Thursday, December 28, 2006

Now That's Over, Let's Get Back To Knitting - Please?

I will admit to being somewhat relieved that the whole Christmas thing is over. I love it, but really it does create an awful lot of extra hassle and stress, doesn't it? Clean this, tidy up that, decorate the tree, bake some more mince pies, discover when the post arrives that there are twenty-seven people to whom you omitted to send cards, run out of firewood, saw another load, buy far more food than necessary... but you all have lists just like that, don't you? We're all victims of the great pressure to make this time of year perfect when life just isn't like that. And with all that extra work, how many of you found any time at all for knitting? I certainly didn't. Oh I meant to. I kept looking forward to it, promising myself a lovely relaxing session, 'once that's done, once I've finished those, once...' It just never happened.

Of course we were working over Christmas. I didn't have any problem with that, since those with small children definitely need the time off more than we do; but it did mean that there wasn't much time for slouching in front of a television set with a strong drink and an open box of chocolates conveniently close. Just for a little while, it would have been nice to kick back and be an absolute sloven, you know?

But Christmas Day in West Cork means enthusiastic swimmers so out we sallied at an early hour to catch first one lunatic lot and then another, on chilly windswept beaches where waves roughly the temperature of an Arctic ocean crashed and beckoned.

Here they are, tearing towards the water.

Even Santa got in on this lot, although I noticed that he wore his long woollen underwear which was probably sensible. And I'll tell you one thing - nobody stayed in too long. About ten seconds was the average. Lookit, Irish waters in midsummer are so cold they almost burn your skin. On December 25 - well, imagine it for yourself. Me, I never go into the sea unless I'm in Goa or Kerala. Mountain streams now and again, but not the cold grey Atlantic.

And after the freezing swimsuits had been stripped off and rough towels applied, there was of course a drop of the hard stuff dispensed from the back of a van to all and sundry (no, no, honestly, the kids were having hot soup, I checked).

By the time we got home we were ready to relax ourselves, but the dogs were waiting for their present opening session so that had to come first. They get a toy each from the local thrift store, and these are lined up in the sitting room so that each can choose her own. At least that's the plan, but naturally tempers fray and possession becomes nine tenths of the toy...

In this picture Muffy is losing her temper on the left while Sophie is being forcibly restrained from snatching both toys and retreating to the landing. Sophie really really wanted the little yellow lion...

and she did get to play with it for a while

before Nemesis in the shape of Muffy the Yarnslayer arrived

But it's ok, Sophie got a big brown squashy dog thing instead which cheered her up immensely. In the meantime of course, Senior Dog Tasha had quietly secured the blue teddy and retreated to the Doghouse where she spent the remainder of the day giggling quietly to herself.

This tiny doghouse has proved a huge success with Tasha who, although undoubtedly Senior Dog, sometimes suffers through being also the tiniest and therefore easily knocked over or threatened by her heavier companions. She took to the enclosed shelter like a duck to water and isn't likely to give it up. I've tied little bells to the top so that when you hear them jingling, you know she's fooling around in there.

On St. Stephen's Day (Boxing Day to you English, December 26 to the New World) the Poc Fada or Long Puck takes place on many Irish boreens. This is played by hurling enthusiasts who take turns to hit the ball as far as they can along the road.

It's nice to see it still being played with enthusiasm by all ages, even in a world where computers and playstations have taken over from older pastimes and long may it continue, although our roads are not as quiet as they used to be.

We also found time to wassail the apple trees on St. Stephen's Day. (That's pouring libations around their roots and wishing them well, for anyone unfamiliar with the custom.) We happen to have inherited quite a few bottles of utterly undrinkable home-made wine (and believe me, when I say undrinkable I really do mean it) which prove admirable for the purpose.

It also pleases me mightily to be able to return to the good earth that which came originally from it. May the trees wax strong this spring and bear beautiful pink and white blossoms.

Enough is enough, though. We have worked hard without break for what seems like a lifetime (a few months anyway). We have endured grey skies, rain, wind, more grey skies, more rain, more wind. And did I mention the grey skies? We may celebrate the solstice but in Ireland we know in our hearts that the worst is still to come. The days may be lengthening but the weather 'twixt now and the first daffodils is so awful in Ireland that a saint would emigrate. After all, St. Brendan had good reason to head for America in his little boat of skins. He'd had enough of the Irish winter too! Those of you who are thinking of visiting this little Emerald Isle, take heed and wait until March or April. Then you will be surprised by blossoms and enchanted by soft weather. But only its mother could love Ireland right now (well, maybe Angeluna too, who lives in a state where dry aridity is the norm and rain a welcome blessing).

All this leads up to the fact that we too are going to get the heck out of here for a week or two. Have to go over to the UK for a couple of jobs at the weekend anyway, and will grab a last-minute bargain at the airport after that. You know, the kind of thing where you can get a fortnight in the sun for a snip as long as you're ready to leave in ten minutes. Am packing a pair of shorts and a T shirt and bidding DH to do the same. Don't care where it is as long as it hasn't seen a rain cloud in ten years.

Yes, yes, I hadn't forgotten. I'll also take, as well as the shorts and T shirt, two or three WIPs. The Travelling Cables, you think? And perhaps the Celtic Vest. Plus one tiny sneaky little new project. I saw a nice shawl pattern in Nanci Wiseman's Shawls Stoles and Scarves and realised to my amazement that I actually had the yarn suggested! 'Tis no ordinary yarn either but Prism's Cool Stuff (yes, gasp away, I did have two skeins of that unbelievably expensive stuff squirrelled away for a rainy day, and is this one heck of a rainy day). I hauled it out and wound it into two balls, using my dear little antique swift.

You can see the Celtic Vest there in the background - it hasn't progressed much over Christmas. Hopefully I'll have more to show when I get back from this sun fix.

I will try to post while we're away, I promise. I just don't know if we'll be anywhere that has Internet access. Is it possible to find somewhere with the Net but without crowds and over-development? Probably not.

If all else fails, look for me around the end of the second week in January. I'll be thinking about all of you and missing you. But I'll be back, full of beans and chock-full of ideas for yet more new projects. Love you.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

'Twas The Night Before Christmas...

...and why does Christmas always have to be so busy? I thought that once the writing deadlines were out of the way, it would be time to relax and knit. Then I thought that once the shopping was really finally finished, it would be time to relax and knit. THEN I thought that once the presents were wrapped, the house tidied up, the dogs combed, the holly placed, the tree brought in and decorated, the ironing put away, it would definitely be time to relax and knit....

It's almost midnight. Santa, although not scheduled to leave the North Pole for another seventeen minutes or so, has probably left already, so as not to get caught up in the traffic jams at Caribou Crossing (yes, I watched Polar Express last night while ironing, doesn't everybody?) I have finished all the gifts, except for a quilt for my brother (he's not calling until tomorrow evening so that gives me a little extra time to do the hand-finishing on the border). Even the knitted gaiter or neck ring or polo neck minus the pullover for DH is done. It nearly wasn't, as I was working frantically away on the quilt for DB (my brother whom I love dearly never asks me for anything so when he diffidently suggested a couple of years back that I might make him a quilt I was deeply touched. He has a little camper van and wanted a quilt to put in there to make it homely.

Let me tell you right here and now that deep sisterly love plus being deeply touched at the request, despite the major total these make, do not add up to getting the job done immediately. Oh the intention was there, it was there in spades - but life got in the way. Last night, in the throes of utter pre-Christmas exhaustion, I reluctantly accepted that once more the deadline was gone and I hadn't made it. He'd have to wait another year.

But this morning, life didn't seem so bad. In between jobs, surely I could haul out the fabric, sew it together, make up the quilt top by lunchtime? If I could do that, then I could hack the rest of it during the evening.

I could, I did. It's almost done. I had to tear myself away from it this evening to ensure that DH's knitted gift got done and wrapped at ALL. Tomorrow, in between yet more jobs, will see DB's quilt completed and wrapped up, along with a basket of goodies, awaiting his arrival.

Yes, more jobs. Not my own, in actual fact, but DH's. He, given that several of his colleagues have produced tiny offspring this festive season (must be the climate, and yes, more quilts, more quilts, happily tiny ones!) has nobly offered to work Christmas Day (some poor photographers have to, else there would be no images in the next day's papers). And I can do no less than to accompany him, flask of reviving coffee and crisp rolls to the ready. So far we just have to cover two festive swims (brave folk indeed, and sooner them than me, and yes, you can be certain the whiskey bottles will be very much in evidence on the draughty Irish beaches tomorrow morning, and OK I will get pictures for you) and probably a few Christmas morning babies too, before retiring gratefully to our own fireside to open presents and give the dogs a bit of attention. They, I can reveal to you now (they're tucked up and dreaming of sausages, and won't be reading this until tomorrow) have a toy each from the local thrift store, plus one retreat bed (one of those tiny dog beds that is really a little house into which a reclusive sort of midget can retire if in a bad temper, and repel all invaders) to share. I've hung bells on the roof and from the entrance, and wait with interest to see which one has the courage to investigate first (my money is on Tasha, aka La Princesse Natasha de St. Petersburg) who knows no fear.

Being traditional in this household, we lit the Christmas candle a while ago, and set it in the window for a reasonable time, to light the Christ Child home. (The youngest in the house should have lit it, but Sophie cannot be trusted with matches). Then I switched on a programme on the Ballet Russes and opened a bottle of Kinsale Brewing Company's Christmas Ale. This is delightful season-only stuff, spiced with all kinds of aromatic goodies and it goes down very well with a chocolate or two and pleasant archive footage of Balanchine and Massine and Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova (interviewed that lady once and it was the first and only time I saw the photographers, hardened paparazzi to a man, drop their gear and stand to attention when she made her entrance, swathed in sables and looking superb despite her seventy-odd years).

Here, for you, our Christmas candle and a bottle of Kinsale Christmas Ale. I cannot do better than repeat the maxim on the label.

Nollaig shona dhuit. A happy Christmas to you and yours. May the night go well with you, and the day tomorrow, and may all those who pass your threshold feel the peace of Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

And Midwinter blessings to you all

It's the feast of Midwinter, and joyous the time. The solstice, and the turning back of the sun towards our darker lands. The fire is lit and a special dinner prepared. I have put on a long velvet skirt (with purple silk petticoat because I like the swishy sound), I'm wearing pearls and amethysts (not that any evil spirits would dare to approach on a night like this) and to be entirely practical on a raw foggy night, I have also pulled on knee length Ugg boots. I look great as long as I don't raise my skirts an inch from the floor. I have a huge glass of Chardonnay (OK so it should be mead or at least poteen punch, but I still have to get through dinner without falling asleep in a heap on the floor) by the computer as I type. Greetings to you all, and love on this Midwinter day.

Watched Irish news a little while ago on television, seeing the great annual event of Newgrange, where the rising sun at Midwinter pierces through a tiny slit in the great mound, pours down a long stone passage, and floods the central chamber with light. People beg, book, bribe to be there for that experience; but for you alone, here is a picture of a rather secret and special stone circle not twenty miles from my home here.

This is Lissyvigeen, which lies off the main Killarney road, up a side lane, through an old gateway, across two fields, past two huge sentinel standing stones, through a dark and tangled wood. You wouldn't come across it by accident, that's certain. We only heard about it by chance and went to pay homage. The picture was taken rather nearer to midsummer than now at midwinter, but the power of the place is evident, isn't it? Sometimes when I visit I find a little bunch of flowers or a budding branch placed in the centre of the circle. Others feel its power too.

We've had a welcome respite from wild winds and soaking rains over the past few days (sorry,Peg, I know you're still enduring dreadful conditions over there on Vancouver Island). We've been waking up to encircling mists and cold foggy days which are more festive in many ways than the damp mild rainy ones. It makes for great pictures too and DH has had a field day. The other morning he took a circuitous route to work via Dripsey Castle (most routes around here lead past castles in fact, so it's not that difficult) and found two graceful swans emerging from the mist.

And when I was in Killarney the other evening at dusk, the lake in front of Muckross House took on a strangely beautiful magic of its own as the mists rose.

There are times, I admit it, when I scream and stamp and rant for Joann's and Hobby Lobby and Michael's, when I yearn to live slightly closer than several thousand miles from somewhere - anywhere - that stocks rosewood circulars, but at times like this I know I am blessed to live in Ireland.

Enough of this. To the knitting, to the knitting. Geraldine, bless her heart and thoughtfulness, sent me a link to the marvellous See Eunny Knit . Just go over there and see those Bayerische socks! Go on - I'll have a sip (well, a slug really) of Chardonnay while you're gone.

Pretty spectacular, huh? Now I've got to get going on those. I simply can't live without trying them out. After the Dawn Brocco cutaway cables and the Travelling Cables cardi and the Celtic Vest and the Shepherd's Vest and the Charcoal Chunky Crop Cardi, that is. At the moment, working flat out on a GIFT FOR DH, which obviously can't be mentioned or pictured here (he reads this blog y'know, so be careful in your comments, but yes, he did know about the picture of rugby-playing Donncha in the semi-altogether, so it's all right).

Like Stephanie Pearl McPhee, I don't know why I'm always so shocked to find Christmas creeping up. It's not like it was unannounced or anything. And this week all the editors have been screaming for two weeks' copy in advance so they can sneak off and get drunk or love their families or something, so it's been pretty hectic. Wall to wall pantomimes every night too. (New World readers may be unfamiliar with pantomime but UK aficionados will nod sagely. Anyone who needs a brief history of pantomime and why it is essential to scream 'Oh no it's not!' several times throughout a performance, just let me know.)

I did get round to divesting Nicholas Bear of his customary sweater and jeans and dressing him up in his Santa outfit. Here he is in his rocking chair, prior to the divesting, with Sophie being somewhat suspicious (ok, I admit I bribed her with a doggie sweetmeat on Nicholas' knee).

(I really must clip her fringe before Christmas.)

And here he is, all dressed up for the festive season.

The briefcase holds his Swiss bank account, naturally. What else? (Actually this is a strange tale. Many long years ago I invented a background for Nicholas Bear, and decided he was really a Swiss banker. Then I decided he needed a (non-existent in teddy bear terms) brother, whom I christened Julius. Why? Oh I think it was because I'd found the tiny briefcase in a shop and it suggested banking. Anyway, years later, I was in Switzerland and discovered -guess what? Yes, there was a renowned financial firm headed up by Nicholas and Julius Baer. I thought I'd better not invent any more stories after that.

Now here's something very very special. I've kept it until last because it still moves me so much I wanted to wait a while. I got a tiny package in the post this morning, yes on Midwinter morn. It came all the way from Lapland, and in it I found...

Lene sent me these. And they arrived at the solstice. Aren't they the most beautiful things you ever saw? They brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. As they should to yours.

I'd better show you just how tiny these exquisite things are. Here is one of the miniature mittens, next to a ruler.

That glorious little thing is two inches long. Look at that thumb! It's all of 3/4 of an inch! Lene, did you knit it with fairy needles and gossamer yarn?

The mittens and the heart are bookmarks, and will be treasured and used for the rest of my life, on the most special of my books, but right now they're precious motifs which will be hung on the Christmas tree and honoured throughout this festive season.


Thank you.

Blessings of Midwinter.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Yet More Wonderful Cables

I definitely think I've got a bad addiction to cables at the moment. Cables and motifs and anything involving twisting several stitches out of alignment and back again at regular (or indeed irregular) intervals. Blame Elsebeth Lavold (whose wonderful Viking Patterns for Knitting arrived the other day, yay!) for creating such incredibly beautiful designs that you can't wait to try them out.

Funny thing about that Viking Patterns. I deliberately chose to order it from an English online bookstore because of the ruinous American postage. They then told me that it would in fact be sent from their American partners. OK, that was all right, the postage was still far lower than it would be if I'd ordered it directly from the US - didn't know how that worked, but I wasn't complaining. Then, remarkably quickly, the book itself arrived - not from the UK, not from the US, but from New Zealand! Now can you tell me how it is that I can order a book at reasonably fair postage from the UK, be told it will come from the US, and end up getting it very quickly, from NZ? Answers on a postcard please (that saves postage, you know).

And then, having drooled over the glorious patterns and designs in Viking Patterns, I was wandering peacefully around the Internet and came across the most amazing scarf pattern.

Willya look at that? Cables with no background, how cool can you be? (Pretty cool actually, when you see the width - or rather the thinness - of the scarf. Not for snowy conditions that one, but oh so beautiful.) This is the brainchild of Dawn Brocco who obviously has the kind of designing mind I wish I had but don't. I immediately ordered the pattern of course - and then berated myself ten seconds later for not having paid the extra dollar and downloaded it right away. But I sighed and settled myself to wait several weeks. Next day, however, I was still thinking about that scarf so went online again and found another of the amazing Dawn's designs - this time an Aran headband, ideal to wear on windy days if you find hats a bit claustrophobic.

Didn't hesitate, but paid to download a pdf file immediately and got going on it before I'd even taken a second to print off the pattern. Worked on it all evening and had it done by the next morning - it's one of those lovely little projects that you could make quickly as a gift.

Mine doesn't look quite as good as the original, I think, but that is because (a) I made it in a rather fine silk/cashmere ** and (b) I was a little too enthusiastic at the damp blocking stage and flattened it more than is really a good idea for Aran patterning. I've given it a gentle wash now and hopefully it will fluff up again. But isn't it a cute idea? And I've emailed Dawn Brocco to tell her I think her designs are stunning. Go and look at them - they're amazing. I'll make one in red next, I think. And the scarf pattern turned up in three days! So of course I had to get going on that too. Actually I've already started - in that red cashmere which has been feeling so upset since it was forcibly retired to the sidelines after the Alice Starmore contretemps. It's quite happy now, being used for something lovely, and I wanted a bright red scarf anyway.

[** No you do not know this fine silk/cashmere in natural. Nobody knows about it . It's mine, all mine and no it's not going on eBay along with the pastel shades of the same yarn that I'm listing at the moment, and it's not going NOWHERE, you understand? I've been hoarding it for ages and I want to make the Michael Kors Aran from the fall issue of Vogue Knitting in it. So you're not getting your paws on it. Not a chance. Not even chocolate bribery will work on this one.]

SPEAKING of being forcibly retired to the sidelines, I thought you might like a little sporting interest in here. A spot of rugby anyone? New World readers may be unfamiliar with rugby - it's a very rough game played with a rather odd-shaped ball by very burly young men who like being trampled in the mud. Now the Munster team (loud cheers, it's our local one) has been very successful lately, crushing all opposition, but the other day things got a little sticky on the pitch.

The rather tall young man in the middle, with the unusual taste in netherwear, is Donncha O'Callaghan, who is, in this picture, in the process of being sent off for inappropriate dress. Don't know quite how it happened, but he somehow became divested of his regulation issue shorts during a rather energetic scrum. Fortunately he had his lucky red undies on, or there might have been panic in the stands. This picture comes to you courtesy of the Irish Examiner, and you might well be able to read up the full front-page story on that worthy paper's website should you so care to do. Can't really imagine how it was front page news, can you? I mean, with politics and the weather and taxes to talk about...

Anyway I thought you'd like a little healthy sports input for a change.

Now back to the knitting. Took a short trip to London yesterday, hankering for a spot of big city retail therapy. England's capital at this time of year really isn't a good idea, but I wanted a change so took the risk and the early Ryanair flight (you can get these flights for ridiculously low prices if you book in advance - I think I paid about €40 including all taxes and charges for a day return). Headed straight for lovely Loop in the highly fashionable suburb of Islington.

I like this shop. It's tiny but has a great selection of the more unusual yarns, including Colinette and the Be Sweet range.

Susan, the owner, and Linda, who works with her, couldn't be more friendly and helpful. They were very patient with my scrabbling around among the Colinette skeins (they have that new sock yarn , Jitterbug, which comes in some incredible colour ranges) and even (albeit reluctantly) agreed to pose for one quick shot.

Susan's at the front here, with Linda behind her.

I had such a good time that I stayed far too long (remember I only had a few hours in London) and rushed off to my next hit, only to recall half a mile down the road that I'd forgotten my yarn, and had to go all the way back again.

Here's a laughing Linda bringing the bag out to me as I gasped in, breathless.

On the way down into Oxford Street I met the most delightful pup in fashionable winterwear.

No, it wasn't knitted, but he said his owner had promised him a cabled cardi for Christmas so he was hopeful.

Liberty of London is one of those legendary places you have to visit whenever you're in town, and I always do. It looks great at Christmas, especially when dusk is falling.

Inside it's just as dramatic, with galleries rising all around a central atrium, the whole lot in ancient dark polished wood - not a hint of steel or concrete anywhere.

The yarn department is tiny, just a corner off the floor which houses the famed Liberty print fabrics, but it does have some quite nice stock.

(After I'd taken this picture, one of the staff told me I wasn't allowed to photograph the yarn. Why on earth not? Did they think I was going to copy it? She was apologetic and said that they had lots of visitors who wanted to be photographed in front of their yarn shelves, but that it wasn't allowed, and that was that. I used the old ploy of saying fine, OK, I'd delete the pics right away, and working busily on my camera - and then doing nothing of the sort.)

Went to John Lewis as well, which is the other source of yarn in London (that's it, you've had the three central ones, there aren't any more unless you journey a fair way outside), but it was really too crowded and hot and unpleasant to take any pictures and they didn't have anything unusual - although I did succumb to a rather nice pattern book from Rowan.

With airport security as high as it is these days, you have to spend more time than you would like in the terminal, and I was back there in good time, getting a bit done on the Blackberry Pie socks on the train.

(Will have to get DH to take a better picture of these so you can see the little alternating cables clearly.)

It wasn't as bad as previously - only about an hour to get through security - so got home in reasonable time, but tired out all the same. A fairly moderate stash from the trip, but then it was as much for the quick fix of different place, different atmosphere, different sounds as anything else. I did take a picture of it, but it looks so awful that I think I'll wait until tomorrow and try again.

In the meantime, yes, the eagle-eyed among you have already noted that not only have I not reported in on the myriad WIPs, but I have started yet another one - the new red Dawn Brocco cabled scarf. (Hopefully you didn't notice that I started and finished a tiny project overnight, so that doesn't really count.) This has got to stop. From now until Christmas, only current projects and gifts - in fact only gifts now that I come to check the date - are to be allowed. I must go and change my beloved teddy bear's clothing from his customary casual sweater and jeans to his Santa Claus outfit, and look out the decorations first, though. 'Tis time, 'tis time.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Midwinter Is Out, And Not A Moment Too Soon!

I mean, it's already December 10, right? Thursday week is the winter solstice, so it was high time I got down to it and made the creative thoughts that have been playing havoc in my mind for weeks do their bit. I finally finished making up the latest Celtic Memory Yarn this afternoon, named for the ancient festival of Midwinter (appropriated and redefined as Christmas by the Church of course, since they couldn't root it out altogether). When I'd skeined it up, I took it down to the Kerry forests to photograph it in a suitable location, but the high winds and heavy rain really didn't make that feasible so instead I cut branches of brightly-red-berried holly, collected lichened sticks and moss, and came home again to photograph it there.

I wanted it to reflect all the ancient instinctive traditions that we still follow without quite knowing why - collecting greenery and berries, eating and drinking, giving gifts to each other, celebrating in these darkest days of winter because at last the year is turning.

Listed it just now on eBay, along with several non-designer yarns (including that lavender/purple cashwool you were asking about, UK Jo , and some more of those silk/cashmere yarns in pastel shades - not the one I'm using for the Travelling Cables and was using for the Hiking Scarf, but a slightly finer spun yarn with more of a sheen). That will be the last listing of yarns before Christmas, I think, and in the case of the Celtic Memory Midwinter, I hope people will buy it quickly, as otherwise the usual log jam in pre-Christmas posting might mean they won't get it until the New Year. But that's OK too, the magic in it works right through to February 1, which is the festival of Imbolc, dedicated to the goddess Brid or Brigit. It's a bit of a b-r to work on, with yarns all over the place and me frantic trying to find just the right blend to put in a particular place, but it's a great feeling when it's done.

Have you seen the instructions for those delightful felted beads on How nice that site is and how
grateful I am to have it! She must be the most charming person, to provide us with all this pleasure. Must make the beads when I get more than ten consecutive seconds together. I did have a little time yesterday, after the Saturday morning lecture to journalism students, but instead I spent it out and about searching for even more cute little clear plastic totes to hold my ever-increasing WIPs. Now that I have my eye in for these desirable objects, I see them everywhere, at very affordable prices. Trouble is, they always have something else tucked inside - soft toys, games, make-up, appalling plastic high heels for kids... what do you do with these contents when all you want is the container? Anyway, I got a really nice one for €5.99, which is about US$7 or thereabouts:

This one had questionable bath gels, scrubs, etc, which are now sitting on a shelf waiting to be used somehow. Oh I know - the dogs could do with a beauty treatment before Christmas, couldn't they? At least they'll smell nice! And the little tote now happily carries my Celtic Vest WIP.

Isn't it perfect for the job? I feel even better when I see how much they're charging in magazines for knitting totes! And the Celtic Vest itself is progressing beautifully, with none of the problems which bedevilled the Eriskay. I've got up the back quite a good way, and have actually completed my very first Lavold motif (loud cheers from the onlookers). Well, it was an achievement for me anyway, because I'd been worried about it, but it wasn't that difficult in the end if you kept an eye on the increases and decreases.

Not bad, eh? And an utterly pleasurable experience after the Selkie of Stornoway I can tell you!

Anne, thank you so very much for the clear and helpful tips on toe-up socks. Now that I know it doesn't have to be the thrice-dreaded Figure 8 cast-on, I'll try with the next pair. I really really want to be able to make the leg as long as my yarn will allow, and I can't plan that way when working top-down. Not when I have a limited amount of yarn anyway - it wouldn't be a problem, I suppose, if I were using a cone.

And the Travelling Cables Cardi is progressing too! Angeluna you are once, twice, three times a lady for sending me that pattern - there's a little lucky bag on its way to you even as we speak. I'm finding it far easier than I feared, and got up to the waistline at the back with no difficulty at all.

The smooth silk/cashmere seems to love the pattern too, and is behaving beautifully, showing off the stitches with really sharp definition. And I like the way Karabella has worked out a way to make the cables travel by increases and decreases rather than the old and tiresome method of cross-cabling constantly. I'm getting on to that stage next, so hope the luck holds out.

And those of you who bewailed the passing of the Irish Hiking Scarf in the same yarn, please don't be upset about it. It was just that I needed a good skein of washed silk/cashmere right away, and didn't want to wait. It isn't a problem - cabled scarves I can do in my sleep and it wouldn't take me half an hour to get back to the stage I was at anyway. Besides I wanted to try the scarf in the lavender/purple cashwool... Don't you get times when you can't wait to try how a particular yarn will look in a particular pattern or stitch?

With all this work going on (and the day job too, which is going to be a real beast between now and Christmas, as everyone wants several weeks work written up ahead, so they can go off on a break), the only chance I get to work on the Blackberry Pie socks is when I'm forcibly kept away from other tasks.

Like sitting in the car. DH took this one while we were stationary in a traffic jam (he has been known to shoot pictures when actually driving, but don't try that at home, please - after all it's his job! And truly he only does it when he's chasing someone who really really doesn't want to be photographed like a minor Royal or an incognito film star.)

There is every chance that Christmas will be missed this year entirely if a move on isn't instigated right NOW.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

TUESDAY? It can't be! I haven't cast on yet!

I swear I don't know who's moving these days along. Before we know where we are, there will be carol singers at the front door and no tree up yet, nor greenery draped around. To say nothing of new Midwinter yarns created, skeined up and on eBay. Get going Celtic Memory, 'tis that time of year!

But I have been busy. Truly I have. First of all, there is that little matter of Starmore and the Red Sweater KAL. That has been sorted. Mostly by banishing the witch - no, sorry, I can't find a cross-out on my text indicator, that should have read lady - Starmore until I can cope with her better. In her place has come a perfectly charming Fenno-Scandian called Lavold with a perfectly beautiful Celtic Vest. This I am knitting in a triple-skeined poppy-red lambswool (spun in Scotland but don't hold your breath, Starmore, and hold off on the writs, I doubt very much if this is one of yours), and so far I am amazed to say it is progressing beautifully.

Nope, I took this picture, not DH. Yes, I know you can tell. You probably can't even see the cute little cables up either side of the back slit, nor the gradual widening out into the first of many Lavold motifs. But I'm loving the Lavold and it's so good tempered after OTHERS I COULD MENTION that this I believe, hope and pray, will be a happy relationship. More on it as we progress.

Then there's the Charcoal Crop Cardi to Celtic Memory's Own Design. That is going well too. A trip to a very damp frogpond (it seems to have been raining and blowing a gale here since forever), when it was discovered that 40 sts was far too wide for a sleeve. (Don't you just love it when 40 sts is too wide? Isn't it the height of luxury to go back to just 30 sts and work 12 rows of garter stitch, followed by - oh, I don't know, about 20 rows of pattern? Ah the heady delights of ultra-chunky yarn! Here's the resized sleeve so far.

All right, I know you can't see anything here either. DH was busy, OK? Take my word for it, there are 12 rows of garter stitch (why is it called garter stitch anyway?), followed by about eight rows so far of st st with a central panel of twist stitches to give it a bit of character. If I don't finish this cardi soon, the crop style will be out of fashion.

THEN there is the Travelling Cables KAL. Now sit up and take notice you lot. I want a WHOLE LOT MORE OF YOU out there and joining in on the Travelling Cables KAL. You can find the link on my sidebar, but you can just as easily look it up for yourselves. For heaven's sake, this is the most beautiful pattern you've ever seen or are likely to see this side of Tibb's Eve. Just look at it! Pure Karabella, every inch of it.

Lene , wouldn't your daughter look stunning in that jacket? She certainly would. Just ask her. Karen, this is the most restrained, English-style design I have ever seen. GO for it! Angie just show it to Holly. Just SHOW it to her, that's all. And the rest of you, go right over there to the Travelling Cables KAL and join up THIS INSTANT. I expect to see a whole lot of you telling me you've done so by TOMORROW MORNING, OK?

(Oh it's just that I hate to knit a new pattern alone...)

And the reason I have this pattern at all is because the adorable the wonderful Angeluna SENT it to me. It was there in my letterbox tonight when I crawled in, fierce of temper and ready to kill the first dog that crossed my path. A lovely envelope from Texas with the Travelling Cables pattern there and all willing to be used. Angeluna, you are the best. The best.

(To digress. I have actually been in to Schoolhouse Products or School Yarns or whatever they call themselves, the Karabella folk, in Manhattan, down on Broadway. It's upstairs, through a complicated system of doors and lifts, and it's quite small and crowded but utterly amazing in the way of yarns. All the Karabella range and all their stunning patterns. Plus cones of one-offs from Italy, France, anywhere. Not particularly cheap, but quite an experience. I'd go back. And one of my favourite hotels in the world, the Herald Square, is right round the corner.)

Digression completed.

I have to admit something. This superb design deserved to be made in nothing less than the famed, the legendary silk/cashmere twine-thing. Yes, the yarn that is of unimpeachable pedigree but which has, on first washing, the scent of the midden. It's fine after that first washing, but at the instant of getting that pattern into my hot greedy little hands the only washed silk/cashmere I had to hand was the big ball already in use on the Irish Hiking Scarf KAL. (The first one to suggest I have joined too many KALs had better keep an ear open for noises in the night. We Celts can move further and faster than you imagine!)

Well what do you think I did. Out the window went scarf, in vague direction of frog pond (hadn't got very far with it actually, but please don't tell anyone over on the Irish Hiking Scarf KAL, OK?) In came the Travelling Cables pattern. Haven't got very far yet, but hey, it's early days.

By tomorrow I confidently expect to be halfway up the back. That's if life doesn't get in the way.

And the Blackberry Pie socks (yarn courtesy of the adorable Ms Knitingale ) are at last on their way again, after a pause. I'd been having some difficulty with these, mainly because I'd decided that little cables would be nice running down the leg. The 2.5mm rosewoods were just too fine, made too harsh a texture on the soft hand-dyed yarn. I decided to switch to some nice 3mm Brittany birches for the main part of the sock and bingo, things went better at once.

(Really must get DH to come and take the next lot of pictures. You can't even see the cunning little cables on this, but believe me, they're there.)

So did I just callously abandon the Irish Hiking Scarf and all the centuries of heritage for which it stands, you cry? No I didn't. It gave me the excuse (and in fact I'd been lying awake in bed last night, listening to the wind roaring over the hillsides and thinking about this yarn) to skein up some utterly divine cashwool in a lovely shade of purple lavender.

Cashwool is actually a supersoft merino which they've invented in Italy. It's not cashmere but by heaven it feels like it. Smooth, silky, ultra-soft. Beautiful. I have a big cone of it (yes, I'll be listing it on eBay again soon, under the Celtic Memory label, just as soon as I've got the Midwinter design out of the way), and I'd been casting round for something really nice to make with it. The scarf was the obvious choice.

Muffy sat at my feet in quiet concentration while I was winding up a quadruple-strength skein of this (it's very fine). I could tell that she was weighing the relative qualities of cashmere and cashwool in her mind. Yes, I have now shut the door firmly 'twixt Peke and yarn. But no, I haven't cast on for it yet. Can't remember the pattern. Can't remember if that matters or not. Maybe I'll make it in a Viking/Irish design. Now that would make the monks of old turn in their graves if anything would. Make a scarf that blends the culture of the invader and the invaded? Yo!

Friday, December 01, 2006

It's December And Not A WIP In The House Finished!

December 1 is always like a wake-up call - only 24 days to Christmas and everything still to do! (I know, those of you in the States start your festivities earlier, with Thanksgiving, and then just carry on through to January, but we're only getting panicky now).

I'm a sucker for all that Christmas stuff and I don't mind admitting it. I love the decorations and the excitement and the excuse to decorate the house with stuffed reindeer, and putting a Santa suit on my aged teddy bear. I love buying little gifts to stuff into stockings, and making up hampers of goodies. I love most of all the holly and ivy and the scent of a fir tree being brought into the house.

Actually I really really love Midwinter, which was the original festival before somebody from Rome decided that it would be a good idea to hijack the old pagan events and somehow persuade everybody that these really commemorated Christian things. I love to imagine people gathering together to celebrate the turning of the year, looking forward to the gradual increase in daylight, risking the sacrifice of one of their carefully-fed hens or geese, sharing out a few handfuls of dried fruit and nuts from the essential stores, as they garlanded their homes with evergreens and drank a toast to the coming of the sun once more.

I finished putting together a special one-off skein of yarn as a prize for the Red Sweater KAL last night, and this morning was notified of the winner, Kelly in Canada. I bet it's colder where you are than here, Kelly, but I hope you haven't had it so wild and windy. The last few days have been frighteningly stormy, with trees down and power lines, and some roads blocked or flooded. We even lost a tree in our own garden - well, it's probably more true to say that it gave up the ghost finally - it's a chestnut and had been dead for some time, but I couldn't bear to cut it down. Now, however, it's leaning against its still-standing brother, and I'm consoling myself with the double thought that (a) it will make wonderful firewood and (b) now I can plant another apple tree!

(And by the way, Karen, thanks for the excellent advice, but have no fear. I already have a fence of rowan trees planted right around the garden, with the apple trees inside those just for extra protection. Evil spirits would have a job getting through.)

Heck, I was supposed to be telling you about the red yarn - or Red Branch (K)Nights as I christened it.

Here it is, ready to be packed up and sent off to Kelly. Cheerful, isn't it? It was a lot of fun to make.

However, it also reminded me that I was rather behind the race, to put it mildly, in the Red Sweater KAL. I know, I know, it isn't a race and there isn't a time limit, but by now I should at least be some way into the project. Several things militated against that, most of them starting with the letters S*T*A*R*....

I found a battered and grimy cone of what proved to be a lovely pillar-box red, skeined up a triple-strand yarn, and washed it. It came up beautifully.

If you peer very closely you might be able to see that the top part of the cone is still darker and grimier, while the sides, which have been revealed by winding off some yarn, are beautifully bright. This is a pure lambswool from Scotland and very fine, hence the necessity to use it triple. But it works up to gauge for the Celtic Vest beautifully - that one in Knitter's of Fall 2003 designed by Elsebeth Lavold (they call it Cul de Sac in that issue for some reason but it's a Celtic Vest as far as I'm concerned.)

Haven't got very far yet - only really cast on for the back an hour or so ago - so nothing to show, but will work as fast as possible so that I can at least hold my head up among the maddeningly virtuous lot who are finishing off their works of art at a great rate.

That's of course if I don't get sidetracked by all the other projects on the go. Like the chunky charcoal crop cardi to my own design.

I've been taking my time over this, as there has been so much else on, but honestly you could make this little baby up in a weekend - the ultra-chunky yarn is so quick to knit up, and you need so few stitches. I'm working on a sleeve at the moment, straight, no shaping (which will make it look almost bell-shaped when it's done). It's really short too, well above the waistline. No bare midriffs for me, though - brought up in a more sensible era, I don't think I could do that in midwinter. A slim-fitting ribbed jumper in white or maybe pink would be about right, I think.

I was thinking of Lene's daughter dancing in The Snow Queen up in Lapland this week and wishing I could be there. It must be so magical. Dark yes, cold, yes, more than most of us could imagine here in mild Ireland, but magical too. Good luck, daughter of Lene, and enjoy every moment of it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Some Starmore Up There Doesn't Like Me...

I am not having a very good time with the Starmore design, thank you for asking. Yes, the Eriskay gansey in bright red cashmere, which I am endeavouring to make for the Red Sweater KAL. We won't rehearse the early setbacks, in some of which Muffy the Yarnslayer featured prominently. Nor the stress caused by tardy realisation of the sheer number of stitches involved in the original pattern.

Let us, however, recall briefly my surge of enthusiasm when I decided to recalculate the pattern for thicker yarn and a larger size needle. Full of energy I cast on and worked away on the ribbing. Then, you remember, I realised that it really would be better worked in the round rather than the flat (it's the way she lays out the pattern, very difficult to follow with right and wrongside rows), so frogged back and started again.

Was getting along fine. Took it with me several places, including a dark session waiting in the car while DH photographed a society ball. Maybe that's where things went wrong. Because last night, when I took it out, thinking that perhaps I might photograph work so far for the weblog, I realised with a sickening jolt that the blasted thing was twisted.

Let's skip the knowing laughter, shall we? I know about this particular pitfall and I had taken very great care indeed to ensure that it was not twisted when I joined the ends. It hadn't been twisted on the first two rows either, because I checked all the way. Somehow - and I do not know how - between then and the eight or so rows of dreary endless k1 p1 rib that I had completed so far, it had turned itself round. It can't have, I know - but there it was. I even showed it to DH. (Yes, he laughed.)

I ripped it savagely back and rewound the ball yet again (I've lost count of the times I've performed that particular action to date). I waited until this morning, when I felt stronger after a night's sleep. I cast on AGAIN. I worked a row. Funny, must have cast on one stitch too many - I have a knit stitch at the end of the circle instead of a purl. Oh well, p 2 tog and forget about it. Onward.

Halfway through the second row I realised that I had done 2 k stitches one after the other instead of the regular k1 p1. Half the first row, therefore, and half the second one, were out of synch. Wrong again.

I see.
So that's the way of it, is it?

I put the knitting down very quietly. I took some medication. Medication consisting of an entire bar of Ghirardelli Toffee Interlude, kindly and thoughtfully provided by my health advisor, Ms Knitingale. Thank you, Ms. K, you don't know how much I needed that pain relief right then. I'm feeling much better now. A little delicate, a little close to tears, but much better.

I think the Eriskay and I are going to take a little break from each other, while I go up into the attic, light a few candles and scatter herbs around. Then I'm going to work a spell. I don't know what the Stornoway Stitcher has put on me, but I'm going to see if a bit of Cork Celtic charming can't break it. Why shouldn't I make her sweater? Why shouldn't I adapt it to suit my needs? How does she know where I live? Answers by email please. (Only - wouldn't she be able to see into those as well, by osmosis or something? Better not.)

And no, I do not have pictures of the many, many stages of work in progress. I think that only enrages her further and it would probably put a permanent hex on my camera.

IN the meantime, a happier story, because it actually has a swift and successful conclusion! The other evening, looking wildly around at the sheer number of actually-in-progress-right-now-this-minute knitting projects, I began to feel a bit hemmed in. So I did the only thing possible - started a new one.

But not just another one. I suddenly yearned for those heady days of youth when I would quite happily run up a new dress, a skirt, in an afternoon. Into town, buy a length of fabric and a zip, back home, and whizz - ready for a party that night. (I remember once making a velvet trouser suit in a weekend but that did take a bit for work.) Wouldn't it be lovely to start something right there and then and finish it the same evening? (It was 5 pm at this stage.) Yes it would. And I knew what I wanted. A bright cheerful sexy little cropped vest to wear over a white shirt. I had a beautiful variegated mohair wool boucle which would be idea. Better use it double to ensure speed of completion. Wound up a double-thickness ball, and grabbed a great big crochet hook.

YES, A GREAT BIG CROCHET HOOK. Because you know as well as I do that when it comes to speed, needles simply can't compete with a crochet hook. There's no status about it, no purity of purpose, just practicality. And I wanted to finish the same evening. No arguments. No discussion. Subject closed.

This where I wanted to show you the work in progress at 7 pm the same evening, but the computer is refusing to see the camera. (Great heavens, is she interfering with CROCHET now, too?) I'll try once more.

Nope, no luck. However, I did finish it the same evening, sewed it up , found a kilt pin and buttonholed it with the same yarn to add a bit of style. And I wore it to lecture the following morning. I assume my students were dazed with admiration, or possibly they were still asleep at that early hour. Anyway, DH, bless his heart, took a picture of the finished article and that picture I do have.

Isn't it fun? I worked it sideways from one front edge to the other, round the back, and then sewed up the shoulders. I got the idea for covering the fastening pin with matching yarn from that expensive designer item I saw in that boutique I told you about. And it was conceived, worked up and FINISHED in one evening! I didn't even go to bed late, honestly!

(And incidentally, if you have sharp eyes, you'll see a blue scarf around my neck that I also finished - one of those handy little ones which Peg told me about, that are an elongated triangle, just right for knotting casually and covering up a bare neck. Doesn't quite tone, but who cares. That's another one finished.)

I love that variegated boucle. It's so bright and colourful. I might make something else drapey and swoopy in it - one of those cardigans maybe that doesn' t have any real shape but relies on pins or buttons to hold it somewhere in the region of your body. They charge enough for them in designer shops so why not?

We were up at Cork University the other evening, for the launch of a new website for the Honan Chapel, a lovely little place with some real treasures in the way of mosaic pavements and Harry Clarke stained glass windows. The website shows off all its treasures which is a nice way for anyone far away to share its beauty. On our way back to the car, DH thought the Stone Corridor was looking particularly beautiful.

This is a corridor in the old part of the university building where Ogham stones collected over centuries are displayed. In my college days they were just there, not doing very much, but now they've been very skilfully lit, which sets them of tremendously well at night, don't you think?

I got Richard to take this close-up of one, so you could see the ancient markings on its side. Ogham is our earliest form of writing and a fairly basic one (after all, cutting lines in solid rock isn't an easy option) but all the more fascinating for that.

We are down but not done, here in West Cork. We don't feel at all like re-tackling the Eriskay. There really does appear to be a jinx on that pattern. If I tried another yarn? Is it the cashmere to which she objects, frugal Scottish housewife that she is? Should it only be made in her own yarn?

I think I'll go play with the chunky charcoal crop cardi. And the shepherd's vest. And the Irish Hiking Scarf. Oh, and the Norah Gaugan assymetrical cardi. When should the winter Vogue Knitting and Interweave Knits arrive?

Who needs a bright red Scottish gansey anyway?

(As I typed that, a gust of wind shook the house and a door slammed somewhere. Better get going on the magicking before I try anything else...)