Monday, July 30, 2007

Of Felting, and Favorite Socks, and Finishing Far Overdue Projects

There is no help for it, the day job is going to have to go. There just isn't enough time to get one quarter of the things done that are really worth doing, and still find space to write articles, compose copy, create impossibly flattering advertorial, chase new commissions. Let's not even mention ironing, cleaning, cooking, even basic shopping. Trouble is - the day job provides the wherewithal to pursue the really interesting ideas. No job, no wherewithal. Perhaps better to re-think that idea.

It has been a pretty busy time chez Celtic Memory though. Finished preparing the new designer yarn, Lunasa, without quite as much tears and temper as usual (maybe because August is really my favourite month of all), photographed it, and listed it on eBay last night.

I put all the lovely things of August into it - the colour of ripening corn, the flash of wild flowers in the hedgerow, golden hay bales, the rich green of brambles bearing autumn's fruit, the pale green of barley shimmering in the breeze.

Here's a closeup. It's a lovely happy yarn this one. The first skein sold almost as soon as I'd listed it which was a bit of a surprise but nice, since somebody else clearly liked it as much as I did.

And I finished a felted basket. Told you that the new little worktop washing machine worked beautifully for felting, and so it did.

Here's the completed bag, pre-felting, measuring around 16" across. I made it with a skein of Malabrigo kettle-dyed merino, gifted to me by the lovely Deb of the Woolley Farm in Maine - thanks, Deb. It was a beautiful yarn to work with.

And here's the finished product. I deliberately made this a shallow and wide-mouthed basket because I wanted to be able to hang it on my arm with the current project tucked inside, and go walkabout with my knitting. I'm thrilled with it. Definitely more to come.

A lot of you have asked for details of this little whiz kid machine. It's called a Mini Electric Washer and I got it on eBay from mozzzie in the UK for about £50 sterling. I think it originates in China and Mozzzie is the UK stockist, which should mean that you could track down something similar wherever you live. The machine doesn't heat the water, you have to pour it in very hot from the kettle, and I did worry that that would not be effective for felting, but it was. I gave it just one 15 minute session and that was plenty. Can't wait to try those amazing felted clogs now - bought the pattern in Jasper last year and have been waiting for the right moment.

(DH did say that he thought it a bit odd to knit something so huge and then deliberately shrink it down to a much smaller size, but then I'm not sure I can explain the attraction to myself, so how could I to him? 'It's a girl thing', I said vaguely, and he was wise enough to leave it at that.)

This was on Saturday, and after all that excitement, I went out to look for sunshine. But there was none to be found. It might be July, but as far as Moll's Gap was concerned, it was a wet and misty winter's day, the rain soaking into the already sodden hillsides and the rocks streaming with a million rivulets.

The road down towards Killarney was no better, with hapless cyclists lamenting the insanity that ever persuaded them to consider such an unprotected mode of transport.

However, every grey cloud has a silver lining, and halfway down towards the Lakes of Killarney, I came across a sign which said, Adopt A Sheep. Could you have resisted? I turned in towards an old farmstead and found this lovely man.

This is John Kissane, the fifth - or is it the sixth? - generation of his family to farm these wild mountain lands. These days, with the price of wool falling every year, it's getting harder and harder to make ends meet.

But John loves this land as generations of his family have done before him, and he is determined to find a way to stay here and farm and care for his sheep. And so he and his wife Anne have set up a tourist attraction. Busloads of visitors come and see him shear sheep while Anne talks to them about the production of wool and yarn and eventually clothing. Then the visitors go out to see one of the Kissane dogs herd the mountainy sheep expertly off the steep hillsides and into a pen.

You might just be able to see Jenny, one of the younger dogs, on the right of this picture, coaxing the reluctant sheep out of the shelter of some windblown trees (it was pouring with rain at this stage, and since DH wasn't with me, I had to make do with my own camera and short lens).

And here are Anne and John, rainsoaked but cheerful, as Jenny finally gets every last sheep into the pen.

I think the Kissanes are marvellous to be trying something like this and they deserve to succeed. No time wasted repining or regretting the good old days, they just work out what needs to be done to make a living, and then do their best to make it work. You'll be hearing more about them.

On Sunday Sophy Wackles indicated that she was feeling ready for a little exercise, so we went down to Gougane. In typical Irish fashion, the weather was sparkling, sunny, warm and utterly beautiful. Sophy was entranced to be out in the fresh air and went rather mad.

Can you see a tiny white shape leaping ecstatically through the meadow grass? I think it is safe to say she is recovered from the operation!

And here's a muddy and happy little girl, sitting on a rock, getting her breath back after a full-speed dash through some very wet and boggy ground.

Had a shock when I climbed that special gate to get into my secret part of Gougane Barra. Somebody else had climbed in before me! There was a French car parked right by the gate. I stamped down through the meadow, glowering furiously and ready for war. This was my patch and I didn't like anyone else discovering it.

And there were these two young French people by the stream. They had carried in a little folding table, a cool box, numerous pots and pans and supplies and were making lunch. And, being French, they had not only the bottle of wine, but even a bottle of olive oil - heaven forfend that they should use anything as appalling as pre-prepared dressing on their salad!

What could I do? I smiled. I waved and wished them 'bon appetit'. I pointed the camera and the young man hugged his lady love for my benefit (I suspect from the ease with which he did it, he does it for his own benefit too, quite frequently). Well - what would you have done? I mean - bringing the olive oil so that you can whisk up the dressing right there...

On our way back, the young couple were by this time grilling sausages on a little portable barbecue. The scent, drifting on the warm summer air, was delectable. Although Sophy is extremely wary of strangers and will invariably make a very circuitous detour to avoid any contact, I could see the struggle in that little dog's face - her body tugged her away towards a quieter path, but her head remained turned, small nose wrinkling and twitching, yearning to wriggle up to them and beg for a morsel. Safety and nervousness won in the end though and the sausages were safe.

To knitting concerns. There is no help for it - both the Austrian Socks and the Meida Socks from Interweave Favorite Socks will have to be started post haste. They are just too beautiful not to. Yes I will finish Pomatomus. Yes I will finish Birch Leaves. Yes I will finish the new
lace crop cardi (WHAT new lace crop cardi? Oh surely you knew about that? I did hint at it fairly clearly when I showed you that lace swatch... if you didn't pick up the obvious conclusion, what can I do?) . But I will IMMEDIATELY start on the Austrian and Meida. Oh and on the Swallowtail Shawl too (good heavens, almost a year since I screamed, danced, yelled until I got the pattern...). I thought of using a Blue Heron beaded rayon yarn from the stash -which would give the shawl a bit more size, and be a good way to practice (haven't the nerve to begin with Fleece Artist's stunning silk in case I have to frog back). But the admittedly beautiful beaded rayon is a bit dark and this pattern seems to call for light yarn to show off the lace pattern. Any Swallowtail experts out there care to advise me? Does dark matter? Is light better? Should I abandon all idea of starting Swallowtail and concentrate on the UFOs? Who will win the Dahomey election? Do I care?

Now Angeluna, you laughed at my petty-minded economies in needle matters and insisted that any knitter worth her salt needed several pairs in all her favourite sizes so that she need never delay starting a new project. Initially shocked at such lax behaviour, I nevertheless thought it over and admitted that you could be right. Darling Paradise Fibers came up trumps once more, mailing me two more pairs of Addi Turbo Lace in size 0 (my best sock size) in less time than it took me to finish my felted basket. Gosh they work fast up there in the Pacific North West. Let the games begin!

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Seductive Siren Song Of Noro

Now that I think about it, the wonderful lady who ran that dyeing workshop at Heritage Arts in Texas was called Lorelei, and the Lorelei were beautiful maidens who sat on rocks in the river Rhine and lured sailors to their doom with their exquisite song. White water you'd probably call it now, but beautiful maidens sound rather more pleasing. Those mythic maidens were only trotting after Noro, though. When that Japanese beauty calls, who can resist?

But I'm ahead of myself. I hadn't realised that when I returned, DH had not only been tracking my flight all the way across the Atlantic, but had positioned himself so he could take pictures of my plane at last coming into view, and then landing.

Somehow I found that very touching indeed. You were wishing me home, sweetheart.

We breakfasted near the Flying Boat Museum on the banks of the Shannon at Foynes. And on the way home, as often happens on the winding green roads of Ireland, we found a bovine escapee merrily frisking towards us. He'd been part of a school outing (or so I imagine, since he was definitely underage, so not going on a pub crawl or anything) being escorted to inspect the culture of a different grazing field, but had let the excitement go to his head, and set off to explore on his own.

Everyone of course stopped their cars dead; but what amused me was that while most of the drivers leapt out into strategic positions, to head Brightbrain off from collision with an articulated truck, DH leapt for his camera. Shows the training, I suppose. Eventually the truant was reunited with the rest of Class 3B and rollicked off into the distance, telling his adventures as he went.

And then there were the dogs waiting to welcome me home.

Tasha may look frightfully bored, preferring to have a scratch rather than offer effusive delight, but in fact it's because she knows the other (bigger) two would simply beat her up if she tried to muscle in. She waits philosophically until they've finished and then comes for a cuddle.

But treats were ahead! Angeluna, bless her thoughtful heart, had sent not just one but three toys for the girls. And they weren't long in discovering them!

Tasha, the brains of the outfit, was first to discover the treasures -

- followed immediately by a wildly excited Muffy.

Angeluna, if you had any doubt that Tasha enjoyed her gift, just look at this. She's leaping off the ground with sheer delight. I sometimes think she imagines she's a mountain lion pouncing on prey.

However - SOMEONE was a little nervous of returnees bearing gifts...

I told Sophy it was safe, it was harmless, it was meant to be fun. I told her it had been chosen with love by a dear friend in Texas. No good. Her tail remained obstinately tucked between her legs, and she backed away to go and rest in a darkened room, sucking her thumb. It takes all kinds...

(Muffy has now commandeered all three toys and has tucked them into her private basket. It makes it a little difficult to clamber in herself, but that's OK. Just as long as she has them all.)

Tuesday was to recover (as well as writing frantically to meet deadlines) and then bright and early on Wednesday morning it was down to Kenmare and the LYS in the Far West to see a real, genuine, live Noro representative!

I was so excited I barely paused to check the window display.

- before heading in to meet the man himself.

This is Ian Watt from Designer Yarns in Yorkshire. They've been handling Noro from the beginning and Ian's hoping to go over to Japan next year and meet Old Mr. Noro and Young Mr. Noro and all the rest of the Noros in person. It's still a family concern and the father still carefully oversees all the dyeing which is, as Ian says, how they manage to keep up those superb standards.

It was dizzying to be able to look through those swatch books with the colourways shown in full length. I wish Noro stockists could have these on display always, so you really knew what you were getting in a ball. But then, that's why we buy the Noro pattern books isn't it? (And yes, sharp-eyed Ambermoggie, you certainly did see some of those in my trip haul - experienced hunter Angeluna found some marked down to half price for me.)

I had to remind myself now and again that I didn't own the shop and I wasn't paying the bills, so it wasn't really my show. But Jean and Jo were very sweet and allowed me to express an opinion ('What? But you must! You gotta have that one! Oh wow! And this - and this - and you can't miss that...') The only drawback was that it will be several weeks before the new stock arrives. Noro is in serious demand everywhere and for some lines Ian Watt said you simply wouldn't get a large order even if you wanted it. The good news is that Spin a Yarn is going to stock Silk Garden Lite. It hasn't been seen at all yet in the UK or Ireland so this will be a first. Angeluna and I saw it in Yarns Ewenique in Fort Worth last week, but I avoided buying any because I wanted to get it here. What will I make? What's that got to do with it? I want the yarn, I want the yarn, I want - ok, calm down, calm down. (Noro always does this to me.)

And another exciting bit of news - Designer Yarns, Ian told us, has now taken over Araucania Yarns in South America. Or is taking all the yarns Araucania can produce for the UK anyway. You know, those wonderful natural kettle-dyed yarns in amazing colours?

Spin a Yarn is going to take some of the handpainted sock yarn, and some other utterly delectable ones too - there was a chenille-like silky one that I just wanted to snatch and take away with me. I tell you, this shop is going to be one in a million (yes, they're going to get round to Net ordering, they've got the website so they're on the way, and in the meantime I imagine if you emailed and asked, they'd be delighted to post anything).

After all that excitement it was still only 10 am so I took DH for breakfast in Kenmare (he had an omelette, I had a Wee Irish - well it's half the size of a Full Irish, what do you think?) A happy morning.

Had one of those funny in-between moments yesterday, when suddenly I couldn't think of any projects I wanted to make (QUIET there at the back, and stop laughing you at the side!) Yes, there are UFOs aplenty, but usually there is something exciting tugging at my sleeve and following me around the house pleading for attention, and it wasn't there. That worrying state lasted for all of ten minutes, I think (or it may have been nine). I realised that the eagerly-awaited pattern for the Icelandic Shawl had been posted by Knitting Daily while I was away -

Then Interweave Knits posted a cunning preview of the Fall issue - oh help, this one is a real winner - normally I consider myself fortunate if there is just one item that I'd quite like to make, but here there are at LEAST half a dozen - and socks - and cables - and - oh when will it arrive? Goes on the newstands August 14, that's almost three weeks away - my copy usually comes fairly promptly - have you seen the preview yet? Go look and then come back and tell me what you'll KAL on with me!

And then I started thinking yet again about that crop cardi which was supposed to be made this summer and wasn't. It's the kind of useful wearable that I really wanted and needed. I'd planned an Aran, but nothing was quite right. Then, while in Texas, I saw a pretty cropped lace version in one lace book I don't possess, called, I think, Katharine Hepburn. I took down Nicky Epstein's Knitting on the Edge and looked for something that was starting to tug at my skirts...

See that? It's called Gazebo Lace, and although it's an edging, the pattern could continue right up a cardigan. It would give a slightly ribbed effect too, ensuring the jacket wouldn't gap or sag too much.

I have a very nice, very fine, merino mousse yarn in my stash in blue (I also have it in red, two shades of orange, two pinks, grey, and several greens, if the truth be told - who cares, I'm not in Ravelry yet, nobody knows the extent of my stash, hahahahahaha!) On its own it's about sockweight, doubled it's - well, slightly thicker, but not enough for a cardigan with a bit of body to it. Quadrupled, it knitted up beautifully on 6.5mm needles (don't try this at home, I'm a loose knitter, go for a 7 or 7.5mm unless you, like me, create lace without even trying).

I think this would make a stunning crop cardi. The bobbles on the end are quite sturdy and will weigh it down just the right amount.

The skein of merino-tencel for Rho has been dyed and is drying. On its way to you soon, Rho, and I expect to see the results posted on your page (nothing like a bit of pressure and bullying to take the pleasure out of a gift, is there?) And then - oh it can't be that date already? Got to get going on the next designer yarn - Lunasa 2007. I think August or Lunasa is my favourite month, not just because DH and I have birthdays on adjoining days, me on the 7th and 'im on the 8th, but because in childhood this was summer holidays which meant long days on the beach or on the heathery mountains, and golden meadows with haystacks and the scent of barley blown on the wind and poppies crimson against yellow straw and picnics and - oh everything. In ancient Ireland it was the time when the hay and the harvest were safe enough to be left for a short while and so they held their great fairs and races and gatherings now. Wild dances would go on far into the night as they celebrated the Celtic feast of Lunasa.

I just hope I can do justice to it with my yarn. Down to the basement stash for several days of throwing stuff everywhere and swearing wildly as I search for just the right, the perfect combination...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hands Across The Sea

OK, so it has to be the most insane idea yet - a weekend in Texas. But that's what it was, and I wouldn't have missed it for anything. Angeluna had a birthday a couple of weeks ago; I have one coming up in a couple of weeks. She blogged about that great ranch in the countryside where she was going to take a dyeing workshop. I felt so envious when I read about it that I raged down to see DH and complain about the unfairness of living in Ireland where nobody has ever seen a dyeing workshop, nobody is ever likely to organise a dyeing workshop, and you could live and die (no, die) without dyeing. More, probably your great grandmother and your great granddaughter would have the same experience (or lack of it). DH, as is his wont, listened patiently, and then said:

So why don't you go?


Why don't you go over, and join Angeluna on this weekend


Well, it's not that difficult, is it? You could fly from Shannon.


Look, are you really keen on this thing. Because if you are -

Gosh - it would be kind of a serious birthday present, wouldn't it?

That's what I was thinking.

He would look after the dogs, he said. Yes, he would keep a special eye on Sophy (she's doing fine, playing us up for every treat she can. The scar has almost disappeared into her fat tummy).

I tremulously emailed Angeluna. She responded with delight.

A couple of days later I was on the plane . Terrified, appalled at the sheer idiocy of going to Texas for a weekend. Didn't tell anyone else. I could imagine their reaction.

You're going over there for a weekend, right? Over and back within four days?

Er - yes.

Don't you think a fortnight would be better?

It might well be. But that isn't feasible right now. Deadlines, commitments, workload. It's either this or nothing.

You'll have the jetlag from hell.

Very probably. But I think it's worth it.

Well - you're mad.

Thank you. It has always been my life's ambition not to be considered middle of the road.

It was strange and exciting to be flying over so much of the United States, especially when I realised at one point that Big Muddy, aka the Mississippi was right below me.

OK, it's not a great image but believe me it was quite an experience seeing it down there, far below, and even being able to pick out a miniscule barge heading down for New Orleans. And then we were landing in Texas.

You've seen Angeluna's pictures. She does it so much better than I do (and she's used to the Texas heat too!) It was incredible, though, to emerge at Fort Worth and find her waiting, arms outstretched for a big warm hug.

And the knitting group were patiently waiting in Borders, so wonderful, friendly, welcoming, full of enthusiasm and encouragement. Jeri was there, and Aisling and Susan and so many others. After twenty hours travelling I wasn't entirely sure where I was, but the lovely voices and handshakes will always stay with me. And they gave me a gift! Now how generous was that?

I was so delighted! This fascinating account of Belle and Pearl Starr, plus the most exquisite silk scarf with miniature cattle brands printed on it - all from the Cowgirl Museum. Gang, I'll treasure these all my life, I promise you!

And just when I thought I wouldn't see her, darling Lynn turned up, and it was so wonderful to be able to hug in real time and see each other and make that personal contact. Isn't blogging the most amazing invention? (Lynn had brought me a gift too, the nature of which shall remain a closely guarded secret 'twixt us two: suffice it to say that Texas creates a particularly delectable delicacy not entirely unconnected with praline... And no, you're not getting any, so PAWS OFF!) Honestly, was anyone ever so spoiled? I didn't deserve such kindness from everybody.

Staying with Angeluna was one wonderful experience. We talked nonstop and traded knitting secrets, lore, useful tips. The cats were all courtesy, and even checked on me at intervals during the night to ensure I wasn't lonely.

(Yeah, of course I always sleep with a camera ready. Don't you? Doesn't everybody? How else would I have managed that time in the Himalayas when a bandicoot got into my underwear bag?)

We soundly thrashed one of A's favourite stores, Yarns Ewenique. What it must be like to have places like this just down the street, round the corner, I can't imagine. Sigh... We did have fun.

Here's Angeluna busily selecting some Mountain Colors sock yarn to add to her collection (and does she have a collection... Get her to show all of it to you sometime. Not just some of it, all of it). I went a bit mad on books and magazines. We don't get any of these here in Ireland and although of course I can order on the Net, it's not the same as being able to open them, check through them, gloat over the glorious pictures, is it?

The Kimbell Art Museum was an experience I won't forget. I kept coming across old masters and almost saying, 'But this must be a copy, surely?' I didn't even know they had Canalettos and Caravaggios, for heaven's sake. It was pure luxury (and air conditioned too!) Yes, I had genuine Texas barbecue (no, not at the Kimbell, settle down for heaven's sake!). And yes, I did get a marvellous personal tour of old downtown Fort Worth, where millions of cattle were driven to central collecting points before being taken on to Chicago. It's a beautifully preserved historic area.

And the next day we went out to Heritage Arts at Beaumont Ranch, for the dyeing workshop. I can't begin to express what it was like to arrive at this great little place and see all those enthusiastic participants already working away on skeins of art. Angeluna has already told you about the marvellous Lorelei and Sue, but I'd like to add that they are a great team and make you feel so welcome. Lorelei is the kind of person who seems to know what you're asking and answers your query before you've even finished - a very useful gift when you want to learn everything you possibly can in one short visit.

Inside, the tiny shop was an Aladdin's Cave for those of us deprived of dyes and carders and suchlike. I didn't know where to grab first.

(Oh you can laugh, you lucky blogger who simply wanders down the street to pick up a pot of dye or a pair of carders, but some of us are starved, STARVED of these opportunities, I tell you...)

And then there were all those divine skeins of brightly-coloured rovings just asking to be taken home and spun into sock yarn... Which to choose, which to leave behind?

After that, of course, there was the entertainment of the midnight launch of the seventh and final Harry Potter book. It was such fun to wander through Borders (or was it Barnes & Noble, Angeluna, by that time I was so jetlagged I can't remember!), seeing witches and wizards with banners proclaiming Severus Snape Stinks or Harry Potter Forever.

(And yes, I've read my copy by now. And I told you so, I told you! Angeluna and I were right to choose Slytherin House, support Snape, and start knitting green and silver socks. Told you!)

You'll be wondering what I managed to pack into my bags coming home (came out with just light cabin baggage, but tucked in a folding big bag - I'm not daft!) Here is some of the yarn - can't find the rest right now:

You'll see some green and silver there on the left, for a Slytherin lace scarf, what else. Back left, some Mountain Colors, centre Cherry Tree Hill, back right, provision for another attempt at felting (yeah, I'm a masochist). Bottom right, some fun yarns for experimental work. And in the middle a rather expensive but beautiful pair of fleece combs (as opposed to fleece carders). I knew of these traditional tools of course, but Heritage Arts was the first place I actually saw and touched them. They're better for creating a roving for worsted yarn (i.e. smooth and firm) rather than a woollen (rougher, fluffier). Some spinning fun ahead.

And here are some of the books I hauled home. Knitting Vintage Socks, and Favorite Socks, of course. And a clutch of irresistible magazines unobtainable here. If I'd had longer, I'd never have got through security, I assure you!

It was too short. Angeluna and I hadn't said one quarter of the things we wanted to talk about before she had to drop me back to the airport for the flight home. Unsurprisingly, I fell asleep immediately and only woke as the plane descended over the green fields of Ireland.

And dear dear DH was there waiting to welcome me home. Thanks, sweetheart. For your generosity, for your knowledge of me, for your indulgence.

But this was more than a hugely indulgent madness. It was an insight into just how much the Net and blogging have changed all our lives. I was able to meet people who actually recognised the sock pattern I was knitting, people about whom I already knew so much myself. We didn't meet as strangers but as friends. We traded snippets about other friends. We were all part of one huge family. We will continue to be so. I titled this posting Hands Across The Sea. It's more truly Hands Across The Net. You're all a powerful force. We are all a powerful force. What an experience. I'm grateful to have been able to know it.

(Now it's back to the desk and the screen to work my handknitted socks off for the next few months, to balance the books after that amazing trip. Ah well. It was worth it! Next posting I'll tell you about The Little Yarn Shop in the Far West and The Day The Noro Representative Came To Breakfast.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I'll Be Back...

Doesn't time fly when you're looking after little Shi Tzus? Sophy had her stitches out this morning and shrieked with horror (I really really don't think it hurt all that much, just perhaps stung a bit, but she was so wound up that anything would have been disaster). She's doing absolutely fine and almost entirely back to normal: she did a Mad Half Hour lap of the garden several times to celebrate getting back safely from the vet.

You remember that sad saga of the French Market Bag That Never Was? Well Celtic Memory is never downhearted for long. Something new was needed, a Secret Weapon. And it has arrived.

No, not Tasha (although she certainly is a secret weapon, as you would know to your cost if you ever tried to pass the garden gate without her permission). What she is popping out of (out of what she is popping?) is a tiny, worktop version of a WASHING MACHINE. And I'm going to use it for dyeing small lots and for felting small thingies. Now let's see how that FMB and indeed the Felted Clogs behave!

(Those of you who own one of these micro washers please don't write to me and say that they're useless, I should not have bothered, etc. etc. Let me find out for myself, OK? Let me experience the dizzy euphoria of total disaster on my own.)

I wonder if I could wash the dogs in it? With ecologically sound, canine-friendly detergent of course. And little headphones so they could listen to their favourite rap while being swished and rinsed. It would certainly save on the cleaning up in the bathroom.

Now - a nice package of soft luxuries has gone off to Lyn in Australia, to soften sadnesses and awaken interests. And THIS week's winner of some Celtic Memory yarn is -

RHO. Rho of Rho's Knitting Goes.

And she wins for telling me about that unbelievable, incredible, amazing yarn stash. Did you see her comment? Have you all seen that unbelievable hoard? If not, go right over to this site NOW and look. I'll wait. It's worth it, I promise.

(If the link doesn't work - it isn't doing for me right now - go type in this URL and have a gasp.

Well, what do you think of THAT? I will admit that my first reaction was huge relief. So I'm not the worst in the world after all. I'm only trottin' after that wan! I mean, did you EVER?

Now the owner of that stash sure as heck doesn't need any yarn gifts! But Rho deserves it for letting us all know that we're only amateurs. There is a skein of beautiful merino/tencel sock yarn just waiting for you to adopt it, Rho. BUT - there's no such thing as a free skein - you're going to have to earn this prize. Get that camera back from your DH, take pictures of your recently-finished socks, and POST them on your blog. We all want to see them, you want to show them off - quit the delaying tactics, get back in the game girl! And then you can have your sock yarn from Celtic Memory.

Now some quite unexpected and hysterically exciting developments have meant that I am leaving West Cork for a few crazy days, en route to somewhere very special indeed, to meet some very special friends. Will post in full when I get back from what promises to be one heck of a weekend. I will say no more right now, except that DH is the golden boy here for setting up what must be the ultimate birthday present for a yarn-crazed knitter... And before you ask, he's staying home to look after the dogs. What can I ever do to repay him?

I'll be back, gang...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Yarns For You, Fawkes Socks For Me, Bamboo DPNS For The LYS in the Far West!

It's been such a frantic week, what with worrying over Sophy Wackles and trying to get just a few journalistic jobs done to keep ends meeting, that I almost forgot about the commitment to sending out surprise skeins to some of you in celebration of my blogversary! Not to worry, we'll extend it for another week. The one I have chosen right now though, albeit belatedly, is Lyn, who lost her dearly loved cat at the same time as Sophy was having her operation. Lyn, I was so glad to see others came in on the comments to sympathise, and I do so too, wholeheartedly. We've all been through it. Once or twice I even wondered why I continued to have pets if it meant such heartbreak, but the joys always won out, I'm glad to say. Now I always keep spares (if that's not too slick a way of putting it - it isn't meant to be). It's just that if I have three dogs, the chances are I'll be so busy looking after the remaining ones that I'll be able to manage disposing of the un-needed collar, the blanket - oh but you know what I'm talking about. You've been there, all of you.

Anyway, Lyn (I don't have a contact for you - what do you mean you don't have a blog? - so email me on kerjoATgofreeDOTindigoDOTie), you are going to get a lucky bag of soft warm surprise yarns to ease your heart. If you make something that can carry your pet's name, that would be good.

Somebody else gets the prize next week, so keep watching. Two mystery skeins have just gone off to Ms. Knitingale for making me split my sides (and I hope the rest of you enjoyed that posting of hers too, as indeed all her postings). One of the skeins, I can reveal, is to encourage you to try Pomatomus again, Ms. K - it really isn't all that difficult when you settle down to it (and print out the pattern in HUGE scale, as I did, incidentally!)

Here's the little invalid, roosting at the top of the stairs with a pathetic expression, designed expressly to inveigle treats out of her worried Mum. I must have checked her tummy scar a dozen times today to see if it's OK. It is. But I still check again. I think she's been fairly traumatised by the whole thing, and seems to have forgotten most of her normal routine. She doesn't respond to the rattle of a food bowl, doesn't recognise a biscuit until it's put in front of her, and doesn't even come looking for cuddles - something she was insatiable about up to now. It's almost as if her memory bank was wiped, and she has to learn it all over again. But she's eating normally and looks healthy, so maybe it's just the shock. I'd be the same in her position. The other two dogs have more or less accepted her back into the fold - the vet smell must have dissipated to acceptable levels.

Elizabeth asked if my designer yarns were available for purchase. They are, they are, Elizabeth, when I get round to it. I have the colour cards from all my previous designs (Torc Waterfall, Wild Roses, Midnight on Mangerton, Connemara Twilight, etc.), so I can make any of them up for eager buyers if they nag me enough, but the next new one will be Lunasa, for the beginning of August. That will be in harvest and hayfield and late summer meadow colours. After that will come Samhain, celebrating the Celtic New Year on October 31. If I were organised enough, I'd put images up of them, but there don't seem to be enough hours in the day. Natalie of the Yarn Yard, and Ray of Knitivity, you need never fear me as a keen competitor!

Now - I need your help, especially those of you who run yarn shops on the side. My dear little Yarn Shop In The Far West, Spin A Yarn in Kenmare, is hunting for a source for bamboo dpns. Although we in Ireland are shamefully behind the rest of the world in re-embracing sock knitting, Spin A Yarn has decided to take the plunge (my nagging might have had something to do with it), and import the gorgeous Jitterbug range from Colinette, one of the divas of yarn colourways. And of course they need nice wooden dpns to go with the yarn as any well-brought-up LYS would. Gill at The Woolly Workshop was most helpful in giving advice and sources, but any others would be heartily welcome too - either via me or direct to Jo and Jean at Spin A Yarn. And no, they don't sell online yet, so they won't be in competition!

Laura, you left a message saying that your mother got married in a knitted lace wedding coat similar to that I showed on a posting last year. I don't have an email address or blogsite for you - contact me and I'll see what I can do. You'll find my address above under the message to Lyn.

[Does everyone think it's OK to put an email contact on the weblog? Does it mean even more spam? Should I? You might let me know your thoughts. It would certainly make things easier.]

Now - there are dangerous hints that a serious love affair might once again be on the horizon. Not again, you sigh. Well yes, but this is with - wait for it - NORO! Yes, yes, been there, spent that (and how!), did the marvelling (and the unravelling), but it's coming to the surface again like an old war wound or a repeat bout of malaria. It is all the fault of that aforementioned LYS in the Far West. Jo just emailed me to say that the rep from Noro will be in Kenmare the week after next and would I like to meet them in Jam (you know, you know, that cafe with the irresistible cakes) for breakfast before getting first look at the new yarns. WOULD I WHAT?

No, no, I promise. I won't buy anything. Too much stash. Too many projects. Right. That's definite then. But I'll go along. It would be impolite not to, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it?

The Pomatomus socks are progressing well, and I think the Nancy Bush Birch Leaf socks will be too, now that I've taken Dez's eminently sensible advice and got DH to photograph the chart and blow it up so that I can actually see the darn squares and symbols.

And another sock passion has taken hold as well. Angeluna, you royal pain in the skein, will you STOP sending me these links? You knew I couldn't resist a pattern with a Harry Potter theme - especially one as beautiful as this. Now some HP-inspired patterns are, to put it frankly, a bit schoolboyish, a bit dowdy, but these - well, go and look at them for yourself. Fawkes the phoenix is so stunningly beautiful anyway that a pattern bearing his name had to be too. I even got going on a dyeing session to create a colourway that would do them justice.

Doesn't look that great here, hanging to drip dry in the conservatory, next to the cowbells from the Cevennes, but it will be stunning made up. Trust me. (Do I trust me, that's the question?)

DH is out at this late hour. He has gone up to Mount Massey (you remember I posted on that magnificent old ruin a month or two ago) to watch and wait for owls. He found a nest site there recently and has gone back to see if he can get some photographs.

We've had photography sessions in our own garden too lately.

This was the scene on the last fine day we had (seems like an eternity ago, but it was probably last week).

Too distant? Try this one.

If you follow the line of the lens, you might be able to see a little dark spot in the rosebushes. That's a wren's nest.

and here's the close-up.

I was really chuffed about this. I'd bought the little woven straw nest - in Paris, I think (you know the market, Angeluna, near Notre Dame) - ages ago, and hung it up there in the bushes thinking a sparrow just might use it. But this wren came along, tucked in some soft bedding and framed the opening so prettily in moss before the eggs were laid, and tenderly hatched. It's always a privilege when the birds choose our garden to raise their families.

You know - I really have too many projects on the go. I thought just now that when I'd posted this, I'd do a few rows before bed (it's coming up to midnight here in West Cork), and couldn't decide which one to do! I must finish at least one. Pomatomus. Yes, I'll finish Pomatomus. Then the Birch Leaf. Then the interwoven wrap in Prism (can't even remember its name, and yet how excited I was about it a month or so ago!) Then and only THEN will I start the Fawkes socks...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Miss Sophy Thanks You All

She's back home, thank heaven, rather groggy, and preferring to lie quietly on her favourite rocking chair rather than racket around, but that's what she should be doing after such trauma.

Even the sound of plates being rattled doesn't interest her at the moment. All she wants is to be close to both of us. We've pulled the rocking chair close to the table and are taking turns at sitting where she can feel us next to her. DH is doing Sophy-shift at the moment, working on his laptop downstairs while I'm up here.

Isn't it awful when a pet has to be taken to the vet and be left behind there, and you go away, seeing those stricken eyes following you, feeling like a betrayer, almost a murderer? I got so worked up that I started imagining the worst scenario and how I would feel knowing I was the one who had deliberately chosen to bring her in? I tell you, I got a lot of pattern repeats done on Pomatomus today, not to mention the mini-gansey. Grimly concentrating.

I know, I know, I was not being entirely rational. Every time a pet has had to have this operation before, it was an emergency, and often touch-and-go as to whether they survived. This time I'm making sure that doesn't happen, right? Being sensible. But it was still a worrying day.

The other two girls were most concerned, searching for Sophy around the house all day, and rushing to greet her when she finally returned. However, once they'd sniffed her quickly, they realised she wanted to be left alone, and immediately went off into the garden, giving her some peace, which was nice of them. They're still giving her space.

Sophy thanks you all very much indeed for the good wishes. She says that when she was most frightened, she just thought of everyone's comments and they helped a lot. And a special message to Patches in Nevada: she'll show you her scar when it's all better.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again. You're a great gang.


Really really sorry that I got the link to Ms. Knitingale and her hysterically funny tale of a hot night and two cats wrong. And thanks Laurie M for letting me know.

This should be the correct link now:

and I think I've managed to correct it on the posting as well. It really is pure gold!

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Year Of Living Dangerously - It's My Blog-Versary!

Who could have thought a year could make so much difference? Twelve months ago today, I started a weblog page, not knowing the slightest thing about the medium. And now... Friends all over the world, wonderful companions at the click of a button, acquaintances everywhere, advice, guidance, sympathy, laughter, teasing, as much as and more than anyone could hope for. Gang, you've given me an amazing year and I'll be showing my gratitude. All this week I'm going to be giving away PRESENTS. I'll pick you at random from my comments box most days between now and Sunday next, so keep tuned, you never know.

But a couple of those presents are already earned. In first place, stand forth Angie, who got me started on this amazing Avenue of the Internet last July 9. You gave me the idea, laughed down my apprehensions, encouraged my attempts, and gave valiant and inexhaustible assistance by email throughout those frantic first few days (haven't we all been through that baptism by fire?), even calling upon your DH and Holly to contribute help when your own knowledge did not suffice. Angie, you are a supremo. And since I know you always wanted some of that Celtic Memory designer yarn, two skeins of Torc Waterfall are already on their way to you.

This picture doesn't do justice to the yarn, but it is a grey gloomy day here chez Celtic Memory, and DH wasn't available to work miracles with flashes and things.

Here's the rather splendid waterfall which inspired this particular colourway: if you look closely at both, and use your imagination, you might be able to see all that lovely moss and white spray and lush greenery replicated in the yarn. Or not. I can anyway. Hope you like it, Angie. Thanks for everything.

And secondly, for making me laugh until I actually cried (and doing the same for DH when he came looking to see what was up with all these strange sounds coming from the study), Ms. Knitingale. If you haven't seen her post about the hot night and the two cats, go look at it now. But don't risk it if you've had stitches put in lately. It is no small talent to give laughter to all your readers and I value it when I am lucky enough to find it. Ms. K, you are a brilliant and wicked writer. I adore you. A surprise package on its way to you.

Now, to knitting matters. Delighted you all liked the West Cork Smock. I should be delighted to write it up properly and make it freely available to all of you - if someone technologically-minded will offer to help me on the how-do-you-link-this-to-that bits.

And here, at last is a picture of the finished Pomotamus sock.

Sorry about the background, I realise it's a bit gloomy and grey, but we've had such wet weather it really wasn't practical to take P down to the squelchy mosses, no matter how greenly beautiful they are as a setting. Already working on the leg of Sock 2. Whoever said the second one was much easier is right - it is. However, watching a TV show that requires any mental commitment at all is a definite no-no. As is trying to read at the same time. Total concentration required for this one. But utterly worth it. Ms. K, try it again. It will get better. Really it will!

Started on the baby gansey (and thank you, Dez, for christening it an elven gansey - that's exactly right. Maybe I could gift it to Dobby the House Elf as part of my Harry Potter KAL contribution?).

For some reason, though, it was inordinately difficult to perform the very simple task of overlapping the front and back mini-welts so as to start the main body of the tiny thingy in the round. I slipped stitches, I swore, I lost stitches, I started again - it's inexplicable that such a clearly explained and clearly understandable exercise should cause so much trouble. There are only four stitches involved at each side, for heaven's sake, and all you have to do is put two in front of two and p. 2 tog twice. How difficult is that? DH looked in at midnight to see me wrestling and swearing and wisely went off to bed. I followed once I'd finally conquered this unexpected obstacle. Looks a little strained after the struggle, but it's done. Now to create tiny initials in seed stitch. Mine? Celtic Memory's? Dobby's?

The new sock yarn that I got from lovely Andy Hammand is a delicious blend of superwash merino and tencel. Superwash, you note. That presumably means some of you, if so minded, can chuck the resultant socks into the machine. And I gather lots of people do. But honestly, is that any way to treat handknitted treasures? I always wash mine by hand - I keep a bottle of gentle wash, or even a shampoo I don't want, next to the handbasin in the bathroom and whisk them through in a moment. And they look so nice hanging on the line!

Reading from left to right, we have here Mad Bluebell Dance followed by my new Summer Lavender colourway in merino/tencel, the Austrian socks, the Sea Cave colourway, Blackberry Pie socks, Birchwoods colourway, and lastly but not leastly, a rather classy cashmere/silk in yellows and oranges, which I have notionally christened Harvest. Listed all the sock yarns and the cashmere/silk on eBay last night, all with the Celtic Memory tag for ease of finding, while the socks are now airing happily in the sitting room which gets a lot of sun when there is any in this corner of the world (no, I keep them out of the direct sunlight you know-it-all at the back, just use the warmth to ensure they're properly dry, and they look so decorative while they're airing that they're a delight to see).

You might notice that the newly dyed yarns are less violent and contrasting than most you find, and that was intentional. I've been noticing lately that although I fall as heavily as anyone else for the gorgeous mixes of colour you can get these days, when it comes to knitting up anything with a distinctive pattern, all your hard work kind of tends to get lost in the frantic blur of colours. So I went this time for the 'less is more' technique, using subtle shadings and swirls to enhance and offset the natural creamy-white of the merino/tencel. (All right, all right, the superwash merino/tencel!) This way, the knitter's expertise and skill won't be lost in a clash of raspberry-meets-emerald-meets-black. I've taken it even further for a skein I dyed for my own use, spraying just the lightest touch of blush pink on to the natural colour, so that when the second pair of Pomotamus gets on to the needles, the glorious pattern will show in all its beauty, with just a faint tinge of pink here and there, like the tips of daisies in spring.

(That's how it appears in the mind anyway. The reality may be somewhat different. Keep you posted.)

Tonight we go to hear Elton John (no connection to the blog-versary, just a grateful client). And tomorrow Sophy Wackles goes to the vet to be neutered. It's good for her, it's virtually risk-free, it's wise (several past dogs barely survived the mid-age womb infection that can strike without warning), but I'm pretty hung up about bringing in a radiantly healthy little doglet for an operation. Even leaving her there will be traumatic. If it isn't too silly and self-centred a thing to ask in a world where I realise far more serious things are happening, keep her in your mind. She's only little.