Thursday, December 18, 2008

I think it’s time to lay blogging aside until early ’09. I’m tired, frightened of how much remains to be done, scared of the dark, not good company. We’ll all feel better after the solstice – except for poor Kate, who’s got all the fuss but nothing to celebrate except the retreat of light.

Yesterday’s lapse was because I was ferrying my husband across town for an early hospital appointment. “Early” is not easy for him. Getting him somewhere early is not easy for me.

Two things were odd –

I walked across the square to get the papers at 7 a.m., much earlier than usual. It was still utterly night. I could see well to the east along London Street and there was not a glimmer in the sky. But the blackbirds in Drummond Place gardens were twittering in a distinctly matutinal way. Do they have little watches? Or were they responding to the sounds of the city bestirring itself? And, if so, do country blackbirds sleep in?

The drive to the hospital took place between 9 and 9:30, straight through central Edinburgh to the southern outskirts. There was no rush hour, just normal-to-slight city traffic. Why?

I’ve been back to St James’s Centre for more post-office-queueing, and finally weakened and bought not only Rowan 44 but also a book of their tweed patterns. An absurd extravagance, already regretted. I’d like to see the cashmere tweed yarn, though. As far as I could detect, Lewis’s didn’t have it.

Christmas knitting should be finished this evening. James and his children will arrive tomorrow – Cathy is staying behind in London for a couple of days to berate Macmillan’s for not pushing her latest book, The Slaughter Pavilion. Joan Smith picked it as one of the gems of ’08 in a column in the Sunday Times this week – but there’s not a copy to be had on the shelves of our local Waterstone’s. Nor have I ever seen one there.

(It begins with a striking event based on something which really happened in Beijing not far from where they live. Just last week Cathy learned, from a journalist who had been there, that a detail which she had invented for her book, actually happened. That’s the sort of thing, the interlacing of fiction-writing and real life, that Muriel Spark often writes about.)

Happy Darkest Day, everybody.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This and That

That was quite an exciting cricket match – if the phrase isn’t too much of an oxymoron – that ended in Madras yesterday. I am proud to claim that I am one of Sachin Tendulkar's legions of fans. It was a real Casey-at-the-bat situation, there at the end, except that this time, Casey didn't let us down.

What puzzles me a wee bit about Mr Madoff is how he was able to fool European banks and fund managers. I can see how a pleasant and utterly plausible guy could suck in funds from rich New Yorkers. He was one of them. But all those people over here -- Scots and Spaniards and Frenchmen -- in their blue suits, dark grey for the ladies, busy reducing the world economic system to chaos by their incompetence, should have known what a rat smells like, and clearly didn’t.

That was a good story about GWB and the journalist’s shoes. There was a big Americans-out rally on the streets of Baghdad recently, and I thought then that they are beginning to behave like a free country. Nobody ever threw shoes at Hitler, or Saddam Hussein.

Real Life

Helen Chronic-Knitting-Syndrome and I didn’t eat our holiday lunch yesterday after all – she woke up not feeling well. We’ve rescheduled for Thursday.

I did a strenuous circuit of post offices instead (the Sorting Office to collect a package, the real Post Office to send packages off) and got quite seriously winded. I think I have lost a lot of puff in the last year or so. I sank down in John Lewis’s yarn department to recover – they have a chair – and looked at the latest Rowan magazine, no. 44 I think.

I don’t think I’d browsed it before. There are some good things there. But the cost, £10 plus, is too much for my stomach, at least at the moment.

Later I went to the Christmas department and bought wrapping paper and gift cards that look like knitting. The paper is the same pattern as the card illustrated here, with the colours reversed. My husband thinks that no one will notice, and he could be right.

They’ve also got little knitted Christmas tree ornaments. I was particularly taken with a tiny pair of Nordic mittens. Maybe…


Shan, I agree, it’s the woads I fancy from Renaissance Dyeing, too. (Please follow the link to Shan’s blog and read about her hard life. Feeling old and winded in John Lewis’s yarn department comes further down the list.)

Judith, I’m glad you like the new version of the Amedro “Shetland Lace” book. That cover flap with the abbreviations is indeed useful. That book is the only one, I believe, to use the old Shetland terms “take” for k2tog and “cast” for YO. I think we all, in some way, memorise each row of a lace pattern as we go along. I always found that using those terms made it easier.

Jean Shrimpton: yes. Was she perhaps the first super-model to make us feel that we might under some unimaginable circumstances succeed in looking like that? Whereas Barbara Goalen and her ilk were clearly impossible.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Home again, successfully. Yesterday was devoted to convalescence. Today the Christmas scramble begins anew, and rather pleasantly so, for Helen Chronic-Knitting-Syndrome and I are going to have our own little Christmas party at a local estaminet.

I had my recent eBay purchase delivered to her (the bound volume of early Vogue Knitting Books), so I should get that today. The seller sounded a bit scatter-brained, and December is tough for everybody, so I didn’t want to ask her to wait a week to post it. And I wanted even less to have it fester for a week in the Sorting Office.

Helen emailed me with details while we were in London. There is no doubt at all that I’ve got a bound volume of issues Two through Twelve, Spring 1933 through spring 1938. Covers and advertising pages are missing. That’s sad. But for £13.50 it’s an astonishing bargain. In November of last year, numbers One, Two and Three, bound together, fetched £112.

[The model Jean Shrimpton – elderly British readers will recognise the name – got her big break in the Vogue Knitting Book. It was a three or four page colour spread advertising, I think, Bernat Klein yarns, just at the time when colour printing and hand-painted yarns were simultaneously taking off. Shrimpton went on to model for the VKB itself, and eventually to appear on its cover, and indeed to pop up everywhere for a few years. I mention this as an illustration of why it’s sad to strip a magazine of cover and ads.]

So, as I’ve said before, I’ll go on looking for issues 6, 7 and 8 in proper, separate form. But this means that in a sense, at least, I’ve got them all except for Spring, 1940.

While we were away, my Orenburg sampler from Heirloom Knitting turned up. I long to drop everything and try it. “Everything” means Christmas knitting, which I annually swear not to get involved in; and the need to knit a Christmas tree ornament. I’m well on target, but they must be done.

And while visiting Heirloom Knitting just now for the sake of that link, I was led on to Renaissance Dyeing. Oh, for another lifetime!


I think the most memorable and exhilarating thing we saw in London last week was the exhibition of Richard Serra’s huge welded steel sculptures at the Gargosian Gallery near King’s Cross. But the high point of the week for me was this. It’s in the textbooks, and I have long loved it, but never expected to see it face to face. It lives in Urbino, where it belongs. It’s currently in the Renaissance Portrait show at the National Gallery. Unfortunately my husband’s stamina, usually invincible, gave out that afternoon, and I wasn’t able to spend the time I would have liked with it.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

London tomorrow. Blog to resume next Sunday, insh’Allah. This time of year, London is enough hundred miles south of Edinburgh that the difference in light is perceptible (London being lighter, of course). That's sort of cheering.

I finished the hat, and continue delighted. No pic, I'm afraid. The battery must need charging. Here it is, for what it’s worth:

Large-size watchcap in KPPPM (Koigu Premium Merino)

Material: about a skein and a half of KPPPM.

Needles: 3mm dp’s (and a 16” circular needle, if desired).

Cast on 152 stitches. Work a tube in k2, p2 rib for 6” or a bit more. Change to st st and work a further 4” or a bit more. On the last round, increase 2 stitches, placing the new ones well away from each other. (154 sts)

Shape crown:

1st round: *k.9, k2 tog* repeat to end

2nd round: knit

3rd round: *k8, k2tog* repeat to end

4th round: knit

5th round: *k7, k2tog*, repeat to end

Continue in this fashion until the round which consists of k2tog only. 14sts. Cut the yarn and thread it through the 14 stitches, closing the hole firmly.

Watchcaps are not in fashion, I must warn you. Walking up and down Broughton Street I see nothing but beanies of one sort and another. But they're cosy, and it's cold.

Knititch, I vaguely remember those no-dye-lot yarns. Dull, I think. Clearly the technology didn’t catch on. “Sorry, Wrong Dye Lot” is one of my favourites from Franklin’s wonderful list of knitting horror films. Scroll down to January 23 (’06).

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Big news yesterday: I bought this on eBay:

Here’s the link to the page. I don’t know how long it stays up after the event. If you scroll patiently down to the bottom this morning, anyway, you’ll find the description and also a question of my own to the seller, and her reply.

What I hope it is, is a bound volume of all the VKB’s from the 1930’s except for No 1 – and I’ve got No. 1. Clearly covers are missing, and that’s sad. Covers in those days had not yet settled into the routine of showing a smiling young woman wearing one of the creations within. It is also entirely possible that the advertising pages are gone. There weren’t many, in those days, but there were a few at the beginning, and they would be missed.

And as far as the listing is concerned, it could be a total clamjamfrie. You will be kept informed.

Even on the Best Case Hypothesis, I remain in the market for nos. 6, 7 and 8. It seems rather unsporting to acquire them like this. I think of the time when Alexander (I think it was) shot a pheasant from his bedroom window as it sat on the grass. I must emphasize that pheasants were in season, and that Alexander held a shotgun certificate and has always been a careful and responsible wielder of firearms. The pheasant was delicious. It’s just that such an action is regarded as Not What One Does – hence, I suppose, the phrase “sitting duck”.

Even on a Worst Case Hypothesis, and even in a credit crunch, the price was little short of astonishing.


The hat has now entered the crown-reduction phase and should be polished off this evening. I went the whole hog and put it on waste yarn to try on. I love it.

The journal of the Knitting and Crochet Guild, “Slipknot”, turned up the other day. Is anyone else a member? I can’t find anything inside about the interesting object on the cover. I suspect I’m not trying hard enough.

Do I want “Icelandic Knitting – Using Rose Patterns” for my ethnic shelf? It seems to be about traditional Icelandic shoe inserts which is about as recondite as you can get.

I hadn’t known about Heirloom Knitting’s Orenburg sample pack. Sharon seems to have found something pretty close to the authentic Orenburg yarn -- and she can be trusted on such matters. She is selling a bit of it with a pattern for a sample-sized shawl. I’ve gone ahead and ordered one.


Thanks for the help with Christmas tree ornaments. Chronic Knitting Syndrome added a reminder that there are some in the Knitter’s Almanac.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Not much to report. The hat seems slow, but we’re getting there:

The ribbing is folded up, in that picture. I think I'll put it back on dp's and try it on again today.


The word from Loch Fyne is that every household coming for Christmas must bring one ornament for the tree. I’ve been over at Ravelry looking at knitted ornaments. There are some distinct possibles. If one went in for that sort of thing, a leaflet by Alan Dart called “Advent Tree” from Simply Knitting is clearly chock-a-block with delicious miniatures. I’ve found a pattern, too, for a miniature sweater – I wouldn’t have to twist wire to make a hanger for it, I could just construct a loop of some sort.. And I gather there’s a miniature hat in the very book (Hats On) that I’m knitting from at the moment.

So we shall see.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Beth, I had never thought of the term “haricot beans” in that sense. You’re absolutely right. I am always amused by “residential hotel” and “ophthalmic optician” – both common phrases here. I shall henceforth add “haricot beans” to that choice list.

Good progress on the hat. I got stuck in one of those sloughs yesterday where I would measure, and find that it was a whisker less than the desired 6”, so I would knit two or three rounds and then find that it was still a whisker less than 6” and so on for quite a long time. It finally measured 6 ½” (that’s fine) so I switched back to a circular needle and to st st and should have a picture tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking a bit about the Curmudgeon’s remarks about cardigans and fitting (down at the bottom of the current, Nov. 15, post). I suspect she’s right, not just about herself, that cardigans are what to go for. I am quite taken with the current fashion for cardigans which button only at the top (or, less frequently, at the bottom) and don’t attempt to encompass the bosom entirely.

Look at this – this time you’ll have to scroll down to Nov. 15 – from the Zimmermaniacs blogspot. The very perfection of fit (and of standing up straight, which I don't do). I want one of those.

But that is in the remote, post-Princess future.


I dispatched a preliminary package to Greece yesterday; that’s something done. There was an interview with Shirley Conran in the Waffy yesterday of such surpassing silliness that it sticks in the mind. She is one of those woman briefly famous for Simplifying Life. Now, in old age, she is Simplifying Christmas. Don’t travel, she says. It’s a terrible time of year for travelling. (So – no family gatherings?) Throw catalogues away as soon as they arrive. (So – all the shopping to be done on foot?) Best of all – don’t send Christmas cards, or if you must, make them yourself. (Make them: that’s supposed to help?)

As for shopping, for two items on my list this year I knew exactly, precisely, what I wanted. Everyone who has ever shopped will know that that is a recipe for utter exhaustion concluding in failure. In fact, for one of the items, my husband and I had already been through that process. (It’s his present.) On-line, it takes ten minutes. Shirley Conran does not seem to know about computers.

The great news is that James and his family, who will be here for a few days before The Event, propose hiring a people carrier and all travelling together to Loch Fyne, where Christmas is to be spent. At a stroke that removes a major prob from my agenda before I had even attempted to solve it. (busses to Cairndow? Trains to Arrochar? How much will we be carrying? Buggered if I’m going to drive.) Happy days!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

No sooner had I posted yesterday’s deathless prose than the postman arrived at the door. I have done almost all my Christmas shopping on-line this year, and my reward is a constant series of pleasant boxes. Like having Christmas twice. I have never been disappointed with the quality of an object ordered like this, although in past years I’ve had some quarrels with delivery times.

Yesterday’s boxes were best of all, because as well as presents for other people, they included two from me to myself: Franklin’s book, and Nancy Bush on the Knitted Lace of Estonia.

I’m sure everybody else has got Franklin’s book by now – I went for the calendar first, because I feared it would sell out and become a famous unobtainable. The book is wonderful, better even than I expected and I doubt if I could praise it more highly than that.

I have not spent much time with Estonian lace yet. (I’ve read Franklin twice, straight through. The man is a genius.)

I think one of the most interesting things about Galina Khmeleva’s fascinating “Gossamer Webs”, about Orenburg lace, is the part about government regulation and control, going right back to Lenin. When the Soviet Union collapsed, so did standards – “lesser quality shawls are produced cheaply and quickly and sold inexpensively – the Russian market is awash in poor quality shawls.”

Estonia was only part of the Soviet Union (I learn from Bush) from 1944 to 1991. Knitting was done during that time through a cooperative. The director of the cooperative did a lot of valuable work in the 1970’s collecting, recording, and photographing patterns. Whether standards have declined recently, we aren't told.


The hat is fine. I tried it on again, in front of a mirror, and liked the effect. The 6” of ribbing is/are now virtually finished. Four inches of plain st st are meant to follow. EZ, in her only watchcap pattern I know of, is relaxed about length, and says that 11” in all, or even more, may be required. Her pattern, I think this is “Knitting Without Tears” I’m talking about, is in brioche stitch. I’ve knit it a couple of times, and love the result.

Phyllis and Shandy, thank you for the mitten-knitting thumb-tricks. Maybe I’ll really do some, before this winter is out. It’s bloody cold around here.

Boston baked beans

I wonder why we don’t get “navy” or “pea” beans here. Supermarkets are full of dried beans from all over the world.

Maryjo0, here is a link to something close to the bean recipe I used. I didn’t add salt when I was cooking the beans for the first time. In fact I wonder if I ever put in any, saltiness being provided by the pork. I used a pack of ham trimmings, sold “for soup” by my butcher. They melted deliciously into the beans. I didn’t use brown sugar, just molasses in a quantity less than that specified,(black treacle, in fact, which I think is the same thing), because of diabetic concerns.

The Gourmet Cook Book, which I am embarrassed to say I got as a wedding present, is emphatic that the water level must be kept level with, but not above, the level of the beans during the long cooking process. Too much, and you’re stewing rather than baking them. Too little, they dry out.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The beans were delicious – the best I’ve ever done, I think. I enjoyed hovering over them all day, although they never did need more liquid. I wish I had the time and oomph to attempt Boston brown bread. Now I must think of some more comfort food for today.

Shandy, you might be right that a roast chicken is the answer. And I was inspired by your beautiful collection to hunt down a pattern for Newfoundland mittens. I’m not keen on thumbs, but these are so pretty I might think again.

My daughter-in-law Cathy sent me this link yesterday. Bizarre.

The hat continues well. I tentatively tried it on. It feels comfortable and comforting, except that I was reminded that a hat has got to fit vertically as well. Much more is required. I rib patiently onwards. I want about 6” and have achieved a bit more than four, so today may launch me into the pleasant pastures of st st.

(That’s what it looks like bleached by the flash in the early-morning gloom. You can warm your hands over the actual object.)

Monday, December 01, 2008

As hoped, December feels a bit better.

Photographed yesterday at our local “Bank of Scotland” branch. (The inverted commas are intended to express irony.) Incroyable.

Ron, it’s great to hear from you. The hat continues well, and therapeutic. I’m pretty happy about the size. In repose, which is easy to measure on dp’s, it seems to be about 8” across (=16” in circumference), and rather relaxed. My head, measured around the brow and then down a bit to take in the rear-of-head bulge – as if I were measuring myself for a halo – seems to be 24”. (We have big heads in our family, make of it what you will.) That sounds like a big difference, but I think it’s going to work.

Indeed, if it does, there’s still time to knock out another one for another gap in my Christmas present list. I’ve found something else for the man for whom I was thinking of knitting that scarf, so that’s off the menu.

I decided, lying in bed this morning, that the thing to do with the blasted Christmas cards is to take the problem to London with me next week. I wouldn’t need to take any actual cards; we can buy them at art galleries on our rounds. And I wouldn’t need to bring them back – I can post them from there. This doesn’t let me off making a decent start this week, but it puts the job on manageable footing.

Part of the trouble is the actual cards we have on hand. We try to buy them, again at art galleries, in the January sales, and that has left us, this year, with a particularly dismal set. No wonder nobody else wanted them. In London, we’ll buy some cheerful baby Jesuses.

Boston baked beans

I put the beans on to soak last night, and today we proceed to the actual excitement. I have consulted more recipes this year, instead of just going with Joy of Cooking. Mrs Rombauer simply says “beans” – other people specify “navy or pea” beans. I don’t know what that means. Mine are flageolet, and I’m not worried.

I have always just left the pot in a cool oven overnight, for the final cooking, but these other recipes tell me to look every hour to check the water level, so this time I’ll do that.

Mel, I envy you that bean pot. I love pots, and try to buy myself one in January to start the year on a happy footing. Trouble is, they need space, and I’m running out.