Sunday, July 12, 2009

Seeing Off The Seven Deadly WIPs

Celtic Memory is thoroughly ashamed of herself. Appalled would not be too strong a word. Lack of moral fibre, lack of any restraint whatsoever, a complete inability to stick to one thing and get it done. Or even two things. Or three.

This morning the sun was shining brightly through the window as it occasionally does during an Irish summer. It hadn't done so for a few weeks, and the resultant illumination was a nasty shock. The number of WIPs piled, draped, perched all over the dining room was frightening. No, really I mean it. Far, far too many. Socks, scarves, jackets, vests - how had things come to this pretty pass? I hauled no fewer than seven (count 'em, seven) out on to the table and into the merciless sunlight.

That, by the way, in case you're wondering, is the total of WIPs actually on view, touchable, ready to hand, in one room. No mention is being made of WIPs ageing in quiet corners, living out their lives in forgotten baskets or plastic storage boxes elsewhere in the house (or indeed car). We're only talking here of the ones on the top of the iceberg.

Enough!, I cried. There will be no more of this. Every single one of these WIPs currently on view will be finished, completed, ticked off the list before ANYTHING new is started. And by heaven I have every intention of keeping to that resolution. Forget New Year promises, this is a mid-July crisis and it's got to be sorted right NOW. No two ways about it. And why am I telling you? Well, not just so that you can enjoy a good laugh at my expense - no, I'm hoping that by coming out of the closet and confessing, I'll put myself in the position where I have to do something or look a right eejit. You'll be watching me, I'll have to!

Here, then, are the Seven Deadly WIPs.

Item One: A wrap, shawl or stole in light soft mohair boucle in a particularly gorgeous colourway of greens and turquoises and blues. It has an angled edge which pleased me exceedingly when I worked out how to do it, and when finished it will look devastating over a dark jacket or sweater. Simplicity itself to work, ideal for TV watching or long journeys.

Started: Last February, in a fever of enthusiasm, when I bought the hand-dyed skein.

Progress: about halfway. Hard to tell - there's a lot of yardage in this ball. It gets finished when the yarn does.

Item Two. A cabled cropped jacket in a blue mousse merino used double or treble or something, can't remember without going to look. Got some ideas from Elsebeth Lavold's Ragna sweater, but mostly this is my own design and I was very excited about it. There are several separate pieces or flaps which come together about six inches up the body, and the sleeves also have slits at the cuff end. Once the second sleeve is up to where it should be, the whole lot will go on one needle for raglan shaping to the neck. Haven't decided what to do then.

Started: Around January, I think.

Progress: More than three-quarters done.

Item Three. Zauberball socks in progress. This is Nancy Bush's Conwy pattern and very nice it is too.

Started: After UK Ravelry Day, where I scored the yarn, that very evening in fact. Because I was travelling, I didn't follow my usual practice of winding the yarn into two equal balls and working both socks at the same time, so there is a distinct risk of Second Sock Syndrome.

Progress: You can see for yourself. Not much more of the foot to do on Sock One. So what's keeping me?

Item Four. Tofutsies socks. These are my mixed media socks, with the tubes worked on the sock machine and then the tops, toes and heels added afterwards. (By the way, the Tofutsies, though a little fine for my liking in handwork, is just great on the sock machine, so I'm in the market for some more if anyone has any to trade for some of my hand-dyed).

Started: June sometime. The tubes take about ten minutes to knit (don't you just hate people who have sock machines?)

Progress: Again, you can see for yourself. One sock complete with ribbing, toe, and afterthought heel. Second has toe and most of the ribbing done; still the delicate and worrying task of snipping a stitch and unpicking the heel stitches so as to work the afterthought remains.

Item Five. The Noro Shawl. The pattern is the Weavers' Wool Mini Shawl by Peggy Pignato and the Silk Garden Sock shows off to excellent advantage in the simple design. Of course, at the beginning, you forget how many stitches there are going to be by the time you get even halfway...

Started: After UK Ravelry Day, again having scored the yarn.

Progress: Hard to tell. Another good yardage ball, so we'll see how far we get before it's time to cast off.

Item Six. The Mermaid Vest, inspired by Jane Thornley's beautiful Sunset Vest. This one demands so many different yarns, it was taking up space in a wide basket.

Started: Last summer sometime, when somebody had the bright idea of a Jane Thornley KAL.

Progress: You can see it on the right of the picture; had been working upwards from the bottom in stripes, but when I'd laid it out to take a picture, I realised that this was begging to be worked sideways - far more effective. Frogging will be quite a problem, since there were several yarns used in each row. But it would be a real showstopper when done. MUST get on with it, and never mind that it's a recipe for frustration, tangling and long long late nights painstakingly undoing knots.

Item Seven. The St. Enda cropped cabled jacket. This one really embarrassed me. I suddenly decided that what I should be doing was knitting items I actually needed in the wardrobe rather than shiny new distractions, took some thought, and settled on a good crop jacket in a dark colour. A staple, something like that would be, could wear it anywhere, with anything. Went virtuously off to the stash to find an appropriate yarn and pattern, saw some rough notes for St. Enda... and realised that I'd done this already, last year.

(To tell the truth, I've done it more than once. There are several charcoal or black jacket WIPs hanging around, but I haven't had the strength of will to look for the others - afraid what I'll find. And yes, there is a cream cashmere/silk St. Enda sweater also OTN, but in another room, therefore not counted during this penitential exercise.)

Started: At least a year ago, I would suspect.

Progress: Back up to the armholes. One front, with integrated side slit and pocket, plus cabled button band, almost up to the same point. Another front (this time with buttonholes), and two sleeves to get to home base, after which the entire thing will be worked as one raglan piece to the neck. Which may well have a cabled strip collar.

Seven deadly WIPs. Each one begun in a white heat of lust, greed, envy, whatever. Each one laid down just for a minute while something else caught the eye. Each one left to languish.

It's not good enough. Here comes the vow.

I, Celtic Memory, do hereby undertake most solemnly not to take on, examine, get distracted by, even consider ANY knitting (or crochet or quilting or weaving or spinning, you can't get out of it like that) project until each and every one of the seven listed above has been fully and totally completed (and yes, that does include sewing up AND the attachment of buttons, yes, even blocking where necessary).

In confirmation of which, I hereby append my X.


Hang on though, there is some achievement to report. Late last night, and well before expected completion time, the EZ Ribwarmer Vest MkIII made its appearance!

Simply cannot believe this got finished, and that it actually fits! Cut down on stitches and rows to get it to size, and might go down even more on the next try. Had intended to work i-cord all round the edges, which would have taken several more days, but in the end went for a simple crochet effect, which did a very good job of evening out the bulges which tend to appear where the short rows turn the corners.

Here's a back view. You might be able to see the rain battering at the windows. If I'd only slept late this morning, I'd have missed the sunshine altogether, wouldn't have noticed the burgeoning WIPs in the gloom, and you wouldn't be reading this now.

The next posting will chart progress. And perhaps a little sneak peek at The Seven Deadly Temptations which will do their utmost to upset that progress...

Saturday, July 04, 2009

In Which The Source of Unspun Icelandic Is Sought, And A Sea Of Blue Lupins Discovered

Myself, I blame Meg Swansen. And quite probably Sandykins and LilyMarlene would agree, wouldn't you girls? There she was at UK Ravelry Day, looking absolutely stunning in her own version of the EZ Ribwarmer (I think she calls her design Ribwarmer Revisited, but I could be wrong), and what could any knitter worthy of her needles do but instantly vow to try. Or, in my case, try again. You may or may not recall that I first attempted this cunning little bit of engineering a year or two ago with a very nice variegated boucle. Realised before even hitting the decreases that it would fit an elephant and one with no very good idea of fashion sense at that. So to the frogpond it trotted, and I eschewed the EZ Ribwarmer for ever. And ever.

But after seeing that gorgeously chic little oatmeal number, edged in i-cord in a slightly darker shade, I couldn't pretend disinterest. Came home and hunted out a cake (a wheel? A round? A big squishy flat sort of plate) of unspun yarn and started over. Now this was a particularly nice oatmeal shade, this unspun, but - let's whisper this bit - I wasn't entirely sure it was the real McCoy, the genuine unspun Icelandic. I'd bought it in Finland, so maybe it was the wrong nationality?

Surely that wouldn't make much difference? Aren't we getting just a bit too purist here? Of course we are. Cast on forthwith, worked merrily away, posted about it, boasted about it, coasted around the corners at full speed, and finished it in short order.

'Twas a bit big, even with all that careful measuring en route. No matter, a bit of felting will soon fix that. Into the pot with it.



Now I don't really need someone to explain how a felted piece can come out with one part of it more shrunken than the other. Accidents can occur in the best regulated felting families. 'Could happen a bishop', as my mother would say comfortingly to the cats when they made the occasional idiot of themselves (you know how cats simply hate making idiots of themselves, it throws them off completely, whereas dogs don't mind in the slightest, and in fact do it all the time without even trying).

But I would like to know how one armhole came out twice the original size while the other had gone down to half its original dimensions.

I screamed and ranted about this on one of the Ravelry groups and Zemy was kind enough to suggest running a safety thread through armholes and edgings before felting. I'll try that, Zemy, next time. But to get one twice the size and one half?

The vest now resides in Muffy the Yarnslayer's bed. She likes it a lot, and does some work on it in the evenings.

The iron, however, remained in the soul. And rankled. Which is distracting, especially late at night or early in the morning. Or anytime really.

Where had I gone wrong? I mean, look up the Ribwarmer on Ravelry for heaven's sake, and it appears that every knitter in the world has laughingly thrown dozens of perfect examples off the needles in less time than it takes to say 'What an easy knit!'

WHY ME? (Or, to put it another way, why not me?)

I'd checked the gauge. I'd followed the pattern. I'd used unspun yarn...


Maybe that was it. I had used what I considered to be an appropriate yarn, but was it the right one. Was it the very exact specific unspun specified in the specifications?

Maybe NOT.

Only one thing to do in circumstances like that, and as chance would have it (no, honestly) DH offered the one possible path of hope and opportunity.

Had fully intended to go to Woolfest last weekend, but a few days before, he instead dangled the thought of heading further north (a lot further north) so that he could look for seabirds and I could perhaps track down the elusive yarn in its natural habitat.

Did I hesitate? Did I 'eck!

And so, towards the end of June, we came at last to Iceland

and to one of the most hauntingly beautiful and remote landscapes I have ever seen. Mountains (volcanoes really, several of them still in grumbling mood), vast stretches of grassland, moss, and lava fields. This country is slightly larger than England, Scotland and Wales combined, yet it has a population of just 300,000 - that's hardly more than County Cork, for heaven's sake! Since most of them live in Reykjavik, that leaves a great deal of empty countryside,

with the occasional tiny white church emphasising the remote emptiness of it all.

But there are some industries in Iceland. Guess where this is:

Not too difficult, even if you can't read the writing on the van. How many cars have colourwork knitted fenders?

Yes, it was Alafoss, legendary old mill where Icelandic yarns have been made for generations. They have now moved production to a more modern mill, closer to Reykjavik, but the old one has been turned into an outlet where they sell knitwear and yarns at cut price.

I bet you're drooling. I could hardly wait for DH to stop the car before I was in the door.

It's a wonderful place to wander around, full of the most exquisite handwork in caps, scarves, vests, sweaters, gloves, socks...

even tapestry kits of Icelandic birds (DH liked those a lot).

Look at these lovely little knitted figures, grouped around the old hand-cranked sewing machine.

But I had come on a mission, and I wasn't going to be distracted.

Didn't dare to look at all the other yarns on offer, but concentrated on the Plotulopi, which is the unspun favoured first by EZ and now by Meg. When you find all these cakes of yarn stacked up high, in every colour you could imagine, it's hard not to lose your head entirely and run round in circles babbling feverishly. Did that for a while, before buying lots and lots and going out to reassure DH that I hadn't dived into the cellar and gone to sleep on a bale of wool.

The yarn here at Alafoss is cheaper than anywhere else at any time, but right now the Icelandic kronur is at an all-time low, so the yarn was too! Pity a poor girl who had only travelled with cabin baggage (I know, I know, but believe me if you have to go through several airports these days, you do not, repeat, do not, want to think about checked bags, really you don't. It can turn a quick weekend into a lengthy imprisonment very easily. Go check out their website - they'll ship. But don't leave it too long, can't tell how long their financial recession will last.)

After that pleasant little introduction to the country, we went out to explore a bit more of Iceland. Not the whole lot - you wouldn't expect to get around the UK in three days, and nor could you get around Iceland where they haven't heard of dual carriageways yet, let alone motorways. We confined ourselves to the Western Fjords which were quite stunning enough.

This is the must-see of this far northern land - the majestic mountain/volcano called Snaefelljokull. Why? Well for one thing it's pretty dramatic, and even when the rest of the country was basking in midsummer, it was still a land of ice and snow up there. But the real reason of course was Jules Verne.

Descend into the crater of Yocul of Sneffels, which the shade of Scartaris caresses, before the kalends of July, audacious traveller, and you will reach the centre of the earth...

Devoured the book in childhood, saw the movie, but never really thought I'd be there. And just before the kalends of July too, what good timing!

You'll have to look pretty closely to see a tiny figure down there, but take my word for it, that's me. In the crater of a volcano.

No, it wasn't actually Snaefelljokull. As you could probably gather from that previous picture, it wasn't exactly casual hiking weather up there. Besides which, I'm not that keen on exploring the centre of the earth. In fact, although I wouldn't like to admit it other than here, among friends, I was a bit nervous clambering down even into that one, which hasn't erupted for about four thousand years. Kept sort of expecting the ground to crumble away below me, and precipitate me into lakes of molten lava, you know?

Another sight people obediently trek to see in Iceland is a geyser - or Geysir in fact, the original old fellow who gave his name to the phenomenon. And the Blue Lagoon where you can sit in natural hot water by the seashore and do yourself lots of good.But we weren't in the mood for tourist attractions so we went off and found our own little smoking water supply.

When you see this from the road, it looks for all the world like a tip, with rubbish smouldering, you know the kind of thing? But when we went down to check, it was a little bubbling spring right enough, with boiling water spouting out from the sand.

You might be able to see the steam on the right of the picture here, rising from the stream as it rushes into the sea. It was too hot to hold my hand in, even there.

I only then remembered that when my father went to Iceland back around 1950 (and it was quite an adventure back in those days, he had to take one tramp steamer to Scotland and another onward to Iceland, passing St. Kilda on the way, which really made me jealous, tiny though I was at the time) he told us on his return that he washed his socks in these natural hot water springs. I think it would have felted mine. Heck, should have brought that Ribwarmer and given it a good shock!

Now in the middle of summer, there is virtually twenty-four hour daylight in Iceland, and the flowers are blooming as fast as they can, to get seed set in time before the twenty-four hour nights of winter.

Even on the rough volcanic pebbles at the sides of the roads, the wild thyme was blooming. It had a lovely scent here, almost more like lavender.

This glorious sweep of bog cotton was just the place to photograph the Noro shawl in progress.

What really took our breath away though were the lupins. Swathes, lakes, fields, whole valleys full of them. We first saw them as the plane circled before landing and couldn't believe our eyes. They were everywhere and more plentiful than I've ever seen them anywhere else. Apparently they were introduced from Alaska to help save the soil of Iceland from complete erosion by wind and sea, and they're doing a jolly good job. Tucked a few seed pods into my pocket to try out in the gentler climate of West Cork.

Of course we saw lots of sheep. Next to fishing, wool is one of the vital industries here.

Icelandic sheep very often have twin lambs. They come in a lot of colours too.

Opinions were divided as to whether this Arctic tern was collecting warm wool for its nest (me) or warning the sheep to keep its silly clumsy hooves away from aforesaid nest (DH).

And yes, we did find that rare breed, the Icelandic ponies. Lots of them.

Again, these come in every colour, from dapple grey to black, chestnut to roan, even skewbald, but all with that characteristic identifying thick mane and lovely heavy fringe over the eyes.

This one was enjoying his quiet time far too much to get up and come over, although we coaxed. We could just see one eye regarding us sleepily through the buttercups.

There were so many other lovely things to see, we didn't have half enough time.

Spectacular waterfalls cascading down dizzying cliffs.

Felted slippers , headbands, and mittens in a tourist information centre.

Delectable cakes in friendly cafes. See, Icelandic isn't that difficult after all, is it?

In fact it's a very old language indeed, and exceptionally close to the original spoken by the Vikings. So much so in fact that modern Icelanders are in the happy position of being able to read the ancient manuscripts in the original - must make research a whole lot easier! I was entranced to see that they still use the letter like a 'p' with a stroke top and bottom, which stands for 'th' in Anglo Saxon and old Norse. It links you right back across the centuries.

And on the way back, guess where we flew right over? Guess?

The Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides. Alice Starmore is down there. We probably flew right over her house!
No I did not. I simply inclined my head gracefully, waved elegantly, and flew on. I could afford to be magnanimous. I figured we were safe enough at 35 thousand feet. And that has just got to put me on the winning side, hasn't it? Now I can essay another trial on St. Brigid - maybe?

So what eventually did get crammed into the rucksack, which was already packed enough with the bare essentials like a warm sweater and a toothbrush, several spare lenses for DH's cameras, the current knitting project, a book, a spare pair of socks, a woolly hat?

Quite a few wheels of unspun (there's another of the darkest charcoal already on the needles with EZ Ribwarmer MkIII); a whole colour card for the unspun, given to me by an utterly lovely lady at Alafoss whose name I somehow omitted to get, but who spoke perfect American, and with whom I intend to strike up a deathless friendship; and a copy of Icelandic Colour Knitting, which has details on how to make those fascinating knitted inserts for shoes which I think I already saw in the Bulgarian mountains. Oh and two Colonial Rosewood circulars which happily they stocked at Alafoss. My favourite needles of all time and this is the second occasion on which I've struck lucky (-the last, if you recall, was in Talinn, in that shop which took some finding, seeing as how it had no name outside, no notice, no indication whatsoever that it was actually upstairs over a fitness gym in a side street. But I digress.)

Some of those wheels of yarn had to be squashed into little bags and tucked into side pockets. Others went in DH's pockets (well I was carrying his lenses, wasn't I, and they were a lot heavier). The lupin seeds went undetected (unless a member of the Irish Ag & Fish reads this blog in which case I'm in trouble).

An absolutely wonderful weekend. Well stocked up now with unspun, and will order more online as needed. On second thoughts though, might just go back to get it in person. Coming?