Thursday, December 18, 2008

I think it’s time to lay blogging aside until early ’09. I’m tired, frightened of how much remains to be done, scared of the dark, not good company. We’ll all feel better after the solstice – except for poor Kate, who’s got all the fuss but nothing to celebrate except the retreat of light.

Yesterday’s lapse was because I was ferrying my husband across town for an early hospital appointment. “Early” is not easy for him. Getting him somewhere early is not easy for me.

Two things were odd –

I walked across the square to get the papers at 7 a.m., much earlier than usual. It was still utterly night. I could see well to the east along London Street and there was not a glimmer in the sky. But the blackbirds in Drummond Place gardens were twittering in a distinctly matutinal way. Do they have little watches? Or were they responding to the sounds of the city bestirring itself? And, if so, do country blackbirds sleep in?

The drive to the hospital took place between 9 and 9:30, straight through central Edinburgh to the southern outskirts. There was no rush hour, just normal-to-slight city traffic. Why?

I’ve been back to St James’s Centre for more post-office-queueing, and finally weakened and bought not only Rowan 44 but also a book of their tweed patterns. An absurd extravagance, already regretted. I’d like to see the cashmere tweed yarn, though. As far as I could detect, Lewis’s didn’t have it.

Christmas knitting should be finished this evening. James and his children will arrive tomorrow – Cathy is staying behind in London for a couple of days to berate Macmillan’s for not pushing her latest book, The Slaughter Pavilion. Joan Smith picked it as one of the gems of ’08 in a column in the Sunday Times this week – but there’s not a copy to be had on the shelves of our local Waterstone’s. Nor have I ever seen one there.

(It begins with a striking event based on something which really happened in Beijing not far from where they live. Just last week Cathy learned, from a journalist who had been there, that a detail which she had invented for her book, actually happened. That’s the sort of thing, the interlacing of fiction-writing and real life, that Muriel Spark often writes about.)

Happy Darkest Day, everybody.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This and That

That was quite an exciting cricket match – if the phrase isn’t too much of an oxymoron – that ended in Madras yesterday. I am proud to claim that I am one of Sachin Tendulkar's legions of fans. It was a real Casey-at-the-bat situation, there at the end, except that this time, Casey didn't let us down.

What puzzles me a wee bit about Mr Madoff is how he was able to fool European banks and fund managers. I can see how a pleasant and utterly plausible guy could suck in funds from rich New Yorkers. He was one of them. But all those people over here -- Scots and Spaniards and Frenchmen -- in their blue suits, dark grey for the ladies, busy reducing the world economic system to chaos by their incompetence, should have known what a rat smells like, and clearly didn’t.

That was a good story about GWB and the journalist’s shoes. There was a big Americans-out rally on the streets of Baghdad recently, and I thought then that they are beginning to behave like a free country. Nobody ever threw shoes at Hitler, or Saddam Hussein.

Real Life

Helen Chronic-Knitting-Syndrome and I didn’t eat our holiday lunch yesterday after all – she woke up not feeling well. We’ve rescheduled for Thursday.

I did a strenuous circuit of post offices instead (the Sorting Office to collect a package, the real Post Office to send packages off) and got quite seriously winded. I think I have lost a lot of puff in the last year or so. I sank down in John Lewis’s yarn department to recover – they have a chair – and looked at the latest Rowan magazine, no. 44 I think.

I don’t think I’d browsed it before. There are some good things there. But the cost, £10 plus, is too much for my stomach, at least at the moment.

Later I went to the Christmas department and bought wrapping paper and gift cards that look like knitting. The paper is the same pattern as the card illustrated here, with the colours reversed. My husband thinks that no one will notice, and he could be right.

They’ve also got little knitted Christmas tree ornaments. I was particularly taken with a tiny pair of Nordic mittens. Maybe…


Shan, I agree, it’s the woads I fancy from Renaissance Dyeing, too. (Please follow the link to Shan’s blog and read about her hard life. Feeling old and winded in John Lewis’s yarn department comes further down the list.)

Judith, I’m glad you like the new version of the Amedro “Shetland Lace” book. That cover flap with the abbreviations is indeed useful. That book is the only one, I believe, to use the old Shetland terms “take” for k2tog and “cast” for YO. I think we all, in some way, memorise each row of a lace pattern as we go along. I always found that using those terms made it easier.

Jean Shrimpton: yes. Was she perhaps the first super-model to make us feel that we might under some unimaginable circumstances succeed in looking like that? Whereas Barbara Goalen and her ilk were clearly impossible.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Home again, successfully. Yesterday was devoted to convalescence. Today the Christmas scramble begins anew, and rather pleasantly so, for Helen Chronic-Knitting-Syndrome and I are going to have our own little Christmas party at a local estaminet.

I had my recent eBay purchase delivered to her (the bound volume of early Vogue Knitting Books), so I should get that today. The seller sounded a bit scatter-brained, and December is tough for everybody, so I didn’t want to ask her to wait a week to post it. And I wanted even less to have it fester for a week in the Sorting Office.

Helen emailed me with details while we were in London. There is no doubt at all that I’ve got a bound volume of issues Two through Twelve, Spring 1933 through spring 1938. Covers and advertising pages are missing. That’s sad. But for £13.50 it’s an astonishing bargain. In November of last year, numbers One, Two and Three, bound together, fetched £112.

[The model Jean Shrimpton – elderly British readers will recognise the name – got her big break in the Vogue Knitting Book. It was a three or four page colour spread advertising, I think, Bernat Klein yarns, just at the time when colour printing and hand-painted yarns were simultaneously taking off. Shrimpton went on to model for the VKB itself, and eventually to appear on its cover, and indeed to pop up everywhere for a few years. I mention this as an illustration of why it’s sad to strip a magazine of cover and ads.]

So, as I’ve said before, I’ll go on looking for issues 6, 7 and 8 in proper, separate form. But this means that in a sense, at least, I’ve got them all except for Spring, 1940.

While we were away, my Orenburg sampler from Heirloom Knitting turned up. I long to drop everything and try it. “Everything” means Christmas knitting, which I annually swear not to get involved in; and the need to knit a Christmas tree ornament. I’m well on target, but they must be done.

And while visiting Heirloom Knitting just now for the sake of that link, I was led on to Renaissance Dyeing. Oh, for another lifetime!


I think the most memorable and exhilarating thing we saw in London last week was the exhibition of Richard Serra’s huge welded steel sculptures at the Gargosian Gallery near King’s Cross. But the high point of the week for me was this. It’s in the textbooks, and I have long loved it, but never expected to see it face to face. It lives in Urbino, where it belongs. It’s currently in the Renaissance Portrait show at the National Gallery. Unfortunately my husband’s stamina, usually invincible, gave out that afternoon, and I wasn’t able to spend the time I would have liked with it.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

London tomorrow. Blog to resume next Sunday, insh’Allah. This time of year, London is enough hundred miles south of Edinburgh that the difference in light is perceptible (London being lighter, of course). That's sort of cheering.

I finished the hat, and continue delighted. No pic, I'm afraid. The battery must need charging. Here it is, for what it’s worth:

Large-size watchcap in KPPPM (Koigu Premium Merino)

Material: about a skein and a half of KPPPM.

Needles: 3mm dp’s (and a 16” circular needle, if desired).

Cast on 152 stitches. Work a tube in k2, p2 rib for 6” or a bit more. Change to st st and work a further 4” or a bit more. On the last round, increase 2 stitches, placing the new ones well away from each other. (154 sts)

Shape crown:

1st round: *k.9, k2 tog* repeat to end

2nd round: knit

3rd round: *k8, k2tog* repeat to end

4th round: knit

5th round: *k7, k2tog*, repeat to end

Continue in this fashion until the round which consists of k2tog only. 14sts. Cut the yarn and thread it through the 14 stitches, closing the hole firmly.

Watchcaps are not in fashion, I must warn you. Walking up and down Broughton Street I see nothing but beanies of one sort and another. But they're cosy, and it's cold.

Knititch, I vaguely remember those no-dye-lot yarns. Dull, I think. Clearly the technology didn’t catch on. “Sorry, Wrong Dye Lot” is one of my favourites from Franklin’s wonderful list of knitting horror films. Scroll down to January 23 (’06).

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Big news yesterday: I bought this on eBay:

Here’s the link to the page. I don’t know how long it stays up after the event. If you scroll patiently down to the bottom this morning, anyway, you’ll find the description and also a question of my own to the seller, and her reply.

What I hope it is, is a bound volume of all the VKB’s from the 1930’s except for No 1 – and I’ve got No. 1. Clearly covers are missing, and that’s sad. Covers in those days had not yet settled into the routine of showing a smiling young woman wearing one of the creations within. It is also entirely possible that the advertising pages are gone. There weren’t many, in those days, but there were a few at the beginning, and they would be missed.

And as far as the listing is concerned, it could be a total clamjamfrie. You will be kept informed.

Even on the Best Case Hypothesis, I remain in the market for nos. 6, 7 and 8. It seems rather unsporting to acquire them like this. I think of the time when Alexander (I think it was) shot a pheasant from his bedroom window as it sat on the grass. I must emphasize that pheasants were in season, and that Alexander held a shotgun certificate and has always been a careful and responsible wielder of firearms. The pheasant was delicious. It’s just that such an action is regarded as Not What One Does – hence, I suppose, the phrase “sitting duck”.

Even on a Worst Case Hypothesis, and even in a credit crunch, the price was little short of astonishing.


The hat has now entered the crown-reduction phase and should be polished off this evening. I went the whole hog and put it on waste yarn to try on. I love it.

The journal of the Knitting and Crochet Guild, “Slipknot”, turned up the other day. Is anyone else a member? I can’t find anything inside about the interesting object on the cover. I suspect I’m not trying hard enough.

Do I want “Icelandic Knitting – Using Rose Patterns” for my ethnic shelf? It seems to be about traditional Icelandic shoe inserts which is about as recondite as you can get.

I hadn’t known about Heirloom Knitting’s Orenburg sample pack. Sharon seems to have found something pretty close to the authentic Orenburg yarn -- and she can be trusted on such matters. She is selling a bit of it with a pattern for a sample-sized shawl. I’ve gone ahead and ordered one.


Thanks for the help with Christmas tree ornaments. Chronic Knitting Syndrome added a reminder that there are some in the Knitter’s Almanac.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Not much to report. The hat seems slow, but we’re getting there:

The ribbing is folded up, in that picture. I think I'll put it back on dp's and try it on again today.


The word from Loch Fyne is that every household coming for Christmas must bring one ornament for the tree. I’ve been over at Ravelry looking at knitted ornaments. There are some distinct possibles. If one went in for that sort of thing, a leaflet by Alan Dart called “Advent Tree” from Simply Knitting is clearly chock-a-block with delicious miniatures. I’ve found a pattern, too, for a miniature sweater – I wouldn’t have to twist wire to make a hanger for it, I could just construct a loop of some sort.. And I gather there’s a miniature hat in the very book (Hats On) that I’m knitting from at the moment.

So we shall see.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Beth, I had never thought of the term “haricot beans” in that sense. You’re absolutely right. I am always amused by “residential hotel” and “ophthalmic optician” – both common phrases here. I shall henceforth add “haricot beans” to that choice list.

Good progress on the hat. I got stuck in one of those sloughs yesterday where I would measure, and find that it was a whisker less than the desired 6”, so I would knit two or three rounds and then find that it was still a whisker less than 6” and so on for quite a long time. It finally measured 6 ½” (that’s fine) so I switched back to a circular needle and to st st and should have a picture tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking a bit about the Curmudgeon’s remarks about cardigans and fitting (down at the bottom of the current, Nov. 15, post). I suspect she’s right, not just about herself, that cardigans are what to go for. I am quite taken with the current fashion for cardigans which button only at the top (or, less frequently, at the bottom) and don’t attempt to encompass the bosom entirely.

Look at this – this time you’ll have to scroll down to Nov. 15 – from the Zimmermaniacs blogspot. The very perfection of fit (and of standing up straight, which I don't do). I want one of those.

But that is in the remote, post-Princess future.


I dispatched a preliminary package to Greece yesterday; that’s something done. There was an interview with Shirley Conran in the Waffy yesterday of such surpassing silliness that it sticks in the mind. She is one of those woman briefly famous for Simplifying Life. Now, in old age, she is Simplifying Christmas. Don’t travel, she says. It’s a terrible time of year for travelling. (So – no family gatherings?) Throw catalogues away as soon as they arrive. (So – all the shopping to be done on foot?) Best of all – don’t send Christmas cards, or if you must, make them yourself. (Make them: that’s supposed to help?)

As for shopping, for two items on my list this year I knew exactly, precisely, what I wanted. Everyone who has ever shopped will know that that is a recipe for utter exhaustion concluding in failure. In fact, for one of the items, my husband and I had already been through that process. (It’s his present.) On-line, it takes ten minutes. Shirley Conran does not seem to know about computers.

The great news is that James and his family, who will be here for a few days before The Event, propose hiring a people carrier and all travelling together to Loch Fyne, where Christmas is to be spent. At a stroke that removes a major prob from my agenda before I had even attempted to solve it. (busses to Cairndow? Trains to Arrochar? How much will we be carrying? Buggered if I’m going to drive.) Happy days!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

No sooner had I posted yesterday’s deathless prose than the postman arrived at the door. I have done almost all my Christmas shopping on-line this year, and my reward is a constant series of pleasant boxes. Like having Christmas twice. I have never been disappointed with the quality of an object ordered like this, although in past years I’ve had some quarrels with delivery times.

Yesterday’s boxes were best of all, because as well as presents for other people, they included two from me to myself: Franklin’s book, and Nancy Bush on the Knitted Lace of Estonia.

I’m sure everybody else has got Franklin’s book by now – I went for the calendar first, because I feared it would sell out and become a famous unobtainable. The book is wonderful, better even than I expected and I doubt if I could praise it more highly than that.

I have not spent much time with Estonian lace yet. (I’ve read Franklin twice, straight through. The man is a genius.)

I think one of the most interesting things about Galina Khmeleva’s fascinating “Gossamer Webs”, about Orenburg lace, is the part about government regulation and control, going right back to Lenin. When the Soviet Union collapsed, so did standards – “lesser quality shawls are produced cheaply and quickly and sold inexpensively – the Russian market is awash in poor quality shawls.”

Estonia was only part of the Soviet Union (I learn from Bush) from 1944 to 1991. Knitting was done during that time through a cooperative. The director of the cooperative did a lot of valuable work in the 1970’s collecting, recording, and photographing patterns. Whether standards have declined recently, we aren't told.


The hat is fine. I tried it on again, in front of a mirror, and liked the effect. The 6” of ribbing is/are now virtually finished. Four inches of plain st st are meant to follow. EZ, in her only watchcap pattern I know of, is relaxed about length, and says that 11” in all, or even more, may be required. Her pattern, I think this is “Knitting Without Tears” I’m talking about, is in brioche stitch. I’ve knit it a couple of times, and love the result.

Phyllis and Shandy, thank you for the mitten-knitting thumb-tricks. Maybe I’ll really do some, before this winter is out. It’s bloody cold around here.

Boston baked beans

I wonder why we don’t get “navy” or “pea” beans here. Supermarkets are full of dried beans from all over the world.

Maryjo0, here is a link to something close to the bean recipe I used. I didn’t add salt when I was cooking the beans for the first time. In fact I wonder if I ever put in any, saltiness being provided by the pork. I used a pack of ham trimmings, sold “for soup” by my butcher. They melted deliciously into the beans. I didn’t use brown sugar, just molasses in a quantity less than that specified,(black treacle, in fact, which I think is the same thing), because of diabetic concerns.

The Gourmet Cook Book, which I am embarrassed to say I got as a wedding present, is emphatic that the water level must be kept level with, but not above, the level of the beans during the long cooking process. Too much, and you’re stewing rather than baking them. Too little, they dry out.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The beans were delicious – the best I’ve ever done, I think. I enjoyed hovering over them all day, although they never did need more liquid. I wish I had the time and oomph to attempt Boston brown bread. Now I must think of some more comfort food for today.

Shandy, you might be right that a roast chicken is the answer. And I was inspired by your beautiful collection to hunt down a pattern for Newfoundland mittens. I’m not keen on thumbs, but these are so pretty I might think again.

My daughter-in-law Cathy sent me this link yesterday. Bizarre.

The hat continues well. I tentatively tried it on. It feels comfortable and comforting, except that I was reminded that a hat has got to fit vertically as well. Much more is required. I rib patiently onwards. I want about 6” and have achieved a bit more than four, so today may launch me into the pleasant pastures of st st.

(That’s what it looks like bleached by the flash in the early-morning gloom. You can warm your hands over the actual object.)

Monday, December 01, 2008

As hoped, December feels a bit better.

Photographed yesterday at our local “Bank of Scotland” branch. (The inverted commas are intended to express irony.) Incroyable.

Ron, it’s great to hear from you. The hat continues well, and therapeutic. I’m pretty happy about the size. In repose, which is easy to measure on dp’s, it seems to be about 8” across (=16” in circumference), and rather relaxed. My head, measured around the brow and then down a bit to take in the rear-of-head bulge – as if I were measuring myself for a halo – seems to be 24”. (We have big heads in our family, make of it what you will.) That sounds like a big difference, but I think it’s going to work.

Indeed, if it does, there’s still time to knock out another one for another gap in my Christmas present list. I’ve found something else for the man for whom I was thinking of knitting that scarf, so that’s off the menu.

I decided, lying in bed this morning, that the thing to do with the blasted Christmas cards is to take the problem to London with me next week. I wouldn’t need to take any actual cards; we can buy them at art galleries on our rounds. And I wouldn’t need to bring them back – I can post them from there. This doesn’t let me off making a decent start this week, but it puts the job on manageable footing.

Part of the trouble is the actual cards we have on hand. We try to buy them, again at art galleries, in the January sales, and that has left us, this year, with a particularly dismal set. No wonder nobody else wanted them. In London, we’ll buy some cheerful baby Jesuses.

Boston baked beans

I put the beans on to soak last night, and today we proceed to the actual excitement. I have consulted more recipes this year, instead of just going with Joy of Cooking. Mrs Rombauer simply says “beans” – other people specify “navy or pea” beans. I don’t know what that means. Mine are flageolet, and I’m not worried.

I have always just left the pot in a cool oven overnight, for the final cooking, but these other recipes tell me to look every hour to check the water level, so this time I’ll do that.

Mel, I envy you that bean pot. I love pots, and try to buy myself one in January to start the year on a happy footing. Trouble is, they need space, and I’m running out.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I’m feeling kinda low. I think the thing to do – bugger lobster – is to start some baked beans. If I put them on to soak today, we’ll be eating them on Tuesday, and by then it will be December when things usually seem a bit better. Except that this year I haven’t even made a start on the Christmas cards.

The trick with baked beans, I think, is the initial cooking (tomorrow’s job). Leave them a bit crunchy, and they’ll still be a bit crunchy after another eight hours in the oven with the seasonings. Overdo them, and you’ve got a soggy (but still tasty) mess for Tuesday. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, a fair amount of mild excitement, on the knitting front.

Guy Amedro sent me the new edition of his mother’s book, “Shetland Lace”. It’s looking wonderful, with the designs re-knit (I presume) and certainly re-photographed. It’s like meeting an old friend newly in love.

The new IK turned up. There are good things there –I think maybe Eunny is hitting her stride. I decided against Sean’s hat, although I may come back to it. The slightest mental effort seems painful at the moment. But having thought “hat” I went on thinking “hat” on Friday morning (when I might have been better employed on the Christmas cards). I browsed Ravelry. I browsed Charlene Schurch’s “Hats On!”. (It was a blog reader who suggested that book to me – I have forgotten who you are, but if you’re still reading, thanks again.) I decided on a bog-standard watchcap.

In what? After a bit more tergiversation, I thought of my bag of Koigu. I’ve got a lot of Koigu, and am proceeding through this final phase of my knitting life, I realise, on the principle that I can ensure I will never run out, by never knitting with it. That’s silly. So I’m knitting a watchcap in Koigu. It was the right decision.

I took a running jump at the stitch count, measuring my own head, calculating by means of the gauge given on the label, scaling down a bit. I think it's about right -- certainly not too small. I’ve switched to dp’s because ribbing with a small-circumference circular seemed to be causing quite a bit of discomfort – nay, pain -- in my right arm where it was broken five years ago, or whenever. Today is, amongst other things, the anniversary of that slip in the dank grass at Kirkmichael.

If you follow the link to Sean’s blog, above, you will see another hat, designed by him for Knit.1 Magazine. My bedroom overflows with knitting magazines, but I’ve never seen that one, and I think it’s time I did.

And here's Ketki's sweater, in its newly subdued form (and much bleached by the flash, which is all we've got for light around here). I'll use the Calcutta Cup colour for the neck placket and collar, and I don't think it'll be too gloomy, in the end.

Living this day yet once more, I think of May. November is the price we pay for it, day by day. And I remember the little leap of joy I always feel, on discovering that May has 31 days – a free, bonus day as a reward for all this darkness.

Friday, November 28, 2008

This and that

Stash haus, I think you’ve pretty well got Boxing Day, under the inauspicious name of Black Friday. It’s today. Plenty of food lying about; nothing more delicious than a turkey sandwich on soggy white bread with lots of cranberry sauce and mayonnaise. All recent responsibilities discharged. A chance to go for a bracing walk in the country with the jolly people who assembled for the feast. It’s lovely, indeed.

Little to report, here. Thank you for the eye comments. I’ve got an appointment to go see the practice nurse at our local surgery next week, ostensibly to talk about my chest, and plan to devote the time to Retinal Vein Occlusion, and in particular to the question of whether I should be taking some blood-thinning aspirin now. Carlarey, I’ll go talk to Swapna.

I had a nice message on the subject from my sister yesterday, rather alarmingly sympathetic.

When I left the hospital on Wednesday, I thought, this is one of those moments in life when I can go buy myself anything I like. But I couldn’t think of anything. I’ve done cashmere Koigu. I wouldn’t know how to deal with a lobster if I could find one. I didn’t feel like chocolate. So I did some Christmas shopping, and bought our train tickets to London (ten days hence) and came on home.

My sister also says that I am allowed to hint that Theo’s fiancée Jenni is being interviewed for some Really Interesting Jobs in Washington next year.

Don’t miss Franklin’s account of life on the ocean wave. My mother (b. 1906) said once that she was glad she came late enough in history to fly across the sea. I (b. 1933) feel exactly the opposite, glad I was early enough to cross in a ship, in the days when Third Class from NY at the beginning and end of the summer was a floating seminar, as students and staff alike headed off to Europe for some culture.

I was especially interested to learn of the “Friends of Dorothy” meetings – it should have been “Friends of Dolores”, though.

Knitting advances, here. The new colour is going to be fine. It’s a solid colour, but with Araucania Ranco that doesn’t quite mean solid. I’ll try a picture tomorrow.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

I always feel rather pleased to be out of it. Christmas, here, involves a full-scale ritual meal as well as all the rest of it. The idea of another full-scale ritual meal a month earlier is Just Too Much. In practice, I think it takes some of the pressure off Christmas. Anyway, have a good day.

I didn’t, yesterday. I saw a doctor of oriental aspect and severe mien. I have got Retinal Vein Occlusion, which is like having a stroke in your eye. (I suggested this very analogy to the first doctor I saw six weeks ago; he patiently explained the difference between blood vessels in the brain and those in the eye and said it was really quite different. Maybe he was just trying to cheer me up.) They took various bits of blood to test for various things that might have precipitated this – diabetes, high cholesterol, anaemia, etc.

But the big one is that I have been sent away for a whole three months with a leaflet about RVO which contains the killer sentence that laser treatment – it may still be wanted, down the road – will not improve my sight.

I will eventually start googling, and will probably take further human advice. It’s all a bit distressing. Is spontaneous improvement still possible?


Much brighter news on this front.

I knit on, on Ketki’s sweater, getting more and more anxious about the colour. I liked it, I liked the way it worked with the other colours, but was it (like Thanksgiving) Just Too Much? Could I imagine the finished sweater being worn?

You will remember that the original plan was a two-colour all-over pattern, so I bought enough yarn to knit the sweater in each of the two colours, not knowing what else to do. A circular swatch showed that a two-colour pattern wouldn’t work – the colours were too similar and I couldn’t see where I was going. I tried another swatch, striping them, and felt that they didn’t speak to each other. So I chose one, and put the other away.

Yesterday I went back to the cupboard and found that the other colour now looks perfect, much more subdued. I ripped out what I had done. It’s a nice, crunchy, stand-up-and-speak-for-itself yarn and I had not too much difficulty picking up the stitches and knitting a round, catching one or two escapees and settling everybody the right way round on the needle. Orientating things by the Calcutta Cup in the area just below means that I am sure I have picked up everybody. I will press ahead and have a picture soon.

I feel much happier.

If in doubt, rip it out.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Today’s excitement is (at last) an eye appointment. I don’t know whether to expect to be laser’ed on the spot, or merely tut-tut’ed over while a further appointment is made. The sight in the left eye is pretty bad, and I sometimes wonder if the right eye isn’t slacking somewhat in sympathy.

I went to the central library yesterday to see what the Consumers Association had to say in their magazine Which? about air purifiers. To my astonishment, they have no interest in the subject. I particularly wanted to read their consumer-y prose about the differences between “air sanitizers” and “HEPA air filters”, and reasons for preferring one to the other in different circumstances. . Cathy tells me that she and James have several HEPA filters of a brand called IQAir and that Olympic athletes used them.

But since my problem is not soupy air like Beijing’s, but clean and fresh-seeming air that mysteriously cripples me, maybe a sanitizer would be better?

Cathy says, incidentally, that the air in Beijing has been noticeably better since the Olympics.


Here’s where we are. The change of colour is pretty radical, but I am hopeful. The dark colour will reappear for the remaining ribbing, which will include a neck placket and collar. I’ll use the red for accents, such as the seam where the sleeves are set in, and perhaps even for the collar.

Japanese Knitting

Thank you for the offers of help, Mary Lou and Rhonda. I’ll remember and come back, if life goes on long enough. I must concentrate in ’09 on finishing the Princess, still taking up a fair amount of space in my freezer drawer.

Helen has offered to lend me a book of Setsuko Torii's, which is clearly beyond wonderful. The link is to Helen’s blog-entry on the subject. I will take her up on that, at least.

(If you follow the link above to Rhonda’s blog, you will find a wonderful garter stitch hat. In Rowan Tapestry yarn which I’ve got a bag of.)

Baby shawl

Knititch, for fancy, I would still go for my own first venture into somewhat serious lace knitting, the “My Weekly Baby Knits Shawl” from Jamieson & Smith, in Shetland lace-weight. The link is to my own rather neglected website – down at the bottom of the page. Alternatively, a Shetland hap shawl in Shetland jumper-weight.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I didn’t buy anything – but a grand time was had at the Habu show, and I may yet circle and come back.

Takako, who is delightful, taught us to read a Japanese knitting pattern. I had for some reason expected a book or magazine or two to be on hand as a demonstration. Not so – we worked through a Habu pattern, plain st st, as most if not all of them are. The yarn does the talking – that, and unusual angles.

The garments are blissfully light and wonderfully drapey. I think I might have fallen for some, in a different month. Almost all were in the sub fusc colours which I prefer to wear, but I can’t rev myself up to buying sub fusc in November.

I think I might try to find a Japanese book or magazine. Shouldn’t be difficult. Takako said that I would soon learn the characters for “knit” and “purl” and somehow the thought was rather exciting. She also pointed out that many Japanese patterns will involve complicated stitch patterns, and there I would be on my own. She professed herself incapable of cables, which I doubt.

[The briefest of Googles produced this – impressing one yet again with how fiendishly clever the Google algorithms are at zooming in on what you actually want. Clearly it will be easy enough to take this farther if I have the time and strength.]

As for which, the Calcutta Cup band on Ketki’s sweater is pulling itself into shape – that is, the actual knitting, which feels random, not like the pleasant rhythm of a Fair Isle or geometric KF, has begun to look like sense. I think I’ll leave the photography for yet another day. If I keep my nose to the grindstone, I might finish the band and even introduce the body colour today.

The famous/infamous budget statement of our Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday included a £60 handout to every pensioner, not payable alas until January. That may prove just the factor to tip the balance towards that scarf I showed you yesterday. I will certainly look again at superchunky yarn the next time I am in Lewis’s. There was none in K1 Yarns yesterday.

Ketki’s sweater is safe as long as the cup has been knit in, in ’08. Maybe I should make another effort actually to see the Calcutta Cup, before it goes south for its next long sojourn in London. I am surely the only person in the entire world who has knit it three times – in ’00, a lacy version went in to granddaughter Kirsty’s Christening shawl; in ’06, I knit Alexander his Fair Isle sweater. And now this.


Stashhaus asked what has become of nephew Theo and his fiancée Jenni. The short answer is, we don’t know yet. They’re hard at work moving to Washington – or maybe they’ve finished doing that. Jenni is officially employed by the DNC until the end of the year. Clearly the expectation is that crumbs will fall from the high table. I’ll keep you posted. The wedding has been scheduled for late July.

And a visit to the Stashhaus blog for the sake of that link took me back to Jared’s Noro scarf. So much to knit. So little time.

Monday, November 24, 2008


It is interesting to reflect that during September and October, while we were all worrying about the collapse of the world economic system and the forthcoming election, Barack Obama must have been thinking about those things too, and also about what he would do, right away, if he were elected. I do like the feeling we've got these days that there’s a guiding intelligence informing things.


Today’s excitement is that Helen and I are going to the Habu trunk show and workshop at K1 Yarns this afternoon. I’ll take a camera, although I won’t promise to use it. And – Annie Modesitt has just tossed off the idea of a UK tour. K1 Yarns would be the only possible Edinburgh venue, so I’ll mention that to the proprietrix if I get a chance.

I’ve established the Calcutta Cup band on Ketki’s sweater and things progress reasonably well. There are other illustrations today, so I'll postpone that one.

Shandy, I like the idea of knitting something quick and colourful – and I love your Newfoundland mittens. For the moment, I think I’m saving myself for the new IK with the possibility of Sean’s hat strongly in mind.

Another possibility I toy with is this scarf, from the gifts supplement of Knitting Magazine. There’s a hole in my Christmas list which it would nicely fill. But – five 100 gram balls of “superchunky” yarn would not come cheap. Could anything in stash be pressed into service? KF’s “Colourscape” is only “chunky”(not that I own any) – the gauge as published is way short of the scarf’s 9 sts to 10 cm. The pattern could be adapted to suit – but it would mean more stitches and therefore more knitting, and Christmas looms.

Enough of Knitting

Franklin is home! Tourist-grade snapshots, the man says. I shall look at London with whole new eyes when we’re next down there (a week in December threatens). I shall stand outside the Trafalgar Hotel and think, he was there. He sounds as delighted with the place as I was when I was 20. I will try to rekindle the flame in myself.

My sister celebrated Thanksgiving in London recently with Rachel and her family (and now, presumably, has to go through the whole thing again this week). Erskine the Bear came along, in his swallowtail coat of a beautiful blue. That’s my sister holding him, his friend Thomas the Elder apparently smiting his brow in the middle distance, and my sister’s husband Roger hard at work in the background.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I went back to my blog of a year ago, expecting to find it resonant with end-of-year darkness and gloom. Not a bit of it. Varied and interesting knitting (the Shapely Shawlette, the Koolhaas hat, the Earth Stripe stole, the Linked Rib scarf from Knitting New Scarves, the cast-on for Theo’s Obama-electing gansey), discussions of my new VKBs and of – I had completely forgotten this – Mary Walker Phillips’ “Creative Knitting”; visits to Strathardle in which I seem to have been energetic and cheerful, and not come back wheezing.

(I recently let “Creative Knitting” go by me on eBay for £36.50. It’s a bit less than that in Abebooks. A year ago we were talking $200 or so.)

One of my Theories of Life is that the downward spiral accelerates after 70. If McCain is 72 now, he’d have been 76 by the time his first term ended, and that’s a long way down. I’ll be 76 next year, and I know.

But here we are in ’08 and there’s nothing to be done about it. I am engaged on the rib-to-body increases for Ketki’s sweater, and have done the arithmetic concerned with fitting in the Calcutta Cup motif. Picture soon.

So perhaps the thing is to return to a discussion of my recently-purchased VKB No. 12, spring 1938.

It’s full of tailored suits, dresses and little blouses for people shaped like the Duchess of Windsor. No multiple-sizing in those days. Not much celebration of the unique qualities of knitting: more an imitation of cutting and sewing cloth. It occurs to me that the tail-end of the Depression was hovering about in 1938 – not as bad here as in the U.S., but still a presence. That may have had something to do with close fitting and fine yarns.

It will be interesting indeed to see what the new austerity brings us in the way of knitting patterns in ’09.

And I thought again of the genius of EZ. She was shaped like the Duchess of Windsor. She was 28 (and newly in America) when that VKB was published, her life's work not yet started. The general relaxation and empowerment of knitters would have happened without her, in the end, I suppose. But what energy and clarity of thought is required to see the way forward when living in a strange land entirely surrounded by patterns for little blouses.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Even less to say – I think November is getting into the blood stream. These last ten days are the worst.

The ribbing on Ketki’s sweater is going well, the striations most attractive. I was tempted, last summer, by an ad in the shop window in Kirkmichael for stripey kittens. I rang the number – they had all been taken. A cat would be something of a problem for us (a) because we couldn’t take it with us to London; and (b) because it would be hard to let it out of doors at all, here in Edinburgh. We have only the front door, which opens onto the street. We could take it back and forth to Strathardle and it could walk about outdoors there; cats need outdoors. Our old cat had to be taken all the way from Birmingham. She didn't care for the journey, but accepted it as something that happens to cats from time to time. She loved Strathardle.

Anyway, Ketki’s ribbing, although essentially purple, is striped like that lost stripey cat. Photograph soon. I may even reach the Calcutta Cup band today. My plan is to do the ribbing-to-body increases first, on the theory that the two-colour knitting will pull things in.

The only other news is that I heard from Guy Amedro, Gladys’ son, to say that a new edition of “Shetland Lace”, with new photographs, went on sale this month. I love that book, despite its chartlessness. It was my way in to Shetland lace knitting. I think I’ve knit more of her patterns than those of any other designer except Kaffe.

Invigorated by my new VKB, I toiled through the American "Vogue Knitting" list on eBay today. I ought to do it more often. I bought one of my collection there, tipped off by a blog reader. But it's a long, tedious list, full of offerings from vendors who think "vintage" means 1980, and I haven't the stamina to do it very often.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

VKB No. 12 turned up. It’s in splendid condition, given that it’s 70 years ago. I suspect (it’s a spring issue) that it was never knit from. It was meticulously packed – I’ve never had one so secure. The seller was Todmorden Books – that’s a link to her eBay shop. She deals in needlework of all kinds, with a bias towards lace but with some interesting knitting things.

As for yesterday, not much else. I had to go to the AGM of the Drummond Place society in the evening. Very interesting, but not very conducive to knitting.

But I did get a few rounds of Ketki’s sweater knit. There should be enough for a photograph soon. I’m starting off with what is classified, I’m pretty sure, as a Ranco solid, but the effect is very different from the dusty pink shade I’m using in Kirkmichael. There, the base colour is interrupted every so often by six or eight stitches in a deeper shade, producing an interesting striated effect. Here, we seem to go in more for clouds of dark and light. Perhaps because the base colour here is the darker one. Anyway, time will tell, and I love the feel of this stuff on my fingers.

And you’re right, Knititch, that ridiculous colours are just the thing for November. And you’re also right – on your blog – to look forward to January. Reeeely, there’ll be even less light then than now, but it will feel entirely different.

You wanted to see the hat – here it is. The colours are distorted and the pattern flattened by the flash, but perhaps you can still get the general idea.


Julie, the wearable air purifier I was thinking of hangs around one’s neck and looks more like a pager than a mask. One thing I can do is to go read the opinions of the Consumer Association on air purifiers in general. But you’re absolutely right, Tamar, that air purifiers are a patch and it would be vastly better to get to the root of the problem. Surely the doctor must have opinions and advice, who deals with allergic sneezes all the time. I’m supposed to go in soon anyway and have my lung capacity assessed. I’ll ask questions.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I finished the blasted hat – it’s far too small. And the youngest grandchildren are uniformly male.

I cast on Ketki’s sweater, and I did the long-tail perfectly. 276 stitches and I had just enough that I never worried about whether there was going to be enough, and have a decent eight-inch tail left. I hope that’s an omen for the future. I’m a bit worried that the colours may err on the alarming side – Ketki’s clothes are quiet.

VKB no 12 didn’t show up yesterday. Surely today.


I am very grateful for everybody’s concern.

About 15 years ago we blew my husband’s retirement lump sum on building an extension to the old house – a bedroom upstairs, kitchen and bath downstairs. After my allergic episode in October I wondered for the first time whether the trouble is there. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. There wouldn’t have been any mould at first.

During that happy week in July when James and his family were there, Alexander spent a couple of nights with us, the first of them in the new upstairs bedroom. He reacted very badly and refused to sleep there again.

So I think the next step is to get the air tested (by someone who isn’t selling air purifiers). Or maybe just get an air purifier and get on with it. I had never heard of a HEPA filter, Hester, but when I googled, there they were. Does anyone have any experience with the wearable type?

Since we’re on the subject of the extension, I will tell you about a stone.

Near Five Ways, in Birmingham, which is also near where we lived, there was a derelict Jewish cemetery. It was completely neglected, overgrown with weeds, the land was for sale. It’s probably an office block by now. Very few memorial stones were still standing, and in one corner was a pile of broken fragments. We took one.

It would be a bit less than a foot square, if it were square. It is beautifully lettered in Hebrew and in English. All I can remember is the name “Joseph”.

We had it incastrated (my husband taught me that word at the time) in the stone cladding of the extension. It’s just above the window of the upstairs bedroom. I love thinking of the article in the archaeological journal a millennium hence: “The existence of the Jewish community in East Perthshire would have remained unknown but for the fortunate discovery of the ‘Joseph stone’ near the Balnald Burn in Strathardle…”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back here again, with little to report.

Except that I got my VKB, for not too bad a price:

I’ll tell you all about it when it arrives. (Maybe today?) It was published in spring, 1938. I now lack only four – Six, Seven and Eight from the mid-'30’s, and Sixteen -- spring, 1940 -- the first real wartime issue. Fifteen must have been ready for the presses, if not actually on the newsstands, before war was declared in September, 1939. If I ever get that one, I hope to try to write an article about The VKB at War.

If anybody else is interested in this sort of thing, No. 22 is currently on offer, its eBay code being 380081442366. Spring, 1943, when things were pretty exciting.


One interesting development of recent years is that I have become allergic to our house in Strathardle. I’ve seen drs about it, and have been equipped with puffers and pills. I’ve been much better lately, and had almost forgotten the problem, and had accordingly neglected the precautions, when it hit hard on our October visit and sent me back to Edinburgh with a lingering wheeze and cough.

Antibiotics eventually dislodged the symptoms, and this time I went fully prepared. It was just as bad, although so far I hope that the after-effects will be more quickly shaken off. We’ve spent Christmas there (where Christmas is meant to be spent, we feel) the last two years – I couldn’t possibly do it again while coughing and sneezing like this. That’s all right, because I’m not required to. It’s all very odd.

It meant that I didn’t get much knitting done: I had forgotten, in taking the hat along, that I’d need dps or a second circular for the end-game. All the needles live here. I got some more done last night, and should polish it off this evening. The instructions for the terminal phase are not fully adequate, but the photographs help a lot, and hey! it’s just a hat.

So maybe I’ll get Ketki’s sweater cast on this evening, too.


I enjoyed Carlarey’s link about the transition of presidents, and Gerrie’s more serious one. I was surprised to get an appeal for money – many of you must have had one, too – to pay for the transition. Something should get straightened out. Obviously, having lobbies pay for it is bad, but private donations don’t seem to me much better. This guy has been elected President of the United States. He needs an office

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another successful evening with the hat. The second rank of shells are finished, the third well established. We’ve rather suddenly decided to go to Strathardle today, back Tue or Wed insh’Allah, and I think, contrary to usual practice, I might take it along.

Odds and ends

One bid has come in for the early VKB. eBay doesn't tell you the code names of your competitors any more, which takes away some of the fun.

I meant to recommend this video a couple of days ago – Nancy Bush knitting nupps (which are not pronounced the way you might think). She’s got very clean hands. I’ll have to get the book, although I still don’t think I’m all that keen on Estonian lace. Nupps are too much like bobbles, and bobbles are against my religion.

The Fishwife is amusing on the subject of Interweave Knits “Holiday Gifts”. Why didn’t I get it with my subscription?

Stash haus, thank you for the link to the Obama website. [I want a spotted cat exactly like yours.] I do like the feeling that someone’s in charge and that things are moving forward with a plan. The mess, on the other hand, gets more monumental every day. Bush must be glad he’s getting out of it, and Obama must wonder if he shouldn’t ring up Senator McCain and offer him the job after all. I try to decide, so far without success, whether the annual dark-days feeling of immanent doom is augmented or actually relieved by the fact that doom is in fact immanent. What is going to happen to General Motors? to put it more succinctly.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

No bids yet on the early VKB – the seller, apparently a professional bookseller, has set the starting price rather high. It’s a perfectly reasonable price, he’ll probably get a lot more, but it seems to be discouraging the chickadees who usually hop about in the early stages, bidding pennies.

Fizz, thank you, I did as you said and eBay is writing to me about VKB’s again. My visit to your blog inspired me to join (I hope) the Scottish Knitters' Ring. I think you must be right, Maureen in Fargo (hi!), that I somehow missed the message from eBay about needing to renew.

A peaceful day’s hat-knitting yesterday, extraordinarily enough. I’m nearly back to the point where I had to rip out the first effort, and should sail beyond it today. It helps to have a grasp of what’s going on, as I think I now do.

Araucania & that felted swatch

How very interesting, Maureen, that your Ranco is differently labelled from mine. You say that yours says, “Dry cleaning is recommended Gently hand wash in cool water and mild soap.” Mine is, “Gentle machine wash…dry flat, do not sun dry, soak, spin, or tumble dry.” I’ve never heard of a yarn changing labels in mid-stream. One might imagine that your lot is more recent, and that they changed it because people complained of disasters. The labels on my recently-purchased lot are the same as those on other skeins which have been in stash for a year or so. Maybe the recently-purchased had been in the shop a long time.

There’s one potentially bright note here. My husband has long wanted a felted vest. I investigated the subject cautiously a while ago, without actually buying a book. It all sounded too complicated – and as if a top-loading washing machine was essential. I don’t have one.

But here I’ve got a splendidly felted swatch on which such a vest could be constructed – and in a yarn I love. I’ll add the project to my HALFPINT list, but it’ll have to wait until the Princess is finished.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Twenty years ago, on the 70th anniversary, the BBC showed a brilliant production of “Journey’s End”. I sort of hoped they’d fish it out of a drawer and put it on again this week, but alas, no.

I learned about the Great War through what might be called archaeology. Of course I knew about it, Ypres and Passchendaele and the mud and the Americans coming in only at the very last minute. I assumed it was about as bad as World War II which goodness knows was very bad, and which I had lived through at a remote and safe distance.

I first came to England in the summer of 1953, with college friends. We skipped about hither and yon, and couldn’t help seeing the war memorials on village greens, in churches and Oxford colleges and department stores and banks. Again and again and again, two times, three times, four times as many names on the Great War list as in the WWII section. That’s how I found out.


I’ve started the hat again. It was an epic saga.

On the first attempt, I found when I had cast on 110 stitches, that I didn’t have enough long-tail left for the other six. It happens sometimes.

On the second attempt, I found when I was half-way that I was forming the stitches on my thumb with the working yarn and knitting them on with the long-tail. That was a new one to me, and I’m not sure the mistake couldn’t have been redeemed when the cast-on was complete, but I didn’t risk it.

On the third attempt, I found when half-way around the second row that I was knitting with the long-tail. It happens sometimes.

The fourth attempt was successful, and I have done three rounds. You will be surprised to hear that I don’t seem to have twisted the work around the needle when joining it into a circle.

Two things about the chart:

1) The key, in my copy, shows both “knit” and “no stitch” as a plain white square. “No stitch” should be shaded.
2) In row 24 – that’s about where I was when I had to rip out the very first attempt – the 8th and 9th stitches, counting in from the right, are shown as “knit”. They should be “purl”, to make things balance.

However, today’s big news is not there but on eBay. I’ve found a VKB!

Devoted readers will remember that I am trying to complete a set of the original Vogue Knitting Book, published in Britain twice-yearly from fall, 1932 until the late 60’s. (I don’t know its exact relationship to the American VK: that will be something to find out.)

I discovered eBay in mid-’06 and made great strides that year and the next, supplementing the pile I already had from my Early Knitting Life. I bought Number One in November last year, and from then on have entertained a substantial hope of completing the set. I got nos. 18 and 19, two fine wartime exemplars, in late November and early December last year.

At that point I lacked only five issues. But 2008 has been a complete washout, so far.

eBay has, for some reason – does anyone know? –, stopped sending me email notices when new offerings are made under my search heading “Vogue Knitting”. I used to hear from them daily. So I’ve now got to go in and toil through the list a couple of times a week. And yesterday I found one.

It’s coming up on Saturday. I will coy-ly refrain from mentioning its number just yet. You’ll hear more.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sorry about yesterday. Bad night, bad day.

I had expected to approach today’s composition with both good news and bad in hand. Alas, it’s all bad – at least in knitterly terms, which perhaps don’t stand very high among the world’s problems.

I’m knitting Meg’s hat from the current Holiday VK, using some Rowan Tapestry which I have long nurtured in store. It’s a dark yarn, and won’t photograph well. Maybe I can get my husband to model the finished article.

I was getting along swimmingly, and loving it. I had started the third rank of shells, after which Meg says to start decreasing. Then I lost my footing somehow. I think it was because I took out half-an-hour to sew on a shirt button. I hate sewing on buttons. You have to assemble the shirt; the button – or a suitable substitute if you can’t find the button; thread of a vaguely suitable shade; a needle; scissors. Then thread the needle, establish that it’s not too big to go through the button holes, and make a knot. I’ve lost the knack of doing that.

At this point I discovered that I had threaded a wool needle. I needed to start over again with a sharp. I couldn’t get the stout thread in to it, and had to find a finer cotton. That was eventually achieved, the actual button-sewing went smoothly, and then I put all those wretched things away again.

But then, perhaps because I was flustered and cross, I couldn’t find my place in the hat. Whatever I was doing, wasn’t right. I tried ripping out three or four rounds, but the effort of recovering the stitches proved too much.

At this point all I wanted to do was rend the poor thing asunder with my bare hands, utter a mighty oath, and disappear into the darkness. I thought that was probably impractical. In fact, I unravelled it all and will start again today.

So that was meant to be the good news.

Now, for the bad. Look at this:

Washed on the cycle I use for anything with wool in it, felted within an inch of its life.

The yarn (Araucania Ranco) is labelled 25% polyamide which sounds, near as dammit, like the composition of the beloved German sock yarns I’ve been replying on for years. The label says a gentle machine wash is appropriate.

The distress here is not so much for Ketki’s forthcoming sweater, as in the fact that I have used this yarn for a child’s sweater, and am using it to knit socks for Alexander, in the expectation of easy washing. I suppose the only thing to do is finish the socks and tell Ketki she’ll have to use a cold wash for them. And hope for the best.


We have begun zero-ing in on plans, which centre on Alexander and Loch Fyne this year. We have often escaped “doing” Christmas by spending it with Rachel in London. But in London my husband is not to be restrained from strenuous artistic expeditions. There’s nothing much in the way of art on Loch Fyne. There will be nothing to do but eat and enjoy my family and knit and go for gentle walks – both Thomas’s and both James’s will be available for company, amongst others – and have naps. Bliss!

The one thing to be said for Christmas is that the pressure and anxiety speeds one forward through these dreadful dark weeks. It must be awful -- Kate? – to have it cut out half the summer instead.

Both Rachel and Alexander, in our telephone conferences yesterday, expressed distress at finding themselves older than the forthcoming President of the United States.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Holiday issue of VK turned up yesterday – yes!

I am so enchanted by Meg’s hat that I may attempt it, like, today. Surely it counts as a “sign” that the magazine arrived before Ketki’s sweater had actually been cast on? And that Christmas is coming?

I finished the swatch, and wound the yarn for the ribbing of Ketki’s sweater. Stash Haus, I hate swatching, too, and I’m sure I read somewhere once that Meg never does it. She knits a sleeve first if she’s uneasy.

This has been an interesting experience, therefore – I haven’t even got around to the stitch-and-row count stuff, but I’ve learned things about my ideas and about the colours which have dictated big changes. I nearly burst out laughing when I read your question, do I wash a swatch? But, hey! if I knit that hat, there would be plenty of time to do it. If I do, I’ll take the gauge carefully before as well as after.

But I'm glad I'm not a designer, whose life must consist of a frantic series of swatches.

One of my theories about life involves ethnic knitters (Shetland, Icelandic, Norwegian, whatever) and how they work over and over with the same yarns and the same shapes. They don’t need to worry about swatching. The basics become so familiar that they’re able to improvise on the wing, when inspiration strikes.

I was also very interested in Leigh Witchel’s article “fibres of fantasy”, about Habu Textiles. (Leigh is a cyber-friend of mine.) He makes it sound as if the firm is American, founded, owned and run by Takako Ueki from a shop on West 29th. (The spell-checker queries “Takako” but accepts “Ueki”. Why?) And it is she who will be conducting the workshop that Chronic Knitting Syndrome and I are going to at K1 Yarns in a fortnight. I’m very excited.

There are other good things in this issue. What about an opera coat, for instance? High fashion and I have never had much to do with each other, but this issue, like some of the great VK’s of yore, sort of sweeps one up into the excitement and induces a blissful temporary suspension of disbelief.


It was desperately touching to hear how the press corps stood up for Obama yesterday, and how he was startled to see it.

Chronic Knitting Syndrome says that it’s all right to show you this cartoon, from a recent New Yorker. I am entitled to publish extracts for the purposes of criticism or review. Well, maybe.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Tamar, I don’t deserve you. I am printing the results of your careful work right this moment, and will keep the print-out with my own inadequate notes for the knitting of Alexander’s sweater.

(And don’t worry about Obama – yet. I had a message from Helen in Athens yesterday, along much the same lines: all the excitement reminded her too vividly of the Princess of Wales. The difference is that there is a cool intelligence at the centre of this fuss, and plenty of people to cut him down to size – starting with his wife, I feel sure, and an ambition not just to be president but to be a good one. It’s a tough assignment, with the world as it is, but he’ll try. We shall see.)

While we’re on the subject of politics, yet again, Labour won the Glenrothes by-election yesterday by a handsome margin. You read it here first, on October 14: “I predict that Labour will hold Glenrothes, and rightly so.”


So yesterday I switched from the swatch cap to a simple swatch. I feel happier. The green-y “multi” makes a nice fabric. I can use the contrast colours I had already planned for the ribbing and collar and Calcutta Cup band. The blue-y stripe looked nice enough as a background colour when I was doing a Fair Isle pattern on the swatch cap, but doesn’t seem to me to speak to the other yarn at all, when used as a stripe.

So I'll leave it out. I'm afraid I've got plenty of yarn.

And the pattern is here on this computer, so I’m all set. I’ll finish the swatch and adjust the pattern to the actual gauge if need be (and I know, swatches don’t work), and I’m ready to roll.

I spent a moment yesterday re-reading the “one-yarn intarsia” article in the current Knitter’s – but it won’t work here, because the individual colour runs in this yarn aren’t long enough. I then went back to this article about knitting an ikat fabric. I coiled the yarn on the floor and found, to my own surprise, that I was able to re-create the skein, so to speak. But there’s a lot of complication between that and knitting a sweater, so I shelved the idea, sadly.

I like the way the colours pool on the swatch, and if the body numbers can be tweaked to be a multiple of 48, I'll do it. But will even that work, since the body will be knit circularly to the armpits?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The second day of the rest of our lives, and so far I’d say that things may carry on being interesting, after all. I’m greatly looking forward to finding out what Michelle makes of First Lady’ing. I’m sure it won’t be a two-for-one offer like Bill and Hillary, also sure that she will in fact, behind the bedroom door, be an important sounding-board and advisor on national and international affairs. She is a strong woman, and it looks like a strong marriage.

But then what? Someone has to run the White House. But then what? Mrs Howard Dean, I think it was, was a family doctor in Vermont. She said that if her husband were elected president, she’d carry on being a family doctor. I’d love to see Michelle with at least a part-time job of her own. I used to try to admire Cherie Blair for carrying on her own career under her own name from 10 Downing St. But she proved so silly on so many fronts that I had to abandon the idea.

And the other thing I look forward keenly to finding out is, what will happen on their state visit to Britain? Heads of State traditionally ride down the Mall to the Palace in a horse-drawn thingy. They offered Bush a bullet-proof one (and of course the Mall would have been lined with armed policemen) but he was too scared-y. He had a very bullet-proof limo flown in from Washington, and came sidling around the corner in it straight into the Palace forecourt.

My guess is that President and Mrs Obama will choose the horse-drawn carriage.


I made a bit of progress on the circular swatch, and found myself sunk in gloom. The pattern is hard to see (and is also so easy that mistakes are inevitable). The result is really rather nice, like a print in gentle spring colours. But I’m not going to enjoy doing it. Like knititch (Nov. 3) and a lot of other people, I suffer from November. Knitting needs to be a comfort, not an additional struggle with inadequate light.

My current thought, therefore, is to switch to stripes, and knit Ketki essentially the sweater I am knitting for myself in Kirkmichael. With the Calcutta Cup motif around the bottom just above the ribbing. That’s essential, but Fair Isle and the Prince-of-Wales joke aren’t. That pattern is a self-generated Sweater Wizard one, which ought to be on the computer here. And the yarn, Araucania Ranco, is the same.

So I’ll push that idea around today. I’ve got Alexander’s socks and a long-neglected scarf for actual knitting. The Princess is frozen solid.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

καιρετε vικουμεν

Don’t miss Angel’s account of last night in Oberlin. I was so happy to hear her say that the residents of the town were out on the streets with everybody else, weeping for joy and hugging the students. I can’t remember anything like that – no hostility, just that we didn’t have anything to say to each other.

So now all Mr Obama has to do is choose a puppy for his little girls, and change the world. He might just do it.

The Greek is what Pheidippides said ("Rejoice -- we conquer") when he had run from Marathon to Athens to tell them that the Persians were beaten, before dropping dead. That was an important battle, too. European history would have been different if the other side had won that one.

I anticipated good fortune and worked on it last night. The best I could do was to code each letter in HTML, with ampersands and the name of each letter written out. I feel there must be an easier way.


I hardened my heart and laid the Princess aside after row 15 of the 10th centre repeat. So today I must (a) freeze her and (b) write very careful notes to myself to aid resumption.

And I’m knitting a swatch-cap – or, at any rate, a circular swatch – for Ketki’s sweater. I was too impatient to wait for niceties. I just cast on and started. If I wind up with anything I want to keep, I can pick up the stitches and knit some ribbing later.

It’s curling, of course, but I hope I’ll have done enough by tomorrow to take a picture anyway.

I’m using (for the moment) the stitch pattern from Candace Strick’s “Nordic Stars” on p. 60 of the Spring, ’08, Knitter’s, using a solid Araucania Ranco for the background and a “multi” for the contrast. So far, the pattern is not showing up very well, but I think it will speak for itself well enough when there is more of it.

Knititch, that is a good idea about posting the pattern for Alexander’s sweater and seeing if anyone recognises it. I went back through the blog entries about the evolution of that sweater yesterday, reminding myself of a good many things I had completely forgotten. There are a couple of good pictures that might serve. Maybe I’ll go back and fetch one.

Meanwhile, here is a picture which arrived yesterday of Alexander himself, on top of Ben Ime. I’ve never heard of it. The point of the picture is that I knit the kilt hose.

So here we are, the day we had begun to think would never come. As an old native-born Californian would say, it’s a most unusual day.

The timing of Mrs Dunham’s death was uncanny. I hope it’s true that she was alert enough to talk to him the week before. Studs Terkel's obituary in the Telegraph yesterday said that he had been looking forward to seeing Obama elected. If the dead care for such things, he and Mrs Dunham will have front-row seats on some cloud this evening.

I am sorry my sister couldn’t have stayed for tonight’s experience. She’ll be happier at Rachel’s house, however, because Rachel can get CNN and my sister won’t believe whatever happens, until she sees it on CNN.

Like you, Susan, I’m worried about the American capacity to trip over shoelaces, when it comes to the technology of voting. The country that invented Bill Gates.

Chronic Knitting Syndrome has a good post today, with some choice links, on the subject of how we are going to manage the rest of our lives with the interest of this extraordinary election suddenly snatched from us.


I’m now doing row 15 of the 10th repeat of the Princess centre – it’s like Sheherazade – I get to the end of a row, and need to start the next one. And then the next night, I’ve got to finish it, and…

I really am determined to stop. I got out the notes for Alexander’s Calcutta Cup ’06 sweater yesterday, thinking it might be nice to use the same allover stitch pattern for his wife’s sweater – and find that I didn’t make a note of it. It’s in one of my books, needless to say. I am stunned at such stupidity. At the time, one believes one can never forget. I flipped through some Sheila McGregor, hoping the pattern would leap up off the page at me, but it didn’t.

The notes don’t even say which direction the sleeves were knit in, or (if bottom-up, as I believe they were) how attached. The blog will answer that question, at least. I’d better go back and have a look. The basic pattern was generated from the Sweater Wizard. The sleeves are set in.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Back on track, blog-wise.

I had a lovely time with my sister and her husband – the last chance we’ll have to talk before their son Theo’s wedding next summer, and that’s not likely to be an occasion for much reflective conversation even if I succeed in getting there. It was good, this time, to talk on and on about the election. My husband’s heart is in the right place, but he’s not that interested in minute dissection.

We agreed that it was rather like the Sickbed Chapter in a Victorian novel – we’ve done all we can, and now we must just try to make the patient comfortable and wait for the fever to break. It’s tough.

(It was Obama who removed the thermometer from my sidebar.)

I’m uneasy about Early Voting, and very uneasy about these four-hour queues. In Britain, almost no-one lives further than a brisk walk from the polling station, and voting is close to instantaneous. (It’s done by putting a paper ballot in a metal box. The boxes are carried to a central point for each constituency, for counting. Polls open early, 8 a.m. I think, and close at 10 p.m.) I have often taken my husband to a polling station. If he hadn’t reappeared in 15 minutes I’d have raised the alarm.

Schools all have the day off on election day. They are used as polling stations. There are other stations as well.


My sister says that the sleeves of Theo’s Barack-electing gansey are too wide. She wondered if some clever soul could steek them somehow. I don’t think so. I think the only hope is to re-knit the sleeves. They’re a bit too long, anyway. I’ll get the gansey brought back after the wedding, if I can’t get hold of it before then. A passage of ribbing at the top of the sleeve during which some stitch reduction was carried out, would look pleasantly nautical.

Meanwhile, not much. I have wound two skeins of Araucania ready to swatch for Ketki’s jumper, but wasn’t possessed of enough mental energy to choose stitch pattern and needle size. So I went on Princess-ing. I’m now doing row 12 of the 10th repeat. I’ll leave it after row 13, with the first motif finished and a plain-knit row to follow.

Rosesmama, thank you for the tip about WAMU and “White Heat”. I’m listening to it as I write. And for the one about freezing the Princess. I had thought of doing that -- I’ve never tried it – you’ve persuaded me. I’ll have to find some end-protectors.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Onwards – as somebody once said.

Last night, progressing peacefully through row 6 of the 10th repeat of the Princess centre, I came to a pretty horrendous hole, all my own making, much worse and in a more conspicuous place than the moth damage I may or may not have discovered yesterday. I think it was a k3tog from which one stitch had escaped, a few rows down.

I secured the stitches and put the work aside. Today I’ll have to try to fix it, and to finish the row, and then that’s, I think, that, for now. The package at the Post Office yesterday was Ketki’s Araucania yarn (from The Craft Cottage – excellent service). While my sister is here, I’ll knit Alexander’s socks, if at all. Then the sweater.

I’ve obviously bought far too much yarn (no wonder it seemed expensive) – I could tell that from the weight of the package, as I walked home from the sorting office. I will certainly need to do a swatch cap, because I want to retain as far as possible the lovely drape I’m getting on my Araucania sweater in Strathardle, and that could mean trying different needle sizes.

Odds and ends

Chronic Knitting Syndrome and I are going to a Habu trunk show and workshop at K1 Yarns towards the end of November; should be fun.

If you follow the link, you can see CKS’s pinwheel shawl/blanket, which is enough to make us all drop what we’re doing and knit that.

My order of Franklin’s Guys With Yarn calendar has arrived. I guess I could wish that it were spiral-bound, but it’s pretty wonderful anyway.

The new Knitting magazine(the UK mag) has turned up, too – it gets better and better without ever quite becoming compulsive. There’s an attractive big cabled scarf in the Christmas supplement.


Judith, the Palin as President page is delicious; many thanks for that. Although to do the woman justice, I gather she got cross at all the fuss about her Neiman Marcus clothes, stopped wearing them, and now appears in jeans. In which, it has to be admitted, she looks good.

Angel, it is interesting what you say about the free-range farm on the outskirts of Oberlin which butchers its own animals. The European Union made rules about abattoirs some years ago which meant that many small ones (including an excellent pork butcher in Blairgowrie) were forced to close, and that animals, therefore, often now have to travel much further to be slaughtered.

Mr Dorward’s chickens were very good, like everything he sold. They weren’t labelled “free range” or “organic” or “corn-fed” or anything, but they tasted wonderful and the juices jelled. I complimented him on them once. He had been getting them from the same supplier for many years, he said, and he thought a lot of the difference lay in the way they were killed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Here we are back. The weather was abominable most of the time, and I didn’t get much done. My husband did better.

Then, yesterday morning, this:

The radio says that there is snow in London today, the first time for such an event in October since 1934. None in Edinburgh, so far.

A great sadness hung over the visit, in that our butcher has retired. He was the best butcher I have ever known. Getting to his shop in Alyth is a bit out-of-the-way, a real treat for myself therefore (as I thought) when I went last Friday. His name is still above the door; I didn’t grasp what had happened until I got inside.

His name is Michael Dorward. I won’t bother with the link to the story of his retirement in the Blairgowrie Advertiser: you can find it if you Google, but it doesn’t tell you much. The Advertiser did say that the new proprietor will continue to use Mr Dorward’s recipes, but I can tell you that the pork, leek and apricot sausages, my absolute favourite in the world, don’t taste the same. They were perfectly competent sausages, but they weren’t Mr Dorward’s pork, leek, and apricot.

It is a small, unprepossessing shop. Mr Dorward clearly had no interest in empire-building. He had a fierce price in the product he sold. The shop was full of notices of prizes his sausages had won, and the account of the time he was chosen to supply haggis to Scotland’s World Cup rugby team, and awards your supper had earned, for all the good it did them -- the prize cards won by the cattle he had bought at Forfar Market.

Probably the quickest way to say how good he was, is to tell you that he accepted neither credit nor debit cards. He resented (as many shopkeepers do) the tax the bank demanded for every transaction. Even the corner shops whose proprietors speak only Urdu take cards these days. In Mr Dorward’s case, Perthshire happily queued up to pay him in cash.

So that was terrible.

I didn’t get much knitting done – here’s the current state of the Araucania sweater. Love that yarn. The post office put a card through the door while we were away to say that they tried to deliver a parcel – I hope to get up to collect it today, and hope it will be the yarn for Ketki’s sweater.

Back here, I finished the 9th repeat of the Princess centre last night– only 43% of the total, according to Cynthia’s Formula. Disapppointing – I had hoped to be nearer 50%, because the second half of anything always goes faster. The irony is, as you can see from the second picture, I’m nearly to the end of the border. It’s just that every row now takes half-an-hour.

When I spread it out for photography this morning, I found two small holes which could even be moth damage. I am not as horrified as I ought to be: careful mending will scarcely show up in that sea of stitches. But I will put it away with great caution, this time, when I switch to Ketki’s sweater.


Tamar, thank you. I think I’m OK – I think the word “behind” was a mistake on my part. My sister will be here tomorrow – tomorrow! – and we can talk about it. Not only is she a doctor, she has suffered a torn retina not all that long ago.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I think my eye is going to be all right. I was astonished, when I got home from the appointment, at the ease and relief I felt. I must have been reeely scared.

I was emphatic (thanks, Tamar) in telling them that sight in the affected eye had deteriorated during the week. The nice man agreed – I’ve got fluid on/in/under the retina, and it may need laser treatment. They prefer to leave it a few weeks – he explained it all in Layman’s Terms and I’m afraid the word “pudding” occurred – and the delay won’t affect the outcome. (Unlike a detached retina, which he assured me I hadn’t got -- that needs prompt treatment, he agreed.)

My next appt is towards the end of November.

Not the least happy event of the day was a message from Leslie B. of NJ. Our virtual friendship goes back a long way.

When I originally got online, ’94 I think it was, the very first thing I did was sign up for a newsgroup called (I think) rec.crafts.textiles. I’d read about it in VK. Nothing happened. I think I even tried to send a message once saying, “Is anybody out there?” Then, somehow, I discovered that it needed to be rec.crafts.textiles.yarn – and I began to get messages.

It was wonderful, after a lifetime of being nutty about knitting all by myself, suddenly to be in touch with other loonies. I wrote a note once about finishing a shawl for a baby, and Leslie wrote to me and said, why don’t you join the Knitlist? And I did. And the rest is history.

Those were the great days of Phyllis Stein, and of Selma Kaplan’s virtual parties around her virtual pool, to cheer up the stay-at-homes who couldn’t go to Stitches. (I don’t remember any talk of Rhinebeck. Is that more recent?) I’m still in touch with Phyllis, and Selma has become a flesh-and-blood friend.

Here are Alexander’s socks. I’m just over half-way through the dread k2p2 rib the second time. As I think you can see, I now do gents’ socks with a k6p2 rib for the body and the top of the foot. The knitting is not as blissful as the plain vanilla st st round-and-round I used to do, but it’s bearable, and I think it makes a neater sock.

I don’t see how anyone could bear to work toe-up, and have the awful ribbing to do at the end.

I’ve embarked on row 44 of the 9th repeat of the Princess centre. One more evening should finish it off – but that won’t be until next week, as we’re hoping to go to Strathardle today at last. The weather is abominable: if the Forth Bridge is closed, we’ll turn around and come back. Otherwise, I should reappear next Wednesday.

Angel, I'd love to know which Ohio college you're at. I was at Oberlin. You could email me at the address in the sidebar if you don't want to make the information public.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

World Affairs

The world seems, just at the moment, to have embarked on another roller coaster ride. Share prices and – bizarrely, to my mind – the value of the pound fell briskly last night and are continuing to do so this morning.

Theresa, I’ve added that site you suggested to my Favorites. It looks encouraging. Justin Webb seems to think McCain might win in the Electoral College although he will lose the popular vote. My sister saw a CNN presentation yesterday where some rather convincing Republican commentators predicted a McCain win. She came away worried. The newspaper articles on the he-is-going-to-visit-his-grandmother theme are all we could ask for.

I remain confident. I think. It’s very hard to grasp, after all this time, that it will soon be over.

We have had two new donations to our thermometer, one of them with a message about my eyes. I am very grateful. I haven’t matched them yet – and if I do, it won’t show on the thermometer anyway because I now have to come in from “abroad”. Someone claiming to be from “Obama for America” rang me up the other evening and asked for my passport number all over again – I have had to supply it with my last two or three donations. I didn’t divulge it again. She said she’d send me an email, and never did. It was odd. Her voice sounded absolutely right for a keen young Obama supporter.

I’m having trouble with red and blue. I don’t think we had them when I was young. I associate red with left and therefore expect it to be the Democratic colour. I have to re-think things from the start every time I see one of those maps.

When I was young the Democrats could count on the “solid South”. I gather Lyndon Johnson signed it away with the Civil Rights act (and good for him). It would be rather wonderful if Obama could reclaim even one Confederate state.


The non-junk e-mail I get included this, this morning, about a new wool-and-silk Koigu. Mmmmmm. I bought some cashmere Koigu last year, some may remember, and learned the never-to-be-forgotten lesson that cashmere doesn’t take dye all that well. (I knit up all the yarn, though; at least it’s not languishing in stash.) But silk does, and of course wool does.

Theresa, I can never get stitch and row tension (gauge) to coincide, and have long since given up trying. How do they do it?

I’ve finished row 38 of the 9th repeat of the Princess centre. The rows are definitely getting long and slow – and November looms. It now doesn’t seem very likely that I’ll achieve my aim of knitting the first 17 rows of the next repeat, the moderately tough ones, before switching to Ketki’s sweater.

Perhaps I could take a picture of Alexander’s socks for tomorrow. Cynthia, you can count on me not to attempt the Princess with dilated pupils. There should be a report on my eyes tomorrow, too, even if it’s only “no news”.