Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tiny Needles and Gossamer Yarn - Am I Insane?

The rain swept in overnight and bathed the countryside in lovely dampness here. This morning the clouds were still swirling by from the south-west, but by mid-morning the rain had eased off and everything had a wonderful scent of green growth. An early stem of montbretia by the little pond where the birds bathe was iridescent with raindrops.

Working indoors is a good idea when it's raining, so it was time for some elementary carpentry. You remember that lace crop cardi that is being planned as a tour de force for Bantry Show? The linen/cotton yarn had looked a little dull so I blended in a matching fine Lurex thread. Trouble was, the Lurex was wound on a straight cardboard tube and didn't unroll easily from the bag in which I kept the project. I was getting worried that it would stretch and snap. So down to the workshop for a hunt through offcuts and scraps.

Why is it that men can never bear to see women handling power tools? DH is in every other respect the model of Modern Man. He washes up more than I do, is supportive of new ideas before I've even had them, and will even take the dogs out last thing at night when I'm swearing over a frogged back row. But as soon as he hears me pulling things around in the basement workshop he's down there anxiously surveying his precious possessions and offering to do whatever needs doing. He didn't quite say 'Women and drills don't mix', but it was in his eyes. I could see it.

However, this was something I wanted to make myself. I knew what I wanted and if he got involved he'd only start making useful sensible suggestions. I wanted to make my own mistakes. And eventually he left me to it, albeit reluctantly, and I know perfectly well he kept an ear open upstairs for sudden crashes or bangs.

It didn't take all that long to make, although it's odd how screws, no matter how carefully you measure, have a propensity to go in at the wrong angle, and pull pieces of wood askew. Eventually I triumphed and after giving my new invention a coat of white paint, put it into use (yes, of course it was quick-drying emulsion, you don't think I'm going to hang around for oil paint to dry, do you?)

Here is the holder, sitting neatly on my Welsh spinning chair, with the WIP in front of it. See how it holds the tube of Lurex perfectly? I'm so proud of it! Don't laugh, it's my very own invention. And don't bother telling me somebody else has already invented it: that groundbreaking design came out of my head, from my needs, and I dare anyone to say different.

(Has one perhaps mistaken one's vocation? Should one have been a famous designer of furniture, of beautifully shaped wood creations that would be desired worldwide? Perhaps not. One's unfortunate habit of sawing planks unevenly, and bending nails when they're halfway in, would definitely tell against success.)

Nevertheless, this small success and the testing thereof meant that another few rows of the lace cardi got done before the insistent sunshine and an impatient paw on my knee forced the donning of boots and a search for the car keys. Sophie wanted to go walkabout at Gougane Barra and I was nothing loth, since after the rain the streams which cascade down the mountains are spectacular. Do you know Callanan's poem?

There is a green island in lone Gougane Barra
Where Allua of songs rushes forth as an arrow.
In green-valley'd Desmond a thousand wild fountains
Come down to that lake from their home in the mountains...

Breda runs the old family hotel at Gougane, as did her father and his father before her. Today she was telling a story to a small grandchild as I went in.

'There was this farmer who had to get up very early one morning to take his cattle through the Pass of Keimaneigh to the fair at Bantry. He travelled through the pass in the dark with not a sign of life nor a sound all around. All of a sudden he heard music and singing and merrymaking ahead of him and could not think what it was. Then he came upon a company of folk amusing themselves and playing music the like of which he had never heard. "Surely now I'm among the Good People," he said to himself, and straightaway sat down on a stone to listen, while the cattle grazed quietly, not being bothered by the music one bit. When the music ended, a strange fellow with bright eyes came up to the farmer with a caubeen. Now the farmer knew you must always pay for the music you hear, so he put his hand in his pocket and took out all he had in the world, which was a silver sixpence. He put it in the hat, and all at once the man, the music, the merrymakers disappeared, and he was alone in the pass once more, with the dawn breaking and his cattle gazing at him as if they thought he was mad altogether.

So on he went to the fair, and didn't he have great luck altogether. He sold his cattle for more than he ever thought possible, and was able to buy the few bits of things he needed with plenty left over. Off he set home with a light heart, and it was only as he was turning into the pass again that he remembered the strange doings of the morning. On he went, all the same, and when he came to the selfsame stone where he had sat, what was lying there on the very top of it but his silver sixpence!'

The little grandchild was enchanted, and so was I. These old stories and legends were once told around every fireside in Ireland. Today television and computers have made some inroads into old customs, but Breda is thinking of starting up storytelling sessions in the old-fashioned bar at the hotel on winter evenings. Who wouldn't prefer that to sitting at a computer screen?

I was determined to make a start on those rosewood dpns from Scottish Fibres when I got home (after rubbing Sophie down with a towel - she somehow fell into the lake and then was disinclined to get out again, preferring to go sloshing round in the mud at the edge, looking at things), so got out the lovely Interlacements yarn from Simply Socks and wound two separate balls on my nostepinne. Then I took the needles out of their packaging.

Dear heaven, have you any idea how TINY 2.5mm needles are? I mean, I normally work with a 6mm for nearly everything. And to make matters worse, these ones were only four inches long! A few delirious minutes of staring at the miniscule toothpicks in disbelief didn't make any difference - if anything, they looked even tinier. If I left it any longer they'd disappear altogether.

I'm not sure that casting on 112 stitches and then transferring these on to four microscopic matches is the best exercise for calming the mind and relaxing the spirit. Plus it had to be done twice - since reading the revelation by Grouchywif on Knitter's Review Forum that she always worked on two socks at the same time, on two identical sets of dpns, I had determined to do the same. It's supposed to eliminate Second Sock Syndrome entirely, which can't be bad. Besides which I wanted to show you that I am a woman of my word. I had said that I would get started on them today, and that was what I was going to do. I got as far as two rounds of rib on each and was so relieved I took their picture for you.

No, they are not standing up by themselves. They're lying down. On a pillow. They should be in an incubator. I mean, will you look at the size of those little splinters? They're far too young to be out on their own. Do they start work at an earlier age in Scotland or something? I expect the Knitting Police to break down the door any minute and arrest me for cruelty to juvenile dpns.

Just to make the comparison, I put my usual 6mm circular underneath. See the difference? How am I ever to get a pair of socks done at this rate?

It isn't as if there aren't enough chunky, bulky, superweight yarns around, with robust jolly fat needles to match. Hundreds and hundreds of patterns for instant scarves, quick cardigans, jiffy jackets, superspeed shawls. And you're listening to a girl who habitually plans a sweater in the morning, casts on at lunchtime, and is wearing the finished project that night. Am I out of my tiny mind?

I have to say, though, that the Interlacements yarn is scrumptious, and boasts the most beautiful colour variations. If I ever were to complete these socks, they would be so beautiful that I would have to walk without shoes. Or find some of those see-through wellies, which is proving a difficult task (you can only get them if you happen to take a child's size as far as I can see.) Maybe the best solution would be to hire a sedan chair and get carried around with my feet gracefully resting outside so that everyone could admire the socks.

But this is daydreaming. This is wishful thinking. Can these socks ever get beyond Row 2? Even knitting with them is a very strange feeling. Your hand totally swallows up the little scraps and you feel like Hagrid in Harry Potter trying to make dolls' clothes . (Not that he ever did, but you know what I mean.)

There was a time, though, now that I come to think of it, when I had a passion for bobbin lace. A whole class of us would spend hours, days, working with gossamer threads on a pencilled pattern. Half an inch of lace in a week was considered pretty darn speedy. One day I realised that although this was very pleasant, not to say addictive, it wouldn't cut much ice in a pioneer, self-sufficiency situation (a favourite dream - I loved Little House On The Prairie), so I went back to the spinning wheel and the large needles. Now here I am again, working on the micro-scale. Why? Couldn't this have been avoided with some care? I really don't know where I'm going with these socks, and if we are going to make it as a team or not.

As the broken-hearted Sally says in that gorgeous weepie, Interlude, 'Must it happen once to everyone?'


Peg-woolinmysoup said...

Jo - I look at Anne's site, come back to yours and you have posted anew! Love the story of the 'wee' needles. I usually knit my socks on 2.25 mm needles with 64 stitches, give or take. Those are going to be large socks with 100+ stitches. Carefuly with those little 'tooth picks', as I broke two of mine while they were in the knitting bag - don't accidentally sit on them - but having said that good luck!
Clever girl, you, making a yarn holder - know what you mean about guys and their tools! Guess we would get as panicky if they got into our cashmere yarn!!

Jo at Celtic Memory Yarns said...

Oh help, maybe I've cast on way too many stitches! I was following a Twisted Sisters basic pattern and THOUGHT I had the right gauge. Can I bear to take it all out and start again? Oh woe! (Still, it would make the stitches easier to handle and less likely to slip off the ends. These things are sent to try us.)

rho said...

I Loved Loved the story and please tell Breda that is a fantastic idea - wish I were closer than an ocean away for it.
And your invention is awesome - and you did it all with your very own hands tooo cool

Now on to the important stuff -- you do know you can do 2 socks on 2 circulars at the same time don't you? I haven't done it yet myself but it doesn't look that hard..... ***** rho sitting here in her comfy chair looking all innocent and angelic. ****

And it is still tooo blasted hot here!!!

Anonymous said...

Jo, I've been reverting to finer yarns and smaller needles too (the largest I use is 4.5mm). I usually make jumpers, vests, scarves, shawls, pulse warmers, well that just about covers everything, doesn't it, but have been hooked on sock-making for about a year. Very cosy and warm, and unfortunately I find commercial socks quite passe now. The last pair I made used 2.25s and they certainly made a fine fabric.
My sock wool is the only commercial yarn I use, as I'm a long-time spinner. I've found a lovely local source of alpaca, so have been swathing myself in that wonder fibre. My latest finished piece is the Trellis scarf from Interweave Knits, in black handspun alpaca in a single ply. Quite yummy.
I'll get back to you on the Millstreet connections, as it would be fascinating if you could find any.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add that I found your story wonderful. I can't imagine going to a local pub and having such sessions, but I can live it through your entries.
Well done on the carpentry, too - simple, but exactly what was needed.

Jo at Celtic Memory Yarns said...

Peg, you were absolutely right, I have twice the number of stitches required for socks! Can't think how it happened - I TRUSTED Twisted Sisters. Will start over...
Rho, will you stop tormenting me? Now I know you're doing this on purpose! Two circulars, two socks, oh dear heaven!
And Lyn, if you've made that Trellis scarf,you are incredible! Want to see a picture. Now I have the urge to get spinning again.

Anonymous said...

That is a wonderful bit of woodwork Jo .I made a set of shelves once with leftover floorboards ..not the greatest craftsmanship but they are still standing after ten years. Holly only likes to knit on 2.5 needles .She does a lot of miniatures.It is a really strange feeling when you change sizes .The scarf I started with your yarn is half -done and I think it's definately got a touch of the Jane Thornley's .I shall be looking out all my autumn colours to make a shawl .It has rained here ,sadly on all the W.O.M.A.D crowds .

Anonymous said...

I wish I could come and hear Brenda tell stories like that. How wonderful.

My current projects are a sock on 2.5mm needles, and a garter stitch blanket (for which the Mason-Dixon ladies are to blame) on 3.75. I plan to cast on a simple cotton top on 5.5mm and expect they'll feel huge. And fast!

Good job on your yarn holder. I've discovered a very strong interest in woodworking recently, so the drill press in the basement of my home and the table saw and lathe over at my Dad's house? All Mine. Great fun to play with too. :o)

Jo at Celtic Memory Yarns said...

Let's all get into woodworking! I'm going to make a traditional half-door in portable format for the front door next. It can keep the dogs out in the garden while still letting in all the fresh air on fine days.

Peg-woolinmysoup said...

Hi Jo - Me again. I found your yarns yesterday on ebay, but today I cannot find them. Maybe you can put a link on your blog. Let me know at

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