Sunday, April 12, 2009

Muffy the Yarnslayer Enters Sock Madness Contest!

Yes, it's true. Abandon hope all ye who hitherto thought you had a chance - Muffy has entered the arena.

Said she'd had enough and more of all this fuss and was going to show us all how it should be done. Collected a few balls of yarn, unearthed two rather vicious-looking six inch nails from her store, and dragged the lot under her cupboard. She's been clicking away busily in there ever since. Can't wait to see the results. I did point out she would have to make a set of four and she looked at me like I was daft.

Well of course you have to have four socks. How many paws does anybody have, for heaven's sake? I mean, what eegit would make - say two for example? G'wan away and don't be annoying me!

She did have some justification for her sudden decision to become a late entrant for Sock Madness (don't worry, moderators, she's created her own sub-division, called, with blinding simplicity, just Muffy, so she won't be throwing anybody else out of the running) since the one who feeds her and generally looks after her welfare has been noticeably distracted this last week or so, since the second round of the aforesaid Madness started.

The pattern for Round Two was due out on Saturday of last week, on or after 1 pm Irish time. But Celtic Memory was not at home. Nope, she was travelling with DH and was, at the appointed hour, somewhere north of Dublin on an attractive estuary where himself was photographing redshanks feeding.

It was fascinating to see how quickly the gulls had learned how to avoid finding their own food; they simply marked down a redshank, and as soon as that unfortunate creature had snaffled a juicy worm, they would descend and bully it until it reluctantly yielded its prey. Kind of reminds you of some human behaviour, doesn't it?

My mind was only half on the bird activity though, as the clock approached the fateful time. When would I hear that the pattern had been issued? The signal that would mean I had to dash for the nearest Internet access? (No, they tend not to have good websites right by the water on a muddy track, bit of an oversight really, I agree.) An hour passed peacefully. DH clicked away. I worked ferociously on a pair of Jeanie Townsend's Cathedral Socks to keep my mind from fretting. What kind of pattern will it be? Can I manage it? How long will it take? Are there others much faster than me? Why do I do this? And so on.

Then it happened. The bleep of a text arriving, followed almost instantaneously by a phone call. Bless the kinship of knitters. Chris texted to say the pattern was HERE and Rosemary in Somerset actually rang, to make sure I knew. Aren't friends great?

Overriding DH's protestations (he'd spend all day like that if he could, honestly, would we knitters spend all day on something? OK, forget I said that) I got the car turned and dashed for Malahide, a little seaside town. Big hotel on outskirts looked promising, and so it proved. Sitting in the car park gave enough of a signal on their wifi to download the pattern. Really, the things we do for knitting.

Work started immediately and didn't stop for the rest of the day. Continued while DH and a bundle (a flock? A gaggle? A gathering?) of birdwatchers watched short-eared owls at dusk -

- and even when one owl swooped low enough for me to glance up and see it in between frantic rounds of ribbing.

These are beautiful birds and not at all common in Ireland which is why we came to be up in that neck of the woods on that fine Saturday.
I think this owl was rather impressed with my knitting actually. He even made a second pass to get a closer look at the colourwork.

Oo, is that stranded knitting? Lookin' good!

Knitted late into the night in the hotel, knitted in the pre-dawn light (a mistake that, meant several rows needing to be tinked back). Even knitted all the way home (don't recommend following a chart on a bumpy twisting road for more than three hours, really don't).

But we took a break on the way, to visit Warren at Craftspun Yarns in Johnstown.

He's only just moved to this new shop in the town and was still getting the stock in order.

But it's a glorious place, already almost full of the most divine yarns, and big ultra-soft cushiony balls of roving too, of several different types. (Yes, yes, he does ship, check his website.)

If I hadn't already bought tons from him, I'd have snaffled even more of these irresistible fibre goodies. But I did come away with a cone of divinely soft Aran weight Blue Faced Leicester yarn. Well, it'll always come in handy, won't it?

It took a good two and a half days to finish those socks, a beautiful two colour pattern designed by Tricia Weatherston, and called Tokena, the Maori word for sock. It's ages since Celtic Memory has done any colourwork and on size 2mm needles it can be a bit hard on the hand muscles. In fact the thumb joint is still aching. But it was worth it. It's no harm to push your abilities now and again, and the result was pretty satisfying.

Of course the usual thing happened: having completed the socks in fairly quick time, found it impossible to stop knitting the darn things. And this is where Celtic Memory has been having a great deal of fun. A LOT of fun.

You remember that lovely old sock knitting machine I inherited? Well, thanks to the assistance of several helpful friends on Ravelry, it is now working fairly well (no you can't do complex colourwork on it unfortunately, believe me I thought of it!) so the time seemed right for a little bit of experimentation. You see, although I can now crank out tubes of knitting with the best of 'em, I haven't quite mastered turning heels and shaping toes yet. So lots and lots of practice tubes.

Until - like Paul on the road to Damascus, a blinding light hit me. Why not turn these tubes into socks with the addition of some hand knitting? Simple? Undoubtedly. Somebody thought of that already? Probably. But I genuinely thought of it by myself and that's always the best way.

Drum roll please. Remember Celtic Memory decrying cutting, steeking, any form of disfigurement of a piece of knitting? Well -

Here is a tube of beautifully soft merino knit being deliberately cut! Actually it only needed one tiny snip of one stitch and then some careful unpicking. But it was a first, a definite first, and nearly gave me a heart attack. That divided the tube into two. Then picked up stitches at one end on each piece (a 2.5mm needle was just right to match the machine stitches) and knitted the toes.

Then came the heel. Another terrifying, deliberate, counter-to-all-previous-learning snip.

Thank heaven for the training received in last year's Sock Madness. I knew how to do an afterthought heel. Hadn't ever tried it from raw stitches before, but it worked. IT WORKED!

Knitting the tube, about ten minutes. Finishing heels and toes, one evening. A bit of dip-dyeing and drying.



OK, so they're plain, no patterning, cabling, lace or other decorative stitchwork there. But they were so much fun to make. And already there are ideas forming for stripy heels and toes, colourwork cuffs at the top, so many other options. You just do all that long boring bit first, and then have fun with the decorative bits.

I'll probably be drummed out of the Sock Machine group for doing it this way round, and similarly from all the handknitting sock groups, but it's such a satisfying combination of hand and machine that I'm mad about it. And I've tried cutting a single stitch and it doesn't make everything fall apart! Isn't life full of fun surprises?
Made some new friends at the weekend: Linda and her family were over from Montana to explore West Cork and Kerry, so we met up in Killarney and went down to Kerry Woollen Mills. We saw all that lovely traditional bainin yarn, and also some delectable Jacob wool fingering weight.

Here is Andrew Eadie showing Linda a new design he's rather pleased with, a beautifully soft felted knit jacket.

And here is Linda, wearing one new jacket, carrying another, with husband Bruce and daughter Kimberley, ready to head off to Killorglin for more adventures. And she brought me a skein of Mountain Colors from Montana too, bless her! Hope the rest of the trip goes really well for you Linda, and that the weather holds out.

That same weather has been a bit mixum-gatherum here for the past few weeks. Went out one day about a fortnight ago to explore some lesser-known tracks over the mountains above Inchigeelagh.

It was dank and drizzly and not at all pleasant. Just look at that mountain road winding ahead for miles. It puts you in mind of Bilbo Baggins bumping along on his pony and wishing with all his heart he was safe at home with the kettle just beginning to boil.

Yet a week later, the lambs were gambolling in the fields -

the wild plants were already flowering -

- and even on the driveway at home, a determined little clump of violets had pushed their way up through the tarmac.
If you celebrate Easter, then a joyous Eastertide to you. If you celebrate other festivals, then happiness to you this springtime.


Angeluna said...

Dearest Jo, Again thanks for taking me along on your adventures (and thanks to Richard of course for those extraordinary photos).

That looked like a "confabulation" of bird watchers to me. That owl was incredible.

Your Tokena's are lovely. But your machine/hand-knit knee socks are a thing of wonder. Only you could knit, design, dye and wear the things in a day!

Warren looked a delight. Does he knit?

Quite smitten with those winding back country roads. Save a few for me should I ever make it over.

And finally, Muffy, precious darling Muffy. What a face that little creature has. She always brings a smile.

EGunn said...

Those are great socks! And if the machine frees you up to have fun with the cuffs or the dyeing, why not? I love the Tokena's.

Thanks for sharing the owl pictures, too. What a beautiful bird!

Jean said...

What a plethora of fun! The socks from the machine came out great - you made them quite lively with your dyes. I love your trips, it allows me to share a little in your adventures.

LaurieM said...

The owl pictures took my breath away. The wing span on those birds is incredible!

Love your sock madness socks. I can't believe you completed a pair of colorwork socks in just two days!

The purple knee socks are very alluring. I can definitely see the appeal in using the machine to zip you through the dull parts. Have fun!

Charity said...

Wonderful as always to spend some time with you, Jo! I still have the yarn Muffy sent out, waiting for a day when I have time to sit and play with it...

Oh, you brave woman!! Cutting your knitting!! :o) The finished socks look wonderful, of course.

pacalaga said...

The problem with your long Irish posts, m'dear, is that our comments need to be as long just to exclaim on all the fantastical things you share. I for one think your machine/hand knit socks are fantabulous, and anyone who says otherwise is just jealous that she didn't think of it first.
Your husband takes amazing shots. Those owls are so perfect they almost don't look real. Does that even make sense? And yes, gulls are bullies. In Sea World in San Diego, signs warn you to beware of them lest they snatch your food. I had not one but TWO of the horrid pests try to snatch my son's pizza right off the plate as we walked to a table!
Whereabouts is Linda from, in Montana? My FIL lives about a 5 minute drive from the Mountain Colors factory, so I go visit when I'm there.

Nancy Fletcher said...

Mixum-gatherum is a lovely term, but what does it mean? Thank you for taking us along on your travels. I love the machine/handknit socks, and wish Muffy the best of luck!


lilymarlene said...

Those socks are smart! And so easy too. I suppose you'll be starting up another cottage industry!

Lyn said...

Thank you, Jo, for another chapter in the life of Ireland. You do have a full life! And to think you've sorted out that great method with the sock machine. I dipped out of the SM Tokena, as my fingers and thumbs got tooooo sore. Combination of the colour work with the fine needles, I think, as I've happily done colourwork before with no problems.
Fabulous owl, too. No wonder there was such a group of watchers.

Ruth said...

10 zillion sighs!
I need a sock machine! I've got the yarn by a boatful, now I need that machine!

Anonymous said...

Of course, Muffy wants to knit socks...just like Momma Jo. Your socks looked lovely, as always. Good luck with the battle!

The owl pictures were magnificent. Thank you for telling the story.

When I saw the picture of Warren outside his shop, holding a package, I thought you were going to say that was your purchase. Wonder how many socks worth of yarn that might be? LOL!

Cheap Like Me said...

I think this is my favorite blog post of yours ever, with the lovely photos, the lovely fiber, the extreme-envy-inducing pair of machine-knitted socks, and of course, your ferocious knitting canine. I think my miniature Schnauzer is all thumbs, unfortunately. ;)

cindyl said...

Muffy makes me so happy, with her jealous thieving ways. She is just too adorable.

Melissa said...

Muffy is so mischievous looking!

I think the machine knit socks look awesome. Great job!

Deborah (aka Mt. Mom) said...

You survived the snipping -- yay, Jo! Sounds like a great balance between practicality and artistry; I applaud you. (That Muffy is a force to contend with, eh!)

Needles said...

It's a delightful heel to do, isn't it? You get to just knit the tube without worrying about any fancy knitting other than the toe. And I start there. To top it off, you can make a basket of blanks and put the heel in when you know who the sock will end up being for and look brilliant in the process. I'm just wishing that I had the sock machine though. That looks way cool. Waaaaaaaay cool.

=Tamar said...

Funny, I've been proposing that for years and finally someone has done it. Mind you, you don't have to limit yourself to plain white for the tubes either. Knit up some of that handpainted sock yarn into tubes and work the toes and heels in coordinating colors. *sigh* I don't have a sock machine...wish I did.

tmjackson said...

What beautiful socks! The dye job is so much fun. Congrats to you for coming up with such a perfect way to make them!

Thanks also for the beautiful pictures of that owl. Gorgeous.

Knitski (Nancy) said...

Always a joy to read and visit your blog!

SunshineDreams said...

Yay for Muffy news, amazing owl pics, cool sock moments and all that green! (Though it is finally getting greener here...)

Linda said...

Hi Jo, thank you for sharing, loved the socks, can't wait to see what you do with the Mountain Colors sock yarn.
Finally getting back in the home and work routine after our fabulous trip to meet you and seeing the beautiful sights of Southern Ireland.
On our next trip over to Missoula to visit Kimberly we will visit Mountain Colors. Linda from Montana

Katherine said...

I enjoy your blog so much!! The photos are wonderful, the knitting is inspirational, and I am in love with Muffy. Thank you for sharing your lovely life with us.