Talking Across the Pond: Not Enough Water on This Side, Too Much on That. . .

July 7th

Dear Nora,

Happy belated 4th of July!

Soma’s fish look amazing and sound really tasty and the Lake House looks peaceful and astonishingly sunny, I’ve almost forgotten what the sun looks like. We’ve had torrential rain, followed by more torrential rain, with and without thunderstorms and for a bit of variation gale force winds and horizontal rain. It seems like every time we attempt to put the finishing touches to the shed it rains. The sheer force of the deluge just after the roof felt went on compressed the still squishy tar leaving giant runs over the top surface of the roof. Its not pretty but it is watertight.

It’s not been dry enough to connect the electrics so we can’t do much on the interior until that’s done but its still progressing albeit a lot slower than I would have liked. The pile of timber still to attach is slowly reducing. Hopefully it will be finished in another week and then the great tidy up of the house can begin.

Last weekend I sat on a giant plastic barrel in the middle of a field in glorious sunshine and knitted whilst watching the DDs riding lesson. This week, because of the weather, they went out for a hack, like an eejit I went along for the walk, I’m not entirely sure what, or even if, I was thinking at the time. I was presented with a novice rider on a lead rein and spent an hour and a half alternating between a fast walk and a slow jog. I spent the afternoon recuperating in front of the telly box with the girls. Much knitting was achieved and so the shawl is now a mere eight rows from completion which is jolly good because the rows are sooooo long I’m finding my mind wandering off mid row, rather optimistically I’m hoping to get it finished tonight so that I can finally cast on for Anouk tomorrow. Really really looking forward to that, it will be great to knit with thick yarn on chunky needles and see instant progress, especially after seeing the tutorial on fixing the bag feet which made so much sense and made it look so easy. Its like having you there to hold my hand every step of the way. Perhaps a post on the making of vodka pastry is in order.

My trip to Stash was both successful and unsuccessful. The yarn I’d decided on for the Noni ribbed sweater was a fantastic colour but rather itchy and although there were a few other things I liked nothing screamed buy me… not for that anyway although a dozen sale skeins did leap into my shopping basket. So much for being restrained. My yarn cupboard is now bursting at the seams.

The rest of the week seems to have flown by.

On Monday I got to hold a 2012 Olympic Torch.This is a picture of daughter F holding the torch.

Tuesday was spent roofing the shed.

Wednesday was spent  rummaging around in the school loft in search of 30 specific nativity play costumes. The school loft is much like a domestic loft but with attitude in bucket loads. Everything that needs keeping, but which doesn’t have a home, gets crammed up there and has done since roughly 1950, at least that’s the oldest date on anything I’ve found so far but I’ve yet to venture into its deepest darkest corners. Its full of exciting discoveries, I’ve come across everything from a handmade 5′ high rocking horse to an assortment of used toilets which I can only guess that one of my predecessors kept on the off chance spare parts were ever needed. In and amongst are well over a thousand costumes for a variety of school productions. Trying to find a grey donkey outfit to fit a tall 10 year old is much like hunting the needle in the proverbial haystack. I came across cows and sheep and camels, dogs, ducks, and chickens, but have yet to find a single donkey. Fortunately, I have another week to track one down.

On Thursday I tried a Zumba class, I haven’t laughed that much in ages, I obviously don’t have the co-ordination for fast paced choreographed dance routines, especially not when some equally unco-ordinated sweaty person is hurtling towards me oblivious as to what the instructor and the rest of the class are doing.

Friday was spent catching up on the girls’ homework and attempting to figure out a summer schedule which allows them to do all the activities they want to do whilst D and I attempt to work full time around them. Fortunately, my boss is incredibly flexible which is just as well really.

We spent today at a giant sports warehouse to get a few last minute things for pony camp. We got a little sidetracked and taught the girls to play table tennis in the demonstration area. It all got a little competitive and we were playing for a little over an hour. More than one innocent bystander was assaulted by a stray ball followed up with a rugby tackle to the ankles as a flying child followed in hot pursuit.

For once the house is relatively peaceful.  D is asleep after a 4am start, F is cooking pancakes in the kitchen and B is attempting to sew a name label into her new dressage jacket. I’m hoping once shes managed that she can be persuaded to sew labels into a dozen pairs of jodphurs too.


ps. and you’ll probably laugh….. What is a Bean Queen? Wikipedia seems to think its an effeminate gay man and the Urban Dictionary comes up with something even more bizarre. I somehow doubt that small town America hosts a Gay Pride march on the 4th of July.

pps. here is the finished shawl pre-blocking 🙂 I cast off with 0.25g to spare. I never knew knitting could be so nail-bitingly exciting. This means I can finally cast on for Anouk 🙂 which is precisely what I intend to do before work this morning.

July 11, 2012

Dear Amanda,

I do believe that the Bean Queen is a pretty girl (or a popular, somewhat pretty girl) who has been chosen to represent the bean farmers. The Sugar Queen, for example, is the pretty or popular girl who is advertising the local sugar brand made from sugar beets or what have you. I think for the 4-H program had a 4-H Queen and King.

While you have been having too much rain in your part of the world, we have been having much much too little. Whole neighborhoods in Colorado have been burned to the ground. And closer to home, there have been record high temperatures on the East Coast and through the mid-West. I think the heat is expected to break a bit this weekend but we desperately need rain.

When Soma and Misha got home on Sunday night from our short vacation (I am still in Michigan teaching a workshop and return home mid-morning Thursday), they found our plants gasping for water. The large ceramic pots that we have fish in were way low. . . I’ve decided to let a row of hydrangeas that I planted in a bad spot die (on the low side of a hill but in too much sun and the soil too sandy to hold much water) rather than keep watering them with little or no effect. Lawns everywhere look brittle and parched. Formerly soft blades of grass poke the bottoms of your feet should you go without shoes.

(Later the same day. . . after great workshop and long drive): More letter shortly after a full night’s sleep.


Knitting on Vacation: Unexpected Solutions for Common Problems

Sometimes when you are on vacation you forget some of your tools at home. . . sometimes this is a great opportunity to shop at the local yarn shop. Sometimes there is no local yarn shop!

Here are my most recent funny problems and my solutions:

Problem: No stitch markers, only fresh cherries . . .

Where there is a will there’s a way. Cherry stems twisted like pretzels make great stitch markers when your needles are a US size 8 or smaller. Who knew? Of course you can always used waste yarn but it isn’t as much fun, or as delicious.


Problem: Special Order single ply yarn seems to be overspun. . . swatch is slanting . . .

I swatched about 5 times, changed the needle size, made a large swatch, a small swatch. . .  The swatch was twisting. I wanted to make a coat from the 2,000 yards I had special ordered in a beautiful slate color. But if the yarn is overspun and causing even a small swatch to torque, then  coat could be a disaster.  What to do?

I am convinced there are at least 3 solutions to every problem:

Possible Solution NO. 1: Forget about the coat. Make something where the torque would not only not matter but might make the design more fabulous.  An infinity cowl or wrap. One of these swallowtail garments/wraps.

Possible Solution NO. 2: Forget about the coat. Make a wrap that has sleeves, even sleeves with big bells, asymmetrical, wraps around the body. . . say yes to the torque.

Possible Solution NO 3: Don’t forget about the coat! I was taking the end from the inside of the ball. . . I teased the end through the middle of the ball to the other side of the ball. Taking the end out of the other side of the ball actually changes the twist that is put on the yarn as a result simply of taking it out of the middle of the ball. [Don’t think that taking the end from the outside of the ball will change anything. If the ball is sitting on the floor and you are knitting from it, the strand will either be more twisted or less twisted depending on whether the ball is put down on one flat end or the other. . . This can make a BIG difference in the twist of the yarn.

When I teased the end through the ball to the other side, it was no longer over-twisted. I swatched again and the swatch was lovely. Perfectly straight! Whew. New coat on the needles soon!


Problem: Need Fingering Weight Yarn for Noni Flowers stamens but don’t have any . . .

Solution: Divide a 3-ply strand into a single strand and a 2-ply strand. Use either the 1-ply or 2-ply, depending on which better fits the bill.


Problem: Want to teach a child to knit on a Southwest Flight. . . No needles only yarn.

Solution: They have great coffee stirrers on Southwest, little red sticks with little hearts on the ends. The gauge is about a US size 7 and works perfectly with worsted weight yarn. I taught a little boy to knit on a flight to Texas once. He showed just about everyone his little swatch. . .

What innovative solution have you come up with for a knitting-away-from-home situation you didn’t expect?  I’d love to hear from you!

Talking Across the Pond: Graduations, Sheds, Power Outages, & the 4th of July. . .

June 20, 2012

Morning Nora!

I’m planning to sneak out of work early today to go to the knitting group at Stash. Discovered I didn’t have any 8mm needles which was most infuriating. Will be taking Anouk with me so I can finally make a start on her. I’ve been wanting to do it all week but didn’t have the right size needles. It has been an incentive to make major headway on my current works in progress. Always swore I’d never have more than one thing on the needles at any one time but then I discovered the amount of concentration required by lace work isn’t conducive to late night telly watching so I abandoned that idea and now have a few things on the go. Have to be very restrained whilst I’m there and not take advantage of their better than half price end of line sale basket without having something specific in mind.

I think I’ve figured out what yarn I’m going to use to make the Noni Ribbed Sweater but am going to head in the direction of lighter yarn rather than heavier because I can’t get hold of any Worsted weight yarn. Aran wright would be thick and rather heavy weighing in at around 2kg which will be ridiculously hot most of the year(although perfect for wearing around the stables). DK would be more practical, and there’s a lot more choice, but that requires a little adaptation due to a difference in gauge. Guess I should be used to that after Ella. Ridiculously excited about that though but can’t make up my mind whether to go for a deep dark aubergine (egg plant to you) or a dark stormy grey. I suspect I’ll know when I see the perfect yarn.

My husband’s shed is still a work in progress. It rained constantly until Sunday which meant it stayed wrapped up on the drive whilst I did lots of housework on the basis that once we started building it I wouldn’t get chance to do anything else. Sunday was glorious. Got up early and spent a couple of hours getting the floor supports down before taking the girls to their martial arts gradings. Returned home and started building up the walls plank by plank. Its like a giant interlocking jigsaw puzzle but without much in the way of guidance which is how we managed to fit the windows upside down and had to take part of a wall out to flip them over. Finally got the roof on on Monday and started the arduous task of treating all the timber before the roof felt can go on and the floor can go down. Have used about five gallons so far. The house honks of creosote and it needs at least another two coats before we can do anything more. I did vaguely consider doing some before work this morning but figured I should iron school uniform instead which lasted all of ten minutes before the lure of my daughter’s homebaked cookies took over.

Soma’s school project sounds great. Daughter B has just finished a giant project on the Zambezi river which she had great fun researching, I learnt plenty about open coal mines, hydroelectric power stations and game parks. She was rather fortunate in that its an area we’d visited before children so there were lots and lots of photos for her to look at, cue many chortles as she realized her dad hasn’t always been bald and her mother was once wrinkle free.

It sounds like you’ve been even busier than normal. Hope your trade show goes well. Really looking forward to seeing your new bags.

Got to run. It’s 7am. Daughter F is playing football with our big black dog in the field next door and Daughter B is still asleep. Need to leave for work in 40 minutes but am still slobbing round in my PJs.



Dear Nora,

I still haven’t started Anouk. She’s my reward for finishing a giant lace shawl which would be going much more smoothly if I hadn’t tried to do the most complicated bit in twilight whilst tired and refereeing an argument between my daughters. Cue the frogging back of almost a thousand stitches which wouldn’t have been too bad if they’d all be knits or purls but it was a row full of double and triple decreases in a variety of directions….. and being an intelligent kinda gal I did that whilst tired which meant much picking up of dropped stitches too. Its sorted but its taken me four days to do which is more annoying than making the mistake in the first place, whether thats enough of an incentive to use lifelines in future remains to be seen.


June 28th

Hi Nora

This week seems to have flown by.

In between chaufurin’ my daughters to hockey matches, rounders games, two lots of marital arts classes, and riding lessons I managed to spend several hours in church, not out of a sense of religious duty, but because the local craft show was based there. There was some very impressive work by some incredibly talented people but nothing came close to the work of the artisans of the past responsible for the numerous magnificent stained glass windows.

I spent almost as much time wandering round admiring the structure of the building as I did looking at the modern crafts.

D’s shed now has doors and a door frame and more importantly a floor. We still have to felt the roof to make it water tight but it’s either been too wet or too windy to do that. He’s back at work today which means I’m catching up on much domestic drudgery in anticipation of an extra day with Daughter F. as her school is closed to pupils for a staff training day. Not entirely sure what we’ll do although she’s hoping for either a trip to the zoo or the local ice cream farm, somewhere else I’ll have to take you to, which has over a hundred different flavours of ice cream ranging from Christmas Pudding to Toblerone, Tiramisu to Vodka and my current favourite Raspberry Pavlova. I’m thinking a picnic at the top of Moel Ffamau (Mothers Mountain) would be more fun, and the hairball would certainly enjoy it more, and, if she’s content to fly a kite, I can make a start on the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.



July 6th – 7th

Dear Amanda,

Please send a picture of the shed!  I am eager to see it after hearing so much about it. I have been busy. TNNA, our big knitting industry trade show, is always a whirl wind. The new designs were well received! As soon as I was home, I coached Soma on his International Space Station report, and we settled on the order of the report and the information he would talk about. My husband put together a power point presentation to help with the order and show pictures. The final presentation was a huge success! The classroom has a smart board, so the power point slide were projected on the big screen. The screen itself is sensitive and works like a computer touch screen. All Soma had to do to move to the next slide was touch the screen. It was great and I was so proud.

All in all, I was in the studio for 3 days before we left for a short vacation in Michigan. It was a mad dash of putting things in order, sending out orders . . . The evening before our departure there was a wild storm that knocked out power all up and down the East Coast. Tree limbs and whole trees down in our neighborhood. We did not have any downed trees, fortunately. Our house had no power for four days. It was difficult to leave not knowing how long we would be without power, but we have wonderful neighbors who looked after the house, garden, 2 cats . . . until power came back in the middle of the night.

Meanwhile, we have been having adventures here in the thumb of Michigan (and none of them involved being near a computer for any length of time, but I am finally finding a moment of quiet to write). I had meant to write to you on the afternoon of July 4th. I had it all planned out in my mind: we got up EXTREMELY EARLY to go fishing. There were thunderstorms over the lake, right where we were planning to go, however, so we didn’t get on the boat until about 7:30 (2 hours later than planned. . . the first part of my plan gone awry!). For the first maybe hour not a single bite. I thought the trip was going to be a repeat of last years almost fish-less trip, but then Soma said, “There’s a fish on that line!” And he was RIGHT. He brought in the first fish of the day.

And he brought in just about every other fish (save perhaps 2 or so), including a “Sheep Head” (far left) and a Catfish (far right).

The end of the fishing trip put us in town just before the July 4th town parade, so we got stuck there as all roads leading in and out were closed for the parade. What fun! We don’t have parades with Bean Queens and 4-H Queens and the local Sugar brand Queens. Just about anyone (so it seemed) with a small business and a truck was part of the parade. Soma watched it all quietly in a seat some locals offered him. The other kids were all dashing about trying to grab a piece of the candy that just about everyone was throwing out of car windows and from the top of floats. My favorite of the parade was this huge farm vehicle below that was advertising someone’s farm business.

Even the undertaker took part. . . in an antique hearse, but they were so late (probably because the car was about as slow as slow can be). Nevertheless, they took a turn through town several times. I wish I had gotten a picture of them but I was eating a tasty sandwich at the time.

As soon as most of the traffic cleared out of town we made our way back to the cottage. Fish for dinner! Misha cooked the fillets in a big cast iron skillet over the open fire–delicious. As soon as dinner was consumed Soma, Misha, and I jumped in the car and made a dash back to Port Austin to wait for the fire works to begin. We found a great parking spot and a great place to watch: right by the water.

The fireworks were set up on a long pier. As we waited, the other people waiting were launching great big floating lanterns into the air. The nights get really dark over Lake Huron, so the lanterns looked beautiful floating away into the sky. Once the sky was really dark the fireworks began. They were fabulous and we were so glad we made the drive to see them.

The next day we went to see a woman named Sharon who lives a bit out of Port Austin proper on an old farm. She used to run a tiny yarn shop . . . that’s how we met. We were up here and I was searching for some 8mm needles. She was the only yarn shop for miles and miles.

A cute little shop in a renovated out building.

We’ve visited with Sharon every year since that first visit (we stayed for hours, Soma (only 3 at the time) found delicious plums on the plum trees, Sharon gave us things from her garden). When I was up here writing Noni Flowers, she invited me to meet all her yarn-loving, fiber-working friends, sent me home with tasty food, invited me to Thanksgiving Dinner with her family when I was alone. This visit I took her a copy of the book.

She’s put the farm up for sale . . . it’s a unique property, quiet (probably like your forever home) and peaceful. A beautiful place that is getting to be too much for her so she’s thinking to move closer into town. I took a lot of pictures because I don’t know if we’ll see her there next year.

Today we close up the cottage and leave. After days of calm water, the wind is fierce today and the water rough. The rock castle we made yesterday has fallen down. Here’s what it looked like right after Soma and I built it (my new favorite past time here at the lake: rock castle building).

Misha and Soma return tomorrow to Maryland. This afternoon I drive across the state to the west side of Michigan where I will teach two workshops, one at a sweet little shop in South Haven, Michigan called Needle in a Haystack, the other a bit farther south in another great shop called Stitching Memories in a town called Portage, Michigan.

Much to do to ready the cottage for our departure . . . laundry to fold, beds to re-make. I always hate leaving the lake . . . Next year we’ll build more rock castles.

Don’t forget to send pictures of the shed!


Noni Q&A: Cutting Stiffener to Fit & Putting Bag Feet On The Bag. . .

I mentioned in a recent blog that Fridays would be Noni Q&A. Any questions you have about the Noni Flowers, or finishing a bag, or making a bag. . . bring them on. I invite questions in the comments. If you are a bit shy, you can always send questions to my regular e-mail or through  Please do.

I recently received a question about bag feet. I first posted about this a bit ago, and then preparations for a trip, a bad storm (spectacular storm, in fact, with garden consequences, trees down all over, and massive East Coast power outage including in my neighborhood (and my house) and the neighborhoods of family and studio, the actual travel, etc., caused me to miss a week of Noni Q&A. I have since added to the original post, both in content and pictures.

Question: I purchased the stiffener you recommend and I have my bag feet, but the prongs on the feet are too big to go through the stiffener. Do I just put the prongs through the felt and then open them? What is the best way to do this?

Answer: I recently developed a new and improved way of putting the bag feet through the stiffener and it works for most bags.

You will need the following materials:

  1. Size 6 double pointed needle (only 1) If you have size 7 or 8 or 5 these will also work. In other words, use what will do the trick.
  2. Paper hole punch (handheld)
  3. Ruler (possibly but don’t go hunting for one)
  4. Noni Extra Stiff bag stiffener
  5. Scissors
  6. Noni 24mm (or, for smaller bags 12mm or 16mm) bag feet in nickel, antique brass, or gunmetal

Here’s a picture with the bag feet but without the ruler. . . I couldn’t seem to remember everything in one picture!

Here’s what you do:

The first step in putting bag feet on your bag is to cut your stiffener to fit the bottom of the bag nicely and snugly. This is easier than it looks. I always begin by holding the stiffener up to the outside of the bag.

The outside of the bag is larger than the inside, so if you cut the stiffener to fit the outside, it will necessarily be larger than the inside. Shave the stiffener a square at a time until it fits within the ‘slot’ formed when the side of the bag and the base come together.

If you feel the bag body of the bag bottom curving around the stiffener then the stiffener is too large or small respectively.

Perfectly fitting stiffener makes the intersection of bag bottom and body feel perfectly crisp, a sharp corner. Use the holes in the stiffener to guide your efforts for straight cuts.

Once the stiffener is the correct size, use the hole punch to punch holes in the stiffener.

I have found that 3 – 5 holes from side and end is optimal (that is, instead of using the ruler you didn’t hunt for, count the holes in the stiffener: count 3 – 5 holes from end and 3 – 5 holes from side and you’ve got the perfect corner). I punch the end/corner holes first on both ends. Then gently fold the piece in half to get the midpoint and punch a hole in the middle (both sides).

I now have 6 holes, 2 on each end, 2 in middle.

When all 6 holes are punched (I really think 6 bag feet is usually best, but your taste trumps mine, so pick your number according to your preferences!), then put your stiffener in the bag.

NOTE: Usually, a bag should have 2 layers of stiffener for a nice crisp shape AND allows you to line the bottom even when you have bag feet. . .SO, if you want 2 layers, use the first layer as a pattern to cut the second. Saves going through all that figuring again.

You may want to tack the stiffener down with big ugly sewing stitches/running stitches to hold it in place while you put the bag feet in. If the stitches show on outside, take them out later, or simply tack with invisible stitches from the get go.

From the inside of the bag, with stiffener in place, poke your size 6 double pointed needle through the little hole you made with the hole punch (needle as straight as possible), until the point is visible on the outside.

THEN, pull the double point to the inside of the bag and follow it with the prongs of the bag foot so bag foot prongs go through felt and then through small punched hole in stiffener. Once the bag foot is in place and you like its placement, then open the prongs on the inside.

I often “set” one bag foot first and then place the rest, see if they all look good, and then set the rest. This ensures that they all are in the correct place with no foot in some crazy off line place. Let’s imagine, however, that one foot is off, you didn’t notice until you set it.  Simply fold the prongs back up, take the foot out, and re-do.  The felt will close over the first hole you have made and no harm will be done.

Continue to set feet in the same manner as above until all are set.

Questions?  Bring them on!

Gone Fishing . . . Official Talking Across the Pond Post Later . . . Happy 4th!

Truly.  We’ve gone fishing.

We left the house at 5:30 am this morning, July 4th, to go Walleye fishing on Lake Huron. Weather has been curious. Yesterday, the tide came in, went out (extremely), then in, then out. In the matter of 20 minutes. It was as if a giant was drinking the water out of Lake Huron with a straw and then pouring water back in. Of course it was a full moon, or nearly so. Solar wind coming at us, electromagnetic adventures. Might even have been Northern Lights in the UP and Canada as a result. Wish I could have stayed up late enough to see for myself if we could see the lights where we were midway down the mitten thumb. . . the neighbor was out by his campfire half the night hoping for a spectacular show.

As you read this, I am hoping to be reeling in some Walleye, or watching my Soma reel them in. He’s been looking forward to this since last year when he caught the first fish of the day and 7 pounder that beat the one other fish we brought in. We’re hoping to best that meagre number today.

More details later in my letters from and to Amanda!

Happy Independence Day, America!  Happy Celebrations, everyone!

At the Lakehouse, where I wrote the book

On Friday night there were spectacular storms that knocked out the power in our neighborhood and, according to some reports I’ve heard, in many neighborhoods all up and down the East Coast.

We had been busy preparing to leave for a Michigan holiday: soaking the gardens, tidying up house and garden . . . We first noticed the storm when the lights started flickering as I vacuumed floors house-wide. And then the roar of the wind that tossed the trees this way and this way. Leaves flying. Lilies whipping around. It rained buckets, though not enough to soak the parched soil.

The next morning revealed great tree limbs in the road, trees down (though none of ours, I am glad to say).

We continued our preparations all morning and left with a generator running our refrigerator and the neighbors with instructions about what to do to keep it going. At this writing, power is still out in our house. . . we’ll see what we come home to!

I am in the lakefront house my parents-in-law own. This is where I wrote most of the flower patterns in Noni Flowers. It is peaceful. Here is a collection of photos I took this morning from the back patio, panning from left to right.

I’m signing off now. It’s my husband’s birthday today and Soma and I need to get to the business of making it a special day for him.