Friday, April 13, 2007

Of Trees and Moss and Winding Pathways - oh and Frogging

The weather has been quite incredible for Ireland this past week and more. In recorded history we have never before had a completely fine Easter weekend, so 2007 is going to go down in the books for sure.

Having finished Round 3 SockMadness in double quick time, so as to have at least some of the weekend free for enjoyment, took myself down to Gougane Barra on Easter Sunday, to see my old friends after the winter (they shut the hotel then) and stroll in the forests there. It was wonderful to see Breda and hug and talk about where we'd been and what we'd done since we'd last met, and we exchanged the traditional greeting, "Go mbeirimid beo ar an t'am seo aris", or, "That we may be alive at this time next year." It is usually said when you eat the first new potatoes since that was, for our ancestors, the time of huge relief that hunger was over and food assured for at least some months ahead. We now say it when a particular marker in the year is reached, as, in this case, seeing each other again after the dark months.

Then the deep forests of Gougane called, so I climbed over a gate and wandered along winding pathways through the trees and rocks for an hour or two, hearing nothing but the soughing of the wind in the treetops. (OK so there was a longer way round which wouldn't involve climbing a gate, but it seemed like the right kind of day to climb gates so I did.)

Gougane is an enchanted place, with a strangely powerful feeling. I think it has been a powerful place for a very long time indeed. These days established religion holds sway, declaring that a holy man called St. Finbarr had his hermitage here, but it is very clear that Gougane Barra (Inis Irce in ancient Ireland) being both a natural cirque or tiny valley in the centre of a circle of surrounding hills, and also the source of the river Lee which flows from here right down to Cork city and the sea, knew - and still knows - far older religions than Christianity.

Every rock, every tree seems to hold its own secrets. It was wonderful to wander there with only the wind for company.

In some parts of the forest you can see the traces of earlier habitation, when Ireland's population was larger, where trees were laboriously cleared and rocks and stones piled into encircling walls. Now any trace of homes has vanished into the ground, and only the stone walls remain, thick with moss, while the trees have come quietly back to reclaim the land.

Dez, I know how much you like moss and trees. These aren't a patch on the magnificent specimens of Louisiana, I know, but they're for you anyway.

Later I wandered around the lakeside, returning to my little jeep over the old clapper bridge.

As I picked my way across the long flat stones, smoothed with time, I wondered how many had crossed that river before me through the centuries.

Denise, when you come to Ireland in May, you have to come to Gougane Barra. It's waiting for you. And Deb, you have to bring your group of New England shepherds here too in June. It's somewhere you have to experience.

Now - tomorrow sees the start of Round 4 of Sock Madness and since Celtic Memory is upholding the honour of the Irish in the final 16, things have been getting a little edgy. It's difficult to settle to anything, but quite a few projects have actually been finished off, in a sort of clearing-the-decks-for-action effort.

Just take a look at this.


And again -


(Angeluna, I've been holding this back until you arrived home from Camp Sockamamie. Are you back? Did you have the best time? You were the one who introduced me to this pattern and then kept after me, so I kept the pictures until you were home.)

This, as I know Peg will heartily agree, is not exactly the easiest of vests to make. Oddly enough it's not the motifs - they need a bit of attention, but they're not difficult. No, it's the shaping in several different ways, all at the same time, each needing its own concentration, and all entirely liable to go wrong at any time. And most of all, it is that dreaded, thrice accursed 'pick up evenly all around the fronts...' instruction.

I thought I had this sussed finally. I got two long circulars and picked up each side at the same time, first picking up ten stitches one side between markers, then the other, and so on, right round to the back of the neck. It took forever. Then I knitted the band. And bound off.

And it looked awful.

It just didn't do anything for the lovely vest. In fact it detracted considerably from the overall effect. I was not encouraged to repeat the ghastly and time-consuming manoeuvre for the armholes, that's for sure.
I left that vest on one side while I ran off to Southern California and had a lot of fun with Mad Cow socks. When I came back, Angeluna gently reminded me of unfinished tasks and with a heavy heart I took it out again.

Several people had suggested an i-cord and I had started that before going away, but it looked as though it was going to take even longer than forever to get a few inches done. What NOW?

But hang on. What if -?

In So Cal I'd picked up a nice update on the old French knitting reel - you know, a cotton reel with four nails banged in the top, through which you can make tubular knitting? Well Clover have brought out a bigger plastic see-through version with several improvements including a revolving head. Nothing to lose, I thought. Grabbed the ball of red yarn, started winding it round the little plastic teeth.

Bingo! In ten minutes I'd worked enough for one armhole. The second followed rapidly. And the entire length to go all the way round from one front point to the other took less than an hour - more like half an hour. A little time to sew it on carefully, and there it was.

Simple. Bless that little Clover French Knitter. I can see all kinds of uses for it in motif work. It would be beautifully effective for Celtic interlacements on plain sweaters.

But now the Celtic Vest was done and I was still edgy. Finished the Mad Pink Cow socks.

Had a bit of fun dyeing yarns.

On the left is a lovely soft 'cashwool' merino laceweight, and on the right a wool/angora sockweight blend that was meant to be 'Wild Roses In Spring' but turned out as rather more 'Explosion In a A Sweet Factory'. Still debating whether or not to use it in Round 4 - depends on the pattern.

But it's still only Friday evening and the pattern won't be released until at least midday West Cork time tomorrow. What to do now? Found a half-finished Aran pattern in the same wool/angora sockweight, that I was never going to finish (it's one of those where you fall in love with the pattern and start right away without ever considering exactly when you're going to wear an extremely warm and heavy sweater).

Trouble was - I'd used the yarn double. Now I don't know if you've ever tried to frog a doubled-yarn project. If you haven't, then my advice is - don't. I've tried this many times before and always ended up hurling the whole lot into a dark corner for Muffy to find. But I like this yarn - it feels beautifully soft and rather like expensive cotton rather than wool. I want to dye more of it, use more of it for socks. So I thought about it for a while, and then worked something out.

Here you can see (a) the lovely antique swift I was lucky enough to get on eBay, (b) my niddy noddy from Quadra Island, and (c) the knitted piece being frogged.
(Now don't get hysterical. There's no point in keeping it. Even if I did finish the sweater (and the gauge is out anyway, it would be far too big), I'd never find an opportunity to wear it unless I went back to Dawson in Yukon Territory around December - a nice idea but unlikely. No, it had to go, and the yarn will be much more useful for other things.)
(Although even my heart fails me as I look at that lovely pattern... Maybe I could make it up again in a lighter yarn - cotton?)
Anyway the complicated manouevring worked: frog a length, pull the yarns apart, wind each on to its own skein, repeat: and I now have two skeins ready for washing and dyeing .
And it's still only coming up to 9 pm. At least another 15 hours before that pattern is out. I'd question my sanity, only I know that the other contestants are feeling just the same way. It's a sort of compelling urge that grips you until you can't think of anything else.
Expect to hear from me when this round is over. With my shield or upon it, as the Greeks used to say (or was it the Romans?)


Anonymous said...

That vest is fabulous - well worth the wait. And what a clever way to do the armholes!

Mranthe said...

I'm torn -- should I first gush about the gorgeous forest photos or should I first gush about your incredible red vest? Toss a coin... I'm not much of a vest person, but wow, that looks incredible on you (you, I assume... you seem to be a bit... er... headless there...). Very, very nice (the handwork, the vest, not the headlessness, I mean)

Trees and Moss and Winding Pathways: You live somewhere that looks like that? I mean, this is home? As in, you go for a walk and there you are? Magical, indeed, I can't even imagine, it looks like pictures from a fairy-tale to me. 'Nuff gushing, indeed, just, well, makes it quite clear why Irish folklore is so rich itself.

PS -- don't be surprised if you discover that your next swap package contains one knitter (and, of course, her knitting), Express Mailed from the US.....

Cornflower said...

Dear Jo, in that magical land of yours have you dicovered the secret to stretching time? I mean how do you accomplish so much? If it's not socks, it's dying yarn, and if it's not that it's complicated patterns, and in your spare time you have a career and a husband and your dogs and doubtless a thousand and one other things you don't reveal on the blog, so come on girl - own up. Tell us just how you do it (and no blarney either, mind!)

Peg-woolinmysoup said...

Your vest is fab, Jo! I like the way you finished it, but I am not changing mine - only trying to find a way to make the side seams larger!! I wish someone would do a video on picking up stitches!
Thank you for the soothing photos of the beautiful forest with the soughing of the trees and the beams of sunlight!

Anonymous said...

Well done on the vest. And doesn't it feel better finally having it done?

I want to come and wander in your enchanted forest. Absolutely worth climbing a gate for. If only I could win the lottery so I can scrap the day job and travel. Sigh.

Amanda said...

oh, wow, i think i just added ireland to my places to visit list. those forest pictures are absolutely magical and so springlike! - after a brief teaser, we're still suffering from winter where i am.

i rather like the motifs on that vest - and the vibrant color.

Ronni said...

Lovely lovely lovely forest photos! And the vest looks lovely too. As does the poor frogged sweater but you're right (and braver than me I think) to admit it won't work out and use the yarn for something else. I love how everytime I visit your blog I learn something. Sometimes, like today, several somethings.

I'm looking forward to hearing about round 4 when it is over. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

The vest turned out beautiful! Great idea for the edging, I'll have to try it sometime.

The forest pictures are fantastic, I have a thing for trees anyway.

Fiberjoy said...

A dignified, mysterious forest such as Gougane must not be entered by normal means, otherwise the enchantment vanishes, as well as the fairies. Fairies were indeed hovering in the moss, see the bit of glimmer? Just looking at your pictures of that wood brings a strong sense of comforting peace.

Whoot! You finished the RED VEST!!!! SHARP

Cindy/Snid said...

Joy that is an absolutely brilliant solution for the vest edging and it looks great! Your photos are also beautiful and it reminds me that I really need to take a day and get away from this suburb landscape...

Cindy/Snid said...

Oops! somehow that "y" got attached to Jo! Well, you bring us Joy with your lovely posts so I will leave it!

Victoria said...

i SOO want to go to Ireland....what beautiful pictures...i would have so climbed the gate too...the forest looks like something out of an enchanted fairy tale...I lived in NZ for awhile and parts of it look like that....gorgreous!

Love the knitting as well....what skill and talent you have...very nice! Good Luck Tommorrow!

Dez Crawford said...

I'm quite moved, Jo -- you posted moss and trees especially for me, and such a breathtaking forest it is. It's immediately apparent that Gougane is sacred space. I'm so glad everyone else enjoyed the woodland, too. What a visual treat!

I would have loved to have climbed that gate with you and wandered in Gougane ... there are secrets in those little land burms between the trees ... I can feel the old gods emanating from the very photos. Indeed, the photos remind me of the little chill and the momentary stopping-of-time I have felt when stumbling across Indian mounds in the woods.

Each forest has its own spirit, and each forest has its own portal for you to find its magic. Some people walk right past those portals every day without even so much as a turn of the head, but they shine and beckon to people like you and me.

The most spiritual places in any woodland have moss, and lots of it. Moss grows slowly, and thus speaks of minimal human disturbance. A rich, mossy glen provides a soft nest for the spirits of the woodland to rest in ... and a good place to find them, if you take the time to look.

As for the red vest -- it is
fabulous. Just stunning. I often find that my favorite things are usually the things I've ripped out and reknitted to the point of almost knitting them twice.

I wish my mother used a computer -- she would love the pink/white/green colorway you dyed! I rather like it myself but when I am presented with a choice of two beautiful things and one of them is purple, the purple almost always wins. You do the BEST purple dye. It smells like violet clean across the Atlantic.

P.s. for pegwoolinmysoup -- I will be doing some swatching for picking up along edges soon on my blog ( and as a guest-blogger for Joan Hamer (
Sometime in the next few weeks, anyway!

Artis-Anne said...

Love the vest Jo & a great colour.
Your scenery is so like her in Wales , guess thats the compensation for having rain, lots of it !!
Good luck in the next Sock Madness round, you maniac you!! LOL

Anne said...

Squee! I am so happy I wandered into your blog. (Less happy than I would have been this time last year BEFORE we went to Ireland, since I missed a walk in your fabulous forest...but still!) More lush green, ancient forest pictures please!!

The socks ain't half bad either. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, Jo! I'm so proud of your inventive solution, and the beautiful vest that resulted. Well done!

Thank you for sharing the forest. I love your sense of a place in antiquity.

KimK said...

Thank you so for the beautiful photographs! I enjoy your posts very much, but the mini-travelogue in this one really touched me somehow.

gail said...

I am very impressed with your Celtic Vest. Your solution for applied I-cord was wonderful--I've not purchased one of the crank-it-out I cord makers but your story makes me think again. I have some purple yarn in my stash that is set aside for the vest--as soon as I finish my husband's sweater which has been in progress for 15 months now.....Your walk in the woods looks so very, very lovely. Makes me want to purchase a ticket for Ireland right away!!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, beautiful vest -congratulations! Perhaps that will be this year's entry to the Bantry show? In any case, wear it with pride. It is lovely!

You can always overdye the sock yarn if you aren't happy with it!Punch up the other colors and the pink won't stand out so much.

knitspot anne said...

c vest is just gorgeous, especially on you! congratualtions on finishing it. really RALLY good work!

i love those pictures of the forest that you posted—oh, how i wish i could go there to walk around and soak up the centuries. very nice.

TutleyMutley said...

YOu got a swift on ebay???? ho ho (rushes off to check ebay)
I love your forest pics and have noted the place for the next time I'm over in Ireland to see my sis.
The vest is impressive - all the more for the effort involved in the finishing.

Anonymous said...

Oh my Jo!!!! Thanks so much for saving the pictures of the Celtic Vest for my return. Just came in (2AM Monday morning) from Camp Cockamamie and had to check your blog before crashing.

Wow!!! The vest is simply too, too fabulous. I LOVE it! So glad you are finished. It must feel good! And you should still be able to wear it a time or two before summer. And we have socks and wonderful dyeing, too.

Your forests are dreamy, in the serious sense of the word. I am completely seduced by the beauty of your little piece of the world.

Must say the forests in the San Juans were also dreamy. And we had splendid weather. And sock camp was a hoot and a half. Cat Bordhi rocks. The Harlot is totally cool. CookieA is soooo charming and quite brilliant. Tina is as wonderful a person as she is a dyer. You gotta check the Harlot's blog. If I told you how funny the Cat/Harlot chicken was, you wouldn't believe me. Hysterical. The talent at that camp was astonishing. And not just the counselors! Cell phones didn't work except in really strange places...Stephanie in the parking lot at midnight holding the phone high to get a signal while being investigated at close range by a strange and possibly friendly but definitely curious mutant deer. Priceless!

Good luck on round four of Sock Madness. We'll be rooting for you.

Roggey said...

holy crap - I feel woozy with lust gazing at that vest, woman! It's red! It's cabled! It fits! (Is it also cashmere? I need a quick lie down now...)

Anonymous said...

What gorgeous work--the vest and the dyeing are both beautiful. I agree with Karen--how do you get all of it done? Have you managed to stretch time? Or do you not sleep? HaHa!

I can't wait to bring my family to Ireland. I visited right out of college and loved, loved, loved it. Hopefully, it won't be too many more years! Your pictures made my heart ache to return.

Denise said...

Jo, I am definitely putting Gougane Barra on the list of things to see (how I wish we had 3 weeks now instead of only 2!). It looks like a magical place. I always really enjoy the beautiful photos you post of the Irish countryside.

Your Celtic vest is amazing and looks wonderful on you! What a clever trick you came up with to finish the edges.

I understand your reasoning behind it, but still it's too bad you had to rip that lovely Aran sweater.

Your dyed yarns are wonderful!

I'm sure you must be done with round 4 by now - can't wait to hear about your latest adventures in sock knitting!

Laura said...

Ooh, I want to wander through Gougane. How marvelous. Old forests are magical places. And look at all that moss! We just don't get moss like that here. Likewise love the old bridge.

The Celtic vest may have given you fits, but it turned out beautifully in the end. I'm glad you stuck with it, and figured out an edging you're happy with. Look marvelous. :-)

It's been nearly a week since your last post. Dieing to hear: what happend with this round of Sock Madness?