It is not always easy designing knitwear for gentlemen. My experience tells me that actually they like an understated stitch. You need to steer away from the fashion yarns. For a fully successful home-knit I think it is best avoiding the chunky weights. Some of my earliest creations for Big B failed quite spectacularly, I did not appreciate the full length of his torso and jumpers looked more 80’s crop top than classic gansey.


My boys also tend to get a bit over-heated. Hats and scarves are flung asunder in no time. Not all men can really ‘rock’ the textured knit. Obviously ‘real’ men can. Who doesn’t want a bespoke tweed accessory? The lovely people at Debenhams, here in Britain asked me to design a piece of knitwear inspired by the ever-so-dapper Patrick Grant and his Hammond and Co collection. The look of this line is classic Englishman. I decided to turn to the classically British yarn company Rowan for inspiration. I wanted to create an accessory that is both practical and cosy. Mr Smith’s Dapper Cowl is crocheted using Rowan Fine Tweed in Burnsall. I used just two 25g balls and a textured linen stitch. If you look at the photographs you can see the gorgeous variation in colours. This is a very English yarn for a very English man.


Mr Smith is a talented musician and singer and he pointed out how useful this cowl will be to keep his neck warm in rehearsal. Doesn’t he wear it well? If you are keen to make a gift for a certain Mr this Christmas, my advice would be choose classic colours, a fine quality yarn and small stitch. Make something they want to wear daily. Every gentleman needs his bespoke home comforts. The perfect gift.


The gorgeous photographs and model come courtesy of Smith Imaging – please enquire via their website or this blog before reproducing these images.

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On a recent visit to York I found this card, and it made me smile. I love the fact that all three ladies are wearing chic black, one with pretty broaches, another with a fetching headscarf. No grey permed assumptions here. I love the fact that they sit peacefully, perfectly silent, eyes down in quiet industry. They sit on a white bench very like the one in my garden, propped up by floral cushions, a hot drink handy. I will pop this card up on my mood board now and look at it for inspiration.

Thank you to Dee Nickerson for such an inspiring painting. (This image is Village Knitters by Dee Nickerson)

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I thought it would be nice to do a series of interviews on the blog with people I admire in the craft business. One of the first people who came to mind was Rachel Vowles. Rachel is one of the most respected pattern checkers in the knitting and crochet world. She works for many of you favourite magazines and some of the great designers like Debbie Bliss. Pattern checkers are really the un-sung heroes of the design world. Like make-up artists, they smooth out all the blemishes and faults and ensure that the patterns you enjoy, make sense. I know that when I meet knitters and crocheters face to face, they say that mistakes in patterns drive them crazy. Well you have someone like Rachel to thank for making our designs look perfect in the pattern.

Rachel, can you tell us a little bit of how you started in the textile business and how you became one of the eminent pattern technicians?

By chance really! My background is in theatre and performance. I had a friend who was a pattern editor and she was very poorly and needed someone to help her out. She taught me the ropes and it took off from there!

Rachel the work of a pattern checker and technician is like being the un-sung hero of the yarn world. What does the job entail?

Bless you Emma that is so kind. It involves liking maths and being a total pedant. We go through the entire pattern and start by checking that the yarn is available, the shade numbers are correct, the needle size and tension are correct. Then we have to go through all the maths with a fine tooth comb and make sure the pattern is clear and there can be no room for misunderstanding in the instructions.

You check both knitting and crochet patterns, which is more enjoyable for you?

I genuinely like both! I find knitting patterns easier to visualise in my head. Crochet patterns can be a bit more complicated especially if they are using complicated motifs or patterns, its more difficult to ‘see’ the build up of stitches in my head!

I know myself that once I have written a pattern, I aim to get it perfect, but frequently miss something and sometimes make huge mistakes. How do you go through the process to find those mistakes?

I have a strong visual picture of the item in my head and I see it being constructed line by line, row by row. I don’t move on to the next line or row until I am absolutely sure that it works. Sometimes I have to put stitches on the needle or hook to be doubly sure.

Are there any tips or tricks which make pattern checking easier?

I tend to go through the pattern once to ‘house style’ it (I also like to work in either Arial or Tahoma font as I find these really crisp and clear to read), basically standardising the pattern. I then find it much easier to go through and check it for the errors.

Do all designers write their own patterns or do you write some for them?

I personally don’t write patterns – I don’t have the time lol! Although some patterns do need pretty much a total rewrite – not yours obviously!! Patterns from overseas designers often need a complete rewrite as European patterns are written in a completely different way to British ones – they can take me an age to interpret!

Can you tell us about some of the great and the good you work for?

Oh yes, I edit for Knitting Magazine, Inside Crochet, Artesano, Quarto Publishing, David and Charles and have edited patterns for Debbie Bliss, Erika Knight, Libby Summers,Jo Storey, Belinda Harris Reid, Sarah Hazell and of course Emma Varnam! Through the magazines I’ve edited the patterns of lots of fabulous designers like Martin Storey, Tina Barrett, Anniken Allis, Nicky Trench..…Lots!

Are there patterns you particularly like working on, are there some that you dread?

I dread the translated patterns as I am always nervous of misinterpreting them! There are some designers (who shall remain nameless of course) who tend to write patterns in a quite a patchy way which makes my job really tricky. I do like drawing cable and Fair Isle charts – they always make me smile :-)

When you get time away from the desk, what do you like to make? How do you relax?

I tend to relax with really simple pieces that don’t take much brain power so I can REALLY relax whilst doing it! I’ve got two young children and my life is fairly hectic so there isn’t a lot of down time!

If you could make a wish come true, what would you like all designers to do?

Ohhh, that’s a good question! I would really like all designers to always put stitch counts – it makes it much easier to work out if there are any errors and if there are, where they might have occurred. Without stitch counts I can never be quite sure what they were intending!

What gives you most satisfaction in your job?

So many things….Working with so many lovely people from the comfort of my own home, drawing a really lovely chart, making a pattern look lovely and ‘clean’, seeing all the new designs before anyone else does!

Like so many people who work in the textile and craft industry, this is just one section of your working life. What other things keep you busy?

My other life is in theatre and education! I work a lot in role play and communication skills training, mostly with medics but also with other groups and industries. I co-run a small theatre company that does interactive off the wall crazy things. I also co-run a murder mystery company and I do a lot of theatre education work in schools – musicals in a day, interactive workshops on issue based drama, and recently I worked on a big education project around the national tour of War Horse. When I get the time I direct community productions too. I am so lucky that my working life involves my three great passionsyarn craft, theatre and education! Its never a dull day and no week ever looks the same. This week I am in London spending all week teaching 400 children to knit and crochet – next week Ill be in Bristol helping young doctors with their communication skills and the week after that Im in a school performing in a show about drug awareness. Then of course theres Christmas and my annual appointment with a pre school as their Christmas Fairy. never a dull day!

You have something really exciting happening next year, tell us about P-Lush and how we might get involved.

Next year, 27 and 28 March, I will be with  designer, Belinda Harris Reid, hosting the brand new show P-Lush at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. In the same venue and at the same time as the British Alpaca Futurity (basically Crufst for alpacas!) fabulous designers, makers, sellers and workshop leaders will be there with their gorgeous and luxurious products for anyone interested in fibre and fibre arts.  We have some fantastic workshops lined up and are currently selling specially designed redwood needles and hooks in aid of our chosen charity Target Ovarian Cancer. It’s going to be an amazing event and we hope that everyone will come! Our website is www.p-lush.co.uk please check us out!

Rachel with Chas Brooke of UK Alpaca

Rachel with Chas Brooke from Alpaca UK, at Ally Pally this year.

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There are lots of different reasons why I am never ‘not’ knitting or crocheting. We have chatted about this before, like so many people across the world, the physical rhythm of working the yarn, the quiet industry of using my hands is central to my wellbeing.

This year I promised Big B, that I would take the production line a little easier. I think I have succeeded in that. Compared to previous years I have made fewer large garments. I have taken on fewer magazine commissions and the ones I have worked on, I really wanted to do. Like last year I continued my resolution of noting down each completed project. I expected that this year I would fall short of what I had made in 2013. In actual fact I think the total will be about the same. However the year feels less pressurised.


One reason is that I have returned to my first love of ‘spontaneous making’. Hearing a little story, seeing a need and then secretly working on a project to give as a gift. These ‘Frozen’ hats fall into this category. I know lots of little girls who delight in the ‘Frozen’ film. I watched and heard so many singing away with passion to the soundtrack. Two little sweeties really caught my imagination and prompted me to make hats which celebrate the film.


The first off the hook was the Anna hat, complete with auburn plaits. I free-styled these patterns, if you keen to make your own version there are lots on the web you can use. While the plaits are fun, I knew that most Mummys perhaps wouldn’t been keen to have a plait hanging down on the school run, so I made them detachable.


The next to be made was the Elsa Hat. The same basic hat shape, with an added snowflake. I sewed some sequins onto the snowflake and I must admit having seen the hat in action, the extra sparkle was worth it. How gorgeous does Missy M look?


Her little face, her spontaneous hug – someone spent time to make her something special – the opportunity to love through crafting is precious, especially when the recipient is delighted. May it always be so.

Photos of Missy M were taken by Smith Imaging



Dear Lovelies, I am so sorry that the blog has been performing strangely. Not sure why, but hopefully for the rest of the week things will remain normal. Please check in at the the weekend for some gorgeous hat photos.

Little Duck above was photographed by Smith Imaging



Hello Lovelies, I am sorry my blog was down for a couple of days. Not sure what was going on there. But my technical whizz has sorted it. Thank goodness for Big B! So what are you making at the moment? I have a couple of commissions in the pipeline, but I have tried to be kind to myself and not overload the projects. In previous years I have felt that my Christmas making has really taken a back seat and that has been a bit of a sad frustration. Making something personal for a friend or family member is one of my joys. When I can’t do that in the run up to Christmas due to unrealistically over-committing, then that is my own jolly fault. But it is not clever or wise.


So this year I have made a start. Actually when I was editing the photos to fit them onto  the blog, they made me laugh. Basically I have reverted to what I know. Hats, keyrings, teacozies. I have made another hat using the Lumio yarn.  I simply love this reflecting effect which is woven into the yarn. We did a test drive of Little B’s hat the other night, and it looked fabulous.


I have also perfected my go-to teacozy pattern with Debbie Bliss Donegal Aran Tweed. A really rustic country look. I just need to buy quite alot of teapots to go with each gift.


Finally I have made some bead keyrings. I saw this idea in Prima Craft magazine. I can’t remember which issue, but it seems like fun. Gradually I am making some in all my friends favourite colours. We have started the Christmas crafting….but we have by no means finished!

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ICbookazineHello Lovelies, about twice a week someone writes to me to ask if I can send them a copy of my crochet Campervan pattern. For a while now you can download it from the Inside Crochet website, however if you are finding this difficult, the pattern is available again in a brand new Bookazine published by Inside Crochet.

There are over 60 patterns in this publication which is good value I think. Read more or order your copy today at http://www.selectps.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=43&products_id=567

If you do make a campervan, please do share photos of your creation over on my facebook page Emma Varnam Designs


ev - ls1 Not mine…oh my no, but the talent of all the fabulous photographers that I have worked with over the years. At the end of the summer a good friend of mine, Lucy Smith offered to help me with some new ‘proper’ photos. I know Lucy’s work well. She is the most wonderful wedding photographer, but she also takes great portraits and family shots. Great photographers have the knack of alchemy, capturing a personality, the real person, a person relaxed. It was wonderful to watch Lucy work; clever, intuitive, funny and inventive.

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When I see images of my work by proper photographers it seems to make all the difference. The photography of Britt Spring is simply wonderful for Inside Crochet. She can make a design so beautiful. The images in my books are also so beautiful and wonderfully lit.


Look at this pretty image of baby Amber taken by Lucy wearing a little hat I made. Isn’t she scrumptious? This is an image her parents will treasure forever, and I will treasure because it shows up the stitches of the crochet.

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When you take your own photos, perhaps even use the myriad of filters and frames on Instagram, then I think you can appreciate the real skill in the trained photographer. That my friends is craft.

Have a wonder into Lucy’s website to look at her wonderful work and all watch the gorgeous video which really gives a flavour of this fabulous woman. Smith Imaging



Back in July, when we embarked on our summer holiday. I had in my project bag a number of commissions from Let’s get Crafting magazine. I had already completed a pattern for knitted and crochet stockings for the tree. Now we were into the full thrust of Christmas crafting, how funny. I can remember distinctly working on these baby Santa mitts very, very early in the morning, when the rest of the house was fast asleep. Happy silent making, fortified by a strong filter coffee. Don’t they look sweet on this bonny baby?


I also made these angels, which were actually really satisfying to make and I think you could use them for place settings as well. You could use all sorts of decoration to embellish them. It would also be a nice idea to embroider the date on the skirt if you were giving one of these away as a gift for Christmas.


Finally, perhaps my favourite project for a long time. These mug hugs made me giggle from beginning to end. I loved making them and then Little B and I spent time positioning their arms. Lots of fun.


Over the years I have amassed quite a few festive patterns which I make as gifts. Knitting and crochet for friends has already begun. One of my favourite finds is  a ball of Lumio from SMC which has a reflective strand throughout the wool.


I found this ball when visiting friends at Black Sheep wools. I have set myself a challenge recently to see if I can make something that Little B will wear, and this techno yarn geekery spoke to me. So I made this chunky hat last night. I also found this gorgeous faux fur  pom-pom. This Rico Wild Wild Wool fur pom-pom is very good quality and worth paying for if you are giving this hat as a gift. You could keep one as a pet. Well as the predicted the pom-pom is not required but the novelty of sparkly hat is looking promising.  How cool is that!

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For so many of us, we returned to knitting when a friend or member of our family was expectant with a new little one. I took up the needles again when my dear friend was pregnant with my now huge godson, Harry. In some way we should blame (thank) him for this blog! I then began designing knitwear because I wanted to create my own designs for Little B. Unsurprisingly, gone are the days when you will catch him in a home-knit made by Mummy, bespoke or not.


I think knitting a baby hat is a perfect gift for any expectant parent. Little ones need a bit of head protection as the air gets chilly. Let’s face it, hats get flung to kingdom come from buggies, so you can never hat enough baby hats. I created this design using one ball of Rowan finest wool. My lovely friends at Black Sheep Wools asked me to road test this yarn for them. If you pick up a ball you will think, ‘What a dinky size!’ You will wonder if you can make a hat using just one ball. But if you do have a go at this pattern I know you will be delighted. Rowan Finest is a blend of extra fine merino, cashmere and royal alpaca wool it knits up in a 4ply tension and is such a treat to hold.rowanfinest1 rowanfinest6

Now in Britain we traditionally have not knitted in the round much. Our cousins across in the pond in America are far more inclined to work without seams and use a circular needle. If this is not a technique you have used, please can I encourage you to have a go. Let’s face it, avoiding seams in a baby hat makes perfect sense. There are plenty of tutorials on the web to show you how to connect the beginning and the end of the row. If you are already sock knitting this will be no problem at all.


With the green hat I was inspired by a French fashion house to create this bow and button detail. I hope you like it and I think it might become my signature little girl hat topping.


So dear friends I have an exciting new for you. This pattern is available exclusively for you from the Black Sheep Wools website here. I also have a special discount for you if you buy this wool from Black Sheep wools. My readers will get a 10% discount on Rowan Finest wool if you use the code FINEST11 – this offer ends Saturday 25th October 2014