Last week I arrived in Pisa, Italy to hold a week long hand knit workshop at a beautiful watermill set deep into the Tuscan mountains. I was invited to run a workshop at ‘The Watermill at Posara’ earlier in the year, in fact, my first one should have been in May but because of my heart attack I had to cancel it. Having not done anything like this before, I really didn’t know what to expect but I needn’t have worried as I was delighted to find that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole week. The ladies booked on the workshop were simply lovely, Bill and Lois (the hosts and owners of the mill) were great and the food, scenery and of course the knitting, all fabulous! Even my husband, Mark, who came along to ensure that I didn’t do too much, enjoyed the experience. In fact he was a huge hit with the group and helped create a fun and vibrant atmosphere. Here is a detailed breakdown of my very pleasant week, hope you enjoy reading about it…
Mark and I arrived in Pisa in the early evening of Friday 18th July. It was very warm and humid as we made our way by taxi to the Royal Victoria Hotel on the banks of the River Arno. This hotel, largely unchanged since the 1950′s had an air of faded grandeur and better times long gone. The staff were very welcoming and friendly though and our room very grand (in a 50′s way), clean and comfortable. All in all we enjoyed our one night’s stay. Within the hour we were out and about exploring Pisa, an Italian city I’ve never visited before. In the past I’d only experienced the inside of Pisa airport and the train station on my way to Florence on various work trips. This small and compact city is typically Italian and owes it’s fame to (you guessed it!) the leaning tower.
As we approached, the tower seemed to be leaning at an impossible angle but as we walked around it, it straightened up!
After enjoying the sights, we then found the lovely small restaurant called Osteria La Mescita that the hotel receptionist kindly recommended, and what a find it was! The restaurant served traditional Tuscan food which was simple and delicious. Around 10pm we ventured out into the Pisa nightlife and the city was alive with the hustle and bustle of Italian promenading. It was great to see lots of people, young and old, enjoying the balmy night in a friendly and happy way. We stood for a while on one of the many bridges crossing the Arno and watched with surprise, coypus (or river rats)! At first we thought they were otters, but we have since learnt that they were in fact coypus, which are now common along the shores of the Arno.
After a simple breakfast the next morning we left the Royal Victoria Hotel to go to the airport to meet up with the transport that was going to take us to the watermill. Here we met four of the ladies, Gail from New York, Sue from California, Cathy from Dubai and Annie from Torquay! They all seemed very pleased to meet me (which I always find surprising!) and then we headed off in a mini bus to the Tuscan hills. After a drive of about a hour and ten minutes we arrived at The Watermill to be met by a very smiley Lois, I liked her immediately and very quickly Mark was helping to carry the ladies bags to their rooms. Gail was going onto a wedding in Sweden after the week so her bag was very heavy, poor Mark!
Mark and I then found our room and unpacked. We then sat in the courtyard enjoying the sunshine and waited for the other ladies to arrive. There were 11 ladies in total and the course was fully booked. Later that day we met Jeanice and her daughter Maggie from Indiana, Jami from Kentucky, Tabby from California, Alison from Leeds, Kay from Nottingham and Margaret from Uppermill, Saddleworth. The mill has 11 bedrooms in total, some with ensuite bathrooms and some sharing a bathroom with another room. All the ladies were thrilled with their rooms and it wasn’t long before we were all getting to know each other over a glass (or two) of the house speciality cocktail! That evening we had dinner at the local restaurant in the town of Fivizzano, this lovely small medieval walled town is only a mile and half away so myself, Mark and Margaret decided to walk there and back. Walking is such a great way of seeing the local area and the views were tremendous. It was uphill most of the way but at least we knew it would be an easier walk coming back. After a fabulous Tuscan meal of local pasta dishes, cheeses, meats and salads, we headed our way back to the mill. The walk back was quite magical, there were hundreds of fire flies glowing with little dots of dancing lights illuminating our way back, it really was beautiful!
Sunday was the first workshop day, the whole day was at the mill. After a leisurely breakfast we started project one, a Mosaic Cushion knitted in Rowan Felted Tweed Aran. Firstly, I talked through the two projects for the week and then explained the technique of mosaic knitting. This is a simple way of adding colour into knitting without having to strand the colours as only one colour is worked at a time. The hardest thing is to learn that the chart refers to knit and slip stitches and not necessarily the colour!
I’m actually holding this workshop again in my home village on the 11th October. If you wish to come along then book very soon as there are only 4 places left, to book go to my website. The ladies really enjoyed this project and hadn’t done anything like it before. A few of them struggled a little but when they understood that the chart shows the different stitches and not necessarily the colours, they progressed really well. In fact Jami, Alison and Jeanice finished theirs, with Jami adding a border to hers to make a larger cushion front, it looked fab!
We carried on with the project on Monday, unfortunately the weather was not good, a bit cold and rainy and it was a shame we couldn’t knit outside in the garden. But we started off inside and then Bill took us all to a local convent called the Convento die Carmine to have lunch and have a look around. This fascinating building is privately owned by a family who have converted the upper floors into apartments. They have done a fantastic job of restoring the beautiful frescoes that line the ceilings and walls of the cloisters.
After a relaxed picnic lunch and after lots of chat we headed back to mill to finish off the afternoon knitting. A lovely local lady called Marella was the cook for dinner and it was fantastic.
Tuesday morning was market day at the local town of Fivizzano. Myself, Mark and Kay took a leisurely stroll up to the town. The market which is held in the main square each week is a small delight of local cheeses, meats and vegetable stalls as well as clothing, bric a brac and homeware. It was a good chance for Mark and I to have a good look round…
After a snack and a delicious ice cream at the gelataria, we all headed back to the mill for an afternoon of knitting. Mark and I walked back and below are some of the views encountered on the way back to the mill…
As the weather was lovely and warm we met up in the garden and I introduced everyone to project two. This project was about cabling. I had three different designs that could be worked on, each one used two balls of Rowan Cocoon. Everyone could choose which one they wanted to complete once they had they knitted a swatch of all three. Most of the ladies chose the cable wave and the bulky cable scarf whilst a few chose the garter stitch cowl…
Again, I’m holding this workshop again at home on September 27th. There are places still available so if you want to book then go to my website. The ladies really like this project as each scarf or cowl uses a different cabling technique not normally used.
Wednesday was my day off! The ladies had a choice to go to either the Cinque Terre (five traditional fishing villages which are now a world heritage site) or to the beautiful medieval city of Lucca. Mark and I could have gone but I thought I should be sensible and rest. We had a slow amble up to Fivizzano in the morning, enjoyed a coffee and I took some photographs and then we walked back to have lunch with Bill and Lois and their two lovely girls, Lydia and Lara. After lunch we walked around the gardens and grounds and then sat by the river, Mark reading and me crocheting! Here are some pictures of the beautiful surroundings of the mill…
Lois did the cooking the rest of the week and what a fab cook she is, she really spoiled us and I must email her to ask for various recipes! Everyone was really tired when they returned from their trip so Thursday was a day of relaxed knitting either in the garden, patio or indoors. Friday was our sadly our last day and we had a special morning planned. Bill took us further up into the mountains to a beautiful restaurant and small hotel in Monte die Bianchi. Here we sat in the grounds and on the veranda whiling away a few pleasant hours knitting and chatting. We were then served a magnificent lunch of local Tuscan cuisine… life does not get much better!
We then had Friday afternoon free to do as we wanted …..I just relaxed! We then all met up in the evening and enjoyed a wonderful last meal cooked by Marella. Later that evening there were some sad goodbyes and the promise to keep in touch, which hopefully we will.
I want to thank firstly, all the ladies that made my first workshop week special, Bill and Lois for their fabulous hospitality and to Mark for looking after me. I am holding two workshops at The Watermill in May and September next year, if you are interested in joining me then register your interest with The Watermill. I’ve not decided what the projects will be yet, but I’m thinking of something with fair isle and colour work! I’ll finish here with some images of the old mill workings which I found fascinating……….