Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Canine Yarn Harlot's Been At It Again!

Gosh we've been having wild windy weather here. If this is a smidgen of what you've been enduring in the States, then you have my awed sympathy. Our trees were bent double, leaves ripped from their moorings, and rain battering the windows. Sophie thought the rattles and bangs from the attic were gunshots (if ever a dog was gun shy, this one is) and spent the whole storm time curled up on my lap with her head buried in my sweater.

And yet, in between, it was exceptionally cold, with the first snows of winter on the Kerry hills.

You can just see the first whitening of the hilltops here as Cork becomes Kerry. Further down, in Killarney town, the snow was closer and more menacing, speaking of cold months to come.

It's a wonderful time of year for cuddling down by the fireside and giving thanks for warm places and loved ones. Tomorrow, I know, is when Thanksgiving is celebrated in America, and so I shall celebrate it too, because of all the friends I have made there since I started a weblog in July. I shall think of you all tomorrow, gathering with your families and giving thanks, and I will raise a glass to you.

It's almost midnight here now (and thus almost Thanksgiving!) because we've both been out and about. I had to review a new play opening in Cork, based around JFK's assassination on this day in 1963. It was one of those 'clever' pieces where you promenade from one part of the theatre to the other for different sections (in one part we had to sit in the dark wearing black masks while being bombarded with aural stimuli) and by the end I was wondering if this particular emperor did in fact have any clothes on (or, for those who aren't into Hans Andersen, whether this play actually possessed any merit or was relying on its 'cleverness' to dazzle its audience). In the meantime, DH was down in Crosshaven, a seaside town, stalking a folk singer whom we are writing up for Ireland of the Welcomes. More about Jimmy Crowley and his songs in a future posting. And now it is midnight, and high time we were both abed, but not before you are brought up to date on events chez Celtic Memory.

The first, and most appalling, concerns yet again the reprehensible Muffy. Those of you who expressed the desire to take Muffy into your own homes and love her for ever might wish to reconsider. When I went up to the sitting room this morning, the sight that met my eyes was not a pretty one.

No, not the red cone on the windowsill, the pathetic pale scraps on the floor. Yes, the wild dog had struck again. I could have sworn I had shut that door firmly! But there was the tragic evidence. This is - had been - a ball of fine kid mohair in a lovely lavender shade which I was about to skein up prior to posting off to a friend. Sorry pet, you'll have to wait.

I gathered it up without much hope, remembering the cashmere saga. However, kid mohair appears to be made of sterner stuff; it still held together, although hopelessly tangled. Maybe a few patient evenings untwisting and coaxing might bring it back to a stage of usefulness again? I'll let you know.

IN the meantime, I had been feeling more and more embarrassed about gaily taking the Irish Hiking Scarf Knitalong button for my weblog without actually doing anything about it. Ah, you will say, being Irish is enough. You are born with the ability to twist cables without ever using a cable needle, so you don't need to make the scarf. Well, that's true, but I still felt a bit out of things, so to speak. And thus it came about that last night I finally cast on for my own version, in the famed cashmere/silk (the one that smells like a manure heap when you wash it). This is the story so far.

OK, so I know you're supposed to follow the given pattern but that one looked a bit too simple - not enough of a challenge. This is the Celtic Braid, from the Harmony Book of Stitches, placed twice with a small 3 stitch panel between plus edge stitches. Don't know how long these scarves are supposed to be, but I might just go for a shortish one that I can fasten elegantly on the shoulder with a wooden knitting needle. Life's too short to go for a toe-length one.

And what about the Red Sweater KAL you cry? Indeed, what about it! You know (diverging again to avoid having to talk about Starmore and Eriskay), I sometimes wonder why we bother spending our time knitting these garments when you can buy them so easily. I was asked that at the dentist's the other day, when I was working on the Blackberry Pie socks while waiting my turn.

I explained that the pleasure both of making and wearing them was indescribable but the receptionist was still doubtful. Later, when we'd both been pushed and prodded around enough, we took ourselves to Blarney Woollen Mills for restorative coffee and I found an amazing Aran-knit jacket in soft grey merino marked down to €39. I imagine it was machine-made, but honestly, for that price?

OK, OK, back to the Red Sweater KAL. I've been hanging fire on this one for weeks now and it's been nagging me all the time. I looked at other patterns. I started new ideas several times. I gave up, went away, came back. And the Alice Starmore Eriskay pattern kept plucking at my sleeve. 'I don't want you,' I said crossly. 'Nobody wants something that requires 320 stitches cast on, and anyway I've skeined up all my cashmere into 5-ply. Go away!' But it wouldn't, pesky little thing that it was.

Then tonight, just as I was getting (reluctantly) tidied up to go to the theatre, I had a brainwave. If the Eriskay pattern was so beautiful and desirable (which it is, oh it is, have another look in case you'd forgotten)

then why didn't I try making it with the lovely yarn I now had, with slightly larger needles, but with fewer stitches? Could I? Dared I? Would Starmore instinctively know, up there in Stornoway (and I bet the wind is blowing wild there tonight) exactly what I was up to, and come right down to West Cork to read me a helluva riot act? Probably. But let's see. Now if she demands 8 stitches to the inch, and I've currently got 5 to the inch in this swatch... yes, all I have to do is divide her total by 8, multiply it by 5 and there I am!

Except that then the patterning wouldn't fit, would it? Yes it would. This chart which is followed for the main part of the body is for 16 stitches, repeated across. So make sure my total is divisible by 16, right? But what do I do when I get to the serious patterning, up on the yoke? Oh that won't be for ages yet. Get started anyway. Cast on for the front. Work two rows (this, by the way, as DH is revving the engine outside and calling, 'You're not going to make the first act, you know'.) Realise that it really really should be worked in the round, as Starmore dictates, not in the flat, as otherwise it will be a dickens of a job following her pattern. Rip it out again. Is it going to be necessary to revive this yarn by washing yet again? No, can't put it through any more.

I'll keep you posted on that one too.

Whoever asked, .Dervla Murphy's birthday is on the 28th - sorry, one gets mixed up with dates when
writing a piece for publication several days ahead. In this case, the feature is going in on Saturday November 25.

Angeluna's memories of formal horseriding in France brought back even more memories. It was never a particularly privileged pastime in Ireland - if you knew someone who had horses - and you always did here - then it was no big deal to borrow one and go off for the day or at least a few hours. My favourite time of all was St. Stephen's Day, the day after Christmas. A whole gang of us would go off to a farmer who kept horses and have ourselves a great gallop across the frozen fields. One year his wife, doing the thing properly, brought out the traditional stirrup cup. A little girl on a plump pony near me asked nervously what it was. 'Don't worry,' I said comfortingly, 'it's only a nice hot blackcurrant drink.' I tell you, that kid took her fences flying that day!'

But I was going to tell you about banks. We have a lot of very high, solid banks along our roads in Ireland - they might have started out as low earth enclosures around fields or even stone walls, but over the centuries have grown into ten foot high solid structures, great for clambering up to get a view over the countryside. When thundering along a laneway, or across a field, you would sooner or later reach one of these. Your horse, if he was a good one, would pause, measure the obstacle thoughtfully with his eye, then make a violent clambering leap, scrambling up to the top while you hung on for dear life. Reaching the top, your troubles had only just started. Below you was what looked like a sheer hundred foot drop into a boggy field - usually with a black stream at the foot between you and even vaguely dry land. You had just time to twine your hands in the horse's mane, shut your eyes and utter a brief prayer before he launched himself out into the void. Oh yes, the other thing you did was hold your head to one side of his neck so that you didn't break your nose against it on landing.

Great fun. And when you got home, and out of your muddy things, and stretched your legs by the fire with hot tea and toast (the hot whiskey came in later years), you felt so exhausted and satisfied and happy. Gosh, I'd nearly do it again. But I'd better not tempt fate. I was always proud of the fact that I'd never been thrown. I wouldn't want to break the record.


Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your blog and thought I would comment as you wished us, in America, a Happy Thanksgiving day. Thank you! I live in North Idaho. (you're right, we should say "northern", but we don't)We are going to my brother-in-law's house. They live about 2 hours from here. All of my husband's brothers and their families will be there and their Dad. It will be a time of feasting and a time to hunt. This is fairly traditional for my husband's family. We all bring something to contribute to the feast. I am bringing Pumpkin Pies this year, they are cooling now. Are there any traditional holidays in Ireland that an American might not know about that you would like to share? Have a great non-holiday day!

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous post, I was right there riding that horse, ayyeeeee. Quite thrilling. I spent more than a week on horseback up in the Absaroka Moutains..Wyoming..several years ago, it was great.
Yes! on figuring the changes for the pattern going up on your needle size, it's very doable, and I know you'll do just fine.
Happy Thanksgiving to you also, hope you enjoy your day...I host dinner and outside of a handful of dishes that get brought, I do the main dishes, baked the rolls today, yesterday the cornbread for the dressing, and a praline apple pie baking as I type...tomorrow the pumpkin pie along with the rest. Will raise a glass of wine to you and yours...

Martina said...

Oh, you make horse back riding and lauching off of a sheer hundred foot drop off sound so appealing! I'm coming to Ireland to do it!! Thanks for the lovely pics of the mountains (or are they hills?). I hope you get all that yarn untangled and I love the scarf!

Anonymous said...

Oh my, the view from your bedroom window is dreamy! Lucky lady. How I would love to wake up to that. Dear, dear Muffy...obviously, your stash must be kept under lock and key. Yes, I will still take her any time. Anyone know dog psychology? There must be a way to distract her from this devious pastime. Wow, your charcoal aran jacket was quite a snag! It looks very perfect on you. And I quite like the Hiking Scarf in the gorgeous but odiferous yarn.

Your wild Celtic riding sounds quite wonderful, though I am quite pleased you are a bit more cautious now.

Was just half-watching a late run of BBC's What Not to Wear, and one of those tacky witches who do the makeovers took her poor victim's knitting and ripped it all out on camera, saying she didn't like the pattern and knitting was frumpy. Homicide would be justifiable.

Having cooked a Tarte Tatin, some butter-sesame rolls, asparagus with hollandaise, and salad with radishes and lots of nuts (my contributions to the family dinner) I am ready to give thanks for all the blessings of the year. Shall lift a glass in your honor. It is really a lovely tradition, transcending religions and politics. Our friends in Canada have their Thanksgiving day much earlier than ours, but share the idea if not the date. Someone on the radio today said you could thank anyone or anything you wanted, the Easter Bunny or the great white bear or whatever you will, just say thanks.

LaurieM said...

I think you could figure out the pattern as you go on the red sweater. Why not just call it inspired by Ms. Starmore?

I think the gray sweater is a smart purchase and I would have bought it too, but in the end, I think you'll love your red sweater more, if only because she caused you so much heartache in the beginning.

rho said...

Jo you brought back a flood of memories for me - I had to write about them on my blog - rather than fill your space up with my rambling. :D

Time to get ready to overdose on turkey

Charity said...

I love the story of the banks and horse riding! So sorry to hear of the further offence of the purple mohair...

Peg-woolinmysoup said...

Good on you, Jo, for buying that beautiful sweater. Why is it that a knitter will stand at the rack of sweaters and break out in a sweat because s/he has the guilts about buying something they could knit, even when it is something they love and could never buy the yarn for that price, or find the time to knit said sweater?
Your story about horseback riding and jumping over huge ditches makes my story about coasting/sledding and falling into a watery ditch seem tame. We came home to a hot drink of ginger tea, a bucket of hot mustard water and a hot bit of talk from Mom. Still we would go out next day and try it again!
I hope the Silk and Cashmere does not become the victim of Muffy. She is a sweety and anyone who has a hate on for acrylic could send it to Muffy to play with. As Jen at Uptown Yarns says, "Remember Acrylic is not a four letter word."

cindy said...

Love the canine thievery story. For me it's my cats that do the damage. But at least you can salvage something.

I,too, have been thinking about the Kennedy assassination. I watched the PBS series about it just this week;it brings back my youth and the sad times. As I told my daughter I was 13 when JFK was shot. In my senior year of high school MLK in April was shot and Robert Kennedy was shot on my high school graduation day. What terrible times to witness particularly in such impressionable years.

Love Starmore's sweaters....I need to finish Rona,a Fair Isle of 15 colors by Ms Starmore. You know you have to start the Starmore red sweater!

Nice interpretation of the cabled scarf.

Ms. Knitingale said...

Not to worry, Jo. I've been thrown from horses quite enough times for both of us. I feel certain that you'll escape harm as I have kindly appeased the horse gods! Love the scarf, absolutely love it. I have a thing for cables....really must pick up that book you keep mentioning. My deepest sympathies for the kid fur people (the feline variety) have to be watched carefully so they don't chew and eat the yarn. We love them, though.....right?

Dez Crawford said...

Oh, Jo, can I pleeeeeeaaaase come over and just sit and knit and stare out your sitting room window for a long, long, time ... and then have a fine ride on some good Irish hoofstock? There are few things I enjoy more than a breathtaking ride.

I promise to pay my way in doggie obedience training, everything you want from Michaels, and cooking Cajun for you!

Fiberjoy said...

Jo, the memories you stirred up of scrambling up a steep hill then down the other side while trying to maintain some sort of contact with the plunging beast. Downhill is always harder/scarier! You must have a great seat not to ever have been tossed!

A modified Starmore is the ticket. In truth, she'll probably be proud of your determination.

I've been enjoying the view from your windows.