Sunday, February 24, 2008

To Market, To Market, To Boost Up My Stash...

...home again, home again, what a mad dash!

I'm back, did you miss me? I missed you. Couldn't stand the post-Christmas weather any longer, it had been a trying winter with some sad events; and the residual cough which inevitably follows upon the flu just wouldn't leave. So DH took me away to somewhere you could rely on blue skies and sandy pathways leading to warm seas.

Sanibel Island on the west coast of Florida, is one of my favourite places. Small, unspoiled and utterly charming, it has a laid-back atmosphere like the Caribbean - which isn't that far away really - but without the steel drum bands, fortunately. I like my beaches silent with just the sound of the wavelets crisping on the shore (unlike Irish beaches with their Force 8 gales - remind me to tell you the legend of Cliona's Wave sometime).

As some of you may know, the beaches of Sanibel are famed for their shells - the tides in the Gulf of Mexico bring in the most beautiful ones and keen shellers go out at dawn to search for the perfect specimen. There is even a recognised angle of the human body known as the Sanibel Stoop, brought about by shell hunting.

It was lovely and just what was needed. Wandered along boardwalks, cycled for coffee breaks, sat out on the verandah of our hut at the adorable little Kona Kai where the raccoons come questing for titbits at night, and thoroughly enjoyed the supremely upmarket window shopping in the discreetly camouflaged big-name outlets (Sanibel wouldn't be this charming and unspoiled without a lot of resources put into keeping it that way). Meanwhile DH took so many pictures at the Ding Darling nature reserve that his laptop rebelled and he had to make use of a back-up thingy just to hold the images.

And then, since we had to fly back via New York anyway, we broke the journey there and stayed two nights at another of my favourite hotels - the quirky old Herald Square on West 31st. This used to be the offices of Life Magazine and the corridors and rooms are decorated with prints from issues dating back a century or more. It's a real bargain by New York standards if you want somewhere to stay in the Big Apple, and it's far more fun than some of the huge anonymous plate-glass and steel monstrosities uptown.

Isn't Ravelry wonderful? Thanks to that network, I sallied down to Soho, to that delumptious cafe with the delightful name of Once Upon A Tart, and there met with -

Hila! Hila of HPNYKnits. And of course it was like we'd always known each other, because we had so many friends in common through Ravelry, and so many projects to talk about - see that lovely jacket she's wearing? And that hat? (We'd both come prepared for the icy February winds, but De Big Apple decided to have a summer day instead and threw out 60 degrees of sunshine, which made for some layer-shedding.)

Just look at what Hila brought me.

Two skeins of Sock Hop yarn (she knew I wouldn't be able to find it in NYC because it's only available on eBay) and - get this - she specially chose the American Pie colourway, to remind me of my trip. Isn't that perfect? This yarn is going to see active service very soon, in Sock Madness - I think it's well able for it.
But that wasn't all she gave me.

She gave me New York itself. In a knitted wall hanging. See the trees of Central Park, and the skyscrapers, and the blue sky above? This was one of those moments when you suddenly see the possibilities of yarn creations and get quite overwhelmed with excitement. This is going to hang on the wall right here by my desk from now on.

After lunch we went right next door to the legendary Purl where every yarn was utter luxury. I don't think anything under 50% cashmere, alpaca or silk would have a hope of even getting beyond the step.

Here's Hila having a trauma outside because, although there was a reasonable alternative, the yarn she had set her heart upon for a pleated scarf cost a minor mortgage (no, I won't tell you her decision. What do you think? Me, I virtuously left without a single luxury - only to bolt back in again five seconds later. A girl can only withstand Jade Kingdom cashmere for so long...)

Hila, the loveliest of times together. Soon again I hope.
Had also hoped to meet with Kitsa, another Ravelry friend, but our schedules didn't quite tally in the end. Never mind - we'll see each other in that amazing Japanese bookshop next time Kitsa.

Loved New York this time round, not least because I got to see some of the older areas where the narrow streets are still cobbled, and little Italian restaurants crowd cheek-by-jowl with fascinating tiny shops. And of course hours were spent in those to-die-for button/bead/trimming shops on 6th, in the Garment District. Who would have thought the world could have such unique artefacts in it? Shaded velvet ribbons. Seventy-two types of wood buttons (which wood do you prefer, madam?) And the beads - no, I can't think about those right now. Actually realised that a certain section of the Celtic Memory brain (the 'ooh that's a nice new idea' section) would have to be closed down for the duration of the trip. Too much stimulus. Isn't that a wonderful thing? Really too much stimulus. (This is a family blog, so I won't post stills from the camcorder shots of the Chippendales dancing across Time Square, elegantly clad in silver G-strings with matching bow ties. And I haven't worked out how to do that yet anyway - no good with technology.)

Yes there was yarn. Oh yes there was yarn. Now I can't fit everything into this posting so I'll just show you some loot and then leave finished projects (one good thing about long flights), yarn shops and a few other excitements for the next one.

Here's my own minor-mortgage purchase: Jade Kingdom cashmere in my adored-absolute-favourite poppy red. Good yardage - but what on earth to make with something so heavenly? A lace scarf in a divine pattern perhaps. Advice?

Some thick and sumptuous Karabella silk. Could only afford five balls so this is going to have to make the most incredible lacy top for glamorous parties, I think. Advice on this one too, please.

Blue Heron Beaded Metallic Wool, a skein each in two different colourways. Reasonably thick gauge and good yardage so should be able to get a small crop vest out of it, striping the yarns.

Just one ball of the new Noro sock yarn, to try. Angeluna, I'll heed your advice on this. I think I'll skein it up and wash it, see what thickness it really is, before trying anything. Actually it would make a wonderful scarf of shawl in those amazing Noro colours, never mind the socks. Noro needs to be shown off in full view. But then again, think of Noro kneesocks...

The joy of actually being in the US meant that yarns could be posted to my hotel! Took full advantage of that, which meant that on arrival, instead of falling exhausted into bed, Celtic Memory was eagerly tearing open the packages containing -

This - Knit Picks Andean Silk (alpaca/silk/merino blend) in two shades. I got enough of the darker one for a sweater with two balls of the lighter shade to add little trims if wanted.

- and this. Laines Du Nord Royal Cashmere. Again enough for a sweater and I know exactly the one - that top-down, ultra-simple raglan that I've been coveting for ages. (JanKnits of Ravelry, I can't thank you enough for giving me the heads-up that this one was on serious sale!)

Enough, enough. I gotta go do the laundry, pick some daffodils (yes, they're out), find somewhere to store the new stash, listen with attention to every detail of the dogs' tales of what they did at boot camp, dye some new colourways for Sock Madness, and generally catch up. Will post again soon, I promise, with all the details on yarn shops visited, famous designers met, secrets acquired on this trip.

But here's a taster to keep you on your toes.

Do you know who this is?

And who we have here?
Talk to you soon.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Well You Make My Day Too - All Of You!

I was totally taken aback, but very very touched by so many people giving me the You Make My Day Award! I have a personal rule not to take part in these pyramid happenings, but couldn't help being warmed to the heart that there are such numbers of you who like reading my weblog. Thank you so very very much.

I can say with heartfelt sincerity that all of you out there - yes, all you webloggers, commenters, readers, designers of competitions, designers of wonderful patterns - get my personal accolade for making life so much more fun since I discovered this strange addictive world of knit-net. From the first day I nervously searched for Blogger and followed the confusing instructions, things have never been the same. (There hasn't been enough time for any of the things I used to do of course (gardening, reading, housework, ironing, shopping, grooming the dogs...) but you can't have everything, can you? Was there really a time when Ravelry didn't exist? When I didn't exchange chatty emails with dozens of like-minded knitting friends? When there was no one with whom I could discuss a difficult pattern, an awkward stitch, the project from hell? What did we all DO before blogging? (I know I've said this before, but it strikes me afresh at times like this.)

Take a great big bow, everyone who has ever posted a blog entry, made a comment, contributed in any way whatsoever to this huge happy StitchnChat we have created. You are all wonderful. You ALL make my day! And my week, my month, my year!

Saw our local vet the other day, Conor, and he insisted I call into his surgery on my way home. He wanted to show me his new baby.

This is Spencer. He's a Griffon Bruxellois, albeit a very small one, since he's only a baby. Don't you just love that sulky expression? The appropriate phrase in Ireland is, 'Would you look at the puss on him!'

Here he is with Iasco, Conor's regal Alsatian. Spencer apparently sleeps curled up between Iasco's front paws, but declined to do so while we were there with the camera. In fact I don't think he has quite got the hang of a photoshoot yet. There's time.

Now, believe it or believe it not, THE RED AND GREY SOCKS ARE FINISHED! Hallelujah!

Stayed up really late one night to finish them (well, it was after midnight and for early bird Celtic Memory that is extremely late). Did so well on the using-up-every-last-inch-of-yarn that there was barely enough to bind off the cuff of Sock 1. Sock 2 had a miniscule ball left over - mustn't have divided it up totally equally when it was wound off the skein into two balls. But then again, a few yards of yarn wouldn't weigh more than a gram, would they? (For heaven's sake, CM, will you decide for once and for all whether you're imperial or metric? No I will not. Why should I?) Anyway, these socks reach almost to the knee (increased a little as the leg went higher), and are finished off with a few rows of 4x2 cables to give entertainment to my kneecaps. Very cosy indeed in the wet wild and windy weather we're having.

Gosh, we actually had snow the other morning! It didn't last very long of course, and barely whitened the grass, but it was real snow. Took a quick sequence with the baby camcorder, and if I can work out how to insert a clip into the blog, I'll show you genuine snow in West Cork (a rarity indeed). Lene, you put a video clip on your blog, of Tina rolling in the snow. How did you do it?

Anyway, the snow made the idea of the Wollmeise wristlets seem far more sensible, so one got finished. Cast on for the second, but at the same time got the inspiration for a neckwarmer made in somewhat the same style. Now the sources for this inspiration must be openly declared: Wollmeise's wonderful wristlet pattern of course, but also HPNYKnits, who showed this marvellous neckwarmer on her blog. For those with long necks, like HP and myself, such a design is ideal, wrapping you in snug warmth while at the same time making a fashion statement. So HP, I hope you don't mind my snatching up your lovely notion (buy you a coffee next time I'm in NY, ok?), and Wollmeise, I hope you're pleased that your ingenious wristlet design inspired me to use it on something else.

Here is the first wristlet finished, with the start of the neckwarmer lying below it. The plain section will wrap around the neck and meet with the slashed section. It will fasten with nice decorative buttons like HPNY's, and then the idea is that the slashed lacy section will fall downwards in a graceful fold. Currently experimenting with making the points gradually longer as the piece grows.

Yes, it's a lovely colourway, that Cherry Tree Hill yarn, but just look at what arrived in the post from Angeluna.

YOWZA! Real Wollmeise! Did you ever see such brilliant colours in your life? And the camera really really does not do this baby justice. How does she get those shades? Clearly my life has been wasted up to now. From henceforth, I shall have to devote myself entirely and totally to the pursuit of Wollmeise yarns. If the greens are like that, what on earth are the blues like? And the reds? And -

And - yes, there is going to be every need for all that sock yarn, so you can just stop giggling. I know something that will put a stop to your smugness.

Sock Madness 2 is waiting in the wings!

To anyone who took part last year, who cheered on the sidelines, who stared in horror as each new devilish pattern was released, who stayed up past midnight, lived and knitted through snowstorms and power cuts, heatwaves and monsoons, endured every disaster that could happen (sometimes several at once) and still came through, those words will strike a chill to the heart.

But at the same time, they will induce a strange sense of exhilaration, a feeling of excitement, of anticipation, of impatience. There is something about Sock Madness that works - works so superbly that it makes everyone taking part jump through the most unbelievably difficult hoops, even while muttering, 'I can never do this, don't ask me, I can't, you hear?'

So it's extremely good news that they're going to allow more entrants this year - it won't be limited to the first 128. What are you waiting for? Log on now and find out more. Believe me, you will never ever forget the experience. I'll see you there.

Oh yes - another project got started in the past week. This time it was the fault (it's always someone else's fault, not mine, how could it be mine?) of the UK magazine Knitting. Now normally I find this publication a little too mumsy, too old-style for my liking, compared to the cutting-edge journals like IK, but this time it had an absolutely stunning pattern for a black cropped cardigan which was exactly the design for which I had been searching.

And, although one could hardly credit it, I actually had the perfect yarn in the stash. Inca alpaca from Yarn Paradise.

This picture was taken yesterday; the back is now finished, and one of the fronts is half done. Got to ensure that the enthusiasm stays at full heat until it's complete. This is a garment I actually want and will wear immediately - unlike some projects where it is the challenge that attracts, or the charm, and the heck with whether it is something one would ever put on other than on a very dark night when dating an elderly gentleman with eyesight problems.

The writing commission currently on the computer is one absolutely after my own heart. It's a feature piece for Ireland of the Welcomes, a glossy that circulates principally in North America but also in the UK and the Antipodes. DH and I often do pieces for it. For the May/June issue they have agreed to take a piece on the woollen industry in Ireland. Some history of course, since we have been exporting wool since prehistory, but then featuring the different stages of production from sheep farming through collecting fleeces to spinning and weaving and finally to a yarn shop. Kind of nice assignment, huh? Of course you already know most of the participants from these postings - you saw them first! Remember Daniel P. Buckley? And his wonderful dad, John-Joe? Andrew Eadie at Kerry Woollen Mills? The Kissanes of Moll's Gap and their Adopt-A-Sheep project? And of course Jean and Jo at the Little Yarn Shop in the Far West, aka Spin a Yarn. It isn't often that a writing commission is pure pleasure, but this one is. And DH has been having fun digging out all the pictures.

If it goes some way towards helping all of them to continue doing what they and their forbears have done for generations, then one will have done one's bit.