Tuesday, January 30, 2007

May I Introduce A New Knitting Technique?

Well that got you interested anyway. Perhaps I should be more specific. It's not so much a new knitting technique as - oh well, here's when you might need it.

I was working away on the new love of my life, the classic simple cabled polo sweater in that gorgeous silk/cashmere yarn. Worked out the right sizing at last, after so many froggings I lost count. Worked up a good couple of inches and was all ready to take a proud picture so I could show it to you on my weblog.

Then I saw it. I blinked. Just a trick of the light. Look again. No, maybe it's just a thread that's got pulled out of shape a little. Tug it and it'll be OK.

No it isn't.

I couldn't have.

Did I?

I mean - how difficult is a pattern of k 4, p 1, cable 4, pi, k 4, p1, cable 4... etc. etc. etc. all along the row? You could do it in your sleep.

Which might have been what I was doing. It was late at night after all.

Let's show you the picture. I know my limits: I got DH to take this one up close with a macro lens.

You might have to put on your reading glasses and look closely - but can you see, about two rows above the twist of the cable - a PURL stitch where no purl should be? And not just once, but twice. On both cable panels. (In fact it's on a third one too, but in the interests of close detail you can't see that one.)

Somewhere along the happy-go-lucky knitting line I must have got a k3, p1 into my head instead of k4. Half of a row was wrong. And it wasn't the most recent row, but at least ten rows back.

So what would you have done?

I know, I know the Three Great Options. Like everyone else, I discovered them myself over the years. I went for Option Two, which involves a good reading light (preferably with a daylight bulb), a fine crochet hook, and a great deal of patience.

It's an irritating enough job, frogging just one stitch back down row after row, but it's made even more maddening when it's a fibre that tends to catch charmingly on every neighbouring stitch, necessitating much tugging and cursing under the breath. When you multiply that by several stitches, it gets a mite stressful. Break for half a packet of chocolate biscuits. Return to the fray (and fraying yarns, fraying nerves too). Get another one out, down, back up, on the needle again. On to the next one. How many stitches did I get wrong for heaven's sake? Oh great, now several more perfectly good stitches in line have decided to leap off the needle in sympathy (or in response to my furious tug at yet another tangled-up stitch). Back to the chocolate biscuits. No, you can't have one, Muffy. And for pity's sake stop eyeing that silk/cashmere.

I began to get that dangerous pulsing sensation in my fingers. You know the feeling - when your hands seem to be taking on a life of their own and starting to work up to a break out. It's a very dangerous stage. If you don't catch it in time, your hands, all by themselves, will actually grab the knitting and pull it in two directions at once. They will then wrench the needle (all right, or needles, don't be so pedantic) out of the knitted fabric and hurl them across the room. Finally, after a refreshing session of swearing and marmalising (sorry, I can't find an English translation for 'strachadh' which means to shred into flitters, only more so), those hands cast the wretched fragments on the ground, so that the feet (preferably encased in bovver boots) can take over and grind the memory into perdition.

This (and now, thanking you for your patience, we have come to the new technique at last) is known as

Tantrum Frogging

Now such a concept may be a little nouveau, a little outre (oh yes, the French always have a word for it) for those of you who are in the habit of taking a gentle little trip to the frogging pond on a sunny weekend, complete with picnic basket, folding stool, and Sonnets from the Portuguese. And I'll admit it's not nice. Not to put too fine a point on it, it's pretty violent. But it's life. It's real knitting life and it's out there. Waiting for us. And I came v-e-r-y, v-e-r-y close to the edge.

I wanted you to know. I wanted you to be on the watch for me, so that if I feel the dangerous urge again, you will be there to hold me back, to ring TF Anonymous and get them to take me away somewhere there are no yarns, no needles.

And don't try it yourself at home. It's not safe. You know it doesn't make sense. Is it worth getting hooked on a habit just for the sake of a few moments wild jubilation? You know it isn't.

After that experience I went back to the Celtic Vest and worked away assiduously. Past the armhole shaping now and almost ready to work the second Lavold motif, one to each armhole. I'll have pictures next time. Heavens above, this was my entry for the Red Sweater KAL. That particular knitalong is probably archived and history for everyone else by now. I know one person in particular who got involved because I'd suggested she should. She's now finished the project she started well after me! And to make matters worse, she was working on the Travelling Cables Cardi. Remember the Travelling Cables? How I raised heaven and earth to get hold of the pattern, and then couldn't wait to get started? Jan says she wants to see what progress I've made. Er.... Oh [brainwave], sorry Jan, I actually haven't had your comment yet. No, really, I haven't seen it. I expect it will come down - oh, next week sometime. And as soon as I see it, I'll certainly show you where I'm at. (Think she suspects? That should buy me a little time.)

I decided to try some space dyeing the other evening. The kind where you end up with enough in one colour to make a stripe or at least a couple of rows before moving on to the next shade. This involves making a very long skein indeed.

I've dipped two quarters of this, one in blue and the other in violet, and they're drying at the moment. Then I'll do the other two quarters. Green and navy? Yellow and teal? What do you think? Gosh, dyeing is great fun. Must remember not to mix up the pots on the stove though...

We're planning a short trip to Prague next week. It's one of the few places to which you can get directly from Cork, which in these days of airport chaos is definitely a plus. Just a Monday to Wednesday hop, enough to have a hot chocolate and a beer and stand on Charles Bridge and look down at the Vltava.

But heaven bless blogging! What, oh what did we do before we had the Net and weblogs? I now know exactly where to find yarn shops in Prague - thanks to the adorable All Tangled
who did all the hard work a year or so ago and recorded it for the rest of us. Thanks, pet! I'm excited about the fact that one of these shops is actually an outlet for MarLen, the Czech yarn manufacturer, and stocks both skeins and CONES! I am uncontrollable when it comes to cones of yarn. They seem so much more real than the tidy neat balls you get in standard shops, and they're almost always far better value.

But every rainbow has a rain cloud somewhere. As I was happily polishing up my passport this afternoon, my LYS rang to tell me delightedly that - WHO would be in Cork next Tuesday? Debbie Bliss, that's who! Yep, she's touring local yarn outlets in Ireland with her sales team all next week and Tuesday is the day she's in Cork. When I will be in Prague.

Ah well, maybe I'll get something rare and unusual in old Bohemia to compensate for missing out on that visit. And after all, we can get Debbie Bliss yarns anytime, can't we? It would have been nice to meet her, though (and maybe, just maybe, find out where she really gets her yarns made up - then I could go there next trip and look for the remaindered bins in the back of their factory!)

Got my skein of Socks That Rock in the post this morning - didn't take long to get here.

This is Nodding Violet and it's as lovely as it sounds. Can't wait to try it out.

(This sock yarn obsession has got to stop. I like making socks, sure, but I am beginning to suspect that the real addiction lies in acquiring as much of the yarn as possible, never mind the knitting up. I just can't see a new colourway without wanting it. But I can walk away. I can give it up any time I choose. I just haven't chosen to do so yet, that's all.)

Friday, January 26, 2007


I had every intention in that last posting of calling out to Anne (not superb pattern designer Anne of Knitspot but Anonymous Anne who commented, telling me she had just the same gypsy stove in her home). Anonymous Anne, contact me, do, and let me see a picture of your stove! You see I'm not sure I have all the bits for mine, and if not, I want to get Paudie to make me the missing pieces. You can get me at kerjoATgofreeDOTindigoDOTie.

Angeluna is of the opinion that I should get moving on the Celtic Vest and finish it off first. Then, she says, I can wear it while finishing the others, and have everyone admire it to boot! Good thinking, Angeluna, and I'll haul it out right away.

Did you see those marvellous Jaywalker socks on Ms Knitingale's blog? Love the pattern, and she was kind enough to send me the link to www.magknits.com where I could download it for myself. I am constantly amazed at the generosity of these people who make their patterns available for anyone else to try out. I should send every one of them a skein of something nice. (But then perhaps I should ensure that all those to whom I already promised a skein of something nice have in fact got it before I add any more to the list! )

Wasn't it fun to hear from Deb at The Irish Ewe in Maine? And I can't believe she has offered to bring over a suitcase of yarns for me so that I don't have to pay the shipping costs. Deb, you don't know what you've let yourself in for! I've already had a drooling session on her web shop (the yarns she has, you have to see them!) and simply love the idea of Needles With Experience. Where do you get them, Deb?

Rho was telling me that she couldn't stand the 'new' Blogger, and I must say I agree with her. The whole idea of Blogger was wonderful and it's made all the difference in the world to our lives, but why update it in this way? You spend absolutely ages adjusting your computer and information as they dictate, only to find that nothing works any more. Blogger, dear Blogger, don't withdraw your service - we couldn't live without it now - but do consider the wise old maxim, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' We don't need a New Improved Model every few days. We like the old one!

I had decided a little while ago to have an indulgent half hour in the upstairs sitting room, which gets all the sunshine all day and is consequently the warmest in the house. (It's really designed on the same principle as the medieval solar where the ladies took their leisure and worked at their embroidery or played the lute.) I got a coffee and a chocolate brownie and left them on the window sill while I rushed back to write this postscript.

I heard the thumping but thought Sophie was just leaping up for her customary nap on the armchair. Then I remembered the chocolate brownie...

No, I do not have a picture. There really wasn't time. When I got there, a smudge of chocolate was all that remained on the plate and Sophie was sitting in the middle of the floor with a nervous grin on her face. Yes, her breath did smell of chocolate. And yes, I'll probably be up all night with her. It was a very rich, iced chocolate brownie.

Just remembered that I have to type up someone's project before tonight. And then I really really will get back to the knitting. I'm looking for the Celtic Vest, Angeluna, I'm looking for it!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Frog Is Definitely a Four-Letter Word!

You get those projects, you definitely do. Starmore (cross fingers and shudder) was the last, and perhaps I'd relaxed a bit, forgotten about the suffering and the pain as one is inclined to do in post-traumatic stress disorder recovery. I didn't have an inkling, when I announced happily to all and sundry that I was going to try the Michael Kors Aran sweater featured on the cover of the fall issue of Vogue, that this would turn out to be one of THOSE.

I swatched in my beautiful natural silk/cashmere. I swatched again. I went down a whole size in needle (heck it was narrow enough at 4.5mm I would have thought, I could barely see the 3.5mm). Eventually I managed to get a swatch which measured slightly less than that suggested in the pattern.

I'd done a bit of homework you see. Oh I've learned a few tricks the hard way. I ran around the Net, surfing little knitting waves here and there, and found a few other people who'd tried the Michael Kors. Big, they all admitted. Very big. Not just roomy but huge. Yeah, well, it does give the measurement for the XS as 44" chest, which is kinda large. Which is why I was trying to make a swatch measuring less than the given size. Which I did.

So I cast on an awful lot of stitches and worked away diligently on a particularly tasking type of twisted rib - not only k tbl but p tbl as well, and if you've ever tried to purl through the back of the loop, you'll know it isn't something you can do with one eye on a television documentary and the other on a small Pekingese tearing something suspiciously familiar to pieces in the corner of the room. But I persevered. Until half way through the requisite number of rows I began to suspect that there was more here than called for. Where the heck is the measuring tape? Why is it that you can own a dozen or more tapes and still never be able to find one? Where do they all go? Have they a secret rumpus room where they hold measuring tape parties?

But I ran one to earth (looking slightly guilty on the stairs, where he had no business to be) and checked. Yep, worst fears realised. This was way wa-a-ay too big. B-r and b-l - no, no, stop that. Tsk tsk, how tiresome. And so we come to Frog Number One.

Here are all those painfully-worked little stitches yanked off the inexpressibly tiny needle (yes, it was down to 2.5mm for the rib, let's hope this doesn't go any lower) and slowly, slowly being frogged back and rewound on to the cone. I hate doing this to such a classically beautiful yarn as silk/cashmere. It doesn't do it any good. And no matter how careful I am, I can never get the last few inches of the cast-on row unripped, so it inevitably ends up in Muffy's collection bowl, where I keep all the odds and ends of yarn to make into an attack ball for her.

Recalculate, reswatch, cast on again. Tackle that b-y impossible p tbl again. Work away again.

Oh hell. It can't be. Surely not. Call on DH to hold down one end of the wiry little circular while I take a quick measure. Rowlocks and bollards! Now it's too narrow!

Here is the second frogging session about to start. In the meantime, to allow cooling-off time (the woodburning stove was burning merrily and I did cast a longing eye towards its flames once or twice while clutching the offending ribbing, I will admit), I grabbed the 3.5mm and did yet another small swatch.

Yes, I realise that ribbing on a finer needle will measure less than the main body of the work on the larger, but this ribbing was seriously behind in the inches stakes. It wouldn't have reached across my body, no way. More rewinding, more grimy inches in Muffy's collecting bowl.

I am now on to Phase Three and keeping my fingers crossed. I don't even want to put up a picture of the work in progress, in case it's bad luck. I'll keep you posted.

Oh, and in the meantime, I went off the Michael Kors design. Too many stitches, too big, too much adaptation required of a pattern that wasn't that great anyway. What I really wanted was a simple, classic, cabled polo, reasonably figure-hugging, so I decided to design my own. If you want it done properly.... A simple pattern of k4, p 1, cable 4, p 1, k 4, etc. It should look very nice. If I ever get past the ribbing, that is.

Enough of these stressful matters. Let's turn to nicer things. We've been having very cold weather here, with even a tiny sprinkling of snow on the Kerry mountains.

We've had some wonderful sunrises too, with the whole sky glowing molten gold in the last few minutes before dawn.

And then, when the sun actually peeks above the horizon, the sky pales and brightens over the lake.

Although it's been perishingly cold here today (by Irish standards), and the ice didn't even melt on the pond, so I had to put out dishes of water for the birds, nevertheless when you looked out from the upstairs sitting room window you would swear it was spring already.

Can you see a tiny house in the middle of the far distance, alone in a huge field? It really is a tiny deserted cottage with nothing whatsoever around it. Predictably we call it the little house on the prairie and I say hi to it whenever I look out. We walked up there one day last summer to look at it - a fair distance across hedges and streams and bogland too it was. The cows keep it company when they're grazing around there. Sometimes I think of it when I'm in bed at night and send it good wishes.

But back to the knitting (retourner a nos tricots?) Talking away as I was about that Michael Kors sweater which now isn't a Michael Kors sweater, I conveniently managed to forget that there are already waiting patiently in various places around the house:

Item. The Travelling Cables cardi, in a thicker silk/cashmere, about the pattern for which I raised such mayhem until the blessed Angeluna located it for me and posted it on. The back well begun.

Item. The Celtic Vest, in a poppy-red lambswool, again pointed out to me by Angeluna as an ideal project (she was right), and eventually run to earth in a back issue of Interweave Knits. A third of the way up the back.

Item. The Blackberry Pie socks, in a wonderful natural-dye yarn from my dear friend Ms Knitingale. Both half-way down the leg.

Item. The Norah Gaughan asymmetrical charcoal alpaca crop jacket, about which I enthused so wildly all over the place. Most of the back done.

Item. Oh I'm getting depressed. I haven't seen those others in months anyway and out of sight out of mind. As long as I don't start anything else I'm all right. Just keep working away.

(Would it not be better, a tiny voice asks, to at least work on those which are already further along than this entirely new cabled polo sweater? Yes, it probably would. I will consider your suggestion later on this evening. Much later on this evening.)

Gosh, has anyone else seen that gorgeous asymmetrical sweater from Berroco, illustrated in their advert in the winter issue of Vogue?

I went hunting for it, and it's a free pattern called Tierra which you can download from their website! Don't you just love that angled edge? Now if I just had the right shade of lavender/purple in a smooth yarn to show off the cables...

Oh shut up! I was only looking!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Wild And Stormy Night

It really is pretty wild here tonight. Thanks for your kind thoughts, Barb in Texas, but we're fine. So far anyway! Luckily our house is a little down from the top of the hill - something I used to deplore because it meant we didn't have such a good view of the lakes when the trees were in leaf in summer, but right now I'm rather glad we're not up there in the teeth of this stormy weather. It howls for a day or two, then quietens down, and then returns again refreshed with renewed force. Never known anything like it. Right now the gales are shrieking round the house and the trees are lashing their branches frantically. It's definitely a night for the fireside and a new project on the needles.

No, no, NO! Scrub that last phrase. Not another project, ABSOLUTELY not. Finish what's on the go, get to the bottom of the WIP basket, and THEN, only THEN (well not then either, the ironing mountain has grown to the height of the Himalayas en masse by now) can one even afford to think about new projects.

The temptation doesn't go away, though, does it? Having devoured both Interweave Knits and Vogue Knitting in one sitting (so much for rationing myself and making them last) I have at least three I want to start right away. And there are still those beautiful projects from previous issues - do you know, despite purchasing all that exquisite Seasilk and Silk from Fleece Artist, I still haven't started the Swallowtail Shawl, and not only do I want to make that stunning Michael Kors Aran sweater in the fall issue of Vogue Knitting, I even have the right silk/cashmere to do it justice. Plus Peg drew my attention some time ago to a glorious cabled crop cardi on Knitty.com which would be a really useful addition to my wardrobe in these darker months if I made it in a nice bright singing red.

But progress has been made. Yes, smiling modestly, I can at last announce that not just one but TWO WIPs have made it past the finishing line and are now FOs. First that chunky charcoal crop cardi, copied from an unbelievably expensive French item barely glimpsed in a snobbish boutique.

Made this one entirely by guesswork and it hasn't turned out too bad. Nice and warm too, despite its exiguous length. The sleeves are wide and can be turned up to the elbow to change the look.

Then the shepherd's vest finally got completed and I had just enough of the original yarn to finish the front so no need to frog part of the back, thank heaven.

DH is out in the stormy night, photographing debs or politicians or something, so I couldn't model it for you, but take my word it has inset pockets on the front and alternating squares of stocking stitch and moss stitch. It's pretty simple in design, just rectangles, and the top corners turn back naturally to form lapels. It's nice to shrug on over a sweater on cold mornings for extra warmth when taking the dogs out to see what damage the winds did overnight.

So there is a certain amount of satisfaction chez Celtic Memory that two at least of the growing heap of WIPs have moved on into usefulness and public life. Now the Celtic Vest and the Travelling Cables really need to wake up from their extended winter holiday and get back into action.

However, in the meantime, an exciting package arrived from Texere Yarns. I had ordered some alpaca and some cashmere/silk/angora fibres and they galloped over from Yorkshire post haste, in the teeth of an opposing gale, bless them.

I was a bit nervous about spinning with the alpaca for the first time so consulted the expert in the shape of Anne who advised trying small samples first. I decided to take the safe route and used a little drop spindle for preliminary trials. You can see it in the picture above. So far I'm make rather lumpy, uneven yarn, but I'll persevere and it may smoothen out. Think of being able to supply your own knitting needs with alpaca yarn!

Had a most happy and serendipitous experience today. Heading home from giving my Saturday lecture to journalism students (today's subject: we are totally and utterly controlled by one form or another of pervasive media and should never make the mistake of thinking that we think for ourselves because we can't any more, or aren't allowed to) and popped in to a local antique shop to wish them a Happy New Year. There in the corner was the most adorable, cuddly, desirable little sweetheart you could ever imagine.

This is a genuine tiny gypsy stove, the kind that was fitted into a horse-drawn caravan and was used for cooking, boiling water, warmth, everything. I've wanted one of these all my life! (No, of course I didn't tell the shop owner that. I bargained and produced real cash - always a good way to bring the price down.) Then he helped me to lift it into my little jeep (it's a heavy little thing!) and I brought it delightedly home. It's sitting here in the fireplace of the sitting room and I've lit a candle on top of it right now to make it feel wanted and welcome.

Look, you can lift up the decorative top and there are two little hot plates underneath! And two tiny doors open at the front to feed in fuel or to make toast! Now all I have to do is take it down to Paudie Cronin in Ballymakeera and get him to make me a flue pipe for it (it's got a very odd oval-shaped outlet at the back, but Paudie is well able to create anything in iron - he makes the most wonderfully decorative gates). I don't know whether to call this new member of the family Sam Wild (after a Victorian travelling showman I researched once, who had a stove like this in his caravan), or Baba Yaga after the Russian witch of fairy tales who lived in a stove in the deep forest - a stove that danced on thin chicken legs. That image always delighted me as a child (still does, now I come to think of it).

I've been commenting on other people's weblogs on the following issue, but now I want to put in my own tuppenceworth about the Blue Moon and Socks That Rock vs NastyStupidBank fiasco. I know you'll all have heard about it by now, and I'm just as certain that it must be making you as incandescent with rage as it does me. What a typically stupid, narrow-minded, MALE mindset (sorry all the men I know well and love - you're excepted). Imagine being so smugly sure that you know all the really important things in life that you decide knitting and loving yarn simply aren't possible on a large scale, and that in no way could thousands of women enjoy such a hobby as making beautiful socks.

(If by any chance you've been out of the world for the past couple of weeks, you can get an excellent summary of the fiasco on Yarn Harlot's weblog.)

I've done what I can so far. I've sent messages of support to Blue Moon and I've ordered a skein of their sock yarn (Nodding Violet, as I recall). But that's not enough for my temper. I want that bank to KNOW what it's done. I mean I want its directors to really REALISE the extent of their huge and excruciatingly embarrassing blooper. I want the WHOLE WORLD to laugh at them, point their fingers, and then take their accounts elsewhere. What incredible arrogance and ignorance. Oh just wait until I find out their identity. They'll be sorry they were ever born to be bankers (did I spell that right?)

Gosh, I'm all worked up again as I think of it. I think I'll go and do a teeny weeny swatch for the Michael Kors cabled sweater to calm me down.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

You Can See The Spring

We've had wild winds, rainstorms, icy cold nights and damp grey days. There is plenty more to come - after all it's still only mid-January. And yet, and yet, this is Ireland. You only have to look a little more closely to see that, incredibly, spring is already on its way, heralding its arrival in a dozen different ways. In the garden this morning, I found catkins on a little hazel tree.

In the flower beds, the sturdy grey-green shoots of daffodils were well up, and promising sheets of golden-yellow blooms within a month.

And down in the rose garden, there was even a single deep pink bud on the Cecile Brunner bush.

To be truthful, I think that happy and cheerful bush has continued to produce one or two blooms every month since last May, so perhaps this is an echo of last summer rather than a herald of spring, but a delightfully welcome guest nevertheless. In the first flush of summer, Cecile throws out a halo of small, pale pink blooms; in the autumn and winter she contents herself with single, deeper, and slightly larger flowers. I cut her energetic stems well back when they've finished flowering and up they come again, full of energy. She's a real trouper, unlike some of the missish and sulking standards I've inherited, which demand a great deal of attention for very little results.

We were out and about later in the day, talking to a farmer in the charmingly-named townland of Clashanimud near Innishannon, appropriately enough about daffodils.

Kieran Cronin grows daffodils for the market, following these with tulips, which make a bright show in his roadside fields. He used to send the early daffodils to America and Europe, but has found that bigger businesses, as well as the practice of importing exotica from Kenya and other sunny climes, has made it impractical. Now he contents himself with tying up bunches to sell from a roadside stall outside his farm. 'Tis backbreaking work,' he admitted as we shivered in the icy wind, 'but 'tis great to see all that mass of yellow at this time of year.' Oddly enough, he said, the weather has little to do with the blossoming time. 'They'll be out one or two days either side of February first, whether 'tis raining, hailing or snowing.'

I was delighted you liked the pictures of Tobago and so was Richard who put some more on the system for me to show you.

This scene straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean is actually known as Bloody Bay since there really were pirates here. Now it's peaceful and the only sound is the crash of the surf on the beach. That and the friendly voice offering fresh coconut juice, straight from the shell.

The birds are so colourful there that they were a constant stimulus and delight. I mean, look at these.

Some of you are probably used to humming birds (lucky you!) but we're always thrilled to see them up close. Most restaurants and hotels had feeders up, which attracted them in and thoroughly distracted us from whatever delicacies were being placed before us.

This was a white-necked Jacobin...

and this was a dear little Ruby Topaz female, building her miniscule nest in the fork of a thin branch. We discovered her at a secluded reserve within walking distance of our hotel. It was a restful and quiet place, a bit poignant because it had been an old cocoa and banana plantation which had been devastated by Hurricane Flora in the 1970s. The owner, a Mrs. Alefounder, couldn't afford to replant and wait all the necessary years to break even, so gave it to the island as a reserve for everyone to enjoy. I wondered as I sat there in the shady peace if she ever dreamed of her old life and imagined she was back there, living in the great house amid the rustling leaves.

This hummingbird's nest is so tiny you wouldn't believe it. A wedding ring would be a tight fit. She started by collecting strands of cobwebs and winding them round the twigs, and then gradually added soft moss and lichen, until it was a little bowl. The most beautiful fibre art I ever saw in creation, and she was so happy and contented and bright-eyed as she worked away tirelessly.

And the bats weren't all that were active at night. When there had been a shower of rain, the bull frogs got all happy and came out to croak at the top of their voices. DH rose instantly from bed, grabbed a torch, and headed down to the hotel gardens to find them.

All right, all right, back to the knitting. I worked away on the Shepherd's Vest, but then disaster. I decided I needed one more ball of yarn to complete it - and couldn't get the same dye lot. Now with a yarn that's meant to be a natural shade, that shouldn't be a problem, but it was. The new one was definitely yellow-tinged instead of oatmeal. Shoot! What to do now?

Here you can see the back and one front. Underneath on the right is the remaining original yarn, with the second front in progress. On the left is the new ball.

I had already made the pocket lining for the second front and attached it, so I ripped that back and re-made it in the new ball. That freed up some more of the original shade for the second front. Now I'm just going to work up the front as far as the old yarn goes and see if I can make it to the shoulder. If not, I have two options: (a) continue with the new yarn and hope for the best; (b) rip out a bit of the back, use that yarn, and re-finish the back with the new shade.

Which would you do?

Incidentally, when I was on Tobago I kept seeing people with these great clear plastic totes for their swim wear. Everybody it appeared had bought them in local shops. But when I went hunting there were none left. Pipped again! But then, slumped on a seat in utter exhaustion at Gatwick Airport, on the way home, awaiting the onward flight to Cork, what did I see in a branch of Accessorize, but some superb clear plastic totes. I think they must only be an airport thing, because I've never seen them in city branches of the chain. Bought two on the spot - £8 sterling each, but well worth it.

Here's the Shepherd's Vest all easily contained in one of them. Good, isn't it? Get thee to an airport with a branch of Accessorize.

Incidentally, after that worry over the non-matching yarn, I went briefly off the shepherd's vest. I instead seized on the chunky charcoal crop cardi (remember all the excitement over that way back in - oh, I don't know, November or something?) and started working on it again at top speed. I only have the rest of the final sleeve to finish after all, and then I will have COMPLETED A WIP. Keep you posted on that one. It would really be good to finish something just once in a while, wouldn't it? Sort of clear the way for new projects...

Speaking of which, I have AT LAST received the holiday issues of Vogue Knitting and Interweave. And about time too! The Vogue, I noticed with disquiet, was posted at Economy Rate back in early November, which doesn't speak too well for the successful speed of future issues. But it was wonderful to get them and I'm rationing myself to delightful little sessions at intervals, to make them last. Already I've seen something I want to make on almost every page! You're all used to them by now, and indeed have probably made everything already, but remember they're new to me and still exciting.

Nearly didn't get them - went into the post office on Monday to collect the backed-up mail but they told me it had gone out with Postie. Went home and waited impatiently, but no mail. Went in Tuesday and the same thing happened. Finally this morning, threatened World War Three and they held the big package of goodies until I got there and collected it. Which is how I am now treasuring Vogue and Interweave.

Oh and the very VERY best till last. Along with the knitting fix and all the inevitable bills and rubbish, came two wonderful packages. Look what the lovely Angeluna sent me!

This gorgeous little satin and brocade bag is clearly designed for only the most prestigious projects, to be hung elegantly from a beaded belt. And, I think, only Holz & Stein ebony circulars too, with probably silk and cashmere yarn. Angeluna honey, I'm going to have to live UP to this bag!

Here's another picture of it open, so you can see its lovely shape and the glorious satin lining. Even the little fastening button is a tiny green bell!

And I also got (what a fortunate womble I am) a package from my dear Dez in Louisiana. Dez and I did a swap - I sent her some of my Midwinter yarn, and she sent me - oh gosh, just feast your eyes on this bundle.

All the right sizes in bamboo circulars (a girl can never have too many circulars, you never know when you might want to start something new right away, and it isn't always a good idea to shift the current project off on to the sidelines because sure as dammit you'll forget what gauge needles you were using when you finally do get back to it - if you ever do), and round the perimeter there - yes, it is, it truly is Berrocco's Ultra Alpaca. Oooh, what shall I make with that buttery goodness?

What have you been making? What's on the needles right now? When are you expecting the spring? I know that if you live in Vermont or Whitehorse it is probably going to be almost June, whereas Dez and Angeluna never lost it in the first place, but I'm not so sure about everywhere else. Oregon? Dumfries? Iowa? Lapland? Peg, I know you're suffering icy conditions, because DH still gets the Vancouver Island birders' emails. Charity, are you still snowed in? Tell me how it is with you all.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Just got in. Literally half an hour ago. The house is strewn with suitcases and bags and bits of things, and neither of us can find anything anywhere. The dogs have been retrieved from boot camp (actually they love staying with Eileen who spoils them rotten, and Sophie in particular has to be dragged away, but Muffy, bless her heart, howls with delight and leaps into the car by herself, so as to be sure of getting home as quickly as possible), and we have just lit the stove to give the poor neglected house a scent of warmth and belonging again.

Oh I did miss you. Did you miss me? I kept thinking of what you were all doing and once or twice even found myself sending telepathic messages about the things I was seeing and the places. Did you get them?

No chance of posting though. They hadn't really got round to the Internet yet where we ended up, although if I'd been willing to flash a gold credit card I might have got two minutes somewhere - until the electricity ran out, that is.

We got to Tobago. Tobago as in Trinidad-and-. There was an incredible last-minute bargain from Gatwick to an all-inclusive hotel so we went for it. Nine hours flying and another hour sitting on the tarmac at Antigua while the rich and famous disembarked, followed by a final hour flying south before we made landfall on the tiny green island, but it was worth it.

This must be the last Caribbean island to remain relatively undiscovered and unspoiled. It's really really small (about 8 miles wide by about 25 long) and covered with lush rainforest. And the people are so laid back you would not believe it! They move slowly, they laugh all the time, and nobody, but nobody, has ever heard of stress! Even the birds take it cool as they sashay up to the breakfast table to get their daily supply of fruit juice.

That's a bananaquit, otherwise known as the Sugar Bird because of his passionate addiction to sweet things. DH had a ball with all the exotic species of birds and blooms, as you can imagine.

This one's a blue-grey tanager. We immediately set up a feeding station on our balcony, so that we could lie in bed in the morning and watch all the different birds coming in to feed, but all changed dramatically when one night a bat flew right in, circled the room and flew out again. When you live with someone like my DH that can only mean trouble. Sleep was banished, fresh supplies were obtained from the kitchen (lucky for us the staff were so laid back and amused: 'Bananas at midnight, man? Sure, no-o-o-o problem!'), and he sat up all night (yes, really all night, I opened an eye now and then and there he was with a remote control clutched in his hand), getting shots of the bats coming in to feed on bananas.

Here's an early shot of one making a pass over the banana and an ashtray full of fruit juice (yes, I did rinse it out next morning, because I didn't think the chambermaid should have to do that). It's not easy to get shots like this - he'd rigged up flashes and then hung a shirt over the balcony rail to give a suitable backdrop to the beastie, but they still fly very fast and flutter their wings at an amazing speed. But the next night, he'd decided to swing the bananas from a cord and see what happened. It took the bats a bit of time to figure it out, but then they got the hang of it, both literally and metaphorically.

It's all right, they were fruit bats. Well they had to be, didn't they, or they would have been going for us rather than the bananas? Vampire bats are much smaller. They are, really!

What, I just heard someone enquire languidly, does this have to do with knitting? NOT A LOT, I have to admit. Just getting to Tobago was so exhausting that knitting seemed far too much effort. And then the heat was fairly debilitating - five minutes in the open and you were ready to collapse until you got used to it - so handling warm fibres didn't appeal as much as it usually does. Well of course I went hunting for yarn. You know me. It's instinctive. You search even when you don't think you are. But after a while it dawned on me that perhaps a Caribbean island wasn't exactly the most likely location for treasure finds of this nature. Casks of rum and chests of jewels yes, wool and cashmere no. The nearest I could find were the cute crochet cotton hats in bright stripes worn by some of the men to contain their lengthy and decorative dreadlocks. But they wouldn't tell me where they got the cotton. Or maybe they didn't know. But they must know! 'Hey, cool it man, where's the problem? What does it matter? Take it slow and mellow man!' Oh all right so. I'll have another rum punch.

Explored tiny offshore islets, home to Magnificent Frigate Birds and Red-Billed Tropic Birds. Took a day trip over to Trinidad to an amazing wildlife centre. Watched ethnic folk dancing and drank more rum punch. Played in the surf (quite an undertow, you had to watch it). Went to the weekly market and tried to identify all the different vegetables on sale. Had the occasional rum punch. And yes, I did work on the Shepherd's Vest. It's nearly done. Need one more ball of yarn and I can photograph it for you.

All this knitters' dieting of course has meant that I have returned more passionate than ever. Can't wait to get started on eleventeen new projects, designed in my head while reclining exhaustedly with a rum punch. Haven't even got the mail yet - will go and collect it in the morning and MAYBE, just MAYBE my Interweave Knits and Vogue Knitting will finally have arrived. These are the magazines to which I subscribed at the beginning of October last and they still hadn't come by Christmas. I enquired in the gentle patient tone to which you dear reader have become accustomed (no I DIDN'T, well, maybe a little, but they didn't need to take that tone, really) and was told that it took three months to process a subscription. Why? WHY?

Anyway it means that I'm going to be the only nutcase reading about holiday knits in February. Be kind if I mention them here. Remember that it may be old news to you but it won't be to me. Hopefully once they get that time lag sorted out, I should be getting future issues at roughly the same time as you do.

But I couldn't wait until tomorrow. I went online to my favourite Yorkshire mill, Texere Yarns just two minutes ago and ordered 100g each of white and black alpaca fibre plus another of a cashmere/wool/angora blend. Spinning is coming to the fore again. If I can't get the yarn I want, I might as well try to create it. And I want to make a lovely thick soft alpaca yarn. Isn't it funny the way we move from one aspect of creative craft to another at different times? The spinning wheel has hardly had any use over the past few months but now I can't wait to get going on it again. Hope I haven't lost the knack. Anne, you're the expert - is it difficult to spin alpaca? You've got time to answer - for some reason, packages take an eternity to get here from the UK, although they whiz across from North America.

And I promise, all those lucky bags I said I'd send out and didn't - they will go out now, in the next week or so. Once I've emptied the suitcases and done the laundry and combed the dogs and put on three more sweaters (takes a bit of time to adjust to Ireland in January after the West Indies) and - oh yes - checked to see if anybody still wants my writing skills. Have to pay for the trip after all!

And I'll be happy to post more pictures of Tobago if anyone wants them. Humming birds, street markets, folk dancers, endless white beaches. The best bit, though, was undoubtedly that wonderful laid-back Caribbean relaxation. You just couldn't imagine them getting worked up over everyday problems.

Got to go to bed. Jet lag is sweeping across my brain like a monsoon.

Oh I did miss you!