Sunday, November 10, 2013

Season of Mists and Making Preparations

Because it does creep up on you, doesn't it?  The festive period, I mean.  One minute you're enjoying the late summer sunshine and gathering apples from the reliable old tree in the back garden, the next you're lighting the woodstove at four in the afternoon and frantically calculating how many pairs of wristwarmers you can get finished in time.

Just cast off this first Estonian-style comfy gauntlet and must now cast on for the second.  I've made these (Nancy Bush's Colorful Cuffs, as I recall) before, but only short little pulse comforters.  These are longer, to give more of the snuggle factor on bleak winter days.

Which it's been here lately. Bleak, I mean.  If there is any cloud or rain going, then West Cork gets it, with a double dose at weekends.  Chilly too.

The cats have quickly realised that dogs make a good hot water bottle and Podge, although he treats canines with amused contempt most of the time, is quick to take advantage of a sleeping Tamzin.  Can you see, he's actually parked right on top of her, to get maximum warmth?

Whenever there is a bright moment, a break in the clouds, though, Taz and Lucy (yes, the Lucy Claire brigade won the day and that's her name from now on) head for the orchard to play games.  Those of you who enquired if the puppy's arrival helped Taz to overcome her nervousness and bad memories, see if this will convince you.

She adores the little monster and will patiently endure having her ears chewed, her tail tugged, all sorts of indignities and discomfort.  Now and again, after a particularly energetic session, you will find her sneaking off to the highest chair she can reach, to get some rest before the next bout.

Yes, I did say 'monster.'  Lucy is one tough little scallywag, afraid of nothing, jolly as the day is long, and always, but always ready to play.  Gosh, aren't puppy teeth sharp?

We did have one scare with her a week or so back when she went for her booster shots.  Within minutes of getting home, her eyes were swelling up, her skin, underneath the fur, had gone bright red, and she was showing signs of extreme distress.  Broke all records getting her back to the vet who provided antidotes to the evident reaction and took her home for the night.  Fretted and worried until next morning when I could at last collect her again (none the worse, brighter and chippier than ever) and bring her home to Taz who had gone into a positive decline at the loss of her precious charge.  Put puppy down on the lawn and let Taz out of the house to discover her.  Taz's hysterical delight as she realised Lucy was back, her dancing and rushing around and licking and barking, was lovely to see.

Oh yes, I almost forgot.  Not only is Tamzin more than qualified to receive her Yarnslayer medal already, but Lucy is showing incredible aptitude in that direction also.  Leave a project or a basket of yarns unattended at your peril.  I thought the cats were bad, but they just run off with a single ball and dab it around underneath the furniture in a sort of cats-cradle game.  The Dastardly Duo attack each skein or ball as they would a good piece of steak - holding it down with both front paws while hauling up succulent mouthfuls.  I never thought any animal could make such a chaotic mess of a neat basket of  yarns in such a short time.  And no, I didn't take pictures.  I was too busy shrieking.

Fortunately they didn't get hold of the new festive range of yarns I dyed up during the last bright spell and hung out to dry in the orchard.

These are the Silver and Gold range, where a fine thread of glimmering luxury runs through the soft merino fingering, making it irresistible for gifts and general festive projects.

Here is Moonsilver,

and Rose Gold.  You may not be able to see the lovely glimmers of silver and gold in these pictures, but believe me, they're there.

Have also been busy making up some more Special Shawl Kits because it appears everyone wants them at this time of  year.

They look cute as anything tucked among the moss-covered rocks in the orchard, with ferns leaning over in admiration, but I had to whisk them back indoors pretty rapidly as Lucy was about to launch herself upon them with gay abandon.

We went out to Lough Ine recently, to see if we could get a really nice shot of the ancient well there, traditionally resorted to for eye troubles.

Our editor thought it might be good as a cover picture for De Next Book and I'm inclined to agree.  It's marvellous to see a place like this in the depths of the woods, clearly well resorted to by all kinds of people all the time, as the little offerings and tokens placed all around or hung on the trees show.  Oh the old ways may not be immediately visible in Ireland today, but they're only just underneath the surface, that's for sure.

On the way back we stopped at Bandon to look at the weir which was well flooded after heavy rain.  DH decided to try a slow exposure of a motionless heron against the rushing water.  I thought you might like to see it.  Isn't it beautiful?

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Proliferating Projects, Picking Blackberries, Visiting The Cailleach - oh, and Enlarging the Household...

I've fallen victim to that dreaded virus, Proliferation of Projects.  There are so many on the go that I am starting to forget the ones in the study while picking up a stray one in the dining room, and ignoring the several in the bedroom.

There is the Raven Shawl, for example, being worked from my very own handspun yarn.  Oh I'm hugely proud of making something right from the fleece, there's no denying that.  And it's a lovely pattern, just right for wandering in the autumnal woods and pretending you're a bird woman.  But it went on and on, and then one day, while looking simultaneously at a big pack of Noro Silk Garden yarn in my favourite colourway (08) and at my knitting machine, I conceived the idea of making a jacket in strips - the Panel Jacket if you're on Ravelry.  Handknit or machine, I wondered.  And then, 'Why not both?'  Two separate jackets, two different methods, let's see which is faster and which looks better in the end.

On the left, two strands of Shetland in Persian blue, machine knit, with cables every 10 rows.  On the right, two strips of handknit Noro, because I never can resist seeing if one ball knits up differently to another (it always does).   Machine knit jacket will be lighter, thinner, Noro handknit much thicker.  No, they're neither of them finished.  What a surprise!

More than enough to be going on with.  But then, in a wicked moment, my eye fell on some utterly gorgeous pale silver grey Norwegian silk/alpaca yarn which I'd bought (with a second mortgage of course, you know Norway) some time ago.  And I remembered the beautiful Japanese vest pattern I'd had for ages.

Now this pattern, as tends to be the case with Japanese designs, is so complicated you need three sets of eyes and five sets of hands, plus concentration and will power.  You can't take your eyes off the chart(s) for a moment or you're sunk.  Oh stunningly beautiful, no doubt about that.  But demanding.  Seriously demanding.

See?  No sense.

But last week we had one of those days given from the gods so all projects were dropped (can you imagine working a Japanese pattern in a bumpy car on a twisting road?  No, I couldn't either) and headed down to the Beara Peninsula.  Editor of De Next Book had indicated that a couple more images of still-utilised pagan sites might be handy, and where better to go than the Cailleach Beara, The Wise Woman, the Ancient One, who stands in lonely splendour at the very end of the peninsula that bears her name.

The clouds were just floating over the hills at the other side of Dunmanus Bay, and there was a warm breeze with the scent of heather and damp earth.

Went to pay our respects first to the Ballycrovane Stone, which stands on a hilltop outside Eyries.  This is a really massive old monument, fully 17' high, and there is probably as much buried under the modern landscape as there is showing above.  It's also one of the few stones with ogham inscriptions that has been left where it belongs rather than carried off to a university museum, and for that we must be grateful.

Here is a closeup of the ogham, painstakingly etched along the edge of the stone uncountable aeons ago.  It can be roughly translated as 'Of the son of Deich, descendant of Torainn.'

There were many offerings on the Cailleach, some older and rusting away, some very recently placed.

This caught my attention:  a beautifully assembled little token, sea-smoothed driftwood and a little carved pottery figure, tied with wool.  I wonder what the story was behind that offering?

There was a very nice American lady there who said she'd been attending a retreat locally and they had come as a group to visit the Cailleach several days earlier.  She was due to return to the States at the end of the week, and wanted to come back here by herself for a quiet moment.  So we left her to the peace and power of the place.  Whoever you were, I hope you got back home safely, and that something of the Cailleach will have passed into you.

The ruins of Kilcatherine Church stand a little further on along the coastline, and we thought we'd better pay our respects to the ancient cat too, while we were at it.

I know I've shown pictures of the Kilcatherine Cat before, but not for quite a while, so here's a closeup for you to decide whether you think it does look like a feline or not.  It's certainly ancient, and the tradition has always been that it is the Kilcatherine Cat, so perhaps better not to doubt the tradition.  You'd never know what might happen.  And again, one does wish one knew the story behind the legend.

The dogs were panting by this time, so we had a stroll by the water near Glengarriff.

Gosh, the blackberries were ripening finely.  Simply cannot pass a bush of ripe blackberries without reaching for a bag and gathering as many as possible.

Fingers get soaked in rich purple juice, clothes get torn on the brambles, and it's hot work, but how could you leave them there?  Every one that drops into the bag speaks of winter evenings and glowing pots of jam on high shelves, pies emerging smiling from the oven, crumbles and cordials and all the other comforts that bring peace to the heart with the knowledge of harvest safely gathered in.

Finally we made our way to Dereensaggart stone circle, outside Castletownbere.  There were still flowers starring the grass around the ancient site, even in September, and I noticed a few little bunches tucked here and there in crevices of the individual stones.  Clearly visitors still know that respect should be paid to such places.

And then it was time to head back, weary dogs very glad to climb into the car and collapse for a well-earned sleep while we turned the car for home.

Hang on, wait a cotton-pickin' MINUTE, I hear you cry.  Who's THAT?  The little raccoon-eyed thing there between you and Tamzin? Ah well, yes.  I know, I know, we have quite enough of a zoo here already, with two dogs and two cats, each one a roaring individualist and demanding of special attention.  But Sophy Wackles is getting elderly.  She's stiff in the joints and inclined to be grumpy when Tamzin - only recently starting to discover the joys of playing and having fun,  you will realise - wants to romp and jump and tangle. Sophy snaps, sulks, shuffles off to bed.  And Tamzin wonders what she's done wrong.

No, it couldn't go on like that.  I knew you'd agree.  And so the hunt was on.  It took a bit of time.  You have to know, the second you see them.  You have to fall in love on the spot.  Anything else just won't do.

And finally, it did happen.

Little Shih-tzu puppy, just eight weeks old, was tiny enough to be tucked into my desk drawer here where I work at the computer.

 Taz took to her instantly, and constituted herself Baby's minder-in-chief, ensuring that she got her vitamins and that cats didn't interfere.  ('I just want to know what on earth it is,' said Pollywog in fascination.)  And when Sophy started to glower, Tamzin was instantly there, placing herself between them and clearly letting Sophy know that she wouldn't stand any bullying.

Sophy is now enjoying a little more peace and quiet.  Puppy is getting more rambunctious by the day, tearing here, there and everywhere, chewing everything she can find, developing quite a firm little 'wuff' of her own when she thinks it's mealtime (puppies always think it's mealtime).

But did it work?  Did Tamzin  rediscover the joys she had never had as a baby herself, of tussling and rolling over and chasing with someone who enjoyed it to the full?  Running from one end of the garden to the other with a companion, leaping and dodging and generally having free and happy FUN?

Yes.  She's still very gentle with smallest one, but you can see her gradually strengthening the nibbles, the pushes, as the puppy gains strength.  And she is so, so much happier and playful, it would bring tears to your eyes.  They are going to have many contented years together.

No, you're absolutely right.  I haven't mentioned her name.  That is because we simply can't make up our minds.  Babyboots or Chucklechops are fine for now, but what about when she's a beautiful and elegant fully-grown Shih-Tzu?

  Buttercup?  Sasha Alexandrovna?  Tatiana of Tana Bru?  Saffron?  Lucy Clare? Little Egypt?  Princess Shan Li?  Lady Precious Stream?


Thursday, July 11, 2013

In Which Much Yarn is Spun and Tamzin Takes a Dip

It's been extraordinarily hot here in West Cork over the past couple of weeks.  OK, not such soaring temperatures as you get in Texas or SoCal, but well above anything we are used to.  And it doesn't cool down much at night which is tiring when you don't have air conditioning.  Don't have air conditioning, I hear you shriek? Listen, for about 99 years out of a century, air conditioning in Ireland would be a bit like an ice-making machine in Alaska.  Getting enough wood dry to keep the stove going is a more usual concern.  But this summer is very different.  Never thought I'd be yearning for the soft dampness after rain, the misty clouds on the hilltops, but I am.  Can't feel comfortable with pitiless clear blue skies day after day.

Ah well, doubtless it will change back to the old style soon enough.  In the meantime, spare a thought for those exhausted cyclists slogging up the Pyrenees and the Alps during the Tour de France.  I've been thinking about them quite a lot more than usual, because this is also the season of the Tour de Fleece on Ravelry.  You know how 'spinning' is the term for creating yarn out of fleece, and it's also now commonly used as a description of stationary cycling in a fitness centre?  Well somebody linked those two together and in Tour de Fleece you spin every day that the competitors are cycling, take rest days when they do, and on the most challenging day of the Tour de France (I think it's Day 18, coming up soon, when they tackle the frightening fastnesses of the unforgiving Alps) you are supposed to take on a challenge of your own - spin straw into gold, create ultra-fine silken yarn out of a hog's ear, something like that.

My chosen fibre was a beautiful soft grey Gotland roving which I had bought ages ago from World of Wool in Yorkshire, on hearing that the creators of the Lord of the Rings movies had insisted only that fleece would do to create the grey Elven cloaks worn by Frodo and his friends on their adventures.  Who could resist spinning a magical yarn like that?  And, having spun some, it seemed entirely natural to start knitting with it - a Mithril Vest to protect the wearer from dangerous dragons and evil Black Riders.  Here you can see some bobbins of just-spun yarn on the Haldane Orkney, together with some balls of yarn wound up, and the start of the vest.  The idea is to get it all done in perfect timing with the finale of the Tour de France in Paris.

 Also had a go at spinning silk,  Finally twigged that you need a very light hand indeed to spin such a slippery fine fibre, so hauled out the lightest spindle in my collection.

It didn't do too badly.  Made quite a respectable skein of about 40 yds or so.  Only another 5 or so of those, and I just might be able to make a tiny neck scarf!  But hey, I did it!

Actually it's quite fun getting yarn spun and plied, winding skeins, washing them and hanging them out to dry in this fine weather.  But by yesterday it was definitely time for a bit of a break.  Somewhere with water, please!

Eagle Rock - Sliabh an Iolar - on Killarney's Upper Lake.  This canoeist had the right idea, paddling through the calm clear water without the slightest ruffle of a breeze.

The dogs had been suffering a bit in the heat, so it was time for a dip.  Sophy is well used to it, and lost no time in finding a nice shallow spot and lying down with a sigh of satisfaction.  Tamzin was very nervous, but once she had been firmly placed in a safe spot with cool water lapping around her knees, she gradually relaxed and sank down, her eyes widening with surprise as the water cooled her hot little tummy.  Had a job getting them out of there!

And then we sat in the shade of the trees near Lord Brandon's Cottage, once a decorative little place for the gentry to be rowed up to for picnics from the great houses of Killarney, now a very pleasant cafe.

We did have a mission.  Hadn't been to see the Kissane sheep farm for a couple of years and wanted to see that they were OK and managing in this unpredictable weather we've been having for the last while.  John was in good form, demonstrating sheep herding (or shepherding) to visitors with the help of his able team of dogs. I love hearing his calls and cries of guidance which go back into the mists of time.  'Come bye, come bye!  Go left, go left, go left! Look back, look back, look back!'  And the dogs double and turn and run and round up the sheep and drive them in exactly the direction they are told to.  How long does it take to train a good sheep dog?  Years.  And you might pay a lot for a good one, says John, and then find that it will never do.  'It might be fine for cattle, but no good at all with sheep.  You just can't tell until you work them.'

John's son, Sean, a sturdy five-year-old, wanted to show us his rescue pony.  What was his name, we asked?  'Sweet horse' said Sean firmly.  And went off to help his Dad in the Adopt a Sheep department which was proving very popular with visitors.  Just imagine, you could go home to your own part of the world, knowing that there was a little Irish sheep living in the depths of the Kerry mountains who belonged to you!.  It's also a practical idea, attracting tourism and enabling sheep farming to continue here in the face of ever rising costs and overseas competition.

Here is one of the sheepdogs trudging back up the hill after a quick trip to the stream for a drink.  Not a bad place for a dog to live - with Magillicuddy's Reeks and the Black Valley stretching for miles, and nothing to be heard but the baa of a sheep or the call of a raven overhead.  A peaceful life indeed.  Even if he does have a demanding day job.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Fields of Gold

 You'll remember me, when the west wind moves, among the fields of barley,
You'll forget the sun in his jealous sky, among the fields of gold.

I've always loved that song.  Recently I was reviewing a ballet performance and the highlight for me was an exquisitely performed group piece to the song, the dancers' long dresses swaying in unison, just like a field of barley does in the west wind.  

The view from our windows for the past week or so has truly been of a field of gold.  Not barley in this case, but buttercups.  Bright, gleaming, golden buttercups in such profusion they certainly give the sun something to be jealous about.

It's nice to sit by the window and enjoy that splendour while gently teasing a small dog with your bare feet.  Still nervous of a sudden outstretched hand, Tamzin feels quite safe with bare feet and even nibbles them sometimes.

The project?  That's the Nine Point Charm crochet shawl which I'm working in two different colourways of silk laceweight.  Podge in the background, enjoying a comfortable nap.  He can take buttercups or leave them alone, he says.  But a nap is always a good idea.

DH took his little pop-up tent hide down to the buttercup field to get pictures of the baby rabbits playing amid the flowers.  But he kept getting distracted.

First there was a coal tit, bringing food to its hungry youngsters,

and then there were tiny wild field pansies among the buttercups to be photographed.  These aren't as plentiful as they used to be, but we probably have he fact that this field belongs to an organic farmer to thank for their presence.

Finally settling down to concentrate on the bunnies, he heard a rustle just outside the hide.

Hey, this is my path through the woods to the field!  What are you doing here?

Meanwhile Tamzin waited worriedly on the boundary of the garden, to make sure he got back safely.  Can't be too careful, with those Wild Woods down there at the end of the field, you know!  All kinds of nasty horrid creatures with evil eyes and grasping paws.  Much better come home!

He got the baby rabbits in the end, though.  This tiny little fellow can hardly see over the flowers, having to stand up on his hind legs to discover where his siblings have gone.

Where are you?  I can't see you!

Here is their worried parent, scenting that there's a fox about.  Look at that streamlined body!

As well as being buttercup time, it's sheep season here in West Cork and last weekend we went along to the International Sheep Shearing and Wool Handling Festival at nearby Millstreet.

It was great fun.  Frantic sheep baaing all over the place, competitors working in controlled fury to get their fleeces cut as smoothly and perfectly as possible, the scent of wool constantly assailing you, and lots of lovely real people, every one of them an expert, whether they kept one sheep or five hundred.  There were contestants from Ireland, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Norway - all over, in fact.

You couldn't hope to hide an accidental double snip, or, heaven forfend, a tiny nick on the skin.  Every move was watched, and the clock ticked inexorably.  The pressure must have been severe.

This is George Graham from Wexford, who emerged the proud All-Ireland Record Holder for shearing and also the All-Ireland Wool Handling Champion.  He is PRO for the Irish Sheep Shearing Society too,and gets around the world quite a bit, judging and commenting at different shows.  He even knows Vardo and Vadso, up in the furthest northern reaches of Norway, which DH and I thought we were the only ones to discover!  'I've worked at the most northerly sheep farm anywhere,' he said.  'Do you know the one on that narrow road along Varangerfjord, on the way out to Vardo?'  We did.  Funny to think that George might well have been there at the same time as us on one of our visits.  Apparently the sensible Norwegians shear their sheep indoors, and they also lamb indoors.  Then when the summer finally arrives, around June, mothers and children can all go out together.

Met several old friends there.  Remember Daniel P. Buckley, whom I posted about way back in 2006?  (Find it here, Where Yarn Begins, if you can't.)  Back then he was a little pessimistic about the future of wool and sheep in Ireland, but here he was, as bright as ever, and with his two children helping him still.  Back in 2006, Una and Daniel Jr. were very small;  now they're 14 and 12 respectively, and experts at sorting the poor fleece from the good stuff.  'I always like to keep them involved in real things like this,' says Daniel.  'They need to have their feet on the ground in today's world, and working with the old traditions and the old ways is the best method I know of achieving that.'

And who should be demonstrating the traditional craft of spinning with some of that lovely freshly-sheared fleece but my dear friend Mairead Sharry from Inisheer, the littlest Aran Island.  Mairead is nearly the same age as me, and I was delighted to see her wearing purple, even to her new punk hairdo.  She runs the most amazing art and craft classes on Inisheer - dyeing, felting, weaving, crochet, and of course Aran knitting.  Writes children's books too.  Great girl, Mairead.  Go check her out here.

We've been going round the countryside during the month of May, photographing examples of the old traditions for De Next Book.  One particularly lovely custom that you can still find in the rural areas is that of placing branches of May or hawthorn over stable doors, and tying little knots of flowers on doors to bring luck

I've always been fond of this little ruined cottage near Ballyvourney and, on an impulse, stopped to pick a few flowers from the roadside verges and make a small nosegay to show it that it's still loved and thought about.  Well, why not?  I bet it remembers happy times when young children ran in and out, while mother fed the hens or milked the cow, and granny sat by the fire knitting and watching the potatoes boil for dinner.  It's done good service in its life, and just because it hasn't got central heating, wall to wall carpets, and plastic replacement windows, is no reason to ignore it.  Good on you, little cottage.  I'd buy you if I could, and put a smile back on  your face.  Until then, these flowers might give you a nice feeling.