xmasgifts16.3There is nothing better than giving a gift that someone really wants. When you really love your hobby it can be a bit daunting for your friends and family to understand what would be on top of your gift list. So here I am like a festive yarn fairy to give you a few pointers. These are my personal recommendations based on my love of yarn and my eye for something pretty.

zigzagcrochet2Yarn Baby

Ok, I am going to help you here. Unless you really do know what you are doing – do not, I repeat DO NOT, buy yarn for your crocheter. Why would you? You will be taking away one of the pure joys of the hobby, the choosing of luscious squiggy yarn. So my suggestion would be to buy a rather generous gift token for your crocheter.

Go into your local yarn store and ask them for a pretty gift token and then add in the card you gift them the gift of time so that you can allow them to browse the shelves.

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Project bags

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a crocheter can never have enough project bags. Seriously, you will never disappoint if you buy a yarn fan something to put their yarn in.

My top tips are the witty bags which are available from Loop London, where they have some rather pretty project bags of different sizes; including this rather gorgeous bird themed bag by Miesje Chafer
I am also enjoying using KnitPro Joy Project Bag it sits beautifully on the side table next to the sofa and inside has some rather handy pockets for hooks and scissors.

Hooks, Needles, Bits & Bobs

I am going to get straight to it. My preferred hook is a Clover Soft Touch Crochet Hooks If you are buying just one or two hooks then a 4mm and a 5mm hook will always be useful. But you can go the whole hog and buy a set and you will be loved forever – Clover Hooks Set of 9

If I am honest – you can also not have enough scissors or tapestry needles. These are easy to pick up in any hobby shop. But if you are looking for covetable beautiful things, then I would suggest a few choice items from Merchant and Mills. Pick out a pair of sharp scissors and these needles in a gorgeous case – Thank you Father Christmas!

Subscription Boxes

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This year we have seen the growth of monthly subscription boxes, what a genius idea. Every month a new box of goodies arrive with a pattern and all the items you need to make the project. I love this idea and have suggested it to many beginners as a good way to build their skills without having to amass huge yarn stash. For fun and funky I would recommend the lovely Crochyay. For lovers of pretty and things then you should try Little Box or Crochet.

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Magazines

I do have a small magazine vice. I find it very, very difficult not buy the latest issue when browsing the supermarket aisles. If you ask me what one of my favourite Christmas gifts would be, I would have to say, ‘Get me a subscription!’.

For beginners then a subscription to either Simply Crochet or Crochet Now magazine would go down a treat.

I am a huge fan of Inside Crochet Magazine and would suggest this for intermediate crocheters.

Books

Ok, I admit it, I am being a bit naughty here. But if you are buying for a beginner, then I will highly recommend this book ‘How to Crochet’. Yes, I did write it… I know, I know. However I have used it to teach quite a few people and lovely readers do send me emails to say how useful they have found it.

My new book Cute Crocheted Animals is not for the beginner, but is for anyone who wants to develop their toy making skills and enjoys making cute characters. I have started seeing beautiful animals popping up on social media. Such a lovely thing to make for the children you love.

My other suggestion would be Granny Squares by Sue Pinner. A great book which updates the classic vintage pattern.

My friend and uber-designer, Claire Montgomerie has brought out a new book, Hooked. Now I will admit I have not been able to get my mits on this yet. But I can always highly recommend her work and will be adding this book to my Christmas list.

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A Bespoke Gift Box

Finally if you want to take all the hassle out of choosing something for your hooky mad loved one then I would suggest ordering a bespoke gift box for the super stylish Cool Crafting. You can choose the value of your Crocheter’s Good Things Giftbox from £20 – £100 and your parcel will be sent on 20th December. But hurry you don’t want to miss that order!

I hope you like some of these suggestions and don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to keep up to date with all crochet news. Let’s start off your Christmas Crochet gifting by offering two £10 vouchers for Stylecraft yarn, which are redeemable at any ‘bricks and mortar’ yarn shop. If you leave a comment below with your top Christmas Crochet gift on your wish list I will draw out two names at random on Friday 9th December – just in time to put in the post! Good Luck and Happy Shopping.

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Hello Lovely people – My window for the Stylecraft Giveaway has gone live and you have just 12 hours to enter to get the free pattern and enough yarn to make you own Christmas Pudding Potholder.

You can enter here

 

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Christmas Craft Inspiration

Are you feeling the Christmas craft bug yet? Now December has begun I am going to allow myself to get jolly festive! I have decided that I will try to carve out a little time to make a few Christmas craft items for our home.

If you have a few moments to curl up on the sofa, listen to a few joyful tunes then I have a few pointers for you.

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Why don’t you not pop over to The Rug Blog? I have been fortunate enough for my Christmas Pudding potholder to be included in their post about Festive crafts to make. I have been inspired by the photos of a Christmas tree made out of paper, and creating a Christmas Village out of clay. Taking time to stop and create is one of the joys preparing for our family time together.

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Christmas Pudding Potty

Last weekend, I took a break from working on crochet commissions and made a Christmas Pudding beanie hat for Little B. I made so many of these when he was a baby. Seeing his cute cheeky head with a holly sprig on top just made me giggle. For many years B has not been quite so entertained by his mother’s sense of humour. This year he seems to get my joy of whimsy and I think the pudding hat might be a firm favourite for the cold winter mornings. If you have a must-do crafty make for Christmas please do comment below. I am in the mood for Merry Making!

 

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tennen-noro-yarn-laughing-hensWhen Winter comes I love the opportunity to dress the house with cosy blankets and get out the homemade tea cosies and cushions. With a young son in our house our Christmas decorations tend to be bright and cheerful, as it should be. But naturally I am attracted to pale creams and white in winter. I love the frosts and the snow.

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This week I have tried to balance my work on a new book and add to my homemade Christmas gifts. I was sent this lovely natural Noro yarn which is called Tennen, by the online shop Laughing Hens. Sold in a hank, it looks like the purest form of wool. I got going on the swift and made a rather satisfying yarn cake. The colour I have used is 1, but there are lots of other natural tones to choose from. It seems to be a month of top-tips from me. My top-tip for this weekend, is that the Laughing Hens website have excellent photographs of all the images and patterns in a pattern books. It is where I have gone to check out whether I want to buy a pattern book or not. There you go, a little insider secret for you.

tennen-noro-yarn-laughing-hensBy my estimation I will be able to make two teacosies of the finest quality from one hank. I put a jaunty burnt orange bobble on this version, but might revert to a natural bobble for my second cosy.

I haven’t quite decided yet who will get this cosy as their Christmas gift. So if you are one of my friends reading this and quite fancy self-selecting your gift this year, then do drop me a line.

What will you be making this weekend? I think I might make Little B a Christmas pudding hat for the festive season.

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I got very excited on Friday. My new Blocking Board arrived. A new bit of crochet technical kit. I have spied this board on the internet and have desired to have my own for a while.

‘Blocking, what on earth and why?’,  I hear you cry. Well if I am ever at a workshop, trade fair or interviewed by a magazine, and they say; ‘What is your top tip?’. My answer is always; Blocking.

Beginners and seasoned crocheters alike avoid blocking their work and it is easy to see why.  If you have just finished a garment or a beautiful blanket you are impatient to show off your finished piece and then start your next project.

But once you have invested in yarn and spent so many dedicated hours finishing your project, there is nothing more crushing than a blanket that looks more at home in a dog basket than displayed proudly on your sofa. Blocking make an enormous difference to your finished projects, and many crocheters will testify to the fact that once you start you never go back to your old impatient ways. .

Blocking

During the making process the fibres of the yarn can often become crumpled and creased. By blocking your work, the fibres can relax, the stitches become regular and your can set your finished piece to the measurements you require.

There a number of techniques which can be used and dependent on the project you can choose different options. Obviously toys, amigurumi, bags and coasters do not need to be blocked. Items like lace shawls, scarves and blankets should be ‘hard’ blocked. Garments can either be wet blocked or steam blocked. In all cases the items need to be wet enough to so that the fibres relax and you can re-shape them into their final position.

blocking board - emma-varnamBlocking – what do I use?

Well I have just bought this lovely new board from Daisy Boo Creations. I make quite a few Granny Squares and this board will enable me to stack a number of squares in exactly the same shape on these wooden dowels.

Firstly do check the ball band to ensure that you can get the yarn wet. I then dampen the square using a waterspray, which you can buy from most supermarkets. I will then pin out the square to the size and shape you need.

Now bear in mind I have been crocheting for many years and make very many projects. You don’t need to invest in blocking boards;. Small projects can be easily blocked on an ironing board. Another really practical idea is using kid’s foam play mats, these link together and can form a really large blocking area for big blankets or garments. I will continue to use my Prym Tensioning and Steamer Mat
which I notice even John Lewis are stocking now. This has a printed grid line system which is really helpful for garment blocking and granny squares.

blocking-granny-squares-crochetHow to block

Take your project and lay it on you blocking surface. Start at one corner and pin gradually along the edges, gently pulling the crochet into place and securing with a pin. As you work around the edge of the piece, you might notice that you have pulled one area more taut than another, simply remove the pins and reshape. Once you are happy with the overall dimensions, spray it all over with tepid water. Leave to dry.

Wet blocking

Many designers wet block their garments as the process fully sets the seams together and it is the process which will be used every time the garment is washed. Soak the item in a little lukewarm water, you can add a little no-rinse wool wash and leave for around 20 minutes. Then drain your sink and very gently squeeze out the water, but do not wring the garment. Ensure that you scoop your item out of the sink and do not hang it out as this will stretch the fibres. Lay the garment between two towels and gently roll the towels up to remove as much of the excess water as possible. You can then lay your item out on your blocking surface and gently pin it out into the measurements you require.

mietred blanket-colourful- Emma- VarnamSteam blocking

This is a slightly faster version of the process above, and is good for removing persistent creases from garments. Lay your crochet out on the blocking surface and use a steam iron or garment steamer to allow the hot steam to permeate the fibres. Make sure you don’t let the iron touch the crochet, because it will easily flatten textured stitches and totally ruin any acrylic yarn, making the crochet limp and lifeless.

In all cases of blocking, make sure the crochet is totally dry, ideally leave your work for 2 or three days if you can.

Essentially this is my top tip for all crocheters. It will make an enormous difference to your finished work. I promise you – you will thank me later.

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The Danish idea of Hygge, and how to live a cosy, happy Scandinavian life is dominating the media and the bookshelves this winter. I have a lovely friend and colleague who is Danish. For many years she has talked to me about the way that her homeland creates a cosy and welcoming atmosphere. She lent me the lovely book by Meik Wiking The Little Book of Hygge

summerparty15.9A way of life

As the evenings are darker and it is getting chillier, there are a great lessons we can learn from our Scandinavian neighbours. Get cosy by lighting candles. Invite friends over to make and share a meal together. Go off-line and live in the moment. Read a book or just sit chatting by the fire? Finally, make something cosy?

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Reading this book got me thinking. I think knitters and crocheters have an innate sense of hygge. We enjoy making things, we enjoy the tactile and the slow thoughtful meditation of stitching. Yarn crafters often like to make in the company of others. We were born to this cosy and sociable way of life.

hygge2Top 5 Hygge things to make

It also occurred to me that there are really some ultimately ‘hygge’ items that we can knit or crochet.

  1. The Cowl – the Danes love a big scarf, the cosier the more stylish. My favourite all time make
  2. The Shawl – A new addition to my crochet repetoire this year, but vital for outdoor comfort by the fire
  3. The Lap Blanket – Could anything by more ‘hygge’ then curling up on the sofa with a a loved one with a homemade blanket on your knee.
  4. A pair of Slippers – I made lots of pairs last year as Christmas gifts. In Denmark they make cosy socks available for all guest to wear.
  5. Fingerless mittens – An easy make which enables you to type or knit in warm comfort.

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If you have more items you would add to this ‘hygge’ list then do tell me. Plus when you spot a newspaper article on the Danish ‘hygge’ way of life, smile and think to yourself, you are already living the cosy dream.

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sat-portraitIn the background

In recent weeks I have had lots of new followers to the blog – which is so wonderful. If you have been following my blog for a while you will know most of this detail, but I thought it was nice idea to give you a little bit of background to the blog and my design work.

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Northern Powehouse

I live the vibrant city of Manchester in the North West of England. It is fun city to live in with lots of great galleries and restaurants. In recent years the Northern quarter of Manchester has become a focus for creativity and a great destination for shopping and eating. I like to visit a range of local yarn and craft shops. I simply adore the institution that is Fred Aldous. I have been visiting that shop since I was a student. Local shops in the South of Manchester provide great design inspiration. I can often be found looking in shops like Moth in West Didsbury for colour and shape inspiration. Originally I trained as a Museum Curator and then for many years I was a manager of a Museum Service in the eastern part of the city. I now have the honour and challenge of being a senior manager in local government, it keeps me extremely busy but I also get to work with some inspiring people. Many of the people I work with either knit or crochet, their creativity encourages me to keep being creative at home.

leighton-cardigan-inside-crochetJuggling the design work

I have had knitwear and crochet design career for about a decade. This part of my life sits alongside my day-job quite happily. I am not sure I could ever sit down at the end of the day and do nothing with my hands or my imagination. Crocheting started for me about eight years ago. I wanted to re-create a vintage blanket which we inherited from my husbands grandma. There was so much yarn in my stash that I thought it would be the perfect way to use up all the left-over yarn. When learning a new technique I am always much happier to sits quietly in the corner with a book and it wasn’t long before I started making small amigurumi toys for my son. Soon I was hooked and I now work mostly in crochet for accessories or toys but still love to knit garments. The yarn stash has actually grown and not diminished at all!

DBBlanketfrontcoverGorgeous Debbie Bliss

People often ask me if I enjoy blogging and do I ever consider just giving up. What are they trying to say? Well the blogging and the designing go hand in hand. Of all the social media or publishing work I do, my blog is my favourite online space. It is like a huge online diary of my thought processes and behind the scenes design work.

When I started my blog in 2010 my design work really took off. I have enjoyed so many wonderful opportunities, including designing for lots of different magazines, writing crochet books and designing for the Queen of British Knitting, Debbie Bliss. None of those opportunities would have developed without the blog.

The blog has also meant that I have met and encouraged lots of other bloggers to design and now there are loads of really talented people that have written and published crochet books that I know. It is a nice network to be part of.

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Cute Crocheted Animals

I have just completed my third crochet book. I am very excited about it. There are 20 animals and their clothes to crochet. They have a very British look and style and I hope people will enjoy making them for their children. Many of the children I know crop up in this book. My son’s best friend is there – as a rabbit. My godchildren and my best friends children crop up. Best of all our gorgeous family cat, Stanley takes centre stage. He has become quite a diva since acquiring this new found fame. Very demanding regarding cat food and flea collars!

My son has always been a great inspiration to me and now he is quite a commissioner. For World Book day he dressed up as Paddington Bear and designed a marmalade sandwich which he asked me to crochet so that he could pop it under his hat.

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Colour

When it comes to colour, I would love to think of myself as a sophisticated ‘Farrrow and Ball’ girl. But it is just not true. The colours I am actually attracted to a vibrant; pinks, reds and blues. We have a rich midnight blue on the walls dining room and one of rooms is completely scarlet. It brings joy to my heart. My instagram feed is a testament to my colour preferences, with bright zings of colour at every turn. My skin tone suits bright clear hues. I look so much better with a white base against my skin and a cheerful colour to lift the spirits. Like many people who have to look smart during the day I tend towards a base of black but always aim to add a flourish of a colourful accessory. At the weekend it would be unusual not to catch me in a navy breton stripe, with a swish of red lipstick – colour and joy.

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I am working on my next book and I am just in the tricky stage of choosing new colours for each project. I know that lots of people fret about this – I am no different. But I always find that if I use a fabric or a greeting card as a base, it is a good place to start.

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In the frame

Due to the i-phone revolution and a myriad of great filters, creating your own images seems so much easier than before. I like to take photos myself as projects develop and that provides a great insight into the process. However the best images of my work are taken by professional photographers. My friend Lucy of Smith Imaging has taken some of the best images of my creations over the years and her expertise brings add quality and beauty to the work I create. If you are ever thinking about self-publishing some of your designs it is worth getting some professional images of your work even if it is of just a few items.

I would encourage anyone who has dreams to write a blog or develop a design career to have a go. It has been enormous fun for me but also lots of hard work. If you have the resources and the time it is also worth investing in additional training and developing skills. But then learning something new is always great fun. Lots of my friends have said, ‘I looked at you and thought well if she can do it I can!’ Sometimes I have not quite known how to take that comment. But I chose to see it as a compliment and an encouragement to spur people on to reach for their dreams. Keep making and creating!

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Mid-week Sneaky Peek

I know it is late to talk about mid-week on a Wednesday night, but why not line up a weekend project now. Is it too early to talk about Christmas? Amongst my free patterns available here is a quick and easy Christmas make. Having a potholder available in our kitchen has been a revelation to me. This cheeky wee, kitsch addition to the Christmas festivities makes a great gift. Now is the time to whip up a couple of these for friends, perhaps even end of term Christmas gifts.

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Feel free to share with friends but also please do subscribe to my newsletter to get first hand news of free patterns in the pipeline. I love get your comments. So if you have a favourite Christmas make I would love to hear about it.

You can get the download for this pattern from here .

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Last month I posted a picture of a new cowl design I had made for myself. The Batik Cowl has already become a firm favourite. At the weekend it is almost permanently around my neck. Cosy, cosy, cosy.

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Jewel Batik

I have at last written up the pattern and posted it for download on the LoveCrochet site. It is a simple corner-to-corner crochet design. But don’t be fooled there are a lot of ends to sew in. The Batik yarn from Stylecraft is fabulous to work with. I am a huge fan. I decided that I could create another colour combination. So the image above is my jewel colourway. Perfect for fans of pinks. purples and blues.

batik-cowl-stylecraft-emma-varnam-blogstarsCorner to Corner

If you are frightened of working the corner-to-corner pattern, don’t be. There are some good tutorials available and I would recommend this tutorial on the Crochet Now Magazine site. I will be adding this cowl to my Christmas gift stash. Hopefully it will find a happy and welcome home.

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I am really excited and honoured to kick off the 2016 Stylecraft Blogtour. There are so many fabulous blogs that you can visit in the next few weeks. So many crafty places to inspire your making.

Back in the summer Stylecraft asked me to road test their new shades of their Special Aran and Chunky range. They have added some new shades to the range including; Empire, Pistachio, Storm Blue, Sage, Saffron and Pale Rose. I chose the Silver collection of yarns to create a design and I cannot lie that amongst my favourites are Storm Blue and Pale Rose.

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The Great Outdoors

If you visit this blog regularly you will have spotted that I took this project with me on our early summer glamping holiday in the Lake District. I knew the softness of the yarn would make a cosy blanket. For as long as we can during the summer and autumn Big B and I love to sit outside in the evening. The ever growing pile and crochet blankets make this much more comfortable. The ideal scenario is to have a blanket on your knee, a shawl across your back and be creating a new blanket heirloom on your lap.

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The shades of the Silver pack collection were a perfect match for our Lake District holiday. The soft blues and greens which are so very pastoral and British, with the added pinks of foxgloves and campion.

Blencathra-blanket-crochet-stylecraft-aranThe pattern

For the pattern I have used a very simple open ‘V’ stitch repeat. I wanted to make a larger blanket than I usually work up. I went for the dimensions of a single bed blanket. This means you need two balls of yarn in each shade. However the thickness of the yarn and the larger gauge makes this project a little less daunting.

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So cosy

I know many of you already love the Special range from Stylecraft. What I can’t get over is how do they make it so soft? The aran weight is particularly squiggy. Now I have edged this blanket, it has migrated to our living room for a cosy autumn snuggle on the sofa. Our son, Little B has now chosen this blanket as his new living room favourite. Apparently it is even more cuddly than the faux fur which has previously been his preference.Blencathra-blanket-crochet-stylecraft-aran

Getting hold of some yarn

For those of you who fancy making your own version of the Blencathra Blanket you can download the pattern for free here. I would love it if you would subscribe to my monthly newsletter as well. If you would like to win a pack of the yarn then please do go to the Stylecraft Competition page and enter **here**. I should hear who has won the prize tomorrow!

Congratulations to Julie Abbott from Kent who won the yarn for my competition!

There are twelve designers and bloggers involved in the blogtour who have used the news shades of Special Aran and Chunky as their inspiration. That means twelve chances for you to win a pack of yarn and get a unique free pattern. Tomorrow please visit the awesome Jane Crowfoot on her blog to see what she has created.

Other bloggers involved include my lovely blogstar friends; Crafternoon Treats, The Twisted Yarn, Patchwork Heart, Le Monde de Sucrette, Hand knitted Things, Cherry Heart, Sue Pinner, Annaboo’s House and Keep Calm and Crochet on

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