Sunday, April 29, 2007

It's Time To Enjoy Knitting Again!

At last and finally, I am out of the competitive section of Sock Madness and I will admit to being rather relieved. It was enormous fun in the first round, with all 128 of us competing vigorously, rather less fun in later rounds when each had to compete against just one other; but when it got down to the final 16 and then the final 8, the pressure was pretty strong. Celtic Memory has been in some stressful situations in her life, but this came surprisingly high up the league. When it came to midnight last night, and my opponent (9 hours behind me on America's west coast, and thus at early afternoon) announced her intention to knit nonstop until finished, I thought about it. I looked at the clock. I looked at the lovely pattern and the exquisite yarn I was using, and realised that I simply didn't want to rush it so much. It was like - oh, I don't know - maybe seeing how quickly you can gulp down an ice-cream sundae or a really nice fresh cream cake? Yes, you could do it at speed, but doesn't that rather go against the original purpose? Which is enjoyment?

(Yes, there are other, rather obvious similes to this 'slowly is better than quickly' comparison, but since this is a ladylike weblog, we won't take that further, will we?)

Anyway, I tucked the socks (both beyond the heel and gusset and ready to work down the foot) into their basket, went to bed and was hugely relieved to see my opponent's pictures posted on Flickr the following morning. Free, free, free at last, free I tell you, hahahahahahhhh!

To celebrate, I took the socks out for coffee, to show them how they should be knitted, in suitable surroundings. This, by the way, is quite the prettiest pattern I have seen in Sock Madness yet. Entitled Mad To Dance, it combines cables with lacework most enchantingly; and the best detail of all is a cabled heel - I think it's called the Backwards Heel or the Birkenstock, because it shows to such advantage from behind or in an open heeled shoe. And I'd decided on my favourite yarn of the moment, Silkwood hand-dyed in the Bluebell colourway, from the lovely Gill at the Woolly Workshop.

Here is one of the socks, propped up against a vase of real bluebells in the cafe. Is there anything nicer on a Sunday morning than sitting looking out over a lake with some lovely knitting in your hands?

Oh all right, all right, here's the wider picture. How is it that you all know instantly when I am using discretionary framing?

Look, I was entitled to it. Saturday, a beautiful sunny one, was one long exhausting slog on the knitting, interspersed only by demands from Muffy the Yarnslayer for some skeins to kill, from Sophy Wackles for some wuv, and from Tasha for a rat to torment. DH, bless his heart, made tea, coffee, snacks, so I could knit. And in the afternoon, he went down to the woods behind the house with his cameras and spent hours waiting patiently hidden from view behind a bush, watching a fox den where he thought something just might be happening on this nice spring day. And as it happened, he was right.

It was rather worth the wait, wasn't it? Wish I could have been there, but I was knitting, wasn't I? Maybe in a day or two, when we're sure they weren't disturbed.

Nature has speeded up considerably this past week or two, and the birds are nesting everywhere. Some of course start earlier than others: a tapping at the upstairs sitting room window this afternoon turned out to be a young mistle thrush on his first flight.

He sat outside on the ledge and chirped constantly; I am no expert on bird language, but it sounded reasonably like, 'Mum! Dinner! Dad! Dinner!', repeated over and over again.

And eventually, what came along but dinner! Which goes to show that if you shout loudly and long enough, somebody will give you what you want, just to shut you up.
Being free of pressure meant that at last there was time to get the new designer yarn, Bealtaine, assembled and skeined up to be photographed.

It is an attempt to capture the breathtaking beauty of the month of May in Ireland, with carpets of bluebells in the woods, the hawthorn trees a mass of foamy white blossom, and green, green, green of every hue and shade exploding in lush richness. I despair of ever really recreating what the reality is like right now, but I still go on trying.

Here's a closeup. Yarn in the foreground, genuine West Cork grass in the background.

Just listed it on eBay - late enough I know, given that MayDay is on Tuesday, but that sock thing simply took over... Still, it's time enough for people to get it and make something beautiful during this special month of early summer. Up to now I've suggested scarves and shawls, but it might be effective in vests and tops too, in the Jane Thornley mode, d'you think?

May Day. What do you do? As far back as I can remember, I have always washed my face in the dew on May Morning. And I can remember people tying little posies of flowers to door knockers, and to horses' harness, for good luck. Have been bidden to breakfast at my old Oxford college, after the dawn celebrations on Magdalen Tower, but who wants to face airports or crowds at such a magical time in Nature? Think I'll forgo that in favour of a walk in Gougane Barra woods. If you're near woods or trees early on Tuesday morning, go wander there, touch the trunks, pick a twig and bring it home. You'll be replicating what people have done for thousands of years. And do try to wash your faces in the dew.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Right Now Nothing Matters But That Pattern

At time of posting, it is just after eight in the morning here in West Cork - a beautiful spring morning too with fleecy clouds, sunshine, and birds dashing frantically everywhere, some already feeding young, others still searching for exactly the right cosy lining material for their nests. We put out net bags of dog hair and had a wonderful time watching little birds tug and pull and then fly away with clouds of soft fur, bigger than themselves. The young mistle thrushes are almost ready to leave the nest.

This evening the new pattern for Round 5 of Sock Madness should arrive. Any time from midday to 6 pm North Virginia time equals 5 to 11 pm here, so everything must be done beforehand, even to preparing a casserole which DH can dish up as I knit. There are people to go and interview this morning, shopping to be done, perhaps a scrap of housework if there is a spare moment. Whatever happens, I (like the rest of those embroiled in the insanely wonderful lunacy that is Sock Madness) will be sitting by my computer from the witching hour onwards, waiting for THAT PATTERN to arrive. We have no idea what it will be - lace or cables, weird or wonderful - all we do know is that it is likely to stretch us even further, as each round gets more difficult. It's an incredible thing to take part in - if it runs again next year (they'd be truly mad to do it, but I hope they do!), you have to get involved. It will change your life! (Yes, it will impact severely on the housework and day job too, but what do they matter?)

Been preparing for this all week, winding skeins, checking needles, wondering yet again what yarn would be best (how can you decide when you haven't seen the pattern?) Evelyn at Knitty-Noddy gets a special GOLD STAR in my book: not only did she send me the most exquisite skein of Fleece Artist Sea Wool (collective sigh) with amazing speed (anything under a week to Ireland is amazing speed, believe me you happy next-day-delivery gang), she also - you won't believe this - refunded excess postage, since it actually cost less than she had thought to mail it! How many online shops do you know that would do that? Go right over there to Knitty-Noddy this minute and tell her she's wonderful. I've done so already.

Here is the Sea Wool - I think it's the Rose Garden colourway and I can't go look because I have to finish this post before heading off to interview half a dozen people. Honestly, don't day jobs get in the way sometimes! Behind it? Oh I put that in to annoy you - it's my beautiful cone of pure alpaca. Yes, the one I got at the Shed in the Woods That Doesn't Really Exist So Don't Come Looking For It. You can just see it in my profile pic at the top of the page, where I'm clutching a big armful of goodies. Far too beautiful to use, of course - but I take it out now and again and croon over it.

Was all set to use the Sea Wool, but then got worried about the gauge for the new pattern - 7.5 to 8 stitches to the inch, and I'm a bit of a loose knitter. Wound up some Tofutsies and some finer sock yarn I'd hand-dyed in pale greens, and hauled out the Silkwood Bluebell I'd been hoarding for just such an occasion. Surely enough among all of those?

Then a late starter! Discovered that what I thought was a heavier laceweight was really a fine sockweight (are we getting finicky here? Is there a difference between heavy laceweight and fine sockweight? Does anyone care outside the sock-knitting sorority?) This is a very nice blend of wool, angora, nylon and CASHMERE (no, not very much of the last-named but enough to give a silky smooth feel to the yarn). I threw a skein of that into some dye which had steadfastly refused to exhaust itself after 'leventy-seven skeins of other yarns, and hung the light blue result out to dry. I'll wind it up later. Just in case.

And I had another boost to my belief in the essential goodness of human nature. I hadn't traded with Paradise Fibers before, because I was worried about postal charges but I really really needed some Addi Turbo Lace circulars in the 000 gauge and they had them, so I emailed to ask what the mortgage-sized punishment would be for sending these little scraps to Ireland. Well, the lovely Travis responded promptly, and they only charged me $4.95 for posting these. Paradise Fibers, you get my second gold star of the week, and rest assured I will be BACK, you nice people.

(Incidentally, why are there no 00 gauge? Seems odd. Can anyone enlighten me?)

I need these 000s because I have fallen totally and madly in love with the Austrian patterned kneesocks in Socks Socks Socks. I have never seen anything so lovely in my life and I HAVE to make them. I first noticed them on Eunny's site, where she was just as rhapsodic. Trouble is, they have a seriously large number of stitches to the inch and for me to get that gauge I will have to go as tiny as is possible. But they have to be made, no two ways about it.

Oh I finally worked out how to put two socks on one circular - thanks for all the tips and advice.

It didn't take long to suss it out, but in fact I'm finding it a bit irritating. Doable, certainly, but irritating. I think it's slower than using a separate circular for each sock.

In every spare moment I'm still working on the new designer yarn, Bealtaine, or Maytime, which will have to go on eBay this Sunday night if anyone's to enjoy it during May. I'm endeavouring to recreate the fresh greens of young leaves, bushes, trees and new grass, the foaming white hawthorn or Mayblossom, and of course the incredible, heavenly shade of the bluebells which carpet the woodlands during this month which celebrates the Celtic festival of Beltane. Should be done before the pattern arrives this evening...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Yes, Sock Knitting Is Definitely An Addiction

I remember it quite well. I posted on Knitter's Review Forum, I aired the topic on these pages. Why, I demanded to know (last year, last year, ah how long ago) is sock knitting so trendy? What is it about socks that makes the knitting thereof such a desirable habit to pursue? I didn't get it, I declared. I just did not GET it about this passionate fashion for knitting socks.

Oh I was answered. The replies poured in, each more fervent in its missionary zeal than the last. Ideal for carrying around with you, said many. So easy to finish, as so many projects are not, said more. Luxurious indulgences said others. I listened. I told myself not to be narrow minded. I gave in. I purchased yarn. I cast on.

I left that first sock after two rows. It was boring. The only kind of sock yarn you could buy in Ireland (still the only kind of sock yarn you can buy in Ireland) was a wool-nylon blend in assorted shades of black, brown and grey. Not all together, heaven forfend. Black OR brown OR grey. To go with school uniforms or depressing suits or something.

But then I found Simply Socks on the Net and purchased some Tiny Toes Interlacements in the most incredibly beautiful mix of blues. Like a page from an illuminated manuscript the ball of yarn was, and when you knitted it up - utter heaven. I worked on those socks early and late, finished them, wore them, washed them gently, wore them again - and again and again. Anne, and all those of you who warned me that the Interlacements yarns tend to bleed, were you ever right! After myriad washings, those socks still turn the water a rich bright blue! But I forgive them. They're so beautiful. Indeed my pet name for them was my Book of Kells Socks. No, they didn't win a prize at Bantry Show, but I think that was because Bantry had never seen anything like them in its life before. Black, brown, grey socks yes, but this bright illuminated blend of blues, never. Bad stuff. Burn it at the stake. What is the world coming to?

Anyway, to get back to the point I originally intended to make. Socks, and the knitting thereof, can lead to dangerous addiction. It doesn't happen immediately - I made another pair, then worked casually on a third pair over several months. I could take it or leave it alone, and that, I assumed, was the way it would stay with socks and moi.

Enter Sock Madness, stage left, cackling. Exit all sense and reason.

Over the past month and a half I have knitted five pairs of socks and another pair is on the needles even as we speak. Four pairs for Sock Madness and the first pattern done a second time just for fun. For fun? To what sad extreme has Celtic Memory come? And I can't stop. I simply can't stop. Friday sees the launch of Round 5 of this amazing event. There are just eight of us left in the central ring, with the other 120 competing fiercely with each other around the perimeter and having a wonderful time. We should be spending these last few days resting up, oiling our hands, flexing the joints, or at least clearing away the backlog of housework and day job.

But I can't relax. Life doesn't seem right any more without a pair of socks on the go. I miss them when I'm on a bus, in a car, sitting in a cafe. So today I gave in to my desperate craving and cast on a pair to keep me going until Friday. I'd try toe-up socks, I decided, since I haven't done too much in that line. And the pattern I chose? Why Wendy's Toe-Up Sock, of course, the name of the division in which I found myself for Sock Madness and which is now represented solely by Celtic Memory and Stitchinwench who on Friday and all over the weekend will have to battle it out for supremacy. Only one of us can go through, that's the pity of it.

Here's the first sock, working up the foot. I must say this starting at the toe is rather fun. No grafting to dread at the end, just work away until you see that the ball of yarn is almost finished, and then cast off. Thought the top of the foot looked a bit plain, so added in a few Celtic twists to perk it up. The yarn is my current favourite, Crystal Palace Panda Cotton, a blend of bamboo and cotton, in a nice oatmeal shade.

The other day, hearing that our unaccountably fine weather was about to come to an end, I made a trip down the Dingle Peninsula to Slea Head. I had a special purpose in mind: there had been news of a cliff fall down there, and the spectacular coastal road had in part been swept away. This is one of the most amazing tourist routes you could hope to find, and any damage to the road would impact very badly on local business, which depends on the short summer season. But I had a more personal interest: Denise is coming over in May, and Deb in June (Deb with a group of Maine shepherds, how cool is that?), and I couldn't bear to think of either of them missing out on the Dingle peninsula with its ancient beehive huts, and Dunquin, and the legendary Blasket Islands. So I went down to see for myself how bad it was.

Well a good bit of the road had certainly collapsed a few hundred feet into the sea, which wasn't too hopeful. But - and here's the amazing bit - everybody had rallied round, including the local farmer landowners, agreements had been thrashed out, and a new stretch of road laid out across an adjoining field in a shorter time than you could believe possible - a few days in fact. Now normally Kerry isn't noted for getting things done quickly, but this they did achieve. And well done to them. Denise and Deb, all is well: you won't miss out on the Dingle Peninsula and the Slea Head drive.

I did though. Miss out, that is. You will see from that picture that it's a very misty dark day. To tell the truth, most days are like that down on Slea Head. The weather sweeps in from the Atlantic and since Kerry is the first thing it's seen since leaving America, it falls on it like a long-lost brother. To the detriment of the view.

These pictures were taken when the mist lifted slightly. When it was really down, you couldn't see more than a couple of yards.

You can just make out in this one the long lines of old drystone walls crisscrossing the headland, far further up into the mountain than seems practical or useful. That's an echo of the past: the pre-Famine days when the population had reached its highest level ever (we're still not back to it) and desperate people scrambled ever higher to find some - any soil to till.

I didn't want you to go without seeing the magical Blasket Islands though, so DH was prevailed upon to search in his library and find a sunny day image for you.

There was never a place like the Great Blasket for producing writers. Half a dozen classics still avidly read today - Peig Sayers' life, Tomas O'Crohan's The Islandman, Michael O'Suillebhain's Twenty Years A Growing, and more, all chronicling a way of life that has gone for ever. The last islanders were taken off in the 1950s, broken hearted to go, but unable to continue in their isolation. Can you see those tiny white dots on the island? They're the islanders' cottages. Fires were left ready laid with wood, kettles on the hob, mugs on the table when they sailed away to the mainland, as if they could not bear to think that they would never return. You can go over on fine summer days (and trust the boatman if he says it's not a good day, they know how quickly the weather can blow up around this coast), and wander around these relics of an earlier, more simple existence.

In a sheltered patch on the road back, the first bluebells were out - very early for these, since they normally herald May Day.

The sun came out as I crossed back into county Cork, so just to awaken your longings, I photographed two glorious old ruins for sale near my home:

How can I tell you to be sensible? I was nearly on the phone to the estate agents myself - and I live in a perfectly good house nearby! Look, they'd need millions to do them up - don't imagine the second one has heard of indoor plumbing, let alone a damp proof course, while the first one was invisible for years under a thick growth of brambles, and has only recently emerged into the open air. But they're tempting, oh dear heaven are they tempting!

Now I really must get on with creating the Bealtaine yarn. We're almost at Beltane, or May Day, a great festival on the ancient Celtic calendar. It will be inspired by the bluebells that carpet the woods in May, the white of the hawthorn or May blossom, and the vivid springing green that you can see everywhere at this time of year.

Here is the preliminary stash trawl. Now all I need is a little time to create the yarn. Don't let anything else distract, just get on with assembling the work of art...
Where did I put those toe-up socks?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Temporary Sanity Between Sock Madness Rounds

My last posting was on Friday the 13th (no mishaps, fortunately). Saturday afternoon, around 3.30 pm West Cork time, THAT PATTERN arrived. Round 4 of Sock Madness was under way! From the original 128, we were now down to just sixteen, and from Norway to Australia, Ireland to America, frantic knitters were casting on, checking gauge, working the rib, swearing, frogging, working it again, swearing...

I'd chosen a very nice soft wool/angora blend that I had dyed recently into a rather lurid blend of pinks and greens. The yarn had been smooth all along, but once I started knitting, the constant touching and pulling made it fluff up quite dramatically, giving it a halo effect.

This contest is all about speed and stamina. Because the pattern is released early morning in the States, it doesn't arrive in European mailboxes until mid afternoon, which perhaps gives the Statesiders a bit of an edge on the long-distance dash. I gave up at midnight with exhausted eyes and stiff fingers, but resumed at dawn with renewed energy.

This was an interesting pattern, Mad Colour Weave, with entertainingly slipped stitches forming a zig-zag pattern across the sock. This also meant that it took forever and beyond to work. I thought I'd got my sock time down to two days per pair, but this took me through Saturday, Sunday and well into Monday morning before I could at last heave a sigh of relief, photograph the darned things, and post them to Flickr as proof that I had indeed finished.

You can really see that fuzzy angora effect around the cuffs, can't you?

Here's a side view, showcasing both the cunning little cable down the side (a devil to work, I can tell you) and the lurid colour (oh it was nothing, really, just a dab of this, a dab of that...)

I beat my worthy Sister in Socks, Tezzcan, by a narrow margin, and so I'm the idiot who goes on into Round 5. Honestly, you'd think I'd learned my lesson by this time, wouldn't you? This isn't just hard work, it is terrifying, obsessing, dump-everything-else-and-forget-the-day-job work. There was so much to be sorted that I had ignored all weekend that I did the only possible thing. I tucked Sophie into the car and headed for Inchigeelagh.

There is a very nice road - more of a narrow boreen really - that runs off at an angle through the countryside near Inchigeelagh. I've known it as 'The Brown Rabbit's Road' since I was a child - I think my mother named it that originally, and we all seized on it delightedly.

You can see for miles into the far distance, to the blue hills and beyond. See that mountain sticking up on the left? That's Shehy, the fairy mountain. It is very magical indeed, 'airy' as the country folk would say. The King of the Cats himself lives there, and there is a door into one of the big Fairy Forts there too, if you can find it, from whence the Good People ride forth to hunt and hold gatherings at times like Beltane and Midsummer. I was told when I was tiny that sometimes the top of Shehy is pointed like a fairy's hat, and sometimes it is flat, which is when you know the Good People are abroad and you'd need to mind youself in case they'd take you away. I believed it absolutely. Sometimes I still do - especially when the clouds are down covering the peak, and it looks flat.

The sheep and their lambs were everywhere. This little black one was quite impudent when I stopped the car to look at him, although his mother and sister were more wary.

That's the gorse in full bloom behind them. The sun draws out its wonderful coconut scent and the glow of its bright yellow flowers sets the hillsides flaming all over West Cork at this time of year.

I did some dyeing when I got home (anything to put off the myriad unfinished tasks). I tried the microwave method which is great fun, as long as you don't burn your fingers in the steam, and got quite slaphappy trying this effect and that with different concoctions. The best thing about microwave dyeing is that you can get it done so quickly, and then wash the yarns and have them hanging out in the sunshine in no time.

There is some of that wool/angora blend there, in the orange and yellow colourway, with a silk/cashmere green variegation next to it, then some lambswool fingering in pinks and greens, and finally a fine wool boucle in Raspberry Ripple. All rather jolly.

Look at this lovely surprise I got from Charity today!

What a nice thing to do, to pack these up and send them all the way from Northern Canada. And oh did she know my preferences! Beautiful Noro Silver Thaw, utterly seductive Misti Alpaca Chunky in navy, the latest Creative Knitting, and even some Kool Aid in wonderful colours. I am going to have such fun with those! Charity you are an angel.
More tomorrow or maybe Saturday. Some great ideas fermenting in the Celtic Memory brain about crop cardis, Austrian kneesocks, and merino-tencel blends (none of these related). Would DH notice, do you think, if I were to order 10 kilos of merino/tencel yarn? (I understand it's cheaper in bulk.) Maybe I could get him out of the country for a day or two when delivery was expected.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Of Trees and Moss and Winding Pathways - oh and Frogging

The weather has been quite incredible for Ireland this past week and more. In recorded history we have never before had a completely fine Easter weekend, so 2007 is going to go down in the books for sure.

Having finished Round 3 SockMadness in double quick time, so as to have at least some of the weekend free for enjoyment, took myself down to Gougane Barra on Easter Sunday, to see my old friends after the winter (they shut the hotel then) and stroll in the forests there. It was wonderful to see Breda and hug and talk about where we'd been and what we'd done since we'd last met, and we exchanged the traditional greeting, "Go mbeirimid beo ar an t'am seo aris", or, "That we may be alive at this time next year." It is usually said when you eat the first new potatoes since that was, for our ancestors, the time of huge relief that hunger was over and food assured for at least some months ahead. We now say it when a particular marker in the year is reached, as, in this case, seeing each other again after the dark months.

Then the deep forests of Gougane called, so I climbed over a gate and wandered along winding pathways through the trees and rocks for an hour or two, hearing nothing but the soughing of the wind in the treetops. (OK so there was a longer way round which wouldn't involve climbing a gate, but it seemed like the right kind of day to climb gates so I did.)

Gougane is an enchanted place, with a strangely powerful feeling. I think it has been a powerful place for a very long time indeed. These days established religion holds sway, declaring that a holy man called St. Finbarr had his hermitage here, but it is very clear that Gougane Barra (Inis Irce in ancient Ireland) being both a natural cirque or tiny valley in the centre of a circle of surrounding hills, and also the source of the river Lee which flows from here right down to Cork city and the sea, knew - and still knows - far older religions than Christianity.

Every rock, every tree seems to hold its own secrets. It was wonderful to wander there with only the wind for company.

In some parts of the forest you can see the traces of earlier habitation, when Ireland's population was larger, where trees were laboriously cleared and rocks and stones piled into encircling walls. Now any trace of homes has vanished into the ground, and only the stone walls remain, thick with moss, while the trees have come quietly back to reclaim the land.

Dez, I know how much you like moss and trees. These aren't a patch on the magnificent specimens of Louisiana, I know, but they're for you anyway.

Later I wandered around the lakeside, returning to my little jeep over the old clapper bridge.

As I picked my way across the long flat stones, smoothed with time, I wondered how many had crossed that river before me through the centuries.

Denise, when you come to Ireland in May, you have to come to Gougane Barra. It's waiting for you. And Deb, you have to bring your group of New England shepherds here too in June. It's somewhere you have to experience.

Now - tomorrow sees the start of Round 4 of Sock Madness and since Celtic Memory is upholding the honour of the Irish in the final 16, things have been getting a little edgy. It's difficult to settle to anything, but quite a few projects have actually been finished off, in a sort of clearing-the-decks-for-action effort.

Just take a look at this.


And again -


(Angeluna, I've been holding this back until you arrived home from Camp Sockamamie. Are you back? Did you have the best time? You were the one who introduced me to this pattern and then kept after me, so I kept the pictures until you were home.)

This, as I know Peg will heartily agree, is not exactly the easiest of vests to make. Oddly enough it's not the motifs - they need a bit of attention, but they're not difficult. No, it's the shaping in several different ways, all at the same time, each needing its own concentration, and all entirely liable to go wrong at any time. And most of all, it is that dreaded, thrice accursed 'pick up evenly all around the fronts...' instruction.

I thought I had this sussed finally. I got two long circulars and picked up each side at the same time, first picking up ten stitches one side between markers, then the other, and so on, right round to the back of the neck. It took forever. Then I knitted the band. And bound off.

And it looked awful.

It just didn't do anything for the lovely vest. In fact it detracted considerably from the overall effect. I was not encouraged to repeat the ghastly and time-consuming manoeuvre for the armholes, that's for sure.
I left that vest on one side while I ran off to Southern California and had a lot of fun with Mad Cow socks. When I came back, Angeluna gently reminded me of unfinished tasks and with a heavy heart I took it out again.

Several people had suggested an i-cord and I had started that before going away, but it looked as though it was going to take even longer than forever to get a few inches done. What NOW?

But hang on. What if -?

In So Cal I'd picked up a nice update on the old French knitting reel - you know, a cotton reel with four nails banged in the top, through which you can make tubular knitting? Well Clover have brought out a bigger plastic see-through version with several improvements including a revolving head. Nothing to lose, I thought. Grabbed the ball of red yarn, started winding it round the little plastic teeth.

Bingo! In ten minutes I'd worked enough for one armhole. The second followed rapidly. And the entire length to go all the way round from one front point to the other took less than an hour - more like half an hour. A little time to sew it on carefully, and there it was.

Simple. Bless that little Clover French Knitter. I can see all kinds of uses for it in motif work. It would be beautifully effective for Celtic interlacements on plain sweaters.

But now the Celtic Vest was done and I was still edgy. Finished the Mad Pink Cow socks.

Had a bit of fun dyeing yarns.

On the left is a lovely soft 'cashwool' merino laceweight, and on the right a wool/angora sockweight blend that was meant to be 'Wild Roses In Spring' but turned out as rather more 'Explosion In a A Sweet Factory'. Still debating whether or not to use it in Round 4 - depends on the pattern.

But it's still only Friday evening and the pattern won't be released until at least midday West Cork time tomorrow. What to do now? Found a half-finished Aran pattern in the same wool/angora sockweight, that I was never going to finish (it's one of those where you fall in love with the pattern and start right away without ever considering exactly when you're going to wear an extremely warm and heavy sweater).

Trouble was - I'd used the yarn double. Now I don't know if you've ever tried to frog a doubled-yarn project. If you haven't, then my advice is - don't. I've tried this many times before and always ended up hurling the whole lot into a dark corner for Muffy to find. But I like this yarn - it feels beautifully soft and rather like expensive cotton rather than wool. I want to dye more of it, use more of it for socks. So I thought about it for a while, and then worked something out.

Here you can see (a) the lovely antique swift I was lucky enough to get on eBay, (b) my niddy noddy from Quadra Island, and (c) the knitted piece being frogged.
(Now don't get hysterical. There's no point in keeping it. Even if I did finish the sweater (and the gauge is out anyway, it would be far too big), I'd never find an opportunity to wear it unless I went back to Dawson in Yukon Territory around December - a nice idea but unlikely. No, it had to go, and the yarn will be much more useful for other things.)
(Although even my heart fails me as I look at that lovely pattern... Maybe I could make it up again in a lighter yarn - cotton?)
Anyway the complicated manouevring worked: frog a length, pull the yarns apart, wind each on to its own skein, repeat: and I now have two skeins ready for washing and dyeing .
And it's still only coming up to 9 pm. At least another 15 hours before that pattern is out. I'd question my sanity, only I know that the other contestants are feeling just the same way. It's a sort of compelling urge that grips you until you can't think of anything else.
Expect to hear from me when this round is over. With my shield or upon it, as the Greeks used to say (or was it the Romans?)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Robin's Nest Or Pig's Ear?

Sorry it's been a while. Sock Madness took over again for a few days. This time it was Painted Madness, a delightful cuffed design, cute little garter stitch points all the way round.

It was supposed to come anytime between noon and whenever Irish time on Wednesday, and by 11am the tension was rising - so much so that DH was dragged away from a fascinating browse through a hardware shop and told to hurry up, we needed to get home.

(I probably shouldn't record this, but in the interests of full disclosure I will reveal that DH said two inadvisable things. The first was, 'It's only knitting, for heaven's sake!' and the second was, 'Does it matter all that much when you get this pattern?')

It finally arrived around 3.30 pm West Cork time, and although the intention had genuinely been to use either Yarn Yard's Mango Sorbet or Cherry Tree Hill's emerald Brights, it so happened that about three hours prior to Pattern Lift-Off, postie brought a package from Lisa Souza with three yummy yarns.

On my left, Elektra, on my right Emerald City, and in the middle, what's left of Can't-Elope! once the Painted Madness socks had been finished. Well could you have resisted it? And in fact this gorgeous, almost eatable colourway was ideal for the pattern so beautifully created by Tricia Weatherston especially for Sock Madness.

The socks were started almost immediately since once again it was just one against one, not the somewhat more relaxing group dash for the finishing tape. Thank heaven Celtic Memory is in the Novices group, aka Wendy's Toe-Up Division, since there are a couple of heavyweights out there in the Senior Classes who can turn around a pair of socks in less than twelve hours. Twelve hours, I ask you! Of course that's without comfort stops, sleep, food, unnecessary delaying tactics like those. Here in West Cork we gave up around midnight but woke at 6 am and somehow couldn't get back to sleep, thinking of an almost-finished sock waiting patiently on the windowsill. It was nice, though, to see the sun rise and the baby rabbits come out to play in the field beyond while working unending rounds of stocking stitch on the foot.

Here is Painted Madness Sock One completed and chatting with some early violets. This is a really nice design with a pleasant slipstitch heel, but oh does that double cuff take extra time!

No time to waste, though, so the second sock was dashed at forthwith (had actually done the garter stitch points for the cuff the night before when it became downright impossible to do any more stocking stitch on the first one due to bad temper and the need to vary movement somewhat). DH, having remembered that yes, knitting did matter, rather a lot, was adorable, bringing cups of tea, coffee, chocolate biscuits (very useful those in times of crisis) and generally keeping the dogs out of the way. Muffy was very keen to get in on the sock knitting, insisting she could help, really she could, JUST LET ME TRY, THAT'S ALL!

(It's OK, I bought her off with a pig's ear to chew. Hadn't come across this delicacy before, but found them in a local shop and got one for each of the girls.)

Finally fastened off the toe on Sock Two at 2.30 pm Friday and shrieked for DH to get the camera QUICK!

So much depends in this competition, not only on how quickly you get the socks finished, but also on how speedily they can be transferred to Flickr and thence to the Sock Madness section of Flickr.

You don't realise how much the stress takes out of you until it's all over. Finished an entire packet of chocolate biscuits, crashed out, went to bed early. Feel wonderful today.

Before the Round Three pattern was released, something had to be done to break the tension. Chez Celtic Memory when life is trying, one starts an Aran sweater. There is something incredibly relaxing, satisfying about the mathematical precision of stitches, numbers, rows - yet at the same time you most certainly do not get bored.

This is on 4mm (US 6) Colonial Rosewoods and the yarn my favourite silk/cashmere - you remember, the one that has the aroma of a cesspit when first washed but is fine thereafter. It has beautiful stitch definition and a soft silky feel - well it should have, shouldn't it? The pattern is for a raglan sleeve cardigan, which is the most useful design for Celtic Memory's wardrobe since it can be worn open or buttoned up, sleeves pushed up or down, over casuals or dressies, and can go to the opera more or less as well as the farm. It's calling me to come back to it right now. Nice relaxing stuff after all that heel-turning.

So what was being knitted this fine Easter Saturday if not the Aran? Well, strangely enough, socks...

These are the Mad Pink Cows, the second made from Round One of the contest. Liked the yarn and the pattern so much, went back and got more Crystal Palace Panda Cotton (with bamboo). Started Mad Pink Cow while in So Cal, but then left them to one side while other matters were dealt with. Nearly finished. Still got Mad Green Cow to go, and then all three colours can be mixed and matched with gay abandon.

Must go skein up some yarns to list on eBay. It's been far too long and there have been queries about that nice linen/cotton as well as the finer silk/cashmere. It must be the spring. I'll have those up tomorrow sometime.

As it's Easter, I wanted to give you a specially happy picture, and here DH and I had one of our rare disagreements. I thought you would like a robin gathering moss for its nest. He thought you would prefer Muffy the Yarnslayer chewing on her pig's ear. Which of us was right? You be the judge.

Joy at Easter to everyone. Bring greenery into your home and listen to the voices on the breeze.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A 90 Year Old Shows Me How To Knit Socks

It's been busy since last posting. For a start I decided to join The Weekend Whirls, described as 'a spin-a-long for people who believe weekends were made for spinning fibers.' It has been set up by my dear friend Fiberjoy who not only works miracles with fibres - sorry, fibers - on drop spindles of all designs, but is fortunate in having a genius craftsman as a husband in the shape of Ed Jenkins. That's how she gets all these wonderful spindles, of course. I've had a few from her over the past while, and they are a revelation to work with. You should try them.

I joined up, because it's been all too long since I worked with either spindle or spinning wheel. Blogging takes up so much time, and then the knitting - even before Sock Madness (oh help, Wednesday sees the start of Round Three with a new pattern) - and of course there is always the day job to keep in mind. But my little Orkney wheel has been looking mutely reproachful, so perhaps linking into The Weekend Whirls would get me back into the spin of things, so to speak.

I started with a gorgeous roving of merino and silk sent to me by Lyn in Australia. It felt so silky and beautiful in the hand that I could hardly wait to get going on it.

Unfortunately, years of spinning coarser wool 'in the grease', i.e. not washed beforehand, had ill fitted Celtic Memory for the elegance of merino silk roving. Greasy wool is very forgiving indeed to the spinner, allowing long draws and any amount of distraction. With this classy roving, however, you had to have your full concentration in the tips of your fingers the whole time or a broken thread was the result. Which it was, rather too many times. Felt like bundling the whole lot into a bag and forgetting about it, but soldiered on and got a small amount spun eventually.

Not a lot for a couple of hours struggling and swearing, but it can only get better. I'll get the hang of this roving stuff somehow. It's so beautiful it has to be my fault. I'll spin up the other half of that roving and ply the two together and then maybe when I see the skein in all its glory, I'll be fired with the desire to do so much better, and better, and better. Maybe.

In the meantime, all you devoted spinners, as well as all you now-and-again spinners, get over there to Weekend Whirls and join yourselves up. See you there.

On Saturday one of my very favourite coffee shops was on the agenda, and it was a fine spring morning to be visiting the Cruiscin Lan in Ballyvourney. The name means Full Jug or Flowing Bowl, depending on whether you prefer the literal or the poetic translation. They're a great gang of bilingualists in there, who will greet you in Irish or English with equal ease. They had promised to procure a big container of vinegar for me, for dyeing purposes (I can only get tiny bottles in the supermarket).

This is Ciara, bringing the vinegar to my table. Hasn't she a lovely smile? I tell you, if you ever visit this corner of the world, you have to try the Cruiscin Lan. Their cakes are delectable, and the coffee has a kick like a mule. Vicki in So Cal, they would be thrilled to bits with your grasp of Irish!

Onwards to Kenmare where I was sitting quietly in Jam and knitting on Mad Cow Mark II when an elderly lady sitting nearby asked what yarn I was using. She was a bit perplexed with the idea of bamboo and cotton (she'd been reared on homespun wool) but perked up when I told her there was a superb wool shop not far away at all. (The word 'yarn' isn't readily understood in Ireland as yet.) Yay, a chance to bring more converts to the mission!

Sheila McCarthy, who is 90 today, was down in Kenmare for the weekend with her daughters who were taking her around and showing her a good time. Can you imagine the reaction of a lady who had knitted all her life, but didn't know of anything but plain wool or perhaps a wool/nylon blend for socks, faced with Colinette, Noro, Debbie Bliss, et al?

That's Sheila with her back to the camera, one of her daughters sitting on the sofa, and Jean, one of the owners, in the middle, explaining how many balls of Debbie Bliss Stella would be required for a sweater.

Sheila, I have to say, was no shy unobtrusive nonogenarian. She'd already ticked me off roundly in Jam for 'knitting all wrong', and when I proved unflappable on that point (time was it would have upset me, but not now, not with all me fine bloggin' pals for support!), grudgingly admitted that I was 'moving along all right anyway.' When she'd done enough looking around and touching and buying, she took my Mad Cow sock, raised her eyebrows at the Magic Loop (but, fair dues to the woman, worked it out within moments), and showed me exactly how knitting should be done.

'You've got to keep that wool twisted round your finger,' she told me sternly. 'Otherwise you won't have the tension.' The row she knitted, smoothly and at speed, was a good bit tighter than I could ever achieve.
I left them there enjoying themselves. I hope they had a great weekend.

On the way home, the celandines were massed on sunny banks, lifting their golden faces to the sun.

and there were drifts of wild violets in sheltered corners.

When I was young, I would always gather the first wild violets to bring to my mother. It's a tradition I still keep: I will take some, cradled in moss and wound with ivy, to her grave tomorrow.