Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Here we are again. A productive session in Strathardle – the potatoes are in, and the whole vegetable patch is looking rather unusually tidy. I planted some sorrel – a delicious perennial vegetable – and some rather weedy kale plants from a garden centre. If only the creeping buttercup were edible, our problems would be at an end. I extirpated a lot of it.

Pictures of the haugh, taken from above on its own side of the river. We saw more smoke. I don’t know what is going on down there, and feel that the village is being a bit Wicker-Man-y when I try to ask questions.

Knitting-wise, I am currently employed on the toe of Rachel’s second sock. Barring disaster, therefore, I should succeed in finishing today: a third pair of socks for April. I’ll cast on for Thomas-the-Elder next. This is getting pretty boring; I won’t be sorry to move on to dinosaurs.

As I was driving home, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a knitting magazine in the pile on the doorstep (go away for three days and it’s not always easy to get the door open) that I could read over lunch – and there was. The pattern on the cover of the new Knitter’s is fully worthy of the late lamented You Knit What? website. (I’m glad to see that someone is having a go at reviving it – You Knit What Two.)

But there are two things that interest me within, and that’s two more than many a magazine contain. I like the Zigzag Bricks, being an entrelac fan anyway, and the yarn it’s knit it, unknown to me, looks very interesting.

But the really good one is my friend Candace Eisner Strick’s Nordic Stars. I am, you will remember, planning to knit Ketki a Calcutta-Cup-Ought-Eight sweater. (That’ll be after the Swallowtail Coat of a Beautiful Blue, which in turn comes after the dinosaurs – oh, Princess, when will I return to you?)

It will be a Fair Isle sweater in which I hope at last to achieve the Prince of Wales joke – a rotationally symmetrical pattern which I will pick up at the sleeve holes and knit downwards so that the whole things appears to have been cut from one piece of cloth. Fair Isle knitting pulls the stitches out of their natural rectangular shape into a square, making this possible.

I was going to do it with Alexander’s Calcutta-Cup-Ought-Six sweater but only realised when matters were fairly well advanced that you can’t do it with more than two colours.

Candace uses two ideas which I shall borrow: one is to reverse the two colours, exchanging pattern for background, at the underarm point. And the other is to use a third colour for trim. She doesn’t employ the Prince of Wales joke, although she could, because her pattern is rotationally symmetrical. I may borrow that, too.


Thank you, everybody, for kind notes. Helen Chronic-Knitting-Syndrome wrote to me privately with some excellent advice. In general, I think we can handle the decline at the moment, but I should probably rally all four of our children to start thinking what to do with the house in Strathardle when we can’t hack it.

There is a passage in the Bible somewhere – I don’t think I remember enough accurate consecutive words to Google it – about how in old age you put out your arms for someone else to dress you and take you where you would rather not go. Can anyone give me the source?

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Another donation, from Texas – wonderfully cheering on a grey day. I’ve matched it. However this thing ends, we’ll all remember that we were here for the Presidential campaign of Ought Eight.

I saw a little clip of Mrs Clinton offering to nuke Iran on the BBC early evening news on Tuesday (normally devoted to paedophiles and Gordon Brown’s problems). I have acquired a grudging admiration for her energy and stamina as this thing has gone on, but on Tuesday I thought she looked terrible, like Elizabeth Tudor towards the end, a mask of make-up with the face crumbling behind.


A much more cheerful topic. Thank you for the question, Mary Lou. (That link is worth following, for an account of a Franklin photo-session.) This year I’m growing Pink Fir Apple, Picasso, Red Duke of York, and Rocket. I buy them from Alan Romans – the link will do you no good at all, but it might amuse you to see the richness of choice. But I really wonder if it matters: you may have fewer to choose from, but they’ll be the right ones for the area.

Alexander wrote yesterday to ask which way up to plant his potatoes. It is rare that I am asked a question I can answer with such confidence.

I have tenderly packed mine and we hope to be off to Strathardle this morning. The Red Dukes of York have much bigger sprouts than the other varieties. Pink Fir Apple is a salad potato much fancied by the sort of people who fancy arugula (poor Mr Obama). I grew it when we lived in Leicester 40 years ago (yikes!) and the harvest was full of worm holes. I thought it was time to try again.


Pleasant and productive as sock-knitting is, it doesn’t provide much in the way of conversation. I finished the dreaded ribbing of Rachel’s second sock yesterday. Kate, I loved your analogy of the yarn looking like jasmine tea. Once I am well embarked on the next pair, for Thomas-the-Elder, I’ll ask Cathy in Beijing whether she’d prefer soothing (from my collection of back Yarn Yard sock club editions) or electrifying (KF stripes).


This is perhaps too gloomy: there was one of those uplifting articles in the Sunday papers last week about overcoming anxiety. I read it, or part of it, just after a bad night, and I thought, but what if what you’re anxious about is really happening? What if you’re Annie and Gerry Modesitt and Gerry has multiple myloma? What if you’re Jean and What’s-His-Name Miles and you’re getting old and wonder how much longer you can go on looking after yourselves, let alone two houses? What if you’re going to be hanged next week?

The answer in all three cases, I suspect, is that today is happening and I can probably manage today.

Back next Wednesday.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Oh, dear


I finished Rachel’s first sock this morning during my enforced Quiet Half Hour after taking the weekly osteoporosis pill. Remembered to switch to the plain yarn for the toe, too.

I hope we will go to Strathardle tomorrow – my potatoes, as you can see, are more than ready for interment. I’ll take the second sock along. And meanwhile, am making good progress at winding the Yarn Yard yarn for Thomas-the-Elder’s socks which come next.

I should have time, before May is out and dinosaur-knitting must commence, to do one female pair after that. It occurred to me the other day that potato-growing is the vegetable equivalent of sock-knitting: easy, reliable, guaranteed to please the wearer/eater.

I had a jolly afternoon in John Lewis yesterday with Helen of Chronic Knitting Syndrome fame and Lindsay the Rowan lady. I bought a few dinosaur colours. It was the first day of the season to feel seriously warm and the walk up Dublin Street nearly killed me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


So, here we are at the OK Corral – again. The landscape is beginning to look pretty familiar.

Sandy wonders if the gansey would fit BHO. I think not: he seems to be even taller than Theo (you’ve seen this picture before) and the gansey has enough length for him, but he’s too skinny.


Lee and Stash Haus, it is very remarkable that you know Constantine (and that Lee has lived and worked there). My brother-in-law has a theory that there are only about 300 people in the world – my readership on a Very Good Day – and that all the rest are cardboard cutouts. He may have a point. My father’s father was the Congregational minister there, Smits by name, pretty early in the last century. We lived in Detroit during the war, and often went to Constantine to visit my grandmother. I remember driving through Three Rivers and White Pigeon on the way. I remember visiting Holland to see the tulips -- my grandfather had emigrated from the Netherlands as an infant in his parents' arms, if I've got it right. I remember fishing on the lake, but don’t remember how it relates, geographically, to my grandmother’s house. She had a wonderful asparagus patch.

Thanks, everybody, for the kind words about the Beijing grandchildren.


Here’s the current state of Rachel's Yarn Yard sock. I love the colours, and the way they're spiralling. I might even reach the toe today. After all my fine talk, I've done a thoroughly poor job at getting rid of the infamous Second Hole at the gusset.

It’ll be tough reverting to a gentleman’s sock after the joy of whizzing along to cover a dainty female foot.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Yesterday in Beijing, where rain is rare:

I found you, Maureen! I do envy you, and everybody, being one of Franklin’s Knitters. He had thought at one point of coming to London, but I haven’t heard anything on that front for a while. What is he going to do with the project? Will you all be published? (And you’re right, Maureen, the Yarnery Family Singers are not to be missed!)

That’s an interesting idea, Mary Lou, about “haugh” being related to “ha ha”. The visual effect is very similar. The OED says, rather feebly I feel, that the name ha-ha comes from the “Ha!” you exclaim as you step into it and break your ankle. But you can’t believe anything you read in a dictionary which doesn’t list “Kitchener stitch”.

(We have the great big multi-volumed OED: Alexander gave it to us on a CD some years ago, a wonderful Christmas present.)

The scarf is now nearly four feet long – I feel that that’s exactly what I said last time. I’m finding it rather boring, and am glad that Sunday comes but once a week. I will return to socks with alacrity. I have been corresponding with Thomas-the-Elder about the precise size required for his; and should get well down the foot of his mother’s first sock today.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Today I’ll try again to post a pic from Denver of Theo wearing the famous Obama-electing gansey. I’m afraid it’s too big – especially the sleeves. If it shows the slightest tendency to grow further, it’s going to have to be that kill-or-cure experiment with the dryer.

I began today with an email from granddaughter Kirsty in Beijing to say that this is her First Holy Communion day, and she’s wearing the veil I knit for her and her sister Rachel. I hope to have a picture of Kirsty in the veil soon.

Ted (comment yesterday), Catriona’s beautiful daughter is lying on the “My Weekly Baby Knits” shawl available – it says on my website – from Jamieson & Smith as a separate leaflet. I don’t know whether that fact has survived the recent upheaval at J&S, nor can I remember at the moment how I know that it’s an Amedro design. The leaflet doesn’t say so.

Mary Lou and Barca Viola, it was wonderful to see you in the ranks of Franklin’s knitters. Not just in the ranks, either -- officers. I feel I know you better now, just as I do Tamar since seeing that picture of her in the Harlot’s post.

And, Jenny, I want to know more about your acquaintance with K*rkmichael. That’s astonishing news. Will somebody crop up today with memories of Constantine, MI, where my grandmother lived?


I reached the heel flap of Rachel’s first Yarn Yard sock, forgetting to switch to the solid colour for the heel.

Today is Scarf Sunday. The sock should be ready for a photo call after Monday’s session, insh’Allah.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Various excitements this morning.

Comments, yesterday

Barca Viola’s welcome contribution to the Obama campaign yesterday, with my matching funds, gained us our goal – I thought! But look what’s happened! It isn’t Senator Obama’s fault, either. Theo, who owns the thermometer, decided to move the goalposts. Poof, is all I can say. It takes all the running you can do around here to stay in the same place.

Catriona’s granddaughter is beyond beautiful – never mind the Amedro shawl.

A bit of etymological confusion – see Elizabeth’s comment. “Hough” and “haugh” sound so much alike that it would take Professor Higgins to distinguish them in speech. I thought my husband was saying “hough” when he introduced the term on Tuesday night, and started my dictionary session with that word, in case it had other meanings than the one I knew.

I am interested that Elizabeth’s neighbour said that “hough” was the neck of the sheep. I haven’t been back to the dictionary, but I thought it was equivalent to “hock” as in “Just give me a ham hock and a grit of hominy”. (Tom Lehrer) I often buy potted hough from Mr Dorward of Alyth – see previous – which is made from shin of beef. Maybe it means any extremity of an animal.

As to our fire, I finally gave up and phoned the village shop. I didn’t recognise the voice I was speaking to, and she was cautious, country-fashion. First tell me how much you know, and then I’ll decide how much to tell you. I tossed the phrase “in the haugh” into my question, to what effect I’ll never know.

There were some old caravans (trailers) down there, once, I suppose, rented out in the summer. This would be a better story if I had mentioned them previously. I did think of them. My informant said that they were burned deliberately, and that the village fire engine was standing by. Why such an ungodly hour was selected for the operation, wasn’t specified. I will continue to ask questions.


Helen had a look at yesterday’s blog entry, and is delighted with the socks. They are just off to spend a fortnight on Pelion for the Easter holiday. And Annie Modesitt seems to suggest that it’s Passover time in Minnesota. The Western church seems to have been out of step with everybody this year.

Still nothing from Web of Wool, but the new Yarn Yard sock club yarn arrived yesterday, dark and manly. Wow! So that’s what Thomas-the-Elder’s socks will be made of. I have cast on a pair for his mother Rachel – Thomas will be next – from a Yarn Yard offering of last summer. They’re coming on nicely, and should reach the first heel today. The colouring is beautiful, and rather subtle, and I think they’ll photograph better once the heel is done. So for once I can enjoy the new sock club yarn without feeling guilty.

Friday, April 18, 2008


I finished off the KF socks for Thessaloniki. Helen's feet are of different sizes -- I always add half an inch to one of her socks, to accomodate this oddity. Hence the bright stripe.

I started a Yarn Yard pair for Rachel, and in fact finished the initial ribbing.

Still no new KF yarn.

There was major, sad news on the knitting front in the paper this morning: the England cricket team is to abandon cabled sweaters in favour of "fleeces". I have always lamented the fact that cricket sweaters aren't given the place I feel they deserve in the histories of British traditional knitting. They go back well into the 19th century, like fisherman's sweaters, considerably before anyone was wearing Fair Isle in public. Perhaps there was be interesting articles on the historical background in the Sunday papers this weekend.


Shan, thank you.

Beverley, I am excited that you have family connections with Alyth. I love it. We go there not only for my husband's haircuts, but also to buy meat from Mr Dorward who is probably the best butcher in the world, and to nip in to Sim's the ironmonger -- there aren't many proper ironmongers left anywhere -- and to buy pinhead oatmeal from the baker. There's no LYS, but there is a local group that knits for charity. I donate stash from time to time. That's a lot of reasons to visit a small place.

I'll take pictures for you the next time I'm there.

Tamar, I am also excited by your idea that Don Quixote's fixation may suggest an underlying fear of windmills. I wish I could think of an analogy to express the terror our new windfarm inspires. Like meeting a tyrannosaurus rex up there? At least that would have been a living creature.

The fire we saw couldn't have been a vehicle fire -- it was down by the river side, and too widespread. The land drops quite sharply over there from the level of the road, and then there is a flat bit beside the river. My husband kept saying of the fire as we stood watching, "It's in the haugh." It wasn't a word I knew, and it didn't seem quite the moment to ask for elucidation. I found it in the OED yesterday, a word in use in the north of England and in Scotland:

"A piece of flat alluvial land by the side of a river, forming part of the floor of the river valley. The original sense was perh. corner or nook (of land) in the bend or angle of the river. A northern stream usually crosses and recrosses the floor of its valley, striking the base of the slope on each side alternately, and forming a more or less triangular haugh within its bend, on each side in turn."

What does a southern stream do, then: just plod on remorelessly to the sea? The course of the Thames through London suggests otherwise.

So that when we drove within a few yards of the scene, on our way to Edinburgh on Wednesday, there was nothing to be seen except wisps of smoke rising from down by the river.

I have made no progress in finding out what happened. The friend I kept phoning yesterday must be away. I'll try a different tack today.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

We’re back – a lot of hard work done. The weather was cold and unfriendly, but at least dry. It’s always hard to believe how much slower spring is, up there. We has been looking forward to our annual bowl of nettle soup – not a hope. Gardening in April, on the other hand, is enormously gratifying because things stay gardened longer and I’m not forever having to stop and go cut the grass.

Not much knitting. I tended to fall asleep by the fire. But I finished the KF socks for Theassoniki last night, at least knitting-wise, and will finish-finish them today.

I have the first of the gansey pics from Denver, but can't persuade Blogger to upload one. I'll try again later.

I had hoped the new KF sock yarn I ordered would be here to welcome me back, but it wasn’t.

Since there is little to report on the knitting front, I will tell you about our adventures.

1) On Tuesday we drove over the hill to Alyth so my husband could get his hair cut. He trusts no one but Mr Mitchell with his few remaining locks. They have put a windfarm up there. I have seen windfarms before. They go clackety-clack and I don’t care for them much.

These windmills, however, are of fantastic size and the effect in that familiar landscape is terrifying.

2) That night my husband got up to pee at about 1 am. He looked out of the window and saw fire in the direction of the Plantation. I was already awake, waiting my turn to pee, and I agreed, it was fire. So we put on our shoes and coats and went out.

The Plantation is a couple of acres of fir trees which he planted decades ago. Our middle-aged children have bitter memories of being employed as pressed labour to weed the little trees. Now it is a cool mysterious place, marked on the latest Ordinance Survey maps with little fir-tree symbols: a Lifetime Achievement Award.

He is always better at orientation than I am, and it was he who said first, “It’s not our trees.” The fire was on the other side of the river. We stood and watched for a while from the top of the stubble field. It was a big one, and went WHOOSH from time to time like the end of a Catherine Wheel. The birds and the sheep (normally silent at that hour) were vocal in their agitation.

The odd thing is that we saw no sign of people. The fire was more or less at the crossroads just outside the village – we would have seen headlights approaching on any one of the three roads. We could hear the crackle, and would have been able to hear men shouting. Or even to see figures silhouetted again the flame. But there was no sign of anyone.

Yesterday when we left there was an ambulance there, and a police van approaching. I must make some phone calls today. My husband said he hadn’t seen such a fire since the war, but I reminded him of a restaurant that burned down in Northampton, MA, in the spring of ’61. That was terrific.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A day of good news. My husband came through his dental ordeal in good order, and we found a home at last for a little sofa which has been surplus to requirements for months, but the reeely good news is that the gansey has arrived safely in Denver -- just in time for a six-inch snow fall. It’s too cosy for normal social wear, I think, but should be perfect for ski-ing. Theo promises pictures soon.

So we’ll attempt Strathardle today. The weather forecast isn’t entirely good, “showers” and even “snow”. But I ought to be able to get something done, although clearly not seed-sowing. Blogging should resume next Thursday. The dentist said that my husband’s mouth will continue to improve now that the locus of infection is gone. That ought to mean that he may soon feel as well as he did before all this started, and that in turn probably means that we will go to London before the end of the month.


I got a fair amount done yesterday, with the dentist’s waiting room thrown in. I’m going to carry on sock-knitting in Strathardle, contrary to my usual practice.

Thank you for the remark about ribbing, Mel. I think I am going to try it. It is time, anyway, that I knit a pair of socks for Thomas-the-Elder, whose request precipitated the current sock-a-thon. Gents are so boring compared to KF stripes and Yarn Yard colour, but it must be done. I’ve found a couple of balls of an episcopal purple which should minimise the tedium.

I’ll try knitting the initial rib as usual, and then switching to k6, p2 for the rest of the leg. That is essentially how the gansey was knit, and it wasn’t too painful. I remembered while thinking about all this that I wouldn’t dream of knitting kilt hose without ribbing the legs. (How are you getting on with yours, Mel? Hmmm?)

As for that gusset hole, Else’s solution (comment yesterday) of knitting that horizontal thread together with the last (or first) heel-flap stitch sounds simple and elegant. My way involves, however, getting hold of two or even three horizontal threads and making a stitch in them. I usually twist them, too, by knitting into the back.

I don’t understand your question, Callie. You go down the heel-flap picking up one stitch in each stitch of the edge. In my memorised pattern, that will be ¼ of the original number. Then there you are at the point where a hole is likely, and, as always, there are horizontal threads to be seen between the last-stitch-knit and the next-to-be-knit. That’s where I slip a needle under two or even three of them, front-to-back, and then knit a stitch tbl-fashion.

(Callie's blog, as per the link just given, is in French!)

Why is it that the second hole, when you have knit across the instep and are ready to start back up the far side of the heel flap, is always harder to eliminate than the first one?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I had another nasty comment yesterday – nasty in the sense that it offered a link to what threatened to be a most unpleasant website. Kathy spotted it first. I’ve had several of these lately – ostensibly from different sources – and if it goes on, I will have to switch to verification like grown-up bloggers.

I finished the first Fog sock, as hoped.

Stash Haus, you’re right that most plain vanilla sock patterns have ribbing all the way down to the heel. I can’t remember quite how my Standard Sock evolved. I took up sock knitting again 12 years ago – I can be precise because it was travel knitting for a trip to the US to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. I had recently discovered the Internet and Patternworks and Socka Colors. Those first socks were a colour I think is called teal and they’re still in my husband’s sock drawer although darned, and getting thin.

I used a pattern Patternworks sold. I carried it for a long time and all the writing got rubbed off. Now I know it by heart. But it was I, not Patternworks, who put in that longish plain section between ribbing and heel.

Why? I think that’s the way people like them, but maybe I am inflicting my own preferences on my audience. Ribbing all the way would be tedious to knit, but neater. I will raise the subject when next I have a group of them together.

Which might be soon…

My husband had hoped for an London-art-viewing session this month. With his recent round of mouth-centred ill health, he hasn’t felt up to it. But the last few days, he has started feeling, after all, that maybe he could manage it. He has got to have two of his few remaining teeth pulled this afternoon, where the abscess was. If he is comfortable tomorrow, we’ll go to Strathardle. I’m way behind with my vegetables…

And perhaps after that, London, in the week beginning April 20. My sister and her husband will be there. It would be jolly to see them. They will have to sleep under the billiard table if we’re in the spare room.

So we shall see.

Meanwhile, I reflected last night that sock-knitting incorporates two or perhaps even three knitting techniques which I remember learning from a human being. Almost everything I know comes from books.

I have no memory of learning to knit in the first place: presumably my father’s mother taught me. I think it was a friend at Hampton Elementary School in Detroit who taught me the long-tailed cast-on, and the idea – which I still use, with socks – of casting on over two needles held together, to ensure that the cast-on edge will be elastic.

Much more recently, a grown-up friend taught me to avoid that hole in the corner of the gusset by taking up two or even three of the horizontal threads that lie between the last gusset stitch and the first instep one and making a stitch of them. Same on the other side. Then decrease those extra stitches away in the first decrease round. I’m getting pretty good at that one.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Stash Haus, thank you for that. (Comment, yesterday) It was wonderful to see Tamar! (Yarn Harlot, April 8 – you have to scroll down and down past so many knitters you feel sure you must have missed her -- and then, there she is!)

(And I have learned that your father was born the same year I was.)

I’ve nearly reached the toe shaping of Fog Sock #1. I don’t suffer from Second Sock Syndrome. I don’t like ribbing, but that applies just as much to the first sock. I’m knitting these KF socks as fraternal twins, rather than unwinding the second ball until I find the place where the first sock started. I much prefer them that way, and it adds a certain interest to the knitting of the second sock, seeing how different the stripes look, differently displayed.

I am curious as to whether the stripes are similarly arranged in all six colourways, wide and narrow, or whether each colourway was thought out de novo. Maybe when I finish the current ones I’ll be able to tell, by comparison with Ketki’s. Same diameter, same length.

I did order more KF yarn yesterday – the remaining three stripey colourways, and one more “Mirage” – “Storm”, I think – which looked as if it might be dark and sober enough for a man’s sock. “Mirage” isn’t nearly as much fun to knit, but the result is terrific.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I began the day with my ISP in something like meltdown – a new experience, and rather frightening. At the moment, all’s well, but could I live without my virtual world?


Ketki wrote to thank me for the new socks, and for the old ones “magically restored”. That’s high praise for some pretty kludgy darning, and a great incentive to improve my technique.

Helen posted a comment which makes it sound as if she’s serious about wanting me to attempt that coat from the Golden Compass movie. “Delving into KF wool catalogues would be a delight in itself.” – little does she know what Rowan has done to the master’s palette. I tried Googling (something like “Golden Compass movie knitting patterns”) and got a lot of references to enthusiastic bloggers desperate to knit it – but of patterns, nothing but a hat.

I joined the Golden Compass group in Ravelry, which is rather more promising (but still no pattern). People suggest twinning a strong, basic yarn for structure with an exotic, perhaps sari silk. I must say the idea tempts: I’ve long liked the idea of knitting with sari silk, but never found a way in. This could be it.

MaryJoO, that’s another reason for trying to restrain one’s tendency towards multiple WIP-ery: it leaves the mind clearer to think about the road ahead. Thomas-the-Elder’s appeal for more socks, over the Easter weekend, happened to coincide with the finishing-off of Theo’s get-Barack-elected gansey, and opened the way for the sock orgy on which I am currently embarked (not that Thomas has benefited yet).

I have mentally reduced the “swallowtail coat of a beautiful blue” from the full-scale Poet’s Coat to a dressed teddybear: that’ll come after the Dinosaur Sweater which must be knit as my Games entry. The Poet’s Coat will still provide the basic ideas for the bear’s costume. And I still have hopes of getting back to the Princess before the year is out.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’ve rounded the corner of the first KF Fog sock and am cantering down the foot. I think I had better go ahead today – presuming my internet connection holds – and order the other three colourways (I’ve knit Earth, Fire and now Fog). This is too much fun to let pass.

Monday, April 07, 2008

A busy morning doing nothing has left little time for the business of blogging.

Here’s where I am with the Stacked Wedges – about three feet done. The pattern asks for five, but I’m not sure the stylish exemplar I have seen Helen wearing isn’t longer. Mine is narrower than the norm, too, another reason to go for length.

I had a pleasant day with it, including pleasant thoughts of where I might turn next. I am keeping an uneasy eye on Helen (and perhaps, who knows? she’s doing the same for me) for fear she’ll start the Drifting Pleats, the supreme test scarf-wise. I read the instructions yet again yesterday, and am convinced that it’s beyond me. Maybe Shag next, or Tricorner.

MaryJoO, another thought on the multiple-WIP-ery front: sometimes a moment does arrive when one simply decides This Isn’t Working and I Can’t Go On. In that case, of course, one must stop and frog, however painful at the time. And if you don’t have too many things going at once, it’s easier to recognise and seize that moment.


I trust you noticed another recent increase in our thermometer. This time, the contribution was from a known non-knitter and I hesitated about matching it, but then decided that it wasn’t fair for me to change the rules in the middle of the game.

Somebody left a comment recently – Tamar, was it you? – about campaign funding and the absurdity of the whole thing. I’d love to see a breakdown of the way the money is spent. The news reports this morning say that the Clinton campaign has paid more than ten million dollars for Mr Penn’s consultancy. Huge amounts must go on advertising.

Then again, a lot – but how much? – must be spent at a useful local level, hiring busses and bus-drivers and halls and chairs and lights and sound equipment. I gather Mrs Clinton is falling behind a bit on paying her bills for that sort of thing. A lot must go on the wages of people less expensive than Mr Penn, such as Theo and his girlfriend Tiger and a legion of others.

I guess what I think is that a lot of the spending is a useful lubrication of the economy at ground level. But ten million to Mr Penn takes my breath away. I thought people worked out of conviction – for a fee, of course, but not an absurd one. I thought pockets weren’t being lined with the pennies we contribute.

Somewhere between winning Ohio and probably being about to win Pennsylvania, Mrs Clinton has lost the nomination, it would appear. I think the turning point was not Obama’s brilliant lecture on race, or her gaffe about Bosnia, but Bill Clinton’s explosion of anger at that meeting of super-delegates in California the other day.

The punch line of the one Jewish joke in my repertoire – don’t worry; I’m not going to tell it – is “Half the battle!” That’s sort of how I’m feeling these days.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The picture was the real thing – a slight work, portrait of a two-year-old child, very sweet. Not in its original frame, alas – my husband is very interested in frames – but in the hands of the people MHA gave it to, 200 years ago. That’s something.


Thanks for the identification of the Golden Compass, and the news that knitters are talking about it. I miss some things by no longer reading the Knitlist or anything of that ilk. I should spend more time in Ravelry, perhaps.

(Misstea, I do so agree about those voices in one’s head. I remember as-if-it-were-yesterday when I went to see “My Friend Flicka” at the age of maybe 10. I was so excited: I thought I was going to see the people and the pictures in my head. I can still see and hear them, but I have mercifully forgotten the movie.)

LizzieK8, I don’t know where the Sonoran Desert is, but was delighted to find that it’s still yesterday there, when I had a look at your blog just now. Thank you very much for the link to the darning video. (Scroll down.) I watched it with interest, and see where my technique could be improved, most notably by darning more generously around the edges of the hole.

Ron, I’m glad you’re knitting socks. There’s something very satisfying about it. I haven’t knit socks at home for ages, if ever before, and am greatly enjoying it. Quite apart from the knowledge that the project will be quickly finished, will fit, well be welcomed and worn. I got to the heel flap of the first KF “Fog” sock yesterday.

(Today, however, I will revert to my occasional Sunday knitting of the Stacked Wedges scarf from Lynne Barr’s “Knitting New Scarves” in Noro Silk Blend. My sister suggested, in a comment long ago, that I knit scarves for Senator Obama’s daughters, to be presented at the forthcoming photography session. That’s more than I could fit into this year’s tight schedule, but I still might finish this one and send it to Denver for Mrs Obama.)

MaryJoO – and I think this might be of interest to you, too, LizzieK8 – multiple WIPpery used to be a problem to me, in youth. Partial reform came from a sharp remark from my daughter Helen, 30 years or so ago: “What’s that going to be – if you finish it?” I started keeping a manila folder labelled “Knitting Actually Completed” with pattern leaflets, notes, dates, finished sizes, photographs, yarn samples. An unexpected consequence was a sharp falling-off in the total number of current projects.

Nowadays photography is digital and that file is less thorough, but still maintained. Every so often the original manila folder has to be emptied into a box file and re-started. I record FO’s in an electronic Filofax as well – a copy of Lotus Organizer. And now there’s Ravelry.

I practice what someone once brilliantly called “locational WIPs”. One for Strathardle, one for here, socks for waiting rooms and travel. Things are expanding a bit at the moment, with the Sunday scarf just mentioned, and the poor Princess whom I continue to regard as a WIP rather than a UFO – but she’s been idle for a long time.

It was my cyber friend Judy Sumner, whom some will remember from the Knitlist, who hit upon the notion of assigning different projects to different days of the week, when things got really bad.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Briefly, this morning, as I must put out fresh towels and strew the path with petals in the expectation of the arrival of The Picture. See Thursday.

Matthew, I suspect you could find a sophisticated Darning Tutorial if you Googled. Essentially, you hold the hole open, perhaps by putting a fist inside the sock. You don’t want to distort the shape of the sock by pulling it closed. There are things called darning eggs made for the purpose. Some of them are beautiful.

Then you thread a needle with yarn, anchor it at one corner of the hole, and create a warp (or do I mean woof?) by working back and forth across the hole, leaving the threads floating. Then start again in the cross-direction and simply weave.

The smaller the hole, the easier the job.

The packages were duly dispatched yesterday, gansey to Denver, socks to Loch Fyne. My husband tottered down to the post office with me, the first time he’s been out for a stroll since this tooth crisis began.

I’ve finished the ribbing of the first Fog sock. I’ll take a pic tomorrow, when I should have finished the first complete pattern repeat. It’s terrifically exciting, the first time through – how wide will this stripe be? What colour is the next one? It’s most interesting to see how the final assembly of stripes and colours pulls itself together even though the first few inches look rather boring.

Helen sent me these pictures from Thessaolniki yesterday – they’re from some movie, and she admired the coat. It would be a real stash-buster all right. Does anybody recognise the film? I disapprove of fringe.

Friday, April 04, 2008

I finished Ketki’s socks. Most of the rest of yesterday’s knitting time went on darning – the socks in question must be well into their second decade, and the holes were large. I got it done, and glow with virtue. Today, socks will be dispatched to Loch Fyne and a certain gansey to Denver.

The new socks:

The old ones:

Tamar and Rosesmama, don’t worry. The tumble dryer will only come into play if the gansey, already on the generous size, stretches into the absurd. It is encouraging, in a way, that the cashmere baby sweater you remember, Tamar, the one that started life as a woman’s size 38, was soft and perfectly proportioned. Theo’s girl friend is perfectly sensible, and he is not devoid of sense himself.

What happened yesterday was that my husband had a dentist’s appointment in the afternoon, and at the last moment asked me to go along. There was nothing for it but to snatch up the nearest knitting. I polished off Ketki’s sock in the waiting room, and cast on KF’s 4253, Fog – the one you’re knitting, Mary Lou. It doesn’t look like any fog I’ve ever tried to drive through. This pair will be for Helen in Thessaloniki.

The Yarn Yard August offering, meanwhile, is still on the swift. That’ll be next in line, for Rachel.

My husband has to lose two of his few remaining teeth, in the wake of that abscess. That’ll happen next week. He’s still not as sprightly as he was before this started. He wants to go to London soon for some art; I want only to get cracking on my vegetables. The good thing, in a gloomy way, about the present situation is that he doesn’t feel up to London but could manage Strathardle.

Art History (see yesterday)

The story is slightly better than I realised – my husband knew that there was such a picture, because the artist wrote to his framemaker in 1815, “You will oblige me by getting ready the small portrait for Mr Gourl*y…” That must be why he, my husband, was reading “Robert Gourl*y, Gadfly” in the first place.

I must charge the camera battery today, and perhaps have the old camera ready for action as a back-up. I will know when I see it whether we’re in the ball park (I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dous and Zophanys), but my husband is the man from Del Monte.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

I’m shaping the toe of Ketki’s second sock – should polish it off today, and then I'll darn her old pairs before I move on. For one of them, I’ve got the original yarn. The oddballs from the other pair must have got subsumed into colourful bedsocks.

Starting this sock marathon with a pair more than half-knit has given it a great boost. I mean to turn next to the Yarn Yard’s offering from last August, but I haven’t quite finished winding it, and may find myself forced back on KF’s Landscape Fog, picked up on impulse at John Lewis recently.

I’ve found a British source that offers the complete KF sock yarn range, with separate code numbers for each. The site which assigns the same number to three different colourways – there doesn’t seem to be much point in providing the link – hasn’t replied to my email or corrected the site, and charges 5p more per ball anyway.

I am much inclined to order at least the three Landscapes (=stripes) I haven’t got before Regia moves on to something else and they disappear.

FiberQat, thanks for the note on Noro sock yarn. Maybe I’d better just succumb.


Here’s an art historical story. The asterisks and obfuscations are to prevent historians of the period, and most especially art historians interested in My Husband’s Artist (MHA), from finding their way here.

My husband reads widely in biographies and autobiographies connected however remotely with the circles in which his artist moved. He recently read “Robert Gourl*y, Gadfly” about a man of Fife who went to Canada and made a name for himself and then, I think, came back. However, that doesn’t matter. Early in life, the books says, MHA visited the Gourl*ys in Fife, drew Gourl*y and his wife, and painted a picture of their young son Oliver. The author describes the picture as if she had seen it.

And she reproduces the drawings – they’re by MHA all right.

We started by Googling the author of the book. It would appear that she wrote nothing else, and that if she is still alive she would be in her late 90’s or early 100’s and so not a likely source of information.

We tried Googling “Oliver Gourl*y”, the subject of the picture. No dice. He either died young or led a singularly uninteresting life.

Then we went back to the book. The author thanks a Miss D., a collateral descendent of Gourl*y’s, for access to family papers and information. Did Miss D. have the picture? We Googled her, and hit paydirt. She was one of those energetic women, born just over a century ago, whose hopes of marriage died in the mud of Ypres and Passchendale. She was a distinguished botanist who lived near Dundee.

Then we turned to BT’s on-line telephone directories, and found the D’s still living there. My husband wrote a letter. Many, many weeks later a Mrs D. rang up, from Hexham, whither the letter had pursued her. Sure enough, she’s got the picture. She’ll bring it to us to see on Saturday morning, since she has to be in Edinburgh anyway.

It is entirely possible for a picture to have a good back-story and still be wrong. But we’re hopeful, and it’s exciting.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Knitting first, because I don’t want to get too far behind. Then I will try to write about the funeral. It was great, and a great funeral does help.

Clare, I was so excited to learn that Joyfulknitter in Cicero, NY, is knitting my First Holy Communion veil! Thank you for that. I feel as Cathy must when she spots someone on the subway reading one of her thrillers, or as Kaffe somewhere describes himself when he first saw someone walking down the street in one of his designs.

She seems to be having a hard time, and it is sort of tough. Kinzel’s fault, not mine – the mesh that the cross floats in is perfectly simple, in one sense, but it lacks the rhythm of ordinary lace knitting and demands endless counting.

Grannypurple, I will pass on what may prove your valuable tip for judiciously shrinking cashmere, namely a brief turn in a tumble dryer. Presumably while damp? I knit myself an alpaca sweater once, fisherman’s rib. After two or three wearings it was below knee length, and I suppose I must have thrown it away. It was delicious to knit, though.

I’m sizzling down the foot of Ketki’s 2nd KF sock. I’ve knit with self-striping yarn before without much enthusiasm. This is a whole new experience. I’ve got one other colourway in stash, and may order more. I’ve found a British source which stocks them all, in a good website where you have pictures of the socks as well as the balls of yarn. Only problem, three of the six stripey colourways have the same code number. Since the colour names – “fog”, “fire”, “earth”, etc. – don’t appear on the ball band, ordering would be a bit of a lottery. I’ve emailed them and had no response, which is somewhat ominous.

Duncan Ellin’s funeral

Standing room only in the little church. The coffin covered with the Red Ensign – a white flag quartered with the Union Jack – on which were Duncan’s naval officer’s hat, his sword, and his medals. His widow perfect in black except for the beautiful beret she wore at their wedding 13 years ago – silk, I think, in sections of antique-y gold and red and green. The Last Post at the graveside, and a naval officer in uniform saluting. My husband sighed a bit heavily when I told him all this.

There was a remarkable eulogy from a colonel in the Royal Marines, in which he laughed at Duncan for his faults. It could only have been done by a man who loved him, and who knew that we did too. Duncan was a great story-teller, but he did tend to go on even as his hearers’ eyes glazed. And he was sort of a snob, in a sense. The speech ended with the thought that Duncan, in heaven, was pointing with pride to the splendid turnout for his funeral, and identifying each one of us to the heavenly host with our status and achievements. There’s no doubt that the cherubim and seraphim now know that I am James Miles’s mother.