Old friend

Still twinkling

I love all the clichéd metaphors involving knitting, time, relationships. This old friend, modelled by the daughter of an old friend, reappeared this weekend.

We (the human as opposed to knitted old friend and I) remembered that it had been made before either of us had children, making it nearly 20 years old. Our fallibility was demonstrated by the discovery that the publication in which the pattern appeared was only published in 1997. A mere 15 years old, then.

Still twinkling

In order to avoid darning in the numerous ends generated by the intarsia technique, a particularly difficult operation with chenille yarn, I knotted them all off, left the ends training and backed the knitting with a rather wonderful mackerel-marked piece of velvet.

Its owner tells me she has worn it on an almost daily basis and it frequently gets put through the washing machine. I was impressed by the durability of the materials and somewhat surprised by the robustness of the knitting.

The main purpose of the mother-daughter trip from France was knitting. Yarn and needles were purchased for the learner and the art was passed on to a new generation.


Sock needles were purchased for the improver and heel-turning explored.


A short visit, but very very sweet.


Care instructions for your anatomically correct knitted heart

Warm (40 C) wash cycle, minimum machine action. The regular contraction of the organ itself will provide sufficient flow of water. Have the temperature any warmer, however, and the contraction will be irregular, stronger and may even lead to shrinkage. Excessive machine action and/or contractions may cause felting of the arteries leading to loss of flexibility and possible heart attack.

Warm iron. Anaemia may cause rapid heart rate, it’s best to keep levels topped up.

Do not bleach. Paleness is one of the first signs of ill health and can indicate frostbite and anaemia among other things. Should loss of colour occur administer warm iron (see above).

Dry cleanable in all solvents. Other, of course, than hydrocarbons. Best stick to water.

Do not tumble dry. The irregular motion may trigger cardiac dysrhythmia which could result in cardiac arrest.

Remember to maintain pristine dental hygiene. There is a direct correlation between the health of the mouth and that of the heart. Floss regularly with a lace weight thread spun from the fleece of a sheep with a long staple. Blue-faced Leicester or Wensleydale would be ideal.

Regular exercise is also important to maintain your heart in optimum condition. Spinning classes are particularly recommended. Remember to vary the speed of the wheel to ensure you have a full aerobic workout.

Should you be unable to locate appropriate floss, remove some of the contents of your heart and take to your spinning class. With practice a lace weight will result.

With the correct care your anatomically correct knitted heart will give you years of trouble-free service.

More steganographic knitting

A performance event at a knitting and crochet exhibition Sticks, Hooks, and the Mobius: Knit and Crochet go Cerebral:

Easton artist D. Polly Kendrick will be in the gallery dressed as Madame Defarge, the character in Charles Dickens’”A Tale of Two Cities.” Defarge sat at the base of the guillotine and knitted the names of doomed aristocrats into a shroud. For her version of the shroud, Kendrick invites visitors to write on tri-colored ribbon the emotions, habits and lifestyles that they would like to gut from their lives. She will be knitting the scraps into the shroud.

What a great idea, both in the technique of writing on the yarn (different to others previously mentioned here) and in the sense of unburdening. Although I can’t help thinking the finished object might have a rather disquieting presence.

Hollywood knitters

Came across the pictures below, and the blog post on which they reside with many others, while looking for something else entirely. Such a joyful collection. And, apart from the Jane Powell picture, they all look absolutely convincingly really knitting. Although perhaps they’re clever publicity shots. One or other of these two Bergman shots is my favourite, I just can’t work out which, this:

or this:

The beauty of intimacy

 The beauty of intimacy is a self-evident truth for knitters as it is for anyone who is making everyday objects by hand and who uses them.

From A Knitter’s Manifesto by Brenda Dayne and Dr Felicity Ford (available for download on iTunes, amongst other outlets).

This shiny bag of awesomeness came through the letterbox (and fortunately escaped ritual killing by the dog) as an utterly disproportionately huge thank-you for something entirely enjoyable.

Back in May I went along to the Prick Your Finger yarn shop / art gallery to take part in Felicity Ford’s KNITSONIC residency, part of the result of which can be heard here.

Avid knitter and former radio journalist (that would be me) given the chance to take part in an exploration of any and all sonic aspects of WOOL and knitting… just try to stop me! In fact despite losing my money and travel card at the beginning of the journey I still made my way across London having persuaded a passing charity collector to give me funds.

shiny packet of awesomeness, reverse, snow day

So enthusiastic was I that I practically had to be removed with crowbar having monopolised the mic with endless tales of this and that, the other, and skein-winding. Also stitch-counting. All of which was patiently recorded.

popshield, needles, cans

It was a total blast, and there was cake. Not long after Felicity asked if she could use the audio of stitch-counting in another project. Sure thing, I said, what fun, and thought little more of it, until this wonderful pack of pleasure arrived.


Not only a hand-printed copy of the CD itself but also all sorts of ancillary “ephemera” related to various of the tracks, all also hand-made by the artists.

flake disc button

There is something unique and transformative about wool. I have, I know, tended to conflate wool and the use to which I most frequently put it, knitting, which can undeniably be undertaken using any single fibre be it made of animal, vegetable or mineral.

But wool is the ur thread. It’s heartening to see the passion and creativity it evokes at all stages of its production and use. Fascinating to delve into the history, science and culture. Inspiring to hope what current trends may represent for the future of manufacture and consumption. But above all there’s the warmth and generosity.

Thank you, team Wovember, for a wild and woolly month!

Soay sheep

I have quite a few pictures of Soay sheep – the oldest extant domesticated variety in the world – having travelled several times to Holy Isle where there’s a population allowed to roam entirely without interference across the island.

It is believed to be a survivor of the earliest domesticated sheep kept in northern Europe, and it remains physically similar to the wild ancestors of domestic sheep, the Mediterranean mouflon and the horned urial sheep of Central Asia. It is much smaller than modern domesticated sheep but hardier, and is extraordinarily agile, tending to take refuge amongst the cliffs when frightened.

 The sheep have short tails and naturally shed their wool, which can be hand plucked (called rooing) in the spring and early summer. About one kilogram of wool can be obtained from each animal per year.

This breed has extremely fine fleece and, in contrast to mouflon, the inner fleece is highly developed and it is difficult to distinguish an outer coat. This is a clear indication that the Soay are indeed the product of a domesticated breed in prehistoric times. The breed also lacks the flocking instinct of many breeds. Attempts to work them using sheep dogs result in a scattering of the group.

You can clearly see the wool in the process of being shed on the ewe’s shoulder, above.

They’re delightfully skittish and although used to the presence of humans on Holy Isle, don’t exactly hang around to be petted. They are often to be seen picking their way daintily along the pebbly beaches occasionally grazing on the seaweed as well as the sparse grass.

I’ve just got that inch or so too close to this fine looking ram – his head is down preparatory to getting up and stalking, either away or towards depending on the number of ewes around and the perceived threat I pose. I retreated.

The biggest group of Soay sheep in the UK is on the island of Hirta where the unmanaged population has been the object of scientific scrutiny for more than 50 years.

The sheep exhibit a phenomenon known as overcompensatory density dependence, in which their population never reaches equilibrium. The population growth is so great as to exceeded the carrying capacity of the island, which eventually causes a dramatic population crash, and then the cycle repeats. For example, in 1989, the population fell by two-thirds within 12 weeks.

The population on Holy Isle is unmanaged too, and that means that dead sheep are also not an unusual sight, although I don’t know whether the group exhibits the same density dependence phenomenon.

This one took several hours to die, and was difficult to watch even for the briefest time. Its horn had gouged divots in the ground where it struggled on its side before finally being sheathed in the earth. Eventually the undisturbed corpse will disintegrate leaving the picked-clean bones the last to be recycled…

…becoming part of the assorted flotsam and jetsam of the beach over which its descendants will, we hope, still be grazing.


I was delighted to hear this waft past my ears from the audiobook I’m currently enjoying as I labour on with the paternal socks (25% done, an annoying distraction from the bark), He Shall Thunder in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters

At least I had pressed upon him a parcel of food and a nice warm knitted scarf, made by my own hands. My friend Helen McIntosh had shown me how to do it, and I found, as she had claimed, that it actually assisted in ratiocination, since the process soon became mechanical and did not require one’s attention. I had made the scarf for Ramses, but he assured me he did not at all mind relinquishing it to his friend.

Indeed. Obviously an ungrateful toad, albeit more polite than my own.

Ratiocination. Such a good word.

Yesterday’s attire included 100% wool socks, 100% wool gloves, 100% wool hat, 100% wool cardigan (all knitted of course); coat of “50% pure new British wool” and scarf of “85% pure virgin British wool”. Somewhat to my surprise I realised I don’t have a wool knitted scarf only a couple made of alpaca which, while an excellent fibre in its own right, does not come from sheep.