Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas everyone and thank you so much for reading my blog over the year (currently at the rate of 1,500 hits a month!).  If you read my last post you will realise why it's been a bit quiet on the blogging front here at chopkinsknits for the past couple of months.  However, despite a big chunk of sadness we have been working hard to decorate the house, wrap presents and bake Christmas goodies and so I think we are now ready

AND, still I had time for some jolly Christmas knitting.  Most of it is wrapped up under the tree but I can tell you about one very frivolous item.  At the beginning of November DD2 casually asked if I could knit her a Christmas sweater for 'wear a novelty jumper to school day' at the end of term.  I should say DD2 is not a student she is an art teacher.  So it goes without saying that she needed something, while not tasteful certainly not even on the cheeky side of rude but it needed to make a splash.  

Well my friend Alli suggested something based on a Primark sweater and involving lots of felt, pompoms, glitter and a glue gun.  But I just couldn't bring myself NOT to knit.  So with little delay I found this pattern on ravelry that uses super chunky Drops Eskimo.

so easy to order on-line

I added a few more decorations

reindeers around the yoke

red noses added later

caption as requested by DD2

and a little extra sparkle added on the day

By all accounts the sweater was well received (and the batteries in the lights lasted all day!).

Now I'm off for mince pies with a glass of good wine and wish you all...

A very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.



Wednesday, 11 December 2013


This is a first for me, a blog that is mainly words with a single photograph I did not take.  Although November was a 'month and a half'  I managed the odd bit of writing and quite a lot of knitting much of it beside my father's hospital bed.   Tomorrow is his funeral.

After 88 years and six weeks he decided that it was time to leave.  In some ways it felt right but in another I wish he had shared his intention with me, then I would not have spent most of his last weeks encouraging him to eat, drink and generally take an interest in life.  If I say this was a waste of time I don't mean that the time I spent with him in his last few weeks was time wasted but I could have talked about something else.  We could have spoken about his life, the things we shared in common and how, despite the ups and downs of our relationship (and there were plenty of those) we could at the end confirm that we parted friends.

Born in 1925 to parents who were true Victorians,  his happy prosperous childhood ended abruptly one winter's evening in 1941.  His father, who had survived the whole of the first world war serving in the army on the Somme, was killed in what was probably the only air raid on a civilian area of Newcastle Upon Tyne.  The end of his street was hit by a stray bomb as he stood talking to a friend, the friend survived.  Instead of remaining at school and moving on to university to read engineering my father, the elder son in a family of two girls and two boys, left school to work in a reserved occupation. His choice an alternative to active service to save his mother suffering further bereavement.

As children we were amused by his stories of life working on producing brittle metals suitable for bomb casings and the distinctly unsafe 'testing' (basically finding an open piece of land south of the river Tyne and blowing things up).  And his life as the youngest soldier in the Home guard ('Dad were you like Pike??')

He moved South in the early 1950s and met and married our mother.  The rest is our shared history.  He loved walking and exploring the Lake District as well as his beloved Northumberland.  On foot of course and, it seemed to me, in the rain.  A naturally cautious man I remember many rows as I developed a sense of adventure.  I suspect he did not sleep for three weeks when aged 19 I travelled around Europe alone on one of the first Inter-Rail tickets.  We had lots of the other sort of argument too, the intellectually stimulating sort, on politics and the economy,  we shared a social democratic view point but could still find a line of argument

He was always said to be 'not good' with children but my elder daughter said the other day how she remembered he was funny, larking about with them when they were little.  He did like the company of women and though faithfully married to my mother for 58 years, the last two caring for her as she succumbed to Altzheimers, he certainly could flirt!  

Why am I saying all this, to you, readers of my knitting meanderings?  We are friends in a shared bond of loving all things woolly but I don't usually share personal stuff like this.  Well it's because,  life with elderly parents in their last years is something a lot of us have in common and I have been helped by reading other's blogs; so perhaps some readers will share common ground with me.

Despite 87 good years the last one was not good and  as much as he found it hard, so did we his family.  Despite reassurance from his doctor and family he became obsessed with his health which he was convinced was failing.  Until last year he had played badminton twice a week and on other days walked briskly around his village, 'to keep fit'.  As he did less and less he could not accept that finally his age was catching up with him, constantly seeking some miracle cure to restore him to his former level of fitness.  It was hard to be sympathetic when, despite his age he was still driving his car (quite safely)  doing all his own shopping and cooking, refusing our offers of internet shopping, attending discussion groups and many social occasions.  It was hard not to feel irritated when our weekly visits and regular phone calls were considered not enough and to hear constant complaint about feeling lonely (with local friends and activities we often thought he had a busier life than we had).  

And when he was finally truly ill it was hard to watch him just turn his face to the wall, refusing to eat, drink or even to get out of bed till eventually he succumbed to pneumonia.  He continued to welcome friends to his hospital bedside, someone visited every day, with a big smile and a huge effort to make conversation, but his reaction to the almost daily visits from my brother or I was met with little effort to talk or listen.  I loaded some of his favourite music (Vaughan Williams) on my i-Pod and plugged him in, talked a little or just sat, but I don't know if it  pleased him.

At the last we were with him, my brother and I, our spouses too, and I hope that gave him some comfort.  We felt sad, we cried a little but we also felt relieved that a life that had become intolerable had come to a close.  Inevitably I also felt guilty, could I have been more of a comfort, should I not have encouraged him so much to 'make an effort'?  I don't know but I think he did make his own choices to the end and 87 good years out of 88 is not a bad tally

A life well lived (mostly) RIP

My father aged three and a half in 1929



Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Steek Challenge

Now I know I made a promise on twitter that I would chat a little on buttons this week but I haven't got there quite yet.  My eternal problem is I get diverted and last week a bunch of us at knitting group  agreed to try steeking, we would knit something suitable, bring it (and our scissors) to Monday knitting group and plunge in with the scissors all together.

Here we are, on Monday night

Scissors poised

And so we went...


The idea began with Cathie finding a suitable pattern (on Ravelry of course) Steek this coffee cozy  Now, if I had paid proper notice of the instructions, instead of rushing off on a frolic of my own, I might have avoided problems later on.  But I got so involved in the looks of the thing I forgot to check up on the technicalities.   I decided to make a cosy for my cafetierre rather than a mug-hug and last week just happened across this lovely mitten pattern by Mary Scott Huff - perfect!   All went well at first, I charted the design

And got knitting

Found a vase suitable for blocking

And then it came to the stage of reinforcing the steek (that's where you cut).  The trick is to crochet two rows of reinforcement catching in two stitch halves where there should be knitted parallel vertical lines, one of each colour.  Just like Claire has here (the original pattern has detailed instructions)

That way you will have secured one stitch of each colour firmly to the other.   I realised I had failed to do this but, fingers crossed, all seemed well as I cut.  Then, disaster, as I put extra strain on the stitches, picking up the stitches to knit the overlapping opening, one or two of the grey stitches pulled out

All a bit messy

But with a little bit of sleight of hand and some firm back stitching along the line of stitch pick ups it is holding steady now.

inside lined with felt to add extra insulation

some fancy buttons and...

All done



PS after the nerves some smiley faces

Monday, 11 November 2013

Growing Pains

Before I embarked on the Right as Rainbow KAL I measured the intended wearer very carefully.  Chest, back neck length and arms.  When it was finished I proudly announced to The Little Model's mother that THIS TIME I hoped the knitted object would not be too small, having measured her so carefully.  To which TLM's mother replied 'But she has grown an inch while you have been away'.  !!!!! You will recall that JTH and I spent the whole of September on a beautiful Greek Island where the knitting (and blogging) took place, alas all that time back in the UK someone was growing very fast.

When TLM tried on the sweater the body was fine, but the sleeves?!  They were two inches too short and lengthening was not going to be a simple task.  The sleeves were knitted from the bottom up and I had no more of the Plum coloured yarn.

nothing but a few unravellings

But it's all right now because I used a cunning old trick to add  some extra stripes.

Slightly Grumpy  Little Model

Happier when encouraged to Be Silly

Perhaps those who remember the Make-Do-And-Mend war years or the 1950s when our parents could not kick the habit also remember how our mothers would lengthen our hand knitted sweaters, by 'pulling a thread'.  Here is how I did it (using some spare yarn in Pumpkin as the deep plum was too dark to show well in photographs)

Thread a life line in and out of the first row of stocking stitch
(I used strong linen thread)

Snip through a single purl bar on the last row of K2P2 rib

carefully pull out the yarn from the last rib row

the rib will fall away from the stocking stitch.
The stitches on the upper part will
be captured by the life line

pick up the stitches on the stocking stitch section,
use a finer needle if that is easier

Knit up the extra inches (I kept to the same pattern as the yoke)

Once the extra length is done re knit the rib

Finally, I have learned a new techy skill.  While I was away knitting and enjoying the Greek Island I made a slide show of my knitting and island pictures but it was not till this week I finally worked out how to incorporate it into a blog post!

I hope you enjoy it



Wednesday, 6 November 2013


Although I am beavering away at Secret Knitting Projects, I do have a few FOs to show you and this FO comes with an exciting announcement for future sock accumulation!

I have already mentioned (I know... quite a few times) The Small and the weekend knitting retreat that I helped organise.  In case you didn't see my post over on the blog, or don't want to click on the link here, I would just like to say two words - GOODY BAGS.  No knitting event would be complete without a bag of little somethings and here are some of the contents of the goody bags we gave to our guests at the Small Wool Gathering

For a proper explanation of all the contents I refer you to The Small blog, today I am going to chat about just the socks.  Well of course the socks did not come ready knitted in our bags - For what would be the use of that for knitters?  There is a huge amount of pleasure in wearing hand-made socks but equal amounts in the making - is that not so?

My tiny problem was that we handed out the bags with the skeins of beautiful merino/nylon sock yarn (Twist by indie dyer Linda of Kettle Yarns) about 5 minutes before the sock class (where we learned a new technique called Auto-Pilot Sock from Amy).  So... I barely had time to rush to the wool winder before casting on and knitting-like-the-wind and forgetting to take any photographs.

In no time I had finished the first sock (while a passenger in the car driving to a family party)

And! Lo! there was another opportunity to photograph yarn in the ball and work in progress but did I take it?  No, too busy clickety clacking (on my new carbon fibre DPNs, that may have had something to do with it, I love using new kit)

Consequently I can only show you the FOs

Amy's clever sock technique results in a very attractive three legged set of increases and decreases that sits over the ankle bone

I spent a little time today draping the socks over various pretty locations, eventually settling on using my jewellery box which is a 19th C work basket.

After I posted the picture of finished socks on The Small blog Linda and I had a bit of a chat.  Lots of encouragement took place, her yarn being so lovely to knit with and she being so kind about my socks and the pretty lace pattern I chose for the legs.  The upshot of this little mutual admiration society meeting was that early in the new year I am going to lead a Knit-A-Long on sock making using some of Linda's yarn.  I'm very excited about this and have already bought more Twist from Linda

Bright colours to banish winter blues of you not think?  I will be posting more details of the sock KAL early in January here on the blog (and in the Kettle yarn Ravelry forum) but briefly we plan a KAL for absolute sock virgins.  We will knit a tiny 'training sock' first to practice the basic technique then make a pair of grown up socks, perfect for keeping the winter chill at bay.

We will be knitting socks in one of two traditional ways, toe up or top down.  I will not be referring to Amy's new innovative Auto-Pilot sock.  This is not because I do not favour Amy's technique but because Auto-Pilot is new and Amy's idea.  Although ownership of knitting patterns and techniques is a slightly grey area (occasionally something new hits the knitting world that is more unvented rather than invented) I have no intention of even borrowing a technique from Amy who is currently teaching it at knitting events and yarn shops around N America and the UK

So please watch this space for some socking for beginners



Ps I thought you might like to see a close up of the inlay on the top of my lovely box.  The inscription on the small sliver of mother-of-pearl is To Isabella 1851

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Secrets and Serendipity

It's that time of year again. A time when so many crafty bloggers go under-cover.

Baby Suri and Merino DK... for what? whom?

While I rather disdain the idea of even getting out my Christmas book and beginning to plan shopping and cooking, when it comes to hand made presents October is the time to begin if one is to avoid what The Yarn Harlot calls 'IT'

Blue Sky Alpacs' Royal Alpaca 4ply for a crafty garrett

Now 'IT' is the deluded state of mind where the knitter declares she can knit faster than she ever has before and insists every day suddenly has 24 available knitting hours. Two years ago I totally succumbed to 'IT' and imagined I could knit four pairs of black socks with a fairisle design of my own devising around the top in addition to several other presents.  I finished one pair and have since finished a second.  I think that tells you everything you need to know about my yuletide sense of optimism

But the real problem with It Being That Time Of Year Again is that, despite all the knitting going on, as (I say hopefully!!!) many of my nearest and dearest read this blog and I insist on presents being surprises I can't talk about it here, only tease a bit.

Silk and Alpaca from Paris for a crown

However, branching out a bit I have had some sewing success. Last week found me wandering around a local Christmas fair.   I have to confess it was all a bit boring with some stalls selling the same overpriced stuff I had seen and rejected at the summer fair. I don't include yummy food sellers, I was delighted to buy more smoked chicken breast and dragon sausages from the black mountain smokery.  I also absolutely support true crafters receiving a fair price for all their hard work, but I'm not interested in clothes that are bought in and marked up heavily, 'handmade' greeting cards or jewellery that consists of a bit of bead threading.  Then I spotted this...

A velvet coat, covered in top stitching and lined in fancy print. A fabulous coat that thinks it is an anorak - perfect.  And, a sneaky picture grabbed; I felt sure I could make, not a copy, but my own version of a glam parka.

With a little bit of this (all materials and pattern, total cost £50)

And this

And this

And this

I have this

Very pleased I am too!



Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Small Wool Gathering

Forgive me for the silence since completing the Right As Rainbow baby cardi KAL.  It was such fun being part of the KAL but at times a little frustrating having to hitch a ride on the wifi in cafes and bars while on holiday.  That sort of wifi, while fine for checking facebook and e mail is not really powerful enough to do lots of uploading.  However I did continue to upload photographs to Blipfoto so if you would like to see more pictures of Paxos, have a look here.

Ancient terraces where vines used to grow and a tiny secluded beach where (in days when the sexes were strictly segregated) the girls could go and bathe

Kathleen has blogged about the end of the KAL and prize winners over here.  Sally won the prize for the most creative interpretation of the pattern with this zingy coloured cardi

Meanwhile, although not blogging I have been knitting.  In particular preparing for A Very Exciting New Project.  This may need a little explanation. 

If you have ever read my biography here on the blog you may have noticed that I am a lawyer by day and a knitter by evenings (and on trains!). Well big changes happened at the end of July when I became a retired lawyer and changed my occupation on LinkedIn to 'Independent craft consultant' - they don't have any occupation described by anything as simple as 'knitter' .  What this actually means is that in future I shall be:-

  • Knitting more
  • Practising my spinning - I aim to spin up the coats of the Kingsclere four and knit a coat! Ambitious? Moi.
  • Move all my crafting work, multiple stashes and equipment to my (soon to be) converted garage
  • Run small crafting courses in same
  • Launch The Small Crafters

The last action is already up and running in prototype form and this is what I want to tell you about today.  The Small... Is a partnership with my friend Jenny.  We plan to run weekend retreats for crafters, knitters, spinners, sewists and even would be artists. And the first weekend is the 11-14 October (that's in 9 days time - eeeep!)

We are not doing this alone, we have the help of Fabulous Alli and Wonderful Kathleen and essentially we are a bunch of friends, alumni of the Welsh knitting retreat P3/Gwlana.   We have even secured the Amazing Amy Singer, editor of Knitty magazine to give three seriously interesting classes.  So it's no wonder we booked out in less than a week of announcing that we had found the perfect venue in the lovely Peddington Manor.

However despite the full house (with others sleeping at local B&Bs and  joining us daily at the Manor for all the fun) life being what it is, one amazing woman who was flying all the way from Texas to be with us has had to cancel.

So we have a double room at the Manor vacant for one person or two sharing.

You can read all about the weekend, which we are calling The Small Wool Gathering HERE . All the details, including pictures of the beautiful Manor inside and out, cost and how to contact us if you would like to come (or even be on our mailing list for future events) are there.

We would love you to join us.

And on the needles? Well there is a dress code for The Small Wool Gathering Saturday night dinner and its 'wear something glamorous and hand knitted'. I have made Citron in Tilly Thomas beaded silk mohair . 

That's not 'ON' the needles I hear you cry it's 'OFF'.  So it is!  I also have this to show you, it's a WW2 inspired cardigan.

it's in Juno merino sock

I've swatched!  The cable pattern runs up the centre back

the button holes are neatly hidden within the cable button band

And am away! knitting fronts and back together in one piece until I reach the armholesI intend it to be the key item on which I base my all handmade winter wardrobe. 

But for now it's set aside as I prepare for The Small..  Today was wine tasting day (ordering it by the case)  then Jenny and I hit the supermarket with a massive shopping list and I spend much of next week baking cake and biscuits to fuel the knitters at every break!  I'll be reporting back on how it goes in a little over a week

isn't this the perfect place for a knitters retreat?

there are quiet place to sit and knit

and a cosy Aga in the kitchen

and much more besides.  It would be wonderful if one or two people who read this want to join us but even if you are only just vaguely interested please let me know in the comments and I will include you in our mailing list for future events.