Lockdown Flashback #16

Two things I’ve really noticed during this strange time, when so many of us are physically isolated and needing support, is the importance of community – including on-line communities – and the kind acts of strangers.  Both of these things are evident in this very short post, called Totally knit-worthy from June 2014.


In it, Emma tells me of an encounter with a stranger who comments on the hand-knitted skirt she is wearing.  I dare you to read it and not think “Wow, I love knitters!”

“If not for the 1918 flu, you’d be Australian!”: Family history and the 1918 flu pandemic

I’m not sure what I expected when I made the phone call, in 1991, to tell my mother that I was moving to Australia.  I think my family had already pegged me as a traveller, as the daughter most likely to end up in far away places.  But there is scarcely any place farther from New York than Australia. I expected, perhaps, some alarm, at least surprise. What I didn’t expect was the proclamation made by Mom: “This was meant to happen, Kelly.  You know, if not for the 1918 flu, you’d be Australian!”

Clearly there was a story here, and one that I had not heard before.  To tell the story now, let’s go back to January 20, 1904, to the wedding day of my great-grandmother, Theresa May Taylor, to my great-grandfather, Jesse Fremont Williamson, in the State of California.  Here they are on their wedding day:

Jesse and Theresa

Jesse and Theresa homesteaded a 3,000 acre piece of land in the coast range of California, about 200 miles south of San Francisco in the Coalinga Hills.  They were living in a dugout on the land and building a cabin when the 1906 earthquake struck. They were so isolated there, that they didn’t realise the extent of the earthquake until they took the horse and buggy into Coalinga for their monthly supplies! Sometime in 1907-8, for reasons I’m not sure of, they moved into Coalinga and ran a boardinghouse.  Jesse worked as a roustabout in the oil fields, which was dangerous but paid well.  By early 1918, they had four children, Ruth, Pauline, Lloyd, and Claude.  I love this photo, from 1913, of Theresa with Ruth Victoria Williamson, my grandmother.  Theresa looks so mischievous and happy in this photo, as does baby Ruth.

Theresa and baby Ruth

Around this time, Jesse learned that Australia was giving away ranch land to those who would come and settle and work the land: 10,000 acres was his for the taking, if he could move his family half-way across the world.

Jesse bought steerage on a ship, scheduled to leave from San Francisco to Australia in September of 1918.  Steerage for six was a huge amount of money for the family.  But the lure of a farm of his own in Australia (and no doubt, also, the lure of adventure) convinced him. They packed up all of their belongings and prepared to set off for San Francisco and a long, difficult sea voyage.  And that is when the flu struck.

Jesse and both boys – Lloyd and Claude – were felled with the flu.  They were sick for some time and were slowly nursed back to health by Theresa and the girls.  The boat left without them.  There was no such thing as travel insurance; their savings and their dreams of adventure were gone.

Is this a sad story? No, it isn’t.  All three regained their health.  Jesse went back to work in the oil fields.  Theresa had two more children, Dorothy and Jim.  Sometime in the early 20s, they bought a ranch of their own, in Riverdale, Kings County, California.  Jesse ran the ranch and continued to work as a roustabout until he broke his leg in an accident at an oil well; afterwards he became a full-time rancher/farmer.  The boys eventually all bought neighbouring ranches.  It was a good life.

Here is a photo of my mother, Marylou, at the ranch in 1940:

Mary Lou horse

And another of Jesse a few years later in 1943:

grandfather horse2

When I was a child, we would go to the ranch on holiday.  I remember helping Theresa in the kitchen and in the vegetable garden.  I would walk with Jesse, my great-grandfather, and he would show me the horses.  Here is a photo of Jesse on the ranch, taken around the time of my birth in 1961.  This is how I remember him.

Jesse color

Over the years I have heard many stories of Jesse and Theresa.  My mother grew up on the ranch, surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles, and open spaces, and farm work.  But until I prepared to move to Australia, I had never heard the story of how, except for the flu of 1918, I might have been Australian!

Some years later, when I became an Australian citizen, I wondered what Jesse and Theresa would have made of this turn of events.  I think they would have liked that their sense of adventure was passed down to their great-granddaughter.

Lockdown Flashback #15

I have to giggle at this cartoon from First Dog on the Moon, entitled “Stuck at home I am starting to miss the things that used to annoy the hell out of me”, which appeared a few weeks ago in The Guardian.  Here is one of the frames; go check out the rest!  (I love First Dog on the Moon!)

First dog on moon

Cartoon by First Dog on the Moon, published in The Guardian, April 1, 2020

This made me think of a post I wrote in May of 2016 called “Annoying things“.  I published it on the second day of May (so almost exactly four years ago today) and I was very annoyed because it was cold out and my boiler was broken, and I decided to write a post about things that I find annoying. So, I present it to you here (follow the link) in a Lockdown Flashback, so we can look back with a sense of humour (hopefully) on how naive we seem in retrospect.

In light of events of the past few months, as first dog says, I would be happy to be annoyed by many of these things again, if it meant this was over.  Except maybe mystery KALs – I still want to know what I’m knitting.

Lockdown Flashback #14

For this flashback, let’s go back to a post written in October 2013, called At least something got done around here.  The title refers to my having finally finished the  Viajante Shawl, designed by Martina Behm, and the post has lots of photos of the finished project.

I realise now that I wrote this post just two weeks after starting my Executive MBA programme (as a student).  How long ago that seems now.  Since then, I have finished the degree, become a faculty member at the business school, and spent a few years running  the MBA programme.  But this post takes me back to that time when I had just become an empty-nester, and when I was thinking about all of the studying that I should have been doing while writing a post instead!  (Shh! Don’t tell my students!)

The Viajante Shawl is lovely, but has a strange shape and can be difficult to wear.  This led to some fairly funny photos:


The shawl took a long time to knit, and I wrote quite a few posts about it at the time.  You may want to check out this one, which is about winding all of that yarn by hand while on holiday in Lebanon, or this one, which shows Emma posing in the shawl on holiday in Sicily.  Emma wears it with much more style than I ever could, so I gave the shawl to her.  Unfortunately, it’s now in the bottom of a drawer waiting for me to mend a hole.

Best wishes to all.  I hope that you are enjoying these blasts from the past.  Let me know if you are tiring of them.  Keep well!

The Earth in embroidery

I hadn’t planned on posting today, but I wanted to do a very quick post to show you these lovely embroideries by 21-year old artist Victoria Rose Richards.  These are taken from a pictorial article in the Guardian from a few days ago, which you can find here.  Aren’t they beautiful?

google earth embroidery 1

Photograph: Image copyright of Victoria Rose Richards

If you click on the link, you will find more examples, as well as a link to Ms. Richards’ Instagram account.  Do check them out; they will make you happy.

google earth embroidery 2

Photograph: Image copyright of Victoria Rose Richards

I find her work stunning.  I also think, in this time of physical distancing and upheaval, it is soul-soothing to be reminded how beautfiul our earth is.

Lockdown Flashback #13

I was speaking with Emma about how I was feeling under pressure to write a post, while at the same time distracted by a crazy amount of work.  And she said “You need to use ‘Teeny, tiny hat’ as a Lockdown Flashback!”  Maybe that is because the post starts with this diagramme:


Ha ha! It turns out that not only am I relating right now to that, but I am also really feeling the “head thunk” part of the post.  Thank you, Emma, I’ll play along: This Lockdown Flashback takes us back to Teeny, tiny hat, written in February of 2016.  The post shows what happens when you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing.  In this case: a VERY small hat.

In case you are wondering, I re-knitted the hat and it came out beautifully.  You can see it here.

Keep well everyone!

Experiments with colour and texture

I am trying to do a bit of experimenting with my knitting while in lockdown – exploring colour and texture. I am working on three projects now – that might be a record for me in recent years. Each of them is very different from the others and explores either texture, colour, or both in interesting ways. To support getting these projects off the ground, I’ve been knitting swatches.


When I look at this photo, I have the song from Sesame Street running through my head (“One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong; can you guess which thing is not like the others, before I finish my song?”)  Depending on how your brain works, you probably would pick either the top right swatch (no colourwork) or the bottom middle swatch (sharp, bright colours instead of muted neutrals).  But each project is exploring texture or colour or both.  The swatch on the top right might look as if it doesn’t belong to this set, but the project – a pullover, Hatcher – has a strong cabled detail running up front and back.  Here is a photo of it in progress:


I think these cables look fabulous in this yarn – very precise and architectural but also with a beautiful flow to them. This pattern needs a uniform colour – if it was made with a variegated yarn the cables would lose their strength and integrity.

The swatch for the shawl, Koko, really stands out in the swatch photo; not only does it have a 3D texture but I am using a very bright, sharp, nautical colour scheme. If you are going to knit this, you must resign yourself to the fact that the knitting is going to roll. The very nature of the stitch pattern which creates the 3D fabric, is going to roll in on itself, until it gets blocked. Here is a photo when I was just a few inches into the project; you can see that it is basically rolled into a tube.


I’ve knit on this some more since this photo was taken, and the rolling is still happening. I don’t see it stopping, although I imagine it will get better as the sheer weight of the knitted fabric pulls it down a bit.

The third project is really pushing me, for my plan is to adopt a colourwork pattern from a cowl pattern (this one) and create a button-down fair isle vest for Doug. As I have never knitted a garment entirely in colourwork (and have only steeked once, for Leah’s Lord of the Rings pillow), this will push both my knitting skills and my pattern maths skills, as I wing it without a pattern. But before I can get going with it, I have to decide on which colours to use.

This is really an intellectual exercise, as the stitch pattern as written utilises 5 colours and I have 8 colours which I am fooling around with. This makes for seemingly endless options, but I am also constrained by various aspects of the pattern, such as using colours which have enough contrast in each of the “bands” of colourwork. It is quite interesting to try to work within this set of yarns. This is the first swatch I knitted, where I was more concerned with the gauge for knitting in the round; I used bits of the pattern in various colour combinations but didn’t follow the full pattern repeat.


I then knitted up this swatch, where I used a bit more contrast, and also brought in the light brown shade (to contrast with the charcoal):


But this one didn’t really grab me.  And Doug commented: “Hmm, I need to get a pipe.” So, I ended up with this swatch which includes a full repeat of the pattern:


Here I used the medium grey for the two stockinette rows which separate the pattern rows. It makes the whole thing seem quite a bit darker, but I kind of like it. I knitted the ribbing in the dark brown, but am not really happy with that. So, I am now thinking of using the colours from this last swatch but knitting the ribbing in the medium grey.

However, when I sent these photos to Emma, she suggested three other combinations for me to swatch.  Sigh….

For those of you experiencing lockdowns of various intensities, I hope that you are all surviving the experience and trying to keep your spirits up.  Keep well!

Lockdown Flashback #12

I have been doing some experimenting with colours, knitting swatches of the same pattern in different combinations of colours (more on this in my next post).  Thinking about how colours play against each other, and how different a colour can look depending on whether it is background or foreground, reminded me of this old post, Double feature, from April 2014.


In it I shared some photos which juxtaposed two very special colourwork projects which I had knitted, each using stranded knitting but in strikingly different graphic styles.  I used the same yarn for both projects – yellow on purple for the Tolkien-inspired pillow and purple on yellow for the comic book inspired mitts.  Links to both projects can be found in the linked post.

This photo makes me smile.  I think I could use a little “Bam!” and some “Pow!” as well right about now.

Lockdown Flashback #11

Today I will flash back to a post entitled Why I knit, from August of 2014.  This post shows off a gorgeous cardigan which I made for my daughter Leah.  It turned out to be a lovely combination of pattern and yarn and personality, resulting in the perfect sweater for Leah.


When I look back at all of the garments I’ve knitted in the past decade or two (or three or four) this one stands out as one of those that just clicked.  Everything about it made me happy.   I hope that reading the post makes you happy too.

Living in lockdown is strange.  Thinking about the future is scary.  I hope that you are finding some solace in knitting, or in other creative pursuits.  Take care of yourself!

Lockdown Flashback #10

These are very difficult and strange times for many of us, and in times like these we recognise the importance of being resilient.  Thinking about resilience and knitting brought to mind a post I wrote in September 2017 titled Failure, resilience, and knitting.  I think you might like it and so bring it to you today as a Lockdown Flashback.


That post had no photo associated with it.  Since the Lockdown Flashback posts include a photo from the original post, I had to improvise.  But, hey, I’m resilient that way.  The above photo, of me sitting and knitting on a secluded stretch of beach in British Columbia, seems appropriate to this topic (it was included in the post called Holiday from May of 2019).

I also apologise for not posting yesterday.  I tried to, but my internet was acting up and Doug made me a nice dinner, and I decided that being resilient also means posting when I want to.