Monday, July 30, 2007

Sock festival

As in a very small festival of socks... Thank you to the people who emailed to ask if we were affected by the flooding: we are lucky in so many ways. If this area DID flood we'd be the first house under water but, as this part of the UK is drier than many notably dry places, we were fine. Just a bit damp under grey skies, depressed and over-worked. One bright spot in the last fortnight was the official Trying-On of his third pair of socks.

Yarn: Cross Lanes Farm Aran Wensleydale on 3mm needles.
Pattern: my own, stockinette foot just in case they can be worn in boots, leg is Stansfield 12 from 'More Sensational Knitted Socks'.
Comments: It's official: "The best socks yet". Clearly, when in doubt, make his socks snug rather than loose. Good for length and width, try a 14st heel next time: although that 10st heel looks fine when his foot is on the ground, it's a bit pointy. The rule of thumb seems to be that however many gusset stitches appear if I M1 every second row for 2", it's the right number. I like simple.

Another bright spot was the arrival of a shipment of Wollmeise yarn. I'm torn. The colours are stunning: Claudia works brilliantly (literally) with blues and with red/orange. But... the yarn feels like Lorna's Laces. More like cotton than superwash. However, hers are the colours in which I dreamed I was knitting Gairloch socks. So I am. Two at once, toe-up on 2mmm magic loop, holding both colours in the left hand. Co-ordination counts!
Here's the toe and sole:

And the instep.
On the foot, because that's where socks belong. In sunlight these socks just GLOW! They'll be my winter house socks. Might be winter 2008/9, though :-)

The band-aid on the foot is a reminder of the bright spot that was the weekend just past. Forget stalking end-notes through the dense verbiage of archaeological papers, forget that relatives are coming to stay this week (Must. Clean. House.). Let the music wash it all away for three days. We listened avidly to everything from Last Orders and Show of Hands through Bruce Cockburn, Ruthie Foster, Ricky Skaggs to Toumáni Diabate and more. We stayed to the end three nights running, to listen and dance to CJ Chenier and one of my old favourites, Shooglenifty. Most years we do this by ourselves but this year we had the added pleasure of weaving our path through the music in company with a friend or two. Now? It's Monday morning and we're paying the price for showing those youngsters how it's done. My feet hurt, my throat is raw from cheering and two more papers to be typeset arrived in the mail over the weekend. I don't care. You only live once, make the most of it!

Soon... more socks. I've been spinning Teyani's superwash roving in 'Chain of Fools' (Crown Mountain Farms), entranced by the never-ending changes in colour and the way that plying alters the palette. When Navajo-plied (at the bottom) the colours are too intense, but that two-ply looks a little, just a little, like the subtly multi-coloured handspun that I coveted so badly that I started spinning. I'm now trying for something slightly tighter, a bit more twist, to improve the wearing quality. I must, I really must knit something other than socks. But not this week. Excuse me, I must just go and put my nose to the grindstone.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More socks, less holiday

But I'd prefer things the other way around. Ah, well. What it is to be an adult. Nonetheless, look: socks!

These are winter house socks for him, although my foot thinks that's unfair. The yarn is interesting: it's a pure Wensleydale Longwool aran weight from Cross Lanes Farm, bought at Woolfest because the yarn has a lovely sheen, is a perfect denim blue heathered with black, and I've been wondering whether Wensleydale would make a good sock yarn. I must have been a magpie in a previous life: I like shiny, worsted yarns that catch the light to show how the stitches flow in the fabric. And this is lovely stuff, shiny but soft, and developing a lovely slight bloom of loose fibre as I knit it. On 3mm needles (magic loop) it's making a dense, soft fabric that I think I've finally got sized to his liking for his feet. I just hope it doesn't felt badly during wear.

I'm beginning to feel the urge to knit a garment. Real clothing. Socks somehow seem a bit like 'cheating' now that I now I can knit them to fit me, and possibly him. I think I'll want something more challenging soon. So why on earth have I just ordered more sock yarn? Because on Sunday night I dreamed of knitting socks. I frequently dream of knitting. How sad is that? I'm actually not certain it is sad; it may be that my knitting skills will improve because of it. Let's keep thinking that, shall we?

Mindie, I bought two of the three patterns the Museum had for sale; the Gairloch diamond stitch pattern (charted) and another for a man's sock with Scotch thistles decorating the wide knit panels in the ribbing. A similar pattern with the Mackenzie stag instead of the thistle had sold out (not that I wanted it). Anyway, I dreamt I was knitting the Gairloch pattern. But not in sane, traditional colours. Apparently my subconscious wants 'Indisch Rot' and 'Gewitterhimmel' from Claudia, the Wollmeise. Next week I'll see if it's possible to do this without going blind. If I need a break, I could use the prize I won for donating to Claudia's MS Ride. Thanks, Rebecca!

I must say an even louder, more heartfelt 'thank you' to all of you for reading my words. It's such an ego boost to read your comments, especially when I'm feeling down. Incidentally, I don't know the best way to respond to questions in the comments; it's more personal if I answer directly in another comment, but I don't know whether you're obsessive enough to check for an answer, especially when as now I'm so slow.

Catsmum [Everyone stop reading this and go see the quilt!], I can only approximate the Gaelic pronounciation. I've got a 'Teach Yourself Gaelic' course sitting on my desk, but it takes more concentration than I'd thought; [did you see that lightbulb?] I might be able to manage it while knitting, though. 'Baosbheinn' I can do, sort of, because I checked with a native Gaelic speaker. It's my favourite of the Torridon mountains; I loved that long ridge even before I discovered the name means something like 'magic mountain/wizard's peak' or, alternatively 'hill of the forehead'. The latter because seen from the coast the western end looks a bit like a craggy, noble face.
'Baos', the first syllable, should sound like 'bush' but modify that 'u' with a hint of 'e' as it would sound in 'besh'. 'Bheinn' is roughly 'ven', with a short 'e'. I spent an entire evening muttering that name to myself so I can get it right. After all, names have power.

And now for something completely different. If you need a laugh and are in the right frame of mind, try lolcats. Some leave me cold, some make me smile and some make me LOL. ["Luke I is ur fathur"]. I'm also intrigued by the way such memes develop; Anil Dash has some thoughts on this here. And here's me this morning...*

Your Score: Sad Cookie Cat

65% Affectionate, 37% Excitable, 75% Hungry

You are the classic Shakespearian tragedy of the lolcat universe. The sad story of a baking a cookie, succumbing to gluttony, and in turn consuming the very cookie that was to be offered. Bad grammar ensues.

To see all possible results, checka dis.

Link: The Which Lolcat Are You? Test written by GumOtaku on OkCupid, home of the The Dating Persona Test

* Believe it or not, I actually threw the last half packet of Bourbon Cream biscuits (my favourites!) in the bin last night to prevent them following the first half down my throat. I can has cookie? NO.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Slow words

A bit like Slow Food, I hope. One of my capillary-feed drawing pens has started flowing too fast, so I have to stop frequently to allow the lines to dry. It takes about 15 minutes to enter the right mindset for other work and I don't dare spin (time flies as fast as the spindle), so I thought I'd start drafting another post. Partly because I've got to acknowledge the laurel accorded to me by La Cabeza Grande...

And partly because I want to share my encounter with some knitting history.
The Gairloch Heritage Museum is well worth a visit. After our marathon walk we spent a wet morning trying-not-to-limp (we have our pride) through the linked white-washed buildings, looking at a classic assortment of village odds&ends assembled to tell interesting, coherent stories about the life of Gairloch. Those not interested in local history can examine a real lighthouse lantern (the glass structure that magnified and deflected the light of a single lamp to make it visible for 23 miles) in detail, up close and personal. It's an absolutely amazing structure.

Pictures would make this far more interesting, but the Museum does not generally permit photography; the one I did take required a formal permit. There are displays of old photos, giving both Gaelic and English names of the people (no one could tell me why the different names were given, or when they were used. Sometimes the English was an obvious anglicisation, more often not). The postmen and postmistresses were given pride of place, for they held the network of rural communities together. There's a tiny village shop counter, a miniature schoolroom. At one end of the largest room a window opens into someone's house. It's full of wool. There's a spinning wheel ready for use, carders and a basket of fleece. The sheets on the box bed are made of old flour sacks, 4 per sheet, covered with handwoven blankets. A handwoven shepherd's plaid hangs on the wall by the door.

In another room a display takes the uninitiated from fleece to sock. Carders again. Fleece (possibly rolags, but I can't remember now) to be spun stored in the coolest basket, resembling a large, very rotund (American) wicker football with a large slot at the top through which fleece is pushed/removed. There's a spinning wheel. There's a display of handspun beautifully dyed using local dyestuffs. There's a cabinet containing socks and a Sock Top sampler(!!), a long cylinder demonstrating various options for the tops of socks. Quite different from modern socks: all the ribbing had much wider stockinette ribs (roughly 1" wide) than purl (1/2" or less). The socks are thick and long, probably over the knee. All those I can remember were knitted in two colours, in variations of a pattern of diamonds (squares on end) filled with a uniform texture. This is apparently the Gairloch Knitting Pattern. I won't describe any in great detail, as the Museum sells their own knitting pattern booklets and might object: I don't want to offend them, I honestly admire what they're trying to achieve. If they'd like to produce PDFs to sell online I'll generate them gratis.

Here's part of the photo I took. The display is ostensibly of the wooden sock blockers on which wet socks were dried, but my eyes were drawn to the darns on the well-worn heel and foot. I'd like to think this sock was knitted and repaired with love as well as wool, but I suspect desperation was involved.

From the mid-1750s Scots left the Highlands voluntarily or were forced to do so. Life was hard at the best of times in a landscape where every fertile corner was already supporting someone; besides this, the former clan chiefs were becoming 'Lairds' on the English model, charging rent for farmland and finding other ways of raising money, such as pasturing lucrative sheep on what had been small farms. The Clearances reached their height at the beginning of the 19th C. Many of those forced off their land had no alternative but to leave Scotland. Those who stayed were usually allocated crofts, new land in settlements planned by the Laird. Some crofts were deliberately made too small to support a family, forcing the crofters to work for the Laird to earn cash for necessities. All the small farms had to produce as much food as possible: enter the potato. And, from 1845-1849, potato blight. I hadn't realised that the Scots crofters relied on potatoes to the same extent as the Irish.
I think these may have been 'lazy beds', ridges created by covering layers
of seaweed and bracken with soil and leaving it to rot over the winter.
In spring seed potatoes dibbed into holes in the ridges would produce good crops. Usually.

"in Gairloch, where the tenants had 'a little meal [oats or barley] or milk in the season of it', the food of the poor was herring and potatoes" (Malcolm Gray, The Highland Potato Famine of the 1840s). The resulting famine was devastating. The poverty of that economy is hard to imagine even when you've walked the landscape. Most people lived on what they grew themselves, relying on the sale of one or two cows every year for cash. The Lairds of Gairloch were among those who created jobs for local crofters, to be paid in oatmeal. Men worked 8 hours a day, six days each week building 'Destitution Roads' such as the road along Loch Maree; for this they received 24oz per man, 12 oz per woman and 8oz per child.

What has this to do with knitting?

While the men laboured on the roads, the women knitted. Lady Mackenzie of Gairloch even brought an expert from Skye to improve the quality of local knitwear: in 1847 she was said to have over 100 women spinning 490lb of wool per week to be knitted or woven. Eventually she built this into a local industry (more information is in the museum leaflets). Now I've got to go and choose(!) what we will enjoy for dinner tonight. Herring and potato aren't on the menu.

Gairloch Harbour seen from the sea

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Here me are

I'm told that's what I used to say when I was much, er, younger than I am now. And somewhat smaller. We've been in Scotland! Camping! In the rain! (no surprise there if you know Scotland :-)

That's me, grinning inanely. With luck you can't see just how silly I look when happy even if you click for big. If you can, feel sorry for him: he says that's my characteristic expression. That's a 35l Atmos pack loaded until it squeaked for mercy. It weighed about the same as his half-full 70l which is to say about 20-25lb. We very quickly became accustomed to the weight, even when hauling it up and down trackless mountainsides (this was An Adventure), which is a credit to Osprey's designs. There was knitting in my pack, but no knitting was harmed during the adventure: shortly after that photo was taken, things got much more interesting very quickly indeed. See the next hill, just behind me?
That's the view from it. We planned to camp near that loch, which lies at the western foot of Beinn Alligin. The plan (when we left at 0645 on a sunny morning 9hrs earlier) was to pitch the tent, amble up Sgurr Mhor (the peak at right obscured by cloud), and have a leisurely meal followed by knitting. What happened was that the cloud fell like a stone down the mountainside as we walked to the loch. The rain started just as we unrolled the tent and within about 5 minutes it was bucketing down. The tent was up as quickly as when we pitched it on our lawn (the only other place we'd ever put that tent), we dumped our packs in the vestibule and hurtled over them into the tent in record time. There followed a night of weird contrasts. GOOD: enough water in our hydration packs to cook our dehydrated dinners. BAD: I have never, ever eaten anything more utterly disgusting in my entire life. And I write as someone who's eaten really cheap bologna and sandwich spread, octopus sashimi, soil (I was younger then) and loads of flies (happy cyclist!). GOOD: tent didn't leak. BAD: Constantly checking for non-existent leaks. GOOD: Blissful night of warmth wrapped in my new down sleeping bag. BAD: I accidentally used his (thicker) sleeping pad, so he wasn't as blissful. GOOD: watching the @**! midges trying to squeeze through the mesh panels. BAD: listening to the
@**! rain hammering on the tent all night. Cut to the next morning
That picture's not as bad as I feared. For 5am. Can you see the rain? We could hear it... Worse, our planned route out led along the ridge of Baosbheinn, which was almost completely hidden in mist. Not a good time to walk it for the first time. So we decided to retrace our route in, with some trepidation because the cloud was brushing even the 650m summits of the hills we'd walked (there were alternatives, including a short emergency escape route to the Torridon road, but we decided we could cope with the conditions). At one point my worst fears were realised: the cloud dropped so densely we couldn't sight the next landmark. We were standing 3/4 of the way up a high hill, the only people for several miles, with
visibility less than 10m, known sheer drops somewhere to our right and unfamiliar extremely steep slopes to our left. A fall of only a few metres can kill. I felt sick. I wondered if we'd made a Really Stupid Decision in choosing to retrace our route. I wanted someone to tell me what to do... but there was just him, who knew no more than I. So we kept calm and worked it out for ourselves. The 'escape route' was obvious on the map if not in the mist: there was a straightforward compass bearing that would take us well out of our way, but safely down to lower ground. So that's what we did. I tell you, the sense of relief when we broke out of the cloud was, well, it was amazing. Total distance walked: c. 34 miles, at least a third of which was bush-whacking. We arrived home tired but triumphant and, over corned beef hash, agreed we'd keep the tent and the sleeping bags. We're already planning the next expedition :-)

Baosbheinn seen earlier in the day. I want to walk that long ridge so badly...

Sadly we'd wrecked ourselves a bit, so we took it easy for a couple of days. Intermittent, frequent showers would have made for unpleasant walking anyway. I finished the Electric Sox:
Pattern: Sidewinders, a PerpenSOCKular Pattern by Nona
Yarn: Colinette Jitterbug in 'Jewel'
Modifications: this is only a 260m skein. Having finished, I think I'd probably have run out of yarn if I hadn't shortened the leg by 7 stitches, but I do think it could have been shortened by less. If I did it again I'd try reducing by 4.

We did the wildlife boat trip, we made a pilgrimage to Knockan Crag. We read. And I spun.

Didn't I mention we stopped at Woolfest on the way north? He didn't know either, until after I'd booked it. Our first fibre festival. Togetherness. Listen to the hollow laughter of all the men patiently following their partners. They all have the same glazed eyes, bemused expression. A bit like people in a dentist's waiting room. He didn't *enjoy* most of it, but there was some interesting stuff and he did occasionally touch fibre voluntarily and almost, almost persuaded me to buy an 8g Bosworth. I was good. I got everything on my list and relatively little else, a bit frightened by how easy it would have been to blow a lot of money. I did not buy the discounted yarns (Rowan, DBliss, Noro): I wanted stuff I'd been watching online for months. Like that baby alpaca from Fyberspates, patiently becoming a light fingering yarn. I like spinning. I like spinning a lot. I really, really like spinning with a spindle, especially with a good drop from a rocky seashore. And a glass of wine.