Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Tall Stones Beckon

Think I've nearly got the hang of this now. Thanks to all your good advice, we should be almost getting back to normal. Probably no harm though to post little and often rather than a mega-epic every few weeks. It got so I was dreading the sheer amount of preparation that had to go into first finding the pics on DH's computer, then re-sizing and captioning them, and only then getting started on the posting.

Listen, while I think of it - I got such lovely comments and help, but in some cases I just couldn't get back to the person who I wanted to contact because she hadn't made her Blogger profile accessible. Hey, I WANT to talk to you India, whose father Alvin Tresselt wrote the original version of The Mitten, illustrated by Yaroslava. But you won't let me! This happens from time to time, and I often wonder if the person who sent such a nice comment wonders why I never made contact. Well now you know! Go check that you've left the (metaphorical) door on the latch for me, and the welcome mat out!

Here we have just some of the gift knitting which had to get done before December 25.On the left several black tubes worked on the sock machine, all awaiting tops, toes and heels. On the right and at the bottom, two pairs of children's stripy socks, ditto. A black cabled headband centre front. And at the back my honeycomb socks in that lovely Cormo yarn from my friend Louise at Tapetes de Lana in New Mexico. Someday I'm going to visit that mill. Anybody been there? Angeluna? You've been everywhere. Glad to get all those gifts out of the way. It is probably the first year ever that I've given more handmade presents than bought ones. It was a very nice feeling, but a bit hard on the neck and back muscles, to say nothing of the hands. How're you feeling after the festive season? (Sorry, Chinese friends, I know you have to wait until Feb 14, we'll share it with you, OK?)

Here is the picture I promised of one pair of the sock-machine-knitted, hand-crochet-finished wristlets drying. They're a great way of using up the leftover sock yarn, aren't they? This was the remains of balls from the Talia's Wings design in this year's Sock Madness (still one of my favourites, YarnYenta!). Must make a few dressy pairs of wristwarmers for myself. I have in mind a really dramatic graceful style with long lacy falls over the hand, in an ivory or silver yarn.

It is time and more, though, that the Polperro gansey jacket was finished. With all the gift knitting out of the way, there is little excuse (since, despite the book deadline, Celtic Memory would be knitting in any case, and if she stopped casting on for new projects, the older ones just might get done).

See, only one sleeve to go. After I photographed it at this stage, the needles were indeed brought back into play and the stitches picked up for the final run. But could I get the right number up? Could I heck as like! You see, when I did the first one, I just picked up according to received wisdom (where? Can't remember. Was it Priscilla Gibson-Roberts? Barbara Walker? EZ? Whatever) by picking up on two rows, missing one, and so on, for the distance required. When I got to the second one, after rather a long break over Christmas and all, I carefully consulted the pattern and picked up the number recommended for that. Of course I completely forgot that (a) I hadn't done that for the first sleeve and (b) that if I had, it would have been wrong, because since I'm a loose knitter, I'd done fewer rows to the shoulder than the pattern dictated. Of course I only realised this when I was several long moss-stitch rows into said sleeve and had to work out where the patterning should go.

Frogged back and picked up a second time, basing my calculations on a rapid stitch count of the first sleeve.

Ha! Did you notice the trick word in there? 'Rapid'? Of course I got the sums entirely wrong but also of course didn't notice until I was yet again several rows into the sleeve.

Third time lucky. Now working down the sleeve at top speed, to try and finish before my energy for this particularly long-drawn out project drains away.

(Not that long-drawn out when you consider some of your other WIPs, did I hear someone comment snidely? Back to your cage, you!)

Because once it's DONE, I can start on some of the other wonderful ideas that wandered into my mind while this has been on the go. Do you have those tempting visions during a long piece of work? A glimmering picture of beauty that calls to you, urges you to leave this boring mundane task and fly with it to fibre heaven? Go on, tell me I'm not the only one.

This is one of the projects that is tempting me so much at the moment. I saw it mentioned on - Knitting Daily, I think - and fell head over heels. Bought and downloaded it on the spot (don't you just love the instant gratification of immediate downloads?)

It's the Yarn Harlot's Pretty Thing cowl of course, and really Steph couldn't have thought of a more appropriate name, could she? I recently dyed up some fine laceweight kid mohair in two shades of rose pink and although I have found it really too fine for my mood to work at the moment as a single, both shades used together would look enchanting for this. (Soon, soon, Pretty Thing, only a few more miles to go with Polperro...)

Now with all the hassle over Blogger, you didn't get to share a few things that I was certain you would have enjoyed. Here is one of them, a little late, but still worthwhile.

On the south west coast, not far from Castletownshend (the home of that inimitable pair of ladies, Somerville & Ross, who wrote the wonderful Irish RM books that became a hit TV series - I remember the late great Anna Manahan as the put-upon cook, Mrs. Cadogan, especially) there are three tall standing stones at the very top of a hill. They're some way from the road, and if you catch a glance (it's a narrow winding boreen and you wouldn't want to take your eyes off it for more than a second, if that) you think at first that they must be the remains of construction work. Surely you couldn't get standing stones of that height, up there?

Because it's so far from the road, we kept putting off going up there to take pictures for De Book, but finally came one cold clear December day when wellies were donned and the trek undertaken. The first part is through very muddy fields indeed - thanks to the cattle who followed us curiously at a respectful distance - but then it starts to climb, and the stones, which have disappeared for a while behind the undulations of the terrain, suddenly appear much closer.

It's absolutely right that the old thorn tree should be there, keeping an eye on them. Bit high up and exposed for the rowan, but the fairy thorn can survive anywhere.

You're a bit out of breath when you get to the top, but isn't it worth it? Look at the height of those stones! Can you imagine what it was like when there was a full row of them? (You can see one or two fallen, and it is recorded that some Victorian Anglo-Irish gentleman in Castletownshend took a fancy to another, and simply had it uprooted and carried down in a cart to his home. Well he'd have had no luck thereafter if he did! Wouldn't be at all surprised if he came to a bad end.

As the sun dropped lower in the west behind the hill, the long black shadows of the stones were cast dramatically on the green slopes below. What an important place it must have been. Probably still is.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Secret Solstice Road

Well last night's posting seemed to go all right, so, much encouraged, we'll now try for the next section, shall we? Gosh, it is annoying having to keep to a limit of four images per posting. On the other hand, it does make one concentrate and really make sure they're worthwhile. Rather like the National Geographic photographers being given one day with just one roll of film instead of the usual hundreds, and being told to make every shot count. (Yes, yes, this was in the days before digital, don't be pedantic!) DH finds it very difficult to choose between pictures at the best of times, and now that he habitually shoots off a dozen or more on each opportunity, the hours spent pruning and deleting have increased enormously.

The old road this time, I think, and then, tomorrow, a knitting update. That OK with you? Here we go, then (should one offer libations to Blogger? No. Why the heck should one?)

We have had some wonderful still frosty days to follow on that dreadful rain which lasted for weeks, so very early on the morning of the Solstice we took Sophy Wackles down to Coolcower Woods, a part of the flooded Gearagh river valley, quite close to home.

Isn't this a magnificent old tree trunk, still offering shelter and life to so many mosses and ivies and probably all kinds of little creatures who tuck up snugly at night on a bed of leaves within its twisting roots? You can almost see little front doors underneath those arches, can't you? With polished door handles of beechnut, and miniscule 'Welcome' mats of plaited rushes?

Normally we walk down to the edge of the lake and then turn back. But it was different this Solstice morning. The water in this lake is affected by the dam further downriver (the reason the valley was flooded in the first place) and since that dam had released a lot of surplus water during the rainy season the previous week, the lake had almost dried up.

I had never seen this solid ground before. Where Sophy is standing is just as far as you can normally get, right at the water's edge. But on this particular morning, for the first time in many years, the old track was revealed, running across to the woodlands beyond. Those trees on slightly higher ground are normally islanded, inaccessible without a flat-bottomed boat, and even then that's a risky venture with all the hidden tree stumps underwater waiting to tear the bottom out of your craft.

Did we cross? Of course we did! You don't get offered these chances more than once and if you turn them down when they're offered, you only have yourself to blame.

It was strange roaming around and rediscovering the little pathways which were once well trodden by the community that lived in this valley. Trees and bushes of course had grown up over and around the ruins of cottages, old stone walls, and gateways. You could still make out the outline of gardens though, little fields, crossroads. The railway to Macroom used to run through here a long time ago, and we even found the old trackway, minus its sleepers and rails now of course, but still running straight as a die across the bed of the lake. (Oh Blogger, Blogger, why can't I show all these pictures?)

The rising sun was turning the horizon scarlet and then gold as we wandered around this lost forgotten world, and finally lifted itself over the horizon to celebrate the shortest day of the year.

Solstice blessings to you all. Go mbeirimid beo ar an t'am seo aris! That we may all be alive at this time again.

[Hey, hey, HEY, did you see? Did you count? I got FIVE pictures in there...]

Friday, December 25, 2009

First The Seasonal Tale of the Postman's Socks...

Sorry it's been such a time. I had fully intended to wish you all the joys of the Solstice, and then to update on knitted gifts which have been taking up most of the time chez Celtic Memory these last few weeks. As, I imagine, they have been with you.

But Blogger had other ideas. OK, so I had adjusted to the idea that from now on, instead of dragging and dropping pictures where I wanted them to appear, I'd have to load them all, one by one, in reverse order (and thereby, perforce, planning what I was going to say in advance) and only then inputting text.

Now Blogger won't let me load more than three or at a pinch four pictures before it hangs, jams, throws up entirely incomprehensible warnings, and finally crashes. My good friend LilyMarlene says she has the same problem. Anybody got any ideas here? Stress levels reached a high last night when one might have thought that, it being Christmas Eve, one could have been winding down.

So after a fairly peaceful day (far too slippery and icy to go out, so why not enjoy a lovely time trying out a new project, a top-down boat-neck sweater in black Incense (from Elann) designed to show off a white shirt underneath, you know the style?), I've accepted the inevitable and you will therefore get, instead of one lengthy post, several short ones, spaced out over the next few days.

The plan was to update you on the gift knitting, as I said, and then talk about books, followed by an account of a lovely solstice exploration down another old road revealed by very low water levels in the lakes near home. Tonight, you're getting the gift knitting and a bit of the books. No more, because if Blogger goes b-y-minded again, I can't guarantee I won't attack the blameless screen on my computer with an (empty) Chardonnay bottle.

There are many books laid out for the festive season by the fireplace in the upstairs sitting room. A Christmas Carol, of course, A Child's Christmas in Wales, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Dark is Rising, The Children of Green Knowe, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. This year, however, I think my absolute favourite has to be The Mitten by Jan Brett.

I'm sure you know it well, but this anniversary edition is so exquisite I am charmed afresh every time I turn over the pages. Just look at the granny knitting by the porcelain stove, and Nicki bringing armsful of white wool for her to make the special mittens. Every page is a delight for the detail of the Ukranian countryside and lifestyle, not to mention the animals. Illustrations can make the simplest of stories into an enriching experience, can't they? (Must dig out those Russian fairy tales with the wonderful illustrations by Ivan Bilibin - often wanted to copy the glorious costumes depicted there.)

Now, like the rest of you, I've been working flat out on gift knitting. A new baby friend arrived last week, a little girl, so I decided she needed a nice red hat for Christmas. I wish I could show you the sequence of pictures, but I can hear Blogger threatening softly in the background so I'll content myself with telling you that the main part of the hat was worked on the sock machine, and I then picked up the stitches for a crochet cast off for the brim (which rolled nicely) and then the stitches to decrease for the crown. Finally I was working a 4-st i-cord to make a decorative top, and thought, 'this is just like that nice cord-maker I have in the workshop...

It took a bit of doing to coax the i-cord already made up through the little machine and then to hook the stitches on to the needles, but once that had been done, and a good bit of yarn pulled through to work the last bit, gosh it was a quick job! Just turn the handle and it's done! (I have several cord-makers but this one, made I think by Bond, is the best, probably because it has real steel needles and a good weight to hang on the work.

And here are some of the dozens of pairs of wristwarmers I made on the sock machine and then finished with frilly crochet edgings. They're such a handy gift for nice people in shops and post offices and places. Here you see them with the waste yarn still holding the main stitches, waiting for me to work the edgings. Wish I could show you some of the finished pairs, but see above re Blogger...

But the postman's socks deserve their own picture and they're going to get it. Our postman is particularly nice and helpful and friendly, so when he didn't turn up for a few days last month I worried about him. Enquired of the stand-in, who told me that postie had been in hospital for an operation. Well, what do you do when someone nice has had an operation? Well of course you make him a pair of socks! Time was tight, so the tube in black wool was made on the sock machine, and then toes, heels and cuffs hand-knitted in a bright red. Finished them on Dec 23, washed and dried them overnight, and handed them in to the post office for onward transmission via a helpful workmate on Christmas Eve. Just in time!

OK, that's the story so far. So many more things I wanted to tell you about and to show you via DH's lovely pictures - the huge fir tree we cut from the top of an enormous one in our garden, which just brushes the ceiling in the hall; the frosty scene from my study window for the past few mornings; the dogs skidding wildly on the driveway this morning as sleety rain fell on top of hard frost. But better not to push my luck. It's really been a bad couple of days with Blogger and I'd rather get down and check the festive dinner really. The next posting (tomorrow hopefully) will tell the tale of The Secret Solstice Road across the lake.

Oh yes, did get some rather nice books for myself as a treat this Christmas. Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top, plus her first book of patterns; and both Knitting and Spinning in the Old Way by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts. Oh, and Knitting Around by the diva herself, EZ. All texts I really should have owned long ago, and all awaiting a lovely browsing session.

Now, off to tackle that top-down sweater in Incense. Yes, yes, and check on the turkey as well...

Don't forget to give me any - ANY suggestions as how to deal with Blogger. It is really frustrating not to be able to march up to its (their?) door and just clock it hard over the head. So much more satisfactory than trawling through irritatingly useless Help pages.