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.