Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tales At Hallow'E'en

Well, I said we should tell ghost stories tonight, and I shall do my best. I hope you do too - recollect those family traditions, those anecdotes, those old stories from your part of the world, your culture, and bring them here for all of us to share.

It's Samhain, the eve of the Celtic New Year, and, just as Angeluna reminded us, the eve of the Day of the Dead in Mexico and other cultures. When Christianity set about taking over other countries and other religions, it realised that it would be difficult to shake the instinctive inherited beliefs of millenia, and so they simply adapted these to reflect Christian values. And so Samhain became All Souls and the first day of the Celtic New Year became All Saints (instead of All Ancient Gods). But they couldn't shake the firm belief that this is the time when the veil is thinnest between this world and the Otherworld, and that spirits walk abroad this night. That's why we put frightening images outside our doors in the shape of carved turnips or pumpkins, and why children dress up as evil spirits - so that the real terrors, passing by, will see these imitations, mistake them for the real thing, and pass on, thinking that the house already has its complement of visitations.

We have so many beliefs still current in Ireland that it is easy to see Christianity is only skin-deep. Barely below the surface everyone believes in the older ways, the older traditions. Like the banshee, the Pouka, the death coach with its headless coachman, the gateway to the Otherworld through the old rath or fairy fort which can be seen everywhere in the countryside. I myself have talked with educated academics at universities here who simply and matter-of-factly claim to have the banshee in their family. (That means they are one of the old families - not necessarily high born or titled, simply old Irish families - to whom the banshee comes with notice of impending death.) One girl told me that she had heard the banshee herself when her grandmother was lying dangerously ill. "It rapped at the front door three times," she said, "but the one thing you must never do is open the door. Otherwise the person being called will surely die."

Then there are the families to which the foxes come. When the current holder of the family name is near death, foxes collect silently around the house, coming from far and near, and sit motionless and ghostly, holding vigil throughout the night. The Foxes of Gormanstown are just one example.

No, I've never seen a ghost. I've certainly felt great evil and great terror in some places, and once... but that isn't really relevant. Not even that interesting.

Let me tell you about the Pouka or Puca or however you would prefer to spell it. He's a huge black horse with glittering emerald eyes and he gallops around the countryside at night looking for mischief. He is in no way as dangerous or evil as the Scottish water-kelpie that will drag you down into the loch if it can. The Pouka simply likes stirring things up. If he finds you wandering the bog road at night, when you should be tucked up at home in your bed, he may well throw you up on his back and off with him across the shoulders of the mountains, giving you the most terrifying ride of your life, until he turfs you off on the far side of the hill, sore in the bones and very much wondering how on earth you are to make your way home again.

When you think about it, the Pouka makes a great deal of sense. After all, a man spending a little too long at the crossroads pub and then weaving his unsteady way home, might well need an excuse as to why he didn't get home until morning, with his clothes all muddy and torn and bearing the signs of a night in the ditch... We have plenty of places commemorating the Pouka around here - the original Irish name for Beaufort, just outside Killarney, is Lios na Phouka or the Fort of the Pouka; and Carrignapouka Castle,or, The Rock of the Pouka, is only a few miles down the road, standing on a rocky outcrop in the middle of green fields.

I played quite happily there as a child on family excursions, exploring the dark damp interior, clambering up the spiral stone staircases, looking out over the countryside from the parapet, but wouldn't necessarily go there tonight to hear the sound of fiery hooves treading around those rugged rocks.

Hallow-E'en or Samhain is a very important night in Ireland and we've made our preparations here chez Celtic Memory in the approved fashion. The turnip has been carved, and is even now sitting firmly on a little wooden stool outside the front door, to deter evil-minded spirits from entering.

On the table in the dining room I have placed a very big, wide, shallow bowl, and in it are the rosy apples, the oranges, the nuts and the autumn leaves. This year, in honour of you and our kinship of the fibre, I have also included some of the yarns most appropriately coloured for the festival.

Later on this evening we will crack the nuts and drink to those who have gone before, remembering them with love. We'll probably take a rain check on the snapapple and the bobbing for apples, since those involve rather a lot of wet floor not to mention drenched clothing, but a candle will burn in the window (ok, ok, safely encircled in a lantern) all night, to guide any lost souls on their way.

The one place I would really not want to be tonight is Leap Castle in Co. Offaly.

This crumbling pile has the dubious reputation of being the most haunted place in Ireland. It is supposed to have been built on an ancient Druidic site which didn't help for starters; and in the centuries that followed the lords of the castle tended to treat their enemies in fairly unpleasant fashion, dropping them into oubliettes, murdering them out of hand, generally giving aristocracy a bad name, you know the kind of behaviour. Perhaps that started it, perhaps something far older had always been here, but gradually Leap began to get the reputation of a place you didn't want to spend too much time. Some of the most unpleasant rumours surrounded a rather horrible apparition that looked half like a decayed human skeleton, half like a skeletal sheep, and that stank of corruption. Experts in psychic phenomena think it may be a kind of primitive ghost that attaches itself to certain very old places - in this case, perhaps the original Druidic site.

Well, ok, I'll tell you about that time. It isn't really a ghost story because I didn't see anything and nothing really happened. But it's something that will always stay with me. And yes, it concerns Leap Castle.

It was when I was living in England and happened to buy a cookery book about Irish food. In the centre, along with some recipes from the Midlands, it showed a picture of this castle with the caption, 'The most haunted castle in Ireland.' I was intrigued, and on the next visit home, made a special trip up to see it.

It was one of those heavy misty days you get in Ireland, with no sun visible. The castle lay in a little dip below where I had parked, surrounded by heavy scrub and furze bushes. I used my binoculars to scan it - it looked deserted, half in ruins. Hardly surprising - it had been deserted for centuries after all. I particularly noted the heavy arched front door which was barred and chained. I remember wondering why it needed to be chained. Then I left the car and set off down the narrow muddy track that led to the castle. There was no other means of access except on foot, and mine was the only car in the rough car park that morning.

As I descended through the tall furze bushes I lost sight of the castle and didn't see it again as the path twisted and turned, until I had come right down to the bottom. The air was really heavy here, and seemed to press against my consciousness almost like waves. I came to the edge of the bushes and out into the open ground in front of the castle.

The front door was open.

I had heard nothing. There was no other car, no sign of life other than myself for miles around. I had seen clearly through the binoculars that the heavy door was barred and chained. Yet here it stood, chains hanging down, bolts drawn back, opening into a yawning blackness beyond that beckoned invitingly.

It seemed like several hours but was probably only a few seconds that I stood there. Then, very very carefully, I stepped backwards, one foot at a time, towards the shelter of the bushes. I kept moving backwards until I was within the enclosed space of the path again. Then I turned, feeling strangely sick as I did so, and walked steadily up, up, back towards the car.

I remember thinking, 'Don't run. Don't hurry. Don't let them know...' What I meant I haven't an idea, but I do remember that's what I thought. I knew I mustn't make a frantic break for it. I must keep calm.

I reached the car. I got in, fitted the key in the ignition with some trembling of my fingers, shut the door and locked it. Then I gunned the engine and drove away from that place as if the Hounds of Hell were after me.

And I have never been back.

See? Not much of a ghost story is it? No phantoms, no midnight encounters. But I will never forget how I felt that morning. On the very rare occasions I told someone, I would then wait wearily for the inevitable, 'Oh but you must have been mistaken... Oh but there must have been other people wandering round.... Oh but...'

They weren't there. I was.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Let's Tell Ghost Stories By The Chimney Corner!

I've been gloating over my gifts from friends which dropped into my letterbox during the past week. Isn't it lovely when you open a package from someone far away and realise that they've thought about you and put all these wonderful things together?

I mean, look at just some of the things Lynn sent me from Texas! A whole big bag of Corn Candies, specially for Hallow-E'en. A beautiful hank of Louisa Harding Sari Ribbon - it's so beautiful I probably won't ever dare use it! And do you see those adorable little Gummi Bears sitting on a whole chunk of delectable praline while waiting for needles to protect?

This sweetie business is rather unexpected but exceptionally good fun. The redoubtable Ms Knitingale really decided I was in need of choco-therapy and came swiftly to the rescue...

These are just some of the things that arrived in her sack of goodies - if I show you all the hot chocolate, you'll be on the next plane! Suffice it to say I am well provided for a whole winter of indulgent evenings in (well, at least a week anyway - I can go into overdrive where hot chocolate is concerned...) I have had to prise DH's hands from the Ghirardelli, sternly telling him it had to be photographed first. Now to find somewhere to hide it before he gets home! Such a beautiful yarn, the colour of raspberry ripple icecream (going perfectly with the raspberry hotchoc in front) and dyed with natural berries and plants. She sent me two skeins of that, the pet, and the Knitingale Socks are going to be cast on forthwith. Bless you, Ms. K, you event sent a little row counter so I don't have to rely on an increasingly vague memory of where I left off! And I haven't shown your circulars in the picture because they're already up and running and IN USE on the epic Starmore! You'll see them in the weeks ahead, working away, and you can wave to them and they might wave back (although they won't have much time, she's a bit of a beast where slave labour is concerned, is Starmore). But they were ideal, and thank you for deciding on my behalf that incredibly thin wooden circulars weren't all that good an idea in the average accident-prone household!

And Peg, you put together such a hamper of things that I'm at a loss for words! Not only stunning Sweatermaker handdyed mohair (there at the front with beautiful wooden knitting needles stuck through it) but Sari recycled silk, some Berocco, a calendar from your so beautiful part of the world (wish I was back there right now), the most exquisite beaded cap, and some other gifts I could never have imagined! Would you believe not only chocolate for DH (in fact he's insisting that any chocolate anyone sends is clearly intended for him) but biscuits for the dogs (I cannot believe that your husband baked them! He couldn't have!) and even snazzy outdoor wear for said canines. A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are two of the mutts in their maple leaf glory.

Sophie became overcome by shyness and buried her head, refusing to look at the camera, while Muffy valiantly tried to put on her best smile. Tasha said the whole thing was ridiculous and sailed off to the orchard to have a word with a rabbit she knew. I'll get her tidied up and photographed later.

I really feel very spoiled, especially when it's clear that everyone thought of exactly what I would like and then went out and got that particular thing. I once knew a family where each enquired distantly of the others around November what they wanted for Christmas, and then wrote out a cheque for the amount required. None of the kids in that household had ever had a surprise stocking, no adult was touched by a small childish handmade present. I have never forgotten that family.

It was an absolute b--ch of a week and by the time last night came I was ready to collapse. We'd started Friday with a double dental appointment which took until 11 am; then had to rush to the newspaper office to start daily jobs. There is great trauma there because on November 10 the Irish Examiner quits the vast old building in which the paper has been produced since 1841 and moves to shiny clean modern up to date very sensible offices on the edge of town. It's going to tear the heart out of the city and the heart out of everyone who has ever worked there, but that's progress. The developer is waiting with barely concealed impatience to tear down 165 years of history and build a new complex of shops and apartments.

After spending most of the day helping to pack files, do telephone interviews, sort out stories, I went to a local hotel to wait in the foyer for DH to pick me up. I'd forgotten that this was Jazz Festival Weekend in Cork, hadn't I? The noise was through the roof and all the thousands packed in there were having a whale of a time but I would have gladly swapped it all for the peace and quiet of home. However, even when he picked me up, DH had one more job to do before we could go home, so I saw my first basketball game. It was fun, as a matter of fact, and almost revived me - all that speed and rushing around and jumping.

This morning, though, I woke to the realisation that I had the whole day to myself. Headed for Kerry (please understand that I love Cork with every fibre of my being and would hold it single handed against the forces of Hell itself any day, but there are times when one needs the vast empty grandeur of Kerry, and this was definitey one of those times.) The clouds were down low on the hills and the rain was battering at the windscreen, but that was OK. Kerry actually looks its best in wet weather (just as well, really, given our prevailing climate...)

Went first to Killarney town, to take coffee at the little thatched cottage in the Killarney National Park which will close for the season on Tuesday. The old bridge into the estate was covered with ivy, under which the river Flesk ran brown and angry, reflecting the rains we've had here the last few days.

They'd carved pumpkins to decorate the tables in the little cafe which looked lovely, but they should really have used turnips which are more traditional for this part of the world. I knitted almost an entire row of the Starmore Eriskay while there (not bad, when you consider the number of stitches we're talking about here). Then on to Kerry Woollen Mills - yes,Peg, at last I managed to make the journey. You've been waiting for that bainin for ages, I know, but other demands just didn't make the lengthy trip feasible until today.

Just as well I did go today, as the place looked almost ready to close for the season. I think they do keep the mill running most of the winter months, but the shop may not be open all the time. And I found an old friend browsing for good tweed material, suitable for a sound skirt, there.

This shy and unobtrusive little lady has single-handedly done more for Irish food and Irish cooking than anyone else has or is ever likely to do. Myrtle Allen, of Ballymaloe House, Co. Cork, first opened her home to dinner guests way back in the 1960s, as a way of supplementing their farm income. Her fame spread, customers came from all over the world, she started to teach cookery, write books on the subject. Her son married a girl called Darina who created some of the most popular television cookery programmes ever, as well as founding the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Now the third generation is busy running cafes, restaurants, writing books, creating divine dishes, and quiet charming little Myrtle still bustles about her own kitchen making soda bread and scones for anyone who drops by.

We've known Myrtle since back in those early days, when you could wander in, help yourself to a drink in their lovely welcoming old drawing room, potter through to the dining room for an unsurpassable dinner (with a dessert trolley that was the stuff of dreams, and yes, they would give you a bit of everything if you asked, and sometimes even if you didn't ask) and admire the Jack Yeats paintings on the walls (Ivan and Myrtle bought his paintings when his work was not as famous and sought after as it is today). I still cherish a handwritten recipe for cheese souffle which she scribbled out for me back then. It was nice to see her again.

On the way back I stopped to gaze at the great Gap of Dunloe looming through the mist beyond the green fields.

It's now a world-famous scenic tourist route, yet seen through the driving mist today, it reminded me of how long this natural gap in the mountain range (McGillicuddy's Reeks) must have been used by travellers, shepherds, wanderers and locals, to cross the hills from one side to another. In fact the road through the Gap itself still prefers to live in earlier times, its surface maintaining a charming blend of rough gravel, thick mud and treacherously sharp stones. No new-fangled tarmac for the Gap road!

So here are your three skeins, Peg, hanging up and ready to be packed for travel.

No post offices open until Tuesday of course (I really do not hold with celebrating the ancient festival of Samhain on a handy weekend - it should and must be observed on October 31, the official date of the Celtic New Year) but then they'll be off to British Columbia.

I listed a few non-designer yarns (stash yarns, you might call them) on eBay the other night and was unsure how to price them. I decided to put 100g of handdyed pure alpaca on at €4.99 as a starting price; then when I was looking around on eBay, saw that some people were charging $18.50 and upwards for a 100g skein! Will buyers pay that? Well I'm not turning into a profiteer. Let 'em bid against each other if they want to.

What are you doing tonight? I'm going to tidy up the house (a bit), do some ironing (a very little bit, consistent only with absolute necessity), put on a long slow beef in red wine stew, and then settle down with my tale of ancient Ireland and my knitting. I might even light the woodburning stove, although the maddening Irish weather is giving its celebrated imitation of a very warm, very wet summer evening.

Tuesday is Samhain or, if you prefer the Christianised version, Hallow-E'en. I shall tell some ghost stories on my posting. Do you likewise. We can all shiver and enjoy ourselves while glancing uneasily over our shoulders...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Cast on 290 Stitches - Is She Kidding?

Look, I'm really sorry. I know there are still some of you out there patiently waiting for a skein or two of yarn from my Muckross stash. Believe it or not, I spent the whole of last weekend endlessly skeining up, packing into little plastic bags, sliding into padded bags, writing notes, filling out customs declaration forms and then hauling yet another sackful to the post office. They got quite fond of me at said Macroom post office, but it got so I actually drove several miles to the next post office (in Ballyvourney) for the last load, so that they wouldn't raise their eyebrows at my turning up yet again. I never knew so many people would want yarn, and now I have just about run out of the last lot of padded bags so those still waiting may have to wait until the shops are open tomorrow (it's after closing time now).

I admit I was getting a bit frazzled with all of this, especially as my journalistic workload also took off and started circling faster and ever faster, with deadlines all over the place. But all distress was forgotten when not just one, not just two, but three lovely packages landed in my letterbox a little while ago. The post was later than usual because it's raining and blowing a storm here, and the postman had to stop to clear trees from the road and drive rather carefully through the floods out along by the Gearagh, a strange mystic region of flooded primeval forest (take you down there another day when the weather's finer). Lynn, Ms. Knitingale and Peg you are all sweethearts! Such goodies! Can't do it now, because DH is trying to sort out something wrong with my camera, but I'm going to photograph them all carefully later on (or perhaps he will, which would give much better results and do the lovely contents justice), and let the whole world see what you sent me in my next posting. Packing up and sending off in bulk may not be so much fun, but boy is it great to get packages back!

Since these gifts enriched my stock of fine gauge circulars to the required degree, no further excuse was possible. Having spent the morning working flat out on writing demands (some advertising copy, an interview with the artistic director of Cork City Ballet - an absolute pet - a column on theatrical events coming up, and a travel piece), and having temporarily at least assuaged the Newspaper Beast, I gathered together all that was needful, parked myself in an armchair, and CAST ON FOR THE STARMORE ERISKAY.

Two hours later, I surveyed the achievement so far and wondered what on earth had possessed me to choose this, above all other projects for the Red Sweater KAL.

Look at it. No, not the picture on the left. We all know Starmore's a genius, OK? On the right, on the right. That's one whole circular row of knitting. Ribbed knitting. K1, p1 knitting, the slowest kind. Worked with infinite care and painstaking attention with two strands of gossamer cashmere on the finest of Addi Turbos (thanks, Lynn!) Two hours to get round once? At this rate, I'll be in a bath chair before I get to the main body of the sweater, and the comparative luxury of a size larger needles. My eyes were strained, so was my head, and deep inside the urge was building up to rip the whole thing off the needles and forget it ever happened.

I mean, it isn't as if I didn't have anything else on hand. There's the lovely simple Shepherd's Vest about which you have heard little for a while (because I hadn't been working on it much, that's why).

I'm three-quarters of the way up the back and more than halfway up one front on that (had to frog back when I forgot to put in a pocket, but soon caught up). It's on lovely 6mm needles with lovely chunky yarn and is so accommodating I can knit it while watching TV, even when falling asleep.

Then there's the charming little neck scarf from Sally Melville's Knit 1 - that's near as dammit finished and just needs a few more rows.

I really like the clever shaping on this - it droops attractively at the front to disguise the less attractive bits of the neck, and then wraps around just neatly. Thanks Peg for introducing me to this one! But I still haven't finished it! Instead I waste my time on impossible projects which will take forever to finish and blind me into the bargain. Why bother?

Then I looked at Yarn Harlot's latest posting, about her wedding shawl. Well, if she can persevere and create something as incredibly beautiful as that, surely I can give the Eriskay a bit more of a trial? Get to the end of the ribbing at least, say? Well, maybe I will stick at it a bit longer.

Wanda wanted to know why DH didn't take the picture of the Elann lace crop cardi actually at the Opera House, not in the middle of an unattractive car park? Because we were dashing in different directions, that's why! It often happens, especially on night jobs. He was finished in time to collect me later on though. We try to go into Cork together, to save on fuel and cut down the number of cars on the road, but it does take some organising when our jobs are in widely different places. Yesterday we intended to get in early (8 am) but ran into traffic jams caused by an accident, went across by lanes and alleyways to another route and got into another jam because of another accident, rerouted again and found ourselves in a really serious one (really serious because a delivery truck had overturned leaving one of Cork's breweries...) How many breweries in Cork you ask? Just two, but both long-established and quite famous - Beamish from the 18th century and Murphy from the 19th.

Which calls for a little lecture on stout or porter as you might know it. OK you've all heard of Guinness, but that's an absolute rank outsider, a Dublin drink. True black porter of quality is brewed only in Cork, at one or other of the said breweries listed above. Any student worth his or her salt can identify them at a sniff, let alone a sip. I grew up with the scent of the brew hops wafting over the city and came back to it, after many years travelling, with delight. One of the oddest things I had to get used to in other countries was Guinness (you rarely got Murphy or Beamish there, although Beamish appears under another name in some famous supermarkets) being pulled rapidly and handed over the bar as a foaming glass of bubbles. The first time that happened I handed it back, as you would in any self-respecting Irish pub, but soon learned that it was no good. The only way you'll get a true Irish pint, pulled as it should be, and taking half an hour in the process ('what'll ye have while ye're waitin'?' is a common phrase) is to order it in Ireland.

Now we've settled that, back to the knitting. Or was it the journey into Cork. Oh yes. It's lovely driving in at this time of year, when the trees are changing colour along the river banks. We have a lot of river channels here - Cork is built on the delta of the Lee - and it can be a bit confusing for visitors who cross several bridges and can't remember which side of the city they are on. The poet Spenser wrote about the river Lee which

'encloseth Corke with its divided floode'

back in Elizabethan times, when he courted the daughter of the Earl of Cork.

Just finished listing some of my stash yarns on eBay so that I can justify buying even more when the next opportunity arises. I'm already wondering what excuse I can use to go down and see John Cahill at Muckross again. The thought of that shed in the woods draws me like an addict... Maybe if I brought him some nice glossy prints of the pictures we took of him there? In proper mounts? This time I remembered to put the name Celtic Memory on every listing so that they should show up to anyone searching with those words in the Yarn section.

It takes surprisingly long to weigh and skein up even 50g of a laceweight cashmere/lambswool, but the real pain is estimating yardage. I have tried everything from kitchen scales to jewellers' scales, and finally settled on DH's ringing equipment from his bird recording days, which has a lovely hanging tube calibrated in grams, and a clip on the end to which the bag containing a bird is usually fastened, but to which I can fasten a tiny ball of yarn. Then I take it off, measure it against a metre rule, count the number of metres per gram, write that on the inside of the cone, and try to wind up the yarn again without incurring too many tangles (a vain task). Or, as all too often happens, I start rewinding, then realise I haven't written in the yardage, realise further that I have completely forgotten said yardage, swear and start the whole business all over again. Any other suggestions on how to measure yardage effectively would be much welcomed.

I've had enough of Starmore and her demands for this evening. I mean, cast on 290 stitches, join being careful not to twist (oh we know that one), and work several thousand rows of k1 p1 rib? You know, she says on that pattern that it was 'a joy to design.' To design, you see? She says nothing about knitting it up herself. Do you think she kept subservient, bullied knitters locked in a tin shed with tiny needles and infitesimally fine yarn? Somehow I don't think she'd have been writing so confidently if she had to go the distance with 290 stitches on size 1 needles.

No, tonight is going to be a treat. I've got the latest Sister Fidelma thriller and I'm going to curl up with that. Do you know Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma mysteries? They're set in ancient Ireland and because the author is an expert on the period, you get a marvellous feeling of living in those days, of wild bleak hills and warm kingly halls, fur robes and woollen cloaks, the mead circulating in gold goblets, romantic interludes 'twixt nun and priest (no, no, stop that, it was perfectly legitimate and accepted for religieux to marry up to the 11th century or so, when some misanthrope in Rome who hated women anyway decided to ban it), and fierce men roaming the mountains seeking vengeance for wrongs. Great stuff for a wet and windy October night!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Oh To Be in Rhinebeck, Now That Everyone's There!

Waaaahhh, I wish I was at Rhinebeck! Everybody's there 'cept me. Well, 'cept me and Lene, and Angie, and Karen and Sukie - well, ok, perhaps not everybody's there, but it sure seems like it when you read the brief excited notes on people's blogs. But lookit, I just might get to the Fibre Frolic in Toronto next April! Rachel H has been telling me about it and it sounds so much fun. Well, why not? This isn't a rehearsal - you only have one life!

I saw a new posting on Knitter's Review Forum asking what recommendations were for the best needles to use. Of course there were hundreds of replies, with everyone suggesting different brands. Me, I'm definitely in the circular lobby and within that lobby, if money and availability were no object, I'd live permanently with Colonial Rosewoods (courtesy of those lovely people at Warm Threads) for the medium gauge, a few Lantern Moons from Knitty-Noddy, and of course Jenkins Woodworking for the big fat needles as well as the crochet hooks. I suppose it all depends on what you're used to and what works best for you. But I do know that when you find the right needles or hooks, your crafting life is transformed! It's worth experimenting over and over until you find them.

Big excitement chez Celtic Memory - the plunge 'as finally bin took and the subscription committed to Interweave Knits (thanks for the sneaky encouragement to check out their winter preview, Peg!) Can't wait for the first one to arrive. It's daft really - I've spent years hoping to find a copy in Borders when I get to London, or alternatively buying up tons of past issues when I'm Stateside, when all the time the sensible option was to take out my own subscription. At least now I'll know what the rest of you are talking about so excitedly when the latest edition hits the stands!

For those envious of my new antique swift for winding skeins, temax61 is the eBay identity of the lady I got it from. She lists a lot of sewing and craft items from time to time, as well as old kitchen collectibles and other stuff, so she's well worth checking out.

Let's have a fanfare! Ta-da!!!! The Glitz socks are FINISHED! I got so fed up with all the projects hanging around that I had a late afternoon session yesterday with said footwear and vowed I wouldn't get up until they were done. That actually involved a messy session at the frog pond with one foot since I realised after all the grafting and everything that they should have been a few rows longer... Let me recommend that if you have got past the grafting stage and find an error, give the socks to someone else. Do not try this at home! Anyway they're done, and they're beautiful and I'm mad about them.

So chuffed indeed was your correspondent that she got out the champers and the Waterford to give the socks a celebratory birthday party in advance of Samhain. (They will now officially become the Samhain socks, and will be worn to welcome in the Celtic New Year on October 31.) Gosh aren't socks fun? The next pair up will definitely have to be in a colourway suitable for midwinter, so that I can wear them for that festival on December 21. Must create a new designer yarn for then too, in the Celtic Festivals range. In the meantime, if anyone wanted a skein of Samhain particularly, and missed them when they sold out on eBay overnight, drop me an email and I'll make up another one for you.

Oh help, I haven't even cast on for the Red Sweater KAL yet - my excuse is that I'm waiting for some suitable circulars to arrive from a dear friend Stateside, but probably the catastrophe associated with Muffy has something to do with it too. You can't cast off a trauma like that very easily. And then there's the pattern! Cast on five million stitches, work seventy-five thousand rows in a very complex pattern, stop and check your gauge... you know the kind of thing? If you're not in a very positive frame of mind from the beginning, it can be a bit daunting.

I did once work out a new method of casting on a lot of stitches. I got the notion of having a sip (well a
gulp really) of wine for every twenty stitches cast on. A lot more fun than placing a stitch marker after all. And once you've got about sixty or eighty on the needles, whash the PROBLIM? I'll HIT the first fella who says we have a problem...

Me I really prefer patterns that say 'Cast on - oh about 40 sts - and work in garter or st st or whatever you want for about 60 rows. Cast off. There you are, done and dusted, wear it tonight and garner the plaudits.' Norah Gaugan isn't like that, though. Neither, it is hardly necessary to say, is Alice Starmore. But then, that's why they get the adulation. Nothing good is easy (all the same, what a market lies waiting out there for the person who invents the designer-outfit-in-an-evening project).

Ms Knitingale introduced the idea of really sensible greeting cards on her weblog recently and I loved her notion. Go over and look at it - if it doesn't make you crease up with laughter, you need to loosen your corsets. Listen, why don't we all do it this holiday season? Send each other cards commiserating on the trip to the frogpond, or congratulating on finishing that ghastly project, or wishing well in the search for one last ball of that designer yarn desperately needed to finish the gift.... you know better that I do the concepts we could create! Love you for the idea, Ms Knitingale!

And by the way, does anyone know how I fix my weblog so that people leaving comments leave their email addresses as well? I've seen it on other people's sites but I can't get it to operate on mine, and there are so many times I'd like to reply personally to someone.

Associated with that topic, sincere apologies to anyone who found she couldn't leave comments on my postings. I don't recall doing anything weird within Blogger, but maybe somebody dusting or vacuuming with more energy than usual pulled a few wires out. I'm checking, I'm checking (wish I knew what I was checking...) Hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly.

And those who have complained they can't find either my designer yarns or the stash sales on eBay, I'm going to make sure that the words 'Celtic Memory' get in the title on each one from now on so they can be located, since often each is in a different category (mohair, lambswool, silk, cashmere, whatever.) No, don't have an eBay shop at this point - keeping such a shop maintained and operated 24/7, with the lights switched on and a friendly little man in a clean white overall ready to welcome visitors is more than this correspondent can take right now. Look, I'm listing them on Sunday nights and that's when you should look for them, OK? Unless there's a full moon, when it might be Mondays. Or Tuesdays.

Actually, I do need to list yarns tonight. I have this mouthwatering fine kid mohair boucle that is to die for, and a vastly entertaining black, silver and grey speckled sockweight, and an unexpected surprise in the Battered Rejected Cones section - a laceweight lambswool/cashmere in a plum or grape shade. That one was a bit damaged on the outer layers, with a few broken threads, but superb once you got past that. And when it's washed, it blooms and puffs up so beautifully. It will make an incredible lace shawl.

But listing each one means first of all working out the number of metres in a skein, then skeining up 100 gr or so, working up a swatch, photographing it, and finally listing it on eBay. You think that's easy? Look, I haven't even cuddled a dog tonight, let alone DH! One does have priorities. Not to mention a deep need for hot chocolate.

Speaking of priorities, went to an old-time threshing today with DH. It was great fun, if a little dusty (forgot how much chaff and bits of straw natural threshing could throw around), and I found some women churning butter in the old style which was nice.

DH climbed up on top of the old threshing machine to get a better shot for you - it was lovely to see the way those men seemed to remember the traditional ways instinctively, and forked the sheaves quite naturally.

Did you see that amazing Saxon Braid swatch on Dog Lovin' Knitter's recent posting? Loved how it looked so much that I tried it in the silk/cashmere trapped on my Muckross hunting trip.

It came out beautifully with perfect stitch definition. Discovered along the way, incidentally, that the silk/cashmere smells very strange when it's wet - rather like a manure heap - but is fine once it's dry.

Oh - nearly forgot to tell you. The Elann lace crop cardi finally got its outing the other night when the Chisinau Opera Company were in town with Die Fledermaus.

Looks every inch the part, doesn't it? Wore it with an ankle-length panelled black suede skirt and boots, plus a silver ribbed polo neck (it was a chilly night for once). The Elann loved the operetta and sang along to some of the choruses, chinking its little beaded points for all it was worth. If you were thinking of making this cardi, go for it. It's worth the trouble and would decorate the grandest occasion.

Still wish I was at Rhinebeck. Would so love to meet everybody. But Toronto in April does seem like a definite possibility (can you have a definite possibility?) How many of you would I meet there?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Delight of Friends Sending Gifts!

Gosh, I didn't expect the new yarn to sell out overnight on eBay! Took me by surprise. I hadn't realised so many people felt a pull towards the ancient Celtic festivals but Samhain evidently rang a few bells. Here's a whole tray of skeins ready to be packaged up and sent off.

I always spend ages trying to squash the yarns into the tightest possible compass, squeezing out as much air as possible, so they'll fit into a resealable plastic bag and then into a padded bag securely. That way I can be sure they'll make the journey safely, and I know they'll spring out full of life at the other side, but I still hate to see them packed down tightly. They're free yarns and don't like being controlled. Yes, they all had a slice of thickly-buttered barm brack before setting out, so they'll be fine on their separate voyages to their new homes.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your kind commiserations on the recent yarn tragedy. No Angie, it wasn't blood. It was far far more serious. I mean, what can be more serious than shredded cashmere? I haven't had the heart to tell the mother cone and haven't had the heart either to wind up some more double thickness balls for getting on the with Red Sweater KAL. The event needs a few days to mend, to merge into the background. Muffy has been spending a lot of time under her cupboard since that little contretemps (little!) and I can hear the steady sound of clicking needles, but so far I haven't been able to pinpoint what's missing... And the heartbreaking comments I got from some of you (Jill, Vicki and others) about beloved pets now alas gone, for whom you would willingly trade every inch of yarn just to have them back, made me choke and give all my girls an extra hug (Muffy pretended she wasn't that impressed, she said I made her drop a stitch, but she was quite pleased really).

One or two of you wrote to say that Jamieson's of Shetland are indeed delightful but won't sell to the US or Canada. I've come across this with several places - one of my own favourite sources in the UK (Uppingham Yarns) doesn't even post to Ireland officially, only I rang them up and gave them a hard time (plus my credit card details). 'It's the postage,' explained the Uppingham director and Jamieson's said the same. 'Americans and other places far away won't pay the postage from here.' Why? I mean, why do they think that? Listen you guys, New World knitters are quite used to paying postage - they see the yarn, look at the costings, make the choice. So do it! This is a global village and if you want in, you'd better realise that.

Rachel H. sent me the most lovely surprise gift the other day. Isn't she a darling? Just look at these delights.

They all emerged beautifully from their tissue wrappings, one by one - a divine skein of sockweight from Fleece Artist, a superb mohair blend from Wellington Fibres - a Canadian producer I hadn't even heard of - by heck do you have a big country over there! - and that marvellous pattern by Alice Cooley for a shawl using just ONE skein of Seasilk, that everyone talking about. Plus - plus - plus - you see it on the right there, don't you? A SIGNED copy of Steph's classic.

What can I say? A copy signed by the woman who not only made me laugh uncontrollably and unstoppably but also gave me a new outlook on life and knitting - made it okay for me and for millions more to yearn after yarn, knit around the clock, start new projects every day, and know that it was OK. Best of all, who introduced us all to her and to each other thereafter, through weblogging. Go Steph, go! (And if you're reading this, take a rest, girl. Producing a book is worse than twins, worse than the flu, worse than a serious operation. You need time out to spoil yourself and get the elasticity back in life's rubber band.)

Rachel, you are the world's number one sweetheart. And I am already putting the pennies in the piggy bank to get to the Knitters' Frolic in Toronto next spring. To think of meeting up with you and all the other webloggers I've got to know through the Net - how great would that be?

You know what this reminds me of? A magazine called (I think) Sixteen, of which stray secondhand copies would find their way somehow to Cork in my early teenage days. It featured something called American Bandstand (bear with me, we didn't have all that much in the way of New World culture to get excited about back then) which was, I assume, a TV show with pop music and regular attendees on the dance floor. These regulars became minor stars in their own right, being interviewed and featured on the pages of Sixteen about their fashions, tastes, friendships, that sort of thing. And Sixteen then started a feature about a young girl who moves to wherever American Bandstand is recorded each week and actually gets to join in - to meet all the regulars. Wow, was she ever excited.

And that's what going to events and meeting other webloggers is like for me. You read and laugh and empathise from far away, and then one day you get to meet face to face and it's like old friends. I've said it before but it bears saying again - weblogging is a far greater force than is yet realised. We'll look back in old age and think, 'Hey, we lived through that - we saw it happen!'

A propos, I'm going to meet Julia at the Dublin Knit & Stitch Show on November 2! She's coming over from California and she's bringing me some dyes, the lovely helpful girl! Hope they don't get snatched at customs. They shouldn't - the Irish authorities would probably be fascinated to hear all about the process - they're like that. Still, fingers crossed.

Oh heck, got to go. Interview a road sweeper and then go to Die Fledermaus at the Opera House tonight. Love that show. Talk to you later.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Knitters of Delicate Sensibilities, Look Away Now!

Well, into every life a little rain must fall. And you were all getting pretty fed up with me - seeing my existence as one constant round of parties with leprechauns followed by orgies of indulgence in yarn sheds. Fine for her, you mutter as you trudge through the daily misery of on-tap Joanns, Michaels, LYSs with nice friendly staff, local fibre festivals and special events, laden shelves in the craft section of your local bookshop. All she has to do, you snarl, is click her fingers and unique yarns appear out of nowhere, and good-looking farmers too.

What I am about to reveal will shatter that illusion (never a very good one anyway I have to say, hauling my wellies out of the mud on the third successive day of unending downpours). And in the spirit of those knowing newscasters who intone seriously, 'The following report contains images that may prove distressing to some viewers', I warn you that you aren't going to like it. In fact some of you may have to dash for the powder room. It's not nice. It's not pretty. But it's life in the raw in West Cork and I think you have a right to know. (Well actually, you don't have a right to know but I feel like making you know about it, OK? Any problems with that? You at the back? Right. Sit down then.)

You remember of course that I have signed up for the Red Sweater KAL. In joy and anticipation I singled out the Alice Starmore Eriskay gansey and brought out from its ivory tower my cherished cone of very fine scarlet cashmere. I swatched up a teensy bit and showed it to you. Here it is again, in case you'd forgotten how beautiful and how fine it actually was.

Some of you made jokes about embroidery thread, others calculated the probable length of time it would take to finish the Eriskay. Others contented themselves with laughing quietly. It didn't matter. It was such a softly beautiful cashmere that one should not expect quick and easy results. This sort of quality demands time, and probably some suffering.

Ah yes, suffering. This evening I went upstairs to look at the swatch again. I'd put it on the windowsill in the sitting room pending the arrival of the correct (appallingly fine) gauge of circulars from one of my dear blogging friends in the New World.

The door was ajar. Alarm bells - it shouldn't have been. I've been keeping that door tightly shut for the past couple of months. I pushed it open and went in. It was dusk. I switched on the light.

I didn't scream. I didn't yell. I think in fact all my breath came out in one gasp of utter despairing disbelief. I sank to my knees. Tenderly I started to gather up the pathetic scraps. But Muffy wasn't having any of that.

'It's mine!', she roared. 'My yarn. You go get your own. Leave me be!'

I sat back on my heels and tried to get my brain round this catastrophe. You know how when something like that happens you just can't believe it. You think you somehow haven't come into the right scene - it's all a mistake. You'll wake up in a minute and everything will be like it was before.

Only it wasn't. The sad little shreds (if any proof were needed that this was one hundred per cent pure cashmere, not a trace of nylon binder in sight, it was alas amply shown here, with each tiny scrap torn from its moorings and pulverised beyond hope of recovery) lay around Muffy's growlingly protective presence. She picked up one or two lengths carefully in her teeth and tucked them under her paws where they'd be safe from my grasping hands. Then she looked up at me with huge clear brown eyes and suddenly I heard her. I swear I heard what she was saying.

'Did I do it right, Mamma? Am I a good knitter too? Am I as good as the Yarn Harlot and all the others? Will you tell everyone about me on your weblog? Am I the best?'

Yes, Muffy. You're the best. Forgive me for thinking a few yards of cashmere mattered more than a small dog who wanted to please me by trying to learn this strange knitting hobby too. Nothing matters more than the light in your eyes as you look for approval.

And yes, I will tell everyone about you on my weblog. (I will also, however, put the remainder of the cone of cashmere on a very high shelf indeed. I might even do my knitting up there.)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Lord of the Dance and Laying Out Yarn Skeins

OK gang, EXCLUSIVELY for your eyes only, courtesy of photographer supremo, my very own DH, here is Michael Flatley arriving at St. Patrick's Church in Fermoy yesterday for his wedding to Niamh O'Brien, the girl who starred with him in Celtic Tiger and danced her way into his heart. To give the man his due, he wanted an open, public wedding with no limitations on people who wanted to come and give him a send-off - although I think he didn't quite expect the crowds that did block the way so that the car couldn't get through and he had to run the gauntlet of well-wishers.

And here's the one you really wanted to see, when they emerged after the ceremony. Ah isn't it sweet?

Now to yarn matters. Don't think I told you that on the security check at Stansted Airport the other day, my bag was singled out for searching (this after the hour and a half of queuing). I was apprehensive that they would find the Brittany dpns (3 sets) which, although they are birchwood, are still knitting needles and therefore banned. The big cheerful man started rifling through the pockets, all the time keeping up a bright banter (you know the kind, planned to find out every last thing about you) about where I'd been, where I came from, whether I'd had a good day, etc. etc. I told him all about the Knit & Stitch Show as he pulled out balls of mohair from one side pocket, blinked at Cherry Tree Hill sock yarn in the other, and recoiled as a great hank of hand-dyed wool exploded from the controlling zip of the front pocket. Then he opened the main section and his face cleared as he saw yet more masses of yarn.

'Oh that's all right then,' he said. 'Wool is a natural fibre and so it shows up on our screens as something else - won't tell you what!' He zipped up the bag, handed it back and wished me a good flight.

Wonder what it shows up as?

Anyway, it was just as well that I didn't have any dyes with me. I can't imagine they'd have got through in hand luggage. Fortunately the adorable Julia is bringing me some when she comes to Dublin at the end of the month - and I'm still in the market for more if you want to send me some in exchange for a skein or so of Muckross Forgottens. Plus wooden dpns and circulars. Of course if you have access to Lantern Moon or Colonial Rosewood needles you can name your choice of yarns - but only if you actually know a local shop that has them. Otherwise it would mean you ordering them by post and then sending them on to me by post which is daft. And HANDS UP those of you who live within hollering distance of a great big Joanns. You don't have to send me anything right now - I'll send you a skein or two of your choice as a bargaining counter for emailing you later on with a frantic request for some little useful gadget or notion they have on offer there. Joanns won't mail outside the US and it drives me mad to go on their website and see something I need and can't get! I need friends near Joanns...

But mention of the Muckross Forgottens reminds me to tell you of one cone I got there that I haven't shown you yet.

This is my Rescue Shetland. When I was burrowing around that wonderful shed and throwing gorgeous things into the big carton, I saw this one sitting sadly and quietly on a corner on its own as if it knew nobody wanted it. It was grubby. There was something very like an oil stain on one top corner. It had been thrown away because it wasn't clean and fresh and beautiful.

Well what would you have done? Of course I took it. I brought it home and gave it a nice place to sit and stroked it and told it that it was adorable. I looked inside and for a wonder it had a label. Pure new Shetland wool, spun in Scotland. It's about worsted weight or what I would call double knitting (DK), maybe a little finer, maybe not, in its original natural colour of creamy white.

I'm going to skein up the first layers and see if I can wash those very gently. I imagine that underneath it will be just fine. Then I'm going to find a really really special project for it. Rescue Shetland has found a good home and will be valued for the rest of its life.

Erica was asking if I have a shop on eBay. I don't because I haven't the time to maintain a constant supply all the time, what with the day job and all. I just list both my designer yarns and the skeins of ordinary ones I'm selling from time to time. And today I finally got round to creating Samhain, in honour of the Celtic New Year festival fast approaching, and took it and Sophie out to the woods to photograph it for eBay.

Here are the two of them enjoying the mossy stillness of the woods. I've tried to reflect all the ancient traditions of Samhain (or Hallow-E'en) in this blend - the red of flames and rosy apples, the bright oranges and soft browns of autumnal colours, the inky blackness of nightime, shot through with the gold of those otherworld peoples who cross to our world on this night. Once I've finished talking here, I'll go and list it on eBay. That means writing a piece about our traditional customs for observing this festival here in Ireland as well - the bobbing for apples, the mirror scrying, how to avoid being taken by the Good People if you venture abroad after dark, all that kind of thing. And I really must get round to skeining up some of the stash to sell too - the house is beginning to look like the store room of a rather large yarn store.

I was whinging, you may remember, about having to travel so far to events like the Knit & Stitch in London, and Carrie gently observed that it was 750 miles to her nearest fibre festival. Then Laura (co-founder with Anne of the Red Sweater KAL - have you seen and admired the way I put their button on my sidebar, have you, have you?) said at least I didn't have to cross a continent AND an ocean to find things. OK, perhaps I'm not the most wretched of deprived kids after all. I just thought I was. You do have a slightly larger continent to cope with, most of you.

Yarn Yard (I really must start on that divine Mango Sorbet sock project) has some lovely hand-dyed stuff on her site at the moment. Read Natalie's blog too, it's so much fun - and then see if you can resist the Chocolate Orange Mousse sock yarn. And a big hurrah for the said Natalie of Yarn Yard for her special offer on a pink sock yarn for October (this being Breast Cancer Awareness Month), with some of her proceeds going to research.

I'd been feeling the need for a while of a skein winder or swift, so went hunting on eBay. The new ones seemed a bit expensive so I searched further and came across a delightful little antique one which I managed to secure.

Isn't it adorable? It stands on three sturdy little peglegs, but I might make a heavier base with three holes in it, to keep it steadier. Lovely little thing. It's going to be well used. That's a skein of the natural alpaca on board, which underwent an experiment with dip-dyeing.

Now I've swatched up a bit for the Eriskay gansey which is intended to be my contribution to Knit A Red Sweater. I say swatched up a bit because for heaven's sake the number of stitches and rows required to reach four inches is rather frightening.

I mean look at this! I've put in a matchbox and an American cent as well as the tape measure to give you some idea of what we're working with here. I must be insane. But it would look so beautiful... Let me check - does Starmore suggest circulars or dpns for the sleeves? Hold on, I'll be back in a moment.

Hmm, she says use either. Well she doesn't say anything so helpful, she just lists both sorts. Never one to waste time on the niceties, Starmore. So any of you wishing for a Muckross skein, I might be in the market for longer dpns as well as the short ones - in US sizes 1 and 2. Maybe Christmas 2007 would be a good occasion to wear the Eriskay for the first time? Or 2008?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Knit & Stitch Success - Alpaca Crisis! Send Money!

Back from The Knit & Stitch Show at Alexandra Palace (affectionately known as Ally Pally) and somewhat the worse for wear but clutching my loot firmly. Remind me not to visit London again for a long long time. Unless I go by ferry, that is. Flying has lost any charm it once had in the present tight security.

Oh did I make a faux pas on the Underground in London! Leapt happily on to the Tube for Ally Pally and what did I spot but two women sitting halfway down the carriage, and one of them knitting! Of course I rushed straight down, planked myself next to them, hauled out the Glitz sock (only one travelled on this trip, the other had things to do at home), and said brightly, 'Isn't it marvellous, you're the first woman I've seen knitting on the Tube, this is my Work in Progress, what are you working on?'

Well! It was a stuffy day in London and the Tube is always several degrees hotter but within a nanosecond the atmosphere in that carriage was colder than Glacier Bay. A stony face regarded me for a moment, and then a stiffly upright back was turned away.

I'd forgotten, hadn't I? In the first place you never, ever, speak to someone on the Tube in London. Not even if you think you know them. And in the second place, you absolutely must never sit down next to someone unless there is no other spare seat, no other option, no alternative.

Me I blame it on Ireland, on Canada, on Thailand, on France, on Spain, on Poland - on most of Europe in fact - and certainly on the good old US of A. I'd got used to relaxed friendly strangers who were delighted to show off their skills and enquire after mine. I should have remembered that when one is in Rome one does as Romans do...

I half felt I should apologise, get up and move to the next carriage. But then I got bloody-minded and decided to stay where I was. So I got going on the Glitz, and had done a few rounds on the foot when the second lady woke up from whatever daydream she had been enjoying, looked across at me and said loudly to Freezer Bag, 'Do you see what she's doing dear? She's knitting a sock.' All this in clarion tones but clearly not meant for my ears. Freezer Bag glanced my way - it obviously pained her to do it - and said frostily, 'So I observe. For a child, I take it.'

Of course I jumped in again enthusiastically and explained how no, they were for me actually, and how I'd got to the age where I felt it was time to embrace wild colour schemes and abandoned living, and that sort of thing. She waited until I'd run out of words and then said briefly, 'I imagine you will be seen anyway.' And that was the end of that. I got out of the carriage a lot quicker than they did at our stop and was on the shuttle bus before they'd emerged from the station - doubtless nodding their heads over the peasant crudities of the Irish.

Now not everyone is like that in England. I lived there for 25 years and remember most of them with affection. But there still are a few old colonials and I guess I picked the wrong carriage!

Ally Pally was magnificent, huge, standing nobly on its hill above North London, with women of all ages and sizes thronging towards the show from a fleet of shuttle buses.

And inside it was actually a lot of fun. In the foyer there were ladies knitting and spinning accompanied by a full operatic recital.

A focal point of the foyer was a knitted Ferrari.

Yep, a tour de force in knit and purl by one Lauren Porter. Wonder how much yarn it took?

The great hall was a bit of a marathon - huge, high-ceilinged, packed with people, noise, heat and stalls. But you forgot the crowding and the heat with the excitement of seeing so many products, so many skills and crafts, all under one roof. Colinette was there, and it was wonderful to be able to really look at, feel, get the sense of those stunning yarns.

I thought you might like to know what these yarns cost - they were the same at the show as they are on Colinette's website (colinette.com). Most were £6 or £6.50 - the latter would equate to around US$12 or Can$14 . Don't know what you're paying where you live, but judging by the prices I saw in BC, you might be better off buying direct from Wales, even with the postage.

I was delighted to see Jamiesons of Shetland, but after discussing their website for a while, found that I'd confused them with Jamieson & SMITH of Shetland. How could I get that wrong? Two companies called Jamieson, both selling Shetland yarn online, can't imagine how I made the mistake.

Anyway they were very sweet about it, so I think you ought to go check their website anyway (the sweetheart on the left built it himself. They're at www.jamiesonsofshetland.co.uk.

So many things to see from amazing student knit and sewn designs:

to amazing hand dyed yarns...

And then I saw a familiar logo! Was it? It couldn't be. Yes it was - Cherry Tree Hill was here!

And who was there beaming all over her face, but Gill of Woollyworks . Angie, I wish you could have been there with me. You'd have hated the crowds, but it was so much fun to meet the woman who has been at least partially responsible for reducing my credit balance at the bank to an all-time low. And better was to come - she introduced me to none other than Cheryl Potter herself of Cherry Tree Hill Yarns, who had flown over from Vermont especially for the show.

It's OK, I told her for all of you how much we hated her for inventing all those dangerously seductive colourways and fibres. I told her that if CTH closed down overnight we'd all be a lot better off. And then I bought some yarn. Quite a lot of her yarn actually. Well... it only seemed polite.

There were so many temptations on all sides - soft alpaca fleece,

felting kits, handpainted velvet scarves, the dearest little South American red rucksack, just perfect for a small knit project...

- oh and a very nice cone of butter-soft charcoal alpaca - OUCH ALL RIGHT, DON'T PULL MY HAIR. Miss, can you stop Lynn and Ms Knitingale bullying me, please? All right, so I gave in to a final temptation. Am I, you ask, a no-morals trollop who will drop a perfectly respectable lambswool gentleman for the soft whispers of a passing alpaca? Darn right I am. I am in fact in danger of getting an incurable alpaca addiction. I have to confess that I paid full whack for this - £30 for a little over 500 gr - that's about €44 (Can$63 or US$56). But it will make a glorious Norah Gaughan. That soft feeling...

A thought. It is possible that I am also be turning into a charcoal yarn fiend. I now in fact possess no fewer than four types in reasonably large amounts, to wit as follows: First, St. Alpaca; second, gentlemanly lambswool; third, adorable mousse; and fourth, romantic Polish homespun (remember the dogbite and those little babushkas back last December?) I really will have to skein up some of the lambswool and the mousse at least for eBay. Nobody is getting any of my charcoal alpaca though, you hear? NOBODY. It's mine, all mine.

There were no dyes to be seen, though and probably just as well given the level of security at the airport on the return trip. An hour and a half to get through security just wasn't funny at that hour of the evening. (But I got my stash safely through - tell you about that tomorrow.) I am therefore open to all offers for dye trades. By which token, I just got a LOVELY big bundle of Koolaid from Wanda, bless your handknitted socks. And the most exquisite handcarved crochet hook made by Ed Jenkins, the other half of Fiberjoy. I can't wait to try Koolaid-ing yarn - it sounds like a lot of fun.

Yay, I did it, I did it, I DID IT! Managed at long last to get a button on my sidebar! Oh the pride of the woman. I'm strutting round the study like a ruler of mankind. No matter that the rest of you worked it out long ago - it was a barrier for me and I just couldn't get it. Then the Red Sweater Knitalong gave me the sharp shove in the back I needed. I love this idea. Everybody making bright red sweaters or vests or things for the winter. Go on, everybody join up!

But HELP. Now I need really really fine bamboo circulars to make my lovely red Eriskay gansey - Alice Starmore icily (wonder if she knows that woman on the Tube, what do you think?) requests 2 1/4 and 2 3/4 mm (US 1 and 2, can you imagine?). And they'll have to be long cables on the circulars too - but I really don't want to think about the number of stitches right now. So if anyone wanted to trade for a skein of my Killarney loot, think long wooden circulars in US 1 and 2. Don't mind if I get more pairs than one - I'll probably do both sleeves at the same time to engender a feeling of confidence...

Pictures of the loot from London tomorrow. Now (8 pm) I have to dash out to a book launch when I'd much rather stay home by the fire and knit. Tomorrow morning early I lecture to journalism students and then go along with DH for moral support as he does the paparazzi thing at a very fashionable wedding. Don't know if you've heard of Michael Flatley, of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance fame, but he is getting married at his stately home of Castlehyde in East Cork tomorrow and poor DH has to spend the day trying to get past the toughies at the church who are protecting the event for Hello magazine or whoever. Yes, of course I'll bring the knitting. What else would I do at the wedding of the season?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Nearly Forgot The Knit & Stitch Show!

Yes, honestly I nearly did! It's on at Alexandra Palace from tomorrow until Sunday and way back before we went on that trip to British Columbia I booked a really really cheap flight across to London so that I could go. The show does come to Dublin next month but it's never as good since a great many of the stallholders just don't bother crossing the Irish sea.

Trouble is, with such a lovely trip barely ended, PLUS the heartstopping excitement of that interlude in Killarney yesterday, I have no energy at all to go to London and push through crowds at Ally Pally. But do I have the nerve not to go? No, I don't think so. I'll get up (very) early. I'll take my camera. And I'll let you know what it was like.

Now remember, you New Worlders, that this is the only chance we get on this side of the Atlantic to enjoy anything remotely approaching the kind of fibre and yarn festivals you spend your lives airily floating in and out of. Every day I read on one weblog or another of somebody attending the Fibre and Fleece or the Yummy Yarn or the Grab Whatever You Like It's All On Sale Show and showing pictures to die for. So I can't afford to miss the Knit & Stitch. Not even if my yarn budget is already gone for the entire year (and next year's has been fairly well eroded too, if the truth were told, but who's up to telling the truth?) It gives me the chance to see lots and lots of Colinette up close, to handle really unusual fibres, see strange practices demonstrated in workshops, see lots of Colinette up close, join with other knitters in coffee stitch-ins, see lots of Colinette up close... It's not that I wouldn't go to Colinette in Wales you understand - I would in a twinkling - but it's so darn far from anywhere that it would mean a three day trip for me and probably the same from anyone living in the UK but not resident in Wales. She lives miles from anywhere except perhaps Shrewsbury (anyone read the medieval Brother Cadfael stories - wonderful!) However, she is unlikely to have a bin of remainders and failures next to her stall at Alexandra Palace, I realise that. I'll have to wait until DH wants to go and photograph red kites in Wales and head right along with him.

Now somebody said I had brought back an unusually restrained stash from the BC trip . Well, yes, it was fairly respectable - but you should have seen previous ones! Even a year ago I was hysterically careering around JoAnn's, hurling 50gr balls into my basket like one possessed. Don't we move on? Now I find I'm into hefty cones and unusual rare yarns that never make it to the public shelves. Yeah, yeah, yeah, like the shed in Killarney. But a year ago I wouldn't even have thought of hunting that place out. It's all this weblogging that's done it. Hasn't it changed you? Come on, how have you changed as a knitter/fibre fiend since you started weblogging?

Angeluna has sent me a pic of Socks That Rock yarns. I have got to get some of that stuff. The colours! She sent me some pictures of her Persian cats too, which have got me yearning seriously. I would so love a snub-nosed Persian kitten. But then, how would the dogs react? And how did I come to have three psychotic dogs anyway? Is it something I did? They were all pretty normal when I collected them as babies, so what went wrong? Angeluna also asked what a jaunting car was. It's a traditional horse and cart large enough to hold several people going out on a jaunt or an excursion. They still use them around Killarney because visitors love travelling in them. Actually I might just disguise myself heavily and go on such a trip one of these days - as long as none of my friends find out. It's not something we're supposed to do, you understand. It's for visitors. But there is this great trip they do through the hauntingly beautiful Gap of Dunloe and then dropping you off to return to Killarney across the lakes by boat - it sounds like fun.

And Peg was sharp enough to spot and enquire after the two cones of grey yarn which appeared on top of the box being weighed at Killarney. These were the two charcoals - the darker lambswool and the slightly lighter mousse-type, both in good big cones. Just for fun today, and to see what difference it would make, I washed a skein each of the aristocratic silk/cashmere and the charcoal lambswool (Plus the Interlacements socks which turned the water really deep blue again, despite this being their second immersion - thanks for the warning on that, whoever alerted me to the bleeding propensities of Interlacements yarn.) The charcoal lambswood softened up quite a bit and fluffed out too, so the Norah Gaughan jacket (already started, to hell with the other projects!) should look pretty nice. The silk/cashmere of course accepted its bath graciously, hung elegantly on the line, and came back looking precisely the same as before, which is what you expect from the gentry after all.

The other Jo asked about my eBay yarns. I have to admit I've been so busy since we got back from our trip that I haven't even got round to listing them lately. (We're still not sleeping properly - the other night we were both in the kitchen tucking into bowls of cornflakes at 3 am because we were so maddeningly wide awake.) But I am definitely getting Samhain (for the great Celtic festival of Hallow-E'en) and Eiri na Gealai (The Rising of the Moon) created and on eBay this weekend; plus of course some skeins from yesterday's hunting trip. (Have to justify my spending somehow...)

Julia offers to bring me some dyes when she comes to Dublin. Julia, PLEASE! I would so love that! Ican't seem to get onto your weblog - email me. And the rest of you, talk to me if you want a skein of something nice from the Killarney hunt sent in exchange for - oh, I don't know, anything I can't get here (that includes bamboo dpns and circulars, Lantern Moon, those little things for holding or protecting needle points, dyes of any kind, magazines, Koigu, Fleece Artist/Handmaiden, Socks That Rock, any shading or ombre yarns, your own productions, you name it...)

Tan plaintively suggests it's unfair I use a professional photographer. It's not unfair, it's just luck that I fell for a gorgeous man who expresses his soul through a camera lens. But the poorer pictures on the weblog are all my own, I assure you. He's not always available.

Wanda of Fiberjoy says the shed reminds her of:

'the huge box trailer, where I worked once upon a time, that is filled to the brim with chocolate covered hazelnuts of all flavours.'

It's no coincidence, she observes sagely, that some of the best finds in life are stored in ugly receptacles. Yeah, yeah, but just exactly WHERE IS THE TRAILER, Wanda? Map directions? GPS coordinates? Come on, come on!

Yo all you knitters in Canada, we've got one of your residents over here and raising quite a kerfuffle right now! A tiny little Canada Warbler is currently residing at Kilbaha on the West coast and birders have been driving, flying, hurrying by the hundred to see the little creature, one of the rarest sights ever in our country. Here, I'll even give you the URL for an Irish news clip on him: http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/1010/6news.html

I wish him luck, whether he stays a day or a year. I never enjoy seeing them off course since I feel their chances are slight; but you never know, he might meet a gamesome Irish lassie bird with a gleam in her eye...

OK, got to go to bed now and try to sleep. It's the joys of English airports tomorrow. Measuring my stash bag as we speak to ensure it's within the stringent guidelines. And I've especially bought a lipstick-type gloss so that I can take something to avoid cracking drying lips during the day (they're still forbidding tube glosses and gels in England) Do I dare to bring back powder dyes in my hand luggage? Do I dare not? Will tell you about Ally Pally tomorrow night - if the flight isn't delayed!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Was There Ever Such A Secret Stash Shed?

I know you've all been waiting, checking, fuming, but I got here as quickly as I could. Poor DH had to go out in the pouring rain and howling wind to take pictures at a football match. I did offer to go with him, for moral support, but he kindly declined. So the curtains are drawn against the night, the lamps lit, and I'm tucked up here at the computer to tell you about a morning of dreams come true...

Actually it was very cold and bright this morning, and the road looked stunning as we drove down to Killarney, but I couldn't relax. I was chewing my fist all the way for fear that John Cahill might have had to rush off somewhere else and I wouldn't get to THAT SHED. When we took a wrong turn I nearly shrieked. But at last we arrived, and he was there, and immediately led the way to the most unprepossessing container-shed you ever saw in your life, marooned there amid the long wet grass and tangling brambles.

Inside it didn't look much more promising - just a sea of cartons and the sound of rain dripping on the roof. But I got busy, clambering around and peering into boxes.

Soon treasures began to emerge. John, the sainted man, hauled out a huge empty cardboard box and put it on the floor for me. Then he whispered those seven little words that mean so much to any girl in my position:

'I'll leave you to it, shall I?'

Can you imagine a happier situation? Me, a shed full of unknown yarn yummies, and time to myself? No shopkeepers, no observers, no security guys, no nothing, just the sound of the falling rain and lots and lots of boxes to explore. (DH popped in and out to record the happy occasion for posterity, but largely I was alone. And loving it.)

I explored some more.

Soon the treasures began emerging. I felt like Carter excavating the tomb of Tutankhamen (only without the curse, of course).

I tell you I went mad in that shed this morning. I couldn't believe I was having so much fun! I just wished with all my heart that all of you could have been there as well. Just imagine the hysteria, the shrieks, the laughter! It would have been the best girls' outing ever, wouldn't it?

After about half an hour John reappeared with a large roll of sticky tape which he used to fasten up the carton (now extremely full) securely. Even then I saw another cone here, a hidden one there, a poor lonely one with a few dust smudges on it, lost over in that corner. I carried those under my arm while John toted the rather heavy box back to the weighing scales in the weaving house.

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but it weighed over 20 kilos! (That's not counting the extra cones I was hugging to my chest which he adorably threw in for nothing. Can one love a virtual stranger? If he has access to that much yarn, very probably.)

Then I suddenly remembered the bright red variegated viscose yarn with which several of you had fallen in love. Now this special order yarn is never likely to get relegated to the stash shed. It is leading a popular and successful life on the looms and thereafter in the shop at Muckross House. But I asked, very sweetly and humbly, if I could possibly buy another cone, at whatever full market price he cared to put on it. John was a tad reluctant to part with even a smidgen of his treasure, but I was as persuasive as I knew how.

'You cannot be serious! '

But I got it, dear reader, I got it.

I have to admit though that I didn't get any alpaca this time (sorry, Dez darling, I did try, honest). He's short enough of the precious stuff, apparently, but is expecting a shipment in from darkest Peru any week now. It will cost me if I do get any more, but hell, even at the price he charges, it's still about half what I'd pay anywhere else.

We were so exhausted (me from the trauma of being next to, in with, so much hitherto unknown yarn, and DH from capturing every stage of the expedition) that we had to go for coffee in the dear little thatched tea house not far away.

The tea room closes at the end of October for the winter and doesn't re-open until Easter, so if you want some rhubarb crumble, you'd better get on to the travel agent right now. It was fine enough to sit outside and the sun had warmed the chill air somewhat. After the coffee we wandered for a bit and found some lovely fly agaric toadstools just waiting for the leprechauns to come back from their own tea break.

You can just see them in the foreground here, with the jaunting car trotting past in the background.

And then it really was time to go (me with a last longing look back at that magical magical shed).

Oh what a triumph arriving home with the loot! First there was a huge box to lug out of the car...

and then it all had to be stacked neatly in the sitting room.

Les Girls really got involved in the excitement, especially Muffy who is, as you know, a bit of a yarn fiend in her own right. She became so worked up that I had to give her a discarded swatch (you know the kind that obstinately refuses either to behave or to rip back so you hurl it away in disgust).

That kept her happy for quite a while, by which time I'd got all the yarn stacked and organised.

Now I know you want to see the whole lot in close up, but I think I'm pushing Blogger by this stage. I'll try a couple more (don't blame me if the whole thing blows up).

Here are some of the reds. Top left and right are two variegate boucles, roughly chunky weight. Below left is an orange-red 'mousse' - that's a gorgeous yarn roughly about sock weight or maybe even worsted, a very very soft wool, probably merino, moussed round a nylon binder. Pride of place in the centre goes to the variegated viscose wrested with such effort from John, and on the right is a pink mousse.

OK, so far so good. I'll try to put in the blues next.

This one's a bit dark, I'm afraid, but I didn't want to drag DH out yet again, after the sterling work he'd put in this morning. Top left is a pale lavender, very fine, kid mohair, and underneath it is a lambswool in a darker lavender, also very fine (you'd need to double it for hand knitting). Centre top, a variegated boucle, under that a quite thick (chunky I'd say) mohair in greeny-blue. On the right top, a dark blue mousse, and under it (the colour doesn't show up well in this picture) a lovely grape wool, very fine.

Now there were some real prizes in this hunting expedition - among them a huge cone of dark charcoal lambswool which, doubled, just makes the gauge for that Norah Gaughan asymmetical jacket in Vogue of which we spoke recently, and a slightly lighter charcoal in the mousse yarn. There was a very fine kid mohair boucle in natural (yes, a big cone) and a very fine kid mohair plain, also in natural. Pride of place though had to go to an absolutely stunning find. Get ready to bow your heads in reverence. About worsted weight, maybe a little less (I can never remember what worsted weight is) oatmeal or ecru, looked like thick string from a distance but up close, oh my Gawd! Silk and cashmere. Yes, you heard me. Silk and cashmere. Wow, wow, and triple whammy wow! I couldn't breathe properly after handling that. But believe me I handled it into the carton pretty darn quick.

I did take a picture of it tonight but I don't think I did it justice. Oh look, I'll put it on anyway and then get Richard to do a better job tomorrow. Just imagine something more beautiful than you've ever imagined or touched and you might be getting halfway there.

You can't see the subtle shine, can't feel the unbelievable softness, but take my word for it, this makes life worth living. What a world that hath such yarns in't! I feel a better person for knowing it.

Look, stop snarling for a minute, will you? I just want to say, yet again, that if it hadn't been for all of you, I'd never have discovered this. I was so embarrassed and so exasperated at having to admit to the lack of yarn here in Ireland that I went hunting and searching and poking until I found at least some places where the stuff could be tracked down, even if those places were absolutely not and never would be public yarn stores. It isn't something everyone could do, and I admit freely that I used the journalistic ploy more than once to gain entrance. But having done it, I'm so thrilled that I seriously owe you my sincere gratitude. OK, OK, gratitude AND a stray skein of any of my finds that take your fancy. All I ask in return is a little something from your corner of the world (even bamboo needles would do...)