bumble-bee-mask-mate-emma-varnam
bumble-bee-mask-mate-emma-varnam
bumble-bee-mask-mate-emma-varnam
bumble-bee-mask-mate-emma-varnam
bumble-bee-mask-mate-emma-varnam
bumble-bee-mask-mate-emma-varnam

Living the great northern city of Manchester we have in the last few years really owned the worker bee symbol. It is nearly 3 years since the tragic MEN arena bombing. A terrible time which birthed a renewed sense of community unity. A few of my key-worker friends asked me to make them a mask mate which was in the shape of the Bee. I’ve done something very very simple and I share it here for you just in case it is helpful. Stay safe and ‘Thank you’ to all those who are working hard to look after our community.

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emma-varnam- mask - mates
emma-varnam- mask - mates

Lovely blog readers, I am just putting these images here for you. I have lots of friends and colleagues who are key workers. They all have to wear masks as part of their everyday job. I had the most hilarious conversation with a friend who came to drop off a little treat at my door,’Why have all my friends got crochet mask adjusters and you are a Queen of Crochet and you haven’t made me one?’ she was joking…but she was right….

So when she left…slightly ashamed I rushed to my stash and started making. I made a plain – professional one. A joyful flowery version and a cheeky froggy pattern. I have another which is brewing in my head and soon I shall share a pattern with you. These are so easy to do. My advice is to make them if you have willing recipients. There is nothing worse than passionately creating woolly gifts only to discover they are swamped under a tsunami of crafty kindness. But it is nice to think that the hooky people among us can provide a little comfort in these difficult times.

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birkin - emma - varnam

Has there ever been a time that you have been more grateful for your crafting habits? I think I would have gone bonkers without the calming rhythm of knitting or crochet. You might have seen a series of quite amusing memes on social media basically pointing out that for craft fans…nothing much has changed…being forced to be indoors is just another opportunity to dedicate time to your yarn stash.

Well that is true. I have probably 3 projects on the go a the moment. My Vintage Virus V stitch blanket (see previous post). I am finishing some new designs for publication. I’m quite excited about them, but it is a slow burn project. My third project has been returning to the Birkin Sweater which I started in the Autumn of 2019.

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I’ll make a confession. My first run up at this project ended with an epic fail – I was overly optimist about the size… I didn’t do a tension swatch (Bad Emma, Badly Done!) and the yoke turned out tini – tini – tini – tiny….. There was no saving that disaster.

The pattern is made in pure wool and so frogging was not on the cards. The benefit of fairisle knitting in pure wool is that it is sticky – so the pattern doesn’t unravel. The downside of fairisle knitting in pure wool is that is is sticky so the pattern doesn’t unravel….you get my gist. So I started again.

All well and good in the first few weeks of lockdown. My serious day job has required the necessity of working long hours, full of concentration and dedication. The evenings have been shorter and more full of household chores. Everyday, everybody sort of stuff. There has been more time for a bit of baking and our waistlines have suffered the result. But this kind of activity has its joyful distractions.

birkin - emma - varnam

However in the run up to Easter we discovered that we were rather in COVID category and so self-isolation began. I have never been more grateful for fairisle. Complicated stitches, the need to focus, the need to count to flick the yarn rhythmically in a woven pattern is just what the doctor ordered. Craft as a distraction. The sitting, the waiting, the wondering, all eased a little bit by the needle and the hook.

When people wonder if craft will ever die out, I don’t even think twice about it. Of course not. There is always the product of our labours – yes we could buy a jumper, a bag, socks, scarves, a hat. Sometime we do. But often the final product is a happy bi-product. It is the time, the stitching, the thinking, the working out of the problem, the working out of emotion that is far more significant. It’s the difficult musical scale, the kneading of the bread, the fiendish jigsaw…

If in doubt, find something complicated to make and let your thoughts take a break.

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Currently I don’t have much thinking space or time to be working on complex crochet patterns. My mind wandered last week, remembering the crafters and makers in the Second World War. They used whatever they could find, whatever could be re-purposed to make their creation. Then I remembered that we have a wonderful scrappy blanket in our cupboard, inherited form my husband’s grandma.

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It is a simple pattern and each row is a riot of clashing colours. A perfect project for difficult times. It seem to me that would be a lovely idea to try and crochet a row each evening as we remain in lock-down. All being well, at the end we will have a new crazy coloured celebration blanket.

So I am sharing the pattern with you. If you are a beginner this is a good place to start. Find as much yarn as you can and don’t think too hard about the colour combinations.

You will need:

Lots of yarn of the same thickness (weight). I have used Double Knit yarn.

4mm crochet hook for the main pattern.

(If you have it, a 5mm crochet hook for the foundation chain)

Some small sharp scissors.

A tapestry need with large enough hole (eye) to thread yarn through.

Pattern

Using A and 5mm hook, chain 187

Row 1: 1dc in 2nd ch from hook, dc in each ch to end, turn. 186 sts.

Row 2: Using 4mm hook, 3ch, miss dc at base of ch, miss 1dc, (2tr, 1ch, 2tr) in next st, *miss 2dc, (2tr, 1ch, 2tr) rep from * to last 3sts,  miss 2dc, 1tr in last st, turn. (63 V clusters).

Change to yarn B.

Row 3: 3ch, *(2tr, 1ch, 2tr) in next ch sp, rep from * to end, 1tr in top of 3rd ch, turn. (63 V clusters).

Row 3 forms the pattern. Change the yarn colour every row. Weave in the ends as you go with your tapestry needle. Work until your blanket measures 180cm. The width will be approximately 160cm dependent on your tension.

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Here are some video tutorials to help you get started:

If you start making a Vintage ‘V’ Blanket please do share your images over on the Facebook page or tag me in via Instagram. I would love to see them. Remember to really get the Vintage look the more colour clashes the better. In my blanket I have made every 8th row a cream row. But you could substitute this with a muted grey or even black which brings a little bit of neutral colour order to the overall look. Happy Making!

Abbreviations: st=stitch, sts – stitches, ch- chain, dc = double crochet (UK)/single crochet (US),
tr = treble crochet (UK)/double crochet (US), sp – space.

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wild-animals-book-emma-varnam

I can’t tell you how excited I am to show you this book. Look, this a big, vulnerable thing to do. Each time I start with an idea. Each time a draw, design and crochet a new project for a book…it’s a wonderful and scary day.

Since the first book was published, lovely makers started contacting me and asking…’Can you make an Elephant?’, ‘What about a Monkey?’ I started making a few notes and collecting a few ideas.

So after a lot of chatting my gorgeous editor, Wendy we narrowed down our family of friends. Let me introduce you.

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Our cover stars are Barbara and Cyril Elephant, cosy in their nightwear. Barbara is a fan of Ballroom dancing (I’m a Strictly fan!) and Cyril is also passionate about the foxtrot but also his garden. Both toys have little accessories, a blanket, a hotwater bottle and even a mini teddy bear. Cute!

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wild-animals-book-emma-varnam

The Zebras are Peggy and Jeff, Peggy is and adventurer who loves to climb mountains and Jeff is like a fair few of my male friends – always first on the dance floor creating some great shapes.

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Monkeys Molly and Billy are lots of fun, Billy loves the rain and skateboarding and Molly is an aspiring actress – both have outfits which I designed to appeal to my younger readership so that you can create a toy which is all matchy-matchy.

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Pandas Maisie and Sidney are ready for the Beach. Their outfits are fun and colourful, but they also have loads of beach accessories which will be fun to create for any toy taken on holiday.

Finally the Lions are Roger and Ada. Ada is based on one of my oldest friends; organised, funny and fashionable. Then Roger the Lion is also a fun loving joyful chap based on a good friend.

If you made the toys in my the first book, you will be delighted to know that the clothes will fit your creations. This book expands the wardrobe options and I have also listened to some of the queries and advice you have given me since writing Cute Crocheted Animals. I have written more about creating features and added in my top toy making tips.

The photos of each of these little friends just fill me with joy. I have Jonathan, Wendy, Rebecca and Martin at GMC to thank for the time and dedication they put into each and every book. Jude Roust patiently does all the pattern checking – thank heavens for her. The funniest thing is that these little character come to life on the page. Even I read some of the text and giggle – Wendy adds in some surprises for me…

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To celebrate its publication – I would like to do a small giveaway. If you would like a chance of winning a signed copy of my this book, please comment below and tell me about the most toy you ever owned. I will be choosing a winner at random on 29 February – Leap Day! I do hope you like it – Happy Weekend x

Congratulations Wendy – you have won the giveaway – so thrilled!

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I was thinking about Easter…I know, I know, but when you work on designs the seasons are always out of kilter. I have a huge collection of soft toys I have designed over the years and I was looking at some chunky yarn in my stash and it occurred to me, wouldn’t it be fun to see quite how large my Harris Hare pattern would become worked in chunky yarn? When we have children around at Easter, we love an egg hunt and for added fun it is quite delightful to find an Easter Bunny in the hedgerow. This bunny is a perfect cuddly companion for any young treasure hunter.

I created 4 Woodland Animal toy designs for Stylecraft yarns last year. The designs use Life DK and are published in the leaflet format, (pattern 9666) The original Harris Hare has beautiful mottled fur using, Stone Nepp. You need just 2 x 100g balls. You will also need a little cream dk yarn from your stash for his pom-pom tail. He measures 46 cm (18 in) tall.

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I have got to admit to you – Harris is a bit of favourite. I really couldn’t part with him. Unlike some of my other designs he has a round base at his bottom, which means he sits rather nicely and his legs dangle down.

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Sometimes people who see my patterns feel they must use the specified yarn in the original design. I totally understand that, I can be very much the same. But don’t be afraid to create something new by using the pattern but with a much finer yarn or a chunky wool. The only thing you must remember is to choose a hook or a needle which suits the gauge of your yarn. If you are looking for pointers, just have a quick look at the ball band and there is always a suggestion of the ideal hook/needle size for that yarn.

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For my very large Hare – I used 4 x balls of Stylecraft Bellissima Chunky in Paper Parchment.

I chose to use a 5mm hook and our cute bunny is now a mahoosive….66cm (26in) – his tail alone is 10cm (4in) wide. I have to be honest he is joyful to cuddle. I also designed him a little neckerchief if Bellissima Chunky Double Denim. I am thinking of making my godson a version – to be honest this bunny is much larger than my baby godson so it would fit.

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Why not look through your yarn collection and see which yarns you could use for different purposes – don’t be scared – just have fun and scale things up or down.

My plan is to send Chunky Bunny off to my pal Helen Kurtz for her Fibres for Fibres Fundraiser. She is raising money to support research into Myositis – it is a rare muscles disease which is very debilitating and causes muscle inflammation and weakness. I’ll keep you updated of when the Bunny will be available and perhaps you can give him a good home.

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emma-varnam-hitchhiker-scarf-bambino-print

At the weekend I was telling you about a lovely neckerchief/scarf I made. Well what I forgot to share was another newly finished item. A quick little Hitchiker Scarf which I have just cast off.

There are patterns that you wish you had invented – the Hitchhiker by Martina Behm is one of those. On the face of it so simple and yet so effective. I was in my local yarn store at the weekend and spotted a glorious version which used little seed beads.

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I made this scarf using the new Stylecraft Bambino Print in Skittles. This colourway has only just been released this week. I got a sneak preview last summer and my friends at Stylecraft forwarded this colourway to me as they knew it would appeal. The variegated printing of this yarn gives a soft fairisle look. I used just one ball of the Bambino Print and kept on knitting until I had finished. It is a much thicker gauge of yarn than used in the original pattern – so I used 4mm needles.

I have used Bellissima and Bambino yarn quite a bit in my design work and I genuinely like it. It is soft and has a great colour range. Now I have finished this scarf I am on to my second – this time I’m using ‘Rocking Horse’. I could see myself making quite a few of these scarves throughout the year. They always get admiring comments and are the perfect commute project for my needles.

As Stylecraft Blogstar, I get to see and preview new yarns by Stylecraft ahead of the season. I can road test the yarn and I am gifted samples to trial with my patterns. As a rule I only recommend the products on this blog that I like, enjoy using and will purchase in future.

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arabian-knights-emma-varnam-pink

I don’t know about you, but I have favourite patterns. There are things you make that you just like; it might be the colour, the technique, the fact that it is ‘just the thing’ to make at the moment. But then in everyday life there are patterns we just find so useful.

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For me I have loved wearing the Arabian Nights pattern which I completed a couple of years ago. I admired this scarf on a very chic lady I met at a workshop. The story is here on the blog. I loved the look and cleverly she steered me to using a plain and pattern sock yarn in alternate rows.

The yellow and blue colour is so useful with my day-to-day wardrobe. The added bonus is the triangle shape of the scarf works best as a neckerchief. I am sure there is some logic behind it but the basic fact is that wearing this scarf provides me with warmth and at the same time no ends get in your way.

Last summer my folks visited the Isle of Skye and generously found me some exquisite hand-spun and hand-dyed yarn. It is a beautiful pinky/maroon hank from ‘On the Croft’. A beautifully soft blend of pure wool and silk.

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After a few months as staring at this glorious yarn I was inspired to make a second Arabian Nights scarf. This time it would have a pink hue. I found a ball of West Yorkshire Spinners 4ply in Sarsaparilla. If you look at the original pattern on Ravelry (which is published by Drops yarn) the scarf is much bigger. I chose to use a fairly fine needle to work the garter stitch and so the scarf was very slow growing. However it does make a lovely neck warmer.

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I wonder what your go-to pattern is? I don’t think this latest pink version will be my last. But in all honesty I might opt for a thicker yarn and a more chunky needle for my neck Arabian Knight adventure. Happy Weekend!

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tamoshanter-emma-varnam

‘Have you seen Little Women?’ said one of my best friends. ‘You just have to! I watched it and just kept thinking of you. If you want to go Emma, I’ll see it again?’

With such a ringing endorsement and an invitation for a jolly trip out, the arrangements were made immediately. I wonder if you have had a chance to see the new Little Women Film. I think both audiences and critics have absolutely loved it.

Like many generations I have always loved the book. This film is a joyful and clever adaptation of the book. A cinematic treat. But for the yarn obsessed there is an added bonus. Throughout the film I would nudge my film and say – ‘Oh, look at that shawl….’, ‘Look at that hat…’, ‘What a gorgeous waistcoat’. As a knitter it was impossible not to be inspired.

As I drove away from the cinema I said to my friend; ‘You wait, those patterns will be on Ravelry very soon’. I was not wrong.

That night, as I drifted off to sleep my mind was dreaming of new projects.

Within a week I had discovered that the glorious shawl designs worn by Jo and Beth were designed and made by Norfolk knitter Jenn Monahan She has made up to seven garments for the film. Hundreds of hours of work. Jenn has released the shawl patterns via her website; Fibreworkshop and on Ravelry and even for a basic knitter this is a useful and achievable project which would end up being an heirloom project. Over Christmas I have finished two small gauge garter stitch shawls, so I wasn’t so keen to commit to another.

I did however feel inspired by Jo’s Grey Tam o’shanter. Co-incidentally this month’s Knitter magazine (issue 145) has published a fairisle beret. It is designed by Outi Kater and is called Firefly Beret. I quite like wearing a beret during the winter working week. Just to spice up the wardrobe I thought it might be fun to see how it would be to make a traditional tam o’shanter. Traditionally this type of hat tends to use the tweedy pure Shetland wool. I decided as I was looking at an experiment I would use some 4ply Merino I already have in my stash. I tend to wear brighter hues rather than softer heathery tones, so the colour I have used align better with my wardrobe. All in all it took me about 5 evenings to knit.

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Whilst Jo Marsh wears a plain grey wool tam it does have a pom-pom. The fairisle tam in the Knitter magazine has no flamboyant topper. I wanted to add something in between the two. I remembered a design that Kate Davies had done for her Richard the Roundhead Tam. She created a lovely covered button and generously put a tutorial on her website. This lovely detail just adds something special to the hat. The covered button is not difficult to create either. I’m sure I will use this detail again soon.

Thinking about it, I find so much knitting inspiration from historical films or costume drama. If I watch, a Marple, a Poirot, Maigret, Gentleman Jack, Cranford, Call the Midwife… my husband will get a nudge in the ribs…’Look at the knitwear!’ Historical drama in its most authentic form, mirrors the fact that until only recently the majority of clothes were handmade. This means that costumes are a fertile resource for hand-knitters and crocheters. We have a cinematic menu to inspire our crafty finger.s

I wonder what you favourite programmes or films are for knitwear envy? Any suggestions are gratefully received.

I know there are awards for costume design at the Oscars and Bafta, could we have a subgroup for services to yarn?

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You have just got to find the joy of yarn in the Winter. Perhaps being a winter baby I don’t really mind the colder months. I’ll be honest I actually prefer wearing lots of layers and get a bit stressed by the idea of summer holiday clothes. My husband says I have a two degree tolerance level. Around the 18-20 degrees mark – not too hot, not too cold…is that called the Goldilocks effect?

Anyway if you are hating the dark days – one sure fire way to try and combat the evening blues is the plan and make a cosy scarf or hat. Full disclosure; I currently have in progress, 2 hats and one shawl on knitting needles…naughty…but nice.

I designed the Zesty Scarf for Inside Crochet Magazine back in the early Autumn. There are Granny Squares, pom-poms, tassels and lovely colour block colours in linen stitch.

Linen stitch is my current big favourite crochet stitch at the moment. It does a good job in replicating a knitted moss stitch. The texture and the drape is that perfect in-between softness. Not as stiff as a double crochet stitch and not too floppy for a triple. The design is not a total beginners project. You need to have the confidence to pick up stitches in a new direction. But I think you would find it fine as a transition from beginner to intermediate.

Using the aran weight Paintbox yarn makes is very fashionable and I would have play with the colours and see if you can match your winter coat and other accessories you are currently wearing.

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Here is my version that I made for myself in a DK yarn. I’m loving wearing it at the moment. Here is the Ravelry link: Zesty Scarf

I would love to hear what you are making at the moment or indeed the kind of accessories you crave in the Winter.

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