Sunday, August 31, 2008

A House of Dreams And A Little Forgotten Treasure

No sooner are the Ravelympics out of the way than lo and behold, an Elsebeth Lavold KAL is starting. Tomorrow, September 1, to be precise, and me with not a dog in the house washed! I have had my suspicions for some time, but now it is become blindingly apparent that Ravelry expands effortlessly to fill every available moment and quite a few moments you don't have. It is fun though. And I can give it up any time I like... really.

(Yesterday I met the receptionist who I had introduced to the joys of surfing on the Net while sitting primly at her counter, so nobody would be any the wiser, bosses can be such killjoys, and she asked if I knew of any nice patterns for bazaar or gift items. Whoo hoo, another novitiate for Ravelry! Gave her a quick glance at the possibilities, and she signed up for the waiting list on the spot, saying amazedly, 'you mean I can just type in the sort of thing I want to make and it shows me everything that's been made already? I can't believe this!...' Neither can the rest of us really, can we? I mean - look back at your hobby habits five years ago and look at them now.)

But the Lavold KAL. I had started Ragna absolutely ages ago then left it to one side because it was looking a bit big and bulky (not to mention warm) for my lifestyle here in Ireland where it doesn't usually get very cold. I still loved the idea of those medieval tabs, though, so I'm thinking about making an open-fronted jacket or cardigan with a high neck. Will post pictures when there is something to see. Still in the brain at the moment.

The Rivendell socks are progressing again, having been unceremoniously dumped for Estrid during the Ravelympics.

This is a really lovely design, and I'm enjoying it so much I might just continue the little diamonds down the instep. The stitches are so tiny, though, that a cable needle (well, a very fine darning needle really) is necessary to avoid catastrophes.

In the small window of opportunity 'twixt the ending of the Ravelympics and the intrusion of real life, managed to dye up a whole new lot of sock yarns.

These are up on eBay now - about half and half merino/tencel and merino/bamboo, to suit all tastes. Must start making up special packs soon too, with a mix of all kinds of different textures and colours and fibres, for those who are thinking of making any of Jane Thornley's gorgeous designs either for themselves or as seasonal gifts.

Speaking of whom, have you seen this latest amazing design from Jane?

The Roving Moss Cardigan.

What that woman can do with colour and texture is incredible. This I have to make. Hope you don't mind my showing your picture, Jane - it's so lovely I wanted everyone to fall for it as much as I did.

Gosh, it's almost September and that means I-Knit Day in London! Squeeeee! Who else is going to this next Saturday? I'll be there, with bells on. Let's meet up. It will be crowded, it will be exhausting, it will be hell on wheels, and none of us would miss it for the world. Yarn Harlot, see you on Saturday!

Now - I ran out of time last posting and promised to tell you about Prince Edward Island this time round.

I fell for that gentle lovely little island big time -

- from the moment I caught a glimpse of the little lighthouse and the characteristic red earth of the cliffs, as we came in on the ferry.

Of course it's famous for Lucy Maud Montgomery and her wonderful creation Anne of Green Gables. Must have read every single one of her books a hundred times over the years, and loved every one of them, but wasn't quite sure what to expect on PEI - total tourism perhaps, the sort of over-commercialisation that you get in other places. But the Island does it so very well, and with such an evident sense of caring and thoughtfulness, that you never feel you're being manipulated or fleeced - not ever. Even driving to Charlottetown the apartness of this place was palpable. Cottage gardens filled with old fashioned flowers, rolling fields of grain, traditional wooden barns beautifully maintained, a sense of earlier times - it was so restful. It's not so much that they play the part of the island described so lovingly in Montgomery's books, it's that PEI simply doesn't appear to have changed that much since the early 20th century.

Well of course we went to Green Gables! Did you think we wouldn't?

(Mind you, DH had to be given a very quick run-down on the books, the characters, the plots, the places, the best bits, the next best bits, the absolute favourite bits, while driving over to Cavendish, where Green Gables is located, but to give him credit, he took it all very well, only occasionally looking at me with puzzlement as if to ask, 'Does a children's book really matter all that much?' Actually they weren't written particularly for children - Montgomery just wrote them for anyone, and myself I still happily re-read them with no problem at all.)

The house has been really lovingly restored - I keep on using that term, but it honestly is the one which applies most appropriately to PEI - such care is taken with their tourist sights that other places really should go there for lessons on how to do it RIGHT.

I mean - just look at this. Anne's bedroom. Now you know and I know that Anne was just a character created by Lucy Maud, but to most of us she is as real as a sister, and they realise that at Green Gables. All her girlish things are here, all the memories of growing up, including even the cracked slate which she broke over Gilbert Blythe's head for calling her 'Carrots'. It really makes you feel choky inside when you look at the detail in that room - and at the narrow little staircase down which she went on her wedding morning to Gilbert waiting at the foot.

And yes, the orchard is there, and they have a wonderful vegetable plot with all the lettuces and tomatoes and carrots well tended. And roses and hollyhocks, and the path leading down to the little footbridge into the Haunted Wood, just as there should be. You feel you're walking through Anne's life when you're there, just as you read it in childhood.

Look at this little girl being photographed in the garden proudly wearing her Anne hat.

Apparently it's a very popular location for getting married too - some brides even dyeing their hair bright red for the occasion. Laugh if you like, but I must admit that I went into the bookshop later on and re-read that chapter, where Anne and Gilbert pledge their vows under the old apple trees.

We had a wonderful time just relaxing and wandering around the island for a few days, not rushing, going where the little winding roads took us, and DH patiently putting up with my, 'Oh there's the old Silverbush farm! Look, that's the Lake of Shining Waters! Gosh, that's the village hall where Ruby Gillis -' and so on.

One place I was determined to find was Anne's House of Dreams. This was always my favourite - the story where she comes as a young bride to an idyllic little cottage in a seaside hamlet, the dreams she weaves there, the sorrows and joys she encounters. Had some difficulty establishing which area had given Montgomery her basis for Four Winds Point and Glen River. Staff at Green Gables, though ready with every detail on their farm, the outbuildings, and anything connected with the tourist centre, were unsure; but eventually tireless persistence paid off, and we were directed to New London.

Only it couldn't be New London. It didn't look right at all. 'It has to have a promontory, and a lighthouse for the old captain,' I exclaimed crossly, banging on the dashboard of the car and rattling the map yet again (it occurs to me that there may be some reading this who have never actually read the Anne stories. If so, you have my apologies. No you don't. You have my sympathy. Stop reading this right NOW, go find the first in the series, and don't come back until you've read them ALL. They are not SO just for children. They're for anyone who appreciates good writing).

We drove on, along ever-narrower roads, on some red earth dirt tracks even, until at last I knew we'd found it. This had to be it. French River.

There are trees behind the bay, there is a beach on which Anne could dance by moonlight, and there is a path winding up to the clifftop and the tiny old lighthouse. Yes, I'd found the right location. There was even a darling little house tucked way back into the trees which could well be the original inspiration, but it didn't have the stream that Anne's house did. Ah well, maybe every author is entitled to some license in making the perfect house of dreams. (I'd show you that little house, I would, really, but it's currently in the limbo of being put on CDs by DH along with thousands of others, so it will have to wait. Remind me if I forget.)

This wasn't all the joy that Prince Edward Island gave. It had a secret gift waiting for me. We were coming back from the House of Dreams hunt and stopped to look at a tempting roadside junkshop - you know the kind, with old armchairs out on the roadside and stuffed moose teetering by the door. Wandered up and down the dusty aisles, noting the surprising number of spinning wheels on offer here on PEI, including great or walking wheels as well as the smaller type (how come there are so many, and that they're not all snapped up, spinners among you, head for PEI NOW, they're quite reasonably priced). Niddy noddies too, both elegant and very evidently home-made, but rather too large to fit in a suitcase.

Just about to leave, decided to wander down the last aisle, checking if anything was hidden underneath the display tables (I'm always on the lookout for a teeny tiny folding table, the kind that looks like a footstool when folded, and can fit behind the armchair, but makes a nice little coffee table when opened up.)

Then, quite suddenly, I saw - this.

Only a handle, poking out of a box that was pushed right under a shelf, but it was enough. I tried to call DH but only a strangled croak came out. 'Twas enough for him to detect the emergency though, because he was at my side in an instant.

'Is - is it?'

'It can't be. I don't believe it.'

'Neither do I.'

But it was. And five minutes later we had loaded it into the car and were heading back to our hotel at full speed. At last we could unload the full contents on to a handy newspaper and examine our find.

Now what, would you say, are the chances, within a couple of months of being reunited with the most wonderful and precious family heirloom, of finding just another such? On Prince Edward Island? With a sock still in the cylinder? No, coincidence won't wash this time. That little machine was waiting for me and I was led to that dark aisle in that junkshop. No question.

All the bits were in the box which was the original packing case in which the machine arrived. I know that because of the envelope you can see on top in the picture there. We carefully, oh-so-carefully unfolded it, held it up to the light, and tried to read the address. Eventually DH photographed it at high resolution, and then enlarged it on screen.

You might not be able to read the address here, but you can probably see it comes from the Dundas Knitting Machine Co. in Dundas, Ontario. And can you see the lovely engraving of a knitting machine in the top left hand corner?

The little Dundas was bought, it appears, by a Mr. Arsene Gallant of Miscouche, Prince Edward Island. Thank heaven for in-room wi-fi! We searched for M. Gallant and found one in Miscouche who lived between 1860 and 1940. His wife (who died in 1948) was called Sophie. Of course she was! Now we had a name for our new treasure. And the makings of a perfectly lovely story in the future - the Tale of A Sock Machine.

Heavens above, Lucy Maud Montgomery might have known the Gallants. She might have seen Sophie working on it. The possibilities of her story are endless.

She is really tiny in sock terms this little Sophie - the cylinder has only 32 slots, which means a 32 stitch sock, while the ribber has just 16. Perhaps it was intended for children's wear, although you could perhaps get an adult size with thicker yarn. Time will tell.

So now my own beloved Maman machine has a little daughter machine, Sophie, to keep her company. Some day soon they will crank side by side. Sophie Gallant, wherever you sleep on the island of red earth and winding lanes, know that your treasured machine is safe in Ireland and being well cared for.

And thank you, Prince Edward Island. I truly did not expect such a gift, but I am so grateful you thought me worthy of it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Meanderings With Moose And Efforts With Estrid!

There hasn't been a second to waste. There ISN'T a second to waste. I don't even have time to apologise for the long lapse since my last posting. Ravelympics are here and I have until August 25 (I think) to reach the finishing line on my marathon events, viz the Cable Steeplechase and the Sweater Sprint. For both of these I have entered the lovely but demanding Estrid out of the Elsebeth Lavold stable.

Here is the front, completed and blocking. Have just got to the armhole shaping on the back and laid it down to bring you this posting - hope you appreciate the sacrifice. No, the original didn't have armhole shaping, but I thought it would look more elegant, less bulky, with set-in sleeves. It's Lavold's own Silky Wool in Midnight or Navy or some such description of dark blue - colour 46 if you're besotted - and I'm working it on a 3.5mm circular - can you believe the insanity? Seventeen days, seventy million stitches on a thin little toothpick, and I chose to enter Ravelympics. Nobody forced me.

Actually the reasoning was that this particular design has been in the queue for quite some time and something as time-constrained as the Ravelympics might just make me finish it rather than starting, losing enthusiasm, and consigning Estrid to the ever-growing pile of WIPs hibernating in the stash room.

We got back from a travel job in Nova Scotia just before the start of Ravelympics. That was a good trip and one article has already been accepted for publication, while DH's pictures are on their way to Lonely Planet. Gosh Nova Scotia is beautiful.

This is the switchbacking coastal road along Cape Breton in the mists of early morning. You can spot pilot whales out in the waves as you drive by -

- but it's not that good an idea to take your eyes off the road, even for a second, as you never know who is going to appear, wandering peacefully on your side of the carriageway.

The most engaging thing about Cape Breton was the fact that the eastern side was totally Celtic, with signs in Gaelic, a College of Piping (bagpipes, bagpipes, not plumbing!), ceilis held in the evenings, and a general air of familiarity. The western side, in contrast, was totally French, with signs in the Gallic language, shops selling French patisserie, everyone speaking in Canadian French (not as easy to understand as the European version) and a completely different atmosphere in every way. Great fun.

Getting up early in the morning was a good idea as you often found the wildlife ambling around and willing to be photographed during breakfast (theirs, not ours).

Took this picture myself, I did, I did, with my own camera!

- and if you don't believe me, here's proof - the wildlife photographer in action, unaware that he himself is being tracked by a lens. Isn't it nice to see a moose against the dawn sky on a coastal headland with the sea below? By 8 am, he had ambled away into thick woodland cover where he would remain until after dusk (no, no, the moose, not DH, do pay attention).

Cheticamp, where we met the moose, is famed for its hooked rugs and naturally I fell totally for these.

I love the primitive style of this one, seen in a wayside cafe,

and the effect of this one, seen in a tourist information centre, is spectacular. Memo to self: when oh when are you going to do some rug hooking? Are you waiting to be asked or something?

River John, which produces those cunning Swing needles, had to be visited:

It's based within the Lismore Sheep Farm Wool Shop, seen here, and the lovely, touchable, hand-made wooden needles are marvellous.

Of course a pair of the Swing needles had to be bought - you don't turn the work, you slip the knob off the end of the needle and start again with a second ball of yarn. Gives most unusual results.

So why haven't I got a picture of the Swing needles? Because I can't find where I put them when I got home, that's why. Will post them another day.

Yes there was yarn - and yarn designers too. Gosh, isn't Nova Scotia amazing for producing such luminaries? Fleece Artist, Lucy Neatby, Ilga Leja, Jane Thornley, believe it or not, all live within hailing distance of each other. Although on reflection, that might be self-explanatory when you think about it. Encouragement and inspiration maybe? Hadn't intended to call in on any of them, since they probably get quite enough unwanted visitors dropping by without my adding to their number, but by happy chance, when I was passing through White Point on the south coast, guess who just happened to be holding a week-long workshop there...

- and she didn't mind my dropping in at all!

Jane Thornley and I have been corresponding for some time (don't be too surprised if there is an Irish workshop on the horizon...), but this was the first occasion we had met in reality. She was teaching this amazing course on how to knit your very own beach.

You should see the prototype vest she'd created. Beautiful! Jane has that enviable skill of seeing no limits, no constraints, no boundaries to creativity. She calls this kind of work Evocative Knitting, and to sit in, if only for a short time, and listen and learn, was quite an experience.

The students had walked the beaches at White Point, looking, seeing, visualising, and then, with all their yarns spread around them, were recreating all the different aspects of a beach, from sand to shells, foam to seaweed, ocean waves to shoreline grass. Absolutely anything goes as far as Jane is concerned, and her constant theme was to push the boundaries, go for what you see in your mind's eye and recreate it in texture, in colour, in stitch and shape. Wonderful!

This is lovely Maggie who prefers to sit on the floor with all her yarns and needles and hooks around her to create her one-of-a-kind projects. Maggie is another one of those great people who can do absolutely anything - show her an idea and she just runs with it. Her rendering of the Knit A Beach vest was going to incorporate lovely v-shaped godets in the back of the jacket. When I asked about an interesting way of edging a cuff, she whipped up a crochet hook and some yarn and showed me how to do it, right there and then.

And she has the warmest, friendliest hug I've ever experienced. So happy to have met you, Maggie!

Everybody at the session, from seasoned knitters to semi-beginners, was enthused and energetic, and they were all so welcoming to this unexpected visitor. One lady (I thought I had a note of your name, I'm so sorry, if you see this, do leave a comment!), upon my admiring a beautiful ball of yarn in her stash, just upped and gave it to me! Just like that!

This is Mitsuri, mostly cotton with a little wool, and it was completely new to me. I hadn't even suspected its existence until I saw it there.

It soon had companions on the trip of course. You can't go to Nova Scotia, and not call in to Baadeck Yarns on Cape Breton.

Isn't this the sweetest little place? Look at that Great Wheel mounted on the wall? OK, OK, you want to go inside. Your wish is my command.

It was a treasure trove. Kathryn (Fleece Artist) dyes colourways especially for Baadeck Yarns, most notably the beautifully misty Cape Breton Highlands in shades of lavenders and greens. Had to send DH outside to work on his pictures on the laptop while I wandered around hyperventilating at the sight of so much Fleece Artist and HandMaiden in one place.

But yarn and patterns and books were to be had everywhere. Oh Mother Ireland, what is wrong with you that the far-off colonies where your children settled treasure the old ways while you're trying to forget them? The people of Nova Scotia are extremely proud of their traditions and even during a thunderstorm there was always a yarn haven at the end of the road -

Lorraine has a wonderfully old fashioned and sensible shop, jammed to the rafters with good honest yarn and healthy sweaters and socks. Yes, she knitted them herself. Yes, she could do a pair of socks in a day (Lorraine, I'm getting back to you in time for next year's Sock Madness!) No, she wasn't a slave to the place, she shut when she felt like it, and she also did the paper round at 5 am every morning. Great girl!

(DH may not have realised that he had captured himself in that full-length mirror when he was photographing us. Always avoids being photographed, does DH.)

Perhaps my favourite shop of the entire trip though was Gaspereau Valley Fibres up at Wolfville. And we so nearly didn't make it. It was a Sunday and the last chance we would have to be in that corner of Nova Scotia. The shop shut at 4pm. It took a long time to get there (we were watching the famed Fundy tidal bore back near Truro). Got lost in the admittedly tiny town of Wolfville where nobody seemed to know the whereabouts of the shop. Finally rocketed to a stop outside the door of the old wooden farm building at two minutes past four, just as Jali was taking down the banner, signifying that they were all closed up until Tuesday (they don't open on Mondays). Brenda, the owner, was, as it happened, away visiting relatives that weekend and neighbour and fellow fibre enthusiast Jali was doing the Sunday shift for her.

Well heaven bless you, Jali! You went right back to the house and retrieved the keys, and then opened up for me again (you must have wondered if all Irish women were as breathless and hysterical and hyperventilating as this). And what a gorgeous place it is!

So old-fashioned and homely, with wooden floors and vintage shelving, creaky doors and mysterious corners. And the fibre, oh heavens!

Silky rovings all colours of the rainbow. Skeins and cones that would challenge an angel's restraint. Books, patterns, needles, notions, spinning wheels - I wanted to sit right down and stay there. On my own. All night. I would have pillowed my head on Fleece Artist and tucked my toes into HandMaiden to keep them warm. Oh my. Treble oh my. And Jali was laughing and amused and helpful and chatty and I stayed far too long. Brenda, you've got a treasure there!

Even on the morning of our departure, there was still time to check out The Loop Craft Cafe in Halifax, where another blogging friend was encountered, the lovely Shari.

It is so amazing to meet in real time with people you've chatted to over the airwaves for so long. Shari had brought along her son, Mackenzie who seemed to think that travelling and taking pictures or writing articles for a living seemed like a pretty good career option. Not all the time, Mackenzie, not all the time! Shari was moving house that week - hope it went OK, and that you kept the yarn where you could find it!

Here is the compulsory picture of stash obtained on the trip. Not huge, but then, there is some pretty high-grade ore in there:

Taking centre stage is a new (to me) sock yarn from Lang, 55% wool, 20% silk, and 25% nylon. Above it are two skeins of Elsebeth Lavold's Silky Wool in periwinkle; to the left, Fleece Artist Merino in Carnival (I think), and on the right, the same artist's Sea Wool in Blueberries. Left front is a little skein of Tilli Thomas Beaded Lace Silk in the Peace colourway (no excuse but lust), with HandMaiden SeaSilk next to that (more lust). On the right an exquisite HandMaiden Silk & Cashmere, and finally two skeins of laceweight pure bamboo from Kamboo, which I found on a stall at a Saturday Farmers' Market. I just love a country that sells yarn at an open-air country market.

Enough for now. I have to get back to Estrid. There is more to tell you about - we did take a side trip to the most enchanting place ever, Prince Edward Island, where I positively bathed in the Anne of Green Gables atmosphere, but that can wait for the next posting. The Ravelympics can't!