Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Off to Strathardle today for a two-night’er to prevent the courgettes turning into vegetable marrows and to cut the grass if I feel strong enough. The electric starter motor has died the death. When I was young and read Agatha Christie, I used to find “vegetable marrow” the most puzzling of phrases. Do we have them in America? I'm sure they could be grown, with ease, but they are about as unsatisfactory as a vegetable can get.

Edinburgh has been wrapped in haar the last few days. It will be nice to see the sky, even if rain is falling out of it.

I’ve solved the Games Accommodation problem – not necessarily to everyone’s satisfaction, but at least none of them will be sleeping under the stars.

And I’ve attached the shoulders of the dinosaur sweater, and one sleeve. The three-needle bind-off looks fine. The sleeve-hole looks too shallow.


Cazzab, you’re right that there’s a frisson about reading a book by someone you know well. Dear Preceptor continues interesting, but Higginson himself is rather a bore, as my mother acknowledges in various ways. Things should liven up when Emily Dickenson finally appears on stage. I won’t take it to Kirkmichael – that’s where I read the New Yorker and Kitchen Garden magazine.

Shandy, the thought of a herd of 70 deer in Essex is unnerving. And reminds me that I mustn’t take my vegetables for granted. The rabbits might have tunnelled in. The deer might have paid a summer visit. Heaven help us, the sheep could have figured out the route.

Back here Friday, insh’Allah. Next month!

Monday, July 28, 2008

I’ve finished tidying the dinosaurs – today I’ll begin joining the pieces. I’m going to use a three-needle bind-off for the shoulders and to set in the sleeves. Not because I am entirely persuaded that it’s appropriate, but because it’s more fun than sewing.

And I’m having a nice time reading “Dear Preceptor”. I’m sure you’re right, sisterHelen (comment yesterday), that it’s not going to turn in to a “sweeping cultural and political history of the US” but it’s very interesting on the Boston of its time. (Higginson was 20 years older than Henry James.) It’s well-written and therefore easy reading – that I expected. But there is also an attention to well-researched detail of which I hadn't entirely thought my mother capable.

(Kate, you’ll enjoy “Down and Out in Paris and London” when you get there.)

I had a good time at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday – although you did better there than I, Emily. Nobody was roasting whole animals. I saw some people eating samples of cheese, but since I wasn’t there to buy cheese I thought it would be cheating to join in. The homespun yarn and objects-knit-of that I saw didn’t look very inviting.

The pork chops I bought were good, but were they that good? I still have two Gloucester Old Spot chops in the freezer. Maybe they will be the revelation I am waiting for. I got some mutton – my husband is always pestering me for mutton – and we had a very pleasant casserole of it yesterday, with carrots and neeps.

And some venison, which is also in the freezer, from the Scottish Deer Farm. The woman who runs it with her husband is the daughter of a man who taught me Greek at the University of Glasgow many decades ago, but she wasn’t there herself so I kept that tidbit to myself.

And two French tarragon plants. It may be too late to get them fully established this year, but it wasn’t a major expenditure and if they disappear, I’ll try again next spring.

The problem of accomodation for the Games remains to be solved, but I have one more avenue to explore before I have to set up a tent on the lawn -- or cast myself into the Ardle.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Total change of topic today, except to say that I have finished tidying the front and back of the dinosaur sweater, and embarked on the first sleeve. I will press on today, I think, rather than relapsing into scarf-knitting.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson

There is a review in the current issue of the Economist of a book called “White Heat: the Friendship of Emily Dickenson & Thomas Wentworth Higginson” by Brenda Wineapple.

The reviewer says, “Dickenson’s externally uneventful life has been chronicled before, but Brenda Wineapple finds a new way in by focussing on her relationship with the man who would eventually help to bring her to the public gaze after her death. Thomas Wentworth Higginson has usually been patronised as a second-rater who bungled the transmission of Dickenson’s work by allowing too much editorial tampering, a man whose bourgeois conventionality tried to silence a woman poet’s true voice. Yet Ms Wineapple responds to him with compassion and respect, and in doing so makes her book much more than a biography – rather a sweeping cultural and political history of the lead-up to the American civil war and its aftermath.”

And why is this of any interest? Because my mother wrote just that book, described by its reviewers in just those terms, 45 years ago. My mother’s was the first biography of Higginson, apart from a book his widow wrote not long after his death. Her name was Anna Mary Wells, and her Higginson book is called “Dear Preceptor”. It can be had very cheaply from Abebooks.

I’m not complaining. Forty-five years is a reasonable interval, in the academic world, if Higginson really deserves another biography. But I must see Wineapple’s book to find out in what terms she mentions my mother’s, and in what respects she thinks she has surpassed it.

And first of all, I am embarrassed to say, I must read “Dear Preceptor”. It came out in 1963. Helen was born in January of that year, when Rachel was four and a half, Alexander nearly three, and James, 17 months. My husband wasn’t well. We bought and furnished and occupied Burnside that spring and summer. I marvel at myself in retrospect, and am not entirely surprised that I didn’t read “Dear Preceptor”. But I will now.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Another evening spent peacefully tidying dinosaurs. I’m doing much of it with neat little knots, and if the judges don’t like knots, tant pis. I don’t trust weaving-in to hold the ends secure. Helen will be here with her sons a week tomorrow. I hope to have the sweater ready for Fergus to try on not long after they arrive, although of course I will then snatch it back from him until Games Day.

I spoke to Rachel yesterday on the eve of her departure for their annual family holiday lounging about in the sun somewhere in France. Alexander and Ketki will join them. The conversation revealed that we need more accommodation for the Games – I usually book too much, and wind up with expensive unoccupied beds. I’ve been stingier this year, with what would currently appear to be disastrous results. I’ll get to work on that today.

And my other great adventure today will be to go to the Edinburgh Farmers’ Market. I’ve been only once before. It’s slightly awkward to reach from here, around the other side of the castle. Specifically, I’m hoping for some rare-breeds pork that tastes nice. As Julian Barnes says in “The Pedant in the Kitchen” (which Alexander gave me for Christmas a few years ago), “I’m on a Ulyssean quest for pork that doesn’t end up tasting like the sort of compressed cardboard from which they make hospital pee-bottles.”

I think the trouble is that the Modern Pig has been bred to be lean to the serious detriment of taste and texture.

But also I often feel these days that old age is piling up around me sort of like Conrad Aiken’s great story, “Silent Snow, Secret Snow”. This will be an attempt to burst through the drifts.

Lying half-awake listening to the radio yesterday morning – the pleasantest part of the day, I sometimes think – I heard the man say, “Age, a dreadful disease for which there is no known cure.” His next sentence, however, was about retroviral drugs, so I guess he must have said “AIDS”.

If I feel really peppy, I can walk a longer distance to a different homeward bus and go past, and indeed go into, K1 Yarns.


Dawn, you’ve got it in one: the “swallowtail coat of a beautiful blue.” Eventually I will explain exactly why I want to knit one. I was interested in the notes that accompany the text on that page. As often with notes, some seem to me slightly wrong and others to explain things that don’t need explaining. But “called to the bar” is left un-annotated. When I first absorbed Gilbert & Sullivan into my bloodstream, I had no idea what “called to the bar” meant.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thanks for the historical help – I sort of thought the Boer War was earlier than 1910. Maybe the postcard had been lying around in the shop. I doubt if Kirkmichael was the sort of place where people would walk about in uniform much if there wasn’t a war on. I will certainly send you a scan, Helen, when it turns up. Which could be today.

I hope some earnest local history magazine has looked into the story of the photographers who went about making these wonderful pictures for early postcards. They seem so much more expressive than anything to be had nowadays. And also, oddly, so much more specific and local. “Oddly” because digital photography and computers and such should make the possibility of very short print runs more not less viable nowadays. But you don’t get postcards like this one much any more.

Perhaps its because there are so many more outlets for photography now. Nobody bothers to put the good ones on postcards.


I finished the front of the dinosaur sweater, as hoped, and embarked on the long task of tidying and tightening the backs. It’s boring but it’s also peaceful, a pleasant respite until I get tired of it from the nervous tension of dinosaur-knitting.

Emily, this is a picture of my Maya. Cathy taught me how to turn the flash off when in "auto" mode while we were in Kirkmichael earlier this month. It helps.
Your enthusiasm has edged me a step nearer to attempting a Liesl. The gauge, judging from the label, should be about right. I could be swatching and sketching for the swallowtail coat of a beautiful blue at the same time. That has to be ready by early October, a not impossible goal, and only has to be big enough to fit a teddy bear.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

We got the postcard, and I divided the front of the dinosaur sweater for the neck. I should finish the basic knitting today.

The postcard auction was pretty exciting, and pretty expensive. Until the very end, it looked as if I would get it for £6.55, expensive enough for a postcard. In the final seconds, someone put in what he must have thought was a killer bid of £17.50. My killer bid was even more lethal – don’t mess with Tayside00.

I think maybe if we had seen this card at that price in a shop, we’d have decided it was too expensive – and then regretted the decision.

Now the same seller has offered this one, again rather choice. Balnauld is our own particular corner of Kirkmichael. We’ve got a postcard of the Old Mill, but I rather think this one is a different view. We’re going up for a two-night’er next week to pick courgettes. As it happens, we'll be just in time to check our postcard collection before the deadline.

This one is just the sort of card for which the memories of our friend Jean B. could be interesting – she may have seen the Old Mill. We know where it was, but there’s nothing there now, and there hasn’t been anything for the 45 years our memories cover. But Jean’s got another 30 years of memories.

The thing that puzzles me about last night’s purchase, is that the seller says with some emphasis that it dates from 1910 although it looks to the innocent eye very Great War. When was the Boer War, exactly? It has been through the post – we much prefer postcards in that state – so the object itself will answer some questions when it arrives. In those days, postmarks were legible.

Anyway, knitting

My plan is to do all the boring work on the wrong side of the dinosaurs next, then join the pieces, and only after that, knit the neck ribbing – sort of like the delicious half-glass of wine one finds one still has on hand after finishing one’s pudding.

I toyed yesterday with the idea of knitting a quick Liesl when this is finished. I surveyed my stash in Ravelry and found some Debbie Bliss “Maya” which I had completely forgotten about. It took some effort to find it in real life, but I did; and it might be just the thing. We shall see.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I should reach the point in the dinosaurs today where I divide the work for the neck shaping. You can’t imagine the excitement.

Kristen, I forgot to thank you yesterday for the reference to Bishop Rutt’s discussion of Le train bleu – the ballet with knitted costumes by Chanel. He doesn’t miss much, does he? I remember when Galina Khmeleva’s book on Orenburg Lace came out. I read it with interest and delight and thought, I’ve never heard of this whole tradition.

But then I looked it up in Bishop Rutt, and of course there it was. So I had heard of it.


Senator Obama will be in London later this week. Mr Brown and Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg are elbowing each other out of the way in their keenness to be photographed with him. Will so brilliant a star have time for Theo in his gansey? We’ll soon know.

I am grateful for the enthusiasm for the idea of a Kirkmichael Postcard Exhibition. And I agree, Stash Haus, that if things ever get that far, there ought to be a website. I really will show the cards to Jean B. next month – that will involve going through the whole lot and will give me some idea of whether the notion has legs.

I’ve just put in a killer bid for today’s eBay offering, for fear of forgetting later in the day. I’m sorry eBay no longer tells you the code names of your competitors.

If anyone is following my life with bated breath: we did put in a formal bid for the Haugh and the field beyond. We heard yesterday from our lawyer that we failed. We had started with the suggested price in the prospectus and increased it by 20% and rounded the result upwards. It shows that the newspapers are right and the prices being paid for agricultural land are not subject to the general economic misery.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sure enough, I established the feet and tails of the final tier of dinosaurs yesterday. I’ve got the bit between my teeth now.

Gratifying moment…

Corinne wrote to me asking the source of the pattern. It’s Vogue Knitting International, Holiday ’87. They don’t even name the designer. I told her the answer, and suggested eBay – lots of old Vogues come up all the time, just not the ones I want. She wrote back within hours to say that she had it. A triumph for squirrels, I feel, and one in the eye to the Flylady who would have us throw magazines away.

(I think the first designer I ever saw named in Vogue Knitting was the Great Man Himself. Not long before the separate British edition of VK disappeared forever, they published the first Kaffe Fassett pattern, a Fair Isle vest. That would be somewhere in the late 60’s. I believe the then editor, Judy Brittain I think, found him and commissioned the pattern. I wonder now if it was he who insisted that his name be published.)


I never said anything about Callie’s idea, seconded by Kate, that we have an exhibition in Kirkmichael of our postcard collection. I think I know an old resident, recently decamped to Blairgowrie, who might be able to supplement it. There is a famous postcard of Mr Gladstone picnicking somewhere nearby – we don’t have it, but our friend does.

The further white building on the right, in the postcard we hope to buy tomorrow, is the Session House. That is something to do with the Church of Scotland – the village church and churchyard lie behind those white buildings, down by the river. It has in recent years lost all ecclesiastical connection and been done up as a community centre with kludgy computers and a lending library. There is a room upstairs which would be ideal for displaying a postcard collection. I’ll give this serious thought.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Judith, thank you for Youknitwhattwo. It's what we all need on a Monday morning.

I thought about the Liesl some more yesterday. I hadn’t even grasped at the beginning that it’s an Edinburgh pattern. I wandered around looking at different versions on Ravelry – that’s the single feature which will keep us coming back to that program.

You’re right, Tamar, that the model’s hand is concealing some button-gap. On the other hand, lots of people do it with a single button or brooch or tie at the neck. Or with no fastening at all. In my case, it would just fall off. Maybe button-gap isn’t so bad up there at the top, as long as it doesn’t extend down over the bosom. I like the way Ysolda herself shows the sweater on a wide variety of ages and shapes.

So I bought it. Which is not to say I’ll knit it. But I’ll at least browse the stash and think about it.

Suzanne, have a great time in Edinburgh, and bundle up warm. (Yesterday’s weather forecast on the BBC mentioned the possibility of frost last night in some Highland glens. This is supposed to be the one month of the year without frost. My poor vegetables are in something of a frost pocket down there by the burn in their highland glen.) Don’t miss K1 Yarns in the West Bow – I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that.

(In looking up the website for that link, I discover she’s now got Noro sock yarn. The last time I was there – it’s been a while – she wasn’t sure about it. I feel the need for another visit.)

Meanwhile, great excitement, I finished the second tier of dinosaurs on the front of the sweater and started the dividing pattern. Maybe today I’ll get as far as establishing some of the final feet. At row 30 of the final pattern repeat, I get to divide for the neck. And I’m part way through row 2 right now.

Titbits from my husband’s reading:

An exhibition called “Get Knitted” is on at the Millennium Gallery, Sheffield, until 26 October. The curator says, “The exhibition looks at knitting primarily as s social activity. It acknowledges its heritage and traditions, and reinvents it as a contemporary medium.” The heart sinks, somewhat. The exhibition includes a knitted hand-grenade cover by Rachael Matthews.

Reading a biography of Picasso, he found a discussion of Diaghilev’s ballet, Le Train Bleu, 1924, scenario by Cocteau, costumes by Chanel, drop curtain by Picasso. There is a delicious picture of the cast, some in knitted costumes: two women in bathing costumes, you’d call them flappers if they had been American, and “the Golfer” splendid in Fair Isle sweater and striped stockings. “When doing lifts, partners had difficulty getting a grip on the knitted bathing suits.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The infamous – I hesitate to use that word, so often and so deliciously misused in the Knitlist when I used to read it, but it’s pretty well essential here – the infamous New Yorker arrived here yesterday. I was wrong: the cover doesn’t illustrate an article called “The Politics of Fear”. It’s just that that is its own title, as one can discover from a careful reading of the contents page.

So I’m back in full-scale disapproval mood, but meanwhile events and Barack Obama himself sweep on.

The summer Knitter’s arrived in the same post. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear for bad design and worse colours. Come back, You Knit What? – the world needs you.

Let us try to be positive. Cat Bordhi’s “Spring Thaw Socks” are positively nice – but I don’t knit socks like that. I just go round and round, with wonderful yarn. Jane Sowerby’s little article about substituting lace patterns in the panels of a fichu is perfectly sound – but I’ve been there and done that.

I knit Gladys Amedro’s “Cobweb Lace Wrap” as written for Rachel’s 40th birthday. Her daughter Hellie paid me the ultimate compliment of asking for one for herself. She wanted black yarn, but there was nothing to stop me substituting lace patterns from “Heirloom Knitting” for the original Amedro ones, so I did. Then my sister, another Helen, asked for a shawl for her 70th birthday. She wanted colour, thank goodness, and again I went back to “Heirloom Knitting” for more patterns.

Perri Klass is good, as always, perhaps better than usual. Has anyone seen her book, “Two Sweaters for my Father”? Do I want it?


Thanks for comments and encouragement. Woolywoman, I note your concern about the shape. I thought maybe it would be OK for the spreading figure – my trouble with cardigans is the embarrassing tendency they have to gape when buttoned up. I thought maybe the Liesl approach would get around this problem. The shape turns up in a couple of Knitter’s offerings, and in a couple of ads. Maybe it's Flavour of the Moment?

Judith, thanks for the link to the February-Lady-Sweater in Ravelry. It would take longer, but maybe it would look neater in the end. I’ve knit the EZ prototype for a baby or two, and it’s fun.

…and knitting

I got those dinosaur legs polished off, and am now in mid-body of the second tier.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


MaryJoo asked about the Amedro book – yes, it’s called “Shetland Lace” and I’ll certainly keep you in touch with developments on the publishing front.

In a comment on last Saturday’s post you remark most interestingly on the similarities among Orenburg lace and Estonian and Arctic, and ask about Scandinavia, Sweden in particular. They don’t seem to go in for lace up there. Sheila McGregor says so specifically in “Traditional Scandinavian Knitting”. Vibeke Lind in the wonderful “Knitting in the Nordic Tradition” includes Faroese shawls but nothing else.

Curious. Maybe lace knitting flourished where winters were (and are) cold and damp. All that deep, deep, deep snow in Scandinavia elicited a different response. Does that work? What are winters like in Orenburg?

Kate, I’m glad you like the Kirkmichael postcard we are about to add to our collection. My husband had the idea the other day – and I think this is something we had probably better do and not just talk about – that we should show the collection to an old friend who has lived in Kirkmichael all her life. She’d be interested to see it, and might have some interesting memories to add to some of the images.

She’s 80, and lives with her husband in the Old Smiddy. The house in the right foreground of this picture is gone. Jean and Jock are down by the river, sort of behind it.


Here’s where I am with the dinosaurs – two of the eight legs of the middle rank established on the front of the sweater. We’re getting there. Helen ChronicKnittingSyndrome found a dropped stitch when she was here on Tuesday – it is in mid-dinosaur and won’t be hard to repair. It is now safely secured.

I was too tired to contemplate dinosaurs when I got back from Kirkmichael on Thursday night, so I added to the scarf.

I am rather taken with the Liesl pattern that everybody is talking about – and knitting in a weekend.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I had a great time. But I’d better polish off the New Yorker first.

I’ve calmed down. I still think all that I thought before about the stupidity and insensitivity of publishing such a cover, but I’m much less worried about the effect on Obama, because

a) the world-wide furore will have alerted pretty well everybody before the issue reached the newsstands, and to a considerable extent, will have neutralised the effect;

b) Obama himself continued to behave in that cool, presidential way;

c) And contrary to what the editors of the New Yorker may think, it wasn’t funny. Dukakis in his tank and Kerry in his wetsuit were both more than a bit comical. But they’re still not laughing at Obama.

I gather – we still haven’t had our copy – that the cover goes with an article about the Politics of Fear. New Yorker covers don’t usually relate to anything inside. I wonder if it has ever happened before. I wouldn’t have objected to the cartoon embedded in the article.

Enough of that.


We’re moving into production mode, and after having a very happy 24 hours there I’m now worried about getting back before things get away from me. I had taken supermarket ready meals with me, but in fact, on Wednesday, lunched on sautéed courgettes and steamed potatoes (Red Duke of Yorks) and an injudicious amount of butter. After such a feast, all other food tastes second-hand and derivative.

Two of the windowsill-grown courgettes are going full steam, with the third not far behind. (The fourth expired in the May frost.) The four directly-sown plants have got plenty of buds. They’re parthenocarpic (!) so as soon as we’ve got flowers, we’ve got courgettes – we don’t have to wait for the ladies.

And the peas are in bloom. The mange-touts will need to be picked promptly to keep them in production, like the courgettes. And we’re not scheduled to go back for nearly three weeks, when Helen gets here with her boys.

The first of the opium poppies to bloom turns out to be a gorgeous double one (here rather wet). The others, so far, are singles. I wonder if Afghani farmers can just stand there and watch their fields fill up with poppies, unsown. Probably not. Still, they must be an easy crop.

Here are the serried ranks, lined up as for a school concert. A famous salad potato, Pink Fir Apple, behind. Then orach, beetroot, “magic chard” – I’ve thinned the row and brought the thinnings back – and beans. The beans are trying, anyway, but what you mostly see is gaps in-filled with Sutherland kale and a foot of Italian lettuce.


No time to talk about knitting – not much has been done, anyway – but look at that for a Kirkmichael postcard. They come in batches, like Vogue Knitting Books.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I am quite profoundly distressed by next week's New Yorker cover. (No link – you can easily find it if you haven’t seen it yet.) Is this the image that will sink Obama, like Dukakis in his tank and Kerry in his wetsuit? How could they do it?

It’s not just any old magazine, either. The New Yorker and I go back a long, long way. My mother occasionally wrote for them – nothing to get excited about, maybe half a dozen pieces in all, but that’s six more than a lot of people manage. She once had a letter from them saying “Mr. Ross liked your story very much.”

It was always in the house, has always been in my life. I remember reading John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” when it came out (whole issue with no cartoons) and Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”; Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, growing old with John Updike, and quite recently being introduced to William Trevor and Alice Munro and Jhumpa Lahiri.

We subscribe, and give subscriptions to each of our four children. No small expenditure. James’s wife Cathy made me very happy a couple of weeks ago by telling me that she had taken out a subscription for her father.

I can see the point of the cartoon, of course. What I can’t see is how people so intelligent and sensitive could have thought it was a good idea to use it. It might be about right for the cover of the Harvard “Lampoon” if they have pictorial covers. But the New Yorker

It’s too smart by three-quarters, is the trouble. A normal political cartoon – it is only quite recently that they have appeared at all on the cover of the New Yorker – makes fun of the perceived faults of the target. I might, for example, draw a cartoon showing Senator McCain as an irascible old man alone in the Oval Office trying to get to grips with a computer. This cover appears to be along those lines. That is how it will be remembered. I shouldn't have to explain this to David Remnick.

Gretchen, you are a ray of comfort on a very dark day. I can’t get your Obama contribution onto our thermometer directly, but I have matched it, so you’re there in a sense.


Before we get to knitting, I’ll just say it’s been fun hearing from people who know Robin Lane Fox as an expert on Alexander the Great. He recently acted as historical advisor to a movie about Alexander, and required as part of his fee that he be allowed to ride, as an extra in the film, with Alexander’s army.


I got the feet pretty well done last night of the first rank of dinosaurs on the front of the sweater.

My friend Helen with Chronic Knitting Syndrome is coming for coffee today. We have much to discuss: knitting lace triangles, DVD players, new computers, why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings.


The current plan is that I will go to Kirkmichael tomorrow and stay overnight by myself. A rare treat, eagerly anticipated. I should be able to bring back some small beets and perhaps some courgettes, and some sorrel for one of Mr Fox’s recipes. Blogging will resume on Friday, insh’Allah.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Not much accomplished, scarf-wise. Still, it was a pleasant respite.

And a not-wasted day. I think I’ve more or less got hold of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and await this week’s events with some interest. There is a good article in today’s FT – I found it on Real Clear Politics – from which I learn that Fannie and Freddie actually invented (it had to be somebody) the securitisation of mortgages from which much of our trouble stems.

Shetland Knitting

I had a message from Gladys Amedro’s son Guy saying that the Shetland Times is preparing another edition of his mother’s book. That’s good news. It is a good book, and she was a most important link between the traditional Shetland knitters and the wider world.

She was meticulously careful to eliminate error, and it sounds as if Guy is continuing in a way she would thoroughly approve. He remembers his father inserting an erratum slip into remaining copies of the 1996 reprint, but doesn’t have it. If any of you do, please let me know and I’ll pass the news on. (I am surprised that the date is so recent.)

I may have answered his question already, though. There is an error in that edition, in the pattern for the “Fine Lace Scarf” which is a reduction of the preceding pattern for a “Fine Lace Stole”. On page 35 is says to repeat rows 35 to 58 “a further three times”. But after the centre of the scarf, the instruction on page 36 is to work as rows 35 to 58 three times.

I knit the scarf in qiviut for my mother, and didn’t notice the discrepancy until I was blocking it. Since the book had obviously been produced with much care, I wrote to Mrs Amedro c/o the Shetland Times. She rang me up within the week, to apologise.

So that could be the mistake on the erratum slip.


Number 13 (autumn, 1939, the last of the pre-war ones) sold for £13.50 on eBay last night. A ludicrous price. I would be embarrassed to tell you what I paid for my copy, so I won’t. Has the bottom fallen out of eBay in general, or just out of the VKB market? There were no bids whatsoever with 45 seconds to go, so I put in a tenner just to encourage the seller.


Thank you, sister Helen and Mel, for encouragement on the French tarragon front. I will try it next year. Re-reading the article, I see that Robin Lane Fox says that his own plants got through last winter, at least. I can always protect them with sawn-off plastic water bottles.

The Saturday Financial Times ranges widely, Kate, and we regularly read it. I have long admired Robin Lane Fox from afar. He is an Oxford don, specialising in Alexander the Great and in the late Roman Empire. I have his book “Pagans and Christians in the Mediterranean World from the Second Century A.D. to the Conversion of Constantine”. His previous books are listed at the beginning:

Alexander the Great
Variations on a Garden
Search for Alexander
Better Gardening

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I reached the hoped-for dinosaur feet yesterday, and feel confident that I can allow myself a day’s scarf-knitting. You’re right, Kate, (comment, day-before-yesterday) that finishing is going to take some doing, but you’re speaking to one who has not only knit KF but who had a whole Kaffe Fassett Phase. I’m not afraid of tidying ends – but I must ensure I’ve got plenty of time. What I hate is last-minute scrambles.

Shandy, the historical examples in the Christoffersson book I mentioned yesterday come from a variety of museums – so many that I think it would be worth nipping in to any museum you find yourself passing. The Nordic Museum, Stockholm, sounds particularly easy to find, and the Museum of Halsingland, Hudiksvall, would appear to have a particularly interesting collection. Have fun! (I envy you your manure.)

Sandy, Mrs Obama hasn’t got her scarf yet. The idea is that Theo will present it to her husband on the day they get their picture taken together, Theo in his Obama-electing gansey. It couldn’t be long now.


“Piecework” turned up, and I enjoyed it. Should I subscribe? There is scarcely room on the shelves for another magazine. (Don’t tell the Flylady – I never throw a knitting magazine away.) The only other copy I’ve ever seen, I think, is the famous one with the wedding veil Bridget Rorem knit for her daughter, including the lace alphabet she devised. I often refer to it.

You’re right about the Nancy Bush shawl, manic knitter – it’s striking, and it’s got lots of nupps. I suppose I will buy the book when it comes out, for the sake of the completeness of my shelves, but there’s lots of other lace knitting I want to do before I tackle nupps.

Franklin’s article is called “Needlework in a Pennsylvania Mining Town” (Smock, PA, where his grandmother lived when she was young). It’s good, and so is the simple lace edging he designed to suggest a row of “coal patch” company houses in Smock.


An unexpected bonus turned up yesterday – my favourite gardening writer, Robin Lane Fox in the Saturday Financial Times – turned his attention, as all too rarely, to vegetables. A whole article about things I need to know – how to grow my new friend sorrel, and how to cook with it; an interesting new plant source; some things I needed to know about tarragon (the Real Stuff isn’t frost hardy, so how does my sister grow it in CT?); and finally a recipe for pasta del giardino made primarily with radishes (of all things) which will prompt me to grow some of them next year.

All in one newspaper article!

Fox is an ancient historian of some distinction, as well as a gardener. It was from him, in an FT article years ago, that I learned that rabbits won’t eat courgettes. It’s perfectly true, and I’ve never seen it in print anywhere else.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

No Piecework. Maybe today.

I did the ribbing for the front of the dinosaurs. Today I should get through the first of the wretched pattern bands, and maybe introduce some dinosaur feet. Tomorrow I think I’ll take the day off and knit a scarf.

That covers that topic.

I’ve never said anything about my new book, “Vatid, Troid, Vamsad”; more comprehensibly, “Knitted Jackets from West-Estonian Islands”.

It’s a bit of a slim vol for the price. What you get is some truly wonderful photographs. No charts, no patterns. A translation is interleaved. Nancy Bush’s book “Folk Knitting in Estonia” doesn’t go in for jackets – it’s all mittens, gloves, and socks. Could jackets be confined to the islands?

I don’t think – will I be shot down in flames for this? – that Estonia has much to add to the story of Scandinavian knitting, which it strongly resembles. Britt-Marie Christofferson’s “Swedish Sweaters” is perhaps the book I’d put tops: it’s got great historical pictures, with charts of the stitch patterns, as well as good modern designs.

Piecework, when it arrives, will contain a pattern (I think) from a forthcoming book by Nancy Bush about Estonian lace. I’m dubious. Estonian lace involves nupps, and I do not think nupps are ever going to be quite me. But I’m eager to have a look. And nupps, at least, as far as I know, are unique to Estonia. Thank goodness.


A Scotsman recently went to a fund-raising breakfast for Barack Obama in highland dress. Despite police, security guards, bodyguards and metal detectors, he got within stabbing distance of the candidate wearing his sgian dubh in plain sight, tucked into the top of his hose.

I have never understood Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Maybe next week’s Economist can explain. But I know that what has happened this week is terrifying. I suppose what the idiotic Mr Gramm was trying to say was that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Somehow, he didn’t make it sound quite so good.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Today maybe Piecework will come – she said she was sending it second class. Sally, thank you for the warning about Borders (yesterday’s comment), and thank you for commenting. Maybe you’ll inspire me to find the energy to get out to a City Knitty meeting. I’m pretty sure the Piecework I’ve bought on eBay is the one I want (with Franklin in it) – I’ll let you know soon, I hope.

On the subject of eBay but not of knitting, I’ll be bidding soon for this postcard, trusting you people not to push me up too far. The great thing about postcards of Kirkmichael, of which we have quite a few, is that they all look just like Kirkmichael in 2008. The river is very low in this one.

Well, here are the dinosaurs. I’m quite pleased, not least at the prospect of casting on the very last piece today. It’s coming out slightly smaller than the specified dimensions. I’m doing the eight-year-old size, aiming for Helen’s youngest son Fergus who is six.

It’ll have to be firmly blocked anyway, to smooth out the stitches. And at the worst, the judges won’t judge it on whether or not it fits Fergus Drake. I’ve still got Alexander’s two sons in reserve, so to speak (=smaller than Fergus). Helen and her boys will be here early in August so we can try it on before the Games.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A dull morning, literally and mentally.

I went to Ravelry, first time in a while, and wandered about looking at what everybody else doing. Some nice messages from people. I need to get back to lace. I went to the Schoolhouse Press and found nothing new.

Dinosaur-wise, I should finish the current, final pair on the back of the sweater today, perhaps even finish the back. Pic tomorrow, whatever. There are 16 dinosaurs altogether, the current ones being nos. nine and ten. Every job gets a bit better when you pass the halfway point.

And dinosaur-knitting has something in common with lace, in that every row one toils across adds a perceptible and significant something, however small.


Mary Lou, I hugely enjoyed my virtual trip to Lampedusa’s Sicily. Thank you for that. (And I was interested to see that you, too, have uninvited opium poppies in your garden. I talked gardening with Alexander last week – he says he doesn’t have them, over there on Loch Fyne.)

Jane-Beth, thanks for the news that Borders at Kinnaird Park has “Piecework”. One needs a serious newsstand, and my normal wanderings don’t include one. I try to avoid Kinnaird Park whenever possible, but it can’t always be done.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Odds and Ends

eBay is offering another early VKB – No. 13, autumn 1938, 380044662666. It comes from the same seller as the recent No. 9 (which fetched only a miserable £11.27) – so I entertain a faint hope that she may have some more in the drawer. She’s operating in the territory where lurk the five I still want.

I bought (I hope) the current issue of Piecework through eBay yesterday, for the sake of Franklin’s article and lace edging. A report will follow.

I got an email from Interweave this morning about their hurt book sale. They say they do it every year, but I don’t remember another one. There are some very good things on the list, selling at half-price, although I don’t think there’s anything I want that I haven’t already paid the full price for.

I had a really nice message from Ron yesterday (faithful reader in Mexico) asking what knitting software I use. It’s Carole Wulster’s Sweater Wizard, and I like it a lot. You can download a demo. I used it most recently for the Araucania sweater I’m knitting in Kirkmichael. There are a couple of basic-pattern books on the Interweave list just mentioned. I hesitated over them for a moment, but I’ve got (and regularly use) Vicki Square’s “Knit Great Basics” and I’ve got the Sweater Wizard, and I don't see why I should want anything else.


I’m nearly finished with the legs for the third and final tier of dinosaurs on the back of the sweater. This week should see me embarked on the front. The end is, rather distantly, in sight. Picture soon.

Comments & more Kirikmichael

I’m sorry to hear about the rabbits in Essex, Shandy. We have been remarkably free of disaster so far this year, except for the caterpillars that stripped the gooseberry bushes. No rabbits or sheep or deer or mice, and nematodes really do seem to have helped with the slugs. There aren’t even any cabbage white caterpillars on the kale – why not? – and the birds seem to be sparing the red currents. Some tsunami of gardening misfortune must be gathering somewhere.

James and Cathy drove up to Kirkmichael a couple of hours ahead of us. They stopped at Tesco in Blairgowrie on the way and bought, amongst other things, the two chairs you see James and Alexander sitting on in the picture yesterday. My husband and I do not go in for sitting about, but everybody else made good use of the chairs all week.

Here are James and Cathy, supervising a bonfire.

And Rachel, on the west lawn.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Here we are. It was a most happy week. The weather, in this uncertain summer, was Not Too Bad. Friday, the day that Rachel and Alexander were there, was splendid. We went out to lunch at the Strathardle Inn to celebrate Rachel’s 50th birthday, ate and drank well, and sat over the table until 4 without being made to feel we were de trop.

James bought his son Alistair a good air rifle. They went out in search of rabbits and succeeded in shooting one – which, after all, I am glad to say, they left where it fell instead of bringing it back to form part of a Jamie Oliver recipe.

And quite apart from our dear middle-aged children, it was a great joy, in this summer when visits to K*rkmichael have been so brief, to watch things happen in my vegetable garden. Instead of leaping out of the car and rushing around the corner to see what-has-happened-since-last-time, I was able to rush out the door as soon as I was remotely decent in the morning, to see what had happened overnight.

The courgettes started blooming on July 4. The first flowers are all boys of course, but things are moving fast and I would hope for some tiny courgettes next week.

The beans are climbing up their poles. Tender beans are always more than a bit of a gamble with us, but some years – and why shouldn’t this be one of them? – we get a good crop in September. Maybe I’ll start them on the windowsill in April next year, since that technique has been so successful with courgettes. The difficulty is that the interval between the last frost of one winter and the first frost of the next, is so brief, and there can be – as so far this year – so little real summer heat between those two dates.

Courgettes don’t like the frosts either, but I think they are able to make use of the if-y weather in between more successfully than tender beans. (Broad beans, which we love, are not tender: they are, for me, the easiest of all vegetables to grow and the difficulty is to resist planting half an acre of them.)

And, what? oh yes, knitting.

I am getting on well with the Araucania sweater, although this pic isn’t very good. It’s perfect Strathardle knitting, easy on the mind and the fingers. And last night, when we got back, I finished the second rank of dinosaurs – the half-way point, dinosaur-wise – and embarked on the next separator pattern. Maybe I’ll establish another line of little feet today.

Here is a picture of pure happiness (mine): the brothers Miles.