Drowning or Waving?

View from drillsite at Moylisha

Actually, most of the time I’m waving, but a passing lifeboat would still be welcome…

The last two months could be visually portrayed as the slow- motion toppling of a long line of dominos;  just as one crisis seemed to be over, the next began, and I’m fed up with feeling overwhelmed! I would love to just freeze-frame my life, take time for myself to regroup, then come back and count my blessings. They call this notion holidays, I believe – not a concept that is very familiar to lone parents such as myself, but a great idea in principle. Daydreaming while knitting is the closest I’ve been able to get, but is doesn’t last long enough (a fortnight would be favourite…).

Ah well, sure it could be worse.

Oh Lord, I’m turning into my mother- I always wanted to scream when she trotted that one out, and I’m very sorry for all the starving babies in Africa, and I know I have the use of my eyes and limbs, and haven’t been run over by a bus or kidnapped by white slavers or whatever, but is it so self-indulgent to wish for a bit of good luck? For that generation of Irish Mammies, it was- or at least, saying it out loud was close to jinxing yourself entirely (you never knew when Himself Upstairs might be listening in and give you a clip around the ear for ingratitude, if The Mammy hadn’t already done it for Him).

View from Moylisha

Mind you, every now and again,  a ray of sunshine/hope has been piercing the clouds: GF had an appointment with a mining company in south Wicklow (south of Dublin, on the western side of the Leinster Granite/mountains), so I was invited along on another mineral and yarn expedition a couple of days ago. It was great: away from the city into peaceful countryside which, as you can see, is not particularly exciting or photogenic, but full of undulating green calmness. Very soothing, I loved it, especially as all sorts of buds and blooms were just unfurling- really late, thanks to the harsh late winter we’ve had (see, the whole country is miserable, I think it’s catching…).

Spring is late

Primroses in May! Believe me, that’s unusual.

Primroses in May

Aren’t they lovely, though? I felt myself smiling right back at them, the brave little dotes.

Darling buds of May

And the trees are recovering too, three cheers!

Gorse in bloom

Even the scary gorse is looking lovely at the moment, though childhood trauma prevents me from getting too close….

Desirable residence


And how do you like my latest “this is the house I want when I grow up”? It’s built of the local granite and looks so snug….  A lot of the houses that were built down the country during the Celtic Tiger, when quite a few people suddenly had a lot more money than sense, are huge, pretentious, tasteless monstrosities, but this one gets my seal of approval. It’s right beside the swath of national forest where we were to have a look at the drill site and local geology- the couple of lumps of bedrock that aren’t covered by said pine forest.

Setting off into the forest

Our colleague L collected us at the gate, as of course we weren’t allowed to drive in, and off we went. I should mention that unfortunately in Ireland “national forest” almost invariably translates as “pine monoculture”, as biodiversity was an almost unknown concept when the State finally started its reafforestation projects (back in the 60’s and 70’s, I think), the original oak-ash-mixed deciduous forests which blanketed Ireland having been cut down by the English to a) build ships for the Royal Navy and b) flush out the rebels hiding in them (think Sherwood Forest times 100, without any Hollywood actors prancing around in tights). So now we have huge areas of depressingly dark and boring scratchy pines, brr! No outlaws though (those pine needles are murder on tights).

Collecting a sample

If you’ve ever been to the Black Forest in Germany, you’ll know what it’s like: they have to carve lumps out of the forest so that you can see the view, otherwise you wouldn’t know whether you’re on a hill or in a valley, the visibility is so poor. Luckily for all concerned, this part of the forest had already been designated a “regeneration area”, where a genuine forest is to be allowed to develop, even if it does take a couple of hundred years. In other words, it had already been felled, so the mining company is not causing environmental damage (they’re not always bad guys, you know, even though no-one wants them in their backyard).

Drilling the core

The actual drillsite is pretty small.

Collecting Water from Spring

Collecting water from a stream, so we can look at the core samples- they’re easiest to see properly when wet.

Geological Treats

Inspecting the sticks of rock, aka core.

Inspecting the core

I can’t show anything closer up, because of confidentiality issues (industrial espionage is not a career path that has ever attracted me), but I can show photos of the type of thing we were looking at, lying around at the surface:

Cataclastic deformation in Leinster Granite

Major shearzone-related deformation has affected these rocks, and presumably the way the valuable minerals have been deposited- the thin sections will be beautiful!

Graphic texture quartz and feldspar Moylisha Ireland

Now I’m in complete nerd-mode, but the graphic texture at the top of this photo fascinates me, and it’s going to turn into a great knitting pattern, I can feel it wriggling in my subconscious (in a nice way)!

Muscovite in Leinster granite pegmatite Moylisha

And for those who like their minerals extra sparkly, here’s some muscovite mica.

Happy geologists

And finally, some happy geologists in their natural habitat!

But what about the yarny part of the expedition, you (patiently) ask? Well, I had planned to explore The Yarn Room in Ashford, and do you a report, because I’d heard great things about it, but they’ve gone online only, to my disappointment, so as a default option we dropped in to see Aimee Rose in the City West Shopping Centre. It has expanded hugely since the only time I was there (ca. 2 years ago), when I discovered Midara yarns from Lithuania (remember the magenta shawl for DS’ graduation?). Well, I love to hear of a yarn shop doing so well, when the entire country seems to be groaning under the recession, so I had high hopes. However, almost all the yarns were synthetic or at best blends with up to 20% natural fibres, because apparently that’s what is selling in the current financial climate, though not to me. Even the very inexpensive yet natural Midara range is not stocked regularly any more (and now I don’t know where else to find it!), but there is a happy ending. A few balls were tucked away and almost forgotten in a far corner, until I liberated them.

Midara Happy Shiny Cotton

“Happy Shiny Cotton”- how could I resist, even if the colours weren’t so pretty? It might just as well have been labelled “Cheer Up Pauline”! We are now engaged in creating my variation on Marianne Isager’s Waves summer top, from her excellent book “Classic Knits”- this is one of the first knitting books I ever bought myself, and I love it. Knitting therapy is working, can you tell?




So far, so good

Howth Harbour and Ireland's Eye2

Thanks to my war wounds, I haven’t been gallivanting much recently, but my DS was showing a friend from his UCD Kung Fu club some of the sights of Dublin, and kindly volunteered to provide some photos so we can all enjoy the view vicariously. As she’s from Madagascar (now there’s another place on my must-visit list!), the fishing village of Howth, now part of Dublin’s Northside, seemed like a good contrast. Howth village and harbour (on the left, looking north) are situated on a flat isthmus of Carboniferous sediments, which end abruptly at a fault zone, with a steep hill of intensely deformed and much older quartzites on the other side of the fault. Because they are much harder they form the high ground. The island in the background is called Ireland’s Eye, and is also formed of the same tough rocks of almost pure quartz which have been tempered at high pressure and temperature like a samurai sword, wiping out evidence of their exact age and origin- very mysterious, but picturesque!

Beach at Howth, Dublin

Howth beach formed on the weak fault zone, and the cliffs of Howth Head rise steeply on the far side of it.

Ancient Quartzite Cliffs of Howth Head, Dublin

This is a truly lovely route for a walk, all around the Howth coast in an almost complete circle.

Ireland's Eye viewed from Howth, Dublin

The Irish Sea is unusually calm here…

View south from Howth Head

Looking south from Howth Head, past the lighthouse, we can see the Wicklow mountains (Leinster Granite) in the distance, across Dublin Bay. The furze is indeed that intense golden colour in real life, but so thorny that it’s best enjoyed at a safe difference….

Pier, Howth Harbour,DublinIMG_0985

Howth Harbour is worth a closer look, not only because it’s pretty, but also because the best of the catch is on sale in a row of specialist shops at the landward end, and some of the best fish’n’chips ever. This harbour was meant to be much busier, but unfortunately the tricky counter-clockwise currents of the Irish Sea caused it to silt up to such an extent that only small craft can use it. So the atmosphere remains cosy and somewhat parochial, while international shipping business is conducted at Dublin Docks and further south in Dun Laoghaire (Dunleary for English speakers).

And now, as a grand finale to the tour, a panorama composed of five photos:

Howth Harbour, Dublin 1

Thank you, DS, I think that’s captured the atmosphere of the harbour!

What have I been up to? Well, it’s been a quiet week, complicated by a headcold and the on-going saga of getting hot water restored, but I am delighted to report that this week’s session in the school went much better than the previous week- the new selection of kids actually sat down, stopped talking long enough to listen and promptly learned to knit! One of the Mammies came in to help, and having a second adult to demonstrate on a one-to-one basis made a big difference. That same evening there was a large influx of newbies to the library group, so even though I didn’t get any knitting done myself, I felt that the teaching was really fulfilling. Now I just need to find a paying gig- the cost of living has soared again this month, while my income remains static….. Still, I’m working on a couple of ideas, now that my back is getting a bit better.

I used up my Noro bargain stash (a total of 400g in assorted worsted weights, on 5mm needles, made 50 patches).

Noro patches for Applecore Blanket

Once I’d arranged them on the carpet I started knitting them together with transverse patches in Donegal Tweed (Kilcarra or Donegal Yarns, they’re basically the same).

Joining patches with Donegal Tweed

These patches (Applecore Blanket by Frankie Brown, Ravelry) lived on the floor all week, and if either of us wanted to use the computer, well, we had to sit in their midst (hence the chairleg). Par for the course, in this household…

Applecore blanket in progress

See part of my Donegal tweed stash by the wall? I arranged it in a rainbow- yes I know it’s a lot, but the leftovers have added up over the years, and they keep bringing out rich new colours and it’s inexpensive and how’s a knitter to resist?

Donegal Tweed rainbow for Frankie Brown Blanket

I decided that the purple and red end of the rainbow was a good place to start, and as I was knitting I decided to limit myself to that end of the spectrum and save the blue-greens and neutrals for the inspiration which struck about halfway…(yes, there’s another afghan on the way, this time of my own design).

That meant I had to head off through the rain to Springwools, my local tweed supplier, to acquire an orange shade the blanket was demanding. I know I’m not meant to be buying new yarn (my weight is constant, not decreasing), but after all those patches can’t stay on the carpet much longer or they’ll put down roots, and it ‘s just one ball….

Noro on Cushendale cushions

…except of course it wasn’t! I picked up my three Euros worth of tweed as required by my Muse, then was ambushed by a goodie-bag on my way to the cash register. There was a time, Springwools would sell off individual oddballs at bargain prices which was dreadfully seductive and led to my stash getting pretty overweight, I must admit. Then they started compiling goodie-bags containing several balls in generally offputting or downright hideous combinations, which were easy to resist and made me feel thoroughly virtuous. But this week, for the first time I succumbed- two 50g skeins of Noro for 4.95, I ask ye, how could I say no?

P.S. do you like the Cushendale cushion covers in the background- that yarn wears really well!

Are you distracted from my self-indulgence? Good- now look how I’m getting on:

Playing with colours, Frankie Brown design

There’s my new orange, right in the centre. Before I forget, one 50g ball of aran weight Donegal tweed makes 4 and a half patches 19cm/7.5 in ( long axis).

Applecore construction pattern

I intend to crochet the strips together now, because it’s high time some vacuum cleaning was done around here…..

Not to mention spring cleaning, no rest for the wicked!

Battling the Backlog….

Cushendale Free Scarf Pattern (2)

Well, since 2012 was , on the whole, pretty much a wash-out thanks to my banjaxed skeleton and general ill-health, I am in arrears with a collection of patterns I wanted to have published by now. So here I am, doing my best to catch up with myself. Note: it’s pure coincidence that it’s January, I haven’t made a resolution or anything. In fact, after reading a selection of published New Year’s Resolutions, all those lists had me so exhausted I felt like crawling into the scratcher and not reappearing until Spring! Me, I’m delighted with myself if I get up-at least once- every day in January (most depressing month of the year, after all), pay my bills and renew my library books punctually. Anything else is icing on the cake.

So it is with appropriate pride that I introduce a snuggly unisex scarf/muffler/cowl made from a single ball of Cushendale Boucle Mohair yarn (see Cushendale.ie ). And the pattern is free for your delectation!

Shetland Fir Cone   Scarf Free Pattern

The idea is to add a dash of colour and warmth to dismal old January, without breaking the bank- cos let’s face it, we’re all broke after December (and if you’re not, give a donation to a charity of your choice!). See, even my DS is smiling, though it’s just as well you couldn’t see the faces I was pulling….

Cushendale Keyhole Muffler

The stitch pattern is a very old Shetland lace pattern called Fir Cone. It’s garter-st. based, so the scarf is reversible, and it’s approx. 27 cm/10.5 in. wide and 135 cm/ 4.5 feet long, depending on how hard you block it. I inserted an optional keyhole or slot, so that one end can be pulled through the other to keep the scarf in place on windy days. As you can see, both the sides and the ends are wavy, so there’s no need to add an edging. And even though the stitch pattern is called “lace”, it’s actually quite an understated openwork pattern suitable for men, too. So here goes:

1 100g (200m) ball of Cushendale Boucle Mohair (70% mohair, 30% wool)

8mm (US size 11) knitting needles- circular or straight

Cast on 35 stitches, using stretchy cast-on such as knitting-on/lace cast-on.

Row 1 (Wrong side) and all other wrong-side rows: Knit

Rows 2, 4, 6 and 8: K3, *yo, k3, slip1- k2tog- psso (pass slipped st over), k3, yo, k1; repeat from *, end k3.

Rows 10, 12, 14 and 16: K2, k2tog, *k3, yo,k1,yo, k3, sl1-k2tog-psso; repeat from *, end k3, yo, k1, yo, k3, k2tog, k2.

Repeat these 16 rows until you’ve run out of yarn ( I had 10 pattern repeats, with enough leftover for a loose cast-off).

If you want to make a keyhole: work 3 pattern repeats (48 rows).

Next row: work 17 sts in pattern, then knit front and back into the next st (an increase of one stitch), which is at the centre of the row. Turn the scarf and work back (19 sts). You are about to knit a vertical buttonhole by knitting on half of the scarf sts- just leave the other half waiting on the needle.

Next row:( you should be starting at the edge of the scarf again) Work 18 sts in patt., and turn (the newly increased st joins the 17sts waiting on the needle). You could place a st marker in the gap between the two sets of 18 sts if it helps remind you to turn in the centre of the scarf.

Now complete one patt  repeat on the first set of 18 sts. Break the yarn, leaving a tail of  10-15cm for darning in, and rejoin it in the centre to the other set of 18 sts and work one patt repeat on them, too.

To close the slot: continue knitting the final row of the second side of the keyhole across all sts, knitting the two centre ones back together again (35sts). Then just keep knitting in pattern, as above.

Cushendale Free Scarf or Cowl Pattern

If you’d prefer a cowl, this will go twice around an adult’s neck, comfortably. Just sew or knit the ends together, with or without a half-twist, whichever you prefer.

There, did you know lace could be so quick and easy? And don’t tell me you can’t find a colour here to tempt you:

Cushendale Boucle Mohair Colours

I fell in love with these colours and their purity the year before last, and paid a visit to Cushendale, a family firm based in Kilkenny. Their woollen mills is one of a rare few which still produce yarn from Irish sheep (although the mohair has to be imported). The intensity of the colours they produce can be attributed to the perfectly soft water flowing down off the mountains of Leinster Granite right through their mill, waters which have not been tainted by peat deposits either.

2. Duiske Abbey, Graiguenamanagh

Cushendale Woolen Mills are in Graignamanagh, which translates roughly as Monastery Rock. This is Duiske Abbey in the centre of town.

5. Street in Graiguenamanagh

The streets are hilly, winding and narrow, for the most part, and I fell in love. When my DS builds the house he’s designing for me (i.e. shortly after we win the Lottery!), I want him to put it here.

6. Shop front in Graiguenamanagh

Not only the yarn comes in glorious colours here! And look at the Georgian fanlights…

Cushendale Woolen Mills Kilkenny

This is the mill on the left- Genuine Irish yarn and woven goodies wait seductively behind that red door, and I of course had a great time, coming away with yarn samples for patterns which are now overdue for publication. Still, today I managed a start, so watch this space…

4. Stream feeding woolen mill, Graiguenamanagh

This is the crystal-clear stream leaving the mill- as you know, I like to source my yarn from environmentally responsible producers!

A1 Leinster granite large muscovite showing cleavage, inclined - xp.JPG

I couldn’t resist this one: it’s the aforementioned Leinster Granite under the microscope. Quartz, feldspar (grey stripes) and mica (the colourful crystal in the centre). It’s a variety of mica called muscovite, which causes a silvery glitter in the rock and makes it such a popular building stone.

8. Kilkenny side of Graiguenamanagh and River Barrow

The river Barrow separates the older part of town, on the Kilkenny side, from the more modern part in County Carlow. It is broad, beautiful and very popular, especially with bargees.

9. River Barrow facing north, Graiguenamanagh

This photo was taken just a hop, skip and jump away from a prize-winning seafood restaurant which deserves all the praise it gets- yummy! I really like this town….

10. Riverside house on Carlow side of Graiguenamanagh and River Barrow

I know, a bit too big for me, but no harm dreaming….

Meanwhile, back at the ranch it’s been busy. Apart from the ongoing saga of my back, it’s been interesting too. I started teaching at the school next door last Wednesday and boy, things have changed since my day! At this stage, I’ve plenty of experience teaching adults, and children one-on-one, too, but a roomful of 29 7-year-olds was a totally new adventure. I seem to remember spending a lot of schooltime in terrified silence at that age, thanks to the nuns (there was a particularly virulent strain at my old school- there is a reason I sent my son to a mixed, secular school!). But nowadays the classroom seems to be a much more lively place, which is great, but the noise level will take some getting used to on my part. I find the class size horrendous- 29 small children, with a few doses of learning disabilities, ADHD and major sugar rushes thrown in…. But the class teacher is a dote, and enthusiastic about the knitting, so I’m looking forward to my next lesson, and to learning a lot about teaching such a lively bunch!

Eyelet Pattern in Hand Dyed Silk

I’m experimenting with an eyelet pattern in some of my yarn-diet hand-dyed silk from Oliver Twists, because I think an allover pattern would be too busy. I put on a pound or so over Xmas- immobility, mainly- so I was required by the terms of my agreement with myself to start using up my old stash until I got back on track (alright, I admit it, not much of a hardship, but it worked). I’ve now got a small pile of patches made from scraps of Donegal Tweed, because I find that stuff irresistible and have a rainbow of remnants. This is a very long-term project though, to be tended to when I’m in vegetable mode and need soothing. It occurs to me that the numbers of patches would directly reflect my stress levels, but counting them would be stressful and therefore counterproductive, so forget it.

Shawl in Oliver Twists silk WIP

I’m just enjoying being back in contact, thanks again for all the kind wishes! And let me know if you have any problem with the pattern- good luck!

Yarn Quest

Advent Wreath

Well, this has been a busy and productive week, hurray! How do you like my budget Advent wreath? Ingredients: one basic wreath acquired last January in the sales for 2.08Euros (90% off), some poinsettias and Christmas roses made using patterns from Lesley Stanfield’s lovely books, some ribbon from the local supermarket, et voila! A bit fiddly, but worth the effort- for once I hope to be ready in time for the holidays. Mind you, if I manage that, it’ll be because my present-knitting is going to be severely rationed this year- I need to be concentrating on designing.

And now, I have a confession to make. Look at this:

Coolree Yarn

Sumptuous hand-dyed alpaca-silk-cashmere lace yarn: Reader, I bought it! Remember I mentioned that my LYS This is Knit showcases the best in indie-Irish yarns? Well, a few months ago I wandered in there to drool and dream, as is my wont, and there, seductively coiled and gleaming, were a collection of delicious Coolree yarns pleading to come home with me. Now I have years of practice at resisting the siren call of such goodies, which is why I allow myself near TIK in the first place, but this time I was lost. Do you know how difficult it is to find the perfect shade of teal? Well then, I rest my case! I decided that “early Christmas present” was sufficient justification ( it was July at the time), and decided to find out who was responsible for making my resistance crumble.

The culprit turned out to be a young Wexford man, Alex Mc Leod, who learned to knit last year, graduated to spinning and dyeing this year, and is now producing subtly coloured masterpieces for sale. This I had to see, so this Thursday I went on a fieldtrip to Wexford (SE corner of Ireland), a combined mineralogical and yarn quest. They go very well together, honest. The mineral in question was lithium-bearing spodumene (for e.g. energy-saving lightbulbs), I’ll have some photos for you next week, ok?

Wait ’til you see where the yarn is dyed, it’s hard to imagine that something so delicate comes from a centuries old outhouse without electricity or running water (except for the rain coming through parts of the roof….). Here’s Alex, warmly wrapped up to prevent his turning into an icicle, in his workplace:


Alex's Logo

He and his new sign share the space with kayaking gear.

The Beginning

The first skeins were produced using pretty basic equipment…..

Work in Progress

…..but now, with the addition of slow cookers, the process continues to be refined. I particularly liked the concern Alex shows for the environment: note the white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, which he has chosen to use as being by far the most environmentally friendly way of fixing the dyes.

Teal Yarn

I think this kind of subtle colour blending is just perfect for lace, because it gives an extra liveliness to the stitches without distracting from the pattern- some hand-dyed yarns completely overwhelm anything more complicated than stocking stitch!

Silky Green Yarn

Here are a few colourways, drying in the conservatory, alongside the geraniums:

Skeins Drying

and just one more close-up, ‘cos the colours are so cheerful:

Skein Rainbow

Now, I know my photos aren’t doing the yarn justice, so if by now you’re thinking “early Xmas present” too, have a gander here.

And bye for now to Alex, relaxing at his spinning wheel (and before you ask, only very lucky family and friends receive the results, which are predictably rare but stunning!). I for one did not want to leave, I was having such a good time.

Alex Spinning

Nevertheless, back in Dublin, progress has been made. I’ve tried out some new ideas, like this teal sock-yarn shawlette based on an Estonian lace stitch pattern, a variation of Lily-of-the-Valley.

Teal Lillies Shawlette

The edging still needs tweaking though, before I’ll be pleased with it!

Teal Lillies Detail

The Waterlilies stitch pattern below is also Estonian, and I’m experimenting with a Faroese- style shape, which is why the shawl is being blocked doubled (shoulder shaping so it doesn’t slip off ). I used a single 1000m/100g skein of hand-dyed Fyberspates merino(55%)-silk(45%) -blend lace, from my yarn diet/bargain stash (all but approx. 5m- that was an exciting finish!).

Waterlillies Shawl Blocking

I’ll have to steampress the sides of the shawl once I’ve unpinned it tomorrow morning, but I’ve no idea if this is going to work, never having attempted a shape like this before. Wish me luck!

Waterlillies neck blocking detail

You must be sick of the sight of these by now, but this time I have really, truly finished testing my Gothic baubles, and will get that pattern published in time for Xmas, I promise, regardless of health or domestic crises.

Gothic Bauble Finale

Yes, THIS Xmas!

Golden Oldies

The sun was shining (!!), so I thought I’d treat us to a wander around Trinity College, in the centre of Dublin. See the doubledecker in the bottom left? well, its brothers keep coming between us and the building, traffic is hectic out here.  So off we go, into an oasis of scholarly peace…

OOPs, sorry- first, a SPOILER ALERT! this post contains a couple of photos, after the Trinity Tour Part I, of a Vintage Mystery KAL (Knitalong, to the uninitiated) which Christelleb posted on Ravelry this week. I have her permission, but I don’t want to spoil the suspense for anyone who wants to wait for the official start in January, so for those who don’t care about that I’ve included a photo-tutorial for casting on the centre of a circular piece of lace (trying not to give anything away, here!), which can be a bit fiddly.

Alright, let’s start walking again.

…through the front door (student for scale), into the porters’ lodge….

..which is floored with ancient wood (bog oak, perhaps) hexagons. The doorway itself is constructed of massive glittery Leinster granite, and the quad beyond of limestone cobbles. The latter are treacherously slippery, especially when wet (i.e. most of the year!), so recently some paved paths have been added (practicality beat tradition on that issue). Now welcome to the front Quad:

Don’t forget to get off your bicycle, or the porter will hound you out!

Would you believe I ordered that procession of fresh graduates, just to add atmosphere for you?

I thought not, but it was worth a try.

Don’t they look well though? The golden embroidery is absolutely sumptuous, sorry I couldn’t get any closer…

I’m guessing the white fur on their hoods would traditionally have been ermine (they’re English graduates, FYI), but I don’t think any animals were harmed in the making of this ceremony, unless you count exam stress in Trinity students … Note the result of walking on those cobblestones for four years: those girls are perfectly steady on their high heels!

Moving further away from the main entrance, the atmosphere becomes stiller- it’s hard to remember that Dublin is buzzing just a short hop away.

Trinity was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in the late 16th century (1592); some of these trees may well have been alive then too….

I’ll show you my favourite building on this campus next week, as it’s being cleaned now, behind that scaffolding. I love the way both old and new buildings are reflected in this sculpture (“Sphere within a sphere” ,1996, by Arnaldo Pomodoro).

This is Fellows’ Square, showing how modern buildings have been added cheek-by-jowl with those from from another age. The lawn is adorned by “Cactus Provisoire” (1967) by Alexander Calder.

Final WARNING: vintage mystery about to be partially revealed, after this example of woolly exuberance. Scroll down further on your own responsibility!

(Can you tell I’m having fun with this? Good!)

And now for the beginning of a vintage mystery (posted by Christelleb on Ravelry for free!) which seduced me this week. I’ve never done a KAL before, never  mind a mystery one, but the combination of the words “vintage” and “lace” is almost certain to hook me, and this one’s lovely. The shawl is made up of medallions, which are straightforward enough for a newbie to tackle, and I already have an idea how to simplify the assembly, but I’ll let you know if it works next week.

The size of the central hole can be adjusted by simply pulling on the yarn tail- best to adjust after blocking.

Isn’t it pretty? I’m using Garnstudio Drops Alpaca-Silk Lace (800m/100g), the same as I used for my Monet Cardigan, just a different colour. When I did the sums, the original wool used was ca. 675m/ 100g, almost the exact same as the Midara Roma I used for Mwaa’s  semi-circular shawl, but I didn’t have enough in my stash, so I’m using the skinnier (and slipperier!) stuff, on 3mm DPNs. I just knit round 41 onto the circular needle for storage.

By the way, USEFUL TIP I just learned, for users of Proknit interchangeable needles: they have those little holes near the joints, for tightening up with a key, right? Well, you can thread a lifeline (safety thread) through that hole before knitting a round, and you will be automatically threading a lifeline through those stitches as you go. Three cheers for Lisa of This is Knit for that advice!

Now, casting on 8 stitches as a circle onto double-pointed needles (DPNs) is a challenge, even if you don’t make it more difficult for yourself like I did, with slippery yarn on metal needles. Wood works better, and a set of five needles is a godsend when your pattern repeats are divisible by four (see photos). By the way, I used a different coloured marker on the first needle- it helped! Here’s how I cast on for projects like this, with the help of a 3mm crochet hook (shown with 4-ply mercerized cotton so you can see better, it doesn’t look so chunky in laceweight). I find that this way the needles are much less likely to go slip-sliding away than with a pure Emily Ocker beginning, please let me know if you find it helpful. And credit to my DS, who took the following photos starring my fingers.

Start by putting a loop anti-clockwise around your left index finger as above, then insert the crochet hook from above. Put the yarn around the hook and pull it through, then….

..put yarn around the hook again and make one chain stitch (is that called the same in American? Please let me know.).

Now work one double crochet (American: single crochet, I know that one) into the loop next to the chain st.

Your chain followed by a double crochet (Amer: sc) should look like this.

We need 8 double crochet sts (scs) in total- one for each knit st to be cast on- this is what the loop looks like after 4 dcs, leave it nice and open until you’ve made 8 dcs, then pull the tail gently to close it up:

Place the loop of  the 8th dc on the first DPN, then pick up and knit a second stitch from the front loop of the very first double crochet:

See? Now pick up and knit one stitch from the front loop of each remaining dc, two at a time- you can use the crochet hook for this, it’s easier, just slide the sts off the wrong end of the hook onto the appropriate DPN.

Doing this on a table helps, especially if it’s your first time.

Now you’re ready to rock and roll, have fun!

And I have 3 more medallions to knit before I can try out my construction idea, so I’m off, bye….

Yarn diet: progress!

Hah! You thought I was joking, when I said I was going to acquire yarn instead of junk food, in an attempt to unearth my waist, didn’t you? Well, I’ll have you know I’ve lost half a stone of the blubber that accreted onto me when I was immobile with my banjaxed back and hip (and comforting myself with crisps and biccies -yes, I admit it, chocolate ones), so there! How it works (I still have a way to go before I get back from the “overweight” to the “healthy weight” range): any time I’m tempted to buy tasty rubbish in the supermarket I repeat my mantra of “you could get half a ball of alpaca for that” or “that’s worth 200m of silk”, and there’s my instant incentive to resist. Well, it works for me, and the proof of the pudding is that I have a waist again, or at least an indentation at the appropriate site!

The hand-dyed beauties above (Oliver Twists) represent my accumulated “resistance rewards” since I last splurged, plus a little extra on account (so I can’t afford biccies even if I weaken…). I was invited along to the Knitting and Stitching Show in the RDS, where I made a beeline for the O.T. stand, as they are a small British business and that was the only chance to see their hand-dyed goodies in Ireland until next year. Irresistible- it’s true, I lost the run of myself, but look at those colours! I rest my case.

I already have the perfect designs for two of them mapped out, but I’ve reached the stage where I can’t knit fast enough to keep up with all the ideas. I’m developing the knack of actually making one project while my head’s away with the fairies designing the next one, though my wires sometimes get crossed, with dubious results. No wonder many established designers farm out their designs to professional knitters to actually knit up, though I believe that a lot of inspiration gets lost if the design is only done on paper/screen, in two dimensions. Not to mention the sheer enjoyment of making whatever it is (and having it morph into something unexpected but even better as you go)! It seems to me a bit like having babies, handing them over to be reared elsewhere, then collecting them when they’re 18.

Speaking of which, I recently was informed by my son that I’m considered by (at least) some of his peers to be a cool parent. Pleased but mystified, I asked why, and am now in a position to reveal for your delectation, if not your emulation, some key attributes:

  1. Be a geologist (I suspect that anyone who’s really handy with a hammer can tick this box)
  2. Detect camoflaged Airforce hangars built into the Swiss Alps.  2 a. Get away unscathed (it’s a long story..)
  3. Do an all-nighter helping to get an architectural model finished for a deadline the following, without homilies on time management
  4. Watch the entire series of Black Books with sprog when exam nerves threaten
  5. Watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer with sprog (it’s a great opportunity to have That Talk about the Birds and the Bees in Practice (don’t leave it too late), and squabble over which of you has the better chance with Spike (I’m not giving in on this one, I saw him first!)

There was nothing quite like this in any of the parenting books I read- and believe you me, as a lone parent I have done my fair share of consulting the oracles- but actually, apart from the choice of profession, when I boil it down a bit, it seems to amount to nothing more complex than finding or developing interests in common and spending time doing them together- can it be that simple?

So what else have I been doing this week, apart from winding lots of very fine yarn by hand? It’s time to start saving up for a yarn-winder, my wrist is falling off. Well, the Library Knitting group has almost finished the knitted Nativity (pattern by Jean Greenhowe) we’re planning to raffle in aid of a local charity. Each of us did a figure, and very fiddly work it was too. The knitting took very little time, but putting the bits together- well, “never again” is the polite way of expressing our consensus! Mind you, the result is rather sweet, and the kiddies love it, so we’ll chalk it up to experience…..

I’ve also been working on my Lace Sampler Baubles, these are the Gothic versions for those who want to decorate a vampire’s bedchamber or celebrate the Winter Solstice! Please note that they are resting on a platter of stone, made up of fossilised skeletons- I’m proud of that touch. P.S. Belemnites, not humans.

And this is a preview of a shawlette I’m designing, using an Estonian Lily-of-the-Valley lace stitch and a single hank of Bluefaced Leicester Sock Yarn (Fyberspates), acquired at the beginning of my yarn diet- see, I’m not just hoarding the stuff!

So, short’n’sweet this week. I’m hoping to get some (dry) fresh air next week and take some outdoor photos-cross your fingers!

Celebration in the Rain!

Today, in honour of my first four months of blogging, and all the good guys I’ve met on this page (take a bow!), here’s a rare photo of some October sunshine in Dublin. Savour it while you can, we won’t see its like for a while. I’m also going to present my first free knitting pattern, later on.

The sun is shining on Dublin Bay, with Howth head in the background on the far (NE) side and the tidal inlet that is a major sanctuary for migratory birds in the foreground. In between the two is the railway line, so we can’t get to the shore here, but I’ll take you for a paddle on the beach another time, promise.

Directly behind us and 5 minutes walk away, in the heart of suburbia, we will find another yarn shop I love- Winnie’s.

This is Winnie, in her comfortable Dublin suburb, recharging her batteries (she’s the environmentally friendly type).

These are some of her suppliers! They travel to fairs, dispensing woolly goodies as they go.

This is Marina, Winnie’s human, whose great idea it was to combine a craft shop with a cafe, and do both equally well. It is hard to leave this place…

See what I mean? Park the non-knitters happily with ice cream, or a three course meal, while the craft fan browses. This works, trust me!

Jewellry makers are catered for, too, and of course there are lessons…

So that was part II of my ” where to go in Dublin if you’re a knitter” review, featuring Winnie’s Craft Cafe, Woodbine Park, Booterstown. Part I featured This Is Knit, in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, I hope you enjoyed the contrast! There will be a Part III, when the Muse moves me…

Now for my Celebration Scarf freebie- it’s the first time I’ve attempted to publish a pattern, so feel free to offer suggestions for improvements, ok? It’s a straightforward lacy scarf which can easily be turned into a cowl (wraps comfortably up to 3 times around the neck). It uses 50g ( c. 400-440m) of mohair-blend laceweight yarn (I used one ball of Rowan Kidsilk Haze Stripe, colour Twilight 00200), although you fellas might feel more comfortable in a Donegal Soft tweed version- also a good option for anyone with sensitive, itch-prone skin. A budget option would be to use up various oddments of single-colour lace mohair yarn (doesn’t have to include silk), if like me you hoard every last scrap of expensive stuff. I treated myself to the Rowan extravaganza as a reward for surviving my taste of jury duty in Dublin Criminal Courts- now that was unexpectedly harrowing, wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy…

Anyway, have a look at the photos first, before I get down to the technical details, which are a lot easier than it looks- really! A brave beginner with a bit of patience can do this, I know 10-year-olds who are well capable of it. I hope this pattern will give you an idea of how to work out simple patterns of your own.

I believe it is very important to think about how the finished project is going to be finished off and used, before getting stuck into the actual knitting, so here are some options:

As a scarf it’s long enough (c. 210cm/7ft, width c. 25cm/10in.) to drape decoratively, and both sides look attractive;

…as an infinity scarf/cowl it reaches to the waist,

…. or it will go three times around the neck, and head if you want it. As it was raining during these photos (Darragh standing on the doorstep to keep the lens dry, me standing outside getting soggy), I was glad of the head-covering option! Honestly, the things I do for art… Alright, to be honest, this was nothing compared to the climbing, caving and struggling with barbed wire I used to do as a geologist, but allow me a little exaggeration once in a while…

It is designed to be knit lengthways, so it can be knit flat, preferably on a circular needle because of the large number of stitches, or it can be knit as a loop, if you just want a cowl.

The ruler is c. 60cm/2ft long.

The edge is pulled into scallops by the stitch pattern- you just knit straight, and the curves appear after you’ve completed a repeat or two of the pattern, because the rows, and therefore the stripes, start to curve like waves, or fans. The cast on is a simple knit-on , which is very stretchy and airy, therefore perfect for lace.

To finish, I used the Russian cast off (American: bind off), because it’s easy, stretchy and fits the stitch pattern. In case you’re wondering, the colour changed during the  very long cast off row, that’s why either end of the scarf is slightly different.

If you want to able to convert your scarf into a cowl, or vice versa, you could sew little buttons which fit through either the stitches or the eyelets of the opposite end in order to form a loop. In this photo, the 5 buttons above are functional; the 4 on the opposite edge are simply there to give a balanced look when it’s being worn as a scarf, and are offset so that they will be perfectly spaced between the 5 working buttons when the loop is closed. So they’re completely optional, and you could vary the number of functional buttons, depending on what you have handy, though I don’t think less than 4 would work. And of course, the buttons could be a lot more discreet (I got these in an everything-must-go sale and just had to show them off!).

You will need:

  • 5mm (US: size 8) circular needle (60 or 80cm(24/32in)) long is comfortable, but a longer one will do fine. Long straight 5mm needles will also work, but could get uncomfortably crowded: I wouldn’t.
  • 1 50g (1.76 oz.) ball of Rowan Kidsilk Haze Stripe (421m/460yds), or two balls (25g each) of Rowan Kidsilk Haze (you can sometimes get great bargains in this when they’re phasing out old colours), or 50g 0f a less expensive mohair blend laceweight yarn (200-230m/25g or approx 460yds in total).  For a more rugged version, try original Donegal Tweed:I suggest “Donegal”, brand name Lang, but it’s made by Donegal Yarns (100% merino, soft and non-scratchy) – you’ll need at least 2 50g balls (189m/207yds each), and to do a swatch on 4 or 4.5mm (US 6 or 7) needles.
  • yarn needle for darning in ends
  • Stitch markers to be placed between repeats, to stop you getting lost. You can make your own by using leftover or horribly coloured cotton yarn (firmly twisted, colour fast, smooth dk/worsted weight is best). Cut c. 12cm/5in. lengths, double each one over and tie a knot, leaving a loop that will fit loosely onto the needle (have a look at e.g. my Ravellenics post). Just slip (slide) them from left hand to right hand needles as you encounter them.
  • Optional: small buttons, sewing needle and thread to match. Don’t buy these until you have finished, or can bring the project along with you to try out the “buttonholes”- you may laugh, but I had a summer job in a wool shop once, and you would be amazed at the number of people who come in to get stuff like this without the actual garment. Try remembering a particular size or colour when surrounded by hundreds of slightly different examples; it’s a very rare talent!

The stitch pattern used is often called ” Feather and Fan”, although as it is very old it has also been given other names, such as “Old Shale”. It comes from the Shetland Islands.

The pattern repeat is 18 stitches wide and 4 rows high. This basic building block is used 18 times lengthways in this scarf (18 times 18 stitches is a coincidence- this just happens to be the best result I calculated to prevent the scarf from being short and fat or long and stringy, as well as using every last bit of that very expensive yarn). I knit a swatch (=trial piece) first, measured and weighed it, then did the sums. If you want to change anything, as you will need to do if you use the tweed, for example, then do a swatch, measure how wide your repeat of 18 stitches is and figure out how many of them fit in to the length you want (in the tweed, you probably won’t need the same number). From here on, I’m just going to give instructions for my version of the scarf in stripey mohair. If you come across a technique you don’t know or have forgotten, try Youtube or Ravelry.com for video tutorials or advice.

Scarf: cast on 328 sts using a knit/lace cast on. This number of sts. comes from 18 pattern repeats, each containing 18 sts, plus 2 extra sts at either end, which will be knit on every row and give a neat edge.

Abbreviations: Knit = K; Purl = P; yo= Yarnover= lay the yarn over and around the needle from the base at the front over the top and back to the rear of needle- from there you use it to make the next st, whether knit or purl. A yo makes one of those little lacy holes, and you knit or purl into it on the next row as if it were an ordinary stitch. It won’t unravel. Try a little swatch first, if you feel nervous- you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Row 1 (right side): Knit.

Row 2: Purl

Row 3: K2, place a stitch marker on the right hand needle, * (K2 together) 3 times, (yo, K1 ) 6 times, (K2 together) 3 times, place a stitch marker on the right hand needle, repeat from * 17 more times to last 2 sts, K2.

In other words, for those of you who are bravely trying lace for the first time, in between the first stitch marker and the next you do the following:

K2 together (tog, from now on), K2 tog, K2 tog, yo, K1, yo, K1, yo, K1, yo, K1, yo, K1, yo, K1, K2 tog, K2 tog, K2 tog.

This uses 18 sts, and you have 18 sts afterwards too (if at any stage you have more or less than 18 sts between two stitch markers, you can pin down the glitch quickly).

Row 4: Knit.

Repeat these four rows until you have reached a height you like or have almost run out of yarn, whichever comes first. You will need to have yarn c. 4 times the length of the scarf left, at the end of a row, to be sure of having enough for the cast/bind off. I managed to squeeze 16 4-row repeats out of my ball, but it was a nerve-tingling finish.

Russian cast/bind off: it doesn’t really matter which side you do this on, as it looks grand either way, but keep it loose. Don’t forget to remove the st markers as you go!

* Purl 2 together, place resulting st back on left hand needle, repeat from * to last 2 sts, P2 tog, cut yarn (not less than 10cm/4 in.) and pull through the st to fasten it off.

Darn in ends (more than two, if you’ve been using up scraps), and try it on . Congratulations! I think this scarf looks better without blocking, so that’s it (you can think about buttons tomorrow….).

Cowl: for the cowl, cast on 324 sts and join into a circle, making sure the cast on stitches aren’t twisted. You may find this easier to do  after working the first row (stretchier and easier to see). You can use the yarn tail later to make a tiny stitch, sewing the cast on ends together. Because this is tube knitting, with the same side always facing, the st pattern is written slightly differently:

Row 1: Knit.

Row 2: Knit.

Row 3: *Place  a stitch marker on the right hand needle, (K2 tog) 3 times, (yo, K1) 6 times, (K2 tog) 3 times, repeat from *17 more times.

Row 4: Purl.

Now carry on just as for the scarf above. Throw it over your head and take it for a walk!

I’d love to see a photo of your finished project. Why not post it on Ravelry , or get in touch – my username is paulineOS. I’ll try to get this pattern up there too, with a chart, when I figure out how to do it, because it’s easy to download from there. Watch me clamber up that steep learning curve!

But not right now- time to put the feet up and watch Sherlock Holmes again…..and again…..

Sorry, I was drooling on the keypad, the combination of Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. shorts out out my circuits and is responsible for more dropped stitches than I could possibly admit. So my lips are sealed. Bye!