Monday, April 02, 2007

A 90 Year Old Shows Me How To Knit Socks

It's been busy since last posting. For a start I decided to join The Weekend Whirls, described as 'a spin-a-long for people who believe weekends were made for spinning fibers.' It has been set up by my dear friend Fiberjoy who not only works miracles with fibres - sorry, fibers - on drop spindles of all designs, but is fortunate in having a genius craftsman as a husband in the shape of Ed Jenkins. That's how she gets all these wonderful spindles, of course. I've had a few from her over the past while, and they are a revelation to work with. You should try them.

I joined up, because it's been all too long since I worked with either spindle or spinning wheel. Blogging takes up so much time, and then the knitting - even before Sock Madness (oh help, Wednesday sees the start of Round Three with a new pattern) - and of course there is always the day job to keep in mind. But my little Orkney wheel has been looking mutely reproachful, so perhaps linking into The Weekend Whirls would get me back into the spin of things, so to speak.

I started with a gorgeous roving of merino and silk sent to me by Lyn in Australia. It felt so silky and beautiful in the hand that I could hardly wait to get going on it.

Unfortunately, years of spinning coarser wool 'in the grease', i.e. not washed beforehand, had ill fitted Celtic Memory for the elegance of merino silk roving. Greasy wool is very forgiving indeed to the spinner, allowing long draws and any amount of distraction. With this classy roving, however, you had to have your full concentration in the tips of your fingers the whole time or a broken thread was the result. Which it was, rather too many times. Felt like bundling the whole lot into a bag and forgetting about it, but soldiered on and got a small amount spun eventually.

Not a lot for a couple of hours struggling and swearing, but it can only get better. I'll get the hang of this roving stuff somehow. It's so beautiful it has to be my fault. I'll spin up the other half of that roving and ply the two together and then maybe when I see the skein in all its glory, I'll be fired with the desire to do so much better, and better, and better. Maybe.

In the meantime, all you devoted spinners, as well as all you now-and-again spinners, get over there to Weekend Whirls and join yourselves up. See you there.

On Saturday one of my very favourite coffee shops was on the agenda, and it was a fine spring morning to be visiting the Cruiscin Lan in Ballyvourney. The name means Full Jug or Flowing Bowl, depending on whether you prefer the literal or the poetic translation. They're a great gang of bilingualists in there, who will greet you in Irish or English with equal ease. They had promised to procure a big container of vinegar for me, for dyeing purposes (I can only get tiny bottles in the supermarket).

This is Ciara, bringing the vinegar to my table. Hasn't she a lovely smile? I tell you, if you ever visit this corner of the world, you have to try the Cruiscin Lan. Their cakes are delectable, and the coffee has a kick like a mule. Vicki in So Cal, they would be thrilled to bits with your grasp of Irish!

Onwards to Kenmare where I was sitting quietly in Jam and knitting on Mad Cow Mark II when an elderly lady sitting nearby asked what yarn I was using. She was a bit perplexed with the idea of bamboo and cotton (she'd been reared on homespun wool) but perked up when I told her there was a superb wool shop not far away at all. (The word 'yarn' isn't readily understood in Ireland as yet.) Yay, a chance to bring more converts to the mission!

Sheila McCarthy, who is 90 today, was down in Kenmare for the weekend with her daughters who were taking her around and showing her a good time. Can you imagine the reaction of a lady who had knitted all her life, but didn't know of anything but plain wool or perhaps a wool/nylon blend for socks, faced with Colinette, Noro, Debbie Bliss, et al?

That's Sheila with her back to the camera, one of her daughters sitting on the sofa, and Jean, one of the owners, in the middle, explaining how many balls of Debbie Bliss Stella would be required for a sweater.

Sheila, I have to say, was no shy unobtrusive nonogenarian. She'd already ticked me off roundly in Jam for 'knitting all wrong', and when I proved unflappable on that point (time was it would have upset me, but not now, not with all me fine bloggin' pals for support!), grudgingly admitted that I was 'moving along all right anyway.' When she'd done enough looking around and touching and buying, she took my Mad Cow sock, raised her eyebrows at the Magic Loop (but, fair dues to the woman, worked it out within moments), and showed me exactly how knitting should be done.

'You've got to keep that wool twisted round your finger,' she told me sternly. 'Otherwise you won't have the tension.' The row she knitted, smoothly and at speed, was a good bit tighter than I could ever achieve.
I left them there enjoying themselves. I hope they had a great weekend.

On the way home, the celandines were massed on sunny banks, lifting their golden faces to the sun.

and there were drifts of wild violets in sheltered corners.

When I was young, I would always gather the first wild violets to bring to my mother. It's a tradition I still keep: I will take some, cradled in moss and wound with ivy, to her grave tomorrow.


Peg-woolinmysoup said...

I would happily sit for tea with either Clara or Sheila! Do you think we will be telling young women (that's us, Jo) how to knit and what they are doing incorrectly when we are 90.
I would love to see what she bought - Debbie Bliss, Noro - and what will she make!
My violets are in bloom and I know my Mom would love them too! The Celandines look like my Marsh Marigolds, but they are probably different plants.
Happy Birthday to Sheila! Hope I look as good at 90!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I do love the mental picture of the first wild violets cradled in moss and wound with ivy. I have wild, or at least "volunteer" violets in the back garden, but my mother would not love them. She would consider them weeds. I shall have to take roses.

Beautiful Ciara and indomitable Sheila. Do you know what a wonderful environment you have, Jo? Lovely story yesterday, my father's 88th birthday, his old friend Jane came. At 89 (she looked terrific and soooo sharp) she was taught to knit last month by her daughter and thinks it is wonderful. She has done her first pair of socks, with cables, and is currently working on a slipstich vest. Should I live to 90, I want to be Jane or Sheila, capable of being excited and learning new things. Jane's mother lived to be 104, so she has a lot of knitting time left.

Will you teach me to spin one day?

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry you're having trouble with the luscious blue roving. I do remember, though, that it does need a bit of adaptation to make it work. I think I treadle more slowly and add more twist into the yarn, as the silk doesn't have that 'sproing' that pure wool has. I'm sure you'll get the hang of it, if you haven't already!

I hope I'm as confident, able and assured as Sheila when I get to be 90. I'm confident of reaching 90, mind you, just to give me time to work through some of my collection here. I have been making good on my promise not to buy any more fibre, but went on a spinners' guild weekend and succumbed yet again. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Taking a beautiful offering of the first violets, cradled in moss and wound with fresh ivy, to your mother's grave brought a tear to my eye.vnsgocx

Anonymous said...

I remember wild violets on my grandparents' farm in Iowa, but I had never seen/heard of celandines before. I always learn something new from you!

LaurieM said...

I'm glad you stood your own ground Jo, though I agree that twisting the yarn around your finger is the way to get good tension!

rho said...

One of the things I love about knitting with other people at the retreat and at knitting circles - is seeing how everyone knits differently. I sometimes forget to knit I am so entranced watching everyone else. ;) So I doubt I would be bothered by anyone telling me I was doing it wrong LOL

I would love to know what she ended up buying also - and what she planned to make - hope her family was ready to spend that much on a present for here hehehe

Roggey said...

oh, the only "knitting wrong" is no knitting at all. Good for you for sticking to what works for your knitting!

I'm off to post about my trepidation of trying a kind of lace pattern...

Charity said...

Your yarn and violets are so lovely Jo. Your Saturday out sounds wonderful!

BTW... did you ever receive the package I posted to you? :0)

pacalaga said...

I don't believe I've been to my mother's grave since the day she was placed in it. She's not there anymore, anyway. I'm pretty sure she hangs out in my bathroom while I bathe my son, her only grandchild. He used to stare and point at the same spot in my bedroom for months as a baby. Maybe she was there, too.
Wow. Today is the anniversary of her death, too. Kismet, that. Or something.

Cindy/Snid said...

Somehow I had gotten behind in my blog reading- but it is such a joy to "catch up" with you! Spring in Ireland looks beautiful, Van Gogh is adorable (my daughter, who has a pet bunny was cooing along!) and I can just imagine how you must have felt getting "told" by a 90 year old sock knitter. Precious! As always, thanks for sharing Jo, and good luck in Round #3! I will be knitting along at a more reasonable pace...

The Woolley Farm said...

Wow, did that lady scare you? She looks like she really knows what she's doing. And if she doesn't, don't tell her! So you must go back & find out what she bought-we're all so curious.

Hmmm, your story gives me an idea for my old age---I shall go from house to house kniting socks & eating all the cookies in the cupboards.

Give Van Gogh a carrot for me. Hope I get to meet him in June!

Anonymous said...

My daughter just announced that she was going to try to take up knitting again (she hasn't knit anything in about 20 years although she spins on rare occassions). I was thrilled and quickly found books, yarn and needles for her from my stash. While more than willing to share my knowledge with her, she's one of those people that have to find their own way. I don't know that I would ever have the courage to tell her that she was doing it wrong! Luckily, she always figures things out on her own.

When I spin a silk/merino blend, I seem to have better control if I spin from the fold. Have you ever tried that?

As to my Irish, I'm off to class in a couple of hours. I always just hope that I don't embarrass myself too badly, like the night I remembered what I wanted to say in Irish but forgot my own name!

Dez Crawford said...

violets and roses are my mom's favorite flowers. How you must miss your Mum, Jo. I am so glad I still have my Mom but I miss my Dad terribly.

Sounds like you had a lovely day; I'd love to give a whirl at thet silk merino blend!

TutleyMutley said...

My goodness, that woman is in fine fettle for 90! I'm hoping I look half as good if I reach that age -AND still able to knit - let alone see it.
Beautiful violets, lovely story.

Denise said...

My goodness, I hope I'm that feisty at 90. I can't imagine telling anyone they're knitting 'wrong' though - or taking their knitting and working it!

Like Rho, I love to watch the many different styles of knitting and spinning at retreats and get-togethers. So many different approaches and yet the same basic end product.

What a sweet story about the violets, Jo. It's lovely that you keep the tradition in your mother's memory.

Artis-Anne said...

I had the same thing happen to me the other day when I was in the waiting room in the hospital kniting away and an elderly lady came up to me and was reminiscing about sock knitting. Isn't it amazing how you meet and chat with so many folks when you knit in puplic.

Fiberjoy said...

Taking wild violets to your mother's grave strikes a tender, responsive chord in my heart. An excellent tradition to maintain.