Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Dreadful Inevitability Of An Eriskay Epic

Look, I'm not keeping this up, OK? I am NOT. There is no way Celtic Memory is going to continue at this rate, posting practically every day. It just so happens that it was a leisurely long weekend following on some exhausting workloads, and it also so happened that there were several things upon which I required your advice, but it won't go on like this. Soon we'll be back to the happy days of the West Cork Irregulars.

But in the meantime, I'm very worried. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. In fact, if this were not a family blog with toddlers lisping the unfamiliar phrases as they hit the keyboard and look at the pretty pictures before falling asleep in their cots, stronger words would be used.

It's because of Eriskay (cue sheet lightning from the general direction of the Outer Hebrides). It's my albatross, my Nemesis. It always has been. Oh I run, I hide, I set sail for the other side of the world, but it's no good. Eriskay (oh stop that d*n*d thunder, will you, Starmore?) finds me, wherever I go, and whatever distracting WIP I may have on the needles.

Lilly, seconded enthusiastically by CindyL, tried to help by suggesting a beautiful lace stole in that poppy-red Shetland. Thanks girls, it's a nice idea, and I totally agree that Birgit's designs are glorious. But you see it's no good. This is more than whim, there is little of choice in it. Eriskay (shut UP, will you AS?) is my Fate, my weird, my Philippi.

I wouldn't mind, but I know that every single attempt is doomed to failure, as all the previous ones have been. Was it Tantalus who was condemned to push a huge boulder uphill forever, only to have it roll back down again every time? Shouldn't be at all surprised. Or one of those luckless souls anyway.

What has brought this on, I hear the cry. What ails poor Celtic Memory that she looks so haggard and worn?

I fear thee, Celtic Memory,
I fear thy glittering eye!
Why look'st thou so forlorn and wan,
Beneath the winter sky?

Alas, she's cursed to face this task,
Until the Judgement Day!
Doomed to attempt again, again,
The dreadful Eriskay...

Yes, I wouldn't be surprised if some of you did shrink away. You wouldn't want this particular albatross around your neck.

But the reason? Well, last night, feeling in a slightly more cheerful frame of mind after posting and talking about this and that, and having tucked the baby Kromski up for the night (she's wonderful, sleeps right through, no waking up for a drink of oil or a polish or anything, mind you the presence of the two fairy godmothers might have something to do with that, Queen of Orkney is the frightening old black-habited aunt who inculcates good habits and is very strict on table manners, while Countess Angelique is more inclined to slip baby Kromski peppermints and tell her scurrilous tales of 18th century Paris), where was I?

Oh yes, I was feeling a bit more positive, so after dinner I found the micro-gauge needles and cast on for an Eriskay swatch (muttering as I did so, 'I can't believe I'm even contemplating this).

It's not exactly an Eriskay swatch of course, it's the Eriskay swatch. When Starmore tells you to work a swatch you jump to it. Cast on 31 sts. Not 30 you notice, not 32, but 31. For heaven's sake. Then work 44 rows. 44? Not 40? Not 20? No, you are requested - who am I kidding, you're commanded - to work the swatch exactly as dictated. Or she will know. She always knows.

Which I did. The correct swatching count, I mean. This in itself was a first for Celtic Memory. OK, yes, I do swatch. I've claimed to do so before, so I probably do. But my swatches tend to be worked in a happy-go-lucky, oh-that's-near-enough sort of way. The Irish approach, if you like. (The most popular phrase in this country, and the one which was the despair of the nice kind English who tried for so long to civilise us into their ways, is 'Ah 'twill do.') I dutifully cast on the requisite 31. I worked under the daylight lamp to keep an eye on the tiny stitches. All right, I didn't go the full 44. After 22 I reasoned I'd done quite enough. I cast off (bound off for Statesiders). I washed the tiny little red scrap. I draped it to dry alongside half a dozen skeins of organic Irish fingering weight destined for shawl kits. This morning I brought it up into the warm sunlight of the solar (really the upstairs sitting room which faces south and gets any sunshine that's going, oh and somebody asked what a solar was: it was an upstairs room in a Tudor or Elizabethan manor house which had big windows so the ladies could have both warmth from the sun and good light to do their needlework) and laid it out neatly to take its measurements. No, I didn't block it, there are limits even to my good humour (who laughed? OUT of here, you!)

Oh dear.

Oh deary deary deary dear. Oh 'eck.


I'd made gauge. In fact the eagle-eyed among you may suggest that I was slightly under gauge, but that could be due to my omission of the blocking procedure. Whatever.

It's the first time in my life I have ever made Starmore gauge.

And you know what that means, don't you?

Now I have to try the confounded (can I say 'confounded' on Ravelry? Are the kids in bed?) thing yet again, with this new yarn which I now realise came into my hands by no accident.

No escape.

As I suggested in the title of this posting, there is a dreadful inevitability about this project.

More on the Eriskay Epic as it unfolds. It will distress, it will frighten, it will hold children from their play and old men from the chimney corner. But it must be told.

You think if I went up to the Isle of Lewis with a big box of Irish chocolates....?

Now, we were talking about Birgit's lovely designs earlier on. When I looked at her site (thanks Lilly) I noticed some beautiful neckwarmers there. Now until recently I hadn't really noticed neckwarmers, or maybe they hadn't been quite as much in evidence, it being the wrong season and all. But now it's the right season and I think these are a great idea. They can look elegant and add a touch of bright colour while at the same time keeping neck and chest extra snug. So Celtic Memory has decided she can't live without one. Or two or three.

In fact I have downloaded several from Ravelry over the past week, and then saw Knitspot's utterly covetable Spiraluscious and fell in love instantly.

This is Anne's picture, not mine, but I'm sure she won't mind my showing it to you, do you Anne? I mean, dozens more people are going to want to rush out and buy it this instant, so that can't be bad, can it?

Thing is, Celtic Memory is planning a quick short trip to Estonia in December, and suspects that neckwarmers will be rather useful there at this time of year. Not to mention thick double-knit woolly hats, kneesocks over the silk thermals, and ski pants. (Anybody got a good pattern for a quick-knit double-thick hat?) And so both this neckwarmer and the Elsebeth Lavold Mathilde are going to be worked on without delay.

Reading Lene's blog the other day reminded me that I hadn't checked out Twist Collective in ages, so went over and had a look. And fell like a ton of bricks for this -

Yes, that small image was all it took. You can see the full picture on the Twist Collective site. It's called Stormsvale, and I have just the right yarn for it.

In fact two. These skeins are both from rescue cones, both pure Shetland-spun fingering weight. The one on the left is called, I think, Maelstrom, and the one on the right, Pinewood. My photograph does not do justice to the subtle shadings in both yarns. The cones were, as usual, dusty and a bit oily, but oh the way the yarns bloomed when given a gentle wash would do your heart good. It did.

Not that mad about colourwork (did it when younger of course, but went off it in recent years); however, if anything were to bring me back into the colourwork fold, it would be Stormsvale. Doesn't look like a quick weekend knit exactly though, does it?

The next image has nothing whatsoever to do with knitting. I just thought you'd like to see it.

And yet, maybe it's not completely unrelated. The mug mat on the right with its endearing off-centre heart, is a souvenir of the little town of Cheticamp in Nova Scotia, home of the hooked rug, while the pincushion on the left cost me just €2.99 in a local Christmas shop the other day. Backed with velvet, the top is fine suede, two layers of it, the pale biscuit delicately cut to reveal the moss green underneath. Even the little hanging loop is made of suede. I couldn't think why I should buy it, and turned away several times, but came back because of the delicacy of its work. It was only when I brought it home and put it down accidentally on this wooden stool that I realised why I'd bought it. Don't they belong together? And how the heck can something so beautiful cost so little at the end of what must have been a fairly long journey - from the furthest reaches of Asia, I suspect?

Did get round to trying that merino/bamboo/nylon blend on the Kromski this morning.

Quite pleased with it so far. Oddly enough, although too much twist was always the problem on the Orkney, with the Kromski I don't seem to be giving it quite enough twist. I suspect both have to do with tension - will have to go experimenting and twiddling to see if each can adjust a little. Always nerve-racking adjusting tension. Advice and guidance, as always, welcomed. And while I'm at it, what on earth is Scotch tension? I have the wherewithal for it (apparently) on the Kromski, but no idea on earth how to operate it.

Lovely sunny if chilly and frosty day again today.

Muffy the Yarnslayer helped with the leaf pile

while Sophy Wackles thought long long thoughts on the driveway.

And lastly, a special treat for all of you, my good friends, tonight, courtesy of DH, still the most brilliant and instinctive photographer I know. I'd been expecting this to turn up in tomorrow night's skies, but when I went up to draw the curtains in the sitting room, I saw it and shrieked for him to come with his camera. I ran for my own Nikon, but he said, hurrying past, 'Don't even think about it, you'd need a tripod and slow exposure and...' Gosh, I panic when he talks techie!

The new crescent moon in conjunction with Venus and Jupiter. Isn't that beyond words?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Of Misty Mornings, Merry Spinning, And A Horrible Tale

Hah, that took you by surprise, didn't it! Celtic Memory posting again, two days later! Nay not so much - more like a day and a bit - well can't miracles happen after all?

I took it to heart. I decided, after all the comments, that I really must try harder. It wasn't just KiniaCat and lovely Suzy in Oklahoma chiding me gently, it was my own realisation that I'm not ORGANISED enough. So often, just after posting, another idea comes to mind, a project unmentioned, a funny event, a wonderful picture, and a mental note is taken to include it next time. Only these build up and up, and eventually there is so much that the thought of sitting down for a marathon session is one of those ghastly ideas - you know, like when you pass the door of the spare room and see the chaos within and think, one of these days, yes, really one of these days I must tackle that. Or the ironing. Or the garden - but you know what I mean.

So what I think is, if postings were more regular, on a daily basis - or let's be reasonable, perhaps a two-day basis - then it wouldn't be so demanding. A little and often instead of feast and famine. You think?

You know, this is what Stephanie does. Come rain or shine (snow or more snow right now I should think, considering where she lives) the Yarn Harlot posts. Heck, she was even posting from her hotel room on her London book launch. How does she manage that, along with defending fleece from squirrels, never missing a Knit Night, making socks for her entire family, going on world lecture tours - oh and rattling off a few bestsellers along the way?

I think I've discovered something distinctly sneaky about our beloved YH. I think - wait for it, wait for it - I think -

The Yarn Harlot Is An Organised Woman!

It's no good denying it Steph, it's no good shaking your head as you read this. One of us at least is on to you. You've spread the image far and wide of a girl beset by troubles and invaders (oh sorry, that's Ireland, well beset by happenstance and circumstance, by airport delays and unfriendly computers, by uncooperative yarns and frightening requests then) who richochets from disaster to disaster and only barely pulls herself out by her bootlaces (no I do not know if she is wearing boots this snowy morning in Toronto and if so what the make is, so you can get a pair exactly like them. Ask her!)

Whereas the reality is that you are a soundly organised and steady-minded individual who plans ahead, has the ironing done not only for her immediate family but for relations too, who makes Christmas gift lists in January and ticks them off all the way through to June, when she can relax, who never forgets to put each item into its correct recycling box, who swatches for every single project and never, but never, omits to read the pattern through three times before even casting on.

I mean, how'd you get where you are today if that were not the case? Hey? C'mon admit it, this chaos thing is a blind, a literary fiction. Right?

Well I am going to follow Steph's example. I'm going to try at least to post every couple of days for a while, and see how that works.

So here is your Saturday surprise! A beautiful frosty clear sunny morning too. DH has taken Sophy Wackles down to the Gearagh for a run - doubtless there will be some stunning pictures when he gets back.

Here's one from my study window to be going on with. The sun hasn't hit the lawn so the frost is still untouched. Had to refill the bird feeders and break the ice on the pond first thing.

Thank you for all the congratulations on the safe if overdue arrival of baby Kromski.

Here is the first formal picture, with baby on her sheepskin rug as every new baby should be, flanked by her watchful fairy godmothers. She looks quite large because she's in the foreground but she's quite a bit smaller overall than either Queen of Orkney on the left, or Countess Angelique on the right. Hasn't got much of a polish on her yet either, because I need to buff up the beeswax some, but that will come with time.

And here's a closeup. The most lovely set of instructions came with her, including a gentle reminder that she had come a long way from Poland, so to take care with unpacking. Which I did. I was delighted by the strip of suede leather which was to be used to tie the footman to the treadle, as I was with the reassuring advice 'there is no magic to this - we suggest you try this way...'

What do you know, she worked like a dream, from the first moment! I couldn't believe it! Tried some BFL combed top and straightaway I was spinning fine yarn - something I've never been able to do on the Orkney which is bluff and hearty and will only create chunky yarns fit for keeping out Scottish wind and rain. I went on and on spinning this laceweight, enchanted with the way we were working together.

Oh - I'm really sorry, but this is where the idyll ends for a while and you have to read of something rather unpleasant. No pictures - it was too awful for that - but those of you who had looked forward to a really nice weekend, skip the next couple of paragraphs and don't come back until you see a nice image of something else entirely, like - like a big bag of fibre. OK?

Well - I'd spun almost a whole bobbinful and was beginning to think about starting another, when my attention wandered (I think I was gazing at the beautifully turned distaff and thinking of fairy tales) and the thread broke. This happens in the best regulated spinning households, it's no big deal. I reached in for the end, to bring it out and join on the last little bit of top.

I reached again...

I got up crossly and looked down on the bobbin to find the broken end.

I looked again.

Muttering under my breath, I removed the whole caboodle, unscrewed the whorl (sorry for the technical details non-spinners, but we spinners love these little bits of extra information), slid the bobbin off the flyer (ditto), and looked once more for the broken end.

Readers, I spent a full hour searching for that loose end. Raked up and down the bobbin, lifted likely loops with a crochet hook and ran them around and around to see if they were the right one, to no avail. Called in the services of DH plus the magnifying facility on my daylight lamp. Nothing. Nada. Pas de saucisse. Or, if you prefer, ochi loukanka.

It just wasn't there. And hold it, hold it, I do NOT want a joyous chorus of 'Oh but it's easy, you just....' Rather object to that catch-phrase if you recall. When Celtic Memory says she's tried everything, she actually means it.

Three hours later, bowed to the inevitable and called on ancient Greek legend to solve the problem. Yes (this is the nasty bit, look away now), Celtic Memory took a sharp scissors and cut every inch of beautifully-spun laceweight BFL off the bobbin. Hercules, when faced with the Gordian Knot, seized his sword - I used a scissors but it was the same thing.

Don't want to think about it any more. I bet you're glad there aren't pictures.

But it wasn't baby Kromski's fault, no indeed, not a shadow of suggestion that it could be. She is a fairylike spinning wheel, and to make sure she didn't feel worried (though she's a bit young to pick up these nuances as yet, I think), I took out my lovely big bag of Gotland combed top.

(OK those of you who skipped the nasty bits, you can come back now.)

This is that magical fleece which was used for the elven cloaks in the film of Lord of the Rings if you remember. The Gotland is a very ancient breed from Scandinavia, and to work with it is going to be rather lovely. (Celtic Memory has inadvisedly joined a SAL (spinalong) on a Ravelry spinning group to make enough yarn for a sweater - she will live to be sorry for this, she knows it already, but it is for that the Gotland is intended.)

Tasha was quite entertained both by the new wheel and by the Gotland fleece (you can't see Muffy, but she's prowling wildeyed in the background, biding her time and waiting her moment).

What I like about the Kromski (no, not named yet, I've got to be sure it's the right one for her) is that she gently and courteously accepts any fibre you give her. This Gotland is a bit slippery, short-stapled, not something I'd used before, but there was no difficulty in spinning two small bobbinloads, plying them, and then washing the first ever Kromski/Gotland skein.

Don't laugh at it. I am amazed and delighted that straight out of the cradle, this little Polish princess was able to cope with and create yarn from, a totally strange fibre. Just think what she'll do in the future!

There have been more insanities chez Celtic Memory. Galloping through Ravelry yesterday, en route to the spinning group, I caught a glimpse of the most be-yoo-ti-ful sock pattern. Already the process of moving to the next screen was in progress - you know those moments when you falter on one foot but can't stop yourself leaping ahead? - but I'd seen the name, and went back straightaway to search for it (if you're on Ravelry, have you noticed that advertisements don't stay there for long? You have to be quick, or hope that they'll come round again while you wait and they don't, not for ages.)

Oddly enough, the last time this happened to me, it was a Red Bird sock pattern, and so it proved to be this time again. They really are lovely designs. I got it through Patternfish where Julia went out of her way to sort a downloading problem at my end and was as pleased as me when it came through in the end. Nice people at Patternfish!

This is Snowy Woods, after Robert Frost's poem which is an especial favourite of mine. Isn't it stunning? Don't you want to make it this very second? (This is Red Bird's picture not mine, by the way - I'm sure she won't mind my showing off her lovely work to everybody.)

I'd make a pair of these as a Christmas present for somebody else but reason tells me that I'd never let them out of my hot little hands, so I won't even consider that. Going to check the stash later for the right green - got plenty of the snowy white.

Don't you love the instant gratification of these pattern downloads? Assuming you have a reasonable stash of both yarn and needles (gosh, I remember the time I thought one set of each was enough, foolish foolish girl...) you can fall in love with a design at 9 pm, have it printed and in your hands at 9.02, and have the cuff done by 9.30 (well, maybe 9.45, we're not into Sock Madness Three yet.)

Further insanity. A rescue cone of beautiful poppy-red Shetland yarn came into Celtic Memory's paws recently. It was dirty and dusty, but a skein washed up beautifully and showed its proud lineage.

Hung it here in the last rays of evening sunlight the other day to be photographed. It's a fine Shetland, and, I think, a bit too delicate for socks, lovely though such socks would be. What can you make with a fine gauge Shetland yarn in that rare poppy-red?

This is where Eriskay comes back into the picture. Remember Eriskay? That stunning gansey pattern from Alice Starmore (good heavens, how on earth can there be a clap of thunder on a frosty late November morning?) Venerable readers may recall the chapters of disaster that followed earlier attempts on this design. The ribbing which unaccountably twisted itself after five rounds, not before. The Slaughter Of The Cashmere By Muffy The Yarnslayer. And that's without considering the impossibility of working five million tiny stitches on microscopic fine wire needles. Anyone trying this sweater must be insane.

Enter Angeluna The Enabler. 'No trouble', she said easily. 'I'm working a Vivian Hoxbro on pretty fine needles at the moment and you'd be surprised how fast it progresses. Give it a try.'

No. Definitely no. Absolutely finally NO!

Although it is a lovely design, isn't it?

(whimper) Do you know what size circular that is? 2mm. Yes, US size O. The one I normally use for socks. That would be for the ribbing of course. For the main body of the sweater, one would move up to the lavish luxury of US size 2, or 2.5mm.

Is Celtic Memory seriously considering creating an entire sweater on 2.5mm needles?

No she isn't. And I'll tell you why. She's a loose knitter (as veterans of Sock Madness will know - remember the saga of Reversai and CM's total inability to get gauge?) so of course she wouldn't be knitting Eriskay on tiny 2.5mm needles.

She'd be knitting it on even tinier 2.25mm needles! (Thanks Ruth for sending me those. You and I both thought they'd be used for socks, but no more they're not! A higher calling perhaps?)

No, haven't swatched. Haven't the courage yet. Maybe after a strong coffee. Let you know.

Speaking of coffee, I must tell you about a lovely little happening down at my favourite watering hole, the Cruiscin Lan in Ballyvourney, the other day. These two men were sitting at a table nearby and observed my travel knitting with interest.

'Tis a long time since I saw someone knitting socks,' said one with evident pleasure.

His companion who was less talkative, but very observant, looked closely at the pattern. 'That's a nice design,' he said. 'And a nice soft wool too, I'd say.' It's not often you find women, let alone men, as interested as that, so they were worth cultivating, these two, wouldn't you say?

We fell into easy talk, as you do in West Cork, and they chatted about the old days and the old ways and how both their mothers had knitted all the time, making sweaters, socks, hats, for their families.

'My mother used to make - would you call it Fair Isle - with different colours?' said one. 'And sometimes she'd get her sisters to knit the sleeves while she knitted the body, but she was very cross with one sister because, she'd say over and over again, 'she knitted loose'. And that meant of course that the sleeves weren't the same fit as the body at all when you came to put them together!'

'My mother made me hold up the skeins of wool for her,' recollected the other. 'I'd have to sit there for ages, and my arms would get tired, and down they would droop, and she'd say, 'Lift up that skein, lift it up for me.' Like this, I'd have to hold them.'

That's the great thing about going out for coffee in this part of the world. You never know who you'll meet and what fascinating things you'll find out.

It's sunny this morning, but yesterday at dawn there was a mist over everything. The sun had to struggle to break through. Beautiful, isn't it?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

La Petite Kromski Est Arrivee!

And no, I don't know how to find those cunning little accents to put over that penultimate 'e' here on Blogger. If an expert does know, you might tell me. But you can get the gist, can't you. Baby Kromski, little Mazurka, is here at last, at last, at LAST!

Thanks in no small part to Margie of Moondance Wools who went out of her way and well beyond the call of duty to track it down, contacting suppliers, couriers, everybody, and then ringing me long distance to give me reference numbers and phone details. Margie you're a cuddle bundle! Anybody living within shouting distance of the Scottish Borders, go along to the Christmas Fair at Coldingham this Saturday and give Margie a hug from me. If you're not within hallooing distance, then the next time you're browsing her site for all those delectable fibres, send her a nice message and tell her she's the kind of person who makes this world worthwhile.

The wheel was shipped last Tuesday week. By Friday I was worried, by Monday frantic. Then on Tuesday, through Margie's magic I got the name and address of a warehouse at the other side of Cork - about a 50 mile round trip. Late afternoon and gathering dusk, who cares. Into the little jeep, Sophy Wackles riding postilion (riding shotgun for Statesiders, OK?), and off to brave the hazards of the city traffic to get to Little Island. Which isn't. Little, I mean. We roved up and down commercial routes, searching side roads, looking frantically, stopping lorries to ask drivers who were as lost as we were. Eventually tracked down the business park, found the warehouse, rushed in and begged for baby Kromski.

He was a lovely young man and hunted high and low on the computer, looking more and more worried (the fact that I was hammering on the counter with my head at this stage probably didn't help him to relax). He went off and searched the warehouse, upstairs and down. 'I am very sorry, but I don't seem -' That was enough. I ducked under the counter flap and headed into the warehouse myself. 'But you are not allowed -'

Rightly ignoring the protestations I scanned the entire place with burning eyes, floor to roof. There, there, there - THERE! Standing forlornly on a shelf at chest-height, all by itself, a big box labelled 'Mazurka'. Alleluia!

'That's it, that's IT!'

He carried it out - I was trying to grab it, to cuddle it, and he was explaining that he really had to do the paperwork first, see some ID, that kind of thing. Finally he completed the details and asked a little shyly what it was that had got me into such a state. I explained.

And what do you know, he was Polish! I was so happy to be able to tell him of the beautiful craftsmanship that goes into these spinning wheels, and how right-minded spinners everywhere are yearning to get their hands on them. He was smiling as I left, reassuring Sophy that no the box wasn't a narsty monster and yes, it was quite OK to be out after dark (sometimes I worry about that dog, really I do.)

Here it is arriving home, with Muffy the Yarnslayer coming to check Sophy out (do your home dogs check out the one who's been for a trip when she arrives back? Mine always do, in case she'd been taken by the fairies and a changeling put in her place who would of course have quite a different scent so they'd know).

Here it is being unpacked.

- and here is the long and arduous task of staining being started. That's the ancient bottle of Brou de Noix there in the background.

And that's all you can see of petite Mazurka for the time being. Staining is now finished, and after a night's drying, the beeswaxing has begun. (Heaven bless my little country store in Macroom, Frank Twomey's, where, when I asked for real beeswax, not this silicon and lavender spray thing, hunted out a jar of the genuine stuff . Good man, Frankie!). It's going to be a few more days before she's assembled and ready for her christening (still can't decide, thanks for all the suggestions, especially yours, Angeluna, I knew you'd come up with a comprehensive checklist!)

The days of waiting for the baby to arrive were tense and nervous, and as a result a lot of projects got started.

I couldn't resist downloading the pattern for this from Simple Knits - it's the Firebird Shawl and I like the shaping which would make it hang well. The original used Noro sock yarn and I had a ball of that, which seemed provident, but I'm not sure I like it. Love the pattern, still can't quite like Noro sock yarn. This one just could be heading for the chilly frog pond.

And here is the Noro cardigan, about the third (or is it fourth) time I've frogged and reknitted this yarn. Hopefully this personal make-it-up-as-you-go design will work. I've put in little pockets on the front, and tried that technique of adding the button to the ribbing band as you go, which is fun - yes I will remember to strengthen it with added stitches at the end.

Had promised to join in an Elsebeth Lavold KAL but time was getting scarce so found a fairly short-term project.

Haven't got too far wth that yet but soon, soon. There has got to be some way of stretching the hours in the day.

And on top of all that, I really hadn't expected the shawl/scarf kits I put up on eBay to sell so quickly. I'd only made up one or two, so the quick sales meant nonstop skeining, gentle washing (takes time, and the drying takes far far longer at this time of year, but they look so much nicer when they've had that prewash) and stitching up the fabric project bags into which to tuck them. And making up the packages and taking them to the post office.

You'd think I'd learned my lesson, but then I remembered the nice organic fingering weight kits I'd made up earlier in the year and decided I'd list those again.

I'd have at least a week to get them made up, I reasoned. But again, maybe it's the season that's in it, they started selling instantly and the merry-go-round moved into a faster gear. Anybody who missed out on these, email me and I'll make up some more.

KiniaCat said charming things about me on her blog, and mentioned that I didn't post too often. Have a heart, KiniaCat! Do you want to drive me over the edge altogether? From dawn to dark and well beyond it's a frantic rush chez Celtic Memory just to survive! I've been rising at six every morning for the past week to meet writing deadlines, and well after bedtime I've been either bending over the Kromski, applying beeswax, or cranking the swift and trying to keep count of how many metres of organic fingering weight I've wound, or slapping customs labels on packages, or casting yearning glances at the exquisite Gotland combed top just begging for me to spin it. And not a dog in the house combed! I tell you it's a wonder anything gets posted at all, ANY time!

Here's a picture of the scene from the sitting room window at this time of year. No sunshine, no leprechauns (all, if they're sensible, sitting round a jorum of punch underneath the roots of an old oak tree). Driving clouds and rain.

And here's one of the Little House on the Prairie, through the mist. Do not adjust your monitor, that's what the weather looks like. Through the glass - I'm not about to open the window in this weather, even for you.

I have to dash. More another time. Deadlines beckon.

And they wonder why I don't post more often...


It's evening now in West Cork, with all the stars glittering in a clear dark blue sky. That means an unusually chilly night - the forecast even suggested that there might be snow on the hills! Triple exclamation marks should be used for such an unusual occurrence - DH is already hauling out the tripods and polarising filters for a possible trip to the Magillicuddy Reeks tomorrow morning if there is snow.

Nothing, I realise, compared to the weather up where Lene lives in Lapland, or indeed further north again, with Marianne in Vadso or Else in Batsfjord. And we still get daylight for half the day which is more than you do up there. But hey, it's almost Midwinter, and soon the days will be drawing out again.

I came back in here to wish all of you Stateside (Canadian friends, I know you had yours earlier, and I hope it was lovely for you too) a very very happy and cosy Thanksgiving, surrounded by family and/or dear friends. DH and I (and the dogs of course, and the Orkney wheel and the new baby Kromski, although she will have to go to bed early with only a little glass of oil) are going to celebrate specially in honour of you and the pleasure you have given me over the past couple of years, by having our own Thanksgiving dinner. I am being completely sincere when I say that I will give thanks over a glass of wine for bloggers everywhere and for Ravelry. It brought us all together, didn't it?

And I will try to post more often...

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Spinners of Ballinagree, Some Alpaca Fleece, And A Yarnslayer

Had a really nice happening here recently. Deirdre (still blogless, but on Ravelry as Deedledum) contacted me about a group getting together in the village of Ballinagree, some five or so miles from me, on Wednesday nights. Spinning, no less! So I tucked the little Orkney into the passenger seat of the jeep, fastening its safety belt carefully, and headed off.

Bumpy and twisty are the roads 'twixt Macroom and Ballinagree, and even those of us accustomed to the corkscrewing of laneways originally designed and built by wandering cows can find it difficult to navigate on a dark evening with mist drifting and eddying in the headlights. On more than one occasion I was grateful of the tight belt holding little Orkney safe.

But we got there in the end. And look at this wonderful sight! (It might not seem unusual to those of you in more enlightened countries, but here in Ireland, where the prejudice against traditional crafts is still rampant, you can take it from me that it is indeed wonderful.) That's Deirdre, who's teaching the spinning session, on the left there, trying out the bright blue wheel (which, she says, works surprisingly well considering the layers of paint that had been slapped on it by someone more interested in a decoration than a working wheel, and next to her is Nora who told me that her life's ambition is to have a large and happy group in Ballinagree practising all kinds of crafts, from spinning and weaving to knitting, crochet, felting and whatever turns them on. Good for you, Nora! You deserve success and I for one am going to do all I can to help. On the right is Nora's sister, Eileen, who is eager to learn the magic of turning fleece into fibre. I think the blue wheel is Nora's, the others were brought by the very helpful and extremely enabling Deirdre (who spent three years in New Zealand, much of it in a spinning guild, so she knows more than most of us here about the craft). That's my Haldane Orkney on the right in front.

It's the very first time I've had a happy evening with other fibre fanatics right here in my home region and I hope it is the first of many such.

There was another pleasant surprise. Nora turned out to be someone I'd been trying to track down for a couple of years, ever since I'd heard that a local farm was going into the breeding of alpacas. It was Nora and her husband, no less! What is more, believe it or not, she pressed upon me a large bagful of alpaca clip. 'We're breeding them to sell to people who want to deal in selling the fibre, not do that ourselves,' she explained, 'and I'd be happy to know that someone was making use of this. You're welcome to it.'

Readers, what would you have done? Probably the same as me - sunk to your knees in giddy gratitude while reaching out to close your fists on the sack of fibre with a Kildare man's grip. When the evening was over (home-made cakes and tea!), I bore it home in triumph.

Sitting down by the fire and telling DH of the evening's events, I heard a strange thumping noise in the corner where I'd left the sack. Surely to heaven there hadn't been a small farm animal or pest inadvertently left inside it? We went to investigate.

Somebody had unerringly scented the air, registered a new arrival, and set out to track it down. Muffy the Yarnslayer rides again!

'Muffy, come out here this instant,' I called sternly (ineffectually trying to restrain the laughter).

What? I'm busy here!

She rushed in again. In fact she disappeared entirely, and thumps, crashes, bangs came from inside the sack. Then quite suddenly she burst into view, eyes blazing, teeth bared, fragments of blameless, innocent alpaca fleece clenched in her jaws.

Will you look at the cut of that? Should this dog be labelled Pernicious Pekingese - Handle With Care, or not?

Yes, the precious sack of alpaca is on a safely high shelf now, awaiting preparation. There is a goodish amount of both white and that nice light brown in there. Any advice on how to prepare for spinning would be welcomed. Up to now, I've only seen alpaca in elegant combed top or final yarn form. And on the original owner of course. This early on in the spinning game is entirely new to me.

The passion for spinning has been quite revived in fact chez Celtic Memory. Many years ago it was lived, dreamed, fantasised, worked on nonstop. Then other aspects of fibrecraft took over again for a while. Now it's spinning's turn again and about time too. The little Orkney wheel was feeling neglected. And lonely.

Which is the reason I've just thought up for justifying buying it a companion. An enchanting little Kromski, all the way from Poland, carved by traditional craftsmen. The Mazurka, to be precise.

This is Mr. Kromski's picture, not mine. I took it from his website. But isn't that a fairytale little wheel? Wouldn't you want it in your sitting room?

I've ordered mine through the lovely Margie at Moondance Wools in the Scottish Borders. Hope it gets here soon, Margie - and don't forget to send me some samples of your fibres too. I can foresee lots of Net purchasing activity in the months to come. In the meantime, Celtic Memory is on tenterhooks (a good weaving term, that!) for baby Mazurka to arrive. What should she be called? Angeluna, you're the expert on the Almanach de Gotha. Got any good Polish nobility names? Something that calls up the image of an exquisite lady spinning and singing softly to herself in the solar of her castle?

Maybe I should make her a little mat, or a little quilt or something, to welcome her arrival? What do you think?

The weather is generally mizrubble here at the moment, typical for November, with rain and wind predominating. Had a window of opportunity yesterday, with a few hours of sunshine, so skeined and washed some of that lovely rare Italian mousse fingering weight for nice gift kits I've put on eBay tonight.

The idea is to provide two complementing colourways in one nice little toning fabric project bag, for people to either give as a gift or use to create gifts for the holiday season. As is, this yarn makes heavenly lacy scarves and shawls; doubled, it's divine for neckwarmers and hats. I've put 600m of each of the two colours in the bags. 1200 metres should be enough for most things, shouldn't it? From left to right, they are Moss & Lichen, Spice Market, Woodsmoke, and Blue Lagoon.

Here's Blue Lagoon in its kit bag. You can't quite see, but the bag has little carry handles in the same material. Sweet. I've called them Merino Mousse Medley Kits. (Ed, later: Changed that to Shawl/Scarf Kits, as I thought that might make it easier to find for those hunting for such things.)

Must go write up some pieces for tomorrow. And work a little on the Noro cardigan (third time of frogging, fourth and hopefully last time of knitting), do a little more spinning on that nice Blue Faced Leicester from Craftspun Yarns, and catch up on some reading.

Yikes, have you realised that Yuletide is almost round the corner? And Celtic Memory vowed she'd be well ahead this year...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Celebrating The Celtic New Year

Which it is. November 1 marks the beginning of the Celtic year, so it's a good time for starting new projects, getting new ideas underway, pushing out the boundaries, exploring new horizons, swimming out to meet your ship instead of waiting for it to come in.

Good wishes therefore to those of my friends starting new phases in their lives at this time, especially Dez who specifically chose Hallow-E'en to open her spinning, fiber and yarn shop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana! Anyone thinking of being in the Deep South during the next while therefore, go find Dez's shop and wish her well.

Here's the address, so you have no excuse:
Knitting Asylum, 8231 Summa Ave, Suite B, Baton Rouge, LA 70809.

And even if you're not, go over and wish her well on her blog. I'm so excited for you, Dez, I wish I could be there!

Mind, I've never been quite sure why the Celts decided on November 1 as the ideal date to finish off with the old year and begin a new one. I mean - wouldn't February have been a bit more appropriate? When the new grass was beginning to come through and the sun staying in the sky that little bit longer? November is surely a time for tucking yourself up in a cosy cave or hut, throwing another log on the fire, and uncorking the mead. Sitting round telling stories, knitting a sweater or two, whittling on a deer antler. It was the time they brought the cattle in from the hillsides, for heaven's sake! Still, Samhain they decreed should be the New Year, and so it is.

(I wonder if it was decided by committee? Yep, that's probably it. One group was arguing passionately for February, another for Bealtaine, a third for Lunasa, and some bright spark suggested a compromise. 'I know, let's choose the most unlikely festival of all. Let's go for Samhain.' And because they were all sick and tired of argument and wanted to get back to their elk stew, they agreed.)

Went up to the Knit & Stitch Show in Dublin the other day. It's never as good as the UK dates, because a lot of the traders don't bother crossing the Irish sea, but you take what you get in this country, so up I went. Was on the train going and coming with my dear friend Breda from the hotel in Gougane, so we had some grand chatting. She even told me a Hallow-E'en ghostly anecdote from her valley. You may remember I've shown pictures on my blog from time to time of the old stone walls at Gougane, now moss-covered and hidden in the trees, where once little homesteads and fields could be seen. Well one of those very stone walls is all that remains of a cottage known as the Palace. The whole family were sitting round the fire one dark November night when they heard a dreadful screaming and roaring sound and the turf fire suddenly blazed up high instead of glowing quietly as was its wont. They had barely time to push their creepy stools back from the hearth when what came down the chimney but a huge and horrible misshapen THING with chains wrapped around it. It bounced across the floor on strange clawlike feet, burst the door open, and disappeared into the night. The family left the cottage and indeed the valley soon afterwards, never to return. And the cottage slowly decayed and returned to its roots. Only a few chest-high stone walls remain, sheltered by the ever-encroaching trees.

Not a detailed story with beginning middle and end, but an absolutely true incident. Its very brevity marks it as genuine. A made-up tale would be more structured. Other than that, there are no real ghost stories from the hidden valley at Gougane. It's an old sacred place, and evil spirits have no business there. Maybe that's why that elemental had to get out - or was being driven out.

But back to the Knit & Stitch Show at the RDS (or Royal Dublin Society) in Ballsbridge.

My interest in spinning has revived somewhat lately, probably due to the darker evenings which seem to suit such relaxed pastimes more, so I was on the hunt for some nice roving or combed top from my friend Warren at Craftspun Yarns of Naas. Warren doesn't like having his picture taken very much, as he's shy, so I hope he doesn't mind being shown to the world here! They do some lovely linen and cotton yarns as well as wools and the fibre for which I was searching. One of these days I must go up and visit their mill and see what other treasures are hidden there. Lost forgotten cones of rare yarn, neglected little skeins, gorgeous irresistibles... all waiting. Let me know when you're next in Ireland and we'll go together.

This was a lovely big bag of combed top (BFL I think) which had a decent 500g heft to it. Plenty there to keep me busy. The trouble is, since Celtic Memory learned to spin back in the mists of prehistory, on fleece almost as it came from the sheep, she's having quite a problem getting used to these rather more sophisticated preparations. Without all that helpful greasy lanolin, the fibre tends to run away from you and break all the time. But CM will persevere. Homespun, homeknitted sweaters await in the Celtic New Year.

Took a silk spinning class with Ruth MacGregor, since I thought that might help to develop my skills with slippery yarns. It was quite fun, and working slowly and painstakingly can be surprisingly relaxing.

You get to take your silk spindle home with you, as well as the roving on which you practised.

- and Ruth had thoughtfully brought along some extra little bags of combed silk for purchase. Loved these lavender shades.

Feltmakers Ireland were there, energetically demonstrating their craft. I'm fascinated with the technique and have an ambition to create a vest or weskit in layers of felt with all kinds of odd edges and layers. One day soon. Got to find more time.

The Hyperbolic Coral Reef was delightfully creative. Stitchlily, I'm sorry I missed you there - called by a couple of times, but I think you were on a well-deserved break.

You see some incredible pieces in the displays. Look at these ingenious creations by Felicity Clarke - I don't know if you can make them out, but there are electric wall sockets at the back there, with wonderfully decorative cords and even plug covers in yarn.

Enthused by the show, when I got home I hauled out a fleece that has been hanging on a high hook in the garage for months, and gave it a soaking wash. It was only then I wondered how you dry the darn things. When you card and spin 'in the grease', you wash the resultant yarn afterwards, so I'd previously not had the experience of trying to reduce ten tons of sodden fleece into light and airy fibre.

Eventually let it drain for ages in the bathtub, then lifted it gently on to a rack over the bath for another day or two. When I thought it had done dripping, brought it up to the sunny sitting room, still on its rack, and balanced it over an old wooden towel rail. The mini-Radio Flyer is catching a last recalcitrant drip on a bed of newspaper.

Posed Sophy Wackles against a bundle of the fleece, but she didn't like it one bit, shameful poltroon that she is. Narsty dangerous vicious things, sheep, you know. She's staying where she's put because I told her to, but that eye is swivelling nervously in my direction.

Of course I left the door ajar when I went downstairs again, and Muffy the Yarnslayer had no such reservations -

Yee-hahhh! Kill, kill!

Mine, all mine!

We've been lucky enough to get two or three days of crisp cold sunny weather together lately, and made the most of it, heading out into the wide green yonder whenever we were able.

You find beautiful, deserted, peaceful places so easily still in West Cork.

These little bays and coastlines were busier once, with families and small cottage industries based around fishing, but the people have long gone, mostly across the sea to the New World.

You can't help wondering who lived here, what their hopes and fears and dreams were, and if it broke their hearts to leave their home by the seashore. And wouldn't you just love to buy that little house and restore it and fill it with laughter and music and crafts again? There are the remains of steps going up the side there, can you see? They would have led to a sail loft or crop storage space.

You'd swear meself and this donkey down at Trafrask were enjoying a mutual happy moment, wouldn't you? But anyone who knows a donkey knows differently! He was doing his best to take my hand off at the wrist, while I was ensuring that I kept the wall between us. These boyos are born contrary and see no reason to behave decently. There are always problems with the live Cribs at Christmas, when cows, lambs, even chickens act their part beautifully, but the oul' donkey is sure to take a nip out of some little boy or girl when he thinks nobody's looking.

The Beara Peninsula isn't as well known as the Dingle one, but it really is 'west of west'. You drive all the way down to Castletownbere (when I was little, the fact that this was a full hundred miles from Cork city exercised a powerful fascination upon my mind - what a distance!), but then you just keep going, on and on, outward into the western Atlantic until you think you must surely be almost at New York itself. I always forget how beautiful the village of Allihies is until I see it again, scattered along its seashore.

The copper mining industry was thriving here for several centuries - if you've ever read Daphne Du Maurier's Hungry Hill you'll know all about the part it played in shaping this landscape and its people - but now all that remains are the gaunt crumbling buildings and warnings about unprotected mineshafts.

We timed it so that we were here, right up beyond the old copper mines, at sunset.

A beautiful end to a beautiful day. I wish you'd been there too. But you are now, aren't you?