sewing in april

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I mentioned at the beginning of the year that I received a sewing machine for Christmas (after about four years of not having one), and that I was looking forward to getting into sewing again. January and February went right by without a stitch sewn, but by March and April the home isolation period seemed to offer the opportunity to pull my machine out and finally try sewing some garment projects. And so after a couple of weekends of sewing, I have two projects to share with you!

Before April, I last sewed a garment in 2015. I’d also had a couple of sewing experiences that year that I’d felt slightly frustrated by – having become a very proficient and knowledgeable knitter, I started to feel totally lost at sea when I came back to sewing as an adult, because I wanted to be equally proficient and knowledgeable in that skill. I first learned to sew as a little kid, and I sewed a fair bit in high school, but I wasn’t very fussy about details or finishing at that point in my life (and at that time, I was only knitting really basic scarves, so sewing felt like the more developed skill between the two). But as an adult? I was definitely thinking about details and realizing how very much I didn’t know.

So coming back to sewing this year, I really had to psych myself up before getting going on my first project. But I sewed two things in April! And I have more sewing projects lined up. So that’s excellent. I also decided to purchase the Learn to Sew Clothing online class from Closet Case Patterns, and I can absolutely say that’s been a wonderful investment. At first I felt slightly overwhelmed by the number of hours of video content available through the course – did I really need all of this? – but even though I know enough to sew basic garments, the course walks you through so much foundational knowledge, and a lot of it is exactly the kind of stuff I’ve felt like I’ve been lacking. I learned loads in the first three video lessons alone. Sometimes it’s really worth going back to basics.

But at any rate, here are the two projects I sewed in April:

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First up is the Berlin Jacket by Tessuti Fabrics. Now, I’m gonna say up front that this pattern only goes up to an XL, which is not great. (Size inclusivity* is something I’ve thought about a lot in the past year and I’m in the middle of working on expanding the size range for my own back catalogue of knitting patterns.) I would love to see Tessuti Fabrics expand the size range on this, because I know there are sewists above an XL who’d love to make it if it came in their size. I chose this pattern because I had a few meters of a boiled wool knit I’d ordered from a local shop, originally thinking I would use it for a dress – but at the last minute I decided it was probably too thick for that, and I’d do better to find something that specifically recommended boiled wool. I also wanted something that suited my re-entry level skills (in other words, simple and approachable). This pattern seemed to fit the bill on both counts.

The Berlin Jacket is kind of a coatigan, in that it’s lightweight and unlined, so it’s somewhere between a coat and a cardigan. It’s been a really nice layer for Trondheim’s spring weather, though. I cut the size medium and didn’t make any modifications. The sleeves are designed to have the cuffs flipped up, and while I do wear it that way if I’m wearing it indoors, if I wear it out on a walk (as in the photo at the top of the post) I find I prefer to have the cuffs flipped down for the extra length. At 6′ / 172 cm my arms are on the long side so extra length is always appreciated.

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Most of the seams are overlapped, so there are a lot of visible raw edges, which is why boiled wool is one of the recommended fabrics for this pattern (since it won’t fray). That meant minimal finishing, in theory, but it also meant I went back along some of those raw edges and trimmed any raggedy spots, since when I cut the pieces out I didn’t do the neatest job (I used shears, since I don’t have a rotary cutter). The heather grey is very forgiving, however, so even the edges that still aren’t that neat don’t look too bad. I’m overall really pleased with this project and it proved a nice first project to get back into the swing of things.

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Next up, I went looking through my (small) pattern library for a simple top, and discovered that I had the Tiny Pocket Tank by Grainline Studio. This is actually a discontinued pattern (I believe it was Grainline Studio’s first ever pattern), and it was replaced by the Willow Tank in 2016 (although the Willow has a slightly different silhouette and fit than the Tiny Pocket Tank). Both patterns only go up to a finished 46 3/4″ bust (to fit a 44″ bust), as far as I can see, so again the sizing is pretty limited. But again – this was making use of a pattern I already owned which was at the right skill level for me, and I liked the silhouette, so I decided to make use of it.

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I chose a mid-weight quilting cotton for this project, even if something slightly lighter might have been a better match for the pattern. I knew it would be easy to sew (and there are so many beautiful prints available) so it felt like a good choice for me. I skipped the eponymous tiny pocket, so the basic construction was dead easy – shoulder seams, side seams, and the hem was pretty simple to execute too. It was the neckline and armholes that took the longest. This pattern and the Willow both make use of bias facings, which I had never used before. I’ll readily admit to being one of those people who’s totally intimidated by bias tape, but I followed Grainline’s photo tutorial for flat bias facings, taking my time to go through every step, and it was worth it in the end. I did the neck first, which felt like it took forever, but the armholes went quicker and by the second one I didn’t have to check the tutorial anymore. If this were a solid color fabric with a contrasting thread, you’d probably be able to see that not all my seam lines are quiiiite as tidy as they could be, but in this fabric it’s totally passable and I’m really pleased with how well I managed to execute the facings overall.

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I made two modifications kind of on the fly, since I was trying it on as I went, and the fit was feeling a little weird when I got the main construction finished. The bust darts felt too low for me, and the front neckline on this pattern is notoriously on the low side as well. I ended up taking in the shoulder seams by a half inch, so the shoulder straps were shortened by 1″ in total, and I took out my shears and lowered the underarms by about a half inch as well. To be honest, I totally eyeballed that and I was a little nervous about the length of the bias strips still being right, but it all seems to have worked out okay. And after wearing the tank for a full day, I’m really pretty happy with the fit, so those adjustments seemed like a good call for me. Between the silhouette and the print, this is a garment that’s got me looking forward to summer, although I can wear it already as a layering piece. At the top of this post you can see it paired with the Berlin Jacket.

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Next up, I’ll continue with the Closet Case course, and I’m planning a project that ties in with that. When you purchase access to the course you also receive the PDF versions of the patterns from their Rome Collection, so I’m planning to sew a Fiore skirt. It will add a few more skills to the table which are technically all things I have done in the past (working with interfacing, sewing buttonholes and buttons), but the course is there to guide you through the tricky bits, and I’m eager to have that kind of guidance right now.

*If you’re not familiar with the size inclusivity discussion, I highly recommend checking out this interview Pom Pom Quarterly did with Jacqueline Cieslak, which was originally published in the magazine earlier this year. Jacqueline is amazing. You can check out her knitting patterns on Ravelry while you’re at it.

one last bit of housekeeping + signs of spring

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First up: this will be the last post before I migrate the blog to my new hosting platform, and as I can’t guarantee that the RSS feed will transfer seamlessly, that means that if you use a blog reader to subscribe to the RSS feed for the blog, you may need to update that to be able to see future posts.

If you’re a current email subscriber: luckily, I should be able to update the feed through that service, so you should continue to receive email notifications when new posts go live. That means you won’t have to do a thing! So that’s good news.

Either way, thanks so much to all of you who follow the blog. This space is first and foremost a place for myself – I have been documenting and sharing snippets of my life online for a very long time, and I enjoy being able to look back at what I’ve written in the past – but I am so grateful my musings are interesting to so many of you as well. I’m only sorry the existing comments won’t move over to the new platform with the blog posts, because there have been some lovely and interesting exchanges there over the years.

With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, I thought I’d share just a few photos of the transition to spring here in Trondheim. Spring has well and truly arriving – while we had a couple of light snows in April, they melted away quickly, and over the past week blossoms have started appearing and tiny leaves have started to pop out of the tree branches. This time of year always makes me incredibly excited.

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I’ll be back very soon with more to share. I hope you’re all keeping well.

on seasons

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A bit related to my post on darkness: today I’m thinking about seasons.

For awhile now I’ve found it curious how so much our modern (western) society chooses to strictly adhere to the astronomical seasons as the only true definition of “season” (that is to say, the idea that each solstice or equinox marks the first day of a new season). As if seasons have borders. The winter solstice is December 22 this year, but does that mean that December 21 is “technically” still autumn? Plenty of people would say yes to that question, but for any of us who live in a climate where it’s been snowing already, that actually makes zero sense. Autumn one day, winter the next? (Maybe so, but that day came weeks ago here.) Perhaps printed calendars have something to do with it, but the older I get the more bizarre I find it, all the same.

In some ways I feel like social media has amplified this effect in my own life – many of the people I follow, and I myself, often post about the changing seasons at the solstices and equinox. (See a few of my old examples here and here) But the more I see posts about how it’s not “technically” some season yet but it sure feels like it is, the less relevant this strict adherence to astronomical seasons feels. So I guess I’ve been craving something different. Does it “sure feel like winter”? Cool, sounds like it’s winter to me.

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There are, both today and historically, different ways to define or conceptualize a season. Many places have or have had only two seasons: either a summer/winter dichotomy, or in more tropical regions, a wet season and a dry season. The Nordic countries are one of the regions that historically only distinguished between winter and summer – which makes the idea that Midsummer happens around the summer solstice make much more sense. I’m sure there must be others, but that’s the example I’m most familiar with.

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Even in four-season models, there are different boundaries for the four seasons. I’ve already mentioned the astronomical sense, where the seasons begin on the corresponding solstice or equinox. But do you know about meteorological seasons? Professional meteorologists in many regions use these definitions, and they correspond very neatly to three-month chunks: with winter beginning December 1, spring on March 1, summer on June 1, and autumn on September 1 (this is vindication for all you autumn-lovers out there who consider it autumn once the calendar hits September – remember this piece of information and you can use it next time someone tries to tell you “but it’s no technically autumn until September 21/22”).

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There are systems with six seasons, systems that pay no mind to the calendar at all but rather correspond to temperature or other natural or ecological cues, and other ways of marking seasons that you’ve probably never even considered. The “Season” Wikipedia page actually has a lot of interesting information about all of this, if you find all of this as fascinating or as liberating as I do to learn about.

It goes without saying that I speak from my own perspective as someone who grew up and has always lived in the northern hemisphere, so the dates here correspond to that. The photos in this post are all from 2015-2017, when we were living in Tromsø (which is probably the place where I started to disengage from the supremacy of astronomical seasons, because they made so little sense there beyond the summer/winter distinction).

signs of spring

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Spring is a time of such optimism, especially in places with long or harsh winters. Living in Tromsø made me miss a springtime full of blossoms, and living in Montreal, I really, really appreciate spring when it finally arrives. Signs of spring are beginning to appear in Montreal this week.

I had one of those days this week with a pattern I’ve been working on that just made my brain feel like mush. Some patterns turn out to be more of an ordeal to work out than others, and I knew this was going to be one of those, but still… brain mush. I’d been at it for hours and needed a break. So I went for a walk, because I knew that would help.

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It helped to notice the baby leaves starting to grow from branches that have been bare for the past six months. It helped to notice the early blossoms blowing gently in the breeze. It helped to see things turning green again. I tend to feel so disconnected from nature here in the city, but this time of year I’m constantly being reminded that there are living, growing things all around me. There are moments of everyday beauty to be found if you go looking for them.

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The city comes back to life in more ways than one when the weather turns. Everyone is suddenly outside again as much as possible on nice days. To be perfectly honest, Montreal can take it a bit too far into chaos (it seems that all cyclists, car drivers, and pedestrians seem to lose their minds when the weather finally changes), but that’s a subject for another day. Today’s about the lightness I felt when capturing these images.

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I’m going to try to soak up the season this year, because this is our last spring in Montreal. We’re here on temporary work permits which are expiring this summer, and it’s time for us to prepare to move on to what’s next. There’s a lot to do, but on sunny days, I’ll make sure to get outside, breathe in and out, and find the lightness.

visiting a cabane à sucre

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Last year around this time of year I never managed to get around to having a very typical Québecois experience – going to visit a cabane à sucre, or a sugar shack. Quebec is not the only place that has them, of course, but it was here that I first learned of them and the concept is very tied to Quebec in my own mind. So this year, when a somewhat last-minute invite came from a friend to join a group going to a farm about 45 minutes outside of Montreal, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. So last weekend, we piled into a car and drove out to Rigaud, where we visited Sucrerie de la Montagne.

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I’m not going to lie – the whole experience is a *little* campy (the photo above is the horse-drawn cart that took us from the parking lot to the dining hall, a hilariously short distance), but it was also very, very fun. Even though it was a miserably cold and grey day with freezing rain coming down, everyone around us (ourselves included) was so very cheerful. I think some of that has to do with the sugar, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that going to visit a sugar shack is a very tangible sign of spring on the horizon in a part of the world where the long, harsh winter means we won’t be seeing flowers pop up for another month or two.

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Cold nights and warm, sunny days encourage sugar maples to produce sap, so it’s this time of year that the tree taps start flowing. Sucrerie de la Montagne still maintains a lot of the more traditional ways of production, so the maple trees around their grounds have all got metal buckets attached to the taps.

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A visit to a sugar shack involves a big meal – ours was in a large wooden dining hall, full of communal tables, with live folk music and a fire. And let’s just say that the meal isn’t very vegetarian friendly (but then, in my experience, most of the traditional Québecois foods aren’t). But the last course involved pancakes and sugar pie, and those were predictably very good. After the meal we all headed outside for tire d’érable, or maple taffy.

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Troughs of fresh snow are laid out and maple syrup is poured over the top. Once the syrup has sunk in a little bit, you take a popsicle stick and roll it through the syrup for a little sticky maple popsicle. It is, as you would guess, very sweet! But if you just have a small one it’s not so bad.

I’m happy to have finally crossed this experience off the to-do list. And I’m very happy that it’s finally feeling like spring is just on the horizon. This winter hasn’t been as hard as the previous was, but it’s nice to have reminders like this that this one, too, is coming to an end.

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hello, june

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In my last post I mentioned that I was going to Oslo for the weekend, and that turned out to be a very good idea – after a weekend of summer-like temps and sunshine in Oslo, it was snowing in Tromsø when I arrived home late Monday night. “Velkommen til vinteren,” said my cab driver as I got into a taxi a the airport (that’s “welcome to winter”). It’s been above freezing, so the snow didn’t really stick around, but the higher altitudes on the island turned white again for a little while. I posted a video of the snow on Instagram from the university campus, which was reposted by the CNN account this morning (it’s a bit surreal to see that something you filmed on your iPhone has over 100,000 views).

In any case, Tromsø is still distinctly un-summery and I’m even feeling a little bit under the weather today, so I thought it would be nice to revisit some of the photos I took over the weekend (which was absolutely jam-packed with buddies and lots of time spent outdoors in the beautiful weather). Katie, who started the Oslo Strikkefestival, was telling me that May is her favorite month in Oslo, and it’s easy to see why. The whole city feels like it’s in full bloom, and the new green leaves feel positively lush.

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These photos were taken in Slottsparken (or Palace Park), the public park that surrounds the royal palace, but we visited several parks over the course of the weekend, including Frognerparken (always a favorite) as well as one I knew of but had never been to, Ekebergparken, which sits up on a hill east of central Oslo and features some truly beautiful views over the city and the Oslofjord (and it’s also a sculpture park). Even though I’ve spent a summer in Oslo before, I didn’t arrive until mid-June, so I never realized how many lilacs there were all across the city! The smell as you stroll around is simply divine. Up north the lilacs bloom much later – and spring/summer up here is even later this year than normal.

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I’m so incredibly grateful to have had such a beautiful weekend, and I’m feeling pretty spoiled by it all. Oslo truly is one of my favorite cities.

I’ve also continued to have lighter-weight spring and summer knitting projects on the brain, and I’ve made headway with my two laceweight projects. I made some progress on my Loess wrap (aka my “sommarøya wrap”) while in Oslo, and I’ve been focused on my Garland pullover since I got home. I finished the main body, so you can finally see the garment starting to take shape, and I’ve started the first sleeve. This welthase yak lace is such a pleasure to work with.

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The slightly desaturated pink of the yarn goes quite nicely with all the photos of blossoms, don’t you think? Now, if only we had some blossoms of our own in Tromsø…

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late may postcard

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My thesis is turned in (hurra!) and the midnight sun began about a week ago, both of which sound like markers of summer’s approach, but we’re still trying to free ourselves from winter’s grasp up here in the north. Tromsø has been declared “snow-free” based on the marker outside the weather station, and it is mostly snow-free now, but when you get off the roads and into the woods, or up on higher ground, there are plenty of stubborn patches still hanging around. I took a walk up to Prestvannet this evening, wanting to see what it looks like this year at the end of May.

We had snow early in the month, and while that’s not unheard of here, winter has lingered longer this year than it did last year (looking at this photo from roughly a year ago, I can say definitively that the mountains still have a lot more snow on them now). There are hints that winter’s grip is weakinging, however. The first leaves are finally getting ready to unfurl on some of the trees, a marker of spring/summer that I’ve been eagerly awaiting since the beginning of the month. Most of the branches are still bare, as you can see in these photos, but hopefully not for long. The temperature hovers around 5-7°C (40-45°F) during the day, and while the snow has largely retreated, Prestvannet (which freezes over and accumulates several feet of snow on top of the ice during the winter) hasn’t yet melted, though the thaw is definitely in progress. The many migratory birds that make this their home during the summer are here and out in force – they make quite a racket, and around the clock too, since the sun never sets. I’m glad to hear them, though, because it means that summer is coming. The sound of running water is another small pleasure I’ve been enjoying in recent weeks.

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Even with these encouraging signs that soon, soon this landscape will be transformed into a lush green summerscape, I have to admit I’m really glad that I’m escaping to Oslo this weekend, where there are definitely flowers in gardens and leaves on the trees and I plan to enjoy the positively summer-like temperatures being forecasted. While I truly love Tromsø, the lack of a real spring is one of the things I find most challenging about living here. Lucky for me, it’s a quick trip to Oslo and I’ll get to see some friends while I’m there as well. I’ll be packing the sunscreen.

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a year in tromsø

The anniversary marking my first year in Tromsø has come and gone – I arrived on August 2nd, 2015, and this year on that date I found myself back at the airport as I embarked on a quick trip to Canada. The past few weeks have been a bit crazy and intense but I’m back in my cozy apartment now and have a moment to reflect before diving headfirst into my second year as a graduate student here (hello, thesis; let’s get acquainted, shall we?).

Living abroad for extended periods of time is a curious experience, sometimes exciting and invigorating and other times isolating and deflating. I’ve had the incredible privelege of spending long stretches of time abroad before, and each experience is different. Norway has presented us with both incredible experiences as well as unique and frustrating challenges. But at the end of the day I usually feel very lucky to be living in this littly city in the Arctic, and as I’ve said before on this blog, one of my favorite things about being here is documenting the changing landscape around me through the seasons’ changes.

I’ve shared many, many photos of Tromsø on my Instagram account over the past year, and sometimes I have little videos to share too. What started as a whim – collecting little snippets of autumn into one video – turned into a four-part series of snippets of Tromsø in each season. I thought it would be fun to share those videos all in one place. (If for any reason the embedded Instagram videos below aren’t showing up for you, they’re also collected under the Instagram hashtag #ayearintromsø and can be viewed there.)

Autumn and winter are shorter, because Instagram’s limit for video was 15 seconds when they were posted, but I was able to be more indulgent with spring and summer.

I also enjoy revisiting photos of the same places in different times of year, and I think that our iconic peak, Tromsdalstinden (known colloquially as just “tinden,” or “the peak”) is a perfect example. On the top is a photo from February, and below, one from last month. Both photos are taken from Prestvannet, the lake on top of the island. I love seeing the lake frozen over and covered in snow in winter (with ski tracks!), while it forms a glassy mirror of sorts in the summer.

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I must admit, looking back through photos from the past year has gotten me more than a little bit excited for the arrival of autumn… the midnight sun has ended, the nights are growing darker, and soon this whole landscape will change yet again. September will bring visiting friends, and it’s always nice to have things to look forward to.

ut på tur

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Thank you all for your feedback on my last post! I’m happy to hear it seems like so many of you are interested in hearing more about wool in Norway, and I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn here on the blog. Today, though, I just have a few photos to share from a walk I took earlier this afternoon with my friend Anna. It’s the end of the semester for us, which means we’re both spending a lot of time working on papers and presentations and generally being shut up indoors with laptops and books. I like that well enough, especially when I can get into a bit of a groove, but it’s important to take proper breaks to clear one’s head, too. And Sundays are the perfect days for that, especially when the sun is shining and the temperatures are getting warmer.

Spring in Tromsø is interesting because throughout April, you have pockets of warmer days but it also still cools down regularly – enough for it to snow. There’s also still a lot of snow lying around, especially on high ground and on trails and things that aren’t plowed – our maximum snow depth this winter was just over a meter. You can imagine it takes awhile for all of that to melt away. So today we went traipsing around the northern half of the island, which I haven’t explored anywhere near as much as the southern half. It was actually quite nice to be in the snow, since it’s all melted in the city center and the roads are quite dusty. The north half of the island is less developed and there’s a lot more forests and trails, too, which meant that the sweeping views we enjoyed today were all pretty spectacular.

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Spring comes late here, but there are signs that greener times are on the way. Aside from the melting snow, I’ve seen crocuses sprouting up at the university! I’m looking forward to the leaves coming back as well.

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Looking to the south, the rest of the island of Tromsøya is visible behind the trees, as well as the mountains on the mainland (to the left) and on Kvaløya (on the right, at the back).

Could we have asked for a better day?

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While we might get a dusting of snow tonight overnight, it’s supposed to get much warmer this coming week. I’m already looking forward to the spring giving way to summer, since the summer in Norway is so absolutely magical. I feel incredibly lucky to live in this beautiful place.

april (snow) showers

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It was starting to get springlike around here – well, enough for the temps to reach near 10ºC / 50ºF with lots of sunny days, melting most of the snow. But today brought fresh snow, perfectly normal here in northern Norway at this time of year! Spring comes late. The days are growing long, though (sunset is after 8PM now) and the midnight sun will begin in mid-May. The light here is always changing and it continues to be surreally beautiful. I’m grateful for that.

It’s a bit quiet here on the blog at the moment because April also means I’m now spending a majority of my time working on my course papers, which are due in May, and I also broke my shoulder a month ago, which means I’m on a bit of a necessary break from knitting, obviously. I need a bit more sleep and I’m eating more than normal, but otherwise it hasn’t interrupted my everyday life too much – aside from the knitting. I definitely miss it at this point and I’m looking forward to when I’ll be able to pick up the needles again.

If you’ve ever had to take a break from knitting due to injury (or for any other reason), I’d love to hear about what helped the most when all you could think about was the projects you’d love to be casting on!