Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Emerald Isle Just Got Greener

Celtic Memory, as you are all well aware, is a paragon of perfect self control. She will not be led whither she does not wish to go. She is proof against blandishment, temptation, the siren whispers of those who would guide her down the primrose path. Get thee behind me, stash enhancers!

Until it comes to Fleece Artist, that is. To be precise, Fleece Artist's Cashlana, that seductive blend of merino and cashmere which would cause a saint to look sideways, mere mortals to faint.

As did Celtic Memory. The French phrase is 'coup de foudre', I think, signifying a sudden, heartstopping moment, after which nothing is ever the same again. Often applied to love at first sight. Which this was.

Of course it wasn't my fault. It never is. In this case I lay the entire blame on Amy Singer of knitty.com. She it was who put up the Spring issue full of delicious new patterns, among which was the breaktaking, yes indeed the heartstopping Laminaria.

If ever there was a shawl crafted by mermaids or water spirites, this is it. I have never seen anything so magical in my life. (Oddly enough, when I moused over the original illustration, I could swear that the word 'Kelpie' appeared suddenly but disappeared again just as suddenly. See? Magic. Definitely. Of course the skilful photography didn't hurt either.)

Don't you just love that pointy edging?

The original is worked in Fleece Artist Suri Blue, in the Moss colourway. Just for interest's sake, as you do, I pottered over to the website of my favourite supplier, Knitty-noddy, and looked up the yarn. Very nice indeed. Lovely yarn. But can I live without it? Yes I can! I was on my way back, congratulating myself smugly on my self-restraint, when THIS caught my eye.

Oh dear heaven! Cashlana (90% merino, 10% cashmere) laceweight in the Moss colourway. Can one survive not just one but two coups de foudre in the same morning? Is this fair? Amy Singer, Fleece Artist, and Evelyn at Knitty-noddy, are you three in cahoots? Evidently. Oughtn't to be allowed A girl can't even surf the Net any more without being besieged. Could you have resisted?

Evelyn at Knitty-noddy is a delight to deal with, friendly, helpful and totally understanding of the wild desire coursing through the veins of anyone who chances to catch a glimpse of Cashlana en passant. It took hardly any time. 'Twixt Paddy's Day and Easter, the package winged its way from Oregon, and arrived serenely in West Cork this morning, where its glorious contents were reverently unpacked and placed on suitably soft Irish moss and dry beech leaves for their picture to be taken. The primroses courteously welcomed them too.

This yarn is so beautiful I don't feel worthy of it. But I am going to cast on for that Laminaria shawl just as soon as Sock Madness allows - in between the rounds if necessary (a good reason for finishing each round in double-quick time, don't you think?) It looks to be an entertaining pattern, with some new Estonian lace stitches which will be fun to try.

The green theme continues. Inspired not only by the shawl and the Cashlana, but also by the evidence of spring bursting out all over West Cork, Celtic Memory decided to dye up some more merino/tencel sock yarn in an attempt to capture the spirit of new growth.

Here they are on the line, with a row of newly-hand-washed socks behind them. Tropical Rainforest to the left, Irish Moss to the right.

Those with sharp eyes may note some unidentified skeins beyond the socks on the back row.

These are rather special, and they fit right into the green theme too. This is genuine Irish organic fingering weight wool, in three natural shades: white, brown and grey. With my mind running on shawls already, the idea occurred that since the shawl packs last Christmas were so popular, perhaps people might like truly organic shawl kits. Can't you just imagine the Icelandic Lace Shawl made up in gentle stripes of these? Or any of those lovely Faroese or Icelandic shawl designs?

Went hunting in the fabric stash and eventually hauled out what I had been searching for - a good length of genuine antique linen, probably 19th century, and probably organic too for all I know, since they weren't using too many pesticides then. A session on the sewing machine, and -

Hey presto! Antique, double thickness linen knitting bag, complete with drawstring and adorned with green shamrock (removable for laundering), with three lovely thick skeins of certified Irish organic fingering weight tucked inside. 400m of each shade, plenty for that Icelandic lace shawl or indeed any other. The kind of gift you want to keep yourself.

I've just listed these on eBay (Item Id: 170204791162. ) There is another purpose behind their sale: my dear friend and yours, Angeluna, has a son undergoing treatment for leukaemia at the moment. Medical costs are horrific and soaring with every day. Any profit will go to his hospital fund. It is bad enough having a loved one so ill without having to worry about money as well. OK, so it will be a drop in the ocean, but at least it's something one can do to show support. I hope she won't mind my mentioning it here, but she has written about her son's illness on her own blog, so I trust she won't think I've overstepped the boundary.

A lovely surprise and harbinger of spring this morning. Noticed a tiny wren flying back and forward outside the front window rather more often than usual. Went outside to investigate.

Planted this creeper in a pot between the two small windows a few years ago, hoping it would spread and decorate the front wall. It did, and I like it very much.

So did someone else, it seems. Take a closer look.

Can you see what has been tucked in there so neatly and tidily? A little wren's nest, skilfully woven of moss. It isn't lined with soft wool and feathers yet though; the cock bird builds the nest and then invites his lady love around to see if she approves. If she does, she chooses the carpets and curtains as is her right. I do hope she likes it. It's in a very good position for taking pictures of the babies in the fullness of time. And I couldn't be more thrilled that the King of Birds has honoured our home in this way.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Treading On The Heels of St. Patrick

It doesn't usually happen like this. Paddy's Day is mid-March and Easter normally falls in April which gives us time to recover from the one before facing the other. But this year they are on consecutive weekends. That means several things, but principally shops and businesses have only just reopened before it's time to shut again. Everything is up in the air, you can't get hold of the people you want, and you keep buying more and more food while the supermarkets are open just in case you run out. A bit like Christmas/New Year which, I have always felt (or lately anyway) should be blended into one event, not two.

Anyway, we had the Macroom Parade last Monday, March 17, and the entire town was en fete.

We're not talking New York here, or New Orleans (loved your reminiscences from there, Angeluna!), nor even Dublin or Cork, where everything is professionally and slickly organised. Macroom is a small if energetic market town and the parade is a very personal affair for every man woman and child both in the town itself and in the surrounding townlands. Everybody who isn't taking part is crowding the pavements, calling out greetings to those on the floats or marching, and there is a great friendly atmosphere. Muddy boots are in evidence, and smiling faces under battered tweed caps.

Farmers who were proud of their tractors (and why wouldn't they be?) gave them a bit of a polish to get the worst of the mud off, and drove slowly and solemnly along the main street. This leprechaun was lending a hand to oblige an old friend who was busy with the lambing and couldn't take part. As long as the police didn't check his Tir na n'Og driving licence, he was fine.

To reflect our ancient and proud woollen heritage, a remarkably composed lamb trotted busily along (a bottle-fed fellow if ever I saw one) -

- this young lad with the hurley, seated on the barrel top wagon, is commemorating a great Cork hurler, the bould Thady Quill -

- while the Mayor of Macroom donned his fine chain and was drawn through the streets in style in a private pony and trap.

You can imagine my reaction when I saw this turnout coming slowly up the street, the Welsh Corgi in the passenger seat keeping a sharp eye on the trailer behind.

There are the occupants, looking a little offended at having to mix with the common herd, so to speak, Paddy's Day or no Paddy's Day. (Yes, I have taken note of where exactly this alpaca stud is, and I will be following it up - did you think I wouldn't?)

It was a happy, friendly day, despite the freezing wind blowing directly down from the North Pole and rendering the sunshine more of a token than a temperature. When the last tractor had chugged off down the hill to home, everybody repaired to the local pubs to drown the shamrock. Not as sophisticated an event as some of the huge international ones, but nonetheless delightful.
Celtic Memory has found herself strangely at a loss since completing the Zombie Socks for Round 1 of this year's Sock Madness. There are WIPs enough and plenty to keep the needles flying for months, sure enough, but somehow they fail to satisfy. The build-up of tension and pressure for completing said Zombies, though, took some time to dissipate, and gave enough of a head of steam to complete the Sasha Kagan crop cardi at least.

Really rather pleased with this one. It's from the UK magazine Knitting (Feb. 2008 issue) and I made it in some particularly soft and squishy baby alpaca from Peru. Inca is the name on the ballband, and I got it from Yarn Paradise in Turkey by mail order. Used about six balls - say 600m of yarn in all. It hugs nicely - put a line of crochet slipstitch around the bottom to ensure it stayed that way. It will look great over a crisply formal white blouse, but the weather has really been too chilly here to pose thus attired, even for you.

After that, though, the energy for big projects waned. Worked half-heartedly on the Kureyon jacket, but it's a bit bulky to be carrying around in your purse, and a bit too showy for working on in post office queues. The crochet jacket really needs a big table for spreading out at this stage, and plenty of time and good light.

There was no denying it - socks were being actively missed. They were being pined for. Is there any project so delightfully portable and easy and useful to carry around? Something you know you will use the second the last thread has been fastened off? Mooching around the Net, came across Ruth Greenwald's utterly glorious Leafy Green Socks and discovered that she had just posted up the pattern for sale on Ravelry.
Isn't the Net marvellous? And isn't Ravelry? Within five minutes I had that pattern on my desk and was casting on for my own pair of Leafy Greens.

It's a lovely pattern, quite easy to memorise, and with useful stitch sequences which allow you to check where you're at without too much difficulty. I'm using one of my own merino/tencel hand-dyed colourways, called, appropriately enough, First Leaves of Spring. Might just have them done for Easter.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Socks Have Taken Over Again

It is the month of March and not only hares are affected with lunacy at this time of year. Sock Madness 2 has just kicked off, and that meant knitters all over the globe gathering their yarns, greasing their needles and getting everything ready.

Preparations chez Celtic Memory included a last-minute dash to the finishing line on the Austermann Step socks. Couldn't start Sock Madness 2 with an unfinished pair on the needles - that would have been inviting bad luck - so completed they had to be. Which they were. Kind of late on Wednesday, in advance of the first SM pattern coming out on Thursday. Always was one for the dangerously addictive thrumming of the deadline.

These are very very comfortable indeed. I feel a pleasant glow at the knowledge of having several more balls of this feelgood yarn tucked away in the stash, in different colourways. This pattern was from More Sensational Socks and is, I think, known as Faggot & Cable. A 12-row repeat and not that difficult, but you do have to drop everything else and play fiddly games on the 12th row as minuscule stitches hop around and change places. A fine crochet hook came into play fairly often, to hunt down escapees and haul them firmly back to the needle.

Once they were out of the way, the other preparations had to be made. Yarn of course - each possible choice had to be wound into two balls of equal weight, so as to work two socks at the same time (no, not on the same needle, tried it but found it a bit too fiddly - one on each circular is the favoured method here). We had been given the advance hint to find a 'scary' colourway, so I chose Lisa Souza's Emerald City and her Elektra, as being reasonably ghoul-like. Final decision to wait on sight of the pattern.

Next: location. The sunny sitting room upstairs, with the trusty knitting chair. Carpets vacuumed so that no distracting sights of pawprints or stray leaves or half-eaten bones would take the mind from the pattern. Feng Shui, if you like. Small occasional table placed in best position, with Ott-lite at correct angle for maximum illumination after dark without dazzling.

Equipment: Basket of other contending yarns for future rounds on the floor, for inspiration. Wooden trug filled with essential items, placed on little side table, ready to hand. Want a close up of that?

You can see several sets of circulars there (can't be too careful), plus stitch markers, measuring tape, scissors, safety pins, two sizes of crochet hook, two kinds of cookies, and the two yarns which made it to the final cut. Oh yes, and the Baileys, up there in the top right-hand corner. When you don't know how late into the night you'll be working, you need some reassurance to hand. OK, bring it on, I'm ready.

Anyone who's been involved in Sock Madness knows what an eerie feeling it is around pattern release time. Hundreds of knitters in every corner of the globe from Kenya to Bangalore, Washington to Wallasey, crouched over computers, finger on the mouse, constantly checking, refreshing, checking again, sending supportive messages to each other via Ravelry or Flickr, checking again...

'Still nothing. Think I'll go make a coffee.'

'Better not. It might just drop in while you're away.'

'How much longer do you think it will be?'

'Hard to say. They said between 12 and 5 EST - so that could be another five hours.'

'Wonder if I've chosen the right yarn. Maybe I'll go take another look.'

'Can anyone remind me of the best way to do a Japanese short row heel?'

'It's here, it's here, it's HERE!'

And then dead silence. Total silence. The Internet must have wondered what had happened. Energy supplies were able, at last, to recharge. Power soared. Other users got a look in. All the Sock Madness participants were off the starting blocks and running.

Our first pattern was the delightfully-named Zombie Sock, designed by Sheryl Ball. The horror factor came from the pattern feature which dictated that every six rows you deliberately dropped stitches and watched them unravel. This is quite an unsettling experience. After all, we usually spend our time avoiding that very error, and here we were doing it to order. But it made for a very attractive pattern. Decided on the Emerald City colourway, the better to show off that clever stitchery.

Time zones being what they are, it was about 5.15 in the evening when the pattern hit the computer in West Cork, and there was really only time to work the ribbing on both socks before fatigue compelled retirement for the night. Up bright and early on Friday to start the patterning, and by the end of the day (well, there were sanity breaks for coffee and even a quick trip to the shops, Celtic Memory is genuinely incapable of concentrating on anything for longer than an hour at a time), they were ready to start the heel. Working an eye-of-partridge-heel at that time of night, however, even with the comforting assistance of Baileys, would have been asking for trouble. Wait till morning.

Leapt out of bed on Saturday absolutely determined to get this particular job out of the way so that some of the weekend (St. Patrick's Day on Monday, you realise!) could be salvaged for other things. No breaks allowed this time. Work straight through without flagging. One heel turned. Those endless gusset decreases finished at LAST. The sinking feeling as the second sock is picked up, to repeat the exercise. That one down to the foot too.

By this time, shooting pains were making themselves felt on the working arm, and the fingers were starting to get clumsy. Longing thoughts of hot coffees, peaceful walks, even raising the eyes to see what the weather was doing (that's not very difficult here in West Cork, either it's raining or it's about to rain) were firmly pushed aside. Enough pattern repeats for the foot? Try it on. We-e-e-lll...

Come on, come on, you know perfectly well that is NOT long enough. Work another half repeat. Oh please no. YES!! And twice!

Now only the toe shaping to do. Have you ever noticed what an inordinately long time something as small and insignificant as the toe actually takes to work? Ages.

Done, done, done! Where's the tapestry needle? (Empty entire basket on the floor. Find needle. Make three attempts to thread it, each one failing miserably due to shaking fingers. Eventually succeed.)

Graft two toes in record time. Fasten off neatly and lose yarn end inside. Wait - original cast on end needs to be darned in too. Will these never be done? (Imagines everyone else in the division already finished and laughing up their sleeves.)

Where's the camera. Where's the sunlight (ha ha, big joke in West Cork!) Well the light, then! How on earth can I get my feet there, while holding the camera here?. Hold breath. Click. Once again for luck. Click.

To the computer. Upload pictures. D-n, d-n, triple d-n. Blurred. Shaky. Foggy. N. B. G. Back to camera. Try again. Hold your d-n breath!

Still shaky, but it'll have to do. Upload to Flickr, post to Sock Madness group, take HTML ref, prepare email to organisers including link to picture plus personal details. Put 'Finished' in subject line. With emphasis!

(Funny thing: was sitting by the computer, slowly winding down, and wondering if I should send a second message for safety, when an email from the organisers popped into the box. 'Yes Jo, we have received it - relax!' How did they know? Do I usually behave like this?)

Now that really wasn't a very creative picture of those nice socks, so when DH had a free moment this morning I asked him to take another one, more appropriate for the blog.

I have called these the Underwater Zombies because the lovely Lisa Souza colourway makes me think of tropical waters and the bright tiny fish that swim there. Maybe there are jolly little water-zombies swimming round there too. Why not?

Today was a rest day. Sophy Wackles and I went down to the woods by Torc Waterfall for a gentle stroll among the thick mosses and ancient trees.

After that, we drove over the hills by Moll's Gap. It's still very wintry up here, with not much sign of the green coming through yet, but the clouds parted sufficiently at the summit to let us see the Gap of Dunloe looking fairly dramatic.

Then down the twisting road towards Kenmare. Everything still looking very wintry here too, the browns and fawns of last year's gorse and bracken giving no hint that in a week or two the whole place will have blossomed into bright green.

Decided to take a different route home, so turned off the Loo Valley at the Roughty Bridge, on a very narrow track which twisted over the hills, close to the highest pub in Ireland (yes, I'll go there soon and bring you a full report)

and then down steeply into the Muskerry Gaeltacht (one of the places where Irish is still spoken as a first language), before joining the main road again at Ballyvourney and heading home. Thoroughly refreshed now, and ready for Round Two of Sock Madness. Meanwhile, better use the intervening time to finish off those other languishing projects - the Sasha Kagan crop cardigan, the Kureyon cabled jacket, the Dogi vest... oh yes, what did happen to that Dogi vest?

Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. The small market town of Macroom, close to my home, actually has a live webcam in operation from about 3 - 3.30 pm Irish time tomorrow (very go-ahead the Macrompians), so if you want to see the parade there, log in to http://www.macroom.ie/. Almost as good as being in the town yourself. But wherever you are drowning the shamrock, have a drink for me! Slainte!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Snowy Mountains and - ARAN UNDIES??

It snowed the other day in Southern Ireland! Well in the rest of Ireland too, but it's such a rare event down here that we got very excited indeed. I have recently been asked to contribute a chapter (on my late father's mountaineering exploits) to a new book about Magillicuddy's Reeks, Ireland's highest chain of peaks, with Carrauntuohill the highest of all. Not terrifying by international standards (about 3,400 ft) but high enough to make climbing it fun. And that probably goes for the snow too - half an inch is newsworthy here.

Anyway, the combination of the looming chapter and the snow made me decide that it would be a good day to head down and see what the hills were looking like under this rare white covering. Tucked Sophy Wackles into the car and headed off.

From a distance they looked beautiful -

- although as you got closer they seemed a little more threatening under their swirling grey clouds.

Here we are on the road to Ireland's highest mountain. Despite the fame of the peak at the end of it, you wouldn't find it all that easily unless you were keeping a sharp eye out. Follow the signs out of Killarney towards Killorglin, slow down when you get out a few miles, and then take a left for the Gap of Dunloe and Kate Kearney's Cottage. Go nearly to the Gap but not quite - take a right for Beaufort (in Irish, Lios na Phuca, or the Fairy Fort where the Pooka resides), and keep a sharp eye out after a mile or so for a little signpost left pointing to Cronin's Yard. That's the road we're on now.

The yard of Cronin's farm has been the Last Homely House for generations of climbers and now, in the summer season, they even run a cafe here for the revival of exhausted folk arriving back wet, muddy and triumphant (mountain climbing in Ireland is always wet and muddy - my earliest toddler memories are of struggling up to my knees in that long dry rushy grass which hides thick glutinous bog pools, and yes, you can too have pools on the side of steep mountains, believe me I know!) I will bring you a full report on the standard of coffee and home baking at Cronin's as soon as they've opened - might not be until June though.

At that stage of the morning, the hills looked fairly clear so it seemed like a good idea to head up the track a bit towards Carrauntuohill itself, maybe get to the Hag's Glen with its bottomless lake. Sophy Wackles was willing (once she'd sneaked past the nasty big white sheep in the paddock, keeping well to the other side of me, with her tail tucked in - what a little poltroon) so we set off.

This is the well-worn track leading up to the Hag's Glen. Beyond that the path disappears and you're on your own, with several choices of ascent, some easier than others (my father always favoured The Devil's Ladder, probably because it was more fun and had that additional element of danger, being really nothing more than a very steep watercourse carved out over the centuries, full of loose rock and scree). That's snow-sprinkled Carrauntuohill itself coming into view on the right, behind the flanking hill closer to us.

If I do know anything about mountains, it is never to trust them, and to watch the weather at all times. Half way up the track, the sunshine disappeared abruptly and a huge grey cloud swept right over the peaks and down towards us.

I knew what was coming. Snapped a quick picture, and then with one accord, Sophy and I spun on our heels and bolted back down the track towards the farm and safety. We had almost reached the farmyard gate before the hailstorm caught up with us. A bolt to be fumbled with, a dog to drag through, a gate to be fastened securely, and then two very wet, muddy, and out of breath creatures dived into the car and settled down to enjoy the wild weather as it lashed us from all sides, making the little jeep quiver as it withstood the blast. You couldn't see beyond ten yards. The Old Ones had taken back the hills, gently reminding us of who was still in power here.

From travel yarns to homespun yarns. The Austermann Step socks that have been crawling along at a snail's pace this long while have picked up their pace rather sharply. That's because Sock Madness 2 kicks off this coming Thursday, March 13, with the release of the first, never-before-seen pattern, to be completed in double-quick time. Lots more people taking part this year which is wonderful since we all make friends and exchange information and have a really good time. But needles must be ready and current projects finished up or at least out of the way before then. Yarns to be wound up too, although you never know really which one you're going to use until you see the pattern close up and personal.

Here are the Austermanns at their current stage - one just ahead of the other by a pattern repeat.

One of the hints for Sock Madness 2 was that we should brush up on our Japanese short row technique. Now I had never even heard of this before, so thought I would work one of the Austermann heels in the usual wrap style and the other in Japanese style, which involves a pin instead of each wrap (I used those little Clover padlocks, one of which you can see up there on Sock 2, since I was already using them to work the awkward little cable crossings). It was an entertaining technique to work, and certainly got rid of that 'oh no, I've skipped a wrap' syndrome, but on the other hand (the other foot?), having rows of rattling little padlocks was a bit distracting.

Can't see any discernible difference (the Clover marker isn't a clue, there was one on each sock for cabling anyway). I genuinely can't remember which sock used which technique, and that is probably as it should be. Can't make up my mind which I prefer.

And there are some confessions to make. Despite having wasted a great deal of time swatching for Starmore's legendary St. Brigid (before deciding that it was a most unflattering shape anyway and could only look good on a model posing most artistically) and also wasting resources by going out and buying all that gorgeous Sublime yarn in which to make it, Celtic Memory fell from grace yet AGAIN. This time it was Noro - well you know what Noro is like, it just calls to you, even from a distance. From Kenmare in this case, necessitating a frantic trip down there just to buy enough to make a jacket. There were two balls of Kureyon in the stash already you see, and in a moment of weakness I swatched for a little cabled crop jacket...

For heaven's SAKE, at this rate NOTHING will get done. Is there treatment one can get for Startitis?

And how long is it since a new designer yarn was created in the Celtic Memory shed? Far too long. A new one is swirling round in my mind, called Cliona's Wave. Re-telling that legend last week got me thinking of a skein which would carry all the colours of the sea from deep green to blue, to azure and lavender, with flashes of silver...

I have several hand-dyed sock yarns on eBay at the moment, with the listing ending this evening.

Maybe that should be the impetus to get going this afternoon, right away, on Cliona's Wave, and have it finished before the sock yarn listing ends tonight? So many wonderful things to try, so little time.

But to those Aran undies. I bet you were wondering. Well the truth beggars belief, it really does. I read it in the national newspapers and I still didn't believe it! But I couldn't wait to share it with you.

I don't know if you're familiar with a very popular TV series from the 1990s, called Father Ted? It's about a mad household of priests on an Irish island and the scrapes they get into with their lunatic housekeeper, local lovely girls, dominant bishop, et al. Now the principal actor in this series, Dermot Morgan, died ten years ago - sadly, the very day of the celebratory party after filming the final episode. Since then, a Father Ted Festival has been held in his memory every spring on Inishmore, the largest Aran island, with lots of madcap events, including a Lovely Girl contest, where the contestants are judged on their wholesome charm (a bit of a spoof on the Rose of Tralee which is traditionally judged on good manners and behaviour rather than beauty-queen qualities).

Anyway, at this year's event, held as is customary in howling wind and lashing rain, the Lovely Girls were lined up for the judges, and one, at the very moment that keen eyes were looking her up and down, hitched up her ball gown to reveal - wait for it - knee-length Aran bloomers, hand-knitted by herself!

There were mutterings of unfair methods used, and bias, but undoubtedly the decent old Aran underwear showed she was the Right Kind of Lovely Girl. Of course everyone wanted to know how long she was able to endure the inevitable itchiness, but in true Father Ted form the lassie riposted that that was 'an ecumenical matter'.

No, unfortunately the 'quick flash' was so quick that nobody got a picture. But I am on the case. I'm currently tracking down the lassie in question (Tara Kilbane, I think, from Galway), and if a picture is to be secured, then you will see it. And I should be most pleased to see others following Tara's lead. We should have more Aran bloomers. With pockets in for the hanky. Cables down the sides. Wonder what Starmore would say? But I bet Elsebeth Lavold would be entertained.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Legend of Cliona's Wave

Sorry, I don't know where the week has gone. There hasn't been a minute to spare. Well, actually there was, once or twice, but whenever that occurred I found myself over on Ravelry ogling patterns and obsessively checking out Sock Madness to see if they had posted the divisions yet. That kicks off in mid-March, so expect plenty of hysteria. Lots of old friends back in this year, and tons of new ones too, which is lovely. Sock Madness is really great fun, and proves that we all actually need more stress and pressure in our lives.

But I promised to give you the rest of the news on the recent trip, since it involves yarn people and yarn shops. I'll do that, update on WIPs, and then, as promised, I'll tell you the legend of Cliona's Wave.

In the last posting I put up two snapshots of VIPs met on the trip, and this time here they are in full.

This is none other than Laura Bryant of Prism Yarns in St Petersburg, FL. You know, the genius behind those amazing yarn combinations, Cool Stuff, Wild Stuff, et al? I fell in love with her incredible eye for colour a couple of years back and when I knew we were going to be in the area, emailed to see if she'd let us call round. And she did! She was friendliness and courtesy itself, showing us all over her factory and talking about her ideas and designs. Aren't these pieces amazing? That coat on the right is a masterpiece of freeform work.

This is her sweater display room, where shapes and colours and designs all come together in a magical kaleidoscope. Laura is an artist first, last and always. She decided to see what yarn designing was like and brought to it all her artistic creativity. Now it threatens to take over from her artistic career, such is the demand for these one-of-a-kind skeins.

Interestingly, Laura told me that when she was growing up (and knitting, crocheting, crafting obsessively) knitting was right out of fashion. Nobody wanted to do it, and they thought she was odd to like it. I hadn't realised that had happened in the States. I thought the tradition had endured throughout. I feel better about the Irish not being too keen on it now, since it looks as though it's a natural progression and we'll be back to it sooner or later. Laura, it was the fulfilment of an ambition to meet and talk with you. Thank you for your patience, time and enthusiasm.

Once DH had dragged me away, we went on up to Tampa to check out Knit n Knibble. This gorgeous yarn shop, as its name would suggest, sensibly provides coffee and delectables for those suffering from yarn exhaustion and needing support.

And you need it, because this is an exceedingly well-stocked store, and I bought a lot of the trip loot here, including the very new Noro sock yarn and some Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool which I can never resist. They are very very nice people at Knit n Knibble - I invested in a single skein of Art Yarns beaded silk but when I got back to Sanibel, discovered that I had inadvertently been charged for three skeins. If you know the price of this stuff you will realise that that is no small matter. No problem - emailed, they replied with a toll-free number to ring, and it was sorted out in minutes. That's the kind of service you appreciate.

This is Kate, who was having a coffee and doing a bit of knitting before teaching a class there. They do a great range of classes at Knit n Knibble and owner Caroline said they were well over-subscribed on most of them. Kate was teaching one on gauge. Yes, gauge - that vital ingredient you ignore at your peril. What it is, why it's necessary, and, most important of all, how to get it worked out correctly. We talked about emergency knitting kits - those bits of work you wish you had with you when stuck in a queue or waiting room, and Kate said that not only did she always take one with her, she had an additional emergency knitting kit always stashed in her car in case she forgot the current one when rushing out the door. Now there is planning! Kate, thanks for the tip. I'll adopt it at once.

When we got to New York, I was determined to find Seaport Yarns which has very recently moved to a new home on the fifth floor of 181 Broadway (way way downtown).

They have a huge stock, but were still unpacking it - and in addition, owner Andrea was on her way to Stitches West the very next morning, so things were a bit frantic. Did pick up that Blue Heron glitter wool there though.

And how convenient that the Herald Square Hotel, where we were staying, is only a stone's throw from a legendary store, a little further uptown at 1201 Broadway, School Products.

If you've never been up to this third-floor Aladdin's Cave, then I suggest you put it on the must-see list for your next NY trip.

Here is another view for those of you who like to do a little armchair lusting.

- and here is the lady herself. Berta Karapetyan, owner of School Products and author of Runway Knits. She has run this treasure trove for about twelve years now, although the shop itself has been there for 60 years, serving as inspiration and source for designers all over New York. 'When we took it over, knitting had not yet taken off as the craze it is today,' she revealed. 'We were there as a supplier for the trade and for the occasional hand or machine knitter. Today of course, demand is much higher.' She and her husband import yarns from all over the world and also snap up one-off cones of unusual fibres and blends which are the real attraction here - along with their own line, Karabella Yarns, of course. Oh and Berta's amazing designs for both crochet and knitting. 'Growing up, I always loved crochet best', she told me. 'But then lately I began to want a smoother finer line, and knitting was better for that, so I began to design knitting patterns too.'

School Products is definitely not your typical LYS. It isn't the kind of place where you go as a beginner for guidance and advice and classes on how to cast on or how to work out what has gone wrong with a pattern. But if it is information on different yarns you want, and how a particular fibre will behave under certain circumstances, then both Berta and her husband are mines of information. I picked up a huge cone of undyed white ribbon yarn and wondered if it would take colour. Berta picked it up, rubbed it, felt it judiciously, and gave her opinion. 'Yes, I think you could have a lot of fun dyeing with this one.' And of course you simply never know what goodies are going to be found lurking in a corner or tucked away behind a rampart of camel, cashmere or silk. Yarns you just will not find anywhere else, unique, unrepeatable. For the yarnaholic, it's Nirvana.

Works in progress. As usual, far too many started, not enough finished. But some did get there. The Wollmeise wristlets and neckwarmer for instance - you'll have seen those over on Flickr or Ravelry, so I won't post them again here. Very pleased with them, especially the neckwarmer which I will definitely make again in other colours.

The jacket from Doris Chan's Everyday Crochet is coming along very well indeed. I'm delighted with the way the Blue Heron beaded rayon is behaving. Just a bit more on the body length, and then the sleeves to about elbow length, I think. It drapes beautifully already.

Rushing to get the Austermann Step socks finished before the onset of Sock Madness in mid March. The Sasha Kagan black crop jacket has the back and one and a half fronts done, and that needs to be finished up sharpish too, or it will be consigned to the hibernation cave during the aforesaid Sock Madness. We won't discuss the many and various WIPs lurking in different corners around the house.

Except to say that one of them is a Starmore - the St. Enda. Now given that one Starmore at a time should be more than enough for anyone, can you tell me why I thought it necessary to start the most complex Starmore of all, St. Brigid? No, didn't think you could. Trashed the entire stash trying to find the perfect yarn for it, tried an interesting linen/cotton (which required preliminary bleaching and serious washing to get the yellowing tint out of it), discovered what I should already have known, that linen/cotton is not renowned for its bounciness and drawing-in qualities, searched again, failed, and sallied forth to spend more than I care to remember on enough Sublime (that gorgous mix of merino, cashmere and silk) in off-white, to make St. B.

Cast on, worked ten rows, and decided that after all I didn't like St. B. Now I know this is heresy and there is probably a thunderbolt on its way from the Hebrides, let alone several from Ravelry, but honestly the shape is awful. It's boxy, unflattering huge and chunky (let's not even mention that weird fringing around the bottom), and would probably do fine in Arctic conditions. I prefer slimmer-fitting, lightweight sweaters. So why was I making it? Because it was a challenge. Because the knotwork was pretty. Because - oh all right, because everybody else was making it. Oh Ravelry, Ravelry, you have a lot to answer for. A sheep, that's what I am, just following the herd.

Tossed and turned with frustration. This morning came the inspiration to make the ideal slim-fitting polo or crewneck in Sublime, utilising some of Elsebeth Lavold's lovely Viking designs. Spent the afternoon roughing out charts for different combinations. Glanced sideways at Starmore's Fulmar (now that is a beauty, but why these heavy dropped shoulders? What happened to the traditional Aran raglan, that's what I want to know? Raglan isn't difficult, why are today's knitters satisfied with crude drop sleeves? Hey?)

Where was I? Oh Fulmar. Really liked the cuffs on that one - they have little interlaced designs all of their own. Wondered if these could be incorporated into the new Lavold. Redrafted the chart...

OK, I recognise the signs. Startitis gone amok. I suspect, from previous experience, that the right and sensible thing to do now is retire quietly and finish up one or two other projects. Leave this idea to mature for a few days.




All right, that's enough. Here is the legend of Cliona's Wave.

On the coast of West Cork lies the postcard-perfect little village of Glandore. It really is a lovely place, the gentle green and lush landscape running down to the glittering sea, with brightly-painted houses tucked along the shoreline. Very popular with holidaymakers and the sailing set.

When the wind is high, however, and the sea is rising, the waves crashing into hidden caves and inaccessible little bays along the shoreline here make a strange and distinctive moaning sound. This has been known for centuries and the phenomenon has always been called Cliona's Wave.

It seems that Cliona was a beautiful princess from a far off land who came here to marry a noble Irish prince. She loved this bay, and would sit for hours on the rocks looking out to sea, perhaps thinking of her homeland far away. One day, a huge wave washed her from the rocks and she drowned. However, this being Ireland, she did not die but became instead one of the Sidhe, or the fairy folk. In fact she became the Bean Sidhe Ban, the White Fairy Woman, with power to rule over all this part of Munster. To this day she haunts her beloved shores, calling to her subjects both on land and sea, and conversing with them. This is the strange ghostly sound you hear when the waves lash against the shore on stormy days.

It is also said that to hear Cliona's Wave is a fortunate thing, as it will solve for you any difficult problem you are experiencing at the time. To walk on the cliffs at Glandore when the storm is rising (only for heaven's sake do stay well back from the edge!), and hear the keening of the Bean Sidhe Ban, is to find your mind suddenly clearer, and the path you should take made obvious as if in a bright picture unfolding before you. To go this way or that, choose this partner or the other, even, heaven knows, how to design a new sweater - if you want a clear path, go and wait for Cliona's Wave. It will tell you.