Monday, May 28, 2007

Socks Still Rule!

Safely back from France and rushing round catching up on everything. A lovely surprise was waiting:

This was my prize from Sock Madness, and isn't it beautiful? Hillary had wrapped it so perfectly in tissue, and tied it with a ribbon that had the most gorgeous stitch markers slipped on as decoration. A whole sock-sized skein of hand-dyed yarn, and a bar of Trader Joe's dark truffle chocolate. Now aren't they nice people over at Sock Madness? And is it any wonder that all of us who took part in that insane event are suffering Post-Sock Madness-Blues?

Or we were. Until we heard about The Summer of Socks which the ever-helpful Brittany highlighted on the SM Flickr site. The closing date was May 26 - the very day I arrived back from France - and I only just managed to make it before the cut-off. I think a lot of you got in too, right? Nicely timed to get us through at least some of the anguished waiting for SM 2008. I think I've got the button up on this page too - isn't it weird that enjoying such a basic craft as knitting could be the way into uber-technology? It was a case of 'needs must when the devil drives' for most of us, I suspect, but we're all certainly far more techie than we were BB (Before Blogging).

But The Summer of Socks. It's a three-month knit or crochet-along which starts on June 21, the summer solstice, and ends on September 21, the autumn equinox. There aren't too many rules on this one, and definitely nothing like the same pressure as SM. You can just work on your socks and post pictures on the SOS Flickr site as and when, or you can get all competitive and enter for Most Socks Made, or Socks Photographed On Vacation. And your socks can be knitted or crocheted to which I say hooray! Let's get rid of this sockism and knittism and crochetism. We're all as good as each other. I fully intend to crochet a perfectly outrageous pair that I spotted on the Net - let's see if I can find the link.... hang on a moment. BOTHER! Thought I'd saved it! This will mean hours of trawling, I just know it. Anybody out there remember a perfectly outrageous and luridly coloured pair of crocheted kneesocks? Mmmm, thought not. And you wouldn't come out and admit you'd been looking even if you HAD seen them, would you? COWARDS!

Anyway, socks most definitely still rule all summer long, so that's one happy thing. Since the event kicks off on the summer solstice, it should really be a very midsummery sort of pattern and colourway for the first pair, shouldn't it? Leaves, flowers, trees, magical Green Men hiding in treetrunks? Any ideas welcomed. Any ideas that necessitate the immediate ordering of seventeen additional skeins of sock yarn welcomed even more.

Not that a few skeins didn't unaccountably smuggle themselves on board coming back from la belle France of course. Well not so much skeins as balls - or pelotes as they call them there and why not? Finally managed to catch Guichard Laines in Landevant open as we drove north to Roscoff to catch the ferry on Friday.

It really doesn't look that prepossessing from the outside. In fact you'd drive right past if it were not for the magic icon painted on the wall. But inside - O.M.G. with stars!

In most French yarn shops, you see, the yarns are kept behind the counter and you peer, point, have one brought over for you to examine and decide upon. Not the way your average knitter wants to operate really. But here - they're piled up in these boxes, row upon row, all round a pretty large warehouse, with several smaller rooms off as well.

Richard thoughtfully took a picture from this angle too, so you can see what I hadn't discovered yet. Then, even more thoughtfully, he went back out to the car and had a siesta while I babbled and ran about and pulled at things, and hyperventilated, and babbled some more, and - but you know the scenario. (We should all get scenarios like this at regular intervals in our lives.)

Here is a close-up (took it myself, can't you see the shaky hands?) of some tubs of bamboo/cotton, next to some linen/cotton blends. In PROFUSION. And the sock yarn section. Oh my heart beats suffocatingly even now, just thinking of it. (It was in a dark corner, though, so I couldn't get a very good picture - perhaps just as well.)

I did come out with a few pelotes. Well perhaps more than a few. Well...

Here are the sock yarns. Bamboo in lime, turquoise and navy. Scheepjes in a particularly nice blend of blues and greens. A BIG ball of Online Linie 3 Supersocke 100 in soft pinky reds and greys - what a divine pair of winter kneesocks that will make.

And because I'm always on the lookout for unusual yarns to blend into wicked combinations, here are some I couldn't resist. The three on the left are all Katia Gatsby Lux, a beautiful fine weight variegated iridescent yarn which I hadn't seen before.

It was sad to leave France, where we took a last wander in the orchard with Charlotte and the energetic Bounty before leaving.

Charlotte was wearing the most chic little wool cardigan and when I asked, revealed it was from a designer friend in Paris. Thought so! She obligingly modelled it, unrolling the long belled sleeves so I could see them better.

Bounty thought it was nice too.

I hope we'll come back to Le Chene Vert. The setting is so peaceful, in its ancient orchards, you're right on the edge of La Grande Briere where the traditional flat-bottomed boats can still be seen moored amid the marshes,

and at sunset the coastal salt pans (you can buy Sel de Guerande right on the roadside from the man who painstakingly collected it) take on a breathtaking beauty.

Here are a couple of final images from the trip:

A bluethroat singing in La Grande Briere -

The walled city of Vannes, looking much as it must have done in medieval times -

A magnificent green woodpecker -

and a green lane leading to chateau gates which were once flung open as the lord's carriage thundered through, but now drowse locked and dusty in the summer sunshine.
Enough! There are Aran socks to finish, Ouessant fleece to card, that entrelac stole in Prism (STOP that, get a GRIP will you!) to complete. And so many more new ideas to try out. A la prochaine!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Of Dolmens and Chateaux - And A Very Special Sheep

Our last night in France. Tomorrow (Friday) we head north to Roscoff and board the ferry which will deposit us safely back in Cork on Saturday morning. Actually that will be today, since now I look at the time, it is after midnight. We were out late, searching for owls and things on the salt marshes.

Had a wonderful time exploring tiny picturesque villages, discovering ancient dolmens, talking to local people, and taking full advantage of every patisserie we happened upon. Pictures of all of these follow.

But FIRST...

When I shared the delight of the Ouessants with you in the last posting, the lovely Renee emailed me to say that although her charges were very pleased with their publicity, there was one who was not so happy. One who felt she had been Left Out.

Please study this picture closely.

Now you may not have noticed, so I will have to help you a little. One of those at the trough is a little different to the others. Can you spot her? Look again.
Yes. Well done!

This, dear readers, is Esmi.

Esmi is a very loving, very lovable, and utterly charming sheep. (Quiet there at the back. Of course she's a sheep! Who said cow? WHO said pig? Disgraceful! Epouvantable!) Naturally she was hurt when her little dark-fleeced friends got all the attention. I explained (via the good offices of Renee who translated) that I had left her out only to give her special attention, allow her to shine, in another posting, when the rest of the gang would be studiously ignored.

What's that? Oh the breed. Well, Renee is the expert here -

Esmi is now reassured her true worth has been recognised. :-) As for breeds I don't think we'll ever know for sure; originally she was a raffle prize! She was sold to me as a Texel cross ; however the farmer next door was convinced she was Avranchine but I don't think so. A lady came out to visit a few weeks back who knows her sheep and felt there was some Berrichon in there which looking at the books is probably right. I just know she is a wonderful gentle sheep who loves nothing more than a head scratch.

There. Now don't you think she's lovely too? Good girl, Esmi. Miss Brittany Fleece 2007!

I thought you might like to see the place we could have stayed if we wanted to.

This is the Chateau de la Bretesche, a hundred yards or so down the road from Le Chene Vert where we are still contentedly ensconced. The gigantic park round the back is currently being used as a golf course, one understands, which attracts the well-heeled. But we didn't want all that bother of toiling up winding stairs every night, so we settled for good old farmhouse style instead.
The Ile de Fedrun is a glorious little isolated island area out in the salt marshes where the cottages are as cute as all hell and probably sell for prices in direct inverse proportion to their size. Thatched, painted, shuttered - wouldn't you kill for one of these?

In fact we were fortunate enough to meet up with a genuine thatcher, hard at work on one of the old cottages. He was using reeds, beautifully tied in angled bundles so that the rain would run off in just the right way.

He told us that most of the reeds he uses don't come from round here but from the Camargue in Provence.

Finding a little place open in the middle of nowhere mid-afternoon, we stopped for some restorative cafe creme, and the owner was delighted to see my Aran Sandal Socks in progress. In fact he sat down and told us all about his grandmother who used to knit socks too.

"But she did not knit them like this - on this one long needle. No, she used four or five little ones, I remember, although I was young. I remember too that if she put the needles on the table, we little ones would run off with them, so she would stick them in her chignon. And then she would not remember where her needles were and would say, 'Find them. I cannot knit my stockings without my needles!'

(Oh and since we're on the subject, no luck on the Landevant yarn treasure store yet. Went all the way up there on Monday only to find that the old French tradition still held sway. Shut frequently shut often, shut as often as you can possibly get away with. 'Ferme le Lundi' was the cheerful note on the door. A surprising number of yarn shops in France shut on a Monday. It isn't at all clear why. It's not as if they opened on a Sunday or anything - or even on a Saturday for that matter. Do Frenchwomen never feel the urge to possess a new yarn at the start of the week? Is there a regulation against it? Would it spoil some vast eternal PLAN? Anyway, it is on the schedule for our trip north tomorrow. Will come back to you on this one. Celtic Memory never gives up.

Some of the most wonderful things you discover in this ancient part of Brittany are the dolmens and menhirs - those awe-inspiring stone reminders of an older time when people knew of worlds and ways that we have long forgotten.

This is the Fuseau de la Madeleine, standing vast and immovable in a grassy meadow. A fuseau, I think, is a weaving shuttle, which is a nice link, isn't it? But the interesting bit is that it is right next to a very serious site of pilgrimage - a Calvaire with a huge parking site, cafes, everything, and all determinedly linked to a more modern religion. Is that entirely coincidence? This isn't the first time I've come across an ancient site with a newer one either plonked on top, or right next door. If you can't beat 'em, the emissaries of Rome must have thought, better try and deflect 'em sideways...

And this spectacular site is the Dolmen de la Barbiere. It's on the top of a little hill, surrounded by trees, and the power of the place hits you in the solar plexus as you enter the central hollow. An amazing echo from the past.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Alors, nous sommes en Bretagne!

And in fact this whole Blogger dashboard is in French so I'm having to brush up my technical jargon to make sure I put the right bit in the right place. But it's still called 'le Blog' which is fun, although I imagine the French language purists are fuming!

Sailed down the River Lee and out into Cork Harbour on Saturday afternoon, past Cobh and its Cathedral.

There is a traditional currach rowing past - you can just see it. These are the lightweight boats that were used on the offshore islands, and they feature in a big Ocean to City Race in June here. It's a surprisingly long way up from the mouth of Cork Harbour to the city quays, I can tell you, and the rowers are exhausted when they get there, necessitating revival with whiskey and hot sausages (herbal tea and virtuous green salads don't cut it with rowers who've done that distance).

I have a nice family connection with Cobh Cathedral: my maternal grandfather had gone over to Boston to get set up in business and make a home for his fiancee (my grandmother, Josephine, after whom I am named) to follow; she, however, having a cold in the head or something when getting ready to board the liner at Cobh, was refused passage. They were paranoid in the early 1900s about illness on board apparently. In a frantic state (well wouldn't you be?) she telegraphed her husband-to-be and he immediately dropped everything and came back on the next possible boat. They were married in Cobh Cathedral which was barely finished at that time - I think they were one of the first couples to wed there. And after all, my grandfather decided they would stay in Ireland and make their living there. Which they did. And which is why I am Irish, although the wanderlust has been inherited.
The Brittany Ferries flagship, the Pont Aven, was as splendid as ever for a ferry, and dinner was the usual sumptuous experience.

Oh help, 'envoyer une image'. Does that mean upload or download? Have to click and see. Whew, it's the right one!

As you can see, we got in fairly early, because of the gales forecast. It filled up pretty quickly after Richard took this picture.

Ajouter encore une image. Choose another image (I think).

Yes. Richard also got a shot of some of the desserts before they were brutally invaded and pillaged by eager diners. You would love this boat (some of you may have tried it already and know what I'm talking about). Dozens of divine French waiters, the sea sliding by in the sunset, and France ahead of you. This has got to be the most relaxing way to get anywhere. Forget airports. This way, the journey is half the fun.
Arrived at 7 am local time and headed straight for Plancoet where Renee was waiting to (a) eagerly receive her best Cork bacon, and (b) proudly show off her little flock of Ouessants. No more delay, I know you're dying to see these little rarities.

They're so friendly and approachable. Most unlike the Soays at Gougane Barra which can't even be corralled. That's what comes of being hand-reared, I imagine. In fact these did most of the approaching -

This is one of the two rams, as friendly a little fellow as you could wish.

Now Renee will have to forgive me, but I have unaccountably forgotten whether this is Gary or Dumpling (I know, I know, she's going to change his name before he's sold on). I think it's Gary. Want a close-up? Of course you do.

And here - here - is my fleece at the still-growing, pre-carding stage.

And again, please forgive me, Renee, blame it on the travel weariness. I just can't remember this lovely lady's name. Titbit? Priscilla? I promise I will check and bring you all the essential details later. Right then, it was a case of rounding-up and bringing in for shearing.

Now I really really love the way Renee shears her Ouessants. None of that flinging them on their backs and slashing off the fleece from a terrified animal in a few minutes. No, she works slowly and calmly from front to back with a dog fur clippers. Yes it's slow, but look at Titbit or whoever it is - does she look stressed? Not a bit of it. She was worrying slightly about her twin lambs, but we checked on them and they were having a high old time in the meadow with their friends.

I have never been at a shearing with less animal stress and that's all due to Renee. I should tell you she runs this marvellous dog and cat facility here in Brittany, where people from all over the world who want to take their pets to the UK but can't bear the thought of the impersonal quarantine kennels, can leave their beloved charges for the requisite time, knowing they are being cared for beautifully and welcome to be visited too. Renee does all the paperwork, the animal passports, the lot, and her business is prospering, because after all who would willingly put a cherished pet into a frightening anonymous quarantine prison for six months? And as regards the shearing, yes, she says, it takes a heck of a long time (and plays havoc with your bent back) but in a 'normal' shearing, the poor animal thinks it's going to be killed, and although it isn't, that's not an experience she thinks it ought to go through. Right on Renee. We're behind you on this one. OK, so it wouldn't be practical for a huge flock of sheep, but it's lovely to see it done here. She might shear another tomorrow, another the next day, and so on.

And here is the fleece, still warm from its previous wearer, being safely tucked away. I'm going to spin this and send a hank of yarn to Renee and her lovely welcoming mother, Sheila, who knits. Now she can make an Ouessant weskit for the winter!

Down in Southern Brittany now - actually I think we're slightly over the border in Loire Atlantique - at Le Chene Vert on the outskirts of the village of Missillac. This place is a find.

It's an old farmhouse set in rambling old gardens festooned with climbing roses, and with huge trees encircling its peace and quietude. We're in a lovely old loft, reached by its own outside staircase, with our own tiny kitchen and bathroom ensuite. Birds are singing, and there are owls calling at night we are assured (no sleep for Richard if there are!) You have to come here. I'm so pleased I found them on the Internet. Heaven bless the Internet!
Struggling with the Aran Sandal Socks (have just sent a frantic message to Tania who is the expert in this field, for help.) There is a very complicated pattern on the sock which continues on to the heel flap, with weird twisty bits on every row, but since the heel is worked back and forth rather than in the round, I have to somehow reverse the instructions. And it is doing my head in. Tania, HELP!
It is raining right now, which is a perfect excuse to go and do a little French shopping. To Landevant and that fell-off-le-back-d'un-lorry yarn shop! I will return!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Fair Sets The Wind For France

Brief posting as we head for the car ferry to France. This has got to be the most relaxing way to travel these days, given the hassle of airports. And with Brittany Ferries, you get the divine experience of on-board dining too. The only ferry I can think of where you feel you really should dress for dinner! Pity there's a gale forecast...

Only a short break, just to brush up on the culture of baguette breakfasts, long and relaxed evenings over the dinner table, country markets, wine, Calvados - and of course yarn. Will definitely be taking in Landevant, in Southern Brittany, where they don't bother with a tidy display, just tumble boxes of oddments and leftovers and remainders and fell-off-the-back-of-a-camion yarns for your delectation.

And I have a rendezvous tomorrow morning at a secret location where Ouessant sheep are bred. These are the rare little gremlins that look more like tiny sooty footballs than sheep, and I am very very eager to make their acquaintance. Their owner has indicated that a fleece might just exchange hands if Irish bacon were in the offing. Two vacuum packs in a cool bag with freezer brick, ready to go!

But what am I bringing? Yes, that was foremost in my mind the last week or two. The Aran Sandal Socks of course (thanks for the warning on the pattern error, Tania, how lovely to hear from you, how ARE you, oh do let's meet up again soon? I couldn't find what the error was - for some reason the page was closed to me on the Net, maybe I didn't have the necessary pass or something, but I've been able to work it out I think - after all the mirror cable has to go in the centre, right? and that only leaves so many stitches either side, so I'll wing it); and the new love of my life, the entrelac stole in Prism (thunk, clunk, as more ill-advised yarners look up the price). That's from Shawls, Stoles and Scarves, or whatever, you know the book, and I can't get the editor right now, as the book is safely packed in the car and DH won't let me pull everything out again. I have a crib sheet for the socks and stole in my cabin bag.

Dez, thanks for the hint on eking out the Prism (no, STOP it, all of you, get a grip, why do you LOOK it up if it upsets you so much?) from my own stash. I had a lot of fun rummaging around with the precious ball in my hand, checking this, eyeing that.

This is what I finally came up with (lucky we're travelling by car and not by plane, isn't it?)

Centre front the work in progress (difficult to spread it out, as it's one of those knit-a-bit-and-then-another-section things). Behind it, the actual ball of Prism. Ranged all around, various eyelashes, glitzes, shinies, ladders and ribbons. Some of them may look a bit out of place, but believe me, there are ALL KINDS in that Prism, and some very unexpected colours which you would think wouldn't DO at all, but when knitted in, create the most amazing effects.
Again thanks for the hint, Dez. I had a lot of fun doing that (you knew I would, didn't you?)
So, one pair of socks, one stole. You think that's enough for seven days in all, including a 17 hour ferry journey each way? You think I need more? The Sea Wool which I was going to use for Mad Undersea Dance? The Pomotamus in that rather fine sugar pink fingering? The Noro dolman sleeve? Oh heck, twenty minutes to off. Better think fast.
I really really will try to post en route, but France isn't that wild about the Internet as yet, so it will have to be a lucky chance. Otherwise, look for me next Saturday evening, once I've collected the dogs and put the Calvados somewhere safe.
A bientot. Soyez bien!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Severe Case Of Start-itis Threatens!

It might well be a nervous reaction to the strictures of Sock Madness. A wild urge to throw caution to the winds, live life to the full, sample the joys of unrestricted pleasure. Whatever. Not only has nothing been finished in the knitting line in the last week or so, several have been started and every day brings several more. It might help if I didn't sweep a dozen books from the knitting shelves each night and bring them up to bed with me to peruse. It might also help if I didn't go prowling round the stash, pulling out yarns, rediscovering treasures, sitting down on a heap of unironed laundry and going off into dreams of yet another incredible creation.

Incredible is right.

I do recognise the symptoms of start-itis. I'm a big girl and I know the risks. I shouldn't play with fire, walk too close to the edge, tempt Fate. But then, would it really be a huge consolation to sit up on my deathbed and think smugly, 'Well I was sensible at least. I have tidied away neatly every single project I ever started.'? No, I didn't think so either.

Forget it. Let's return to that painful topic later. To happier matters. The arrival of Denise in Ireland, with husband Charlie. Isn't it wonderful when you meet up with a fellow blogger, someone with whom you've exchanged so many confidences over the Net? Denise and Charlie are an adorable couple. We had dinner together at the Spaniard in Kinsale, wandered around Killarney, had coffee at that old thatched tearoom.

Yes, that is none other than Muffy the Yarnslayer in the foreground, very properly refusing to acknowledge the camera. She got on fine with Denise, though, even allowing a modicum of cuddling, since Denise is a dog lover herself, and rather missing Toby on this trip.

We were even lucky enough to spot the elusive and very wary native red deer as we drove through the Killarney woods, and Richard was out of the car with a 500mm lens before you could say, 'Look!

These are really very shy creatures and have only to catch a glimpse of you to fade away swiftly into the woodland shadows, so we were lucky indeed.

By now Charlie and Denise are, I hope travelling on the Dingle Peninsula. I wish them grey skies and wild winds. Yes, really, because that scenery looks its best in wild weather. Maybe we'll meet up again before they have to leave Ireland - I hope so. We talked and laughed so much that we actually didn't have any time to discuss knitting or spinning, if you can believe that!

OK, it can't be put off any longer. Let's face the facts and examine this Start-itis bug with a detached professionalism.
Item: One pair of Aran Sandal Socks, from the lively publication Socks, Socks, Socks, edited by Elaine Rowley. I'm using Silky Wool, Elsebeth Lavold. It's OK, Angeluna, the yarn seems to have plenty of bounce and spring in it, the knitting doesn't flop at all.

These are very nice indeed. The pattern isn't difficult as such (no purling 5 together or trying to do a 12 st cable), but you do need to concentrate, since there are several different stitch combinations within the overall round, and while most of them take only 4 or 6 rounds to complete, one has 22 rounds in it, which means, in effect, take one glance at the TV and you're dead. Haven't got very far with them yet - ten rounds on Sock 1 and four on Sock 2 - and have had to resort to typing out the basic instructions on a separate sheet since they're all over the place in the book (i.e. you are told, 'work 5 sts in Patt. A, k1 tbl, work 6 in Patt. b, k1tbl, p1, work 8 in Patt C...' and so on) and you have to keep referring back and forth between the sequence and the actual instructions for each pattern. Add to this the maddening propensity of the said Socks book to slam shut if not weighted down, and the difficulty of seeing the fine print on a flat table at some distance, and you see the need for a crib sheet.

When oh WHEN will someone invent a really workable gizmo for reading a pattern (or a racy novel for that matter) while knitting? Have seen them all and none of them work properly. Especially not the novel-reading ones, since by the time I've fitted the little whatsits in place to hold the book open at one page, I've already finished reading that page, and want to move on.
But I digress. Back to the cold-eyed examination of the facts.

Item. One pair of toe-up socks with mini cables, in Panda Cotton. Highlighted in earlier posting, no further on. Reason? Bored. Saw something more interesting. Sorry, that reason is unacceptable. Well, how about, 'at an interesting stage of progression, having reached a point where more time than is presently available is required to continue.'? Well... ok, but get back to them, all right? Yes miss. Promise.

Item. Dramatic wrap in Noro Silk Garden Lite. This one is entirely YOUR fault, Angeluna. You showed me the pattern, I was instantly smitten.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), Noro Silk Garden Lite is not instantly available pres de Celtic Memory. Or even tres loin de CM, come to that. So it's on the waiting list.

Item. A new Celtic Memory yarn. Angeluna suggested that since NSGL was not available p de CM, one should try designing one's own colour-shaded yarn, using all that stash that is just SITTING AROUND, doing NOTHING. Absolutely valid point. Laughed the idea to scorn, retired to bed, couldn't sleep for thinking about it. Several hours already spent pulling stash all over the place and turning stash room into something closely resembling Calcutta Central Station. The case continues...

Item. Entrelac stole in Prism Cool Stuff (sound of thumps as several people faint). Now I know, I know, we're talking oil sheiks and serious money here, but it so happens I have some Prism Cool Stuff in the house. (And the dogs are guarding the gates so don't even think about it.)

What's more, I have exactly this colourway - Periwinkle. How fortuitous is that?

(Actually the pattern calls for three skeins of Prism Cool Stuff - cue for more fainting fits. Yes, that does mean the combined annual wage of several Bohemian herdsmen or the life savings of one Goan fisherman who struck lucky with the tiger prawns. But I have just two skeins, and they're going to have to do. Unless I happen to meet a Swiss banker within the next week or two. I'll make it shorter or something.)

I really can't wait to get going on this one. Haven't tried entrelac before but wanting this stole with all my heart should help with any problems encountered en route. Starting it the MINUTE I finish this posting.

Item. Dolman jacket in Noro Silk Garden, from that famed Fall 2003 issue of Knitter's. Aired in a previous posting, eagerly enquired after by several readers. Er, well - yes, it's still there, got the back done, started the endless ribbing band... and there it sits. It just - well, it just doesn't look quite as interesting as it did. Do you ever have that experience? What was once to-die-for is now to-yawn-for. Sad. Maybe later.

Item. Ribwarmer from the legendary Elizabeth Zimmermann. Peg, dearest Peg, you and you alone are entirely to blame for this one! You deliberately bought a copy of EZ's classic Knitting Workshop and sent it to me as a generous gift!

Deny it if you can! You knew I would go through it immediately. You knew I would be entranced by the cunning design of that Ribwarmer. You knew I'd want to start it immediately. Oh the blame lies most definitely on Vancouver Island for this one. What do you mean, I should have had more self control? I defy anyone to exercise self control when Elizabeth Zimmermann starts to speak of the delights of one of her designs.
Of the languishing WIPs of other days we will not speak. The past week has been bad enough in terms of Start-itis. What is the cure? Is a cure needed? Is there a branch of Starters Anonymous nearby? Do I care?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Bealtaine, Bluebells and a Forgotten Big House

How was your May Day? Did you go out into the woods and fields, wash your faces in the dew and collect blossoms to decorate doorways and windows?

We went down early to Killarney woods where the bluebells were coming into their full beauty.

Every way you turned there was another heartstopping vista. We couldn't stop photographing them, and I wished you had been there with me.

We had coffee at the tiny thatched tea room and watched the jaunting cars swinging by with their happy visitors while the sun shone down in celebration of this Celtic festival day.

Now don't go getting the idea that all Irish cottages look like this. They don't. This is the lodge to a great estate (the Earl of Kenmare's in fact) and it is made in the South of England style. A traditional Irish cottage is much simpler in design, lacking all the ornate decoration that a country powerful enough to enjoy peace for centuries can afford. But it is some place to have coffee on May morning - or any morning, come to that! It is definitely a favourite on my own personal Teapot Trail.

On the way home, followed a narrow winding gravel track to a once-great stately house, Mount Massey, now alas ruined and forgotten.

In its heyday, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, this was a great house indeed, giving employment to hundreds of gardeners, chambermaids, stable boys, maids, grooms, butlers, launderesses and more. It was even the subject of a famous song back then:

Mount Massey, the pride of Macroom...

Now only the jackdaws awaken the echoes and small birds nest undisturbed in shrubs once tended lovingly.

Where the lady of Mount Massey once swept through her halls, cattle wander, and no industrious boy polishes the windows of the staff quarters.

To be practical, you would need more cash than any of us is likely to see, to restore Mt. Massey to its former glory and then keep it that way. But it was still sad to see it standing quietly and alone amid the fields. Or maybe it's resting serenely on its memories of days long gone. I wished it well as we tiptoed away.

The moon was full, and hanging huge and gold on the horizon on May night.

It awoke the voices of the foxes, and a vixen called in the woods beyond our home all through the night. It's a bit early for her to be seeking a mate, as cubs are still very small now; but perhaps she wasn't breeding last winter and is trying to make headway with the pick of the males before her sisters.

And speaking of small cubs...

This is from another secret location that Richard knows; if he stays very still in the car, with a mesh covering the lens at the window, the foxes have no fear. Richard wanted to crop this picture up close for you, but I wanted you to see the immensity of tall grasses and the hugeness of the landscape from the viewpoint of a very tiny baby coming out of the den for the first time.

To knitting. How could we have gone on so long without the slightest mention of knitting? There were so many skeins of Bealtaine to package up and post, and then this week's eBay listings to get ready. I'd had a lot of requests for more of the gorgeous cashmere/silk in the soft pastel colours - the yellow, green, blue - so they went on last night, under the Celtic Memory Yarns heading. I'd managed to locate another new shade in this - a scrumptious cafe-au-lait or perhaps melted milk chocolate - which went on for the first time.

I don't think the picture does it justice - might be better on eBay, I don't know. (Tried to put in the URL here but it didn't work when I checked; if you want to look at it there, just go to Knitting Yarns on eBay and search for Celtic Memory.)

This yarn is a bit heavier than fingering weight - it was too thick for socks when I tried it (cashmere/silk socks yet?) so I would call it between 4 ply and DK for Europe and perhaps sportweight for the New World. Whatever. It knits up beautifully.

And speaking of socks, I took one look at the Round 6 pattern on Sock Madness and thanked my lucky stars I wasn't in the Final Four. Just go over there and look for yourselves. I'll wait.

Bit of a challenge, what? And yet Knitter 473 cranked those beauties out in twelve hours or less, with Telkwagirl close behind. And so these two face into the finals to decide who will become the champion sock knitter of 2007. Out of 128 starting, it's now down to Joy and Kristi.

I have to say it was enormous fun competing in this. (That and severely stressful.) You learned so much from each pattern (hey, I know how to turn heels without that maddening pick-up bit, and can do Pheasant Eye with the best of 'em!), and got to know so many other knitters in that really close way that can only happen when you're all stretched to the limit at 3 in the morning. Small wonder that we're all going to stay on that Flickr site for the rest of the year, trading ideas and working again or for the first time on the patterns for each round. But there is still The Final Round to come and I simply cannot imagine what will come up in that. Every complexity, every difficulty has surely been encountered by now? (I hear the organisers faintly chuckling...)

In the meantime, though, I've almost gone off socks. The push was so hard, the pressure so huge, that I can't seem to face them at the moment. Yes, yes, I did finish the lovely Mad Bluebell Dance, and here they are in all their glory:

I adore these socks, and the pattern is delightful, right down to the cabled heel (I've taken to wearing clogs to show them off).

So right now there is nothing, but nothing on the sock needles. I did start one pair, but found my heart wasn't in it. Did get a rather nice pattern through the post, though, for traditional kilt hose, and those I will make. I could do with a pair of knee-length patterned socks and there is a cone of rather fine black cashmere hanging around somewhere which would work well if doubled. Is it a good idea to work a thread of nylon or polyester in with the heels and toes when you're using something as soft as cashmere? And if so, where do I locate this? Don't suppose synthetic sewing thread would do?

What is on the needles, at long last, is that glorious dolman-sleeved jacket from the legendary Fall 2003 issue of Knitter's.

When I first saw Noro Silk Garden some years ago and fell wildly in love, I made a sweater from one of the pattern books but although I adored the colour changes (I made it in those blues and greens), the sweater itself was too basic in shape, too floppy, so I frogged it back, washed and skeined the yarn, and put it away safely. You can't leave Noro unused though, and this particular dolman jacket has been in my mind every since I turned over the pages from the Celtic Vest and saw it. Now I knew LaurieM had made it, so I checked and she assures me there were no major difficulties, so I'm on my way. Got a sneaking feeling there are going to be a few 'pick up evenly all round the edge' bits, though. It looks like that sort of pattern, doesn't it? Ah well, we have to learn. Onward and upward, with much swearing on the way.

Denise is on her way to Ireland as you read this! Yes, the blog lady of Yin and Yarn is coming to the Emerald Isle for the first time and she and her husband should be touching down tomorrow morning in Dublin. Can't wait to meet up with her (we're thinking Spin a Yarn in Kenmare, naturally) and really see each other face to face. And then, in mid-June, Deb of the Woolley Farm is coming over with her group of shepherds, and we're all meeting up too! This is going to be the best fun.