emma-varnam-lake-district-steiger-hatI fell in love with the Lake District well before I had ever been there. From the seclusion of my childhood bedroom I admired the fells and the watery beauty of this landscape through the paintings of Beatrix Potter. I also enjoyed the excitement and pure escapism of the world of Arthur Ransome and yearned to be an Amazon sailing on the lake. Many world renown poets have written some of the very best poetry about this little corner of England. I cannot and will not even attempt to match it. But their compulsion to capture its beauty is easy to comprehend when you are here.

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Lake View

My first in-person visit followed my graduation. As a family we made a pit-stop on our way home to the West Country. I can remember sitting beside my father on the lakeside of Windermere. The peaceful view of the water was before us, with the grandeur of the Langdale Pikes behind. I breathed out. We can only have stayed for a couple of days, but is was one of those breaks which seemed so significant. I was conscious that I was in one of those ‘in-between’ times. A chapter had closed and a new adventure was about to begin. I was happy to have the Lake District as a backdrop to that transition. At that point, the Lake District wielded its way into my heart.

Since that time I have lived in the North West. In my early twenties I would often make day-trips with friends to the fells. We would get up early and head for the hills. With Wainwright as our guide we would try a new route up a mountain and stand on-top of the world admiring the view. Fortunately I married a man who has a deep love of hill-walking, even if a busy life makes it an unusual event.

emma-varnam-lake-districtFoolhardy adventure

We made another very significant trip to the Lakes only 3 weeks after the birth of Little B. I have no idea why we were so gung-ho, but we stayed in a lovely hotel with a very tiny baby and made it our mission to walk in the snow with our tiny bundle. He was so small and his snow suit was so large, that you could barely see his tiny face. I have a significant memory of changing his nappy in what seemed like a blizzard. Under my breath I protested vehemently about the ridiculousness of such a trip. But from this late winter trip two things have sprung. We love to visit the Lakes in winter and an adventure which appears challenging rarely seems quite so daunting when compared to snow based nappy changing.

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Winter Beauty

So here we are in another February, enjoying the rest and beauty of this astonishing landscape. We will not see the famous daffodils and the rhododendrons are very much in bud form, but we love it still. The bare trees make it easier to see wide views. The bronze bracken matches the colour of our son’s hair. Plus, there is snow to be found.

We have established such a tradition of our winter break, that plans are made of places we will visit and things we will do. You will not be surprised to know that this extends into yarn-based activity. I knew weeks ago that I would be making my third ‘Steiger Hat’, designed by Juliet Bernard for Yarn Stories. My first was made two years ago on the same Lakes break. I gave this blue and white beauty to my good friend Sally. She can wear a beanie hat like no other person I know. It was a special hat and it needed a special owner.

My very own

My second version is now owned by Big B. This year I knew I wanted to make a version for myself. This time the making would be different. I determined I would force myself to make the hat in the round, continental style and use the two handed method of fairisle. Have I lost you? Yes well, we are talking a technical challenge, which requires a holiday to master. But what a joy to finally ‘get it’. Juliet has shown me how to knit continental style – a number of times…. finally I have worked it out and using the two handed method to make colour changes. What a revelation. I will not go back to my old ways.

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In less than a day my hat was finished and I wore it proudly on the snow-capped mountains. Knitting or crochet can be your best souvenir. Making and creating items that hold memories of a special time. The third version of this pattern will be for Little B. He has already chosen his colours and his commission will mean that I can perfect my technique. So if you spot a family of three skidding their way up an icy mountain in matching jaunty hats, you will know it is the Varnam Family in pursuit of a glorious view.

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stylecraft-blogstars-emma-varnamIn Knots

Do you ever feel like you lead a double life? You do quite sensible things during the day, perhaps even a little bit serious. But by night you create. You knit, crochet, sew and bake. No one really knows, apart from a fabulous on-line community. Well I must admit that I frequently feel that. It is not often that I am able to have a full and frank conversation about crochet or even blogging. A conversation that combines the two is like gold dust.

stylecraft-blogstars-emma-varnamWeekend Bliss

Last Saturday I had a fabulous opportunity to spend a day with my fabulous Stylecraft Blogstar friends. There was a similar get together last summer, which I unfortunately missed. Not this time my friends – no fear. I live relatively near to Stylecraft’s headquarters so it was a simple hop and a skip over the Pennines to meet the group.

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In this photo you can spot, Jane (Jane Crowfoot), Phil (The Twisted Yarn), Sarah (Annaboo’s House), Heather (The Patchwork Heart), Julia (Hand Knitted Things), Lucy (Attic 24), Helen (The Woolly Adventures Of A Knitting Kitty), Me, Sandra (Cherry Heart), Lucia (Lucia’s Fig Tree), and Kathryn (Crafternoon Treats).

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The wonders of Skype meant that we could also chat to: Angela (Get Knotted Yarn Craft) from Australia and Zelna (Zooty Owl) who lives in South Africa.

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The beautiful factory mill studio was beautifully prepared with drinks and snacks. Each of us had a prepared bag of new season yarns and brand new colours for the Spring/Summer season. I must admit I was a little star-struck. Let’s face it I was in the company of some pretty big blogging names. You will be happy to know that everyone is as chatty, friendly and generous as you would hope. Can you spot me looking a little smug and soaking it all in?  I am surveying the range of yarn greatness. Look if you know your knitterati, you will know that admiring that blanket are Lucy, Jane and Sarah. Eeeeek!

Show and Tell

We spent the morning looking at the new yarns and the patterns which are available for this season. I particularly like Jeanie, which is an aran weight yarn and has that classic denim look, but is very soft and surprisingly light. I am currently thinking about what I might create.

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We had a great time catching up and getting to know each other better. Then chatted about hints and tricks for social media. Both Lucia and Heather had brought some of their gorgeous blankets to show and tell. We all ‘oooed’ and ‘aaahhed’ over the designs and colours.

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In Knots

In the afternoon we had a go at Tunisian crochet, taught by the gorgeous Sophie. I just love this photo above. Can you sense the concentration! There was almost silence in the room. If you ever think it takes you a while to pick up new stitches. Then have a look at this photo. We all took time to get our flow with our new Tunisian crochet hooks.

I must say that I had a wonderful day. A mind full of laughter and inspiration. I can’t wait for the next time! Thank you so much to the Stylecraft team – the gorgeous and generous Annabelle, Juliet, Sophie and Charlotte, for making us so welcome and making lots of lovely hot drinks.  Thank you also to Sophie, Helen and Phil for the fab photos.

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stanley and emily -emma varnamIn the last few weeks I have been juggling making new patterns for my next book and trying to make a second version of my toys for a rather famous retailer. Not too shabby, but a little bit stressful. Before Christmas I found out that my book, Cute Crocheted Animals would perhaps go on display in a high street shop. How exciting! But the shop wanted to display the real toys for customers to see.

stanley and emily -emma varnamCrafting Carefully

If you have made any of the animals from the book, you will know that these little fellas are not a quick project. To get a little chap of real loveable character you will need to spend a fair few hours crafting your creatures carefully.

stanley and emily -emma varnamI had this terrible feeling that the original little guys might go walkies. So I thought that I could make a second version of Emily and Stanley as demonstration models.

Coming back to the patterns

It has been rather lovely coming back to the patterns, over a year on. Many of you have noticed that I have added extra character to the faces and have asked me how I have done it. I am sorry that I don’t appear to have added this into the book. But I place two small stitches under each of the eyes and pull the sides of the face slightly together.

stanley and emily -emma varnamHomemade not machine made

Don’t forget that the joy and magic of a homemade toy is that it crafted by hand. It is not meant to look like it was made by a machine, but rather lovingly crafted in the hands of the maker. Now I almost can’t part with these guys too…

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I love seeing photos of the animals you have made so please keep posting them on facebook or on ravelry, so that I can enjoy them! Have a very happy crafting and creating weekend.

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wallpaperswatchesRedecorating our house has never been something I run towards. I think first of the upheaval and then about the dust. Many of my family members have a brilliant eye for interiors and they enjoy creating the vision and then seeing the project completed.

Recently I came across these wonderful mural wallpapers and I feel almost tempted to abandon my decoration fear and add a little jumbo yarn texture to our kitchen walls. Mural Wallpaper have quite a good range of knit-inspired papers. There are large chunky wools and some colourful intarsia patterns.

 

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I have seen this garter stitch paper in my local yarn shop. It looks so warm and cosy and brings a smile to the face of everyone who visits.

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If we lived in a chic mill building with loft apartments, I might be tempted to hang this multi-yarn beauty. Soft and fuzzy, good enough to make you want to cuddle the wall.

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But I can’t deny that for our own house I chose a subtle white aran. Enough detail to show the stitch texture but not too over-powering for a domestic setting. Perfect for any yarn lover.

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If you fancy papering a feature wall in your house, then do have a look at the range available at Murals Wallpaper. You never know we might think of creating a cuddly wall in our kitchen this year.

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Interview and Pattern

Well this is all a bit exciting. The lovely people at Prima Makes Magazine have done a feature on Cute Crocheted Animals. The patterns for Stanley and Katy cat are featured in the magazine. There is also an interview with me. I love this magazine as it features all the crafts I like to have a little flutter with. It also features a good section of recipes which I think is an excellent edition. If you see a copy on the shelves have a little leaf through and get excited about all your Spring crafts.

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stanley - cat-emma-varnam

I don’t think of myself as a ‘cat woman’, I can’t really say I am an animal fanatic. Some friends of mine really love their animals. I like that about them. Other friends have cats or dogs and you sort of discover that about them, or even find their animals roaming around their house, but they are not the first thing you talk about. I will say that I like both cats and dogs, but our lifestyle and where we live makes having a cat much more sensible.

Well there you go – very logical, measured and sane. Then along came Stanley. He stole our hearts. We went and found Stanley just over a year a go. Our beloved cat Bernard passed away at the end of the summer 2015. He was proper poorly and it was difficult to watch. I thought at the time that for Little B it is very important to have a foil in the house. Another character to chat about, care about, blame random accidents on. Far too quickly for common decency we began looking for a new little furry.

We alighted upon the local RSPCA website and found that they had a dastardly practice of not only posting the photos of their beautiful charges but also writing rather engaging character descriptions of all the animals in their care. The problem was we almost fell in love with our ‘splendid lad’ before we met him.

So after a period of checking – us not him! – Stanley arrived in our home and oh my word he certainly brings character.

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I’m ready for the close up

Very quickly we realised two things about Stanley, he LOVES his food. You might even call him greedy. He is also very photogenic. I think it is his distinct black and white colouring which allows the camera to make a good, clear contrast in each photograph. Bernard was nearly completely black. I always found it so difficult to take a flattering or accurate photo of him. He either looked too brown or his features disappeared into a silhouette. Bernard was also much more shy. Stanley on the other hand seems to love the camera. Cats are not well known for their compliance, they have their own schedule and priorities. Fortunately Stanley seems happy to get involved in family life and is far more patient in front of the lens.

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Chatty Man

If you visited our house you would also discover that Stanley has a lot to say. I have never known a cat like it. The majority of the time he is informing us that it would be ideal if we prepared his breakfast, lunch, dinner, mid-morning snack, afternoon tea, bedtime supper. He is vocal about food. I only just discovered that cats only meow to communicate with humans, how strange. Well he is doing quite a bit of communicating. For a while I thought his conversation was solely about culinary arrangements, but soon Little B was translating other needs. It appears that my son and my cat can understand each other much better than the grown-ups. Apparently some of the chatter is requesting a cuddle, or a stroke. I was skeptical at first, but it appears that B is correct and often some of the caterwauling will cease if he is just picked up.

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Cuddle Monster

In the evening, once the chores are done and we settle down to a little bit of work or some time on the couch, Stanley is keen to be involved. He will be asleep somewhere in the house and then rise spontaneously, come and find a human and look for a cuddle on their lap. Curled up on the sofa, crochet in hand I am delighted to have his company. I feel rather honoured. However if you are Big B, and you are working on your laptop on an important document then the addition of a little work-mate is not quite so helpful. You can frequently hear the sound of, ‘No, Stanley, I have told you before, no catty typing!’.

cute-crocheted-animals6Cover star

When I started designing the animals for my book Cute Crocheted animals I started chatting with my editor and it was she how suggested that we immortilise Stanley in crochet. This is the very first picture of him together with his finished toy. It made us laugh at home so much.  The clothes he wears in the book are chosen because their boyish and preppy look suit Stanley’s character. I have no idea how animals make their way into our hearts. Both for his monochrome style, his rakish whisker mustache and for his slightly dog-like loyalty, Stanley has become our fluffy family member and for my creative life he is in many ways my mews (sorry).

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barcelona- blanket - blueIf you are a regular reader of the blog you will know that I started a corner-to-corner blanket in the summer for Little B. Over the years I have made him many blankets. When he was a twinkle in our eye, I started a beautifully soft knitted heart blanket. He was wrapped in this gorgeous cashmerino on our journey home from the hospital. Later he adopted my rather dreadful blanket which was my very first experimentation in Granny Squares. The colours are dreadful and the yarn is really rather hideous, but this blanket has seen very good service for den making.

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A couple of years ago, I made him the Ugly blanket. This blanket is one that he uses in the evening sat outside for meals around the fire-pit. It is thick and cosy and rather gloriously has his initials embroidered on it.

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But now as Little B has grown into a rather large big boy, I felt it was time I made him a blanket that he could grow up with into his adolescence and he might even want to take with him when he leaves home.

When I asked him what colours he would like me to use he said; BLUE. ‘I love blue!’. Okay, fair enough.

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At the time I started the blanket we had begun our summer holidays and visited the gorgeous city of Barcelona. The clear hues of blue and white mosaic really inspired me and even before it was finished I named it the ‘Barcelona’ blanket. barcelonablanket5

The Ends…

I can’t lie to you. A corner-to-corner blanket which changes the colour on each stripe has ALOT  of ends to weave in. Oh yes my friends this is a labour of love. Even when you feel you have nearly finished the blanket, geometry tells you, you are only half way. Can you tell from the photos that I gradually integrated a different colour into the stripes every four rows? The edging is just a very simple double crochet. This is a full size British single bed blanket. Intended to be a friend and heirloom for life. I used odds and ends of yarn that I had in my stash and some very basic acrylic to boost the colour selection and quantity.

barcelonablanket7.jpgAdopted

It is deeply frustrating that I didn’t exactly record how long it took me to complete the project. Let’s be honest it was my background slow burner which I picked up between commissions. However looking back over my photographs I think it took about 3 months to complete. When I had finished the blanket – almost the minute it was handed over to its new owner, the blanket was adopted by Stanley. Ah well, blankets are made to be used and loved.

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Memories

When I look at this blanket now I think of memories and laughter on our little Spanish adventure. I feel and watch it being loved, scrunched, draped, cuddled its new owner. A smile appears on my face.

If you fancy reading more about the inspiration journey for this blanket please have a look at this blog post.

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Thank you 2016

31/12/2016 · 2 comments

in Crochet

emma-varnam-cute-crocheted-animals As I write this post, we are having a beautiful Christmas break, staying with my folks in the West Country. This time last year I was manically finishing off the last patterns for Cute Crocheted Animals. I am so very grateful that many of you love this book and it has turned out so well. I am now working on my next book and in someways I feel nostalgic for making new clothes for my little animal collection in the book. Perhaps when I have written the patterns for my new book I will look at Cute Crocheted Animals with new eyes and dream of new patterns.

When I look back at the photos of 2016 – colour dominates. Little obsessions can be found in the amongst the commissions. Simple baby toys. Shawls. Penguins. Pink and Red. Pom-poms.

emma-varnam-cute-crocheted-animalsThinking about the following year and my creative life I have a couple of aims:

Keep a record of everything I make – this has slipped this year

Keep looking and spotting

Make notes of new ideas

Write down the yarn I use in my notebook

Dream big dreams

Have creative fun

Compliment my hero or people who inspire me.

I have many more personal goals that don’t or won’t fit on this page – but the abiding rule is to be ‘thankful’. Thank you if you have enjoyed and commented on the blog this year. I am looking forward to a new creative year.

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arabian night - emma varnamAs I get older, I want to do ‘getting-older’ better. I think the answer to this conundrum is to watch, spot and celebrate. Watch out for and spot older women who do style and colour with aplomb. Take a mental note of what they wear, how they wear it and store up the ideas in your mind and quite frankly pin on Pinterest for your future reference.

arabian night - emma varnamStylistically nosy

I am a huge fan of being stylistically nosy. I will quite happily go up to a stranger in the supermarket and say, ‘You look fabulous! Where did you get that…?’. I once went up to a woman in her 80’s at the check out. She has the most glorious up-do and I thought it was so pretty. I said to her, ‘You look amazing! How do you do your hair?’ She told me that she has it washed a set once a week and sleeps in silk scarf. The style holds until she needs to have it done a week later. Who knew?

steeking-juliet-bernard-workshop-knittingBlack Sheep Wools

Back in the Autumn I went to a fabulous workshop at Black Sheep Wools with ace tutor Juliet Bernard. I met some fabulous women during the day and picked up some stunning hints and tips. All the ladies I met seem to be avid Ravelry users. They knew all the ‘in’ patterns. Super chic Pat showed me a photo of a gorgeous scarf she had made from Ravelry. It is the Arabian Nights scarf pattern by Drops Design. Pat had made it using West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4ply sock yarn, alternate rows of Butterscotch and Bluetit. I thought about combining the variegated yarn with a denim solid. Pat said, ‘You will regret it – go with the yellow. It will make the other colours pop’. She was right and I immediately went out into the shop at Black Sheep Wools and picked up a ball in each shade.

The scarf has been my ‘slow-burn’ project. A little garter stitch break amongst the crochet madness. Though it looks complex, it is really very, very easy.

arabian night - emma varnamInspiration everywhere

Since finishing the scarf a couple of weeks ago I have happily worn this little beauty many times. It goes particularly well with navy and has a zesty spring-time feel which I know will brighten the dark days of the winter post Christmas. I am not sure I have many great tips on style, but what I do know is that great inspiration can be found everywhere you look. Look to the young and to the old and have no shame in saying, ‘You look fabulous – where did you get that?’ It will make someone’s day to have their style spotted and they will walk away as if skipping on clouds. Steal the Chic!

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