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.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

People love summer here. Where I come from, summer was accepted as a necessary evil but avoided if necessary. People got really excited about spring (Spring Break, anyone?) instead. I know now this difference is because spring where I grew up is about the same climate as the height of summer here. Summer here has the additional magic of twilight that stretches throughout the evening. It’s exciting to leave work at 8 and have it still be light out, but it’s really something special to wrap up a hard night’s gaming at 11 and still catch the end of the sunset.

Summer is chock full of milestones for me. By Celtic reckoning, my birthday, my anniversary, my thesis defense, and the date I moved to Dublin all fall squarely in the summer. Last year I spent the longest day of the year in transit, landing in Dublin jetlagged and ecstatic the day after the solstice. This year I woke up the day after the solstice with showtunes in my head and a sense of smug satisfaction that I could now report my stay in Dublin with units of years rather than months.

(I never know how to answer that question. If you’re not from around here, you know the one. “How long have you lived here?” I believe the answer in my case is misleading; after a month of living here I had the experiences and support of nearly a decade of kicking around. It’s not the same thing as living here all that time, but it’s not the same as being here only a month.)

Lots of things changed when I moved, but a key one that doesn’t get discussed much is that for the first time in ten years I’m not trying to live in two places at once. Throughout the Pasadena exile I enjoyed many things, but it was always bittersweet because it sat next to the memory of what I was missing in Dublin. That doesn’t happen anymore, and it is delicious.

The 22nd of June has rolled along behind me, and I’ve found myself nearly halfway through July a little bewildered that I got here so fast. And while there’s a lot to be desired about my situation at the moment, it’s still been a pretty good year.

Roscommon Lamb Festival, part 3

We got really lucky that our day for the Festival had glorious weather. The Wool Craft Village was in the town square in a very large tent with floorboards, so even if it had rained we would have been out of the wet. Since it was beautiful out, Kheldara and I took turns leaving the table to explore when things were slow.

After I got back from petting Lorraine’s sheep, Kheldara asked me, “Did you see the blue lamb?”

Did I what now?

Armed with vague directions, I headed back outside with my camera. I passed the post office and a building that looked like a castle, following a little path until I spotted a real castle:

Roscommon town park

…or at least what was left of one. When I took this picture, I could hear a band playing in the distance, and thought even if I didn’t find the blue lamb I would at least find lunch. (Perhaps the blue lamb was going to become lunch; I had no idea.) I continued through the gate and out into a park. Lots of people were out, enjoying the day and taking part in the festivities. Lucky for me, I found the Pet Lamb Show on the near side of the park.

There, in a pen full of lambs and children, I spotted my quarry:

A blue lamb

It was, as I’d suspected, painted. Still, not something you see every day.

Roscommon Lamb Festival, part 2

As you might expect from the name, the Roscommon Lamb Festival is about lambs. Well, lambs and sheep. I learned that County Roscommon “has the highest lamb output in the country,” and that the festival itself is meant to showcase the benefits of locally produced food and craft. Whether you’re concerned about ethical treatment of animals, your carbon footprint, or supporting your local economy, there is some compelling reason to consider buying and eating locally. Combine that with the slow food movement and the increased interest in crafts, and it’s clear that the Lamb Festival is tapping into some timely concerns.

I’m a unapologetic city girl. I have minimal experience with sheep, and while I am aware of and appreciate the hard work that goes into animal husbandry I haven’t actually witnessed any of it. (Petting zoos do not count.) About as close as I’ve gotten to any of it is watching my sister muck out a stall at the barn she took horseback riding lessons at. I certainly don’t raise the sheep that produce the wool I enjoy knitting with. So I was excited when I found out that one attraction of the Wool Craft Village would be a demonstration of the path wool takes through the various crafts I take advantage of. There was a stage with a shearing machine, professional sheep-shearers, and a bunch of sheep to be sheared:

Sheep pen

Every so often, they’d bring out a sheep and shear it while all of us gawkers watched:

Sheep being sheared!

The sheep were surprisingly unconcerned about the entire affair. A few of them kicked a little when they were turned on their sides, but for the most part they were pretty chilled out. They didn’t look sedated, so my guess is that the shearing procedure has been developed to cause the least amount of trauma possible.

We also met Lorraine, a customer who heard we were coming to the festival and came to the booth to meet us. After chatting a little, we found out that she has her own sheep and had brought them to the festival. So I headed out and met her sheep and took a picture:

Lorraine and her sheep (bad picture, blame me)

We learned a little more about the ins and outs of raising sheep. I asked what happens to the wool after she gets her sheep sheared, and she (a knitter herself, remember) replied, “It goes straight to the wool merchants.” For the past few years, the cost of wool in Ireland has been incredibly low, so low that it costs more to shear the sheep (paying the shearers) than farmers can recover by selling the wool. There is a little buzz this year about prices going up a little, but it’s still astonishingly cheap right now.

After you shear the sheep and process the wool, you have to spin it. So there were spinners:

Spinner

One of the spinning wheels had been custom made by the spinner’s husband, but that one is (I think) an Ashford Traditional, the same kind I have. (Have I been spinning on it? No. One of these days.)

After you spin the wool, you make it into stuff. You can weave it, knit it, crochet it, felt it, make rugs, etc. So there was a knitting circle:

Knitting circle

That’s Michelle standing up in the middle. She organized the Wool Craft Village, and I thought she did a great job. There was a nice mix of vendors, the demonstrations were interesting (judging by the crowds of people around the shearers and spinners!), and she was available for us in case we needed anything. I think she also managed to have fun, so everyone won. We were grateful for the invitation to participate in the festival, and it seemed like a lot of people had a lovely day out as well.

It had to happen sometime

This is a post about my cat. If you don’t like cats, if you think the proliferation of cat pictures/videos/blogs on the Internet is a sign of the deterioration of civilisation and impending apocalypse, if even hearing about cats in conversation makes you sneeze, move along. There’s nothing to see here. (more…)

Still quiet

With the shadow of the Sackboys removed, I have moved on to other handknitting challenges and obligations. The Big Commission still looms (haha) overhead, but after meditating on the recent issues with it over the past few days I have more ideas for how to deal with it and get it done and get on with forgetting about it.

Last night I headed out to see Amanda Palmer (AFP) and assorted hangers-on. It was meant to be part of the Evelyn Evelyn tour, but the massive travel snarl created by the volcano ash prevented most of the actual show from showing up. The result? A completely random opening act Bitter Ruin, who blew me away. I would have bought a CD if there were any left. This was followed by a sort of shadow of the actual Evelyn Evelyn stage show, with AFP describing what would be happening and Jason Webley (the other Evelyn) joining via webcast. They had pretty successfully figured out how to sing together in spite of the 2-second lag, so it was possible to get some idea of what the music would have been like had they been in the same room and wearing the same dress. (Not identical dresses, the two of them in the same dress.)

AFP’s solo set at the end went well, and the debut of “Fuck the Ashcloud,” AFP’s and Neil’s impromptu songwriting collaboration lamenting the impending cancellation of their planned week together went about as well as anyone could have expected.

I got lucky, I think. The show took place at the Academy, where I’d seen JoCo in the basement venue. I’d never been in the upstairs, which is a slightly bigger, two-tiered deal. I wasn’t in the front of the queue, so all the space by the stage was taken by the time I got in and I headed upstairs to the bar. There were couches set up, and no indication that I wasn’t allowed to sit on them…so I ended up slouching in a comfy couch on a balcony for the entire show. The area is often reserved for people with VIP tickets, but this time it was open to anyone of drinking age. Awesome. I had a lovely evening.

I also finished a pair of socks. What better project to take to a show about a pair of conjoined twin singer/songwriters than a sock?

Socks

My rock and roll lifestyle

Okay, so it’s not all that glamorous. The past few days have been a little busy for me, in good ways, in fun ways, and in stressful ways.

Leprecon was fantastic, even though my work schedule interfered with any actual gaming other than the pub quiz. (We came in second place, but it was a good and fun pub quiz which is the important thing.) I finally made it to Goldsmith hall Sunday evening long enough to do a circuit around the main room then head across the street for a quick dinner with friends. After that I broke from the Leprecon party and hashed out the future of my weekly game, then met up with Himself for the walk home.

As far as cons go, I know nothing about how well it went or whether it was a Good Con. My part was essentially attending a party that went on for three nights. I love going out with my friends, but there’s something extra special about the con setup where everyone in an extended social circle is in the same pub, and you can drift from group to group. I know none of this is news to people who have been here all their lives, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a Dublin con (9 years!).

I’ve been hired for an interesting knitting commission, the kind where it needs to be done right and fast, not clever, and that may lead to subsequent work if it meets expectations. It’s for a reasonably high-profile person for whom image matters, so I’m taking it seriously and fretting. It reminds me uncomfortably of postgrad, except I am less convinced of my ability. I think this lack of confidence will spur me to superhuman achievements. It’s done so before.

Luckily, I’m being generously gifted with two knitting machines (unrelated to the commission), and hopefully I will have the wool and machines in time to figure out how to use them and get the material churned out sooner rather than later. If everything goes perfectly, it won’t take long at all. If it doesn’t…I will look very stupid.

Crossposted at Cobweb.

Booze!

I was out drinking both Friday and Saturday nights this week.

Friday night I attended a staff meeting, my first with This is Knit. We went over the stuff that needed going over, then we broke out the wine and pizza and crochet hooks. Our all-star crochet teacher had agreed to come and teach us to crochet, as most of us weren’t that familiar with the technique and we decided it was time for all of us to broaden our horizons. They were duly broadened.

Saturday night we had belated birthday pints for the Wanderer and cb, who share a birthday. I hadn’t seen cb since Christmas, so it was great to spend time with him and the clutch of other friends who showed up. I think everyone had a good time; I know I did, and I’m pretty sure both birthday boys did. I don’t go out as often these days as I used to, but nearly every time ends up being a great night. This is one of the many reasons I was so excited to get back to Dublin.

I’m very close to being done with the third log cabin block for my sock yarn leftovers blanket. I never photographed the second block, but I finally draped this one over a chair and took a picture for y’all:

It's not the product, it's the process.

The next block will be dominated by Koigu in the middle, as I’ve been swapping sock yarn bits with a friend. I’m excited about getting it started, and about retiring this block. It saw me through my thesis writing, and a lot of the stress of moving here. It deserves to rest a little while with the first two blocks.