Rites of passage

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks, but in my defence, I have been busy undergoing rites of passage.  First and best, Doug and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Verona.


Verona is a gorgeous place.  We stayed in a hotel just outside the old walls of the city, near the Basilica di San Zeno.   While not the grandest of Verona’s many churches, this is the loveliest.  It was originally constructed in the 8th century and was damaged first by the Magyar invasion in the 10th century, and then in an earthquake on January 3rd, 1117 which destroyed much of Verona.  It was re-built in the 12th-14th centuries.  I love this older style of church architecture much more than those that developed during the Renaissance and Enlightenment.  Tradition has it that the crypt of San Zeno is the site of the marriage of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Doug took some lovely photos of the Basilica:








I especially loved the variety of columns, sporting whimsical carvings:




(Doug informs me that these were probably not considered whimsical at the time.  I stand by my description.)  As the edifice is so old, and has been re-built a number of times, you can see many layers; here is a fresco painted over an older one.


The Basilica has a lovely cloisters:


In a nod to the fact that this is a knitting blog and not really a travel blog (it’s hard to tell sometimes, is it not?), here is a single knitting photo for this post.  This is me taking a small break to knit in the very peaceful cloisters.


When in Verona one seemingly must visit the famous balcony of Juliet.  It is really a mad crush of tourists which I found peculiarly comic and boisterous.  I wonder what Shakespeare would have made of it.  The small courtyard surrounding the balcony is packed with people.


The souvenir industry is in full swing.


A never ending string of “Juliets”come out on the balcony for an expensive photo opportunity.


The security guards look bored.


Leading into the courtyard is a small tunnel on which visitors and lovers have graffiti-ed their names.  Those who don’t have paint have left their names in nail polish, or on post-it notes, or – my favourite – on plasters (band-aids).  I wonder if these last have a morbid sense of foreboding to them; it seems like bad karma to leave a symbol of your love and togetherness on a plaster.


We had  fun in Verona.  We walked and ate.  Here is Doug at a cafe where we enjoyed a lovely bottle of wine and talked to a table of young British Indian women with families in Edmonton and Vancouver.


I include this next photo specifically for Leah.  Grom is her all-time favourite Gelateria; yes, Leah, here we are standing in line at Grom.  We went there twice.


The old town itself is very beautiful and surreal.  The shopping is first-class, the cafe culture is vibrant, and everywhere you look there are pockets of antiquity. Here is the Arena, a Roman amphitheatre built in the 1st century.  It is still used to this day.  In the summer, you can see open-air opera.  While we were there, Zucchero was performing and the square was filled with music.


The Porta Borsari,  an ancient Roman gate in the middle of the old town, also dates to the 1st century AD. I find it astonishing to casually walk through a 2,000 year old gate. Millions of people, tourists and natives, pass under it every year.  Verona is like a living museum, but with ice cream and Gucci.


On our wanderings, we encountered quite by accident the Chiesa di Sant’Eufemia, a gorgeous, peaceful church tucked into a corner of the old city.  There were no signs, no ticket booths, no tourists, just an open door and some hidden majesty.


The ceilings were spectacular and, here and there, you could see the older layers of murals from beneath the newer ones:


I loved this from the wall of one of the chapels:


We stumbled, by complete accident, onto an art exhibit by Paolo Masi installed only the day before, in which a round mirror has been placed on the floor so as to interact with the space around it, giving amazing juxtapositions and views of the Chapel Spolverini-Dal Verme, within the Chiesa di Sant’Eufemio.  It is truly spectacular, but ephemeral – it will only be there till mid-October.




I said that the last few weeks have marked many rites of passage.  This next one may not be a rite, but it sure marks a passage.  Also in Verona were my three house-mates and lovely friends from graduate school.  Itziar, Hamida, Lisa and I shared a house in Cambridge, Mass. when we were PhD students at MIT in the 1980s.  This was the first time that we had all been together since 1988.


It was totally fantastic to meet up again in Verona. The five of us (with Doug of course) had a great time reminiscing about the past.

Last but not least, this week also marked my graduation from business school, with an Exec MBA.  It was a gorgeous day to graduate.  Here is a photo of the back lawn of the Henley Business School (the prettiest business school on earth) after the ceremony.


In the background of the above photo, you see a bunch of graduates posing for a photo. This is the graduating members of my class (or most of us).


We wanted to take a photo of us all throwing our mortarboards in the air.  The photographer refused.  He said that Health & Safety rules prevented him from taking such a shot.  I kid you not.  Doug compensated for this by taking many photos of mortarboards not flying through the air:


Finally, here I am receiving my degree, about to shake hands with the Chancellor, Sir John Madejski:


As you can see, I have had a busy few weeks.  I now have the weekend to re-coup and then next week will be in Beirut.  My new life seems rather hectic.  I promise to bring some knitting news soon.

No ‘tinking’ required

This afternoon I picked up my knitting, determined to finish the first sleeve of the Tinder cardigan I am making for Emma.  I am right at the point of shaping the armholes, and given that the sweater is in worsted weight wool, this should be a fairly quick endeavor. Although the body of the sweater is knit in a waffle stitch, the sleeves are in reverse stockinette.  The instructions say to finish on a wrong side row, and then on the next row, a RS (right side) row, to bind off 5 stitches.  OK, easy enough…..

Except that it’s been a long time since I’ve knit in reverse stockinette, in which the purl side is the right side and the knit side is the wrong side.  So, I somehow convince myself that I need to purl one more row before starting the armhole bind-offs.  So, I purl a row, and get set to start the bind-offs on the next row.  I realize that it is the knit side of the fabric which is facing me, thus the wrong side, which means that I shouldn’t have purled that row.  So, I rip it out and start again.  I purl a row with the 5 bound-off stitches, get to the next row and again convince myself that I am doing something wrong.  I ‘tink’ the row back and try again, this time getting two rows with bind-offs finished and again somehow convince myself that something is wrong. (I love the word ‘tink’, which refers to taking each stitch out, one at a time, thus unravelling your knitting – ‘tink’ is knit spelled backwards.)  I read the pattern innumerable times, somehow continually mis-reading and confusing which page of the pattern I am on.

I manage to knit and rip and knit and rip a number of times (for the sake of not looking like an idiot here, we will refrain from mentioning how many times).  Eventually, I get it right – hooray! – and only then remember that I am knitting the sleeves in a size XS, even though the sweater is knit in a size S – thus I should have bound off 4 stitches each row instead of 5 – RIP!!!!

At this point, I decide it is best to give up and do something else: write a post, maybe read a book.  Sometimes the secret is to know when to give up.

On another topic entirely, yesterday was our 25th wedding anniversary. Every year has been a joy, even when life threw us curve balls.  Today starts the next 25 years – no ‘tinking’ required.

Cold shoulders

Hadley Freeman writes a wonderfully snarky fashion column for the Guardian. Today’s column is called “How to navigate the new era of coat-wearing” and is accompanied by this photo:

how to wear a coat 1

Photograph: Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

It must be said that the photo certainly captured my attention.  After I recovered from my giggling, I went on to read about the trend, which Hadley calls “shoulder disrobing”. Hysterical!  (We won’t even get into the giant safety pin earrings.)  The above photo is from the Autumn/Winter 2016 Balenciaga show in Paris; the designer is Demna Gvasalia. A little quick googling (and associated goggling) led to even more examples from the show. Here is one more for good measure:

how to wear a coat 2

(According to Hadley “this month Vogue has decreed it the only acceptable way to wear one’s parka”!)

I must admit this cracks me up, which just goes to show that I have absolutely no sense of style or fashion whatsoever.  Even funnier is Hadley’s commentary, from which:

“So what can we make of this? On the one hand, this trend is free, so yay. On the other, you will probably lose your coat within a day, so boo. Thus, you don’t need to spend any money to look a darn fool in fashion. Which is some form of democracy, I guess.”

from The Guardian, Ask Hadley, 5th Sept, 2016

A quiet birthday

I reported a few weeks ago on the lovely and very well-chosen early birthday gift from Doug – a swift and ball winder!  Today is my actual birthday (55!), and I received this:


This gorgeous bunch of flowers is so large, it was hard to photograph.  It is well over a meter tall.  Here is a close-up of some of the flowers, including the orchids:


I am having a quiet birthday, having just returned yesterday from Johannesburg.  I had a very short but hectic trip there, where I was teaching for the business school.

Last week was Doug’s birthday and we had booked a six course taster menu with wines at Orwell’s in Shiplake.   On the day we were there, Orwells was appointed Restaurant of the Year 2017 by the Good Food Guide.  I think they were in the mood to celebrate and our 6 course taster menu had at least 8 courses, maybe 9, with an equal number of excellent wines. It was unbelievably good.  Tonight, we are going to The Crooked Billet in Stoke Row, another fabulous restaurant.  One of The Crooked Billet’s claims to fame is that George Harrison played there one night, late into the evening, and some locals called the police to complain about the noise!  We are looking forward to another great meal tonight.  By the time our anniversary gets here next week, we will probably be in the mood for grilled cheese on the couch by the telly.  Having both birthdays and the anniversary within a two week window is obviously poor planning – much better to have spread them out across the year.

I didn’t make much progress on my knitting during my trip, but the Tinder cardigan is moving along.  I have finished the back and started on a sleeve, as you can see below.  I have also made some progress on Doug’s cowl though you will have to wait for photos.


I have also splurged this morning and ordered myself a birthday gift from me.  Marie Wallin has a new sweater design called Wren, made from Baa Ram Ewe wool.  I pre-ordered myself a kit.  Look at the beautiful colours in this lovely jumper:


That’s all from here.  I wish everyone a lovely weekend with lots of knitting.

Variations on a theme

The Tinder cardigan which I am making for Emma uses what Brooklyn Tweed call a classic waffle stitch.  Here is a photo:


I have also found this stitch pattern in the Vogue Knitting Stitchionary, Volume 1; here it is called “garter ridge rib” and is stitch pattern #8.   I recently bought some beautiful fingering weight Woolfolk Tynd yarn to make a cowl for Doug.  While working on Tinder, I was also fooling around swatching many different stitch patterns for the cowl.  After 4 or 5 distinct patterns which didn’t do anything for me, I decided to swatch in the garter ridge rib.  Success!

variations on a theme front

So now, I am working variations on a theme.  When I get tired of knitting the garter ridge rib back and forth in Brooklyn Tweed’s worsted weight, tweedy Shelter on US8 needles, I switch to knitting it in the round with Woolfolk Tynd’s smooth, oh-so-soft, fine fingering weight wool on US4 needles.  (I had to adopt the pattern to knit in the round -very easily done.)  One of the things that makes this pattern work so well for a cowl, is that the reverse side looks good too:

variations on a theme back

This is a rather drive-by post, as I am flying to Johannesburg today.  I am taking both sets of knitting with me, so should hopefully be working my variations on a theme from 40,000 feet!


Five countries, three continents, one cardigan!

I have been holding off showing photos of the cardigan I knit for Leah until it actually arrived in Canada.  It is taking forever to get there, however, so here we go.  Unfortunately, Leah is not around to model it (thus the need to ship it to Canada), so I have had to model it myself.


I started knitting this cardigan in England when the girls came home for a short break.  I knit most of the back piece in Sicily where we had a great holiday (see the photo below of me knitting it on the lawn of the beautiful villa we holidayed in).  I knit one front in my hotel in Malaysia, where I had traveled to do some teaching for the business school.  I knit part of the other front in Singapore, where I met up with my friend Erun for some fun.  I knit the sleeves back home in England.  I took it with me to Johannesburg, where I was again doing some teaching for the business school.  I did some of the finishing there, knitting the neck and one of the button bands.  And then I finished it back home again in England, where I agonized over button bands and general finishing issues.  FIVE COUNTRIES, THREE CONTINENTS, ONE CARDIGAN!


I used a pattern from Amy Herzog’s book, Knit to Flatter, with the not very romantic name of Squared Cardigan.  I had purchased 4 skeins of Madelinetosh Pashmina in the colour Plunge, but only needed three to make the cardigan!  (I used every bit of those three skeins.)  I made a few modifications.  First, following Amy’s advice in the book on options for bust shaping, I ended up knitting the two front pieces in a size larger than the back. This gives extra room for the bust and belly without making the cardigan too big across the back and shoulders.  I think this was a good choice.  I won’t really be able to tell until Leah gets to try it on.  I am modelling it here, and Leah and I are close in size, but she is broader in the bust and shorter in the waist than I am.


I also changed the neckline.  Amy’s pattern has a rolled neck, but I put in three rows of seed stitch instead.  Other than these small mods, I knit the pattern as written (how unlike me!).


My biggest problems were with the finishing.  I really struggled with the button bands (as documented here).   I decided to sew ribbon to the backs of the button bands and then to use plastic snap fasteners; the buttons are for decorative purposes only.  I’m not entirely happy with this solution.  Doug thinks it would be better with a zipper, and my mom suggested keeping the decorative buttons, but adding hook-and-eye fasteners (instead of the snaps).  Both of these solutions would be good, probably better than what I ended up doing; but honestly, I was so tired of being undecided and wishy-washy and just wanted to get the thing finished and put it in the post.


One of the things that makes this cardigan distinctive is the textured pattern on the cuffs and waistband and the way that it curves.  I found this to be very fiddly.  I think that it looks pretty but I don’t feel it was worth the time and effort.  If I made this again, I would just put in ribbing, or better yet, seed stitch.


The yarn is beautiful, but I did feel that there was a big colour difference between some of the skeins; in particular, the back is a noticeably different shade than the fronts and sleeves.  I could have fixed this by alternating skeins, but I really didn’t want to do that, especially since I was lugging this thing around the world with me and knitting it on planes and in airports.  I also worry that the yarn has too much drape for this cardigan.  If I were to knit it again, I would use a yarn with more wool content and less silk.  I would also make the neckline higher by an inch or two.


So, the conclusion is mixed.  I think it is very pretty; the yarn is lustrous, and the buttons and ribbon are a perfect match.  But, I have some niggling issues with the finishing.  I think, for me, I will chalk it up as a learning experience.  Hopefully, for Leah, it will be a lovely summer dressing option and will get lots of wear.


Happy early birthday to me!


On Friday afternoon, an email popped up in my inbox from Loop.  Those of you who pay attention to my ramblings will know that Loop is my favorite yarn store.  All other things in London, which are many and spectacular, are excuses for a trip to Loop.  In fact, all of the fabulousness which is London is centered on Loop, from which it then extends like a ripple in a pond.

This email announced a Celebration Flash Sale!  Loop had just received their 20,000th follower on Instagram and had declared a sale to celebrate.  And not just any old sale – everything purchased on the weekend, both in-shop and on-line, was 20% off!  Be still my heart!

It just so happens that my birthday is in a few weeks.  What you may not know is that for many years, I have sent Doug an email each year shortly before my birthday with a link to a wooden swift and a ball winder. This is what is frequently referred to as a “hint”.  Doug may be the smartest man I’ve ever met (and believe me, I’ve met some pretty smart men) but he has somehow failed, year on end, to respond to such hint in an appropriate manner.

“Doug,” I said,  as I pushed the Submit Order button, “Loop is having a 20% off sale this weekend, and you are getting me a wooden umbrella swift and a ball winder for my birthday.”  This is what is frequently referred to as a “strategic response to hint failure”.   This is one of those things you learn in an MBA programme.

My birthday is not for 3 weeks (so for all intents and purposes I am still 54), but my birthday present arrived in the post today!


I can’t believe it!  I have an umbrella swift and ball winder!  “Doug,” I shouted, “it’s just what I always wanted!  How did you guess?”

If I had been more organised, I would have ordered a few SQs (Sweater Quantity) of yarn to take advantage of the sale.  I didn’t have time to figure out what I wanted, however, so instead decided to order two yarns which I have been longing to sample.  The first is Woolfolk Tynd (a plied fingering-weight wool) in the colour Darkest Bronze.  This yarn is so soft it must be felt to be appreciated.  I am in love!  I bought two skeins to make Doug a cowl.  (He deserves a cowl for his thoughtful birthday gift to me!)  The second is Shibui’s Silk Cloud, an absolutely luscious silk-mohair blend.  I bought one skein in Tango 2037 to make a lacy cowl for myself.

Happy Early Birthday to me! I couldn’t wait and set the swift up immediately on the back porch.  Look how beautifully the yarn winds onto the cake:



This is so much fun!  I promptly caked two skeins of Shelter for the Tinder cardigan I am knitting for Emma (which is coming along very nicely).  Don’t these cakes look fabulous?


You can see in the photo what remains of the ball currently on the needles; it was wound by me, by hand, with Doug holding the skein.  I have been winding yarn this way for many years.  It must be said that Doug and Emma and Leah are all amazingly tolerant of this occupation (holding yarn for me while I wind) and are all quite good at it too, anticipating my every move and making the whole process fun.  However, with the girls gone and Doug on the road a lot, I am frequently on my own.  Never fear, I can now wind yarn whenever I want!

Doug tells me that I should have titled this post “Doug finds himself no longer relevant.” Ha!  Who else will make me coffee in the morning?