Sunday, December 23, 2007

Last Minute Projects

I have noticed very much over the past couple of weeks that postings, both on blogs and on Ravelry, have fallen off sharply among my acquaintances. Can this have anything to do with frantic last-minute clicking of needles and hooks as the deadline draws nearer for gifts to be finished, tidied up, blocked, tenderly wrapped in tissue and bright paper, tied with pretty ribbons? I would think so. Chez Celtic Memory it has been fairly frantic too, but at last we are seeing a tiny glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Nearly there.

Or we would have been, if the idea had not suddenly occurred late last night to make a last-minute gift for someone to whom Celtic Memory has cause to be grateful. Anne runs the retirement home where my father now lives peacefully (he will be 96 in January) and she gives him tenderness, attention and care above and well beyond the call of duty. She is making his twilight years very content indeed. And a little special present at Christmas seemed to be appropriate. (It would have been better, admittedly, if this had been thought about a little earlier, but things have been fairly frantic here.)

It was almost midnight. The next day (today) a trip was planned down to see Papa and leave gifts for the big day. That trip could just about be left until mid-afternoon, but no later. So - not too much time.

A shawl. Not a complex knitted one, beautiful patterns though there are, in abundance. Some other time. Not now. A crochet one then. Used to be able to whip those off in an evening in my heyday. Wonder if the skill has survived? Only one way to find out.

Hunted for a big skein of composite yarn which was an experiment that hadn't quite turned out the way I wanted. I'd blended superfine merino, kid mohair and a strand of glitter into what should have been the most stunning yarn ever, but wasn't, due to the misbehaviour of the glitter. Given the smallest chance, it kinked doubled, stretched, and generally made itself a pain in the neck. Couldn't sell a yarn like that - not every customer would appreciate that glitter runs by its own rules and can't be relied upon to arrive at the finishing line at the same time as everyone else. But if I worked it up myself, adjusting the contradictory lengths patiently as they arose, it would still be a beautiful and luxurious yarn.

Worked for an hour and then went to bed.

Picked it up again this morning and worked flat out for a couple of hours. Ta da! Done.

Well, without the fringing. How much time left? Half an hour?

Viking Knits obligingly helped. Didn't dare use Starmore's Aran - can you imagine the risks involved in asking a book like that to do a mundane job like this?

Ten minutes to spare, so put a quick picot edging on the top to make it look even nicer.

I hope she likes it.

I was SO PLEASED that so many of you logged on to see the solstice at Newgrange! It's the very first year, as I said, that this has ever been done, and it was wonderful to sit here and watch it, knowing so many of my friends were doing the same. It was very clear that morning up in Meath, although down here it was rather mistier.

That tiny triangle of light just above the hill is the sun trying to peek through as it rises over our corner of West Cork.

Here is a picture an hour later, looking the other way from the window. The tree in the centre is just catching the morning light, and far away you can just see that little House on the Prairie in its lonely field.

Speaking of the Little House on the Prairie, my knitting reading over the past few days has been Wilder's The Long Winter. It was very moving to read it again, and realise just how much privation they went through out there, where no food could get in for almost seven months, and they relied on crushing corn in a coffee grinder to make the most basic bread to avoid starving. She wrote from the heart, didn't she? Finished that book now, and on to The Dark Is Rising, to accompany these midwinter days.

There is a rather special and little-known site in West Cork where a very few go to see in the solstice at Midwinter. I'm going to go out there one day soon and get pictures for you. You'll see it almost as soon as I do, I promise. And maybe next year we'll see the dawn in there together? If you did miss the Newgrange Internet experience, I think you could probably still find it in the archive there:


With all the gift knitting to be done, there has been little time for anything else, but oh temptation is never far away. The latest must-do is the utterly gorgeous Schoolmarm Vest from Interweave Crochet (yes, the winter issue arrived at last):

This is so cute with its layered effect. Got to make it and soon. But what yarn? Maybe some of that mousse, double or triple plied? Certainly no more yarn is to be bought. NO. MORE.YARN.EVER!!! (You heard me.)

Angie has been talking on Ravelry about how nice it would be to see a really new knitting book - one on international knitting styles and techniques, incorporating chapters from people in different countries, with illustrations and pictures and history and anecdotes. Wouldn't that be a really nice idea? Rutt's History of Knitting is great, but it only covers the UK. We need a worldwide one now, with all the access we have to each other. I'm all for it certainly, and will be glad to put in my tuppenceworth. Yo Angie, you have some great ideas!

We went into Macroom yesterday, having a little time to spare (this was before the sudden notion of making the gift shawl for Anne). We called to Twomey's in the Square for bird peanuts.

This is Twomey's. You can get absolutely everything here, from rat traps to socket sets, nuts and bolts to dog kennels.

And here is Frank himself, exchanging all the local news and gossip while weighing out the peanuts (and adding in a pack of fat balls for the birds as well, as it's Christmas. We'll make a little festive tree out in the back garden for them with all kinds of goodies so we can enjoy watching them having their feast too.)

Then over to Cotter's Bar for morning coffee. Geraldine was busily serving the shoppers.

She was very interested in the red headband I was knitting (Celtic Braid, couldn't find either of my other two knitted headbands no matter how much I searched, and it was chilly weather, so back to the knitting needles, but of course as soon as I got home, having worked three quarters of the new one, didn't I find both, isn't it always the way?). I'm very proud of the fact that I encouraged this woman, who has been an expert knitter in her time, to rediscover its pleasures. She is now working simultaneously on a poncho for her daughter and a sweater for herself. 'Isn't it terrible to be doing two things at the same time?,' she said in horror. Oh Geraldine, you just wait...

I wish you could come in and share the cosiness of Cotter's one of these mornings while it is all decorated up for Christmas. It isn't actually as bright as it looks here - Richard used a flash - but rather darker and snugger, more intimate. There is a bright fire burning in the grate behind me - you can just see it. And do you know something? When Geraldine sees me knitting, she turns up the lighting in the corner where I'm sitting so I can see the stitches. How nice is that?

Sophy Wackles was depressed this evening.

She said her shares were going through the floor, and was worried that this might mean no festive dinner. I assured her that the makings of the said dinner had already been bought and stored, and she cheered up and went out and bit the postman. Who was bringing me two classic knitting publications, one from 1978, the other from the 1980s, I think, which are going to be savoured slowly over the next couple of days, after which I will share them with you.

Gales are forecast, and as I type, I can hear the wind getting up into howling mode outside. Nice to be snug in here, talking to you. But Christmas Eve tomorrow! I haven't even decorated the tree yet! How are you doing? What are your traditions for Christmas Eve?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Of Stone Houses And The Solstice

Sunday was fun. Richard was working so I went with him, well muffled up against the cold snap which is currently sweeping across Ireland. Usually Sundays mean one football match after another, but on this particular day festivities had definitely taken over. We did one set of sopranos in the park, and then not just one but two pantomimes and two castles! After that we required coffee and mince pies to thaw out!

The Three Irish Sopranos, Cara, Mary and Majella, are all in fact from Cork, all have successful international operatic careers, and are now for the first time all coming together in one big New Year gala concert here. Richard photographed them in Fitzgerald's Park, a nice green place in the city where a huge exhibition was held in 1902 and which thereafter became a public park.

Then it was down to Blackrock Castle which has stood guarding the river Lee and the approaches to the city for centuries. There was a Christmas Market on in the courtyard here. I love Blackrock Castle - back twenty or thirty years ago the car ferry from the UK would come right upriver past the castle and you would wake in your cabin to look out the porthole and see the little white castle welcoming you home. Now the ferries are far too big to come this far, and moor down at Ringaskiddy further out in the harbour.

On to the Opera House and a matinee of Cinderella. Here is the wicked stepmother in mid-aria with the two Ugly Sisters. For American readers unfamiliar with the genre, it is traditional for these roles to be played by men, while the male lead was formerly played by a glamorous girl with long legs, but these days is more likely to be a hunky young male (shame!).

From there we headed to the Firkin Crane, one of Cork's most historic buildings, set on a height above the city at Shandon (sean dun, the old fort). The Firkin Crane was in fact part of Cork's legendary Butter Market, where the weighing and grading was done before sending our butter far and wide across the world (that's why you'll find it rather salty when you taste it - it had to be, to survive the trip!)

Here they were rehearsing hard for The Grinch, and while Richard ran around grouping Tiny Tots and dancers and elves for pictures, I got on with some urgent festive knitting.

The final stop was at Blarney Castle - yes, that one with the stone you have to hang upside down to kiss in order to get the gift of the gab (no, I didn't need to, because I was born within an ass's roar of the castle, but yes, unfortunately I did, more than once, which possibly explains a lot).

There was another market going on here, although those of you who habitually get two feet of snow may find the green a little conflicting with your ideas of Christmas markets. It was fun, though.

Someone asked if I wasn't knitting on the Lapland trip. Of course I was, but forgot to mention it in the delight of re-living with you the magic of Finland's Far North. I had decided on the special indulgence of a NEW PROJECT to go with the already splendid treat of the trip and cast on for - a Faroese shawl. Not one of the more complicated ones, but the nice little blue one from The Best of Knitter's Shawls and Scarves. You know, the one that you wrap around your shoulders, cross, and tie at the back for draught exclusion and snug comfort. That seemed like a sensible thing to knit, and something I would use quite a lot, as opposed to the heirloom-status patterns. Using that soft blue mousse yarn that went into the Gazebo Lace cardigan, only single stranded this time. It's going well if slowly, which is why you aren't seeing pictures yet - casting on 391 stitches is a little daunting! Having done a band of garter stitch, am now ready to start the lace border but think it would be advisable to shake another box or two of stitch markers over the work, to ensure places are not lost when several decreases are combined with a 27 st pattern repeat... More on that later.

A couple of treats have arrived by post. Firstly, my Winter IK is here at LAST! I've been watching for it since mid-November and eventually sent a plaintive email to IK querying its whereabouts (along with Interweave Crochet which hadn't arrived either). Fair dues to them, they sent out a replacement and I am now savouring every page as slowly as possible to make it last longer. More on that later too. And Interweave Crochet might be a New Year treat.

Secondly, something I've been quietly excited about for ages also arrived. Take a deep breath. Clutch the arms of your chair (oh all right, you can keep one hand for the keyboard or mouse, stop being pedantic). Shut your eyes for a moment. Ready? OK - now!

Stop that! Stop it this INSTANT! Really! Whatever happened to the Christmas spirit, the feeling of goodwill and generosity to all? Look, I got them at (for Starmore) reasonable prices, and the dollar/Euro exchange rate didn't hurt either. With the greatest restraint known to Celtic Memory, they have now been wrapped gently in tissue paper, tied with ribbon, and put to wait until Christmas morning. I hope my strength of character proves equal to the challenge.

I wouldn't have got these at ALL if it hadn't been for the generosity and helpfulness of my very dear friend, Angeluna, who not only took delivery of them in the States (neither vendor would post to Ireland - where is that for heaven's sake?) but also repackaged them and posted them on to me. And as if that were not enough, look what got tucked in with the books!

This divine, good-enough-to-eat skein in truffly chocolate and dark black coffee shades, is Brooks Farm, wool/silk, and currently sitting right by my pillow where I can reach out and stroke it in the night. What socks can do justice to this? Answers by email please. Angeluna, I know the amount of distress and pain you are going through at the moment with your son's illness; and your courage in posting about it and sharing with your many friends is remarkable. We're all with you, sweetheart.

I really didn't expect those shawl kits to sell so quickly! Within the blink of an eye, every single one was gone. And yes, for those of you who have been enquiring, I think some more may be on offer in the New Year. Will need to make up some more bags, and this time, given the extent of the Celtic Memory fabric stash, I think they will be proper little knitting totes. Something to have fun with in the spring.

It's nice to have new projects to look forward to, although at times the sheer number of exciting options can be a bit daunting. Lene, I know absolutely what you meant when you said you wanted to try different things, not just knitting. I suspect there are many more out there who find it difficult, if not impossible, to give enough attention to all the hobbies and crafts they would like to try. I'm certainly going to be spreading my energy around several projects in the New Year. If not now, when? On my deathbed?

It was Lene's mention of dolls' houses that really got me going, though. I've always loved these, and seeing the pictures she put up sparked a notion that had lain dormant for ages.

On various trips to France, we particularly enjoy visiting the less well known Massif Central and particularly a starkly beautiful plateau called the Causse Mejean. Life up here is harsh and demanding, dry and hot in summer and freezingly bitter in winter, and the houses reflect that world.

This lovely watercolour gets it pretty accurately. Everywhere you find that marvellous local architecture with sloping roofs, arched doorways to allow loaded carts to go into a barn, steps up to houses to keep the livestock out, and always the stones, the endless stones of the plateau, free and endless if pitiless building material.

There is a wonderful old farmstead up there, Hyelzas, which has been turned into a museum of Caussenard rural life, with all the everyday things of a hundred years ago - spinning wheels and wooden cradles, hay rakes, box beds built into the wall - and not laid out in neat warm museum style but the real house, with the wind whistling through on cold days (it was pretty draughty when I was there, and it really made me realise how harsh life could be up on the Causse in winter).

A particularly marvellous aire or motorway service station can be found at Lozere, not far away from the steep twisting road up to the Causse, and here, as well as divine handmade baskets, sheep's fleeces, Causse cheese, you can find miniature versions of the Causse houses, built in tiny stones. I bought several over the years, and now bring them out at Christmas, and put tiny figures into them to bring them to life.

Here they are, waiting to emerge into the limelight again.

Now: The Grand Project is to recreate one of those large French farmsteads in the style of the Causse Mejean, with living space, lofts, barns for the animals, hay bales, spinning wheels, chairs, tables, cupboards, everything that was needed for daily life. Fortunately I got a video tape at Hyelzas, dealing with the tasks of the different seasons, both indoors and out, and that will help. Can you imagine, a whole miniature world? I can't wait to weave tiny blankets and crochet braided rugs, and carve little stools and chairs. Think of the curtains, and the linen! How does one make tiny pots and pans? The challenge of the lit clos or box bed is one I can't wait to try.

The one guiding principle is that everything possible must be made or sourced from the clutter already filling every available space in the Celtic Memory homestead. No pre-packed kits, no prettily-painted sets of doll house furniture. No cheating. There should be enough scraps and bits and wires and string and (heaven knows) yarn and cloth already on hand here to supply a whole village of Caussenard houses. This is NOT, repeat NOT going to be a tempting excuse to go on another series of shopping sprees (really!)

However, an exception was made for the basic structure. Looked around for a bookcase or orange boxes or anything that might reduce the preliminary cutting and screwing work, but then, wandering through the local DIY store (look, I was there for something ELSE, it had nothing to do with The Grand Project, honestly), I found these marvellous wood cubes, sold in pairs, for hanging on your wall as instant display units. Already made up, and cheaper than anything I could make myself, I bought a larger and a smaller pair.

Here they are, notionally stacked. It's great because you can pull them around and try different ways of placing them. This is how the Caussenard house would work, the main part on the left and the smaller, lean-to livestock section to the right.

Aha, someone said just then, you'll have problems if you want to put in staircases or ladders, won't you? Two thicknesses of wood to go through. Yes, thought of that, and it will mean a bit more work (because you have to have staircases and ladders, they're half the fun, aren't they?), but LISTEN, the separate cube system means something ELSE could be worked in as well...

Look, see here? I've made a gap between the two floors. Just a small one, to give you the idea. That could be a fun roof space with a few tiny mice and cobwebs, but - BUT - it could also be -

a secret room.

Now this is something I'd read of a long time ago in some exciting children's story and subsequently checked up on. Old English houses, the Georgian kind with tall ceilings, might on occasion have an entirely unsuspected secret room. This was made by putting a false roof in one of the high-ceilinged rooms, which then gave you a space between that and the floor above. The tall windows were discreetly adjusted and covered at the top so that it was not evident on the lower floor that some of their height had been cut off; on the floor above, all was as it should be - but in between you had a low-ceilinged and secret room, usually accessed from within a hollow wall. It was handy if you were fighting on the wrong side in a war, or used the wrong Bible in religious disagreements. It might also have been handy for someone to simply get away from the family at Christmas, who knows. But I foresee a lot of fun ahead! Isn't it amazing what a few wooden cubes from the DIY store can turn into?

Now - it's almost Midwinter and I have some delightful news for you. In fact, like Lene's lovely present of instructions on how to make a felted heart on her current blog, here is my present to you. You may already know of the ancient site of Newgrange here in Ireland, where each midwinter solstice the rising sun pierces through an aperture and creeps along a passageway to the central chamber. Well, for the very first time ever, it's not just going to be the lucky few VIPs who are invited in each year - you can experience it on your own computer at home! It's going to be between 8.30 am and 10 am Irish time next Friday and Saturday and you can check it out right now on:

I can't imagine a better use of modern technology, can you? Mind you, I can't guarantee the sun - it could well be a misty cloudy morning with no sign of the lad himself at all - but we will be able to be there, together, you and I. Go check it and bookmark it and then set your alarm clocks!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snow And Ice And Shooting Stars

A long-awaited expeditionary treat on Friday which, as is the case with all good things, required rising at an appallingly early hour (4.30 am!), and stumbling into the airport long before the sun had even thought about peeping over the horizon. A flight two thousand miles to the North (along with a great many excited children, and deafening carols over the intercom) -

- and we were back at last in LAPLAND!

This was the only day in the entire year when we could fly directly from Cork to Rovaniemi - any other time it would involve several flights and several airports, but because of the Visit Santa tours, we were able to do it in one leap. Had to book it a long time ago to be sure of seats - these trips are always fully sold out. Didn't avail of the organised arrangements once we arrived of course, but took off on our own with a hire car.

It was wonderful to be there again, although it looked very different to the spring under its thick white covering of snow. Just look at those two gigantic snowmen: they even have real buttons on their jackets - were they specially made?

You only get a couple of hours of daylight at this time of year so far north, and by the time we reached the Santa Village, it was already dark.

Can you see that blue line across the centre of the picture, below the house eaves and bisecting the Christmas tree? That's not a camera error, that's the line marking the Arctic Circle.

The children were having the time of their lives, sliding down an icy slope and then running round to do it all over again. Certainly the young Irish visitors might never have seen snow before, so this was a very special experience. The atmosphere was wonderful, and everybody seemed happy and festive. The Laplanders were so welcoming and courteous and even the gifts for sale were genuine and handcrafted and worth buying. They have really done this Christmas thing very well indeed.

This placid reindeer, waiting to take people on sleigh rides, was especially charming, and wished us a happy time. You can't see it, but he has a birchbark flask of hot glogg tucked behind that tree, and takes a nip from it every now and again. Well, how do you think Rudolf got his red nose? But it's OK, they use forest tracks, not main roads.

Sorry? Well of COURSE I met up with Lene. Could I have gone to Lapland and not met her? I'd have driven any distance if necessary, but in fact she came into Rovaniemi especially to meet me at this wonderful cafe where the cakes are delectable; we hugged, and talked for ages over coffee, exchanged all the news and discussed ideas and projects and notions.

Lene's ideas for developing a whole miniature world within a dolls' house, trying every possible craft in micro size, has caught my imagination so much that we were excitedly suggesting things to each other in rapid succession. It's the perfect notion, really - to try your hand at all the old traditional ways of working, but without needing an entire acreage of space in which to do it. It matched with some ideas I had of my own - tell you more about those in the next posting. Suffice it to say for now that Lene and I are going to have a lot of fun swapping experiences.

A quick visit to Lene's own LYS was of course essential; didn't intend to buy anything, but somehow this ball of Austermann Step in the irresistible turquoise and grey colourway reached out and clutched my hand; and then this big fat cake of soft grey natural roving coughed gently and said it would quite like to come home to Ireland with me too. I foresee felting fun with that.

Later in the evening, Richard and I drove north into the quieter lands beyond the lights of Santa's Village, hoping to see the Northern Lights. They, however, were keeping counsel elsewhere and didn't grace us with their beauty. But again, that is as it should be. They aren't there to be switched on like Christmas illuminations, but choose their own time and place. Sometime, if I am fortunate, I will see them. We did, though, see several wonderful shooting stars, which was magical out in that vast silence.

And then it was time to turn back to the airport and rejoin the crowds of children, many of them dragging their feet a little now, and clutching their furry reindeer toys closely as they shuffled to the waiting plane.

Even there, Lapland held charming surprises. This is Hanna, a guide waiting for her next group, passing the time crocheting a lovely shawl and cap for her sister's Christmas gift. She's working the Solomon's Knot pattern on the shawl and was delighted to show me her work. The Finns are proud of their crafting skills.

Here is my last glimpse of Lapland, with the fiery reindeer leaping into the night sky. Oh I didn't want to leave. But I'll be back.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A New Swift And Festive Shawl Kits

Oh happy day! My new swift arrived from The Handweaver's Studio in London. You will remember that it had to follow on by post, along with the dyes I chose, as modern airport restrictions don't allow such indulgences as awkwardly-shaped parcels in cabin baggage. Indeed, even if I had been insane enough to opt for checked in luggage (and if you have seen the queues at Stansted Airport recently, you would be justified in calling me insane), such a delicate piece of craftwork as this could not be trusted to baggage handlers. No, I would have had to buy it a seat for itself, as musicians sometimes do. And that might have cost more than the postage.

Anyway, it arrived all fresh and happy and undamaged (thanks, Handweavers, for the careful packaging) and was immediately set to work. As it is coming up to the festive season (I know, I know, I'm the only one who noticed, the rest of you were busily tidying up the autumn and looking forward to the spring), I had some of my special shawl kits to make up for eBay. These kits contain a good 800m of one mousse yarn, and 200 of a toning shade, and until now every single inch (centimetre?) has had to be wound on a niddy-noddy. Tough on the arms and also on the knuckles, which tend to get rapped with painful regularity by one end or another of the niddy noddy. So I was very pleased to see the new swift. Even took the trouble to make a clear and visible mark on the shaft so that a full 2 metres can be wound on each circuit.

Here it is, working happily away on the red shawl kit, with the blue and the green already skeined up and ready to tuck into their little star-spangled gauzy bags. I love this merino mousse yarn - it's about fingering weight, so a little thicker and warmer than fine laceweight, and with the most seductive soft velvety texture - like chenille without the heaviness. It makes wonderful shawls, especially when you use the contrast yarn for a stripe or edging. Go and look at them on eBay - they're under the Celtic Memory tag in the Wool and Yarn section comme d'habitude. Or if you haven't time, here are the plump little gift bags all packed up.

Aren't they cute? I find myself rather wanting to keep them safe and cosy here with me, even though I'm the one who made them up so in theory I could create my own shawl kit any day of the week. However, I find consolation in thinking that they will make ideal gifts for somebody somewhere.

I still do treasure my little antique swift, but have to admit that the new one makes far shorter work of skeining up a major yardage. All that is needed now is some kind of counter so that track can be kept of the number of metres wound. As it is, a shrieking dog, a telephone call or someone at the gate can wipe the figures totally from the Celtic Memory brain - and have you ever tried counting three hundred and fifty (or was it forty-nine?) fine threads on a swift? DH is currently working out the technological possibilities on this one and we will keep you posted. In the meantime, advice is welcomed.

As usual, December is moving on at increasing speed and, as they used to say in old Ireland, 'not a child in the house washed.' So many things intended to be done and not done yet. Decorations aren't up, greenery not entwined around everything in sight. It isn't Midwinter until the holly and ivy are bringing their fresh fragrance to the house. Gifts to finish knitting (heavens, haven't started Muffy the Yarnslayer's washcloth yet). Tons of copy to write, so that hard-pressed editors and subs can prepare their pages in advance and get home for some holiday too. The food supplies to consider (unlike the United States, most shops close down here for several days in late December and it behoves the canny housewife to stock up in advance). Mince pies for the postman. The list is endless. Next year I really must start earlier - maybe in June?

Planning to go somewhere rather special this Friday. Somewhere with vast and silent spaces, glittering skies and deep forests. Somewhere very close to the heart of Midwinter. Just for one day. For a fix of emptiness and natural beauty. Yes, of course I'll bring it all back for you too. Have I ever failed to do so?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Of Wind And Rain And Rescue Yarns

I have derived such delight from everyone's confidences about the books they read, the music to which they listen, and the movies they watch during this festive season. It was so lovely, not only to realise that so many shared what I thought were totally weird individual preferences, but also to discover new and exciting roads to follow. Tan you said I hadn't mentioned A Child's Christmas in Wales. I'd forgotten to put it in, but I assure you it is there - how could it not be? I love Dylan Thomas' musical phrases and evocation of magical childhood memories. And Gretchen mentioned Wind in the Willows, especially The Wild Wood chapters. How could I have left those out? When Mole goes off bravely on his own into the dark woods and Ratty has to go and find him, and they fortunately discover Mr. Badger's doorscraper almost hidden in the snow and know they've found safety - what delight to read when the wind is howling outside and you're curled up in an armchair. AND I forgot to mention the Little House on the Prairie series (but Needles reminded me!) - that first Christmas when Laura and her sister get a tin cup each and think it is the summit of all earthly delights, and that winter when Almanzo makes a desperate trip to save the entire town from starvation - they are classics. And one I didn't know about - The Box of Delights DVD to which Jocerane alerted me - I'll have to try that now! At present I am reading a chapter of The Children of Green Knowe in bed each night. Its magic is just the right feeling to fall asleep to.

Oh, Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening - didn't that evoke a response and then some! Pam says she has the edition illustrated by Susan Jeffers. THAT'S THE ONE, THE VERY ONE I WAS TALKING ABOUT!

Have you ever seen anything so enchanting? This is one edition everyone should have. Children should get it in their stockings one year, when quite young, and cherish it forever thereafter.

Speaking of lovely illustrations, Cindyl mentioned Tasha Tudor, another favourite of mine too. And I am now reminded to dig out Jill Barklem's enchanting Brambly Hedge books again, particularly the Winter one with its adorable pictures of mice preparing for the festivities deep down beneath the roots of the old trees. Magical.

Speaking of old trees, I went down to my favourite haunt of Killarney National Park the other day, despite the wild weather, for a fix of ancient woodlands. They were doing something to the very grand main entrance gates at Muckross so the way in was via a private estate road, through a part of the park you wouldn't normally see.

I paused (Stopping By Woods on a Wild Rainy Day?) to say hallo to these gentle giants who were rather quietly pleased to see me, I think.

and this splendid guardian of the woods too, although, as is the wont of trees, he didn't say much, just looked calmly into the distance. You could feel the power coming from him, though.

Now I know there are some of you (fortunate souls say I, who keep separate pairs of wellies by both the back and the front door right now, and a stack of ever-dwindling dog towels by both in a vain attempt to reduce carpet and cushion damage) who actually revel in the idea of wild windy rainy weather. And for you, I give this picture of Muckross as it really does look at this time of year. Reality versus the glittering sunny image that our tourist board would prefer I used (hope they're not checking up on me, I'll never get another commission from them).

View from outside the cafe (rather good scones, I have to say, despite the weather), at Muckross House.

But you know, even into the dreariest day some rays of sunshine fall. Somewhere along the route on that rainy afternoon, I somehow came by a rather nice big cone of exquisite thick/thin merino in the most gorgeous variegations of blues and violets.

It has a lovely crunchy texture while still being divinely soft. 95% merino, 5% nylon for strength. Wouldn't this be perfect in a kimono or Dogi vest? Or any kind of vest. A big scrunchy cuddly one with POCKETS? Or one of those handy little shoulder stoles with pockets. (Everything should have pockets. For seed pods, measuring tapes, rubber bands, handkerchiefs, scraps of ribbon or string... Ought to be a law governing all new knitting patterns.)

No, I'm sorry, I can't help you with that rather quick (and rather sharp) query. For some reason I simply cannot recall where or how that cone of yarn got into my car and home with me. Did it slip quietly from behind one of those venerable woodland trees? Fall off a lorry? Yes, I did find a lorry obstructing my path round by Lough Guitane, now I come to think of it...

Can you see a glimpse of blue-violet round by the back wheel there? No, neither can I. But it must have come from somewhere, because it certainly sat on the passenger seat beside me all the way home, singing softly to itself and chuckling happily at intervals while it peered out at the rain. It's amazing what you can find out there in the wild woods...

I'm going to list some of it on eBay later today, along with some seasonal white and red boucles for fluffy scarves and some NEW DYED MERINO TENCEL SOCK YARNS! I did these over a week ago, but the weather has been so frightful that I couldn't take the usual outdoor pics so eBay will have to make do with indoor

What should I call this colourway? Candy Cane? Cranberry Cream?

Finally got exasperated with my circular needle collection and actually got round to making a needle holder.

I'm quite pleased with this, especially as it used up some of my quilting fabric stash. I think I might make a few more as gifts. At first I attempted to grade the openings to each gauge of needle but that drove me mad in the end, so settled for equal-sized (or almost) openings throughout. After all, I might have several pairs in one size and only one in another, so that will be fine.

Another attempt at making a traditional Irish lace blouse.

This time I tried a blend of two very fine smooth mohairs plus a strand of glitter, but it didn't satisfy. The last time I tried, the motif was too small, now it is too big . You have to get a measurement that will fit into your planned blouse size and this one would have multiplied up either far too large or far too small. Try again. I secured a rather costly little cone of pure silk yarn in about fingering weight (the term 'costly' explains the surprising term 'little' since as you are doubtless aware, Celtic Memory normally goes for industrial sized cones of everything - one never knows, and there might be a crisis or a long winter, or... where was I?) Oh yes, the silk yarn. I had to go to London for a quick day and although it was mostly crowded and drizzling and trying, I did manage to get to the Handweavers' Studio in North London where they stock some excellent acid dyes, fibres and yarns. (They are posting on my dyes, since the airport would have had me locked up if I'd tried to slip them through in the hand luggage and nobody with any sense at all tries to check in bags during the present crisis-laden, queue-ridden airport atmosphere.) I also yielded to the blandishments of Nancy Bush's highly practical spiral-bound sock Bible and a couple of vintage IKs.

The silk is front right, partially shadowed by the reflection of my lens hood, with some little sticks of bright chainettes behind, and a cone of silk/wool in a pale almond green behind that. The silk/wool is slightly crisper and drier feeling than Elsebeth Lavold's Silky Wool, but will make wonderful Viking Socks. And the horribly expensive pure silk will be essayed in some traditional Irish crochet lace. Heaven help me if I have to buy more!

And hey, there is a Starmore (gosh, did you hear that clap of thunder when I typed that name?) link in both IKs! One has an interview with AS on the publication of Aran Knitting (yes it's that old), and the other introduces Jade S and has a very nice pattern for a jacket by her. So the annoyances of the trip were made up for by the loot. And I got quite a bit of sock knitting done on the plane, thanks to Rho's generosity in sending me a wooden KnitPicks size 0 that wouldn't be confiscated - thanks Rho, my pet. I like that KnitPicks very much - it's tough and able to cope with awkward tight stitches, but smooth and flexible too. And it seemed to match the Addi fairly well in gauge - as we all know, a size 0 is not necessarily the same from maker to maker.

You may recall I mentioned that Angeluna had been clearing out wardrobes and cupboards and disposing of unwanted items (the better to make room for more yarn, yay!) I decided to follow her example and found a frightening number of things about which I had completely forgotten. Large bags went to the charity shop, but I kept two sweaters:

The one on the left is cotton, the one on the right silk, both about what I would call DK and you might call worsted weight, off-white. Being shapeless and unworn for several years, they were on their way to the charity bag when I remembered that someone - it was you, wasn't it, Ms Knitingale? - regularly snapped up charity shop bargains and frogged them to rescue the lovely yarn. I remember I thought at the time that she must frequent better thrift stores than I, since all we ever seem to get remaindered here are acrylics and unidentifiables, but it clicked that this could be an opportunity to try the technique for myself. So they are saved, and one rainy day soon (bwahahahahahah, when have we had anything else for the past month?), I will get frogging. It should be a lot of fun and I adore the idea of rescuing beautiful yarn.

As I look from the study window now, the trees are bending in the gale force winds and the rain is sweeping across the hills.

A busy Sunday afternoon ahead. Yarns to list on eBay, some sock knitting to finish, a small railway to set up around the fireplace in the upstairs sitting room (never said I behaved like an adult, did I?), and the potted spruce tree to drag around from the back of the house to the front steps where it will stay until just before Midwinter (it comes inside for a few days then). May you have a cosy day too.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Seasonal Tales And Skeining Yarns

I was struck by how many people responded joyfully to my mention of Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence and how many of you read this wonderful fantasy series regularly. I loved the thought of it being read and enjoyed every Christmas, (as Rosie certainly does, and Chris as well and many more) and that got me thinking of all those other books which I traditionally bring out at this season to pile by the fireplace and browse through between now and the New Year. What are your festive favourites?

Top of the list for me, every year since childhood, is Dickens' Christmas Carol. At first I read it for those wonderful descriptions of a Victorian Christmas - the shops crowded, everybody full of goodwill for mankind, the delights of the Cratchits' festive table - but now I see far more in it - a plea for genuine good feeling for all our fellow creatures and a generous heart for those less fortunate than ourselves. It's been filmed many times, but nothing can beat the sheer magic of the original 1840s tale. I've read this in many editions, in many parts of the world around Christmas Eve - London, North Africa, the Tirol, Tobago, California, even Kathmandu - and it never fails.

For the past decade or so, Lucy M. Boston's The Children of Green Knowe has come out of the juvenile bookcase in early December and into a place of honour by the fire. I only discovered this classic in relatively recent years when I saw that perfect gem of a BBC production one winter. I wish, oh I wish they would repeat it, or if not, bring out a DVD; fortunately a friend had taped the series and gave me a copy, but it's not very good and I live in fear of its disintegration. The BBC film is such an exquisite interpretation of an amazing book - everybody should read of this wonderful ancient house in the Norfolk Fens where children of different centuries play together and dark dangerous powers emerge late at night.

Then of course there is the evergreen 'Twas The Night Before Christmas. I have loved this poem ever since I saw an old black and white movie version for the first time as a toddler; now I have picked out a really well illustrated large-format copy and open a different page for each day in December.

Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising volume will of course be there, with its wonderful evocation of woodlands and whisperings and strange happenings one Christmas when a young boy realises his destiny. There is so much of the old knowledge, the old wisdom in this book that I think Susan Cooper must have been - well, if not of the old religion, then certainly very well versed in it.

And another poem, one very dear to my heart, Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. I've always loved that, and when, some years ago, I discovered a beautifully illustrated version in an American bookstore, I made Richard buy it for me. I could have bought it for myself, but I felt very strongly that it should be a gift. The pictures are heart-turningly lovely. I'll get Richard to copy a few and put them on for you to enjoy over the next few weeks.

I'm sure there are more but I can't think of them right now. Do tell me your festive special reads - the books you choose to curl up with when the wind is blowing outside and the fire is flickering brightly. There is something about reading that television can never replace. (Although I will admit to watching Polar Express several times during December - have it on DVD. Yes, and Ghost Train too.)

It's been a very busy couple of days, skeining up a whole bunch of glorious mohair yarns to list on eBay. I've been trying to do this for a week, but work commitments simply wouldn't let me. However, made a real push last night and eventually this morning it was just about fine enough to photograph them. Richard had to lend a hand - the watery sunshine wasn't sufficient to do justice to the colours, so he had to bring in his flash photography know-how.

Here is one of the finished results of his work:

Two fine kid mohairs there, to left and right, lavender and pale pistachio green respectively; the others are all heavier gauge. Two variegateds from the Elements range - Earth to the left, Fire to the right, with that unusual greeny-blue mohair in between (Ms. Knitingale you recognise that one, don't you?) Plus turquoise, black and a lovely silvery grey that positively shimmers like a dewy spider's web.

And here is a rare picture of the photographer in action, snapped quickly by me while he was otherwise occupied. He'll not be best pleased to see this up on the post; it is his firmly held conviction that a photographer does NOT himself get captured on screen.

All up and listed now, so I can relax on that front for a while. Next week I'll list some more sock yarns and a few colours in that lovely merino 'mousse' yarn which I think would be ideal for kimonos and the like, being soft, warm and very very light. I'm certainly going to use that for my proposed charcoal/poppy red kimono creation - WHEN I get round to it!

In the meantime, although several pairs of socks, St. Enda, Dogi Vest and Ragna are all clamouring for my attention, I am having to restrain myself forcibly from winding up dear Roggey's Seasilk, threading on the beads, and starting straight into a Swallowtail...