Visiting the Netherlands

In the last days of our trip, the highlight was meeting the legendary Els of the Sewing Divas in Amsterdam. It was her birthday but she brought me gifts! Els is very stylish. Her red coat is excellent for her coloring. Also note her glasses. This style with the boxed off temples was very popular there. We saw it everywhere except perhaps Prague.

Speaking of seeing something everywhere (no photo, sorry), we saw tons of muslim women in varying degrees of traditional dress, all wearing fancy cowboy boots. It was strange. By strange I mean we saw this look in Paris, Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic and The Netherlands. I don’t recall anyone else wearing these. Too bad. I love cowboy boots. The women in head scarves (mostly younger ladies) were wearing inlaid boots with wild designs. It was so popular it made me think I should suggest to somebody like Rocket Buster Boots to consider exporting to western Europe (these have always been my favorites). They’d clean up because none of the ones they were wearing were as wild as Rocket Buster.

While Eric toured the Anne Frank House (I’d been before so I passed) Els and I went to a flea market. It’s a traditional vintage and collectibles market. I saw these there; do you know what these are?

I only know because I had a client in Ecuador who designed all of her own fabrics in house. These are wooden carved paddles used to stamp fabric in hot wax (batik). You stamp the goods, dye them and then remove the wax. These stamps were antique.

After Eric was done with Anne Frank, we went for a boat tour. If you can’t bike around (as I couldn’t, broken foot, remember?) a boat tour is a great way to see the city. Oh, if you don’t know, Amsterdam is often called the Venice of the North. Maybe I should tell you a bit about it now. The Netherlands (Holland) is considered to be the most densely populated country on earth, Amsterdam is definitely the most densely populated city with over 6 million residents. The best way to get around is by bike; it’s also the most bike friendly city on earth (18 total traffic fatalities last year). However, bikes are stolen so often you can’t insure them.

In spite of rampant bike theft (and decriminalized cannabis and prostitution), don’t get the idea the city is crime ridden. There were only 26 people murdered in the city last year. That would be unheard of in any U.S. city. That’s 26 people out of nearly seven million inhabitants. Another unusual factoid; most babies are born at home in the Netherlands, the births attended by midwives.

Anyway, walking around after the boat tour, we saw this store window that definitely qualifies as an attractive nuisance. There was a sign posted saying no photos were allowed but if you can see it from the street, how can they stop you? These condoms were wild. Els said she came down here to buy her son some of these when he came of age. Eric laughed saying condoms from your mom are awkward. The Dutch are very progressive. Click on the photo for a larger image, it’s worth it (448 kbs).

Speaking of progressive, unlike other countries we visited that had signage in English, we saw none or very little of this in Holland. Nearly everything was in Dutch. However -however- everyone speaks English. And they speak it WELL. It was so commonplace that if someone said they didn’t speak English, I’d suspect them (at this point) to be either a recent immigrant or lying. Els said they have to learn English in school; it’s required every year of schooling.

When you tour the city, you can’t help but notice that a lot of the buildings are tilted. Most of the city is built on water, the buildings set on wooden pilings. Over time, these sag. Here’s an example although this one isn’t very bad.

By the way, the three x’s are the logo of the city of Amsterdam. In hindsight, Eric wishes he’d asked Els to make a gang sign with three x’s so we could have taken a picture. You’d have to meet Els and appreciate her good humor and personality to know why that’d be very funny. And I’m sure she would have done it if we’d thought to ask her.

On one particular canal, a stretch is called Drunken Houses because they all go every which way. Els says the problem has become worse due to a subway construction project. Previously stable houses have become “broken”. It is quite sad, we saw some from the tram. Some of these houses having been inhabited by the same families for hundreds of years, are irreparably broken and the families have to be relocated.

One thing I didn’t have the chance to do was look at any of the many boutiques featuring independent designers. There seemed to be a lot of them. Here’s a photo of a coat I saw someone wearing.

This last photo doesn’t look like any great shakes, just your basic top stitched pocket flap (taken through a store glass window). But it’s not that. What appears to be a line of top stitching is a lip, a separate piece of fabric run around the flap. It would have been more obvious if they’d used a contrasting fabric but that might have detracted from the look.

Anyway, it was great to finally meet Els, she is a love and I will treasure meeting her always. Thank you Els!

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  1. Els says:

    Kathleen, this birthday will be remembered because I met you and your husband Eric and had a lovely day doing touristy things in my former hometown. It was a pleasure and privilege to meet you and I hope we can meet again some day.

    A correction for the inhabitants of Amsterdam not 6 millions but only a few more than 751.000

    I never noticed that there were so many woman wearing cowboy boots, you have an amazing eye for fashion details.

  2. tini says:

    Els is AMAZING! Got to love her. She’s such a great seamstress and so fashionable plus she has the greatest humor ever!
    The wooden stamps, here in Germany called Model (with a long ooooh in the middle) are used for blueprinting fabric with fabric paint or making wallpapers. You can find a great place for that neabry Münster at Blauweisschen ( where they have over 2000 wooden stamps!

  3. Son Joost says:

    Nice photo mom. I must agree with my fellow commentors, My mom is very fashionable, progressive and amazing. I do remember that day when see gave me the connies, I just turned 11 or so. I was a bit surprised, I can’t imagine that the average American mom would do that.
    I am very lucky of having such a great mom. Keep up the good work mom.
    PS was just joking about the 11, I was a bit older when see gave me them.

  4. Nancy says:

    Well, I guess I’m not the average American Mom, as I give the boy a box of condoms every year for his birthday, starting with his 13th (at that time, it was a joke of course, which thankfully, he got!). Must be cos I’m married to a kaaskop I suppose :-) (he was born in Oss, raised in NZ).

  5. Cindyann says:

    Thank you so much Kathleen for posting these wonderful pictures. Els, you are looking fantastic in those chic glasses. You are a gem.

  6. Carla says:

    I just returned from Amsterdam as well yesterday. Its an asbolutely beautiful city and the fashions there are amazing and all of there own. While I did not notice any one wearing cowboy boots, what I did notice in Amsterdam was the array of fashion that seemed to be all of their own. Tweed or Wool knee lenght coats with the best array of riding boots known to man. From the older ladies, down to the little girls. They all had them, they all rode bikes and were incredible shape! Their heels tend to run a little lower (I guess because of all of the cobble stoned streets) however, they do not loose a pinch of fashion. They definitely push the color envelope! I loved it!

  7. Rob Olykan says:

    Hi there,

    Just browsing on google images for the name “bike city” and spotted this entertaining blog. Happy to hear you enjoyed biking in Amsterdam. though in the city of Amsterdam, as well as in most big cities, it still is possible to insure bicycles against theft – not anymore if you’ve lost 3 in a row.
    Locking up your bike is just a serious matter and who believes in guardian angels gets the bill. And, considering the attitude of lots of cyclists, wearing Ipod earplugs and not aware of any rules, it really is a miracle that there is a low amount of accidents.

  8. Annette York says:

    What a fun post to read! Nice to get to meet Els, whose posts at Sewing Divas I always appreciate. Also interesting to read about Muslim fashion trends in other parts of the world. It’s really challenging for Muslim women to find modest styles that aren’t explicitly those of the traditionally Muslim world. (Of course, some Muslim women also choose to dress in or to include traditional styles because of their ethnic background or simply because they are attractive or convenient.) For those who want to express their identification with the West as well, I guess there’s no more quintessentially Westy-West garment than the cowboy boot. But in Amsterdam. Modernity is just so cool sometimes!

  9. Gayle says:

    This blog entry was very entertaining and informative at the same time. I’ve been looking for some info on fashion in the Netherlands as I’ll be going there to visit my aunt this year. Im really excited. I was a bit scared for a while that people arent accustomed to seeing dressy get-ups. Is Amsterdam the most fashion-forward city in the Netherlands? What other cities have exceptional style too?

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