Posted by: christinelaennec | November 7, 2015

Cytokine fest: frozen shoulder and ME/CFS

I’ve mentioned a few times here that I’ve been dealing with a frozen shoulder.  That in itself isn’t worth posting about, but in the course of the treatment I’ve been receiving from my osteopath, I have learned some interesting things about the process of the frozen shoulder that seem to be not unlike what happens with ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), and I wanted to share them here in case they are of interest to you, too.  I am neither a scientist nor a medic; the following are merely personal reflections, not an attempt to solve two medical mysteries.

The bruises from last week's NAT treatment on my frozen shoulder. Read on if you want to know why I am paying someone to do this to me, and very grateful for it!

The bruises from last week’s NAT treatment on my frozen shoulder. Read on if you want to know why I am paying someone to do this to me, and am very grateful for it!

In the spring, Columbia University released the results of an important study into ME/CFS.  Comparing them to what my osteopath has explained to me (on her webpage here), I have noticed the following similarities:

  • both ME/CFS and frozen shoulder are caused by the body having an over-the-top immune response to some kind of event.  In both cases, the body floods itself (in the case of ME/CFS) or an area of the body (in the case of a frozen shoulder) with far too many cytokines. As I understand it, these molecules are helpful as an immune response when they are released in the right amount.  But when the body overproduces them, havoc results.
  • My upper arm began aching a year ago after getting a flu jab.  My osteopath thinks the frozen shoulder may have been triggered, as this over-the-top immune response, by the flu jab.  However, the frozen shoulder may also have been caused by hormonal shifts due to my age (now 55).  Similarly, the Dafter fell ill over four years ago with both bacterial infections and viruses, and her ME/CFS followed, as is very often the case [edit: meaning, ME/CFS often follows viruses or bacterial infections, although it can also come on in other circumstances].
  • In the case of a frozen shoulder, once the body begins this over-production of cytokines into the shoulder, nothing can halt the process.  My osteopath calls the process a “cascade”.  It can be sped up by the Neil-Asher Technique (NAT), but it cannot be stopped.  It must run its course.  This seems to be similar to the findings of the Columbia Study on ME/CFS:  the overproduction of cytokines in the body typically begins to fall after about three years or so.
  • One of the reasons I opted for the weekly NAT treatments is that my osteopath told me that in her experience sometimes people, whose frozen shoulder runs its course naturally, lose a degree of mobility.  It struck me that I’ve heard that some people with ME/CFS never quite recover full health.  (The phrase I hear is often, “She still has to be careful, but…”)
  • In the case of frozen shoulder, the flooding of cytokines makes the muscles stick together, and causes great inflammation.  This is very painful, as well as limiting in terms of movement.  What happens to the muscles in the case of ME/CFS is not clearly understood, although a recent study showed a cellular difference in the leg muscles of ME/CFS sufferers compared with healthy sedentary people.  It is, however, the case that pain is definitely a very common symptom of ME/CFS.  I have mentioned elsewhere on the blog that the Dafter is in pain most days, to varying degrees.
  • The bruises on my arm are caused by the osteopath trying to get the adhesions in the muscles (which run up to the neck and down to the wrist) to “unstick”.  I was most intrigued when, during my most recent weekly session, as I was trying to breathe through the pain of the treatment (Faith whispering, “sorry, sorry”), I asked her, “Why does it help the inflammation to work into it so hard?  Doesn’t that just make it worse?”  She answered, “Yes – we have to make it worse initially, so that the body will send the enzymes and proteins to help.  The body adapts to the ongoing inflammation so much that it thinks ‘this is the new normal’.  We have to worsen the inflammation, so the nerves will send the signals, ‘something is wrong'”.  Her explanation made me think about adaptation in the case of chronic illness.  I said to her, “So this is like how my daughter fights through every day – it would be easy just to give up and go back to bed, but she gets up, gets dressed, goes to as much school as she can, all the while feeling hellish.  In fact, what she’s doing is reminding the body that being ill isn’t ‘the new normal’.”  Faith agreed with this comparison.
  • [Edited to add:] Another similarity is that both frozen shoulder and (in my opinion) ME/CFS require pacing for recovery.  My osteopath has reminded me each week to use the mobility I’ve gained after the treatment, but not push beyond it, or I could make my shoulder worse and go back a step in my healing.  Similarly – and some will disagree with this – I believe that ME/CFS recovery requires stretching your limits, but not consistently going beyond them.  In both cases, people usually experience steps back in their healing process.

There is so much we don’t know about the body/mind and healing.  But, as painful as the frozen shoulder has been, it has helped me to feel I have a better understanding of the process my daughter is going through.  After 9 weekly NAT treatments, I have much better mobility in my arm, am able to sleep through the night without the pain waking me up, and have cut back just a little bit on the anti-inflammatories.  I will probably have to keep going until Christmas, so if my own little cytokine festival can be over by then, that will be a wonderful present.

In any case, I am very grateful that there’s a non-invasive treatment to help me.  By June I couldn’t do much yoga (I haven’t been back, as I still can’t put weight down on my arm); by August I couldn’t hug the Dafter and was really struggling to drive well.  I hate to think what state I would have been in if I weren’t lucky enough to access NAT treatment.  The Columbia study on ME/CFS points to the possibility of perhaps someday being able to help those whose immune response sets off the “cytokine cascade”.  I really pray that the suffering of people with ME will be alleviated sooner rather than later.

As I say, the above reflections are my own personal experiences, and I am not a scientist.  But perhaps some of you may find them of interest.  I would like to add that I’m not suggesting that everyone with a chronic illness should “just get up out of bed”.  In the case of the Dafter, I feel strongly that the way forwards is to battle.  But I know that, even in her case, the illness has the upper hand to a large extent, and is out of her control.  What the medical field is beginning to understand about these two conditions is minute, compared to what is not understood.

 

Posted by: christinelaennec | October 30, 2015

The Tenement House, Glasgow

A few weeks ago, I was very lucky to be able to visit The Tenement House in Glasgow.  This property has been owned by the National Trust for Scotland for the past 30 years and has a very interesting history.  The day I visited was one of the first days that photography was allowed inside!  I was so happy to be able to show you.

Table set for tea in the parlour. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Table set for tea in the parlour. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

For many people, the word “tenement” conjures up abject poverty.  In Glasgow, however, the term denotes 19th-century apartment buildings that were quite genteel, and in many cases have remained so ever since.   This tenement building was built in 1892, and the flat that houses the museum was the home of Miss Agnes Toward.  Miss Toward came in 1911 and lived there with her mother.  Mrs. Toward was a seamstress, and her daughter Agnes earned a living as a stenographer.

A closer look!

A closer look!  Yes, the baked goods are real.  I’m sorry I don’t know what the cake is.

The flat has four rooms:  the parlour and bedroom at the front, the kitchen and bathroom at the back.  The parlour would only have been used for special occasions.  I remember the flat of my darling neighbour Mrs. Morrison in Aberdeen (1908-2003).  She was born in the flat, lived all her days there, and near enough died there.  Mrs. Morrison’s parlour was kept for best, such as a visit from the minister.  At Christmastime, she would send me in there to admire the flowers her nephew always sent her – they lasted for ages because the room was glacial!

Perhaps Miss Toward’s parlour was used rather more frequently.  The guide explained to us that, even though the flat has only one bedroom, the builders made sure to include a bell for the servant.  You can see the crank handle to the left of the fireplace.  More than likely, any household help would have come for the day, rather than lived in.

Fireplace in the parlour. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Fireplace in the parlour. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Miss Toward didn’t like to change things, as you can see.  She worked until her mid-70s, and lived in the flat until 1965, when she had to leave it to be cared for in a home.  She died in 1975.  At this point, a very unusual thing happened:  the niece of Miss Toward’s church elder, visiting the flat after her death, realised how special it was, with so much left unchanged.  She arranged to buy it and its contents, and lived there for seven years before selling it to the National Trust for Scotland in 1982.  So everything in the Tenement House (with the exception of the baked goods) is as Miss Toward left it.

The china set in the "Glasgow Press," the Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The china set in the “Glasgow Press,” the Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

I was amused to be told that the shallow cupboard for the china is called a “Glasgow Press,” because the exact same cupboard in our Aberdeen kitchen was called an “Aberdeen Press”.  In Ireland, all cupboards are “presses”.

The only change that the National Trust made to the flat was to reinstate the gas lights in the flat.  It is certainly atmospheric, with the smell of the gas jets and also the darkness inside, even on a fairly bright autumn day.

The mantlepiece in the parlour. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The mantlepiece in the parlour. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The mantlepiece is flanked by a pair of “wally dogs,” the china dogs that you still see in Scottish homes.  I don’t know where the word “wally” comes from but people also call the beautifully tiled entrance hallways of the tenements “wally closes”.  So I think “wally” is a Scottish word for glazed ceramic, albeit perhaps only used in those two instances.

In the parlour there is a box bed:

Box bed in the parlour, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Box bed in the parlour, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

And a beautiful piano:

The piano, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The piano, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Miss Toward’s photograph is on the piano.

In the shop downstairs, I found instructions for making a “spill” – or as another elderly friend in Aberdeen taught me, a “spillie”.  (Aberdonians are fond of adding “-ie” to words:  “Go wash your wee handies.”)  Before the days of firelighters, people folded newspapers in this way, to use to light the fire:

Instructions for how to make a "spillie". The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Instructions for how to make a “spillie”. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Fireplace with spillies, the Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Fireplace with spillies, the Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The kitchen, although darker than the bay-windowed parlour, would have been the main room where people lived.  And the heart of the kitchen was the range:

The kitchen range, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The kitchen range, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The rag rugs are recreations of the originals, which eventually wore out:

Rag rug in front of the range, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Rag rug in front of the range, The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

In the photo above, you can glimpse the cords for the pulley, which hangs above on the ceiling.

The kitchen was also the laundry room, and you can see the mangle (wringer) and washboard at the sink:

Kitchen sink and view out to the back green. The Tenement House, Glasgow, 2015.

Kitchen sink and view out to the back green. The Tenement House, Glasgow, 2015.

I remember my mother using a mangle to wring out sopping wet laundry from the washing machine in about 1970.  Gosh, women worked so hard just keeping a family fed and clothed!

You can see where the coal was kept in the photo below:

Countertop and coal bunker to the right of the kitchen window. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Countertop and coal bunker to the right of the kitchen window. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

In the corner of the kitchen is another box bed, in the “granny nook”.  I wrote about the granny nook in our (1884) flat in Aberdeen here.

Box bed in the "granny nook" in the kitchen. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Box bed and hot-water-bottle (do people call them “piggie”s?) in the “granny nook” in the kitchen. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

The bedroom, we were told by the guide, was probably rented out to a lodger.  So presumably Miss Toward slept in the kitchen, which would have been very warm.

The original straw mattress is still under the bed in the bedroom, and her own suitcases are piled on top of the wardrobe.  She liked to take her summer holiday in Largs, on the Ayrshire coast, southwest of Glasgow.

Bedroom window with sewing machine. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Bedroom window with sewing machine. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.  There is a small coal scuttle on the floor to the left of the sewing machine.

Bedroom fireplace and wash-stand. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.

Bedroom fireplace and wash-stand. The Tenement House, Glasgow, October 2015.  The round dark ball in the dish is Pear’s Soap made in the shape of a cricket ball to commemorate some sporting event.

You can find out more and watch a short video about the Tenement House on the NTS website here.  It is closed over the winter, but if you are in Glasgow in the spring, summer or into October, I would highly recommend a visit.

And now I will tell you another little story about my lovely neighbour Mrs. Morrison.  As I wrote above, she was born in her flat in Aberdeen in 1908, and lived there all her days.  I knew her in the last decade or so of her life, and she was such a good friend to me.  Like Miss Toward, she had changed very little in her house.  She used to say to me, “Christine, I know exactly what will happen to this flat.  It will be bought by a property developer and made into a student flat.”  I had to agree with her that this was likely.  The day she died, she took a stroke just when I was due to take her grocery shopping.  I went with her to the hospital in the ambulance, and she died that evening.

Some time later, for no particular reason, both Michael and I picked up the Property Listings.  (This was before everything happened on the internet.)  I thought it was strange that we both had that impulse, since we weren’t looking to buy or sell anything!  That day, unusually, I had a bit of time to put my feet up, and I flipped through it – and saw that Mrs. Morrison’s flat was for sale.  I took this as a sign, and the next day I went by the estate agents and asked for the schedule.  In it I saw the photographs of her flat – all white walls, stripped of woodwork, fireplaces filled in, laminate flooring, curving plasterwork gone, beanbags in corners.  It was unrecognisable.

Call me silly, but I felt she was tugging on my sleeve and saying, “Look what they did to my lifelong home!”  So I had a wee chat with her, and I told her I completely understood, and it was a terrible shame, but that she had moved on now.  At least Miss Toward must have a sense of peace to know that even her jam preserves have been untouched!

Posted by: christinelaennec | October 17, 2015

A mellow autumn

We’ve continued to have gorgeous weather this week.  Lorna has posted some spectacular photos from Perthshire here.  I have very reluctantly begun to clear the garden.  Everything has bloomed so late – the marigolds are still going very strong – that it’s been hard to take things out.  But I keep reminding myself that, despite appearances, frost, darkness and wintertime is around the corner.  Also, the brown bins are only emptied until the start of November!

Tilly helping me in the garden.  Glasgow, 16 October 2015.

Tilly helping me in the garden. Glasgow, 16 October 2015.

Katharine Stewart wrote, in her essay of October 19th, about the arrival of the “snow-birds” (fieldfares and redwings), and the geese.  I have heard some geese flying overhead, but not many yet.  However, the robins are once again out in force.  I hear their calls everywhere I go, and they like to come to our ground-feeder.  Stewart says that her bees are tucked up once again “in their winter cluster” and she misses the butterflies.  “In late September, four red admirals [were] on the marguerites, so unafraid one could have reached out a hand to touch them.” (A Garden in the Hills, page 1)  That reminded me of the red admiral I saw at Tollcross Rose Garden last week.

Unlike Katharine Stewart, we haven’t yet had a frost.  Although I’ve been reluctant to clear out all the summer annuals, I have worked hard on trimming and tying the climbing roses.  Most of my roses (8 out of 10!) are climbing roses, and they are now nearly two years old from time of bare-root planting.  However mild and lovely the days are now, I know the winter storms will come, and I don’t want to be watching helplessly as the roses are torn from their moorings.  So I waded in with twine and secateurs (and gloves), to train them as well as I can along the fence for next year’s flowering.

Climbing roses pruned and tied back.

Climbing roses pruned and tied back.

I love how gardening always involves thinking ahead into the future, planning and being excited for the next stage.  I’ve also planted many pots of bulbs, though I still have a few bulbs to put into the ground.  I’m collecting seeds, though the marigold seeds aren’t yet dry.  I know from experience that fresh, green seed, will do very well if poked into the ground, so I will try both approaches.

The Dafter has benefitted from a week off school, and also a visit from a good friend from Aberdeen.  As well, it was Michael’s birthday this past week! We enjoyed celebrating with him.  One of his presents was a year’s adoption of a beehive through the British Beekeeping Association.  I think I’ve mentioned that he loved moving the bumblebee nest in the church garden in Aberdeen.

Michael and the Dafter on Michael's birthday, October 2015.

Michael and the Dafter on Michael’s birthday, October 2015.

This beautiful autumn has, for me, more than compensated for the dreich, dark summer.   In just a week our clocks will “fall back” and then it will really feel like winter is on its way.

Then there will be more time to knit!  I hope you’re all having a lovely weekend.

Posted by: christinelaennec | October 13, 2015

Tollcross Rose Garden in Glasgow

Thank you to everyone for your encouraging and sympathetic comments on my last post.  I’m pleased to tell you that I have been able to get more rest and am feeling less exhausted.  Hooray for the October holidays – both the Dafter and I were much in need of a week off school.  Yesterday Michael (who has no such holidays) looked after the Dafter and gave me a whole day off – and the weather was spectactular!  I went to see the International Rose Garden at Tollcross Park on the East side of Glasgow.  Growing up in Portland, Oregon, I used to love going to the International Rose Gardens there – and I even took part in the Rose Festival Parade one year in high school!  So I was interested to see what Glasgow’s rose gardens were like, and I was not disappointed.

Firstly, the main part of the rose beds are laid out in the form of a rose!  As you can see on the map:

Map of Tollcross Park, showing the rose-shaped rose gardens.

Map of Tollcross Park, showing the rose-shaped rose gardens.

The weather was beautiful – sunny and warm.

Section of garden with climbing roses on obelisks.

Section of garden with climbing roses on obelisks.

Mid-October is clearly not the optimum time to see roses, but we’ve had such a fantastic Indian Summer after our dark and dreich June and July, that the flowers have all been blossoming while they have the chance:

Climbing roses, Tollcross Park, 12 October 2015.

Climbing roses, Tollcross Park, 12 October 2015.

The Winter Gardens are currently being refurbished, so I shall have to come back when they are open again:

Winter gardens, being worked on.

Winter Gardens, being worked on.

I was not the only visitor to the roses:

A red admiral butterfly enjoying the day.

A Red Admiral butterfly enjoying the day.

I would have had to climb up a tree to get a really good view of the rose-shaped section of the garden, but you get an idea from the top of the hill:

Standing near the top of the rose-shaped rose gardens, looking down at Tollcross Road bordering the southern edge of the park.

Standing near the top of the rose-shaped rose gardens, looking down at Tollcross Road bordering the southern edge of the park.

There is an impressive “Mansion House” at the top of the garden, which forms a pretty backdrop:

Looking up towards the Mansion House, across the rose-shaped rose garden.

Looking up towards the Mansion House, across the rose-shaped rose garden.

Still lots of roses in bloom:

Roses...

Roses…

I particularly enjoyed that each bed had a map, with the names of every variety.

A red rose, I believe the variety is "Coronation Street".

A red rose, I believe the variety is “Coronation Street”.

And I wonder if my American readers (or Scottish, for that matter) will be as surprised and amused as I was to see that Tollcross Park is the…

Who woulda thunk it?

Who woulda thunk it?

I read my book and ate my lunch, and felt so very happy and relaxed.

And then!  I met a friend here:

The "Room De Luxe" in the Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchiehall Street.

The “Room De Luxe” in the Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchiehall Street.

The funny thing is, my friend is born and bred in Glasgow but had never been to the Willow Tea Rooms.

Room De Luxe, side wall.

Room De Luxe, side wall.

So it was a lovely day out!  I am looking forwards to going back to the rose gardens next summertime, but it would be hard to top the pleasure they gave me on my visit there yesterday.

Posted by: christinelaennec | October 7, 2015

Greenbank Gardens in early September

At the beginning of last month, I had a day off, and I went back to Greenbank Gardens.  It is a beautiful place, and luckily for me it is accessible by public transport – when I have a day off, it means that Michael is looking after the Dafter and must therefore have the car to help her get around.  (We are that rare thing, a one-car family, which I’m very happy about.)

So here are some photos from my visit.  I took a packed lunch, read Katherine Mansfield by the fountain, and went for a cup of tea in the tearoom before coming home.

On the walk up from the bus.  Clarkston, Glasgow.  Early September 2015.

On the walk up from the bus. Clarkston, Glasgow. Early September 2015.

The entrance to the garden rooms.

The entrance to the garden rooms.

Looking to the end of the central "allée".

Looking to the end of the central “allée”.

Some interesting topiary!

Some interesting topiary!

"Foam".  This statue by Charles d'Orville Pilkington Jackson, was created for the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park in 1938.  When it was gifted to the National Trust in Scotland, they decided to place it in Greenbank Gardens, as the closest NTS location to Bellahouston Park.  The noise of the falling water was extremely soothing.

“Foam”. This statue by Charles d’Orville Pilkington Jackson was created for the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park in 1938. When it was gifted to the National Trust in Scotland, they decided to place it in Greenbank Gardens, as the closest NTS location to Bellahouston Park. The noise of the falling water was extremely soothing.

A beguiling path.

A beguiling path.

Flowers and fruit trees.

Poppies and cornflowers, with apple trees behind.

These lovely light pink fuschias make me believe that "actual faeries" (as someone put on the Reasons to be Happy poster) must be real.

These delicate light pink fuschias make me believe that “actual faeries” (as someone put on the Reasons to be Happy poster) must be real.

Fab memorial bench!

Fab memorial bench!

The past few weeks have been very challenging for the Dafter, and thus for me.  I am deeply exhausted.  I rarely ever wake up feeling rested, and sometimes it takes me quite a few minutes to recall the details of my existence, the identify what the massive problem is, and from there, what day of the week it is and what is on the agenda.  I know this state is all too familiar to caregivers everywhere.  My frozen shoulder is very slowly improving, but I still can’t sleep on my left side, or (as I discovered Friday) do much yoga at all.

However, the Dafter is battling on, as always.  She has managed to get to school for almost all her timetable, albeit sometimes for less than an hour before she has to come home and rest.  I know that the road to recovery is full of ups and downs, and the trick is not to believe that a dip is the final word.

I haven’t had much time or energy for blogging, and I do miss it!  I have a lot of photos from the summer that I want to share, so I will just show you those as and when I can.

Thank you all so much for your friendship, prayers and concern.  I am looking after myself.  Michael and the Dafter (and Tilly) are looking after me as well.  Every day we have a laugh together.  All will be well.

Posted by: christinelaennec | October 3, 2015

Constructing a Norwegian knitted jacket

For those of you who are interested (I realise this will be a minority of readers, sorry!), here is how I put together my New Leaf Jacket.  I learned a few things from this project, which I have listed after this wee “slide show” of photos.

Steeking...

Steeking…  I used the crochet method to do my steeks.

Making the cut... one of them anyway.

Making the cut… one of them anyway.  The two rows of crochet (using gold-coloured sock yarn) keep the yarn from fraying.

Steeks are cut, neckline outline is basted.

Then I basted the outline for the front neckline.

Neckline of the front has been cut.

With green cotton thread, I backstitched two rows close together along where I intended to sew the facing.  Then I cut the neckline, leaving a small selvedge.  I did the same along the back neckline, which was a shallow dip to the centre.

Pattern for fabric facing of the neckline is made and cut, and strips for facing the front opening have been cut.

Next I made a pattern for the fabric facing of the neckline, and cut the fabric; I also cut fabric strips for facing the front opening.

Checking that the fabric facing will lie flat before I trim the seams and turn it inside.

Before I sewed the fabric facing to the knitting, I checked that it would lie flat when stitched and turned to the inside.

Facings sewn on opening down front. Tilly helping, as always!

Facings pinned on the neckline and the front openings. Tilly was helping, as always!  You can see the two sleeves near the top of the photo.

Having carefully checked that the two sides were the same length, I sewed the facings along the basting line, then turned them in and hemmed them to the knitted fabric.

Having carefully checked that the two front openings were the same length, I sewed the facings by hand along the basting line, pulling the basting out as I went along.  I then turned the facings inside (overlapping the front opening facing and the neckline facing).  Then I topstitched by hand all around, then hemmed the turned-under edge to the knitted fabric.  I sewed the knitted hem over the facing, just using the same wool.

Sewing the velvet ribbon around the faced edging. Velvet slips as you sew, so careful pinning is necessary to keep it lying smoothly.

Next I sewed the velvet ribbon around the neckline and front openings. Velvet slips as you sew, so careful pinning is necessary to keep it lying smoothly.  I sewed once around using an even stitch, and then sewed around again, placing my stitches in the gaps between the first row of stitches.

Ribbon sewn onto right side around the front openings and neckline. Tilly luxuriating in September sunshine!

The ribbon is sewn onto right side around the front openings and neckline. Once I’d sewn the ribbon along the right-side edge, I made the buttonholes.  To do this, I cut the fabric facing to match the knitted-in buttonholes (doing each as I went), and bound the buttonhole with – surprise! – buttonhole stitch, sewing through all layers.  Here Tilly is luxuriating in September sunshine!

Velvet ribbon has been hemmed on the inside, and buttonholes have been cut in the facing to match the knitted-in buttonholes.

I then hemmed the velvet ribbon on the inside using whipstitch.

Buttonholes, sewn through both fabric facing on the inside, and knitted fabric on the outside.

Close-up of ribbon, buttonholes, facing.

Sewing the sleeve to the steeked armhole.  I did this on the right side, following the basting on the opening and taking it out as I went.

Sewing the sleeve to the steeked armhole. I did this on the right side, following the basting on the opening and taking it out as I went.

Scary moment when I was gently steam pressing the sleeve selvedges and the iron gushed a brown streak on the jacket! I immediately washed it out and hung it up to dry. All was well.

Sleeve seams: the instructions said to fold the knitted selvedge at the top of the sleeves to cover the cut edge of the steeks along the armhole.  This was far too bulky, so I decided to sew each back to its own side.  There was a scary moment when I was gently steam pressing the sleeve selvedges and the iron gushed a brown streak on the jacket! I immediately washed it out and hung the jacket up to dry, inside out. Luckily all was well. 

Once it had dried I whipstitched the knitted selvedge of the sleeve down where it lay on the top of the sleeve, and I stitched the armhole steek down with an X stitch.

Once the jacket had dried, I whipstitched the knitted selvedge of the sleeve down (to the sleeve, using the same colour wool), and I stitched the armhole steek down (to the armhole, using green wool) with an X stitch.  I wouldn’t give myself 10 out of 10 for the X stitch but nevermind, I don’t think any steeking teachers will be inspecting.

The instructions said to fold the knitted facing along the top of the sleeve over the cut edge of the steek. This was far too bulky so I sewed each back to its own side.

Then I sewed on the buttons, and sewed in the last stray threads.

The neckline and buttons.

The neckline and buttons.

Then I wore it!

Finally finished turning over my New Leaf!  September 2015.

Finally finished turning over my New Leaf! September 2015.

I mentioned that this project has made me realise a few things.  They are:

  • I don’t mind steeking, and love knitting colourwork in the round, where steeking is necessary if you want to make a cardigan/jacket.
  • However, I much prefer a knitted-in steek, rather than just making a steek from the knitted fabric.
  • Also, I much prefer to make knitted-on buttonbands and neckline, rather than using fabric – although the finished product in this case brings me great pleasure.
  • And I prefer to knit the sleeves directly onto the armhole steeks, rather than make them separately and join them by sewing.  I know it’s not very fashionable at the moment, but I do like this traditional straight-edged sleeve construction (dropped seam is it called?) for stranded colourwork jackets.
  • I’m less bothered than I was by the slight flare at the bottom of the jacket.  This is caused by the pull of the stranded colourwork that doesn’t start until a few rows farther up.  I don’t know if it would be possible to avoid this pulling-in effect with more careful knitting, but for my own future projects, I think I prefer knitted ribbing at the bottom of a colourwork jacket, rather than this type of picot hem.
  • I realised that while this jacket uses traditional Norwegian construction, the leaf pattern of the colourwork itself is very modern.  Solveig Hisdal explains (in Poetry in Stitches, the book this pattern is from) that she was inspired by the damask fabrics of traditional Norwegian costume.  I very much like the beautiful design, but I learned that it is much more challenging to do stranded colourwork when you have to carry the yarn behind for long sections.  I think in the future I will stick to more traditional types of designs, where the yarn isn’t carried too far behind the work.  Or, if I opt for a modern colourwork design, I will know better what I’m letting myself in for!

The finishing process took me many hours, and although I finished the knitting almost a year ago – and Michael made me very handy blocking frames for the body and the sleeves, thank you Mike! – I was quite right to wait until there was plenty of light in order to tackle the construction.  I planned it out very carefully, took my time, and also found help from June Hemmons Hiatt’s The Principles of Knitting.

So I am pleased and relieved that this project turned out well!  If you’re thinking of doing a project that involves steeking, be assured that knitted fabrics (if made of wool) tend to felt together, and will not drop apart the moment your scissors approach.  It’s a very useful technique indeed.

Posted by: christinelaennec | September 27, 2015

The New Leaf is turned!

The title of this post is courtesy of my friend Roobeedoo.  I finally finished the jacket by the Norwegian designer Solveig Hisdal that I started at Christmas 2012.  When I began it, the Dafter was nearly completely bedbound, Michael was commuting to Glasgow, and I had yet to prepare our Aberdeen house to put it on the market so we could move to Glasgow.  Hence the name I gave it, my New Leaf Cardigan.  And here it is:

Finally finished turning over my New Leaf!  September 2015.

Finally finished turning over my New Leaf! September 2015.

Finishing this jacket is one of the reasons I haven’t done any blogging in about two weeks!  I think it must have taken me at least 50 hours of work.  I’ll post about that process another time, for anyone who might be interested.

Generally I have been busy, and also deeply tired.  The Dafter has been managing, with ups and downs, to go to school for most of her part-time timetable.  This means that four days a week, most weeks, I have an hour or two to do things of my choosing.  One of the things I’ve been doing in that time is a wee voluntary job as the music librarian for the three choirs I’m in.  At the start of a new season, and with Christmas added into the mix, that’s needed attention.  I just love going up to the church and seeing people, and I love being involved and having that very small role.

Fall colors in the garden, Glasgow, 27 September 2015.

Fall colors in the garden, Glasgow, 27 September 2015.

One of my free slots each week has been taken up with treatment for my frozen shoulder.  It is responding, and I have more movement now.  I’m relieved, because I absolutely must be able to drive in order for our family to function.  I’ve had four treatments and may need another eight (of the Neil Asher Technique). Perhaps one of the reasons that I am feeling so deeply exhausted is that, even with painkillers, I am in quite a lot of pain.  I usually wake up in the night with the pain.  But it will heal.

Falstaff rose, my garden, Glasgow, 27 September 2015.

Falstaff rose, my garden, Glasgow, 27 September 2015.

I’ve been doing some gardening.  I planted up a number of pots with bulbs this afternoon.  I love the long-term preparations in gardening:  I am already excited about spring!

Katharine Stewart wrote about this sense of promise in her September 24th essay.  “So the garden dies graciously, being certain of rebirth.  Warmed by this feeling of faith in the future which contact with the garden gives…. Days of stress, sadness or disappointment in any facet of life can be smoothed out as you look at the perfect structure of a flower.  You stop and remember that root, stem and leaf have survived frost, snow, gale, every kind of storm or weather.  You walk on, gather a sun-warmed strawberry, and realise that growing things give and give.”  (p 111 – 113)

Crocosmia and James Galway climbing rose over the pond, 27 September 2015.

Crocosmia and James Galway climbing rose over the pond, 27 September 2015.

I am so very grateful for the slow improvement the Dafter is experiencing with her ME/CFS, and I pray it will continue.  She is often able to concentrate for a full class (1 hour 40 minutes), though not always, and while she’s at school I always have my phone nearby me, as she may need to be fetched at a moment’s notice.

Our Son, now 23, and the Dafter, 17.  August 2015.

Our Son, now 23, and the Dafter, 17. August 2015.

Here is a photo from last month of the children.  Our Son is enjoying a course he’s taking, which is great.  And, just because in my opinion one can never have too many roses, here is a bouquet the garden gave me on a beautiful Indian summer’s day last week:

Roses from the garden - no long stems so into the trifle bowl they went!  22 Sept 2015.

Roses from the garden – no long stems so into the trifle bowl they went! 22 Sept 2015.

I wish you all a Happy Autumn, and a good start to the week!  (And, as I said in my reply to the comments on my last post, thank you so much for the birthday wishes!  I had a lovely birthday.)

Posted by: christinelaennec | September 14, 2015

Mid-September: Indian summer, and steeking

After a cold and rainy summer, we’ve had several warm, sunny days and even I (who make it a policy never to let the weather govern my mood!) have felt deeply appreciative.

Katharine Stewart wrote, on September 14th about 21 years ago, “A Highland autumn has a special, fragile feel.  Spring is often disappointing, late, long-awaited and chilling.  Autumn lingers precariously, as though reluctant to give in.  There is usually a fresh green bite for sheep and cattle well into November.” (A Garden in the Hills, p. 108)  I can’t decide whether autumn in Glasgow feels fragile as well.  I suppose it depends on the year, and this is only my third autumn here.  From my years in Aberdeen, I know just what she means, though.

Our young rowan tree against a blue September sky. Glasgow, 10 Sept. 2015.

Our young rowan tree against a blue September sky. Glasgow, 10 Sept. 2015.

She wrote about the beautiful wild flowers in Abriachan:  “This day the roadside is bright with late summer flowering.  Scabious! … Thistles of all sizes, yarrow, tansy, add their special forms and colours. … Further on, deep ditching had been done and here, incredibly, patches of red poppies and ox-eye daisies have appeared.  Red poppies have not been seen for years.  The seed, I believe, can stay in the ground for long periods and the plants emerge when conditions are right.” (108)  My own city garden (which includes scabious, yarrow, daisies, and purple and pink poppies) has continued to offer us a colourful display:

Bouquet from the garden, 7 September 2015.

Bouquet from the garden, 7 September 2015.

Stewart wrote about the importance of wild flowers within the boundaries of her garden:  “So there it is – a garden on the wild side, a garden which must co-exist with all the forms of life surrounding it, a garden which has taught its gardener many things.  …  Natural growth will seldom fail.  It’s thanks largely to it – willowherb, heather and many roadside flowers – that the bees are now well and active and may have made some surplus.” (p. 110)

My garden is not quite so wild as Katharine Stewart’s.  I do have a pot of nettles, and I hugely value the self-sown daisy plants; the wildflowers I planted in the lawn a year and a half ago are doing very well.  We have lots of white clover, as well as red clover, daisies, lady’s bedstraw and other delights, within the grass.  This afternoon I was delighted to see a butterfly – it went past and up too quickly for me to identify it.

This past week included the funeral of a family friend.  He was a beloved father and grandfather, and we, like many others, admired him enormously for his generosity.  He was one of the founder members of a hospice in his community in the 1980s, but he himself, who loved to travel, died suddenly while having a fabulous time in a remote country.  I was very glad indeed that Michael was able to arrange to work from home and help the Dafter, so that I could go to pay our respects.  The funeral was followed by a characteristically generous Scottish meal at a hotel, followed by copious cups of tea at the family home.  At these times, one is aware of how amazing each and every life is, and how precious our loving relationships are.  I hope that I can give some support to his widow in the weeks and months to come.

On my travels, I was very taken by these miniature models of the huge Kelpies statues at Falkirk.  I have never yet been to see them in person!  Someday.

Minature models of the Kelpies. Queen Street Station, Glasgow, September 2015.

Minature models of the Kelpies. Queen Street Station, Glasgow, September 2015.

The Dafter is recovering slowly from her cold, and has been battling great pain and fatigue, but battling nonetheless.  I am very proud of her courage and humour.  She sends you all her best – she is very appreciative of your good wishes.  She also wants me to tell you she had good eye makeup today.  The stitches of her mouth surgery have now all dissolved, which is good too.

I have continued to work on my steeked jacket.  Here is the facing of the two fronts, which runs around the neckline as well.  The next step is to sew the buttonholes through the facing, and then attach velvet ribbon, and buttons, and then sleeves!

Fabric facing on my New Leaf Jacket - still under construction, September 2015.

Fabric facing on my New Leaf Jacket – still under construction, September 2015.

The facing fabric makes me happy – it’s left over from the dress I wore on our wedding day in 1988!  Roses – some things never change.  Mind you, today is the last day I can tick the “age 45-54 box”… But many of the really essential things never change, regardless of numbers.

I wish you all a great week!

Posted by: christinelaennec | September 9, 2015

The Fossil Grove

In the West End of Glasgow, there is an amazing thing:  the Fossil Grove.  It’s located in Victoria Park, next to Jordanhill and Hyndland:

The fossil grove, with the fossil house at the back. Victoria Park, Glasgow, July 2015.

The fossil grove, with the fossil house at the back. Victoria Park, Glasgow, July 2015.

The grove itself is made in what was, in the 19th century, a quarry.  You can see the shape of the quarry in the photo above.  There are paths around the fossil grove:

The fossil grove - the side of the old quarry I believe. Victoria Park, Glasgow, July 2015.

The fossil grove – the side of an old quarry. Victoria Park, Glasgow, July 2015.

The fossils were discovered when Victoria Park was being made in the 19th century.  (It was made at the time of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887.)  Very fortunately, people recognised that they had stumbled upon something special.  Work was stopped, and a small house was built to protect the fossils they had uncovered.

The fossil grove.

The fossil grove.

Here are the fossils.  They are over 330 million years old!  There are 11 tree stumps, and some fallen pieces of trunks.  They date from a time when Glasgow was near the equator, and covered with a forest of these plants (Lepidodendrons).  The City of Glasgow website describes it as a “tropical swamp similar to today’s Florida Everglades”.

Inside the fossil house: these tree trunks are 30 million years old! Victoria Park, Glasgow, summer 2015.

Inside the fossil house: these tree trunks are 330 million years old! Victoria Park, Glasgow, summer 2015.

It’s free to go visit the fossil house, which is open daily between April and October.  Click here for more information and visiting details.  The staff tell me that they rely on visitor numbers to stay open, so if you go, sign the guest book.

I’m not a very sciencey person, and I don’t have a particular interest in fossils, but visiting these giants from a time when the Earth was completely different is pretty mind-boggling!

Posted by: christinelaennec | September 5, 2015

Into September

Once again Tilly enjoys the sweet taste of victory over her catnip-filled squirrel toy.

Once again Tilly enjoys the sweet taste of victory over her catnip-filled squirrel toy.

On August 28th (ca 1994), Katharine Stewart wrote about Games Day in her Highland Glen.  “In years gone by it was a time, between harvesting the hay and cutting the corn, when folk could meet, engage in feats of skill and endurance, sing, dance, exchange greetings and news.” (A Garden in the Hills, p. 104)  She describes the races, the tourists, the young Highland dancers, the pipe bands, the “heavy” events.  “The ‘heavy’ events have their origins in everyday doings of former times.  ‘Tossing the caber’ is a feat demanding unimaginable strength and skill, when something like a telegraph pole has to be lifted and flung so that it goes up and over in as straight a line as possible.  This, at one time, was found to be a way of getting felled trees clear of the wood, when they were needed for buildilng or other purposes.  Weight-throwing was said to be a pastime enjoyed by men waiting at the blacksmith’s for jobs to be completed at the anvil.  Testing your skill and strength against another’s has always been attractive to the young.” (p. 105)

That last sentence amuses me:  it isn’t condescending, but it reflects the perspective one gains with age.  I think (frozen shoulder aside) if someone challenged me to arm-wrestle now, I couldn’t be bothered.  But at one time I would have enjoyed it, because I used to be quite good at it.  (Scrabble is a different matter.)

A house that seems to be being swallowed up by the garden!

A house that seems to be being swallowed up by the garden!

Stewart describes how, at the end of the Games, people bid each other a fond farewell until the next year.  “Then it’s back to ‘auld claes and parritch’.”  This is a common expression in Scotland.  It means getting back to routine life after a special event.  Literally, back to “old clothes and porridge”.  Over the summer, a friend told me that he and his wife had had their grandchildren staying for the summer, which had been wonderful, but he was glad to be back to “auld claes and parritch”.

On the 2nd of September, Katharine Stewart wrote:  “It’s difficult, this year, to accept the fact that summer has gone, for it seems as though it never really came.” (p. 106)  Twenty-one years later most people in Scotland are saying the same thing.  I myself usually love the autumn, and feel glad to be back to “auld claes and parritch,” glad to be at the start of another school year.  This year I was sad to see September come.  Is it because I haven’t worked for a few years now, or because the summer weather was so poor?  It doesn’t matter, because I will trim my sails to the wind and enjoy myself.

And in fact, the past few days have given us some beautiful sunshine.  We are enjoying an Indian Summer.  The garden is still providing bouquets:

Claire Austin climbing rose, end of August 2015.

Claire Austin climbing rose, end of August 2015.

The bench and bower has been coming and going over the last year.  It was made for us by a community enterprise called GalGael.  GalGael (which loosely means “Lowland/Highland” in Gaelic) allows people with problems such as addiction and homelessness to learn woodworking crafts.  They designed and built this bench and bower for us to fit into the small space, and after a few tweaks it is back just in time for me to start training the roses up and over it.

Roses and sweet peas by our bench and bower.

Roses and sweet peas by our bench and bower.

A friend gave me a packet of wildflower seeds, and some pretty flowers have come up.  Does anyone know what these are?

Mystery plants from a packet of mixed seeds a friend gave me.

Mystery flowers from a packet of mixed seeds a friend gave me:  wee purple blossom and larger purple blossom.

Stewart writes, “Autumn is the time for planning.  … The clematis I planted two years ago, and had almost given up for dead, is thrusting nicely up into the ivy in the corner by the porch.  I decide to cut back other climbers, put in more spring bulbs – crocus, scylla, miniature iris – and low-growing plants – thyme, alyssum, aubretia, campanula, all well-loved flowers with manageable roots.” (pp. 106-107)  I, too, have been planning for next spring.  I’ve ordered more plant supports, and spring bulbs.  And I have been tying thread around certain poppy stalks, to gather the seed once the pods are ripe.  Next summer’s garden starts now!  There’s lots to look forwards to.

The other thing about autumn which I increasingly treasure is that it reminds me we all need to rest.  When I was younger, I really felt that the trees losing their leaves was almost tragic.  Now that I am older and wiser, I worry when the winter storms come early and the trees haven’t lost all their leaves.  The bare tree branches can withstand the storms, but the heavy laden branches are soon snapped off.  There is wisdom in taking time out from being productive.

The other day, Michael gave me part of a weekday off from my caring duties, and I went on a little adventure.  (I will show you that soon, along with a few other posts from the summer that I want to share.)  I particularly enjoyed going through the city centre at the front of the top deck of a double-decker bus:

Glasgow's Central Station, with the Grand Central Hotel curving off up the street. Early September 2015.

Glasgow’s Central Station, with the Grand Central Hotel curving off up the street. Early September 2015.

Glasgow's "Hielanman's Umbrella". This place, where Argyle Street passes under the railway station, was where Highlanders congregated, hence the name.

Glasgow’s “Hielanman’s Umbrella”. This place, where Argyle Street passes under the railway station, was where Highlanders congregated, hence the name.

Central Glasgow, beginning of September 2015.

Central Glasgow, beginning of September 2015.

This morning the sun is out again, though it was chilly first thing.  The Dafter is doing pretty well but has had some physical challenges.  After a meningitis vaccination, and a few days later surgery on her mouth, she has come down with a cold.  But she has battled on and only missed one (half) day of school so far.  Fingers very tightly crossed she will get back to where she was sooner rather than later.  The sunshine will help.

I wish you all a good weekend, and for those who start school after the Labor Day holidays, happy Back-to-School!

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