Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Holly solved the caption problem, as you see. Goodness, you people are clever.

Half of the surviving grandchildren are in that picture. Insh’Allah, they will all assemble in August for my 80th birthday. We’ll have to take another such picture. Strathardle doesn’t go in for the picturesque, certainly not on the scale of the west highlands. Some thought will need to be given to the question of  background.

I got on fine with the sock last night. I should reach the final ribbing today. I am a teeny tiny bit worried about whether I have enough yarn.

I’m glad you’ve fallen for sock-knitting, Southern Gal. It’s got everything – projects are quick to finish, and when they’re done they’re done. (I love Kitchener’ing, and count that as part of the pleasure of knitting rather than the horror of finishing.) Everybody likes socks, and they actually get worn. And with all those wonderful yarns out there, there’s always something new to try, and something else after that.

It occurred to me yesterday that I never entirely solved the problem of knitting socks for my husband, since the day he discovered that a newly-knit pair of the pattern I had always used, couldn’t be tugged on. He was complaining just this week about the fairly recent Kaffe Hand-Dyed effect pair: too baggy in the leg. I think I concluded that the complaint was directed mostly at the fuzziness of that yarn. It's not the normal firm-twist sock yarn.

This might be the perfect occasion for toe-up and try-as-you-go. The issue will be to find something in that catalogue of sock yarn I listed yesterday which my husband will actually wear. Alexander, who is almost equally conservative and not given to idle politeness, seemed pleased with his Van Gogh socks last year, “Bedroom at Arles”, forming a sort of husband-and-wife team with his wife’s “Restaurant de la Sirene”. My husband wouldn’t go that far, but there might be something.

Not Your Grandmother’s Knitting

You people did a good job of teasing out what the writer of that article was angry about.

It is interesting to reflect on how pre-20th-century knitters, many living in abject poverty, knitting for a little extra cash or (at best) to provide essential warmth and protection – how they decorated their work. Decoration must be a basic human instinct, thinking of cave paintings and simple diagonals daubed onto the most primitive of pots. In the case of knitting, it was often functional – Fair Isle, in skilled hands, is a quick to do as plain knitting and forms a cosy and strong double fabric; the patterns on a fisherman’s gansey twist the yarn and tighten the fabric, making it more waterproof.

What about Shetland lace? With no electric light to knit by? Pure art, and it must have been very badly paid.

Shawls were fashionable from the mid-19th century on, when Queen Victoria was given one. But there was also a moment, early-ish in the 20th century, when sweaters became fashionable and the not-your-grandmother idea began to crop up in journalism. The introduction to the very first Vogue Knitting, published even before I was born – and that was a long time ago – alludes to the notion that things have changed, although grandmothers aren’t specifically mentioned.

I don’t know where this gets us. And acrylic remains to be discussed.


  1. I suspect your husband is like my father. I have been looking at some Tosh sock in Rainwater. Have you used Tosh sock? How well does it wear?

    1. I used Tosh sock on a pair for myself and sadly they didn't last six months. I made a pair for my son soon after I finished mine and they're still fine, but he doesn't wear them quite as often as I did mine. I'm currently trying a pair in Malabrigo sock, but after the tosh experience I'm not hopeful. My hunch is that 100% Merino doesn't marry well with socks - it might just be too soft for the job.

  2. I suspect that a key word in the debate is "fashionable". Hand-knits are only sometimes in fashion. What interests me is that knitting in luxury yarns has caught the imagination of so many people at present. Perhaps it is not felt to be an extravagance if it is knitting yarn, whereas buying an actual scarf or sweater for that price would be.

  3. =Tamar11:55 PM

    Wraps, including shawls, became fashionable in Paris a few decades earlier than Queen Victoria's shawl, and were copied in the UK by early adopters. The Queen's approval, probably not coincidentally at about the time of the Great Exhibition, led to more work for her subjects who were commercial hand knitters. Perhaps if she'd worn Fair Isle that would have taken off as it later did in the 20th century, but I have trouble envisioning her in a Fair Isle sweater or cap.

    I think the current fashion for luxury yarns is partly because they are more available. Even ten years ago there was less variety in yarns. Unless you are really into the meditative aspects, plain knitting involves a lot of potential boredom. Complicated patterns and hand-dyed yarns offered the potential social reward of admiration from non-knitters. Luxury yarns added the interest of using a different material with different characteristics, and they usually feel nice as well. The social rewards are less easy to get as non-knitters rarely have even heard of anything rarer than silk or cashmere.

    The "grandmother's knitting" term is used as a pejorative, always implying dull, boring, endless stockinette, probably in grey and no doubt with a subtext of itchiness. The people who use it have no idea of the rich history of clever craftsmanship by talented knitters who never became famous, and more importantly, they * don't want to know.* They just want to glorify their current topic. Trying to stamp out the term is probably doomed to fail, because there are strong commercial and emotional reasons why they use it.