Monday, April 23, 2007

Yes, Sock Knitting Is Definitely An Addiction

I remember it quite well. I posted on Knitter's Review Forum, I aired the topic on these pages. Why, I demanded to know (last year, last year, ah how long ago) is sock knitting so trendy? What is it about socks that makes the knitting thereof such a desirable habit to pursue? I didn't get it, I declared. I just did not GET it about this passionate fashion for knitting socks.

Oh I was answered. The replies poured in, each more fervent in its missionary zeal than the last. Ideal for carrying around with you, said many. So easy to finish, as so many projects are not, said more. Luxurious indulgences said others. I listened. I told myself not to be narrow minded. I gave in. I purchased yarn. I cast on.

I left that first sock after two rows. It was boring. The only kind of sock yarn you could buy in Ireland (still the only kind of sock yarn you can buy in Ireland) was a wool-nylon blend in assorted shades of black, brown and grey. Not all together, heaven forfend. Black OR brown OR grey. To go with school uniforms or depressing suits or something.

But then I found Simply Socks on the Net and purchased some Tiny Toes Interlacements in the most incredibly beautiful mix of blues. Like a page from an illuminated manuscript the ball of yarn was, and when you knitted it up - utter heaven. I worked on those socks early and late, finished them, wore them, washed them gently, wore them again - and again and again. Anne, and all those of you who warned me that the Interlacements yarns tend to bleed, were you ever right! After myriad washings, those socks still turn the water a rich bright blue! But I forgive them. They're so beautiful. Indeed my pet name for them was my Book of Kells Socks. No, they didn't win a prize at Bantry Show, but I think that was because Bantry had never seen anything like them in its life before. Black, brown, grey socks yes, but this bright illuminated blend of blues, never. Bad stuff. Burn it at the stake. What is the world coming to?

Anyway, to get back to the point I originally intended to make. Socks, and the knitting thereof, can lead to dangerous addiction. It doesn't happen immediately - I made another pair, then worked casually on a third pair over several months. I could take it or leave it alone, and that, I assumed, was the way it would stay with socks and moi.

Enter Sock Madness, stage left, cackling. Exit all sense and reason.

Over the past month and a half I have knitted five pairs of socks and another pair is on the needles even as we speak. Four pairs for Sock Madness and the first pattern done a second time just for fun. For fun? To what sad extreme has Celtic Memory come? And I can't stop. I simply can't stop. Friday sees the launch of Round 5 of this amazing event. There are just eight of us left in the central ring, with the other 120 competing fiercely with each other around the perimeter and having a wonderful time. We should be spending these last few days resting up, oiling our hands, flexing the joints, or at least clearing away the backlog of housework and day job.

But I can't relax. Life doesn't seem right any more without a pair of socks on the go. I miss them when I'm on a bus, in a car, sitting in a cafe. So today I gave in to my desperate craving and cast on a pair to keep me going until Friday. I'd try toe-up socks, I decided, since I haven't done too much in that line. And the pattern I chose? Why Wendy's Toe-Up Sock, of course, the name of the division in which I found myself for Sock Madness and which is now represented solely by Celtic Memory and Stitchinwench who on Friday and all over the weekend will have to battle it out for supremacy. Only one of us can go through, that's the pity of it.

Here's the first sock, working up the foot. I must say this starting at the toe is rather fun. No grafting to dread at the end, just work away until you see that the ball of yarn is almost finished, and then cast off. Thought the top of the foot looked a bit plain, so added in a few Celtic twists to perk it up. The yarn is my current favourite, Crystal Palace Panda Cotton, a blend of bamboo and cotton, in a nice oatmeal shade.

The other day, hearing that our unaccountably fine weather was about to come to an end, I made a trip down the Dingle Peninsula to Slea Head. I had a special purpose in mind: there had been news of a cliff fall down there, and the spectacular coastal road had in part been swept away. This is one of the most amazing tourist routes you could hope to find, and any damage to the road would impact very badly on local business, which depends on the short summer season. But I had a more personal interest: Denise is coming over in May, and Deb in June (Deb with a group of Maine shepherds, how cool is that?), and I couldn't bear to think of either of them missing out on the Dingle peninsula with its ancient beehive huts, and Dunquin, and the legendary Blasket Islands. So I went down to see for myself how bad it was.

Well a good bit of the road had certainly collapsed a few hundred feet into the sea, which wasn't too hopeful. But - and here's the amazing bit - everybody had rallied round, including the local farmer landowners, agreements had been thrashed out, and a new stretch of road laid out across an adjoining field in a shorter time than you could believe possible - a few days in fact. Now normally Kerry isn't noted for getting things done quickly, but this they did achieve. And well done to them. Denise and Deb, all is well: you won't miss out on the Dingle Peninsula and the Slea Head drive.

I did though. Miss out, that is. You will see from that picture that it's a very misty dark day. To tell the truth, most days are like that down on Slea Head. The weather sweeps in from the Atlantic and since Kerry is the first thing it's seen since leaving America, it falls on it like a long-lost brother. To the detriment of the view.

These pictures were taken when the mist lifted slightly. When it was really down, you couldn't see more than a couple of yards.

You can just make out in this one the long lines of old drystone walls crisscrossing the headland, far further up into the mountain than seems practical or useful. That's an echo of the past: the pre-Famine days when the population had reached its highest level ever (we're still not back to it) and desperate people scrambled ever higher to find some - any soil to till.

I didn't want you to go without seeing the magical Blasket Islands though, so DH was prevailed upon to search in his library and find a sunny day image for you.

There was never a place like the Great Blasket for producing writers. Half a dozen classics still avidly read today - Peig Sayers' life, Tomas O'Crohan's The Islandman, Michael O'Suillebhain's Twenty Years A Growing, and more, all chronicling a way of life that has gone for ever. The last islanders were taken off in the 1950s, broken hearted to go, but unable to continue in their isolation. Can you see those tiny white dots on the island? They're the islanders' cottages. Fires were left ready laid with wood, kettles on the hob, mugs on the table when they sailed away to the mainland, as if they could not bear to think that they would never return. You can go over on fine summer days (and trust the boatman if he says it's not a good day, they know how quickly the weather can blow up around this coast), and wander around these relics of an earlier, more simple existence.

In a sheltered patch on the road back, the first bluebells were out - very early for these, since they normally herald May Day.

The sun came out as I crossed back into county Cork, so just to awaken your longings, I photographed two glorious old ruins for sale near my home:

How can I tell you to be sensible? I was nearly on the phone to the estate agents myself - and I live in a perfectly good house nearby! Look, they'd need millions to do them up - don't imagine the second one has heard of indoor plumbing, let alone a damp proof course, while the first one was invisible for years under a thick growth of brambles, and has only recently emerged into the open air. But they're tempting, oh dear heaven are they tempting!

Now I really must get on with creating the Bealtaine yarn. We're almost at Beltane, or May Day, a great festival on the ancient Celtic calendar. It will be inspired by the bluebells that carpet the woods in May, the white of the hawthorn or May blossom, and the vivid springing green that you can see everywhere at this time of year.

Here is the preliminary stash trawl. Now all I need is a little time to create the yarn. Don't let anything else distract, just get on with assembling the work of art...
Where did I put those toe-up socks?


Anonymous said...

I came from a link on Jean's page, I think.
Oh I love those old Irish cottages. If I ever win the Lottery I'm buying one and moving over there!
Your pictures, both of words and images, are beautiful.

From LA, USA

Anonymous said...

I'm right there with you on the socks. I'm also not much of a stash-er, but sock yarn? I drove past the LYS at lunch today and almost stopped in for some Claudia Hand Painted for no reason other than it was there.

And your pics? Lovely. Just lovely! And that house does tempt me, as I am a fan of beat up cottages (I have a 670 sq ft fixer upper).

Charity said...

I don't knit socks anywhere near as quickly as you do, but I'm just as addicted! If I don't have a sock on the needles, it just feels wrong. :0)

Anonymous said...

Just call the estate agent immediately and put in a bid for me on the second house. Oh, my. I LOVE it. Is it hiding a back garden? Orchard? Wellhouse? Hope it's big enough for my stash. I'll buy a couple of sheep for the garden, and perhaps a pair of Alpacas. Wonder if they would love Ireland? They prosper in the San Juans, similar weather. Get a spinning wheel. Would it have an aga?

My new house aside, I totally understand sock addiction and I can't explain it. People say they knit up fast, but if you count the stitches, you couls have done a small sweater in a larger gauge with the same number of stitches. I think they are just fun. The magic of turning the heel. Fit problems are few as compared to a sweater since you knit with negative ease. Whatever, there are always several on the needles.

Lord love Richard and his beautiful photos. And thanks for the road report. I'm sitting here wondering if I would be a total menace driving on the left, since I really want to drive all over Ireland. Thanks to you.

Anonymous said...

Darling, I do admire your enthusiasm, but I think perhaps that first house is somewhat beyond repair.

rho said...

Ok - When I win the lottery -- sorry aarlene and angeluna - I'm going to win. . . that second cottage is mine. Indoor plumbing not that important to begin with - I just brought Jane to see where my aunt and uncles cottage was in Lazy Point and that had an outhouse until just before they died. . . oh how I hated having to go out in the night - black snakes ugh... probably why I still hate snakes. And we heat our house now with wood so tending a stove not a problem... And I went for months without hot water until we got the new electric hot water heater - heating water on teh stove and doing sink baths -- so like I said I can wait for indoor plumbing :D

You ARE going to win!!! I won't be back until late Monday night so I expect to hear that you are Number 1 in sock challenge.

Super pictures -- why did the people have to leave the island? That just makes me want to cry...

M-H said...

Are we going to see you on Grand Designs then? :) Brave Irishwoman and her staunch husband do battle with the The Builders, The Architect and other tradesman, have at least 3 finanical crises, but eventually create wonderful environmentally friendly home out of old ruin.

Dez Crawford said...

Blasket Island breaks my heart, Jo. Why on earth were its residents removed? It is within sight of the mainland coastal road, for heaven's sake. There are tiny coastal islands everywhere, easily served by supply boats and ferries. Do tell us more, Jo. Why do the Irish always get displaced, even in the homeland? Why couldn't they stay?

And those cottages for sale -- oh, how I would love to move into one, and fix it up. I did a good job on my Mom's house after Katrina with a wee budget. I would be so happy to pour love into such a little cottage.

On the more cheerful subject of socks ... I can barely remember NOT knitting socks. I've knit socks since I was a kid, but back then, in America, we mostly had boring sock yarn too -- although the dime store carried a few additional solid colors, including dark green, deep gold and burgundy, which went nicely with various school uniforms. Still, I only knitted socks occasionally until the early '90s when colorful sock yarn was suddenly all over the place ... that's when I got in the habit of always. always having a pair of socks in progress.

I am a moderate-level stasher, except for sock yarn, and there I am hopeless, as it is a good weight for shawls, and for sweaters in our mild winters. In fact, I just treated myself to some lovely yarn from displaced New Orleanian and yarn dyer Ray Whiting ( I need to post on my own blog about that!

Sigh. You and Lisa Louie will ruin me. I have two pickle jars going with coins now -- one for the trip to Ireland and one for the trip to Hawaii.

Anonymous said...

Jo, I have followed your blog for some time, not only for the knitting but for your wonderful writing. You really should think about being a travel writer! I was in Ireland for 10 days a year ago this May and I wish you had been my tour guide. Althought we didn't get to see southern Ireland you bring it alive with your pictures and words. Please keep it coming.

Lynda the Guppy said...

*sigh* I was in Ireland two years ago this summer and I still long to go back. I loved it there. I was there for 12 days and took 997 photographs. LOL Thank god for digital cameras, eh?

I'm pretty sure I made it to Slea Head. There's a lighthouse there, right? If so, I have some wonderful (and sunny!) pictures from there.

And I'm afraid I can't talk about Socks. If I told you about my stash, I'd have to kill you. LOL. My current obsession is Lorna's Laces, but I've got some Koigu that I'm dying to try, too.

Anonymous said...

Jo, I absolutely love your blog. You make me feel like I'm there on the trip with you!! My family is from Cork and for some reason, it makes me feel closer to them. Good luck with Friday's round! I know you'll kick tail!

Anonymous said...

Oh Jo, how you tempt us! First with descriptions of lucious sock yarns and the praises of toe-up patterns (they're great, aren't they -- just wait till you try two at once!).

Then with pictures of your glorious countryside. If only I could drive those roads, walk along those trails! If only I could find a cottage-in-need-of-love like those ones, but here in Toronto! (It will never happpen, but still I can dream...)

And to finish off you leave tantilizing hints of a Beltaine yarn, inspired by some of my favorite spring flowers! Such a temptress, indeed.

Mia said...

I love the socks. I am going to have to try the Panda soon. I like the second ruin. It could be fun fixing it up. The first one will just require too much work.

And I love the photos.

Mranthe said...

I'd say when can I move in, your blog has so enchanted me, except I don't think I'm quite game for that much of a fixer upper (hubby has this habit of .starting. big projects and then getting distracted... hmm... perhaps I'd better be careful about mentioning that to him, at that).

So you've become addicted to socks, have you? Funny how that happens... While we're at it, can I interest you in some lace, for all that spare time between socks?

KimK said...

Thanks again for taking us all along on your drive with you. It's such a lovely treat. Like others who have commented, I was lucky enough to visit Ireland a few years ago. I've been longing to return ever since... ahh, someday.

I just learned toe-up socks from Wendy's pattern, too! I must say, mine look a bit rougher than yours. I love the little cables!

Jo at Celtic Memory Yarns said...

Too late, too late on the lace, SheepsPyjamas - been there, done that, got all (but ALL) the gear... Which do you favour: bobbin lace, needlepoint, crochet or tatting? Have been doing Irish crochet lace since toddlerdom; had a very passionate love affair with bobbin or pillow lace for years. That was before spinning and quilting... Knitting, however, has been a permanent fixture in my life since my hands were big enough to hold the needles.

Unknown said...

Sigh. Those 2 old buildings are lovely but I would bet you are right - the price tag to fix them up will be painful.

Good luck with the next round!

Unknown said...

dang it i want even more to come and visit. it seems odd to me to here you talk about the Dingle peninsula like i would calmly i drove up to mt. rushmore. or something!

oh...and i'm on my 3rd pair of's the only reason i wanted to learn to knit...i LOVE handknit socks.

Kathy said...

What a wonderful post, I can feel myself driving along with you. We had snow yesterday in Colorado. A bunch of us are going on the Sea Socks cruise this weekend from Los Angeles to Vancouver. Too bad you are not coming along.

Mranthe said...

I'm impressed; I've done knit and crochet lace, drawn thread (briefly) and tatting, but never quite got the hang of it. As you say, knitting is my love, so my lacework tends to stay there... And you already spin too, so I couldn't offer that as a new addiction... When do you find time to keep up with all of it? (I tend to go through phases; I'm figuring lace mode is just kicking in, and I need to set myself down to visit with my wheels...)

knitspot anne said...

o gosh jo, i will be on the edge of my swivel chair rooting for you and biting my nails alternately!
how CAN you stand it?
i want SO badly for you to win!(not that you aren't a winner already with 5 pairs of new socks)

Amy Lane said...

What beautiful pictures of a place I'll never see but have ALWAYS wanted to visit...

(and sock knitting? Do people actually LIVE without knitting socks?)