Wednesday, September 27, 2006

i fell down this afternoon and broke my left arm. no blog for a while. back soon i hope.

One repeat done of Princess border row 143. It’s nice to have even that little bit – four rows – behind me on the new chart, to put things in context. Thanks to everyone for yesterday’s kind comments. Mandella, I’m glad I was able to inspire you not to rip back. I’m not using lifelines, because it would involve a whole evening’s work to insert one.

The Paisley Long Shawl

Yesterday, not before time, I unpinned it from the bed in the spare room. Look at that! It was the first time I had ever used blocking wires. Should I have threaded them through every single edge loop, then? I’m not desperately fussy, but this obviously won’t do. It fails the galloping horse test, and won’t pass muster as a Design Feature.


I took this picture as soon as the wires were out, hoping that a bit of gentle tugging would set things right. It didn’t. I then put it away in the Present Drawer (since it is intended as a Christmas present for my sister-in-law), hoping it will put itself right. It won’t. I suppose the thing to do will be to sit down with it and see if I can ease the loops back in, one by one, at least somewhat.

I could fringe the ends, but that won’t help the sides.

My VKB’s

The postman brought them yesterday, after a long, impatient morning. They’re pretty wonderful – No. 10, spring, 1937; no 30, spring ’47; and 33, autumn ’48. I will meet my friend and agent for coffee tomorrow and get the two others I bought on Super Saturday.

An embarrassment of riches. A lot happened in the world between 1937 and 1947. No 10 definitely seems “then”; the patterns are one-size-only, for the super-slim. The other two are recognisably “now”. Vogue still expects you not to let yourself go, but multi-sizing has arrived and both issues are plump and full of ads and full, too, of a new postwar energy and enthusiasm.

As always, looking through old VKB’s, I think of EZ. She was no fool. She must have read Vogue. She will have recognised and appreciated the enormous skill and attention to detail the patterns represent. Photographs from that period suggest that her own shape was close to a model figure. And yet she resolutely and single-handed led knitting off in a different and in the end more fruitful direction.

The three issues I got yesterday are in splendid condition, never knitted-from and not much pored-over, so I hesitated to entrust them to the scanner. But the need to show you these pictures overcame me. The blouse (Spring ’47) I offer for its breathtaking fit and detail; the angora sweater, autumn ’48, because it’s me.

09-27-2006 07;37;55AM 09-27-2006 07;34;48AM

Not that I looked like that, of course. Not that an angora sweater like that would have been even occasionally comfortable on the Jersey shore. I was 15, in the fall of 1948, and that’s exactly how I aspired to look. And angora, I remember clearly, was in. I never had any. I was knitting by then, and would have yearned for this sweater if I’d seen it. I specifically remember that I liked deep yokes. But apart from any other consideration, I didn’t know where to buy yarn, so I wouldn’t have got very far. I doubt if Woolworth’s in Allenhurst stocked angora.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I’ve reached row 140 –so I have turned to the third and final page of the charts for the border of the Princess shawl.

pics 008

The next landmark will be 147, the true two-third’s point. Although finishing-the-current-ball-of-yarn might come sooner. I have amused myself the last few days by rearranging the markers that separate the repeats in such a way that they are now colour-coded to show me where I am in the row. It makes things seem ever so much faster.

Here’s a blurry picture of the Messy Bit I mentioned yesterday. I didn’t, after all, try to improve things when I finally worked my way back there. I think maybe the wisest course will be to thread the yarn through an actual needle and take a stitch, if I still think it’s a good idea, at the blocking stage.

pics 009

And perhaps, in future, not to knit on Sunday evenings. In the Bad Old Days my knitting must have been impervious to cider-drinking but I seem to have lost that skill.


it seems to be one of those mornings when I have nothing to say.

I heard from the seller yesterday of all those VKB’s I bought on Saturday. I will watch for the postman this morning with more than ordinary anticipation, and if I’m lucky a description of No. 10 can be the burden of tomorrow’s essay.

It takes more patience than I have available to find pictures of sweaters on the American Ryder Cup page. Either it was so warm they played in tee-shirts, or it was raining. They must have had different sweaters for each day, too, as the Fair Isles never reappeared. It is nice to think that whoever designed for them knew about the old connection between golf and colourful knits.

And had a sense of humour. All the pictures I have seen of the American WAGs showed them dressed identically – never the same outfit twice, and all very stylish. The European WAGs never seemed to get their pictures taken at all.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Half-way through row 137. So today should see the current chart page finished, and we’ll have a picture tomorrow. I dropped a stitch yesterday evening (perhaps because Sunday is cider-drinking day) and am not happy with the result of trying to retrieve it, but it’s certainly not bad enough to justify taking back two or three 865-stitch rows. Maybe I can improve things when I get back to the spot this evening, cold sober.

A post-war VKB sold on eBay yesterday for somewhat more than I had to pay for any of my five on Saturday, and I didn’t recognise the names of any of the bidders. There are clearly a lot of extravagant loonies out there, self included. A brace of VKB’s, spring and autumn ’49, are coming up together as one lot today. No significant bidding yet.

Fair Isles

I went through my archives but can’t find any record of a sweater I knit with the stitch pattern the Famous Designer used (see Blog entries for the last few days). But I only started keeping proper records in 1979, and I clearly remember two Fair Isles that aren’t recorded, so maybe it was one of those. As more and more books got published, I ranged beyond Odham’s Encyclopedia in search of stitch patterns.

Esther, you said a couple of days ago that you find it difficult to put colours together. I can’t do it for beans, but have had some success using Kaffe’s idea of trying to match the colours in a favourite picture. James, here in a photo taken in Strathardle at Christmas, ’89, is wearing what is perhaps my masterpiece in this genre, based on a portrait by Ingres of Count Gouryev – spelling surely wrong. He (Count G.) lives in the Hermitage. I saw him on loan to the National Gallery in London once, and fell in love and knit this sweater. He turned up again at the big Ingres show more recently and it was wonderful to see him again.

09-25-2006 07;33;36AM

He is wearing black, pictured against a stormy sky. It was remarkable how many colours there turned out to be, when I started really peering at the postcard. The pink is in the angry sky.

The other sweater is Alexander’s, photographed when I finished it in 1984 and again on Games Day, 1993. (A firm note on my page of calculations says, “Too short!”) Ketki is wearing her wedding sweater. James and Cathy are also in the picture, and the apparatus for Tilt the Bucket can be seen in the background, like an idle guillotine.

09-25-2006 07;37;41AM09-25-2006 07;35;53AM

Both of these sweaters use the idea I got from Odham’s, of colours which change both in relation to each other and in relation to the pattern. Background and foreground colours are kept separate. I tried, once, mixing foreground and background, but it didn’t work. I am now pretty determined, when I’ve done Alexander’s sweater and some more Princess, to do a Fair Isle in ’07 on the system mentioned in the last couple of days, where the colour changes are organised over perhaps 12 rows and repeat regularly, but don’t relate to the stitch pattern. And I’ll use the stitch pattern the Famous Designer used.


I’m sorry I still haven’t got my email address into the sidebar. Its miles dot jean at googlemail dot com. Tamar, of course you are right that there were plenty of knitting books and magazines at the start of the 20th century. It’s just that ideas didn’t spread quite as fast as they do now. I’ve got the Dillmont book and will look today to see if my edition (is dated and) describes grafting.

Ann, thank you (all too briefly) for the invaluable references in the pursuit of “Kitchener stitch”. You haven’t heard the end of the story yet!

And I will return to the subject of the Ryder Cup before we’ve all forgotten about it.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I’ve finished row 134. The ball of yarn is looking distinctly subdued – finishing it and tying in the next one is well up there on the list of possible Landmarks I hope to tick off before the Princess is laid aside in favour of Alexander’s Fair Isle. (Row 138, the end of the present chart page, will be the next one passed, insh’Allah.)

I got all five of those VKB’s on eBay yesterday – not surprising, with what I bid. It was an expensive afternoon. Some of my competitors are old friends (so to speak) by now, but a new one popped up yesterday and was the underbidder on four of the five, outbidding everybody but me by quite a lot. I hope s/he goes away before any more turn up.

I’ve now got all the postwar ones except Autumn ’46 and Autumn ’53. I still lack nine of the wartime ones, and 12 from the 30’s.

Here is my prize of yesterday, Spring ’37. I’ll tell you all about it when it arrives.


Kitchener Stitch

This is the crucial sentence Jayne sent me from the Toronto Globe and Mail of January 17, 1918 –when the Great War still had nearly a year to run:

“A good knitter can speed up to 60 stitches a minute, but what with purling and seaming and Kitchener-toeing, she could not average more than 30 to 40 stitches a minute…”

(It is interesting, history-of-language-wise, how the writer uses “Kitchener-toe” as a verb, just as we often nowadays speak of “kitchener’ing” something. The reference to “seaming” is interesting, too. If that’s how socks were knit in those days, it’s no wonder the “Kitchener toe” caught on, as more comfortable.)

I wrote to Kim Salazar, who responded promptly, and remembered that she and I had corresponded in the past on this interesting subject, but didn’t seem as stunned as I am by the early date of this quotation. I wrote to both the Canadian and British Red Cross’s. London has replied, saying that I will have a proper answer within two or three weeks. Silence so far from Ottawa.

My hope is that London might have a copy of the Canadian leaflet in their archives. The leaflet, indeed, might have been published in Britain as well as Canada. (By now, I have virtually no doubt that there was such a leaflet.) My theory is that the technique of grafting knitting was, at that date, better known in Britain than in North America. Possibly, not known in North America at all. And that’s why North American knitters (and, until recently, they alone) refer to “Kitchener stitch” – the new idea spread fast, as everybody knitted socks for soldiers.

(I have a Paton’s Family Knitting Book of 1904 or some such year in which sock toes are grafted – so the technique was known here, and Lord Kitchener didn’t have to work it out for himself.)

It is easy for us to forget in this brave new world of instant world-wide communication, how isolated we were from each other, how recently. There weren’t many knitting books – and no camps! -- in the early years of the 20th century. Skills would have been passed from knitter to knitter largely by word of mouth. Grafting is not obvious, by any reckoning.


I’m running out of space. Ron, welcome aboard. I’m glad Mexico isn’t too hot for knitting altogether. I have more to say and show about Fair Isle in which the colour sequence doesn’t fit the stitch sequence, but it will have to wait until tomorrow. Mundi, yes, that’s the designer I mean. I didn’t name her in order to prevent a Google search on her name winding up here. I thought it might verge on the libellous to have identified the source of her design. She gives no credit to Odham’s Encyclopedia of Knitting in her published pattern. (See my blog entries for the last couple of days, to find out what we’re talking about.)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Nearly done with row 131. We’ll have another picture when I finish 138 and turn to the third and final page of the Princess border chart.

Here’s the sweater by the to-remain-unnamed Famous Designer who used the idea from Odham’s Encyclopedia of Knitting (see yesterday) of having a colour sequence which does not coincide with the stitch pattern. It turns out she does it more my way than James Norbury’s: she has four background colours in a 12-row repeat of three rows each; and five pattern colours in a 15-row repeat. So, three rows per colour on each appearance, which is normal. She starts off with one row of the first pattern colour so that thereafter pattern and background change on different rows. That’s normal, too.

09-23-2006 08;26;41AM
The stitch pattern, meanwhile, repeats over 32 rows. I will try to find a photograph of the sweater I once knit using this system and this stitch pattern. I think it was basically green. There weren’t many colour pattern charts to be had in those days; Odham’s Encyclopedia was a treasure-store.

I am still much taken with the idea of doing a sweater James Norbury’s way: a 12-row (or whatever) repeat of the colours, graded and related to each other, on an all-over pattern with a number of rows not divisible by 12. I wonder if Thomas-the-Elder would wear a Fair Isle sweater, now that he has grown to man’s estate? Rachel’s children, including Thomas, spend adolescence in fleeces and things like that; sweaters don’t figure.

(Tamar, I am by now utterly sure that you are right and Norbury was wrong and this idea is not traditional at all.)

Of course I could do Alexander’s forthcoming sweater that way – not a stitch has yet been cast on, let alone knit. But I am enamoured of the idea of having the pattern flow magically down the sleeves and over the shoulder, and I think that effect will work better with a simple pattern worked in colours which coincide with it.

Kitchener Stitch

I heard from Jayne yesterday, with exciting news – a 1918 citation for “Kitchener toe”. Galvanised into action, I wrote to the Canadian and the British Red Crosses, and to Kim Salazar. More on this tomorrow.


This very afternoon five issues I want will be auctioned on eBay. My agent and I had better not get our wires crossed – if we bid against each other, I will wind up actually having to pay out the absurd sum I am going to bid for each one. By now, there has been some bidding, not very much. No 28 (that’s one of Helen’s targets) is up to £9.38. The one I regard as the gem of the lot, no. 10, on which I shall be bidding by my trembling self, is still on one bid, £2.95, the upset price; and 30 and 35 have no bids at all.


Janet, thank you for drawing my attention to the American Ryder Cup sweaters. I might have missed them altogether. I’ve only seen a rather indistinct picture so far, and like them a lot – narrow bands of Fair Isle fairly widely spaced on a gentle brown background. Maybe there’ll more pictures in today’s papers.

When did the association of golf with colourful knits get started? Was it perhaps the previous Prince of Wales himself who launched it?

“In Germany at Easter time they hide coloured eggs about the house and the garden that the children may amuse themselves in hunting after them and finding them. It is to some such game of hide-and-seek that we are invited by that power which planted in us the desire to find out what is concealed, and stored the universe with hidden things that we might delight ourselves in discovering them.” A.E. Housman

Friday, September 22, 2006

Row 128.

The current passage of the Princess border is very slightly asymmetrical – nothing the human eye could detect, but there’s one stitch difference between one side of each motif and the other, because the “feathers” are currently being worked over an even number of stitches instead of an odd one as previously, and that creates a discrepancy to either side. It means that the knitter has to be constantly aware of which direction we’re going in, here. When the motifs are perfectly symmetrical, direction doesn’t matter except for a couple of stitches at each end.

It’ll be good practice for the end bit of the border pattern, when “sprouting seeds” nod inward towards the centre. At that point, the entire border will be perfectly symmetrical but the individual motifs won’t be.

I’m just telling you.

Alexander’s Fair Isle

This gets a bit technical.

Many years ago, I happened upon a passage in Odham’s Encyclopedia of Knitting
(no date – probably early 50’s) in which James Norbury asserts: “The second type of Shetland design is worked in an all-over patterning. Any number of colours can be used, but these are graded, and the colours used in sequence. This twelve-row colour sequence [an example is given] is followed throughout the pattern. Thus, if there are 15 pattern rows the colour sequence will change as the patterning proceeds.”

I might add that I have never seen such a statement in any other book.

I hit upon this passage in the late 60’s, and seized the idea with delight. I have used it many times, choosing, say, six background colours and seven foreground ones and letting rip, with the colours changing in relation to each other as well as to the pattern. I have decided with Alexander’s forthcoming Fair Isle to revert to the more traditional and severe system, and relate the colours to the pattern.

10-20-2005 07;51;21AM

That is a picture of Alexander himself wearing such a sweater, a quarter of a century ago.

I was interested to read the source passage again. It would be fun to try the idea in the more restrained way in which Norbury actually gives it – which I had forgotten – and have the colour changes repeat over 12 rows while the pattern repeats over somewhat more.

A once-famous designer (whom I won’t name) once used this idea, deriving it from the same book. I know she did, because the all-over stitch pattern she used is on the same page of Odham’s Encyclopedia as the passage just quoted. Maybe I’ll try to dig out her pattern today and see how many colours she used, and how the sequence repeats. My way, or Norbury’s? Would I dare show the illustration? Let’s see if I can find it, first.


No room for much more. Emily, you’re right that I must stop faffing about on this Kitchener stitch thing, and write to Kim Salazar, to the Canadian Red Cross, to the British Red Cross (my husband’s suggestion, and a good one) and to the OED, and get the show on the road.

Beverly, my road to lace knitting sounds just like yours, starting with Shetland jumper weight and a hap shawl. More on this subject soon, perhaps, when space allows.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Near the end of row 125 -- only 95 to go, when it's done. Ted, it's good of you to have dropped by. I hope you'll resume your Princess soon. It's such fun. But the more one does, the more one feels the responsibility of the impossible amount still left to do. Can't be helped.

Alexander's Fair Isle

I dragged everything out of the stash cupboard yesterday. I could knit Alexander a fine sweater entirely from stash, but I really need some more dark charcoal (not, I think, true black) if I am to keep the colour balance as in the postcard. The photograph is bleached, needless to say. In particular, the palest yarn is not as white as it appears. Starmore doesn't seem to do charcoal, and Jamieson's website, very oddly, doesn't do online ordering of a colour fringe, or anything else. I'll have to resort to the telephone.

new Fair Isle

Lene, thank you for that link to See Eunny Knit! Most interesting. (A brocade-type Fair Isle sweater where the pattern flows past seams. It'll be in the winter IK, and it's gorgeous.) She has managed to avoid having to flow the pattern over the shoulder. And you're right: I won't have any significant decisions to make about flow until I reach the armpits, and by then the magazine will be with us.

Kitchener Stitch revisited

Laurie sent me a photocopy of a page from VK International, spring/summer '84, in which EZ herself says: "And, by the way, the term 'Kitchener stitch' was contributed to the American language by Lord Kitchener during World War I, when, hearing that U.S. women were 'knitting comforts for the boys in the trenches,' he contributed his very own sock directions, which included a grafted toe."

Fascinating for its very lack of helpfulness. Where did EZ get those inverted comma's around the phrase "knitting comforts for the boys in the trenches". Is she actually quoting Lord Kitchener? From what source? The phrase is interesting in itself. We recently learned from VKB no. 17 that "comforts" was the word employed in Britain in WW II (as EZ must have known) for items knitted for the military. Was it so used in WWI? I just looked up the word in the big OED and find that that particular usage is absent, like "Kitchener stitch" itself. Here, for what it's worth, is the complete entry for "comforts" as concrete things (as distinct from an idea or concept):

" concr. A thing that produces or ministers to enjoyment and content. (Usually pl.; distinguished from necessaries on the one hand, and from luxuries on the other.) creature comforts: material comforts such as food. So, 'home comforts'.
1659 J. Arrowsmith Chain Princ. 58 The Scripture useth diminishing terms when it speaks of creature-comforts. 1688 Miege Fr. Dict. s.v., The Comforts of this Life. 1771 Smollett Humph. Cl. Let. 8 Oct., Very moderate in his estimate of the necessaries, and even of the comforts of life. 1775 Johnson Tax. no Tyr. 11 Before they quit the comforts of a warm home. 1855 Macaulay Hist. Eng. xiii. III. 300 A modern Englishman finds in his shooting box all the comforts and luxuries of his club. 1860 Tyndall Glac. i. x. 66 Steeped in the creature comforts of our hotel. 1873 Mrs. Alexander Wooing o't xxi, Another dainty apartment, supplied with every comfort."

That's the sort of thing, all right, but it doesn't quite cover this particular usage. Curioser and curioser.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Not far into row 122. So when I finish it, there will be only 98 rows (of the border) remaining to do. As Churchill might have said of the battle of El Alamein, I'm somewhere near the end of the beginning. The next little landmark will be row 138, when I finish page two and turn to the third and final page of the border chart. Not this week, though.

Princess 002

All this thinking about VKB’s set me to poking around in the cupboard. I came up with a Vogue Children’s book from 1969 (there’s actually a copyright date, in teeny tiny print). This pattern was a turning point in my knitting career. I had recently got hold of Mary Thomas’ Knitting Book in some library, and learned from it to knit two-handed and weave in the yarn-not-in-use without letting go.

09-20-2006 07;13;02AM

I knit this pattern for Rachel, who was 11 in 1969. I knit it twice, as I remember. I can’t remember the process of translating book-larnin’ to my actual fingers, but as I knit that yoke, it happened. Like learning to ride a bicycle. My Fair Isle knitting career started there.

Marni (comment yesterday), no, I’m not aiming to knit the more famous Prince of Wales sweater, which as I remember is a conventional Fair Isle with bands of different patterning. I want to reproduce the trick in the portrait-sweater I illustrated day before yesterday, Wednesday, where the all-over pattern seems to flow without a break over the entire garment.

I thought for a while yesterday about changing an Argyle pattern until it was vertically and horizontally symmetrical – that is, until it had as many rows as stitches in a pattern repeat. Then after a while I abandoned that notion, and returned to my original choice, the bottom pattern on page 62 of Starmore’s “Fair Isle Knitting Handbook”. It will suit the purpose well, and has the advantage of having an even number of stitches/rows in the repeats which will facilitate the handling of cruces like the underarm problem I was fretting about yesterday.

So it’s getting on for time to get the Shetland yarn boxes out and start thinking about colour. I'm thinking of basing the scheme on this portrait by Giovanni Bellini which we saw in London earlier this year. But nothing has been settled yet.

06-03-2006 07;44;59AM

Odds and Ends

No serious bidding yet on any of the five VKB’s that I and Helen as my agent are going to bid on, on Saturday afternoon. No bidding at all, on three of them.

In a happy exchange for my suggestion yesterday that everybody visit The McVlog, Helen sent me this link: Don’t miss. You’ve got to click on it.

Did you see the comment from Daniel McVicar yesterday? I’m sure he’s clever enough to have generated it automatically as soon as one of my readers followed the link to his Blog, and I know that at least one did. But I feel as if I’ve been noticed by the captain of the football team.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I’ve reached row 120, one of my little landmarks. I’ve got to go to a Drummond Place committee meeting this evening, which will cut badly into knitting time. (I’ll take a sock along, but it’s not the same.) Still, I ought to be able to finish 120 and then perhaps it’ll be time to take another picture, tomorrow.

Alexander’s Fair Isle Sweater

The Woolgathering in which Meg does the flowing-pattern trick is no. 72, March ’05. The sweater shewn there is probably the same one Franklin saw at Camp (comment, day before yesterday).

I started looking for a pattern, and was surprised to find that Argyle-looking ones, both in McGregor and in Starmore, appear to be both vertically and horizontally symmetrical but aren’t – there are more stitches than rows in a pattern repeat. I wonder if modification is possible. There would be a certain appropriateness, as Alexander lives in Argyle-shire when he isn’t camped out on Lavender Hill.

Meg says of her pattern, “Re-sizing is easy, since it matters not where the color pattern hits the armhole.”

That worries me. I am notoriously no good at thinking, and Meg is brilliant at it, but it seems to me that it does matter. It is only if a pattern repeat is complete, or exactly half, at the armhole, that it can go around the body, lower down, without interruption. Have I missed something? No –the answer must be that Meg’s version of this idea doesn’t go around the body, lower down. Mine does, or will.

I began to wonder about the shoulder line. Do you think it would be possible to Kitchener in a two-colour pattern? Meg does the final round at the shoulder in solid MC, and continues the solid line down the sleeve. It looks nice, but I would prefer a perfect flow, if I can get it. Even if Kitchener’ing didn’t come out quite perfect, it might pass the Galloping Horse test.

And it was only in writing the above, just now, that I started a whole new worry: the armhole shaping. In my tentative Sweater Wizard version, I’ve shaped the armhole. But that’s not going to work, is it? It would break the pattern? The pattern I’m tentatively fumbling with is an 18 stitch repeat. If one shaped the armhole by decreasing nine stitches all at once, would it work then? The armhole would have to come at a complete or half pattern repeat, but if that could be arranged, I think it might work.

Miscellaneous, including Non-knit

Sharon wrote again to the Heirloom Knitting list to say that she and Mike aren’t taking pre-orders for the new book. They’re going to wait to see if they get something respectable-looking back from the printers, as I am sure they will. So Maureen and Franklin and I will have to take blankets and tents and plenty of cider and be prepared for a long wait.

Blogger’s opening page suggests Blogs you might want to look at. That’s how I met Swapna and the Farmgirl, now old friends. Well: take a look at The McVlog.

My weight isn’t going anywhere. I was delighted when the indulgences of August turned out not to have added any. But the subsequent three weeks of strict adherence to the Regime, haven’t taken any more off, either. So maybe this is where we stay. It’ll do, but I’d prefer to drop another half-stone. However, the only alternative would be to start counting calories and cutting back on avocadoes, and there I draw the line.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Near the beginning of row 117.

My friend Helen, who has acted as my agent before, volunteered to bid for some of the five VKB’s coming up almost simultaneously this weekend. I had hesitated to lay it on her, being in the middle of Saturday afternoon when she might be watching the football. I am delighted to have her help, and with it, we’ll manage.

The same Helen discovered, (a) in my own archives, the picture I was talking about yesterday, of the PoW in a sweater the pattern of which flows down the sleeves; and (b) this entertaining account of its genesis:

The Prince’s comment, “very nice picture of a pair of shoes,” must have cut Orpen to the quick. Unfortunately the shoes don't appear in my reproduction.

prince of wales

Helen suggests that such necklines were intended to display the wearer’s collar and tie, and thus emphasize the fact that he didn’t really need a sweater to keep warm, like humbler folk. It’s an interesting idea. It is easy to forget how recent an addition to our wardrobes, male and female both, the sweater is. My life affords considerable opportunity to inspect 19th century pictures of rural life in Britain. There aren’t any sweaters. Knitted hose, yes.

Nineteenth century seafaring men would certainly have worn them. There is a picture in the naval museum at Greenwich of Napoleon being taken to exile in Elba. Thus, datable, although not by me, off the top of my head. There is a sailor in the foreground wearing what is undoubtedly a striped jersey.

I suspect that 19th century Scandinavian art, with which I rarely come in contact, would show sweater-wearing at an earlier date than British pictures. That's something else to look into when the work’s all done this fall.

Thinking about VKB’s took me back to the final manifestation of the British magazine. In 1966 they abandoned the numbering sequence which had served them since the ‘30’s and started afresh with no. 1 of a redesigned magazine which lasted for eight issues.

A recent post of Lorna's has got me worried about reproducing photographs, but I’m going to take a chance. Here is a design of Kaffe’s from no. 7 of the new series. It looks pretty routine nowadays, and commits the cardinal sin of having more than two colours in a row. I suspect the great man himself had little to do with actually knitting it. It was the first time I had heard his name, and may well be his first published pattern.

09-18-2006 08;04;19AM

Issue no. 8 of the new series doesn’t announce itself as the last, but the photographer seemed to know, and it is full of pictures hinting at doom, of which I offer one. I love it.

09-18-2006 08;00;46AM

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I’m near the end of row 115 of the Princess border, and I’ve calmed down. I won’t finish the border in the current Princess-knitting-session, which must end around the 1st of November. But I’ll pass some more landmarks, like the big half-way mark (row 110) just behind me.

-- After row 120, the remaining rows will be counted in double figures (not triple).
-- After row 138, I’ll be on the third and final page of border charts.
-- The rows are not quite evenly distributed among the charts, but after row 147 or thereabouts, I’ll be 2/3rds of the way through the border.
-- And I might make it to row 165, the 3/4's point.

Jean K’s calculation that the centre bit may be slightly bigger than the border, was a bit of a bummer when first encountered (in a recent comment), but I think I’ve risen above it. I don’t know how much to calculate for the Laurel Leaf insert, or for the final edging. But it occurred to me last night while cooking supper, that the final edging has got to be less than the edging already done, because it forms the third side of a triangle, and the third side has to be shorter than the other two sides put together. That was cheering.

So maybe, altogether, I’m about ¼ of the way through. Not much, but something, and I seem to have re-attained zen-like calm in which I enjoy the row I’m knitting, and look forward to the next one, and as for the rest

Quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere et,
Quem fors dierum cumque dabit, lucro

Sorry. I was looking up the poem (Horace Odes I, 9) as a possibility for Franklin's wintry mittens, and got carried away.

After the current Princess session, Alexander’s Fair Isle.

At some point in ’05 I went to an Orpen exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, in which I saw and later posted here, I feel sure, a portrait of the Prince of Wales (not the current one) in an all-over patterned sweater in which the pattern flowed unbroken down the sleeves. But I can’t find the image on my computer, or the postcard I must have scanned. I certainly wouldn’t have subjected the exhibition catalogue to the scanner.

The trick is one that Meg used in a recent Woolgathering. Two-colour knitting pulls the stitches in from their normal rectangle to something very like a square. So any over-all pattern which is both vertically and horizontally symmetrical could be picked up at the shoulders and knit downwards for the sleeves, without an apparent break.

It would have to be a fairly small pattern, probably, because it needs to come out even at the shoulders (so as not to spoil the joke) as well as at the sides, although the half-way point would be OK at the sides. And also needs to be accommodated to an Alexandrine shape.

So I must bend myself soon to the pleasant task of planning this thing thoroughly, and ordering yarn where necessary. I’ll do as much as possible out of stash, but I’m not going to be fierce with myself about it. I’ve recently discovered Alice Starmore's Virtual Yarns. The Knitting-Beyond-the-Hebrides group claims that the yarns aren’t quite Shetland jumper weight, but surely a few could be incorporated if used with caution. They’re stunning.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The news on the knitting front this morning is that Sharon is going to publish a small book in November. (She and Mike will publish it themselves.) She is hard at work on Heirloom Knitting II, and we are all breathlessly awaiting the result. But yesterday she posted this to the HK Yahoo group:

“More HK was getting so big - as big as the first and counting, so I decided to break off the 'coloured knitting section' and issue it as a stand-by-itself book….

It is to be the same size (A4) softback as HK and More HK, but will have 64 pages - well illustrated - I'm not boasting, it's got loads of original photographs and pictures from the Victorian era. and charts for about 32 border recipes, knitting haps inwards and outwards and anything else - written and charted too!”

I hoped I could put in an instant pre-order, but it’s not listed on the website yet.

Jamie Oliver has another book coming out in November, too – the darkness seems unusually appealing this year.


I’m glad you’re still here, Calantha. I still treasure “boustrophedon”. I think you’re right, that I should see ‘Good Night and Good Luck.’ And I’m sure you’re right, that I must have heard Edward R. Murrow in my youth. What I meant was (if anything) that I had never heard any of his famous broadcasts from London during the Blitz.

Janet, in the Good Old Days, the Vogue Knitting Book was a British publication. Conde Nast, of course. I don’t know what its relationship was to the similarly-titled magazine published in America, nor which came first. These are things I must find out. The British one finally ceased publication in the late 60’s. I already owned pretty well all of them since I got married in ’57, and a few earlier ones. Since I discovered eBay I am hard (and expensively) at work completing the set. (In the late '60's, 1957 seemed a remote and distant date.)

I’m still missing plenty. Assuming I sweep the board a week today, I will still want 1-9, 11-16, 18-22, 25-27, 29 and (oddly) 43. VKB’s aren’t dated, for the most part, only numbered, although there were a couple right after the war that had dates on the cover.

Next Saturday’s seller is offering 11 in all, on a tight time frame. I want five of them, and I must have a look at my set to see if there are any in bad condition, or coverless, that I might venture a low bid to improve.

Another thing I don’t know and should find out is whether the American “International” Vogue was published continuously, or whether it, too, vanished for a while in the 60’s and early 70’s.

Daisy, alas, I downloaded that shawl calculator but it will only handle triangulars of a known number of rows.

Jean, I’m sorry to hear of your accidents. I had a run-in with an olive oil bottle in Kirkmichael last week. I grabbed at it as it went, and cut my right thumb rather sorely, and my very first thought was, do I need my right thumb when I knit? I had no idea of the answer until I sat down and re-engaged the yarn. I was pleased to find that the right thumb is scarcely involved.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Here we are again, and as often in this situation, it’s hard to know where to start.


No fewer than five VKB’s are coming up for sale next Saturday afternoon, the 23rd, all within less than two minutes, a couple of them within seconds of each other. A good many more than five, in fact, are on sale, all from the same seller who has clearly struck paydirt. One of them is no. 10, which will be the earliest one I own if I wind up owning it.

We haven’t seen “Losing It” yet, featuring Flora Spencer-Longhurst. (See previous blog entry.) We recorded it (I hope) while we were away, but last night watched “Low Winter Sun”. The scene which might have involved our front steps, if we had said yes, was absolutely pivotal. Characters watched and re-watched the purported CCTV footage of it.

Meanwhile Flora got a good write-up in the Waffy. She clearly had an important role, and was mentioned by name.

We had a good, hard-working two days in the country. My main achievement was to run the lawnmower until it ran dry – the state in which I am instructed to put it away for the winter. It took me an hour and 40 minutes, and I’m glad to have the job done. The vegetable garden is overflowing with abundance, now that there’s nobody around to eat the stuff.

Malabrigo 003

I think the mysterious white circle must be a raindrop. It was a lousy day yesterday, all day long.

The Malabrigo is nearly finished. You can’t see the nicely short-row’d shoulder line in this picture, but I achieved it. One more trip north should see it done. It’s wonderfully cosy and soft and I’m hugely looking forward to wearing it.

Malabrigo 004


I’m doing row 108. So I might reach the Big Half Way this evening – row 110.

I was tremendously encouraged by your comment, Jean K. You’re just far enough ahead of me to give me hope.

I will certainly do a trial piece of the Laurel Leaf pattern when I get there. What I don’t understand is the instruction for the stars: “slip one, knit two together, psso, but before slipping the slipped stitch off the needle, make 1 by bringing the yarn forward, then knit 1 into the slipped stitch.” It will probably become clear when I try it, and if not, I am sure you will help, or Sharon herself.

Sharon says that she cast off the final border row. I plan to keep the stitches live, if I ever get that far. Which did you do?


Cathy, thanks for the news about newsstands. I always used to buy VK that way, well into the 90’s when we moved to Edinburgh. I can happily remember the thrill of spotting it. I can remember my sad search in the late 60’s for the one that never appeared, when the original British version which I am now so expensively collecting, went down. But eventually (in 90’s Edinburgh) it simply got to be too much like hard work, so I subscribed.

Monday, September 11, 2006

We’re going back to Strathardle today. I should be back in position on Friday. I doubt whether I’ll try to plug everything back together and re-activate wi-fi while we’re there.

This Week’s Recommended Viewing…

On Wednesday evening, 9 pm on ITV, the daughter of old friends, Flora Spencer-Longhurst, is going to be in “Losing It” with Martin Clunes. I don’t know how prominent her role is. She is about 20 (the same age as granddaughter Hellie), slight and pretty, and is often hired to play younger roles because she can look 15 and spare the producers the trouble and expense of employing an actual minor.

09-11-2006 07;26;46AM

Memory supplies a picture of her infant self wearing this sweater, but the archives produce only the sweater. It’s based on something in Pam Dawson’s “Knitting Fashion” of 1976. That was – is – a truly liberating and enabling book. I already had Mary Thomas, but she is daunting and the cartoons are an utter turn-off. Dawson was a real invitation to think, and design, for oneself. Worth watching the second-hand market for. It occasionally turns up.

09-11-2006 07;29;04AM

While I was looking for that picture I found this one, of similar date. That’s Thomas-the-Only, as he then was, and his sister Hellie. It must have been taken at Burnside at Easter (judging from the daffodils) in 1987 (if I’m right that Hellie is going to be 20 in mid-November). Clearly, from the hats, I was having a lettering phase. Both children are wearing sweaters I knit, too. I don’t recognise Hellie’s. Thomas’s is a Vogue children’s pattern, I think.

And then on Thursday evening comes a thriller called “Low Winter Sun”, again 9pm and ITV I think. That’s the one that would have had a scene in which someone leaps out of a taxi and runs up the steps of our house, if we’d said yes.


Thank you for them all. I am now wholly determined to drop my subscription to “Knitting”. This is ridiculous. I couldn’t bear to part with Knitter’s or IK (I was in at the beginning, and I’ve got them all) or VK and don’t have the option, here, of inspecting them on the newsstand or at the library. But “Knitting” isn’t good enough, and it does turn up on some newsstands so I could look at it occasionally.

Ted, I’m glad you’re still here. I will certainly knit a trial piece of the Laurel Leaf pattern when I get there, as Sharon suggests. I will also try knitting it in my head before then, as you have done. That would be a comfort. Meanwhile I have reached row 106, and here is the promised update. That looks suspiciously like a dropped stitch – a too-big hole, in the feather to the left.

Princess 001

Sunday, September 10, 2006

One of those mornings when facility deserts me. Knitting? Never heard of it.

I’m early in row 104 of the Princess border, and must begin the day’s work by tinking 20 stitches – a silly miscounting.

Try as I will, I can’t stop thinking about the centre. The whole gigantic thing is a triangle, not a square. When the border is finished -- !-- you reduce 865 stitches to 647 by means of a “laurel leaf pattern” which I don’t understand. Then you start in the middle on 5 stitches – that leaves 642 – and knit back and forth, taking in one stitch with each row. So that means 642 rows and at the end, 647 stitches again.

Then the edging, along the edges of the border I’m knitting at the moment, and along those 647 stitches.

So, a long way to go. I’m having fun with my simple-minded Greek course, and am pleased to find how much simple-minded Greek has remained lodged somewhere in the synapses since I mugged it up with a BBC cassette course before I went out to be there when Fergus was born. I hope that means that that edging pattern is still in there somewhere, too.

Knitting magazine, the British one, turned up yesterday. How long am I going to stagger on with it? The patterns are not going to get good, and when did I last knit a pattern from any magazine, anyway? The ads are useful, but I’ve got Google. The articles are pretty banal. I could buy a couple of expensive Rowan books a year for what the subscription costs. I’d rather have the two Kaffe patterns in that £15 Rowan Scottish Islands book, than my whole pile of Knittings.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


I’m somewhere in the early part of row 102. The notion of having knit 100 rows sounds significant, but 110 will be much more so, being half-way, for the border. We’re going back to Strathardle on Monday – I won’t have got there by then, but I’ll be closer than I am now, insh’Allah, and I’ll take a picture.

I have decided that it is inevitable, now that I’ve got a substantial body of work here, that I find myself thinking back to the road travelled, and ahead to the still-hard-to-imagine distance to go. In the early weeks, it was pure process, a Zen-like experience. One simply knit, since it was impossible to suppose I would ever get anywhere with a project this size. It’s sort of sad to have lost that early innocence.


Thank you, everybody, both for war-time memories and for answering each other’s questions. Pamela has got me wondering how I know the phrase “sprigged muslin”? Since I have been toiling mightily in recent months getting my husband’s Magnum Opus into his Palm, and since the Palm is here in repose, plugged into my computer, I looked up his entry on The Pedlar just now. He doesn’t say anything specifically about the length of material. The dictionary says that “sprigged” fabric was fashionable and common at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, which is the period we are dealing with.

My husband does say, “The householder’s knitted conical nightcap is…of a kind that was made around Kilmarnock”. I was astonished to read this, but I see that the footnote attributes this information to Slipknot, the journal of the Knitting and Crochet Guild, so I must have known it once, and must have told him. He doesn’t read Slipknot in the ordinary way of things.

Clydella is heavier and harder-wearing and somewhat coarser and cosier than Viyella. Could it be entirely made of brushed cotton?

I long for more wartime VKB’s. eBay writes to me almost daily with new listings, but they are obstinately useless this week and last.


We are going to Thessaloniki to see Helen and her family at the end of October, our first essay at anything that could be classed as travel – I don’t count London – since we went to China three and a half years ago. The visit will include a weekend on Pelion, where I will stand my watch upon the hill and look towards Ossa. I bought a computer disk yesterday to brush up my tourist Greek with.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Princess Shawl

I’ve finished row 99. I allowed my thoughts to wander yesterday, as I was driving to the supermarket, over the question of what proportion of the whole might be considered to have been completed when – if – I finish the border.

Seven balls of yarn remain out of ten, and the rest of the border will require only one more of them, I’m pretty sure. That would suggest quite a long way to go – and this is yarn that Sharon sold me herself, not me buying to-be-on-the-safe-side, as is my wont. I read through the rest of the pattern again when I got home, and decided that there’s a lot more to do and I had better revert to the stitch-by-stitch-and-don’t-think-ahead approach.

Picture soon, but for the moment here is one taken yesterday. Alexander most kindly drove over from Argyll, where he and Ketki and their sons live when they aren’t on Lavender Hill in London, to spend the day hanging pictures with my husband.


Yarn Rationing

Helen-not-sister came up with two interesting websites yesterday:
reproduces the official order introducing clothes rationing in June, 1941. So I was right to deduce from the absence of the subject in the pages of VKB no. 17, that it hadn’t happened yet in autumn, 1940. The Argument from Silence does occasionally work.

A jumper cost five coupons, out of an annual ration of 66. Two ounces of knitting wool cost one. So there wasn’t much advantage, if any, in knitting for yourself. But lots of advantage in ripping out threadbare garments and re-using the good bits.

It has often occurred to me, given the invariancy of human nature, that there must have been people with stashes in 1939, and dressmakers with piles of cloth. I’ve got enough yarn here to see me easily through a six-year war, even if I double up some of the lace-weights.

One of my favourite pictures by my husband’s artist is called The Pedlar. A pretty young wife wants to buy a length of sprigged muslin. The women of the household are examining it with delight, and trying to argue the pedlar down on the price, while she turns to beg it of her husband, sitting at the window. (My husband surprised me once by saying that he thinks he’s going to say yes.)

It was only when I saw this picture in Real Life a few years ago in an exhibition at Dulwich that I saw that she’s got a stash, on top of the wardrobe in the background. (The picture normally lives at Yale.)

However, that’s by the way. The other website Helen found is
more of a school-project essay on the subject of clothes rationing, but not without interest.

We still don’t know when clothes rationing ended, or whether the ration was relaxed at any point. Do read Jean-from-Cornwall’s interesting comment yesterday.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Getting on towards the end of row 96, of the Princess border.

Two addenda to yesterday’s post:

(a) They have a little section on Radio 4 these days, between 5:30 and 6 a.m., where they tell you what today is the anniversary of. And today, they maintain, is the anniversary of the beginning of the Blitz (not late August, as I said yesterday). They played a little clip of Edward R. Murrow broadcasting from the steps of St Martin’s in the Fields. I had heard of him, of course, but had never heard him before. He was good, all right.

(b) There is in ad in VKB no. 17 for a sock pattern with detachable soles. It’s Ladyship Wools pattern no. 121. There is no way of knowing – unless it turns up on eBay one day – whether they do it the same way as EZ in her famous pattern, mentioned by Meg in her article in the 2006 VK just published. EZ, remember, never claimed originality – she assumed that anything that occurred to her had probably occurred at some time or other to other knitters somewhere or other. (But I bet nobody else ever invented the Baby Surprise.)

(c) Thank you, Jean, for a most interesting comment. I really must pull myself together and find out how severely yarn was rationed, and for how long. The post-war VKB in yesterday’s illustration speaks as if coupons were still necessary in 1947, and as if they went further if you bought yarn than if you used them for actual clothes. [Of course clothes rationing went on after the war, come to think of it – people sent coupons to Princess Elizabeth when she married Philip Mountbatten. Was that ’47? Quite likely.]


I was back in Lewis’s yarn department yesterday while Boots across the way straightened out a muddle involving a prescription. Rowan has a good book out called Scottish Island Knitting or words very similar. There are some interesting things there, among them two Kaffe’s I liked a lot. But fifteen pounds! Ouch.

The magazine I bought on Tuesday was £10.50, which is bad enough. In the early days I bought the Rowan mags faithfully; I’ve slackened off. I got this one largely for the sake of Parker, p. 78. The yarn is called Tapestry, and it’s gorgeous – largely wool, with an admixture of soy. I was told that it felts well. I’m not entirely sure that’s an advantage, for me.

The rest of the magazine doesn’t seem quite as interesting on close inspection, as I thought it was, in the shop.

I sort of had a feeling, revisiting the scene yesterday, that Rowan makes an awful lot of different yarns these days with an inevitable reduction in the colour range of each.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hi, Lindsay!

When I got to Lewis’s yarn department yesterday, my friend Helen was already there, sitting with the Rowan Lady, talking of this and that. She introduced us, and Lindsay said, shivering my timbers for a moment, “I’m afraid we don’t have the Brandon Mobly book.” She reads the blog!

I bought the new Rowan book for a great deal of money. Of that, perhaps, more anon.

But for today: Helen is the friend who bid on my behalf recently for VKB no. 17, and yesterday she gave it to me.

I was surprised. Its date is autumn, 1940. In size and format – and lack of editor’s letter – it’s just like the earliest ones in my collection, from the late 30’s. The covers of all three are photographic – I was wrong about that, a couple of days ago. Three years later, the size had shrunk dramatically, and the cover is a drawing. But the layout and the formatting had become what they were to remain for many years, except that the page size got bigger after the war and cover photographs appeared, in what is essentially the modern style.

VKB 001

(The one on the right is no. 31, autumn, 1947, two years after the end of the war as I hope nobody needs to be told.)

The Battle of Britain was just getting into full swing as no. 17 hit the newsstands – Churchill says that London was visited by 200 bombers every night from late August until the end of the year. So the VK editors wouldn’t have experienced that yet. But they would have known about the fall of France and the evacuation of Dunkirk, which happened in the spring. Britain was alone and the sky was dark. The mood of no. 17 is exuberant, like Evelyn Waugh’s splendid “Put Out More Flags” of the same period.

The war is mentioned specifically more often than in the grimmer issues three years later. Knitters are urged in the ads to make “comforts” – an odd word – for the Forces, and by Vogue to knit oddballs into blanket squares or even, if you didn’t want to do that, to send them in so that the Vogue staff could do it. (Address your packages to ‘Vogue (Knitted Blankets), 1 New Bond Street.)

Austerity doesn’t seem to have bitten yet. There is no mention of clothing coupons – although that doesn’t necessarily mean that rationing hadn’t started -- and the ads imply that it wasn’t all that difficult to buy yarn. Three years later, it clearly was. There is no reference in no. 17, as there was later, to unravelling anything and reusing the yarn. The extent of yarn-famine in no. 17 is represented by a Patons ad: “If your woolshop hasn’t the exact shade you want, take an alternative and don’t grouse.”

The patterns are distinctly sensible (for those with a 33” bust and 38” hips). In no. 15 there are some jolly intarsia blouses, like the famous Schiaparelli of some years earlier, with, for example, a faux collar and tie knitted in. Number 17 has nothing so frivolous, but on the other hand there is no knitted underwear yet, either.

The first pattern in No. 17 is for a hooded coat: “For the shelter, the country or the car”.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Somewhere in row 89 of the Princess border.

The new VK turned up yesterday. It’s a good 'un and has infected me with a bad case of world-enough-and-time’s. There are even a couple of shrugs that would have knocked the Strathardle judges’ eyes out. Too late.

One of the unsung consolations of age, in my case, is the huge increase in the cast of characters to knit for, meaning that there’s likely to be someone for whom I could knit almost anything that takes my fancy. I am much struck with sweater no.27. Both daughter-in-law Cathy and granddaughter Hellie are stylish and waif-like enough to wear it: and it gets very cold in Beijing in the winter.

I am, I hope, going to meet a friend in John Lewis’ yarn department this afternoon. That should give me a chance to look at Brandon Mably’s new book Knitting Color, since he’s sort of Rowan-related and they're likely to have it. All the new books in the bookstores these days are basic how-to-knit’s. I didn’t buy Mably’s first book (or any others, if he’s done more than one), but I’d like to flip through this one.

And there’s a sweater that interests in a Rowan ad – it’s from magazine no. 40, and I’ll have a closer look at that. Might it even suit a matron?

There are some very interesting sock yarns featured here and there in the magazine, but I was brought up short by Meg’s remark, in her article about socks and stocking: “They are not my favourite items to knit, since disheartening holes quickly appear in the toes and heels.”

I knit socks with German sock yarns, various brands, whose composition is about 75% wool and 25% polyamid (whatever that might be). They feel like wool and wear like iron. So I regard the Luna Park sock yarn (merino, machine-washable) in the advertising feature on page 69 with suspicion as well as admiration. I can’t find a retailer on Google whose page might give me a closer look.

I knit my husband a pair of bedsocks once from scraps of DK yarn out of stash. He wore them only as bedsocks, never for padding about the house. They went into holes almost at once. I knit him another pair out of leftover scraps of sock yarn. Years ago. He wears them every night.


Karen, be brave. Lace knitting is more fun than anything. I think I’d vote for starting with the lace-weight alpaca. The trouble with Shetland cobweb (to that extent EZ was right) is that it is fragile, and can break in your hands. I knit my first Amedro Lacy Evening Wrap of it, as specified, and it came out fine and blocked beautifully, but now that there are plyed yarns available of equivalent fineness, I prefer them for their greater strength.

Jean, I am seriously impressed that you can purl Fair Isle. I have never mastered that skill – I can do it, but every stitch is agony, and I’m 100% with your daughter in preferring round-and-round. I have found that Shetland yarn really does stick to itself, and I have never had any trouble either with steeks or with (for a v-neck, for instance) just putting in a line of machine-stitching and taking out the scissors.

Here are some more Games pictures, to finish off with:


That's Alistair, on the left, competing in the Pillow Fight. I didn't even know he'd done it until this picture arrived from Beijing.


That's Thomas-the-Elder, pushing the wheelbarrow, and Hellie's boyfriend Matt, partially inside it, coming third in Tilt the Bucket.

summeroughtsix 043

And that's Rachel, in her striped Koigu, and Alexander in the old Hong Kong rugby shirt he always wears to the Games, watching the action.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I always read Comments from the day before, and love getting them. I don’t always go back to see if earlier entries have picked up extra comments after the first 24 hours, but yesterday, fortunately, I did just that, and in the course of admiring my own lapidary prose, found your comment, rosesmama, about being my daughter Helen’s roommate in NY in the 80’s.

Talk about small worlds! I sent your comment to Helen at once, but I’m not as Third Millennium as I thought I was: I can’t figure out how to write to you directly. I am miles dot jean at googlemail dot com, and Helen is hcmiles at otenet dot gr. Please get in touch. This is amazing.

Heirloom Knitting

I’ve been thinking about it. Depends what you mean by “heirloom”. To my mind, the knitting that is so difficult that death would be considered a relief, in the Yarn Harlot’s phrase, is designer knitting. The kind of thing devised with paper and pen (or computer) and a small swatch and then passed on to us poor suckers for actual knitting. I think of Starmore’s Stillwater.

It’s a beautiful pattern, and for years I aspired to knit it. When the time finally came, I got through a whole 58-row pattern repeat over a couple of hundred stitches before I sought relief not indeed in death but in the frog pond. There is no rhythm to the pattern, no way to predict the next row from the one before.

I love rhythm. Traditional patterns all have it, Shetland lace, Aran, Fair Isle, ganseys, Orenburg, Scandinavian, more I’m sure. Both soothing and intellectually exciting to knit. Some of Kaffe’s patterns have this quality, and the great thing about that man is that he doesn’t just design, he knits.

Back at the ranch...

Maureen, I’m using Sharon's Gossamer Merino for the Princess, and I think it’s simply wonderful. I started with silk, and failed miserably. I then gave some thought, uncharacteristically, to the question of how to proceed. I ordered a sample ball of the cotton Sharon herself used, but never tried it. At one point I actually had 10 repeats of the edging done in another of Sharon’s yarns, quite likely her 2-ply laceweight. I liked it, although the result was clearly going to be substantially bigger than the already enormous prototype.

I discussed all this here on the blog, I think it must have been, and Sharon herself rang up to say that the yarn I was using was too big, and to recommend the Gossamer Merino which was at the time brand new. The rest is history.

The notes on the pattern imply that the cotton yarn tries to escape – she recommends point protectors every time you put it down. With wool, I’m not having any such problem. I’ve got 865 stitches on a long circular needle, and they are extremely well behaved.

Gossamer merino 002

I’m now doing row 86. Yesterday’s excitement was finishing a whole ball of yarn and attaching the next one. That doesn’t happen very often.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Princess is somewhere in row 84, and here is a picture of her. Admire, of course, but notice that all of the motifs are simple, the beauty lying in the fineness of the yarn (which is strangely easy to deal with) and the skill of the arrangement. The edging isn't simple, though. That was seriously tough, and there's more to come at the end.


The current issue of SlipKnot, the journal of the Knitting and Crochet Guild, has an enthusiastic review of the Yarn Harlot's book “for Women who knit too much”. The reviewer quotes with approval, “’Heirloom’ is knitting code for ‘This pattern is so difficult that you would consider death a relief.’”

The Harlot can be forgiven, perhaps, being Canadian and all. But the KCG is meant to be British and should, I feel, temper its mirth in the certain knowledge that Sharon Miller's “Heirloom Knitting” is the most important knitting book to be published in English for a long, long time.

EZ remarks somewhere that cobweb yarn is – I quote from memory – “almost unknittable with”. There’s no accounting for prejudice, and no doubt that it turns up sometimes where least expected.

Now that I have mastered so much of the 21st century – blogging, eBay, Flickr and Runescape – I feel I would like to add that trick where you draw lines around part of a photograph – to point out, for instance, where the big feathers are beginning in my Princess border – and/or add comments, facetious or otherwise, in rectangular boxes. Does that require an expensive photo-editing program?

Speaking of which, I have never thanked you, Debi, for the URL of the eBay sniping programme. ( I knew that such things existed, but had assumed that you had to pay. I will certainly have a look at this one the next time eBay comes up with a VKB for me. All is quiet at the moment.

Nor have I written yet about my recent acquisitions, in which I delight. If I ever complete the sequence, there will be an essay to be written about the evolution of VKB, which will be the same as the evolution of the knitting magazine. When did the editor start adding a few words at the beginning, for example? A knitting magazine without a few words from the editor is unthinkable now. My pre-war VKB’s launch straight into the patterns. The war-time ones have prefaces. But I need the complete sequence to find the first one.

When did multiple sizing come in? No. 24, spring 1944, has a Shetland twin-set for adolescents in three sizes, but otherwise it’s the old take-it-or-leave it: bust 34, hips 37. There are a few patterns “for the fuller figure” and even they are one size only, bust 38 (for most) or 40 (on one of them).

And when was there first a photograph on the cover, instead of a drawing? That will be one of the immediate post-war issues, but which?

I happened to read the other day that “Woman” and “Women’s Own” – older British readers will know where I’m coming from – weren’t published during the war, to save newsprint. It seems to me very wise of the Ministry of Paper to have known that knitters – who were certainly fully employed knitting socks and helmets for fighting men – deserved and needed their twice-yearly fix of VKB.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Does anybody play Runescape? Probably not. My grandson Alistair taught me while we were together last month, with the thought that his character and mine could meet sometimes, after he was back in Beijing. I have just spent an interesting 20 minutes walking with him from the Castle to Varroc. Isn't the third millennium remarkable?


I’m near the end of row 81. I’m keeping track of the rows with a Peg-It board. I enjoy the little ceremony at the end of each row, and the greater one at the end of a decade.

Knitting in Strathardle

Here is a picture of Alistair knitting, and one of his younger sister Rachel trying to teach the still-younger Kirsty, without much success. You can see that Alistair has finished his whole first ball of yarn, and introduced a second of his own choosing, in a rather alarming colour.

summeroughtsix 021 summeroughtsix 020

I tried to take a picture of Alistair’s knitting itself, to show how the number of stitches increased dramatically during the first few rows, as with most absolute beginners, and then straightened out as he got the hang of it. However, despite the opportunity for self-criticism offered by the digital camera, I seem to have succeeded in taking the picture without including the sides, so the point is lost.

summeroughtsix 019

And here’s the current state of the Malabrigo vest.

summeroughtsix 056

I tried the gansey on Ketki while she was with us. I’m not quite sure. It’s not tight-tight, but it’s got less ease than I was aiming at. On the other hand, ganseys aren’t meant to have much ease. The only sensible thing to do is to finish it and see what we think then. We have established, from an earlier trial, that it’ll fit Helen, so in the worst-case scenario, I knit Ketki another one.

But first, I’ll finish the vest. It’s easy, and it’s nice on the hands, and it won’t take much longer, especially as the huddle-by-the-fire weather is rapidly approaching. And I think it'll be rather a useful garment.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I got the Long Shawl blocked yesterday – and not much else done; it’s a slower job than I expected.

Longshawl 003 Longshawl 001

I have a curious lack-of-love relationship with this project, which I don’t entirely understand. I’m pleased with the result. I liked the pattern, loved the yarn, but something’s missing.

Using blocking wires was an interesting first. They’re great, not least because you can tug on a whole side at once, and the stitches on the sides at right angles to it will slide along their wires to some extent, because so few pins are involved. Whereas with the old crawl-around-dining-room-floor-with-pins-in-mouth system, every single pin has to be displaced outwards, often several times.

But I love crawling around the dining room floor with pins in my mouth, whereas I didn’t enjoy this process much.

It’s all very odd. I’ll have to set aside a whole day (and a whole dining room) for the Princess, if I ever finish her. Lene, you’ll have to carry her off needles and all next summer, if you hope to steal her. (Thanks for comment.) This is one big project. I don’t think there’s any hope that the current interval of working on her – two months are planned – will even finish the border.

I got to row 78 last night, however, and have turned the first spadesful for the big “feathers” which are to be the dominant motif. For the time being, alternate rows are almost plain, and (in Princess terms) I’m sailing along. I am sure that when The Princess Diarists resume work, they’ll sail even faster. (Ted once did ten rows in a weekend: that’s knitting.) So I’m glad to get a few rows ahead of them now.

Back to the Games

We fared even worse on the field than in the Home Industries tent.

Grandson Joe -- he who recently came home with the good GCSE results and who is, in addition, fleet of foot – ran in several races, without success. Alistair tried running, too. Our only achievement, and that not to be despised, was in Tilt the Bucket. (One person sits in a wheelbarrow and wields a long pole; another person pushes. Everybody gets wet except the ultimate winner.) Thomas-the-Elder pushed, and granddaughter Hellie’s boyfriend Matt wielded the pole, and they came third. We’ve never won that one, although James and his sister Helen were second once, decades ago.

Tilt the Bucket

Thomas on the left, Matt on the right, with the Third Place Envelope. I think they won 50p.

Another event we’ve never won is Musical Cars at the end of the afternoon. A certain number of pegs with flags are fixed in the centre of the ring, and a greater number of cars circle the field until the music stops. If your runner can’t reach a peg, you’re out. James drove, and Joe ran, with no luck.

My weight

Thank you, thank you, commenters who think I look slimmer. I’m happy to report that a month of serious cider-drinking has not put any weight back on, and equally happy that it seems easy, so far, to re-introduce the regime (no cider except on Sunday, porridge rather than bacon and sausage for breakfast, no sugar). I backslid on the breakfast front in August, too. Sugar is no longer a temptation.