Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Marcum and the Yankee--Happy Halloween!

I like to celebrate Halloween with Pocahontas County stories of the supernatural. I've posted my favorite ghost stories at Haunted Pocahontas County, but I've never before ventured into local accounts of witches, witchcraft, and the Devil. "The Hammons Family: Traditions of a West Virginia Family and Friends" (1973) published several stories from the old days, and "Marcum and the Yankee" is especially interesting. I've edited the transcript of Burl Hammons' recorded story to make it easier to follow. When you listen to Burl tell the story, it's plain as day who said what, but the Library of Congress folks dutifully transcribed every "ah," and "he said," making it almost unreadable. They make up for this lapse by providing some interesting commentary on the prevalence of male witches, guns, and supernatural hunting powers in Allegheny folk culture.

Burl Hammons, with fiddle

There was...a feller by the name of Marcum, and they was a Yankee there,...they didn't know where he'd come from....this feller got talking about building a mill, you know, a grist mill, and this stranger to build his mill for him, he told him he'd just hire him to build the mill for him. And he went to work at the mill.

And it--it kindly got scarce, you know, directly, meat, you know, they killed the bigger part of their meat, and so...this feller said to Marcum, "Why don't you get out" he said..."and kill us a deer?"

"Well," Marcum said, that's kindy hard," he said....And Marcum went out and hunted that day and he never killed nary none.

"Why," he said, "if you've seen any sign," he said, "I can kill a deer."

"Well," Marcum said, "there's plenty of sign." he said. "I just didn't happen to see ary one."

And the Yankee said, "Well, I'll go with you in the morning."

And...they took out, and didn't go but a little piece till here'd went a deer...."Oh," Marcum said, "it ain't no use to track that deer, follow after that deer, just no telling how far it is," he said, "it's no use to follow after it."

And he said--told Marcum, the Yankee did, he said, "Just get up there, and sit down."

....And Marcum just sat down, just setting there, and he [the Yankee] got right down over the track, and he said, "Don't you speak," he told him, he said, "Don't you speak," he said. And Marcum said he just set there a little while, he said he thought that was one of the biggest, craziest men setting there over that deer track. And he set there right smart while...And after a while he...heard somthing a-coming the way the deer'd went, he...heard something a-coming. And...directly he saw that deer a-coming, he said it was just a-coming, and...its hair was all buzzed up and its tongue was out of its mouth, he said, that far, just like it had run to death. And...the deer just come up about 20 steps to hem, and [the Yankee] said, "Well, all right now, kill it."

And Marcum just took the gun and killed it. "And how--," he said, "now," he said, "I can't eat a bite of that deer myself, you can eat all you want," he said, "I won't eat a bite of it."

Well," [the Yankee] said, "I don't know why....That deer's just as good as any deer."

CD Cover: The Hammons Family: Traditions of a West Virginia Family and Friends

"Well," [Marcum] said..."if you'll tell me how you done that," he said, "I'll just give you anything I ever seen....just give you anything if you'll just tell me...."

"Now," [the Yankee] said...I don't want n' anything. But," he said, "it wouldn't be no use for me to tell you because, " he said, "you wouldn't do it if I'd tell you."

"Oh yes," [Marcum] said, I will," and he just kept on....

"Besides, if I'd tell you," he said, "you'd aim to kill me, and," he said, "that you'll not do; I can tell you before it."

"No I wouldn't," he said, "besides, a friend like you...." Then he just kept on....

"All right," [the Yankee] said, 'I'll tell you....You go up on that high mountain, and...when you see the sun...a-gettin' up of a morn, just as it's hit the hill," he said, "you shoot at that sunball, nine mornings. And," he said, "the ninth morning there'll be a drop of blood on your gun barrel. And," he said, "you take a little piece of paper and...cut a little place on your arm, and write it on it how long you want to be sold to the devil and give it to him when he comes to get it."

"All right," [Marcum] said, he'd do that.

And he'd go ever morning up there and--the ninth morning, when he shot that time, he said he looked onto the gun barrel and there was a drop of blood. And he just cut a little place on his arm and writ I think it was a year, uh, he wanted....And he said the gun never quit roaring; he said the gun never quit roaring, he said it just kept on roaring, he said the longer the worse, and the longer the worse, and after a while he said the whole earth just seemed like it got to jarring with him just up and down. And he said directly he looked a-coming through the treetops, and he said there come some kind of a thing that they was balls of fire coming out of its mouth. And he just dropped and away he went to the house and told 'em what he'd seen and all about this. He told them all about it and he said, "I'm a-going down to kill the Yankee just as quick as I can go down. Man telling me such stuff as that, I'm a-going down to kill him." They tried to beg him not to go. "Yes sir, I'm a-going down," he said, "to kill the Yankee."

And he just took his gun and started down where he was a-working on the mill and the Yankee seen him a-coming. He knowed just exactly what he'd done.

"Well," he said, I've come to kill you."

He said, "Just as I expected. But," he said, you ain't' a-yet." And...the Yankee just picked up his gun, and just took and shot him, and they said that Marcum just jumped up and just crowed like a rooster and just fell over dead. The Yankee just quit and they never did hear tell of him no more, he just quit right there and...went right on. They was no way they could get trace of him.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Blog Post Per Day for November, 2007

NABLOPOMO 2007 Badge

Last November, I participated in Nablopomo, National Blog Posting Month, and posted every day for a month, whether I had something sensible to say or not. It was a helpful exercise, and convinced me to do more with my blog. I decided to try it again this year, even though the "badge" and "buttons" feature the Lolcat emblem of I can has cheezburger?, which I suspect may be the harbinger of the End of Western Civilization. I suppose nothing lasts forever.

The NABLOPOMO Randomizer is a nifty feature that sends you to a randomly chosen participant blog. Last year, I blog-hopped quite a bit and observed that the crowd was dominated by the young, the hip, and the suburban, and the drawing for prizes featured the donated handicrafts of people utterly devoured by irony. Still, I found many interesting, regularly updated blogs I wouldn't have read otherwise. It looks as though this year's participants will include a more diverse assortment, although the prizes remain resolutely too hip to live.

I haven't broken the "30 posts per month" barrier yet in 2007, so that's my goal. Oh, and I've got to memorize four poems. I promised Sherry. I'm starting to look longingly at limericks.

Monday, October 29, 2007

End of October Reds

Purple Finch, male, in maple tree

Some years, we go all winter without a Purple Finch at our bird feeder, but this year, a small group seems to have been waiting for the sunflower seed bonanza to begin. I hope the bears don't find the feeder again--they're the ones who "took it down" in the spring. It makes me nostalgic for the my time in the city, where people curse the squirrels for eating all the birdseed.

  • Tricky Bird IDs: House Finch, Purple Finch, and Cassin's Finch
  • Separating Finches from Cornell's "Birdscope."
  • Purple Finch entry from Cornell's "All About Birds."
  • John James Audubon's account of the Purple Finch. This is well worth reading--here's an excerpt.
    The song of the Purple Finch is sweet and continued, and I have enjoyed it much during the spring and summer months, in the mountainous parts of Pennsylvania, where it occasionally breeds, particularly about the Great Pine Forest, where, although I did not find any nests, I saw pairs of these birds flying about and feeding their young, which could not have been many days out, and were not fully fledged. The food which they carried to their young consisted of insects, small berries, and the juicy part of the cones of the spruce pine.
Female Purple Finch on Bird Feeder

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Blow Flies Appreciate the Carrion Flower

Calliphorid fly on Stapelia blossom

I took the Stapelia flower outside yesterday, partly looking for pollinators, and partly to air out the living room, as the flower was getting a bit too powerful. Despite the wind and cool temperatures, I had blow flies within a few minutes. Although two species of calliphorids arrived promptly, only one held still enough for photographs. Unfortunately, no oviposition occurred. One of the flies rode indoors with the plant, and when I checked this evening, it had expired. Perhaps it was fatally entangled by the long, resinous red hairs inside the blossom. Life is full of unanticipated hazards.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Kitchener Stitch--Tidbit of Knitting History

It was only a few years ago that I really mastered the knitting technique known as "Kitchener stitch." Using yarn threaded through a tapestry needle, you can join two raw knitted edges invisibly, so that they seem to be knitted in one continuous piece. It makes a tidy sock toe. I was never sure whether "Kitchener" should be capitalized, or why the seamless grafting technique had that name, but yesterday, while looking for something else, I discovered the answers to both these questions.

"Kitchener Stitch is called after Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, British military hero of Boer War and WW I. He associated himself with a Red Cross plan to dragoon US womanhood into knitting 'comforts' for the men in the trenches, and contributed his own sock design, which included a square-ish 'grawfted' toe. Hence the Kitchener Sock; hence Kitchener Stitch. Truth is indeed stranger than imagination . ."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Carrion Flower

Stapelia, a blooming house plant

A friend gave me a small start of this succulent houseplant a few years ago. It wasn't until it bloomed two years ago that I realized it was a Stapelia, and not some euphorbiaceous thing. Stapelia is sometimes listed as a member of the milkweed family, Asclepiadaceae, and sometimes as Apocynaceae (dogbane and Indian hemp are North American species). Either way, its odd, fleshy flowers are in character. This species' flowers smell strongly of rotting meat (to the horror and dismay of my cat, Princess), and last time it bloomed, it was warm enough to place out in the yard, where it attracted blowflies. The blowflies actually oviposited on the flower, and in a few days, I had a brood of forlorn maggots looking in vain for something to eat. With any luck, it will stop raining, and I can take the plant back outside for its quirky, fruitless pollination.

Some links, including some amazing photographs of other Stapelia species:

Stapelia flower center

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rich October Skies

Locust Creek, October view

Last Saturday was probably the fall foliage peak for this part of Pocahontas County. All the calculations that tourism boosters use to predict fall color seem to have little value. We still haven't had a frost and it's been terribly dry, yet this year the colors seemed especially bright. Sunday, the wind came up, and this week's welcome rains have also brought down many of the colorful leaves, so my Locust Creek vista here is just a memory now. I am, however, a great fan of bare trees, and I'm looking forward to drizzly November views and snowy winter branches.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Schoolhouse On the Hill

Schoolhouse on the Greenbrirer

October's deep blue skies and colorful leaves always make me think of this Carter family song. My parents, aunts and uncles, and most of my cousins fondly remembered their days in one-room schoolhouses, and this song evokes for me a sweet, second-hand nostalgia that seems entirely appropriate for autumn.

I learned this song from the Sara Carter's singing in the June, 1933 session in Rounder Records' "Complete Victor Recordings" series. I've not seen the original 1907 shape note songbook; these are the lyrics as I hear them, and I may have misunderstood some words. The imagery is unusually vivid for a turn of the century sentimental song.

The Schoolhouse On the Hill
Fond memory paints its scenes of other years,
Brings me their memory still,
And bright amid those joyous scenes appears
The schoolhouse on the hill.


     Oh, the schoolhouse that stands upon the hill--
     I never, never can forget.
     Dear happy days are gathered 'round me still--
     I never, never can forget.

There hangs the swing upon the maple tree,
Where you and I once swung.
There flows the spring, forever flowing free
As when we both were young.


There climb the vines and there the berries grow
Which once we prized so high;
And their ripe clusters glisten in the glow
Of rich October skies.


School was in session until the 1960's in this schoolhouse, although it is on the Greenbrier River, not on a hill. Some of the students came to school in boats. That must have made vivid memories.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Female Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, stunned by window

This Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker had an unfortunate encounter with the living room window yesterday. She flew away after while. We occasionally see these woodpeckers around the house in the spring, but this is my first fall sighting.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dust On the DSLR Sensor

Sugar maple leaf, red and fallen, in a patch of sun

I had a little camera excitement the other day. I took some fall foliage pictures, and it became painfully obvious that I had dust on my camera's sensor cover. I have a Nikon digital SLR, (mostly because I've used SLR's happily for 40 years, and couldn't figure out how to operate a point-and-shoot camera), and I change between a macro and a telephoto lens often. You are supposed to change lenses in a dust-free environment, but I don't have one of those, so dust in the camera was inevitable.

As it happens, I was able to blow the large chunk of dust away with a Nikon-recommended blower-bulb, so most of my Web-reading has been for future reference. I didn't have to decide what sort of expensive or inexpensive equipment I need to buy, but now I know what's out there, and what other people do. Here is my collection of sensor-cleaning links.

The Hawthorn Problem

Hawthorn haws

Lest you think my success at maple identification will make me arrogant, let me tell you about my recent attempt to identify the hawthorn species in our yard. It took me a while to convince myself that these were, in fact, hawthorn, because they didn't look like any hawthorns I was familiar with, and they definitely don't "match" pictures in "the book" or on the Interwebtubenet. The Flora of West Virginia and Gray's Manual of Botany eventually let me eliminate all the other local genera in the Rosaceae.

I knew that Crataegus species limits are tricky, and that there is hybridization, but I thought I might identify these shrubs to species group. Unfortunately, the initial couplets in the keys all concern leaf characters, and these little trees have extremely variable leaf morphology.

Lest you think I'm giving up prematurely, here's a synopsis of the Crataegus problem from the Dickinson lab at the University of Toronto:

Between 1896 and 1910 the number of North American Crataegus species increased dramatically. Many of these species were described by C. S. Sargent, director of the Arnold Arboretum. Sargent eventually expressed himself to a correspondent about his pleasure in traveling in South America, where no hawthorns grew....The large number of species described during this period...led W. H. Camp (1942) to enunciate what he saw as "the Crataegus problem."

....[T]he discovery of polyploidy and other evidence (e.g. widespread male sterility) of...hybridization has been studied in detail only in situations involving the Eurasian diploid species C. monogyna....Polyploid Crataegus are apomictic and are suspected of being of hybrid origin, but only apomixis has been studied in any detail, and that only recently (Campbell et al. 1991). Even so, new species of Crataegus continue to be described without discussion of whether they merely represent apomictic genotypes, or in fact comprise populations of different, panmictic genotypes.

And here are some Cratategus identification tips. Note the frequent use of the "spp." word.

Thorny hawthorn branch

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dark Night Of the Taxonomic Soul

Maple leaves and October Sky

After reading Dave's Invasion of the Swamp Things, I began to lose my nerve. It's not that I was frightened to learn that red maple (Acer rubrum) is now the most common tree in Pennsylvania. It's just that I never see red maples around here. I began to worry that I could no longer tell one maple from another, that the trees I've been blithely calling Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) actually were Dave's ubiquitous Acer rubrum.

Eventually I was reassured by Gray's Manual of Botany and some Internet resources. The dominant maple here on Droop Mountain is indeed Acer saccharum, Sugar Maple. I expect this is because Droop Mountain has been cleared farm land since the early 1800's, and because many farmers kept a sugar bush for making maple syrup. The fencerow full of big sugar maples here on our place is what's left of such a sugar bush.

Sugar Maple samaras

Although samaras were scarce this year because of the hard freeze we had in April, I found these diagnostic maple seeds in the yard. Sugar Maple (and Black Maple) have these "horseshoe-shaped" samaras, while the twin seeds of Red Maple come to a sharp point where they meet the peduncle.

Sugar Maple Twig

The leaf buds on Red Maple are blunt, but these sharply pointed buds are characteristic of the "Hard Maples," Sugar Maple and Black Maple (Acer nigrum). Given my mood of self-doubt, I had to go back to Gray's Manual, to check whether I had Sugar Maple or Black Maple. The delicate lenticels on these twigs are characteristic of Sugar Maple. On Black Maple twigs, the lenticels are large and raised, and the older twig regions are waxy, and tend to peel. I still know one maple from another.

Some maple identification links:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

White Snakeroot, Gone Ecru

White snakeroot inflorescence, flowers and seeds

When White Snakeroot goes to seed, it looks like so many other Asteraceae--long, etched achenes with fluffy ecru parachutes. I don't believe any milk cows would be tempted by them in this condition.

White snakeroot seeds

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More October Reds

Rose leaves

While the maple leaves have stalled in their color change, my rose bush is growing again, coming up with different October reds.

Rose blossom

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Carping Tourist, Pocahontas County, 1821

The October issue of The Pocahontas Times' monthly tourism supplement is finally on the Web. It features an interesting article about Huntersville Traditions Day by Drew Tanner. Published before this year's event, the article describes the ongoing renovation of the old schoolhouse building, and quotes historical notes from a February 1, 1951 article by Pocahontas Times editor Cal Price.

I particularly enjoyed this letter, written by Colonel J. Howe Peyton shortly after the formation of Pocahontas County in 1821. It includes two of my favorite topics: local history of textiles, and insulting accounts of rural people by obnoxious tourists. He boasts of his own palatial slave quarters and condescends toward the dirty backwoodswomen in his letter, so I'm sure his manners made the local folks glad to see the back of him.

"On Tuesday at two o'clock, we arrived at Huntersville, the seat of Justice of Pocahontas County, a place as much out of the world as Crim Tartary. Owing to the bad condition of the roads we were fatigued and bore many marks of travel stain. The so called town of Huntersville consists of two illy-constructed, time worn, (though it is not time which has worn them,) weather beaten cabins built on logs and covered with clapboards. My negro cabins on Jackson's River are palaces in comparison with them.

One of these wretched hovels is the residence of John Bradshaw, the other is called the loom house for these people are self sustaining. They spin and weave. The big wheel and the little wheel are birring in every hut and throwing off the woolen and linen yarn to be worked up for family purposes. The home-spun cloth, too, is stronger and more durable than that brought by our merchants from Northern manufacturers.

In Bradshaw's dwelling, there is a large fireplace which occupies one entire side, the gable end. The chimney is enormous and so short that the room is filled with light which enters this way. It is an ingenious contrivance for letting all the warmth escape through the chimney, whilst most of the smoke is driven back into the chamber. In the chimney corner I prepared my legal papers before a roaring fire, surrounded by rough mountaineers, who were drinking whiskey and as night advanced, growing riotous. In the back part of the room two beds were curtained off with horse blankets--one for the Judge and one for myself. To the left of the fireplace stood old Bradshaw's couch. In the loft, to which they ascended, by means of a ladder, his daughter and the hired woman slept, and at times of a crowd, a wayfarer. The other guests were sent to sleep in the Loom House, in which was suspended in the look a half-woven piece of cloth. Three beds were disposed about the room, which completed its appointments: one was allotted to Sampson Matthews, a second to George Mays and John Brown. The loom was used as a hat rack at night and for sitting on, in the absence of chairs in the day. As there was not a chair or stool beyond those used by the weaving women, my clients roosted on the loom while detailing their troubles and receiving advice.

Bradshaw's table is well supplied. There is profusion, if not prodigality in the rich, lavish bounty of the goodly tavern. We had no venison, as this is a shy season with the deer, but excellent mutton with plenty of apple sauce, peach pie, roasting ears. As a mark of deference and respect to the Court, I presumed, we had a table cloth--they are not often seen on Western tables and when they are, are not innocent of color--and clean sheets upon our beds. This matter of the sheets is no small affair in out of the way places, as it not unfrequently happens that wanderers communicate disease through the bedclothing. Old Bradshaw's family is scrupulously clean which is somewhat remarkable in a region where cleanliness is for the most part on the outside. A false modesty seems to prevent those salutary ablutions which are so necessary to health, and I did not commend myself to the good graces of the hired woman by insisting on my footbath every morning.

We remained five days at Huntersville closely engaged in the business of the Court, which I found profitable. Pocahontas is a fine grazing county, and the support of the people is mainly derived from their flocks of cattle, horses and sheep, which they drive over the mountains to market. There is little money among them except after these excursions, but they have little need of it--every want is supplied by the happy country they possess, and of which they are as fond as the Swiss of their mountains. It is a pretty country, a country of diversified and beautiful scenery in which there is a wealth of verdure and variety which keeps the attention alive and the outward eye delighted."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Cardigan Anxiety

cardigan sweater shoulders

My French Tweed cardigan is at that interesting stage of top-down knitting. It's just about time to divide the sleeves from the body. If I do this too early, the body and sleeves will be tight, and look skimpy and pitiful. If I knit too many rows before I divide for sleeves and body, the armholes will be big and floppy, and the sweater will look like a shapeless sack. I know this from bitter experience, and I have yet to get it just right. It's disconcerting how little difference there is between too big and too little, and it's not something I've been able to accurately eyeball or assess by trying it on.

When (or if) I get the bugs worked out of this top-down set-in sleeve design, I'll provide directions.

Cardigan sweater started

Friday, October 12, 2007

Red Socks Finished Just In Time For Cool Weather

Red wool socks in Broad Spiral Rib, displayed on the woodpile

These red socks have been in the works a long time. I finally finished them Wednesday night. In case anyone is considering it, I don't recommend this pattern, "Broad Spiral Rib" for socks. It's pretty, but it's rather tedious in fine yarn on small needles, and the "ribs" are lumpy and draw up the fabric quite tightly. I'm sure I'll wear them happily, but many people are more particular about sock texture than I. Ah well, it was good practice for working twist-stitch patterns. On to more interesting knitting.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tilia Trouble

The basswood tree has taken it on the chin this year. The Easter snow froze its buds so it couldn't flower or set seeds this year. These leaves were a second, late flush of adventitious shoots. They seem to be troubled with fractal-patterned spots.

Whether this is fungal growth or insect damage I don't know, but the basswood shows golden leaves in the face of adversity.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Red October

Red sugar maple among the green trees

We haven't had a frost on this ridge yet. The trees and woody vines are of different opinion on the fall color change.

Red sugar maple leaf

Some of the sugar maples believe it is still summer, while others have turned, at least in part.

Red Virginia creeper leaves

The Virginia creepers are unanimous in their purple-shaded reds.

Red sumac leaf

The sumac is exploring color change, while the hawthorn has ripened its fruits yet remains green in the leaves.

Red haw

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Bee Flexible

Bumblebee grooming on pale blue aster blossoms

I noticed this bumblebee grooming herself this morning. She can scratch the back of her head with her mesothoracic legs. It made me want to take up yoga.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Saturday Spinning

homespun yarn

I spent yesterday at the Huntersville Heritage festival, demonstrating spinning and knitting. It was a warm summer day, and there was a very nice turnout. We've been there when the first weekend in October was miserable and cold, too. It would have been a great opportunity for interesting photographs, but all I brought home were some small skeins of this purple yarn I spun from locally grown wool. Burdock is the theme of this wool. I picked burdock heads out of it as I washed it, as I dyed it, and as I carded it. I also pick out burdock bits as I spin and knit with it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Warwick's Fort in Pocahontas County

The Pocahontas Times features an article on a Green Bank school project this week. It includes some interesting references to Pocahontas County history, which I've excerpted here. The Times will only show the article and photos on its web site until next Thursday, after which they go into the for-pay archive.

Students unearth Colonial history in Green Bank by Drew Tanner

Pocahontas County high school and middle school students got a rare opportunity last week to search for artifacts from centuries past.....

Situated on a bluff between the forks of Deer Creek, Warwick's Fort was named for John Warwick, the Colonial pioneer whose log cabin once stood just a stone's throw to the north. The fort was one of a series built in the Greenbrier Valley between 1774 and 1776....

Records show the fort was constructed by 16 of Captain George Moffet's company from Augusta County, Virginia.

Each man was paid 15 pounds for six days of work on the fort....

The McBrides estimate the fort was constructed around June, 1774, just as white settlements in the Deer Creek Valley were beginning to take hold. "The main force on the frontier were the militia," Stephen McBride noted. "When Moffet's company came and built this, there were probably around 50 or so men," he explained, "and then George Matthews' company came. He had a smaller company, maybe about 30 or so."

When Matthews' company left for the battle of Point Pleasant in 1774, 16 men were left to guard the fort under William Kennerly. At any given time, about 25 men, or a sergeant's command, might be stationed at the fort, Stephen McBride continued.Settlements might extend in 10 mile radius from such forts, he said. In many cases, the forts provided functions other than protection. They might have hosted church services or a school. Other forts had blacksmiths or stores with basic provisions. In the case of Fort Warwick, the closest store was likely in Warm Springs....

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Imprinting On Twist-Stitch Patterns

Ribbed Leaf Panel, knitted in French Tweed Yarn

I used to put fancy cables on every sweater I knitted. I find them fascinating and mysterious, yet easy to knit. However, cable patterns (especially complex ones) have one disadvantage for garment design--they add bulk to the wearer's figure. Very few people want their clothes to make them look bigger around. Twist-stitch patterns are equally interesting to look at (How do those stitches move diagonally across the fabric?), but to me they seem difficult to knit. That's why I've made several pairs of socks with plenty of twist-stitches--practice, practice, practice. Twist-stitch patterns are much flatter than cables, and it's my hope that this "Ribbed Leaf Pattern" will add interest to my cardigan without making me look too roly-poly.

I got this pattern from Barbara Walker's A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns, my first knitting book, and still my favorite. I bought Ms. Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns and A Third Treasury of Knitting Patterns as soon as I found them, and I always consult them when choosing designs, but I usually go with a pattern from the middle book. Perhaps it's imprinting--I follow the pattern book I saw first, like a greylag gosling following Konrad Lorenz.

I often rewrite Ms. Walker's patterns to make them easier for me to follow. Here are my altered directions for Ribbed Leaf Panel (19 stitches).

Row 1:  k8, p3, k8 (Wrong side)
Row 2:  p7, RT, k1, LT, p7 (Right side)
Row 3:  k7, p5, k7
Row 4:  p6, RT, k3, LT, p6
Row 5:  k6, p7, k6
Row 6:  p5, (RT) twice, k1, (LT) twice, p5
Row 7:  k5, p9, k5
Row 8:  p4, (RT) twice, k3, (LT) twice, p4
Row 9:  k4, p11, k4
Row 10: p3, (RT) 3 times, k1, (LT) three times, p3
Row 11: k3, p13, k3
Row 12: p2, (RT) 3 times, k3, (LT) three times, p2
Row 13: k2, p15, k2
Row 14: p2, k1, (RT) 3 times, k1, (LT) three times, k1, p2
Row 15: k2, p15, k2
Row 16: p2, LT, (RT) twice, k3, (LT) twice, RT, p2
Row 17: k3, p13, k3
Row 18: p3, LT, (RT) twice, k1, (LT) twice, RT, p3
Row 19: k4, p11, k4
Row 20: p4, LT, RT, k3, LT, RT, p4
Row 21: k5, p9, k5
Row 22: p5, LT, RT, k1, LT, RT, p5
Row 23: k6, p7, k6
Row 22: p6, LT, k3, RT, p6
Row 25: k7, p5, k7
Row 26: p7, LT, k1, RT, p7
Book Cover: A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns

Barbara Walker's Right Twist: (RT) Knit 2 together, leaving stitches on left-hand needle; insert right-hand needle from the front between the two stitches just knitted together, knit the first stitch again. Slip both stitches from the needle together.

Barbara Walker's Left Twist: (LT) Skip one stitch, knit into back of next stitch; then insert right-hand needle into backs of both stitches (skipped stitch and next stitch) and knit two together in back of stitches.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Blast from Yarn Shops Past

French Tweed by Unger, two skeins

About 1979 or 1980, this yarn, "French Tweed" was displayed at the Yarn Barn in romantic Willimantic, Connecticut. It cost $7.50 per 100 gram skein, way beyond my knitting budget, but I longed for it. It came in several earthy, tweedy, hippie-girl colors, including this ecru/coffee mix, burgundy/pink, and coral/gold. It never went on sale, no one else ever bought it, and eventually, I moved away from Connecticut and was able to stop obsessing over it.

Strands of French Tweed yarn

Imagine my delight when I found it on sale for $2.50 a skein, (1987 or 1988, I think) at a wonderful yarn shop, Woolgatherer, on Dupont Circle in Our Nation's Capitol. I bought all my favorite colors, and soon knitted a burgundy gansey with sweet little cables on the yoke. To my horror, the yarn was terribly over-twisted, and made from short, brittle fibers, so the yarn broke often. The slubs made it easy to drop stitches and hard to find them, and the finished sweater twisted sideways and wouldn't hang straight no matter how many times I blocked it. Even my first efforts at spinning were better than this stuff.

I felted the sweater (which helped the twisting problem) and gave it to a very petite friend, and I gave away the six skeins of coral/gold to a blonde knitter, but I've had this stuff in the cedar chest for a long time. It didn't seem durable enough for socks, but this weekend, I decided it would do to test fit a cardigan pattern. I'm trying to get a better fit on a Barbara Walker-style top-down set-in sleeve pattern, and I thought a cardigan would be useful. Here's the front and back just before I picked up stitches for the tops of the sleeve caps. The black arrows show where the shoulder seams would be, if there were any.

Top-down cardigan with set-in sleeves