Monday, February 4, 2013

CHATTANOOGA TN: Day One--Signal Mountain

Pardon me boys...

Yeah, there’s the song--the whole “Choo-Choo” thing, but Chattanooga Tennessee has a whole lot more going for it than just a lot of repeated letters.  I’ve driven through it numerous times, but never had the opportunity to stop and visit until the Chattanooga Writers Guild invited me to come speak earlier this year.  What I found is what DestiKNITions does best: a charming little city with treasures to spare.  You can jam it all into one busy day, but I spread my adventure out into two lovely, lazily-paced days--one up on Signal Mountain, the other downtown.

Day One:  Signal Mountain

First off--getting here is half the fun:  The W
I can’t remember when I’ve ever recommended an actual mode of transportation on DistiKNITions, but then again, I’ve never encountered one as memorable as a car drive on “The W.”  If you’ve always wanted to pretend you are starring in a sportscar ad, a Bond film, or an episode of Top Gear, the “W” has enough switchbacks to fulfill your fondest automotive fantasy (or fears--this is not for the faint of heart).  If you’ve ever wanted to grow your husband’s appreciation for your fiber arts adventures, let him drive you here.  

Once your stomach has settled, head for today’s fiber find:

Three Black Sheep Yarn
1229 Taft Hwy  
Signal Mountain, TN 37377

I’m particularly fond of yarn shops that can pull off a modern, artisan feel.  It takes a careful balance of space and cozy, a blending of retail style and community nurture.  Owner Diana Kessler, who bought the establishment from its previous owner back in New York and then transplanted the whole she-bang when her husband’s job moved them to Signal Mountain, pulls it off with flair.  

The store promotes knitting and crochet not only as craft, but as fashion.  “We love garment knitting, love teaching you to make products that fit you well.”  Anyone who’s found themselves starring in their own private episode of “What Not to Knit” can welcome that mission!  Diana is careful to carry a high volume of each yarn, “so we’ll always have enough to make what you want.”  She’s picky in the best sense of the word, establishing strong relationships with fiber companies she likes.  The result is a deep, well-considered inventory designed to equip knitters for great results.  A few projects you ought to consider on your visit:

Diana’s Aran Wrap
Start with 1200 yards of a good solid or tonal worsted yarn, add Diana’s exclusive pattern (free with your yarn purchase at the shop), and you’ll have an exquisite wrap when you’re done.  Diana advises staying away from variegated or tweed yarns, as they won’t show off the lovely designs--and you want to show these off! I’ll be working in Grignasco Knits “Loden” for our knit-along.  If you’re looking for a statement shawl, or a sure-to-be-heirloom gift, this is a great candidate.

CocoKnits Lisl top
Designer Julie Weisenberger is smart enough to provide knitters with several sets of instructions for the many types of yarn that can be used to make this top.  I love the structure and the clever pockets.  This one is done in Shibui linnen--softer against the skin than Eruoflax but with that key-to-structure texture--but you could get a completely different garment by using a completely different fiber.  Summer sheer or fall cozy?  It’s entirely up to you. It’s an extraordinarily versatile piece.

Wilde Coat
It takes a lot to lure my short attention span into the commitment required for a whole coat (some days I feel like the only serious knitter on the planet who hasn’t attempted an Einstein Coat).   Still, this one could lure me in.  Great shaping takes the could-be-clunky chunky scale of Malabrigo Rasta and gives it flattering curves.  Pick up those size 19 needles--the ones my son calls “numchuks”--and you could have this head-turner done in less than a week.  Diana advises that sharply contrasting colors will give you the best results.  One of the sharpest garments I’ve seen in a long time!

Zuzu’s Petals Cowl
This seems to be the year of the cowl, so it takes a lot for a pattern to stand out.  Utilizing one skein of an “ombre” sport or worsted weight yarn--pictured is “Ombre” from Freia Fine Handpaint Yarns--this Ravelry pattern gives a lacy texture just enough “pow” to feel modern.   Not too fussy, not to chunky, with just the right amount of detail around the edges.

Every time I think I’ve seen all the knitting gadgets the world has to offer, my adventures prove me wrong.  I’d never seen this Clover Circular Stitch Holder before, but its usefulness for sweater sleeves, mitten thumbholes, and any number of other places made it a winner with me.  Maybe even for that depressing moment where I realize I can’t hope to finish both two-at-a-time socks by the end of a DestiKNITions feature and need to drop one.  Yes, well, let’s hope it doesn’t get used for that.  Ever.  Again.

Hungry for lunch?  Head back up Taft Highway to:
Gin Gin’s
1904 Taft Hwy
Signal Mountain, TN 37377
I actually met the owners later in my adventures (you’ll read about that next post), so while I didn’t get the chance to eat there, I have to agree with Diana’s recommendation--if the food is half a delightful as the owners, you can’t go wrong.  They didn’t earn their reputation as the mountain’s top caterers for nothing.  Unpretentious, comfortable, down home Southern Yum.  If anyone could turn me into a sandwich person, it sounds like this place could pull it off.

After lunch, work your way back down Taft Avenue to a few charming shops.  some of my favorites were right around Three Black Sheep:

Wild Hare Books
1219 Taft Highway
Signal Mountain, TN 37377
You know me, I’ll always steer you toward the local independent bookstore.  I found them friendly, well-stocked for their small size, and perfectly “stuffed” to encourage browsing.

1238 Taft Highway SE
Signal Mountain, TN 37377
A soap and candle lover like myself is always on the lookout for the non-chain, artsy gift shop in town.  I was told to head here for both, and the stock did not disappoint.  I picked up a couple of bars of Michel Design Works that smelled simply amazing--I’d seen them before but never sprung for the pricey bars.  Wow.  Worth every penny!

All Creatures Great and Small
1238 Taft Hwy, 
Signal Mountain, TN 37377
Pottery fiend that I am, I was particularly interested in their collection of Mole Hill Pottery, whosw main retail location can also be found in downtown Chattannooga.  I drooled up against their storefront windows, but this store was closed on the day of my visit.  Still, it looks well worth exploring.

By now, you may be craving a little coffee and treat as a mid-afternoon pick-me up.  You’re in luck; I’ve got two wonderful places for you:

Xpresso Mart
816 Ridgeway Ave  
Signal Mountain, TN 37377
Do not let the gas station exterior fool you!  Don’t let the purple-blue roof put you off!  This is one of the most unique, friendly coffee joints I’ve ever seen.  Sure, I drove past it twice because I was looking for something a bit more...predictable, but don’t you make the same mistake.  I had a truly good latte pulled by the friendly owner.  I’m not an ice cream person, but I’m told the treat is quite good in here, too.  Honestly, I smile every time I think of the place.

Signal Mountain Cookie Lady
715 Mississippi Ave  
Signal Mountain, TN 37377
423- 886-4037
Come on, could you resist over 900 cookie designs?  The smell that hits you when Sandie Benson lets you in is all the advertising this place needs.  I’ll be honest; I’m suspicious of cookies that look this good...I always wonder if the taste can live up to the decoration.  No worries here.  If that isn’t enough to tempt you, they do cupcakes as well.  I wonder if they’d do cookies in the DestiKNITions logo?

Caffeine and sugar in hand, head on up the road to see where the name came from:

Signal Point
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Even on the cloudy day of my visit, the view from Signal Point was stunning.  The story behind the spot is just as compelling--you can almost imagine the signal lights being passed from point to point with vital battle information.  If you’re looking for a breathtaking spot to sit and knit (perhaps with aforementioned coffee and cookies in hand), this is it.  Hiking, should you be so inclined (I am not), can be had here as well.

When you are ready for dinner, head back down to:

720 Mississippi Avenue
Signal Mountain, TN  37377

This is just how you imagine a well-loved Italian restaurant:  crowded, happy, filled with giant plates of good food.  The owner recommended the “Nonna” (which means “Grandma’s Pasta”) with roasted red peppers, pancetta, tomato sauce, caramelized onions, cream & butter over rigatoni.  Good thing I brought my cholesterol meds!  Other specialties include the Carbonara and Funghi Bianchi.  Outdoor seating makes for a perfect atmosphere if the weather is cooperative.

Stuffed, stitched, and shopped, wander on home for another day of Tennessee hospitality as we take on downtown Chattanooga tomorrow.

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