Sunday, December 21, 2014

In Which The Turning of the Year Brings The Winter Solstice

Joy of Midwinter to you!  The days have been short and the nights long, but from now on, the pattern is reversed and we start moving towards spring and summer again.  (Of course it doesn't happen in quite such an organised and numerical manner as that, Nature takes her own good time and knows what she is doing, but it can't be denied that we have reached Midwinter in calendar terms anyway.)  And in West Cork this morning there were even a few trills of birdsong to show that all creatures are already looking forward to brighter warmer weather.

Well... perhaps not all creatures.

When the weather gets cold and the days darker, canines and felines conveniently set aside their usual antipathy and jostle into a warm and comfortable conglomeration on a rocking chair near the fire.  Sophy Wackles usually gets up first, and then Tamzin leaps lightly over Sophy's supine body and settles next to her.  Finally Paudge Mogeely floats over the arm of the chair with no apparent effort, and tucks himself into the tiny space left.  That's them settled for the evening.  Polliwog?  Oh he's out wandering in the orchard and thinking dark thoughts. Black cats are often like that.

Petroushka, being only just a year old (Dec 8 in case you were wondering) is full of energy of course, and always willing to lend a hand with anything, be it the cooking (let me deal with that beef, willya?  I know just how to mince it!) or the decorating.

She is also ploughing determinedly ahead with her work for the Yarnslayer badge, which she hopes to receive before New Year.  She got an unexpected bonus lately when I inadvisedly left an Advent scarf in progress on a low chair.  Foolish I know, but honestly I was only gone for a moment.  It was enough.  The basket was carried bodily out to the hall where 'Troushka could deal with it properly.

Petroushka with wool-2.jpg

(Yes, the WIP survived, and the scarf, which I turned into a cowl, made it through in the end.  The recipient need never know.)

Once that was done, this was an attempt to make a crochet scarf that looked like a cobweb.  It's based on a pattern called Ana Luisa's Wrap, by Julie Blagojevich, but I narrowed it considerably.  Added a thread of sparkle and a few translucent beads to heighten the effect of a dew-drenched web.  Hope that recipient likes it.

Also got a bit of practice in on the knitting machine, and tried out a large cone of bright blue mohair that had been hanging around quite long enough.

Had just enough for this floaty wrap (Bill King's Gold Star if you want to try it).  DH discovered that it took on a whole new quality when backlit by a rare five minutes of winter sunshine.

Today was not sunny, though.  The druids were walking the hills, as you can see .  They cause a magical mist to rise when they are moving from one place to another (as naturally they would be at the winter solstice) so that they will not be perceived by common mortals.

Nevertheless, we headed out to capture some pictures so that you could share Midwinter in West Cork with us.

This wonderful arch of holly bent low over old stone steps leading up a forested hill.  It was mid afternoon, so empty as far as we could see.  Late tonight you wouldn't know who would be walking there, working the old magic to ensure that the sun becomes brighter with every passing day.  But it's better not to turn up uninvited for the old rituals.

This tiny leafy track too seemed to hint at a secret road to somewhere different.  At the solstice, the veil between this and the Otherworld is very thin indeed.  It is generally accepted that They (the Good People) are closer than you think at these times.

But finally I saw this little mound through a gap in the hedge on a very muddy back road, and knew it was the one with which to leave you this evening.  Get close to it, climb through the hedge in your  mind (just watch those brambles, they can scratch!) sit on the mossy rock underneath that thorn tree, and hold your own Midwinter celebration here tonight.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Of Travels in Old Estonia - And Yarn Inspirations Too

Can't quite imagine how it's a week to Christmas Eve already, but if I don't tell you about the September trip to Estonia now, it's in danger of being forgotten altogether.

It's not expensive to get to Estonia from Ireland but it can be quite a lengthy and complicated business.  For this trip we had to take three flights - Cork-Vilnius, Vilnius-Riga and finally Riga- Tallinn.  Yes, I did bring a couple of knitting projects.  Did you think I wouldn't?

There was a nice experience on one of the flights.  I noticed that the lady sitting opposite was also knitting!

It still isn't that usual to see this on European flights so naturally I was thrilled.  I showed her what I was working on (an Elizabeth Zimmermann Rib Warmer) and she showed me the beautifully detailed little baby jacket that was occupying her hands.  She was Russian, with no English,  my Russian is limited to basic courtesies, but we managed to communicate quite well through the medium of gestures and examples and stitch patterns.  It was a very happy feeling, making contact through knitting.

On arrival, we headed out along the coast.  It was late in the month, and the trees were changing colour but it wasn't really cold yet.  Haapsalu, still one of my favourite little old-world towns, was quiet, with only the occasional cat strolling the cobbled streets.

In the mornings the Baltic was calmly beautiful as the sun suffused the clouds with colour.

Renewed our acquaintance with the venerable old railway station which is now a museum.  I love the atmosphere of this place, full of echoes from the days when ladies in white gowns and gentlemen in full uniform paced the platform or alighted from first class carriages to spend a few weeks in this fashionable spa.  The Russian royal family were regular visitors, and so, naturally, were all those who wanted to be associated with the royal court - including Tchaikovsky.

The length of this platform is unbelievable.  Just imagine what it was like in, say, 1900, with trains arriving from all over Europe, and the royal yacht anchoring in the bay?  Somebody really should write a supremely romantic novel set here at that time.

This little old lady, on her way home with the morning's shopping, was wearing thick handknitted socks against the morning chill.  I wonder if her mother, or her grandmother, had seen the Tsar and his family in Haapsalu?

Clambered up to peer through a crack in the padlocked door of this old carriage.  Inside I could just see a huge iron stove which must have kept the guard and the mail sorters warm as the train journeyed across vast snowy landscapes.  Now the stove lies unlit, dreaming of long ago days.  Wish I could have taken it home, but quite apart from the raised eyebrows at airports, it probably couldn't cope with the comparatively mild climate of West Cork.  People used to sleep on top of stoves in old Russia.  Maybe they still do in Siberia.

We were having a lovely time, but then a crisis occurred.  I had only brought one knitting project with me (I know, I know, I said projects further up, but it wasn't true, and I suffered for it, don't rub it in!)  And now, it began to become frighteningly apparent that not only had I under-projected, I was UNDER-YARNED!  Had thought that one cake of unspun Plotulopi would be plenty to make the EZ ribwarmer, but I ran out!  Yes, really.  On a country lane, while DH was photographing wild geese.


I will say this for DH, he does realise a serious situation when he comes across it.  No question but that we must go in search of help immediately.  The birds could wait.  And fortunately Haapsalu was able to offer that help.  I found a little yarn shop which had two skeins of a local wool in a nice bright royal blue.  It took some winding, being oddly tangled, and with more than a couple of knots and breaks, but heck it was not expensive and it was local.  Sketched out a notional vest in a cheerful cable and lace mix on the back of the skein band, and cast on happily.

Halfway up the back, it seemed like a good idea to go back and get some more of the same yarn.  But they didn't have any more.  What, none?  Sorry, but no.  Well, it would have to suffice then. Just have to hope... (Do you ever find yourself working faster when you think you might run out of material?  Or driving faster when the petrol is running low?  No sense in it, I know, but it's human nature.)

Finished in just three days - with literally eight inches of yarn to spare!

Gosh, now that I come to think of it, that EZ Ribwarmer still isn't finished!  Brought the half-completed project back to the land of plenty, with Plotulopi all over the place willing and eager to play its part, but the bag is still lying there, unattended.  Shame, shame, shame.  Oh well, add it to the pile of Will Get Round To It On A Rainy Day.

There is a tide in the affairs of knitters
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune,
Omitted, many a project's tucked away,
To wait in hope, another rainy day...

It has been a bountiful autumn in Estonia.  Was absolutely driven mad by the wonderful rich harvest of apples on every laneway, every side road, in every garden, and on every wild hedgerow.  Some householders had thoughtfully put boxes of apples out on their gateposts for anyone passing to avail of.  Children in one village were hopefully touting handfuls to passing motorists.  And I longed, beyond reason, to pick great bagsful and bring them home.  No matter that the freezer is already full of pureed apple from our own trees.  No matter that the airport authorities (already on high alert at the possibility of my toting in a vast Russian stove) would slam the boarding gates in my face and throw the unreadable Estonian book of rules at me.  I wanted to gather and love and bring home the lot!

We did see people picking them in some places though, which was reassuring.  And out on a wild headland by the sea, this elderly lady was also collecting rosehips.

Clearly there are still those who remember the old ways, the traditional custom of using nature's bounty.  I must try making rosehip syrup myself one of these days.  I know you have to be particularly careful about straining out the fine hairs in the hips, but the resultant syrup is definitely a Good Thing.

Which reminds me - I'm not quite sure why, but maybe it's the mention of traditional recipes - do any of you know anything about salamanders?  I don't mean the animals, I mean the kitchen utensils which were used in Elizabethan times to brown the top of food dishes?  I'd like to have a salamander.  Maybe I could get somebody handy to make me one?  A cross between a potato masher and a branding iron, I would think.  Will report back when experiments have been duly carried out.

But back to Haapsalu.  You're wondering if I finally managed to catch the lace museum open.  Some of you may recall that I have made several visits to the town in the past, and never managed to get a foot in the door.  In October they said it was closed until June.  In June they said it wouldn't be open until September.  In September they said it had closed for the winter.

But this time - this time was different.  And please take notice that the legendary Lace Museum of Haapsalu has MOVED!  It is now right on the main cobbled street of the old town, and it is open EVERY DAY.

I went in and met the really lovely Myria (it might be spelt Miria, and if so, I apologise).  She spoke very little English and I was equally handicapped, but we had a wonderful time exploring the exhibits and talking half in gestures, half in words we both knew.

She was knitting wristwarmers in fine mohair when we arrived.  'No, don't photograph these,' she pleaded.  They are not Haapsalu lace!  They are so ordinary!'  No, they weren't exactly ordinary.  Tiny works of art, I would have said.

Speaking of tiny works of art, what do you think of this doll, one of the exhibits?  Not only is she dressed in a lace gown, she is holding a miniature lace shawl.  Wandered around for simply ages, enthralled by the gorgeous display and fine work.

Just as we were leaving, I spotted a small stack of rather lovely looking glossy books on the counter.  What were they?  Myria's eyes lit up.  Had I perhaps heard of Orenburg?  Had I heard of it? Its shawls, its legendary shawls!? Too right I had!  Well, this was a new book - a very new book.  These copies that I saw had arrived only yesterday.  A lady had brought them in from Russia, in a big carrier bag.  Look, it is written in English and in Russian.  Is that not beautiful?

Yes, we were on a tight budget.  But what would you have done?  This glorious book is full of pictures, patterns, archival material and history.  I think I paid about €25 for it, but honestly I would have paid more, if only to honour that lady who travelled from Russia with a heavy carrier bag full of the newly-published copies.

Here is another picture from the book.  Babushkas selling traditional shawls in the local market place at Orenburg.  There are historic pictures too, dating back a century or more, showing local knitters creating the masterpieces.

Was it coincidence?  I've been thinking about it since.  First I happen to meet and communicate with a Russian fellow-knitter on my journey to Estonia.  Then I just happen to discover this book practically as it arrives across the border from Russia.  It makes me feel very happy and somehow linked to knitters in far off places.  They don't know me and I may never meet them. Our lives are so very different, in so many ways.   But we have a common bond.  And that has got to be a good thing.