Tuesday, November 25, 2014

All of Archie's stitches are now back on the needle, and I am feeling my way cautiously around he first circuit. Some stitches are sitting backwards, of course, and others are split. Madelinetosh is rather loosely twisted – in my next incarnation, I am going to take up spinning early in life and come out with a real understanding of yarn. It would be just my luck to reappear as a sheep.

Everything is being patiently corrected, and there will be no Messy Line to mark the spot. EZ says somewhere that a split stitch is the one mistake in knitting which cannot be passed off as a Feature. But I don't think we'll have another try-on unless there is real cause for alarm.

And I did another two scallops on the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl, without mishap. By the time I had done them, fully conscious of my resolution to try to do a bit more, I felt that it would be wiser to stop. I was perilously near the point where familiarity becomes confusion. (Which row am I knitting? Which direction am I going?)


James rang up last night to say that he has been conferring with his sib, and it has been decided that no one over eighty has to give Christmas presents to anyone any more. With two exceptions: everybody wants to go on getting the New Yorker; and it's all right to give presents to the Little Boys at Loch Fyne.

The previous reduction, agreed last summer, was that we would only give presents to the people we actually saw over Christmas. Tough on those in Athens, Sydenham, and CT, in my case, but it still left me with a hefty list. This new decision will help a lot.

I've already bought two copies of a book which I will give to Rachel and Greek Helen. (I'll tell you about it after the solstice. I suspect all four should have it.) And some Sugru. And a delicious calendar – I'll tell you about that, too. But now I can stop! Except for the Little Boys.

Sometimes I think, had I but world enough and time, that I would like to design and knit a Truly Hideous Christmas Sweater. When did they come in? I was thoroughly alarmed to see several references to Black Friday in yesterday's newspapers. I had to explain it to my husband. They'll have us cooking a bloody turkey next, and expecting our children to turn up to eat it.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A good day. I knit a scallop or so of the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl – Sunday is never very productive. Archie came to lunch. He seemed well. His sweater fits fine – now I can relax and start worrying about whether I have enough yarn. I am not far off finishing the third skein of twelve. There's an awful lot of Archie yet to cover.

He carried two boxes of knitting books down to the cellar. I was going to ask him to fiddle with our simple DVD player to find out why it wasn't working, but when I turned it on, it worked fine. So now I can get the new Coen Bros film – the one with the endlessly forgettable name. I think we've seen close to their entire oeuvre, most of it in the cinema. “True Grit”, indeed, may be the last movie we ever properly saw.

Then Archie went back to school – he had made a whole tedious trip across town (buses are rather rare on Sunday) just to be obliging. It was much appreciated.

I spent much of the evening getting half of his sweater back on the needle. It's on a smooth, heavy embroidery thread and the operation is going well, but I think it would be going a lot better if I had used ribbon as you told me to.

Today's job is going to be applying for a Disability Badge so that we can park on yellow lines and, theoretically, get out a bit more. I've applied twice before and been refused – once because they held that my husband could walk too far to qualify, the second time, when I appealed that decision, when they said I had left it too long and could no longer appeal, I had to start from scratch again.

Friends keep nagging me about this. Today one of them, with whom I went out drinking on Saturday, is coming round to take things in hand. Much of yesterday was spent downloading and printing the application form. It has got even worse since I first applied – I must submit, for instance, a “certified” copy of my husband's passport, to guard against identity fraud. Disability Badges are highly covetable and often misused – so, fair enough, but how am I to manage that?

But then I reflected: my printer is also a copier. And the friend who is coming is a lawyer – she can “certify” the copy herself. All I've got to do is find the passport.


A propos your comment yesterday, Melfina, about colleges.

When my sister was a big shot in Washington, she was in conversation once with the Secretary of Health, Donna Shalala, and somehow or other the fact came up that the chemistry building at Mouth Holyoke is named after our great aunt Emma.

Shalala said, “I didn't know your family had that kind of money”.

Helen said, “We don't. We have that kind of brain.”

It's the sort of riposte you usually only think of  the following Wednesday.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Even less to report this morning.

I got one more scallop done, on the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl – and without mishap. Then I went out on the razzle-dazzle (= for cider in a local pub) and it seemed safest, when I got back, to restrict activity to threading Archie's sweater onto waste yarn for today's try-on. I did that. Lying on top of the sweater of his which was left behind here, the fit looks very good. We shall see.

I counted stitches on the Bridal Shawl, from here to the next corner. I think the answer was, 17 scallops to go, just over a week at the rate of two scallops per evening. Maybe I had better try to up the pace a little bit. When I get there, one full side will remain, then the messy corner, then a few inches of the fourth side until I reach the point where I started. A long way, yet.


And that's about it. November darkness presses. Panic is bad. I read all those pages in the newspapers of Present Suggestions and don't even see anything I might want for myself (usually easy, that one).

On feminism: Mount Holyoke disputes with Oberlin the claim to be the first to give degrees to women. They were pretty well simultaneous. I have forgotten the ins and outs of the argument. My sister and I grew up on Mount Holyoke, our mother's college and the one where our Great Aunt Emma served for many years as a distinguished professor of chemistry. The new lab is named for her. But neither my sister nor I went there.

And I am inclined nowadays to give the prize to Oberlin, for being co-educational from the beginning.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Not much to report, I'm glad to say. No disasters last night. I did 2 1/3 scallops on the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl. I haven't yet threaded Archie's sweater onto waste yarn – that's this morning's second job. The first was to sort my husband's pills into those little plastic boxes for the coming week, and I must say I found it a rather entertaining task. No doubt it will become less appealing as the novelty wears off. It has the additional advantage of keeping me closely in touch with the level of supplies.

Sister Helen, I tried to pursue your link to the NY Times recipe – indeed, got a brief glimpse of it and was interested in the title, “slow-cooked albicore and...” in connection with what I said yesterday – but then it disappeared in an absolute thunderstorm of pop-up ads. It looked perhaps a bit complicated for my purposes. I failed to find the recipe I wanted among my books, but all I really need is a bean-salad recipe since the tuna requires only slapping in a pan. And I did remember to put beans on to soak.


Knitlass, I think you and I are in the same place on feminism and differ only on technique. I think the long, slow climb from the horrors of the fifties has been best served by women achieving their positions on merit and then getting on with the job. I think of the surgeon who saved Thomas' life with a lengthy night-time operation on his gut when he was three days old – and that was 30 years ago. I think of the first time I saw a woman driving a bus. Just do the job.

I haven't spent much time in the world, really, but what time I did spend never made me feel (even though it was the fifties) that sex was against me. Oberlin was the first institution in the world to give degrees to women – that is, it was fully co-educational from its foundation – and the spirit lingers on. Maybe that was a factor.

(There was a delicious moment during my early days in Glasgow when I made the claim in the paragraph above, about the world's first degrees for women, to somebody at one of those embarrassing academic parties, and she said, “Are you sure? We were giving degrees to women before the Great War.” And I said, “1833”.)

Mrs Thatcher never claimed to be a woman, and – love her or hate her – nobody has ever accused her of it, any more than commentators feel it necessary to point out now that David Cameron is a man. She was Leader of the Opposition, and after that she was Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I still think Nicola Sturgeon is letting the side down, very slightly, by making such a fuss about being a woman. She was at it again yesterday.

Valerie, I love your idea that we might have a Mr. Trout or Miss Tuna waiting in the wings as First Minister of Scotland. It hadn't occurred to me.

Non-knit. non-feminism

Since I started writing this, Archie has phoned to say he doesn't feel well and will come to lunch tomorrow instead. Can I keep the tuna another day? I don't like the idea. But that makes it very good news that his sweater is still on the needles, and I won't have to push myself beyond the prudent limit on edging-knitting tonight.

Sometimes (not often) things work out for the best.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Not a very good day, yesterday. I was peacefully knitting along, even beginning to wonder if I had produced a perfect scallop, when I found that a stitch or stitches had slipped off between the needles, without my even being aware that I was in any danger, and all was unzipping.

I had to take back a whole scallop before I got things right. The damage is not too bad, but it's visible – yet another muddle that wouldn't have happened if I had stuck with my original plan and knit the shawl inwards. There's not much scope for muddle when you are slipping a fine needle through a nicely-made edging chain. And, hell! If I had done it that way, I'd be finished by now, since I had knit the entire edging before changing plan.

I was very tired last night – some minor events which constitute a stressful day, in old age, and no nap. Maybe the moral is to leave lace alone on such evenings.

But Archie's sweater continues to progress nicely, producing a beautiful smooth smart-looking fabric. And tomorrow I get to see it on Archie!

I made him tuna and beans for lunch once (tuna has a mysterious affinity with beans) and he was mightily impressed. He eats anything, like most boys his size and age, but also takes a serious and discriminating interest in food.

I'm not sure he had ever had fresh tuna before. His mother, Greek Helen, is seriously concerned about sustainability, and anyway is virtually a vegetarian, or maybe it is just that they don't sell fresh tuna in Greece. I don't think I had ever cooked it before we moved to Edinburgh. The first time, since it looked like a slice of old boot, I stewed it carefully for a long time. It's a wonder I ever went back to try again.

But I can't remember which of my books produced Archie's lunch. I remember that the beans were the real thing, soaked overnight. And there memory stops. Like the Lost Chord. I'll have another look through the books this morning.

Knitsofacto has a brilliant blog post up about autumn dyeing. She promises more detail in future posts about how her wonderful colours were achieved. She was meant to come to Shetland with us, but an ineluctable family event supervened. It was she who found beloved Burrastow for us to stay at. I would love to have talked to her about dyes.

I couldn't do it now – one can scarcely fill the kitchen with dye pots when one has got to produce breakfast-lunch-tea-and-supper daily. But I've done some dyeing in my day – I even  found ochrolechia tartarea on a stone in Strathardle, and got a pretty good red out of it after macerating (I think that's the word) with vinegar in lieu of urine. Red is not an easy colour to achieve with natural dyes, and I would have enjoyed boasting of it to Knitsofacto. It is extraordinary that peasant dyers persevered, who had a good deal of occupation to fill their days, and no electricity to help.


Southern Gal, you're right that CT has been spared snow, so far. Roger and Helen have suffered lashings of rain, and ugly cold, but that's all. Roger seems to be making good progress with his MacBook.

Nicola Sturgeon has taken over from Mr Salmond as First Minister. She is making what seems to me a great and undignified song and dance about glass ceilings and being a role model to little girls. In a world which has already produced Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel (not to mention Hillary Clinton and a few others), it seems to me very unremarkable that a woman should be First Minister of Scotland. Better just get on with the job.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Again, very little to report. My two-scallops-and-then-Archie plan for the evening's knitting continues to work well. I've now done about 4” of sweater cylinder since I abandoned the sleeve stitches and joined the body below the placket (knitting top-down, remember). And there are still two more knit-evenings before I see Archie himself. There will be a lot to unravel if the fit is wrong.

But, on the other hand, the more I've done, the easier it will be to judge whether the fit is really right.

There has been yet another (minor) contretemps with the Bridal Shawl edging – I dropped a couple of stitches at that vital point between the needles where the edging is attached and where a dropped stitch threatens to unzip the entire work. It has been recovered without total disaster, but there is (yet again) a bit of mess left behind.

And it occurs to me that quite a few of the difficulties I've had with this shawl, stem from abandoning my long-held preference for knitting the edging first, picking up all the stitches, and knitting inwards. I started out to do just that, you may remember – I knit the entire edging, and then decided to do it Sharon Miller's way after all (I can't, now, imagine why) – knitting the centre square and then working outwards.

There was difficulty picking up stitches around the centre square before establishing the borders. And there have been these little problems with the knitted-on edging. If I had done it my way (Amedro's way), edging first, pick up stitches, knit inwards, both of those sources of mess would have been obviated. That would still have left the Messy Corner, caused by plunging in before I had solved the problem of knitting garter stitch in the round.

Well, we'll see. But I'll certainly plan to do the Queen Ring edging-inwards (it's a mighty square, I think). And I'll master the Fleegle garter-stitch-in-the-round system before I start the borders.

The Princess is a huge triangle, so garter-stitch-in-the-round, at least, wasn't an issue. It started with a wonderfully difficult edging – it took me 50 repeats to learn it. I was, most fortuitously, able to recite the pattern to myself while having my cataract operations that summer, using the Shetland “take” and “cast” for k2tog and yo. I have forgotten how I represented plain knit stitches to myself, or k3tog, come to that. Then you pick up stitches for the border, sliding the needle through. Then you knit the border, hundreds of rows, and then you think, well, that's it, nearly finished, and you start on the central triangle.

Beginning in the middle with a few stitches, and adding one stitch at each side at the end of every row. It was just like that famous puzzle about the chess board with one grain of rice on the first square, two on the second, then four, then sixteen...

And when you finally, finally, finally stagger home – there's still more edging to be knit, all along the top.

It was fun.

Kristin Nicholas tempts me this morning, via Zite, with “To Knit or Not to Knit” (not by her, by Elvira Woodruff). The pictures she shows us of the pages of the book, sprinkled with art, are most engaging. On the other hand, the experience of packing up knitting books in boxes to go to the cellar, rather deters.


And now, weather. The US experience sounds truly extraordinary. I have emailed CT for a local report. Sister Helen and Roger are near Long Island Sound, there at the mouth of the CT River, but it doesn't seem to do much good as far as temperature-mitigation is concerned.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

All went well with my simple system yesterday – another two scallops done, of the edging of the Unst Bridal shawl. The third corner is not a million miles away. And now that I am a few inches on from the spot where I resumed work last week, the mess doesn't look quite as bad as I at first thought . But mess it still is. I hope I will follow my own advice, and not lay it aside again.

I don't remember having this difficulty when I picked the Princess up again. She was done in fits and starts over four or five years. I suspect I'm getting older. I think I had better start the Queen Ring at once, if I am to have any hope of finishing it. And, at that, I don't have much.

At any rate, after the two scallops I retreated happily to Archie's sweater. Archie himself phoned to say that he is coming to lunch on Saturday – I will have to think of something tasty – and will be available to try on the sweater and do any little chores we have in mind, before going off to see a family friend nearby and then back to school. This all has somewhat the sound of a nudge from Athens, but it will be good to see him on any terms.

And I know to spend Friday evening threading the sweater onto waste yarn. I won't stop knitting in the interim – if it has to be ripped back, so be it.

I can't think that we have any pictures that need hanging at the moment, a truly horrible job in which Archie and I specialise. He can certainly make himself useful by carrying boxes of knitting books down to the cellar.

That was an inspired idea, Knitalot, that I might negotiate some more shelf space. Obvious, once it's mentioned, like so many inspired ideas. There is a shelf nearby of paperback thrillers – the sort of things which nowadays reside in the cloud above the Kindle app on my iPad – much tidier. I could sweep them away. The difficulty (there's always one of those) is that the knitting books are in a bookcase built for the purpose to fill an awkward corner, with shelves deep enough to accommodate knitting books. Using the thriller shelf would mean plucking small knitting books away from their proper context – The Knitter's Almanac would fit there, for instance, but Knit One, Knit All wouldn't.

I'll give it some thought.

The indefatigable Jared has a new collection out, Wool People 8. There are several things there that make me want to fling aside everything that is going on here and cast on anew. I especially like the stripey one on the cover but there are several others almost equally delectable, and the photography, as always, is breathtaking.

I'm not sure whether or not I've seen the current Twist Collective collection. I need to spend more time with it.


Sister Helen sent out a general bulletin yesterday about her husband Roger's recovery from his stroke. He needs less sleep now; they can sit and watch television in the evening again. They have got a new speech therapist with whom both are happy. Roger has acquired a MacBook Air – Helen thinks his struggles to get to grips with it have been generally beneficial. He is the latest of so many to go over to the Dark Side – I will write to him soon on the subject. Archie remains a stubborn holdout.

But the big news is that Ted can walk, only a few days after his first birthday.