Louisa

July was a big month, as it turns out. I got the weekend holiday I needed so much, I worked more hours in the shop than usual, I caught and defeated a Death Cold, and I met one of the brightest stars in the knitting sky, Louisa Harding. If you’re a knitter, you may know her from yarn labels. You might have seen her books or compilations. You may have opinions about her distributor, or on her yarns, or the distinctly (possibly stereotypically) feminine slant of her designs. It’s tricky gauging someone by a yarn label, though, and I was extremely lucky to get the opportunity to meet and hang out with her when she came to the shop to give a workshop.

Sari Ribbon

When we approached Louisa about the possibility of doing a workshop, she had things all figured out already. It would be a full day workshop, the fees would include yarn (always a plus!), and the project would allow people to explore creativity in wool and sample a bunch of yarns all at the same time. She arranged for sample garments to be sent to us ahead of time, so the students could try things on and see what the designs look like in person rather than having to guess from photos in the books. We also got a preview of the new books and yarns for autumn/winter, inspiring several of us in the shop to get started on new cardigans and tops.

I didn’t get to participate in the workshop, but the few bits I got to see were well planned and carefully thought out. She started by encouraging students to look at the sample garments, then followed that with yarn selection for the bag project. This required the students to wind some of the yarns into balls from the hanks they’re usually sold as, giving everyone the opportunity to chat and interact with each other. By the time everyone settled down to knit, people had gotten the jitters out and were ready to focus.

The workshop project is a simple bag using five different yarns. Louisa encouraged students to choose colour and gauge combinations outside of their comfort zones, resulting in beautiful little works of art.

Louisa Harding bag

I selected my yarns after everyone else, picking over the leftovers during lulls in the shop downstairs, so I didn’t get as adventurous as some. I did end up working with the new colours of Sari Ribbon and Willow Tweed, as well as a bit of the new autumn/winter yarn Rosetti that I ordinarily would have avoided. (I’m not really a fan of chunky yarns.) The bag was simple to knit and enjoyable as it gave me plenty of opportunity to sample the yarns and see how they worked up.

Also, I love the bag. Desperately.

Bag closeup

I think the workshop encouraged students to think more ambitiously about colour and texture, and to experiment more boldly. It also gave us the opportunity to make something relatively impractical, simply for the joy of playing with colour and texture. Lots of us focus on practical projects which might be well crafted and beautiful, but not as recklessly fun as this little bag.

After the workshop, Louisa hosted a meet & greet and talk that was free to everyone. Lots of regulars in the shop and local S&B groups showed up, and despite the blistering heat people managed to enjoy themselves. Louisa talked about starting her own yarn line, how the process works, and the elements she highlights in her designs and yarn choices. She describes herself as “a woman designing for women,” and how this plays out in her choice of colour, yarn, shape, and size. For example, many of her designs feature 3/4 length sleeves. Why? Women wear bracelets and watches, and it’s nice to show them off. Simple as that.

The day made me think about the yarn industry, what moves and shakes it, and how the people involved make the choices they do. It inspired me to give certain yarns a chance where I previously would have dismissed them. And it gave me the opportunity, through an awesome sneak peek at some of Louisa’s new and currently unreleased books, to cast on for a new cardigan.

Willow Tweed

Using Willow Tweed.

Row, row, row your boat

Before we made it to the tree, we saw and experienced one of the more prominent features of the Lough Key forest park, the island with the castle on. I believe it is usually called Castle Island, distinguishing it from the islands with the church on (Church Island?).

Castle Island, seen from Lough Key

It being an island, the only way to get in and have a good look around was to use a boat, or pay for one of the boat tours. We hired two rowboats and immediately learned who had ever rowed a boat before in their lives and who hadn’t. I was in the latter category, but I still had a great time rowing us slowly across the lake for the second half of our outward journey.

Transportation

Despite the presence of someone who clearly knew what she was doing, our boat was very egalitarian and all four of us rowed across half the lake at some point. No one fell out, I don’t think anyone got whacked by oars, and we did make it to and from the castle without major incident despite some interesting rocking when a motorboat whizzed by and gave us a wake to bob over.

I like castles, even overgrown ones. I especially like castles I’m allowed to explore and climb on, where the only barriers to exploration are my own ability to spot paths and stairs and ways up and around. This one offered all that. I’m not sure how old it really was; even though there were apparently people living here a very long time ago, there was evidence of recent work done to support the structure and I think this particular castle might have been built in the past couple hundred years on the site of an older castle.

Broken Castle

There hasn’t been anyone living here for a while though.

Broken castle

A couple of us climbed up for a better view, and poked around some of the smaller tower bits. I’m pretty sure there are good names for everything, but I don’t know any of them so I’ll just show you the picture.

Broken castle with a view

I love that more times than not, when I venture out of Dublin I get a surprise castle sighting. (As it happens, I see a lot of a particular castle when I’m in Dublin, but it’s not that much of a surprise since I live practically next door to Dublin Castle.) I also love that most of the time when I see these things, I’m with friends who like climbing around as much as I do.

Arborsexual

A couple weeks ago, several couples and I were invited out to Boyle (Roscommon) for the bank holiday weekend. We were housed, fed, and entertained, and I not only got to hang out with people I don’t see often but I got to see bits of Ireland I never had before.

The older I get, the less I like taking pictures of things and prefer to experience them on my own and think about them later. I get the luxury of this opinion because I have friends who take great pictures so I’m not usually left without some visual reminder of an event or holiday. For the Sunday afternoon excursion to Lough Key, I was the only one with a camera so I did my best. I didn’t take pictures of Boda Borg (it’s like getting to do the Crystal Maze, apparently), but I did get pictures of the awesome tree.

Huge tree

I’m told it’s a redwood, though I’m not a botanist and would have believed it if I was told it was a giant cedar. We wandered in (it’s the kind of tree you wander in to) and climbed around, some of us higher than others. I admit I lazed around, mostly.

Vertical view

It’s the kind of tree people write stories about, the kind that makes people become environmentalists, the kind people get married in and bring their children to. The people in our group from the area knew the tree instantly, referring to it only as “the tree,” speaking with respect and care. It’s a good tree, certainly worthy of its own blog entry.