, and called it a day.
While I chose to leave the Anne Frank House for my next visit, I didn't neglect the great cultural treasures of the city. I made a dutiful pilgrimage to the Rijksmuseum and joined the massive crowds contemplating the equally-massive Rembrandt group portraits (but really preferred their decorative arts collection, which had some amazeballs cabinets inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl, and a surprisingly touching display of woolen hats found in the graves of ancient whalers). Thanks to my Lonely Planet pocket guide, I also found my way to the Katten Kabinet, or Cat Museum! This is a private collection housed in one of the lavish homes on the Golden Bend. It's quirky, to say the least, and as you might imagine, yarn and cats playing with yarn are frequent motifs in the works on display here!
There was one 17th-century genre painting of a cat with its paw caught in a steel trap, which was awfully disturbing, but the little bronze statuette of a cat pooping ("Poepende Kat" (1989) by Monica Rotgans) may well be my favorite piece of art ever.
Every Dutch native I talked to there said the weather was unseasonably fine that week; I have no basis for comparison, this being my first trip to the country, let alone the city, but the sunshine and budding trees were indisputably pretty.
So, too, were the myriad architectural details of this old-world city: Antique tiles and delicate stonework abound there. You will miss a lot if you have to spend all your time there looking out for speeding bicycles, so be sure to take plenty of breaks for beers by the canal and people-watching if you go there yourself. And keep an eye out for me, too; I'm definitely going back at my earliest opportunity!