Friday, January 30, 2009

Flutterings of the heartstrings here in Drummond Place.

On Wednesday evening I wrote to the seller of “Hand-Knits for Service Women” to report its safe arrival and to thank her.

I then added a girlish paragraph – the sort of thing my husband absolutely hates my doing – to say that I had got a bit carried away in the auction, that what I really collected was the original British series of Vogue Knitting Books, and that all I now lacked was No. 16. If she ever found that, I said, she could have my first-born son.

Alexander would not be happy to leave all that he so much loves, but for VKB #16 it might have to be done.

Well, you can see where this is tending. She wrote last night to say that she’s got it. She has a VKB collection of her own, not as good as mine, and she doesn’t know whether she can bear to part with it. Her husband was not too keen on the idea of Alexander, anyway.

I wrote back telling her that he is a brilliant cook and grows his own vegetables, and suggesting, if that didn’t suit, that she name her price. There is no reply yet. I wrote again this morning offering to swap some Starmores (that is, offering to swap one of them – I listed three). That might be a better idea.

This was inspired by Franklin’s latest post. I had a vague idea that Starmores fetched silly prices. I looked on Abebooks this morning and found that they do indeed. For Franklin’s sake (and for my own) I didn’t include “The Art of Fair Isle Knitting” in my suggested swap list.

Watch this space.


Stash Haus, where do you go to look at deals on international air travel?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

It was I who spelled “dyeing” wrong yesterday, Fishwife. I was uneasy, but didn’t look it up. I think I’ll let it stand, as a grim warning.

I’ve been reading about woad in “Dye Plants and Dyeing”. The process of using the leaves for dye sounds extremely complicated, whether you ferment them (with or without adding urine), or extract the dye chemically, or just boil them and then treat the extract with caustic soda and sodium dithionite. (The spell-checker which continues to complain about “woad” has no trouble with “dithionite”.) Google produces this website, which may or may not be the farm I heard about on “Farming Today”.

So, with many thanks, Fishwife, I don’t think I’ll try.
Lisa, thank you for the tip about Victoria Finlay's colour book. I'll look for it.


I’ve finished the neck plackets, joined the shoulders in the three-needle bind-off using the pink Calcutta Cup yarn – I’m a bit uneasy about that. I looked up the two-row method in Gladys Thompson’s book, as you suggested, Tamar, and did it that way. Now I’ve started the collar, and am relaxed about having enough grey yarn.

Here’s my new treasure. It’s really rather good. There’s no introductory paragraph – just “Vogue-knits add style to service”, and off we go. No date, as usual with Vogue, but the Red Cross ad on the back cover mentions the “War Charities Act 1940”. The ad asks for a penny a week to help prisoners of war (and “a quarter of every Penny-a-Week contribution goes to Help Russia”). The text says that “demands will grow as the fighting increases”, so I think we can assume that this was published fairly early on.

There’s a rather tempting pattern for gloves knit sideways on two needles.


Yesterday Helen and I took the plunge and booked ourselves a room at the Comfort Inn, Old Saybrook, for Theo and Jenni’s wedding weekend. Clearly not Olde Newe Englande, and all the better (and cheaper) for not being.

We spoke briefly by telephone before taking the plunge, which was nice. She had been a bit doubtful about Obama during the campaigns, and is absolutely blown away by the first eight days. As am I. He is exceeding expectation.

Helen says that her husband advises holding off on airline reservations for a while, in the hopes that international economic misery might produce some bargains.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

“Hand-Knits for Service Women” should arrive today, special delivery, which means an anxious morning listening for the doorbell.

Not much sweater progress. I had to rip out my first attempt at a neck placket because I had plunged in with no thought at all. If I had 12 live stitches at the bottom, it was going to take 12 rows of horizontal knitting to get rid of them. Once I had grasped that, and ripped out my first attempt, all went well.

The buttonhole band is done, and attached to the bottom of the placket-space. The knit-up stitches look neater on the inside than the out, but that’s life. I should be able to finish the button band today – at least I had the wit to realise that the buttonhole one had to pick up the live stitches, whereas the button band will be sewn underneath. And then I can proceed to more interesting activities – joining the shoulders, and knitting a collar.

Natural dyes

I’ve been reading the Wikipedia entry on woad; not without interest. Apparently the idea that ancient Britons went into battle painted blue and wearing nothing else, is a myth. Alas. Woad was the only source of blue dye in Europe, it says, until indigo began to be imported from the East rather late in the story.

I think you can get blue from woad by using the leaves – it doesn’t have to be reduced to a powder as in yesterday’s farm-story. Maybe I should try growing it. That’s an interesting idea, Tamar, that it can also be combined with yellow to produce green. Oddly, given that Nature Herself wears it all the time, green is extremely difficult to achieve with natural dyes.

Angel, I’d get to work on that grant application (comment yesterday). Clearly what might be called the urge towards art is a pretty fundamental human instinct. All cultures seem to have gone to a lot of trouble to find colouring material, for dying textiles as well as for painting things. Surely you can imagine some connection with religion, and then apply for a grant to test your hypothesis.

Virgil in his “messianic eclogue” – I’ve forgotten which one it is – supposes that in the great days to come, sheep will wander about the fields already coloured red and gold and purple. The lines are irresistibly comic, but I noticed, once I got into dying myself, that the colour-words he uses are the names of expensive imported materials. In the Golden Age, those colours will be available for all. Rather sweet idea, but still funny.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I bought Vogue’s “Hand-Knits for Service Women” on eBay yesterday, paying far more than I meant to, or should have. I think I used to be able to download images from eBay, but either I’ve lost the knack or they’ve changed the system. I’ll scan the cover for you when it gets here. I won't give the link, which would tell you how much I paid.

That’s the way VK operated during the war. The normal magazine was published twice a year, as usual. Reduced, pinched, in format, with references to clothing coupons (yarn was rationed) and tips on how to unravel a sweater and re-use the yarn, and with no patterns for men (that’s rather striking), but essentially VK as usual: fashionable knits. There’s even one style, somewhere in the thick of it, which is recommended for wear in the shelter.

Patterns for the services were published separately. I’ve got a men’s one, and an American one that my sister gave me. So perhaps I needed this one. My husband said once, of buying pictures, that no one remembers the cost once the picture has settled into the collection.

New topic: usually I can’t stay awake for “Farming Today” on the radio, from 5:45 to 6 a.m., much as I’d like to. There’s something infinitely soporific in they way they talk. But today I did hear an item about a farm down south where they produce woad, and have perfected a system of their own for extracting a powder which they sell. It’s rather expensive. Presumably google could find it, or the BBC news site. (My spell-checker doesn’t like “woad”. How curious.)

I had a natural-dye period some decades ago, and it was a lot of fun. I felt myself tempted again. My main field of operation was lichen. Nature is generous with smudgy browns: it’s difficult to get much beyond that. I managed to find some ochlorechea tartarea (that’s from memory, but pretty close) on some rocks above the Croft of Cultalonie. From that you can get purple and even red, if you soak it in urine for a while – or, I would hasten to add, vinegar. The picture shows left-overs from stash, and demonstrates how quickly (sometimes) I can find things in that cupboard.

How on earth did people ever discover the porperties of och. tar.? People who had to work all the hours God sent, just to subsist?

And as for knitting, I finished the sleeve and there stopped. I had forgotten what to do about the placket. I’ve found my notes this morning – I had confused myself by keeping the centre stitches live, although I am going to knit a horizontal placket. I’ll get on with that today. Ron, it’s always good to hear from you: your remark about sleeve-setting is most encouraging. I have gloomy memories of ugly seams.

Tamar, thank you, too, for that judicious remark about the sleeve-setting choices. As for nematodes, you water them in, and what they do is burrow down into the soil and eviscerate slugs in a most unpleasant-sounding way which counts, however, as organic gardening. I used them last year. One rarely knows which of one’s efforts leads to which result (the old post hoc ergo propter hoc problem – was it the lime I applied?) but I had a good year, and will therefore use them again.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Some unexpected excitement on the Vogue Knitting Book front yesterday.

I now lack only one, Spring, 1940, and it’s like trying to fill an inside straight. eBay is set up to notify me when anything with the description “Vogue Knitting” is offered. I get a message from them most evenings with half a dozen new ones. I also go to eBay itself and read through the “Vogue Knitting” list several times a week.

I did that, late yesterday afternoon. Zilch, as usual. But my early evening message offered No. 10, Spring 1937, a sparkling clean copy, at a Buy-It-Now price of £9.99. I clicked straight through to eBay, figuring that I’d better have it, at that price, even though I’d already got one. But it was gone.

This episode has started up a whole new anxiety – what if some idiot finds the one I want, and offers it as Buy-It-Now? I can check the list every day, but I can’t check it every half-hour. Sometimes they turn up in batches from the same seller, as someone turns out Granny’s old magazines and finds a clutch of them. So I wrote to the seller of No. 10 this morning, just in case, begging her to put subsequent finds up for auction to give us all a chance.

Back here at the ranch, my new anxiety is: am I capable of setting in a sleeve? It’s been decades since I’ve done it. My sweaters have all been seamless, EZ-style or gansey-like, where stitches are picked up at the shoulder and knit downwards for the sleeves. Or dropped-shoulder, like the dinosaur sweater last year, where only a simple straight seam is required. Could I knit up stitches on both sleeve-head and sleeve-hole and do a three-needle bind-off?

I should finish the second sleeve today. We’ll soon see. Although not right away, because the placket and collar come next.

The Pope’s Cat

I googled “Pope Benedict’s cat” and you seem to be right, Angel. There is a cat in Bavaria, a ginger Siamese if that’s possible, which claims to be his and indeed which claims to have written a book about him. That is the kind of twee up with which I cannot put, so I didn’t investigate the book further. But I did discover a sweet picture of the two cats, one black, one white, who lived with him in his apartment in Rome before his election.

And I read again that pets aren’t allowed in the Vatican. I also found a reference to reports in the Italian media that he had, after all, taken the cats along, as well as his piano and his books, when he moved. A nun who looks after him denied it, saying that the Pope has only little figures of cats, no real ones. I place a lot of hope in that nun. Asked a direct question by an Italian journalist, where does her loyalty lie?


I finished my seed-ordering yesterday with a whopping great order to Thompson and Morgan. I’ve bought some of everything, essentially: Joan J raspberry bushes, Mara des Bois strawberry plants, nematodes, a Root-trainer for starting runner bean seeds in, a micro-green-growing kit for playing with with grandchildren in the summer (I get something like that every year, and every year we fail), and lots and lots of seeds. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Haggis for lunch today. I have become more than reconciled to it, since we moved to Edinburgh.

The second sleeve shaping has commenced. I continue very pleased. I have decided I’m being too timid about the neck placket and collar – there’s probably enough grey, and grey will look best, so I’ll try.

I’m enjoying the end game, as always, for thinking about what comes next – although this time, there’s no question: it’s the Princess. I’m always surprised (I’ve said this before) when people say they’ve finished something and don’t know what to do next. I spend those last days in happy anticipation, mentally sorting through the HALFPINT list if necessary, looking out yarn, and am ready to cast on the moment the needles are free.

If Scotland win the Calcutta Cup this year, I'll knit it in to the top of the centre of the Princess, when I sign and date it. Not likely, because the match will be played in London and we never win down there. Although Thomas-the-Elder said that this could be the year, as the English team is in some disarray. I think he was just being polite (he's an Englishman).

There remains the possible interruption to knit something for the Games. The programme wasn't available yet, when we were there a fortnight ago.

Current affairs

Thank you, Deidra, for the details about Johnson’s swearing-in (yesterday’s comment). Once you mentioned Sarah Hughes’ name, it felt familiar, although I don’t remember the missal. Clearly, the nation was too shocked that week to worry about constitutional niceties.

I’m glad to hear that the president has been allowed a Blackberry after all. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as the present Pope, he wasn’t, at first, allowed to bring his cat along, although I don’t see how anyone except God can tell the Pope that he can't keep a cat in the Vatican. I think that problem was resolved successfully, too, and the Papal Cat is now in residence.

I think I heard on the radio this morning that Senator Mitchell was born in the same year I was. If he can create a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine, I ought to be able to grow a few vegetables.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Very near the top-of-sleeve shaping; not quite there. Picture tomorrow.

And speaking of sweaters, I trust we are all gasping with admiration day by day at Joe’s stranded pullover. Stunning, both in design and execution.

I hugely admire Jared’s cabled gloves (and am interested to hear that there is a Winter VK still to come, and here we are practically at Groundhog Day). But I’m not going to be tempted down that path. No more fingers, ever, let alone cabled ones. Unless I do them Meg’s sideways way, and that would rule out cables.

I had an unexpected morning off yesterday, in so far as one ever gets a morning off in old age, and spent it making a good start on my vegetable-ordering. I get seeds (and, this year, plants) from a lot of different sources, which slows things down. Although not as much as still having to do it with pen and ink and chequebook would slow me down. I’ve done potatoes (Rocket, Pink Fir Apple, Picasso, and Epicure) and Real Seeds, Edwin Tucker and Seeds of Italy. Salsola Soda is on its way.

I am not at all sure that I am strong enough to do all this, this year, but I’m going to try. The hope would be to get a good stretch of time in Strathardle in April-May, when everything has to be done at once.


Thanks for the observations on re-doing the presidential Oath of Office. I suppose you’ve all seen that the blog-writing-nuts have now fastened on the fact that a Bible wasn’t used the second time, proving that Obama is a closet Muslim as we’ve suspected all along.

I knew from newspaper stories here that two other presidents had re-taken the oath. Thanks to you, Stash Haus, I pursued the matter through Google. The other two were Chester Arthur and Calvin Coolidge. In both cases, they had been sworn in by a state official and the question was, did it count if it wasn’t the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?

So what about Lyndon Johnson? We all remember that picture of his swearing-in, on the presidential airplane, with a stunned and blood-spattered Jackie among the witnesses. Did they happen to have the Chief Justice along in Dallas that day? Or do superstitious scruples change with the seasons? It would certainly have been a criminal error of judgment to re-do that one.

Judith, I think that’s a lovely idea, to have a get-together at I Knit. And if we set it up and nail it down, so to speak, before the next time we go to London, it’ll be easier for me to plan a temporary escape from art.

Friday, January 23, 2009

An unexpected Drummond Place committee meeting last night sped the sleeve on towards the top. I may even reach the final shaping today.

Yesterday’s misfortune was losing a choice postcard of Kirkmichael in the final seconds of an eBay auction. The action was so split-second that I think the winning bid must have come in from one of those agencies. Kirkmichael itself doesn’t change much, but we don’t have any postcards in our collection showing children playing with hoops in the street, nor, I think, do we have any taken from that end of the street. We were very sorry to lose this one. The left foreground shows the opening of the road over the bridge which one takes to get to our house. Proper Kirkmichael people regard with some suspicion those of us who live over there. And vice versa. The world is ever so.

I am delighted by the news that President Obama – oh! the writing of those words! – has appointed Senator Mitchell to the Middle East. He is the man, with Clinton powerfully behind him, who brought peace to Ireland, although I have seen credit claimed by Tony Blair; by his preposterous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at the time, Mo Mowlem; and even by Hillary. During the conference which produced the Good Friday agreement, Senator Mitchell required the participants to sit down and eat together. If he can pull that off in the Middle East, the job is done. Not this week, I fear.

And I was surprised to hear on the radio in the night that the president has ordered the closing of secret CIA detention centres. I thought Bush told us there weren’t any. We had a wonderful and astonishing interview on the BBC World Service during the night (what would British-based insomniacs do without it?) by one of Bush’s speech writers, maintaining in so many words that waterboarding isn’t torture and telling us of all the terrorist attempts circumvented by information obtained from men so treated. He thought President Obama’s decision a dangerous one.

On the other hand, the decision to repeat the oath of office seems to me childish and superstitious, although I know, of course, as a knitter, the importance of feeling sure that you’ve Got It Right.

I am grateful for continued help and advice on the DVD question – I think I am speeding forwards towards my goal of seeing EZ at last. And for the enthusiasm for I Knit. I think the next time we are in London I will require my husband to do a half-day of art on his own, while I go there.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thanks for the help on the DVD question. Why is the world so complicated? I established, not without difficulty, that my new DVD player is Region 2, as expected. I will happily take up your kind offer of a trial run with a Region 1 DVD, Helen, and we’ll see what happens.

I looked up I Knit London but they don’t seem to have a website of their own – or if they do, it’s not up this morning. Lots of enthusiastic references on other people’s sites. I’d love to have a look, and it’s not totally inaccessible from the parts of London we spend time in, but there always seems to be more art to look at.

Robert Burns

This year’s Burns Night, on Saturday I think, is the 250th anniversary of his birth, and we threaten to drown in a sea of wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beasties.

When my husband and I were revving up to go to Thessaloniki some years ago – our last foreign jaunt – Helen said that we would drive through Tempe, loveliest of vales, on our way to Pelion. So I did some googling and stumbled across a poem of Burns’ which took my breath away for a moment: he compared Tempe to – no, if you can’t guess you’ll have to google it for yourself. He’d have trouble getting it published today.

Now, as I may have assured you before, Ah’m no sae green as Ah’m cabbage-looking, and I know that the 18th century went in for that sort of thing. I’m no Burns scholar and I don’t intend to start now, not even as far as Wikipedia. But if he wrote one such poem, he probably wrote others, and it seems sort of a shame not to acknowledge them during the current frenzy.

Somewhere in the house is a Burns anthology, but I can’t find it. I wondered whether it includes such poems, or only nice ones, the way the RSPB is really the Royal Society for the Protection of Nice Birds – no crows, ravens, magpies, or seagulls need apply.

As for knitting, the sleeve progresses. The final shaping is in sight, although it’ll be a couple of evenings still before I actually reach it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One of the headlines next to my googlemail last night concerned the movements of “ex-president Bush”. Oh, sweetest of phrases!

The British television presentation of the Inauguration concentrated too much on race for my liking, but what could they do? You can’t stand in the Mall and ask a passer-by, “What’s it like to have an intelligent president?” or “What’s it like to have a president who doesn’t smirk?” but you can say, “What does this mean to you as an African-American?” so that’s what they did. If it had been Hillary, it would have been all about women.

That old boy who did the Benediction was sensational (probably someone unspeakably famous whom I haven’t heard of).

I would love to have heard a million voices raised from the Mall, singing the Star Spangled Banner along with the Obamas at the end. Maybe they were, and the open-air acoustics swallowed it. Or maybe the song is just too complicated. See my sister’s Inauguration Day comment.

We went up to the Dovecot Gallery yesterday to see the exhibition of Henry Moore textile designs, and thought it very dull. The Economist, of all magazines, had devoted a whole page to it. I then walked home fast, in bitter cold, to be here in time for the Inauguration, and the experience left me too breathless all evening for much knitting. The sleeve made small advances, however.

I overspent on low-fat oven chips at Waitrose the other day, with the result that I had to take the Princess out of the freezer drawer to make room for them. I had the wit, uncommon in me, to unfold her, in case the freezing process had trapped some ice crystals. She’s looking good. There aren’t many moths about in January, and it won’t be long anyway. The other thing I did right was to put on point protectors before I froze her.

Am I right in thinking that a DVD is a DVD the world over? Now that we have a DVD player, can I buy an EZ DVD? (I am remembering, of course, the way video tapes moved at different speeds in the US and UK.) If so, which should I got for?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Here we are.

January is in fact a good deal darker than November. I worked it out. The difference is entirely due to hope. Today will be a sort of winter solstice for the whole world – the worst is behind us; things will get better.

Yesterday shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland, of which we own a fair number, became valueless. I thought of a tsunami-survivor who said she looked out of her hotel window towards the sea, and it wasn’t there.

The United Kingdom is in a very bad way – Iceland-on-the-Thames. And there is no hope at all for us unless the American economy improves. So our wishes for Mr Obama are more than brotherly good-will.

I hope to watch the inauguration, like everybody else in the world. I have never heard more than tiny snippets of his speeches, although I read the great speech about race in full the day he gave it. I read somewhere that inauguration speeches are traditionally short; that’s good. I’ll get on with that sleeve.

I bought far too much yarn for this project. (Not the first time that’s happened.) I’m going to have two whole skeins of the body-colour left, plus a sweater’s-worth of the greenery-yallery-Grosvenor-Gallery colour I bought to go with it, the original idea having been an all-over two-colour pattern. But I’m a bit concerned about whether I’ll have enough grey for the neck placket and collar.

I could do them in the body colour, of course. Or in Calcutta Cup pink; that’s maybe the answer.

Tamar has posted an interesting variation of the three-needle bind-off to HistoricKnit. I hope I’m not violating copyright by mentioning it here. I’m going to use it on the shoulders: namely, knit the shoulders together and then, on the next row, bind off. It makes a stronger seam and sounds as if it might be better-looking, too.

Monday, January 19, 2009

If tomorrow is – undoubtedly – the First Day of the Rest of Our Lives, what does that make today? It is meant to be uniquely depressing, according to this morning’s radio – Monday morning, Christmas bills coming in, weather awful, January paycheck still not here, New Year’s resolutions broken. I, au contraire, love January – that convalescent feeling that the worst is behind us, but it’s too soon to start the hard work.

It must be almost as dark as November, but it feels entirely different.


There was a picture in the Telegraph last Friday of a knitted brain. Did anyone see it? It’s on show in the Boston Science Museum and looks rather nice.

There was a little piece in the Sunday Times yesterday about an old woman who knits breasts. She turns out one a day and her daughter uses them, somehow or other, to teach mothers about breast feeding. My husband took this to mean that the poor little tykes had to suck wool, but I doubt if that be the case.

I cut out both these items and put them in my Knitting file.

Back to vegetables: Fishwife, salicornia/salsola is said to be able to get along without salt, but I will take on board what you say. Is concentrated seaweed the sort of thing you can buy at B&Q? (The link, this time, is to the Fishwife's gardening blog, a Garden-of-Eden scene of abundance compared to my pitiful efforts.)

One of the Sunday papers said yesterday that seed suppliers are struggling to supply all the new, keen vegetable growers this year. I would assume that that is Sunday-newspaper-hype, but I had better get started actually ordering all these wonderful things I have decided on.

As for actual knitting, today’s first task is to wind another skein, surely the last. I continue pleased with my stately progress. I continue to love the striated effect of an Araucania "solid".

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Great excitement.

Tamar, your comment on Wednesday the 14th about Kitchener Stitch, and your very impressive scholarly contribution to HistoricKnit (which I joined yesterday), brings us to the point where I really think we are ready to write to the OED and demand inclusion. But there’s one very serious remaining puzzle, which I hope I will post to HistoricKnit today.

It is this. Until, say, 15 years ago, when the Internet made us all sisters (and brothers), the phrase “Kitchener stitch” was unknown in Britain. EZ was puzzled by it, when she started her knitting life in America. Someone gave her a half-explanation – I suppose this must be set forth in an early Woolgathering somewhere – about a Red Cross WWI pamphlet with a sock pattern in it by Kitchener, with a grafted toe. EZ was happy with that and didn’t, alas, press her informant further.

It explains to some extent why Kitchener himself (the current one) had never heard of the phrase. Needless I hope to say, I have carefully preserved his letter.

And the second excitement, Jenny, was your news about GoogleBooks, which Tamar is also using for Kitchener Stitch research. I think I had vaguely heard of it, but hadn’t explored it until this morning. “Flora Scotica” begins, most unexpectedly, with fauna. I toiled through deer and wolves and squirrels (rare in Scotland: that’s interesting), followed by birds followed by fish followed by reptiles and after I had polished off worms and finally reached Flora, what should come first of all (because classified as Monandria Monogynia – I’m just telling you what it says) but salicornia herbacea patula! Including the very words quoted by Sturtevant and reproduced here yesterday. “Found on the sea coasts”, it says, but still, I’m going to try.

As for actual knitting, I’ve finished the ribbing and begun on the body of Ketki’s second sleeve. Things aren’t progressing at the breakneck speed of the Christmas holiday, but little-and-often gets the job done, as we all know.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Safely back, deeply tired. There was no snow, in Strathardle or elsewhere. Much rain.


That’s quite a story, from the Hudson River. I am slightly surprised that there is so little mention, in what I have seen, heard, and read, of the cabin crew. A hundred and fifty people in a confined space in a state of abject terror – disaster could still have happened, but for (I presume) the training and discipline of the crew.

I had a clutch of junk comments yesterday, which I have conscientiously deleted. This has happened a few times before, never in such quantity. I hope I won’t be reduced to verification.

Knitting & vegetable-growing

Not much knitting while we were away; a few peaceful rounds. Back here, last night, I finished Ketki’s first sleeve – it seems to fit the hole, more or less – and made a good start on the second.

In Strathardle I perfected my vegetable order, and – the big one – found “salsola soda” in Sturtevant’s “Edible Plants of the World” thanks to Else and Wikipedia and the Royal Horticultural Society’s “Encyclopedia of Gardening”. It’s there as “salicornia herbacea”. When I was young, I thought the Latin names of all the plants were written in a big book in heaven. On the contrary, it turns out they are various and mutable like everything else here below.

Sturtevant says of it, “The tender shoots of this plant in England are used as a pickle and are sometimes boiled for the table.” (When I read that to my husband, he said, “For Heaven’s sake, don’t get any.” But I shall.) Sturtevant’s reference is to Lightfoot’s 18th century work “Flora Scotica” which I had never heard of (and now covet) and the title of which encourages me to believe that it may actually grow in Scotland.

Anna, thank you for the tip about “Mara des Bois” strawberries. I’ve found a source, and I’ll go for them. My guide and mentor in all things horticultural, Dr. Hessayon of the “Be Your Own Expert” series, says that perpetual strawberries are not as hardy as other kinds, but I think this is a moment to cast caution to the winds.

The new kitchen shelves – not yet painted – are a great success. They’re not crooked; the camera must have been.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Back to Strathardle today. I can’t believe it myself, and fear we’re pushing our luck too far.

A local tradesman was engaged last summer, under Helen’s energetic influence, to put up some shelves in the kitchen and do a couple of other small jobs around the place. He rang up yesterday, ready to start but having forgotten most of his instructions. My husband talked him through it, but we think it prudent to go back up and make sure of things.

Snow is forecast. Not much, but some.

But if all goes well, I’ll be back here Saturday or Sunday.


Perpetual Strawberries: I think I’ll have to proceed on the principle of try-it-and-you-may-I-say. I grew alpine strawberries in our garden in Birmingham. They are lovely, trouble-free plants, and are probably the ones your parents grew, Julie. “Slow-motion invasive” is the perfect phrase for them. They bear fruit all summer, very small and utterly delicious – hard to gather enough to put on the table, great for eating while gardening. That’s what Mel is going to grow from seed.

My interest however is focussed on something with bigger fruit, more like store-boughten strawberries. Do they retain the trouble-free qualities of (what must be) their Alpine ancestors? There are books I can consult on that subject, when we get back to Strathardle.

Don’t miss the pic my sister has posted of the rehearsal for the inauguration.

Else, thank you for the reference to the Wikipedia entry for salsola soda. There are lots of words in there which I can try on Sturtevant’s index. The book lives in Strathardle. He – Sturtevant – worked at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Edible Plants of the World were a life-long obsession. The book was actually put together after his death from his notes and from articles he had published. I love it.

I went to see my optician yesterday – the suggestion, and a good one, of Helen when we were having our Christmas lunch. Nothing has changed, but I’m glad I went. There’s no magic he can work with lenses to improve the sight in my left eye. He agrees that the damage is permanent. He is perfectly confident (as am I) that I am fit to drive. I came home feeling cheerful.

So I have yet to get to the references about knitting magazines. I will, without fail. Here, in the meantime, is a picture of the current state of Ketki’s sweater. Another evening should polish off that sleeve. And since the Calcutta Cup match comes late in the season this year, as is proper, I may even finish the sweater while the cup itself is still in Edinburgh.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Back again, in pretty good shape. The weather wasn’t too bad – bitter cold on Friday when we got there, afterwards warm (for January) and wet. The Forth Road Bridge stayed open despite wind. There was no snow. My lungs seem to have survived the ordeal without lasting effect.

Not much knitting was done (a few rounds), and not much gardening (I threw some pea and poppy haulm from last year into the burn). But I made great strides with the seed catalogues.

Mel, I don’t think I could bear to give them up and rely on left-over seeds from last year, even though, like you, I have a fair collection. I love my catalogues. I love thinking, at least, about trying something new. Not this year’s New Introductions – credulous though I be, I have grown wary of them. But varieties, or whole plants, new to me.

Salsola soda, for example – “Barba di Frate” – offered by both Seeds of Italy and Real Seeds. “Mid-early annual with long chive-like foliage and intense flavour. Use fresh, braised in olive oil…” I can’t find it in Sturtevant’s “Edible Plants of the World” and therefore I assume it has alternative Latin names. It couldn’t possibly have escaped Sturtevant’s attention.

I'm thinking, too, about perpetual strawberries. Are they pleasant and undemanding ground-coverers, like the Alpine strawberries from which they must be descended?


I continue very grateful for all comments, and am by now absolutely determined on Schipol airport. I am looking forward to that sushi bar fully as much as to the wedding itself. Cynthia (of “Cynthia’s formula” for determining what percentage of the Princess centre one has so far knit) has found a flight from Athens to Amsterdam which would get Helen there in good time to join me on the outgoing flight to Hartford. I don’t know yet what she thinks of that idea.


I finished the increase part of Ketki’s first sleeve last night, and found it a couple of inches short, according to the schematic. The pattern seems to say that the top shaping comes immediately after the increases. So I added a few straight rows.

I think today, however, I’ll do the arithmetic. I could be knitting tighter than the row-gauge I fed to the pattern. I could have done the increases faster than I should have, every other row occasionally instead of every fourth row. Or the pattern – this is a Garment Wizard job – could have made another mistake. I’d better find out.

Thank you for the references to new knitting mags. I’ll follow them up. Beth, I’ve got IK. I’ve been in since the beginning, and wouldn’t miss it.

Friday, January 09, 2009

We’re going to Strathardle today (my husband has suddenly announced). I approach the ordeal with some trepidation – it’ll be cold (but no snow). It’ll be stormy. (Forth Road Bridge closed?) Will I be allergic to the house again and come back with a fortnight’s-worth of coughing and breathlessness? Blogging should resume on Tuesday.

Knitting-wise, it’ll be déjà vu all over again. The Strathardle project is that dusty pink Araucania sweater of virtually the same pattern as the one here. But up there, I’ve only got six inches (at best) done of the body. Whereas here, top-sleeve shaping should begin next session.

But it’s time to engage seriously with the happiest gardening chore of the year – finalising the seed order. This year’s plan is to keep it simple, and concentrate on things that will grow, like broad beans. Except for the Edinburgh doorstep, where I intend to try for chillis.


I heard from Helen in Athens yesterday. She proposes skipping Hartford and trying to synchronise our arrival at JFK so that she can hire a car and drive us both the rest of the way. I think she thinks it’s not worth all the trouble and expense of getting to the USofA if one doesn’t get to see that skyline. We’ll see. Schipol airport sounds better and better with every comment; by now, I’d be sorry to miss it. I remember JFK as utterly confusing.

Like America itself, by now. The last time I saw my mother was in late ’02. I left my husband behind in NYC for a day of art on his own, and took the train to Old Saybrook. We were staying in a miniscule apartment of Theo’s somewhere East Side-ish, so my journey began with the subway.

First I went cross-town, then I had to change. I remember a platform with trains going in different directions on either side of it. Lots of destinations were mentioned, but nothing basic like “Uptown” or “Downtown”. Which was which? I asked somebody and got it right.

Then I got out at “Grand Central Station”. I came up to the street. I looked around. There was nothing to be seen, in any direction, which could possibly be Grand Central Station. (It turned out to be around the corner.) When you emerge from the subway at a London terminal, you are in the station.

It’s memories like that which make JFK an uninviting prospect.


Knitter’s great days – at least some of them, at least recently – were when Nancy Thomas edited it. It might be interesting to go back through those issues. Before that – am I right? – she had edited VK. She went off to work for Classic Elite, or something of the sort, didn’t she?

I am beginning to feel that there are other magazines I ought to add to my groaning shelves. What’s this one called Knit.1?

Thursday, January 08, 2009


Cynthia, thank you. I found the direct flight to Hartford on the KLM website, and will definitely go for that. The timings couldn’t be more convenient. Apart from the additional strain on one’s hosts, meeting one at JFK or Boston, there is the factor of the two-hour-plus drive which can be tough at the end of a long hard day -- and the last time I did it I must have been at least six years younger than I am now. Hence that imaginary little hotel in Boston. Whereas Hartford is just up the road.

My sister said on the phone that she thought there was a flight from Amsterdam. (So why isn’t Amsterdam on Bradley’s destination list?) She says it’s a particularly good airport for changing in. I don’t think I’ve ever been there myself, but my husband confirms her opinion with memories of his sprightlier days. There’s even a small outpost of the Reijksmuseum if I should hunger for some art. And a change early in the travel-day is a good deal easier than trying to do it later on.

Today’s business news is that Viyella is going down. (“England in Crisis” says the banner headline in the Telegraph – the reference, apparently without irony, is to cricket.) I might try to get myself up to their Edinburgh shop before they go, to see if they have anything for a matron to wear at a wedding.


The sleeve advances. I should reach the shaping at the top pretty soon now.

I noticed that Perri Klass was missing from the latest Knitter’s. I think it was probably about time: hers was a particularly difficult brief, to write an essay about knitting without saying anything specific, four times a year. But I sort of miss her, and feel that the gap leaves Knitter’s rather rudder-less. Getting Jane Sowerby to write about lace yarns was a first-rate idea, but too specialised to fill the hole.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


We’re doing fine. Rachel is happy to have her father to stay during the relevant days – and she’ll manage nicely. She’s known him almost as long as I have. I’ve written to the Griswold Inn about a room. I looked up the Hartford, CT, airport – their current list of destinations doesn’t include anything international unless you count Puerto Rico, but that could change as summer approaches. Or I might be able to make a connection in Newark. That problem can be set aside for a couple of months while I think what to wear, and knit.

I am greatly looking forward to the Rehearsal Dinner. We don’t have them, over here. We spend that last evening, if we’re lucky, sitting about with our dear child and some old friends, just our team, not the other side. That’s for tomorrow.


The sleeve proceeds. I’ve finished the first instruction – inc one at each side every four rows 21 times, and now proceed to inc one at each side every six rows 8 times. The effect is slightly Princess-like, the way the rows get longer and longer.

I do agree, Knititch, that knitting a circular raglan is fun because of the way it goes faster and faster. Knitting a square shawl inwards from the border is much the same. This time I’ve got set-in sleeves, so the effect is lost. I plan to join the shoulder seams, and set in the sleeves, with a three-needle bind-off using the pink Calcutta Cup colour. If that turns out to look too twee, it can easily be removed.

The winter Knitter’s turned up in the last post before we left for Loch Fyne. Nothing much. I sort of perhaps like the shape of the Chanel-ish jacket on p. 90. I didn’t make knitting plans (resolutions) for ’09 because there’s only one: finish the Princess. But if I get that done, a jacket for self in Lorna’s Laces Panopticon colourway may loom in the future. EZ and Meg’s “Round the Bend” is a strong contender, but Chanel-ish is a possibility.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Many thanks again for comments and encouragement.

My sister phoned yesterday, and assures me I can be met wherever I arrive, by one of a posse of wedding guests flowing in from New York and Boston. (I utterly agree with Janis that the latter is to be preferred. Our mother lived, in her last years, in an excellent nursing home within walking distance of my sister’s house in Essex, CT. What little I know of travel concerns how to get back and forth from that spot.)

I am sort of sorry to abandon my imaginary construct of that little hotel in Boston, but will today forge forward with real-world plans. If I can achieve the airport in Hartford, I might even be met by bride or bridegroom, my sister said. I found myself thinking yesterday about what knitting to take.

Asking for airline help for the journey is out, for a silly reason. (And anyway, unpleasant though travel is for all of us, that’s not the problem. Leaving my husband is. He depends on me, and I’ve got used to being depended on.)

My mother was a difficult character. She was never “friends” with both my sister and me at once, and at the end of her life she made an emphatic switch to my sister, who was essentially the more congenial character. On one of her last visits to England, I met her at Gatwick. We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of years. She came sailing in on one of those buggies and greeted me – her absolutely first words – with, “He’s looking after me”.

I’ll never ride on one.


Yesterday was largely spent at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, for a respiratory appt for my husband. I wasn’t really needed, but he wanted me to go along. The verdict was that his puff is declining at a gentle rate and there’s nothing they can do about it -- much as expected.

The wait, however, was prolonged, and I made great strides with Ketki’s first sleeve. I think we’re all agreed that when a sweater is knit in the round, the great thing is to get as far as the armpits. After that, it knits itself. I continue very pleased with the way this is looking.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Thank you for all the advice and encouragement about going to the wedding, and especially for Barbara M’s stunning offer of help. Could you email me directly (miles dot jean at googlemail dot com)? I don’t think Blogger lets me reply to comments – if there is a way, I haven’t found it.

I could leave my husband in London with Rachel, and fly directly to Boston. (It’s no use my lingering in London for a day or two, Stash Haus – that would only drain strength rather than augmenting it.) Stay the first night in a modest but supremely comfortable little hotel – I’m sure there are lots in that pleasant city. Train next day (eve of wedding) to Old Saybrook, in time for a nap before the rehearsal. Then the wedding, then perhaps one more day to see my sister and her husband and their new (to me) house and cats. Then back to London.

That would give my husband five days in London but it would be over a weekend with Rachel’s family at home for some of the time, so not quite as lonely as it sounds. Low blood sugar can distort judgment: that’s the big worry. He’s perfectly compos mentis, just slow on his feet. He would not sit at home alone – he would trudge around London by himself looking at art.

Speaking of which, the radio said this morning that the Titian has been saved.

I’ll keep thinking about wedding plans. Also about a present. I had commissioned one some months ago. But the artist/craftsperson involved has had a dramatic change of circumstances and the commission is probably now impossible. I am not going to knit an afghan.

Now, knitting

I’ve been meaning to say that the Felicity Hat which Helen has been knitting in quantity, is what I keep seeing on peoples’ heads these days. Not watchcaps. There are still lots of beanies around, too.

I finished the front of Ketki’s sweater last night. An unexpected difficulty arose, in that the pattern failed to account for all the stitches in front. The back has 48 stitches across the middle, and 27 on each shoulder. The front is supposed to get rid of those 48 stitches (in the placket and the front-neck shaping) and have only the shoulders left at the end. But there were a whole 16 stitches left over. I did the sums again and again from different directions. So I had to undo the left front as far as the beginning of the neck shaping, which was not far. This is a Sweater Wizard pattern and it is an odd mistake for a computer to make. I’ve never had probs with the Sweater Wizard before.

But that’s done, how successfully we won’t know until the neck is finished, and I’ve done the ribbing for the first sleeve.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


The big news is, that we have been catapaulted into the third millennium. Among our Christmas presents were:
A mobile telephone
A DVD player

I’ve mastered the basics of telephoning. I’ve even sent a couple of text messages. It won’t be for daily use, but there are situations, esp. trips to London, when it will be handy.

Thomas-the-Elder installed the DVD player without difficulty. Now all we need are some DVDs.

A topic much discussed while we were all together was Jenni’s and Theo’s wedding. They’ve got a website! On current calculations, I won’t be going, although I’d love to and that could change. Thomas-the-Elder and his brother Joe will be groomsmen. All the Loch Fyne Mileses and all the Beijing ones are going, and Helen from Athens. My husband is really too old and slow to travel that far – and, by now, difficult and expensive to insure. Ketki has offered to stay behind and offer him a roof in Glasgow; that’s a possible solution, except that I gather there are no flights from Scotland to Boston. I’m pretty old myself, and don’t relish the prospect of Kennedy. We shall see.


Thanks, Moorecat, for the link to the Scotsman article about the Titian appeal. We saw newspapers over the holiday, but it was pretty catch-as-catch-can and we missed that.(Alexander and Ketki don’t take any papers – it certainly reduces clutter and saves time not to.) My husband says that it sounds bad – they wouldn’t postpone the deadline if they had the money.

And, no, we don’t celebrate Hogmanay, never have, although it was great having Thomas and Anna here. It made us feel sort of plugged in.

In the old days, in Strathardle, we used to pay New Year’s calls, though. In those days, Scotland simply stopped for four or five days. There were lots of parties and drunkenness going on somewhere, but there were also people going to see people. It was a time for everybody, not just the young. It was as I imagine, perhaps romantically, the Orthodox Jewish Sabbath to be. When you aren’t actually praying, you can walk over to your friend’s house. He’ll be there, or thereabouts, because travel isn’t allowed. And he won’t be busy, because that isn’t allowed, so you can sit and talk, or go for a stroll.

Similarly, at the New Year, no one was busy, and everyone was welcome everywhere, and bottles appeared from cupboards in the most austere households, and good stories were told about the old days.


It’s frustratingly slow now that I haven’t got all day for it, but progress is being made. The front divides for a neck placket. I’ve finished one side and may finish the other today. All continues well. Our Soap Opera resumes tomorrow after its holiday pause: that’ll add half-an-hour to the evening knitting break.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Thank you for all the kind comments.

Thomas-the-Elder (they call him “big Thomas” on the shores of Loch Fyne) and his girlfriend Anna have been here this week, celebrating the New Year. Their southbound train should be pulling out of Waverley Station just about now. It has been good to have them. And their departure is really, really the end. Now, on with ’09.

My husband and I saw our first art exhibition of the year yesterday, Gerhard Richter at the RSA. I’m afraid he didn’t get through to me. My husband liked some of it.

Then we nipped in to the National Gallery to ask whether the Sutherland Titian had been saved, the deadline of December 31st having passed. The nice man at the door didn’t know.

More Christmas

Last Sunday, from Loch Fyne, we all took our lunchtime sandwiches to Kilchurn Castle. We ate them on the grassy bits you see in the picture. It was one of those ice-cold, crystal-clear days that had all the photographers out with their heavy equipment, making a start on the 2010 calendars.

The entry in the Argyll and Bute volume of Buildings of Scotland ends with the words, “…the extent to which architecture and landscape together admeasure the sublime.” Neither my husband nor I knew the word. And I’m not sure it’s used correctly. It means to “measure out (to a person), to apportion…” the most recent citation in the OED being from 1809. Still, one gets the idea, I suppose. Sublime it certainly is.


This was part of my Christmas present from James and Cathy:

The label says "Gold Skin Soft Cashmere". Cathy says it isn’t pure cashmere. I couldn’t comment, the labels being entirely in Chinese except for those words. It’s a fairly fine lace-weight, heaven to the touch, and I shall soon begin a happy trawl through VLT looking for the perfect stole. There is an abundance of yarn, and I think the thing is to knit a black stole with flashes of red, or vice versa, rather than to strike a balance.

Not to be cast on immediately, though: my knitting plans for the year are few and simple: finish Ketki’s sweater, finish the Princess. Nothing must stand in the way – except possibly my Games entry.

Friday, January 02, 2009

2009! We got here!

Time to get back in the saddle, I think. We had a great Christmas and a good New Year. I was touched by all of your good wishes, and reciprocate them heartily. It’s a thoroughly scary year we’re embarking on, but we’ve got President Obama to look forward to, like Hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box.

I don’t want to boast or anything, but I got a Christmas message on paper in the mail from Mel and David. It meant an awful lot to me. It was clever of them to find the address.

The Christmas holiday involved more knitterly news than you might expect. I took Ketki’s sweater along, rather than socks which are my usual travel knitting. I made enormous strides. I was only a couple of inches above the Calcutta Cup band when we set out. I’m awfully pleased with the way it’s looking, and I think Ketki liked it too.

I had twinges of thinking how much Princess I could have achieved, if I had taken that instead. But the Princess isn’t much use for sitting in the kitchen with, while everybody is talking and laughing.

The current socks are Araucania Multi’s for Alexander, and I may abandon them altogether (a) because I discovered, swatching for Ketki’s sweater, that the yarn will felt; and (b) because I was working on them during my most recent appointment at the eye pavilion. I had to stop when some trivial mistake occurred and I couldn’t see to correct it because of the eye drops. Then I went in and saw a dr and learned, for the first time, that the loss of sight in my left eye is permanent.

It wasn’t the socks’ fault, but it has left me feeling less than enthusiastic about them.

James drove us to Loch Fyne on the 23rd. I sat in the back seat and knitted. One drives past Murrayfield as one leaves Edinburgh for the west, and it was kind of exciting to have the sweater in my hands as we did so. That’s where the Calcutta Cup is won and (more often) lost, and that’s where – presumably – it actually is, at the moment. England will almost certainly get it back in the spring. If they fail to, I’ll knit it into the Princess when I sign and date her. That's very unlikely.

We had a big family lunch on the 27th – my husband’s sister and her daughters and some grandchildren converged from Glasgow and Edinburgh and we all went to Loch Fyne Oyster. Delicious, expensive. Our niece F. had knit a sweater for her sister C. as a Christmas present, and C. wore it that day. Noro sock yarn, – F. said, not nice to knit – perfectly plain st st, scoop neck. It looked wonderful, and fit to perfection, the sleeve-set-in seam sitting precisely on the shoulder, the stripes looking deliberate across body and sleeves. F. said she didn’t swatch, and didn’t make any attempt to match the colours when she attached a new ball. She told me the name of the designer – it’s in a book – but I didn’t recognise it, and don’t remember.