Wednesday, May 07, 2014

I didn't make quite as much progress as hoped, yesterday. But I'm more than halfway around round 80 of the borders of the Unst Bridal Shawl, the last round on the second chart. It's a plain-vanilla garter stitch round, but there are still a lot of stiches. I won't reach the next motif today – maybe tomorrow – but should achieve the third chart.


Thanks for the link to the Online Lace Symposium, Catmum. I feel I must have read that interview with Sharon Miller before, because I was there (so to speak) at the Symposium – I appear as “A Lace Knitter” on Tuesday. My memory is that Franklin and Delores were also present, but if so, I haven't found them yet. Sharon Miller appears as I thought, although I don't remember reading the interview – an ordinary knitter like you and me, not a Shetlander, whose interest in lace became focussed and precise and scholarly.

As for Shetland shawls, Else and Linda, I think you could probably knit the edging as you go, Orenburg-fashion, on a rectangular scarf or stole but to do it on a square shawl would involve so much reorganization that – even if it proved possible – you'd wind up with something else. Normally, the rows of the edging are at right angles to the border rows all the way around. In the middle, the top and bottom of the centre square flow out into the borders with the rows parallel, but on either side of that centre square the connection is perpendicular again.

I have a half-feeling that there is a Shetland shawl pattern in one of my (few) nineteenth century knitting books which gives the whole thing as one piece, row by row. I have never tried to figure it out, but maybe today I will look it up and see if I can get at least a general idea of what is going on. (I am a graduate of Franklin's class on reading old patterns, after all!) I think it is the pattern which Richard Rutt says is the first Shetland shawl ever published. If so, it is but a pale simulacrum of what we know was going on in Shetland at the time.

Sharon's book “Love Darg Shetland Shawls Centenary” records and celebrates the first serious publication of Shetland lace patterns, in Aunt Kate's Home Knitter magazine from 1902. I must have another look at that, too.


Alexander has been listening to the cuckoo as he works outdoors, and wondering how such behaviour could ever evolve. There's no doubt that getting someone else to undertake the trouble and expense of bringing up your children, is advantageous. But how could it ever get started? Either you build a nest of your own like a normal bird, and lay eggs in it, or you lay them in someone else's nest. It's a yes-or-no decision, whereas evolution needs gradations.

 I did some Googling and (of course) got nowhere with the basic problem, but I did discover that cuckoos lay eggs which mimic those of the host birds in extraordinary fashion. I had always supposed that the host was too stupid, being only a bird, to recognise an alien egg amongst their own.

My theory is that when we hear the cuckoo in the spring, it is singing to its children and explaining the outlines of the system.


  1. Jean, your tale of the cuckoo brought back memories of hearing a cuckoo for the first time when I was studying in France at the tender age of 19. We don't have them in the US and for some reason I never thought of them as real, just as cuckoo clocks. When I heard one I was startled and thrilled like a child seeing something 'in person.' Thanks!

  2. Orenberg knitters knit their shawls working the bottom edging first. Then one picks up from the inside edge of the edging to start the body of the shawl including the side edgings. The border and the center are all knit in the same direction, perpendicular to the first portion of the edging The top edging is again knit perpendicular to the top by working the edging off the live stitches one by one. If one uses a multidirectional pattern, it is hard to tell the direction of the knitting - if the viewer is not a knitter (g).

  3. Anonymous3:11 PM

    I loved reading about the Scottish cuckoo . I live in Pa , USA, and we DO have cuckoos . Not Scottish (!) but
    Black-billed and Yellow -billed . They sometimes lay their eggs in other birds nests . They are also very attractive birds .

  4. =Tamar12:02 AM

    If I recall correctly, there are birds that lay eggs on bare ground. My unresearched wild guess is that cuckoos originally laid eggs of various colors and sizes, in any nestlike object that was handy, and the eggs that looked something like the right ones for the nest owner were hatched. Any egg that didn't look right was pitched out and not hatched. Then either different sub-groups of cuckoos evolved to lay matching eggs in specific other species of birds' nests, or all cuckoos still lay different types of eggs and the ones that aren't kicked out immediately by the nest-owners are the ones that researchers find.