Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Struggle With The Inner Self

I was laughing the other day over Dez's description of how she behaves when her laptop goes loopy. Mostly because I too tend to disintegrate when high-tech stuff starts to act haywire, and shriek for Richard to come and sort it out. That time I lost the hit counter on my weblog page I was a babbling, flailing fisted wreck. Go and check out what Dez does - it'll make you chuckle too, if only because you recognise yourself!

Unfortunately, not only the juvenile but the downright bloody-minded, badly-behaved child lurks in the best of us as was discovered chez Celtic Memory last night when with heavy sigh the unending tale of the Celtic Vest was yet again being taken up. Heavens above, this thing is longer than the Forsythe Saga. Will it ever be completed?

This is where the second front is up to - nearly to the armhole but not quite. After that you might think it's plain sailing but it most certainly isn't. Decreasing followed by complex motif at the armhole side, combined with a 'decrease third, fifth, ninth, eleventh, fifteenth, oh and whenever it looks like a good idea AT THE SAME TIME not forgetting what you were doing earlier, and did you check those lifted increases, no, thought you didn't...' It was bad enough on the first front, the prospect of the second does not inspire. What? Work them both at the same time? Look, it's bad enough as it is. Why double the stress (and the likelihood of one error after another?)

But to return to the badly-behaved brat. On the way to pick up the CV, it seemed like a good idea to check the Internet for anything interesting. After all, we owe it to ourselves to keep up to date. There had been an email from Elann, so their website seemed a reasonable option. What new patterns are around? (Don't they do great patterns? Remember that lace cropped cardi? Oh no, on second thoughts, don't. The scar is still vivid.)

I saw this.

Even as my own eyes widened, my Inner Child (IC) burst into noisy shrieks.


Calm Collected Outer Persona (CCOP): Don't be silly. You can't have it and that's that.

IC: But I could MAKE it. I could, I COULD. Lookit those crochet cuffs! I CAN CROCHET TOO!

CCOP: Stop that this instant. You know very well there is a Celtic Vest to finish. (dropping to honeyed tones). Just think how happy we will be when that's all done and lovely. Won't that be nice?


CCOP (dropping honeyed tone for gritted teeth hiss): Will you stop that this instant? What will people think? Be your age.

IC (in hysterics by this time, lying face down on the floor hammering heels and shrieking). DON'T WANNA BE MY AGE. WANT PINWHEEL SHRUG. HATE YOU! YOU'RE NOT MY REAL PERSONA. YOU'RE A WICKED CRUEL STEP-PERSONA AND I HATE YOU!

I'm afraid there was no option. I shut my Inner Child into a dark cupboard (no, not the one with the Noro yarn) and left her to simmer while I went wearily back to the Celtic Vest. Who'd have inner children?

I let her out later. She had a lower lip so stuck out you could have put a vase of daffodils on it, and she sulked all night, but we heard no more of the Elann pinwheel shrug.

(Not for the moment anyway. OK, OK, Steph, I do realise it has crochet on the cuffs. That doesn't necessarily make me a bad person. You have to broaden your outlook. You're being knittist., that's what you are and how mean is that? Have you ever asked your IC if she'd like to crochet? No. Thought not.)

I have a whole row of dancing skeins on the washing line at the moment. I have listed some utterly beautiful linen/cotton yarns on eBay, so that people can start thinking about their summer wardrobe (or indeed cool soothing socks), together with that dangerously seductive denim cotton slub which I am trying to resist, and a real discovery - a cotton sort-of-boucle thicker yarn which looks like it has been pre-knitted (or pre-crocheted) into the most elegant lace effect. This is what it's like:

I would love to make a lacy summer top in this one. It would look beautiful.

Anyway, don't you get a real kick out of giving coned yarns sourced from factories and the back of dusty shelves and remainder bins and places like that a gentle wash to see how they come out? You get the loveliest surprises sometimes, like that rescue Shetland I brought home all dusty and dirty and oily from the Shed in the Woods, which comes up rosy and smiling and happy when it's washed. And I wanted to see how these aristocratic linen/cottons emerged. Of course they took to the water like - well, like ducks to water I suppose - and are even now drying happily (in between the showers, that is. DH asked a while ago if he should bring them in as it was raining. Heck, no, they're linen aren't they? They should be used to rain.)

I must tell you in the next posting about a really beautiful book which I received for review from Cork University Press.

It's called Weaving Tapestry in Rural Ireland and it is stunning, both pictorially and editorially. It deserves a whole posting to itself. You'll yearn for it!

In the meantime, BIBLE SUPPLIES HAVE ARRIVED FOR THE MISSIONS! Yes, wonderful Sister Denise of the Mission Outreach Services at Our Lady of Perpetual Gauge has sent a whole stack of the Interweave Edition, together with hymn books from the Spinning Sisterhood and a whole lot of catechisms from Vogue and other Sunday School groups. Isn't she marvellous? I can't wait to see their wide eyes and grasping hands down in Kenmare when I go there this weekend. (Or they'll think we're all absolutely mad, there's always that risk, but I'd stake the lure of IK against disbelief any day.) Joy to you all!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What Did We Do Before Blogging?

What started me off on this tack was discovering an old Knitter's magazine among my groaning shelves of craft books. Now and again you hit lucky and find a few of these in thrift stores in the States; this was one I must have bought on Sanibel Island years ago and somehow forgot about. Another one I got there was a great issue with some early Lavold designs in it, to which I refer constantly.

But one thing about this issue from Spring 1995, twelve years ago, struck me as I leafed through it again. Not a single web address. Not a single email. Hundreds of lovely colourful advertisements, dozens of articles, features, suggestions, query letters - but nowhere that wonderful link which enables us to check instantly, send an answer, order some yarn, see the colour better, download a pattern, make a new friend, sign up for a camp or a class, discover a whole new way of trying a pattern or stitch.

In that spring of 1995 I had returned to academia, actually to the hallowed halls of Oxford. A fairly demanding job I'd been doing (getting independence back for an exceptionally small English county which had lost it and been absorbed into a neighbour twenty years earlier) had been successfully completed (cheers outside the House of Lords at midnight). I'd been thanked and paid off. And I decided to have a really really self-indulgent treat and sign up for a Masters in Local History at Oxford. (Yes, it does take quite a lot of the readies to sign up for anything at Oxford, not to mention rather respectable previous references. But it was worth it. Oh boy was it worth it. Wandering down Broad Street dressed in charity shop rejects, with your arms full of books knowing their authors were probably living a few streets away, it was heaven.)

The point however is that at Oxford they were just about getting into the Internet in a big way. The world's best young brains were working things out and then being headhunted to Silicon Valley or New York. But before they left they gave us lectures on how to use this new medium in our studies.

It was all very very new to me and I didn't understand the half of it back then (having a brilliant scientific mind doesn't always mean you can convey your ideas to a class of mature students, as I've discovered), but one thing excited me a lot. 'You'll be able to visit libraries without having to travel,' they said. And downloaded (very slowly, this was 1995) a picture of an incredibly rare medieval text in the Vatican library to prove it. Now this, I thought, is a good idea. Of course I then discovered that you couldn't actually open the books and see spiders scuttling away into the darkness, and was disappointed, but I was hooked all the same.

Now if you've come to the Net fully-fledged so to speak, and have always known you could look up lists or or products in different countries at the click of a mouse, then you mightn't realise just what a leap that was. Heavens above, when I wanted a special text in my earlier student days (always assuming I was able to find out that such a text existed), I had to order it through Inter Library Loan which could take up to a year and usually did. Now - but you know what it's like now. The world is your oyster, but an awful lot easier to open that the said bivalve.

And what goes for academic study goes tenfold for knitting, doesn't it! Sitting here this morning with the sun shining (briefly) outside and the daffodils blowing in West Cork, I can check colourways at Fleece Artist, yarn outlets in San Diego, the weather up in Lapland (Lene, hope you are feeling better, I've had that bug too and it is taking forever to go), top-down sweater patterns at Mary Maxim (well I could if her page wasn't down right now), besides getting advice on toe-up socks and downloading a new shawl design. Later on I'll be listing the spring cotton and linen yarns on eBay and seeing who wants them. With pictures. And I'm telling you all this on my weblog. The friends I've made across the world in the past seven or eight months. Who have all shown me their own pictures and the things they've made.

A whole new world. And it would be a bit hard to go back now, wouldn't it? Can you imagine trying to manage without being able to order, check, see, confirm, get ideas, chat, show? Those of us in Europe probably wouldn't even know about Knitter's, much less IK. I know I've said it before, but we are in the midst of a new technological revolution which will change the world - is changing it - even more than the invention of the steam engine and the Spinning Jenny. And it has made so much difference to the knitting world, hasn't it? I know it has made seismic changes in mine and made so much more creativity possible.

I don't know how long it was after that Spring 1995 issue that Knitter's began to move into the Internet world. It would be fun to check. If you have all yours in date order, you might look it up.

The Celtic Vest moves slowly onward. For some reason the fronts are giving me much more trouble than the back. It has something to do with the patterning in orderly rows and the increasing/decreasing at irregular intervals. I've had to frog back several times (although the gripping Ireland/England rugby match yesterday, played for the first time ever in historic Croke Park, might have had a lot to do with some of those errors) and am sick to death of it by now.

Here it is so far: the back, one front, and about a quarter of the second front. (Hey, Dez, Angeluna, tried your hints of photographing red against charcoal grey, and it worked!)

But just to show that an image only tells half the tale, here is the full picture uncropped:

Muffy was fascinated by the vest and says she wants to make one just like it. In green maybe. Don't know myself if she'll be up to the Lavold motifs, but it would be a mistake to prevent her trying, wouldn't it? You never know what a dog can do when she's really keen.

It gets tiring working on the same project on and on, doesn't it? I know several of you feel exactly the same. If it weren't for Angeluna hounding me on relentlessly - which reminds me -

Oh Ange-l-u-u-n-a, would you be a sweetheart and just nip out and see if it's stopped raining? Thanks pet. I'd go myself, but I'm at a tricky stage on the computer...

Now, QUICK! Gather round the rest of you before she gets back. She won't be long. Look at this.

This is a swatch for the Berroco Tierra in my hand-dyed cashmere/silk. Isn't it gorgeous?

Actually it's half of the front cast on already. I reasoned that since each pattern repeat is 18 sts and you work one pattern before casting on the next 18, I might as well keep going on the swatch and make use of it. It is delectable. You do have to use a cable needle for the twist, though, as it's 5 sts over 5, which is a bit too many to just slip off the needles and twist free. Hate using cable needles. They take up so much time.

Whoops, she's back. Eyes front.

Had a nasty shock the other day - a yarn customer emailed to say that the stuff I'd sent was underweight and under yardage. Horrified and of course sent off more right away, but HOW did that happen? I always wind on a few more grams every time I make up a skein, to make sure they get full weight and then some. Rushed out and bought another scales, digital this time, to double check against my trusty mechanical one, and have done some hard thinking on the yardage question. Now this is another issue I've raised here before, and you've given me some useful hints, but can anyone tell me how to measure the yardage in a skein exactly? I suppose I could leave the yardage off entirely, but I think it's very useful to know it, as otherwise you can't assess how much you need for a particular pattern. I looked out my lovely niddy noddy that I bought on Quadra Island last autumn, and found that one wrap all around measures 2m exactly. I'll try counting as I skein (as long as the dogs don't distract me and I lose count half way through a huge skein of laceweight). Other suggestions very much welcomed. I feel like a guilty criminal, misleading innocent customers!

In fact I'm worried about even listing any on eBay tonight. But I have some lovely cotton/linen blends that are so right for spring that I really want people to have them. Dilemma.

So worried was I about the yarn shortfall that I took Sophie down to Killarney woods yesterday afternoon to relax the brain (mine, not hers - she doesn't have that problem).

It's still pretty brown there, as you can see, but the mossy trees were beautiful

and every rock had its rich coverlet of moss and ivy and tiny plants.

Nature is always a beautiful healer. Came back determined to do better. Now I shall skein up some of those gorgeous linen/cottons and just to show I'm determined, I'll take that seductive denim cotton slub and skein that up for eBay too. That way I can't start a new project in it!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Get Thee Behind Me Cashmere/Silk Tierra!

Gosh, have you seen that stunning multidirectional scarf on Julia's blog? It is absolutely beautiful. Still musing on it, I was browsing back through Denise's posts and found another one, just as stunning. TWO of my friends have made these! And for all I know, the rest of you too! I have to try that technique really really soon. But could I get the colours? Should I rush out right now and buy some more, just in case?

(Who am I kidding? You don't rush out and buy yarn in West Cork. You dream about it. Fantasise about it. Maybe make a major trek to a far distant store for something that vaguely resembles it. But the real Mecca, the Nirvana, the Paradise of shelves and shelves of different colourways in the same fibre, the same weight - forget it. Maybe the next trip Stateside.)

All is merry as a marriage bell chez Celtic Memory, though, because YO!!, the spring Interweave Knits has arrived! Please please tell me I've got it around the same time as the rest of you. I had resigned myself to getting the spring issue in the summer and the fall issue around Christmas, but this does look as though IK at least has got its act together in relation to its hangers-on in misty outposts across the Atlantic. When did yours arrive?

Actually there doesn't seem to be anything in it that I really really started hyperventilating over, but that isn't the point. It's having it at the same time as the rest of you, so that I can know what you're talking about, that's what matters. I did see one rather cute thing - on Page 9, if you have it handy, this issue's Knitted Artifact is a Miser's Purse from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It's delightfully knitted in Italian silk, but what struck me about it was how like a sock it is. A long thin tube, with one small opening in the middle, closed at both ends, and with two rings to slide up and down to control the filthy lucre.


I'm not sure it would be entirely practical for containing a day's mad money - for one thing, we eschewed the hugely practical paper one dollar/Euro/pound whatever you want to call it, long ago in favour of a heavy coin. You in the New World have very sensibly held on to yours and long may you continue so to do. Our pockets on the other hand are laden down with heavy metal. A silk purse couldn't cope too well with that. But it would make a stunning statement as a belt-hung evening bag.

Oh look, I'm sorry, don't go out to Joann's at this hour of the night to find a copy of IK. Wait - I'll Google around and see if I can find an illustration for those of you who don't have it to hand. (Am I being knittist here? Am I unthinkingly discriminating against the IK-less?) WAIT, will you?

Ah, got lucky. Here are two shown on the Morning Glory Antiques page?

Aren't they absolutely sweet? The one in IK is a little more sober, but the idea is still the same. You could start as a toe-up sock, work along, make the necessary gap in the centre for extracting dosh, then work to the other end and finish with toe-shaping and grafting. I must try it out in some bright silky yarns. When there is time. (When is there ever time?)

And a nice package arrived in the post from my friends at Yarn Paradise in Turkey. I am of the firm opinion (in which I am joined by Angie) that YP and others like them are in fact the makers of many of the yarns labelled and passed off by major brand names in the market. I know at least four or five they make which I can see on the shelves in our few Irish yarn shops which claim to be the products of (better not name names, but fill in one of the top six for yourself). ANYWAY, I had ordered something delectably enticing a week or so ago, and it has arrived.

It's a bit difficult to see, isn't it with all the reflections on that cute little plastic tote. But you can see the alpaca picture, can't you, and the name Inca?

That's the clue. This is a glorious blend of 70% alpaca and 30% cashmere, about what I would call double knitting and you would call - whatever the next one up from fingering is - a bit thicker. Here's a close-up of the contents.

This feels so gorgeous you wouldn't believe. I took one ball out of its tight little corset, the better to fondle it, and it burst out with a sigh of relief and relaxed into its warm wide fuller shape with delight. 10 30g balls, about 60m to each ball, which gives me 600 metres of indulgence. What will it make? Haven't the slightest idea. But having it here is pretty nice. We're talking alpaca and cashmere here! What a combination of luxury!

Huh? Oh, I paid £12.99 stg. for the 10 balls in their little totebag, plus another £5 for postage from Turkey. Look up their site. A lot of novelty yarns, but then you find something like this and that's got to be worth it. Wonder if I should have another tote-ful just in case...?

Having yielded to Angeluna's diktat and signed up to Sock Madness, what did I then find in my email box but another message from the said A, this time highlighting the amazing CookieA's sock designs. Does she think I live on triple time? That I somehow have more space in my day than the rest of the world? But look at them all the same. What do you think of Thelonious? And the cabled ones! How can you live without knitting those? And then Angeluna wants to know if the Celtic Vest is finished!! How she has the face...

I have been working on that CV all day. I've been ordered to finish it, I want to finish it, but it is taking a bit of time. Working up the left front, and have just got to that stage where a Lavold motif has to be worked at the armhole side while at the same time a complex series of decreases are carried out inside the cable edging at the other. It's like trying to move one hand in staccato jerks while gracefully waving the other in fairylike gestures. The two series of instructions are pulling me in opposite directions.

I had promised myself that if I finished this left front tonight I could do a teeny tiny swatch for the violet Tierra step-fronted sweater. I want to start on that Tierra so BADLY. It's calling to me.

I even yielded to the urge and wound up two of the newly-dried hand-dyed skeins into one huge ball, so as to be nice and ready. I like using my little nostepinne. It feels good in the hand. (Although I have got nice and handy at winding a centre-pull ball on my thumb by now.)

But then I was going through the stash, hauling out cones for next week's yarn sale on eBay, and came across a particularly dishy slub cotton in a nice denim blue shade. It grabbed my wrist and hissed, 'Crop Aran sweater, divine for summer over white shirt. Go. Now. You know you want to!' (My yarns are always this talkative. I think it has something to do with being stored in the basement.) Here is the chatty fellow:

It would look nice in a casual crop Aran, wouldn't it? But no, no, NO!

(Don't you love that moment in The Devil Wears Prada when Emily glances at her cellphone, sees that Miranda is on her way an hour early and gasps No, No, NO! Got it on DVD now, and have already watched it twice. Love that movie.)

It's bad enough to be so tempted by the violet Tierra, but if the denim is going to get in on the act I'm not sure how long my willpower is going to hold out. Think positive, think Celtic Vest, get back to those damn decreases...

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Mission Bells Are Merrily Ringing!

Well, what it is to go forth and do good works and find that others are coming right behind you offering their strength and commitment too! Hail to this week's Gold Star Missionary of St. Knitola, Sister Denise who has, out of the fullness and generosity of her heart, offered several copies of the Bible (the Interweave edition, the only possible one in the mission fields) and is even now packing them up to send off to this western outpost. Now is that self-sacrifice or what? Just wait till they hear about this down in Kenmare!

I didn't yet of course know about Sister Denise's sacrifice when I trundled down to Kenmare on Saturday. It was a freezing cold but bright morning, and I stopped at the top of the hill overlooking the Lakes of Killarney to show you what they are like on a February day before the green has returned.

Most visitors don't see them like this, so you're kind of privileged (I know, you'd prefer to see the rich luxuriant green and the sparkling blue water and to tell the truth so would I, but this is Ireland in February when, as I have often observed, only its mother could love it). On to Kenmare and to Spin a Yarn (aka the Western Mission) where I found Joan curled up on the Noro-throw-clad sofa busily knitting a tiny jacket for a baby friend. I unpacked my carrier bag of goodies, and carefully laid down on the table:

1. Interweave Knits, fall issue

2. Vogue Knitting International, fall issue

3. Elsebeth Lavold's Viking Knitting

4. Our own Steph's Meditations For Women Who Knit Too Much.

While she was still wondering what I was up to, I firmly said that I was going down to Jam for a coffee and would be back in half an hour. Whereupon I left. (Oh, yes, I did indicate fairly strongly that these were a sight-only loan, not a gift.)

Jam was as lovely as ever and I gave Deb's love to it while tucking into a slice of Victoria sponge (well, I didn't take all the cream, just a scrap. Honestly, in that place, despite the fact that the cake is packed full of jam and cream, they still go ahead and plonk an industrial-sized helping of cream on the side as well, haven't they ever heard of cholesterol? I ask you! But it's the same everywhere in Ireland, you could be dying and they'd still offer you cream with it.) Then I strolled slowly back.

She didn't even hear me opening the door.

When I did manage to get her attention, her eyes were still glazed. She'd loved the Vogue, was enthralled by Interweave, amazed at the Lavold, but the Yarn Harlot, ah the Yarn Harlot had just conquered her 'leventy-millionth slave.

It was kind of nice to see someone who a half hour earlier had never even heard of Steph now so obsessed that she could barely give me a quarter of her attention. 'Where did you get this? Where can I get it?' We've all been through it, but we started further along the road, so to speak. She came to it completely unknowing, which makes it even better.

And yes, she did take details for subscribing to IK and Vogue. Lavold she looked at again with a dazed expression. When you've only known Aran patterns, Lavold can take you like that. At first. Then you get steely eyed and go out hunting for her books everywhere.

Readers, and fellow missionaries, there is now one little mission down there in Kenmare where they are at last aware of a far bigger, wider world, of joyous possibilities and happiness beyond belief. They are on the Road at last, the Road to Enlightenment, Fulfilment, and The Great Stash Nirvana, not to mention the Pattern Paradise.

And then when I got home I found Denise's incredible offer of past issues of IK to pass on. This on top of her incredibly detailed and easy-to-understand instructions for harnessing and controlling Blogger to do my will and not its own. Denise you're a girl in a million. Love ya.

I took a tiny break from the Celtic Vest and retackled the Travelling Cables Cardi, just so I could at least post on the KAL and let them know I hadn't fallen by the wayside.

This was it before I started expanding and sending the cables travelling in earnest.

and this was it a few hours later.

Look at it. It might not be very apparent in this picture but the latest cables are definitely looser, wider than the earlier ones. Yep, I'd put in another two rows between crossings. Why the heck do I always consider myself above counting and checking? I'm so confident in my cabling that I gallop along, trusting to my eye and believing absolutely in my own infallibility.

I did try to persuade myself that it didn't matter, wouldn't show. But it did, and it would. Roars of rage, followed by a nice bout of tantrum frogging. The fingers twitched to hurl the whole thing out the window, but I managed to restrain them. I'll go back to it in a few days.

Serve you right, says Angeluna, for stepping aside from the path of righteousness as personified by the Celtic Vest. All right, I learned my lesson. Started on the left front immediately. Was a bit worried about the short rows with their wrap and turn, but of course as so often happens, once I really got down to it (yes, yes, and read the instructions carefully) there was nothing to it.

Going along fine. Promise not to start anything else (much) until it's done.

Well dyeing doesn't count, does it? I've been hankering after that lovely Tierra design on the Berocco site for ages, and finally got down to dyeing some of my private stash of silk/cashmere to the requisite shade of violet. I used roughly double the amount of yarn weight to the recommended amount of dye, because I didn't want it too deep.

Hasn't it turned out beautifully? I can't wait for it to dry so I can wind it up and get started!

No, no, sorry, I didn't mean it. Back to the Celtic Vest.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Aren't You Great? Take A Bow The Lot Of You!

Honestly, I don't think I'd have got through last night's disasters and fiascos without you rowing in like that. You really are the best. To every single one who sent support, advice, encouragement and affection, big loves and hugs. If I haven't emailed you personally yet, I will. I'm still recovering.

I have to say that although Blogger has created huge amounts of hitherto unsuspected stress, it has also given us - me anyway, and surely you too - the most incredible surge in friendship, sympathy, interlinking and understanding. How else, in heaven's name, could we have someone in the deep snows of Northern Canada sending guidance on html usage on a webpage to someone she's never met, in damp West Cork? How else could we have pages of technical guidance from Texas, essential email addresses from Oregon, affection from Iowa, love from Louisiana, witticisms from Washington, all flashing through the airwaves in moments? Get up right now each and every one of you and take a big bow. Rest assured I'll be there for you too, in your moment of need.

Speaking of which, have you read Lene's latest posting? Lene, what you wove was so beautiful that I would rest happy for the remainder of my life if I'd made it; but you have such incredibly high standards that you weren't happy with it. Take a rest for a day or two, sweetheart, and then come back to us refreshed and happy. We all have days when we hate fibre art with every - well - fibre really - of our being. But give us a break and a bar or two of chocolate and we're fine again. Leave us, you cannot. We need you and your beautiful work - and words - too much.

When you have more projects on hand than you can even remember, and at least three that you are working on at the same time, and a friend (a friend?) emails you with news of a great new knitalong that you have to join, naturally you do the only thing possible. You say graciously, so nice of you to offer, but I have too much to do. Sorry darling, maybe next time.

Which is why I am now signed up to Sock Madness - at least I hope I am, I haven't heard back from them yet, maybe they were shocked to hear from Ireland, you think? - but anyway I've grabbed their button and hey, I've actually managed to put it on my sidebar! Hope so anyway - can't tell until I publish this. Now I must hunt around for the Red Sweater and the TCC buttons and get those back on too.

No, it wasn't easy getting the new Blogger sorted out, and they of course were of very little help - thanks Wanda for giving me their email address (have you noticed it's not available through Help, they keep redirecting you in ever-decreasing circles), but all they said was 'have you tried Help?' With your guidance, however, I managed to sort the really worrying problem of the hit counter, and then worked slowly from there.

Now I'd like to know, and since you gang seem to know more than most, I'm asking you rather than Blogger - is there a quick way to put in links like those to Lene and Wanda above? What I'm doing now is going quickly back to a Notepad document on my desktop in which I keep the html codes for everybody and everything, and then copying and pasting it in here under the Edit Html function before returning to Compose mode. Is there a quicker way to put in links? Mine seems to go all round the houses. Advice and comments welcomed.

But back to Sock Madness. I must be insane (probably a good thing for this particular project). Angeluna, you have a lot to answer for. Your real name, I suspect, is probably Ayesha or She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Having dutifully emailed Sock Madness and ordered the rest of you to fall in as well (good on you, Pacalaga, Cindy, Jean...) I went down and hauled out my sock yarn stash. I should tell you that my stash is nothing compared to Angeluna's - come on Angeluna, get into weblogging will you, and show the rest of the world that incredible sock yarn stash of yours - but I laid out my favourites to see which I would choose.

What do we have here? Opal at the left, bought on Quadra Island last autumn - that was a fun trip. A glorious Fleece Artist medley. A delightful emerald variegated Cherry Tree Hill, with two Glitzes next to that - a dark midnighty one (hang on I'll go and look. It's actually Green Mountain Madness) and the Birches variation. Then that great orange hand-dyed from Yarn Yard, followed by a Socks That Rock - gifted by Angeluna - and finally another STR, in Nodding Violet, my contribution to the Blue Moon Fibre Arts vs Nastybank fiasco.

I am thinking at this stage that I will go for the emerald CTH. It's coming up to St. Patrick's Day after all, and a good bright pair of green socks would be a lot of fun.

Now listen, tomorrow I am going to go out into the wilds on my missionary work again. We Little Sisters Of the Knit Habit can't rest on our laurels or indeed on our handcrafted throws. We must always be spreading the message, bringing joy to the unenlightened millions in the dark world outside. And I am planning to head down to that bright little mission in Kenmare (Spin A Yarn) to see how they're doing and shed a few words of encouragement.

And I must bring a stack of Bibles. You must always bring the Word with you, and, though it pains me to tell you, and you may not believe it, they have no Bibles down there. Oh they have a few pathetic, paltry imitations, printed in the UK (no, I am most definitely not trying to slag you off, UK, we after all don't have any knitting magazines of our own, and our bookshop shelves are devoid of any craft text, let alone knitting books) but of the great and glorious Knitter's, Interweave, Vogue International, they know nothing. I might even bring my copy of the Gospel According to Lavold, but -

And here I am in a torment of self-doubt, self-questioning. Little Sisters of the Knit Habit, your Irish missionary sister wants to confess to the gathering. Listen and give me of your wisdom.

I am not at all sure that I can steel myself to give up any of my precious texts. They are so important in my own life - I gain refreshment and happiness from reading a little of this one or that at different places, at different times, as I go about my daily work. I know you do too. Can I bear to part with any one of them? How would I feel if I could not dip into Lavold for guidance, or see what Interweave advises in a testing situation? If I could not feel that surge of joy that comes from witnessing the achievements of Sister Gaughan or Blessed Zimmermann?

Maybe I could take them along and just let the new mission see them. Then perhaps they would be spurred to seek these texts for themselves. Is that not, after all, the true path to enlightenment? Not merely to accept from others, but to search for the truth oneself?

Let them get their own copies!

I will report when I return from the tiny mission in the West tomorrow.

I'm Mad, You're Mad, Let's All Go For Sock Madness!

I must be out of my mind, but when I got an email from Angeluna about Sock Madness I leapt right in. Hurry up, I think you'll still be in time if you rush. As far as I can see you can sign up for either Novice or Expert and then knit within your group. They give you seven new patterns just for signing up. And we don't have to start right away, I think.

Just think of all that sock yarn you've got languishing in the closet. Isn't it time it came out? Isn't it time we had some fun? Come on, I've said 'I will'. Who's coming with me?

(And Stephanie Pearl McPhee is donating a signed copy of one of her books as one of the prizes too. Yo, Steph!)

This is the site.


or, if I got that link wrong,

Get over there right now and email me to tell me I'm not the only lunatic in Blogland.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

OK, we're halfway back...

Thank you a million times for all those helpful messages. I have now managed to get back to the old template, BUT, as you see, all the sidebar stuff is at the bottom of the page. Any attempt on my part to bring it back up where it should be at the side results in New Blogger wading in with all kinds of customizations and horrors.

I'll sleep on it. You are all loves.

Oh Blogger, What Have You Done?

I knew it was going to be bad. That was why I kept on holding off as long as possible. But in the end Blogger didn't give me any choice. Then they said, 'Don't worry, we'll save all your old settings anyway...'

Now I find they got rid of most of my links (if you're not listed on my sidebar right now, it's because they've cast you into exterior darkness and I'm trying to get you all back on again but it's slow work). They've dumped all my lovely buttons like Red Sweater and Travelling Cables and Irish Hiking Scarf.

BUT WORST OF ALL, THEY'VE TAKEN MY HIT COUNTER! I was inordinately, perhaps unjustifiably, proud of that hit counter and the way it was totting up. I'd got to over 32,000 this morning when I made my first post on New Blogger, and now it's gone, gone, and I can't find it anywhere. Of course there is nowhere to check your old blogsite - Blogger may well have saved the settings but they're not telling me where they put them. And yes, I know I can download a new hit counter - but that will start again at 1, won't it?

I really am so fed up I want to hit something very hard. I feel like crying, really I do.

Can anyone help? I've emailed Blogger but will probably get a computer-generated reply in about a fortnight. Believe me, I need my friends right now. Major disasters I can cope with, a sharp personal disappointment like this, no.

Spring's Gone Back Indoors, So Let's Knit

You should just see the morning we have here in West Cork. Wild shrieking winds buffeting the house, rain slashing diagonally across the garden. The dogs had to be tricked into going out (me saying, 'Oh look, that's definitely a BURGLAR down by the gates, do you see? Run, run, quickly and defend our lands!' It worked for about five minutes). It's as dark as the inside of a hat, and I feel like retiring to the airing cupboard with a large bar of organic dark chocolate and a Brother Cadfael novel. The winds howled all night, and I thought of the wild headlands, and gorse bushes bending against the storm, and little animals tucked far down in their moss-lined burrows (well they might line them with moss, why wouldn't they?)

Yesterday was one of those marathons. It's my own fault, I never seem to be able to get work done until I hear that thrilling sound of deadlines approaching at speed. Between dawn and dusk I managed:

One full length feature on the Chinese New Year, coming up this weekend (with Irish interest of course, editor demanded that, interview with lad from Fu Jian Province married to Cork girl, that sort of thing).

One full length feature on the cottage industries of Muckross House, Killarney (tee hee!) for Ireland of the Welcomes, May/June issue. This was scheduled for July/August but they decided to make the earlier one a focus on West Cork and Kerry and asked me to get it in sooner. Richard had to burrow around in his files pretty frantically too, as he couldn't remember where he'd filed John Cahill that lovely weaving man. How could anyone lose a man with access to such divine yarns? I have his cellphone number, the gate access number and the ages of his three children inscribed on my heart. (Heck, I should have checked when their birthdays were. When HIS birthday was. Too late for a Valentine? Maybe a bit unsubtle.) No, it's not all about John and his shed in the woods - the bookbinding/conservation workshop and the lovely little pottery are in there too. This earlier publication will do them some good for the summer months, I hope.

One advertising feature on a new prestigious housing development outside Mitchelstown.

One advertising feature on a Wedding Fair coming up at an Elizabethan country manor near Ballymaloe, East Cork.

One Theatrenights column, a regular weekly round up of what's on and coming along.

One Busy Today column, another weekly regular. This, however, entailed driving down to Ballymakeera with Richard to locate and photograph a delightful young man who is making bread like it used to be (you know, when you were carrying it home and couldn't resist breaking off a bit of the crust to nibble?) It's so good that people are travelling from all over the county to get a loaf. Then back to write it up and email it in. Isn't the Net wonderful? (R was bribed for that outing with the promise of a freshly ground coffee and scone at An Cruiscin Lan in Ballymakeera, but they'd just had a power failure - disaster! Went on to another place further away where they only had heavy brown scones that cracked the plate when you dropped on (it was accidental, I swear, why would I want to draw attention to its weight and hardness?) and a huge bowl of raw onion on the table next to the jam which was a trifle offputting. No names, no pack drill, but you know who you are. We have serpents even in the Garden of Eden. While we were there, we also called in to see Paudie Cronin who does wonders in wrought iron, to see if he would be willing to make an oval flue pipe for the tiny gypsy stove. He's going to call round one evening to measure angles and chimney gaps and frightening things like that.

All this meant that by teatime the duvet and the pillow looked awfully tempting. However, the fire was made up, and the knitting hauled out. And yay, here's the good news -


I am aware that this image is a little lurid. You are not, however, aware that it took DH several attempts, a great deal of varied and expensive equipment, and more than a few muttered swear words even to get it to this standard. I think it's the red that does it - it seems to be the most impossible colour to capture. But you can see the motifs and that I got there in the end. Whew!

Of course Angeluna, Devil in Prada that she is, having pressured me to get on with the Celtic Vest (and she has a way of making you jump up and do something without even considering whether you want to or not), then immediately sent me a couple of images from somebody's completed Travelling Cables Cardi . 'Aren't these beautiful?', she asked innocently. Yes, they are. Are you being helpful to my Celtic Vest project? No you're not.

So I went hunting for the TCC, ran it to earth behind the big armchair up in the sitting room (luckily Muffy hadn't found it first), and started the painful task of trying to discover where I'd got to. It was so long since I'd started out enthusiastically (way back before Christmas, I think) that I had no idea what was going where and which cable went which way. Managed to get a few rows done, so you know I'm on the task.

No, not much done since last time, but at least I've got the markers in and started the travelling. For some reason it's giving me a lot of trouble - maybe I'm out of practice on this pattern. I keep forgetting my Make One or my P2Tog until I'm way further on in the row, and then have to frog back, muttering darkly. Maybe it will get easier when I get back into the swing of it.

No, I haven't forgotten the Celtic Vest. I observed the safety routine by immediately casting on for the left front, the second I bound off the last stitch on the back. But it hasn't gone any further since then. I need a break.

The Blackberry Pie socks are coming on just fine, though. Isn't it great when you get beyond the heel and can start whacking down the foot?

The top sock here is on the instep shaping and the bottom one is ready to move down towards the toe. Somebody (was it Wanda?) suggested decreasing a few more stitches down from the original at this point, if you have a narrower foot, and I've done that. Thanks for the tip.

On the last pair of socks (the beautiful but uncomfortable Glitz) I also did some individual toe shaping, since I don't have an evenly shaped end to my foot - more of a sharp angle. I was able to work that into the toe decreases so I now have a left and a right sock, just like shoes. This is one of the things that is holding me back from trying toe-up socks - I don't know if I'd be able to recreate that backwards and in high heels, as Ginger Rogers would say. (Actually she was pointing out, wasn't she, that she was an even better hoofer than Fred Astaire and she had a definite point.)

And since my Celtic Memory stash yarns seem to be selling merrily on eBay, I had a little indulgence and ordered some of my own personal absolute luxury, Colonial Rosewood Circulars. Now I like Lantern Moons very much, I have great respect for those old dowagers, Holz & Stein, and I use bamboos all the time, but there is nothing in the world like Colonial Rosewoods. Think Chanel rather than chain store, organic 85% chocolate rather than Vegeolate and you're close. These are simply the most wonderful needles in the world and once you've tried them, you won't want anything else.

Which is one way of breaking it to those of you who don't already know that these are expensive. Seriously expensive. So expensive that I'm not even going to tell you, in case you have a seizure.
Dear heaven the wind is still howling. But you're having it worse. I know it's freezing in the UK, and North America, gosh, you're in the middle of a storm warning, or so it looks from my TV screen. Anne and all those of you headed to Portland, Maine, for the SPA knit-in, take care on the way and have a lovely time. Wish I could be with you. Deb of The Irish Ewe, are you going? Oh why am I over here when you're all there and I should so obviously be there too?

I think I feel a strong coffee and scone coming on.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Why Must Things Change?

Try as I may, I am slowly being forced into upgrading to the 'newest latest' version of Blogger. I don't want to, I don't need to. I'm quite happy having figured out the current version. But tonight I got a warning that I can only use this format once more. After that I have to go with the diktat. It's exasperating and I can't see the need for it. We get built-in obsolescence in so many parts of our lives - fashion especially, but cars too, food fads, paint colours, furniture, decor - if it's this year's must-have that means it will be next year's forget-it. Even yarns have to be re-issued in new colourways, new textures, new blends, every year, so if you want just one more ball of something you bought longer ago than last week, you aren't likely to have much luck.

And now two of my KALs are inaccessible to me because they've both moved to 'new' Blogger and I'm not allowed in there. Honestly, if Blogger cost anything I'd be thinking of changing. As it is, I feel I don't have the right to complain, since it's free. But I wish they'd leave me be. Surely there must be others who had to struggle to get competent on weblogging and are only now feeling fairly secure? How do you feel about having to change to something new yet again?

If you don't hear from me EVER AGAIN, you'll know I'm lost and wandering desperately in the mines of Moria, alias New Blogger, and you'll also know to whom you should send hate mail.

Anyway, to the issues of the day. Vicki in California wanted to know what Celtic braid pattern I'd used for my alpaca headband. It's in the Harmony Guide to Aran stitches, Vicki, and if you've any trouble hunting that down, email me and I'll see if I can help. You can contact me via Knitter's Review Forum where I'm Celtic Memory. That is one great site to belong on - you pick up so much useful information. Must go over there later this evening and see what's new.

Did you all stock up on beautiful wooden hairpin looms and crochet hooks and circulars from Ed Jenkins when Stitch Diva had that special offer running? It's finished now, but you can still get orders in to Ed at Jenkins Woodworking as far as I know. Ed is of course the other half of Wanda at Fiberjoy and they do wonderful things by their creek in Oregon - wood turning and spinning and weaving and dyeing and all sorts. I love my Ladakhi drop spindle that Ed made, and I have a most beautiful wooden crochet hook of his right in front of me on my desk as I type. I'm going to get one of their hairpin looms next - haven't made hairpin crochet in a few years but it gives such delicate results I want to try it again. Oh and broomstick crochet - that's great fun. And Tunisian crochet too. So many things to do, so little time!

Tan was saying that Prague reminded her of Don Giovanni. Oh I wish you'd been with me, Tan - at least two of the marionette theatres were staging Don G, and if we'd had time I'd have been in there enjoying it thoroughly. But yes, we did manage to get to Guldenstrasse or Golden Lane, Angeluna. Isn't it the most incredible little place? This is a winding steep lane behind the cathedral and castle up at the top of the town, where the alchemists strove day and night to discover the secret of transmuting base metal into precious gold. I can just imagine the king striding down every now and again and saying, 'Come on, come on, I'm beginning to think your hearts aren't in this. I'm really going to be rather irritated if I don't have a big bag of the readies to pay the army tomorrow...' Here are a couple of pictures of Golden Lane for you.

You wouldn't think it, but we had to wait ages to take this shot, until all the groups of chattering schoolchildren had rushed into the tiny shops to spend their pocket money and the street was briefly clear.

I loved this one. It's like a doll's house, isn't it?

And you are right, Angeluna, all of Prague is like an opera set. You keep expecting Dr. Coppelius to come hobbling out of one of the ancient buildings, or Don Giovanni beckon to a young girl from his upstairs window. I wouldn't have been surprised if an entire opera chorus had burst into song on Charles Bridge when I was passing.

I got this lovely surprise in the post.

It's a stunning CD of harp music and song from my friend Rita Naumann. I christened one of her stunning hand-dyed yarn skeins, and in return she sent me this beautiful gift! I love the harp and this is going to afford me hours of pleasure. I shall take it in the car when I go out tomorrow. Thank you Rita. May your hands create ever more beauty.

I've just listed a whole lot of yarns on eBay. Most of them stash treasures like the cashmere/silk and some mohairs, but I had one new Celtic Memory creation I wanted to list which gave me a lot of trouble. It's called Celtic Forest and it's a lovely blend of soft mousse merinos, a fine kid mohair and a strand of green and silver glitter.

Does that look like a soft and glittery yarn to you? Nope, me neither. And that's Picture No. 112 or thereabouts. I just can't get the colours, much less the texture, to show up properly. And the glitter might as well not be there at all.

I even designed a new shawl in this yarn, so excited was I about creating it. (That was why I took time off from the Celtic Vest and the socks last night - I wanted to make this while it was still in my mind. Got fed up with how long it was taking, and cut it short into a small shoulder shawl rather than the long dramatic sweep it should by rights be, but it looks nice anyway.

Well... in real life it does, but not in the picture. You really wouldn't know there were threads of mystic silver flashing throughout this shawl. I can't list it on eBay. People would think I was colour blind or altogether blind. The cute little points on the sides show up OK, but not the overall soft and magical effect.

Huh? Oh it's my own design - I call it Butterfly Wing because the little scalloped points look like the wings of a peacock butterfly. No, it's really really easy - you wouldn't believe how easy. But I do wish I could get those colours and glittery bits to show up.

(Yes, DH had a go too, bouncing flashes all over the place, but to no good effect. We'll try again tomorrow morning, in the unlikely event of some sunshine.)

And so the new designer yarn hasn't made it onto eBay yet. You're the only ones to see it, and I wouldn't blame you at all if you thought I was losing my touch. Believe me, it is utterly beautiful. I just can't show its beauty to anyone - and how frustrating is that?

Wanda had a lovely picture on a recent posting - a tree which she said looked like a sea lion. It reminded me of some mossy beasties we found the other day when walking through a forestry plantation on Mullaghanish mountain close to home.

Isn't that amazingly like an owl perched on the wire?

This one takes a little more effort, but I think it's like a small Muffy dog standing up with her paws against a treetrunk and looking at the camera. It even has her bouffant tail.

Gosh a shocking omission from the last posting. The Kenmare shop has Noro too. Yes, Silk Garden and all the other glorious kinds. They even have throws on their sofas in the shop knitted in Noro. How cool is that? Shall I organise trips to Kenmare? Shall we hold an International SnB there this summer? With a class A cafe and a class A* yarn store in the same tiny town, what's keeping you?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

City of Spires And Domes - And Yarn!

Gosh Prague is gorgeous! It's the most enchanting place of tiny twisting cobbled streets, spires reaching skywards, a huddle of red roofs slipping down from the hill where the imposing St. Vitus Cathedral and the castle lord it over the town.

The Vltava sweeps majestically through the city, crossed by so many beautiful bridges. Charles Bridge is incredible and at this time of year it's misty and cold and not so jam packed as in high summer. Being pedestrianised, you can take your time and stop to wonder at the different vistas unfolding on both banks. I think my favourite time of all on Charles Bridge is dusk when the town is lighting up and people are silhouetted against the darkening sky.

We stayed in Mala Strane, the older part of town below the castle,in the medieval Golden Wheel, which has to be the best example of restoration and updating I have ever seen. Yes you had ultra-luxurious bathrooms, a lift, underfloor heating - but also the solidly thick stone walls, narrow staircases, original window mullions - full marks for whoever designed that bit of modernisation. We even had an original painted ceiling in our room, which the Glitz socks (they came along for the fun of the trip) enjoyed very much.

Incidentally, I like the way that Glitz yarn has concentrated there into a bright little lake of violet. I think it adds huge charm to the socks. I prefer that they don't stay in boringly organised stripes all the time. I must admit, though, within the secrecy of this weblog, that Glitz yarn, while unquestionably divine in the inventiveness of its colourways, is not (whisper it) actually the most comfortable of fibres to wear on one's feet. After going down to breakfast and back in these, I changed them for black woolly kneesocks. Pity. Look beautiful, feel not so good. Maybe it's the strand of glitter yarn in them. They're definitely not the socks for pounding over cobbles all day.

And there are plenty of cobbles in Prague. Mind you, when you get exhausted, there are many many compensations and temptations beckoning...

Not to mention the gloriously cosy little restaurants spilling their light out on to the pavement as dusk gives way to night. Rabbit roasted with rosemary, pork fillet with cheese and cranberries - oh yes, Angeluna, dumplings too, aplenty! - this Bohemian food is ribsticking and thoroughly satisfying in freezing winter weather. It didn't quite snow when we were there, but it had and it will. I'd love to see the city feathered in icy whiteness.

The shops are a constant temptation. I so wanted this marionette...

...but it certainly wasn't inexpensive and anyway I'd bought a glorious witch marionette a year or so ago when we were down in southern Bohemia (well I think it sounds nicer and more romantic than Czech Republic! And it's so Prisoner of Zenda too.)

All right, all right, to the serious part of the trip. I checked out two small yarn shops that All Tangled Up had mentioned on her weblog, but I agree with her: they really weren't up to anything - just a few balls on the side amongst far more in the way of ladies' underwear and woolly hats and things. But we did find Mar Len and that was rather good.

Most of the middle of the floor was taken up with bolts of fabric, but around the edges were shelves of yarn balls, plus lots of cones standing on the floor. I have to say these aren't particularly cheap - mostly about what I'd have to pay in the UK or Ireland for a cone when I am lucky enough to find it - but they were definitely different.

What I noticed here - and please contribute anyone else who's been to the Czech Republic - was that many of the types on offer in ball form were actually combinations of several different finer ones. A fine tape, a strand of glitter, two or three fingering weight wools in different shades, all wound into one thick strand with a knot at the end to stop it going all over the place. It made some superb colour blends with very happy effects, but once I'd sussed that, I started hunting through the cones again (many of which were out of sight, out of mind, pushed against the wall underneath the shelves, behind bags of ball yarns) to see if I could find the component parts. Had some good luck.

And here they are (or at least those from my first raid on Mar Len - what do you think, of course I went back the next day before we flew out, once I'd had a night to lie awake and think about those cones), sitting on the window of our room. You can see the steep street outside, and a little brightly-lit shop.

On the left is a cone of very fine glitter in silver and green, with a silver tape next to it. In front are two balls of a fine red tape. On the right are four balls of the blend type I was telling you about. You can see from the strand in front that there are at least four separate threads in there and in fact I think there are some very fine ones too - about six in all. Why did I buy four? Well, I thought I'd make a vest in them while studying their construction.

The best thing is that I got some very good ideas for new designer yarns while I was at Mar Len. But it did get me wondering - just who exactly is spinning fibre these days? I know that several yarn houses simply import fancy types from somewhere like Turkey and put their own labels on; and indeed we have one Irish company particularly culpable in this respect. Is Mar Len not a spinning factory as I had been led to believe, but somewhere that blends yarns from elsewhere into new combinations? That's OK I suppose as long as we know. I did notice that most if not all of the cones came originally from Italy, whether their contents did or not. And surely they spin yarn in Italy? They certainly do in France, at that wonderful place down in Orange - I can't remember the name. Oh yes I do - Pierre Loye et Cie - they make (genuflect) Anny Blatt and Bouton d'Or. You can see the transit from sheep to yarn through dye to cone there. Anybody got any contacts at Italian factories? I'm looking up flights...

And I got DH to take a couple of special images just and only for you.

This spinning one was on a gate at St. Vitus Cathedral. I imagine it's modern work but what a delight to see craftsmen still making things like this.

And this was a tiny clay doll in a glass case in a museum of toys. See the ball of wool at her feet and the miniscule needles?

Oh Prague was lovely and we had a marvellous time. A two hour delay at the airport on the way back, and a frighteningly bumpy ride (no sympathy, I imagine, from those of you in the UK suffering blocked roads and closed airports due to the snow at the moment - keep warm girls) didn't diminish its utter charm. I'm going back soon. In the meantime, I'm going to try a few new designer blends of yarn. Heaven knows I have enough to work with!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Update On The Celtic Vest

I really have been working on this because Angeluna ordered me to. Jan, I'm so sorry I haven't given you an update on the Travelling Cables but it's because I wanted to get the back of the Celtic Vest out of the way at least. I promise that once the back of the CV is cast off, I'll get back to where I left the TCC and get the back of that done too. Here's the Celtic Vest back almost done.

You can't see much of the detail because I took this one myself (and yes, those pics from Kerry yesterday were mine too - you can tell because they're not as clear, as focused, as composed as when the professional aka DH takes them) but at least you can see that I'm nearly there.

I would have been there and working on the Travelling Cables by now, except for two things: firstly the imminent short trip to Prague tomorrow; and secondly, that beautiful skein of Misti Alpaca Chunky sent to me by the divine Rachel H in Toronto. How are these linked, you enquire? Well, apparently it's snowing in Prague and very very cold right now, so winter woollies are in order. And I got the sudden idea this afternoon (yes, even while working busily away on the Celtic Vest - don't you find that you get the most tempting ideas about new exciting projects when you're dutifully slaving away at one of the many current ones?) to make myself a Celtic headband in the alpaca, the better to keep my ears warm in old Bohemia while hunting out yarn shops. Found my favourite braided pattern and dashed away at it forthwith on the absolutely totally favourite needles, the Colonial Rosewoods.

This was it a couple of hours ago. Yes, DH took this one. He managed to get the detail to show up beautifully by dint of using two angled flashes, one of them bounced off the ceiling (don't ask, I don't understand these things, I just stand there holding the slave flash and being grateful). The headband is now finished and snuggled round my head. I might just wear it to bed it's so beautifully cosy.

I must have more Misti Alpaca Chunky. Do you know, I don't even know what colours it comes in other than black (yes, honestly, that is black up there, look you couldn't have both the pattern and the correct colour, wouldn't you rather see the design? I would). I can't live without Misti Alpaca Chunky. Any of you living close to a community of Misti Alpaca Chunkies, kidnap some for me, give them their return fare to West Cork, and you can have ANYTHING from my stash. Or maybe I'll just go over to Toronto and hang out with Rachel H and the gang at one of their SnB nights. That would be fun. And I know they have Misti Alpaca Chunky (got the name yet?) at Lettuce Knit there.

The colourway of that Colinette I bought yesterday in Kenmare, by the way, was Jay. I found when I got home that I'd bought a skein of Colinette's Jitterbug sock yarn in exactly the same colourway when I was in Loop on my last London visit. Guess I like the colours. Maybe I should mix them?

Which reminds me (the London trip, that is, not the colourway). Any of you fellow-webloggers in the UK, in case you didn't know, that marvellous old mill in Bradford, Texere Yarns, is holding an open weekend at the beginning of March. I'm going over on Sunday March 4 just for the day (it's the only day I can get there and back in one). Any of you going down (or up) to Bradford? This is the most amazing place, enormous, echoing, crammed with memories of Yorkshire's great woollen days, and chock full of treasures hidden away in the dark at the back of shelves behind ordinary yarns, or at the very bottom of huge deep cardboard boxes. Last time I went there I crammed both my rucksack and DH's with cone upon cone of rare and unusual yarns. This time I'm going alone, and the airlines are reducing the weight of hand luggage every time I look, so I'll have to be careful (that, and wear a coat with big deep pockets).

In the meantime, I'm off to Prague tomorrow afternoon until Wednesday night. I have some good pointers to yarn shops; and otherwise will concentrate on the hot chocolate, the rib-sticking food, and watching the snow fall on the Vltava from Charles Bridge. Oh and the Bohemian beer. Promise I'll bring back lots and lots of pictures for you. Be good until then.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Yo! There's A New LYS In The Far West!

Oh what a wonderful day it's been. It was a clear cold morning and the air was fresh and beckoning, so I decided it was a perfect Saturday for a bit of missionary work. I take my duties very seriously, and whenever the time is available (and sometimes when it isn't) I am to be found out and about in the far reaches of Cork and Kerry, instructing the native population seriously yet kindly on the importance of turning their faces to the light and experiencing the great joy that comes from accepting yarn into their lives.

It can be uphill work here in Ireland. These people have been hurt before. The older ones among them may well have spent cruelly hard childhoods working away on Aran sweaters destined for big posh shops, or fashioning pair after pair of XXL socks in hairy harsh wool for the menfolk of their families. When they got older and slightly better off, they vowed never to touch knitting needles again, and often didn't teach their children either.

My allotted task is to open their eyes to the joy that cometh in the morning (and the afternoon and the evening) to those who willingly embrace the delights of a newer, softer knitting world. A world where colour and texture and buttery softness are not strangers.

Put more succinctly, this means marching into big tourist shop after big tourist shop, surveying the racks and piles and heaps and mountains and pyramids of knitted garments and saying in a loud clear voice, 'Don't you have any yarn?' This is usually met with puzzled stares. I then substitute 'wool' for 'yarn' and faces clear. Not for long, though. 'No, no, there's no call for that sort of thing these days.' I enquire how it then is that they manage to get hold of the finished garments. Somebody somewhere must be obtaining the forbidden fibre surely? They don't know, sure don't the sweaters come in all finished, and they're a great bargain if you want one.

No, I don't want one. I don't even want yarn (well I always want yarn but I have to admit when it comes to Aran weight bainin, I don't actually need any at the moment). I just want an opening into which I can put my practised spiel. About have they any idea how big knitting is in the rest of the world these days? Do they realise how many Americans and Australians and Canadians and English will be pouring into Ireland from Easter onwards, all searching for real Irish yarn? About how good it would be for business if they actually thought about stocking some? And while they're at it, some patterns and needles as well, so visitors can get started right away? Sometimes you get a nod and a 'you have a point all right,' but mostly it's back to the blank stare.

So I was in zealous form as I drove into the little Kerry coastal town of Kenmare this morning. I had another reason for being there: Deb from The Irish Ewe in Maine loves Kenmare deeply and I wanted to say hallo to it for her (and incidentally call into Jam on the main street for one of their delectable scones with jam and cream). Pangs of hunger assuaged, I sallied forth renewed to do battle.

See that nice sign down the street? 'Twould fool you, wouldn't it? You'd think, 'Ooh, goody, yarn,' and head straight for it. I know these people at the Kerry Wool Market of old, and made my way there with firm step, rehearsing my arguments in my head as I went. Oh the missionary zeal is wonderful when it's in full flow. In the door I went, gathering my breath as I went for the opening gambit.


Well I'll be...

A whole basket of skeins, straight from my old friends at the Kerry Woollen Mill (no, no relation to the shop: when you deal in wool and live in Kerry the naming options are limited). 200g skeins at €7.95 which isn't bad.

'So how long have you had this in, then?'

'Oh a month or two. We thought it might be nice for the visitors. They're starting to ask for it a lot, actually.'

Well, who cares why they finally took the decision, the thing is they have yarn. Genuine Irish yarn, spun in Kerry. And in colours too. It took the wind out of my sails a bit, I'll admit, but I nevertheless pushed home a few minor homilies on the importance of building on your base by stocking patterns and needles as well. I took a look around the shop, to see if there were any new ideas I could pick up.

Nope, that was the only stock of yarn, that one basket (those are rolled up mohair scarves there in the background, not cones, keep calm). Still it was definitely a start.

I wish you could have been there this morning with me, pottering along the quiet street of Kenmare and enjoying a knitting gossip in the bright cold sunshine. The air was like champagne. I was wandering back to the car when suddenly -

This sign, pointing into a side alley, stopped me dead in my tracks.

It couldn't be!

Now those of you who have seventeen yarn shops within a five minute stroll may not understand the magnitude of this serendipitous (look it up, girl, look it up) discovery. This is Ireland, for heaven's sake. Not only Ireland but Kerry. Not only Kerry but the tiny town of Kenmare! I had already found bainin in a knitwear store, where hitherto no bainin had been - was I now to find even more unexpected riches? I didn't wait to think further, but positively dived down that alley.

Look at that. Isn't it adorable? It reminds me for all the world of Loop in Islington, except here there was nothing but the echo of gentle footfalls in the street beyond instead of the roar of London traffic. I pushed open the door and went in.

Come on, you can come too. Isn't this exciting? A whole new LYS!

Omigod, do you see what I see? Smack right there in the middle of the shop?


I was on my knees, babbling, hauling, stroking, hallucinating for five minutes before I thought to introduce myself in civil fashion to the charming lady behind the counter. It turns out that Jo and Jean are both accountants as well as passionate knitters, and since they couldn't find the yarns they yearned for, took the amazingly sensible step of opening their own shop in the town. And Jo is originally from Welshpool in Wales, and has known Colinette since its beginnings, so that's why they have this rarest of delights right here in Kenmare.

Oh I did have a nice couple of hours. I talked to that lovely elderly lady in the picture above - her name is Bridie O'Shea, and she told me that she learned to knit as a toddler using - wait for it - six inch nails! No, truly.

'My sister promised me that the next time she came home to the farm she'd bring me needles and some wool but I wasn't going to wait. I just got a couple of those big nails and a bit of wool from my mother's bag and I taught myself!'

Since then, she says, she's never stopped knitting, and has found it a way of coping with sadness and bereavement as well as providing warm family clothing. 'It's a great skill to have, and I wish all the young ones would learn it.'

Of course I bought several skeins of Colinette Point 5 - that's the thick and thin homespun one - and headed off feeling like it had been a very very good morning indeed. I took another route back, via Moll's Gap and Killarney, because it was such a stunning day.

There was a mist on the hills and the countryside is still rather brown after the winter, but in no time at all it will be greening up again. It will be beautiful when you come back in May, Deb!

And here's the road just going into the pass at Moll's Gap. Not too much traffic as you can see.

When I got home, and thought of photographing the Colinette for you, I found that the first spring primroses were opening their little pale yellow faces to the afternoon sun. What a perfect end to the day.