Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Is There Enough Yarn To Finish The Socks?

Flemisa, Sharon, Julia and everyone else who rowed in with the sock advice, THANK YOU! It's so much simpler when you finally are able to work it out for yourself. Now I know what it actually is I'm doing, I'm on my way. Trouble was, because of that error in the pattern, I had no choice but to frog right back to the heel flap on both socks.

This is not a happy picture. It shows two socks, both well down the foot, in the process of being frogged. Once that unpleasant process had been endured, there was the picking up to do, necessitating the introduction of The Four Cs until well after midnight (crochet hook, Calvados, chocolate and cursing).

There was a soft rain falling this morning and once the most urgent writing jobs had been finished and sent off, I headed for Macroom with sock bag in tow (only two and a half more working days before show entries). Since the introduction of the smoking ban in public places over a year ago, our bars have become very pleasant places to take coffee, and Cotter's (established 1905) is all that a pub should be: dimly lit, cosy, and with a fire in the winter months. Today when Geraldine brought my coffee and scone, she picked up the knitting and admired the yarn colours. 'You've dropped a couple of stitches off those tiny needles,' she observed and straight away, to my amazement, quickly and competently picked them up on the tiny toothpicks which masquerade as rosewood dpns.

She declined all offers of needles and yarn for herself though, saying she'd done enough of it in her time and didn't see the point now when yarn was so expensive and shop sweaters so reasonable. I'll convert her another day - maybe when I've got a really irresistible soft yarn and a delectable pattern on the go.

I've been getting a bit of totally undeserved praise for some of the pictures that appear on this website. I need to emphasise again for anyone who doesn't know, that DH takes all the better shots. He is a professional and specialises in wildlife. I'm adequate when recording a half-finished sock but when it comes to capturing the look in the eye of an animal, the exact turn of the head, then there's no-one can beat DH. I stick to the words mostly, and let him practise the gifts the gods gave him.

The Ukrainian wool saga is ongoing. You may remember that I ordered some very fine silvery-white laceweight yarn but that when it arrived it was brown. Emails were exchanged, I sent it back, and yesterday got the replacement - this time dark grey. More emails and a heartrending reply from Oleh in furthest Ukraine. He wants to please me, he writes sadly, but if the next batch doesn't suit, he will just have to refund my money. I feel so guilty! But I really didn't want the dark brown or the dark grey. For safety I tucked in a few strands of various creamy white yarns I had around the place, and asked him to match those. Perhaps 'silver' is a very variable colour to interpret after all. Bless him, he even sent a picture of all the colours they have in stock over there.

I'll just have to order some more, if only in the interests of furthering East-West relationships, shan't I?

Oh the distractions that throw themselves in your path when you have so little time left to finish urgent projects. The latest golden apple to roll in front of my feet is that utterly amazing St. Brigid design from Alice Starmore's Aran Knitting. I saw a superb example knitted up by Francesca. Oh me oh my I want to work that pattern! And I really thought, being Irish and all, and raised on the darn things, I knew it all on Arans. It's the finer yarn she uses , I think, that enables her to work out such incredibly interlaced designs. Beautiful.

(By the way, St. Brigid was originally one of our powerful Irish goddesses, Brid. When Christianity reached the island, she was downgraded to gentle little interceding saint instead of all-powerful hell-raiser in her own right. Just so you know we didn't always have a patriarchal society.)

Angeluna, thank you for that link to the wonderful site for making your own knitting needles! Don't you love the acorn-topped ones? I really like the idea of using something from nature to finish them off. Yet
another project for the dark evenings (roll on dark evenings, the jobs are piling up...)

I was working away on those socks today when Patrick (the neighbouring farmer) and his son went out for a spot of rabbit shooting in the woods (well, I suppose if the little pests were eating all my crops I might feel belligerent too). Although Tasha and Muffy don't even notice the shots, Sophie gets terrified out of all reason, even though she is safely in the house. She comes bolting in, eyes wild and ears back, and launches herself at whoever is sitting down, from about twenty feet away, landing in a lap with force, no matter what else may be there at the time. She seriously affected the number of stitches on each needle several times until I gave in and let her stay there, pretending to be fast asleep, while I tried to get on with the socks.

A few people asked if I could speak Gaelic. I'm reasonably articulate, but it's my second rather than my first language. The people in the Gaeltacht areas speak it as their first choice with English coming in second. In really rural Gaeltachts (like the Aran Islands) this can result in a beautifully careful form of English. I remember one old man on Inisheer (the smallest of the Aran islands) looking at my mutts and saying politely, 'I am thinking that those would be little holiday dogs.' I thought it was a lovely way of expressing it.

Down in the orchard yesterday evening I noticed that the surrounding trees had got a bit high and some of the little apple saplings weren't getting any light. Seized the extending pruners and got to work as quickly as possible. Eventually, just as the sun was sinking, I was able to see its rays gilding one of the saplings and felt so pleased.

It's not a very good picture but I felt so happy I'd done something to help the little tree that I wanted you to share it. The branches on the left are in the shade, but those on the right are catching the setting sun, and I swear it took a deep breath and held up its face in delight. It's quite a rare Irish variety called Summer John. I also have Ardcairn Russet, Irish Peach, James Grieve, Cox's Orange Pippin, and Scarlet Crofton. The Grieve and Cox are common enough, the others are all rarities now and only available from the Seed Savers Society up in the Midlands. Cox, I have to say, though it is my favourite eating apple, is a real whinger and sulkyboots, needing constant encouragement and assistance, whereas the others get on with life by themselves most of the time, pleased to get the occasional feed or mulch, but otherwise coping admirably. One day soon I may even be able to pick apples from them (if the summer isn't too dry, then it's too wet, never quite right, apparently.) The only tree which regularly bears a heavy crop is an unidentified cooker around the back which bends its branches every autumn with huge fruits that cook down beautifully to a frothy white sweetness.

Wednesday evening here now. Thursday and Friday to go (both with quite a lot of my journalistic workload to be attended to as well, I have to say) and then Saturday morning is the final deadline for finishing both socks and Elann lace crop cardi. The latter is actually complete, all but the trying bit of tidying up loose ends and tucking away those irritating loops of glitter which created themselves unnoticed while I was struggling with the pattern. It just needs to be mounted prettily on a hanger, with a high-necked, long-sleeved blouse tucked inside to show it off properly. The socks? My main worry now, once I've finally managed to clear the hazards of heel and instep, is whether there will be ENOUGH YARN TO FINISH. The two balls are looking quite soft (I've been working from the inside out) and it is getting stressful. There is the maddest urge to knit even faster, to get there before the yarn runs out. Don't know what I'll do if it does. Make socks for exceptionally short feet, I imagine. No time for any other alternative at this stage.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Pickin' Up Stitches, Wonderin' Why It Don't Add Up Right, dum de dee...

The last days of August and all the signs of autumn are here. Patrick, our neighbouring organic farmer (and believe me I thank our good luck every day of the year that he is so minded and doesn't spray his fields constantly with heaven-knows-what in the way of toxic substances) started cutting his cornfield last night, chuntering slowly all around the perimeter first, then gradually into the centre. Now just the bright golden straw is left lying to dry before being baled to provide winter cosiness for his stock.

The birds have finally decided that the rowan berries are ripe enough and are descending in flocks. When I go out with the dogs in the early morning, they fly off frantically, dropping scraps of bright red berry as they make their escape. This morning we watched two blackbirds picking and popping like kids with peanuts; then they scrambled in terror as a mistle thrush bombed low across the garden to take over.

And yesterday was Ballingeary Show (no, no relation to Bantry) which is always on the last Sunday in August. It's a very small local show, but endearing in its homely atmosphere. The craft entries were sparse, and displayed so half-heartedly at least twenty feet away behind a barrier that they couldn't even be photographed for you (yes, I commented, to many officials, again and again. Next year may well be different. On the other hand, it may not. If I heard 'Well that's the way we've always done it' once, I heard it a dozen times.). However, the baking section was as hotly contested as ever.

Just thought I'd give your diets something to think about.

I also met the most charming Irish-speaking dog at the show.

His name, unfortunately, is Poxy. His owner explained that she'd rescued him as a stray on Tenerife and had paid over €600 to get him back safely to West Cork. Apparently the locals on Tenerife used to refer to him as 'that poxy stray', hence the name. Me, I might have gone for something more mellifluous. However, since Ballingeary is a Gaeltacht (an area where the residents still speak Irish as their first language), the first thing Poxy had to do was learn the vernacular. And he has done pretty well, responding instantly to 'Suig sios' (sit down) as well as 'Ar mhaith leath beagainin ciste?' (would you perhaps like a small piece of cake?).

I've been working pretty hard on the Interlacement socks which are headed for Bantry Show next weekend. Getting to the heel flap, I tried to find straight needles in the same gauge as the tiny rosewood dpns but discovered that, surprise surprise, an old UK 12 (don't ask, OK?) is not quite the same. Nor is a size 13. I know this because most of one heel flap had been worked on the needles I thought would do (they looked identical, for heaven's sake, and almost fitted the same holes on my Susan Bates) before a long hard look at the resultant (admittedly very nice and smooth) stocking stitch forced an admittance that it was not the same tension. Eventually found a fine circular that was doing something else at the time but was persuaded (fairly forcibly, I admit) to drop that and come right over to help in the present crisis. Nothing for it. Frog, swear, pick up. Miss one that had sneaked off to have a word with its friends several rows back. Go hunt for fine crochet hook. Pick up truant stitch. Start the heel flap again. Repeat some (but thankfully not all) of the above with second sock.

Here they are with the heel flaps done, and shown with the purl side outwards just to give you a thrill.

Turning the heel was actually quite fun once you see the commonsense and reasoning behind it. The confidence engendered by this, however, was soon dissipated when I started picking up along the heel flap and getting back into the round. The number of stitches required to be picked up was far less than I would have thought and resulted in a rather gathered effect. Still, I followed the pattern assiduously, reasoning that the designer probably KNEW WHAT SHE WAS DOING and had a GRAND PLAN in mind.

Then discovered that the number of stitches I had ended up with was far greater than that indicated in the pattern. Went back over the instructions. Checked my knitting minutely. Did some maths. Yep, I was right. There was no way I could have followed those instructions and come up with the laughably small number of stitches they said I should have. In fact if I'd followed eye and instinct I'd have had even more (along that heel flap).

What do you do in cases like this? (Unfortunately the most popular one, featuring a trashcan, a gallon of paraffin and a box of matches, isn't an option right now as I have already completed the entry form for the show.) Having checked another half dozen times, gone over my abstruse mathematical calculations, and held up the sock at all angles, I decided to go ahead and hope for the best. There is provision for some reduction in stitches as the foot proceeds downward towards the toe, so I'll use that little window of opportunity to get back on the correct count.

Unless of course the designer (or indeed the printer, why blame it on the designer? And come to that, why do I presuppose it was a female? Just like a male to gloss loftily over the minor details, reasoning that they didn't really matter all that much) got it wrong, and I SHOULD have the larger number of stitches. Advice please, and quickly too. What number of stitches do you normally end up with when you get past the heel and start down the foot? Same as before the heel? Less? More? Let's hear from the experts (and cut out the snarfling laughter, right?)

An update on Muffy and her shrubbery-guarding. This morning I was working on some deadline copy (it's always on deadline, can't work any other way) when I glanced out and saw Muffy in the middle of the lawn apparently wrestling with a black shape almost as big as herself. You don't stop to think at times like this - I was downstairs and out the front door before I even registered what I was doing.

It was a very large rabbit. A very large dead rabbit. A very large dead rabbit that had popped its clogs, handed in its notice, retired from public life, some considerable time ago. You don't want to know the details but if I briefly allude to many many smaller creatures which had in the interim taken up occupancy within said rabbit... yes, I thought you wouldn't want to know. And my killer Pekingese was standing triumphantly over this prize, making little darts at it and beaming all over her face. All by herself this small dog (who a year ago was so weak she couldn't get out of bed) had dragged this precious loot through the brambles and tangled branches of the shrubbery, down a slope and out across the lawn to where she had deposited it to await congratulation and proper accolade.


Of course DH (who didn't hear about it until it was all over) said I should have gone calmly back to the house, found a camera, and photographed the hideous object from all angles (omitting none of the wriggling tiny residents). What I actually did was grab a garden spade, hoist the horrible shape on to it, and rush down to the boundary fence where there is a drop to an impenetrable thicket some six feet below.

Ever since, Muffy has been prowling around the lawn looking furious. 'How could it have escaped?', she is muttering to herself. 'I'd beaten it into submission, I'd told it not to dare move. Where's it got to now?'

I'm sorry to disappoint you on the gory shot, but here's a (fairly) peaceful one of the said disgruntled Muffy in the spot where she was discovered in flagrante rabbito this morning.

(I have to admit that I can't help a sneaking feeling of pride, though. You know, she's such a little dog really, and there still isn't much padding on those fragile bones. It must have taken quite a bit of effort and doggy planning to work out a route through the tangle of the shrubbery and out into the light of day, not to mention serious puffing effort. I might give her a little medal after all. It's a bit like that fairy tale 'Seven At A Blow', isn't it? The tailor who swiped several flies and then made himself a belt with that statement on, whereupon everyone worshipped him as a hero. Yeah, good on you, Muffy. I know what you were saying as you reached the designated show-off spot at last. 'That'll show 'em!')

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Beads, Lollipops, Lace Points and Shrubberies.

In order to even get at the keyboard, it is necessary to sweep half a dozen books to the floor. Plenty more down there already. Lyn said she likes the idea of my library but says she has books in every room. Oh Lyn, believe me, so do we! The library is just for the main body of volumes. What can't fit in there is in the living room, the bedroom, the kitchen, the bathroom, and on the stairs. Was it A. L. Rowse, the eminent historian, who once said he never trusted a house that didn't have piles of books all the way up the stairs? (Wonder how he felt about bungalows?)

(And Rho, Sophie was genuinely asleep in that last posting's picture, with her head on Irish Trees: Myths, Legends and Folklore, which was honestly on its way back to my study shelves. But of course when I went back for the camera, she woke up to see if there was any cuddling to be had and wouldn't put her head down again. Now Tasha will pose the second she sees a camera...) And now you've got a Turkish spindle from Jenkins Woodworkingtoo, Rho! May you have happy years together and so much pleasure using it. Isn't it wonderful to have something made by a craftsman by the banks of a creek in Oregon? Everybody should have some of Ed's stuff. I'm going back right now to look at his circular needles. Apparently he'll put your name on if you want. In an age of standardisation and bulk manufacture, someone like Ed is to be treasured.

Rachel, you wicked creature, telling me about the Dremel tool. I looked it up immediately and want it NOW. It's just the kind of thing for us girls who have small jobs to do, but want to do them well and properly (and not have to haul out DH's beloved, big clunky, awkward stuff). Asked DH's advice and he tactfully asked when my birthday was, knowing full well it was three weeks ago (the day before his). That's why I love him. I said early September of course...

Spent most of this morning trying to get the edging right on the Elann lace crop cardi. It is not an easy task.

Normally when faced with a simple instruction like 'work a row of single crochet up one front, round the neck and down the other side' my instinct is to gallop straight ahead, get it done as quickly as possible, and move on to something more interesting. But coming a cropper over the Anny Blatt (still languishing in the WIP basket whence I hurled it in a fit of rage) has made me more cautious. A measuring tape was found (no matter how many are known to be in the house, they all manage to hide themselves when really needed). The fronts were measured. Several times. Pins were inserted at one-inch intervals. Several fell out again and had to be located seconds before questing furry paws came by. Deep breath. Start to work up one side. Stop every few minutes to check. Lose some more pins. Discover at least two caught up in other parts of the cardi. Wonder briefly how judges at show would feel if discovering sharp objects rather more suddenly. Would this prejudice chances? Probably.

Now quite ready to work down the other front, keeping in mind all those carefully counted single crochets between pin markers (such as still remained) but couldn't, because the neck needed to be worked first. Now the neck of this Elann pattern has a very pretty set of points, created by the lace repeat. The idea was to emphasise the shape of each point with the crochet work. But would they be emphasised? They would not.

They look fine here, but as soon as any pressure at all is put on the neck (like wearing it, for example), the points flatten out and disappear. The lowest point was tightened, the upper point gathered, but they still wouldn't stay pointed. Will have to try blocking under a damp cloth. That or crocheting a linking chain from point to point all around the neck.

This pattern calls for a small bead to hang from each point at the bottom. No suitable beads to be found anywhere in Cork. Decided to empty cupboards, old sewing boxes, button collections. Still nothing. In despair, hauled out rather nice little carved jewellery box which was sadly overcrowded anyway, and went through that.

Here it is on the window sill, minus much of its contents. It has a bit of history this box. I found it in Eastern Europe over thirty years ago, before the Iron Curtain had creaked open. I think it may once have been a lady's dressing box - there are some ancient stains of make-up on its mirror. But it is beautifully carved and redolent of another, more gracious age. Over the years broken necklaces, unwanted bracelets, bits of this and that had been shoved in and forgotten. It needed a good clean out and tidy up, and it got it today, although that wasn't the original intention. I even found a necklace with beads of about the right size and shade.

Once that's done, it will be time to get moving sharpish on the socks. One needs a good deal of quiet time alone to tackle the heel-turning, undistracted by television, dogs, even DHs.

Speaking of DH, he cleared his car out yesterday and left all the detritus of months in a neat heap in the garage. Sophie got in and found a toffee lollipop, leftover from some kids' event he'd been photographing. By the time we discovered the larceny, she was in puppy heaven on the lawn, holding the stick firmly between her paws and slurping the ball of toffee with her pink tongue.

I was worried that the toffee might stick her teeth together but she disposed of it no problem.

Muffy on the other hand has been behaving rather oddly lately. She's spending a lot of time in the shrubbery and we hear the occasional roar out of her from time to time, deep in the bushes. Every time we bring her in, she heads out again, back to that shrubbery.

The others aren't too worried so I suspect it may be a twig that looks like a rat. Or perhaps a rabbit went in there a week ago and she assumes it's still there. Muffy's body weight is fine now, after that dreadful time when she just wouldn't eat, but the brain power isn't at quite the same level. She wouldn't even come in when it
was bucketing with rain the other evening; just lay doggo under the car, keeping an eye on that there shrubbery...

After all, she's probably reasoning, if she doesn't protect house and home against dangerous invaders, who will? (The other two of course were lounging inside, watching her amusedly through the French windows). I wonder what is keeping her so enthralled that she has to guard it at all hours and in all weathers?

In what remains of the evening, is it to be the beads on the bottom of the Elann cardi or turning the first heel on the Interlacement socks? Probably better to leave the socks until tomorrow. They need a morning brain. Sewing on beads, however, is reasonably safe even at this late hour (and a statement like that is certainly asking for trouble.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

How Do You Solve A Problem Like No Needles?

Had to do an early telephone interview this morning with an Irish girl who is in the running for the role of Maria in a huge new production of The Sound of Music in London. Andrew Lloyd Webber is behind it, and he, together with the BBC, has organised a marathon television programme around the casting, called - wait for it - How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? Aoife has survived the early rounds (they are on BBC1 every Saturday and the viewers get to vote) and is now in the final 8. She's finding it just about the most demanding audition she's ever had and I'm not surprised. Several months of Big Brother-type television, with cameras recording you day and night (all the hopefuls are living together in the aptly-named Maria House) would have me opting out pretty quick. Still, I hope she makes it.

She's a pretty girl and would look perfect as Maria. I'll keep you posted. For anyone who can get BBC1, the final is on September 16, I understand.

And it is nearly September. Where did August go? I really must get started on the new designer yarns
for autumn. This weblogging and emailing new friends thereby made is so absorbing, and the knitting projects are so all-consuming, that the design side has been almost forgotten lately. Celtic legends I think this time - The Children of Lir is in my mind - and of course Samhain, since that's coming up in October. It's the first festival of the Celtic New Year, and we still have more than you might think of those ancient traditions in our blood. Even the most commercialised Hallow-E'en customs have their roots in something far deeper and
older. Will try to get going on the preliminary stages next week (that involves hauling everything out and up to the sunny drawing room, locking all doors, and hurling yarns around the place searching for the perfect blend, combination, twist, merge). Then I let myself out, lock the door after me, and let it all stew for a day or so. It has usually sorted itself out by the time I go back in (unless one of the dogs has been in there first). Peg drew my attention to a posting on Knitter's Review Forum where a cat had got at a skein of Seasilk (calm down now, calm down) and the writer had found it strangely calming to work for several nights carefully untangling the resultant chaos. I actually know what she means: I've had to do the same when Muffy had been in action (or taking therapy, whichever you prefer) and did find it strangely relaxing - I was almost (but not quite) sad when it was done. Is untangling good for the soul? Is it a metaphor for what we wish we could do with life?

Enough philosophy. I unearthed a wonderful book today when I was vacuuming the library (from the number of dead flies, I calculate it hasn't been done for a year or so, but libraries aren't exactly heavy usage areas, or so I tell myself). It's Jan Messent's Wool n'Magic and it is absolutely incredible. I remember buying it years ago, not quite sure why I had but knowing I had to, and now I know why. I've grown to the stage where I can really take it all in and leap even further. Do you ever find you acquire things before you know that you're going to need them? I was collecting strange fibres and odd enhancing yarns like very thin glitters and shiny threads, long before I realised that I wanted to create my own skein compositions. Anyway, the pictures in this book are enough to set your heart going pit-a-pat. Look at this handspun shawl:

What I love about Messent's designs is that she has no problems mixing crochet and knitting, embroidery and canvaswork, whatever she thinks will look best on her design. In this shawl she's used knitted diagonal squares, crochet squares, bands of garter stitch, bands of trebles, everything and anything, in different shades of fine handspun yarn. And some of the other designs are even more dramatic (there's a simply gorgeous mermaid that I know you'd love,Angie ). This one is called Stalactite Cave and uses wire mesh, dowels, cardboard, all sorts as base for her knitting and crochet freeform.

I must look up Messent's other books - she's done several, I gather. I love people who seem to be able to leap outside the usual and have no limits to their imagination.

Charity thank you so much for the link to that adorable amulet pouch. The bargain I'd struck with myself was that if progress was good on Elann and Interlacement socks, a little time out could be taken today to make my own version of said little amulet pouch. Accordingly, once work was out of the way this morning, there was a hunt for fine dpns. Ah! The rosewoods are still in use on the socks. Can't possibly disturb them - these are show material, after all. Down to the basement (disturbing Sophie who was reading Irish Trees on the stairs).

Found a very long, extremely thin pair of straights (old UK 12s, metric 2.75, US 2, ok?) Into the vice with them. Off with their 'eads (getting good at this. I now have a row of little heads on the shelf above the vice, for all the world like Traitors' Gate at the Tower of London.)

You can see the two little red heads resting on the vice in front of the needles.

Grab the fretsaw.


Ah. Not plastic then. So where's the hacksaw?

Metal needles do not cut neatly or smoothly. A file was needed. Several files of varying roughness were needed.

It took a bit of work (and took up quite a bit of my precious out-time from show projects) but eventually some reasonable points were fashioned on the cut ends.

Now I do not recommend that you try this at home. Metal needles hacked in half and roughly filed do not in any way resemble polished little rosewoods or even common-or-garden plastics. We're talking rough trade here. But they did the job. I used a fairly smooth sock yarn for the amulet pouch, so that there wouldn't be too much catching of fine fibres on the unsmoothed bits. When it was past that exasperatingly fiddly beginning bit, I took it out to the garden to have its picture taken.

It didn't take long to make at all. By mid-afternoon (life, as it tends to, intervened once or twice and delayed the process), the baby amulet pouch was finished, and ready to meet the world.

Isn't it lovely? I'm going to tuck some of my favourite scented herbs into it tonight (lemon verbena, southernwood) and then tomorrow put all my stitch markers safely inside. Charity, you are a pet for introducing me to this. Wouldn't they make perfect little gifts for friends, with sugared almonds or herbs or anything inside?

In the meantime - BACK to the slaughterhouse - I mean the Elann lace crop cardi!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Can't You Hear The Wild - It's Calling You!

I can't believe how all of you are so supportive on this insane idea of mine to enter two items (as yet nowhere near finished) for Bantry Show (deadline Sept. 2). It's a lovely warm feeling to get all those positive messages. It's two-way, you know - any daft notion you have in mind, let me know and I'll be right there backing you. Angeluna, thank you so much for the link to sockblockers on eBay - I love them, especially the drop spindle design and the moose. But thanks also for your brilliant idea re making my own and stencilling on a Celtic motif. You're a genius! As you say, presentation is all. A large piece of cardboard has been located and earmarked for making a preliminary template. When it looks about right, I'll get something stronger and more durable. And Anne, I am more than grateful for the timely warning about the possible bleeding of that Interlacements yarn. I think I'll take your advice and just steam and block for the show, and worry about washing afterwards.

Peg of course it's a huge prize at Bantry, why else would I be bothering? The first prize in each category is - wait for it - €12!!! (Tthe entry fee was €2, and if you take into account the petrol for driving down and back... )Well of course it's worth it. All of you know perfectly well why we put ourselves through these tortuous hoops.

The socks, by the way, found their rightful place right down at the bottom of the craft list in the show programme, tucked away in a little category of their own - a cap OR gloves OR socks. I am almost certain that nobody else in Ireland will enter socks. Caps yes, maybe even mittens, but I think socks are a definite no-no in a country where up to only too recently knitting them was a compulsory chore in any family. I might be wrong, though. We have quite a few recent settlers from Germany and Holland who are very keen knitters, so my LYSO tells me.

Now - everyone who wanted the pattern for that wedding coat (see earlier posting, Newsflash! Other Crafts Claim Equal Rights With Knitting!) I've recalled the foolproof and safe way to exchange email addresses if you're shy about that. Register on Knitter's Review Forum, find me (Celtic Memory) and you can send me an email to which I can reply with the images and pattern. There may well be a nice complicated Blogger way to post the pattern, involving lots of codes and adjustments, but this way is far simpler. Besides which, Knitters' Review Forum is a fantastic site and service if you don't know it already. It is run so really really well. I pop in there every time I have what I regard as a difficult problem and somebody solves it within minutes. Plus when I'm travelling to an as yet undiscovered (yarnwise) corner of the globe, I put a query in there and have a list (usually plus introductions, reviews, the lot) in no time. What a great facility. Take a bow, organisers of KRF! (No, they didn't pay me to say that. It comes from the heart of someone who, in rural Ireland, felt rather marooned until broadband changed everything. Just don't cut off my link, nice helpful Irish telephone controllers, please!)

The Seasilk yarn has arrived from friendly helpful Evelyn at Knitty-Noddy and it is so heartstoppingly beautiful. I could never have imagined any yarn looking and feeling so lovely. I find myself picking it up and holding it against my neck or face several times a day.

So often you find that a yarn (or even the label in a sweater or blouse) is scratchy or a little irritating. I'd like to make everything I wear next to my skin from Seasilk from now on. The dilemma facing me right now is what on earth (in heaven?) to make with these two skeins that will do honour to their beauty and glorious combination of silk and seaweed? A shawl of course is the first choice - but I am wondering about a fine ribbed sweater - even a polo neck. (They do a superb colourway in ivory shades as I recall). That would take time and lots of stitches (not to mention more yarn - well why should anyone else have it? They don't deserve it, wouldn't appreciate it like I would), but it would feel so divine that it would be worth the epic task. Still, NOTHING, but NOTHING gets even looked at until both the Elann and the socks are finished, tidied, blocked, and off to aforesaid Bantry Show. No, I really mean it this time. I don't have any other choice (well there is the one of making a cup of coffee, putting my feet up, saying, 'What's the point, life's too short,' and opening a trashy novel, and don't think I haven't considered that option. but this is a path on which I have set myself and I have to complete the journey or face the conclusion that I'm one of life's failures.)

Wouldn't you love to live next door to Fleece Artist/Handmaiden? Get to work there? Get to take secretive sacks home after hours when no-one is looking.... No, no, no, scrub that thought. But have you seen their merino sock yarn?

This is the Autumn colourway on my other favourite yarn site, Simply Socks operated by the lovely Allison. There is already a glorious skein of Cherry Tree Hill awaiting my winter attention in the stash, not to mention the Interlacements on the tiny rosewood dpns, awaiting their hour at Bantry, so I shouldn't really be considering more, but this interpretation of autumn's colours (why is there an n
in autumn? Doesn't seem any need for it really - how come you New Worlders haven't got rid of it? Oh you have - you call it fall, don't you?) is almost impossible to resist.

We're definitely getting towards autumn here now, notwithstanding that we're not finished with August yet. I was down in Gougane Barra the other day when the mists were low on the surrounding hills. The montbretia was flowering in swathes along the road verges, damp with moisture and enjoying itself thoroughly.

Hey, all of these are in the same sort of colourway, aren't they? Hadn't planned it like that. Been in a blue mood all summer with the Elann lace crop and the Interlacement socks, but now the call of autumn is hard to resist.

I have heard the beat of the offshore wind
And the thresh of the deep sea rain.
I have heard the song, How long, how long?
Pull out on the trail again.

What is it about September that makes us want to up sticks and go travelling? Show me a harbour or an airport and the urge is there again, insistent, pulling, demanding.

I know the airport hassle is going to be worse than ever, the baggage restrictions don't bear thinking about, the jetlag - but if you're born with the wanderlust, you can't do much about it, other than follow the call.

Here's another quote from a favourite poet of mine (I make no apology for preferring writers who are actually understandable):

They have cradled you in custom, they have primed you with their preaching,
They have steeped you in convention through and through.
They have put you in a glass case, you're a credit to their teaching,
But can't you hear the Wild - it's calling you!

Let's hear some of your favourites.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Patience my foot, I'm gonna MURDER this knitting!

Charity, thank you so much for the link to that site for making stitch markers. It is so clear and helpful that I couldn't believe it. No missing bits of vital information at ALL. Gosh, I wish the sites with instructions for Figure 8 Cast On were as clear! Can't wait to get started on some stitch markers. Which is ironic now that I come to think about it, because those early sessions on the Elann cardi, where stitch markers and I first became acquainted, were so traumatic that I still get tremors when I think about them. But I do feel quite an urge to create some little beady dangly things myself now. I owe you a skein of bainin wool, Charity - I'll drop it in at your LYS, shall I, when I'm coming through your neck of the woods in September?

Karen has asked if I can post the instructions for that devastating wedding coat. Delighted to do so, Karen: I'm asking DH for advice on the best way to do this, but any hints from the rest of you would be welcomed (It's a fairly long and detailed pattern as you'd imagine). Post really big images? Email them to you? Whatever. I'm new at this aspect but most willing to cooperate.

That Elann lace crop cardi. (Should I just call it the ELCC?) The sleeve was just not working for me. There was no smoothness, no sense of moving along in a natural way, as by this stage any pattern should be. On the sleeve being worked with the four bamboo dpns, stitches were being lost at every corner. The needles were really too short, too clunky, and, due to my hurried cutting and paring, didn't have that polish either, so the stitches dragged (when they weren't leaping off into oblivion) and trying to insert one blunt point into a difficult yo from the previous row was enough to drive anyone to drink. I lost count of the times I discovered half the correct number of stitches on the row I was working. Words the dogs hadn't heard in really ages were flying. DH asked only once if I was actually enjoying what I was doing, and then retired to his den.

The sleeve being worked on two circulars wasn't any better, although I really thought it would have been. The circulars, contrary to their usual impeccable behaviour, pulled and yanked and were constantly straining at the lace fabric, opening very large ladder-like gaps that I wasn't at all sure would heal afterwards. Plus it proved even more impossible to keep count of the stitches. Every row was a lottery, with me never picking the winning number.

I have to admit I came so close to throwing it all in the dustbin. Do you know that feeling when you're trembling on the brink of exploding? My fingers were actually twitching to wrench the whole horrible heap apart, and stuff it into the nicely sooty woodburning stove. Even my pulse rate was rising, ready for the anticipated action.

It was only the thought of confessing failure on this page that stopped me, I swear it. I tried to take a deep breath. Tried again. Then the thought struck me that perhaps slightly longer dpns would do. No, no been there, done that, got the amused negatives. No 6mm dpns to be found anywhere. Rush out, drive a 60 mile round trip to Cork, purchase not one but two more sets of bamboos? No, it's Sunday. All day. Few enough yarn stores on weekdays, none at all today.

All right, let's take this calmly. Let's get all Little House on the Prairie. What do we have that would do? How about all those discarded plastic straights, relegated to a box in the basement? Thunder downstairs, scattering dogs asleep on the landing (all banished from the knitting room during the present crisis). Search through the needle box. Yo, size 6! And TWO pairs, yay! Slam 'em into the vice, grab the little fretsaw.


I so nearly did it. I forgot, didn't I, that these were old size 6. That's UK size 6 to you New Worlders. You might think you're really trendy if you've come to terms with European versus US, but over here we have a triple problem: most of us intelligent older folk think in old UK sizings, buy in metric, and use patterns designed for US needles. I kid you not, I keep a handwritten chart underneath my keyboard - yes it's right here - with all three listed for comparison. Let's see - the old UK size 6 is... uh huh, a metric 5, which is - oh, an 8 in the US (or size H if you're using a crochet hook).

Where was I? Oh yes, that means I was just about to cut up four innocent and totally inappropriate needles. Back to the box. What I actually needed was the old UK 4 - that's a 10 to you (oh for heaven's sake, a J hook, haven't you been listening? We're not using hooks here. We're talking dpns. We're talking rubbish! We're babbling. That's what stress does to you.)

One pair of the right size (I'm not going into that again). But not long enough to make four dpns longer than the ones I already have which are manifestly too short. Surely there's another pair the same size? Nope. Despair. Eye sooty woodburning stove yearningly. Hang on - wasn't there a vast mohair project once, abandoned in a basket behind a chair somewhere? That used big needles. Thunder upstairs. Dogs, just settled comfortably, disturbed again. Haul out basket. YESSS! Another pair of the same. Down to basement. Needles into vice. Heads twisted off (sorry if this is getting a bit brutal, it's hard reality time). Cut to decent length. Where's the pencil sharpener? Create reasonable points. File with gentle side of emery board.

There. What do you think? Nice, aren't they? What are the little rings? Ah those are my special invention. Individual garters for my new dpns. I have had it up to HERE with stitches slipping off unnoticed until I find to my horror that I'm short a dozen or more, and there are wretched little ladders working their way down my precious lace project. No MORE they won't. I fashioned the little garters out of scraps of elastic and kept them in place with a few stitches.

Now you may have been laughing all the way along and thinking that I've re-invented the wheel. That you have been recycling your old knitting needles for years, and have always known about garters for dpns. Well I don't care, you hear? I thought these ideas up for myself, dragged them out of my despair and found the solutions in my own backyard (well, my own basement). I may even patent my little dpns garters - I was thinking of cute little red ones with black rosettes?

The thing is - THEY WORKED! Suddenly the block was gone, the logjam freed. The sleeve absolutely blossomed under the new needles. Mind you, it still took me half an hour to work a ten-row repeat of the Milanese Lace pattern, but that was one heck of a lot better than half a day per pattern repeat. I kept working. I didn't dare stop in case I lost my place. At one minute to midnight I got to the required length on Sleeve 1 and sailed straight into the Picot Bind Off. I'd had my doubts about that along the way, but by now, having survived the worst that lace knitting could throw at me, the picot edging was an absolute doddle. No trouble at all. (How many times have you dreaded something that's coming up, only to find when it arrives that there is nothing to it? Me too.)

Look at that sleeve! To see its innocent beauty, you wouldn't believe the tears, the heartache, the swearwords that have gone into it. I've tucked a blouse sleeve inside so you can see it better.

It's been going well ever since. This morning I took up the second sleeve, somehow sorted out the missing stitches (by dint of the occasional crafty k1 when it should have been k 2 tog) and started steaming down the straight on that one. Should get through it tonight, and then start on the rest of the body tomorrow. I think we just might make Bantry Show after all.

So this afternoon, in celebration, I drove down to Bantry and formally submitted my entry forms for the show. The finished projects have to be delivered to the showground before 5 pm on Saturday September 2. FormS? ProjectS? Yes - in a fit of temporary insanity and over-confidence, brought on by the hysterical delight of having finally finished that b-y sleeve, I threw caution to the winds, and entered the socks as well. You remember, the brightly coloured little Interlacements socks? The ones that haven't started on their heel turning yet?

Well, one way or another, those little socks have to be completed, washed, blocked and ready for the party on September 2. Don't bother with the recriminations. Just give me some good advice on the washing and blocking bit. Do they need shaping? How do I make them look really good when they're finished?

(By the way I'm assuming that this Kitchener stitch you all keep talking about is the old-fashioned grafting, right? Working from one raw stitch over to the other, that sort of thing? Haven't done it in a while, but it can't have changed that much. Anyway, for now getting the heel turned will be the main interest. OK, OK, not until the Elann jacket is finished. )

After all that, I thought you might like something calming. So here's Bantry Bay as it looked around 5 pm Irish time this evening, with Hungry Hill rising in the background (remember your Daphne du Maurier?)

It was worth the drive down just for that.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Burren, Bergere de France and a Bowling Bishop

I promised faithfully that I would post a picture or two of County Clare on the west coast of Ireland for Dez whose great grandmother came from there (and who was, incidentally, red hot on the traditional Irish crochet lace). So here's one especially for you, Dez, and anyone else who wants to enjoy our beautiful west coast.

These are the Cliffs of Moher, dizzyingly high above the sea. The wind blows over them and it is a stunningly beautiful, remote place, looking out toward the Aran Islands.

I thought you might like to see some ancient stones, so here's Poulnabrone dolmen on the Burren, not too far from the Cliffs of Moher.

The Burren is a vast area of limestone pavement, where instead of green fields you have what looks like endless crazy paving. To compensate for the lack of earth, the most incredible wild flowers burst into bloom here every spring - gentians, rockroses, orchids, the sort of plants found nowhere else in Ireland - and they all survive by tucking themselves into crannies where tiny pockets of soil have been blown. It's a strangely beautiful landscape, but not much good for making a living, which is why so many people left here in the hope of a better existence in the New World.

Rho asked what kind of deer it was with which I shared the woods in Killarney the other day. It was in fact a Sika, Rho, the smaller type. We do have red deer in the forests there, but they're a great deal more wary of human beings and you'd be lucky to see one as close as this was. I'm happy to say too that while we do have ticks (I leave it to DH to remove them from the dogs, since I get squeamish when I see one) fortunately they don't carry any diseases. No snakes here either - the Church would have us believe that St. Patrick banished them, but in fact they never made it to Ireland before we parted company with mainland Europe and made ourselves into an island - rather earlier than Christianity.

There was a dangerous moment of start-another-project-right-now-itis this morning. The sleeves of the Elann are progressing at a snail's pace, and for some reason - well any excuse to stop wrestling with those chunky dpns was enough - I wandered down to the stash store in the basement where this lovely tempting six-pack of Bergere de France Frimousse sashayed out and smiled in a knowing manner.

I'd bought this yarn in Clermont Ferrand on our last French trip in June, knowing that it would be perfect for a future project which I hadn't thought of yet. It's a boucle in charcoal and not very thick - perhaps DK. Vests were in my mind, I think (they usually are with any new yarn I haven't tried yet). Now the other day I was flipping through somebody else's copy of English Vogue and established two things pretty clearly. One is that cossack pants in velvet, bloused over boots, are going to be HUGE this winter (heck, I remember the last time, in the late Sixties, early Seventies), and the other is rich charcoal woollies in cashmere, merino or other sumptuously soft yarn. The ones I saw had cables and diamonds as well as the less raised guernsey patterns which are worked with purl stitches rather than twists. There was one adorable mini-dress made as a sweater but longer and flared out at the end so that it became a tiny frock for someone young with very good legs indeed. Now I want nothing more than to get started on a hug-me-tight, a cabled Aran cropped cardigan, something, anything with that Frimousse. But the Elann is still there, waiting, indicating the calendar which reminds me that entries for Bantry Show must be registered on Tuesday and the completed garment delivered by September 2...

So how is the Elann, you ask resignedly. Believe me, I'm about as interested in it as you are at this stage. Would one of you ever pop over to Ireland, slam open my front door and order me to cease working on it forthwith? It would make things so much simpler. On the other hand, it's progressed so far now that to return would be as tedious as to complete, to paraphrase Shakespeare.

Looking any better to you? How long do sleeves have to be? Are these cuff-sweeping designs a bit over-rated? Aren't elbow-length sleeves all the rage? (It may be that you see a jacket here that looks further on than it acually is. When I've completed the sleeves, there is still the body to work downwards, before making those challenging Horseshoe Point bind-offs.)

Anyway, when DH suggested I come out on his day's jobs with him, I acquiesced with startling speed. First off was the airport where two generations of a family were coming in to join the other two; all were then going up to the Midlands to do a joint parachute jump. Search me - I think it was a family dare or something. They've recently built a huge new terminal at Cork and for sure it's a lot more sophisticated and practical for the crowds we get, but I mourn the old, small, friendly one. Up to a few years ago, they even had a turf fire burning in the arrivals hall to welcome visitors! And you could always hail friends among the officials and staff as you came in. Still, I suppose we had to update sometime. One good thing - as far as I know, it is still possible to buy bacon and sausages in the duty free hall to take back with you.

Thence to Fountainstown, a small seaside resort, where children have been learning how to road bowl. Road bowling is a rare enough sport, confined to Ireland and even there to just Armagh and Cork. It consists basically of throwing an extremely heavy small ball (solid metal) along a country road, to see who can get it furthest. Large amounts of money change hands at a big bowling match, but on any Sunday you can find local men and youths out on their own boreen, keeping up the tradition. Since this seaside one was for children, there was definitely no betting; instead the lemonade and crisps were much in evidence, and no less a personage than the Bishop of Cork had come down to show them how.

Bishop John Buckley is a lovely gentle man who likes nothing better than to get rid of the robes and spend an hour's bowling to free him from bishoply cares. When he'd done his bit and reluctantly torn himself away to attend to episcopal duties, I went in to the tiny local shop which sits in a tin hut almost on the beach. Three sisters run it for the summer months, offering a much-needed service to local holidaymakers since it is a good few miles to any other commercial facility.

You should see the variety of things they sell in there! Sweets and groceries, fishing flies and newspapers, birthday cards, and candles, electric plugs and aspirin, hats and hula hoops, sunglasses and light bulbs, home-made blackcurrant tarts and even real ice-cream wafers, cut from the block in traditional style. They didn't have knitting needles or yarn - sadly, they said, nobody knits around there any more - but I challenged them to find a needle and thread and they didn't hesitate, diving underneath the counter and coming up with the goods.

I love local shops like these and hope they can continue as long as possible. Big supermarket chains tend to drive them out of business eventually, but these are tough ladies in Fountainstown and as long as holidaymakers come down to spend a week or a month by the sea, Angela, Kathleen and Marie will be there, weighing out the sweets, advising on the fishing flies, handing over the evening paper.

I have tended, on one or two occasions, to bewail the non-availability of standard yarns here in Ireland, and have frequently voiced my jealousy of the rest of you out there. It is being slowly borne in on me, however, that I am not exactly the only one who wishes she had more yarn stores, more choice, right on her doorstep. When I read your weblogs, I realise everyone wants something else. Some of you yearned for the cones I found at Muckross and Kerry Woollen Mills. OK, I won't grumble any more that I don't have Joann's and Michael's round the corner. Everybody has their own yarn sources. Although these ones in Ireland are few and far between and you really have to hunt to find them, maybe that's part of the fun. You appreciate it more when you do strike lucky. But boy, you should see me in an American or Canadian yarn shop when I'm on a trip! I tend to go into complete topspin and rush around hyperventilating and hurling everything I can see into a basket. Same in France (only there they expect you to do it with decorum). And when I make a trip to one of those old-fashioned English spinning mills (now alas far fewer than before), I need to be left alone for a WHOLE DAY to walk the entire place slowly, then again, then take a coffee break, then make a selection, then a second selection - and finally have to be dragged out forcibly at closing time, protesting vociferously.

But then I guess that's pretty standard behaviour for yarn fiends everywhere, isn't it?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I Sing Of Sheep and Deer and Yarn and Lantern Moons

Sometimes you get a day gifted from the gods themselves and you give thanks for it. I'd been working since early morning on some copy that had to be emailed out urgently, and by 11 am my brain felt like it had gone five rounds in the boxing ring. The clouds were down and it was raining gently, but I needed OUT. Headed for Killarney, turning off as I always do onto a tiny side boreen before reaching the busy tourist town itself. That way I circumnavigate the crowds and emerge right by Muckross Forest. Once I see this view any stress dissolves instantly.

I pottered along in low gear, taking my time, enjoying the moss-covered stone walls, the montbretia flowering in the ditches, the blackberries ripening. Then I met two yarn designers on their way to work...

and wished them a good day, and good production.

I was driving slowly up the avenue to Muckross House when suddenly a deer trotted across the road in front of me and disappeared into the forest.

I cut the engine, left the car on the verge and went straight in after it on foot, clutching my camera. I could see it moving slowly away through the thicket and followed as silently as I could. Every time it stopped to lift its head and listen, I froze. Gradually I drew closer. Once I was fully in view, I moved as calmly and softly as possible, avoiding eye contact, keeping on a parallel path rather than a converging one, trying to make my movements those of a peaceful ruminant animal, not a dangerous human. I got closer...

and closer still. The deer decided to accept me as a harmless forest resident and began to graze. I hunkered down on the ground, so close I could have reached out and stroked it, and for about ten minutes we shared the woods, the dripping trees, the scent of the wet earth. Raised voices beyond the wood, on the road, made it prick up its ears and glance around, but for me there was only acceptance and serenity. I have never felt so privileged, so honoured.

I could have stayed there all day, but I thought I had been given enough, so I softly got up and left. The deer glanced mildly at me and wandered off into the deeper woods where no paths led. The sense of joy filled me right through all the way up to the house.

And things kept going right! When I went into Muckross Weavers, there were new yarn cones for sale!

Oh I know one basket isn't much, but at least they've got the idea now. I trawled through them and of course took that huge pink one at the front - plus a rather nice red with tiny orange fluffs which I'd seen there last time and had regretted not buying then.

The pink is a rather attractive colour - the kind you'd get if you went out early with a nice big bowl and gathered dew-fresh really really ripe raspberries, then crushed them lightly with a silver spoon before adding a tablespoon or two - no more - of fresh cream and stirring it gently. I would say, with the mohair content, it's about double knitting thickness. The bright orange-red is thinner, maybe 3 ply, maybe 2 - it's 2/16ths, I think.

Any way the pink cone is HUGE. I weighed it when I got home and it's nearly 3 kilos. That's six pounds of pink mohair yarn! I'm going to think up a competition and give a 200 gr. skein to whoever wins. Maybe a poem based on a really well known one, but adapted to the theme of knitting? Oh - that big one cost €20 by the way, and the red one €10 (that would be around US$25 and $12.50, or £13.50/£6.75 stg.) so they were both good value.

Even more pleasure when I finally got home, as my new Lantern Moon needles had arrived from Knitty-Noddy. I don't know how Evelyn does it, but I get orders from her within three or four days, whereas post from Dublin can take a week. These are finer needles, for possible lacework or even more socks and they are very delicate.

Which brings me to the tragedies of the day, the reminders that into every life a little rain must fall (although you'd think I'd have got enough of that in Killarney), and that no 24 hours may be without its upsets. I had hung the tiny new Lantern Moons on the back of a chair to relax and unkink, and somehow leant back against one of them! A cracking sound, a shriek from me, and despair raged around the dining room. DH, bless his heart, took over, carried the damaged little circular tenderly downstairs and ministered to it with various magic glues of his concocting. Then he tucked it up in a clamp for the night and left it resting comfortably.

I felt so guilty. Those needles came courageously all the way from Vietnam to Oregon and then across the Atlantic to me, and on their very first night I'm the cause of one of them breaking a leg! What was its sister thinking? What would Evelyn at Knitty-Noddy think? I'm not a fit parent! I would have taken the second pair to bed, only I was afraid of causing another tragedy.

Anyway this morning the leg seems to have set well, so I sanded it very gently with an emery board. In due course I'll give it a tiny polish with beeswax and test it out so so carefully...

It was almost midnight, and something whispered, 'Why not do another ten-row pattern of the Milanese lace on the second sleeve of the Elann cardi?' A good idea, I thought. One sleeve is now progressing on four home-made bamboo dpns, the other is being worked on two circulars. I got going on the two circulars. Midnight, half past twelve, quarter to one. Only another four rows of the pattern to go... Horror! For the first time EVER, the stitches at the other end of the row, instead of staying neatly on the cable, had somehow got themselves up to the needle end and SLID OFF! By the time I discovered this catastrophe, the pulling and hauling and stretching which are an inevitable concomitant of knitting in the round had done their worst. I had about twenty dropped stitches, some of them several rows down, in a pattern that involves more yo's and k 2 togs than you can imagine.

It was a bad late night session. I ate half a bar of dark chocolate (with chopped almonds and orange peel) before retiring. But once abed, I drew the cloak of memory around me and was back in the forest with that accepting, gentle deer. Some things stay with you always.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Newsflash! Other Crafts Claim Equal Rights With Knitting!

Isn't email great? I've had some lovely messages recently. One was from Dez who came over from Yarn Harlot's site - welcome to Ireland, Dez! Your Irish great grandmother came from Co. Clare near the mouth of the Shannon, and you hope some day to visit here yourself and stand where she might have done before leaving for ever. Dez, I can't resist such thoughts! I'm hunting through the image collection right NOW and will post some pictures of where your roots lie just as soon as I can.

And I had a really nice email from the Ukraine which restores all my faith in eBay buying. I'd ordered this gorgeous-looking laceweight yarn in silver, but when it arrived it was more of an untreated-flax-brown. I didn't have much hope, but sent a message to the seller via eBay. I got a prompt reply in very careful English, asking me to send it back. Which I did. (Funny thing, my post office didn't even raise an eyebrow at a Ukraine address - I wouldn't have been able to resist shrieking, 'Wow - the Ukraine - now there's somewhere fascinating' - but then that's probably why I'm not a postmistress.) And today I got another message, telling me they'd received it safely AND sending an image of three balls in a row to choose from.

Now doesn't a business like that deserve support? (You'll find these yarns on eBay under Lace-Weight Fine Wool Yarn SILVER (or whatever colour) 400 gr at a great price. Go Ukraine!)

Last night I succumbed to the siren call of the ocean and ordered not just one but two skeins of Sea Silk in Berry from Knitty-Noddy. Yes, I know I said I'd wait until I got to Canada next month, but the way things are going in the airline world, I'm wondering if I'll even have my purse, let alone a suitcase when I do get there. Anyway, it will be a practice run (albeit an expensive one) for buying MORE when I get there.

I was delighted to read that Peg doesn't like Addi Turbos either. I held forth at length on this topic in Knitter's Review Forum but thought it worth saying again. THESE DON'T WORK FOR ME. I was cajoled and dragooned into buying a pair last time I was across the herring pond, but despite all the claims for beauty and simplicity and speed and happiness, they were a no-no from the start. Unlike Colonial rosewoods or Lantern Moon which were instant love affairs. I'm offering mine to whoever wants them when I can find where I hurled them in a fit of rage.

And still on the topic of needles, I have been finding working that Elann cardi sleeve on either one or two circulars really hard work for some reason. OK, I'll try dpns. But this is Ireland. 6mm dpns? Gosh no, there's no call for those (the usual dismissal when you ask for something other than the blindingly obvious). But in my LYS in Cork, the ever-helpful Bernadette asked why I didn't simply get a pair of bamboos and cut them in half? Cut them in half? Well yes, why not? Maureen, she said, her fellow-shop owner, always turned her broken bamboos into cable needles. So I got a pair, took them home, and spent a happy half hour in the basement workshop cutting and sanding (a pencil sharpener did fine on the rough work for the tips).

How do they look? (The cardi had to be bundled up - it's getting way too long and tangly and awkward at this teenage, hoydenish stage.) Yes, you do see rubber bands around the needles. That's because - yes, OK, they're a bit too short. But I'll MANAGE. I'm not going back and buying two more pairs to get four too-long dpns... at least I don't think I am.

It was reassuring to find that others enjoy thrift stores too. Anne talked wistfully of the days she used to get old sweaters to make into hooked rugs, before knitting became king. And Angie remembered a dream she had of finding or at least recreating those wonderful traditional English smocks which she'd seen in a local museum. Which brought on another soapbox surge from your Irish correspondent. Listen now, and put down your knitting for a moment. There is nothing, do you hear me, NOTHING wrong with hooking rugs. Nor is there anything wrong with smocking, embroidery, lacemaking, macrame, any other fibre craft, or indeed any craft at all - be it woodwork or sculpture from discarded freezers. Quite the contrary, all of these are wonderful, important, vital, and beautiful activities, without which the world would be a poorer place. How would we get on without those divine spindles, those crochet hooks, those circulars from Jenkins Woodworking , tell me that? You don't need rugs on your floor? Chairs at your table? Curtains at your window? A work of art on the landing? You've never knowingly allowed a lace item into your house? (You don't have a house because you don't think woodworking or dovetailing or jointing or whatever is an acceptable craft?) Come on!

I'm shouting this extra loud because I have come across weblogs where people are positively snobbish about 'other' (and by implication, lesser) crafts. Crochet, for example, is considered downmarket, not the real thing by more than one. Why? Isn't it beautiful? Yes. Isn't it intricate and clever? Yes. Well? Just because you may not be good at one particular craft doesn't mean you can't admire it - not unless you have a very small mind indeed. I can't conquer tatting, no matter how much I try - but others make some beautiful and fashionable chokers and bracelets. My silk spinning and dyeing aren't as good as they could be - but boy can I admire other cleverclogs who create incredible yarns that way. One day I will be able to work in wood, if I live long enough. In the meantime, I'll envy and buy from those who already have this talent. I'm no elitist and I don't think anyone else has the right to be either. The world would be a pretty depressing place, not to say uninteresting (and possibly dangerously unbalanced), if we were all devoted to just one craft.

I've stopped shouting now so you can take your hands down from your ears. I went looking for those venerable volumes of Golden Hands last night and found a treasure trove. I mean, some of the things being illustrated in those weekly issues almost forty years ago are stunning. Here are just a few I photographed for you.

Just look at that jerkin of many colours. Do you think this is where Kaffe Fassett got his inspiration? What a skilful choice of colours and shapes. Actually I think I prefer it to Kaffe's designs - it's cleaner, less fussy. Here's another.

No, it's not crochet, it's macrame. Not a craft in which I'm very experienced, but I'd certainly like to try this. It's pretty fashionable for today's teenagers, I think too. Now take a deep breath and look at this one.

Ignore the two dated guys and feast your eyes on that knitted lace wedding coat. It's trimmed with tiny pearls as buttons all the way up the front. I don't have a wedding coming up, I don't know anyone who has a wedding coming up, but I sure want to try out that utterly beautiful garment. It would need to be in a very light yarn, otherwise there would be a risk of the weight dragging downwards. Isn't it superb, though? If anyone really wants it, I'll work out a way of getting it to you. (What do you mean, life's too short? Do you mean to tell me that if you sat up on your deathbed and found you had finished and tidied away every single project, you'd be happy? Of course not. You'd cast on for another gansey immediately.)