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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I got to the chemist, and sure enough! a service is available to obtain and sort one's pills and dole them out in day-by-day capsules. Even deliver them, weekly. One's GP has to put one on the Silly Old Fools track – fair enough, since the process must be fairly labour-intensive. I don't think we'll have any difficulty about that. Tomorrow is my husband's 89th birthday.

Can one trust them to get it all right, after all these years of anxiously supervising everything oneself? Try it and you may, I say, as someone once famously remarked.

Knitlass, don't worry about our “getting out”. (In fact, the weather improved markedly yesterday, after a poor start.) We are great believers in the merits of it. We try to go out together for a half-hour walk before lunch (which consumes any disposable time I might have had in the morning). There are obvious benefits for my husband's blood sugars, and he thinks it's good for what's left of his muscle tone. It's a bit scary. Getting up and down to/from a curbstone is a perilous occupation for him these days.

This morning I must get up to the top of the hill to buy the birthday present. I know what I want, and where it's to be had, and could perfectly well have bought it last week when I was up there pursuing prescriptions. And get back in time to get lunch ready and then go for the walk – you get the idea.

Mary Lou took this picture after our happy lunch last week. She called it “relaxed”, because of the sweater I'm wearing, but I think you can discern in my face a certain anxiety about getting back down the hill to Drummond Place and resuming the responsibilities adumbrated above. That's the electric blue jacket I bought for my trip to Shetland last year.

While on the subject of old age and infirmity, the news from CT is much-as-before. My sister is not entirely happy with the speech therapy Roger is getting (after his small stroke in Yorkshire, while they were here for the wedding). They have paid the deposit to get on the waiting list for the retirement community in DC they had already sussed out (refundable if they don't go, applicable to the capital payment if they do). I am very glad the NHS performed well, the day/night of the crisis. My sister can be a severe critic, and she seemed satisfied. We have always found them brilliant in crises.


Thank you for the advice about the length of tip I need for my forthcoming set of small-gauge Hiya Hiya bamboo circulars. Nothing was done about that yesterday, but 5” it will be. Nothing is worse – well, in fact, a lot is – than clutching a too-short tip.

Actual domestic knitting went well yesterday. I think the system I have adopted may carry me through. Two scallops of the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl are enough to maintain forward progress, if steadily pursued. And that's about as much as I can do before late-evening-tiredness and the dangers involved in repeating an easy pattern, make it hazardous to go on. And at that point, the round-and-roundness of Archie's sweater – I know; I should have stopped; he needs to try it on – are the perfect retreat.

Madeline Tosh makes everybody's knitting look like gold. The fabric is marvellous.

The other knitting-related thing I did yesterday was to spend a little more time (before the walk supervened) in sorting out my knitting books with the thought of relegating some of them to the cellar (perfectly warm and dry) and thus creating more shelf-space and reducing the piles on the floor.

It's grand to spend time with the books. And it's not as if I were going to consign the B-list to a bonfire. But the process was still about as difficult as culling kittens. Single-designer books are going downstairs – “The Best of Annabel Fox” – except for Kaffe and Kate Davies and Starmore (although I've never knit anything of hers) and EZ and Meg who are in a category of their own. That still leaves a lot of difficult decisions.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I felt that yesterday's post was rather short and unsatisfactory – but it has yielded two big bonuses.

I shall make my way through wind and rain as soon as possible to discuss with the chemist at the foot of Broughton St, the possibility of their packaging my husband's pills for him by the day. It would mean their taking over the whole business of his prescriptions, something all chemists are keen to do for the multi-ailment elderly. My husband has long been urging me to switch to the near-by chemist anyway. I have stuck with Boots a) because I now regard their “pharmacy team” as old friends; and b) because the occasional hike to the top of the hill is good for me, aerobically, and it's also nice to spend a moment in John Lewis' yarn department. I don't get out much. But I think they're much less likely at Boots to want to sort pills.

My husband is intensely irritated by those bubble packs and we have tried to get pills in bottles, but of course have failed. I don't mind them much, and can certainly take over that part of the job.

And the other bonus was Mary Lou's suggestion of a Hiya Hiya circular needle interchangeable pack in small gauges, in bamboo. Meadow Yarns have got it – they've got everything. It remains to decide whether I want the tips to be 5” or 4”. Any ideas? Left to myself, I think I'd go for 5”

And I inched forward yesterday in another respect. I always read those pages of Present Suggestions in the papers this time of year, almost always without profit but you never know. Yesterday I found Sugru. I leave you to look it up. I've ordered some.

A funny thing about those present-suggestion pages is the way Christmas remains ever out of reach. The suggestions have precisely the same quality of being far-too-expensive now that we are old and prosperous, as they did when we were young and poor.

I got my database out and wrote “2014” at the top of a new column and filled in a few squares. It's a start.

And I resumed knitting the Bridal Shawl. As I had been warning myself, it proved a bit difficult at first. I'm back in the saddle now, but not before leaving behind a little bit more mess. I dread what I'll see when I block this one. I'm a little more than halfway around with the edging. It's nice to have Archie's sweater to sink back into when it all gets too much at the end of the evening.

Rachel sent this nice picture of her four chickies -- Thomas, Hellie, Joe and Lizzie, from left to right in descending order of age, taken (obviously) towards the end of the wedding party.