Wednesday, June 27, 2007

To Woolfest, To Woolfest!

Thank you, thank you all for your kind words of solace and comfort. We are feeling a little better. Sitting up and taking nourishment. We will be brave, we will grow from this experience. And yes, we will try again. We will not give up. Another bag will be made (maybe not quite so huge this time, perhaps a tiny purse, and I don't mean purse in the American sense as in 'huge holdall' but the kind of ickle pritty thing you use to keep small coins in), and we might even try a spot of hand-felting in a bowl of very hot water, just to get a feel for the skill.

And the bag that was created is a beautiful bag. That has been decided. Those of you who called it a work of art, a superb example of shibori, a sculptured piece, you have my sincere thanks. Without your generosity, that bag might have gone out wretchedly into the night, thinking it was not fit to live. Instead it will be loved and cherished. And it will at some point be decorated with Celtic interlacements to make it even lovelier.

It's not white by the way, though it does look like that in the pictures. It's a very pale green, exactly the colour of glacier melt water. And it's a roving so soft that it separates if you glance sideways at it. (Boy, have I had some practice in fusing two broken ends together...)

Oh I solved the problem of unwinding it from the big ball, by the way. Apparently it is triple-plied. Darn, if I'd known that at the beginning, I could have made the bag much faster, with all three plies and a much bigger circular. Do they usually wind these rovings in triplicate?

Now, to progress. The self-designed smock-thingy is progressing finely. Finished the front this morning.

Even sewed the pocket flaps into place immediately, because that's one of those jobs you hate doing, isn't it? Thought I'd better get it out of the way pronto. Now galloping up Sleeve 1, so as not to run out of steam before the project is done. 3/4 length for the sleeves, with big moss stitch cuffs.

It's kind of fun making something exactly the way you want. Rather like building your own house, only I don't think I could ever decide where I really wanted each room, each corner, each door or window to be. I'd always be thinking afterwards that I could have done it differently. But with this sweater it should be OK. I worked out what was needed, and then put it into practice.

The next of these practical projects will concern a much-loved jacket bought decades ago and worn so much that it is now starting to fall apart. I'm simply going to copy it, dolman sleeves, amazing colour work and all. (Listen to her, confident isn't she? Oh she's riding for a fall....)

But no more of that for now. Tomorrow we dash over to merrie England so as to be at Woolfest in Cumbria when the doors open at 10 am on Friday. Hoping to meet Ambermoggie there, and maybe Anne as well. Richard is coming too, and we're going to take in Hadrian's Wall on the way, and on the way back, a haunted inn in a haunted village (those of you who live on the Durham/Northumberland border will know exactly where I'm talking about). Full report on ghosts seen or not seen when we get back on Saturday.

No, no, of course I'm not going to buy anything! I'm just going to look, OK? Just look. I can hold back, I can restrain myself. And anyway, we're travelling light with only cabin baggage, so I couldn't possibly...

Now - remember that time I asked DH to photograph a teeny tiny inscription on my lovely circular needle from Ed Jenkins? And he said it was no different to photographing ants? Well, since so many of you pleaded for this one, here, for your eyes only, is a rare glimpse of some French ants,busily engaged in milking aphids for their daily pinta.

There now. Doesn't that make your evening?


Quite forgot to say - as I was trying to watch Wimbledon today (rained off again, it must be late June), I thought to myself that this was a very good way to get some knitting done. And then I realised that that was the very thought with which I had commenced blogging! So it's almost my blogversary! Started on July 9 last year (the rain had extended Wimbledon into a third week then, will probably do so again this time round), so PRESENTS are going to be in order for some readers. Will think about it over the weekend and post some tempting details before the great day.

A year. Well, well well. What an amazing difference it has made. The friends found, the laughter shared, the information garnered. And twelve months ago we didn't know each other!

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did till we blogged?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

She Felt Fine, I Felt Dreadful!

Oh I am furious! And I'm depressed. Yes you can be both at the same time. Sort of raging around the place while simultaneously trying to hide in a corner with your arms over your head. My lower lip is stuck out so far you could range several pots of strawberry jam on it. Whatever made me think of trying that French Market Bag? Whatever made me think felting was comparatively simple? Oh woe, woe, and B*S*T and D*M*N!

It doesn't help, IT. DOES.NOT.HELP that darling Lene has posted pictures of her second fabulous FMG, even lovelier than the first. With lining AND with embroidered butterflies. It's so lovely that you'd snatch it up in a heartbeat and run off with it. Is she doing this solely and specifically to upset me, wreck my weekend and quite possibly the rest of my life? Possibly not. Now that I force myself to consider rationally, I realise that she has no way of knowing how appallingly my own attempt turned out. But she should have. She should have known that by posting the perfect result, she was condemning SOME of us to everlasting torments of resentment and regret.

I wouldn't mind, but her bag, pre-felting, looked extraordinarily like mine. Here's my hideous UFO:

Now go over and look at hers. Go on, I'll hang around here glowering and muttering under my breath.

See? Almost identical, isn't it? But that, alas, is where they parted company. You saw, I presume, how hers turned out.

Here's my poor little tragedy.

OK, ok, you can stop laughing now. Of course this bag did suffer from refrying, being twice brewed, even bis-cuit, if you're a Francophile. The first time round I used what I thought was a rather handy little kit I discovered in the same shop where I found the tiny sock knitting machine.

I hadn't come across these before (can someone enlighten me as to their common use?) but I immediately thought they'd be rather handy for felting, in that they would be bound to provide some additional friction. I accordingly packed the voluminous knitted balloon into the mesh bag, added the four plastic balls, and shoved it into the wash.

Well, it worked for some bits of the bag. Trouble was, it didn't work evenly or throughout. Because the bag was slightly compressed, parts of it felted together and the bits thereby tucked out of sight and out of mind didn't felt at all, whilst the outer bits most certainly did - and how. I managed to ease most of the stuck sections apart - only had to repair one small bit that got ripped through over-zealous separating - and then there was nothing to do but toss the poor victim back into the next washload. Nothing to lose anyway, that's for sure.

And you have seen the result.

I was kind to it. I hung it up nicely to dry out, and talked consolingly to it. I told it that not everybody was made the same, and it would be loved and cared for just as if it were the prettiest little Finnish embroidered bag. So I lied. What would you have done?

La Princesse Natasha de St. Petersburg (who is so tiny she is almost one of the original sleeve Pekingeses) said she thought it would do very well for those occasions upon which she left her yurt and required a palanquin to convey her to the best shops. But she would like some embroidery upon the outer sides, please. Preferably butterflies.

Et tu Tasha?

Speak to me no more of felting. The iron has entered Celtic Memory's soul. Never again. So much work, so much effort, so much anticipation - for this? No, no, let us close the subject.

This morning a new resolution was adopted. It occurred to me that apart from socks there was a singular absence from my wardrobe of any items of a home knitted nature. And this when I had been knitting for more decades than I care to remember. So where are all the results? (Look in the WIP basket, I hear the shrieks, all right, all right, if you're so clever, how's your own WIP basket doing?)

From now on, it was decided, projects would be selected under the following strict criteria:

One: Will this suit me? (Forget how cute it looks on the model in the magazine, will it suit me?) If there is a shadow of doubt, then forget it.

Two: Can I imagine seven different occasions when I might wear it? Again, if relying on girlish dreams of being invited to the New Year's Eve Ball in Vienna, or for cocktails at Harry's Bar, then forget it. You gotta be able to wear it anywhere, get that?

Three: Is this a key item which has been missing from my wardrobe? Is it the essential I don't have? (Have I ever thought that carefully about anything, let alone what I wear?)

With these criteria in mind, I sat down to work out what I tended to look for most frequently, and what came up, surprisingly enough, was some sort of lightweight sweater that could be pulled on first thing in the morning and worn all day if elegance was not demanded. It would have to have:

a) A wide loose neck for ease of pulling on. Struggles at an early hour are aggravating.

b) Pockets - can't survive without them. (And why designers think women don't need pockets I can never understand. In trousers particularly. Men, yes, they get lots of them, but women - zilch. OK, so we have handbags, but handbags aren't always a good idea - like in the red light district of Ulan Bator, for example.)

c) Extreme washability - with three dogs, that's a given. Even if they only get one cuddle each per day, plus one snatching up out of a fight/food bowl row/toy confrontation, that's quite a lot of doggy smell, not to mention hair.

Looked as though what I needed was some sort of smock thing. Except that smocks are too darn twee, and also act like strait-jackets when you wriggle into them. Impossible to get out of. So I'm designing my own Celtic Memory gansey-smock-thingy.

Here's the back. I made it in that nice denim cotton slub which Peg used for her lovely top, but I wanted quick gratification so I used it double on a 6.5mm Colonial Rosewood circular (the make of needle isn't relevant, I know, but it's so nice to work with, so smooth and warm in the hands, that I thought I'd mention it). Went a bit mad with patterning on the yoke, in the Guernsey style (sort of warming up for another attack on Starmore sometime soon, when I can get someone courageous enough to knit along with me on Eriskay). There will be slits at the side, in true gansey style, and the front will have a slit in the yoke. I might put on a squared collar to add to the smock look. The idea is that this will be the most useful and used item in my wardrobe, able to withstand muddy doglets, gardening, cooking, and constant laundering. More to come on this one!

(Yes, I realise it's a new project. But I'm using stash, and it's an essential for my wardrobe. Who knows the provisos and exceptions on New Projects as laid down in the Kashmir Knitting Summit? Angeluna? Dez? Isn't there an entry about 'essential items without which the knitter cannot survive'? Or something?)

Somebody (was it you, Pacalaga?) raised a doubtful query as to whether I was really knitting Pomatomus at the Arctic Circle. Shame upon you, Pacalaga (I know perfectly well it was you, I was just being tactful up there, and giving you time to own up). Here, you doubting Thomasina, is proof positive that the lovely Pomatomus is indeed on the needles.

This really is a beautiful pattern. Mad about it. Want to make more and more and more pairs. This pattern is to me what Monkey apparently is to everybody else.

And just to show I do wear my FOs:

here are the Mad Bluebell Dance seen only this morning, while wearer was knitting on the denim smock thingy and simultaneously meting out Sophy's daily dose of wuv. I love this Bluebell colourway from Silkwood - got it from Gill at the Woolly Workshop.

To clear the head, and remove any - any - memory of felting, took Sophy out for a walk this afternoon, near Inchigeelagh, a few miles from home. We parked the car and walked down a grassy lane towards the ford across the river.

They're very atmospheric, these old fords. You can almost hear the creaking of carts and the splash of hooves and shouts of the carters urging their teams across the swiftly flowing water.

It's a surprise ford too, this one near Inchigeelagh, because when you get right down to the bank -

- you discover that there is a castle on the other side.

A tower house, to be more accurate: this is Ballynacarriga, or 'the settlement on the high rock', which is a fairly accurate description.

Actually there is a footbridge across the river, which is just as well, since it is quite deep at this point.

The lane on the other side, where the trees meet overhead, and last year's leaves lie undisturbed on the ground, is peaceful with a car a rare occurrence. Perfect for wandering with a small dog and a free mind.

You get nice views of Ballynacarriga from this side too

and there are gates to lean on and meadows to gaze at. Perfect for unwinding.

(and for forgetting felting disasters.)

Will you STOP remembering that? Banish it from your mind. NOW!

(Maybe if I asked Lene for advice?)

No! Nobody must know of this disgrace!

(Oh. OK. Right so.)


(All the same, though...)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Midsummer's Eve

And not very much like Midsummer's Eve either. For the past few days we've had slashing rain, high winds, trees whipping their branches and flowers hanging their sodden heads to the muddy ground. It can't really be the middle of June and the summer solstice. It must be a mistake. Will the real Midsummer please come forward?

Yesterday, as I needed to get new material for a column, we braved the rain and went down to Killarney to interview a jarvey. Jarveys are the men who take visitors around the lakes in horse-drawn jaunting cars.

The first few we tried were shy and very disinclined to be publicised in the paper, but then we saw a possibility bowling along the road by Muckross Abbey, and pulled in to wait for him at his stopping point.

Michael Kenny is one of nature's gentleman. He's been taking visitors around for over twenty years and, although he admits it's hard work these days, since the repair of carts and harness is no longer widespread and therefore far more expensive, he still sees it as the only proper way of life for him. 'We work from March to October, seven days a week. Sure we can always sleep during the winter!' This nice horse is called Philip, and he's part Irish draught, part Connemara. 'I call him Philip because he has royal blood in him, so he has!'

Today is always a busy one chez Celtic Memory since several regular columns have to be written up and sent in. Why, some among you may enquire, are these not spread out over the week, and prepared in advance, since the deadlines are apparently so well known? Well if you're asking that sort of daft question, you are clearly the kind of knitter who only works on one project at a time, for which you buy just enough yarn and no more. And your house is probably tidy too.

Anyway, it being another wild and rainy morning, it was quite pleasant to stay home and work on the computer - resisting the temptation to do just a le-e-tle bit of surfing and checking out on blogs and new yarns. By lunchtime, though, exhaustion was setting in (you'd be surprised how hard it can be to find just the right words to express something, while still keeping the overall piece within the strict space limits), and working on the French Market Bag was a welcome diversion.

It doesn't really look like anything much, does it, at this stage? A big sloppy heap of boring knitting would about describe it. Maybe it'll be better once it's been given the what-for in the washing machine. If not there'll be trouble. Finally reached the enormous stitch count required for the base, and currently galloping up the sides towards the handles, but it is taking quite a lot of time. If I don't get it finished tonight, though, Something Else will intrude, and it might never see the felting stage.

Because tomorrow, being Midsummer, sees the start of Summer of Socks and Celtic Memory has to be out there at dawn, needles sharpened and yarn at the ready. And there is a quandary (isn't there always?). The socks currently OTN, Pomotamus, though utterly lovely, don't count for this event as they were already started before the Solstice. The intention had been to cast on some stunning green and silver cabled socks, thereby enabling the ticking off of both the Harry Potter KAL and Summer of Socks (did you notice that cool button on the sidebar? How daft can I get, joining another KAL? But who could resist Harry Potter? And of course I opted for Slytherin House. Somebody has to show how maligned, how misjudged those marvellous people are!),

So the way forward seemed really clear for once, but then disaster struck. I was gifted Socks by the adorable Deb of The Woolley Farm, and now -

I really really want to do THESE

in THIS.

I made a throwaway remark in my last posting about this divine yarn from Knitivity being ideal for the kind of kneesocks you could flash at a bishop, but the idea took hold. That pattern and this yarn together would make a pair of lacy hose so devastating they would topple an entire cathedral, let alone a bishop. It must be something Ray of Knitivity puts into the dyepot. I don't know where he gets those divine colours. Divine, that's it! Fit for a bishop. Oh the guilt, the torments. Do I go green, do I go wicked pink? Where's it all to end?

By the time a few inches had been worked on the French Market Basket and the skein of wicked pink wound off into two balls (well, just in case, it doesn't mean anything, look the green yarns are wound up too - oh they're not, well they will be, honestly), it was time to get dressed up and go out to a theatrical performance. A theatrical performance which was to take place on a naval base some 35 miles away. A theatrical performance which was to take place out of doors on a naval base some 35 miles away on possibly the worst night of bad weather County Cork had seen in centuries, and which wasn't going to start until 10 pm.

I looked at DH. He looked at me. We both looked out at the wild windy rainswept garden. I went upstairs. I changed into a long velvet skirt, wrapped a rope of pearls around my warm poloneck - and settled in for a nice evening at home.

Is there anything as delightful, as comfortable, as an evening at home when you really thought up to the last minute that you were scheduled to spend it somewhere else? Somehow you relish every minute that bit more.

The evening was not entirely peaceful, though. Crisis on the landing. This, you will recall, is where Tasha keeps her tiny tent, her yurt, to which she retires when she wants, a la Garbo, to be left alone. The other two know the rules perfectly well. Number One Dog Has Her Own Yurt.

But this evening something went seriously awry. I heard snarls, grows, mutterings, and went up to investigate.

Shock, horror! Muffy, Muffy the Yarnslayer, who usually can't find her way out of a paper bag, much less into a confined space, had somehow managed to get into Tasha's private domain. There she sat, glowering triumphantly, while Tasha pleaded eloquently for reprisal and Sophy, ever the peacemaker, looked upset. League of Nations, where are you when you're really needed?

Sophy was actually upset before this incident, since she had had to have a bath. She had come in from rolling happily in the garden (yes, in the pouring rain) and it became immediately apparent that there was Something Narsty in the Shrubbery. She stank to high heaven. Shades of Muffy last summer (if you can't remember that posting, don't go looking it up, for heaven's sake, it isn't a pretty story). Oh dear. Major clearing up obviously on the agenda once this confounded rain stops.

But wait. Is the shrubbery perhaps an official rabbit graveyard? The last resting place of elderly bunnies? If so, what to do? Clear the bushes? Put up rows of tiny tombstones? Hold multi-belief ceremonies? It's so difficult to know the right action to take, isn't it?

Monday, June 18, 2007

I FELT It Must Be Right!

I felt, you felt, we all felt. What am I doing getting into this? I need another sidetrack like I need a hole in the head. This is NOT a good idea.

But back to that in a minute. First of all, a little jealous drooling is in order, I think. Some shapely seduction in the shape of a rather beautiful merino lace yarn from Knitivity.

This is the most delectable colourway - Ray calls it Watermelon Ice, and you can almost taste the fresh delicious coldness. It's not too fine a laceweight, and I have in mind using it for some rather wonderful lace socks, knee length, the kind you'd wear to distract a bishop (think long black skirt with deep front slit so that you could flash the kneesocks and then cover them up demurely again).

Ray's story, intricately woven in with the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans, is amazing enough - but that he turned his life completely around and decided to start producing wonderful yarns that 'delight the eye and please the hand' is something to really cheer about. Go over and check out his site. Those colourways are incredible. I'm going to fall off the No New Stash wagon for those, that's for sure. And I'll let you know how the socks go, and post pictures as and when. Let me know what colours you succumb to.

Rather more sedate temptation now, but temptation nevertheless. That wonderful quickie trip to Lapland produced a few treasures of its own. First of all, and most valuable to me, three skeins of lovely original Finnish sockweight yarn in natural colours, gifted to me by Lene.

Each skein would make wonderful winter socks, but I'm rather seduced by the idea of a traditional shawl in bands of each colour. What do you think?

Then there was the little treasure trove unexpectedly discovered in that traditional crafts hut.

Here we have four skeins of a soft chunky wool also Finnish, in a natural ecru shade -

- here a skein of a finer-than-sockweight handspun in a light grey: this one definitely destined for intricately patterned hose -

-and here a lovely big fat cake of the softest white pencil roving, also handspun by the same lady who produced the other two types shown above.

Well what would you have had me do? Leave them behind? Cast a glance over the shelves and say loudly, 'Oh, heavens, how quaint - rural yarn, whatever next?', and walk OUT? I'd like to have seen you leave empty handed, that I would.

There was one more purchase (only one?, they cry sardonically). I checked with Lene where her own LYS was, and nipped in there just before heading off, to snaffle a ball of this -

This is that marvellous Step yarn from Austermann, which contains both aloe vera and jojoba oil, and is supposed to be frightfully good for your feet. A really helpful touch in the shop (apart from the fact that the lady there spoke at least five languages fluently, switching from Finnish to Swedish to German to English to French while I was wandering around, and heavens know how many others when I wasn't there), was a wall chart next to the Austermann yarns showing exactly how each colourway looked when knitted up. You know how it is - they all look just basically jumbled and speckled in the ball and it's only when you start to knit that the actual sequence of shading is revealed. Or not as the case may be.

(A propos, it was only last night, when talking to a friend who was knitting with Trekking yarn, that I realised what all the fuss was about in that department. It looks like nothing in the ball, but creates a beautiful pattern in the sock. Every ball band should carry an illustration. ARE YOU LISTENING, PRODUCERS?)

Now if you've been paying attention, you will have registered the fact that Celtic Memory appears, apart from receiving totally undeserved gifts, to have not just fallen off the no-more-yarn-waggon but to have crashed to the ground with considerable force. Several times. Well, it's all right because I can account for all of it.

I think.

With a little help from Hillary, the incredible organiser of Sock Madness anyway. Hillary has posted some very helpful Rules on her blog for those trying to control their stashes. You should go and check them - they're very precise. The ones which help me are:

2(a): Sock yarn doesn't count.

3: We are allowed to receive gifts.

5: Souvenir yarns don't count - as long as they are unique and can't easily be got at home.

(In addition, I think Rule 2(d) allows us one Get Out of Jail Free card as well, permitting a single fall from the wagon.)

So I haven't been misbehaving, and shame on you for thinking I had.

Well, up to this stage in the posting you don't know any different anyway. Maybe you'd better stop reading now.

But if you do stop, you'll miss seeing this utterly enchanting little hippogriff:

Now what do you suppose that is? Looks like a child's play teapot, right? Or the kind of thing several shapeless jellybean creatures would clamber out of (out of which several shapeless... do watch your grammar, Celtic Memory).

But it isn't either of those. It's a knitting machine. A bright jolly little knitting machine with a handle that turns and needles that go up and down.

I was enchanted by this discovery, in the children's hobbies section of one of those bargain shops which sell imports from less expensive Eastern countries. First of all because it looked as though it genuinely worked, secondly because it only cost €29 (about $35, hardly anything in £stg.). And thirdly because it was uncannily like a stocking machine on which my mother used to crank out an endless supply of legwear for all of us in childhood. Hers of course was heavy, made of metal, clamped to a table, and yes would certainly be an antique of high value if we still had it. And I will admit with sorrow that we didn't exactly appreciate these warm woolly stockings in our youth. No, we'd gladly have traded them in for trendy nylon kneesocks like our more fortunate friends wore. I imagine my mother is gently smiling right now as she sees me working on handknitted socks.

And very very strangely, when I came home with my new toy, and checked up with Summer of Socks to see if I needed to know anything important before kick-off on June 21, what should I discover there but -

An illustration of a genuine antique sock knitting machine, almost identical to that which my mother had discovered in a sale and somehow managed to get going to provide legwear for her family. Very odd - I haven't come across such an illustration ever before. Coincidence?

(And in case you're wondering, they'd put it in to warn contestants of the dire consequences if anyone was discovered using one of these to get unfairly ahead!)

I can't wait to try my new little jollypop out. I don't imagine it would be any good for socks - can you imagine turning the heel? - but for long-tailed caps, scarves and - yay - legwarmers - it could be great fun. No more problems with producing big cheerful yard-long Christmas stockings to hang by the fire either. I'm mad about it. A really happy find. Suggestions for a suitable name in the comments box please as you feel inspired.

Now I have explained away all that new yarn added to the stash. No guilt there. On the No New Projects front, however, things are not quite so perfect.

Fortunately, I can blame this fall from virtue entirely on Lene. Yes, Lene, it's entirely and absolutely your fault so it's no use denying it. You showed me that French Market Bag when I was up there in Lapland last week. You demonstrated how well it had felted. And as if that wasn't temptation enough, you then went and lined it, embroidered it, and blatantly showed it off on your weblog. A girl can only stand so much temptation you know!

And I'd had this big cake of pencil roving snoring on a high shelf in the stash room since that trip to Canada. It had been marked down to absolutely nothing in Beehive, that marvellous yarn store in Victoria on Vancouver Island. I think nobody wanted it because it was a very very pale almost-not-there mint green rather than a more decisive colour, so I got it for a couple of dollars. And now seemed to be just the right time to try it out on a felting project.

Now the first thing to remember when dealing with a pull cake of pencil roving is not to pull. I of course didn't know that. However, after waking from a stupor to find myself surrounded by a sea of broken lengths of pale mint green roving, I learned to ease it from the ball rather than yank.

I may then have discovered the real reason it was remaindered. Now you kind of get used to balls of yarn either unwinding from the outside or from the centre. It stands to reason - one or the other has to work.

Not with this baby it didn't. I tried an inside end. Turned out to be a broken length. Tried an outside end. It rapidly retreated right into the depths of so many layers that it couldn't be unwound further. Tried the centre again. Found a triple strand which kept unwinding but no sign of a single strand.

By this time, the thought was recurring with increasing frequency that perhaps this hadn't been such a brilliant idea after all.

Peg, you're from Nova Scotia, where these pull cakes are put together, aren't you? Is there some secret to which I am not privy? Is there a knack? A special code? Are we meant, not to try to unwind, but to pull off large handfuls and toss them in the air? Stamp on the ball first? Boil it in oil? There has to be some way of working with these creations.

In the end I settled for breaking one of the triple strands, untangling back to some sort of starting point, winding it into a ball, repeating the exercise, blending the two broken ends together in that rolling-on-the-hand trick, and slowly getting going. At this rate it will be Tibb's Eve again and not a child in the house washed!

But lookit, I'm using up stash, right? And since I was visiting Lene when I first became seduced by that French Market Bag, it could reasonably be argued that the idea was a gift from her, yeah? So I'm not guilty after all. Radiating virtue and perfection, that's Celtic Memory.

(Any swearwords you hear are coming from the Nova Scotian Monster which is taking very unkindly to being woken up and knitted with.)

Friday, June 15, 2007

North To Knit In The Birch Woods

We went away for a few days.

We flew north. We slept a few hours in an airport and woke to fly even further north.

We took a car and drove.

By birch forests where the silvery white of the trunks contrasted with the vivid fresh green of the fluttering leaves.

By vast and silent lakes where cranberries and bilberries were growing thickly on the shore.

We came at last to the quietest lane of all, leading down through the woods to the quietest lake of all.

Can you guess where we were? Who lives there? Here is a clue.

This dog is called Tina.

And we had found Lene. Lene of Dances With Wool.

This meeting is something I have wanted for a long time. I didn't think it would be possible. But then, almost as if they knew and sympathised, Finnair opened a flight from Dublin to Helsinki which made it all suddenly feasible. It took some organising to ensure that one flight linked with another, but we made it. And at last Lene and I could talk, laugh together, show each other our knitting projects, exchange ideas and confidences.

Here we are, sitting on the porch, giggling like a couple of schoolgirls.

We had such a happy time together, I wish it could have been longer. All too soon Richard and I had to get into the car, drive, get to airports, head back to our own world. But I will return to Lene's world in the autumn. I will! I want to sit there again and talk about our passion for crafts (and the inexplicable reason why a project can be the love of our life one day and thrown underneath the table the next!) And I hope she will come to visit me in Ireland too. When we parted, she gave me some skeins of genuine Finnish wool in natural colours. I will make a shawl to remind me of our happy time.

Finland, and especially Lapland, is utterly beautiful. Richard found so many things to photograph and I was entranced with the scent of fresh wood everywhere, the clear cool air (mercifully it was not too hot, so the mosquitoes were not too troublesome), the endless skyscapes. It was strange to wake in the middle of the night and see the sun still shining brightly. I know it would be very odd in the middle of winter too, when there is no daylight, but I would like to experience that as well. I want to know it the way Lene does, see it with her eyes.

What do you think of this? It was in the Santa Claus Centre, right on the line where you cross into the Arctic Circle. A comfortable rocking chair, a big circular needle and a huge roll of knitting already done by friendly visitors. I sat down and added my row.

Of course I had to prove that I had been to the Arctic Circle as well, by working on Pomotamus right by the sign. This is a lovely pattern, a sheer delight to work, and I will probably start another pair as soon as I've finished this one. Lene was right, the pattern, although it appears unbelievably complicated, is very easy to memorise. Working on the foot now, though, which may prove more of a challenge.

And to add icing to the cake of Lapland, I even found a little shop selling traditional crafts, which had a whole wall of YARN! Not just yarn either, but handspun local yarn.

Found some beautiful thick soft grey wool and got enough for a vest. Then couldn't resist some fine sockweight in a natural soft grey, a lighter shade than the thick wool. Tucked them carefully in with Lene's gift skeins and brought them all home in triumph. Even managed to track down some reindeer horn buttons to use on the vest. Will post pictures when I start it (oh, does this count as starting a new project? Maybe if one regarded it as healthy activities pursued during a trip it wouldn't...)

A wonderful, happy, so special few days. Treasured for always in my heart. Lene, thank you for making us so welcome. Kiitos.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Don't Make Promises You Don't Intend To Keep!

Been away for a couple of days, seeing a show in the UK that is coming to Killarney next month. A new and very lively production of Fame, with a cast so young and so energetic that it made me tired just watching them throw themselves all over the stage. Great fun, but it was nice to get back home to West Cork where life is greener and quieter and the industrial revolution never happened.

Some nice treats to tell you about. First of all, an eagerly-awaited package from Jenkins Woodworking of Fiberjoy fame, containing some of Ed's wonderful circular needles in rare and beautiful woods. The packages from Jenkins are always so carefully wrapped to protect their precious contents, but this time the stiffening used to keep the needles straight was not cardboard...

but a bar of dark chocolate truffle! Isn't this just the kind of nice surprise everyone should get in the mail?

I'd ordered two circulars in a fit of self-indulgence, since these are undoubtedly the Rolls Royces of needles and I felt like being queen for a day. One 6.5mm in pink ivory wood, and one of Ed's newest productions, a fine 2.75mm in bloodwood.

And just look at this! I hadn't expected it, but there it was - my name, and CMY for Celtic Memory Yarns! Not only on the larger gauge but, incredibly, on the fine one too!

(I asked Richard, not with much hope, if he could possible arrange a magnifying closeup of the finer needle to show the fairy lettering, and to my surprise he managed it right away. 'How do you think I photograph ants?' he asked exasperatedly. Hadn't thought about it at all actually, but there you are, I should pay more attention to what he's doing when I'm yarn hunting.)

How can you live without some of these needles in your own collection? Mind, I don't guarantee that they will come with your name in teeny tiny lettering. And the chocolate bar was a personal gift. But to own some of Ed's beautiful work and have it in your home is a joy. Get over there and drool right NOW!

Of course I could have kept both of these as works of art, but the temptation to fondle, handle, get them working, was too much. And so, dashing out to the airport frantically late for the trip to Leeds, I grabbed the finer ones and a ball of hand-dyed sock yarn, plus the pattern for Pomatomus.

This is as far as I got, from flying out yesterday (well it was a short flight!) to getting back this afternoon. Cookie A's patterns do demand that you concentrate on every single row (indeed every single stitch) so it isn't one of those you can happily work away on while conducting interviews or having dinner with PR folk, unfortunately. I'm enjoying it very much so far. Doubtless there is rough water ahead, if not Niagara Falls, but the new polished wood circulars from Jenkins are wonderful to use and seem to be enjoying themselves too.

Har har, I hear some of you chuckle in the background. Didn't take her long to get started on a new project, did it? So much for those wonderful resolutions, those goals listed so nobly in her last posting. Well har de har to you too, 'cause it didn't take me too long to discover the flaw in my beautiful reasoning and I suppose you spotted it as well, didn't you?

If you take the two goals:

(a) Use up ridiculously huge stash IMMEDIATELY, before ever buying any more yarn;


(b) Don't start ANY new projects until everything already there is finished;

almost immediately it becomes clear that it will be difficult to achieve (a) without smashing (b) beyond hope of repair. After all, how the heck is one supposed to use up stash if one doesn't DO anything with it?

Which is absurd, as they used to say in geometry classes (and what, oh what, was the use of geometry? Maths, yes, that skill has come in useful since, even if only to calculate the number of stitches by which one is out in a particularly difficult pattern, but geometry?)

Where was I?

Oh yes. It is clearly absurd to have the laudable aim of using up stash in the first place if one then puts in place additional (also laudable but in this case regrettably unachievable) aims in the second place, which in effect try to stop you doing just that in the first place.


So no, thank you for asking, but there was no twinge of guilt at starting the Pomotamus.

At all.

And while we're at it, I might as well come out in the open and confess that I also started a rather good little crochet vest in that nice cashmere/silk yarn that looks like string and smells like a manure heap when first washed.

And I am not sorry, not sorry at all, ha ha ha! Not for starting the vest (using up stash, using up stash, da da da), and certainly not for indulging my secret passion for crochet. I'm not ashamed of it. I'm proud to be a hooker. And that's another of Ed Jenkins' beautiful products there, a very lovely crochet hook which slides and grips and hooks superbly. A pleasure to work with.

Now another package arrived today (STOP it, this was ordered way back before my conversion on the road to Stashland). This one is all Angeluna's fault (and hey, can you see that link? The best news in AGES! Angeluna has at last come on board with her very own supremely elegant blog! Yo! Go over there right now and visit. She and I are going to guest bitch (sorry, it must be my fingers that are tired from travelling, can't think how that came up on the keyboard), are going to guest chat on each others' blogs from time to time, with a frank and outspoken exchange of views on yarn and knitting matters generally. Seconds out of the ring...

Anyway, it was Angeluna - and don't try to deny it girl - who innocently emailed me with a link to these amazing socks, knowing that as soon as I set eyes on them I would be done for. Which I was. Ordered the kit immediately from Jennifer at vanCalcar Acres, and there was the package in the postbox this morning.

This is the most wonderful design, with Celtic interlacements all over the place and even a special separate motif on the ankle bone, done in i-cord. This will have to be my first pair for the Summer of Socks, most definitely, don't you think?

(Look, it's in the stash NOW, ok? Ordered before the moratorium, and will have to be used anyway. And I don't need an excuse now that I think about it, because it's a kit, and it's sock yarn, so it doesn't COUNT. )

(And thank you Dez for checking the records and confirming that it was indeed the Kashmir Knit Free, Knit More (And More) Convention which formally decided in 2000 or thereabouts that sock yarn did not count as stash. I knew it was in the files somewhere. Indeed, if I remember rightly (and surely I do, the Celtic Memory brain is not yet ossified), that convention was only the final in a long series which debated the burning issue of Sock Yarn As Stash over several decades, wasn't it? Who could forget the Council Of Crete? The Sock Sessions of Baltimore? The Defrogging Of Prague? Angeluna, you're the expert here, along with Dez. It's time these great historic battles were revisited, rediscussed, made better known to younger, more innocent knitters.)

And look what came in the package with the Imbas kit.

Another little bag with a small skein each of two blue yarns, and a note from the Yarn Fairy saying they were for heels and toes as well as stash enhancement (my italics). Isn't that a nice way to do business? Yo Jennifer, I'll be back!

But shock, horror (and alas for the determination and strength of character of Celtic Memory) now the Imbas pattern has a strong rival. Beth mentioned that she was thinking of doing the Brigit design for the Summer of Socks and of course I had to find out about this, didn't I? Thank you Beth for letting me know I could find it on Socktopia. Just go and look at it. Amazing!

I can't believe all these people out there who can design such amazing socks. But I'm very glad they do. I've got amusement for the rest of my life and I haven't even begun hunting for patterns on my own (might be better not to!)

Angeluna, you asked about Tibb's Eve. It's the Irish equivalent of the Twelfth of Never, as in, 'You'll see that fella get married and settle down on Tibb's Eve', or 'You might be waiting until Tibb's Eve for that bus to come along.'

And a couple of you asked about 'composed yarn'. I couldn't think how else to describe the yarns I put together - yes, there are long lengths of different yarns knotted together, but most of the time there are two or three in each length, each one of a different texture or fibre, so that you get all kinds of cadences and lights and unexpected effects. The most fun (as well as the most work) comes in combining different shades of the same colourway and then introducing another colour to complement them, all linking to a specific theme. In Wild Roses of West Cork, for example, up on eBay at the moment, I looked at the hedgerows around here, and saw how the wild roses varied in colour from white through pale pink to deep rich pink, and how their leaves were every shade from grey-green to dark. And then I wanted to put in yarns which looked like gossamer webs with the dew on them, and the twining brambles, and all the other richness of the wild hedgerows. When a skein is knitted up, it should give the effect of seeing such a profusion of lush growth and reflect its colours. The next one I'll do will be Lunasa for the beginning of August, with all the golds and oranges and dazzling colours of harvest and haymaking in the countryside.

Speaking of the countryside, we had a gift of a day last Monday (which was Whit and a holiday here - the English celebrate it a week earlier but Ireland keeps to the traditional date in early June), and I took Sophy Wackles down to Killarney to celebrate the beautiful weather. A week ago the hills on the Kerry border were blanketed in mist, but on this occasion the skies were amazingly clear (it is seldom you get a clear sky in Ireland, there are usually clouds somewhere) and the unicorn who guards the border between Cork and Kerry was reaching proudly into the heavens.

Although the usual tourist places were crowded, the woods at Muckross were empty and we were able to wander in complete peace through the mossy silence.

Sophy enjoyed herself thoroughly, clambering about and reading strange messages in clumps of fern and behind bushes.

In case the dog lovers among you are wondering, I know I have called her Sophie in past postings, but that was me being lazy and going with the more usual spelling. Her correct name is in fact Sophy Wackles, after the young lady who broke Dick Swiveller's heart in Dickens' novel, The Old Curiosity Shop.

And a propos, I think a lot of people, Celtic Memory included, will be waiting eagerly on July 21 for the issue of the very last book in the Harry Potter series, wondering in an agony of suspense who will win through and who will not survive. What has this to do with Dickens you enquire? Well, when The Old Curiosity Shop was being serialised, copies of the weekly numbers were sent across the Atlantic by ship to the New World, there to be seized upon and read with avidity by Mr. Dickens' American fans who loved the tale of the old grandfather, the terrifying dwarf Quilp, the mischevious Dick Swiveller, and the saintly Little Nell. When it came close to the end of the book, crowds were waiting on the quayside for the final instalment, and as the ship came in, there were huge shouts from shore to ship of, 'Did Little Nell die? What happened?' It's an image that remains very vivid to this day - so many people so eager to find out the denouement of a famous book.

Much as I love them, I hope J. K. Rowling doesn't write any more in the series. She said she would only do six, and that makes them a cohesive whole. Authors have often been tempted out of retirement by huge financial promises, but the result is seldom worth it. There really shouldn't have been a Bridget Jones 2, let alone 3. And yet, and yet... when Arthur Conan Doyle was persuaded to bring Sherlock Holmes back from the dead, he created some of his most exciting adventures thereafter. Maybe it depends on the strength of the character involved.

Goal for this week? Not to make any promises I don't intend to keep.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Summer Knitting Goals? TO REDUCE THAT STASH!

I saw an entertaining contest on Skeins Her Way last week, devised by Ali (you may remember that beautiful fitted tank top she designed for Blue Sky Alpacas?)

Ali was generously offering both yarn and pattern for this to some lucky blogger. All you had to do was post a list of your summer knitting goals on your blog and then link it to hers to be entered in the draw. And you got to organise your knitting life into the bargain - always a tempting thought.

Of course Celtic Memory wasn't organised enough to get it sorted by the closing date (May 31) but the idea got me thinking all the same. And I decided to give some attention to what, if any goals I might have for the long sunny days ahead. What new projects, what stunning patterns, what amazing achievements, that sort of thing. Might not be in for the contest, but could at least make a LIST, right?

Only - it hasn't worked out like that. Oh the glass of wine, the chocolate supply, a tottering pile of knitting books and constantly sliding magazines were all got ready for a bit of armchair knit-dreaming, certainly. But all of a sudden I got up again. Sophy Wackles slid crossly to the floor, Tasha darted out of the way, Muffy blinked, checked that the chocolate hadn't fallen into reach, and went back to sleep. Several copies of Interweave Knits fell sideways and knocked over the pile of books. But I was already halfway down the stairs by that time (I only know what happened by interpreting the thumps and bangs).

I went down to the workshop/utility, also known as The Stash Room. Down here are a great many - a GREAT MANY - large clear plastic storage boxes, stacked on the floor. These storage boxes contain coned yarns. On the shelves are smaller clear plastic boxes with balls of yarn. Mostly they're stored according to colour, but a few have 'oh for heaven's sake where can I fit this, let's just shove it in here' mixed collections. I stood there. I looked around. I saw all the crates and boxes full to bursting point. I saw the pop-up laundry containers which I use for sorting yarns for particular creations, all full. I saw the carrier bags from France, from California, even one from a trip to London last year, all with their own special collections of yarn. I remembered (I tried not to, but it insisted on sticking in my mind and returned with force the more I tried to push it out) that a rather large consignment of new yarn, bought wholesale for dyeing purposes, was due any day. And I thought -


I know, you've had this moment too. I've seen postings, read threads in Knitter's Review Forum. Everybody gets these moments of dreadful clarity when they realise that even if they knitted from now until Tibb's Eve, they would not get through one tenth of the stash. Not even one tenth of the good stuff, the stuff you really really love, and could spend the whole evening fondling. (Let's forget about the disasters, the 'what in heaven's name was I thinking when I bought this' type of yarn. We all have plenty of that. Remember novelty eyelash?)

And while I think of it, do you have yarns that are too good to use? Far too beautiful, far too expensive, far too special to be used for anything as mundane as actually knitting up into something? Daft, isn't it? I mean - isn't that what they're for? But still we hoard them, chuckling as we count them, for all the world like a wretched old miser shivering while he checks his gold. One day, one day, I promise, I will use that cashmere, that alpaca, that silk. One day.

And so here is goal No. 1.


So heartsick is Celtic Memory at the swathes, the heaps, the piles, the stacks, the overflowing overprovision of yarn in this house, that not one more scrap or inch of the stuff will be purchased, stolen, borrowed or traded for the foreseeable future (foreseeable means about one or two months, doesn't it? Doesn't it? And it doesn't include sock yarn, I think that was agreed by an international summit, wasn't it? And stuff you've ordered before The Enlightenment doesn't count either, does it,? Because you can't send it back. Well you can, but you won't get your money back, I shouldn't think.)

And, closely linked to the foregoing, is goal No. 2:


To this end, I immediately got started on creating a new Celtic Memory composed yarn. After all, that's what I bought most of those really beautiful unique yarns for in the first place. It took most of the day and involved hauling out so many cones and balls that the whole room looked like a bomb site. (It still does, because when the yarn was finally finished and skeined up, I couldn't face tidying up. Not just yet. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe never.)

This one is called Wild Roses of West Cork, and was inspired by the lovely little pink and white sprays of bloom which can be seen on the hedgerows of every lane and boreen around here at the moment, now that June has arrived. It took absolutely ages to find exactly the right combination of different pinks shading from pale to deepest rose, not to mention the myriad greens you get in the foliage, from emerald to almost-grey. Then there were the dew-spangled cobwebs to incorporate as well, to give the proper effect. By the time it was done to my satisfaction, the Celtic Memory temper was getting frayed and the dogs were yowling for high tea

DH obligingly took several pictures of it out in the garden, although it was extraordinarily difficult to get one which showed all the colours accurately.

I tried a close up myself later on, but still couldn't get all those lovely greens to show up as beautifully as they do in real life. Oh well. Best I could do. Listed it on eBay, under Celtic Memory Yarns. There! That's one start on the stash anyway. Next week I think I'll do one in midsummer night colours - those blues and purples you get in the dark sky when the night is short and the light never quite disappears. There are stunning evenings like that in Connemara at this time of year.

And here are goals Nos. 3 and 4.




Because not only am I suddenly disgusted, disheartened, disenchanted by the sheer amount of yarn stashed away in that basement, but I am appalled by the fact that there are so many - SO MANY - WIPs. So no more projects until some of these behind-the-sofa horrors are hauled out into the cold light of day and DEALT WITH.

The Norah Gaughan asymmetrical jacket in charcoal alpaca, for example. That was so far back I can't even recall the issue of Interweave Knits (or was it Vogue?) which had the pattern. But I do remember the excitement, the urge to get going on it right away - oh yes, I do remember that. Got half way up the back, I did... Can anyone remind me of the issue in which it appeared? I know that particular publication had lots of lovely knits in charcoal, all displayed by a stunning grey-haired model. Do let me know if you can remember.

And the Anny Blatt. Anyone remember the Anny Blatt? Heavens above, that one was going before I even started blogging! I was inspired by an AB magazine in France last spring and bought tons of yarns to make this multicoloured little crop jacket with cute three-quarter sleeves that had cunning little slits on the cuffs... I shared the ups and downs of that pesky jacket with you, dear readers, and especially the ghastly moment when I realised (not for the first time and almost certainly not for the last) that any pattern which required you to pick up evenly a terrifying number of stitches all around the edge of the jacket could only end in tears.

Which it did. I tore it from the needles and hurled it into a basket. It stayed there. Until today. When I hauled it out and spread it neatly to be photographed.

Does anyone have a handy hint for sewing up a jacket of many colours? The seams I've done will have to come out - they look like a toddler with a crowbar needle bashed them together with rope. Maybe a neutral fine yarn, light grey or something? Advice would be welcomed here!

I still like the colours a lot. It would be quite a useful addition to the wardrobe, since it would spice up any plain top and trousers. But the neck is far too loose, and the bottom edge is very wide and wavy. It needs firm control. Have I the courage to tackle that 'pick up evenly all around...' again? No. No, no, and no.

Maybe an i-cord? Yes, that's a thought. I could make it on that little French knitting spool thingie which worked so well for the Celtic Vest.

Yes, that CV was something at least which was finished. Mind you, it wouldn't have been if Angeluna hadn't steadfastly nagged me, and I was too scared of her to point blank refuse. (I haven't dared to tell her that the buttons were not in the right positions, and I unpicked the i-cord to sort it out, and it's been lying there since. So not quite an unqualified success after all.)

But I do have one nice little success to report. The Aran Sandal Socks are done! Yes, they really are, and I am very proud of them indeed. Lavold's Silky Wool worked up very well. I think I'll make these again, perhaps in a bamboo blend, which would also show off the stitches effectively.

Thank you Tania for helping me with these in moments of extreme difficulty. The pattern does have a few errors in it, and although most of them become clear with a bit of commonsense, that particular problem with the heel wouldn't have been sorted without your generous help. I owe you! And I have to make them again now, because it would be a bit of a waste not to after learning all that stuff! They'd be rather good in knee-length, wouldn't they?

Now there is the Entrelac Stole in Prism to finish, and then courage will be gathered somehow to approach both Anny Blatt and Norah Gaughan. It has to be done. It will be done.

The only difficulty now is how to incorporate the Summer of Socks KAL into this new stern regime which has been established chez Celtic Memory. Got to take part in that. WANT to take part in that. Can't imagine summer without taking part in that. But - no new projects? Impasse!

But wait a minute - if sock yarn doesn't count, then presumably sock projects don't count either, right? YAY!