Sunday, February 01, 2009

It's Springtime!

Can't exactly see the lengthening of the days yet, although I've been watching keenly since the Solstice. Soon, I know, it will be impossible to sleep beyond six in the morning, what with the bright skies and the carolling birds, but right now it's difficult to dig oneself out of the duvet much before eight, which is when a grudgingly paling sky indicates that the sun might just, might just condescend to climb up over the horizon in half an hour or so

But it's February 1 and the first little yellow crocus is showing bravely by the driveway. Mind you, it's likely to be blasted brutally for its promptness by the icy winds currently powering in from Mother Russia, but it is lovely to see anyway.

We celebrate Imbolc around now (today or tomorrow depending on your mood), also known as Candlemas. It's the Celtic festival of spring, marking the birth of new lambs, the consequent renewed supply of good sustaining milk, and the first shoots of brilliant green promising food for all in the months ahead. It's the month of the goddess Brigit (male-dominated Christianity couldn't obliterate her, so they changed her into the meeker St. Brigid, but the Irish went on venerating her just the same as they had always done). On Brigit's day, you are not supposed to spin or weave or do anything that involves twisting fibre. Probably means no knitting either. But you do display Brigit's Cross, made of green rushes, and if you are far-thinking, you put out a piece of cloth on Brigit's Eve and bring it in next morning, when it will have received great healing powers and will be known throughout the year as Brigit's Cloak.

Celtic Memory spent the morning finishing up the new Magic Skein, called of course Brigit. Each time I make one of these I vow 'never again' but then another lovely festival comes up on the calendar and the colours call, and the yarn beckons, and it's another session of complete chaos in the upstairs sitting room with cones and balls and tangles everywhere, the scissors disappearing with irritating regularity, and the dogs wailing mournfully outside (can't understand why Maman is shutting herself away and shrieking, 'What goes with this? No, that one won't do! This one? Nope. Ah - that looks better...)

Here is Brigit in the grove. Can't do much about the grey day, but the yarn skein is a good emblem of the growth to come, I think.

There must be eighteen or twenty different combinations in this one 285 yd skein, and each combination has up to four strands of different yarns. Tidying up the sitting room has been conveniently forgotten for the moment. Listed it on eBay this afternoon (Item ID 170299134144 if you're looking for it).

I've had several emails requesting more pictures of the traditional craftwork discovered in Bulgaria, so uploaded some more of DH's images for your delectation. Yes, the last post was only yesterday, but it was so exhausting that another one was essential, otherwise Celtic Memory might get a hang-up about it and never post again. Like getting back on a horse after being thrown.

Here are some of those lovely hand-cranked sewing machines that I had to leave behind, all with unfamiliar names to me (one suspects that Singer really made them all, and the local man simply slapped on his gold transfer, what do you think?) As a reminder of who's boss, there is a big Singer table-mounted machine looming dimly up at the back.

Gosh, just looking at those makes me want to grab a truck and drive right back across Europe.

Here's a beautiful felted jacket, with a traditional overdress hanging behind it. This was in the cafe at Narechenski Bani. And no, it wasn't for sale.

Nor was this roughly-woven shepherd's cloak in homespun, with its matching well-worn cap in what looked like raw sheepskin.

And look at these lovely knitted slippers or shoe liners. I put my hand into one, to round it out, and placed the other so you could see the shaping of the heel.

I know they're shoe liners because when we met those lovely knitting ladies up in the mountains, I noticed they all had them inside their rough outdoor footwear.

The lady in the foreground had warm thermals under her dress (you can be sure Celtic Memory had the same under her serviceable travel trousers in that icy climate), as well as the knitted slippers over socks or stockings. The lady on the right of the picture was resting her foot outside her shoe, and kindly agreed to let DH capture that for the record too.

Isn't that a nice design? The cuff looks like it might be crocheted (thanks Ana for the comment on my last posting, telling me about the way those hooked needles are used - isn't the Internet amazing?)

And to think I thought those trendy new winter liners for Crocs were an ingenious modern invention! Nothing new under the sun...

By the way, thought you might like to see these lovely Bulgarian knitters at closer quarters.
I'd like to meet them again. More than anything, I wish I had fluent Bulgarian so I could talk to them about their lives, what they'd seen, the crafts they and their menfolk still practised, everything. It gets so frustrating when you can't really exchange thoughts, doesn't it? Ana, maybe you'd go talk to them for me - no, for all of us?

I'll finish with what is probably my favourite picture of the whole trip.
This was in the village of Yugovo and was one of those instantaneous, 'get-it-now-or-lose-it' shots that DH grabbed through the windscreen. The lady in the traditional blue and red had found some spilled hay on the roadside and was scraping it together with her stick so that her clearly cherished cow could enjoy an unexpected luxury. A moment later they had trudged off together down a muddy track to her little house where I just know the cow had a comfortable warm stall close to the kitchen.
Looking at it makes me think that maybe we all need to get back to the basics a little more. Remind ourselves of what's really important.


Anonymous said...

That's my favorite picture too.

Angeluna said...

Thank you, Jo. Your Imbolc yarn is beautiful. I can just imagine the "girls" locked outside the door with such interesting noises going on inside.

Loved all the photos. Seriously covet the felted jacket and red/black overdress.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jo. I found you through the Yarn Harlot and am so grateful. Your travels are so interesting and you make me think I am there with you.
I was wondering what vest pattern you are considering knitting.
Love all the photos.
I am writing this from British Columbia, Canada where the weather is about the same as yours,hard to leave the duvet in the morning.

knititch said...

oh that is such a lovely picture. i also love those slippers.

and i suppose bringing your knitting could be a great way of actually communicating with these women. it is incredible how much one can communicate without a shared language.

Lynn said...

The new Magic Skein is lovely [as always]. Good thing I am off my "green" kick of year before last, or I would have been seriously tempted.

My Samhain scarf always gets happy comments when I wear it.

I think 2009 is going to be a purple year; if you come up with that colorway, I am *doomed*. :)

Liz said...

I so love the travelogue you present, and now I'm intrigued with the story of St. Brigid -- off to let Google do its thing, but I would love to read the Celtic Memory spin on it.

(heh - I said spin.)

Anonymous said...

I caught up on 2 posts at once, so this is "late" - re: the hooked needles.
If you were knitting socks, couldn't you use actual crochet hooks as DP's?
I may have to give it a try just to see!

Beverly in California near Yosemite - usually a lurker, but always appreciative

tmjackson said...

Love the Brigit yarn - just lovely. And that Bulgarian slipper is amazing! Thanks for sharing.

Ambermoggie, a fragrant soul said...

gorgeous Imbolc yarn Jo as always:) Happy day to you:)

Anonymous said...

Hi. Could do with some of those socks and slippers today. Looking at the pics I wish the snow would hurry up and come.

Mary Burke said...

Hope you manage to avoid the snow, as it might take the edge off your Spring!
Here in Canada it's "Groundhog Day", and we always say that, shadow or not, if there's *ONLY* 6 more weeks of winter that's good news!

Anonymous said...


Such an interesting trip. It is good to be spontaneous and ready for adventure. It is always good to be reminded of those things which link us rather than divide us.

Debra in Seattle

Helen said...

Wow. I would love to go somewhere like that. Unfortunately my OH thinks a holiday involves somewhere with food and beer perpetually on I might be going on my own. I quite fancy Estonia actually, or Latvia. Maybe I should get my backside into gear and go!

shandy said...

How interesting - particularly the shoe liners. My sister went to Istanbul and brought back something very similar from the market there - women were sitting knitting them at the stall. They had exactly that heel strip too, and are on my blog. My father certainly wore clogs when I was younger, but my mother only remembered having them when she was a child. I don't recall any shoe liners though.

Lisa said...

I fully agree. And whether we like it or not, the current economic climate may cause us to reevaluate our high-tech consumer ways. I vote for more knitting, spinning, and hording hay for our livestock! Seriously, I am going to Tallin this summer and hope you can tell me where that little yarn store was! I love your blog. My ancestrial roots are in County Cork and I have to come visit sometime.

Anonymous said...

Love the post and your work! I find it so enjoyable to read about culture and fiber all in one blog.

It is always a treat to find an update post on your blog and I savor every post.

Thanks for sharing!

Dez Crawford said...

That is a remarkable photograph -- the woman gathering spilled hay for her cow. Truly captures the gulf between the waste of the West (particularly America) and the gratitude for even the smallest windfall so characteristic of the rest of the world.

Re the hooked needles: years ago, a friend of mine (also a knitter) spent some time in the Peace Corps as a nurse. She was in Bosnia for awhile, and she found a young married couple at a market stall one day. The woman spun and sold yarn (so cheap it was sad) and the husband had a small foot-powered grinder/polisher with which he was turning bicycle spokes into needles with hooked ends. Beautifully made, and smooth.

My friend came back the next day with a few sets of her Susan Bates aluminum sock needles in bright colors and worked out a trade for a set of the hooked needles. In addition, she purchased a good deal of yarn. The wife (who smiled a great deal but let her husband speak and negotiate for her) was beyond delighted with the colorful needles. Most of us think of those aluminum needles as "cheapies" but to her they were a treasure like jewels.

Your Imbolc yarn is stunning.

EGunn said...

We're just beginning to notice the days lengthening here. It's coming!
The Brigid yarn is you know why there is no twisting of yarn on her day? I love the legends and bits of history that peep through on your blog.

The Bulgarian women look like they'd be lovely to talk to. Language barriers are so unfortunate sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Such an interesting post - as always!

We're starting to feel a hint in the air that spring may be on the way, but I can't imagine seeing a crocus already!

It's so interesting to get glimpses of those different cultures. Thank you for sharing your stories and photos!

Jean said...

Your photos are so full of life, they seem to reach out and grab your attention. I so enjoy reading your blog, It feels as though I'm sitting and chatting with a friend.

dawnbrocco said...

Hi Jo,
I love reading about your travels and always enjoy your local jaunts and the accompanying photo!

I've nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger Award! - specs are on my blog.

Much Happy Knitting to You!

Wudas said...

Please!! A new post?

Granny Sue said...

Where oh where have you gone? I hope all is well. Computer crash, perhaps?

Blogger said...


Get professional trading signals delivered to your cell phone every day.

Follow our signals right now & gain up to 270% per day.