Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Alexander posted this on Facebook. Easter was just a month ago! Now he's got not ducklings but ducks.

I finished the first Pakokku sock last night, including Kitchener’ing and minimal tidying, and cast on the second one.

Notice how the stripes change and broaden on the foot before the toe-shaping starts. What will happen next?

I also got Craftsy at last on my husband’s new Toshiba – it kept trying to say I wasn’t connected to the internet, which was absurd. Wow! It works, here on my aged desktop, but it’s slow to load and the lessons stutter a bit. There, I was sitting across the dining room table from Franklin while he showed me how to sew an edging on.

I’ve got to do something about this. Getting a new computer, I mean. As well as practising whip-stitch.

Yesterday’s post brought chilli fertilizer and mist-er and seeds. Once a week, the bottle says, for fertilizer – so Monday is Chilli Fertilizer day, henceforth. Misting is easy and fun and I can do it every day. I’ll let you know whether I think it improves pollination.

I am filled with enthusiasm for chilli-growing. Here is a plant which seems very happy on the kitchen windowsill, safe from deer and rabbits and slugs, and which produces a useful crop. I mean, it’s not kohlrabi. There would be room for one or even two more. I have ordered a chilli-growing book.

When Alexander and Ketki lived in London, they had a little conservatory on the back of the house. James used to bring back exotic Chinese chillis to order. Alexander cooked with them, and also grew chilli plants in his conservatory from the seeds.

I have never had much luck with growing vegetables in pots on the doorstep, except for herbs. I am about to try again – sorrel and Welsh onions and huauzontle. I hope to get that started today.

Today’s main problem is what to feed the young woman who is coming to lunch tomorrow. She has been delegated by the publisher to edit my husband’s work and to plug the gaps where there are questions that need to be answered. My go-to lunch for situations like this, where a certain amount of nervous tension is involved (we have not met before), is a Jamie Oliver salmon tray-bake with French beans and olives and anchovies and little tomatoes. It’s easy to cook and – very important, in the circumstances – easy to eat.

The trouble is, it’s what I fed the publisher himself when he was here six weeks ago. What if tomorrow’s woman goes back to London and says, “She gave me some very nice salmon”? And he will say, “Oh, I had that; it must be the only thing she can cook.”

But I’m damned if I can think of anything else.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Nothing much ever gets done on Sunday, but I did finish my homework for Franklin and so was qualified to start his next lesson, about sewing edgings on to things. The sort of thing I flip past, in a book. I prefer to knit edgings on – Franklin will reach that topic in due course. It’s a long lesson – I’ll need to watch some more of it before I even begin sewing – but I found in it something new to want: bamboo marking pins. I’ve ordered some.

A twinge of guilt: Sally Melville at the very beginning of her book mentions those of us who fail so often at producing anything wearable that “eventually we decide we weren’t meant to make garments and so restrict ourselves to knitting socks and shawls.”

I’ll get back to Herzog and to Melville herself, I promise. My husband will have to do some of the measuring – art historians are good at that. 

I’ve also signed up for the Craftsy class on Buttonholes and Button Bands, but I won’t begin that until both of these other classes are finished. Then what? Double Knitting with Alasdair Post-Quinn, purely for the wonderfulness of his name? I’ve got his book but have shrunk from attempting the technique.

So the first Pakokku sock still isn’t quite finished. Today, surely.

Historical Oddities

1)      Franklin twice mentioned, in the lesson I’ve just watched the beginning of, standing in line at the bank as an opportunity to do some knitting. Here in GB, we don’t queue in banks any more. Used to, all the time, to draw out cash. Nowadays cash comes from machines and when we do, rarely, need to talk to a teller we find the branch totally empty except for ourselves, and don’t have to wait at all.

2)      I’ve just been reading, or re-reading, can’t remember which, Terrence Rattigan’s one act play, “The Browning Version”. Old public-school-master retiring, young newly-married successor and his wife come to see around the accommodation.

Millie (as they move to the door) And the kitchen is in a terrible mess. I’m in the middle of cooking dinner.

Mrs Gilbert (breathlessly) Oh. Do you cook?

Millie. Oh, yes. I have to. We haven’t had a maid for five years.

Mrs. Gilbert. Oh, I do think that’s wonderful of you. I’m scared stiff of having to do it for Peter. I know the first dinner I have to cook for him will wreck our married life –

Gilbert. Highly probable.

This was written shortly after the war, admittedly by a man. But still, it startled me. I had long since forgotten that cooking wasn’t always what everybody did all day long.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

No mist-er, no chilli fertilizer, no seeds, but Sally Melville’s “Knitting Pattern Essentials” did turn up from Amazon in yesterday's post. It’s seriously good. I also watched my next Herzog lesson yesterday, and the sum of the experiences has left me feeling more than a little like Epaminondas.

(I just looked him up, and was surprised to find that he hasn’t been airbrushed out of literature along with Little Black Sambo.)

The point of Epaminondas, as I hope many will remember, is that he faithfully tried to carry out everybody’s instructions and always got it wrong. That’s me.

Melville and Herzog differ on some points, but agree that they want me to knit my next sweater, at least, in four pieces and sew them together. Herzog goes further, and insists on a set-in sleeve for this one. She wants me to knit a boring pattern – she actually uses the word, with a little roll of the eyes. This is going to be my favourite sweater for the next 20 years, my standard for size and fit.

I haven’t got 20 years, lady.

So, do I abandon the Relax, Epaminondas-fashion? 

Probably not. I can see the point about seaming and the structure thereby provided. The Relax pattern itself wants side seams, but I hated the long purl rows on my first attempt. I meant to add Meg’s afterthought seams, but forgot, when it came to the moment. The result seemed fine. The lightweight yarn and droopy design don't demand the structure provided by seams in the way another yarn and pattern might.

Franklin has a recent essay somewhere – no time for link-hunts on Sunday morning – about project vs process knitters. I am solidly in the “project” camp. I can see how any serious designer has to be a “process” knitter with a box full of interesting swatches.

Anyway, I finally mastered his utterly simple (and rather sweet) garter-stitch 6-row edging and have now knit two 8-scallop pieces of it. One more, and I can go on to the next lesson. Nineteenth-century knitters did this all the time, he told us in the first lesson, and stuck the little samples in sample-books.

Swept away by my own prose yesterday, I have ordered some of that Noro sock yarn. There’s one grey-ish colourway I hope my husband might even accept. And I’m nearing the toe of the first Pakokku sock. The yarn is changing its ways somewhat (no change of stitch-number yet) – the stripes getting broader. It’s very exciting.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Thanks for the pointer to Knitter’s Review, Cat, and specifically to their article about Rowan’s new “Fine Art” sock yarn. I’ll just have to go on knitting socks forever.

I was sort of horrified by the paragraph beginning “To keep this yarn reasonably affordable while scaling production to the demands of a company like Rowan, with its wholesale accounts in stores around the world, you need a reasonably affordable workforce.” It’s the old, old problem about anything done carefully by hand.

The answer is Rowan’s case is some “marginalized” South African women. The work is beautiful, and they’re probably glad of the employment. But…

And what about Noro’s Taiyo sock yarn? 17% polyamide. That’s a lower percentage than Rowan, or the majority of German yarns, but the Japanese must think it’s enough. It costs £14.38 per skein. That’s cheaper than the $29.95 Knitter’s Review gives for the new Rowan yarn (=£19.34). Maybe it won’t cost quite so much here in Britain.

I haven’t done Noro for quite a while, and it looks wonderful. No mention of marginalized Japanese workers.

I don’t know why I hadn’t subscribed to Knitter’s Review myself. I've done it now.

I spent most of last night’s knitting time doing my homework for Franklin – a garter stitch square, done; and three strips of edging, pattern provided. I am nearly finished with the first one. I am alarmed at how difficult I am finding it – a simple six-row garter stitch pattern. I think the problem is that the first row, straight edge out to scalloped edge, is plain. The yo’s begin on the second, inward row and that feels wrong to me.


Neither the fertilizer nor the mist-er turned up in the post yesterday. I hope for better today.

Willow, it is wonderful to know that you have a Waitrose chilli plant too.

Southern Gal, I made up a potting mixture for my chilli (and for the seeds I hope soon to sow on the doorstep – that’s something else that might arrive today) from some store-bought potting compost which I found in our gardening hut mixed with soil from the vegetable garden – soil which had been dug over with very well-rotted manure at the end of last summer. Hope not too nitrogenous.

Friday, April 26, 2013

I can’t go back to Franklin until I’ve done my homework, so I tried to watch some Herzog this morning and got tangled up in the computer. Enough.

Here is the current state of the Pakokku sock. It’s called Just Figs, I think, and is meant to pool but I would call that more self-striping. Nice, undoubtedly. That's a Strong-Fleegle heel, top-down obviously. 64 stitches.

Here is a completely new non-knitting topic: 


I bought the big plant in Waitrose in (I think) January. It had quite a few chillies on it at the time, both green and red. The green ones turned red, both sorts got eaten, the plant flourished and flowered – but the flowers didn’t set fruit. Even so, it is fun to grow something so cheerful and responsive.

I read about chillies on the internet and discovered that I should mist it daily, to aid germination. That sounded far too complicated, so I started blowing at it, gently, as I bent solicitously over it in the morning. And I began to get some new fruit – quite possibly, of course, a response to the increasing light rather than to my puffs. I brought a pot-full of soil back from Strathardle last weekend, and re-potted it.

But there is an article about chilli-growing in the current issue of my old fave, Kitchen Garden Magazine. Misting is again recommended, and this time I thought, why not? A mist-er is just a plastic bottle with a squirter attachment, available in several varieties from Amazon, so I ordered one and also some chilli fertiliser: most house-plant fertilisers have too much nitrogen in them, I learn.

The little box to the left in the top picture contains three new chilli plants which I bought at Tesco this week. The idea is to get a nice pot and some potting compost and grow one of them on a bit for our downstairs neighbours who have recently spent months (and untold thousands) re-doing their house, including the construction of a conservatory with underfloor heating for the cat. A chilli should do well there. The new little plants are called “Apache” and said to be hot. The big plant was unlabelled, except as “chilli”. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

It’s been what constitutes for old people, a busy week, and I’m very tired. On Sunday, we got back from Strathardle (something of an effort, always) and said goodbye to Helen. On Monday, old friends came to lunch. On Tuesday, tea with Geoffrey. Yesterday, my husband had a scan at the Royal Infirmary.

It was concluded some time ago that there is nothing medical science can do about his breathlessness, and it isn’t getting worse very fast. But our GP has recently referred us to the Infirmary again, and that means a scan (yesterday) and a session in the Breathing Laboratory (soon) before we get to see the Great Man (towards the end of May).

So, tired. Today I will wash dishes (left undone yesterday), shop, cook, wash more dishes, and that will be about it.

I allowed myself to begin the day just now with Franklin’s Heirloom Lace, Lesson 3. It was pretty basic stuff, about chart reading and such, excellently presented. Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, tell them what you’ve said. I can’t advance to the next lesson until I’ve done some homework. There is value in going back through the basic stuff, slowly and carefully.

And I can reassure you (and myself) -- my other Craftsy course -- that the Relax is a surprisingly good design for the bottom-heavy figure. What we don’t want, Herzog says, is much of a horizontal line at the widest point. The Relax has a wide neckline (good), less than full-length sleeves (good), and an unobtrusive bottom edge. She would have me shorten it a bit, if need be, so that it doesn’t end at the worst moment. I’ll look in to that.

The Infirmary was so brisk yesterday that I didn’t get much knitting done. I could have done with more, after the driving and the parking and the finding of my husband (I had let him out at the door) through yards and yards of sandy passages (Beatrix Potter, somewhere). I did better in the evening, and I’m now around the first heel and steaming down the foot.

Non-knit, on recognition

Thanks for comments, about my not recognising Geoffrey. My own best experience on that front was when a man stopped me on Broughton Street some years ago – I was climbing the hill to the fishmonger, as often – and said, “Don’t I know you?”

Well, he wasn’t Alexander and he wasn’t James and he wasn’t drunk – the best I could suggest was that each of us looked like the sort of person the other might know. Rather an intelligent suggestion, I thought. But then he said his name. I knew that.

He had been a Jesuit novice to whom I had taught Greek in Birmingham. One of my faves, in fact. “Can I kiss you?” I said.

He is a Jesuit no longer (he never became a priest). We have remained in touch – he works with Burmese refugees in eastern India. I think I’ll send him an email right now suggesting more coffee.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I took a deep breath and printed out those pics of myself and drew four lines across the full-frontal one, as instructed by Herzog: shoulder, bust, waist, and hip. Interesting. The top three lines are virtually identical in length, the fourth is distinctly longer. So I’ve learned something. I had thought that my shape in old age was a three-dimensional rectangle – I’ve just looked it up, and learn that there is no easy word for it, like “sphere” or “pyramid”. A rectangular cuboid, shall we call it.

But anyway, it turns out that’s not how I’m shaped at all.

I had expected the next lesson to go on to the taking of specific measurements, but I’ve just watched and it’s more theoretical – a discussion of which elements of the clothes we wear lengthen or shorten, widen or narrow, the visual impression of various bits of oneself. What if it turns out that the Relax is utterly wrong for my elderly shape?

I have become a tremendous Craftsy fan. I have my eye on a new one, by a teacher I don’t know, about buttonholes and button bands. I knit a cashmere cardigan for my sister once, and when I got to the button band, Knitter’s or IK had just come out with an interesting article on the subject.

I took a lot of trouble over it. I used a pattern, from the article, in which eyelet holes occurred at regular intervals so that the actual placing of the buttons could wait until later. And I slightly and carefully stretched it, all that stuff.

But then there was an occasion – I think it was the evening you and James came to supper, Janis, but memory may be conflating separate events – when my sister was wearing it and I couldn’t help noticing that the button bands were turning inwards.

And Craftsy has lots more. Brioche; Lucy Neatby on double knitting.

Thank you for the tips, by the way, about viewing Craftsy lessons on the iPad. I tried what you said while we were away, and found that I need to update the operating system.  I’ve run into this problem before. It’s Archie’s job the next time he’s here.

The socks are coming on fine. I’m not in a hurry now, because I want to get far enough forward with Herzog to know what I’m doing before I cast on the new Relax for myself.

Don’t miss Liz Lovick on St Kilda.


An old friend came to see us yesterday. We had not seen him for 40 years. He used to live in our garage, in Birmingham. The garage had once been a stable – there was still a manger, in a corner – and above it was accommodation, I suppose you could call it, for a groom.

When Geoffrey first came to Birmingham he was young and poor, a research student in Byzantine studies, and his professor somehow knew about our garage so that is where he lodged that first winter. We have kept up with Christmas cards since. Our children remember him with delight. Geoffrey! Coming to tea!

We didn’t recognise him. When a man turned up at the appointed time, I hugged him with enthusiasm. But no recognition came, even after a couple of hours of talk. It was certainly Geoffrey – he recalled seeing the pussy cats swimming in Lake Van, and he is the only man I have ever known who actually claims to have seen that. But no recognition.

How often does one pass significant old friends in the street, unknown?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

We had a good time, and are safely back, but I wonder how much longer we can go on with this. It was fine this time, with Helen there.

The house has never been left empty for so long. It did all right. A dead tree on the west lawn has lurched forward, and some guttering is down on the byre. Notice the snowdrops -- spring is slow, in Strathardle. 

Lots of deer have been about, and the leg of one of them remains in the kitchen garden. Bizarre.

Vegetable-growing, if at all, will have to be entirely re-thought in terms of deer. The former enemy, rabbits, seem positively beneficial by comparison. But they have left my wild garlic alone, and also the normal garlic I planted in the autumn. The Welsh onions were eaten down to the ground at the end of last year. They are growing strongly now, as I thought they would. I lifted, divided, mulched.

And there’s always Good King Henry (nobody likes that) and potatoes and rhubarb and Jerusalem artichokes. Perhaps we’re not so badly off.

For three whole days I didn’t knit a stitch.

Helen is pleased with her socks, and praises the fit in terms which make me think that the Strong-Fleegle heel is a particular success. I look forward to using it in a pair for my husband. Meanwhile I have embarked on one for the current pair of socks, the Pakokku’s. The yarn has been making pleasant stripes all down the leg, and is now pooling in a most attractive fashion. Pic soon.


I got Helen to take pictures of me for the Herzog class on fit. The results are pretty terrifying, even in my current state of post-Lenten svelte. Now I’ve got to print them out, enlarged if possible, and draw some lines on them before going on to the next lesson.

I thought I could allow myself, on the strength of that, to watch Franklin’s Lesson Two this morning. It was about possible uses for lace edgings and unfortunately didn’t get anywhere near the possibility of edging a Gardening Sweater.

The madelinetosh for my projected new Relax has turned up – a great incentive to whiz forward with these socks so that I can get started. There’s a sort of Relax-cousin in the new Twist Collective – less fabric, a little more decoration down the seams. I think I’ll stick with the original. Those utterly simple eyelets are very effective. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Welcome, new follower!

So, off to Strathardle. It’s been so long that I have half-forgotten the drill. The sun is shining. We’ll be fine. Back here early next week.

It was rather curious, what happened to yesterday’s post. But for an email from Greek Helen, late in the afternoon, I might never have known that it wasn’t up. I was, indeed, feeling rather sorry for myself about not having any comments.

The drill is that I compose here on my terrestrial computer, save, copy, paste it into Blogger, re-read and tweak, add pics if appropriate, post, read again. Not infrequently, I spot an infelicity,  an “its” which should be “it’s” perhaps, on that very last reading. Then I alter the progress bar and sign out.

What went wrong yesterday? When I got Helen’s message and went to investigate, I found that my effort had been saved as a draft. I think it was Blogger’s fault, but trembling as I am on the threshold of my tenth decade – could that be right? perhaps if we counted again? – I worry about my own capacities.

Greek Helen and, I think, Archie will travel from the original Athens to the Athens of the North today. He’ll go straight to school. She’ll sleep here and do various things in Edinburgh tomorrow and join us in Strathardle later on. She'll do more whizzing about on Saturday as she investigates a possible school for her next son. Then the party will break up on Sunday.

I will at least put the forcing pot over the rhubarb and do a bit of pruning. I wonder how much vegetable-growing will happen this year? That winter took a lot out of both me and my husband. I have plans for sorrel and bunching onions and some huauzontle (scroll down) on the doorstep here. Maybe I'll feel peppier once I have surveyed the scene of action. 


Franklin’s class is wonderful. The whole Craftsy set-up is very good – you don’t need me to tell you. The teachers top-flight, the cost less than a session at an LYS or yarn jamboree. I’m awfully glad I finally met Franklin in the flesh, that happy day at Loop in London last November, so that the Craftsy class in that respect is a reminder. But that’s personal.

My other Craftsy class, Herzog on fit, is stuck at the point where I have got to take pictures of myself to find out what shape I am. The models in the lesson are wearing jeans and tee-shirts and the problem here is going to be to take off enough clothes, for a few moments at least, to make the exercise worthwhile. I am determined to do it while Helen is here. I think we can find a sufficiently neutral background somewhere in that little house.

There is no dedicated Strathardle WIP at the moment – I’ll take the socks along. Oddly, I can’t watch Craftsy lessons on the iPad although it is perfectly capable of showing me a movie. Ah! – but my husband is taking his new Toshiba portable. He continues to struggle. It was probably a mistake to let him opt out from the learning curve the rest of us underwent in recent decades, Windows and mouse-clicking and all that stuff. I wonder if Word for Dummies would help me simplify things for him.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I’m feeling much better. My sister and daughters all rang up yesterday telling me to go see a dr, but I continue to believe (as you said, Hat) that this is post-viral and I’d be wasting everybody’s time. When I really did have pneumonia, several decades ago, and knew I was seriously ill, and suspected pneumonia, I got myself to a dr’s surgery with considerable difficulty and was told I had flu. That meant another 60 hours of unpleasantness as it got worse – eventually, a different dr was called to the house and injected an antibiotic. The delay probably added weeks to the long, slow recovery. So much for doctors.

While I was resting yesterday afternoon I listened to the radio, as always, and half-heard an interesting programme called “Great Lives” which yesterday was about Kenny Everett. British readers will know. People who knew him talked about his life. One of them said he was sui generis.

That’s the feeder line for our favourite joke, and Kenny E. would have been the perfect subject for it: “…indeed, perhaps, sui generis to a fault.”

But I guess they don’t know that one, down at the BBC.

Alexander has posted pictures on Facebook of his ducks having their first swim. They are  taking to it like… And surely I detect some feathers.


I should start the heel of the first Pakokku sock today, all being well. I’ll go ahead with Fleegle-Strong on your recommendation, Hat. I looked for Pakokku on both ebay.co.uk and ebay.com, without success. Is there no skein of it for sale anywhere in the world? I could think of knitting Alexander a Gardening Sweater from Into the Whirled Delhi DK – that actually seems to be for sale on their website – but have failed so far to find out how it knits up. Even on Ravelry.

Stash Haus has left an interesting comment on a post from a couple of days ago, about Sally Melville and Amy Herzog and the general topic of knitting to fit and flatter. She had a chance to try on different sweaters at a Herzog class, and was surprised to see what did, in fact, flatter. That would be a very useful exercise.

Breaking news – an email has arrived from Craftsy since I sat down here an hour or so ago, to say that Franklin’s class is available. I’ve signed up. Would Alexander like a gardening sweater with an Heirloom Lace Edging?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I am feeling weak again this morning. No other symptom – I don’t know about appetite yet. Just weak. We’re supposed to go to Strathardle on Thursday, to be joined by Greek Helen for two nights. Perfect weather – spring has happened at last. But just at the moment, I’m not strong enough.

Colorful Stitches has written to say that they don’t have any Pakokku after all. They recommend something called Frolicking Feet, new to me. I spent some time just now pursuing it on Ravelry – it does pool rather nicely. But I think I’ll add it to a mental list of Possible Future Socks rather than ordering some now. I want those vampires!

The Pakokku socks I’ve actually got, continue well. Soon comes the decision about the heel. What I don’t know about Strong-Fleegle is how well it wears, as compared to Old Faithful which has that flap strengthened with slipped stitches. When socks are returned-to-maker for darning, the holes are usually toe and sole, as I remember, not heel.

Suzanne commented a few days ago that my family seem to wear the things I knit for them. This was prompted by a picture of Rachel cutting the Easter cake while wearing her Adult Surprise, and not long ago we had Ketki in her pink gansey when the family came over to watch Scotland lose yet another match at Murrayfield.

I strongly suspect that the answer is, they know how much I like to see my knitting in action and they get the things out when they know I’m going to be around. They look awfully fresh. That’s why I like darning the socks – that’s for real. On the other hand, my husband has been wearing that madelinetosh sleeveless vest all winter, after specifically requesting it. It's also on view in the Easter picture. 

Alexander has outgrown his Calcutta Cup sweater, which was never very generous, size-wise. Perhaps it's time I knit him a gardening sweater.

I have nearly finished reading Kaffe’s autobiographical “Dreaming in Colour”. It is very interesting, although not great prose. I think it is true to say that he has never had a job. He worked for the Missoni's in Milan for a while, but even they paid him by the design rather than by the week. His background is genuinely bohemian, and for many years he lived on very little, keeping the wolf from the door (but never very far away) by selling his pictures and by modelling.

I fear it would have been harder for him, nowadays, to come to London and live like that. The vital stamp in one’s passport, “Given leave to remain in the United Kingdom for an indefinite period”, is not easy to come by, these days. It’s the equivalent of the famous, or infamous, American “green card”. Kaffe doesn’t mention that subject at all.

Monday, April 15, 2013

I’m much better. That was a funny one. Rather encouraging, in a way – I had been feeling rather ache-y of joints and unenthusiastic in the days preceding and had sort of attributed it to old age.

But it was also a reminder of how precarious our life is. My husband can’t do much for himself. If I can’t either, the structure collapses. There’s still the London Street Grocery, the prince of corner shops. The deli won’t deliver, I don’t think, but LSG will, and Mrs Hussain and I are on first-name terms, after 15 years.

This is the week when we mean to go to Strathardle – Helen will arrive late on Thursday. If we manage that, it will be a valuable tonic for both.

I knit some more of the sock, and it continues wonderful. Attempts to buy the “Vampires of Venice” colorway continue fruitless. The Loopy Ewe lists it as “out of stock” and I have added it to a wishlist. Apparently the name derives from an episode of Dr Who.


There was an article about Lionel Shriver in our Sunday paper yesterday, a propos a new book from her about obesity derived from the story of her brother, who died of it. The article mentioned her book “So Much for That” which is about the expense and complication of healthcare for Americans who are insured.

I liked “We’ve Got to Talk about Kevin” – if “liked” is the word – so I downloaded that one. I don’t recommend it. The characters just sit about talking. But I think I’ll probably continue to speed-read it because the subject is interesting.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bulletin: Franklin's Craftsy class is about "Heirloom Lace Edgings" and will launch very soon.

Sorry about yesterday – I wasn’t well. I’m still not.

A slightly peculiar syndrome. That cold I had before Easter has lingered, first as such, then as a chesty cough (but not alarming), then that got better and I thot that was the end of it. Now this.

A slight sore throat, a slight headache, a dry cough, no fever I feel sure, a total lack of appetite, near-total weakness. Flu? Pneumonia? Nervous breakdown? Chronic Fatigue? I was strong enough to totter out to the delicatessen yesterday and get my husband some food. I’m a bit better this morning, I think, and hope to get us to Mass and put some lunch on the table before diving back into bed.

The Pakokku socks are great fun. The attraction was pooling – I’ve now forgotten how this started. And pool they do, if that’s even the word. The colours spiral down the socks. Pic soon.

When I finish these socks, and start, as I hope, a Relax big enough for me actually to wear, I’m going to need another pair of socks for the emergency bag. I seem to have found a Pakokku supplier – www.colorful-stitches.com/  I must have “Vampires of Venice”, simply for the name, and perhaps Falling Leaves.

Hellie rang up on Friday to say that the small Relax was safely in London. (I paid a bit extra in the hopes it would actually be delivered.)  She sounded very pleased with it, and has promised a photograph.


I had what must be a phishing email ostensibly from PayPal yesterday – a first, for me. It seemed to show a £39 payment to Skype. It invited me to click through to www.paypal.co.uk/helpcentre if I hadn’t authorised the payment. I did that and got something looking just like the first Paypal screen, but with a very peculiar address in the address bar. When I logged on to PayPal the normal way, I saw what looked like the same screen, but there’s no sign of a payment to Skype.

If Paypal gets hacked, we’re all in trouble. I presume they take serious precautions. I met an American banker once (your husband, Janis) who said that his bank – was it called Flint? – employed a team of young men whose sole task was to try to crack the bank’s security. That’s the way to go about it.

Now I must go wash up yesterday’s dishes.

Friday, April 12, 2013

I’ve just been watching Lesson Two of my Craftsy course – no knitting at all, and no measuring: it was all about taking photographs of oneself and analysing one’s body shape from the result. Most interesting.

I finished the socks last night, wound the Pakokku, cast on.

Zauberball socks have got to be fraternal twins, because the yarn never repeats. These have come out more different than most.

Here is a lesson in How Not to Do Things. I dropped that skein over the back of the chair while it was still as it came from the shop, with the label on and tied in places. It hasn’t been moved since. I had a bit of difficulty as I started to wind, and forgot the First Law. Which is, roughly, the skein is Not Tangled. If you pass the end under a strand, you will tangle it. Subsequent attempts to extricate yourself will make things worse.

I was soon in the difficulty you see. There is nothing for it but to wind a few winds every day for the next 50 years.(In fact, things are not quite that bad. I’m coming on pretty well., but it has taken weeks.) And I hope I won’t forget, next time. Winding the Pakokku was pure bliss.

(The needlepoint cushion-cover was done by my husband's grandfather. He was a surgeon, and believed it kept his fingers nimble.)

Nylon yarn

(Going back to that article in Zite – I’m not going to look up the link again.)

Artificial yarn must have really got going during the war. I remember an article in the Detroit Free Press when I was a child, about the first man to test a nylon parachute – until then, they had all been made of silk. Captured German ones were often pressed into service to make wedding dresses. Silk stockings went out as the war started, and never really came back.

After the war, nylon flourished. I remember a wonderful series of ads on the London Underground from the Wool Marketing Board – this must have been in the mid-50’s, because that’s when I was there:

Boney, after each campaign,
Went home to Josephine again.
This angered Mrs Marshall Ney
Whose husband used to stay away.
Tee-tum tee-tum the Golden Rule:
There is no substitute for wool.

When I was pregnant with Rachel, ’57-’58, I knit a lot of little things in nylon, thinking I wouldn’t have time or patience for careful washing. Sure enough, they didn’t shrink or felt, but soon turned into limp grey rags useless for keeping a baby either cosy or pretty.  I learned to wash wool.

“Machine-washable wool” must have arrived in the mid-60’s, matching my memory of it with the memory of the size of the children I was knitting for. It was sort of slimy, but otherwise lived up to its billing.

What I can’t remember is when the big breakthrough came, the mixtures of acrylic and wool which retain the virtues of both.

Luxury yarns are a whole separate topic – I have a half-theory that they are somewhat linked to advances in colour photography and printing in the 60’s.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The computer is excelling itself for slowth, this morning.

I've reached the ribbing of the second sock. So today I get to wind the Pakokku, and maybe even cast it on.  And I must spend a calm ten minutes with the instructions for the stretchy bind-off before I get that far.

Cat and Provisional Kitchener, the question of whether madelinetosh sock yarn is reliable for socks is close to my heart at the moment, as I have enough of beautiful Cosmos left over from the Relax which is too-small-for-anyone-but-Hellie,  for a generous pair of gent's socks. I tried a natural-language question to Google yesterday -- "Is madelinetosh sock yarn hard-wearing?" without successful result, and have started a thread on the subject in the madtosh Ravelry group. I suspect from the answers so far that it's pretty good, but not as good as those German yarns which are 25% something-phoney-and-strong, but feel like wool.

My most interesting experience on that front was a pair of bedsocks for my husband a few years ago, made of pure wool DK leftovers. He wore them only in bed, and for padding back and forth to the bathroom at night. They wore out immediately, in weeks -- didn't even make it to the first wash.

Today's excitement, surpassing even the finishing of those socks, is Amy Herzog's "Knitting to Flatter" class on Craftsy. Sue gave it to me, out of simple kindness. I am overwhelmed.

You have been exceeding kind to me lately, and in getting excited about Craftsy I don't mean for a moment to downplay other gifts . The Pakokku itself; the snood that Joe's girlfriend's mother knit me, comfort in this cold, cold spring; Kaffe's "Dreaming in Colour" which I am reading with great interest; and now this. Nor do I mean to hint for more. Heaven forfend. You reward me more than you can know, by logging on and sometimes commenting. By being here.

I've watched the first Herzog lesson (and ordered her book) -- I was impressed. She's pleasant, and confidence-inspiring, and perhaps best of all, was wearing an unfastened, shaped cardigan which sat perfectly on her shoulders. My attempts tend not to.

Rachel sent four pictures from our Easter weekend. Three of them you have already seen -- Ed in his Gardening Sweater and the panoramic view which currently forms my header. Here's the fourth:

That's Rachel herself, cutting the Easter cake, wearing her Adult Surprise and watched by my husband in his Georgia O'Keefe sleeveless vest (and by Ketki). And it's slipping off her left shoulder.

Can Herzog teach me how not to have that happen? I have my anxieties: my copy of Evelyn Waugh's "Men at Arms" falls open to the page on which we meet Major Erskine who "...was strangely dishevelled in appearance. His uniform was correct and clean but it never seemed to fit him, not through any fault of the tailor's, but rather because the major seemed to change shape from time to time during the day."

I am also, on this topic, looking forward to Sally Melville's new book "Knitting Pattern Essentials", not yet published here. I'm a fan of hers -- she is perhaps my most-admired designer whose designs I've never knit. Her book "Styles" had just come out when I was at Camp Stitches on Lake George in '99 (oh! happy memory). I was walking along one afternoon behind two women who were talking about it -- I think one was holding a copy -- and I butted in to say, That's a great book. And only then realised that one of the women was Sally Melville.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Holly solved the caption problem, as you see. Goodness, you people are clever.

Half of the surviving grandchildren are in that picture. Insh’Allah, they will all assemble in August for my 80th birthday. We’ll have to take another such picture. Strathardle doesn’t go in for the picturesque, certainly not on the scale of the west highlands. Some thought will need to be given to the question of  background.

I got on fine with the sock last night. I should reach the final ribbing today. I am a teeny tiny bit worried about whether I have enough yarn.

I’m glad you’ve fallen for sock-knitting, Southern Gal. It’s got everything – projects are quick to finish, and when they’re done they’re done. (I love Kitchener’ing, and count that as part of the pleasure of knitting rather than the horror of finishing.) Everybody likes socks, and they actually get worn. And with all those wonderful yarns out there, there’s always something new to try, and something else after that.

It occurred to me yesterday that I never entirely solved the problem of knitting socks for my husband, since the day he discovered that a newly-knit pair of the pattern I had always used, couldn’t be tugged on. He was complaining just this week about the fairly recent Kaffe Hand-Dyed effect pair: too baggy in the leg. I think I concluded that the complaint was directed mostly at the fuzziness of that yarn. It's not the normal firm-twist sock yarn.

This might be the perfect occasion for toe-up and try-as-you-go. The issue will be to find something in that catalogue of sock yarn I listed yesterday which my husband will actually wear. Alexander, who is almost equally conservative and not given to idle politeness, seemed pleased with his Van Gogh socks last year, “Bedroom at Arles”, forming a sort of husband-and-wife team with his wife’s “Restaurant de la Sirene”. My husband wouldn’t go that far, but there might be something.

Not Your Grandmother’s Knitting

You people did a good job of teasing out what the writer of that article was angry about.

It is interesting to reflect on how pre-20th-century knitters, many living in abject poverty, knitting for a little extra cash or (at best) to provide essential warmth and protection – how they decorated their work. Decoration must be a basic human instinct, thinking of cave paintings and simple diagonals daubed onto the most primitive of pots. In the case of knitting, it was often functional – Fair Isle, in skilled hands, is a quick to do as plain knitting and forms a cosy and strong double fabric; the patterns on a fisherman’s gansey twist the yarn and tighten the fabric, making it more waterproof.

What about Shetland lace? With no electric light to knit by? Pure art, and it must have been very badly paid.

Shawls were fashionable from the mid-19th century on, when Queen Victoria was given one. But there was also a moment, early-ish in the 20th century, when sweaters became fashionable and the not-your-grandmother idea began to crop up in journalism. The introduction to the very first Vogue Knitting, published even before I was born – and that was a long time ago – alludes to the notion that things have changed, although grandmothers aren’t specifically mentioned.

I don’t know where this gets us. And acrylic remains to be discussed.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

I’m glad you like the new header. I tried it in the “Miscellaneous Grandchildren” slot, but it needs more space.

On Holy Saturday, they all went off to Inverary for a Walk. The picture shows all available grandchildren, plus, on the left, Hellie’s boyfriend Matt, seated, and Thomas-the-Elder’s girlfriend Lucy (like Thomas, a barrister), standing behind. Alexander and Ketki live near the top end of Loch Fyne, on this side. To get to Inverary, you drive around the end of the loch and then along the other side for a while. I assume this picture is looking south west, down to Inverary and on towards the sea. Are we somewhere on the Duke of Argyll’s estate?

I don’t know why I can’t make it say “Jean’s Knitting” in the sky.


Too much to say, today.

Southern Gal, I’m glad you asked that question about sock books. I bought a lot, when I was having my Sock Phase last year. And I think my answer is, away with them all! I rarely knit socks with stitch patterns. I let the yarn do the work. There’s so much, and it’s such fun. One knits impatiently on to see what it’s going to do next.

Thinking about this, I realised that my sock phase must have been a full year ago. What’s happened since? I had a quick look at The Sock Yarn Shop. The answer is, from Opal:

a)      some self-stripers named after one’s character traits – “Loyalty & Trust”, “Wisdom & Generosity”, etc.
b)      another series, livelier, named for one’s avocation – “Hairdresser”, “Knitter”, “Horse Riding”. I wonder if my husband would wear “Forester”?
c)      yet another series called “Smokey Eyes and Coloured Lips”. The individual shades in that one don’t have separate names.
d)      A series called “Rainforest 8”, very jazzy, named for dances – “Papa Polka”, “Mrs. Flamenco”, etc.
e)      The “Schafpate IV” series, spun from German rare breed sheep. Very interesting stripes.

You get the idea. And don’t forget Regia’s Kaffe Fassett yarns, including “hand-dye effect”; Opal’s Vincent Van Gogh series; and all the wonderful Zauberballs.

Who needs books? You can easily google for basic patterns. The one thing I learned last year that I really mean to go on with is the Strong-Fleegle-gusset heel. I finished turning the current one last night, and it looks good. I am glad to have mastered Judy’s Magic cast-on, as a matter of personal pride, but I doubt if it’s going to play a major role in my limited repertoire.

It’s all so wonderful, maybe I’ll treat myself to one more pair of socks, after the Pakokku and before the second Relax.

Here we are at the bottom of the page, and I haven’t even started on your interesting comments on that Zite article. I'll do that omorrow, if life doesn’t sweep me forward. I will just say here that I am off to buy Lynne Barr’s “The Shape of Knitting” (the woman is a genius, so this one is likely to be good), as drawn to my attention by Helen C.K.S., an unending source of good ideas.

Monday, April 08, 2013

In some haste, yet again.

I’ve ordered a Relax-worth of madelinetosh sock yarn in Grey Garden. It should be here, surely, by the time I’ve finished the Pakokku socks.

I looked up the Strong-Fleegle heel, a bit. The article by Gerdine Crawford-Strong about her eponymous heel is in the Fall, ’03, Knitter’s, and, as I thought I remembered, is given for a top-down sock. So complete reversibility has to be added to the merits of this heel. Wendy Johnson’s “Socks from the Toe Up” (undated, as far as I can see) has a “gusset heel” which seems to be the same thing except for a very minor difference.

Rachel has sent pictures of Ed in his Gardening Sweater. They strongly suggest that the sleeves are too long, as well as the body. I hope he’ll let me make the alterations.

This turned up on Zite this morning. I don’t know quite what to make of it. I mean, is there the germ of something-worth-saying in there or not?  The writer is clearly angry and sad. He is a gay male knitwear designer. Jamieson & Smith sells 25 gram balls of Shetland jumper-weight yarn for £2.75.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

I am grateful for the pointers to madelinetosh suppliers, and for the thumbs-up on EatSleepKnit. Lichen has been tentatively replaced at the head of my list by Grey Garden, and they’ve got plenty. Stovepipe is pretty wonderful, KayT, but I’m in the mood for something vernal.

This started with Scarlet, for Thomas-the-Elder’s “electric red” sweater two years ago. There was enough for Thomas-the-Younger, too, in the event. My husband’s sleeveless vest is Georgia O’Keefe (madelinetosh omits the redundant "f") – not an artist for whom he feels any enthusiasm, but an artist nevertheless, and a very successful garment. Ed’s Gardening Sweater is Firewood, I think. And the little Relax, Cosmos. An unusual persistence, for me, with a single brand.

I did have a look at the Ravelry stashes. I’m not absolutely sure that beautiful Bottle Glass ever was a sock yarn. And, socks being socks, folk tended to have only one or two skeins per shade. The extra-small Relax took about three-and-a-half, so I’ve got to order at least five this time.

The current socks progress – I am, as hoped, well embarked on the heel. Here’s the link to Fleegle’s generic sock pattern, incorporating the heel. The Strong version was originally in Knitter’s, and appears in several books. Maybe I’ll try to track it down again today. I think you can knit it in either direction, but it turns up principally as a toe-up.

I don’t wear socks often myself. I don’t wear trousers, is why; my ankles have never been a feature to which attention should be drawn. This means that I’m floundering about in the dark a good deal when it comes to fit. I am always gratified when people hand socks back to me for darning – proof positive that they’re getting some wear. But by no means proof of ideal fit.

Odds and Ends

Franklin is good – when is he ever less than that? – on comparisons between knitting and gardening, in his current blog for Lion Brand.

Kate Middleton is said to have told an admirer in a crowd recently that she has taken up knitting. She said she was no good at it but finds it soothing. My husband is vastly irritated by her, as by most royals. I think she is doing a splendid job in the difficult role she was hired for. 

Junk comments abound, in greater quantity than ever. I admired one that got through Blogger's filter yesterday: the message was simply, "So what can this all imply?" -- and then the giveaway link to a website. 

Saturday, April 06, 2013

All our worries have melted away. The Socklady is fine. Madelinetosh and Jimmy Bean are probably both continuing to do good business. And I had an email from our niece in Strathardle yesterday to say that the sun is shining, birds are singing, the house is fine, snow is lying but the driveway is navigable.

I am very grateful to her for forming the advance party.

As for Queer Joe’s wonderful yarn, I had pretty well been forced to something like the conclusion you present, Skeindalous – that it was, somehow or other, a one-off, not on general sale. I hope he knits it soon so that we can at least luxuriate in its progress.

So I am going back and forth through the madelinetosh website trying to choose a shade – but I am beginning to wonder, can I really order it from there? The “shop”  seems to confine itself to a limited selection of heavyish worsteds. Google has found me a place called EatSleepKnit which seems to have a good range, with a fair amount of it actually in stock. Has anybody dealt with them? I’m sorry about Jimmy Bean’s currently empty shelves. I enjoy buying from them.

The shade “lichen” is the front-runner at the moment.

Here are yesterday’s achievements, in one omnium-gatherum picture. I should reach the heel of the current sock today.


You’re still looking for the perfect pattern, Tamar. I was pretty satisfied with the basic one – I bought some instructions from Patternworks for $1 in 1996, when I had just discovered the joys of the internet and had decided to take up sock knitting again, after a long lapse, for our journey to CT for my mother’s 90th birthday.

In those days I was terrified of flying. Sock-knitting wrought a marvellous transformation.

For years I went on with that pattern, and eventually internalised it. Top-down, heel flap, turn heel, pick up stitches along edges of flap for gussets. I can do all that, now, for any size, and also Kitchener the toe, without looking at any writing. The only thing wrong with the result is the tendency of those little holes to appear at the corners of the gussets.

Well, and the fact that my husband now finds the turn of the heel too abrupt, hard to pull on.

Then last year I had that big sock-session and learned a certain amount. The Strong-Fleegle heel may remain in my repertoire. It makes a less sharp turn, and the little holes are obviated.

It would take a long time to learn to do toe-up, Strong-Fleegle, stretchy-bind-off without consulting a book, and I doubt if it’s worth it for me. But I can see the point of toe-up to get the last inch of value out of a treasured yarn.  

Friday, April 05, 2013

Granddaughter Lizzie is 20 today. It's the one decade-birthday that it's impossible to buy a card for, at least around here. Happy Birthday, Lizzie, anyway.

I'm late again. This’ll be low on links.


Tamar, I haven’t heard from the Socklady lately; wouldn’t expect to. I emailed her just now and will pass on any response. She clearly has good friends and neighbours, but living alone in the wilderness is not without its difficulties.

I sort of persevered with the idea Kristie mentioned yesterday, of ordering some more madelinetosh sock for a properly-fitting Relax. Loop lists a colour I like, but they didn’t have it, so I went to Jimmy Bean.

And was horrified. They hardly have any madelinetosh sock yarn at all, and aren’t much better off for DK if you take into account how much would be needed for an adult sweater. Look at that.

Is the problem with Jimmy Bean? Madelinetosh? Or what? There are lots of possible permutations – maybe Bean is cutting down on sock yarn because they have so many other madelinetosh qualities. I didn’t explore, beyond DK.

As it happens, practically the only shade they do have in sock yarn is the one I went to find – “Terra”, as in “Cotta”. When I sat down here just now, I was all set to order it. But first I read Queer Joe’s latest post, and saw his new madelinetosh yarn, and now that’s the colour I want. It’s called “bottle glass (I think)”, according to Joe. I can’t find “bottle glass”. Maybe it’s so new nobody has got it yet?


Progressing nicely up the foot of the second sock.

I think it would be a good idea if I got the first Relax blocked today. And set the potatoes to chit

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The one thing that didn’t happen during our pleasant Easter weekend was a photograph of Ed in the Gardening Sweater. It’s too long, to my taste, but he said not to change it. The option remains open. But we’ll have to wait for a photograph to be sent from London.

I finished Helen’s first sock yesterday, and started the second. There was a moment of considerable panic when I grasped that I was nearly done. How to do a stretchy bind-off? I decided, after all, to attempt another of Judy’s Magic Cast-Ons for the second sock (instead of reverting to top-down). That technique, too, needed revision. In normal circumstances, when I run up against such a situation, I lay the knitting aside for an evening and grab the socks.

But these are the socks. I have no other knitting!

So, some rapid research. I think I have done a sufficiently stretchy bind-off. The difficulty for me, in a panic situation like that, is that I can’t remember which direction the yarn goes in a “standard yarnover” and that makes it difficult to reverse it. I can’t spend the evening knitting time peering at a computer screen. I had to do something. (Here are the instructions – crystal-clear when contemplated calmly.)

The cast-on went surprisingly well. Got it first time – that was with Judy’s own book open on my knees. I have completely forgotten why anyone would want to do this (other than trying the sock on as you go along, which is no good without the recipient). Once the cast-on is done, there follow a number of rounds of utter fiddliness, unlike the blissful toe decreases of a normal top-down sock.

However, it’s done. It looks good. I have now got 10 or 11 stitches on each of four needles, target 16, so the fiddliness is past, too.

Kristie, it did occur to me that knitting another, larger Relax would mean ordering some more madelinetosh sock yarn. It’s a definite consideration.


I don’t see any reason not to mention that Kristie and I and her cousin Kath are planning a long weekend in Shetland at the end of September. Alas, we can’t do Wool Week. The dates are fixed by Archie’s half-term weekend, September 20-23. Helen will come over, and Rachel up from London, to hold the fort here. Helen and I can refine plans when she is here in a fortnight. Can I leave on the evening of the 19th, for instance?

There is all sorts of delicious planning to be done. I’d be very grateful for knitterly must-do’s. We know about Jamieson & Smith, and the Lerwick Museum, and that’s about it. I want a taste of that seaweed-fed lamb, as well. September is good for lamb. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

We had a grand time, and I drove us safely there and back.

We prefer to take the motorway to Stirling and then go cross-country. The alternative is to take the horrible M8 motorway to Glasgow. Either way, you eventually drive up the west side of Loch Lomond for a long time, and then over the Rest and be Thankful to Loch Fyne.

Coming back, our way, is a bit hard on the nerves. One doesn’t have to drive into Stirling. One just negotiates a series of roundabouts, four I think, connecting the cross-country road to the motorway to Edinburgh. At the last two of those roundabouts, one must bravely choose the exit marked “M9 Perth”. “M9” is fine; “Perth” is in the wrong direction.

Last year I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and wound up toiling through Stirling for half-an-hour. This week I was stouter of heart, and fared better. Somebody ought to tell them.

Here I am on the evening of Good Friday, wearing a lovely cosy snood which Joe’s girlfriend’s mother knit for me -- Joe had just delivered it when the picture was taken. Hellie put the picture up on Facebook. I am surprised that I look so bemused so early in the evening. (Cider, you're right, Meg.) The red face will be due, I think, to the fact that the kitchen was very warm, for the sake of the ducks.

They are Khaki Campbells, a breed famous for egg-laying. If you look them up you will find that the breed is so-called because they are khaki-coloured, but Alexander and Ketki believe that theirs will be white.  They are bigger than I expected, the size of six-week kittens at least, and growing prodigiously fast.

Hellie and her boyfriend Matt, with duck:

Here is the Relax, not on Lizzie, the youngest, but her elder sister Hellie, who is the slighter of the two. It looks good, I think, and I will send it off as soon as it has been tidied and blocked. Will I then knit another for myself, the right size?

I gave the Microsoft Surface to Joe, who turned out for some reason to have nothing of his own in the computer line. Lizzie – the American Studies student who is going off to Kansas for a year’s study very soon now – has a perfectly serviceable Toshiba laptop. Joe was clearly delighted; a very happy ending to the story.

Alexander cuts his sons’ hair himself. We pressed him into service to give his father the onceover, with very happy results.

And as for actual knitting, not much. I am nearly finished with the first of the green Zauberball socks for Greek Helen. She will be here in a fortnight. We’ll all go to Strathardle.  Can I polish off the second sock by then?