Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Here we are, with Repeat No. Six finished. There will be 13.7 repeats altogether. I’m not anything like half-way there, knitting-wise, because there are still literally hundreds of stitches waiting to be added to the centre one by one. But I think I have progressed nearly half-way along the border. Although I’m using a very long needle, pretty soon it won’t be possible to smooth the whole thing flat for photographic purposes.

I’m still suffering from that dog-leg in the column of faggoting, although I still have great hopes for the blocking process. My current theory is that knitting like this, with tens of thousands of stitches in all, can put up with a mistake here and there whereas those cosy, elegant shawls in heavier yarn have to be near-perfect.

Shan, (Ruby is winsome indeed, and) your idea of basing a sweater on Vermeer’s Milkmaid (comment yesterday) is so good I’ll go with it for Ketki, unless something leaps off the wall at me, so to speak, while we’re in London. We’re going tomorrow, blogging to resume in the middle of next week.

Mel, it’s hard to explain about the two-colour restriction. As I said, I didn’t figure it out myself until I was half-way to the armpits of Alexander’s sweater, pictured yesterday.

The idea is to take advantage of the tendency of Fair Isle knitting to pull the stitches in so that they become little squares instead of rectangles. That should allow one to pick up stitches for the sleeves (drop-shoulder), one per row of the body knitting, rotate the pattern so that rows become stitches, and knit down the sleeve creating the effect of a single piece of fabric. Meg does it in a fairly recent Woolgathering.

In any one row of Fair Isle, only two colours are employed. If the body knitting has more than two, it might be theoretically possible to perform the trick anyway but the sleeve knitting would be so complicated as to boggle the mind.


Don’t miss Franklin in the latest issue of Knitty. I had expected no more than to be astonished with delight as at each of his blog entries, but what he has done for Knitty is to decipher and re-create a gentleman’s night cap from a knitting book of 1840. The man is a genius.

I sent my application for an absentee ballot to the County Clerk of Monmouth County, NJ, yesterday. I had almost decided not to bother – dreadful confession. Previous attempts to find out exactly what to do had got bogged down in confusion.

But yesterday I stumbled upon a wonderful website called the Overseas Vote Foundation. I told them my name and some things such as my last address in NJ – 54 years ago! – and my Social Security number, they provided me with a wonderfully American-looking form to print, all filled out. I just had to sign it and send it to Monmouth County: they provided the address. So it’s done.

Here is the bear, in that box in that carrier bag, ready to get on the train.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Law (is the true embodiment/ of everything that’s excellent)…

I Google’d “Red Mass” (the ceremony I described yesterday), Stash haus, and found this on Wikipedia. Apparently it was a pre-Reformation practice which fell out of use and which RC’s (but not the C of E) revived fairly recently in various English-speaking countries. The annual one at Westminster Cathedral in London is much grander than ours. In the course of my Googling I found an episode of The West Wing called “Red Mass” but I didn’t discover what it was about.

Thanks for the quotation from Captain Blood yesterday, Shan (and I hope you feel better soon). Helen and I had lunch last week in a pub in the Grassmarket called “The Last Drop” (joke) where once we might have sat and looked out on the gallows. It is good to be reminded, when one is tempted to despair of the world, that small positive steps are occasionally taken. Those old gentlemen in their fancy clothes can’t hang people any more.

As for the bear, his purpose and destination will be revealed very soon. I must prepare him today for his trip south.

And as for knitting, I returned very happily to my Princess. I am about the finish the sixth 46-row centre pattern repeat. That will call for a picture. I wish I could find words to convey what utter delight this sort of knitting is.

And I found the Spring issue of Knitter’s – it had slid off the Knitter’s pile onto the adjacent pile of Loose Patterns and got buried. It is Candace Strick’s “Nordic Stars” that I wanted.

You will remember that I want to knit a Fair Isle (using the term loosely) in which I pick up stitches at the shoulder and knit the sleeves downward with the pattern undisturbed. That means using a pattern which can be rotated, as Candace’s one can, and also means that one is restricted to two colours. I failed to grasp that point, last time, until I had knit six or eight inches of the body.

Candace’s trick is to use two colours, but to reverse them just below the beginning of the armhole steeks, making the whole thing, I think, look livelier and more interesting. Candace reminds, too, that extra colours can be used for the ribbing and (on Ketki’s sweater) the Calcutta Cup ’08 band just above the bottom ribbing. Here is her husband’s Calcutta Cup Ought Six sweater which you’ve seen before, to give the general idea.

His colour scheme is based on a picture by Giovanni Bellini. When we are trudging around the London art scene this week and next, I’ll look out for similar inspiration for Ketki. The idea is Kaffe’s (of basing a colour scheme on a favourite picture) and it’s a good one.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Another week – and it promises to be another interesting one. I trust you’ve all seen this video by now, but just in case…

“Obama for America” rang me up last night! I didn’t pause to talk, but wished them well and felt very grown-up.

Here’s the bear. The wig is tighter than it should be, and examination of photographs (which should have been undertaken at the beginning) reveals that the rolls should have been arranged in more orderly rows. He’ll have to do. I’ll probably tack the wig in place, Tamar. It would have been cute to have holes for the ears, but too much trouble.

We’ll be in London next Sunday and so miss the annual start-of-the-legal season Mass at the Cathedral. Roman Catholic lawyers in great quantity process in, first the solicitors, bare-headed; then the young advocates with modest wigs perched on top of their curls; then older people with more substantial headgear; finally a judge or two – and Scottish judges are truly splendid – all but smothered. It is always wonderful to see before one’s very eyes the origin of the term “bigwig”, and this year I would have welcomed the chance to study actual wigs.

So I have happily resumed Princess-knitting, with a clear run (except for London and Strathardle) through to the end of October. I looked at Araucania again in K1 Yarns last week. I do love it, and must start thinking seriously about colours if I want to go that way for Ketki’s Calcutta Cup sweater.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Safely home. Mercifully, the Bad Neighbours were quiet last night. Perhaps exhausted – the Good Neighbours say that the previous two nights, while we were away, were hellish.

We can get knitting out of the way briskly: the barrister’s wig is coming along nicely. It’s extremely slow and fiddly. I can guarantee I won’t knit another one. But I like the way it looks. I’ve started the crown shaping, and if I’ve judged it right, I might have a picture tomorrow of the bear in his full costume. And even if it’s wrong, I’ll have time to frog it and try again before he needs to set off for London on Thursday.

His head-size is a remarkably high proportion of an adult human one. I’ll nearly finish the ball of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino or whatever it’s called.

Obama Donations

Phyllis emailed me about a donation she made, not through the thermometer – I’ve matched it, and mine doesn’t show up either. Since Obama’s nomination became official, I’ve had to donate through an “Abroad” screen, and type in my passport number. Even if I go in through the thermometer, by the time I’ve finished, the software has forgotten where I came from. If the campaign team weren’t so busy with other things, I’d write to them about it.

That means – don’t tell Theo, or he’d raise the bar – that we’ve reached our goal, although it doesn’t show. You will see the action I have taken – the thermometer is still there, but I’ve removed the promise to match contributions.

Maybe I’ll go on doing it, but it’s no fun any more. It used to be jolly for me, and presumably for the donors I was matching, to see the red bar rise.

Chicken Little section

I’ve learned something in the last 24 hours.

The television news said last night that Bush’s rescue plan would be the biggest bailout since the Depression. My mental map of the Depression didn’t include bailouts – I knew about the Wall Street Crash of ’29, bank failures, mass unemployment [my father, a young newspaperman, twice took 10% pay cuts, but was never out of work], Roosevelt, the New Deal, deficit spending, the Civilian Construction Corps, the Boulder Dam, work [astonishingly] created even for artists.

But not bailouts.

However, I learned this morning, from this interesting article, that “The 1932 Reconstruction Finance Corp. lent $9 billion to ailing banks, thrifts, railroads, insurance companies and farm mortgage associations.” That was Hoover, not Roosevelt.

The HBOS takeover

People are fussing about the implications for jobs if the Lloyds Bank takeover of Halifax-Bank of Scotland goes through smoothly. Mostly they are thinking of big data-processing centers in Edinburgh and Halifax.

In Blairgowrie, Lloyds Bank and the Bank of Scotland are within spitting distance of each other, if you’re good at spitting: on the corners of Bank Street where it joins the High Street. One or the other will surely close, and it won’t be Lloyds. I wonder – this for British readers – how the branches are arranged in Glenrothes.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

We’re going to Strathardle today for a two-nighter – should blow some cobwebs away. I think we’re all feeling these days that if All Else Fails, we could go there and live off the land. My vegetable-growing wouldn’t be equal to the task, I’m afraid, but it’s a pleasant dream.

What happened yesterday was that the men in suits were just as quick as Mrs Miles of Drummond Place to grasp that we were about to have a run on the Bank of Scotland. The solution is on the whole a happy one, and the sentence I particularly liked in the news story I’ve just read is: “The future of HBOS chief Andy Hornby is unclear”. He is the clever young man who drove Halifax Bank of Scotland into the ditch. The Halifax Building Society was 150 years old, and is much lamented in the northern city where it was born. The Bank of Scotland was founded in 1695.

We are shareholders – bank shares were highly recommended for widows and orphans up until a few months ago – and will at least escape with a little. We moved savings out of HBOS yesterday: so did Alexander and Ketki.

Meanwhile, what? It’s not over yet.

But news from the knitting front is a bit more cheerful, too. I reined myself in and faced the fact that the barrister’s wig was not to be knit in half an hour. I did a swatch, to practice those rolls (“Tuck Stitch Panels”), and then started again on dp’s. I think it’s going to work.

I’ll have to take it along, although normally Edinburgh and Perthshire knitting projects are strictly separated.

I bought some Noro sock yarn on Tuesday. I’ve heard doubtful reports of it, but I have to try once.

The new neighbours were quiet last night, but trouble looms on that front as surely as it does on the financial markets.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Helen and I had a good time yesterday; K1 yarns was busy – but I’m too miserable for much blogging.

The skies are leaden, yet again. Our new student neighbours downstairs kept us awake with their noise, yet again. And this could be the day when we see the beginnings of a run on the Bank of Scotland – an unimaginable thing, once. We have savings there.

Funny thing, isn’t it: last week we were all enjoying an imaginary frisson at the idea of being sucked into a man-made Black Hole in Geneva. This week we are all in fact being sucked into a (metaphorical) financial Black Hole, and it’s no fun at all. Make no mistake: the crisis isn’t just for America. We’re all in this one together.

I sort of wonder sometimes how mortgages could get us into such a mess – they’re not like black tulip bulbs or start-up companies, valuable only in the eye of the beholder. People need houses to live in, and houses are built on land. They’ll always have some value.

But the answer, I am sure, is leverage. I used to wonder in the late depression (it seems rather precocious of me) where all the money had gone, since nobody seemed to have any, any more. The answer to that one is crystal clear now – there never was any. It was all done (in the ‘20’s, as more recently) with mirrors, with credit, with increasingly absurd optimism.

I’d still like to see something better in the way of leadership from Obama on this one.

We’ll turn to knitting

…but that’s not much better.

I bought a ball of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino at K1 yarns for the barrister’s wig, and tackled it last night. Failure. It’s supposed to be done on a circular needle; I was using dp’s due to the smallness of a bear’s head. Making the roll of barrister’s hair brought more needles into play, and proved too much for me.

I think I’ll try today knitting back and forth – the trouble with that idea is that there will be a conspicuous seam which won’t be straddled by rolls of hair. Still maybe better than nothing.

Last night I began to panic at the waste of time, and returned to the Princess

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

We’ll start cheerful, despite the weather and the news – I’ve got the Barrister’s Wig pattern. Helen and I have a date for a pub lunch today, followed not so much by a Yarn Crawl as a Happy Hour at K1 Yarns. I don’t suppose even they stock horsehair (which I believe is traditionally used for barristers’ wigs) but I’ll find something and get to work tonight.

This happy outcome is due to Shan who a) energetically pursued the designer, who was therefore properly paid last night; and b) remembered a conversation on the subject with her last summer and wrote me a detailed description of the process, in case the pattern failed to arrive in time.

And Karen found that she had the pattern, and sent me a copy. So I’m well provided, and it’s all perfectly legal and above-board, and I’m very happy.

A few more rows of Princess were navigated successfully yesterday. The 46-row pattern repeat at least ensures that there are significant milestones on this long journey. I’m at about row 30 of the 6th repeat just at the moment – in the end, there will be 13.7 of them. But never forget the drip, drip, drip of extra stitches – I’m nowhere near half-way through, knitting-wise.


I was disappointed with Obama’s response yesterday – I think McCain did better. But I gather Obama made an important speech about Wall Street last March; maybe he’ll return to the subject in the next couple of days.

Memory here is imperfect, but what follows is essentially right.

In this country, believe it or not, political parties are not allowed to buy advertising time on television. They are, instead, assigned small packages of air time, quite frequently during an election period and occasionally at other times. All British television viewers are skilled at seizing the zapper when the announcer says, “Here is a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the…”

In the months when Mrs Thatcher was head of the Conservative party but not yet Prime Minister, bad things happened. Strikes, the three-day week, rubbish piling up in the streets. It happened to be time for a Conservative PPB at a point when something really bad was going on, a strike, probably. She tossed aside whatever the PR boys had prepared for the broadcast and went on television live, behaving as if she had called us all into the headmistress’ study: “This really won’t do.”

Like her or loathe her, it was a defining moment.

And it was something like that I was hoping for from Obama yesterday. But if Mr Paulson and Mr Bernacke don’t know what to say, it’s asking a lot of him.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Thanks for your comment, Marie, and for your gentle language on so emotive a topic. Joe has an interesting post (Sept. 8) about the man on the off-site parking jitney (what on earth do those words mean?) who is going to vote for McCain because he likes him better. Maybe that’s what it comes down to for all of us. How can a knitter not love Obama, remembering this?

But I am writing on the day when Lehman Brothers went down. These are times such as none of us has ever experienced. Our savings are at stake, our jobs, our children’s jobs, our grandchildren’s future. We can grit our teeth and handle taxes – the link stash haus provided sounds to me like a sober and balanced article about the difference between the candidates’ tax plans. Chaos is another matter.

Neither candidate claims to understand much about economics. (Does anyone, I sometimes wonder?) I trust Obama to have a better sense of what is happening on the city streets and in the suburbs, than a man who lives on a ranch and loses count of how many other houses he has. I trust Obama to take good advice. McCain has a vile temper -- I don't like that. I’m scared.


Shan, I haven’t heard from Astor about that barrister’s wig pattern. I tried Ravelry, but it provided only a link to her website, where I’d already been. I haven’t got much time. I don’t suppose anybody actually has it? I would promise on scout’s honour to pay Astor twice what she’s asking for it, when I finally hear from her, if I could have it today or tomorrow.

Meanwhile I moved peacefully forward with the Princess. I spent some time yesterday thinking about how far there is to go, which is not the way to enjoy Princess-knitting. It should be pure process.

The trouble is, when one finally arrives at the centre, it is with a considerable sense of home-stretch-achieved. The page of chart looks easy and fun, a bagatelle compared to the three folding pages of chart one has just finished for the border. One soon realizes that the page is only a minute slice of centre, just to get you started, and that the home stretch goes all the way around the course, more than once.

My hope is to get to some imperfectly-imagined point from which it is possible to conceive of finishing the centre, before laying it aside again to knit Ketki’s Calcutta Cup sweater. At the very least, the band with the Cup and the date, which comes just above the ribbing, must be done this year. When that sweater is done, I hope to return to the Princess and press forward until she really is finished – except that at some point along there, the programme for the 2009 Strathardle Highland Gathering will be published: my chance to redeem the failure of the dinosaurs.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sundays are awful. Other days begin with News Briefing on the radio, then Farming Today, then the Today programme – calm BBC voices expounding the day’s quotient of bluetongue and rain-sodden harvests and bank failures: one drifts happily in and out of sleep, worries held at bay by those of the world.

But Sundays start with unction and music and poetry and High Thought and there’s nothing to do but lie there starkly awake and do some serious worrying of one’s own.


Shan, I can’t thank you enough for that reference to the barrister’s wig. I must have it for the bear. I have emailed the designer and as yet have heard nothing – but it’s been less than 24 hours. Maybe she’s away for the weekend. Maybe I’ll try through Ravelry.

Another happy day with the Princess. The first 13 rows of a pattern repeat, here in the centre, are – I won’t say “hard”, but a bit slow, full of k3tog’s which require care lest the centre stitch escape. I’ve finished that part of the 6th repeat and am now steaming peacefully onwards.

Some of the more mathematically inclined ladies in the Heirloom Knitting group have done some interesting calculations showing what fraction of the centre has been knit as each repeat is finished – the answer is invariably, a lot less than you might think.

I continue to wander with delight through the new VK. I think I like everything in the “English garden” section. The last time I went to K1 Yarns, the proprietress was wearing a big sweater that amounted to a small dress, like the one on the cover and in the Bergere de France ad just inside. On the right age and shape of person, it looks astonishingly good.


I spent a while yesterday looking at Sarah Palin tee shirts at Cafepress, wondering if there was anything I could give anyone for Christmas (by which time she will either be Vice President of the United States, or Sarah Who?) There are thousands already, almost all favourable. I sort of liked this one. I was slightly encouraged, on reflection, by the fact that a lot of them had variations on the idea that the Republican ticket consists of SP and some old man. Funny, perhaps – but will people really turn out and vote for some old man?

Saturday, September 13, 2008


I had another happy day with her. I had forgotten how utterly compulsive she is.

The pattern was published as a signed, limited edition perhaps four years ago. When it sold out, Sharon promised not to offer it again for three years. Many hopeful lace-ers were gathered at the door when it was finally re-issued, fairly recently, and some of them have by now overtaken and passed laggards like me from the first batch.

I’ve started reading the Heirloom Knitting Yahoo group again, and mean to mosey on over to Ravelry soon and join the Princess group there.

MaryJo, the thought behind the Princess was that it might serve as a wedding veil for granddaughters and granddaughters-in-law. Nobody seems to get married until they’re 40 these days – not entirely true – and I figured I might well be out of the loop by the time it happened. At the rate I’m going, I may not finish in time anyway.

It would have been better as a wedding veil if I had knit it in cotton, like Sharon’s prototype. That would have been stark white, which looks well on a bride, whereas this looks slightly antique-y. It’s been lying around for a long time. It may well brighten up a bit when washed and dressed.

Swallowtail coat

I am interested in what you say about the “barrister’s wig in puffed knitting”, Tamar. The book seems to be available only from the States: there’s no time left for that. Nor does a Google on “puffed knitting” produce anything except references to that book and to another compilation from Weldon’s.

I have the vaguest of feelings that some of my old knitting books – I don’t have any Weldon’s – have puffed knitting of some sort. Maybe I’ll have a look. And also at your paraphrase, “looped knitting”.


I feel the slightest twinge of disappointment in this issue. It seems less cosy than usual, as if Meg were tired and harassed. She doesn’t even identify the pretty model, except by name – models are usually family members, and we’re always told. (Haven’t 50 years been kind to Lloie?)

I’ve got all the new books in this issue except “Reversible Two-Color Designs” by M’Lou Baber. Do I want it? I feel pretty sure that I’d never want to knit the designs, not geometrical enough for me – but it’s a whole new technique; maybe I should have it for that reason. And I must go off in search of my old copy of “Sweater 101”: I haven’t seen it for years.

Meg mentions a British magazine called “Let’s Knit!” with what might be an interesting slant on EZ in the summer issue. I don’t know “Let’s Knit!” and must investigate.

Today’s picture shows the Beijing Mileses (except for Cathy, who was presumably the photographer) at the opening of the Paralympics.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Gerrie, I did match your donation, once I had unearthed my passport. I worried all day yesterday about why my contribution didn’t show up on the thermometer. I think I found the answer, in the early moments of consciousness today: when I went back to the Obama website, passport in hand, I forgot to go through the thermometer. So, you have my word that I’ve done it, but only the angels in heaven could prove it.

I don’t like the way things are going. Poor Hillary.

Knitting the Princess

A much happier topic. Laritza, it’s great to be back in touch. I am dazzled by how much you manage to get done in addition to the Princess (and a job and living). Cynthia, it’s great to hear from you again, too. We went out to lunch with my husband’s sister on Wednesday, and at one point talked about places we’d like to see (and almost certainly never will, all three of us being distinctly over the hill). My husband and I agreed on Alexandria, in a very short list.

You’ve passed the vital half-way point in your Princess edging: persevere! Someone assured me, when I was at that stage, that there is life after the edging. Truer words were never spoken. You’ll be astonished at how much fun the border is.

Rosesmama, no, one needle is enough. I’ve forgotten now how long it is (pretty long), or what size, but it held all 850 border stitches without any sense of strain, and there won’t be that many in the centre. I think. There are about 250 now.

I’m using Heirloom Knitting’s Gossamer Merino, and I adore it. Finer than Shetland cobweb, but plyed and strong.

I finished the fifth pattern repeat last night and sized up my stitch muddle. If I had used markers from the beginning as you are doing, Laritiza, I wouldn’t be in a muddle, even a slight one. I’ve got them in now. I’ve subtracted one stitch from the right side (where there are too many) and added one on the left. I’ll look at the situation again at the end of the next repeat.

Poe wrote more than one short story, I think, in which the horror depends on the gradual accumulation of small, individually unnoticeable changes. “The Pit and the Pendulum” is one of them. He would have loved the centre of the Princess, with one stitch added to each row.

Kate, I’m glad you’re feeling better at last, and I’m sure you’re right that the early Shetland knitters forgave themselves small mistakes and a certain amount of fudging.

Since there is not much point in another Princess picture at this stage, I’ll leave you with a picture of my grandson Thomas-the-Younger who won second prize for finger painting at the Dalmally Agricultural Show the other day.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Have you SEEN what Franklin is up to (his post of September 8)? This is going to be an instant collector’s item.

Princess progress

Here’s the evidence from the recharged camera. The centre is looking pretty good...

...but the parts of the border which haven't yet been incorporated stretch away to the horison.

Things aren’t perfect. There’s a line of faggoting – and I love faggoting – at each edge of the centre, and I’ve managed to get a dog-leg into each side by sheer stupidity. (You can see one of them on the right-hand side above.) It’s not worth the agony of unpicking; both mistakes will virtually disappear with blocking (if I ever get that far) and won’t be easy to spot in this infinity of knitting anyway. But it irritates and shames me.

There are more serious matters to put right. The stitch count isn’t quite the same on each side. I’ll soon be at the end of a pattern repeat, and that will make a good point to pause and find out how many stitches there should be on each side – the centre stitch has been marked from the beginning; at least I’ve got that -- and make cautious adjustments on the basis of my findings.

Also, I have threaded the right-hand border stitches onto a length of yarn but left the left-hand ones on long dp needles (with point protectors). The latter arrangement is a considerable nuisance, now that turning the work at the end of each row is a major undertaking. Whereas the former works fine. So the left-hand border stitches need to be threaded onto a different-coloured length of yarn today, and it wouldn’t hurt to count both sides to see how close we are to having the same number on each.

Even Sharon abandons strict stitch-and-row counting at this stage. She uses the word “adjust” three times on page 12 of the pattern, where you’re finishing the centre. I don’t think a bit of fudging on my part is going to hurt.

Catching up

Omsafeeya, you wrote back at the end of August, “BTW, a photo you posted of your knitting showed a background which looks like Egyptian khiyemeyeh (tent cloth), the applique work that funerary tents are made of.” I showed Helen your comment before she scooted off to Greece, and she said yes, that’s exactly what it is, bought in the part of Cairo where such things are traditionally made.

Even more important: Kathy nominated me for this glorious award nearly a week ago. I was stunned at the honour, and it has been much in my mind. But I have said nothing until now.

There are two problems – firstly, I have to go back through the attic of my mind and remember how to get the image into my sidebar.

More gravely, I am supposed to nominate four blogs I love: that’s pretty easy: The Panopticon, Mel, Joe, and Helen. But I couldn’t possibly ask Franklin or Joe to nominate their four favourites – it would be like requiring Bunthorne to choose a bride; the whole system would unravel.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Business first: Gerrie in St Paul, thank you for your donation to the Obama cause. Now that we are inspired not only by enthusiasm for him, but also by the pressing need to prevent Sarah Palin from becoming leader of the free world, it’s all the more important.

But the previously brilliant Obama system has changed – in the past, they would have notified Theo (who owns the thermometer), he would have written to thank you and also to alert me, who would then match the donation.

He says that your donation shows on the “dashboard”, but he hasn’t been sent your address. And when I tried to make my matching donation just now, I find that I now have to go to a special page for Americans Abroad, and include my passport number. That last will involve a certain amount of search; but I’ll do it soon.


The post continued its Week of Excitement yesterday: Cathy’s new book arrived, "The Slaughter Pavilion", and the fall Woolgathering. Comments to follow.

Meanwhile, the big news is that I have successfully resumed Princess-knitting, and the experience is little short of exhilarating. I tried to photograph it this morning, but the camera expired (battery needs charging) – it’s clearly going to be a day of you-can’t-do-that-until-you’ve-done-THIS.

The structure of the thing is that first you knit 85 points of a fiendishly difficult edging – I was fully half-way through before I managed to memorise it. Then you pick up 850 stitches from the flat edge, and knit 220 rows of an intricate and fascinating border (easier than the edging, in many ways).

Then you fiddle about with something called the Laurel Leaf Panel Pattern, which reduces the stitch count somewhat.

And then, feeling that this-must-be-about-over-now, you start the centre. That’s where I am. You begin in the middle of the border, an enormous rectangle, by picking up the five stitches in the absolute centre. Then you knit back and forth, adding one more border stitch each row, and knitting a really-pretty-easy pattern with a 46 row repeat.

I’ve done three or four repeats. The rows are getting longer, but are still finish-able. I did ten yesterday, I think, and another two this morning while I digested my weekly osteoporosis pill.

Then at the end, when the whole thing has been transformed into an enormous triangle, you must finish the entire top edge with that fiendish edging.

So it’s not nearly over, maybe not much more than half done. It was a bit of a struggle, starting again yesterday, and I distinctly felt myself a year older and clumsier than when I last worked on it. I really mean to resolve to try to finish in ’09.

There are two important bits of business outstanding – LaurieG and Omsafeeya. Tomorrow, I hope.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

It never rains but…

You guessed it – Wh*te H*at and VK in the same post yesterday.

The book is intensely irritating, but I am tackling it bravely. I’m going for the set pieces. One of the big things about Higginson – perhaps the big thing – is that he and a hot number named Mabel Loomis Todd edited the first (posthumous) edition of Dickenson’s poetry. The punctuation is simplified, rhymes and meters smoothed to Victorian taste.

This was long regarded as a considerable failure on Higginson’s part. My mother exonerates him – perhaps for the first time; I’m no Dickenson scholar -- putting the blame squarely on Todd. Higginson had made his considerable name and position available to get the poems into print – publishers weren’t keen. He wanted to oblige the family, to which he vaguely thought Todd belonged.

W*neapple comes to the same conclusion; she’s welcome to it, as long as she doesn’t suppose she got there first. So that’s the part I’m reading, switching back and forth between the books.

VK is wonderful. Why has Trisha Malcolm popped up again as editor? What happened to Adina Klein? Gossip, please.

I like:

Kaffe’s reworking of an old idea of his, using his new Colorscape yarn. As intarsia goes, it would be pretty easy, too.

Jared’s mittens.

Mari Muinonen’s hoodie -- everybody’s knitting it over on Ravelry.

And I’m seriously interested in several others – the great thing about this issue is that one doesn’t recoil in horror from the extreme designs.


I found this pattern for a Monmouth cap. Rather tempting. Tamar, thank you for the detail. (Knitting08816, we lived in West Allenhurst, Monmouth County, NJ. I went to Asbury Park High School made relatively famous somewhat later when Bruce Springsteen attended it. Your latter hypothesis is the right one – I am a transplanted Yank.)

And meanwhile, back at the ranch…

The swallowtail coat is finished. Here it is in its rough state. Maybe it doesn’t need buttons. I’m really rather proud of it, speaking as one who had never knit a swallowtail coat before.

So today I hope I will resume the Princess. It seems a particularly appropriate way to spend my last day on earth – I am assuming here that we will all be sucked into the man-made black hole when they turn on the experiment at CERN tomorrow.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sorry about that – I was ill. I think it was the sort of sub-flu that afflicts people who have had their annual injection. A day of weakness and misery and low fever – no food, let alone knitting. Then it passed.

So the edging of the swallowtail coat isn’t finished, but should be today. It’s pretty boring.

And as for the next project, I am grateful for help with the swatch-cap idea. I am much taken with Tamar’s and Donice’s suggestions of knitting the swatch as an un-edged tube and then (when gauge has been determined) picking up stitches and knitting either ribbing or a smooth bit to be folded inside as a lining. (That was Donice. I’m not sure I know what a Monmouth Cap is, and I will look it up.)

I used to live in Monmouth County, NJ.

Meg’s idea is indeed brilliant, Elizabeth – getting the effect of circular knitting, as far as gauge is concerned, by sliding the stitches back to the other end of the needle and leaving a generous loop of yarn behind. But I like the idea of having an actual cap at the end.

And I do agree, Becky, that the provisional cast-on is enormously useful. My soul was seared by my first attempt at it – I can’t even remember now what I was knitting, but I tried to do it with a crochet chain -- success depends entirely on picking up stitches correctly from the chain. I failed, and spent agonizing hours snipping the contrast yarn and picking little bits of it out of the stitches I wanted.

I have done provisional casting on successfully since. I couldn’t do it without looking at my books, but I know where to look. There’s the one with the two yarns cleverly woven through one’s left hand, where one casts on with an over-and-under motion, very satisfying when you get going. And the one where you actually crochet the stitches on, easy and safe. I am sure the crochet chain is the most satisfactory and satisfying of all, but that will have to wait until someone can actually teach me.


I tend to measure large sums of money these days by how many Titians you could buy. The bail-out of Fannie and Freddy would get you the man’s whole oeuvre, and then some.

I’m awfully pleased about the tennis, whatever happens today. I thought watching Wimbledon that Andy Murray would never get quite to the top – too scrawny. Looks like maybe I was wrong. I feel bonded to him because the day of my first cataract operation was the day of his third-round (?) match in his first Wimbledon. Four years ago? I was interested only in getting the job done and getting back to my bed to listen to the match (I was blind, and couldn’t see it). He won the first two sets and lost the next three.

For Shan: when our children were small, it was my husband who read to them at bedtime. Helen’s first coherent sentence was, “read-a mouse-y”, meaning, “Please read The Tale of Miss Moppet”.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

I should finish the bear’s coat, bar buttons and blocking, tomorrow or even today. Alicebluegown, I have by now forgotten most of what I learned when I was investigating swallowtail coats in the first place – I don’t think they are much worn now. You can see them on the town mice in Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Johnny Town-mouse”.

I’m not often frivolous in my knitting – but this has been so much fun that I might consider frivolity in the future. The full purpose of this bear will be revealed soon.

I spent much of yesterday thinking about the future. The range of Araucania Ranco yarns is considerable, and I love them; it might be fun to use them for a Fair Isle design. Pavi Yarns seems to have a good stock.

But I’d have to swatch, and the swatch would have to be circular.

I remembered that EZ had something about a “swatch cap” somewhere, and I found it in “Knitting Around” – but in the text, it is not a cap at all, just a circular swatch. And if one did make it into a cap by starting with ribbing, the swatch would be pulled in to the point of uselessness. Knit some ribbing to and fro, then join into a circle for the actual swatch? Less distorting, but only somewhat. A provisional cast-on, with the thought of adding ribbing later? Am I capable of that? Does EZ address the question anywhere else?

I am also much irritated by the fact that I cannot find the Spring ’08 Knitter’s – that must be the issue with the pattern by Candace Eisner Strick which I had my eye on for various reasons. I wrote to her, and she reminded me that there is a very similar pattern in her book “Sweaters from New England Sheep Farms” – but the all-over pattern in that one is not both vertically and horizontally symmetrical. The other one was, and I need that.


Kristen, like you, I cannot believe that there was anyone named “Mary Ann Wells” interested in Dickenson-Higginson during my mother’s lifetime. Somebody must have typed the name in carelessly. The question reminds me that I don’t have a record of what my mother wrote: I know the books, of course. In the course of recent paddling around, I have discovered references to an article about the critical reaction to Emily Dickenson which was written (I believe) in 1929 and is still cited. Neither my sister nor I remembers ever having seen that one.

The Economist isn’t interested in who had which baby, but is pretty scornful of Palin’s qualifications and McCain’s judgment in choosing her. (Kate W. – spelling it “McKean” is pure ignorance on my part. My husband’s niece is married to a man named McKean; the pronunciation is identical; that’s probably why.)

And it sounds as if James has been in trouble with the police again. I said that to my husband when I went to call him for supper last night, and for a moment he thought I meant the Blairgowrie police. A relief to discover that I was talking about western China.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Continued good progress with the swallowtail coat.

The collar practically disappears into the bear – I could have made it bigger. And just at the moment I think I’ll carry the contrast edging around the swallowtails, instead of switching to blue.

Eventually the tips of the collar and cuffs will be adorned with small, extravagant buttons rather than safety pins – the prototype Poet’s Coat has star-shaped brass ones. I’m not going to try to fasten the front – the prototype has a zipper, at which I absolutely draw the line. If it doesn’t hang properly by itself, I can always sew it to the bear.

This leaves me, somehow rather sooner than I expected, with the Next Major WIP unplanned. It is to be Ketki’s Calcutta Cup sweater, and I have a number of general ideas, but colours haven’t been chosen (ordered?) or the final stitch pattern settled on. What if I used a non-Shetland sock yarn of some sort? More washable, less scratchy. But what?

I need a trip to K1 Yarns. Araucania?

And meanwhile, what to knit next week?

I think the answer has got to be – pick up the Princess. I stopped abruptly the day my husband went (briefly, as it proved) into hospital last November. I was too stressed to give it the attention it needed when I got home that evening, and by the time he was safely restored to me, a couple of days later, I had launched myself into Christmas knitting and never came back.

The last time I picked it up after a long hiatus, I was terrified that I would no longer be able to do it, and in fact found myself settling into the saddle at once.

I think that’s got to be it – a month or so of Princess while I think about things.


Jayne yesterday sent me a brilliant review of my mother’s book from the New England Quarterly. My mother had saved a number of reviews; the clippings live in my copy of “Dear Preceptor”. But I didn't have this one, which I will now print and add to the collection. I’d put it up on my website if I weren’t afraid that it might still be in copyright. I had wondered a bit in recent weeks whether I was making a great fuss about nothing; now I know I’m not. My mother’s book is good, and it was the first book about the Higginson-Dickenson friendship, and W*neappl* has got to be brought to acknowledge that fact – she must know it.

However laggard the post has been about delivering the new VK and my copy of “Wh*te H*at”, it can pretty well be guaranteed to come up with the Economist today. It’ll be very interesting to read their take on McKean-Palin.

I heard from the people from whom I ordered “Whit* He*t” yesterday – far from producing it in 3-5 days as promised, they said yesterday, nine days after the order was placed, that it has been dispatched and should be with me in a fortnight. I have tried to think of someone on my Christmas present list who might like it, thus justifying my purchase of another copy, which I could easily do today.

But I failed, even among the people to whom I give presents only to annoy them.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Drakes are gone, and sadly missed. We won’t see them again until next summer, and that’s a long time.

I finished the cuffs on the swallowtail coat, and have embarked on the collar. I should finish that today if the first draft is successful. There is a certain amount of confusion – and this time, I think the confusion is in the pattern – about Right Side and Wrong Side, but since the entire collar is in seed stitch, I’m hoping it doesn’t matter.

My friend Helen (who has Chronic Knitting Syndrome, and who knows more than anybody else about what’s where on the World Wide Web) sent me this link to a blogger who has knit the long sleeveless jacket by Sarah Hatton in Rowan’s Colorscape yarn which I was expressing admiration for the other day. I am even more tempted. It’s interesting that she says every ball begins at the same point in the colour sequence – there’s a nice touch for you.


OK, so much for knitting.

We have been murmuring more and more among ourselves about the W*neappl* book. My sister is convinced that it will be up for a National Book Award any moment now and if that happens we want to let the literary world know that it doesn’t have the priority it claims for itself.

Kristen sent me a link in a comment yesterday to a review of the book on NPR. I have read the review, and written to NPR: “The first book to examine the Dickenson-Higginson friendship -- and to rehabilitate Higginson along the lines Wine*pple has adopted -- was "Dear Preceptor" by Anna Mary Wells, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1963. It is still very readable; you might like to have a look at it.”

And then I wrote to my dear friend Selma -- Joe often refers to her as “Selma the axe murderess” – who works for NPR, asking her to nudge my message along to the right desk.

I also wrote to Houghton Mifflin; I should have done that a long time ago. I think my mother’s book was nominated for some award, biography-of-the-year sort of thing. It didn’t win, but I wondered if HM could tell me exactly what award it was. It might sound good to mention it when we start writing nutty letters to National Book Award judges.

I still don’t have my copy of the new book. The irony is that it now seems to have been published in Britain, and Amazon is promising next-day delivery. (Mine was ordered from America.) Chiz.

See – a whole post with nothing about Sarah Palin.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Not much, today. The Drakes are about to leave for Athens…

And the swallowtail coat is coming on fine. Today I’ll rip back the too-large right cuff. I wonder if I should have made cuffs and collar the same colour as the coat, but there’s no use worrying about this thing indefinitely. I’m not competing in a swallowtail coat contest.

Thank you for the Palin links, Mary Lou, and for the account of life in the Twin Cities with the Republicans in town (the blog expands the remark in yesterday’s comment). This can’t be right.

We got no mail at all yesterday – possible, of course, but most unusual. And me breathlessly expecting not only the Wine*pple book but also the new VK.

This is a picture of my husband reading Hilaire Belloc's account of "Archibald, who told no lies, and got this lovely volume for a prize" to Archie Drake.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sarah Palin

Well. That’s one way to scotch a rumour.

I got sort of worried, towards the end of yesterday, about the contrast between the Democratic and the Republican conventions. The first one was four days of pure theatre, brilliantly executed. The Republicans, by contrast, so far – “events, dear boy, events” – have looked like Real People involved in the problems of Real Life -- storms and teen-age pregnancies.

I kept thinking of that moment in the fall of 1952 (I hope I’ve got this right) when Eisenhower, running against Adlai Stevenson, said, “If elected, I will go to Korea.” I mean, so what? But one knew in the pit of one’s stomach when he said it, that he’d won.

I hope I’m wrong this time. I still don’t think Palin is remotely qualified to be president. Obama’s response – that her private life is “off limits” – was precisely right. We shall see.

Kate, I think that’s wonderful, that the Australian press leaves politicians’ private life alone. A lot of the trouble in America is that the president is head-of-state as well as a politician. They’re electing a royal family as well as a prime minister. You’re right, that the VP has a nothing job – the interest here is in no small part because of McKean’s age.


No picture after all. At the moment, the swallowtail coat is half inside-out, as I knit the first rounds of the new cuff, and looks like a piece of half-executed origami. Tomorrow, I hope.

I strike that note of dubiety because today Helen will be here with her three fierce sons, having closed Burnside. She’ll bring a sandwich lunch, and has booked them in with a friend for their evening meal, but I’ll still be involved in a modest amount of baby-sitting and a lot of sad-farewell’ing. This is it, for a whole year.

I was briefly in John Lewis’s yarn department yesterday, a routine call after a visit to pick up a prescription at Boots. I left untempted, but with the strong feeling that I’m ready for another visit to K1 Yarns. I did see a rather nice Rowan book with patterns for their new chunky yarn with colours by KF. Colorscape? The book was by Sarah Hatton, whose work I like. There was a long sleeveless vest, unfastened but with pockets, just the thing for slouching about one’s studio if one were a famous artist….

So here, for some colour, is a picture of Fergus and Mungo Drake, in the course (I assume) of one of the strenuous walks their mother takes them on. I think they must have gone up Glenfernate this time.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Stitches for the second sleeve have been successfully picked up, and I’m moving nicely forward.

Jeanfromcornwall, and rosesmama, thank you very much for your comments about shirt cuffs. Reflecting on memories of James Bond and Cary Grant fiddling with their cufflinks, I’m sure you’re right, and am going to leave the cuff as it is currently orientated. That means that when the first, too-big one is ripped out, I can leave a few rows, and won’t have to interfere with the delicate decrease row. It’ll be time for another picture tomorrow.

Politics, etc.

The Palin-is-the-grandmother story is well-represented on the internet – there are links from the Drudge Report and Huffington. It seems to have originated at Daily Kos. Right-wing commenters, the considerable majority, splutter with indignation. Left-wing ones say, maybe there’s something in it. Few if any seem to grasp what seems to me the central point, politically: if it’s true, Palin is an accomplished liar.

As you say, rosesmama, it would require a massive cover-up. I think there are probably enough suggestive details – the relevant daughter was out of school for the relevant months with mononucleosis – that an investigative reporter or two will send a junior to look into it, and if it’s true, we’ll soon know. I often think that the only freedom which really matters is freedom of speech, freedom of the press.


Helen sent me some pictures yesterday. I have replaced the “Various Grandchildren” in the sidebar with her picture – same grandchildren, same occasion, much better pic.

Here is her son Fergus with the showbench which includes his winning entry in the Paper Plate Face class. It is hanging on the wall with its red card attached.

And here is Mungo, with his first-prize Decorated Wellington Boot. I was afraid he might have gone too far, since his boot is no longer usable as such. But no, the judges liked it.

And here is a Typical Scene: some of our party watching (or not watching) events on the field.

Standing, from left, Mungo; Alexander in an old KF sweater from the days when Rowan sold kits; Thomas-the-Elder and his girlfriend Anna, the ones who lost their car in an accident the evening before; Rachel; Helen's husband David, who seems to be talking on the telephone. Seated, my husband and I -- note the Fibertarian Party sweatshirt.