Sunday, November 13, 2011

We had a good time with Greek Helen, all too brief. She is now in London, about to celebrate a faux Thanksgiving this afternoon with my sister and her husband and Rachel’s family.


All well with the little Brownstone. I should finish the second sleeve and cast on the body today.

P.D. James

Granddaughter Hellie (on the left of the back row of the Grandchildren in the sidebar: today is her birthday) works for the London literary agency which represents P.D. James, or “Phyllis” as we call her in the office. Hellie told us when we were in London recently about the new book, a sequel to “Pride and Prejudice”. She said that James submitted it diffidently, as an old woman’s jeu d’esprit – she’s 90, or nearly – and suggested perhaps half her usual advance.

The publisher read it and paid her twice her usual advance.

I’m not a great fan of pastiche, but I enjoyed it hugely. It was getting a bit hard to believe in Adam Dalgleish’s adventures as police procedural anyway. Mr. Darcy makes an admirable substitute, and James’s calm, intelligent style is perfectly suited to the attempt.

“The Robe of Glory”

Liz Lovick has an interesting blog post about the idea of the “Robe of Glory”. Apparently there was a pattern for a pram blanket in Good Housekeeping in the 80’s, claiming that it represented an old Shetland tradition. Liz has yet to meet a native Shetlander who has heard of it, and wonders about the origin of the story. I think I can help.

It’s in James Norbury’s introduction to the Odham’s Encyclopedia of Knitting, undated but probably about 1950 or a year or two earlier. I discovered the book in the late 60’s and used it extensively for my early adventures in Fair Isle and Shetland knitting.

In that introduction, Norbury recounts a visit he claims to have made to a knitter on Fair Isle in the mid-thirties. “I simply asked her what she was knitting. To my surprise, her answer was, ‘A Robe of Glory.’….She spread out her knitting across my knee and told me its story.

“The common practice on Fair Isle was for the grandmother of the family to knit the first Fair Isle sweater for her grandson to wear when he reached adolescence. Looking down at the patterns and pointing to them with her finger, the Fair Isle knitter said to me:

“’I start with the ‘Water of Life’ and then I knit the ‘Seed of Life’ which is nurtured by the water into the ‘Flower of Life’ which forms my next pattern. I shall give him an ‘Anchor of Hope’ and a ‘Star’ to guide him on his way.’ And then, pointing to the shoulder, she continued, ‘I knit a ‘Crown of Glory’ which will be his reward if he has lived a good life.’”

You young people cannot imagine how few knitting books there were Before Kaffe. I am sure the Good Housekeeping designer was inspired by that passage. As was I: I knit wedding sweaters for my daughters and daughters-in-law something along those lines. Each is different, but they all have the Crown of Glory on the shoulder. Here is Helen’s. The crown is purple. All the colours in this sweater were either natural-sheep, or dyed by me from Strathardle lichens. I saved the best for the last. The next pattern down seems to be the Anchor of Hope.

I could show you a pattern idea that P*tricia R*berts took from Odham’s Encyclopedia if I bestirred myself.


  1. As I told Liz I believe I saw one of those "Crown of Glory" blankets (and probably had it cover me!) as a child. It is only a vague memory - and that because the colours were rather garish. I suspect it was made from whatever yarn was available at the time. There is a photograph of my father and his brother wearing pullovers made by the same woman who made the blanket. She has used similar patterns in those. I wonder whether this is because they were the only patterns the knitter knew?

  2. Not doubting Mr Norbury for a moment, but I wonder how much poetic license there is in that description.

    The colours in the sweater Jean are just wonderful, you can do such fantastic things with lichens.

  3. That sweater is lovely - I especially like the horse motif. I used to take Odham’s Encyclopedia of Knitting out of the library regularly back in the late 70's, when there were so few knitting books. That's how I found Knitting Without Tears. I have thought of trying to buy it from time to time, now you've moved me to check out ABE and see what's available.

  4. Jean you might like to see my Robe of Glory Blanket knitted for my eldest daughter in 1981 by my sister in law.
    I had no idea it would be so unusual. I also remain a little annoyed at my SIL who has lost the pattern! However her knitting remains lovely, sadly she no longer knits!

  5. =Tamar4:25 AM

    Thank you for telling us the story! Norbury was known for liking a good tale, but I doubt that he made it up entirely out of whole cloth. There definitely have been some symbolic associations with knitting patterns in Scandinavia, according to Sundbo, if not precisely the same as the ones he reported in the UK.

    As for the specific pattern, surely someone could read the knitting of the extant blanket and retrieve the pattern.

  6. Anonymous1:43 PM

    Thanks for the info on the P D James book, downloaded it and read it yesterday, wonderful

  7. I loved the Robe of Glory that you made for Helen - what a lovely idea, to knit wedding sweaters for your daughters and daughters-in-law! And the colours and motifs are so beautifully blended. Lucky ladies.
    The "Blessings for a baby" crib cover pattern published by Good Housekeeping magazine in May 1981 was a severely-simplified design based on my own Robe of Glory sweater design.
    It was a 1979 design for my knitwear company Gooden Gansey in Devon, England. It includes all of the motifs mentioned in James Norbury’s reference to a Robe of Glory in Odham’s Encyclopedia of Knitting, plus further motifs to make a more complete story. I always personalise the sweaters whenever possible.
    Two such I made to commemorate the marriage of HRH Charles, Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer. It seems to have been a favourite with the prince, who frequently wore his Robe of Glory - for many photo-calls, as well as for his guest appearance on the Jackanory TV programme.