Monday, September 30, 2013

I finished the tedious ribbing for the Milano at last, and started striping. I think from here it will knit itself, as long as I pick it up from time to time, and keep ahead of the game on skein-winding. Time to start thinking about the Shetland projects.

General remarks about Shetland

-- Ponies abound.

-- But Shetland sheep are harder to find. There are plenty of sheep, everywhere, but they are mostly the sort of sheep you might see in Perthshire. They are largely being raised for meat, we were told. Shetland sheep are a relatively small breed and thus not ideal for that purpose.

They can be recognised by their smallness, and by the fact that they come in all the natural colours with the wonderful names – gaulmogot, katmullet, mooskit, sholmit and shaela. We saw this flock near Burrastow.

So where does Shetland yarn come from?

-- I don’t think I saw any cultivated ground, except around houses, and less of that than one would see elsewhere in the British isles. There must once have been some sort of grain – for bannocks, and to provide straw for thatching and bedding the cows; and root vegetables and kale.

-- We learned at the Unst Heritage Centre (and you thought it was all lace knitting) about the interesting structure of the island. In the dark backward and abysm of time, the left-hand side of the island came from Connecticut and the right-hand side from Siberia. I’m sexing that up a bit, but you get the idea. The geology of the two halves is quite different.

When we left the Centre, we went on a little way to a point from which we could see the Muckle Flugga lighthouse, as I have already mentioned. It is a splendid sight, and I am grateful to Kristie and Kath for getting me there. When the lighthouse-building Stevensons first saw that rock, they reported back that it couldn’t be done. The authorities said, you’ve got to, so they did.

When one looks south from that same vantage point, one sees a series of finger lakes – is that the suture by which the island is stitched together? It was enough to make one want to start life again and study geology.

I didn’t take a picture, alas. Did you, Kath? I got this one from Google.

Finally, here is a seagull in his Shetland sweater. I am told that this is how young birds look. We are much plagued with seagulls in Drummond Place, but I have never seen one like this.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

I still have a couple of rounds of k1p1 to do on the Milano, but I’ve wound the next two skeins. The pattern alternates 2-round and 8-round stripes. Maybe the thing is to wind a skein a day for awhile.

I’ve looked out Meg’s Fair Isle vest – it’s in the Fall, ’97, Knitter's, which turns out to be a well-thumbed issue from the glory days of Nancy Thomas’ editorship.

Back to Shetland

There we were in Jamieson & Smith. And a surprise – Kate Davies gave me the kit for her Rams and Yowes blanket for my 80th birthday, and I was presented with it on the spot. (I don’t mean that she was there – but the kit was.)

I will knit it as a blankie for Jenni’s and Theo’s new son. He’s due in little over a month now, in early November. I won’t have it ready by then, nor even for Christmas, but I must start soon so as to finish before he turns 21.

Oliver Henry said something in the little encounter I mentioned yesterday, about how much Gladys Amedro had done for the firm. She was the first to make fine lace knitting accessible, and the demand for cobweb yarn shot up. I imagine Kate Davies is having somewhat the same effect. More so, perhaps, because her patterns use a greater weight of yarn and are more quickly knit.

As well as the new Fair Isle yarn mentioned yesterday, J&S now does a “Shetland Supreme 1-ply lace”. I used their cobweb for my first venture into fine lace –Amedro’s “Cobweb Lace Wrap” for Rachel’s 40th birthday. That was a fair while ago. I found it rather fragile, and switched to Heirloom Knitting and their very fine plyed lace yarns. Italian, I think.

But Shetland Supreme appears stronger. It’s got a nice halo. I feel a hankering to get back to lace knitting. Perhaps I’ll have to assign different projects to different days of the week, Judy-Sumner-fashion.

Then Kristie persuaded me – it wasn’t difficult – to buy the yarn for Kate Davies’ “Northmavine Hap” from her "Colours of Shetland" book. We learned, by the way, always to refer to a hap as a hap, never as a “hap shawl”.

So I’ve got plenty of knitting.

I bought a squashy bag to carry it all in. Flybe accepted it as carry-on luggage the next day, with a bit of grumbling.

In the afternoon we visited the Croft House Museum – absolutely fascinating. Life must be hard on Shetland, even now, and until very recently it must have been very much harder. The croft house is two rooms (plus another for the cows), no water and of course no electricity. A peat fire on the hearth, and that was it. It was inhabited until the 1960’s. And from such a setting would issue knitting to dazzle the world.

And then we found Doreen Brown and the Shetland Knitwear collection. She’s the one who knit the sweaters for the ponies. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013


I might actually finish those two inches of Milano k1p1 rib today. (But I haven’t wound the next skein yet.) In shape, the Milano is very like Relax which I wore all the time on Shetland and which is blissfully comfortable. I had other sweaters with me, mindful of your experience, Shandy. One morning I started out with one of them, but it felt confining, so I took it off and went back to the Relax.

I don’t think the shape is particularly flattering – Herzog would be horrified. No curves. But I love it.

Shetland – the last day

I trust you’re reading Kristie’s blog in parallel with this.

We left Burrastow – I was booked on a seriously early flight back to Edinburgh on Tuesday morning (the first flight of the day, I think) and I had insisted on a hotel nearby for the last night. It provided comfort, hospitality, a view, good food – but was a notch below Burrastow (two notches, in the case of food) on each count.

However, it located us for the final afternoon in the stretch between Lerwick and Sumburgh where the airport is. Much is to be seen and done there.

But the day began with Jamieson and Smith.

Next to the shop is a warehouse. The doors were open, and we could see men in overalls sorting huge bales of this year’s clip. I thought one of them might be Oliver Henry – his photograph appears in people’s blogs and books. If so, we had spoken on the telephone when I was writing Gladys Amedro’s obituary for the Scotsman.

I introduced myself. Mercifully, it was indeed him. His face lit up. He shook my hand, and said that it was a good obituary and that he still has it tacked up in his office. That was a good beginning to the J&S experience, as you can imagine.

What can one say? There it all is. No pizzazz, just wonderfulness.

I had been sort of thinking, Fair Isle vest. So had Kristie. We’d been looking at Ravelry. Meg has a pattern [Ravelry link] of some interest, which may serve as a base. We had learned at some point – must have been in the Museum on Saturday – that J&S and the Museum have teamed up to produce a range of yarns in traditional Fair Isle colours.

It’s lovely stuff. It’s called “Shetland Heritage”, and the ball bands are signed by Oliver Henry. He is a director, or perhaps the director, of J&S. There’s not a great range, compared to the walls of Shetland jumper weight which surrounded us. The colours are vivid, and it’s remarkably soft. I bought a vest’s-worth, using Meg’s specifications for quantity. Kristie pointed out that my Shetland-jumper-weight stash could fill up any deficiencies, once I get down to pattern-choosing.

And I also bought…but that’s probably enough for today. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

What’s Actually Happening

Thomas and Lucy, newly-affianced, have returned from a trip to China. Yesterday I wrote to Lucy asking whether she’d like to wear the Princess shawl on her wedding day.

And as for knitting – I cast on the Milano before I went to Shetland, you may remember. The first instruction is to knit 2" of k1p1 rib, and that’s what I’m doing. There are an awful lot of stitches. Once that’s done, and the next colour introduced, I think I may drift off into Multiple WIP-ery. I brought back more than enough yarn for the rest of my life – even if I didn’t have a stash already.

Shetland Day-by-Day

Unst, was the plan, but the weather forecast was grim, and I was a bit anxious because there are fewer ferries on a Sunday. To get to Unst, you drive the length of the Mainland, then get a ferry to Yell, drive across Yell, and get another ferry to Unst. So we worked out a couple of alternative plans.

But Sunday dawned not bad at all, and Kristie is quietly intrepid. Off we went. And, as Kate Davies had predicted, the ferries were waiting for us and it all went smoothly. 

Kate had introduced us (electronically) to Rhoda Hughson, who used to be Britain’s most northerly headmistress. When the school closed, the building became the Unst Heritage Centre.

Kate told us that Rhoda is a good egg, and so she proved to be, cheerfully giving up Sunday afternoon to show us her treasures. Lace was the main attraction, of course, but we also saw some colour knitting. I said something about liking patterns like this one

which have a vertical effect as an alternative to the endless horizontal stripes. But Rhoda said she regarded that sort of pattern as Scandinavian – endless horizontal stripes are the real Fair Isle thing. And when someone says something like that to you while you're standing on the island of Unst, you listen. 

One of the pieces of lace in the collection had an interesting red border. It is somewhat broken and frayed, and Rhoda has boldly snipped a tiny, tiny fragment of the red yarn, already exposed,  and sent it off for analysis – how was the colour produced?

When we left, we had time to drive to a vantage point from which we could see the Muckle Flugga lighthouse, the most northerly point in Great Britain. And we also managed a quick visit to Muness Castle.

Then back to Burrastow for another of Pierre's remarkable meals.

Tomorrow -- Jamieson & Smith!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Shetland Day-by-Day

Here I am on the doorstep in Drummond Place last Friday, about to walk up to the bus with Greek Helen. There is a fast and frequent bus service to the airport from Waverley Station and no need whatsoever that I or anyone else can see, for trams. The skirt I ordered had arrived at the last possible moment, and was perfect.

I met Kristie and Kath in the airport. They are first cousins and firm friends. They were brave to take me on for so intense an experience – not only a comparative stranger, but old to boot. It worked well. It was wonderful to have someone to talk things over with, at the end of the day – “Wasn’t it interesting, when she said…” We had always noticed the same things.

An easy flight, and time to case the joint in Lerwick on an unexpectedly mild and pleasant afternoon. We ate there, and then drove – Kristie drove – to our b&b/hotel, Burrastow House. I had been dubious about staying so far from Lerwick. It was more than a bit scary, finding it in the dark during Kristie’s first experience of driving on the left. Except that for much of the journey she didn’t have to, as we travelled on single-track roads.

Burrastow is wonderful. Vaut le voyage.

On Saturday, we got to work. First, the Shetland Museum. The staff kindly posed for us, so you could see their uniforms.

The girl on the right then took us on our tour of the textile collection -- which is, needless to say, brilliant. Kristie took a picture of me peering at a lace shawl – I trust it will turn up soon. Our guide (herself not a native) said that her husband’s sister’s husband, or else her husband’s brother’s wife, I can’t remember, was the grandson/granddaughter, as the case may be, of  Provost Jimmy Smith, “Ooie Jeemie”, who famously sent a box of Shetland knitting to Buckingham Palace.

The Prince of Wales picked out that Fair Isle pullover for himself, and played golf in it. And the rest, as they say, is history.

We went on to the Bod of Gremista, just north of Lerwick city centre. A bit less, perhaps, than I had hoped for, but interesting, none the less.

Then – Jamieson and Smith! But this was Saturday afternoon, and we missed it by ten minutes. Just as well – we needed hours there.

So we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. I sought out a butcher, hoping for some seaweed-fed lamb. This should be the season. But he said no, that’s Orkney. (Is that true?) Instead, I bought a leg of reestit mutton. I will make a soup of some of it for our lunch today. When I got home yesterday, my husband and I tried little slices. It was both less salty, and tenderer, than I expected, and really rather tasty.

And then back to Burrastow for supper and bed. The owner, a very French Belgian, cooks. No menu. You sit down. He brings it in. Wow!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It was a remarkable experience. Very, very remarkable. Kristie has already posted the first episode on her blog.  She and her cousin Kath are travelling home today – there should be more episodes soon. I will try to start off by telling you three things, although my poor old computer is sinking beneath the weight of the new photographs.

Thing One

On Monday, we needed to cross a street in Lerwick. We spotted a pedestrian crossing, and pressed the button. Only then did we notice that the apparatus was completely out of action. We hesitated, looked left and right – and saw that the traffic had stopped for us anyway.

Thing Two

There is a famous bus shelter on the island of Unst, the most northerly of the British Isles. We went there on Sunday to see the Heritage Centre for the sake of its lace. I asked, but didn’t discover, why Unst is the omphalos of the world when it comes to lace knitting. There must have been a particular woman, or a family of women, but if so their name has been lost.

More of that anon. We also wanted to see the bus shelter. And it didn’t disappoint.

The current theme is Sheep and Wool, appropriately enough –  follow the link above for others. The display is fresh-looking. It is in a remote spot – there are few spots on the island of Unst which would not qualify for that description. There are things in the bus shelter well worth pinching – a Fair Isle hat, £30 in Lerwick. This cushion, which I coveted:

(Naughty pussy cats!) And if nicking things isn’t your scene, there’s always vandalism. The Unst Bus Shelter has been in action, with changing exhibitions, for fifteen years.

Thing Three

We met the woman who knit the sweaters for Those Ponies. They were knit by machine, of course – but custom-fitted. The ponies’ owner measured their dimensions and sent them down to the knitter. She said that after the images went viral, she went to New York and paraded down Sixth Avenue on Tartan Day with American ponies who had been pressed into service to wear the sweaters. I’ll put some work into finding an image of that parade when I can get this computer moving.

She was a wonderful mixture of old and new. She knits for pleasure and comfort, like all of us. She demonstrated the use of a knitting belt for us. But her business is run on the most modern imaginable lines, with computer design feeding in to an electronic knitting machine.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ok. This is it. I am in a mild anxiety-attack state, but at least should have Greek Helen here tomorrow morning to steady me – if Greece is functioning well enough to send her on her way today. That doesn’t sound at all certain, from this morning’s news. Tomorrow she will be shooting out for her early appt with Archie’s delectable housemaster, but I hope to be able to see her and confer for a steadying half-hour before that.

The House of Bruar emailed yesterday to say that they have dispatched my skirt – the one I ordered recently and had hoped to wear tomorrow. So, do I sit behind the front door all day? What about my bath? Going to get the newspapers? A necessary shopping trip, for  food and insulin?

I’ve decided just to forget it, and carry on. I’ve got skirts. I’ve got a tracking number for this one – yesterday evening, it produced the news that the skirt was in Edinburgh, being processed. This morning it says that it is in Tunbridge Wells, ready to be delivered. (I tried again, typing the tracking number with particular care – same result.) It’s not worth worrying.

Rachel phoned last night, which was slightly steadying. I won’t see her, except for a brief howdy-do if all goes well on Tuesday. Her daughter Hellie, a literary agent, has made a big sale to Penguin. They didn’t email, they didn’t phone – a man came and knocked on Hellie’s door.

Yesterday wasn’t much use. My husband got the bit between his teeth on the subject of a particular box of papers, whose absence is indeed odd. The search was heavy work, paper being what it is, and unproductive. Not much else got done. I did wash my hair, and that may have been a mistake. Dirt was fairly subdued and tidy. I now look like the Witch of Endor.

On the knitting front,  I abandoned the Stephen West shawl, despite your kind and helpful comment, Liz. I’ve frogged it. I feel right about the decision, for what that’s worth. I’ll be back one day, perhaps for something smaller, and in zing-ier colours.

I cast on Milano. That’s not saying how far I’ll get. 366 stitches. I’ve done a couple of rows of k1p1.

I don’t think today’s stress will allow for button-choosing for the BSJ at John Lewis. Nor will I try to write tomorrow. Kristie will keep you posted. My photographs can never match hers, but I will attempt to take a picture of Fair Isle from the window of the airplane as we come in to land.

(The BBC program about the Golden Age of Knitting was a bit of a damp squib, last night. There was a gloriously jerky newsreel, at least, of the Prince of Wales teeing-off in the early 20’s, in which you could just see the Fair Isle jersey peeping out in the v-neck of  his jacket. And the Golden Age of TV Presenters in Ridiculous Sweaters, which we somehow missed out on in real life, was interesting. Kaffe was there, immortal.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

More progress. I bought an utterly light-weight waterproof jacket of an alarming blue – presumably so that the helicopter can spot one as one lies in a crevasse – and even more alarming price; new shoes; and a corduroy shirt from Marks & Spencer which I didn’t really need. It’s a sort of dusty pink – I didn’t stop to ask myself until too late, how it will look under the Relax.

At least Shetland will see me coming.

I retrieved the package with the clothes I had ordered – another nice shirt, but no skirt (and no explanation of its absence), so I will have to rustle up something from here.

And I have noted what you said, Shandy, and have mentally, at least, added another layer – a thick Manos del Uruguay sleeveless number of my own confection which I wear all winter, under sweatshirts and such-like which are readily washable.

So today is for washing hair, searching out underwear, perhaps a bit of actual packing; and I might try texting  Kristie just to see if I can do it. Tomorrow will be set aside for having the vapours. Helen will arrive very late tomorrow evening. On Friday morning, happy woman, she has an appointment with Archie’s dishy housemaster.

The link in the paragraph above will take you to the beginning of Kristie’s British adventure. This one should connect with the most recent. Kristie’s waterproof jacket looks as blue as mine, but I don’t have any waterproof trousers.


I returned to the Stephen West shawl last night. Kristie raised an interesting question recently about the stages by which a WIP becomes a UFO. I realised yesterday that if I cast on the Milano last night, that was it for the shawl. That may well be it, anyway. I’m less than half-way through. Row-length is increasing rapidly – not exponentially, but by constant arithmetical increments. And do I want this object?

I suspect the frog-pond looms.

Many thanks for the updates about Woolgathering. I think, on reflection, that I did know I had expired, and didn’t bother because the spring issue was cushions which are Not My Thing.  I hope they don’t intend to fancify it too much. The slightly amateur air is part of what I love about it. I've ordered 89.


We are about to get a new Archbishop here in Edinburgh, at last. He said on the radio on Sunday that he thought the disgraced Cardinal O’Brien should stay away from Scotland forever. You will remember that the Cardinal turned up a few months ago, in an alarming sweater, moving to Dunbar where he hoped to end his days helping out in the parish.

But the Pope said no, and O’Brien vanished and hasn’t been heard from since. A friend of his, Margo MacDonald, an often-in-the-news member of the Scottish Parliament, was quoted on Monday as saying, “He has lost everything. Isn’t that enough?” I agree with her, and think it would have been more appropriate for the new Archbishop to answer the journalist's question with, “That is a matter for the Cardinal and the Pope”.

O’Brien’s accusers remain anonymous. The “unsuitable behaviour” he has admitted  remains unspecific and undated and clearly not illegal – although most of the world must believe by now that he has been energetically abusing schoolboys until just the other day. Permanent exile seems a very harsh fate, if we are not to hear the accusations. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Progress, of a sort.

I tidied and blocked Relax2. It looks big enough to accommodate both me and an elephant. But I tried it on before blocking, to see in which directions I might want to tweak it, and it was perfect. And felt wonderful next to the skin. Once blocking was in action, I found that width-wise it was exactly size Medium; length-wise, a couple of inches long. How did that happen?

It’s the third sweater finished this year – Ed’s Gardening Sweater and Relax1 being the others. Doesn’t sound like much.

I have also nearly finished the BSJ. It occurred to me that I could kill two birds with one stone by practising mattress stitch on the seaming, which would justify me in returning to Franklin’s Craftsy lessons on Heirloom Lace Edgings.

That didn’t quite work, because the shoulders of the BSJ seam a selvedge edge to a cast-on one.  The result of the mattress-stitch attempt was very impressive, but so slow that it would clearly have taken me until Thursday to finish. I switched to overcastting.

Then I had to knit an edging for the neck. I did a broken rib, like the bottom of Relax. It’s not entirely successful, but I’ll leave it.

And I decided not to go with double-breastedness this time. It doesn’t fold properly, despite the nice drawings provided with the pattern. I’m going to fold it as you see in the picture. In the left-hand column of buttonholes I will sew buttons that don’t attach to anything. The right-hand column will have real buttons that button, sewn to the layer below..

And, incidentally, when I had the object in my hands, cast off and sans stitch markers, it took me a while, even now, to figure out how to fold it.

I mean to set out on a shopping expedition this morning, light-weight wind-and-rain-proof jacket from Tiso, maybe new shoes from Ecco, probably lunch to carry home from Marks & Spencer. But I doubt if I will be strong enough to go on to John Lewis for buttons. I have to go back up there later in the week for insulin, anyway.

So what about knitting this evening? Will I cast on the Milano?

Helen CKS is back, always a treat. And she says – Helen knows everything – that we are about to have (=starting tomorrow, Wednesday)  a three-part series on BBC4 about the Golden Age of Knitting. Who’d ‘a thot it?

Time runs out – I won’t look up the proper credits for this one – but FiberQat & Another, you’re absolutely right that Lizzie must see a major league baseball game. In my day, Kansas wasn’t included. The major leagues were circumscribed by the distance players could conveniently travel by train from one engagement to the next – St Louis was the westernmost outpost, and they weren't very good. I’ll tell her.

I gather Detroit has lost everything – but we’ve still got the Tigers?

Monday, September 16, 2013

The knitting of the BSJ is finished. I’m going to have to do some finishing today whether I like it or not. And I’d better start with Relax2, to ensure that it will be completely dry, post-blocking, for the Off on Friday. I have a couple of essential errands in town this week – that will get me up to John Lewis for buttons for the BSJ.

Panic mounts, needless to say. Today is a Mysterious Local Holiday. It won’t make much difference, but one or two things may be delayed, in a week when delay is particularly unwelcome – making an appt for my husband to have his blood re-tested, as a recent test showed “a mild degree of renal impairment”; retrieving a package the PO tried to deliver on Saturday while I was out walking – my husband was having breakfast in his pyjamas and understandably didn’t answer the door.

That’ll be my new skirt and shirt for Shetland. The question of what clothes to take is high on the worry-list. One has learned to travel light (and one needs plenty of space in one’s little suitcase for wool). One will need clothes to protect from the wind. One doesn’t want to stagger around museums in anything too heavy.

I think I need a jacket like Thomas’s in this recent picture, taken on the top of Ben Cruachan. Everybody else in the world has one. I wouldn’t mind a nice stripey one like James’s, either. Both could be worn with layers underneath. Perhaps a search for such things might be added to the Essential Errand list – it’s too late for the internet.

And I think my subscription to Woolgathering has expired. That, at least, can be remedied fairly easily, while sitting down.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

We had a grand time, on a beautiful warm sunny day. We covered about 10 kilometres along the shore. I’m glad to know I can still do it. But I’m still feeling it this morning, and am resolved not to attempt anything remotely so ambitious on Shetland.

Upper left you can see the towers of the Cockenzie Power Station, the landmark we steered by.

Today's weather is much worse, but well short of the promised storm.

Progress with Shetland: we have but to apply at the reception desk of the Shetland Museum in Lerwick, I am told, to be taken on a “Textile Treasures” tour of the museum by one of their volunteers – who will be a knitter!

And the Shetland Textile Museum at the Bod of Gremista (mentioned yesterday) (a) has a temporary exhibition at the moment of knitwear made for royalty, including much lace and (b) is closed Sunday and Monday. That is a must-see for me, so it’ll have to be seen on Saturday.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 is said to have effectively introduced Shetland lace to the rest of Britain. Queen Victoria was presented with a shawl or two at some point. There was an exhibition of her clothes at Kensington Palace some years ago. I wrote to the curator asking if any shawls were to be included, and heard, eventually, that they had none.

The Princess shawl itself is Sharon Miller’s simplification (!) of one presented to the then Princess of Wales in 1863. A duplicate was made which is here in Edinburgh, in the Museum of Scotland. I am also interested – although royalty isn’t involved in this one – in Ford Maddox Brown’s picture “Work”. It was started in 1852 (just after the Great Exhibition) and eventually finished in ’63. It includes the figure of a fashionable woman in a Shetland shawl.

A very specific shawl – you could pretty well knit it from the painting. Is the woman just there to represent idleness and fashion, or did the artist think of the 100’s of hours of work which went into the making of the shawl?

And then of course – back to the Bod of Gremista – there should be Prince of Wales Fair Isle golfing sweaters.

So Sunday for Unst? I have heard from a woman there, formerly Britain’s most northerly headmistress (Unst Primary School), who is happy to meet us and show us the collection even on Sunday. Kate Davies describes her as a “good egg”. I’ll be back in touch when we’ve worked out ferry times – there are fewer on Sunday.

Goodness this is exciting. So must a pious Muslim feel when he books his ticket for Mecca.

I was too tired for much, last night. I wound the first skein for Milano – merino with a touch of cashmere; very soft. And did a few more BSJ rows. I should finish the knitting today, unless the Curse of Sunday intervenes.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

I’m ready for our walk, and we’ve got a decent day for it. The forecast is for storm, tomorrow and Monday – Catullus’ caeli furor equinoctialis. If it happens, I may allow myself a look at the Edinburgh Airport website on Monday, to see if the planes to Sumburgh are taking off. Even if they aren’t, it’s a long time from Monday to Friday.

Helen emailed yesterday: “ FOOD: Don't even think about it, as you Americans would say. 
I will take care of Friday and Saturday and Rachel will do Sunday and Monday. Done. End of subject.

“Period. End item”, my father used to say – as a newspaperman, he would sometimes have to dictate stuff over the phone in those primitive days. Punto e basta, in Italian. It is sweet of her – I am greatly blessed in my children. I had planned not to think about food anyway – there is a pleasant delicatessen around the corner which offers a hot, Helen-y casserole every day (although perhaps not on Sundays). “Helen-y” meaning strong on vegetables and low or not-at-all for red meat.

Anonymous, thank you for your comment about the Textile Museum at Bod of Gemista – oh! the wonderfulness of simply typing the phrase. We’ll certainly go there. Kate Davies has provided a contact – I haven’t emailed her yet, but will today.  I wonder if I could learn to use a knitting belt, at my advanced age?

The Milano yarn arrived yesterday, as hoped. I’m glad I gave in to that one – it’s muted and beautiful. I haven’t even touched it yet: all reports say it’s wonderful to the hand. I was anxious for a moment about the list of colours in the pattern – would I be able to distinguish “lagoon” from “aqua”? “dijon” from “curry”? But it turns out the colour names are hand-written on the labels of the skeins.

I think I should  have a moment next week to wind the first skein – “earth” – and cast on. The BSJ currently lacks about 12 rows (and the stitch count is right on target, I am happy to report – increasing four stitches every other row). It will then need finishing, seaming, edging, and of course buttons. And when I get back from Shetland it will be time to think, at least, about casting on the Kate Davies blankie. The Primrose Path to Multiple WIP’s is paved with the illusion that one has lots of life left for finishing everything,

A propos of yesterday’s discussion about colour knitting in the round – Kate D. does it for that Rams-and-Ewes pattern, and then cuts the steek. Which means that the resulting square or rectangle will be very slightly skewed.


I am a bit worried about whether Lizzie will experience baseball, the best game of them all. And amused to think of Kansas students doing a year in Birmingham – Lizzie is doing her best to promote that idea – and being taken to Edgbaston. [The University is located in the part of the city called "Edgbaston", but in the wider world, the word refers to the cricket ground.]  It is one on the very short list of English Test Match cricket grounds. It is within easy walking distance of the University. They would see world-class cricket there. But – talk about culture shock!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Yesterday was on the whole a success – at least, I didn’t slip backwards. Today I must ensure that we have all we need for the weekend meals, so that I can take tomorrow off and go walking with our niece. It’s been more than six months since we last did this – it was in February, the day the Pope resigned. How much have I declined in that time? We’re going to tackle the John Muir Way.

Our Pathfinder guide says that we might see some red-breasted mergansers. I had to look them up.

And then – meals planned and supplies in – get back to the Shetland-fret.

The BSJ progresses well. Another couple of sessions should polish it off. I grasped, too late, that if I want to make it a little bit wider, in the hopes that it wouldn’t pull out of shape when buttoned across the infant chest, the moment to do it was just before the first column of buttonholes. That improvement – if it is one – will have to wait for the next baby.

And then – goodness! – what next? The Milano yarn should be here today. My mother was advised once, when confronted with a multitude of tasks, to start with the one that bugged her the most. That’s good advice. So I should perhaps tackle the small, fiddly item I want to knit as a Christmas present – the one I will need a sheet of acetate for; or go back to the Stephen West shawl, at least long enough to get back in the saddle.

First, of course, tidy and block Relax2.

Sally Melville has published an interesting rant about how knits need seams, for structure. Herzog – who has an equally interesting post about blocking “three-dimensional” knitting – would certainly agree. There’s a whole new Craftsy class about seaming. All I need to do, for the moment, is to practice mattress stitch, which I am keen to master anyway, and get back to my Craftsy class with Franklin.

Why don’t I do it? Why does nothing get done?

Melville says that knitting-in-the-round tends to skew in wear. She’s probably right. Peasant knitting – fishermen’s ganseys, Fair Isle – gains a good deal of structure from its dense fabric. And then EZ came along and taught us all how much fun it was to knit around and avoid purling. But there is certainly a divide here, between Fashion Knitting and Peasant Knitting. The pendulum seems to be swinging back towards the former.

Melville says that she has mastered purling with two colours (for Fair Isle). It sounds very awkward, and I have never enjoyed it in the slightest. I would rather cut out a v-neck than knit back-and-forth. I’ve done it, easily and successfuly.  It might be a question to ask a Shetland knitter if I meet any.


Lizzie says: “ The biggest sport here is basketball so I am looking forward to that starting, it is so popular here that you have to get into groups and camp outside the stadium for a whole week before the game in order to secure your tickets! Normally it is done in groups of thirty and a rota is created for sitting out between 8am-10pm everyday for a week!

I didn’t go to a single football game in high school or college, but I did go to basketball at least once, and it was totally thrilling. “Stand up and cheer/ Cheer long and loud for Asbury High School/ For today we raise/ The blue and black above all others.” 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thomas’ and Lucy’s engagement should be in the Times today.

Very miscellaneous

-- There is good news from Loch Fyne: “The ducks were very excited to meet William and they all seem to be getting on like long lost sisters, which indeed they may be. [They are all Khaki Campbells from the same source.] They are roaming freely and sticking together so far. William is noticeably smaller than the others and has a voice which wavers about like a boy whose voice is breaking. Thomas thinks she has yet to acquire a Cairndow accent.”

-- There is a mildly interesting article in the current Economist about how video game-playing can improve cognitive ability in the elderly. Unfortunately, the headline is: “Put away the knitting”. Those people down at the Economist should try the BSJ if they feel they need their cognitive ability improved.

I didn’t get much done on mine yesterday. I’ve finished the neck shaping, though, and am about to do the first row of buttonholes. Double-breasted, so there’ll be another.

-- One of those dread cards turned up in the post yesterday: “Unfortunately we can’t deliver your item because there is a fee to pay.” That’ll be the Milano yarn – I had almost forgotten about it in the general excitement. I have negotiated the post office website and stumped up the cash.

-- Kristie and Kath are now in England. If all goes according to plan, we will meet in the departure lounge of Edinburgh Airport a week tomorrow, for the mid-day flight to Sumburgh. They will have flown up from Wales. I still can’t believe it, and am proceeding from day to day in a state of near-inertia. I’m going for a walk with our niece on Saturday – that should blow away some cobwebs and reveal whether I am still fit enough to do more than 100 yards.

I don’t want Kristie and Kath to be over-burdened with the care of the elderly on this trip. I discovered the other day (in looking up the Latin for “duck”) that the language has a separate adjective, equivalent to “senile”, for old women: “anile”, roughly. [The OED allows it, with 17th and 19th century citations.] Ancient Latin is not rich in vocabulary, although ancient Greek is, like English. But it sometimes springs surprises like that, and displays an unexpected precision.

-- The Brooklyn Tweed Fall Collection is wonderful, needless to say. And beautifully photographed, and wonderfully choreographed, so that I can flip through the pages with ease even on old slow-coach here. What I secretly want in life is an unbuttoned cardigan – they’re everywhere; the one in this collection is called “Trillium”, I think. Something that hangs straight down on either side without needing to be hitched and secured across the bosom. When I try, it slides off my stooped shoulders.

Maybe Herzog will crack it for me, when her new CustomFit website goes live. She says in her latest blog entry that she’s given up the day job. This is rather exciting.

-- I flipped through the class list for a Vogue Knitting Live  yesterday.  Wow! I thought I knew everything, but there are lots of classes I’d sign up for there. Franklin – not a man for resting on laurels – has added Bavarian Traveling Stitch to his repertoire, as well as his new class on Steeks & Zippers. That’s just for starters. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The duck – her name is William – should be safely ensconced on the shores of Loch Fyne by now. I’ll let you know when there is any news.

I was much alarmed when I looked up from my computer 25 hours ago and saw the man walking across Drummond Place with a duck in his hands. I had expected her to be confined in some way. My first thought was that she could wander about the kitchen (which would of course have involved mess to clean up) and would eventually settle down. But the man said no, she wouldn’t.

I didn’t even think of the bath. But we have carpet in there, and the mess would have been rather serious if she had fluttered out of the bathtub.

Mercifully, one of the few aspects of life in which we are strong is empty cardboard boxes. I produced a pair, with slots in the sides presumably for hand-holds. William settled down nicely in one of them, with the other on top. When Alexander got here and lifted the top box, she immediately sprang out in great agitation.

He has a duck house, with a small fenced yard in front, in which ducks are confined for the night. Under protest. His plan was to put William there, where she could see her new friends wandering about the garden and splashing in their pond, and they could see her, but they couldn’t get at each other. Just in case. Then they would all be together for the night.

She is specifically the duck belonging to Alexander and Ketki’s younger son Thomas. She is named for William Wallace. Thomas is having a patriotic phase.

I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I have heard from Lizzie that she has been to her first football game. “All the Americans with homes near the stadium open their houses to everyone-there were lots of barbecues and beer drinking! I think I offended lots of Americans by telling them I preferred rugby to American football!”

Rugby is the better game all right, but the atmosphere of an American college football game is not to be equalled anywhere on earth, and it sounds as if Lizzie has experienced it. She doesn’t mention who won – that’s a good sign.

Go, Kansas!

And, oh yes! Knitting.

I’ve reached the neckline decreases on the BSJ. The Schoolhouse leaflet shows me how to fold it. Here we are:

I’ll try to do better on colour next time. You get the idea.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I am sorry to have to tell you that one of the Loch Fyne ducks died in eggbirth recently. Her replacement is being delivered here to Drummond Place this morning. Alexander phoned yesterday to say that it would arrive between 6 and 7 a.m. He will be over later in the morning to get it. “You will have to keep it entertained,” he said.

So that is why I am sitting here in the early morning gloom – it is currently 6:27 – waiting for a duck.

Little to report, otherwise. I am now increasing the BSJ along the mitre lines, and it looks as unintelligible as ever. How on earth did that remarkable woman ever think up the design?

[6:45: We have a duck.]

Cheryl wrote suggesting that I bypass the question of the Princess shawl and the forthcoming wedding, by knitting a Christening shawl for future use. Trouble is, I’ve done that. It’s the Amedro one. I knit it for James’ and Cathy’s daughter Kirsty in 2000, along with the matching dress. I had the Indignant Gentlewomen on Castle street make a petticoat.

And since Scotland most unexpectedly won the Calcutta Cup that year, I incorporated it into the design.

It sounds from what Sharon Miller says, as if it was the practice on Shetland to use an elaborate wedding shawl for the Christening the following year. Reversing that notion, I hope Kirsty might wear this one at her wedding, although it's no Princess. I have packed it away with a note to that effect.

Doorstep gardening

The sorrel is sufficiently abundant that I will be able to harvest a fourth soup today. I keep meaning to, and keep being too tired in the evening. The plan for today is to make the basic soup – sweat a potato and some onion in butter, simmer in stock – early in the day, so that all I have to do later on is add sorrel for a few moments and then liquidize.

So that was a highly successful doorstep crop. I’ll take the plants to Strathardle next time, and see what the deer think of them.

The big news on the chilli front is that the Scotch Bonnets are reddening. It will be interesting to see if they are as hot as supermarket ones, or does windowsill-growing result in less capsaicin? Once the harvest is in, I will cut all four plants back severely and see what happens. The big jalapeno from Waitrose is still flowering. The two Apaches and the Scotch Bonnet have calmed down, but carry a substantial amount of fruit still to redden. The Scotch Bonnets look like little Chinese lanterns.

I’m busy thinking about next year. Chinese (or “garlic”) chives, for one thing.


My husband’s computer eventually pulled itself together and got recently-edited files into the cloud. I don’t think the delay was Dropbox’ fault. Sister Helen, I don’t even know what the “ID line” is. I tried “refresh screen”. I tried again the next morning. I have no doubt that, for a while, my husband’s computer wasn’t talking to the cloud.

It’s an up-to-date Toshiba. The computer dept in John Lewis is all laptop these days, with grown-up computers, few in number, relegated to a corner. But that’s what I’ll go for when I finally replace old slow-coach here. I don’t entirely trust laptops.

Monday, September 09, 2013

You’ve hit the nail on the head, Shandy – if Lucy decides to wear the Princess, it will severely restrict her choice of wedding dress. And (another thot) she may not want to be enveloped in her husband’s family quite yet. Like the Middletons moving those trees into Westminster Abbey, she may prefer to stamp her own mark on that day before becoming a member of that family, and Thomas of hers.

Still, I’ll ask.

I found the famous Piecework without difficulty. The Rorem shawl is a bit bigger than the Princess, assuming I’ve knit the Princess to gauge. The Princess should reach the floor, but not trail on it.

Getting out Sharon Miller’s patterns, to find the Princess envelope, filled me with the desire to cast all aside and knit one of her other biggies. The Unst Bridal Shawl! The Shetland Lace Wedding Ring Shawl! Like a jigsaw puzzle junkie contemplating the next 5000 piece number. There's nothing like it.

Back on planet earth, I’ve finished Phase One of the BSJ, still determined to keep a grasp on what I am doing this time. I am much encouraged by your comment, JeanfromCornwall.  You say that the purpose of the flap (which my version doesn’t have) is to make the whole thing longer “without increasing the widths of the front out of proportion”. My version, being double-breasted, allows the fronts to increase. That makes sense.

In all my previous BSJs, I have simply knitted on, carefully following the instructions (you’ve got to) but otherwise totally at sea as to what was happening. This time, I hope to do better. The cast-on edge is the top of the back, both body and sleeves. I understand that, and I’ve just about finished Phase One, in which one knits the back downwards (obviously), inserting mitres which separate sleeves from body.

Next (=today), I’ll insert some extra stitches across the back, and then start increasing along the lines of the mitres. I think I’ll put in stitch markers to designate the 62 stitches for the back, which will presumably continue on downwards as I increase for the fronts. The cast-off edge is at the bottom of the jacket. It becomes clear from that fact that the front pieces which will be seamed at the end to the cast-on edge, must be selvedges, coming in at a 90 degree angle. I think I’m making progress.

Meanwhile, Relax2 lies there untidied and unblocked. But I’m going to Shetland at the end of next week – it’ll have to be ready by then. Be still, my beating heart.

Computer problems

On the whole, we’re doing better these days. My husband cries for help less often. Occasionally there are formatting problems, and I prefer to fetch his work down from the cloud and resolve those in Word on my desktop computer.

I am always very careful to make sure, in that situation, that I am loading his most recent effort. And, at the moment, we’re stuck. His laptop insists that it is connected to the Internet. The files he has worked on and saved to Dropbox, are correctly dated, when viewed on his machine. But when I try to download them, “my” Dropbox has only out-of-date versions for the two or three most recent files. How to kick Dropbox into action?

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Big news

Thomas and his Lucy are engaged. (They are standing together in the picture above, with Thomas’s brother Joe to the right.) Thomas phoned us on Friday evening, during his first hour in his new condition – a desperately sweet thing to do, which will be long remembered. The wedding will be next year.

So yesterday was given over to much international telephoning, emailing, and shrieking. Joe is in Philadelphia on some work at the moment, Lizzie of course in Kansas, and did Rachel say that Hellie and Matt are holidaying in Spain? Greek Helen, of course, is in Athens. The one major capital which was not involved in the excitement was Beijing – because Thomas and Lucy left for there yesterday, and wanted to tell their news to the Beijing Mileses themselves.

So if their flight was seriously delayed, I’ll be in trouble for publishing this.

I’ll give them time to get back from there, and the dust time to settle a bit, and then write to Lucy about the Princess shawl. I can think of several reasons why she might not want to use it, but I want to put the question. I’ll send her that picture from the old Piecework (if I can find it) of Bridget Rorem’s daughter wearing the shawl of her mother’s design, to show how a bride might look in a huge shawl; and the picture from the pattern envelope of the Princess itself, with its story.

So, what else?

We had a successful time in Strathardle, and got back alive and well, a great relief. I got all the little plants planted, and the bed netted. We didn’t see any deer in our garden this time, although much evidence of their recent presence, but we did see a small group of them cantering cheerfully through a field a couple of miles from the village as we approached on Wednesday. Two were albino – our children and grandchildren have told us of that phenomenon, but I had never before seen it for myself.

I cast on the BSJ in a Pakokku yarn called “Mercy Hartigan”. Who she? It’s red, pink, and grey, knitting up very nicely although it neither swirls nor pools.

Goodness, this pattern is fun. I have ambitions, this time, of understanding what I am doing and maybe even making alterations to make it perfectly geometrical – as I mentioned the other day, this double-breasted version pulls the side seams forward slightly when it is buttoned across the infant breast. Except that there are no side seams.

I’ve got the Schoolhouse pattern to hand, with EZ’s original instructions and a modern written-out set. And a series of pictures of the work-in-progress. The pattern I follow is more different from the original than I knew – EZ has one do a flap on centre-stitches-only about half-way through the work, and then pick up stitches from the sides of it. There’s nothing like that in my version.

And I hope, when I get there, I’ll be able to understand why.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Here we go, off to Strathardle. I hope this can be a two-nighter, and that we’ll therefore be back by the weekend. There are dozens of little plants to be set out, but I ought to be able to put in an hour’s work this afternoon to get started. I’m scared, but the weather is good: I’ll feel better when we’re on our way, and better still when we get there.

I finished knitting Relax2 last night. It fits! Kristie, it will certainly be part of my costume when we go to Shetland. I haven’t decided yet whether "oversized" suits the octogenarian figure. But of course I don’t have to knit Milano for myself – I have a generous stock of daughters, daughters-in-law, and granddaughters.

I found the BSJ patterns – both the mimeographed one from the Sunday Times, and the Schoolhouse Press leaflet with a range of sizes. And I spent some time with the stash – where is the bag with Louet Gems Marino and Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sport? Did I give it away in one of my recent purges? That was rash.

I spent a little time on the internet in pursuit, and was overwhelmed by the range of Lorna’s Laces colours at Jimmy Bean. “Unicorn Parade” might make a jolly baby sweater. And can I resist the temptation to knit a pair of socks for Rachel’s husband Edward Ogden, in a shade called “Ogden”?

But for now, I did resist. When Relax2 was off the needles, I spent the rest of yesterday’s knitting time winding a ball of Pakokku. I’m going to take it to Strathardle and cast on a BSJ. Will one skein be enough?  Relax2 has to be tidied up and blocked when we get back.

And on top of all that, look what Mary Lou gave me! I’ve got to knit that one. And it opens the possibility of some interesting pooling. I will do the preliminary work on Pakokku numbers as I knit the BSJ – assuming that all Pakokku skeins are dyed on the same principles, which may or may not be true – and then consider whether Mary Lou’s stitch count would allow for (or even require) a little adjustment to produce some striking effects.

The thought in that paragraph is rather condensed. I’ll expand it as life goes on.


I’m continuing to do well with the Ian Rankin thriller I mentioned the other day, “Black and Blue”.Goodness, how the world has changed in 20 years! The author says in the introduction to the paperback edition I have that it was written in 1994. It was published in ’97, and perhaps already sounded a bit out-of-date. There is/are no internet, no mobile telephones, no digital photography, and people smoke in pubs. Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis. (Times change, and we change with them.)

See you at the weekend, insh’Allah.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

I finished the second sleeve. It wasn’t a convenient moment for leaping up and trying on, so I went straight on to picking up stitches around the neck. The pattern is so meticulous and Japanese that I thought I’d do it properly – divide the neck into 8th’s, at least roughly by eye, and pick up the right number in each section.

I did it, but it took a while. Now all I’ve got to do is knit a couple more rounds of st st, and the job is done. I trust the neckband will roll down to cover the pick-up line, which is not as beautiful as I would like. Then the try-on!

Comparing schematics, it is clear that the Milano is more or less the same size as the Relax, give or take a centimetre or two and assuming you’ve got gauge. So it could be adjusted, once one has reached one’s final verdict on Oversized.

Then what? I’ve got a day’s grace on Strathardle – we’ll go tomorrow. The little plants are holding up, and I didn’t feel entirely well yesterday. What to take along? Stephen West’s neglected scarf? That’s in danger of slipping into UFO territory. Or dig around in the stash, perhaps wind a skein of Pakokku, look out the tattered old pattern, and start a BSJ? I’ve had unhappy results with Koigu and BSJ’s – perhaps due to faulty workmanship, but I don’t want to try that again.

Our hospital appt yesterday went remarkably well. It was at the Western, rather than our old friend the ERI. The appt was kept on time, and the whole thing including the weigh-in and the bloods and an x-ray as well as a leisurely talk with the Great Man, was over in an hour. Parking was a bitch, though.

Current Affairs

My impression trawling through Facebook, as done for me by Flipboard, is that America is very hostile indeed, both from the right and from the left, to any US action in Syria. Maybe my “friends” aren’t typical. Or maybe they are, and the President will lose his vote.

This week’s Economist is rather interesting on the 20th century history of the use of poison gas. They say that Churchill wanted to use it in ’44. His generals said no. Contrariwise, American generals were keen to use it in the Pacific at much the same stage of the war – strategically, it would have made a lot of sense on those Pacific islands that had to be recaptured  painfully one by one. Roosevelt said no. And Hitler, who had himself been gassed in WW1, apparently never considered it on the battlefield, although Germany was ahead of the Allies in its development and it might have been very useful to him on D-Day.

Since then, only Saddam Hussain and those terrorists in the Tokyo subway and now this.

I don’t know what I think, except that poison gas is a Very Bad Thing and there seems to be no doubt that it was employed. That’s the difference between now and the invasion of Iraq. Except for Mr Blair and Mr Bush, I think we all had a pretty good idea, in those days, that there were no weapons of mass destruction.


I succeeded in deleting a folder of my own yesterday – blog entries for August. I think I more or less see how it was done. At any rate, I now know that when a folder is highlighted, I must be especially careful. So it probably was me who deleted that one from Dropbox on my husband’s behalf recently. 

Monday, September 02, 2013

I should finish the second sleeve of Relax2 this evening, and pick up stitches for the neck.

The gauge of the Milano is close to that of the Relax – slightly finer. But the number of stitches to be cast on, in relation to actual chest size, is very similar. So how can it have 20” ease when Relax has only 4? I must do some arithmetic.

Tomorrow we must go to Strathardle. I am frightened. We ordered some plants weeks ago – I have forgotten what category they’re meant to come into. Not “ground cover” – we did that last year. Tough perennials of some sort. Now they have arrived, dozens of tiny plug plants. So they must be planted.

Today’s job, however, is a hospital appointment. Rheumatology, for my husband’s hands.

I’m looking forward to Jamie Oliver’s new cookery series, starting this evening – it’s about cooking cheaply.


I’m reading Ian Rankin’s “Black and Blue”. I’ve never managed to engage with Rankin before, but I’m getting on fine with this one. He came and spoke at Archie’s school, and Archie had a copy signed for me.

It was written in 1994. Inspector Rebus was already a success. They were living in France, presumably having given up the day job, when their son Kit was born. All went well with the pregnancy and birth, but by three months they had begun to realise that something was wrong – he didn’t move enough. At six months, their GP agreed. At nine months, they were driving long distances two or three times a week to have him seen by specialists.

Ian Rankin’s French wasn’t as good as his wife’s – he would come home from these appointments frustrated at his inability to understand fully what the Great Men were saying, and frightened, and angry – and would then take it all out on Inspector Rebus, in a universe where Ian Rankin was God and could make anything happen he wanted. And he wound up with a good book. Kit is very severely disabled.

And thinking about signed copies, I thought of Thomas Lynch. He is an Irish-American poet, essayist, and undertaker who lives and works in a small town in Michigan.

I went to a talk at the Book Festival with Cathy once. We were there to hear a couple of female thriller-writers (this was before Cathy herself had become a member of that category). If I could remember their names, you would recognise them. Sitting there idly reading the program before things started, I learned with a thrill of horror that Thomas Lynch was talking at that very moment, somewhere else. There was nothing to be done.

But as soon as our talk was over, I shot out and found him in a near-by tent. He was sitting alone, as I remember, but memory can deceive. I bought a copy of a book I already owned and presented it to him for signing, babbling about “T’riffic fan; didn’t know you were here; went to the wrong talk”. I may have added something about growing up in Detroit.

He signed it “For Jean, Well met in Edinburgh”. Maybe he signed them all like that, but I like to think it was a brilliant improvisation, for me. In any case, I treasure the book.