Saturday, September 16, 2006

Yarn Heaven in the Woods

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...)

20 comments:

angie cox said...

Delicious ..no other word ! I just can't imagine all that yarn and that lovely humble man to talk to .I love how you describe these people doing such a fantastic job at keeping crafts alive and yet having no side to them .It is rare here really ,there's Coldspring Mill and the man that runs that is lovely .I have only talked on the phone but he is very kind. The woods are fabulous b.t.w .

Marianne said...

Jo, your first photo took my breath away, Ireland is calling to me. and the yarn! My heart *was* pounding, I tell you. What a sweet man, Mr. John Cahill, and so easy on the eye. The weaving looms are beautiful and I agree, it's wonderful that they're 'alive', and happily working. And the cone that he was holding (while you were talking to the lady from Texas) what lovely colours, do you know what that one was? I don't know, if I had to choose between what I have in town (which is really not that much) and having that gem in 'my back yard'? I would so go for what you have. There's always the internet for the 'other' stuff, although you don't get to touch it, that's the downside, and Jo, you're a lovely woman.

rho said...

I'm speechless and you know how rare that is....Oh the pictures, the descriptions, the yarns, the handsome Mr. John Cahill...... the envy and jealousy...it is all too much to take....

How did you pick that few cones of yarn - I would have needed the truck to bring it all home I am sure.....

Francesca said...

Oh my! That first picture is so dreamy; now I know for sure I'll have to see Ireland before I die. Well, I've known that for quite some time actually, but this is it. The trees, the moss, the still beauty…

You got it all wrong: I envy *you*. Who cares about Michael's and JoAnne? You can't compare the joy of discovering something unique. Besides, I've never found any yarn I liked at those big chains. It's really wonderful that you found the little yarn haven in the woods. So, what are you going to make with all the lovely yarn?

Connie said...

Seriously, you are making that up! Michaels and Joannes I got, but inspiration like that is rare my friend. And altough I have met people in my town who knit, the only other fiber fiends that understand my obsession are in this internet community.

Barbara-Kay said...

Ah, and even my "muggles" (non-knitter, as defined by the Yarn Harlot) husband enjoyed today's post. Thanks!

Rachel H said...

Really, I was all set to quash the envy I feel given my access to lovely knitters at my SnB each week, and some darn fine yarns that can be had within a reasonable distance.

Then I looked at the red cone again, and the raging envy burned bright and quashed all thoughts of other quashing. Rather violently I'm afraid.

anne said...

oh jo you look SO adorable dashing away and clutching your cache to your chest—i love it! thank you for another insight into your stomping grounds and thank your DH for offering us such a wonderful photo-journal of the day!

Ms. Knitingale said...

My mouth is watering, Jo. I can't wait to see what you make with that stash. And thanks for the yummy pictures. I haven't been to Ireland, but I feel it calling to me just the same (biological father's parents born in Ireland, last name of O'Doherty--it's gotta be in my blood!). I'm gonna keep gazing at that lovely forest picture in a dreamy fashion!

Shelley said...

It sounds like such an awesome day and awesome experience!

Angeluna said...

Jo, that smile on your face as you clutch your treasures to your bosom says it all. Mr. John Cahill has a new fan club. May we all come to visit??? I'm so enchanted that he uses those lovely old looms. And the way he designs his colorways.

For sure I saw a wee leprechaun in that first photo! Did the darling doglets go on this trip??

cindy said...

Of course....stash enhancement is a must!!! Creamy Alpaca can be dyed!! What a treasure trove of yarn!!!

Tan said...

I enjoyed the tour very much! Thanks for sharing your fun.

Fiberjoy said...

You sould put together a "fiber tour". Muckross, John Cahill, and the shepherd - Mr. Daniel P (?), and many of the places you've written about.

What a treat to see a working mill using real people looms. And all those cones. A weaver's paradise.

roggey said...

Wow! What a great haul you managed... wait, do I spy a fountain pen in your hand? It's hard to find someone like me who uses them for daily tasks instead of ballpoint pens.

Angeluna said...

Thought I would give you a bit of perspective on prize winning craft items at the Tennessee State Fair. Holding my sides laughing!
http://www.nashvillesnb.com/archives/000323.html

Ms. Knitingale said...

Jo, I laughed so hard at your response to my post that I snorted! Thank you so much for making me laugh today. And do let me know if you figure out those magic words. I've needed them on many an occasion!

Jo said...

Angeluna, Angeluna, you are a divine intervention to show me those results from the Tennessee State Fair. Now Bantry falls so much into perspective! Love you!

gwtreece said...

What an amazing find and wow to the photo of the forest. I wish I had known about this in Cork, when I went wasted my time working long hours. To bad, I still don't work for Apple anymore or I would have to figure out why I needed to go back for work.

I now just need to go for a vacation. Totally jealous and want to go to the mill. I may live in America but I live 2 hours from the LYS and a Michaels. I have a Walmart but it doesn't have a great selection of yarn.

kelli ann said...

lovely! and... in the last photo... you with that veritable *tower* of delicious yarn in your arms... what a great virtual tour. i'd take a thatched tea-room and a chat at Muckross Yarns (what a great, great name!) over a walk down any aisle of a big-box store any day. tell me about the sweater you're wearing in that photo, willya?