Saturday, February 28, 2009

Brief, today.


I’m halfway along the final row of the 11th centre repeat. So, barring disaster (and disasters happen, believe me) tomorrow should produce a picture and the end-of-repeat statistics.


We’ve ordered some more snowdrops – the books say that this is the time of year to plant them, “in the green”, rather than putting them in as wizened bulbs in the autumn. The order turned up this morning. That settles it, then – we’ll be going to Strathardle next week, barring disaster (see above). My husband is unmoved by the plight of my strawberry plants, but keen to get the snowdrops in.


There was an article in a recent New Yorker, the one with Obama morphed into Lincoln – if that’s what it was – on the cover, about some men who take a severely dystopic view of current affairs, meaning that they think civilisation may be about to collapse entirely (a defensible point of view) and that the wise man now retires to a cabin in the woods with a gun and a stockpile of petrol for the generator and of something that can be used as currency (drugs, perhaps) when coin of the realm no longer works. That’s a long sentence.

The article reported a speech by one of these men, Jim Kunstler, in Montpelier, Vermont. “His audience was an assemblage of nearly two hundred neo-Luddites and anarchists and socialists and freegans and steampunks and home-schoolers and folksingers and knitters and yak farmers.”

Unexpected company to find ourselves in.

Friday, February 27, 2009

My son Alexander is 49 today. If he’d done it my way, and been born two days later than he was, he’d be a lad of 12 ¼.

I finished row 40 of the antepenultimate (11th) complete pattern repeat of the Princess centre. At this cracking pace, I might even polish off this repeat while it’s still February. Here’s the promised pic of the tantalizingly small stretch of border still to be consumed. I think when I’m doing my end-of-repeat calculations this time, I’ll work out a tentative place for the centre to finish.

Sharon Miller herself abandons counting at this stage and says to “adjust if necessary by working a few rows extra/less to finish on a complete centre pattern motif.” When I summed things up at the end of the 10th repeat, I seemed to have about half a dozen more stitches-left-to-pick-up than strict arithmetic would lead me to expect. If that’s still the case, I may slip in a couple of k2togs during the next two repeats, depending on what stopping-place I’m aiming for. I need to get the numbers even on the two sides, too.


My Mara des Bois strawberry plants turned up yesterday. I hope maybe we can slip in a two-night-stand in Strathardle next week to get them planted. At the moment, they’re heeled in in the herb trough on the front step. No doubt, if we do that, the Joan J raspberries I have ordered to fill gaps in last year’s planting will arrive just as our car turns out of Drummond Place on its northward journey.

Mel, that’s exciting news about your home-grown Peruvian Blue potato seed. I look forward keenly to hearing the result. And what an enterprising supermarket, to sell Peruvian Blue potatoes!

Vogue Knitting Book

I’m putting off this bit because it involves confessing to a disagreeable level of unscholarly sloppiness. Suffice it to say, for the moment, that I went on comparing the American and UK spring/summer 1960 issues when we were in Strathardle last week, and cheered up considerably. My fear, after the first comparison, was that all the patterns in the British book were of American origin, redesigned for British yarn but published, falsely, with the American pictures.

That’s not true. There are lots of designs in the British book which aren’t in the American one, and vice versa.

On the eBay front, I continue to improve my stock by buying nice clean copies to replace the more tattered and, especially, coverless ones I already have.


Here’s a recent tidbit from the Waffy to round things off: “Volunteers have knitted woolly jumpers for 1,500 balding battery chickens rescued by Jo Eglen, 29, who runs the Little Hen Rescue Centre in Norwich. The Centre has rescued and re-homed a total of 5,750 battery hens.”

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Row 34 (of 46) finished, of the 11th centre repeat. The amount of border which remains to be consumed, a stitch at a time, is now quite short, encouraging one to dream of completion. Pic tomorrow, when I’ve recharged the battery. It takes two rows to eat each stitch, and a row lasts about half an hour these days (I’m a slow and clumsy knitter), so the end is not exactly nigh.

Still, I can begin thinking about it. I mean to sign and date this baby; I can at least look out the famous issue of Piecework with Bridget Rorem’s lacy alphabet in it, and work out how many rows I’ll need for that.

Home Industries Tent '09

Moorecat, that’s a good idea, about the Fish Hat in Knitty. I’ve printed the pattern. My husband wants a hat for wearing in bed. Why not a fish? (once the Games are over)

I’ve also had a look at children’s cardigans in Ravelry. There are lots of nice things. The last time that category came up, I knit Candace Strick’s Harmony jacket. Unplaced, I believe. That pattern seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. It’s not on Candace’ website; nobody’s knitting it in Ravelry; a Google search comes up with nothing much more than this blog.

(That's Rachel Miles of Beijing in, I think, '03.)

I’ve still got the pattern, of course. Or I could try reducing Candace' famous Mitered Mozart (Knitter’s Spring ’00).


Thanks for the tips on airline knitting. I think I’d better stick to socks on wooden needles. It’s not just time-filling that is at stake: knitting has transformed me from a very nervous flyer into an intrepid birdwoman. I would be terrified to get on a plane again without any. I’ve never had any trouble (except for a brief altercation once with a Virgin Atlantic stewardess, in mid-air). My first visit to the US after 9/11 was early the following year. I departed from Boston itself, where Mohammed Atta boarded, and where they were still walking up and down the departure lounge with those little machine guns, but they didn’t seem to object to knitting.

You’ll like “A Suitable Boy”, Mel. The ideal choice.

Joe has finished his stranded pullover, and seems for some reason dissatisfied with the pictures. Perfect fit, brilliant design, handsome model, in my opinion.

Much to say about Vogue Knitting. I’ll leave it for another day.


I was most encouraged to hear that you plant potatoes with a trowel, Hat. There was an article by Edwin Oxlade in my favourite magazine (Kitchen Garden) recently in which he said that he doesn’t earth up his potatoes. He didn’t get around to it one year, and it made no difference, so he's never done it since. I found the article again when we were in Perthshire just now, but he doesn’t add any details to the bare fact. I’ll keep it in mind.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A thoroughly good session. The weather was open throughout, and Sunday and Monday were beautiful early spring days. I got much more done than I had assigned myself – all eight stations are ready for courgettes; all the soft fruit is pruned, not just the raspberries. A place is ready for the strawberries. Some – not much – general forking-over has been done. I bought a soil-testing kit and discovered

that I needed lime, big-time. (Not surprising – we’re in rhododendron country.) So I limed:

The general impression, wouldn’t you say? is that it has been under cultivation some time recently. It doesn’t always look that way, in February. The table-cloth covers my so-called raised bed.

I consulted my books on the subject of potato-planting. Hessayon suggests planting them under black polythene, but mentions the slug problem. Arthur Simons (I think it was) in The Vegetable Grower’s Handbook says it’s all right to plant them with a trowel. Maybe I’ll try, at least with the first ones, a half-way house: scrape out a slightly sunken path with the front edge of the spade, and then plant with a trowel, or bulb-planter if I can find it. We used to have one.

In general, I feel encouraged to believe that I can, after all, carry on for one more season, especially if we get enough Perthshire time in April and May. My husband was stingy with that commodity last year. I’ll continue extending the permanent planting – those strawberries, and I think I’ll have another go at Good King Henry (a perennial vegetable). I am happy to report that the sorrel I grew from seed last year – clearly an early starter – is alive and well and keen to get going.

The deer (identified by droppings) have been in and polished off the kale. I was surprised that they hadn’t done it before our January visit. Stumps about an inch high remain. I have left them, in hopes of some spring leaves.

And the snowdrops are out, in abundance. We’ve been building up our collection in recent years, and are rather pleased with the result, of which the picture shows but a small part.

Very little knitting. Maybe I should take that sweater with me to CT in July. The happy, idle days of the Christmas holiday were certainly a great boost to Ketki’s sweater, same yarn, same pattern. Do they let you take circular needles on airplanes these days? I’ve never tried anything more aggressive than wooden sock needles.

I’ve got the new Games programme – the knitting categories this year are “child’s cardigan” and “knitted hat” – and I don’t have to enter both classes. So I should have plenty of time to finish the centre of the Princess and make at least a good start on the top edging, before laying her aside again.

Row 29 of the 11th centre repeat of the Princess done.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

To Strathardle today. I should be back by Ash Wednesday.

Thank you for the help with my potatoes – especially from the Fishwife. Where do you get that much cardboard?

Much to say on that subject, and on the VKB front, but today’s bulletin is concerned with the American Vogue Knitting Book which Mary Lou sent me. It arrived yesterday – spring, 1960. I am used to translating the numbers of British VKB’s into dates; I had a real mental struggle to translate that date into a number. It’s easy, really, and the answer is no. 56.


The two magazines are very different, different sizes, different layouts. The British one offers “over 25 new designs”; the American, “50 colorful new designs”, so I think we can assume that the contents are not identical.

However, many of the patterns are the same, with identical photographs, although perhaps differently cropped. There has clearly been a lot of editing going on. I will take both magazines to Strathardle today to pursue the question of whether all the British patterns are in the American magazine. I will probably be capable of no more than dozing by the fire.

I started with this one. This is part of the picture as it appears in the American magazine, and I didn’t notice until I scanned it that the model is sitting in a right-hand drive car. I had already concluded on other grounds that the pattern was probably American:

I compared the patterns. They are not identical. US: Coats & Clark’s Red Heart Super Fingering 3 ply, gauge 7 sts to 1". GB: Munrospun Evening Dusk 4-ply, gauge 15 sts to 2". The British pattern offers a choice of sleeve-length, the American one doesn’t.

GB (for the smallest size, 32-in bust): “cast on 116, Work 1 ½", ending with a k. row. K. into back of each st. in next row to mark hemline. Change to [larger] needles. Work 24 rows. Inc. 1 each end of next and every 12th row until there are 132 sts.”

USA (for size 10, otherwise undefined): “cast on 119 sts. Work in stockinette st. Work even for 1", ending with a k. row. K. 1 row on wrong side (hemline). Change to [larger] needles and continue in stockinette st. Work even until 12 ½". [then shape armholes]”.

And so forth. Small differences, but there they are. The American design is finished with bias binding in a contrast colour at neck and sleeves. The British one is not – and when one looks closely at the photographs, one can indeed see that the British one has been altered to eliminate the contrast. (Or vice versa, of course, but I am now convinced that this pattern, at least, is of American origin.)

There must be women still alive who remember how this editing was done. It would be fascinating to hear the story. If the whole thing was re-knit in Britain, why not re-photographed?

For the shock of it all last night was this ineluctible conclusion: the picture in one magazine or the other is a lie: the sweater shown was not knit in the yarn specified, nor to quite the pattern supplied. Next, you’ll be telling me there is no Santa Claus.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The potatoes are here.

Enjay, you must start growing them at once. They are very easy, very satisfactory to contemplate in all stages of development, and very, very delicious. Chitting is, as you imply, just a matter of encouraging them to do what they do naturally. You set them out in a cool, well-lit, frost-free position and let them sprout. That gives them a bit of a head start. They are tough little tubers, but the foliage is susceptible to frost, so they can’t go in the ground too early.

Are you in Britain? If so, I highly recommend Alan Romans as a supplier. He doesn’t publish a paper catalogue – you have to go on-line. I used to order from Thompson and Morgan, but one year recently, after I had, as usual, spent happy hours during the winter reading and re-reading their interesting list and finally narrowing things down to my four choices – they sent me two substitutes. It spoiled all the fun.

I would also recommend growing Pink Fir Apple, a salad potato so beloved of trendy veggies that I long avoided it. I grew some last year, and am converted. Prolific, delicious. It’s sort of a funny shape which is presumably why you don’t get it in shops. (It's on the far right in the picture above.) A warm potato salad with Pink Fir Apples and a couple of fistfuls of sorrel and some butter is a dish fit to set on the table next to the nectar and ambrosia. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe. The heat of the just-cooked potatoes wilts the sorrel.

Tamar, thanks for the tip about growing potatoes on the surface. I’ll read up on the possibilities when were are in Strathardle and I am reunited with my gardening books. I think it can be done under black polythene, as well. Digging isn’t the problem – that can be done a forkful at a time, as required for lunch, and grandchildren enjoy helping. It’s like digging for treasure. The difficulty, strength-wise, will be getting them in, in that delicious but narrow window of opportunity in April and early May when everything has to be done at once.

For the moment, I proceed like the Little Engine That Could. I have set the potatoes to chit. When we are next in Strathardle (from tomorrow) I will prune the autumn-fruiting raspberries I put in last year. Pruning consists of cutting them down to the ground, because they fruit on the current year’s growth. I can do that. I want to start digging holes for the courgettes – dig a hole, half-fill with compost or manure, fill it up, mark with a stick. I’ll need eight such sites in all, and hope to establish maybe three this week. Chose a place for the Mara des bois strawberries I have ordered, and weed and fork it over. All that should be possible.

And, oh yes,


I speed onwards with the Princess with winged sandals on my feet. I’ve reached row 22 of the 11th centre repeat. My mistake, I think, was to stop, last time, just after that pesky initial motif, with the thought of making it easy for myself to resume. On the contrary, I just felt mired down in endless easy knitting. Whereas now that I’ve toiled through the motif again, easy is delightful and speed is enjoyed. I should pass row 23 today which is, in a sense, half-way through the 46-row repeat. “In a sense”, because another 23 stitches will be added in the second half.

Jean, thank you for the memories of your mother-in-law’s contract knitting (and all best wishes for your move). There is simply no way that hand-knitting can produce a living wage, or even very much by way of pin money. The knitters I often wonder about these days are the ones who knit for designers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I didn’t do anything about getting hold of The Knitter yesterday. Your comments, Shandy and Judith, sort of stayed my hand. I resolved to spend more time in Ravelry.

In Knitting magazine, too, the best things usually turn out to be reprinted from some book. I think a knitting magazine editor who wanted to break new ground could do worse than wander through the blogs looking to see what amateur and semi-amateur designers are doing. The ones who don’t aspire to publication and don’t count on pattern sales to put soup on the table. Joe’s stranded knitting pullover would be an ornament to any magazine. There may be other good things out there.

I’ve been buying, as you know, Vogue Knitting Books with nice covers to replace the coverless ones in my collection, if I can get them cheap. Yesterday Number 50 arrived, spring, 1956. I paid £7.50 for it. (That’s cheap.) It’s an absolutely spanking copy, straight off the newsstand and containing this delicious flyer:

Even assuming that the LYS made all its money from selling wool, and the full charge for knitting a garment went to the knitter, that’s not much money for highly-skilled work. Almost everything was made with fine yarn, too. Even the Arans are only knit with DK. Who were the knitters? One would be very hard put to find them nowadays.

The Princess sped forward yesterday. I finished the slow-moving motif which takes up the first third of the repeat, and whizzed on to a point early in row 17. I’ve now done a complete repeat since I resumed Princess-knitting. I sort of feel I’m making progress.

I discovered a Great Truth about lace-knitting, too. Everybody else probably knows it already. It is this: it is much easier and quicker to knit two stitches together, by whatever means, if the two stitches themselves were knit or purled in the preceding row. If one of them was a YO, it’s harder to get hold of the pair, whether the YO comes first or second. All the rest of the centre repeat consists of simple triangles and chevrons with the lines moving in easy diagonals outside the lines of YO holes.


I had an email this morning to say that my seed potato order has shipped. This is exciting news. Surely there’s every hope it’ll be here before we leave for Strathardle on Thursday. I’m not at all sure I’m still strong enough to grow vegetables, but the first job of the season will be to set the potatoes to chit, and I am strong enough for that. The egg boxes are waiting by the dining-room windowsill.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dear Stash Haus – I was delighted to hear about your new subscription to the Economist. I know you’ll like it – because it comes in a paper envelope. (I hope that’s true in America.) It’s the only magazine that comes to our house in that way. Even the New Yorker has to be disembowelled from dreadful plastic.

And I think you’ve sold me on The Knitter. I first heard of it in Helen’s blog – she had had a fruitless search of the newsstands. The website makes it look interesting – and Britain certainly needs an interesting knitting magazine. I still doggedly subscribe to “Knitting” and they do try hard, but are let down by utterly banal patterns. I think I’m going to have to try this one.

The other two magazines I got on Saturday – besides the re-named VK – were a totally unexpected IK and the current Knitting, as aforementioned. The jury is still out on Eunny as IK editor, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know what I’m looking for, but I feel I’ll know it when I see it, and it’s not here.

(I saw a reference to Conde Nast in a Sunday paper yesterday, so they do exist. Perhaps they sold on Vogue Knitting and then wouldn’t let the buyer use the title word ‘Vogue’, at least in Britain?)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’ve embarked on row 11 of the 11th repeat of the Princess centre. If I do three rows a day, a repeat will take about a fortnight, plus of course any time spent in Strathardle and/or London. That sounds all right, as if I might one day finish the centre, even if I have to slow down to two rows a day (three weeks per repeat) at the end.

I’m not sure whether that’s a comforting approach, a breaking the task down into manageable segments and dealing with them one by one, or a stress-inducing daily goal. I did four rows yesterday, and they were slow ones involving double decreases – worse, much worse, double decreases with a stitch marker in the middle of the three stitches involved. Row 11 is the last such row. The rest should go faster.

The weather continues vernal, although not particularly pleasant at the moment. I am hopeful about reaching Strathardle this week.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Three knitting magazines in the post yesterday – five, if you count two old Vogue Knitting Books which I recently bought on eBay because they have covers and the equivalent ones in my collection didn’t. A Personal Best never likely to be equalled.

One of them was something called “Designer Knitting” which I had never heard of. Turns out it’s VK renamed “to comply with USA regulations”. Wha? Did that happen in the USA as well? I notice that it isn’t published by Conde Nast any more. Does Conde Nast still exist? Life is full of questions.

Still, it’s the real VK all right, with Jared’s promised cabled gloves, and very delectable they are. As a bonus, there is a picture of Jared, who is also rather delectable. And only twenty-six! I didn’t expect that.

Meg is writing about EZ’s snail hat. I attempted it once, but used far too small a wool and my result would hardly fit Barbie. It’s fun to do: might be worth ordering some Sheepsdown and doing it properly.

I was taken aback at the classification of Kaffe’s nice scarf as “very easy” and surprised to find a scarf in a stitch – intarsia – which is so resolutely one-sided. All the photographs have been arranged so that not a glimpse of the reverse shows.

As for knitting, I have embarked on Row 7 of the 11th repeat of the Princess centre. The early rows are rather slow, with lots of double decreases. Things open out after row 11. But it’ll remain slow, with all these stitches.

I never do k3tog for a double decrease any more – I’ve had too many sad episodes involving the escape of the middle stitch. I learned from Margaret Stove herself that the stitch the needle enters first, for any decrease, is the one that winds up on top. When it looks as if a double decrease ought to be centred, therefore, I do it by slipping two stitches as if to knit them together, knitting the next stitch, and lifting the two slipped stitches over. When it looks as if direction doesn’t matter, I do the easiest one of all, slip 1, k2tog, psso.


The current Economist has quite a bit on the subject of the Kindle and allied electronic readers, but nothing that seems to advance my case.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

We recently signed up for Lovefilm (recommended) where you pay a set monthly fee and give them a list of DVD’s you’d like to see and they send you one from the list and you keep it as long as you like and when you send it back they send another. They provide the post-paid envelope. We’ve got the cheapest subscription of all, two DVD’s a month for £4.

Yesterday I went over and added A Very Peculiar Practice to my list. I will watch closely for you, Tricia. And for Hugh Grant. I see it was written by Andrew Davies – I couldn’t assign a CV to him, but I think I know that his is a Big Name.

I may never have mentioned that my son James lived for a year on the same stair at New College, Oxford, as Hugh Grant – and once loaned him a frying pan. There’s glory for you.


I did three rows of Centre Repeat #11 yesterday. I feel a new spring in my step now that I have done all those sums and spread it out and had a look. In fact, however, things are a bit glummer than they were – I had misremembered and thought I had to do only 12 repeats and then find a good stopping-place in the 13th. It’s one repeat worse than that – there are 13 complete ones.

Row 2 is rather difficult, and I am glad to be past it again. It’s the row that sets the patterns for the repeat. The knitting is perfectly simple, but it’s not symmetrical. You can’t look down in the middle of (say) a 5-stitch run of knit stitches and reassure yourself that the middle stitch is lined up with the middle of something below. One knits all the way across in a state of anxiety.


The word “mild” – or at least “milder” -- is beginning to crop up in weather reports, and we have our eye on the end of next week for a northward venture at last. All my seeds are here, including salsola soda, but I’m still waiting for the seed potatoes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

“Tristan” means nothing to me, vis a vis Peter Davison.

Thanks for the dating information, Vivienne. I’ll make a discrete pencil note on the pattern before I put it away. I’m glad not to have to believe that Davison is 60 already. The pattern number, Wren, is 5967.

I hesitate to venture further into television history after my howler yesterday – you’re absolutely right, Bonnie, that it was Ian Carmichael we were offered as Lord Peter, not Richard Briars. My strictures of yesterday remain in place, but slightly less emphatic.

But (to venture anyway) I think my first acquaintance with Peter Davison was in something called “A Most Peculiar Practice”. It was a series about the health centre at a Midland university. Davison was one of the doctors. There was an older one, mad as a hatter, similar to (and perhaps played by the same actor as) the Scots undertaker in Dad’s Army. There was, I think, a middle-aged, sane doctor as well. Does anyone remember? Helen?

Thanks for continued input on the Kindle, too. It did occur to me, after I shot yesterday’s post into the ether, that I might be able to download books onto the desktop and squirt them into the Kindle via a USB port – and Cynthia confirms that this approach will work. Well, watch and wait.


Here’s the Princess:

Here’s the hole in her border:

I’ve finished the 10th repeat, and have done a lot of counting. I have achieved just over half – 52.25% -- of the centre. Left and right aren’t quite what they should be, but pretty close on, and the eyeball test is quite satisfactory. The centre seems to hit both sides, left and right, right in the middle of their respective penultimate “feathers”. On we go.

Cynthia, who is clearly good with numbers, tells me that I am about 75% of the way through the entire project, and therefore I have enough yarn – three balls left, out of ten. She adds, and my heart fills with dismay, that the top edging will be longer than the original one.

I started nearly three years ago, in May, 2006. There are 85 repeats in the first edging, and it’s a tricky pattern. I think I had done fully 50 repeats before I had completely mastered it. I had my cataract operations that summer and amused myself while the surgeon was delving into my eye, by mentally reciting the edging pattern, using “take” and “cast”, Shetland-fashion, for k2tog and YO: I had something, too, for a double decrease, but I’ve forgotten what. The left eye (separate occasion) was trickier, I remember, and I got all the way through twice.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rarely if ever can an non-knit topic have been brought so neatly around to knitting:

It is undated and unpriced – the latter information would have let us know whether it was before or after decimalization. I think late '60’s, though, rather than early '70’s. Note the cigarette. I never knit the pattern. And I am quietly proud of the fact that it took me considerably less than five minutes to dig it out of the cupboard yesterday.

I never saw nor was even aware of Mr Campion on television. Davison would be a perfect choice. I think there was once an attempt to cast Richard Briars as Lord Peter Wimsey – that would be a disaster. Briars can do the upper-class silly-ass aspect, but not highly-bred-as-a-racehorse nor the steel-trap mind.

Since I’ve started with literature, I might as well go straight on to today’s Kindle news, which isn’t good. Jan sent me an item from PC Magazine explaining why it isn’t available over here. Firstly, because it uses a Sprint modem which is only compatible with the US network, and secondly, because all the contracts with publishers would have to be renegotiated.

A firm with the clout of Amazon could get over the second hurdle, I am sure. The majority of books in English are published both in the US and in Britain, which gets things off to a good start, and in these hard times publishers would be only too delighted to have a new revenue stream. But the modem is bad news, and strongly implies that if I got one in the States I wouldn’t be able to call down reading material from the ether over here.

Still, I have great faith in eCommerce, as I’ve mentioned before. And we’ve still got five months.


I am knitting row 43 of 46 – I could finish the 10th repeat today! Pic tomorrow, if so.

I spotted a fairly horrendous hole in the border yesterday, presumably one of the ones which prompted me to keep the Princess in the freezer during the months of inaction. I think it has to be moth rather than the lace-knitter’s other nightmare, the escaped stitch from a double decrease, because I can see yarn-ends. I’d better pin it out on a cushion and deal with it soon.

In an object of this scale, it won’t matter too much, if I can do a reasonably tidy repair. It’ll even add a note of antiquity. But it seemed for a moment an image of all life – the beginning falling into corruption even as the work proceeds. I had a dreadful moment of wondering whether the whole thing was riddled with moth holes, but I shook it out and looked – no, it’s not.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Little to report, needless to say. Last night we watched an inspiriting propaganda film made in 1942, The Day Will Come, or some such title, about Norway, Preminger. A good deal better for knitting-to than French subtitles. I am half-way across row 39 (of the 46 rows of the 10th repeat). The only place to go is on.

I have been reflecting – this is a very obvious and banal remark – on how important it is in lace knitting to keep an eagle eye on the row below -- or the row two below, if you’re doing the kind of lace with blank rows in between. I don’t think any of us can remember which type is meant to be called Lace Knitting and which, Knitted Lace.

I have an uncomfortable feeling that I went on far too long in my lace career satisfied to live with the vague feeling that Things Are Not Right, hoping that at least it would all go right from now on. It’s very easy in most lace to see at once whether it’s right or not, and to supply an extra YO (by picking up the thread between the needles) or K2tog as necessary.

I won Vogue Knitting Bk No. 38 on eBay yesterday evening – it was cheaper than No. 53 which I had lost earlier in the day. I am hugely enjoying this new, stress-free bidding. There’s another one (of the coverless ones in my collection) coming up tomorrow. And if anyone is interested, there is an unusually rich crop of 50’s VKBs on offer at the moment.


Cynthia’s enthusiasm for Marjorie Allingham (comment, yesterday) reminds me of a space-filling thought I meant to write a couple of days ago. We recently saw some of “The Bourne Identity” on television, but didn’t persevere to the end. It had some splendid explosions and some wonderful cityscapes, but the central situation seemed more than a bit flaccid.

It was Allingham, as far as I know, who came up with that particular McGuffin, in “Traitor’s Purse” published in 1941. Her hero Mr Campion wakes up in hospital suffering from amnesia but with a grim sense that there is something terribly important he has to do. I don’t think I will spoil it for anyone still fortunate enough to have the pleasure of a first reading to look forward to, if I say that in the end, he recovers his memory and succeeds. The second McGuffin – the important thing he has to do – is equally good.

I believe contemporary reviews said, Rattling good yarn, Mrs Allingham, but the ending is a bit improbable. After the war, it turned out that the Germans had had the same idea (or maybe they read the book). They didn’t succeed with it either, frustrated, perhaps, by some unknown, unsung Campion.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Edinburgh snow is largely gone. In England, it’s raining a lot. Maybe the worst is over.

Not much to report, knitting-wise. I finished row 34, rather a slow one, and am well embarked on 35. Yesterday evening we watched a French film – Ne Le Dis a Personne – in which there is a lot of talking and not very legible subtitles. Not nearly as conducive to lace knitting as a tedious VI Nations rugby match.

I failed to secure Vogue Knitting Book number 53, which I need for its cover, in an eBay auction this morning, but won No. 55. No 38 is coming up later today. That’s spring, 1951, and may get pricey.

Here’s a totally miscellaneous tidbit: there was an obituary in the Waffy yesterday of a Battle of Britain pilot-hero with a reference to “Lord Grosvenor, who considered the aeroplane a military development of the horse.” It’s a position which can be defended.


I am excited by the news in yesterday’s comments that a new model is about to appear. It’s not as if Amazon were an exclusively American company – surely if it’s a success they’ll release it over here before the summer.

Your point, Gerrie, about clutter is one that had occurred to me. In fact, I don’t read all that much these days (except for journalism, over meals). When I sit, I knit. But there are exceptions, and the paperback souveniers of those exceptions fill every corner. If I had a Kindle, I could get rid of it all – except for the Marjorie Allingham’s; I’ll keep her. I liked Angel’s point from a few days ago, that a Kindle allows you to read trash without anybody knowing.

Not that Allingham is trash. Far from it.

And, Cynthia, your news that the new Kindle can read out loud is simply stunning.

Monday, February 09, 2009

We’ve got our snow. There was an unexpected glow through the window over the door when I went to put up the chain last night. I opened the door, thinking vaguely full-moon, and there it was. I don’t think it’ll last long. I’ve swept and salted our step, feeling very frontier-housewife, but I wonder if the postie will make the effort today.

The coups de rouge provided by the postbox and that car on the garden side are rather effective, I feel.

I’ve now done row 33 of the 10th repeat – there are 46 rows in all; I resumed on row 16. So another three days should see the repeat finished, and then I start again, Sisyphus-fashion. Tamar, I mean to count the stitches in all directions when the repeat is finished – both calculating from the number of repeats I’ve done, how many stitches should be on the needle and how many should remain to grab, and counting the actual stitches in both situations.

There are a few more on the needle on the left side than on the right. The markers make that clear. And it’s the left side that seemed to have fewer left to pick up, when I tried to count the other day. I did one row of adjustment last night, and may put in another before the repeat is finished.

It’s not quite as easy as it sounds. Every row ends by knitting up one stitch from the reserves. But every row begins with a k2tog. The actual new stitches are supplied by that innocent line of faggoting – yo, k2tog, yo on each side every other row. So the adjustment involved not picking up a stitch, not starting the row with k2tog, and doing an extra k2tog next to the faggoting.

I joined in a new ball of yarn last night. That’s something of an event. Two remain. I think I started with ten. I haven’t the vaguest idea whether two more will be enough.

I watched some of the rugby yesterday – Wales beat Scotland handily. The Princess centre is a pretty easy 12-stitch repeat and I was able to get a certain amount done during the longeurs. Eventually it got too boring to go on with.


Mary Lou writes that the American Vogue Knitting of spring/summer, 1960, is on its way to me. I’m very excited, and promise a full comparative report as soon as it arrives. Alexander was born at the end of February that year. By the end of the summer, we were on our way to Northampton, MA, where we spent a very happy academic year. Before Webs, alas.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Whew – 51 all out!

I’ve done 12 ½ rows of Princess since I resumed work on her, and am feeling a bit bogged down. I think there are about 200 rows to go, in the centre (followed by the top edging). The lack of a solid count is depressing. When I was doing the initial edging, I knew I had to do 85 repeats. However slow the work, I knew exactly where I was. Similarly with the border – there are 220 rows (or whatever), and I knew which one I had just done and which came next.

Now, I am swimming stoutly towards the shore, but I have little or no idea how far away it is.

At the end of every repeat, it is my practice to

1) count the stitches I’ve got on the needle; figure out how many there should be, and compare the figures. It’s never quite right.
2) Apply Cynthia’s Formula, to see what percentage of the centre I’ve done;
3) Eyeball the progress of the centre vis a vis the border, to see if the two sides look roughly even.

When I finish the current repeat – the 10th -- I think I will also try to count the stitches remaining to be picked up and work out how many of them there should be. I tried to count them yesterday – they’re on waste yarn, and it’s not entirely easy – and got rather alarmingly different answers for the two sides.



Janet, I hope you get away on your journey all right. I see from your blog that there’s been snow in Dublin. We didn’t have any here yesterday after all.

I can’t entirely comfort myself with the thought that there will be no such difficulty in July, remembering the summer’s day 18 months ago when Rachel’s younger son Joe was flying to Washington for what proved a very happy holiday with Theo; and Alistair Miles of Beijing was flying from Boston to London alone, at the end of a holiday with my sister.

And London and the south of England were hit with torrential rain, a veritable monsoon.

Rachel and Joe abandoned their car at Clapham Junction and got to Heathrow by train, late but not too late. Meanwhile Alistair’s mother Cathy couldn’t get there, starting from Cornwall, so phoned Rachel who, being at Heathrow anyway, was able to meet Alistair. All was well that ended well, but an anxious time was had by all.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

It’s been snowing wetly in Edinburgh this morning – is this going to be our day? Probably not. The depressing thing about all this is the absence of the slightest note of milder-weather-is-on-the-way from any forecast. I’m sure it’s desperately good for the garden to have a dose of real winter weather, but I long to get outdoors. In Strathardle.

There are about 430 stitches in the Princess centre at the moment – half the border number. And about 150 rows to go, I think. The only thing to do is to plod on steadily. When I applied Cynthia’s Formula at the end of the 9th repeat, I was still less than half-way. I’ll do the same at the end of No. 10 and will surely have achieved 50%.

Meanwhile I had a nice time yesterday tidying up after Ketki’s sweater. Tidiness does not figure hugely in my normal programme, but I love tidying up after a knitting project. Picking up scraps of yarn from the making-up process. Putting the left-over yarn away. Dating the pattern and putting it with any notes and swatches and a ball-band and a sample of the yarn in my “Knitting Actually Done” folder. Adding a photograph – in these days of digital, that can be done right away.

I started that folder, I see to my surprise, thirty years ago. Every so often it gets full, and the contents are moved to a box file. It is time to do that again – it will be the fourth. I have been repeatedly surprised to find how often I go back to look for something. I was also surprised, in the early days, to find how much that folder kept me on the straight-and-narrow. Not entirely, but more than somewhat. The number of UFO’s fell precipitately once I started keeping that record.

The never-forgotten remark of Helen in her adolescence helped, too: “What’s that going to be – if you finish it?”

Wedding-journey miscellany

I booked Lizzie’s and my flights yesterday. Trailfinders, as ever, very pleasant and efficient. (The poor man was taken aback, however, to find that I had only one telephone number.) Wren, thank you for the note about tulips in Amsterdam airport. July might indeed not be the ideal month for buying them, but they’re clever, the Dutch, and I’ll certainly look. Mel, I agree that species are what to look for.

I am very grateful indeed for all the reports about Kindles, including Cynthia’s, ex-comment. I had been sort of anxious, when I stopped to think about it, about whether I would ever use the gadget again after July 28th (when I get back to London, insh’Allah). But everything you say about devotion to your Kindles makes me suspect otherwise. I hadn’t known that there were any free books up there in cyber-space, either.

I first saw one a few months ago when I peeled off, on arrival in London, to spend an evening with an old friend (an Oberlin friend, Angel!) while my husband made his way to Streatham alone. She had a Kindle and was full of enthusiasm.

eCommerce moves fast. I think my best bet is to wait patiently and see how the cookie crumbles. If they are available in GB by the summer – and the rumour you have heard about a new one, Holly, brings the possibility closer – I’ll probably pounce. The notion of running out of reading matter in CT doesn’t bear thinking about.

(My Microsoft Word spelling-checker, which has never heard of “woad”, has no trouble at all with “eCommerce” which I thought I had invented.)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Still no snow in Edinburgh. Bitter cold. Another walk-that-left-me-reeling, yesterday afternoon. My husband came through it in better shape.

It’s not an FO until that final wretched third button is in place, but I’m very happy with the result so far. Size in all directions is absolutely centre-of-the-target. Could it have something to do with swatching?

I made some progress on the Princess last night, but not much. That sentence will do as a daily report (I hope) for months to come. Perhaps this evening I’ll work out roughly how many stitches there are. Enough, certainly, that adding one more at the end of the row – as one does, every row – couldn’t make any appreciable difference. One feels. I think even at the top of the centre, which seems a long way off at the moment, there will be fewer stitches than there were in every row of the border. And there were hundreds of rows in the border.

There’s something about lace knitting that makes every stitch significant, even when one is knitting one’s way through half-an-acre of Princess centre, and thus creates the temptation to sit down and knock off a few pattern repeats – half-a-row is by now too ambitious for a little mid-morning break.


My sister is pressing for definiteness. Even though there are more than five months to go, I may phone the travel agent today and try to book Lizzie and me in to Hartford via Amsterdam. I must give some thought to knitting, too. Socks, I think. I want to have a serious look at Kaffe’s new range for Regia.

Who was it said that you can buy tulip bulbs in Amsterdam airport? Perhaps I can spot the shop on the way out, and call back five days later to pick up a few for Strathardle. Neither my husband nor even Alexander quite grasps that tulips will bloom once, or maybe twice, and then fade away, here in Scotland, whereas daffodils go on forever, and multiply. My husband likes tulips, though; and they would be a bright souvenir of the wedding, next spring.

Here’s a question: I had thought of getting myself a Kindle for this trip. What the hell, since I am going to be spending so much anyway. (If enough people would just get married, the credit crunch would surely be at an end. I will buy airline tickets, clothes, a hotel room, a wedding present, and so will dozens of other people, while the families at the centre of it all will spend vast sums – crede expertae – on everything else. I’m not complaining. It’s fun.)

A Kindle would reduce the bulk I will have to carry, and would completely obviate the problem of finding that the books I had brought weren’t proving satisfactory.

The price is more than a bit breathtaking. At the moment, I can’t get one anyway. in the US is out of stock, and won’t send them abroad when they become available. doesn’t seem to have them either. Other eBooks are about. Is it worth getting one of them (money no object, for the moment)? Or better to hold out for a Kindle? Or forget the whole idea and buy a couple of well-chosen paperbacks? I think Eudora Welty’s “Delta Wedding” ought to be one of them.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Day After I got VKB No. 16

Still no snow in Edinburgh, although it sounds as if there is a good deal both to the north and to the south of us. I don’t know what’s happening in Strathardle. I still don’t want to go there until the current weather system goes away. I’m terrified of getting stuck in the snow – and I want to get started on the garden, pruning the raspberries, digging holes for the courgettes and filling them with compost. Can’t do that if the ground is frozen solid. And I’d like to see the snowdrops. We’ve been building up our collection, and have quite a few by now.

Vogue Knitting Book No. 16 is safely here. The last time I got a Special Delivery (“Hand-Knits for Service Women”, from the same seller) it came with the rest of the mail at the end of the morning. This time, as befitted so solemn an occasion, it came all by itself in a van with a man.

I emailed the seller, thanking her again for letting it go. She said in her reply, “My very best wishes to you and to Alexander - bet he's glad you've now completed your collection.”

As I expected, there’s not much hint of war in No. 16 (spring, 1940). Separate leaflets are advertised with military knitting; that’s about it. Yarn seems to be abundant (it was first rationed in 1941).

Things are much the same in No. 17. Vogue Knitting’s of the 30’s were strong on telling you suitable places for wearing each project – golf, tennis, the country, the evening, town, ski-ing, and so forth. No. 17 does allow itself to suggest, for the very first pattern in the book, that it’s highly suitable “for the shelter”.

I was wrong about men – I think I said here recently that there are no patterns for them in wartime VKB’s. There is one each in No. 16 and No. 17.

The next thing is to spread the whole war out on the dining room table, only recently cleared of Christmas cards.


This is a big day all round. I finished Ketki’s sweater last night, except for one button. It flew out of my hand during the sewing-on process, and by the time I found it, I had moved on to the Princess. I’ll have to do it today. Hate buttons. And block the sweater.

Princess-knitting went fine. I can see it as well as ever. The joy of knitting it is undiminished. The rows are very long now – I finished one yesterday, and made a good start on another. I’m halfway through the 10th centre repeat, and had left myself a careful message. During its period in the freezer I used point protectors, and I think I’ll go on using them, although I’ve had no trouble with escaping stitches. Sharon Miller knit the prototype in cotton, and says that her stitches were very eager to get away.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Not all that much progress yesterday, although the sleeve seams are done. We went up to the NG in the afternoon to look at the Titians, the announcement having been made the day before that "Diana and Actaeon" has been bought for the nation. Getting another £50 million together for "Diana and Callisto" isn’t going to be easy. It’s not quite as attractive a picture, either.

Then we did some mild shopping, including the sweater buttons, and came home in an unprovoked state of utter exhaustion, both of us.

I wondered if Actaeon had done anything to deserve his unpleasant fate. It was so easy to get on the wrong side of the gods, in those days. But apparently not. I looked up the locus classicus, the passage in Ovid Metamorphoses bk 3 – which Titian will have known – and find that Ovid himself poses the question, and concludes that there was no crimen on Actaeon’s part, just error. “Error” in Latin means both what it means in English, and a more literal “wandering from the path”.

That’s by-the-way. I should finish the tidying and the button-sewing on the Calcutta Cup sweater today, and that’s it, except for blocking. I tried it on myself – Ketki and I are roughly the same build, although I’m rather more ample. I liked the way it fit, and felt. It’s going to be fine on her.

I figured out the dot problem, too (see yesterday). I am capable of thinking, after all. On the sleeves, I had to knit up stitches from both the sleeve and the sleeve-hole. I did it with pink yarn, right side facing, so the dots are on the inside.

But for the shoulders, I had live stitches. I plunged straight in, knitting them together with pink and then binding off on the next row. So of course there are dots on the reverse side. At least I had the wit to do the row joining the shoulders from the front, on both sides, so both sets of dots are on the back. I should have knit a pink row to start with on each edge, with the right side facing, before joining them.

So, maybe, Princess tomorrow. I’m just a tad worried that my Eye Crisis (Retinal Vein Occlusion in the left eye) is going to make lace knitting harder than it was. I don’t think so. I think I’ll be fine. But I’ll be happier when I’ve done a couple of rows.


Shandy, thank you for your most generous offer, but no, I don’t need it. When/if No 16 arrives by Special Delivery today, I’ll have all of the original British series of the Vogue Knitting Book. All! I tell you. There are 62 of them.

And Gretchen, thank you very much indeed for that valuable history of the new Vogue Knitting International. I’m surprised that the non-publication gap was a long as it was, all through the seventies and into the eighties. I’ve had a look at my collection and find that it starts with Spring, ’83 – so that should mean I have them all, except for Fall/Winter ’82. I’ll start looking for it on eBay.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Checking up on my Vogue Knitting Book collection was the right thing to do – three of my four coverless ones are currently listed on eBay. I won’t pay silly prices for them, but I’ll certainly be in there bidding. Also, I found the box file with my other WWII patterns-for-the-troops booklets; and the one with the most recent of all British VK’s, from the late 60’s, and felt like the woman in the parable who swept out the house and found her groat. They’re all lined up on the floor, now, in front of one of the knitting-book bookcases.

The deal with the owner of No 16 is concluded. She'll post it today, snow permitting.

After the VKB disappeared, it was replaced, over here, with a redesigned Vogue Knitting which lasted for four years, eight issues (and included, amongst other good things, Kaffe’s first published pattern, in No. 7). I wonder now whether that was a solely-British venture, to compensate for the loss of the companion American edition of the VKB which had lasted for just over 20 years, from the late war years until the mid-sixties? There’s much that I wonder which could only be straightened out from the Conde Nast files themselves.

When did Vogue Knitting International start up, come to that? I think I missed the first few issues.

Otherwise, little to report. I have set in the second sleeve. Three-needle binding off, at least for set-in sleeves, takes at least twice as long as sewing. But looks much neater. I hope it's not too tight. It only remains to sew the sleeve seams, tidy up, block, and sew on some buttons. I am sure the placket will never be worn buttoned, but they’ve got to be there. I hate sewing on buttons..

Charlotte, the bound-off edge is on the outside. As far as I am concerned, that is the whole point of three-needle binding-off. On the shoulders, I have got one of those little rows of dots on the back of the sweater, such as you get on the wrong side when you make a stripe of colour in st st or garter stitch. I have managed to avoid that on the sleeves. How? I’m not very good at thinking.

Tamar, I think you’re right that the pink is OK. The idea was in a vague sort of way to echo its Calcutta Cup appearance and make the whole thing look more intentional.


We had a filthy day all day yesterday, but no snow. Here is a picture Rachel took of her two daughters, Lizzie and Hellie. Lizzie’s school was closed. Hellie and Rachel herself couldn’t get to work. There were no busses in London, few suburban trains and not much underground.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Groundhog Day

It’s a filthy day. I can’t see anybody being tempted out of hibernation, shadow or no shadow. Edinburgh is so far spared the snow which is currently strangling the Souff, but the forecast is unpleasant and I am very much inclined not to gratify my husband’s wish to attempt Strathardle tomorrow.

On the other hand, I got some more seeds this morning, and the Roottrainers, which look interesting, and the Microgreens kit. Perhaps I’ll try some of the Cherokee beans in Roottrainers.

And on yet another hand, the owner of VKB 16 has named a price. It’s steep, but it means I get to keep Alexander and all my books. I can’t let it go.

Mary Lou, it is very kind of you to offer me an American post-war VKB. First, I thought we could do the comparison with emails and maybe some pictures, but I realise I’d rather see it. I promise to send it straight back.

eBay has got quite a spate of ‘50’s and ‘60’s VKBs at the moment. I hope I will take the time today to go through my collection and see which ones need replacing.

Now, knitting.

I set in the first sleeve successfully yesterday using a three-needle bind-off. I wasn’t absolutely sure I liked the pinkness. I’m happier with it this morning. If in doubt, take it out, is a sound principle of life. This one is right on the cusp.

I started by slipping a needle through the stitches I meant to pick up, just to see how hard it would be to get an identical number from sleeve and sleeve-hole. Tamar pointed out in a comment recently that the stitch-count has to be identical. It was easy-peasy: full marks to the pattern. Then I knitted up both sets of stitches. Then three-needle’d them, which is rather a fiddly job. I’ll do the other sleeve today, insh’Allah. But as a technique for setting in a sleeve, I think I can recommend the three-needle bind-off. You don’t have to do it in pink.

This year's Six Nations rugby tournament -- in which Scotland will lose the Calcutta Cup -- is about to begin. A most appropriate week in which to finishthe sweater.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

So, farewell January. The first of my seed orders arrived yesterday -- '09 is truly underway. I've got (amongst much else) a climbing French bean called "Cherokee Trail of Tears", the idea being that the Cherokees carried seeds of it with them when driven from their homelands in Georgia. Who could resist? They came from the Real Seed Company.

Sorry about yesterday – and today will be a bit of a rush.

All day Friday I kept checking my email every ten minutes, hoping to hear from the Owner of VKB Sixteen. Nothing, and nothing yesterday morning. But now we’re back in touch, and she has sent me photographs of it. It’s shabby but it’s complete, and has its cover. She hasn’t actually said that I can have it, but that result is strongly implied.

Bonnie, I won’t collect anything else. Too old. Anyway, there’s more to be done here. First of all, I have numbers 6, 7 and 8 only in the bound volume recently purchased. I’d like to have them separately, with their covers. So I’ll keep looking. Secondly, some of the ones from the 50’s and 60’s (and one wartime one) lack their covers. Those are mostly ones that I bought live, off the newsstand, many decades ago, and then read to death in the bath.

eBay offers a pretty steady supply of VKB’s from those dates. I think prices are a bit lower than they were a couple of years ago, too. So I’ll try to get better copies.

Then I want to buy an American one, pretty well at random, and see what the overlap consisted of. Were all the patterns the same? Covers were different, and the ads will be different. In those days knitting magazines didn’t go in for articles, except perhaps for a few introductory paragraphs from the editor telling you to get gauge right or she’d come around to your house with the heavies.

Then – or, indeed, sooner– I want to have a thorough look at Vogue Knitting at War, and perhaps attempt an essay on the subject. Number 16 is crucial to that project – its date is spring, 1940. Number 15, autumn, 1939, although technically a wartime issue, must have been completely ready, and perhaps even on the newsstands, before war was declared on (I think) September 1. Then followed the winter of the Phoney War, during which – among other things that were going on – number 16 was produced. Hitler made his move in May, 1940. So number 17 is post-Dunkirk, and things were really serious.

As for knitting, I cast off the collar of Ketki’s sweater last night. Did I make it quite long enough? Pic tomorrow. I’m now gingerly approaching the sleeve-set-in question. Just think: I may be knitting the Princess within the week.

And as for travel, many thanks for all the tips. I am pretty well resolved on the London-Amsterdam-Hartford route, which may limit my chances of a bargain but I’ll keep watching. Yesterday I secured Lizzie, Rachel’s younger daughter, as a travelling companion. She's second from the right in the Grandchildren picture in my sidebar. Rachel says she is keen on airports, so we should have a grand time in Amsterdam.