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Balerno 4 13-20 June

Just a short blog this week, I’m afraid, since Margaret is off on her annual jaunt to France (polymer clay-ing, drinking red wine and lounging about in a generally sophisticated, Gallic sort of way), and has taken her trusty camera with her. So it’s just me, the instruction manual and an iPhone for now – hence the rather disappointing pictures, for which many apologies. Normal service will be resumed next week, assuming Margaret comes back, of course. (In the old days I could hold the cats hostage against her return; now they’ve gone to the great Scratching Post in the Sky it’s not so straightforward any more.)

So I’m nearly a third of the way up the body, which is a nice feeling – about 8 inches in fact, and hopefully you can start to get a feel of how it’s going to look.

Or you would if you could see if properly. Sigh. (My ruin came from reading how many servants Prince Charles requires to get him through the day, including one to put the toothpaste on the royal toothbrush, and deciding to model my life on that. Really, if this keeps up I’ll have to work out how to switch on the vacuum cleaner, or tie my own shoelaces. And no one wants to see that.)


The odd thing is, it really doesn’t take me much less time to knit a row – it’s still about 30 minutes – as it did when I knit the cardigan, with all its fiddly knits and purls. It just seems less, somehow, since every row isn’t like doing complicated algebra. Just nice, clean, simple patterns which build up nicely into a very effective combination. And lots of cables. The only problem I’m having is the old matter of losing concentration; so although I keep a 7-barred gate record of how many rows I’ve completed, I keep forgetting to score a mark at the end of a row. So I find myself having to count up the diamonds, chevrons and cables and matching the total against the tally to find out if it’s time to cable yet! (Sighs wearily.)


Since the theme this week is classic simplicity, the featured bread is a basic soft white loaf. I stopped baking loaves because it took us so long to eat them they were starting to get stale by the end. (The secret, I’ve found, is of course to slice the loaf on the day it’s made, then bag it up in 3-4 slice portions and freeze them, and so keep them fresh.) So it’s honey and toast for tea, in a surreal Rupert Graves-meets-Winnie-the-Pooh sort of way.

As I say, things will hopefully be back to normal next week. (I just checked – Margaret’s got her iPhone and her camera with her, but she didn’t take the cardigan – so it looks like she’s coming back, then, folks. Phew.)

20 comments to Balerno 4 13-20 June

  • Lynne

    This is, sort of, off topic – but what does Margaret do with Polymer clay?

  • Leigh

    Gordon, Gordon, Gordon, your bread-baking skills alone would bring any woman back. In fact, if I were you, I might want to check the locks on my doors. I am sure news has gotten around the grapevine that the “Cat” is on vacation and with all that the baking-bread smell coming from your place, I am sure you will have all sorts of “mice” dropping in looking to stay for tea if not just to borrow a cup of sugar.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne and Leigh,

    Margaret makes polymer clay jewellery, aka “Fimo jewellery” – beads seem to be the favourite, which can then be made into necklaces. It gets very impressive when metal effects are added. (Though I still lose points for referring to it as “plasticine which you bake in the oven till it goes hard.”) There are societies and journals and books – a whole industry has grown up around it. You can also make dolls’ house furniture with it, which is also big these days. I understand quite a few of the models from the Lord of the Rings movies were maed from it too. I’ll see about posting some images next week.

    Lynne – ha! I think not. Even though I’ve had the windows open these last few days. Of course, there may have been a crowd and they got defeated by the 54 steps to our flat – next time I venture downstairs I may find a heap of panting exhausted bodies on the second landing. But somehow I doubt it…!


  • Lynne

    I actually have used Fimo with some small props for the miniature teddy bears I make – and then my grand-daughter got into my supply and with her artistic talent, made up some 3″ garden gnomes that were very cute. I also bought a piece at a miniature show that measures 1/2″, a teddy bear laying on a quilt. To do those small items takes much talent and patience, and I can’t imagine working metal into it. Would love to see photos.

  • Gordon


    I think Fimo is the name of one of the main brands, so I think the craft goes under the generic name of “polymer clay” so as not to tie it in with a commercial brand too much. Margaret has explained this to me many times, of course, but I keep wandering off, as is my wont, so I may have some of the details wrong! (In a generic male yes-dearish sort of way…) So, yes, much patience and skill required.

    Your bear lying on a quilt opens up a potentially profitable line of merchandise – teddy bear X-rated material, which i hadn’t previously considered – and which I shall suggest to Margaret directly she comes back…


  • Lynne

    lol ! Ohhh, Gordon – your wife needs to come home to keep you in line!

  • =Tamar

    The gansey is impressive, standing up by itself that way.
    Polymer clay is strong and versatile. I once used it to make a three-inch-tall “hood ornament” for a friend to glue onto the front of her motorcycle. I modeled it over wire for strength and it withstood all circumstances very well.

  • Nigel

    Crikey, have you seen that bloke over on A Fisherman Knits, not content with hand-crafting needles etc, he’s now spinning his own five-ply!
    I’m creeping my way up a hat for one of my girls on five dpns. Turn a Squre Hat, by Brooklyn Tweed.
    Still planning the Gansey!

  • Gordon

    Hello All!

    Lynne, If you believe that, I’ve got some shares in a gold mine in El Dorado you might like to buy – very reasonable!

    Hi Tamar. What a great idea – personalised hood ornaments! (Classier than my ideas for teddy bear porn, too.) I understand people make all kinds of amazing things with it – Margaret had an article published not so long ago in a journal for a new thing she’d devised – fame at last! And yes, it’s always fun making a gansey tent like that, until it gets too top-heavy and topples over under the weight. (The cables help, of course, acting like struts.)

    And hello again Nigel – Aaron, the Knitting Fisherman, is something of a perfectionist in the way that I’m sadly not. Reading his blog makes me feel like a backsliding priest in a remote country district, having an affair and several children with my housekeeper, keeping pigs and listening to Bob Dylan instead of writing sermons – suddenly visited by an uncompromising Amish cousin armed with a pitchfork to ward off the devil! You’ve got to admire his dedication. I’m told by Margaret, who spins, that 5-ply is really not for the faint-hearted; and in any case, I tell myself (in my backsliding, comfortable priestly way) that many of the knitters in olden times would still have bought their yarn ready-spun. It may even be true… But even though I don’t have Aaron’s commitment, it’s good to know there’s someone out there who does. Anyway, good luck with the hat!


  • =Tamar

    Now you have to write that story, Gordon. I want to know how the priest deals with his Amish cousin! Is he Welsh?

  • Gordon


    I think I’m like the character in the Terry Pratchett novel who picks up all the random inspiration sleeting through the universe! I have so many ideas for stories I can’t cope – there are times when I think I should try writing a sketch show. And yet half the time when I think, OK, time to develop one and write it up properly the idea gets all coy and hides behind the washing on the line and won’t come out.

    So the priest is currently frozen with horror, lying on his back on the sofa, cigarette dangling forgotten from bloodless lips, while the echoes from the pitchfork on the front door resound down the hall like a mourning bell. (Meanwhile the Devil, who quite enjoys spending time in the priest’s company, swapping anecdotes about the Old Testament prophets, telling dirty stories and drinking his whisky, is slipping out the kitchen window round the back. Alas, before his cloven hoof can touch the ground, his cape snags on the window catch and he’s pinned, helpless. Any second now, the Amish cousin, impatient of getting an answer from the front door, is going to come round the back, pitchfork at the ready, and then…)

    Well, you see my problem!

  • =Tamar

    But where’s the devil’s pitchfork? and the fuzzy baby hellhounds?

  • Gordon

    Ha, now you’re asking! I have complicated ideas about eschatology, and tend to think of the Devil in a number of ways – ranging from the Stephen King personification of evil type of being, through to the rather hapless, almost comical Devil who appears in folk tales and songs (who usually tries to bargain for a foolish farmer’s soul and is outwitted by the farmer’s cunning wife; Martin Carthy’s rendition of The Devil and the Feathery Wife is one of my favourites of these). The latter is where this tale is heading, if I don’t show some self control soon. (Dostoevsky has perhaps my favourite version of the Devil in literature, in the Brothers Karamazov, a rather shabby down-at-heel figure who appears to the atheist brother Ivan when he’s having a nervous breakdown and tries to persuade him he’s a hallucination!)

    So the Devil in my tale has left his pitchfork and his frisky little hellhounds behind in hell, since he was just out for a quiet afternoon’s chatting with the priest (at the same time helping to send the priest further into a sort of lazy perdition – a bad deed is never wasted, he thinks). So when the Amish cousin finds him dangling from the window and jabs him with the Holy Pitchfork of Righteousness, the Devil in desperation (it’s a very sharp pitchfork) offers him 3 gifts if he’ll let him go – a piece of knowledge, a financial reward and the chance to change any action in the course of human history, all of the cousin’s choosing.

    Now, the cousin of course knows that the Devil is the father of lies, and is capable of twisting the words of mortals for his own ends; but on the other hand he considers he has an opportunity to do great good here. And, while it’s tempting to just give the Devil the prodding of a lifetime, he doesn’t like the way the Devil is starting to eye up the pointy tines on the fork, lick his lips and mutter, “Oh yeah baby, come on, you know you want to, you’re a bad boy,” and so on – in fact, he rather suspects the Devil would enjoy it far too much, the cloven-hoofed pervert. So, with mixed emotions, not wishing to be party to deviations of a Biblical nature, he agrees and lets the Devil climb down.

    The Devil, not without a regretful look at the fork which is nevertheless still carefully pointed at him, climbs down with dignity and invites the cousin to make his first request: What piece of information would he like to know?

    (… And that’s how these stories go… Time for bed!)

  • Dave

    Aw, just one more chapter, Uncle Gordon! We’re not at all sleepy!

  • Gordon

    Hi Dave,

    Sorry, but I think it’s best not to overstimulate growing minds before bedtime!

    Anyway, the priest meanwhile is still lying on the sofa listening to Bob Dylan’s splendid album of traditional songs, “Good As I Been To You”, which concludes with a truly remarkable version of “Foggie Went A-Courtin'” (perhaps the finest Dylan performance of all time).

    The song ends with:

    A little piece of cornbread layin’ on a shelf, Uh-huh,

    A little piece of cornbread layin’ on a shelf, Uh-huh,

    A little piece of cornbread layin’ on a shelf,

    If you want anymore, you can sing it yourself, Uh-huh.

    Which seems as good a last word on the subject as any!


  • So, Gordon, more story, right? *beams at you*

    I don’t know if I’ve asked this before, but what are your thoughts about self-publishing?


  • Gordon

    Hi Songbird,

    In fact I thought one time of writing a series of short stories along these lines (2,000 words max each) in which the Devil visited the wife of a Scottish fisherman while he was away fishing and tried all sorts of wiles to get her (and her husband’s) soul, and each time she outwitted him – I had the idea of basing each story around the patterns of a gansey – chevrons, tree of life, etc. – which she incorporated into the gansey she was knitting. So they would be vaguely humorous stories about how all the patterns came to be. It’s still in the back of my mind to try, just for fun some time.

    I’ve only just started the process of failing to get published. Over the last few years I’ve written 3 novels, not including the one I’m working on currently – the 2 fantasy novels I’ve posted on this blog, and a Victorian murder mystery based around the building of the great dams in mid Wales to provide water for Birmingham. (After numerous rewrites I’m in the process of finally getting the last into shape – maybe!) I plan to try each of them in turn – if I can’t get them into print I’ll seriously consider self-publishing, probably as eBooks. The question is publicity – I think they’re good enough to share with people – but how do you let people know they’re out there?

    Anyway, we’ll see.

  • Wait – there’s another story I haven’t read? I’d … love to read it. *looks hopeful*

    Publicity is a big question, isn’t it? I read ebooks – now that I have a kindle, I’m reading them more and more. It’s hard to find good ones, though; there’s a lot of … bad stuff to try to wade through. I really don’t know how to get publicity. I think that getting people to review your writing can help.

    I just googled and found a couple of sites that are all about reviewing ebooks. It’s such a difficult situation to navigate!


  • Eli


    searched the net for gansey patterns and luckily stumbled across your blog! Just visited Fair Isle and brought back to Norway yarn for a sweater and some cushions. Am a rather experienced knitter so will eventually try my hand at a gansey as well (a lot in common with Arans i believe?).

    Will be visiting Edinburgh late September – any shops seling yarn etc which you can recommend?

    Sincerely yours, Eli

  • Gordon

    Hi Eli,

    Nice to hear from you! Yes, Arans have a lot in common with ganseys, more in the style I believe than the patterns – the technique I think is different(?), the yarn certainly is, being much chunkier. But gansey books often have Aran patterns in, so you can kill two birds with one stone!

    As I only knit ganseys – one trick pony etc. – I don’t frequent yarn shops, as they usually don’t have my kind of wool, or even my kind of needles. But Margaret tells me that two of the best in Edinburgh are K1 Yarns Knitting Boutique on West Bow, Old Town, and McAree Brothers on Howe Street, New Town – both just a few minutes walk from Princes Street.

    Good luck!