Sunday, June 14, 2015

Brough Bay Knit in Public Day

Caithness weather sent us into the cozy arms of the lighthouse store in Brough Bay, where our merry band of knitters talked and stitched and enjoyed a visit from gansey man ( with a dozen hand knit ganseys to inspire us!

Those not in the know thought World Wide Knit in Public Day was a wind up--for American readers, that means a joke. But according to the official accounting of the WWKIPers, there were 882 events on the day in 56 countries. Thus, we were e pluribus unum, which is a fancy way of saying we were one among many. And the only event of its kind in all of Caithness!

It was--as always, when a group oif knitters get together and blether and knit-- a good time. And a catalyst for good will.

Even non knitters joined in the fun--photographer, coffee maker, hostess in absentia. Now if only we could figure out how to get knitting needles into the seal's flippers...

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Brough Bay Gansey Squares Pattern

We'll need more squares than we'll make on the day, so even if you can't come and play with us, Saturday June 13th at Brough Bay, here's the basic pattern for the gansey square, which I adapted from Wool Shed's pattern for the Herring Girl Wrap. The first page of the pattern is available free on Ravelry; the second page, which contains he gansey motif charts are available for purchase only, so I'll encourage you to purchase the pattern to get those charts (Tree of Life, Starfish, diamond, and double diamond and anchor) and to explore gansey patterns specific to the number of stitches in our basic square.

Brough Bay Gansey Square pattern

(Adapted from Herring Girl wrap pattern by Wool Shed available on Ravelry)

Squares can be knit individually or in a column one after the other with a row of purl stitches between each square (this ensures you begin next square on the right side)

Using DK wool in the colours of shingle beach (see photo above) and 4mm needle,

BASIC Square
CO 23 stitches
Rows 1, 2, 3 K1, P1, K1

Rows 4—30 begin and end with K1, P1, K1

Rows 31, 32, 33 repeat the K1, P1, K1 as in the first 3 rows.

For BEGINNERS: Rows 4-30 do plain knitting (Remember to start and end each row with the K1, P1, K1)

Other simple variations include mixing garter stitch and plain knitting or doing half of square in garter and other half in plain knitting.

There are other sources of information for ganseys and patterns including local ones available on line. Any pattern that fits within basic square 26 sts x 33 rows is most welcome. Follow the progress of squares on the Brough Bay blog (

Silly Name for a Serious Bit of History

I've set up a Knit in Public event at Brough Bay for June 13th, the tenth anniversary of World Wide Knit in Public day (wwkipday). Taking your knitting needles and knitting in public hardly sounds revolutionary, especially for those of us known to have our needles at hand and pull them out during meetings or at lunch, but there is a serious intent behind it as well.

First, it is to honour women's work which is often invisible or unrecorded because it was done in the home or consumed or overlooked. Knitting was not just a luxury for folks up here--it was a necessity.  Women (and some men, too) knit for their own use and to make money to support their families. That's why I've picked gansey squares as a project. It gives us a hands on way to remember the fishermen's sweaters that men at Brough Bay would have worn.

Secondly, it gives folks who have grown up in a consumer economy a valuable you can do it yourself lesson: one stitch, one square may not transform a life, but it plants a seed of an idea--doing things with your hands is  good for you.  The thought that goes into designing, adapting,  or following a pattern involves some complex thinking skills.  Not hard, anyone can do it, that is the beauty of it. 

There are experts now that tell us doing something different with each of our hands is a great brain builder.  You don't often get to wear a successful story problem, but the same skills are used in knitting that you use to solve the problems that annoyed me so desperately in school. I never cared whether Train A arrived before Train B, but I could have been persuaded to noodle through a knit pattern. 

So for a little bit of fun and history and revolution, come along to Brough Bay Saturday June 13th. Beginners are welcome. We'll have extra needles and wool, so all you need is your curiosity.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Pancakes and a Power Drill

The sun was shining and two friends were coming by, so I expected good things to happen, but even my optimistic expectations were exceeded with a frabjous day. Pancakes--in the American way of thinking-- pancakes are Sunday morning and maple syrup with pancakes hot off the grill. Over here you can buy them in the store in packets ready made and only a few folks know about maple syrup. (As you may have noted in previous posts, though we have the north and the cold, we're a bit shy on trees.) So it was a great treat when my friend said as we poured cuppa coffee for us all, 'I'll make us some pancakes'--and she did! Just like that it was Sunday morning in America--I compromised and left the maple syrup in the cupboard and slathered mine in raspberry jam--but they were hot and fluffy and golden wonderfulness.

Armed with a meal worthy of lumberjacks, my friend with her book on live willow furniture and I  went out  to get some willow to make a chair that we would then plant. She worked saw and secateurs and drill while I worked in garden--there are always weeds! I took the opportunity to take some of the seedlings that have been languishing in their wee pots and get them into a raised bed in a sheltered spot.

While we pottered outside, my pancake-making friend was inside taming the chaos.

It was a great day--I have the chair that will hopefully grow--yes the 4 legs of the chair are planted back into the ground--how cool is that? And both the chair and the pancakes reminded me that I sometimes fail even to begin a project because I think it is too hard. With my friend's simpler recipe for pancakes and my drill-wielding friend's admonition to get over my fear of power tools, just perhaps I'll be a little less backward.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Re-shingling the Beach

It was my first work day at Brough as a committee member. I was relieved that the sun was shining. Some of the sturdier committee members were working on taking the slip out of the slipway. The photo shows it looking as slick as a seal after their good work.

Others were working away with pick and shovel to dig out the floor of the bothy in preparation for repairs and re flooring.

I joined a fellow committee member moving the fist-sized rocks --'ankle-turning size' she described them and I concurred--off the path where the sea had hurled them in a fit of pique like a toddler tossing toys out of a pram. I quickly dubbed our task 're-shingling the beach' and suggested we'd have an opportunity perhaps even with those same rocks to return them to the sea again.

Above the slipway, the rambunctious sea in full storm strength had hurled tons of stone onto what had been a smooth, level parking space. Shovels and wheelbarrows were making a dent in the storm-tossed rocks; I contributed a bucket or two tossed over the sea wall, but a handful of these errant pieces of geography came home with me in my pocket. For some reason they caught my eye. Just another instance of that irony that individuality somehow makes a connection, an affection, that excess overwhelms.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

New Brough Bay Associaton Committee Member

Of course I was as anxious as the first day of school. So I wound up lost and loster and arrived for first committee meeting an hour late. Not a good start. Everyone was very nice about it but they work hard and coming late I was not pulling my weight. I will just have to try harder.

Below is photo of bay I took some time ago--I like to think I'm a better photographer but that stunningly blue water is a treat anyway.

Stop by and enjoy it for yourself--especially if you want to  join a work day (next work day May 9) or come for music June 8th. Check the link below for details.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Very Short Sighted Public Inquiry

I believe as hard as I can in all the improbable things of this world like Santa Claus and tooth fairy and public inquiries that are really public and really an inquiry.

Because I believe, I am doubly disappointed when they fall so very short of the mark of either public or inquiry.

The Scottish Police Association spent a lot of time and money and good will on their recent inquiry into the decision by newly minted Police Scotland to decide arbitrarily to allow armed police to respond to routine inquiries. That was the first issue. Folks in the line at the checkout found themselves next to an officer with a sidearm--or worse. It was, at best, startling.

But that was only the first issue. And by ignoring all the rest, the SPA inquiry tips its hand as nothing more than jockeying for more power for themselves over police matters.

This is my blog so I'll be straightforward and say Stephen House, Chief Constable, lied. Please 
check the facts for yourself. You can track the media reports (including my own articles in the Caithness Courier) for the sequence of events. By delaying  publishing the results of their inquiry, most folks will have forgotten all that stooshie. But he lied. I am old fashioned. I think when folks in public office are called out on a lie, they need to resign. Especially police officers. Especially the chief cop.

Now to the findings of the so called public inquiry.

On the basis of only 1000 replies (for my American readers: yes, Scotland is small but not that small--overall population nearly 6 million if we all stand up tall and get counted), those of us who objected to the policy have become a 'significant minority'. Most people, they say, thought the policy was OK. Cue the Mark Twain quote re liars, damned liars, and those who use statistics.

Now what is worse is that headline makers do not even bother to see that only 1000 people responded (badly written questionnaire--perhaps in retrospect it was designed with just this oversimplified conclusion in mind) so now the headlines are that most people actually approve of the policy. That is a giant stride forward into self-servingness.

By calling it a PR problem, the SPA steps into the breach to help the police manage their communications. The fix is in.

It is not a PR issue to be lied to by the Chief Cop. It is not a PR issue to have a major cultural shift in how police relate to the people they are pledged to serve--not to bully, not to intimidate, not to protect themselves from, but to serve.

Iain Whyte said that even those who objected to the policy would have accepted it if it had been better communicated to them. That is half true. An essential part of that communication was to make the case for why armed police were necessary. That case was not made then and I daresay won't be offered now. Having been given headlines saying it was all a PR problem and most people really agree with the policy, the lies have been given the imprimatur of a public inquiry,
except it was neither public nor an inquiry.

I am so angry because I believed in this inquiry. I went to Inverness to give evidence and I wrote letters and answered their questionnaire. In short, I was used.

Now if you think this blog is un British in its tone and righteous indignation, then check out this blog:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Because Margaret Said So

Who knows what makes us connect one person to another. And some more firmly than others. It starts, in this case, with a shared connection thorugh a friend and knitting.  I have always lived more in my head than with my hands so I come awkwardly and tentatively to schooling my hands, which perhaps makes me appreciate more not only others' skills but also their willingness to share them with me.

Margaret tumbled into my life like that. If she hadn't been the sister of a friend and a knitter, we might never have known each other, but she meant a great deal to me even though we were so different and so tentatively connected. And so when news came today that she had died in her sleep I felt her loss for my own sake as well as for my friend's. Her eyesight had begun to fail her and she had set knitting aside. I don't think she found anything else to fill that gap.

Only yesterday as my fingers fumbled over a new stitch, I heard her words in my head--I cannot recereate the Yorkshire in her voice-- but the gist was that I had to be tough with my knitting and tug on the stitch to get it to line up as it should. And so I did as Margaret had taught me and was surprised yet again to see that the stitches did, in fact, behave. Margaret said so. That was enough for them.