hooksYou are eying me suspiciously. You have glanced across at my hands at least twice and now I know you are musing, ‘Shall I ask?’

I know what your are thinking. You are wondering, ‘Why is my crochet hook different to Emma’s?’ You have spotted it. You have spotted that I am using a superior instrument. Sorry, well no not sorry at all. You see, my new crochet friend, this is not just a crochet hook, this is my crochet hook and indeed no matter how generous and patient I might seem, you will not touch this hook, oh no – much like every Kung Fu or fantasy film, I am not sure you really appreciate the pure perfection of this hook, you are not ready for it’s superior action.

I have given you one of my many reserve hooks. It is probably a red 4mm metal hook. It is a fine and serviceable item. I will probably allow you to walk off with this hook and take it home with the yarn I have donated to you to start your crochet journey.

Looking at this hook you might feel a tad disappointed. Granted it is not boring or grey and is a jaunty colour. Perhaps you were hoping for a more organic experience. You had dreams of flying along crochet rows with a beautifully carved bamboo or ebony hook. If we had gone down this road, it might well have impeded your progress. Because unless you have a high quality wooden hook you will get much more frustrated by the yarn sticking or even that you cant get the tip of your hook through the stitches. This level of stop/starting can become so frustrating you might feel prompted to give up all together.

Looking at my hook you will see it has a handle. More than that it has a soft little section which allows my thumb to indent into the handle. When I have not slowed down my hands for demonstration purposes you will see how this hook appears to be an extension of my fingers. The gold tip flips backwards and forwards with the yarn and gradually something crocheted appears from nowhere.

The speed from your hook will come with time. But you know what, all hooks are not equal. All ‘professional’ crocheters have their favourite hook type. Don’t get hung up on that. It is a bit like musicians or an athletes. A certain set of strings, a certain plectrum will suit one guitarist and not others, it is down to the way they play. You know that some football or tennis players wear a one type of shoes as opposed to another, they just get used to the way those shoes feel and they become an extension of their own feet.

My choice of hook suits the way I hold the handle. Not only that, I like how the top of the hook is pointed. It is not blunt and is easy to poke through the yarn for the next stitch. The depth of the actual hook suits me. Just deep enough to hold the yarn but just shallow enough to ensure each stitch I make is smooth and happens quickly. You’ll see that there is a slightly indented section to the shaft which makes the wool move from one stitch to the next and even this metal section is covered with matt coating so there are never any snags or stuttering in my stitches. Sorry is this too much information?

I am weighing up in my mind that if I actually donated to a specialized ergonomic hook right at the start, your crochet journey would actually be much faster. It is not as if I am buying a Stradivarius violin – we are talking about the difference of about £2.00. My favourite hook is not even the most expensive on the market, currently it is sold at about £3.75. But then if you went straight to the ‘professional’ hook I would be denying you a ‘moment’ – your ‘moment’ of decision. Like any good relationship – you need to make a decision to commit, to say ‘I choose you crochet – you will be my new craft – we will spend quality time together – we will spend evenings and weekends in each others company’.

I think I should not deny you that moment. It is your right of passage. When you know the moment go online or pop into your local yarn store and buy your first ‘professional’ hook and feel the difference. In the mean time stop eying up my crochet hooks, the very thought of your walking off with one is making my eye twitch – mitts off baby – get your own!

‘Notes to a Novice Knotter’ is a series of short essays about beginning to crochet – they are intended to be a bit of fun and not crochet law – feel free to get involved in the conversation via the comments.

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bobcecilyandmatilde

cecily1

bobandthegirlsSometimes an idea just gets stuck in your head and you keep making. I love it when I have specific little people in mind when I am making toys.

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I have to tell you that it is great fun to see the video tutorials I recorded for Crochet Now Magazine up on You Tube. One of my favourite blanket making techniques is ‘Joining as you go’. By adding your Granny Squares or Hexagons as you make them – the blankets grow quickly and the making seems less daunting. Pop over to the You Tube channel if you fancy getting a technique update.

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pompomcharm1

Dear Lovelies, I have a cute little weekend crafting project for you which is very much on-trend, but has an additional bonus of being lots of fun to make.  Pom-poms and tassels are adorning lots of summer bags and baskets in the shops.

Here are some very cute examples from Boden, Accessorize and Anthropologie. Inspired by the look I decided to create a bag-charm for my new beach bag. It is so easy to do.

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Firstly the materials

A keyring fob or clasp – (you do not need this and can simply tie your charm to the handles of your bag)

3 different colours of wool – (I used aran weight for extra fluffiness)

2 different cotton weight yarns

1 lurex yarn

A pom-pom maker

3.5mm crochet hook

A small piece of card (mine was 8 x 7cm)

Some sharp scissors and a tapestry needle

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Firstly I made a cord on which to sew my pom-poms and tassels. I took some blue yarn and combined it with some lurex yarn for extra bling. I made 28 chain stitches, then I double crocheted into the 2nd ch and every chain to the end. I left a long tail of yarn at the end. Using this tail I sewed the end of the cord to the keyring/lanyard fob and made sure I secured it.

Then I made 3 pom-poms. I used a pom-pom maker and I have a blog post about that here. But you can also make pom-poms using a fork so don’t think you need any special equipment at home. The yarn I used to tie up my pom-pom was the same as the yarn I chose to create my charm cord. I then sewed each pom pom to the cord quite near the end.

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I then made two tassels. I find it looked better using a cotton yarn for this. The tassels don’t fluff up so much and look sleek.

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I cut a small amount of lurex which I would use to tie the top of the tassel and placed it along the top of the card. I then used the cotton and wrapped the yarn over the card, ensuring the lurex was captured. I wrapped the cotton around about 30 times.

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I then knotted the lurex yarn on the top of the tassel. Using sharp scissors I cut the bottom of the tassel which is at an opposite end to the lurex.

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I then cut a small length of lurex and made a slip-knot in one end. I placed the loop of the slip-knot over the top of the tassel and pulled the slip-knot tight. Using the long end I wrapped the lurex round the yarn tassel several times and pulled it tight. I used a tapestry needle to make some small stitches in this lurex wrap to secure the yarn.

 

On both the pom-poms and the tassels I used my scissors to neaten up the edges and get rid of any stray strands.

Finally I wrapped the end of the cord around one bag handle and secured with the keyring/lanyard fob.

We are good to go and strut our stuff on the beach or the high street! Happy Weekend.

If you have a go at this project and have fun – please do send me some photos I would love to see them.

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june16.1

So you want to learn to crochet, really learn? You are intent upon it? What made you think about it? Was it something you saw in a magazine or Pinterest? Oh, maybe you want to de-stress, find another hobby, something to take your mind off things. Well you are right, crochet is marvelously relaxing. Can you knit? Do you knit quite a bit already? Don’t get me wrong – it is in no-way a prerequisite – but it just gives me an idea of where we are starting…

I think it might be worth mentioning a few things before we start. You should know that if you get the bug, really love it, then your home, your evenings, your weekends, even your holidays will never be the same. Sorry.

You will have more yarn in your house than you will ever use to create the projects you want to make. The more you create, the bigger your yarn collection will grow. You will start to make excuses for why you need to buy more yarn, you may even sneak it into the house and hide it. Your piles of magazines and books will grow. Friends and family will yearn for the days when you bought them presents with cold hard cash, instead of fashioning them something rather spendid from a skein of yarn and a few strategically placed knots.

Sorry, do I sound like I ‘m trying to put you off – not a bit of it – but it does help to have a little honesty amongst friends.

Soon you will start dreaming of yarn. Indeed the next project, the next conquest will already by queuing in your head. What am I saying? At this stage you will probably have an on-line list of of things you would like to make. Baskets and project bags will start to multiply around your favourite places to sit.  You won’t just be working on a blanket, or a scarf, but have 3 or 4 projects on the go. Does this seem hard to believe?

You will leave the house for a social occasion and glance longingly at your current project. You will wonder would it be acceptable to take it with you. If it is a formal dinner party, a theatre or music production, then no – no it is not. But soon your friends will acclimatise to your hobby and it will be perfectly fine to sit and crochet while you natter away in a coffee shop. The key signifier is – can I crochet in a relaxed manner without halting conversation with – ‘Shhhhh, I’m counting!’ It is easy to lose friends that way.

Eventually you will take you crochet everywhere…just in case. You will get braver about your public displays of crochet, because the love and joy of your craft will overcome any embarrassment you might have felt and you will be entertained by the willful staring of strangers.

Any long journey will now seem like a fruitful opportunity to spend quality time with the hook and yarn, and during the worst of times, you will feel consoled, comforted and distracted by the quiet and soothing movement as each row builds. In the waiting rooms, on the corridors where fear and impatience reside, you will feel calm and happy in the knowledge that at least something good can come of the endless anticipation and worry.

Crochet might change you. Once you might have made difficult decisions about what shoes to pack for your holiday. Now you will think nothing of slinging shoes out of your case. Your biggest dilemma will be how much yarn will you use on your break and what can you leave behind in order to make more space for yet another project.

Will this new hobby be just a passing fad? I often wonder about this. I wonder if fashion will change and much like the crafters of the 1970’s and 80’s we will move on, away from the joy of making. Really? When there are so many cute projects to make and at a time when so much of our lives are virtual? You see, whatever the craft you enjoy, indeed whatever creativity you pursue, there is something so very vital about having a thought and making it real with our hands. So should you learn to crochet? Yes, let’s enjoy the adventure together.

‘Notes to a Novice Knotter’ is a series of short essays about beginning to crochet – they are intended to be a bit of fun and not crochet law – feel free to get involved in the conversation via the comments.

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teachingcrochetThank you to you lovely people who replied and gave me your experience of learning to crochet, it was fabulous to hear so many stories. There was a hidden reason for me asking. As part of teaching programme on apprenticeship I was asked to teach someone to crochet in front of hundreds of people. We chatted about how I had learnt to crochet and what my motivations of learning were. Then we were in to full demonstration mode. It was all a bit of fun and if the objective was to quickly learn how to chain stitch, then I succeeded.

But the whole process got me thinking. How easy is it to learn to crochet?

Firstly I think you have to WANT to learn, in my case I had seen something I wanted to make and was determined to work out how to recreate it. I had MOTIVATION.

Secondly, it is about finding the method of learning which suits your LEARNING STYLE. I am a self-directed learner. Ideally sat comfortably with a book. I am not such a big fan of video tutorials, but diagrams and photos work well for me. Perhaps this is a creative part of my life I don’t really want to learn in a workshop or classroom scenario. But all of this is about how I learn best as an adult, and is not true for everybody.

Thirdly crochet sits well with my SKILL/TALENT set. I have always been drawn to handcraft activity. I liked to sew, knit and draw as a child. I felt relaxed and inspired when I was creating with my hands. This has always been part of me for as long as I can remember. I can’t for instance sing like Ella Fitzgerald, I will never play the piano for relaxation, my ability to hit a tennis ball is laughable and the likelihood of me speaking fluently in any other language apart from English is very, very slim. But ask me to make a frog costume or rustle up a range of baby toys, and I am your woman and I will think of nothing else until I have completed the task.

So there you are, I think that just about anyone can learn to crochet, but their success will be based on whether they really want to learn, whether they choose the right way to the learn the skill and if they have some basic dexterity.

Finally from being a beginner to an accomplished crocheter, I would add a number of additional attirbutes which seem to help.

If you are a completer finisher – those people who see a project to the end seem to get more satisfaction in having a good stash of finished items.

Having an eye for detail will ensure you like to work out the complicated patterns and are not daunted by ripping back the mistakes you have made.

If you like patterns, perhaps even mathematical forms. I often find that some of my most logical and scientific friends are drawn to crochet. The formation of pattern appeals to their brains – they love to see the consistency in the patterns and this provides an additional joy in their craft.

Whatever your motivation – let’s not forget, craft is good for the soul, a joy to behold and ultimately fun – if you love it, share it and you never know you might be teaching the next top crochet designer.

It might be worth saying that teaching crochet on the big screen is not for the faint hearted – you cannot imagine how big my derriere looked as I got up on that stool.

Needless to say if you want to learn to crochet you could purchase this fine book (cheeky) or my tutorials for Crochet Now magazine are appearing here.

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sunshinemandala

So you might have spotted this mandala in the background of some of my photos in the last week. I was drawn to this Debbie Bliss Cotton DK a couple of weeks ago in John Lewis – the colour just called to me. So I bought just one ball with the intention of making a quick and easy Mandala. If you are just past the beginner stage of crochet you can whip this up in a mere evening. A great little ‘thank you’ pressie if you are visiting friends or perhaps an anniversary pressie.

The pattern is available free here on the Debbie Bliss website for you to download

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sample illustration

What do you think? Do you reckon everyone can learn to crochet? I am not sure I am the best judge – but it seems to me that there are three main ways to learn successfully.

a) in person – sitting one-2-one with someone who will patiently teach you, whether that is in a class setting or just at home

b) sat with a book – I learnt from books, alone, in my own time. I think this is my preferred way of learning and exploring ideas.

c) Watching video tutorials – a bit like the one-2-one tutorial you can watch the movement of the hook in real time, but also like a book you can go at your own pace, re-running things you haven’t grasped first time.

These are all good methods of learning a new craft, but perhaps more importantly I think your mindset has to be right. I have said it many times; I have been a very successful teacher of novice crocheters because I am a very fussy selector of pupils. I can spot an excellent crocheter before they have even learnt.

In the last few days I have been dwelling on what the characteristics of a successful crocheter or knitter might be. If you have some thoughts would you drop me a line?sample illustration

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Grannysquare2HTC

Dear Lovelies – if you are interested I have a guest blog post for Debbie Bliss online, talking about summer crochet ideas. Pop over to her blog-spot to look at ideas for the summer

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sunshinemandalaIs it possible to have a woodsmoke hangover? This morning I woke with the sense that the outside is very much inside. The whiffs of woodsmoke are throughout the house, my hair…well everywhere. Last night we had very two of our oldest friends over and even though the outdoor temperate was distinctly parky we were determined to have some of our evening meal outdoors.

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Both Varnam boys do not need much of a hint to get a fire going, so both the chiminea and the fire-bowl were roaring away in no time. I am going to be honest, the fire-bowl looks very cool. It is a focal point, a thing to watch and great fun for late night marshmallow toasting. But even the merest breeze and you can find yourself chatting through a fog of smoke. The heat is also quite dissipated and on an early summer evening you need to sit on top of it to feel the benefit.

On the other hand, the chiminea in my humble opinion does not look cool, or rather it look incongruous in our distinctly English garden. But it does what its name implies and the chimney funnels away most of the smoke. You also can feel the heat and don’t have to sit on each others laps in order to benefit from the warmth. I resisted buying it last year, for ridiculous style prejudices, but conceded last night that it is by far the most effective of our outdoor heaters.

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Within seconds of sitting round the garden table I knew that I should fetch the blanket basket. This used to be just a summer feature in our kitchen, but it seems to have taken up almost permanent residence. All my favourite crochet blankets live here, so that they can be dragooned into cosy comforting at a moments notice. I am sure that the blanket basket has extended the hours we spend outdoors throughout the year – we move from late sun to twilight very easily.

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Last night was the first outing for the Lyme Bay shawl – not worn by me but borrowed with style by my friend. I care not whether there is a bit of ‘Granny’ chic; a lovingly worked cosy accessory will never go out of fashion. However it might need a bit of an airing today – it does have a rather outdoorsy smell. But you know the best bit about finding ways to stay outdoors on a British summer evening is that it extends the time chatting and giggling with good friends, old friends, friends who know you inside out and love you for who you are – even it does mean that they leave smelling like a kipper. More evenings like that I say… Bring on the summer!

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