Monday, June 16, 2008

Good progress with the scarf, which makes splendid, mindless weekend knitting (and the yarn is great on the hands). I return to dinosaurs today with renewed vigour.

(A bit fuzzy, like the most recent dinosaur picture. Something wrong with camera?)

We’re hoping to go to Strathardle tomorrow for a two-nighter. The weather forecast is showery all week, just as for David and Mel, but I can thin my orach in the rain if need be. I also need to make up some beds for the Beijing Mileses who will be with us towards the end of next week. I wonder if James has ever seen the “simmer dim”. It’s wonderful, even in Perthshire.

There was one of those articles about Living Frugally in the Independent on Sunday yesterday; pretty silly. The Royal Horticultural Society, no less, was quoted as saying that you can save £1000 a year by growing your own vegetables. Well, maybe Batman and Robin could, if they gardened a couple of acres in Sussex. I doubt if I “save” £50, and I wonder if even the Fishwife’s wonderful allotment “saves” £500. I garden for the joy of it, and for the taste of a freshly-picked pea.

“The Lerwick Lace Shawl”

Shandy (another vegetable gardener) says in yesterday’s comment that a sheep left unshorn eventually sheds its wool, and would be easy to roo. The difficulty seems to lie in explaining that to the sheep.

Sharon cites a movie by Michael Powell called “The Edge of the World”, made on Foula in 1936. He also wrote a book about the making of it, “200,000 ft: the Edge of the World”, Dutton, ’38. He describes just the sheep Shandy is thinking of: “…some cynical-eyed matron, whose mass of dragging, tangled wool, half on, half off her back and shoulders, gives her a horrible similarity to the leering semi-undress of a mid-Victorian brothel and show that she has avoided rooing for two seasons and will be got into a kro only over your dead body…”

The technique for rounding them up on Foula, apparently, was for the old men and the children and the women, in small, pre-arranged groups, to “feign an aimless sauntering nearer and nearer the sheep who watch this pretence with deep suspicion”.

Sharon says that Foula still has a tiny population today, perhaps as a direct result of the film.

And, yes, Shandy, she says that the wool rooed from the neck is the finest and was reserved for lace.

Tamar, I wonder if you should relax about using a credit card on the Internet – although I agree you’ve got to keep a very close eye on things.

Sharon’s main discovery about technique is on the first page of text. Her antique shawl was knit from the borders inward and “where the border joined the centre there were a lot of erratically spaced groupings of multiple decreasings. I first took this to mean that the knitter hadn’t finally chosen her centre till the last moment and had done this radical reshaping then to allow for the new pattern….But finally I realised that…this gathering was most likely to be…actually pre-planned: demonstrating a rarely-mentioned method of shaping fine lace borders that I now appreciate was used frequently in Shetland….I believe this simple advance could only have been used due to a thorough understanding of the unique nature of their wool’s dressing qualities.”


  1. I'm very much enjoying the gardening/obama/lerwick/dinosaur discussion threads, despite not having opportunity to comment of recent weeks. Teeth #11 has arrived at last and #12 should be through tomorrow. Hurrah.

    Best of all the threads has been the rooing of the sheep. Sheep are such smelly things I can't imagine how much the roo-er would stink after several sessions of neck caressment. I can't imagine any lace wedding shawl being worth the odour and I'm sure that the prospective husband wouldn't think so, either!

    Amused at the idea that anyone could make the average household vegie patch *that* profitable. I think of the veggie/herb patch as being a little like my yarn stash. Yes, it's a practical thing but the money going out to support the habit doesn't actually equal the alleged savings. For me, gardening and knitting is all about the fun of the process.

  2. There have been all sorts of articles here recently about how much you can save by growing your own vegetables, and I have the same response as you do. I can't imagine anyone saves much. I don't grow them to save money, I grow them for the pleasure of a fresh potato, tomato, etc. I haven't seen any discussion yet of putting up vegetables, but I'm not convinced that would be a money saver either. But those peaches that I have sliced and frozen in August over vanilla ice cream in January? Priceless.

  3. Anonymous2:54 PM

    The movie cited, "The Edge of the World", is worth finding, especially for the scenery and sense of how it was at that time and place. It's an odd movie, but that's kind of gratifying these days.
    Enjoy your two day trip.

  4. While I agree that most "primitive" sheep eventually shed their fleece, it has been bred out of many fine wool and commercial flocks. Did you miss all of the excitement about "Shrek the sheep", down under, albeit in New Zealand. Good to see they get their fair share of thrills:

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. If I cost up my 100% organic fruit and veg at shop prices then take off my actual costs (rent, seeds etc), I probably save one heck of a lot of money, especially when it comes to things like herbs and soft fruit. When did you last see Red Orach in the shops, after all, and how much was it?
    But...cost in my time, even at the minimum wage, and I'd probably be better off doing the same hours on the Tesco tills and buying the stuff from them.

    Money saving it's not. But the results are so much tastier than in the shops! And it's fun, good exercise and it's a very fulfilling thing to do, really. Well worth it just for that.

    (That was me that deleted the above comment, btw. I was signed in on the wrong name, sorry.)

  7. Anonymous6:29 AM

    Thank you for the detail about the Lerwick shawl. Does she explain further about the gathers? I agree, sometimes "random" elements are carefully arranged for precisely that effect. Knitters of old were often very clever.

  8. So, are Shetland sheep classed as a primitive breed, or a developed breed? I've certainly seen occasional Cumbrian sheep quite recently with fleece peeling off. Not sure of the breed.
    Interestingly, at the weekend there was a report of the shortage of shearers with the economics of the process: £1.40 per sheep.This was significantly more than the fleece would bring. How is this sustainable as a business venture?