Sunday, June 14, 2009

Of Coventry, A Cuddly Lamb, and A Secret Clapper Bridge

Went to Coventry last week for the first ever UK Ravelry Day. The weather could hardly have been worse - downpours, black clouds, shivery temperatures - but we had fun nevertheless. I met up with Sandy, a fellow Sock Madnesser, who had flown in from Sweden and shanghaied an innocent businessmanfrom her flight into escorting her to the hotel (I heard him later on explaining on the phone to his wife that he'd met this woman on the plane from Sweden and could she please pick him up at said woman's hotel - I wonder what kind of evening they had when he got home?)

But it was great to meet Sandy in person after sharing so much terror and pressure and stress and all the other joys of Sock Madness via Ravelry. And as is usual with knitters and bloggers, we felt we knew each other pretty well already. She brought me some gorgeous yarn from Sweden and I gave her some Irish skeins in exchange so we were both well content.

I have to say that spirits were high at the event, despite the wretched weather.

I don't know if this is Sarah or Gemma from Brownberry Yarns, but she was smiling even while drips were falling from the inadequate tarpaulin right on her koala bear's head. Oh wait, Gemma's KraftyKoala, isn't she, on the Web, so maybe it's Gemma.

These alpacas were behaving beautifully, though they must have been feeling rather damp. You can't see how hard it's raining, which is perhaps just as well.

Indoors things were very crowded, since nobody who could avoid it wanted to stay outside very long, but it was all very jolly.

There were workshops, all extremely well attended,

there were knitters in every available space,

Medecins Sans Frontieres were there, a sight to gladden the heart of our own dear Yarn Harlot,

there were spinners

and of course there were lots and lots of stalls, both inside and out. I bought two pairs of Holz & Stein circulars in ebony from the lovely Frangipani or Guernsey Wool, I don't know by which title they prefer to be known, but they were exceptionally helpful and nice, again despite the rain which must have affected their sales. Bought far too much from the lovely Andy as usual - a big cone of gorgeous fingering weight merino in natural, two balls of Noro Silk Garden Sock, Cookie A's new sock book, and the new Noro Mini Knits 2 for good measure (and good weight, the rucksack was getting heavy by this time). On somebody else's stall I found the highly entertaining Crazy Zauberball yarn and bought one in red and one in blue.

If you look at that last picture above, you might see a lady at her spinning wheel. That's Kirstie Buckland from the Knitting History Forum. It's worth seeing her glorious outfit close up:

Every little detail correct. I must join the Knitting History Forum, really I must. It's fascinating to learn as much as possible about the craft.

Took a class in machine knitting with Jane, who made it all seem so simple - it's never as easy as that when you get home though, is it? Went to Meg Swansen's talk and met up with LilyMarlene, another of my old Sock Madness friends. We had so much to talk about that, after we'd enjoyed Meg's talk and queued up to look more closely at her superbly chic Ribwarmer Vest, we went out to a local Viennese cafe for coffee and cakes and a really good gossip before she had to leave to drive back to the Isle of Wight.

Met up with quite a few Irish knitters too, in the pub that night, as well as discovering a perfect treasure of a medieval drinking house, thanks to Jane who told me where to find it. These ancient buildings are wonderful, all creaky stairs and low ceilings and odd corners and angles. I sat in a tiny dark inglenook all by myself for half an hour with a glass of Old Peculiar or something, and fancied myself back in the Middle Ages.

But cities are not really Celtic Memory's thing, and I was very grateful to get back finally to the green fields and peaceful woodlands of West Cork where we had summer for a whole week while England grew steadily more sodden. The garden of course is totally untamable now, and it's difficult to find your way through the jungle without a machete, while the dogs never go out without their GPSs and whistles. I opened the window the other morning to see DH in the corner of what was once the rose garden (and could be again if I could stop knitting and get some serious pruning done), surrounded by tripods and lenses and wires -

It transpired he was photographing a particular form of fungus with the exceptionally attractive name of Stinkhorn.

Not a particularly good picture - I blew it up from a section of the previous image - but you can probably see where it got its name. Did I mention it smells as though something very dead is lying close by?

Went down to Gougane Barra a few days ago to see a new addition to the Lucey family.

Ali says she had always wanted a pet lamb, so although she was sorry that Lucky's mother had died, she was thrilled to have a little creature of her own to look after.

I tell you, he really butts at that bottle, sucking and thrusting until every drop is gone. I love his rich black coat with touches of white and have already tried to lay claim to the first fleece, but they assure me that it will change to a duller brown within the year. What a pity.

When we were leaving the valley, we headed off up a narrow side boreen on a whim, and followed its potholed and bumpy surface for a mile or so until we ended in the rocky yard of an old abandoned farmhouse. It was a fine afternoon so we went wandering down the old laneways which would once have led to the infield, the outfield, the river.

And, coming down to the bottom of the lane, where we could hear water running (you're never very far from a stream anywhere in Ireland), we turned the corner by the blackberry bush and what did we find.

A totally unsuspected, unknown, undiscovered, secret clapper bridge. A little one, all by itself, crossing a small stream in the middle of nowhere.

Built anything up to ten centuries ago or more, clapper bridges aren't uncommon in this part of Ireland, and in fact there are two well known ones within five or ten miles of this spot, but we had no idea this one was here. It certainly isn't marked on any of the ordnance survey maps and isn't listed in my archaeological reference books. It is just possible that it has escaped being recorded, being so very out of the way.

It was the perfect end to a beautiful day. Dear little bridge.

Inevitably came back from Coventry with so many creative ideas that nothing would suffice but to start several new projects all at once.

As I said, Meg Swansen looked so confoundedly elegant in her Ribwarmer that I had to try again (did try before, if you remember, using the wrong yarn and the wrong size needles, so it's hardly surprising that it turned out a total disaster). Must say this is great fun to work, especially those short rows which bring it round the corner and up the back. Using Icelandic unspun I think - bought it in Finland though, so it may be the Finnish version of that super-delicate, super-light yarn. If you even let a loop of it fall around your knee, you've had it - it separates at the slightest pressure. However, since Celtic Memory has always been known as a loose knitter, she is delighted to discover that her style is entirely suited to working with unspun. No yarns tightly wound around several fingers for her. No steely maintaining of gauge. Just throwing the yarn in the general direction of the needle and then easing it through the stitch, is all that is required. So far I've only broken the yarn twice, which isn't bad going. Yay, the ugly duckling has found the right pond! At last I'm not an outsider, mocked as a 'loosey goosey', I can do this!

Decided that the Conwy Socks from Nancy Bush's Knitting On The Road were just right for the Crazy Zauberball I scooped at UK Ravelry Day. Yes, you're right, Celtic Memory has made an inexplicable slide sideways and is actually using red and brown rather than her usual blues, turquoises and violets. Blame it on the English weather - I'll be back to normal soon. It just seemed right at the time...

Sock Madness may have ended for this year, but the fun goes on in the group. The latest idea is to create new ideas to use up all those itty bitty leftover yarn balls you tend to accumulate. Here I'm trying to make a patchwork project bag - that's one of four projected panels you can see there, and the pointed bit will become a quarter of the bottom, so it will sit flat. I think it's a bit loose on tension though, so might try with a smaller needle. A project bag needs to be fairly firm.

This is the See You Later sock, the final pattern in Sock Madness. I was working on that at Coventry. Highly entertaining, with all those wraps and loopings - you never get bored. Koigu KPPPM - or is that KKKPM? Or KPMMM? Well, Koigu yarn anyway.

Even the Seahorse Socks got finished at long last. These were made, you may recall, by first working two tubes on the old sock machine, and then working toes and cuffs before bravely snipping a thread on each tube (having carefully measured first) and unpicking stitches to make the afterthought heels. They turned out very nicely indeed. Wonder if there would be a market for Save Your Sanity And Spare Time kits, where all the boring legwork was done, and you could play round with the tops and tails?

OK, OK, this isn't the way to finish the posting, I know. You want to see the bridge again. So do I.

I wonder how many footsteps have passed over it throughout the centuries since it was first laboriously constructed? Heavy hobnailed boots going to a day's hard work; light bare feet of a girl running to a lover's tryst in the fields at evening; faltering steps of emigrants; cattle, sheep, geese being driven to market; and maybe, just maybe, in the silent dew-drenched hours before dawn, even the silver slippers of the Good People .

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Runaway Bag and a Russian River

You wouldn't think it could happen twice, could you? Should have known that I was asking for trouble, taking Little Yellow Suitcase right back to Helsinki where it occurred last time. But I felt that as we were heading out, not home, and that there was no new stash loot, just WIPs in the checked bag, all would be well. Ha!

At least I'd been working on the Evelyn Clark Flower Basket Shawl on the flight, so had that to keep me occupied.

In the event, it just meant that we had to spend the night in Ivalo, northern Finland, instead of driving into Norway straight away, but that was OK, since it meant reindeer stew with lingonberries for me, and a happy encounter for DH before breakfast next morning:

The next flight up from Helsinki didn't get in until noon, so we went wandering on a nearby moor, and my lovely pink Talia's Wings socks, designed by YarnYenta for this year's Sock Madness, had their first look at a frozen lake.

Since these were the only socks I had with me, pending the arrival of Little Yellow Suitcase, they'd already had a quick overnight wash and dry, courtesy of competent Finnish hotel bathroom heating, but took to the busy life with great aplomb and kept the Celtic Memory feet cosy and warm throughout the morning. Lovely design, Heatherley, one of my favourites!

Wandered back to the sleepy little airport at noon, and saw the plane touch down amid the fir trees. Nice to be at a small country airstrip with no hassle, security, pressure or crowds whatever, just the wind blowing through the birches and the sun warming your back pleasantly while you waited.

Can you see a flash of defiant yellow on that unloading trolley?

I tell you, I gave it a good scolding. I see it all now. That first time of getting lost in Helsinki, it met up with a hunky travel bag - probably from Germany - and plans were laid to meet again the very next opportunity they got. What do I do? Change bags? Revert to cabin baggage only? (If I but could - you just try travelling with a professional photographer!)

It was high time to get going, since it's a long way, not only to Tipperary, but to Varangerfjord. Stopped for coffee just south of the Finnish/Norwegian border, and what did we find?

I'd actually seen this truck parked by our hotel in Ivalo the night before, and it had set off early, but here it was, open for business in the car park by the coffee shop. You'll never guess -

It was a mobile LYS!

It also had rolls of fabric, needles, thread, everything the competent housewife could desire. Isn't that the most marvellous idea? I want to fit out a little green van right this minute and set off around Ireland with it, taking thread to Thurles, wool to Wexford, needles to Newbridge, sock yarn to Sligo, quilting fabric to - where else - Quilty (yes, it does exist, honestly) and generally spreading joy and happiness around the land. Wouldn't even mind if much didn't get sold - it would be the spirit of the thing.

The Sunday, as it happened, was Norway National Day, and every little town and village was en fete, with people in the most beautiful traditional costumes.

Look at these gorgeous girls hurrying to shelter through an icy wind in Vardo. The embroidery on those woollen bodices and skirts was exquisite. And on that point, I found some wonderful pattern books in local shops, giving knitted designs for all kinds of Norwegian traditional dress. They were for children, but you could easily adapt those waistcoats and skirts and socks and caps for adult use. I'll put up some pictures when I get a chance. Oh hang on, I'll go try to take a shot or two now. Wait there.

Done it. Not a very good shot, took it quickly, but you get the idea? Why oh why don't we have lovely books available like this in our shops? Norway has a great pride in its traditional crafts.

The Flower Basket Shawl, made in some silk I'd hand-dyed, worked out quite well. I think it's the first lace piece I've completed, and again thanks to efficient hotel heating, managed to block and dry on a towel before taking it, with all due ceremony to that wonderful stone circle out on Varangerfjord for its christening.

I can tell you it was well cold enough to tuck that shawl inside the neck of my jacket. Had about fifteen layers on, and the wind singing through every one of them without a care.

The lichens on the ancient rock were most obliging about holding the shawl in position for a close up. Felt it was a bit of an imposition, but maybe they were austerely amused at the frivolity.

Speaking of the cold (and by 'eck was it cold up there, you genuinely didn't dare even to smile too widely for a picture because the bitter chill immediately attacked your teeth), I was fascinated by this simple image in Vardo:

I saw it more than once, with different groups. Here in Ireland, children would tuck dolly in with her face showing. Up there, the kids carefully covered the doll's pram right over with a blanket, against the cold.

Here is something else nice. Little wooden shoreline huts for storing fishing tackle, oars and nets. Can you see how carefully the rotten wood has been cut out, and the new wood fitted in? The gaps were caulked with moss. The huts are on sturdy runners, so they can be moved as need be.

It was sunny there near Vadso, but out on the Hamningberg Peninsula, it was grim and black.

It's such a dramatic coastline - you feel awestruck just driving it, and very small indeed in the immensity of it all.

We saw dozens of sea eagles, and in one very fortunate moment, several otters squeaking excitedly to each other as they fished offshore.

The road up to Batsfjord lies over high open moorland, where the snow lay thickly and the spring was still a long way away.

When you drop down to the sea at this lively fishing port, though, it's much milder and the reindeer were everywhere, taking advantage of the gentler climate.

A local fisherman told me the reindeer come down to the shore to give birth each spring. 'It is better for them here, safer too, I think.'

I have a dear friend in Batsfjord who I was hoping to see again, if I could discover her whereabouts. Dropped into the local LYS first (as you do), and who should I find coming to meet me but Else herself!

I had no idea that she was working here! She's finished her studies in Lillehammer for the summer, and what more convenient than that she should find opportunity for stash enhancement gainful employment in her LYS? It was lovely to meet again and hug and exchange news. Good luck with the final exam tomorrow, Else!

Had hoped to see Marianne in Vadso too, but unfortunately she was returning from a trip as we were leaving, so it wasn't to be. Next time, next time. Else, I know I promised to show you how to do a short-row heel, and Marianne, I had every intention of getting you to show me how to make those lovely felted pieces. We'll meet again...

There was a final leg to the trip to be made - out to Kirkenes, where the Hurtigruten boat calls in each day on its voyage around the endless Norwegian coastline, delivering mail and packages, and then on, up an increasingly narrow road, petering out into a rough track, to the very edge of Europe and the Russian border at Grense Jacobselv.

It was strange to drive along a track at one side of a small river, in Norway, and see the green and red painted post on the opposite bank showing that it was Russia. I grew up during the Cold War when the mystique and fear of Russia was very real, as were the tales of borders and daring escapes and tragic endings. To be there now, albeit in somewhat more relaxed times, and to see those implacable Russian mountains rising high behind the river, was quite an experience, especially as it was late in the evening and there was nobody else on that road.

There was still a solitary watchtower on the Russian side, but it didn't seem to be occupied. A merciful release for some soldier who would formerly have been doomed to a long lonely day in freezing conditions up there, watching, always watching.

The watchtower is rather nicely balanced by the King Oskar II chapel on the Norwegian bank. When relationships were very chilly after WWII, it was proposed to moor a gunboat at the mouth of the river, but an inspired soldier suggested that a chapel would be a much more effective icon, and so it was. So it is.

Knitting continued of course throughout the trip.

Here is the complex Celtic crop cardi photographed by a frozen Finnish lake. By now everything is up to the armhole stage, and it will be necessary to put frightening numbers of stitches on to one long circular to work the raglan shaping up to the neck, while at the same time (don't you love that phrase, especially if you read it too late) continuing the cabling on each individual piece. Wish me luck.

I love this felted picture in its window frame, don't y0u? Saw it at Ivalo Airport.

And when we got back, to the green and gold of early summer in West Cork, of course yarns had to be dyed and hung to dry in the breeze.

These are the new laceweights. Can't seem to do justice to their rather nice colours, no matter how hard I try with the camera. Sugar Maple, Connemara Twilight, and Magical Forest.

And these are the semisolids in merino/tencel sockweight which I have christened the Goneril & Reagan yarns after that really rather gorgeous pattern by Liz Abinante. Designed for strong-minded women who like creating a sensation, not for your wilting lilies at all. Turquoise Temptress, Predatory In Pink, Venomous Violet, and Emerald Empress. Took an age to get those listed on eBay last night. Does your PC immediately go into a slowdown when you try to get things listed? Mine takes so long that I now keep some simple knitting next to the keyboard and work a few rows while waiting for the page to refresh.

Now I know what you're sighing. Too much, and after too long a break, you're complaining. You're right of course. I'm exhausted myself and I haven't shown you half the pictures I meant to. Look, I promise, yet again, to try harder. It would be easier on both of us after all if I posted a little and often. Maybe - no, not tomorrow. Maybe three days time? I will try. I'll put a reminder to myself on my cellphone right now. Want to tell you about a day in the Black Valley and the Gap of Dunloe.

Must tell you right now though - the sun is shining in West Cork! And it's a Bank Holiday weekend! This is nothing short of a major miracle. People are out and about, smiling, laughing, talking. Beaches are crowded. Shoulders are being bared. Never mind that the temperature, at about 24 deg, would be considered a chilly spring day in Texas. It's summer in Ireland - all three days of it!