29 December 2010

on the mending of socks...

Here is one thing I know that is actually useful.  As top tips go, it gets high marks for quaintness, as the repairing of things now seems fusty and peculiar in a time marked by rapid obsolescence and easy expendability.  The mending of socks is what your grandmother did, certainly what my grandmother did, aided by that proper mending tool, the darning ball, a device crucial to the business of sock mending and richly burnished from frequent use.  For this repair, neither a darning ball nor a darning needle is necessary.

What You Need: 
A well-worn sock, incomplete with hole; a felting needle; some fleece or roving.
You can insert a small piece of rubber foam into the sock, but I have found it easier to stretch the sock across an empty glass, or, in this case, an empty espresso can.  

How It Works:
Take a piece of roving or fleece and pull it apart to separate the fibers.  Place the fibers over the hole in the sock.  Repeatedly punch the felting needle into the fleece; the fibers from the sock and fleece will knit together, creating a patch of felt.  No doubt, you will be more conscientious than I and use a color of fleece or roving that matches your sock elegantly and cannot be detected by any but the most obsessive.

Wash your sock by hand or in the machine.  The soap and agitation will continue to felt the fleece and your sock will be whole again.  You may want to needle-felt the patch further to tack down any stray fibers.  Perhaps this is a strategy that may be less successful with cashmere, but for an otherwise hardy hiking sock, it works wonderfully.  

Alas, I cannot claim credit for this clever idea; that honor must go to an acquaintance with whom I have lost touch, but who I remember with gratitude.  

28 December 2010

post mortem...

There is a Christmas, in the enchanted forests of my imagination, that is not about spending and getting, running around frantically, eating unhealthy foods, passing interminable amounts of time with people who are not interested in anything, and enforced merriment.  But in real space and time my Christmas was a bit too much of all the things that I respond to with a kind of opposum-catatonia.  In an attempt to recover my senses, I've watched Christmas in Connecticut (the Barbara Stanwyck version) four times.  I've tried to stir up some excitement in my jaded felines for their squeaking wind-up mice.  I made, not without event, another pair of mittens.  Fortunately, there was snow to be shoveled and juncos and cardinals to be fed, books to be read for the first time in weeks and writing to be done.  At least no one was sick.  And the felted clogs made my aunt very, very happy.

19 December 2010


I unearthed some treasures this morning: boxes of buttons. Most were collected by my grandmother, but a few belonged to my great-grandfather who I mentioned in a previous post and who has been turning up lately in a way that seems heavily conspicuous.  Perhaps he's sending me a message.  Perhaps, once I decipher it, although it may not be as impenetrable and cuneiform as I imagine, I'll learn something I've sensed all along.  His frequent appearance lately has inspired me to name our upcoming Christmas Eve dinner in his honor.  I'll write more about him later in the week, as it seems he is clearly asking me to.  For now, pictures.

This is a fragment of my great-grandfather's military button collection. He was from Vaasa, Finland where he married and raised my grandmother and her brother and sister until he was threatened with conscription into the Russian army. He packed his family off to New York, then skied into Sweden to escape service.

16 December 2010

a few words on the humble-bee...

An interesting article in today's Guardian has me thinking about bees.  Boris Johnson, London's charismatic Mayor, is launching a scheme to encourage the keeping of bees in London.  This would seem, on the face of it, a good idea, but it's a plan that's meeting with considerable opposition from members of the London Beekeeper's Association who are concerned about a potential glut of inexperienced beekeepers outnumbering the experienced keepers whose ability to mentor newcomers will be overtaxed.  Today, the London Bee Summit 2010 is being held to discuss what is known as Colony Collapse Disorder, that mysterious disappearance of honeybees worldwide.  

In this article, Johnson refers to the "humble bee", a lovely term which, if you're curious about etymology, is of interest as the word humble-bee or any of its variant spellings, (humbyllbee is one of the more beautiful), was the standard usage by the 16th century. Shakespeare mentions one in Troilus and Cressida, (Full merrily the humble-bee doth sing...).  The OED suggests that the word may be of Old English/Anglo Saxon origin.  Another Guardian article from August of this year attributes the etymological disappearance of the humble-bee to its replacement by the more familiar term, bumblebee, although a quick glance at the OED suggests that this word was in use in the 16th century as well.  In the late 18th century, dumbledore, a name well known to fans of Harry Potter, was a term for the humble-bee.  I am eager to learn the origin of this word.

A rather touching English funeral custom known as "telling the bees" required that bees be informed of the death of a household member and appeased with cake from the funeral ceremony lest they flee the hive or die.  Upon timely delivery of the tragic news, the bees, considered important members of the family, would hum, signalling their consent to remain in their hives onto which a  black crepe would then be placed.   A notation from the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore gives a description of the ceremony.  Three taps would be made on the hives with a house key and the chosen informer, often a child,  would repeat, "Bees, bees, bees, your master is dead and you must work for ______", forewarning the bees that they would have a new owner.
There was a similar custom for announcing weddings as the bees expected to be apprised of all household goings-on.  Other folkloric traditions hold that bees are highly sensitive and easily upset by domestic turmoil and bad language.  Those of a quarrelsome disposition will never be able to keep bees.  

Burly dozing humblebee!
Where thou art is clime for me.
Let them sail for Porto Rique,
Far-off heats through seas to seek,
I will follow thee alone,
Thou animated torrid zone!
Zig-zag steerer, desert-cheerer,
Let me chase thy waving lines,
Keep me nearer, me thy hearer,
Singing over shrubs and vines.

Insect lover of the sun,
Joy of thy dominion!
Sailor of the atmosphere,
Swimmer through the waves of air,
Voyager of light and noon,
Epicurean of June,
Wait I prithee, till I come
Within ear-shot of thy hum,—
All without is martyrdom.

When the south wind, in May days,
With a net of shining haze,
Silvers the horizon wall,
And, with softness touching all,
Tints the human countenance
With a color of romance,
And, infusing subtle heats,
Turns the sod to violets,
Thou in sunny solitudes,
Rover of the underwoods,
The green silence dost displace,
With thy mellow breezy bass.

Hot midsummer's petted crone,
Sweet to me thy drowsy tune,
Telling of countless sunny hours,
Long days, and solid banks of flowers,
Of gulfs of sweetness without bound
In Indian wildernesses found,
Of Syrian peace, immortal leisure,
Firmest cheer and bird-like pleasure.

Aught unsavory or unclean,
Hath my insect never seen,
But violets and bilberry bells,
Maple sap and daffodels,
Grass with green flag half-mast high,
Succory to match the sky,
Columbine with horn of honey,
Scented fern, and agrimony,
Clover, catch fly, adders-tongue,
And brier-roses dwelt among;
All beside was unknown waste,
All was picture as he passed.

Wiser far than human seer,
Yellow-breeched philosopher!
Seeing only what is fair,
Sipping only what is sweet,
Thou dost mock at fate and care,
Leave the chaff and take the wheat,
When the fierce north-western blast
Cools sea and land so far and fast,
Thou already slumberest deep,—
Woe and want thou canst out-sleep,—
Want and woe which torture us,
Thy sleep makes ridiculous. 

The Humble-Bee, Ralph Waldo Emerson

13 December 2010

the inanimate object as imp...

No, it's not a tragedy, it just feels that way.  I am a conscientious knitter.  I responsibly account for my mistakes by fixing them rather than continuing to forge ahead, sidestepping the problem and ending up with something I don't like.  But I have to wonder, when a thing, (the circular needle cable that maliciously undoes itself in the middle of a crucial bit of the pattern, for example), enters that unfortunate trajectory, that imminent path to ruin that makes one, (me), have to take apart hours worth of work, hours spent meticulously counting stitches and marking rows, then I wonder, what in the name of all that is holy does it think it's up to?  Why did that cable feel that it was necessary to part from its needle and wreak havoc? Were things going just a little too well?  Was the project moving apace with the kind of seamless efficiency that one too infrequently enjoys nowadays?  Or was it just the right moment to revel in a little schadenfreude at my expense, to pluck that ripening opportunity for fresh disaster?

Well, gremlin, I'll tell you this: you may have come undone, but I can put you back together again and spoil your scampish little game.  You're laughing now but that won't last long. That tangle of tinked yarn?  I can put that back together too and then we'll see who has the last laugh.

12 December 2010

an afternoon with Lord Kitchener...

...and Cary Grant (today on Turner Classics in The Bishop's Wife and Room For One More)
 is not a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday.  It's time to seam the socks with that wonderful Kitchener stitch which I enjoyed so much while finishing Teva Durham"s Lace Leaf Pullover that I did it four times! 

I am happy with the Vine Lace scarf despite some earlier reservations.  The yarn finally agreed to cooperate.  Various versions of this appear on Ravelry, but I just picked this stitch from one of my Barbara Walker books and started knitting.  It was a very simple pattern, but I think the results are quite pretty. 

One last knitted gift to go: the famous Bev Galeskas Felted Clogs. 

10 December 2010

a Tea Party tale...

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear a lecture by Keli Carender, the Tea Party activist credited with launching the movement early in 2009.  The event, hosted by Mount Holyoke College's Weissman Center, was notable for how little Ms. Carender actually said about the Tea Party.  Perhaps geography was to blame.   She was, admittedly, treading on unfriendly territory.  Mount Holyoke is located in that part of Western Massachusetts known as the Pioneer Valley, aka the Happy Valley, a region identified by its strong liberal sentiments and progressive politics.  The Valley is familiarly associated with that stereotype of latte drinking, Prius driving lefties who vociferously deny eating processed food and watching television and who are energetically targeted for accusations of elitism by a majority on the right.  
It was in this liberal lair that Ms Carender bravely appeared, ostensibly for a "serious discussion of the political positions of the Tea Party movement, which promises to greatly shape the future of conservative politics in this country” according to the description of the event on the college website

She failed to address this issue.  She began warily, by complimenting the audience, comprised mainly of MHC students, for being open minded enough to attend the event, then related her experiences as a conservative in Seattle, a place she described as openly hostile to her kind.  The lecture took a bizarre turn as Ms. Carender fought back tears, explaining that she had been the object of frequent abusive personal attacks.  It was painful, she said, being called a "bigot", a "fascist", a "Nazi".  "Tonight is my therapy session".   One wondered, reasonably, why this intrepid founder of the most divisive political movement in the country was suddenly going all teary.

A former Bush supporter, she claimed to eventually feel cruelly betrayed by Bush.  It was then that she had her epiphany.  "Politicians don't care about us, politicians are foul!" "You have a voice!", she told herself.  Inspired to take matters into her own hands, she sponsored a protest, modestly attended, but which nevertheless got the attention of many like-minded conservatives via mention on talk radio and served as a catalyst for that grassroots initiative that evolved into the Tea Party. 

Throughout her lecture, Ms. Carender expressed the need for open dialogue, encouraging the purportedly bloodthirsty liberals in the audience to "befriend a conservative" and "reach out and find issues we can all agree on".   It was a kind of Rodney King moment, but one which failed to encourage any constructive discussion of the Tea Party agenda, which was presumably the reason why everyone showed up to the event in the first place.

Well, maybe not.  Tensions began to erupt during the Q&A session.  Both Ms. Carender and some of those asking questions adopted that sort of brusque cattiness that tries to disguise itself as civility.  Words are weapons, they might as well have been throwing knives. This forced attempt at polite debate required frequent "girls, break it up" interventions from the moderator and organizer of the event.  So much for reaching out. 

In visting the College, Ms. Carender had an opportunity to address serious concerns about her coalition before an ostensibly interested audience but, for whatever reasons, she failed to take up the challenge.  That was a disappointment.  Her wish for constructive debate did not materialize, perhaps it never could here in the Valley, but she might have done something more to encourage it.  Perhaps she does not share the opinions of the extremists who have been drawn to her increasingly fragmented movement.  Perhaps she does not endorse the bear-frightening and caribou-shooting of her Tea Party's most vocal proponent, but she never quite gave us the chance to find out.  Nothing she said created any distance between her and those whose inflammatory rhetoric provokes the kind of anger she faced during question time.  It was naive of her visit an area known for its liberal convictions and then be surprised by the less than generous reaction  Her failure to clarify her own vision as something distinct from that of her movement's most provocative and divisive followers will of course be interpreted as an endorsement of their beliefs.  In neglecting to account for that, she becomes linked, fairly or not, with the ugliness and rancor with which her coalition has become increasingly identified.   

06 December 2010

more favorite things...

My great-grandfather's pastels.  He was offered a scholarship to study art in Rome.  His father disapproved of this, believing that a career making art was unacceptable. My great-grandfather ran away to become a sailor instead.

A pin-cushion made from an old woolen cape sewn for me by my grandmother, and a floral cotton dress she made for herself.

A well-loved old British road atlas.  My mother received a Fulbright teaching scholarship and we lived here for one year.  

I collect books.  This is a French children's songbook with the most delicate and beautiful illustrations.

Delicious persimmons. This one is a Hachiya, inedible until it's the consistency of custard.

My modest feather collection.