Sunday, July 20, 2008

Merrily We Crank Along...

Who would have thought that one small century-old machine could occupy so much of one's time? Since my last posting, almost every waking minute has been spent working on that little survivor and by now Celtic Memory knows every nut and bolt, every spring, every millimetre of its surface.

And eventually, hard work paid off, and it was set up. A few false starts, but at long last -

- it was knitting! Not without the occasional catch, a dropped stitch here and there, but, after fifty years of lying hidden and unused, it was working! It felt like magic, and perhaps it was magic in a way.

I know I've said before what a great crowd of friends bloggers, Ravelers and knitters in general all are, but I'm saying it again now. I joined the Ravelry Circular Sock Machine group, asked for help, and down it came from all sides! Eirual spotted I needed a vital part known as a cylinder ring, and sent one from her own collection. Civilgrrl offered to make me a set up bonnet - another vital accessory. Pat at Angora Valley sent me an order of needles so quickly they almost got here before I'd hit the 'Order' button. Bonnie Smola did likewise with my order for an instruction DVD - and then, when I discovered she'd sent a more advanced one than I could use at this stage, said no problem, send it back and she'd replace it. Laura of Handwerks got a yarn mast and topper to me in double-quick time. And absolutely everybody piled in with advice, guidance, encouragement, help, even detailed pictures. What a lovely lot you all are!

Of course there are still hassles and difficulties and some days it seems like one baby step forward, one speed train backwards, but slowly, slowly progress is being made. When things get really difficult, and the same operation crashes for the seventeenth time, recourse is made to Little Barbie - a good name for the small toy machine, which has proved surprisingly effective and well behaved in cranking out nice narrow silky tube scarves. You have to keep a close eye on it for the first few rounds, often lifting the thread over the hook to assist the mechanism, but after that it works away very well.

Ten minutes or so of soothing handle-turning on that, and I'm ready to go back and tackle Madame Defarge. (Probably won't go on calling her that - but today it did seem to suit her rather. Don't ask about trying to make a selvedge at the top of a sock, just don't ask!)

As a result of all this light engineering, progress has been slow on The Summer of Socks.

The Koigus are getting towards the cuff, thanks be, and there is a determined effort to get them finished, out of the way, tucked in the sock drawer, within the next day or two.

Even took them to Cahirmee Horse Fair (nearly typed 'Sock Fair' there, honestly!) so as not to lose a minute.
Cahirmee is one of the oldest fairs in the country and still takes place in the main street of Buttevant in North Cork.

There are horses everywhere, big, small, piebald, skewbald, roan, bay, black, grey. Donkeys too, aplenty. You have to be careful where you walk, and also watch what is coming up behind you at a wild gallop.

The main purpose of the day is horse trading, and it's taken very seriously indeed.

...with the finer points of the animal being discussed in great detail before the ritual handslapping and handing over of wads of cash (it is customary for the vendor to hand back a note or two for good luck).

For some younger traders, having had to get up before dawn to travel to the fair was just too much.

- and the cafe was doing a roaring trade in pots of strong tea and full Irish breakfasts. So much so indeed that the landlord had to guard the half-door so that it didn't get too overcrowded inside. The queuers didn't mind - there was plenty to look at in the streets.

Isn't that a fine sock now? I wonder would ye make a set of four for meself, to go over the hooves? They'd be fine for a ceili, so they would.

It is really heartening to see these fairs continuing to be held as they have always been, on the streets of the little towns of Ireland. In so many places, complaints about nuisance and lack of hygiene and perceived risks to life and limb have resulted in such events being forcibly moved to a purpose-built, clean, empty site well away from human habitation. That almost always spells death to the ancient tradition. These fairs belong in the streets that gave them birth, and long may they remain there.

Actually managed to stay away from the sock machine the other day long enough to get a new batch of sock yarns dyed and painted up and hung out to dry.

It was about time I got round to it. Trying a new blend this time - 80% superwash merino, 20% bamboo - as well as the 50% superwash merino/50% tencel I usually work with. The bamboo blend gives a generous 400m to 100g which is good news for people who like more yarn to play with; it's also very soft and pleasant to the touch. The tencel blend gives 360m, but also has that added sheen which looks so nice knitted up. These have now been listed on eBay but only for a three-day duration, since workloads towards the end of the week will mean no time for packing and posting - got to clear them by midweek. You'll find them by putting Celtic Memory into the search box.

Woke up in the early hours this morning, feverishly wondering just how many WIPs there were lurking around the house (it's not a very good thing to think about in the early hours, be warned). Could only get back to sleep by deciding firmly that the top six would be assembled and worked on, in the order of closest to finishing downwards, and No More Would Be Started Until They Were Done. The So Near To Finishing Six are:

1. The red Koigu socks. Almost up to the cuff ribbing on both. What's keeping you?

2. Hug-me-tight seamless cardi in soft blue mousse yarn, worked in the Elizabeth Zimmermann style upwards to the neck. At the armholes on main body and both sleeves, so the careful decreasing starts now. Just sort out the math, OK?

3. The Norwegian grey socks for DH. One almost at the heel-turn, the other some way behind. Doesn't he deserve them?

4. The Trip To Oslo socks. Well sock really, since only one has been started. The fun bit of the decorative cuff has been done, in natural and red; now the long slow march down to the foot awaits. Do cast on the second sock immediately - you don't want SSS do you?

5. The Laminaria Shawl. This one has suffered more frogging than a large nature pond in the tadpole season. Advance two rows, frog one. Advance five at a gallop, frog four. Why can't you get your increases right?

6. The St. Enda jacket. No, you didn't know about this one, I was keeping it for a surprise. I'm starting St. Enda in charcoal Shetland, conveniently forgetting about the version in cream cashmere/silk which is currently dozing in its private, curtained, basket. Currently a couple of repeats up the back. Get on with it!

Feel so much better now that list has been compiled and published. Will have to progress them after that - won't I?

To my great surprise, GrannySu informs me that she has considered me worthy of the Arte y Pico award! I am touched and honoured, GrannySu. Thank you very much indeed.

Now - back to Madame Defarge. If I leave her alone too long, she might start bullying Little Barbie.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Very Special Discovery

You'd think I'd had enough of good luck with Little Yellow Suitcase eventually tiring of its travels and returning home, but I had another smile from the goddess a few days ago, and this time involving something very very special indeed to me. In fact I'd given up hope of it ever happening.

But let's get the housework out of the way first. It's been utterly wretched weather here (in sympathy with friends across the Atlantic I imagine, since yours hasn't exactly been great either). I'm sorry for our visitors who are faced with day after day of windy, rainy, cloudy greyness.

This is the typical view through the windscreen as you drive over the Cork-Kerry border towards Killarney, - swathes of drifting grey clouds encircling the mountain tops. Of course the tradition is that when the Good People are on their travels, out for a Wild Hunt perhaps, or on their way to a party at another rath, they bring down the clouds so that human eyes will not see them. Well if that's the case, they're having one heck of a summer up there, the little folk, with parties going on all day and night, if the mist is anything to judge by.

Here;s another view, this time on the road to Killorglin, where Puck Fair is held every August. Hope it clears up for that. Hope it clears up for the McMurtrie clan visiting West Cork from the States next week - Deb and family, I'll look up my book of spells and see what I can do, promise!

Of course there is always a good side to gloomy weather, like actually getting some knitting done.

Here are the alpaca/silks, demonstrating that yes, it is indeed possible to make a very pleasant pair of average adult sized socks with just one skein of c. 280 yds. As alpaca always bulks out a bit, especially when washed, I used a slightly larger needle and a 48-st round; in retrospect, I think perhaps four or six more stitches would have given it a more relaxed feel, but there was plenty, as you see, to make a decent cuff length. Do not adjust your monitor, I dip-dyed them after completion. Might give them another bath in violet.

By the way, I found that all the circulars I thought were US size 1 were in fact US size 2, or else I've got mixed up in my conversions from metric to whatever-it-is-you-use-in-the-States (which wouldn't be surprising). Size 0 is 2mm, right? Then 1 seems to be 2.5mm. Is there a 2.25mm? Why am I asking this? What was the original query? What day of the week is it? Does it matter? Should I only knit on days of the week that have an 'r' in them? Or is that oysters?

Anyway, these bamboo/cotton socks also got finished. This is yarn from Guichard Laines in Landevant, nabbed during the Brittany trip last year. I think it's Katia. I thought that two balls would be insufficient for a pair of socks, so got three balls of each colour for safety, but in fact these again came out just fine with two balls. Used the same baby cable pattern as on the alpaca/silk, because bamboo/cotton doesn't have much bounce and you need a fair bit of strong texture to stop them becoming unintended slouch socks.

OK, I can't put it off any longer. Curiously reluctant to start posting about this, because, perhaps, it matters so much personally and you might think it's a lot of fuss about nothing.

It's the story of a very old and rather small machine. A sock knitting machine. I have childhood memories of long winter evenings in the huge cosy kitchen, with the range glowing warmly and my mother bending over this machine, which was sturdily clamped to the table, constantly adjusting a needle here, the tension of the yarn there. I remember the steady sound of the wheel being cranked as she turned out socks and stockings for all five of us. Of course as a very small child I was most unthankful for warm knitted stockings. I wanted trendy nylon kneesocks like other girls wore to school on the coldest wettest days. And I didn't want knitted ankle socks either, especially not in the dreary school colours of green and fawn. We're like that as kids, aren't we?

The machine was old when she got it, from a maiden aunt who by then had arthritis and could no longer use it (although this aunt, my great-aunt, still made the most exquisite crochet up to the day she died). I haven't been able to find out yet where this relative originally got the machine, or indeed why. It was not the easiest of things to master, and my mother had never seen one before, but she persevered, poring over the manual of instructions night after night and experimenting until she finally got it to work. Then she went out hunting for coned yarns. Fifty or more years ago, it was a lot easier to source these from friendly mills - we had Blarney, Dripsey, Kerry and more all quite willing to part with a few to a friendly lady with a sweet smile. My mother had a pretty respectable (for 'respectable', read 'frightening' if you're not a knitter) yarn stash way back before anyone even coined the term. My earliest memories are of playing with unsortable tangles of pink wool on the floor of her knitting room, and later of winding little balls of it from between the knots, and starting my own experiments with needle or hook.

Time went by, we all left home. My mother died. Far too soon, far before she should have, but isn't that the case for everyone? It's never the right time to lose someone unutterably dear. I shut a cast-iron door on that part of my life and resolutely refused to open it again. You do that if the pain goes too deep. You blot out the memories of a magical garden, a large warm home, a front door always open, most of all of a stone-flagged kitchen with a glowing range and a dear person waiting with open arms.

But last year, wandering through one of those cheap everything-shops, I came across this, if you remember.

I stared, perplexed at its odd familiarity. Then all at once a curtain was lifted and I remembered that machine from so long ago. I bought this, told you all about it in delight, intended to try experiments on it. I recalled for you some memories of the old sock machine from my childhood. Enough years had passed for it to be safe to remember crafting details if the personal were still kept well under control.

It was Angeluna who emailed me instantly, telling me that these were collectors' items and I had to find that old machine NOW. As in THIS MINUTE. All of a sudden it became vitally urgent to locate it, get in touch with the past. You didn't exactly unlock the door, dear Angeluna - in your wonderful style you wrenched it open, shoved me through with a determined 'GO!'

But the machine could not be found. My brother, who still lives in the somewhat battered family home, trying to keep it upright against the ravages of time, searched but said it had probably been given away. I was heartbroken. Didn't expect to be, but was. Now that I'd remembered it, and especially now that blogging and Ravelry make such a family of us all, I wanted to bring this into the new world and share it with everyone. Well, if it was gone, it was gone, and that was an end to it. I tucked the new little plastic thingy on a shelf and didn't do anything with it. Didn't feel like it.

But it wasn't the end of it. Do you ever have those situations where you simply can't accept that something has happened? Where you just don't want to believe it, keep on hoping that somehow all will come right?

When my brother phoned a few days ago and said, 'You'll never guess what I've found', my throat dried and I was afraid to answer him. I was afraid he'd say, 'Oh no, not that, that's well gone.' But he didn't. It was true. The old sock machine had been found wedged behind the door in a small room full of rubbish. It was there, it was intact, it was dry.

It was eleven o'clock at night but I was ready to leave that instant. However, my brother wanted to have it to himself for a few hours, 'to see it's running smoothly, oil it a bit for you,' as he put it. I think he had a few ghosts to face up to as well, so I left it. Until the earliest possible moment next morning, that was, when I was pounding on the gates with my heart thumping. And he put it into my hands.

It doesn't look too bad after lying hidden for more than thirty years, does it? Dust, a bit of surface rust, no more. A few chips in the enamelwork probably occurred during its busy working career.

Here is the faded gold lettering from which I was able to establish that it's an AutoKnitter.

- and here, miraculously, is the instruction book, discovered a day later by my wonderful brother.

It's going to take a lot of loving attention to get this little survivor up and working again, but happily the Net and Ravelry are going to be of immense help. I've already ordered needles for it from Angora Valley - can you believe that these are still being made? You Americans are wonderful!

I hesitated before posting this last picture. But I think you will want to see it.

The Last Sock.

That little sock machine had been lying there for so many years, hidden and forgotten, the last sock still on its needles, waiting to be finished. It must have wondered if anyone was ever coming back to take it out, clamp it to the table once more, turn its handle, praise it for making such beautiful work. And at last, one day, someone did.

To get back a part of the past, something that you thought had gone for ever, is no small thing. And it matters more than can be expressed in words. I'm no technical whiz, and part of my heart fails me at the thought of trying to get to grips with working this little machine. But with everyone's help, I will. I can feel an encouraging hand on my shoulder as I type this, a hand I thought I would not feel in this life again. And yes, the first pair for my brother.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Joy At The Return Of The Wanderer!

Oh happiness is a small yellow hard-shell suitcase! At last, at long last, the much-travelled weary adventurer touched down in Cork and toddled into my eager open arms.

I'd made yet one more call to the baggage handling agents in Amsterdam. A minor miracle. First of all I got on within three rings and had to grab the receiver hurriedly to reply (usually it takes about forty to fifty before someone picks up and you can get in a round or two on the current sock while waiting). Secondly, the girl actually sounded friendly. She checked, checked again, and then said brightly, 'Oh yes, it has been located, it is coming to you this morning, from London.' Now call me suspicious, but I'd heard that before, so I asked for the flight number. It was an EI. That's Aer Lingus. Our national airline. Well that sounds tentatively more promising... Let's forget that it was supposed to come with Aer Lingus from Amsterdam a week ago. Let's bury the past, look to the future.

My yellow suitcase
Is it coming to me
From out of the skies
Will it be here for tea?

Rushed up to the airport. Aforementioned skies had opened in the meantime, in one of those customary monsoons we tend to get here in summer (that's why it's so green, you see). Left DH manning the car on the sidewalk to ward off officious clampers (it used to be far more relaxed but they're trying to train us here in Cork to be good thoughtful citizens and it's taking longer than they expected) while I tore into the building.

Another minor miracle. The girl at the Aer Lingus enquiry desk was also friendly. What's going on here? I'd had my fill of pursed-lip couldn't-care-less-ers, but here was someone sympathetic and optimistic, even to someone dripping all over her counter! The plane wasn't in yet, should be here any minute. Unless it had to divert to Shannon, that is, because of the high winds. I stared at the arrivals board, willing that flight to land, storm or no storm. Rushed out to the car again. 'Don't know how long I can stay here,' said DH worriedly, eyeing a uniformed figure immobilising a huge BMW across the lane. 'Try!' I urged, wading back through the flood waters. Caught a glimpse of the familiar green and white coasting on to the runway and shouted 'It's landed! That has to be it!' Tried to peer round the building to see them offloading luggage just in case I could see the longed-for bright yellow, but the storm drove me back indoors, looking more like a survivor of a shipwreck than a seasoned sophisticated traveller.

A large family of cross people besieged the enquiry desk with hundreds of questions. I waited, tensed like a coiled spring. Remembered the current sock. Hauled it out and started to knit feverishly. People glanced nervously at this drenched, bedraggled creature muttering to herself as she twisted lime-green yarn around dangerous-looking needles, and made wide detours to avoid her.

Then I saw the friendly girl signalling wildly over the heads of her irate clients. 'Go down to the arrivals gate! Someone will meet you there! I hope it's good news! Crossed fingers for you!'
I flew the entire length of that airport, trailing the forgotten lime-green yarn (no, I tucked the needles in my pocket, there are some things you do automatically, whatever the crisis. Can't afford to lose any MORE needles). I arrived panting at the arrivals gate. The security men looked at me, amused. Then - THEN - I saw -

A smiling member of staff coming through the security doors, wheeling a trolley, and on it - MY YELLOW SUITCASE!

I rushed down to her, hugged her, hugged my suitcase, said something incoherent about wonderful people, wonderful airport, wonderful world. The security men guffawed. Hauling it out past them happily, I said, sotto voce, 'You can laugh, but I've waited a month for this.' Not strictly true, but it ruddy well wiped the smiles off their faces pretty quick.

And so to the car, still mercifully free of the clampers' attentions, and home. To be lovingly attended to (had a pretty nasty gash in one corner but it was being brave about it), questioned, queried, and at last unpacked. There were stickers from British Midlands (British Midlands?) and Lufthansa (LUFTHANSA?) on it but none from American Airlines. Or Aer Lingus for that matter. Who cares. Little Yellow Suitcase was home. Some day it will tell me the whole story. For now, there was yarn to be taken out, cooed over, photographed (the rain had stopped for a while, and it seemed somehow right to picture them in the cool open air on grass after the trip they'd had).

Here are those Estonian yarns. Evilla may be the name, or it might be an indication that they are wool. (Note to self: brush up on Estonian.) On either side are two which I calculate are about worsted or sockweight, one in variegated greens, the other in variegated blues. They are flanking the central skein, laceweight in, I think, long gradations of blues. No idea of the yardage in any, and the weight varies from one to the next, which is nice, indicating handspun you think?

Here are four lovely jolly thick Norwegian yarns, two shades of green and a red/white combo, both destined for happy holiday gift items.

A rather lovely skein of silk in shades of turquoise and blue (it may be recycled silk, if I remember correctly it was with some of those big recycled sari-silk skeins in the shop in Vadsoe) which will make a glorious lacy neck scarf.

Had actually forgotten I'd bought this - five balls of a delightful white fingering weight which will make a very nice evening top in a lace pattern. Maybe the Frost & Flowers one I saw somewhere on Ravelry? Or Karabella's Feather & Fan? (Don't bother asking myself if I actually need an evening top, the yarn is gorgeous, OK?)

Here is the lovely big ball of Norwegian sock yarn gifted to me by Aurora when we met at Tana Bru on the Norwegian trip. That will make lovely winter socks, Aurora, and you're a darling.
And the socks! At last the socks in progress came home!

Here is Lonely Norwegian, lonely no longer, on the left, with his much-travelled brother on the right (you can see how much furious work got done on Lonely while we were waiting for his sibling to show up).

and here are the beloved Koigu, half done and reminding me in every stitch of that wonderful Norwegian trip. Gosh, am I ever glad to have them all home safe, not to mention their Addi Turbo needles.

There were lovely parcels from friends this past week while I was worrying about the fate of Little Yellow Suitcase and its contents.

Alynxia sent this mouth-watering package of goodies in exchange for some of my yarns. Just look at what's here: Sea Wool, Somoko and a tiny skein of vintage SeaSilk from Fleece Artist, Mission Falls buttons, Algonquin tea bags, and the most delightful original booklet of knitting instructions for wartime projects. What a creative girl you are, Alynxia, to think up such a gorgeous package.

And this package came from Raspberry, also in exchange for some of my stash yarns. Restrain your envy while I enumerate with glee! Kraemer with silver, destined for the most amazing black lace stockings; Wollmeise (yes, Wollmeise!) in shades of scarlet, some exquisite Fleece Artist cashmere/silk, and, as a final lovely touch, two knitters' coasters, one, as she said, for my tea, and one for the Baileys! You're a lovely person, Raspberry.
It's been said before and doubtless will be said again, but the world of blogging and of Ravelry is a wondrous place. It's opened up possibilities, made links, created friendships that simply could not have happened otherwise. I raise a glass to you all. Thank you for being you. And for being there.