Monday 31 October 2011

Donna Leon's Venice

When we went to Venice, I took with me Donna Leon's A Question of Belief, her 19th novel set in Venice and featuring Commisario Brunetti.  It was a good choice - alongside the crime story, there are descriptions of Venice from Brunetti's point of view. Venice is a small city and the streets he walks along, the churches and campi he passes, the vaporetti routes he uses, we had seen ourselves.  Her books give you some sense of what it is like living in that extraordinary city - although of course, being crime novels, they feature a lot of things that you hope never to encounter, either in Venice or anywhere else.  (And Brunetti doesn't like all the tourists one bit, so you sometimes feel slightly guilty that you are adding to the over-crowding.)   

An example of a convincing detail:  Brunetti is following a woman who has just come out of a bank  to see where she is taking the money she has just withdrawn.  She "stood in front of the bank, caught in that characteristically Venetian moment of calculating the shortest way to get somewhere."

A Question of Belief takes place in the height of summer, with the temperature in Venice approaching 40°C.   While we were waiting (not for very long) to go into the Basilica of San Marco, I recounted an episode when Brunetti walks through the Piazza and sees a very long queue of tourists outside the Basilica,  He tries to imagine never having been inside, and whether in that case he would feel that it had been worthwhile to wait for an hour in 40°C temperatures to see it for the first time.  He concludes that he would, which was reassuring.

Since we got back from Venice, I have been reading some of Donna Leon's earlier novels (while knitting socks).   The 20th has been published this year, I think, so they will keep me busy for a while.

Saturday 29 October 2011

A Knitted Great Auk

I read in today's Guardian that Margaret Atwood has knitted a Great Auk, for the Ghosts of Gone Birds  exhibition.  Isn't that wonderful?   Actually it is not news, except to me - there have been several reports on the exhibition and her contribution over the past few weeks/months, all of which I have missed.  You can read an interview with her, and see a photo of her knitting, here.

While I was looking around in the interwebby universe for details of the knitted great auk, I found several reports that Margaret Atwood has joined Ravelry and that the Great Auk will be her first Ravelry project.  I have managed to find her username and profile, but unless she is using an extra layer of pseudonymity, she hasn't yet posted any projects.  Pity - I'd like to know more details and see the finished auk.

Thursday 20 October 2011


Last week we were in Venice, with our daughter and her girlfriend.   The weather was perfect - bright and sunny, but not too hot, and we had a wonderful time.  John and I had a holiday in Venice 30 years ago, and I was afraid that it wouldn't be as good this time - but yes, it was.  Of course, some parts are very crowded, especially around San Marco and the Rialto, but it's easy to get off the main tourist routes.  We enjoyed just wandering around exploring the alleyways and squares, finding an amazing view at every turn.

The Biennale art exhibition was still running, and we went to the main sites in the Arsenale and Giardini, as well as to several of the collateral exhibitions that are scattered all over the city.

I didn't take any knitting with me, because I knew I wouldn't have time to do any.   Knitting didn't really feature in our holiday at all, in fact, although I did see one shop in Venice selling knitting yarn.  (It was next to a bridge over a canal, so it should be easy to find again....)


But there was a sculpture in front of  the main pavilion at the Biennale that looked like an arrangement of giant knitting needles, so knitting was not entirely forgotten.   (Although actually they are flagpoles and not knitting needles.)


Saturday 8 October 2011

Eureka! Knitting Needles!

Friends came to visit for a few days last week and brought me a wonderful knitting gift - an antique knitting needle case, containing steel knitting needles.  They are very fine - the thickest are 2.25 mm. diameter, and the thinnest only 1mm. (I have tried knitting a sample with those but found it very difficult.)

The case was evidently sold originally with a set of needles and I assume that the present contents are some of those. The writing on the case says "EUREKA - Best Quality - Steel Knitting Pins Highly Tempered - Guaranteed not to rust - Germany".  And indeed they have not rusted.  I think they must date from before the First World War - the woman's head on the cap could be Edwardian.

It would be nice to knit something with the thicker needles, perhaps a pair of fine mittens.

Saturday 1 October 2011

A 1970s Victorian Family

Seamless Knitting Book - front cover

I have been sorting boxes of pattern booklets in the Knitting and Crochet Guild collections recently. This one, from 1973, I particularly liked - not for the patterns, but for the poses.  The models look so solemn and Victorian.  It must have been a deliberate choice by the photographer. 
Back cover

I like the props too, though I think the plant is not actually an aspidistra. They are wonderfully incongruous with the 1970s clothes.  (And looking at the red and black tank tops on the back cover, you realise why the 1970s are dubbed "the decade that taste forgot".)

The booklet is unusual in having the name of a knitting needle company (Aero) on the front cover, rather than a spinning company  - the patterns are intended for Aero twin-pins, which were presumably fairly new in 1973.  Circular knitting needles were not themselves new - I have read that they existed before World War II, with a wire cable of some sort joining the two needles.  Twin-pins were perhaps new in having a nylon cable. It is also unusual to see a pattern booklet promoting a novel construction technique.  The booklet explains how to use a twin-pin, with photos.  However, for knitting sleeves and other small-diameter sections seamlessly it recommends knitting on four needles, which seems a bit discouraging - it doesn't explain how to do that, for one thing.  And it doesn't cover knitting sleeves using either two circular needles or the magic loop technique with one circular needle - perhaps those ideas had not been developed.     

Once I had noticed this booklet, I began to see the same cover photo on pattern booklets produced by other companies - several spinners, as well as F.W. Woolworth.  The content was exactly the same too, except that the suggested yarn varied.   That was very puzzling - I had assumed that the name on the front cover would tell me who had produced the booklet, but why were different companies producing the same booklet?  And then I started to notice other pattern booklets turning up in several different versions.

Odd Ounce Books - different but the same
Eventually, I saw that all these booklets were published by Lyric (Pattern Services) Ltd, whose name was in very small print inside the back cover.   Evidently,  Lyric was (is?) a company that developed knitwear designs in standard double knitting/4-ply/3-ply yarn, for sale to spinners and companies such as Aero. That is obviously a useful service to any spinner that produces standard yarn and doesn't have its own in-house designers - even a large spinner that produces its own designs might find it cheaper to buy in patterns sometimes.  The clever thing, from Lyric's point of view, is that they retained the copyright, so that they could sell the same pattern booklet many times over, and just change the name on the front.

Until I worked out what was going on, I thought that all these duplicate pattern booklets would be a cataloguing nightmare.  But now, I classify them all as Lyric and that's that. So far I have found about 60 distinct booklets that were produced by Lyric, between about 1970 and the mid-1990s.  One advantage (to me) is that Lyric included the year in the copyright notice, so that unlike most pattern booklets, these can be dated. It still seems to be slightly underhand though - all the Odd Ounce booklets say on the front cover "Ideas by X for easy to make gifts and toys....", where X is Poppletons or Wendy or Argyll or ...      Not really true, though - "Ideas by Lyric that X  bought and put their name to" would be more accurate.
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