Saturday, September 30, 2006

So Little Time, So Much Stash To Secure...

Right, the tension is starting to creep up again now that there are only three and a half yarn hunting days to go before we leave BC. This tension thing is a nuisance; before you go on a trip you're so wound up with worrying about whether the dogs will be OK in summer camp and the house will be all right and whether you'll clear the backlog of work and whether this is a good idea in the first place, that you can't sleep. Don't know about you, but the night before a trip has to be the worst one in the world. You lie awake, fully aware of the fact that you have to get up at 4 anyway, and that you should really be sunk in delicious slumber, with all the thoughts whirling round in your head and resolving themselves into just one, 'Why am I doing this?'

Then you're off and it's exciting and wonderful and you meet new friends and find glorious yarn shops and all the magazines and books you'd been yearning to get hold of to read over and over again on dark winter evenings, and slowly, very slowly, you start to relax. At this stage of the trip we're both actually sleeping through the night, having finally sorted the 9 hour time difference. We're at the most beautiful spot on the Vancouver Island coast, where Discovery Passage is so narrow that we have a procession of barges, boats, cruise liners passing right outside our window. About ten minutes after each one goes dignifiedly by, there is a whooshing sound on the beach below our room as the wash rolls the pebbles round.

But it's Saturday morning and on Tuesday evening we fly out from Vancouver. There are more yarn shops to see, more stash to be tucked away in the suitcases (yep, I made sure we both had the kind with expanding zips to make them twice the width - new luggage regulations frown on more than one bag each so they had better be big. Luckily yarn is light...)

I panic because I know that over the next few days as over the last, I will see yarns and textures and colours and patterns that I might never see again. Yes, I know there's the Internet, but nothing, as Peg agreed when we met in Courtenay, beats actually seeing the ball or the skein with your own eyes and handling it. How often have you ordered something that looks perfect only to be disappointed when it arrives? So if I fall in love on the spot (which has happened rather frequently this trip) should I buy now, hope it's in the last yarn shop I visit before leaving, take a note of name and maker, or what?

And then there are needles - like the divine Lantern Moon dpns which are so beautiful I'm going to make a frame to display them when not in use, and bamboo circulars in every gauge - and all the little fudgies which you just can't get in Ireland but which you spoiled pack can just wander out and pick up any time you feel like it. Stitch markers, especially those ones like tiny plastic padlocks which can be inserted or taken out at any time instead of being accessible only when you actually get to them on the row. Big-eyed needles for sewing up, for heaven's sake. You just try finding those in West Cork!

Most of all, warm welcoming yarn stores with friendly people who all think the same way as I do and are all as excited as me about new projects, new fibres, new ideas. Shelves of books and magazines and patterns - oh dear heaven I'm going to miss them so much. Yes, again there is the Internet - but how do I know I can't live without a new book if I haven't seen it yet? All of the latest purchases in that line - and there are many - are going to have to go in my trusty handbaggage, an expandable rucksack, because they'll be far too heavy for the checked baggage. I might never see them again, you realise that? I might NEVER SEE THEM AGAIN!

OK, I'll calm down. This isn't the end of the world, it's just the end of a trip approaching. And I still have today, Sunday (not so good, I suspect) and Monday. Plus as much of Tuesday as I have the nerve to use before heading for the airport. You can never relax, can you, when that departure time is hanging there as an unspoken threat? There is a yarn store in Surrey, below Vancouver, that I think carries a really good range of dyes and I MUST have a good choice of dyes. If you're lucky at home you find Dylon in green, red, brown. That's it. And not very exciting green, red, brown, either, I can tell you. I want those wonderful magentas and purples and ochres and goldens and marigolds and sea blues and forests and mosses and everything in between. What will the customs men (or indeed the sniffer dogs) make of them? Don't ask. I don't want to think about that. With any luck they won't check.

This morning we go across to Quadra Island to see Fun Knits. Its friendly owner is in fact one island over, on Cortes for the day, at a knitting seminar, but she has arranged for her mother to keep shop so that I can go in. I love the idea of walking up from the pier to a new yarn shop, full of possibility, and bringing my loot back over the sea to Campbell River. Will post you on that later. There is a lovely shop here in town too, the Needle & Arts Centre, run by Inge Kettler. I remembered this one from my last trip a year or so ago because it was the first place I'd seen women sitting and knitting over cups of coffee right there in the store. Oh I know it's a given now, but it was new then - or new to me - and I loved it.

This is Inge. When the local knitters have more time, in the winter, they get together with leftover balls from making up sample garments, and knit them into quilts for the local elderly folk, which is a very nice idea. I got some stunning yarn from Inge which was exactly (to my eyes) like the pebbly beach and blue water and seaweed of the shoreline here, and immediately started to make it up into a little short crop vest or shrug, so I can wear it while I'm here, right on the shoreline that inspired it.

The colours don't look too good here, but they might look better when it's done and out in the open air among the rocks and seaweed. It's full of hazy teals and blues and some golden browns and lots of different textures from warm wool to shiny viscose. Coventry from Trendsetter Yarns and no, I'm not going to tell you how much I paid for four balls - DH might read this weblog. (That's why it's a crop, a small, a short, a very exiguous vest after all.)

I was working away on this vest yesterday evening as the sun was setting and then a huge cruise liner hove into view, so DH obligingly gave my project a starring role in the scene.

Which I think it rather enjoyed really. After all, it's going to bear the name of this place throughout what I trust will be a useful and much used life, so it's good to have a picture of its birthplace.

So - Fun Knits on Quadra Island today, a shop in Cumberland, another snatched visit to Uptown Yarns in Courtenay if at all possible, then several in Victoria, to hunt down the legendary Seasilk. Over to the mainland, at least three more there on this side of the airport. Where will I pack it all? So much to do, so little time left. I've been reading other webloggers' posts and am amazed and delighted at how quickly you've all got into the autumn/fall feeling with projects. And I'm still out here, amassing the stash. You'll have a head start on me. I can feel the panic rising again...

Friday, September 29, 2006

When Webloggers Finally Meet!

The picture says it all. DH and I got to Courtenay on Vancouver Island on a beautifully autumnal sunny morning and there was beloved Peg of Woolinmysoup, Peg with whom I have weblogged and emailed for months, right there in person.

It's an incredible feeling when you actually meet a fellow knitter and weblogger. You have exchanged so many confidences, so much personal information through your postings that by the time you come face to face you are already old friends. And that was exactly how it proved. I hauled out a couple of small things I'd got especially for Peg in Ireland and hidden away in my suitcase, and then she - this was a complete lovely shock - brought out the most beautiful little felted bag for me.

It is about eight inches high and knitted in three natural shades of brown, camel and fawn, with its own lovely drawstring to keep treasures inside safely hidden. And what a treasure there was inside!

Isn't this just the most beautiful lace scarf you've ever seen? I couldn't believe that Peg had made it especially for me. It is light as thistledown, as gossamer, and almost flies by itself in the slightest breeze.

Here are Peg and her lovely husband John looking amused while I play entranced with my new length of airy thistledown lace.

We hadn't even got into Peg's LYS yet at this stage but were still talking and laughing outside while my own DH took pictures at lightning speed (well, he's used to capturing unique moments, it's his job!) So John most obligingly took R out looking for scenery and wildlife while Peg and I hit Jen's lovely Uptown Yarns, completely immersed in chat and laughter and exchanging of scrappy sentences that said 'This is great - I can't believe we've met at last!'

I have to tell you that meeting up with a fellow blogger is so marvellous we should all do it. There is an incredible linkage and power source in all these postings which I don't quite fathom yet, but know it's there. I honestly and truly think we could be a power for sanity and beauty in a world going ever more quickly mad. Can't we arrange web-log-ins in different places?

I must say Peg is blessed in her LYS. It is a gorgeously crowded little place with tempting shelves, snippets and baskets of different colours, textures, fibres at every turn. I was so excited with the journey and the meeting and the gifts that I couldn't settle on anything and bounced from one to the other like a kid. Jen, the owner, and her mother were both calm kindness as they observed their normally well behaved regular and her wildly erratic friend careering around talking at the tops of their voices and calling to each other to look at this yarn or that.

And then to top it all, just as I was fingering yet again the most beautiful hand-dyed yarns I'd ever seen, ,in came the designer responsible for creating them - one Judy McLean who lives right there on Vancouver Island. My heavens, you should see the mohairs and laceweights and homespuns and so much more, all in the most incredibly dreamlike shades. She was fascinating to talk to, as she told us how she'd gradually moved from creating one-of-a-kind sweaters to producing the unique yarns themselves and how she loved doing that. Peg, forgive me, but all this travelling is making me most disorganised and I can't even find Jen's yarn store business card with Judy's details on the back. Is she Sweatergirl Yarns? Can you tell people where to find them, until I get home and back to where I can put my hand on things quickly? And my eternal regret is that I didn't even have a camera in the yarn store. Will just have to call in again on the way back down the island, if only to get a picture of lovely happy Jen and her mother in their utterly desirable shop.

Now up at Campbell River with the sun just rising across the water behind Quadra Island and the occasional ship sliding by silently through Discovery Passage. But my thoughts are still with the wonder of meeting fellow webloggers and the joy it brings. This is something I want to do again. And again.

Tomorrow or tonight, depending on whether I can get the laptop from R again, I'll post on the shameful self-indulgences so far - did I really need a set of Lantern Moon dpns (only one answer to that...) And Briggs Mill roving... And the One Skein book...?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Shhh, I think I've sneaked up on Blogger unawares...

We're getting ready to leave for Tete Jaune at 8 am but think that Blogger might just still be asleep and won't notice me trying to upload pictures, so typing this as DH has his granola (great granola they serve here at the Bear's Hill Lodge) and I break off bits of a cheese scone in between typing on the breakfast table.

I tried to do this last night as well (never stop thinking about you waiting for the pics) and had got right through to the very last one when the whole thing crashed. D - m -nation! Still, here's hoping.

Well, got one in at least. Here's that very first of what I hope will be many yarn stores, the one in Chilliwack the morning after we arrived...

and here's the interior, lovely and crowded. I'm admiring that incredible jacket made from the book which explores new ways and shapes - can't remember its title or even author right now but will give you a closeup of the jacket next posting and you'll probably know it right off. That's the new Vogue Knitting mag under my arm.

Here's the first proof that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive in a town late on Saturday night. Mostly quilting stuff in the window but I could see lots of yarn in the dim interior (this is 9 pm by the way).

And here's the second. First time I've seen one using the title 'Fibre' - and hey, they spell it like we do. Is that a Canadian thing?

Here's a closeup of the window - that's me reflected in the mirror, with DH pointing the camera. Silk, mohair, soy, chenille - what a beautifully designed window, calculated to get you leaping right in there to explore the treasures beyond.

Aren't these felted boots irresistible? They're made in Nepal, according to the label. Lovely jester footwear for the holiday season.

And finally here is one of those amazing peaks on the Icefield Parkway with the clouds forming and blowing above it. What a huge, impressive, slightly frightening place that icy world is.

Fingers crossed, I'm going to press Publish Post now. That's where it all crashed yesterday... Next time I'll show you the furious elk, full of desire and bad temper, and the dawn over Pyramid Lake...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Warning: Saturday Night/Sunday Morning Signifies Shuttered Yarn Stores!

Greetings from Jasper, in the heart of the snowy Rockies! Gosh, that was a long drive up from Chilliwack. And don't start laughing, I'd done my mapping homework and I knew exactly the mileage - it just didn't make the actual driving any easier. If anything it was worse, knowing how much more there was still to do.

And of course we didn't leave Chilliwack until midday, firstly because we slept like logs, getting rid of the jetlag, and secondly because there was that yarn store to check out...

The actual owner was away and the lady left in charge didn't know too much about yarn and yarn issues - hadn't heard of the Yarn Harlot (hey, this is Canada, and a Canadian yarn store, right?) and didn't know about Interweave magazine. Still it was a nice packed shop, and I bought the latest Vogue Knitting plus Nancy Wiseman's Shawls, Stoles and Scarves (hope I've got author and titles right since I'm typing this on R's laptop in my knee in the car and can't check) which I'd wanted for some time.

Long long drive to Revelstoke where we arrived late on Saturday evening. And what do you know, although they hadn't shown up on my pre-trip search, this town boasts not just one but two yarn stores, a happy looking place on 1st St. West and an utterly gorgeous Fibre Market on Mackenzie. But of course it was Saturday night, and tomorrow was going to be Sunday, all day, and they were shut, shut, shut! No hope till Monday. DH gently pulled my grasping hands from the door of Fibre Market - which had the most superbly cunning window display I've ever seen - and coaxed me over to Bad Paul's for dinner. A mug of local draft beer (Attila the Honey) restored my calm somewhat, but for the rest of my life I will regret those Revelstoke stores. 'They might not have been any good,' observed DH helpfully. They might not at that. But I'll never know. They might have held treasures unavailable anywhere else in the world. One of you nip up and check, will you? At least you're on the same continent, most of you.

(Blogger is steadfastly refusing to upload pictures, so might have to wait until we get somewhere with better reception - sorry, because they were really nice.)

Revelstoke to that packed and noisy hellhole called Lake Louise and then the beauty of the long road across to Jasper with snowy peaks on either side. Found elk grazing by the roadside just as we hit Jasper which was a treat, and collapsed here for a rest. This morning (Monday) going down to check Stytchen Time on Patricia Street and will let you have all the details later. Peeked through their window last night and saw all kinds of rainbow dyed fleece and hints of irresistible yarns...

Darn it, wish I could get some pictures up. Went out before dawn this morning (we're still waking around 4 or 5, can't adjust to the 9 hours difference) and saw the sun rise over Pyramid Lake. We were absolutely on our own out in the cold beautiful silence, with the mist floating over the surface of the lake and the clouds gradually turning rosy pink. It was a joy and a privilege to be there.

Charity, I wish I do wish I could get up to Prince George but it's just too far. We'll stay here in Jasper till tomorrow and then head over to Tete Jaune and from there turn back towards Whistler and the coast. I really would have loved to see you. Maybe next time? But Peg, I'm on course to see you at Uptown Yarns in Courtenay on the Island around Thursday afternoon or Friday morning if you're in town - I have your phone number so will let you know when we're approaching the coast. Plus planning a final binge in Beehive Yarns in Victoria, where Seasilk has been known to lurk. Anybody who wants to make a fun yarn hunting trip to Victoria next Monday, I'll be there!

Will try once more with the pictures. Hold on.

Nope, no luck. But rest assured, I'm logging every yarn store in every town I pass through (the one in Salmon Arm is closed by the way, although the quilting shop stocks some of those fun fur yarns). And as soon as we reach a location with really good connections, I'll post lots of pictures.



Saturday, September 23, 2006

Yo, Fiendish Irish Knitter Lands in BC!

We got here, we got here, and what a marathon that was. A 4 am start is really not my favourite thing. Mercifully the howling gales and rainstorms had blown themselves out so at least we didn't get drenched leaving. Quick flight to Amsterdam followed by several hours of waiting around. I know, I know, the cool thing to do is take the train into the city to look at canals, but you can't quite relax, can you, with another flight looming on the distant horizon. Fortunately it's one of my favourite airports to spend some time - they have cute little mini-trolleys for your hand luggage (and free too - other airports take note!) there are some amazing shops, even electronic ones for DH, and how many other airports have a museum with an exhibition of Rembrandt and other old masters? Or a comfort zone where you can get a shoulder massage or a full body aqua-treatment? Plus their coffee is good, strong, and can wake up even someone who started at 4 am. With six hours between flights, the Glitz socks got a good workout.

It was the first time I'd tried hooking the little bag on to my belt and wandering around knitting, and it worked very well. Most people averted their eyes but one elderly Dutch lady was enchanted, patting my arm and saying, 'Good, good, very good,' and a fashionable gent manning a gift store was also fascinated. Maybe they'll go on from there, we must continue the good work!

It's exasperating to fly from Cork into central Europe, wait there six hours and then fly right back over Ireland to go to Canada, but that's the way it works these days - you have to get to the best hub for your trip. A nine hours plus flight tests your endurance too. Got right through a lightweight but fairly thick novel and the socks were nearly knee-length before we got to a sight that made any inconvenience worthwhile -

The coast of Greenland, totally clear with the late afternoon sunshine throwing the mountains into sharp relief. It was the kind of sight you couldn't believe you were seeing even as you flew. I forgave DH yet again for taking the window seat - his results are usually a lot better than mine.

Gosh, you Canadians, you do have a big country, don't you? Once we'd passed Greenland, which took long enough, and could finally see Canadian soil far below, there was still almost half the journey to do. How many rounds can you knit before your patience and eyes start to whinge 'Are we there yet?'

Much as I love them, I was genuinely feeling a bit sick of socks before at last we were circling over the beautiful coastline of British Columbia, seeing the huge rafts of logs floating in the Fraser River below, and dropping to the airport. And then a car to pick up, the complexities of the evening rush hour to navigate (it was about 5 pm by this time) and we headed out towards Chilliwack and the hills.

The sun was setting behind us and gilding everything in a rosy glow as we reached Chilliwack and waited for a huge freight train to pass before at last pulling up outside a motel and gratefully climbing out to stretch our tired limbs. Staying here the night to recover from the jet lag and a full 24 hours travelling. And tomorrow morning...? Tee hee, DH doesn't know it, but I've done my homework. There are two yarn stores in this here town! Will just one have that Interweave Knits issue with the Icarus Shawl that you've all been going on about and I have had to listen to you going on about all summer? Catch up with you at the next stop. Miss you!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Fair Sets The Wind For British Columbia!

Right, 9.30 at night here and really time to close down. We have to get up at 4 am (why is everybody from Yarn Harlot to Ms. Knitingale getting up at 4 am lately, really I feel in good company!) to get to the airport. Fly to Amsterdam and then to Vancouver, getting in almost at the same time we leave, thanks to the delights of different time zones.

Rest assured I will miss no opportunity to update the weblog and see what you have all been up to. This is my first lengthy trip away since getting into the whole weblogging thing and I will MISS everybody.

Until we talk again, here's my very very favourite poem. You probably know it, and it's a bit hackneyed by now, I suppose, but it expresses so much.

An Old Woman Of The Roads.

Oh, to have a little house,
To own the hearth and stool and all,
The heaped up sods upon the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall.

To have a clock with weights and chains,
And pendulum swinging up and down,
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled, and white and blue and brown.

I could be busy all the day,
Cleaning and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on the shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store.

I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself
Sure of a bed and loth to leave
The ticking clock and the shining delph.

Och! but I'm weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there's never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and track,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush.

And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying him night and day,
For a little house - a house of my own,
Out of the wind and the rain's way.

Padraic Colum.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Let's Swatch Again, Like We Did Last Summer...

YO, I think we're back in business! Don't say anything, but it just might work this time! It's been like nursing an ailing car back home - will it make the next phone box, will it make the next crossroads, will it make the next bend... Anyway, fingers crossed, this post will actually get out there.

OK. To return to where we were three days ago. What was I working on? Oh yes -

You know this swatching business can actually get addictive. As I think I mentioned before, swatching and moi, indeed any kind of preliminary gauge check and moi were entirely strangers throughout most of my knitting life. However, hearing about the dutiful work put in by the rest of you made me feel ashamed and when I considered making an Alice Starmore Aran I didn't even have the choice. That woman simply commands you right from the printed page to DO a swatch in EACH of the patterns, repeated TWICE, and then check again. Divine designer, but would you choose her as your companion on that desert isle?
Anyway I decided to test-drive a miraculous feat of Celtic interlacing showcased in her St. Brigid design. Had sent off for a ball of Jo Sharp Silk Road but it hadn't arrived yet, so picked up a ball of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino and tried it with that. Fascinating following the chart: over the years you get used to Aran patterns that follow a clearly defined and symmetrical path - both sides go out, both sides come in and cross; you twist 2 k over 2 p in every case or 2 over 1 in every case. On any row you work towards the centre and then reverse your pattern for the other side. Now suddenly all the rules were being broken and I had to follow the chart like a hawk. Several times there were abrupt halts while I thought, 'Hang on, that can't be right. Surely I don't go backwards here?' But The Lady of Stornoway knew what she was doing and I have to say the end result was incredible. I've worked Celtic interlacing in many forms before, in embroidery, couching cord on velvet cushions, drawing, painting - but I've never worked it in stitches before and I can only sit back and admire someone who is able to reproduce that maddeningly difficult over-this-and-under-that regulation with such deceptive ease.

Trouble was, once I'd finished that swatch and pressed it neatly, I rather missed the exercise. By this time Silk Road had arrived from Ozeyarn, so I worked another of the St. Brigid patterns in that. Then, with enthusiasm undimmed (after all, these were nice easy exercises on 35 sts at the very most, and usually around 19) I tried another in that Cheviot wool of which I had a large cone (used that one doubled). Finally I gave the lovely soft alpaca I got in Killarney a bit of an outing. Here's the result of all that fun and games.

Reading from left to right: small swatch at top is in Cheviot pure wool, used doubled; small swatch below is pure alpaca. Centre diva is Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino; and long swatch to right is Jo Sharp Silk Road.

Now I need everybody's help on this. Which to use? Which has the best stitch definition? I think, much as I adore it, the alpaca is out of this one. It's just too soft, too cuddly for a marathon like this and it's not fair to use it for something for which it is so clearly not designed. The Cheviot I have LOTS of and I really should use it since it's in house and bought long ago and therefore virtually cost free. The Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino isn't exactly inexpensive but at least I can buy it locally (and probably just slightly cheaper than you can in the New World). There is no excuse at all for the Jo Sharp Silk Road DK Tweed since I have to get it from Australia (!) and it isn't cheap either. Which makes it the most obvious option of course. HELP!

Got a lovely package in the post from Natalie at Yarn Yard yesterday, containing an utterly glorious skein of explosively creamy orange sock yarn known as Mango Sorbet.

Do you know, this is the first time ever I've been able to source a really good cheerful sock yarn from the UK? Good on you Natalie, and let's have more of it. She's new to selling this beautiful stuff, so go and give her some support, willya? Can't wait to get started on it, but the Glitz socks have to be finished first.

Dammit I am so FED UP of gigantic spiders in the bedroom! Is it the autumnal weather or what? It seems I can't go in there at night without finding something the size of a truck hanging off the curtains or glowering at me from the ceiling. DH is getting tired of being summoned shrilly from his computer to deal with these threatening invaders. Last night I found the strong female courage from somewhere to clap a glass over one (its hairy legs almost protruded beyond, it was so huge) but then lost the strength to slide a card underneath and get the whole thing out the window, so had to call on DH again. And then I spent the night imagining that same spider cursing solidly and quietly as it clambered right back up to the window again. It'll be there tonight again, I just know it.

(I met a tarantula in Texas in the spring, in an attractive patch of bluebonnets, but that was so huge it was almost like meeting a rabbit or a kitten. I could nearly have stroked it, except that it backed away and raised its pincers or whatever they have out front, so I desisted. But these hairy things about three inches across that have developed a passion for our bedroom, those give me the shivers.)

On Sunday I suddenly had enough of crafting creative comments, designing undying dialogue, and wrestling with Blogger. Grabbed sweater, camera, purse, and headed out for the Pass of Keimaneigh. I love this place, a tiny fissure between the mountains, linking Bantry and the ancient coastal ports to Inchigeelagh and the Lee River, leading towards the City of Cork. Let's get it straight, this isn't the Grand Canyon. Neither is it the Cheddar Gorge. But it's mine, it's local and I love it. You come up from Bantry on a twisty road towards what looks like a solid wall of mountain but gradually a tiny gap opens up ahead of you.

If you look at the right-hand side of this picture, you can see a tiny scrap of road which is turning left and heading into the pass. Keimaneigh comes from Ceim an Fhia, or Leap of the Deer, in memory of some long-ago creature fleeing from the hunt which desperately leapt from one side of the pass to the other to avoid capture. It's a lovely intimate place, and it leads to another of my favourite spots, Gougane Barra. Here I called in to Breda at the hotel to say hallo and pass the time of day before they close for the winter. We talked about times past and times present and she told me about her grandmother who would shear the sheep, spin the wool and knit the socks to sell in a little shop locally, as well as making her own soap and candles. Aren't we spoiled these days? I showed her the Glitz socks and she was much diverted by the colour schemes you can get from Cherry Tree Hill.

Gosh, how did that get there? Sorry, the raspberry roulade must have materialised without my noticing. Nothing whatever to do with my visit. The sock is on the right, on the RIGHT, do you hear?

I discovered to my delighted surprise that Breda's husband keeps a flock of Soay sheep. She hadn't realised I would like to know this and took me out the back to see if they were around. Soay, as I'm sure you know better than I do, are the very ancient rare breed originally from the Scottish Hebrides, and they are wild, but wild. 'You can't do anything with them,' agreed Breda. 'Even getting them down to be dipped in the spring is the divil's own problem.' Fortunately they were near enough to the hotel to be photographed, so I captured them for you.

(you can tell it was just me, and not DH doing a proper job with the camera, can't you?)

These Soays don't get sheared ( they wouldn't let you) but simply 'roo' their fleece in the early summer each year. I volunteered to pull the wool next spring but Breda was doubtful they'd play ball. We'll see...

I got a great urge to make something with that divine purple-blue mohair loop yarn I secured from John Cahill at Muckross and started out on a sort of tabard or tunic worked in one piece from the back up to the neck and divided to come down the front. The kind of thing you could just tie at the sides rather than sew up, and could slip on when the weather was just a bit chilly.

I don't know if you can see any of this, but I sketched out the design and put that in the picture too. I have the idea to turn up the front corners to make pockets. Then it will be one of those really useful garments rather than a decorative one.

And the crabapples are really ripe now in the garden. If I didn't pick them now, they'd be fallen and gone by the time I got back from the trip.

So I did just that. Now all I have to do is to find time tomorrow (somehow) to make a very very tiny pot of crabapple jelly...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Blogger, what are you up to NOW?

Just in case you were wondering, I've been trying to post for two days but Blogger won't let me put any pictures on. And that would be a shame since I have lots of lovely things to show. So I'll try again later.

Botheration! And I so wanted you to see the Pass of Keimaneigh, and all my Alice Starmore swatches, and the Glitz socks having a day out at Gougane, and the little Soay sheep, and my new skein of gorgeous Mango Sorbet sock yarn from Yarn Yard... Still, these sorrows are sent to try us. You can just enjoy thinking of me swearing away here at my computer and wondering if taking a lump hammer to the screen would help (that would be mean really, considering it is in no way the computer's fault). Hopefully at some point this evening Blogger will relent and let me upload the images. ARE YOU LISTENING, BLOGGER?

In the meantime, and so that you may occupy your time usefully, here is a poem to be going on with.

The Shell.

And then I pressed the shell
Close to my ear
And listened well.
And straightway, like a bell
Came low and clear
The slow sad murmur of far distant seas
Whipped by an icy breeze
Upon a shore
Windswept and desolate.
It was a sunless strand that never bore
The footprint of a man
Nor felt the weight
Since time began
Of any human quality or stir
Save what the dreary winds and waves incur.
And in the hush of waters was the sound
Of pebbles rolling round,
For ever rolling with a hollow sound.
And bubbling sea-weeds as the waters go
Swish to and fro
Their long cold tentacles of slimy grey.
There was no day,
Nor ever came a night
Setting the stars alight
To wonder at the moon.
Was twilight only, and the frightened croon,
Smitten to whimpers, of the dreary wind
And waves that journeyed blind -
And then I loosed my ear - O, it was sweet
To hear a cart go jolting down the street.
(James Stephens).

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Yarn Heaven in the Woods

Hi, sorry I'm late! I just couldn't get a seat on the Blogger bus yesterday no matter how many times I went along to the stop and hailed it. The conductor kept shouting, 'Problem with page, try again later.' Oh well, if you use a free service, you have to accept the hitches with the lifts, I guess. Anyway it's a lovely soft grey damp morning here, just right for chatting. (Don't you find that fine days sort of impose a duty on you to get out and use them, whereas on grey damp ones you are quite justified in staying in and knitting or gossiping?)

Anyway, here's the news you've been waiting for. I did get down to the Muckross Yarns weaving shed . DH had a day off so before he could find something more useful to do, I rang up John Cahill, this delightful weaving manager, and said we were on our way. He's a lovely shy man and I don't think being interviewed by a rabid yarn fiend might necessarily have been his idea of a good morning's work, but he went along with it courteously.

We met him outside the cathedral in Killarney and he took us to the weaving shed by a rather special route - through private gates into the estate where it's sited. We drove slowly along narrow unsurfaced tracks with trees crowding on either side, and hugged ourselves for the smug feeling of seeing a part of the woodland that not everyone can see.

The weaving shed was simply a big barn out in a clearing in the middle of the woods, but oh dear heaven the riches inside! I was like a child in a sweetshop and DH was much diverted to see me darting from one side to another, peering into big cardboard boxes, gasping aloud at what I found. My heart was pounding by this time - and yours would have been too, if you'd seen those huge cones of the most wonderful shades, just casually hanging around in such an inviting way. John was only too delighted to show off the colour schemes he'd thought up.

Just look at these space-dyed colours!

and these mohair boucles!

I thought at first he looked at shade cards sent to him by suppliers and chose from those, but that wasn't the way of it at all. He thinks up his own colour combinations - 'I might see the cover of a magazine or a scrap of cloth, a piece of jewellery, a glass vase, or an advertisement - anything at all that would have the shade I was looking for. So I'd get all these together and then send the little bundle to the dyers and tell them to get me a yarn that looked like that!' He says with quiet pride that he's no bother at all to take shopping as he's quite happy to stand in a fashion store for hours just looking around and taking in the colours, shapes, designs, ideas.

The looms they use at Muckross are nothing like what I expected. I thought they would be huge industrial things such as you would have found in the Yorkshire woollen mills of the early 20th century, but instead they were the most adorable little sweethearts, all old wood and iron, adapted to electric power from foot pedal operation . John said they were originally used for weaving Harris tweed in home industries and he had sourced them from all over the place, including the Hebrides.

The trouble, he said, is getting parts to repair them now, and when he hears of another one for sale (through the grapevine shared by all weavers) he will try to buy it so it can at least provide spares for one of the others. They were such sweet little homely machines, with all the wear and knocks you'd expect from a lifetime of use on remote Scottish islands or on the wild Donegal coast. I'm so glad they came finally to Killarney where they are still cared for and in daily use. If there had been a wee one standing alone, I'd probably have made a bid for it there and then, and work out where to put it later!

DH was, of course, in his element. He thought that even the bobbins made the most wonderful images:

They have all kinds of yarn in that weaving shed, from wool to mohair, alpaca to viscose. Viscose, you ask? Oi, there at the back! I saw your lip curling in dignified surprise. Well stop it, right now. Viscose is a natural product too - comes from wood pulp after all. 'I'd have liked to bring in silk,' said John, 'but our prices would have had to go through the roof and nobody would have been buying it, so I looked at viscose since that's a natural fibre as well - and you don't have to kill the silkworms either to get it!' He chuckles at this thought. 'The viscose takes the dye superbly, he says, 'and you get great sheen and drape from anything you make with it.' He was right. The scarves and stoles they weave from the space-dyed viscose are glimmering lengths of beauty. I wanted all of them, right away, even though I (like you) would have shunned viscose until I realised it was as natural as anything else.

OK, I heard you. I was only teasing, prolonging the suspense. Yes, I did say alpaca. Take a deep breath now. This nice gentle Killarney man has shelves packed with pure alpaca yarn, imported directly from Peru. How can I have lived within a 30 mile radius for so long and not have felt the tug from that hidden shed in the green woods? I mean, pure alpaca, I mean - well... what can I say? Qu'est que tu veut que je te dise?, as DH would say. We spent quite a bit of time by that shelf while he fingered the yarns expertly and talked about how different countries liked different colours: apparently Japan (where Muckross exports a good deal of its alpaca scarves) prefers natural browns and creams, while America goes for brighter colours.

Yes, that's my hand in the picture. I'm holding a large cone of creamy natural alpaca (about 4 ply I'd guess) and it's talking to me. I can feel its soft voice through my fingertips.

Now I wasn't just wasting his time so that I could lead you all through this virtual sweetshop and set your pulses racing. I am writing John Cahill up for my weekly column in the Irish Examiner so the weaving business at Muckross will get some useful publicity. And I might be able to do a feature for Ireland of the Welcomes as well, the magazine that circulates mostly in America. But I do admit that all the time we were there I was thinking of you, and wishing you could be with me to gasp and reach out and touch and yearn and lust... this was serious temptation stuff, this was.

Back in the shop at Muckross House, I met a lovely lady from the deep South - I think it was Texas - who was trying to find real Irish yarn to take back to her friends. She was worried about the weight in her suitcase and also wanted to know about the genuine provenance of the yarn.

We talked, the three of us, about the difficulty of saying where any yarn really comes from - the fibre might come from one country, the spinning might be done in another, the packaging in another... Myself, I think virtually all the yarn we buy in any country these days comes originally from either Turkey, Italy or Southern America, whatever we might believe to the contrary. Still, I knew what she meant. The only absolutely pure Irish yarn we could offer was traditional bainin, but she said that would be way too hot for where she lived and she was hoping to find a cotton or linen. John went off to see if he could locate some for her. And DH and I called it a day. Happy, tired, worn out from talk and the over-stimulation of stunning yarns, we went off to find coffee at a dear little thatched tearoom not far away...

Look, stop screaming and get this into your heads. I have always envied you lot because you have access day and night, year-round, to huge yarn stores, stitch'nbitch sessions, local classes, get-togethers, everything that I dream of having on tap. You're the fat cats, not me. I'd give anything to be able to dive into Michael's or Joann's on the way home in the evening to see what's new, look at the books, snap up a free leaflet or two, and get some inspiration. I'd love to be able to choose between my LYSs and meet up with friends there. To tell the truth, I've only started really hunting out these places I've been showing you, since I got into weblogging, trying in desperation I suppose, to demonstrate that we're not entirely marooned in a yarn desert here in Ireland.

Now that I come to think of it, did I thank you for that?

(And yes, that is a big cone of natural alpaca on top. I paid, I paid...)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

So Little Time, So Much To Knit!

The wild west winds were blowing hard last night. So hard indeed that one gust slammed the window shut in the wee small hours. Rain too, driving against the house until early morning when it all slipped away towards England, leaving us washed and clean and fresh-scented for the new day. Do you know that ancient Irish fragment of a poem about such a storm? It was originally written in the margin of a vellum manuscript on which the monk must have been working as the wind roared outside.

Fierce is the wind tonight
It tosses the ocean's white hair.
Tonight I fear not the Danish invaders
Coasting on the Irish sea.

It's a glimpse back through the centuries to an older and harsher landscape, brought closer by that scribble in the margin by a man thankful that the storm prevented a worse terror.

And as we're on the subject of stormy landscapes, tossing seas and northern lands, thanks Anne for the hint on the Icelandic Feather & Fan shawl. You said it tends to work out way way bigger than you would think. I might just stop much earlier in the pattern (ha, that would mean fewer stitches too, which isn't a bad thing, I mean have you seen the numbers Cheryl Oberle is playing with in that pattern?) and start the lace design with just fewer repeats along the row. Looks like Feather & Fan is about an 18-stitch repeat so as long as I allow for a multiple of that plus enough for the edge and centre stitches, it should work out OK (she says doubtfully, crossing her fingers).

And Barbara-Kay, thanks for telling me where to find the corrections for this pattern. Omigod I never thought to look for corrections! Just think of it, I could have been galloping happily away on the lacework, confident that I had it right, and then wondering why everything was coming up all wrong. Now that I know, this might have to be applied to everything in future. Not just knitting patterns but LIFE. Is this event/ year/ experience/ lifetime working out OK? No? Well had you considered that the instructions were faulty or incomplete? Frog back? Not really feasible where life is concerned. Try to muddle along, using own experience to work out what is going wrong? A popular choice. Dump the instructions and work from instinct? YESSSSS! Free your inner wild woman and go with your own rules. (Just don't any of you quote that back to me when I'm a heap of weeping self pity surrounded by miles of tangled yarn and a lumpy holey product that looks like Muffy got at a dishcloth.)

And speaking of dishcloths, why is it that I now feel an irresistible urge to knit some? Oh I heard about Mason Dixon and the dishcloths (I like the Old English word 'dishclout', don't you?) washcloths and cute little towels and things and thought, 'why on earth would anyone want to knit anything so basic?' I met a charming new-to-knitting lady in a Hobby Lobby in Texas some time back . I was on a frantic pre-flight last-minute bash, cramming everything I could find into my basket, she was wandering happily, picking up nice bright cottons to make washcloths for her kids. How odd, I thought pityingly, and went on my way.

This gal is like that. Bell-bottomed trousers, satellite TV, the Internet, you name it, I hear about it and think, 'Why would anyone go for that?' Then, in the fullness of time, I slowly realise my mistake. It would be good if just ONCE I could get the idea first off, before anyone else. Actually, now I come to think of it, I did - with videos. When I heard there was a machine that would allow me to play old movies ad nauseam, I thought that was a good idea. Still do, although now it's DVDs.

What do the rest of you do when one form of technology gives way to another? Throw out all the old stuff and buy new? Run with both systems? I sure as hell don't feel like converting all my treasured old b/w movies to DVD, and I'm not throwing them out. Just hope the video doesn't give up the ghost - it will be like restoring a 1895 De Dion Bouton (a car, girl, a car!), to get someone to repair it.

And speaking of Muffy, I took her down to Killarney woods for a walk the other day. She doesn't get out much, because that mystery illness a couple of years ago left her very inclined to fall over or go round and round in circles, but she's been so healthy lately (probably something to do with her new-found interest in yarn and knitting) that I thought she'd like the treat. And she did! When we were on quiet back roads I lowered the window so she could look out at everything in the ditches and hedges, and she loved that. Then we had a wonderful walk (kept her on the lead, as she has no sense of directional finding for my voice any more and prefers some form of physical contact). She was so happy that her joy came right through to me as well.

Muffy under a tree in the Killarney woods, dreaming of heaven knows what.

We found tiny fungi growing everywhere after the damp weather - just like those lovely ones Ambermoggie showed on her weblog the other day, although we couldn't rack up the marvellous variety she located and photographed.

Loved the combination of dark green moss and fresh little fungi on this fallen log, though.

And then of course my steps gravitated towards Muckross House just in case they had any new cones in their yarn basket. They didn't, and the girl folding feathery scarves and wraps hadn't an idea when they would...

...but then this man came in with great heaps of new rugs and scarves and he looked like he knew what he was about so I challenged him forthwith. WELLL...LLL...LLL It turns out he's the head honcho at the actual weaving mill for Muckross, which is a few miles away in Killarney town. I immediately put Ploy No. 1 into action - i.e. that he would make a very interesting subject for my weekly column, Busy Today - and he seemed rather flattered. (It's genuine - I'm always on the lookout for new subjects.) Then I slid in a query about the cones of yarn. Not too enthusiastically - I don't want him raising the prices from their rather good current level after all - but he took that bait too. 'Got lots of those leftover yarns back at the mill. You might like to come over there one day and see the place?'

I didn't bite his hand off and I didn't bundle him into my car right there and then and force him at camera-point to drive to the mill (he was on his way elsewhere, and couldn't), but it took considerable restraint I can tell you to accept the invitation with no more than a show of mild interest. It will have to be next week. Fellow webloggers, I will keep you posted. Believe me, I will keep you posted on this one!

A really good end to the day came when a large supermarket on the outskirts of Killarney proved to have a stock of those elusive Thorntons chocolate hazelnut praline cake bars which are proving essential for wellbeing and happiness chez Celtic Memory right now. Don't you find that there are times in your life when you simply get FED UP of all the wise advice and guidance, and suddenly think TO HELL WITH cholesterol levels and waistline and daily exercise and raw brown rice and low-fat spread - I WANT CHOCOLATE? It's been like that here lately.

Some of the chocolate-related crisis might have stemmed from the fact that I started a couple of swatches for those incredibly complicated Celtic interlacings which Alice Starmore dreamed up for her book Aran Knitting. As I've said before, I considered myself pretty competent on the Aran front and thought that new patterns or designs held no surprises for me, but I have to admit that Starmore takes the skill to new heights - or should that be depths? How does she think of those complications, much less put them into practice?

The Jo Sharp Silk Road is still on its way north across the wide oceans from Australia, so I decided to have a go on one particularly challenging design in the Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. I hunted out my 4mm Lantern Moon circular to do the yarn honour. It was then I began to get the first tremors of unease. I mean, this is a thin needle, this 4mm LM. I normally reach for something more like a chunky pencil when I think Aran. If it takes one 4mm needle and 35 stitches and seventeen hours to work three rows of what is, after all, only one section of one part of a Starmore sweater, how long will it take one knitter.... oh forget the maths, we're talking years here, not months, aren't we. Answer me, some of you who have lived to tell the tale! I know you've done it, Francesca, answer me!

This is how far I got last night. And you know the worst thing? It should really be on a 3.5mm or even a 3mm needle, shouldn't it? 'Oh, agony, rage and despair, oh where will this end, oh where, I should very much like to know!' (which Gilbert & Sullivan opera is that from - The Sorcerer?) Why do we do these things? Because we must... Onward, ever onward.

By way of relaxation, I went back to those meat skewer dpns. I'd made a mess of the first set, so started again - this time with a fresh clean new set of skewers costing all of €1 for at least fifty. The best thing about this new pack was that they were in different thicknesses! I gauged up some on my trusty Susan Bates and selected two sets, one 3.25mm, the other 3.5mm, and got to work.

The ones on the right are 3.5mm and I've shaped the upper points and sanded them as smooth as possible. The ones on the left are 3.25mm (you can see at the top where I've tried to write it on, not with much success - how do you do it on Ed's gorgeous designer needles,Wanda?) and the points are roughly shaped there, but not sanded down yet. Any suggestions on what kind of goo or wax to use that would make them smooth and slippery? Or should I use varnish? You know, there might be even more gauges in that one pack of skewers. This is so much FUN!

Then I decided to try dyeing some of that rather lovely lambswood/angora blend of which I discovered I had two cones from years back. It's just about the right weight for sock yarn and in its current natural colour, a light beige, should take dye well. Never one to shirk the unknown, I dyed one half yellow, and the other red. The trouble is, I don't think that red was the kind which blends to yellow - it must have been more of a pinky red.

The results are questionable, but we'll wait and see what happens when I rinse it properly. 'Tis all adventure.

And there is still that suri alpaca to attend to, and the Blue Heron. And of course the queen of all, the sumptuous Seasilk. More time, we need more time! Wasn't it Joyce Grenfell who worked out the probable length of her remaining life and then set her alarm clock for an hour earlier each morning so she could catch up on reading all the books she had intended to? There has to be a message in there somewhere for the rest of us.

And speaking of that wonderful product from Fleece Artist/Handmaiden, I loved your comment, Angeluna, that you too were going to indulge in knitting up your Seasilk as soon as you finished 'the current 4 sweaters, 5 pairs of socks, 4 shawls, 1 felted bag, 3 washrags and 2 baby sweaters' on which you were currently working. And to think that poor girl I met in the LYS felt she couldn't buy more until she'd used the four balls of yarn sitting at home. Boy, does she have a way to go yet!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Of Soft Shetland Shawls and Suicidal Stash Slimming Sessions

Oops, bit of a mistake on the Irish crochet lace project. No, I hadn't forgotten about it at all: in fact it was just the size to keep on the side of my desk so that I could pick up the current motif and do a few stitches while waiting for the computer to boot up. However, when things got frantic on the sock front, I needed to carry round a fine crochet hook for any dropped stitches and grabbed this one. Then when the socks were finished, of course, being the tidy creature that I (occasionally) am, I put the crochet hook neatly away in the appropriate box. Now I can't remember what gauge I was using! Only thing is to try several and see if they look right - but the motto is, always, ALWAYS take notes at the time. I know, I know, you do that out of habit, but I tend to dive in with such enthusiasm that note-taking is the furthest thing from my mind. I have a great batwing jacket that I'm working from cuff to cuff (a copy of one I bought years ago and love the colour scheme) and halfway through I needed the circular for something else so slipped it off on to another, and then needed that one too, so it progressed to another... yes, that's right, I now haven't a clue which size I started with!

I love Angeluna's story that a friend of hers takes a tiny weighing scales to the yarn shop to make sure she gets the best weight for her money. That is so ingenious! I must try to track down one of those little hanging scales which would be ideal for suspending a skein. I know you can get them in some US post offices but they're certainly not easy to find here.

And speaking of skeins - look what arrived the other day from Gill at Woollyworks!

Some utterly divine suri alpaca laceweight from Cherry Tree Hill in the Silver Streak colourway, and another skein of that lovely Blue Heron beaded rayon. I'd already got a skein of the latter, but realised that it needed a companion to be really happy. And I couldn't resist the suri alpaca in that colourway. It speaks of birch trees in the snow and Northern winters and all kinds of beautiful things. It will make the most stunning shawl. I wonder what pattern you'd use, Lene? And I wish Gill would stop listing such irresistible yarns on her Woollyworks website. Every time I go on I see something I can't live without. Are you listening, Gill?

Actually, Anne's queries about hap shawls, and then Lene's posting about her own new shawl made me realise that I couldn't live another instant without one too. I know, I know, I've already got quite a few, but this was to be in the soft Shetland or Faroese style, that I could wrap around and tie at the back, you know the kind? 'Cause we don't get really cold winters here very often, so it is to be something that I can pull on in the early mornings for additional warmth when I take the dogs out, or shrug round my shoulders when the evening is getting slightly chilly.

But didn't dare to start on that aristocratic suri alpaca. It requires some suffering, some experience beforehand, before I can humbly approach its beauty and calm. So I went rummaging and found a big cone of a really lovely dark soft Italian yarn that I'd grabbed on a visit to one of my pet mill outlets a few years ago and hadn't found the right use for yet. It could be either dark brown or dark green, depending on the light, and it's fairly fine. Then I needed a lighter yarn for contrast - grey didn't seem to work properly, so I hauled out a friendly cone of pure Cheviot wool - actually from the same mill outlet and in what looks and feels like roughly the same thickness.

This is the pattern I'm following. It's from Cheryl Oberle's Folk Shawls. It will be my first time trying to follow a chart so I hope I can do it. The main central part is just increasing in garter stitch, then the borders are in varying colours and have the feather and fan pattern. Nothing ventured, nothing gained - here we go!

This is as far as I've got. And hey, can you see those stitch markers peeping out? I decided it would be a good idea to have one either side of the central stitch, even though it looks pretty obvious . When you're knitting at speed, it's fatally easy to miss that centre. And then, do you know, I felt a bit fond of those stitch markers and wondered if it would be a good idea to incorporate just a couple more, so that I could keep track of whether I had the correct number of stitches on either side (in this pattern, as in most, you increase every row at the edges and every second row at the centre, so the potential for wildly varying counts on either side are considerable). Of course the entire box of stitch markers got wildly excited at the prospect of another outing and started chickering and jumping up and down and hopping out and running all over the table until I thought I'd never get them back in and tucked up. 'All in good time,' I told them sternly. 'You'll all be needed at some point, but not just yet. Wait till you hear your names called.'

Fingers crossed for the (charted) pattern section. I've had a glance and can't make head nor tail of it. It might be a good idea to look up a written version of Feather & Fan and use that as a kind of translation guide until I get used to chart reading.

I'd seen a beautiful swatch for an Aran pattern on Francesca's site and asked her what it was; she thought it was Jo Sharp's Silk Road, so I headed right over to Ozeyarn and ordered a ball. Yes, yes, just one ball, until I see what it's like and how it works up, but while I was at it, since the postage from Australia was the same, ordered all the Jo Sharp shadecards too, to give me more cause for temptation. And, since it's going to take some time to arrive from the Antipodes, I succumbed to aforementioned temptation in my LYS the other day and bought a ball of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino to try swatches of some Starmore Aran patterns while I'm waiting.

You know I never went in for this swatching thing before. Always a jump-right-in-cast-on-and-go-for-it kind of girl, accepting the frequent catastrophes as just an unavoidable part of life's rich tapestry. But then I got looking at all your weblogs and seeing these exquisitely knitted and blocked swatches I felt like I'd been playing in the street a bit too much while the rest of you were at the Conservatoire learning to play symphonies, so thought I ought to get into it myself. And anyway, Starmore's cabling designs are so intricate, it probably makes sense to try them out in swatches first. I can always hang them up as works of art afterwards, so they won't be wasted. Muffy would probably love one over her basket - as you know, she's deeply into knitting. (Sophie is still in the sweatshirt and trainers stage, and Tasha prefers old velvet and diamonds, plus a reticule with a vicious snap to its closure, where she hides her gin bottles.)

I was in the local discount store the other day (we call them Euro shops since everything is supposed to cost one Euro but usually doesn't). They had a big display of those cheap fun yarns - you know the ones, in bright colours, eyelash and furry - and I noticed they'd now given them two full shelves of space which is a good sign (yes it IS a good sign if you live in a yarn desert like West Cork!) And better still, they had got hold of some knitting needles and hung those up next to the yarn. Hope is on the horizon! I saw this girl browsing and looking longingly at some bright pink, and made encouraging noises. She said she couldn't really justify buying it, as she already had one or two balls tucked away under the stairs at home, waiting to be used. Ooooh, here was fertile ground indeed! I not only opened her eyes to the joys of stash enhancement but also told her to look up the Yarn Harlot on the Net when she got home, and take it from there. She looked a little worried (this weird bat waving her arms and telling her to look for a harlot...?) and wandered off, but as I was leaving she came up (yes, with several balls under her arm) and whispered, 'Was it 'Yarn Harlot' you said?. Girls, I think we have another convert on the way. What I hope is that she will start with Stephanie, move out to other weblogs, and then take off and fly with her own wings which is always the ultimate goal.

DH hasn't been too happy recently. His boss said he needed an upgraded mobile phone and got him one so clever it can probably make the tea, check the cricket results and work out a plan for world peace all at the same time. Trouble is - he can't work out how to make calls on it. It's just too clever! My suggestions for smoke signals and Morse code met with stony silence.

Now you won't believe this, but I have actually done something about my ever-growing stash. I have taken the bold step of listing some skeins on eBay.! Now these are not to be confused with the designer yarns which I create every so often and only one of which (The Children of Lir) is currently being eBayed. These are those huge big cones of lovely one-offs from mill outlets and factories which I can't possibly resist but which are taking up rather a lot of space. I hate getting rid of even 100 gr. but to be practical I know I'm not likely to use every inch - and so I wound up some skeins, knitted up a swatch or two, and listed them under Celtic Memory. There's some Italian mohair boucle (in both natural and blue) an intriguing merino in oranges and browns that feels like velvety chenille, a really high-loft variegated pink mohair - oh, and a slub cotton in a most attractive denim shade.

This is the mohair boucle in natural - actually it's a little yellower than this, like clotted cream if you've ever experienced that delectable delicacy.

And this is the Italian merino in browns and oranges. I've never seen anything like that one before. Well, we'll see what the eBay buyers think about them. I'd feel less guilty, certainly, if I got rid of a few hundred grams. If I can sell some of these, I reason, I can then justifiably FEED MY HABIT and go on scouring the corners of the earth for rare and beautiful yarns. It's the finding and buying and bringing home that I love most, don't you? And I am starting to run out of space. All the same, I don't really want to let them go. They're mine, mine, my preciouses, all of them. A new owner wouldn't love them like I do...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Tale of the Children of Lir

I wonder how Peg is getting on over in Nova Scotia? She's there for a reunion with old friends, but more importantly, she's trying to get into the Fleece Artist/Handmaiden factory just to see all that glory. Can't wait to hear how she got on - and I should be able to do it face to face, since I'll be on her home ground of Vancouver Island in late September!

Meanwhile I'm keeping up the lil' house on the prairie ambience, trying to make dpns out of wooden meat skewers .

I'd found these in the lean-to greenhouse a year ago and tossed them on one side thinking, 'why would anyone want those, I should really throw them out.' Then, after that adventure with cutting up metal straights, I remembered these and went hunting for them. They were even damper and mouldier than I'd remembered so they had to be laid out on newspaper in the sun to dry...

and then I selected four of the least injured and dipped them in a bottle of walnut dye which happened to be hanging around in the workshop just waiting for the opportunity to upend itself over some nice white washing or something...

More on this little exercise later, when I work out how to use my new rotary tool (thanks Rachel for that tip, but why don't these things come with nice pictures of what each bit is for and how they fit? Will have to haul in DH for advice).

The bright little Cherry Tree Hill Glitz socks are so much fun to knit! The yarn isn't painted in longer lengths like the Interlacements but in short bursts, so every inch brings a new gleam of colour and you get little pools of purple or red or orange. I'm mad about them! Haven't got very far yet, mind, but enjoying every second I spend on them.

I'm really into these bright, bright colourways for socks. When I look at the more usual ones, in pale pastels, they seem rather dreary. We should be surging into winter, letting our feet sing songs of radiant red and glimmering green and blossoming blue and explosive orange all the way, not drooping in dulls!

(That might sound like I'm contradicting what I said a few days ago about coming back to the quiet natural colours but it isn't really. I'm going to make a Shetland-type shawl in fawns and browns and greys and creams soon, when I get three seconds together to find a pattern, but when it comes to socks I'm definitely thinking bright. Think of the thrill when people get a glimpse of that in the street!)

Rita, I do spin. I love spinning! (Unfortunately I love lots of other things too, which is why spinning hasn't been mentioned here lately, but check back in the archives to see my little Orkney Haldane and my cute French wheel and of course the saga of Daniel P. Buckley and the Cork fleeces!) Really must get back to the wheel now that we're getting into the cooler months. It's the most soothing thing I know, and you have yarn at the end to show for it! I take Anne as my guiding star on spinning, since she makes the most incredible things on that wheel of hers. I really really want to spin my own sock yarn but have to learn how to make it thin and smooth and NOT LUMPY first. Perhaps if I didn't try to get things done in a rush...?

Actually, Anne was asking what I knew about hap shawls. Anne, I have to admit that although I would love to lay claim to these, they really don't seem to have been part of Irish wear at all. The earliest photographs I can find, and illustrations before that, show the same simple check woven shawls, not knitted. I think the hap shawls were peculiar to the Scottish islands, especially the Shetlands, where the finer wool produced by the sheep made a soft fine yarn feasible and hence the distinctive lacy shawls. Native Irish wool on the other hand was always a bit coarser and less suited to fine yarns (we have a lot more breeds now of course but back then it was just the mountain blackface).

However, we did have our own traditional shawls, albeit woven, right up into recent times. Women would sometimes wear a larger version of the old woven blanket shawl instead of the hooded cloak, and then in
the early 20th century the government issued these woven woollen shawls (usually black but sometimes brown check) to poorer people. When I was growing up in Cork, the old women who still wore them were
affectionately called 'shawlies.'

They were still wearing them in the 1940s, which is about when this picture was taken.

Now of course they are collectors' items and you'd be lucky to find one. One or two of the ladies who run stalls on Cork's Coal Quay as their mothers and grandmothers did before them (a really matriarchal society, that Coal Quay market) have shawls handed down, and will wear them on special occasions.

Now listen, so many of you have asked for the legend of the Children of Lir that I'm going to post it here, right now. It saves emailing it out in all directions and besides the text often gets corrupted that way. I don't want to hear one whinge out of the copyright brigade - this is a traditional legend which every Irish child can recite from the age of two upwards, and the one I give here is in entirely my own words. In fact I've rewritten the ending to reflect Irish tradition more accurately, rather than that of the over-enthusiastic Christian monks who first wrote it down from the spoken word. If, therefore, you believe implicitly that anything written by religieux must be infallible and cannot be questioned, don't read on.

Are you sitting comfortably? Knitting in hand? (No, not the lacework - garter stitch, I think, for this one. ) Now - snuggle down and imagine you are back in ancient Ireland...

The Children of Lir.

This is one of the most ancient of Irish legends, passed down from generation to generation by the traditional shanachies or storytellers. Indeed, it is one of the famed Three Sorrows of Storytelling, which had to be mastered to perfection by the would-be shanachie before he or she could be accepted fully into this most demanding of skills (the others being The Quest of the Sons of Turenn and the Fate of the Sons of Usna).
However, since such legends were always recounted in the spoken word, they were only written down at a comparatively late stage in our history, after Christianity came to Ireland; and this has meant a very definite Christian input wherever possible, to render the ancient tales more appropriate for the new order. In the case of The Children of Lir, this means that the original ending has been dramatically changed, and the one you will read in books is not the true one. In the version you will read here, I have indicated where the Christian version comes in, and then given you what I believe must be the traditional ending as originally told in so many great halls by the blazing log fire as the winds howled and the rains fell outside, and the audience crowded closer to hear every word. Listen then, as they will have listened.

Lir was a great king in the ancient time of the Tuatha de Danaan, second only to the High King himself, Bodb Dearg. And it so happened that Bodb Dearg, in recognition of Lir’s great strength and fidelity, offered his friend one of his two beautiful daughters in marriage. Lir fell straight away in love with Aobh, the eldest, and took her to wife; but it is said by those who were there that the second daughter, Aoife, had fallen in love with this splendid fair-haired warrior herself and was deeply jealous in her heart that her sister had won him.
Time passed, and Aobh and Lir were happy indeed. First she bore to him twin children, a girl and a boy, whom they named Fionnuala and Aodh, and then two more twins, both boys, Fiachra and Conn. But then grief came upon the house of Lir for Aobh sickened and died within three days for all that they could do for her. Lir for many days and nights would talk to no-one; until Bodb Dearg sent word to offer his second daughter, Aoife as his wife. Although at first Lir would not think of it, at last good sense prevailed for he thought she would be a second mother to his children. And so he married Aoife who was joyful that at last she had achieved her heart’s desire.

But as is so often the case with those who get their heart’s desire, it is not enough; and soon Aoife became jealous of Lir’s love for his four children. And she resolved to do away with them. And so it happened that one fine summer’s morning she invited them to join her in a chariot ride to the shores of Loch Derravaragh to hear the birds sing and see the flowers growing; and there she struck them with her wand and turned them into four beautiful white swans. ‘Live now,’ she cried triumphantly, ‘three hundred years on Loch Derravaragh, three hundred years on the Sea of Moyle, and three hundred years off Inis Gloire before you may spend one night on dry land again.’ And then she left them and returned to the palace.

Can you imagine the terror and bewilderment of these four young royal children, hitherto accustomed to a happy carefree life among those who loved them? Now turned into swans, condemned to suffer for nine hundred years on cold unfriendly waters? At first they wept, and then Fionnuala put her wings around her brothers, Aodh, Fiachra and Conn, and vowed that she would hold them together and they would all survive to the end of this dreadful enchantment.

In the meantime, Lir asked where his children were. She said they had run away because they did not love him. But he suspected her in his heart and went instead to her chariot driver to learn where they had been that day. The charioteer took him to Loch Derravaragh where he saw the four beautiful swans floating and singing in piercingly sweet voices while they did so. He spoke with them and learned of the treachery of Aoife and his heart was sick indeed, for he knew he could not undo what had been done. ‘If you may not come on to dry land,’ he then said, ‘we shall come and make our court here by the lake, that you may not be without company.’ And that was what they did.

In the meantime, what of the wicked queen Aoife? Well, Lir went to her with fair words and loving gestures and while they were happily thus occupied he whispered to her, as if in jest, ‘What now, Aoife, would be the thing that you would most fear and loathe in the whole world, I wonder?’ And she, suspecting nothing, replied, ‘For sure the Morrigan.’

[The Morrigan is a very ancient creature of Irish myth indeed, and not remotely like the leprechauns and fairies with which we are familiar today. It may owe something to the harpies and demons of Greek myth, perhaps even something to pterodactyls and other prehistoric creatures. It is a demonic witch of the air, condemned to fly forever in torment while trying to torment others.]

And upon hearing this, Lir took out his own wand and struck Aoife with it. ‘Go now,’ he cried, ‘and be a Morrigan for all time.’ And with that, Aoife was transformed into a hideous black screaming creature that soared up into the air and through the chimney and so out into the wide world where she is in it yet, and will be to the end of life and time.

The children of Lir spent a happy enough three hundred years on Loch Derravaragh with Lir and his court on the shore to keep them company; but then, with much weeping they were forced to fly to the cruel sea of Moyle which rages between Ireland and Scotland. Here they suffered many hardships in winter snow and ice, when their feet and wings were frozen to the bare rocks on which they clung together for safety. And only that the birds of the air and the fish of the sea helped them with food and encouragement (for all had heard of the wickedness of Aoife), it would have gone hard with them. And after that they flew to the west coast of Ireland, off Inis Gloire, where the sea was a brighter blue and the waves not so dreadful, but for all that they yearned for their father and the happy scenes of their childhood. And in the end the last of the three hundred years was complete and Fionnuala said to her brothers, ‘Come, let us return home and rejoice with those we love’ And they rose into the air and flew with a mighty beating of wings to where the court of Lir lay.

But when they landed on the green earth of Ireland once more, there were no fine walls, no mighty ramparts to be seen - only mossy hillocks and stunted trees. Nine hundred years had passed, and the Tuatha de Danaan had left the living world to new peoples. Stunned and confused the four swans stood amid the ruins of what had been their happy home.

[Now this is where the Christian pen is felt forcibly. The printed versions tell of a monk who comes to see this wonder and immediately baptises the four swans. They instantly turn into ancient ancient people and die, thanking God for the gift of Christianity as they do, and being buried reverently in consecrated ground by the monk and pious obedient local people. No disrespect to the church, but that is no way for an Irish legend to finish. From my knowledge of both legend and Irish character, this is probably the true way of it:]

‘Now since things have passed and our people have gone,’ said Fionnuala, ‘the only thing for us to do is to sing once more, to sing the praises of those that have been here and the greatness of the things they did.’ And so Fionnuala, Aedh, Fiachra and Conn stood in a circle with their wings outspread and they sang gloriously of the Tuatha de Danaan and the deeds they had done and the goodness of their golden world.
And people came from all around to stare and wonder at this great beauty. And as they stared, they began to hear singing coming from every side, from the hills and the mountains and the skies themselves. Then a great brightness overspread their vision so that they could barely see - but many afterwards claimed that they thought they saw, dimly, as if in a dream, the hillsides open and a fair bright people come forth with their arms outstretched; and the swans, changed now into beautiful young children, go to greet them; and so the Children of Lir were welcomed back by their own people and taken to Tir na n’Og, the Land of Youth, where the Tuatha de Danaan now live, waiting for the day when Ireland shall have need of them once more.