Friday, August 11, 2006

Unsuspected Yarn Located In Hidden Depths of Kerry

Despite being out late last night, it was an early start this morning, with two articles to write up and send off before breakfast (the brain works best at this time. No, not well, just best, as opposed to worst, which is late at night). Then Sophie donned her red harness, the little black jeep was pressed into service, and we set off for Kerry and a mysterious woollen mills said to be somewhere west of Killarney on the road to Killorglin. Oh it took a bit of finding, since the instructions had all said turn left when they should have said turn right, and laneways that should have been there weren't, and roads had unaccountably changed direction... but in the end we got there. And stepped back two hundred years. Kerry Woollen Mills has been sitting on the banks of the Gweestin river since the late 18th century and the cobbled yard hasn't changed in the meantime. The mill itself was fast asleep, on its summer holidays, but the mill shop was open. Now don't you love mill shops with their promise of remainder baskets and tossed-aside bargains? Sophie barely got a trot on the grass before I banged her back in the black Maria and hastened to the delights in store.

Well, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by the shelves of Aran sweaters, the racks of tweed waistcoats (vests to you), the mohair scarves. After all, that's what most people want from a woollen mill. But it wasn't what I was looking for. Then at last I saw some yarn.

There was the expected display of traditional aran-weight bainin wool in natural as well as in the Jacob fleece colours of grey and brown; more entertaining were these skeins of bright reds and yellows and greens, also aran-weight, at around €7 for 200 gr which isn't bad. However, I'd spotted something far more interesting. Can you see them? Up there, above the skeins, on the high shelf? Cones. Cones of different yarns in varying weights, colours, qualities. Here's more of a close-up.

Couldn't see any sign of prices or indeed accessibility, but the hunting horn had sounded and I was off on the chase. I found several more cones, but all displayed tastefully above shelves of sweaters or swathes of scarves, which didn't suggest saleability. Time to get stroppy. This however involved waiting around, fingering gossamer-light mohair scarves and trying on tweed caps, while the hard-pressed lady behind the counter dealt, in quick succession, with an Italian family, five Americans, two Canadians, a French couple, and a very anxious Spanish woman who bought all the wool scarves she could lay her hands on but rejected anything made of cotton. Probably sick of it at home. They probably don't have much demand for wool so it must have been a real novelty. Not one single Irish visitor beside myself.

Margaret is a gentle-voiced lady who took the wind right out of my sails by admitting that yes, she'd heard of the upsurge of interest in knitting, and yes it would be a good idea if they could sell the cones, and there might well be a whole lot more of them somewhere out the back, but they mightn't all be suitable for hand knitting, and anyway the boss was away until next week and she didn't know the prices, so....

At times like this you have to be firm. Ruthless if necessary (and it always is necessary where yarn acquisition is concerned. I was not prepared to leave empty-handed.) 'How about those?', I rapped, pointing at two delectable cones of chenille on a windowsill which had been posturing provocatively and trying to catch my eye from the moment I'd entered the shop.

Margaret looked doubtful.

'Oh I don't think you could use those for -'

'Yes you could. I could.'

'Oh. Well... I suppose if you really want - I'd have to weigh them though.'

'Lead on. Take me to your weighing machine.'

She took me down through a passageway to a rather comfortless bare-walled room which did duty as an office and obviously hadn't had the decorators in since Victoria claimed to rule Ireland as well as Britain. On the table was an antique baby weighing scales complete with basket. Margaret carefully weighed the cones and suggested €15 for the two (about US$19). Done. Hand 'em over.

That traumatic transaction resolved, she relaxed and took me behind the scenes to see the weaving shed. It was a wonderful piece of industrial archaeology. Huge 19th century machines swathed in years of dust and wool reached to the ceiling. One was a carding machine with vast lengths of soft carded wool stretching twenty feet above my head. Certainly be quicker than my own two well-used hand carders. At the far end, behind a barrier, I saw sacks upon sacks of brightly dyed fleece and if I could have found a way to send Margaret back to the shop on a ruse I would have. Unfortunately she stuck close. Pity. I wouldn't have needed more than five minutes to nip over the barrier, stuff handfuls of red fleece up my jumper, the blue into my pockets, the lavender into my socks... Make a note. Always a good idea to visit these places with a large-pocketed poacher's vest atop normal garments. Make a second note. Why don't places like these offer competitions with the prize a five minute dash around the goodies with a trolley?

But I'll go back next week, when the boss returns and the machines roar into life again. After all, I've got Margaret three-quarters persuaded that they should sell not only leftover cones but also bags of prepared dyed fleece. Now all I have to do is charm the boss - the fourth generation of his family to run this mill in the heart of Kerry. Could be on to a good thing here...

The Elann lace crop cardi is proceeding, but with painful slowness. Each row takes an unconscionable time to complete, and I'm still not down to the shoulders. This evening I worked away assiduously, and then discovered half way through a complicated pattern row that I'd somehow dropped the thread of Lurex back near the beginning and had been working with the linen/cotton thread alone. I looked back and sure enough there was the Lurex sitting smirking at me. It was waiting smugly for me to work painfully back, stitch by stitch, until I reached it, picked it up, and re-did the whole row.

Well that smug little Lurex got a shock. I'm no obsessive perfectionist, and I do know when a show-off yarn needs to be taught a lesson. I simply pretended I hadn't seen it grinning, and continued steadily on my way to the end of the row. Then I turned and worked the next row, still using just the linen/cotton thread. By the time I got back to where the Lurex was sitting, it was singing a different tune, I can tell you. We've had no more trouble of that kind this evening, thank you very much. And honestly, I don't think it's very likely that anyone will notice, in the whole flippin' maelstrom of stitches and yarnovers and increases and point-laces and decorative flippertigibbets that one single row is missing its bling.

And the Interlacements socks really are progressing. I know you were wondering if I'd just let them slide, but I hadn't. The trouble now is that I'm enjoying working the straight stocking stitch so much that the heel shaping keeps on getting put off. I'll have to be firm tomorrow, and start on the really testing bit.

It is great, though, to work on both socks at the same time (thanks again,Grouchywif for the hint). It means no Second Sock Syndrome. On the other hand, it could well mean that a mistake worked on one and not spotted immediately....

I stopped off for coffee on the way back from Kerry and of course took out the socks (all this is a form of personal growth training, since it is still not the done thing in Ireland to knit in public). A woman stopped by my table to admire them and ask jokingly if I took orders. I suggested she start her own and she said, 'Oh, I couldn't possibly spare the time for that. You're lucky having so much time to do it.' Me? Time?

She then sat down nearby, looked around, found an old magazine and started reading it. Then she took out her Filofax. Aha, now I had her. I know these Filofax women. They always rush in for coffee looking busy. They always take out their beloved little black books. They always fill them in carefully. You know - riveting entries like 'Got up. Had breakfast. Filled in Filofax. Went out. Shopped. Had coffee. Filled in Filofax...' It's a way of persuading themselves that their lives are crammed with incident. Here's a totally unfair saying I've just invented:

'Them as can, do. Them as can't fill in Filofaxes.'

When she'd finished entering the story of her life for that day, she took a sip of coffee, sighed, looked around idly again, then took out her mobile phone and checked it for messages. There being none, she made a couple of lengthy calls to friends. Finally she tried her coffee again, found it had gone cold, got up, smiled and waved to me, shook her head at the socks, and left.

Come on, you tell me. How far down a sock could she have progressed in that time? Yeah, I thought about the ankle as well.


Anonymous said...

Kerry Woollen Mills, now that's my kind of shopping. More of a treasure hunt, find the diamond in the rough in the slagpile sort of shopping. Basically hate shopping, unless it is some sort of bargain hunt, which I equate to the killer instinct of ancient hunter/gatherers, adrenaline pumping, eyes narrowing and scanning the surroundings. Wish I were there (instead of sweating, ooops, glistening away here in the heart of Texas)!

And I just loooove those Filofax ladies, with their snide little putdowns. The point of our knitting in public, ladies, is that we don't want to waste an unproductive minute during our busy days.

rho said...

oh if you convince the boss to sell those - I will be neon pea green with envy - it will probably glow all the way from here to you. Oh heck let's be truthful - I am already envious that you got to go to the mill in the first place.

I needed that post after this week. Thanks :D

Peg-woolinmysoup said...

The chase is on and I am betting my money on you, Jo. I say you come home with 5 cones at least next week!
I would love to have a put down for those folk who say they would not have time to knit or read or whatever. What do they do with their time except record their waste of time and then phone someone and waste their time as well!
If you want a job done, I always say ask a busy person.
Wish I could go to the Kerry Woolen Mills with you next week. However, I did do quite a bit of damage to my yarn budget yesterday and today. I have lots of yarn to keep me busy until 'the rains come' in mid to late October!
I must be ill, but I started on my Christmas knitting today. A pair of leg warmers for older granddaughter!

Fiberjoy said...

Love yarn cones! And does Kerry Wooleen mills sell any proper tweed caps? Ed's a cap guy and I've been looking hither and yon. He's picky about his hats so it's a bit tricky finding the right one. I think he'd be tickled to have a true Irish cap.

Crazy but the heel flaps are my favorite part of socks. They go so quickly.

Anonymous said...

Ohhhhhhhhh..terrible lust in my heart for that purple and acid yellow.I love that colour combination. A veritable feast for the eyes .

Anonymous said...

Oh how I wish I could hop on a plane and just sneak in and watch your next trip to Kerry Woolen Mills.