Hi, sorry I'm late! I just couldn't get a seat on the Blogger bus yesterday no matter how many times I went along to the stop and hailed it. The conductor kept shouting, 'Problem with page, try again later.' Oh well, if you use a free service, you have to accept the hitches with the lifts, I guess. Anyway it's a lovely soft grey damp morning here, just right for chatting. (Don't you find that fine days sort of impose a duty on you to get out and use them, whereas on grey damp ones you are quite justified in staying in and knitting or gossiping?)
Anyway, here's the news you've been waiting for. I did get down to the Muckross Yarns weaving shed . DH had a day off so before he could find something more useful to do, I rang up John Cahill, this delightful weaving manager, and said we were on our way. He's a lovely shy man and I don't think being interviewed by a rabid yarn fiend might necessarily have been his idea of a good morning's work, but he went along with it courteously.
We met him outside the cathedral in Killarney and he took us to the weaving shed by a rather special route - through private gates into the estate where it's sited. We drove slowly along narrow unsurfaced tracks with trees crowding on either side, and hugged ourselves for the smug feeling of seeing a part of the woodland that not everyone can see.
The weaving shed was simply a big barn out in a clearing in the middle of the woods, but oh dear heaven the riches inside! I was like a child in a sweetshop and DH was much diverted to see me darting from one side to another, peering into big cardboard boxes, gasping aloud at what I found. My heart was pounding by this time - and yours would have been too, if you'd seen those huge cones of the most wonderful shades, just casually hanging around in such an inviting way. John was only too delighted to show off the colour schemes he'd thought up.
Just look at these space-dyed colours!
and these mohair boucles!
I thought at first he looked at shade cards sent to him by suppliers and chose from those, but that wasn't the way of it at all. He thinks up his own colour combinations - 'I might see the cover of a magazine or a scrap of cloth, a piece of jewellery, a glass vase, or an advertisement - anything at all that would have the shade I was looking for. So I'd get all these together and then send the little bundle to the dyers and tell them to get me a yarn that looked like that!' He says with quiet pride that he's no bother at all to take shopping as he's quite happy to stand in a fashion store for hours just looking around and taking in the colours, shapes, designs, ideas.
The looms they use at Muckross are nothing like what I expected. I thought they would be huge industrial things such as you would have found in the Yorkshire woollen mills of the early 20th century, but instead they were the most adorable little sweethearts, all old wood and iron, adapted to electric power from foot pedal operation . John said they were originally used for weaving Harris tweed in home industries and he had sourced them from all over the place, including the Hebrides.
The trouble, he said, is getting parts to repair them now, and when he hears of another one for sale (through the grapevine shared by all weavers) he will try to buy it so it can at least provide spares for one of the others. They were such sweet little homely machines, with all the wear and knocks you'd expect from a lifetime of use on remote Scottish islands or on the wild Donegal coast. I'm so glad they came finally to Killarney where they are still cared for and in daily use. If there had been a wee one standing alone, I'd probably have made a bid for it there and then, and work out where to put it later!
DH was, of course, in his element. He thought that even the bobbins made the most wonderful images:
They have all kinds of yarn in that weaving shed, from wool to mohair, alpaca to viscose. Viscose, you ask? Oi, there at the back! I saw your lip curling in dignified surprise. Well stop it, right now. Viscose is a natural product too - comes from wood pulp after all. 'I'd have liked to bring in silk,' said John, 'but our prices would have had to go through the roof and nobody would have been buying it, so I looked at viscose since that's a natural fibre as well - and you don't have to kill the silkworms either to get it!' He chuckles at this thought. 'The viscose takes the dye superbly, he says, 'and you get great sheen and drape from anything you make with it.' He was right. The scarves and stoles they weave from the space-dyed viscose are glimmering lengths of beauty. I wanted all of them, right away, even though I (like you) would have shunned viscose until I realised it was as natural as anything else.
OK, I heard you. I was only teasing, prolonging the suspense. Yes, I did say alpaca. Take a deep breath now. This nice gentle Killarney man has shelves packed with pure alpaca yarn, imported directly from Peru. How can I have lived within a 30 mile radius for so long and not have felt the tug from that hidden shed in the green woods? I mean, pure alpaca, I mean - well... what can I say? Qu'est que tu veut que je te dise?, as DH would say. We spent quite a bit of time by that shelf while he fingered the yarns expertly and talked about how different countries liked different colours: apparently Japan (where Muckross exports a good deal of its alpaca scarves) prefers natural browns and creams, while America goes for brighter colours.
Yes, that's my hand in the picture. I'm holding a large cone of creamy natural alpaca (about 4 ply I'd guess) and it's talking to me. I can feel its soft voice through my fingertips.
Now I wasn't just wasting his time so that I could lead you all through this virtual sweetshop and set your pulses racing. I am writing John Cahill up for my weekly column in the Irish Examiner so the weaving business at Muckross will get some useful publicity. And I might be able to do a feature for Ireland of the Welcomes as well, the magazine that circulates mostly in America. But I do admit that all the time we were there I was thinking of you, and wishing you could be with me to gasp and reach out and touch and yearn and lust... this was serious temptation stuff, this was.
Back in the shop at Muckross House, I met a lovely lady from the deep South - I think it was Texas - who was trying to find real Irish yarn to take back to her friends. She was worried about the weight in her suitcase and also wanted to know about the genuine provenance of the yarn.
We talked, the three of us, about the difficulty of saying where any yarn really comes from - the fibre might come from one country, the spinning might be done in another, the packaging in another... Myself, I think virtually all the yarn we buy in any country these days comes originally from either Turkey, Italy or Southern America, whatever we might believe to the contrary. Still, I knew what she meant. The only absolutely pure Irish yarn we could offer was traditional bainin, but she said that would be way too hot for where she lived and she was hoping to find a cotton or linen. John went off to see if he could locate some for her. And DH and I called it a day. Happy, tired, worn out from talk and the over-stimulation of stunning yarns, we went off to find coffee at a dear little thatched tearoom not far away...
Look, stop screaming and get this into your heads. I have always envied you lot because you have access day and night, year-round, to huge yarn stores, stitch'nbitch sessions, local classes, get-togethers, everything that I dream of having on tap. You're the fat cats, not me. I'd give anything to be able to dive into Michael's or Joann's on the way home in the evening to see what's new, look at the books, snap up a free leaflet or two, and get some inspiration. I'd love to be able to choose between my LYSs and meet up with friends there. To tell the truth, I've only started really hunting out these places I've been showing you, since I got into weblogging, trying in desperation I suppose, to demonstrate that we're not entirely marooned in a yarn desert here in Ireland.
Now that I come to think of it, did I thank you for that?
(And yes, that is a big cone of natural alpaca on top. I paid, I paid...)