Very occasionally I get interviewed by a magazine or a website and they ask me what other hobbies I have. Well it is not so easy to fit in much beyond my many hours with the crochet hook. But when stressed and needing to clear my head I will most often disappear into the garden.

Our garden is not huge, but it is large enough to have broad range of flowers and shrubs and a happy place to eat and play. It can be no surprise that my crafty making has rather crept into the outdoor space.

Each year we have a little summer gathering for friends. The bunting, the blankets and the garlands come out of storage and we enjoy changing our space from basic back garden into a festival space. You can have a quick look at previous years here and here.

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This year my super crafty friend Gemma made me some very pretty felt flower hoops to hang in the trees. Utterly gorgeous and they matched rather well with a crochet mandala I had made earlier in the season. I had hoped to make a few more but ran out of time. I keep thinking that they must be more of a cross-over between our crafty world and the outdoor space.

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Coincidently a brilliant gardening blogger, Alexandra contacted me. She writes the amazing Middlesized Garden Blog. This blog is one of my very favourite Sunday morning reads and over the years her hints and tips have greatly improved my plant care. Alexandra queried if I had ever crocheted with ‘plarn’. Essentially ‘plastic-yarn’.

She visited Spain this year and spotted some beautiful awnings and sunshades which create shade on the Spanish Streets. Essentially the locals make crochet mats out of upc-ycled plastic bags and then suspend these sunshades between the buildings to create colourful protection from the sun. The image she sent me peaked my curiosity and I began a journey of discovery of how people turn discarded plastic bags into mats and baskets. Please read her fabulous blog here

Here in Britain the plastic bag is becoming thankfully quite rare. I had to raid a forgotten stash to find some bags to experiment with. After a couple of hours I had made this plant container using some supermarket carriers. Don’t get me wrong, this is not easy work. Essentially I created a core strand of plastic bag and then made a long strip of plastic and crocheted round the core to create the spiral of the basket. Anyone who has worked with t-shirt yarn will tell you that your wrists to ache rather after a while and you can feel like you have done a few bouts of wrestling once your basket is finished.

Many people believe that working with thick yarn and large hooks should be easier than working with much thinner yarn. In fact it is much harder on the hands. But I cannot deny I had a lot of fun experimenting. I decided to sacrifice two bin bags to see how easy it would be to create a plastic granny square. I made a small mat quite easily but it would be lots more fun to collect a wide range of colours to create the most authentic granny square vibe.

This little experiment has got me thinking. Recycled plastic is impervious to rain and makes brilliant weather proof decorations. I think there maybe more projects to think about and there should be more crafty decoration in the garden.

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double-moss-stitch-knitting

I have this little plan in my head. But oh my goodness my progress is slow. In recent months I have not been able to share with you the projects I am working on. Due to the release dates and embargos, most of my designs appear months later. I am lucky if I have remembered to take a photo. Once I have finished my current commission, I am taking a little break from designing. I feel the need to just make.

So I have a plan. I want to make a ‘Granny Square’ jacket for the winter. Oh my, could be terrible, could be fantastic. I realise that people may very well cross the street to avoid me, but we will see. When I started to work on the project I began with the sleeves. I occurred to me that I could tone down the shouty nature of the granny square by making the sleeves in just one colour.

Initially I swatched the design in crochet, but realised that this would NOT do. I knew immediately they would lack drape. So I have returned to my beloved knitting needles. So far so good. I chose the classic double moss stitch. So chic. This stitch is much beloved of classic British knitwear designers; Debbie Bliss and Kim Hargreaves. The double moss stitch is also a staple stitch for aran jumpers. But oh my friends, it is slow. Achingly slow. Each stitch alternates between a knit and purl stitch. The yarn is worked backwards and forwards. Slowly the knitted fabric grows.

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So why do I persist? Mostly because I have learnt that to make an heirloom project it is worth putting in the effort. Every large project which requires time and effort is an act of faith. Will you like it? Will you actually wear it? Who knows, but that is the risk. In fact you know that risk everytime you gift a handmade project to a friend. Either your work will be a treasured jewel or quickly discarded on to the re-gift pile. But not this cardigan. This is my own little yarn adventure. I am not taking notes. I am just making. The base colour is the fabulous ‘Pillar Box Red’ Stylecraft Life DK. This is a new colour this season and I was immediately drawn to it.

I am on the second sleeve now… thank goodness. You may wonder why I started with the sleeves. Mostly in a veiled attempt at self-discipline. If I finish the sleeves I will whip along with the squares. I can’t wait and I’ll share the journey with you. This cardigan/jacket could be a wardrobe staple, could be a disaster. We will see.

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Apollo-Aurora-emma-varnam

Apollo-Aurora-emma-varnam

Apollo-Aurora-emma-varnamFairytale Ambitions

It occurs to me that when I was a little girl, listening to fairy tales I was not that interested in the central heroine. The appeal of being Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty passed me by. The far more interesting character seemed to be the Fairy Godmother. She wasn’t waiting for something to happen to her. She made things happen. She was the fixer. Quite frankly she had all the fun. So I wonder if this has been my life-long ambition. Rock up somewhere unannounced, sprinkle a little star dust, a little bit of whimsy and then disappear again almost as quickly. I think I am probably living this small girlhood plan through my yarny exploits.

Let’s start at the beginning. A couple of weeks ago I got my hands on a new yarn by Designer Yarns; Apollo. It comes as a satisfyingly large ball of 300g. The colour choice I had was Aurora, which is really a rainbow of colours from fuchsia pink, through to golds and aqua marine. Now I don’t normally veer towards variegated yarns or blended tones in my design work. But I was attracted to the soft and silky texture and I was intrigued to see how the tonal repeat would work.

Apollo-Aurora-emma-varnamApollo-Aurora-emma-varnamSoftest yarn

The yarn was so soft that I thought, ‘this would make an excellent baby blanket’. The unusual colour combination nearly put me off, but then I remembered that some good friends are expecting their third child and this more adventurous approach to the traditional buggie blanket might serve them very well. Let’s face it, the third baby very rarely get anything new or bespoke.

I had plenty of projects already on the hook and wanted a little simple project. I began a standard corner-to-corner square. As the colour changed, I became more enchanted by the results. If you are interested, the blanket is approximately 101cm (40in) square and I used about 450g of yarn, which equates to 1 and half balls of yarn. When I had completed the main square of the blanket I then edged the work with a linen stitch border. I do not mind telling you that I am overly pleased with the finished project. It is so soft and the tones are so imperceptibly blended. I showed the finished blanket to some colleagues at work and they couldn’t seem to find where one colour started and another ended.

Apollo-Aurora-emma-varnamFairytale Poncho

So there you go, one rather different baby blanket. But I had some yarn left over….what to do, what to do? Luckily I had spotted an excellent pattern for a child’s poncho in Colourful Crochet by the fabulous Marianne Dekkers-Roos. This is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it. So as quickly as I could, whipped up sweet poncho for my friend Betsy. Betsy is the most scrumptious little girl. She is the champion big sister of Rufus and will be an equally stunning big sister to the owner of the colourful baby blanket.

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I was too excited to wait until the baby arrived and if I am honest I would have paid serious money to see the delight and utter surprise on Betsy’s face when I arrived unannounced at her door, laden with her Aurora Poncho. Frankly this is a close as you can get to be a woolly Fairy Godmother and I’m living the fairytale dream.

 

Designer Yarn Choice – Apollo will be in the shops Autumn 2017. There are lots of different shades for your to try.

 

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emma-varnam-granny-square-bag-debbie-bliss

Oh my word my friends, our moment has come. You know what is trending this Autumn? The ‘Granny Square’. (Which is fortunate, as I have a book on the very subject, coming out in the next month – say nothing). I digress. You and I know that the humble crochet granny square has been reclaimed now for about a decade. But fashion has taken a while to catch up. That eminent fashion house Moschino focused on granny square chic for their Resort Wear 2017 collection. Now Zara have a lovely range of jumpers in their Autumn range. Bright, bold and beautiful, but also very easy to make.

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Colour Pop

The gorgeous Debbie Bliss asked me to design a granny square themed bag for her Autumn/Winter range and I was delighted to oblige. I chose zingy and fashionable colours from the Rialto DK range and then brought the whole look together by using a lovely dark gray to link each square together.

This bag is fairly easy to make if you have mastered the basic square. I also made a base working in the round. For the finished sample, I really went to town with lining the bag and using metal eyelets to thread the bag handles through. Attention to detail, don’t you know. I adore working with Debbie, mostly because she is such a kind, funny and glorious person, but professionally she has such a keen eye for colour and a fabulous sense of fashion. Take a look at all her new designs for autumn. If you can knit or crochet, you will be able to find your ‘trending’ item which you can get ready for the next season and won’t have to leave the comfort of your arm chair.

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tunisian-bag-emma-varnam

hexagon-bag-emma-varnampom-pom-bag-charm-emma-varnamtunisian-bag-emma-varnamI have no need for another bag. Really I don’t. I don’t need anymore project bags…and yet. If I let myself and if they were not quite so frightfully expensive I could have a serious handbag habit. I have a very serviceable bag which I use for work. It is large, black and cavernous. But it keeps A4 documents nice and flat and has many different pockets which are useful for some kind of organisation. I like to pretend I have a system. Mostly I do. But on occasion I look very much like Mary Poppins as I pull rather random and fluffy items from the depths of this bag. It is looking slightly shabby now from everyday use, but I have yet to find its equal and so cannot part with it.

Secondly I have a very posh bag. It is an heirloom thing. My darling husband bought if for me, and I am forever grateful. It is a classic bag. I use it as a social shield and when I want to appear all grown up. I take it with me as a sign. A sign that I buy into a lie that a posh handbag gives you authority. It doesn’t.

Then I have a small across the body bag, which I bought in haste before a city break. It was a fortuitous purchase. I make lots of last minute purchases that are disastrous but this was one of the rare occasions when I made a good rash decision. This little bag is my ‘going-out-out’ bag and is perfect for about 3 small things; keys, lipstick, bank card. Hop, skip and totter out into the evening.

Finally worth noting is my rather fabulous red leather baby bag. Now you will calculate that this bag is over a decade old and although it does not have any of the accouterments needed to look after a baby, it is still a brilliant bag. It has lots and lots of pockets and most importantly a very excellent pocket for a mobile phone. I love this bag because of its association, because of its very scarlet colour and its genius compartments.

But my friends, how I love to ring the changes. My eyes occasionally wander wistfully over to yellow bags, bags of different shapes and sizes; bucket bags, saddle bags, patchwork bags. The summer is the very worst time for this. I want to have fun and be surrounded by colour. Well I have found a way. I will make a bag to suit my mood.

This summer I have made two crochet bags. Both have glorious bamboo handles and both have been used interchangeably. The first was made from Sirdar Cotton DK and it is made up from a series of hexagons. It is a large and deep bag and I would suggest to anyone making a crochet bag, it is worth making a cotton liner so that your bag doesn’t stretch too much with the weight of the contents. All the bags I make like this have a sew pocket inside the liner to fit my phone. I also always put a lanyard on the inside to either tether my keys or sewing scissors. It is a small addition but very practical.

The second bag has really evolved from my adventures in Tunisian Crochet. Back in February, at the last Stylecraft Blogstars meeting we did a mini-tutorial on how to Tunisian Crochet. In simplistic terms this technique is a cross between knitting and crochet. You use a hook, but then work rows backwards a forwards, reminiscent to knitting. I had not spent time really trying to get to grips with the technique, but a few weeks ago I thought I may play with the idea and started creating long sections of patchwork squares. The material could have evolved into a blanket. But it seemed more fitting to create a new bag. I have yet to work out how to write this pattern up. But in the meantime, this will be my go-to bag for the weekend. A cheap and cheerful alternative in my bag collection.

You will notice that both bags have a pom-pom bag charm. I have made several of these this summer. If you would like to make your own, there is a tutorial here

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strawberry-crochet-emma-varnam

Oh how I love to make homemade gifts for babies. There must be a universal reaction that is triggered by the news a little one is on it’s way. I know a fair few mums who rekindled their crafty skills when they discovered they were pregnant. Well my baby is now a strapping boy, but the knitting and crochet for babies has not abated.

Some friends of mine were keenly expecting a gorgeous little girl and her little big brother had very sweetly named the growing bump ‘Strawberry’. Knowing that this baby was due in July I crammed my commission work in with a little bit of toy making for Strawberry. Suddenly I realised I had missed a trick… why didn’t I tie in my making with her nick name.

The light bulb went on in my head and that my friends is when it all becomes a little bit dangerous, a little bit obsessive. I dug out some Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Yarn, which is my preferred yarn for baby projects and I stared to crochet.

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Booties

First came the strawberry booties. I used my ‘go-to’ pattern for bootie slippers and added a row of dark green for detail and some strawberry flowers.

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Hat

Next came the hat. Here I used a pattern I created for Debbie Bliss and added the crochet flower to create a matching set. You can find the pattern if you would like to use create something similar here.

Rattle

You would think by now I had finished. By oh no…there was one more thing. A baby strawberry needs a baby strawberry rattle. A little amigurumi strawberry baby who tinkles and rattles to amuse. I managed to make all three gift just using 1 ball of Baby Cashmerino in Ruby.

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So you might wonder, what was the verdict from little Baby Strawberry? Well I think she was suitably delighted. Isn’t she sweet? The best kind of making, making for love.

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bird-varnam

If you are a teacher, well I take my hat off to you. What an enormously important and powerful job you do. I loved my school days. I know not everyone did, but I think central to my enjoyment was being taught by passionate and inspirational people. When I go to pick up B at the end of a long school day I am incredibly impressed by all the effort and dedication it takes to lead and teach primary school children. My working day will have finished and many teachers and teaching assistants are still there preparing for the next day’s lessons.

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Coasters

At the end of a whole school year I feel so overwhelmed with gratitude for all the care we receive from staff at school. I am sure most of staff would rather I bought them huge bottles of fizz. But love in our house is mostly expressed through making, so I am afraid the fizz needs to be combined with a little bit of yarny tat.

flower-caoaster-emma-varnamLesser Spotted Varnam

As the years pass, B has definite opinions on the ‘thank-you’ gifts he would like to give. This year we combined B’s love of succulents with a few crochet star flower coasters. The shape of this design really reminded me of the leaves of Echeveria agavoides. In the last few weeks my little fingers have been furiously making different colour versions of this pattern.  You can download via the Ravelry website.

bird-varnam

For one teacher, who has taught B about birds and wildlife, I thought it might be a bit of fun to make him his own ‘Lesser Spotted Varnam’. Inspired by the bird making workshop with Arne and Carlos, I whipped up a winged version of my own son. Topped with a flash of auburn hair, this cheeky chappy has much the same character than our 11 year old. The inner curator couldn’t help fashioning a specimen label to finish off the little gift.

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I know, I know what a crazy mad thing to do. And yes, can I not find better things to do? Well probably yes, but it amused both B and me and the thanks for his teachers was heartfelt and certainly personal. Now…the washing up…..

 

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ralph-dog-sardines-for-tea-emma-vanrnam

I have often said that since I learnt to crochet, it is rare for me to knit a toy. Let’s face it, the crochet in the round technique ‘amigurumi’ means there are fewer of those pesky seams to sew. The toys also seem to be less floppy and more durable. Then, a pattern comes along which means you are full of contradictions…this time it was Ralph the Dog.

I spotted Ralph behind the counter at Black Sheep Wools. A little bit of love at first sight. In the last few weeks we have taken a mini-break holiday and it is nice for me to make a pattern which I haven’t designed myself. There is something about following a pattern which enables the making to feel more like my original hobby. The original design I think uses Sirdar Harrap Tweed DK in Brace. I actually used some wool in my stash.

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I was really worried that I might run out of yarn before I finished the project. But you forget that knitting uses up much less yarn than crochet. Isn’t his tail really rather sweet? The neckerchief I made is slightly different. I just had a moment of whimsy and wanted to practice my fairisle technique again. I have no idea who might be the proud owner of this little dog. Until I can find someone who will properly love him he has pride of place on my mantelpiece.

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If you would like to make your own Ralph you can buy the pattern from Black Sheep Wools here. Don’t forget to also visit the facebook page Sue Jobson and her designs: Sardines for Tea, where you will find lots of other fabulous animal designs. so sweet and so cuddly. I must I think for dare I say it, festive gifts. Have a lovely weekend making.

 

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Pom-Pom Keyring

02/07/2017 · 0 comments

in Craft

pom-pom-bag-charm-emma-varnam

Again this year I am seeing lots and lots of pom-poms on bags and baskets. You can easily make a bag charm and update your handbag or even a laundry basket. My new make is crochet cotton bag for our summer holidays. I took the bag-charm I made last year and poppped it on my new bag. I was delighted with the update.

Tutorial

Last year I made a quick tutorial to guide you through the basics. Go and have a look to see how it is. I think it would be my first suggestion for a home-make teachers pressie. Especially if your teacher or teaching assistant is very ‘on-trend’. Pop over to the tutorial to have look.

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Arne-Carlos-Black-Sheep-Emma- Varnam

I was warned. I was told quite distinctly by Sara from Black Sheep Wools that if you meet Arne and Carlos, the celebrated knitting designers, you will fall in love with them.

‘You must come,’ she said, ‘you will adore them….please say you will be there?’

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So there you have it. That is why I took a day of annual leave and popped over to the lovely yarn barn for a full day of knitting joy and laughter. I rocked up to the shop to find that there was almost a queue waiting to see these fabulous gentleman. If you don’t know anything of Arne and Carlos, they are celebrated knitting designers and authors. They live in Norway and the Scandinavian style greatly influences their work. But more significantly it is their sense of fun and joy which permeates their design that makes their books so very popular.

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The workshop last week took us through making a knitted bird. They have just published the utterly fabulous; Arne & Carlos’ Field Guide to Knitted Birds: Over 40 Handmade Projects to Liven Up Your Roost. The spacious workshop room at Black Sheep wools was full to bursting. I was so delighted to sit next to good friends Lynne Rowe and Christine Perry aka Winwick Mum. Whilst we wrestled with our five double pointed needles we chatted happily about, knitting, crochet, designing and blogging. I was utterly delighted to learn a new way to increase stitches – I adore a new trick.

Arne-Carlos-Black-Sheep-Emma- VarnamNew Ways of Knitting

It was also very special to see how Arne and Carlos skillfully tutored and socialised with the workshop students. They were so so supportive showing people how to work the patterns. This new book is inspired by the way Japanese knitting and crochet patterns are written using diagrams or schematics. I very used to schematics for crochet, but it took me a while to get my head around a knitting pattern. It is great fun.

Arne-Carlos-Black-Sheep-Emma- VarnamGreat Food

The good coffee and delicious cakes were available as unusual and miraculously at the end of the three hours I had made this rather sweet seagull. B has named him ‘Flutter’. As you will have guessed he has already been adopted by B and disappeared into the menagerie of his bedroom.

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Following a fullsome lunch, we popped back into the workshop space for a talk. Arne and Carlos talked about how the ideas for their book evolved and the development of their beautiful garden in Norway. Their talk was fun, disarming and entertaining. I loved every minute. So many of the people I meet through craft are so kind and generous. This was another day when I left Black Sheep Wools, my heart full of joy, great memories and yes, a little bit in love.

Arne-Carlos-Black-Sheep-Emma- Varnam

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