Monday, January 28, 2008

Seize The Day When The Sun Shines!

It's still taking an age for physical energy to return after the flu, but interestingly the brain leaped ahead in the recovery stakes. Quite suddenly one day during the week, there was an irresistible urge to start several new projects, all at once. That of course was on top of those already started in the recent past, and entirely ignoring those languishing in the WIP basket from good old 2007. Ah well, what does the song say?

Let's look to the future
Forget the past
You're not my first love
But you're my last
(for now, anyway...)

So what's on the needles? Those endless red/grey socks are still forging valiantly upwards to the knee. After twenty pattern repeats on the leg, gave in and moved to 1/1 ribbing just for the change. 20 rows of that done so far (and doesn't 1/1 take forever? You can't get a good run at it) and STILL lots of yarn left. Some day. Soon. It has to be soon. One sock is now upstairs by the knitting chair, the other downstairs in the kitchen. Each gets a row or two done whenever I'm passing. There has to be an end to this.

And there might have been. This posting could have incorporated a Socks Finished fanfare. But on Wednesday morning last, there was a sudden explosion of sunlight. (It happens like that sometimes in West Cork, and when it does you have to dash for the camera PDQ.) Rushed out with the lime green shrug in Stella silk/cotton and draped it on a tree to take its picture.

Look, I know it's still a bit shadowy, but be grateful! That was the first sunshine we'd seen since - oh, I think mid-November. AND it didn't last long. But you can sort of see the outline now. Reading from right to left, you have the moss stitch cuff worked in the round, a sleeve separating, coming together and separating again to form slashes, with a cable either side (they twine with each other at the joins) and then an extension to form a cropped body section with another cable at the bottom, front and back as well as the cable edging the neck. Working on both back and front at the same time, with two separate balls of Stella silk/cotton, to avoid the Oh No Now I Have To Do The Front As Well syndrome. Can't do anything about the second sleeve but grit teeth and hope the shapings can be reversed from memory (no, of course notes weren't taken. What do you think I am, one of those brilliantly organised and visionary creators like Amy Singer or Wollmeise?)

And SPEAKING of Wollmeise, I was tempted, taunted and totally traumatised by the divine suggestions emailed to me by Angeluna (who is in the habit of throwing casual ideas across the Atlantic knowing that I'll dive on them like a hungry cormorant). Well actually she suggested some beautiful socks from Yarnissima first, and of course I had to buy and download the fascinating Fratello socks...

(Yes, it was SO your fault, Angeluna! You play upon my weaknesses, i' faith you do! You KNEW I was vulnerable after that darn flu...) These have to be made in a fairly light, semi-solid colourway, to show off the crafty cabling and twisting. Maybe that organic grey?

Where were we? Oh yes, the Wollmeise. I can't remember quite how the link came about, but I think Angeluna said she was going to make those as well, and quite suddenly, after years of sternly resisting anything so pointless and unnecessary as wristwarmers, I had a Road to Damascus moment and realised existence was sad and depressing without starting a pair IMMEDIATELY. So I did.

Found some Cherry Tree Hill sockweight in a divinely decadent mix of emeralds and blues (had intended this for Sock Madness last year but didn't use it after all - ah Sock Madness you were SO.MUCH.FUN, when is the next one starting?) and got going right away. This is one beautiful design. When I've finished the wristlets I'm going to make a neckwarmer to match. Not perhaps a full moebius yet, but definitely a matching neckwarmer.

I'll get back to that in a minute, with a nice treat for you in the way of Richard's spectacular pictures. No, no peeking, no scrolling down, you have to wait. Hey, I said NO!

ALSO started was a crochet lace top. Now this is one I'd begun in one kind of yarn (Noro Silk Garden Lite, frogged from an Ekeby Vest, don't ask, that was 2007, it's gone, gone do you hear?) which didn't work. But although the yarn didn't work, it was clear that this pattern would be absolutely perfect for my Blue Heron beaded rayon, which was currently languishing in the early stages of a Swallowtail Shawl in the WIP basket.

Now Lynn, I'm sorry about this, because I know you were eager to see how the beaded rayon worked out with the Swallowtail, but needs must when the devil drives, and I hadn't got further than a few inches on the shawl anyway. Sorry, pet.

Here is the beginning of the crochet jacket. It's going to be light and floaty and gorgeous and will be divine over a white top. It needs a bit of attention when working the increases which will form the (sort of) raglan sleeve, but other than that it's a delight to play with and very relaxing. You work out and downwards from the neck, increasing until you've enough for the sleeves (yes, just like a top-down knit sweater) and then work the body separately, returning to the sleeves later. That way I can make the sleeves to fit the amount of yarn left, which is handy. It will be pinned with something in the way of a spectacular brooch, I think.

Interruption from Tasha, aka Natasha de St Petersburg II. She says she is somewhat exasperated at having to complain once again about the unnecessarily extreme attention given to Muffy the Yarnslayer and Sophy Wackles. Who is top dog, she enquires. And who looks the prettiest on any occasion? She is right of course, so here is Tasha, first in queenly transit mode.

(She commands the other two, lesser mutts, to draw her around in her little red wagon when she so desires. A sort of royal chevauchée or procession. You have to admit she has presence.)

- and here she is at table with DH, discussing the finer points of social etiquette . A lady through and through.

And that reminds me, Vicki in So Cal, will you EMAIL me, please, please, please? I know you lost your dog recently and my heart is aching for you. But I can't find your email address anywhere - it must have been in the system that got eaten up mysteriously a few months ago. I've finally managed to put a link on the sidebar, so we'll see if it results in even more millions of spam messages. If it does, we'll have to consider Plan X(iii) (b). Or not.

Now - after all the whinging and complaining about endless rain and stray peeks of sunshine and Ireland being a sponge and all, on Sunday my native land decided to throw in a surprise. This after a whole ten minutes of sunshine on Wednesday, I would remind you. DH had to go down to furthest West Cork on a job, and I decided to go with him, as two weeks or more confined to barracks had made me yearn for fresh air, no matter what the weather.

But it got better. And better. The further we drove, beyond Dunmanway and Drimoleague, Dunmanus and Durrus, the clearer blue became the sky and the warmer the sunshine. We drove right to the south west tip of Ireland, at Mizen, and then turned up on to Brow Head, one of my favourite places. Sophy Wackles came along for the ride, and she had a wonderful time leaping through the thick grass, climbing stone walls, and reading messages left on bushes by animals passing earlier (Meet Me By The Gate Tonight; Warning - Farmer's Really Cross About That Hen; I'm A Big Bad Rabbit And Nobody Crosses Me, that sort of thing. She loves a good browse.)

Here she is, enquiring about the progress on the Wollmeise wristlet which I'd brought along to give it a taste of knitting en plein air. In the background is one of the towers built for defence at the time of the Napoleonic Wars; this specific one, however, was later used by Marconi to send the very first signals between Ireland and America, around 1904. And down on the cliffs below the tower is a little precipitious path leading to a tiny pier from which, even earlier, boats used to put off to meet liners coming across the Atlantic. The liners would throw a sealed barrel overboard with newspapers and the mail, and the boatmen would row it ashore, take it up to the nearest road, and send it on to Cork. If the horses were quick enough, the Cork Examiner could thus trump the London Times with the latest American news, and indeed often did. Pretty peaceful down there now though. The Internet has taken over from boats and barrels. That, one supposes, is progress of a kind.

It was simply wonderful to be out there in the fresh air with the breeze blowing green scents from the grass and the gorse bushes, and to hear choughs calling and blackbirds singing. It did great things for the flu recovery.

Now - here, especially for you, is one of DH's best. I asked for a really really nice picture of the Wollmeise wristlets in progress and he obliged with what I think is one of his best yet.

Howzat? The knitting is looking pretty good (that Wollmeise is a genius!), but with a backdrop like that, you have to admit it's got some serious competition! Isn't he the best, and am I not lucky to have him?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Still Here - Though Somewhat Shaken

Yes, it's been rather a while since you heard from me. There was a good reason. A twelve-foot tall, vicious, spiky, echoingly black reason in the shape of the flu virus from hell. This plague swept into the peaceful Celtic Memory household almost a week ago and has turned a fairly pleasant normality into the seventh circle of Hades.

We are not speaking here, I would emphasise, of those slight head colds which cause us to cry off from luncheon engagements, preferring instead to spend a restful afternoon with the latest pair of socks or the new Interweave Knits. No, we are speaking of the Real McCoy, the devil itself. The one that causes you to crank open anguished eyes and stare bewilderedly at the ceiling before collapsing back onto the rumpled sheets. The one that doesn't even give you the energy to boil the kettle let alone mix up nice lemon drinks. The one that comes for as long as it likes, and isn't in any hurry to leave. The one - yes, it has to be said - the one that -



I know, one is supposed to ring the Knitters' Helpline if any such horror should seem likely to befall, but this beast didn't even give me the chance. It was normality to flat out overnight, with no warning whatever.

DH got it at the same time, but miraculously seemed able to throw it off after a couple of days - superior male strength, as he pointed out smugly, but at the same time, it should be said, making endless hot drinks, running errands, smoothing pillow, tortured brow, sheets, passing dogs, anything that needed soothing down, so his smugness is totally forgiven. Celtic Memory had to take the longer route, eventually resorting to antibiotics which didn't react too well with a system that hadn't taken solid food for five days.


At 4 am this morning, totally unable to sleep, and racked with coughing, I switched on the bedside light and started to read a book about expat life in an Italian mountain village.

Two points should be covered here. Firstly, I was on my own, in the little folding camp bed which is brought out in emergencies such as this. The residence chez Celtic Memory is not miniscule. It is, all things considered, fairly spacious, with room enough for all the many interests we have and the more than many things we have collected over the years. But one thing it does not have room for is a spare room. I mean - set aside one whole perfectly useful room for the entire YEAR just in case a visitor happens by? Please! What would life be like if we set aside one whole section of it for emergencies - in case something new in the way of interests or activities turned up?

If we do have an overnighter, then, depending on persuasion and interests, they are housed on the said folding bed in either the library, the craft workshop, the drawing room or (if they are very very honoured guests and close buddies of DH) perhaps even in the computer room. But that last doesn't happen too often. No room in either of our studies to swing a Pekingese, let alone unfold a bed.

Anyway, I was in the upstairs drawing room, where you can have uninterrupted views of the stars on two sides all night if you want, reading The Lady in the Palazzo: At Home in Umbria, by Marlena de Blasi. At 4 am. Giving DH the chance for at least one night's uninterrupted slumber.

The second point (and you may well share this sentiment) is that under normal circumstances I have had more than enough of gushing tales of life in rural Umbria (or Tuscany or Sicily or wherever). I tend to get restive when reading of yet another adorably overgrown vineyard rescued and brought back to life. When the prose goes purple over the discovery of good heavens yet another totally unknown but utterly memorable rural restaurant, the book tends to go out the window. But it was 4 am, I was desperate, and so I read on.

And after all, she had a way with her, this de Blasi. Of showing what a good idea it was to take time over preparation, over cooking, over appreciating every little herb and plant and vegetable. Switching off the light, and lying back for another few hours of sleepless coughing, I began wondering if it wouldn't be a good idea to try this slow route, just for a while. Maybe it would help.

And so this morning I called on memories of learning at my mother's knee, and slowly, gradually, throughout the entire day, built up a huge pot of simmering vegetable soup, adding a herb here, a grind of nutmeg there, a bayleaf later on, as it seemed to suggest. When DH came home, he sniffed the air and said, 'Is that home made soup?' in such a tone that I felt really really guilty it had taken the flu to remind me of the slow road.

I have now tucked a large bowlful of that same homemade soup inside me, where it is making me feel a whole lot better. Still shaky, still inclined to wobble if I stand up too quickly, but definitely getting there. Thanks de Blasi. I might just be back. Your recipe for the rabbit was rather good... (And thanks dearest Dez for the hint from your own grandmother's kitchen.)

And do you know another thing? Once that soup was on the stove and simmering gently, I actually felt the stirrings of a new idea. A new knitting idea to try.


(Well, if you can't treat yourself to a new project after the flu, when can you? Huh?)

I might have mentioned some months back catching a fleeting glimpse of the most elegantly brief of lime green shrug-tops over a sparkling white T in a supermarket. It was so simple it was devastating. And I bought some silk/cotton (Stella from Debbie Bliss) the very next time I saw the right colour, so I could make something like it. It had been fermenting in the back of my mind on its own for a while, but now, today, it pushed its way to the front and announced fairly firmly that it was ready to get started. Obediently (well believe me I was really grateful that the mojo came whistling by at all, I had really feared it was gone forever) I grabbed the yarn and circular and got going.

(Extraordinarily difficult to cast on when your hands are shaky. Took several tries.)

Now it's not got very far (perched it in the middle of these lilies to give a sense of spring on the way), but can you see the idea? I've started at the sleeve, and worked the moss stitch cuff in the round, plus the first few rows of stocking stitch with a double cable in the centre, which will be the top of the arm. Now - you can't see it very clearly here, but the top couple of inches of that cabling is actually split - I'm working back and forth, so there will be an open section on the top of the sleeve. Further up I'll join them again briefly, and then separate again, so you get the slashed sleeve effect. At the neck, one cable will do the front neckline and the other the back, and the undersleeve will of course divide too, with more stitches cast on for the cropped back and front. And so across to the other side, reverse the process, and down to the second cuff. Got it? I think I have anyway.

Oh, and DH said I still can't take sock pictures for tuppence, and no wonder people were making fun of my red and grey ones, so he kindly told me to put them on and he'd have a go.

Yes, that is a circular emerging from the trouser leg. They're both still on the needles. That's because these are the socks with which I have started the practice of beginning toe-up and keeping going until every last inch of yarn is used up. And it is taking forever to finish the yarn! I'll be up to the knee at this rate, and having to increase! And to think I'm always worried about running out.

Of course being prostrate with the flu doesn't mean your work stops. Editors are occasionally kind, they may even offer a gentle wish for your recovery. But that doesn't fill the hole in the page. Copy has to keep coming, no matter what you feel like. The only excuse is a death. Your own. (And that's not a joke as any journalist will know.) So the laptop has been busy, balanced on the bed, although the work produced was not perhaps of the finest.

One piece I did have to get in today was about Andrew Eadie, who runs Kerry Woollen Mills. Andrew is on his way even now to Dublin for the huge Showcase Ireland exhibition which opens on Sunday at the RDS and runs through to Wednesday. It's where all the international buyers come to see the very best of Irish crafts and small industries and where these businesses pick up their orders for the year ahead, so it's very important. We're very fond of Andrew and the mill (over 300 years old and still thriving) so putting a piece in the paper about him was one way we could help.

The first part of tonight's posting was rather more of a prose diatribe than the picture-heavy offering to which you have become accustomed (blame it on the antibiotics), so let's make up for that now.

Here are swans on the dear little river Gweestin which has turned the machinery and washed the fleeces for Kerry Woollen Mills since the 1700s.

(These pictures were taken back in the heady days of summer, by the way, so don't be misled into thinking January in Ireland looks like this. Believe me, it doesn't. If the island weren't a natural sponge, we'd have joined Atlantis by now.)

Here's the 89th generation of Eadie cats, whose forefathers have guarded the mill and seen off rebel rats since the 17th century, stalking across the old cobbled courtyard, unchanged since the days of rumbling carts and clopping hooves.

- and here he is again, looking Sphinx-like among the flowers. He seemed to enjoy the camera, and followed Richard around for quite a while, purring, 'Ready for my close up now, dear boy!'

Here is the fleece shed, where the workers are literally up to their eyes in the lovely soft stuff all day.

And the shop, where all the things they make out of that fleece are displayed (yes, yes, bainin yarn too).

I hope Andrew and his team do well at Showcase Ireland. It's not easy to keep a family business going these days, with all the competition from developing countries, but to lose such an old established mill here in Ireland would be heartbreaking.

But listen, go look at the Showcase Ireland website. The quality of stuff on show in Dublin next week is breathtaking. And don't you always get inspiration from other people's work? I know I got lots of ideas from just browsing.

I didn't show you a picture of Andrew Eadie. I was going to, and then I decided not to. It's not fair. It would only upset you.

I SAID NO! Now let that be an END to it, all right?

Oh don't say please. I'm not strong enough yet. I'm still weak as a kitten for heaven's sake. No pleading.

Oh all right. It's your own fault. You insisted.
See? I knew it would only upset you.
(And it's no good your getting on the next plane, it's down miles of tiny flooded boreens in the wilds of Kerry, and you'd only get lost in a bog or something, and even if you did find it, the Eadie Cat would have your ankles for sure. And before you ask, no, I haven't. Not the tiniest skein. But Celtic Memory, once she has recovered something of her former strength, will be back on the task. Though it's truly not the reason he's being written up. I genuinely want that wonderful old place to survive.)
I really hope this fog of wretched discomfort lifts within the next few days. Don't mind feeling lackadaisacal for a week or so, can cope with lack of energy. But just to feel a little more human would be good.
With more of a weak wave than the accustomed hug.
Until later.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

New Ideas, New Projects - Just Give Me Some New Weather!

It's Little Christmas today or, as it's known here, Women's Christmas. Presumably that title reflected the day at the end of the all the festivities when the women could at last sit down, kick off their shoes, and relax for a brief moment. I like to think of exhausted country farmers' wives cutting a slice from the cold ham and pouring themselves a cup of tea from the blackened kettle on the hob, putting their feet up on the creepy stool with a sigh of relief. 'Himself won't be in from the fields for an hour or so,' they would say. 'Maybe I'd get a few rows done on the sock before he'll be roaring around looking for his tay.'

In fact, in older times this Women's Day was taken very seriously. I've spoken to elderly ladies in the far West of Ireland who remember it as a time when men were actually barred from the house for the whole day from sunrise to sunset. The women would gather in a pre-arranged farmhouse kitchen and spend the time in celebrating, eating and drinking, and talking. No man could cross the threshold - all the turf had to be brought in the night before and if they forgot something that they needed for the day's work outside, well pity about them!

These days in Cork at least, Women's Christmas is celebrated with great energy by the younger folk, with parties of girls booking restaurants months in advance for a great big hen night out. Clubs put on special evenings for them and enormous fun is had by all.

Me, I'd swap every last celebratory drink for the merest glimpse of sunshine. We've had rain, sweeping winds, more rain, howling gales, yet more rain, storms, and more rain, since late December. Every hill has its dashing torrent of white water where for most of the year a damp ravine wiggles its way.

For one brief moment the other day - after weather the like of which made you wonder if it was the end of the world entirely - the clouds broke and I actually saw a shaft of sunshine over the garden.

It didn't last of course. All too soon the black clouds swept across again, the driving rain fell in sheets, and the dogs, who had been lured into the great outdoors, scurried frantically for the front door and the haven of the fireplace. There really are days (mostly in midwinter) when I'd pay good leprechaun's gold for someone to tow Ireland a good bit further south into the Bay of Biscay. Say down off Portugal or somewhere. Or near the Azores.

Being indoors of course means one is constantly tempted by new ideas and new projects. I'm currently in love with Nancy Bush's Chalet Socks, having seen a really nice pair on Laurie M's weblog. I'm going to start them in a really delicious organic fingering weight in soft natural grey - I have so much of this that I can make them over-the-knee if it suits me, with no fear of running out. What? Make some available to the rest of you? Well, say please and then maybe...
Someone commented politely that the Online red and grey socks looked 'interesting'. DH was less polite when he saw the pic up on my blog. However, he wasn't here today when I was working on them, so I had another go.

One really must resist the temptation of multicoloured yarns. They look so lovely, we buy them as we might paintings, but the knitted object never looks as good as the skein did, and in any case, such a complication and conglomeration of colours totally distracts from the complexity of the pattern which someone worked very hard to design. From now on Celtic Memory is really going to try to buy only semi solids or total solids. (So what happens to the gigantic box of multicoloureds, one wonders? One might well.)

Then there are the Japanese books, which have been sorely trying my temptation factor. These divinely beautiful publications are enough to distract anyone from the straight and narrow.

The patterns in this book are not only superbly printed, they are totally irresistible.

This is the one I want to try first (yes, I know it's a Guernsey, not an Aran). I have the right yarn for once (a purple blue wool worsted on cone, got it from Texere Yarns in Bradford, always worth a trawl through the darker shelves on the upper floor if you find yourself in downtown Bradford). And I very much like this boat neck style - I'm seeing a lot of it in the fashion circles, in either dark blue or black, worn with a startling white blouse underneath.
And then there is the crochet lace, very much in the Irish style.

I don't know why I have to go to Japan to get Irish designs, but that's the way it is these days.

I'd love to conquer this one. I realise she isn't remotely like me, but it's the blouse I want to make.
So many temptations, so much to do in 2008. What are your top priorities?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A New Year, Full of Possibilities

A very very happy 2008 to everyone. Gosh it doesn't seem like a year since we last exchanged this greeting, does it? Sometimes I look back in disbelief to how life has changed since we all got to know each other through weblogging and Ravelry. The isolation that surrounds every creative individual has been removed, and we are all able to chat, get advice, feel affection, obtain information, from like-minded friends at any time of the day or night. It's like a gigantic and warmly welcoming craft cafe and it's so full of possibilities, and we're all learning so fast, that I can only wonder what 2008 will bring.

Of course it's meant rather a lot of time taken up too, and I have been no more immune than anyone else to that bewildered feeling, 'where did the day go?' Quite apart from wandering happily through the innumerable patterns, notions, ideas available at the click of a mouse, there is also the constant driving necessity, not just to knit, crochet or create, but to do those things with the express aim of photographing the finished results and posting them so everyone else can see that we're keeping up with the Knitterses! A new kind of pressure, not of feeling like the only craft-minded person in the world, but of struggling to keep our heads above the water - sorry, yarn. It's small wonder that some of us feel the urge to slow down, get off the merry-go-round for a while, kick back and remember what it was like to have a long slow afternoon to yourself. Yes, OK, I know, it's a bit easier for me, because writing is my living, but certainly there are other things I could be doing than knitting frantically on a WIP because somewhere somebody is expectantly waiting to see the pictures...

How was your Christmas? Here in West Cork, as the sun set and the dusk advanced on Christmas Eve, wreaths of white mist began to drift across the hills towards the house.

The Little House on the Prairie looked mysterious and enchanted as the mists slowly crept closer. The weather got colder and colder, and on Christmas morning, the fields were white with frost. As close as we're likely to get to a white Christmas here, and particularly welcome because the more usual festive weather (which returned pretty promptly) is damp and wet and windy - ideal for snuggling by the fire.

But we were working on Christmas Day - or at least DH was, and traditionally we always go out as a team on that day. So it was a quick breakfast of porridge liberally laced with Baileys Irish Cream (another tradition) before heading out to the windswept beaches of West Cork for the annual display of courage known as The Big Swim.

We brought Sophy Wackles but kept her well away from the crowds as she would have panicked at the sight and sound of so many shrieking masochists rushing towards the icy Atlantic (and rushing out again almost immediately to down hot whiskies). I gave her a good run on an uninhabited stretch of beach further along the coast, which she enjoyed thoroughly.

Then it was home for hot coffee and mince pies, and a present opening session in the sitting room - with, of course, the formal photograph (have you ever tried to get three small dogs to sit quietly and look at the camera all at the same time? Not easy).

Yes, that nice loosely knitted washcloth had been made and wrapped for Muffy the Yarnslayer (she's there on the right, looking expectant), but there was a change in priorities of which we hadn't been informed. Muffy pounced on the nice rustling tissue paper and bore it off into a corner, while Depressed Sophy exploded out of her customary torpor and seized the washcloth delightedly. Cries of 'no, no, that's for Muffy, you can't have it', fell on deaf ears.

Ah well, we live in hope. Who knows, she may be requesting some little wooden needles and her very own ball of yarn soon. Could we have another Yarnslayer on our hands? Can there be more than one in any generation?

DH opened his special gift - not the only one, obviously, but the most important one as far as Celtic Memory was concerned. Yes, like the rest of you, I have been working away on secret projects which couldn't be blogged about because of the risk of revealing surprises to their intended recipients (it was OK about the washcloth, Muffy isn't that good on the computer yet and can never remember the password).

Here they are at last - the black cashmere socks in that nice twisted cable pattern. He loved them. He loved them so much he refused to take them off after the photo shoot and kept them on right through to bedtime. Wanted to wear them in bed, in fact. Total success.

But dear heaven, now do I ever know what others have meant when they vowed never to make another pair of black socks as long as they lived. They have my wholehearted support and then some! That has got to have been one of the most trying projects ever. Firstly, I was using a very fine cashmere which had to be doubled. That meant of course that whenever the yarn could split, it did. Secondly, it was black. Have you ever tried working with very fine black yarn at any time of day other than the morning and in any environment other than a brightly lit tropical beach? Well nigh impossible to see where you are and what you're doing, while if you drop a stitch - well, heaven help you.

It was worth it, though, to see how much he liked them. Wasn't it the Harlot who advised that if your man couldn't see the point of socks, just knit him a pair of black dress ones? She was right.

Only - ONLY - now of course DH is taking far more interest in things sockly. Like his innocent comment as we headed out St. Stephen's morning to do the hunt and the Poc Fada.

'Why are socks always started from the top? Why don't they start from the toe?'

Ah. Well....

I began to waffle about the cuff being far simpler and easier, and the hazards of toe-up design, but then gave up. He wasn't to know that the relative merits of one have been hotly debated against the other throughout the knitting world for quite some time. Nor would he really be interested. The simple answer was that yes, they can be started from the toe just as easily as the cuff. And (warming to my theme as I thought about it, since it isn't often I have a captive audience calmly driving and listening) there were many advantages to the toe start. Like being able to create to fit precisely, trying on as you go, and using up every inch of yarn instead of being left with a tiny ball that could have been used but wasn't, and is forever condemned to a small box labelled Itty Bitty Sock Yarn Balls (yes, I do have one, honestly).

But in that case, why wasn't I knitting habitually from the toe upwards? Good point. Well, Christmas is a time of new beginnings. (Is it? Well it is now.)

And so, when we got back from the hunt and the Poc Fada (back to those in a moment), a pleasant dip was taken in the rather more clement and welcoming waters of the sock yarn stash. And there emerged like a rather jolly festive elf, a nice ball of crimson and grey Online supersock which was duly wound into two balls

Starting from the toe is still a fiddly business for Celtic Memory - the crochet cast on, the careful working around with very few stitches - it's all rather slow and exasperating until you get on to the foot. But then it fairly gallops ahead and it's nice to think that when you're finished you're finished - no grafting to do, and best of all, no leftover yarn (as long as you calculate the length required for casting off fairly accurately).

Here they are so far. Well, they're beyond this by now - turned the heel on both yesterday and currently working up the cuff. It would be nice to get them finished on New Year's Day but they will probably take a little longer since the break is almost over and there are deadlines to write for.

It strikes me that this (i.e. the toe-up method) is a very good way to work out a new pattern or design - first on the instep, and then over the whole stitch count when you reach the leg, with time to adjust along the way. And of course for kneesocks, this way is ideal as you can really check the width you need at every stage. Yes, I think the next pair will be a Celtic Memory NEW DESIGN - kneesocks in a pale, natural or grey yarn, with cables of course, and twisted stitches, and a bit of devilment or magic worked in there somewhere. The kind that would protect you if walking in strange places. Keep you posted.

But back to the day's jobs. The Ward Hunt has met on Blarney village green on St. Stephen's Day for the last hundred years at least and this year was no exception.

Here they are, the hounds feathering around happily and behaving extremely well while toddlers were hoisted on to horses to get a taste of the atmosphere, and small boys ran around excitedly.

The stirrup cup was brought out ceremoniously from the Muskerry Arms (hot whiskey again, best thing to chase away the damp of a cold misty St. Stephen's Day).

Don't you love the way this little girl has clipped her pony to leave a furry heart on its rump?

The Poc Fada or Long Puck takes place all over County Cork as indeed it does throughout the country on St. Stephen's Day. Young and old emerge to honour the ancient sport of hurling, hitting the ball as far as they can along the quiet boreens. In older times one imagines this was done as a specific way of beating the bounds or marking the territory of one clan - now it's fun for everyone -

- be they eighty -

- or eight.

It really is heartwarming to see the passionate interest still being taken in such a very very old sport as hurling, which is chronicled as far back as the days of Cuchulainn and probably existed long before that.

There was some excitement yesterday, as the long-awaited new Knitty Calendar arrived.

I had really really hoped it would get here before New Year's Day and it did!

And look, look, LOOK -

My very own Pomatomus socks, photographed by me on the shapely ankles of my long-suffering friend Eileen. I'm March! I'm so proud I can hardly type. Who would have thought, a couple of years ago, that blogging could lead to this?

It's nice I'm March, because that was when Sock Madness started last year - after which knitting footwear was never the same again for so many. And it's doubly nice because I've just realised that I'm now Jo March - straight out of Little Women! One of my favourite books! Joy to you Amy Singer for all you do, with and with everything it gives us. You enrich our lives immeasurably with your generosity.

May 2008 bring each and every one of you the peace, the reassurance, the fulfilment you are seeking right now. And long may we continue to enjoy each other's company.

My little Finnish gnome has been working steadfastly and unceasingly throughout the festive season. He will continue to do so until Little Christmas, January 6, his candle flickering in the window to guide lost travellers (it's OK, this one is battery powered - I use real ones all the time, but for a window all night, electric is safer). May he guide you where you most want to go in the year ahead.