I have been thinking about making toys recently. As you know, often I can be beavering away in the background, making something secret I cannot share. You will imagine that it will include toys – toys for babies, toys for toddlers, toys for play, toys to amuse and in some cases toys that adults love. Well I know that there are really three important factor that make a great toy.

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Make it stand the test of time

Firstly, it needs to be hard-wearing. A really successful toy is not just admired – it is loved. Indeed the ultimate goal of a toy is to be ‘the one’. That means lots of imaginative play, lots of trips to unknown places. Lots of adventures in the garden, lots of holidays and even being flung out of bed in the middle of the night. Very undignified. Toy making began in earnest for me when I learnt to crochet. I discovered something. Working in the round; amigurumi, meant there were fewer seams. That meant there was less chance of having arms, legs ears pulled off in enthusiastic games or just from general wear and tear.

Do you know that this little monster was the very first crochet toy I ever made for my boy. At the time it sat neatly in his hand. Now he has enormous hands and this little chap seems very very small. In Cute Crochet Animals I suggest that you attach the arms by incorporating the last stitches of each arm into the rounds of the body. This means that the limbs become part of the whole piece and won’t fall off or unravel. This is my very favourite technique and I use it whenever I can.

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Be inspired

Some my very favourite designs or makes have been inspired by small conversations. Chatting away to children or friends you get to know what they really love. I tell you nothing, absolutely nothing is more wonderful than a home made treasure which someone has made specifically for you. It is not only the time and effort it takes to make that object, but the added value of listening to you, hearing and noting your passions and then turning that conversation into an idea.

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I have designed many penguins over the years – for one simple reason – my son loves penguins. His love of these comical birds has changed our family. Who knew there were so many species? I have watched more films, cartoons and documentaries about penguins than I dreamed possible. They have infiltrated my design work – and I am so glad they have. But I make Penguins because I love him and I want to delight his heart – I am sure I will make more

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Look for the cute

The last bit of making a toy is the very most vital part. Placing the features – I have three pieces of advice for you. Firstly, relax. Homemade toys – are meant to look like just that – homemade. They are not made by robots – they are not made in their hundreds. They are unique and therefore should look different and bespoke. Secondly if you pour love into the process then your toy will reflect that love and care. I can’t explain it – but it is like a small sprinkle toy-maker’s magic dust. The care, the time, the joy comes seeps out through every stitch.

Placing

Finally do take your time. I might place the eyes in several different places before I finally settle on their lasting position and fasten them. Even though I have made hundred of toys I will rip out noses, mouths and ears and start again. If in doubt – rip it out. But do finish it.

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It occurred to me recently – when my boy is all grown up – will I stop making toys? I don’t think so, because you know who gets the most joy from making these toys – the biggest kid – Me!

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Emma-Varnam-Stylecraft-Life-Changes-9559

It is such a strange way that designs seem to time travel. You design, make and create in one season and then they are shipped off to their final destination. In another season they reappear and you have almost forgotten when and where you made it.

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Holiday Project

Well whilst we were away in the last few weeks my new design for Stylecraft Yarns has been launched. I created a new blanket and cushion design for their Autumn season using some bright shades of Life DK and a lovely gray tonal yarn – Life Changes. I was actually making this blanket in the depths of our chilly February holiday. We were all poorly – but sat for hours watching the Winter Olympics. Nothing could be more cosy than making a blanket when you need some comfort.

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Getting Prepared

In the middle of our heatwave here in Britain it might seem a bit odd to be thinking about your autumn projects – but get ready because before you know it you will want to be under a lovely homemade creation. I hope you like the look of the design. The blanket would be perfect for a beginner.

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I try really hard to create designs that I would like to have in my own home and match in with contemporary interior trends. All the brights are a lovely little highlight and then the tonal grays of the Life Changes yarn provide a modern look.

The pattern will be available for the normal Stylecraft stockists in the Autumn and the design code is 9559. Tell me what your think

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Friday-Beach-Basket-emma-varnam

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If you are a passionate crafter, you will recognise the urge. Two Fridays ago I got home from a very busy week and knew that I just ‘had’ to create something new. I needed that total crochet escapism – to make without ceasing. Waiting in my stash was a full range of Stylecraft Linen Drape colours. I picked out some of my favourite colours from the range – cranberry, coral, natural, lime, peacock and wheat.

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What to make?

I knew exactly what I wanted to create – a fun beach bag for our summer holidays. You might think that having written two books on Granny Squares in the past twelve months, I might have had my fill of the old crochet vintage classic. In fact, once you have started thinking about creating patterns like this, more and more possibilities open up.

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Anyway I quickly worked up two basic granny squares. The final row of the square was a double crochet row. I then swapped my colourful yarn for the muted raffia tones of ‘wheat’. I worked three sides of each square in a linen stitch. Working backwards and forwards. I then worked a single stripe in each colour using double crochet. This ended for both sides with a row of cranberry.

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I joined both sides of the bag together using a slip stitch in the cranberry yarn.

Handles

Next I began working the handles. I am going to be honest I toyed with some bamboo or plastic handles, but thought better of it. It seemed better to go for the simplest solution. So I worked about 5 rows of double crochet. Then I made a hole by working 25 chain stitches and missing 25 stitches. I worked a further 5 rows in the wheat and then changed to the cranberry. The first row of the cranberry lining was through the back loop of the previous row. When all this was finished I wove in all the ends.

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Finishing Touches

Through personal experience I really do like to line my crochet bags. Recently I have found it so handy to use felt to do this. There is no fraying or worry about seams. Once I had sewn the lining I attached a lanyard inside, underneath the handle – a handy addition to attach keys or scissors. With all this in place I used the sewing machine to sew in the lining and then attach the handle placket over the top.

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Ta dah! What do you think? My advice is when the urge takes you – have a go at creating a little project for yourself on the fly. I started the bag on a Friday evening and was frantically finishing it off on the following Friday morning so that it was ready for the weekend. That kind of joy and energy really reminds me of my childhood enthusiasm for craft – it is good for the soul. Have a happy, joyful making weekend.

 

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emma-varnam-garden-shawl

Colour choice can be such a difficult thing. I think we feel the need to fit within fashion. We might like reds and greens but know that currently grays and dusky tones are the most fashionable. I have long since recognised that I am attracted to bright, strong colours.

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I like them in our house and I love them in the garden. It is these colour choices which appear in my crochet designs as well. I admire more subtle shades. I can appreciate them. But they do not make my heart sing.

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When I am making something for myself I feel free to play with colour. In the last few weeks I have been balancing design and writing my new book and completing a few commissions. I don’t know about you but I usually have about 3 or 4 yarn projects on the go. This year my default project for the handbag is a pair of socks. I think I am now on pair number 6.

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Then I have a few long-term knitting projects: a blanket and a jumper. It occurred to me that it might be useful to make a shawl for our summer holidays. I have dreams of sitting outside early in the morning or late at night with a cosy shawl around my shoulders. Deliberately I wanted it to have a festival vibe, and decided the best inspiration would be found in our garden.

Colour Choice

In essence, the colours I have chosen do not make sense – reds, pinks and oranges. Yes from the same side of the colour wheel, but lots of clashing tones. But there, right there is the beauty of crochet. It looks more inkeeping, more itself when there is just little hint of vintage madness.  The yarn I used was Stylecraft Special DK. This is perfect for a garment which is going to be hardwearing. The yarn stays soft even after a trip to the washing machine.

I love our bright and colourful garden. It is more cottage style haphazard than the white style of Vita Sackville West. But then I cannot do without red pelargoniums, pink roses and purple allium. If you ever feel stuck about colour choice, my best advice would be – look to nature. Find a garden, a picture or a pattern that makes your heart sing and match your yarn choice to the tones you find there. You will make something that brings a smile to your face and a song in your heart.

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Dear Lovelies, if you pop by my blog for crochet and knitting news this is one of the few non-yarn posts. If you pop by regularly you will know that since the New Year I set myself a challenge. Not to buy any new clothes in 2018. No small feat for someone who enjoys fashion and can be tempted by a quick supermarket or on-line purchase.

Slip-up

Well we are now at the beginning of month six – and I have survived! In the spirit of full disclosure, we did have one crisis. Staying with my folks around Easter I found that I had completely packed the wrong things and my husband rather wonderfully bought me an emergency blouse….as an Easter Egg present. I happily wore it and in-fact had eyed it up in Marks and Spenser’s. However due to a feeling of guilt, I haven’t worn it again.

If I am honest I am surprised I have lasted so long. As predicted the summer months have proved more difficult. The hot weather we have enjoyed here in the last few weeks has really challenged my creativity. Like any addict, I have found the best way to avoid temptation is not to put myself in temptation’s way. I have only occasionally drifted by clothes shops and am rather relieved that new privacy laws here in Britain mean that I will not receive quite so many emails from favourite shops.

Make-do

Making my own things seems to keep me out of trouble. I resurrected my old school craft skills and made two macramé necklaces with parachute cord. I really like them. They work well with a Breton stripe t-shirt. I have also made a lovely festival shawl which I will share with you on another post. But I thought it might be quite fun to share with you what I might have bought if I was not under my self imposed fashion fast. I have not had any payment or associated sponsorship for this post – it is quite simply an honest round up of my window shopping.

Up first is a lovely Cornish stripe t-shirt. You know and I know I have no need for another striped t-shirt. But I must admit I might have room in the wardrobe for this lovely red and white number from Seasalt.

Workwear Dilemma

Workwear is particularly difficult. How to look smart and elegant without ‘glowing’ under a suit. Not easy for men, not easy for women. Still with Seasalt this Freshwater dress caught my eye. It is just the style which I find forgiving and flattering. I would also be tempted in the sales by Boden. The Phoebe dress has particular resonance for people based in Manchester and its classic shape would carry me through a few seasons.

In addition I might also think about a simple pencil skirt in this bright and joyful pattern but matched with a simple blouse. I do love this flower pattern and both would work well with some killer heels.

If I didn’t think I could stretch to those prices but wanted a summery colour I have spotted this skirt in Sainsbury’s – my quick buy downfall. A lovely alternative.

Aspirational

For at-home outfits I have spotted a very ‘me’ blouse in the Toast sale. I love Toast, but these are long-lasting heirloom purchases. This ruffle blouse is right up my street. I have also found a lovely, lovely shop based in Cheltenham, Olive which has proved to fabulous eye-candy. My new go-to evening outfit is a jumpsuit and in a different year I might be tempted with this cheeky number. I would of-course need very tanned legs. Ah well.

So some of these choices are rather aspirational in price – but you can dream when you window shop. My solution, which if I can find time to sort out is to think about making a work dress. Now that is aspirational. I have purchased a pattern from the utterly fabulous Makers Atelier and we will see if it is a success or a disaster.

What are you buying and wearing this summer. If we are all fortunate it will be summer shorts and t-shirts. Simple and cool.

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Do you know what – I frequently forget that I have free patterns available all over the place. It seems that everyone wants and needs something for free and indeed some designers have begun to get a bit fed up about it. A free pattern is a great way to get more visitors to your blog or website, but it does sort of devalue the work that goes into writing and creating patterns.

In my mind I have often given away patterns that seem quite simple and have been easy for me to create. But I think I might do a spring clean very soon and start limiting those I have available. So be quick, just for the summer I am going to keep my fruity potholder patterns available for you to download from LoveKnitting. I have versions of these potholders in my kitchen. The brighten up the oven and actually are great mats for hot barbecue dishes.

Download them while you can – from the link here

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emma-varnam-yarn-shop-day-2018

I have been part of Yarn Shop Day for a couple of years. I utterly love it! Every year it has grown, more and more ‘bricks and mortar’ yarn shops get involved. There is a real sense of community. Each year I have got involved I have popped into see my local yarn shop – the yarn shop I most often go to when I buy yarn – Black Sheep Wools.

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I got up super early and packed up a couple of my cuddly friends; all the chaps from Cute Crocheted Animals and some of the projects from Granny Squares Home and Granny Squares Weekend. I learnt from my experience of last year and set off with lots of time to set up and get settled.

emma-varnam-yarn-shop-day-2018Early Birds

This year lots of lovely people came early – ready to meet and greet star guests like Christine – Winwick Mum. The first few to arrive were lucky enough to get a special gift bag from Stylecraft yarns. What a lovely surprise. There were also some free patterns available of Milo the Cat and Dixie the Llama. Such a gorgeous wee pattern by Heather of Keep Calm and Crochet on.

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I can’t tell you how lovely it was to see knitters and crocheters who have either really enjoyed my books or blog. In some cases I met knitters who wanted to learn to make amigurumi and it was great to pass on a few tips. Quite a few people bought the Little River Pattern and Yarn Pack – I was thrilled to show them the lap blanket in real life.

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Seeing Friends

When we were not chatting I was able to catch up with my friends; Sara from Black Sheep Wools. We could literally chat and giggle all day. I also saw my dear friend Winwick Mum and we had a few minutes plotting and scheming new ideas. She had a quick inspect of my socks and gave me a few new pointers.

Workshops

I also watched Debbie Tomkies doing an amazing yarn dying workshop. If you get a chance to go on one of her workshops, take the chance. It is like a lesson in colour magic. Debbie was kind enough to gift me a skein of her hand dyed yarn and I really believe and a pair of jaunty socks will make their way to one lovely soul from this skein.

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The very lovely Melanie was in the wonderful Rowan shop, teaching people to knit. She was super busy all day – we never really got a chance to chat and perhaps it was a good thing, because the yarn in that corner is so, so tempting.

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My lovely friend Gemma came and visited in the afternoon. She is super talented and after just a few project designed and made her own Granny Squares Bomber Jacket – we larked around look very retro in our bright creations and it is good that my son and her daughter didn’t walk out with embarrassment. They are instead almost as enthusiastic about craft and all things woolly as we are.

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I had such a lovely time. If you came over to say hello and bought a book or even just a quick chat – thank you. You have no idea how encouraging and wonderful it is. I must also say thank you to the lovely Black Sheep Wools family. The care and customer service is wonderful and the cake is a thing to behold and travel for. I am rather looking forward to next year. Well done Let’s Knit Magazine for a wonderful community day and a celebration of our woolly treasure troves.

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emma-varnam-crochet-gocustomized

I forgot to show you this when I wrote my last blog post. The lovely people at Go Customized sent me my very own mobile phone case. It is designed using a photo I took of my Little River cushion cover. I have been looking for a case for a while. In the office it is easy to mix up a myriad of similar phones. But with a granny square motif, no-one will pick up my phone by mistake!

I chose a wooden case to have as my design base. I really like the texture. However if I designed another I might have a go with the transparent case. Either way the process was brilliantly easy and my case arrived so quickly. You just upload the image when you have chosen the make and model of your phone. What arrives is your own bespoke design. I could see that it could be a little addictive. I was fortunate that Go Customized sent my case for free but at around 20 quid it would make a really personalized birthday or anniversary present. I am now thinking about what image I might choose next.

 

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emma-varnam-little-river-cushion-scheppjers-stonewashed

Do you know why I taught myself to crochet? The odds and ends of yarn. The ever increasing yarn stash. Inspired by the post-war thifty chic, I saw that you could something really quite beautiful from all the clashing colours of crochet. It is a journey of learning and self-improvement I have never regretted. But the stash has never really got any smaller. Actually I think it might have increased. Darn.

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The first pattern

With my recent Little River Blanket that I designed for Black Sheep Wools, I really tried to use up as much of the 25g ball of wool as I could. However, mindful of the need to leave a little bit of yarn to ensure everyone’s crochet tension was catered for, I left just a little bit of each colour. What to do?

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So I made some quick and easy solid granny squares. This is a traditional pattern. You can find it almost in any crochet stitch dictionary. A basic two round square.  I put together eight rows of eight columns and alternated each colour square with a square of Scheepjers Stonewashed Moonstone.

It was quick and easy to make. If you would like to make the squares yourself, feel free to follow the pattern below.

The basic pattern

BASIC SQUARE

Using your chosen yarn with 3.5mm hook, work 4ch and join with a sl st to form a ring.

Round 1:  5ch (counts as 1tr, 2ch), 3tr into ring, *2ch, 3tr; rep from * once, 2tr, sl st into 3rd ch at the beg of round. (4tr clusters). Do not fasten off.

Round 2: Sl st into ch sp, 5ch (counts as 1tr, 2ch), 2tr in same ch sp, 1tr in next 3str,  *(2tr, 3ch, 2tr) into next 3ch sp, 1tr into next 3tr, rep from * twice, 1tr into next 3ch sp, join with a sl st into 3rd of 5ch.

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Some Help

I know this standard patterns very well, but if you feel you need to follow a pattern why not look at the fabulous book by Emma Lamb; Crochet Home. I attached each square as I made it. This a very satisfying technique and a cushion cover is a great way to practice before you embark on a blanket. My top advice would be to look at the Youtube tutorial of Sandra Cherryheart. Her tutorials are brilliant and very clear. I tacked the crochet onto an old very plain cushion cover and that means that there is a nice uniformed backing behind the crochet.

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Now my cushion has pride of place in our kitchen, but I realise that not everyone has a shabby-chic aesthetic. I find that crochet look particularly good in the garden around this time. Cushions and blankets in a myriad of colours bring comfort and individuality to the outdoor space.

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You know what? I am rather thrilled with this last minute odds and ends make. My advice: don’t get hung up on the colour arrangement – let yourself have a bit of fun with a really random pattern. It is easy to overlook the left-overs, but isn’t the magic of craft taking something that would normally be thrown away and creating something beautiful and useful?

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Ready for the weekend I have a lovely little treat for you. For many years I have followed blogger and crocheter – Lazy Daisy Jones – also known as Ashley. She has built a really successful blogging and intagram following. In my year of the fashion fast I have found her style post particularly inspiring and I thought it would be great to get some advice and wisdom from Ashley for fashionable dressing as a ‘midster’ but also as a blogger.

Ashley, I avidly follow your Instagram account and indeed take time out to follow your blog posts. You came to my attention for your crochet and crafting but now I really look forward to seeing your posts on fashion and beauty. How has your blog evolved since you began in 2013?

Emma, thank you for having me on your lovely blog! Did you know you are one of my Crochet Heroes?

My blog Lazy Daisy Jones has evolved with my life. No one stays the same forever. As our families grow up and we grow older our tastes change.

My son was 11 when I started blogging, he is 16 now so I Have far more time for myself and my other interests.

I have always written about crafts and home restoration projects and I realised that my blog was rapidly turning into a lifestyle blog, not just a crochet and sewing blog. I decided to go with the flow and share what I was wearing and using on my skin. It was scary at first, and I was worried that my readers would think ‘who does she think she is at her age?’  ( I’m 54)

However, gradually my confidence increased and I found other women of my age were enjoying and actually reading what I was sharing.

Your photographs are always very beautiful. I am very envious of your confidence with your fashion posts. What would your top tip be for great images?

Thank you, it has been a steep learning curve. Trial and error would be the best way to explain it.

Luckily I have some wonderful blogger friends who advised me on photographing outfits.

My partner takes all the pics and I shout instructions to him! My top tips would be:

a. Always use a tripod this stops camera blur/shake.

b. Get out and about, find some pretty locations.

c. Enjoy yourself, smile, smile smile!

 

You know that this year I am having a fashion fast – basically not buying a new clothes. But I am always on the lookout for something new. I find your fashion posts particularly inspiring. How has your style changed over the last few years?

That is an interesting question! I have always loved colour and clever details. However, I don’t think my style has changed, I think my confidence has. I now know what suits me and my body shape. Confidence plays such a huge part in personal style. I think if you feel good in what you are wearing, than you will look good too.

I feel that I might be in a bit of fashion transition. Having been an avid buyer of clothes – I have taken a fashion fast this year (not buying any new items)…help! What would be your top tips for fashion conscious style… for a woman for any age?

Emma I think you have done the right thing, by taking a break and probably reviewing where you want to be style wise.

The first thing I would say is empty your wardrobe onto your bed and only put back the things you love and wear a lot. Even if you end up with a wardrobe full of jeans and t-shirts, you will have your answer?

My advice would be, wear what you love and dress for your lifestyle.

I live in jeans and there is nothing wrong with that! I change things up with my shoes and tops. Mules and a frilly blouse one day. Knitwear and brogues the next!

I love Hello fashion monthly its only £1 and has wonderful tips and fashion trend info. Buy it with your next weekly shop?

You were recently featured in Woman and Home Magazine as one of the top influencers – how did that come about?

When I started writing about fashion and my style and posting pics on my Instagram account Lazy Daisy Jones, I lost a lot of followers. I don’t think my crochet fans wanted to see it at that point.

So on a whim I started a new style account Daisy Jones Style, and just posted fashion images. Somehow that got noticed very early on. It snowballed from there and I started working with Brands and Pr companies. Woman and Home Magazine champion the older woman so that was probably how they found me. A proud moment for me!

As a blogger myself I notice that you have taken your blog to another level. You work with many companies in collaboration and have an diverse range of content? It looks like a full time job to create that level of excellence. What advice would you give someone wanting to break into that level of blogging?

You are right I started full time blogging this year!

Make no mistake, blogging takes hard work, I work on my blog everyday and try to post at least 3 times a week.

In my opinion publishing good content is very important. I try to mix it up a lot by writing about my home as well as fashion, beauty and crochet.

My top tip is just to get it out there on a regular basis and teach yourself about SEO (search engine optimization) Also find yourself a professional looking template and make it your own. Be unique don’t do what everyone else is doing!

Now let’s talk about crochet – do you get any time to with the hook anymore? If so what new trends do you see on the horizon?

I still adore crochet, but I must admit I get less time with my crochet hooks these days. I now use crochet as a form of relaxation, I crochet in the evenings whilst watching the TV unless I have a blog deadline to finish.

I am still loving the chunky crochet trend whilst amigurumi is still a favourite and always will be. I loved your latest book too. At the moment I am hooking up a very simple blanket. 

I’m a huge fan of tassel’s and I see that the trend is still going places!

 

Do you have a big dream?

I am constantly amazed at the opportunities my little blog has brought me. Travel, working with amazing brands and of course the friends I have made along the way.

My dream would be for it to continue as I feel very lucky to be in this position.

I am so grateful to you Ashley for sharing your wisdom and being such an inspiration – Thank you so much x

If you would like to follow Ashley, then read her fabulous blog: Lazy Daisy Jones

On Twitter LazyDaisyJones

On Instagram LazyDaisyJones

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