Back at work again for the last week – snowed under due to a Maths teacher’s sick leave and the dopey Yr 11s not sorting out their work experience – and before that a fortnight in Ireland which was anything but restful. Every time I go home I come back swearing I’ll never set foot there again, and then I forget how awful it is and go back.

It wasn’t too bad when I was single. Going “home” meant being shunted around parents and siblings living up to 50 miles apart, cross-border. Lots of travelling by car. Fine if I had no plans of my own. Things got more trying when I left to live in Birmingham: then, when I came “home”, I also wanted to visit friends, sort things out at the bank, etc. The former caused my family to throw a collective fit – why was I bothering to come home at all if I wanted to see other people? The latter rarely happened, and business had to be sorted out by post and the one branch my bank has in Birmingham. Then I met Tiny Husband. Foolishly brought him home one Christmas to meet the family, on condition that we were left at the coach station on the 27th to go to Belfast to meet his family. We finally got away on the 29th, driven up by my pissed-off sister, having spent the intervening time on the farm where there’s no phone and no satellite cover. TH’s mum was frantic.

Now, with the ba, it’s a bloody nightmare. It’s not safe for a city baby who doesn’t realise that tractors AREN’T just big toys, there’s never any food in any of the houses we go to (probably all eaten by my big fat rellies), and I’m not even consulted about where we’re going to be dumped, as when my sister walked off and left us on the farm overnight with no bottles, one nappy and no clothes after taking us for a “short visit”.

Really, never again – not without a car, and preferably a hotel reservation.

Although on the plus side I did larn maself how to double-knit, and put together some patterns for blankies, with a little help from Jessica Tromp, of which more anon.

While in Ireland I handed over the Drops Norwegian sweater and hat to new nephew Adam, 6 weeks. Stupidly, I didn’t take a photo to put up here, but I plan to make another for my wee man, so that’ll have to do. I did it in blue (MC) and yellow (2nd) 2-ply laceweight, with a 4-ply natural as the third colour. The laceweights I doubled and re-plied with my Daruma Home Twister, a fabby gadget. Okay, I could live without the re-plying function, but I love those funky fat centre-pullcakes. The sweater looked terrible while I was knitting it up, very cottony-ribbony and cold, but when I wet it for blocking, the fibres bounced up, almost felt-thick, yummy.

Adam’s mum will not let him wear it, of course. I made the 6-month size, so it should fit him in a month or two, but SIL is obsessed with proving her children are BIG. The older boy, at 7, is wearing teenage clothes, although keeping the clothes on him involves rolling up hems, rolling down waistbands over belts and wearing 3 or more layers of t-shirts etc to fill out the massive sweaters she has the poor boy in. He looks like a badly stuffed scarecrow. He’s certainly tall, but not teenage tall – maybe 10-year-old height. So undoubtedly I’ll hear shortly that the sweater was too tight to go over Adam’s head (despite one shoulder being a button-through). I sent her over a 6-12month outfit when Adam was born, which “dudn’t fut hum” as a newborn. Yeah, right. Madwoman. I told my sister to tell SIL if she didn’t want it, to send it back to me because I could sell it for $75 on Etsy, heh-heh.

I’ve also – finally – been inspired to make Tiny Husband a sweater. We’ve been together for five years, so it should be safe enough! I’d selected the pattern yonks ago when I was thinking about trying Aran knitting again and wanted something easy to start with – but then went and made something more complicated in the meantime. TH is of course gothically-inclined, so the usual wools in naturals, creams and beiges were out. Not that he wouldn’t like a white Aran sweater, but he’d just never have occasion to wear it. So the hunt was on for something darker.

I bought some grey wool off eBay, but when it arrived it was a marl (*spit!*). Fine for him, he’ll wear grey and navy at work, but – quite apart from my fear and loathing of the coloured-up wool – I just don’t think marls work for Aran. The beauty of the technique is in the sculptural stitchery: the wool is just the vehicle, and shouldn’t detract attention by being interesting in itself. Would Michelangelo’s David be quite such an eyeful in a mottled green marble? No. I said NO. Peasants. I also got some Welsh Black (aka brown), but it is very rough. Hairshirt rough. I may Aran something from it yet but it requires further thought. I’m still on the look-out for navy or dark blue wool, although just looking for the evilness of blue hurts me in the core of my soul. The sacrifices one must make for love…

However, few months ago I bought some mystery wool in the Bull Ring. No bands, but cheap and with a very pleasant hand to it. It’s one single ply of many filaments, very thick, soft and warm, but lightweight and slightly fluffy. I thought it might possibly be wool, maybe a merino or something, but as soon as I’ve decided it almost definitely is wool, it starts looking synthetic, like what polar fleece would be like to knit with. It’s coming up chunky, 14st to 10cm – the moss-stitch panels look like bobbles! It isn’t pilling as I knit, which is unexpected if it’s synthetic.

And just for fun I decided to muck about with the pattern – as usual. I’ve been reading Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitting Without Tears and was inspired to try knitting it in the round without seams, apart from a bit of grafting under the pits. It’ll mean a possible rethink of the neck – how do I continue the Aran with the decreases? but I wasn’t too thrilled with the plain collar any way… So I shall keep this updated.

The free knitting machine is lacking a carriage. But, hey, it was free. Doubtless the universe will see fit to send a carriage my way eventually, in that really unnerving way it does from time to time, just to make me think someone IS actually watching me…

Aran Cardi

I learned Aran knitting at primary school from the redoubtable Mrs Anderson (just retired last year, and replaced by my cousin’s daughter, Miss Anderson, no relation!). It was a bag, satin lined, quite nice as I remember. No idea what happened to it, probably a victim of fashion’s tide, Aran being considered a bit naff, what with the island itself being just off the coast. Oh the cruelty and folly of youth! When I think of the dosh I could have made, as a ‘native Donegal craftswoman working in the traditional oeuvre’ I could weep. I haven’t gone near Aran knitting since, until I realised how gorgeous it would look on a certain little fat blonde princeling…

Knitted up over Christmas, using for the first time a pair of bamboo needles from a set purchased from China via eBay, and some lovely Aran-weight undyed Blue-faced Leicester wool. I cannot for the life of me remember where the pattern is from – probably one I downloaded via Knitting Pattern Central – but the skills learnt in St Anne’s all those years ago came flooding back. Before the first repeat, I was able to abandon the paper pattern and continue from memory and feel – okay it isn’t the most demanding pattern, but even so. I was chuffed to find something I could do really well. I’m a good knitter, better crocheter, but this was so… automatic, instinctive.

Sadly, this is the only pic I have of His Nibs in the cardi (Note to self: do not send colourblind husband to buy buttons). Not only had he outgrown it, but foolish Tiny Husband put it in a cottons wash (Note to self: stern laundry lecture to Tiny Husband). It hasn’t shrunk too badly, but has felted a bit – not that this is a disaster in traditional all-weather fishermen’s wear, of course. I should dig it out and palm it off on my niece, I think. Nephew’s mum would not be impressed at being given an oul secondhand shrunk thing!



The cuteness…

As mentioned in the last post, I also have a new niece, born at Easter. I was in Ireland at the time, and made sure to be the first person to see her apart from her parents, even though this meant getting involved an undignified race with my 65-year-old mother. Remarkable turn of speed for her age – I was impressed by the way she skipped over the bin and vaulted the pill-trolley I threw in her way. I foiled her at the end, thanks to her Luddism – the hi-tech security door to the maternity unit posed no difficulties for me. But it was worth it – living in Birmingham, I never get to see these babes till they’re acne-riddled strop-monsters.

There was a certain bittersweetness to the occasion too. My reason for being ‘home’ at all was that my father died suddenly a week earlier, at the incredibly young age of 69. He was a huge, powerful man, apparently glowingly healthy all his life. In his later years, he developed diabetes which did not respond to treatment, and had heart problems of a fairly non-specific nature. Through it all, though, he had never let up. My mother and brother could not convince him that he could not still do the work of a 20-year-old. At every opportunity he would be out on the farm, checking ‘his’ cattle, making sure my 35-year-old brother knew what was what and generally driving everyone scatty. Not that he wasn’t useful – when my brother had an accident that almost lost him a leg last year, my father stepped into the breach (with a little insignificant assistance from other brother) and kept things going – but he did not need to push himself anymore.

Ultimately, it was that attitude that killed him. Some cattle got into difficulties due to methane escaping from a slurry tank in one of the cattle houses and my brother called for help to move them. Dad basically got too worked up, trying to move these 2-ton brutes practically by hand, and collapsed. He was dead before he hit the ground. Mum, my brother and other brother’s wife did CPR until the ambulance arrived, but there was never the slightest indication of life.

The last day had been a good one. All his grandchildren – except my little boy – had been down on the farm with him, and they’d spent the morning following him round like little ducklings after a mother duck. Then after lunch they all tumbled into my parents’ big bed for a nap together. All of them adored their big Ganda, and he was daft about them. He was so looking forward to seeing his two new grandchildren, unable to decide if he wanted girls or boys. It’s one of my big regrets that my son will never get to know his Ganda. He is the most like Dad of all the grandchildren. We thought we had plenty of time to move back, but there’s never any time.

So I made this little matinee outfit for my niece. I’d brought needles (of course) but no yarn, and despite the importance of the sheep industry on our door step, there’s darn few woolshops about. So I settled for 100% acrylic Robin Bonny Babe Aran in pink and white. The pattern, which I stuck to quite religiously – go me! – was one from an unknown magazine, which I’d bought on eBay: two outfits, the coat and bonnet I made up, and a sweater and Inca-style hat which I thought I’d make up for my soon-to-be nephew as and when, though I’ve changed my mind about it, as that sister-in-law is a bit odd and probably would not see the cuteness, so he’s getting the teddy from the last post and a rather ordinary Norwegian jumper instead. And maybe a hat, I haven’t decided.

The reason I was so rigid about the pattern this time is that I really really wanted to figure out the mechanics of making the beret. The coat is no biggie, bored the tits off me tbh, but having got a copy of Alice Starmore’s Celtic Collection, I was keen to try some Aran-y stitchery on a beret for my son*, and I thought I could see how to adapt her designs. But this depended on getting the pinwheel technique into my head first, so I could do it in my sleep like my balaclava pattern*.

It’s quite straightforward though, starting with the rib for the brim, increasing to a multiple of 8 stitches for the under-band, then in a reverse of the Pinwheel Sweater pattern, decrease every one-eighth of the total stitches on odd rows, working a plain-knit row on even rows – i.e., if you have 120 stitches total, decrease 1st every 15 stitches on Row1, plain knit Row 2, decrease 1st every 14sts on row 3, etc.

So here’s the finished product, modelled by my vintage Ideal Giggles (who still wriggles AND giggles, in original orange-and-pink hotpants and shoes, for those who are interested in such-like)

Tra fn

* – to appear later!


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