Thursday, March 26, 2009

Of March Parades, Sock Madness, And Lost Villages

It's been a busy time. Was committed to two parades on St. Patrick's Day so a blustering bright morning found me setting up the trailer at Ballinagree, aided by a helpful piper.

It was the Kromski's first ever public appearance but it took to the open air and the birdsong and the general attention very calmly indeed. And, after adjusting to the stops and starts and bumps, I found it was quite possible to spin the Corriedale as we chugged into the village.

Yes, it's a small place, Ballinagree, but every single man, woman and child that wasn't in the parade turned out to cheer it on. Here we are outside the pub. I'm at the back, sitting on the old wooden settle with Eileen who's crocheting; in the middle are Deirdre with her Ashford Traveller, and Kathy knitting an endless scarf, while in front, standing up, is Sue demonstrating the drop spindle. People really did seem fascinated by it all, and I have lively hopes of resurrecting a once proud Irish tradition, pushed into the background by too-swift progress.

Hey all those of you down there in New Zealand who remember Deirdre with affection, here she is, getting in the warming coffee in the pub after the parade! She's getting married next month is Deirdre, and of course doing all the preparations herself from wedding dress to bridesmaids, so she's got quite enough on her plate, but she turned out for the parade like the good committed spinner that she is.

It was lively outside the pub too. We even had a harpist rattling out the tunes along with the fiddles and squeeze boxes and bodhrans. Real genuine traditional village entertainment, not created by PR companies or TV stations at all.

Nora Casey from the Alpaca Stud decided in the end that it would be enough to lead just one young lad on the day, and it's as well she did, since Vinnie, although he started out well enough, decided he'd have a rest right in the midst of the whole thing, and nothing could move him.

People shouted helpful advice, Nora tugged and pulled, the parade marshals couldn't quite keep their laughter under control, but Vinnie wasn't going anywhere.

Go away and leave me be. Moidering and messing me about. I'll walk in no more parades this day and that's the truth of it.

Eventually Pat stopped his tractor and came down to lend a hand. They lifted Vinnie into the trailer with all his pals, which is what he'd intended in the first place, and he rode in style to Macroom for the second parade.

Here we are waiting for the off in Macroom. We were really lucky with the weather - normally St. Patrick's Day is an excuse for a real downpour (not that the Irish climate really needs an excuse, it does it anyway).

Here are the Woodland String Band from Philadelphia, bringing a touch of American glitz and professionalism to the streets of Macroom town.

It was a grand day.

Two days later, it was Sock Madness 3 - or Sock Madness Forever as it's now called - and there wasn't time to think, let alone post.

The pattern came down at about midday West Cork time and by evening I was able to post a progress pic.

I put them on this Drunkard's Path pillow because the lovely pattern by Ronni (Raspberry on Ravelry) was based on that quilting design. The yarn is one of my own self-striping experiments - didn't turn out quite as intended (do they ever?) but liked it a lot all the same.

On course to finish within my two day record.

Only... the next morning dawned bright and beautiful and DH wouldn't hear of the day being spent indoors knitting. Off to West Cork with us, to gather even more material and pictures for The Book. OK, I could live with that. What did an extra day matter? The socks could come too.

Here they're being worked on Sheep's Head, on an absolutely deserted small boreen winding high above Bantry Bay. Nobody in sight or hearing, even though 'twas a Saturday (well Sophy Wackles was there, but she's being kept out of the picture for the moment).

Oh all right, here she is with some spring narcissi. Can you see the thread of sock yarn in her topknot?

And here is one of the socks, among some early wild violets (know what to call the colourway now, don't I?)

We had a good day, wandering on the lesser-frequented byways and looking for hidden beautiful places.

Like this green lane wandering up to a farmhouse on Three Castle Head -

- and this ruined village beyond Lissagriffin. You'll have to look closely to see the little stone houses blending into the landscape, with the gorse and the bracken and the ivy gradually taking them over, but the more you look, the more of them you'll see. Echoes of the past is the phrase that always comes into my mind when I see a place like this. Those tiny fields, the little houses that once held whole families, the lanes where children ran and men drove cattle - all now silent under the sun and the wind from the sea.

Oh the socks did get done, in only a little over the two days, so there is time to relax and rest the hands before the next round.

They really are divinely comfortable (now that the stitch marker left inside by accident has been located and gently removed) and I'm very happy with them. But of course it's impossible actually to stop knitting the darn things now. Found a pair of Jeanie Townsend's Cathedral Socks that I'd been working on (before Christmas for heaven's sake), and worked out where I was in the pattern (not always an easy task). They'll keep me going until Round 2. The hand resting can wait.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How Many Alpacas Can You Fit In A West Cork Car?

St. Patrick's Day approaches and Celtic Memory is headed for the Big Time. Been asked to demonstrate the ancient art of spinning on a float at not just one but two parades! Forget New York, forget Sydney, forget all the big boys, THIS is where it's going to be AT on Tuesday next, March 17.

Or rather THESE. Of course Macroom is one of them. Could hardly be otherwise, given that it's my local town. You might remember I took you to it last year, via a blog posting, and observed that although the parade might be small, somewhat unsophisticated, it was still a lovely heartwarming event. Well compared to the other parade, Macroom is pretty well up there in the New York category. Think tiny. Yes, a busy day for your local correspondent will start at noon in Ballinagree - the same village which hosts a spinning class in the local school every Wednesday night.

Ballinagree isn't exactly huge. You could probably seat the entire population, man, woman, and child, in a New York Starbucks and not consider the place overcrowded. But what it lacks in numerical force, it more than makes up for in heart and enthusiasm. Farmers are dusting down vintage tractors to drive proudly in the parade, housewives are baking pies and cakes for the refreshments afterwards. Children are finishing their costumes and decorating the floats.

Celtic Memory will be on one trailer, along with Deirdre (Deedledum on Ravelry), lately back from New Zealand, both of us demonstrating spinning skills on our wheels. I think I'll bring the Kromski. Nice outing for it. It can get to know other wheels. Also on board will be other members of the group, with knitting, crochet, and possibly drop spindles.

Once the Ballinagree parade has finished, and everybody has partaken generously of hot strong tea and cuts of apple cake, we pack into our various vehicles and hurry down to find parking on the outskirts of Macroom, there to repeat the exercise. They have common sense in West Cork, you see, and realised many years ago that if parade times were staggered, they would all get bigger crowds and also be able to share some of the good items (bagpipers, bands, etc. are in great demand on March 17 you understand).

It wasn't my idea to be in the parade(s) instead of enjoying the role of relaxed bystander, but the inspiration of the lady behind the Ballinagree Spinners, Nora Casey. Nora and her husband Pat run an alpaca herd (or stud, they can't agree which it should be called, one says one thing and the other says the other, so I'll put them both in for safety), and for the past few years have displayed their charming charges in both parades. This year, thought Nora, it was high time to link alpaca to finished product - hence the spinning and knitting. We'll be on one float, the alpacas on the other.

I was able to offer the contribution of a little advance publicity though, and to that end went up to their farm with DH, to get some pictures.

Here is Pat (and totally wicked and unreliable Recky the Corgi in the background) putting out some treats for the herd.

- and here is Proud Mother Of One letting King Stud know in no uncertain terms that she isn't interested today, thank you very much.

They have the most adorable faces and manners, these adopted West Corkonians, and a charming bleat, while their huge eyes, and those eyelashes -

I am rather pretty, aren't I?

We had to capture Proud Mother's offspring and take him up to a nearby stable. This was not so as to upset everybody, but to give some company to another baby alpaca who was feeling somewhat poorly and was being housed in a cosy stall with lots of nice warm straw. Alpacas are very gregarious and absolutely hate being on their own, so Pat was anxious to get Ginger up to join Snowball.

It took some doing, but we finally managed to secure the woolly little bundle, and persuade him to take a nice drive.

You just never know who you're going to find in the passenger seat of a West Cork car, do you?

Nora is confident that she will be able to lead Ginger in the parade, between the two floats. Myself, my money is on Ginger. Hope he has a global positioning device to get him home to Ballinagree when he makes a break for it.

Now to knitting matters. I got a wonderful bundle a little while ago from my friend Ana (Shenevski on Ravelry) in Bulgaria. As well as some genuine homespun yarn, acquired by her mother from an old lady in the Rhodope Mountains, she sent me two pairs of exquisite traditional slippers, along with some Martenetsi (little red and white tokens exchanged in Bulgaria on March 1 - these were the little objects I found tied to trees when I was there - that's what you do with them when March is over - lovely ancient tradition), and HOOKED NEEDLES!

Here is a pair of the slippers. Can you see that wonderful plaited detail on the back of the heel? And the glorious embroidery on the front?

I'd love to use these hooked needles for Sock Madness, now inexorably approaching (am I mad, didn't I say last year never again? And the year before? Where is your strength of character, Celtic Memory?), but am a little worried that they would take rather longer than the circular to which I am accustomed. Maybe it would be safer to try them out when the mayhem is over. Ana, they are beautiful. Thank you so much.

(An interesting footnote: I asked Ana if these came in other gauges and she said no, there is only one size for knitting socks. Isn't that refreshing? Instead of agonising over 2.25 vs 2.5mm, bamboo or aluminium, Addi or Hiya Hiya, it's a simple case of: you want to knit socks, you buy these needles. I like that very much.)

We've been having wildly changeable weather here over the past few days. The other afternoon, I looked out the window to find a blizzard in progress. The snow wasn't sticking of course - it rarely does in this part of the world - but still, snow in March?

Here are Patrick's cows snatching a mouthful of hay down in the field. Yes, it was taken through the closed window. No, I was not going to open the window. Not in that wind and snow.

Yet half an hour later, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the primroses were out in the orchard.

The plum blossom had somehow survived the battering -

- and even the leggy little narcissi were still upright. Guess they're tougher than they look.

Oh speaking of Patrick and his cows, we had such a drama this morning! DH looked out the window just after sunrise and saw a tiny calf lying in a heap in the middle of the field, with some crows advancing menacingly on it. Over at the other side by the ditch was another tiny calf, this time with several cows regarding it curiously. He immediately rang Patrick and within a few minutes our neighbour was out there with a tractor. He lifted both little creatures into the cab and headed off again. We didn't want to ring him, in case they hadn't survived, and he'd have enough to do coping with that without us aggravating it, but he telephoned us just a while ago to say that both were doing fine, having had a big feed and been tucked up in a warm straw bed. Apparently they were twins, from one cow, who had, as Patrick put it, 'got a bit irrational' after calving and decided she didn't want either of them. Gosh, I was glad DH had looked out at just the right moment!

Yarns have been dyed -

(you wouldn't believe the dodging between rain showers and clouds it took to get this sunshiny picture)

- and for those who were worried, I can confirm that Start-itis is alive and well and flourishing in West Cork. These are in Panda Silk, which will be nice and cool for the summer - I think the pattern is Diagonal Eyelet Rib or somesuch, but I can't find the original pattern anywhere - worked it from memory.

And this bids fair to become a rather nice slanted-edge wrap or stole, in turquoise mohair from Just One More Row. Hadn't intended to cast on for this at all - the original idea was to join in on Ruth's KAL for her utterly lovely Mitred Scarf which she has generously made available on her blog. However, I knew I was going to be out for the day and seized this mohair and the right circular, to get going on the aforesaid mitring. Cast on, worked the first module and then realised that of course it would never - could never - succeed. Ruth had naturally advised using sock yarn, to show off the shaping and detail. So why did Celtic Memory think that mohair would do just as well? Honestly, I shouldn't be allowed out!

However, there I was with a full day ahead of me and no way of getting home to change yarns and needle, so decided to make the best of it and create a design of my own. Casting on 4, working 4 rows, casting on another 4, and so on, makes for a very nice stepped edging, which you can stop when you get to the width you want. I'm working this in k4 p4 rib, although you'd hardly know it with the scrumbling effect of the mohair, but it does give a gently pleated effect.

Ruth's lovely scarf is a treat for another day. Yes, with the right yarn, stop rubbing salt in the wound, will you?

Dawn Brocco nominated me for the Kreativ Blogger award just recently. I was thrilled and honoured. Dawn's amazing designs for float-alone cables have always entranced me. Gosh, I must go work up one of her scarves right this minute!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

I'm here, I'm here!

Just snowed under with work - and, it must be admitted, the occasional knitting project. The trouble with Ravelry (as has been said before and doubtless will again) is that unless controlled with an iron hand and unshakeable willpower, it expands to absorb every free moment (of which there are few enough at the moment).

In this case, Charity invited me to join a KAL for vests on Ravelry - Vest-uary. The idea was that you cheered up the month of February by knitting a jolly vest which was (and still is, indeed, not just in February, wouldn't you agree?) an excellent notion.

I made this Ersatz Adam's Vest, so called because at the time all I had to go on was a line drawing in an old issue of Knitter's. Used a warm merino boucle-d with a fine nylon binder, doubled, and it is so light and snug I may just wear it for the rest of the year. You never can tell in the Irish climate. Integrating the pockets into the points was fun.

The Shenevski Vest (after the beautiful design by my Bulgarian friend Ana whom you can find on Ravelry if you're there, as you should be) isn't done yet. I joined in a new ball at the armhole shaping only to perceive after much decreasing and simultaneous cabling, that something wasn't quite right. By daylight it was obvious that the yarn had changed quality and texture - the bag of Royal Cashmere had contained two rogue invaders of cashmere/silk. Very alike by artificial light, more obvious in the morning. Fortunately there's enough of the originally intended yarn to complete the project. After the laborious tinking back and picking up.

Sock Madness 3 is almost upon us too, which has necessitated much discussion on Ravelry. and then, as if preparing for that were not enough, DragonYady started a KAL for an exquisite mitred scarf of Ruth's design - the pattern's free over on her blog, go look. I mean, could you pass up something like that?

Apart from the day job and the knitting and dyeing and so on (thank heaven the gardening season hasn't started yet), DH and I are working flat out on the new book which has to be at least in rough draft form by the end of this month. As far as I'm concerned, it's his pictures that will make it, not my words, so I'm trying to match text to images.

Where do you choose, though? He has so many of this rather special place called West Cork.

This is one of my favourites - the Gearagh close to our home, the old arched bridge echoing the past when a train ran through the as-yet unflooded valley. We walk along that old road often.

I love this aerial shot of Castletownbere and Bere Island too.

- and Bantry Bay.
Deciding what to leave out will be as hard as writing text that will be a match for the ones chosen.

Don't think I can sneak Muffy The Yarnslayer into the book which is a shame. You may not know it but she was recently given an 'Ugh' award on a Ravelry group for that famous picture with the Eriskay cashmere, an honour she accepted with her customary glower.

You don't know how many tangled balls of cashmere I've got stored away in here for emergencies...
Must go write. March marches ever on.