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Confession time; I am not much of a sock knitter. What is the obsession? Perhaps I am too precious about my knitting to contemplate the wear and tear rubbing away at my handiwork. Before sock yarns were developed and got all creative, I believed that my socks would be all baggy and uncomfortable. Anyway I had plenty designs/commissions and woolly adventures that I had no need to turn my head to the sock world.

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Well in the Autumn my friends at Black Sheep Wools invited me to join the Arne and Carlos Sock workshop. They were teaching how to make socks from the toe up using their easy Norwegian pattern. Both chaps are great value and enormously entertaining. I was happy to get involved.

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arne-carlos-sock-knitting

I was lucky enough to sit in between my bloggy friends, Lynne Rowe and sock maker extraordinaire, Christine aka Winwick Mum. We were very happy to chat and make together. Although Lynne and I found it incomprehensible that Christine would join any sock workshop – she is an expert in her own right.

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Mini-sock

Our task all day was to make a little mini-sock, using all the techniques you would need to make an adult version. I wrestled rather ineptly with my four double pointed needs. Others turned to their tried and trusted ‘magic loop’ technique. We giggled, shared stories and caught up whilst the needles clattered away. You will know from my previous blog posts, I love Arne and Carlos. They are great fun to learn from and I think their ‘toe-up’ method of sock knitting makes utter sense if you are trying to get your sock to fit your foot without taking many measurements.

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In the afternoon I made a start on my first full size sock and I was impressed with how quickly the work grew. By the end of the next day I had finished my sock 1. B adopted it immediately and declared it very cosy. Good news. That was in November, Christmas was looming and the sock yarn and the needles were set aside. Weeks past.

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The second sock

Well my friends I am not comfortable with many languishing WIP’s, that does not make me very happy. So last week I was determined to finish my next sock. After a little bit of research, I made a decision to invest in a small circular needle. What a boon! The knitting grew like topsy. I was delighted. So the pair are completed and lie abandoned on the floor of a boy’s bedroom.

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I believe that the short circular needle is my way forward. But I also think I need to invest in Christine’s book Super Socks. Christine is so enthusiastic and has a passion to teach people how to make your own sock is infectious. I need to expand my technical knowledge. I have in my mind the idea of making my Dad a pair. He is a great believer in the benefits of a bed sock. However he is super stylish and not a man who would wear a crazy variegated tone, in bed or out and about.

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If any of you have some good suggestions of a sock yarn that would suit a dapper chap, please do point me in the right direction.

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Over the weekend I caught up with all my Blogstar Friends over at Spa mill. We saw the new yarns and patterns from Stylecraft for the Spring Summer. I took a couple of my animals from my book Cute Crocheted Animals and my friend Sandra Cherry Heart said that she would like to try my book and have a go at making one of the animals. Go over to her podcast 42 to see how she got on. I am so very excited. I wanted to give you a little background to why I designed the patterns and wrote the book.

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My childhood memories

I have very distinct childhood memories of sitting in my own imaginary world playing with my toys. I was very fond of one particular pretty rag doll,  happy dress her for bed, settle her in a small wooden toy cot and smooth her woolen hair as I imagined her drifting off to sleep. The play-acting of the nurturing role is universal I think. An added joy is to choose and dress toys – creatively putting different combinations of clothes, shoes and accessories together.

All of these moments of play and flights of fantasy are such a precious part of a carefree childhood. It occurred too me that it would be delightful to create animal characters that could be dressed, loved and cuddled for a new generation.

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Design development

Over the years I have designs and developed lots of different animal patterns and I really enjoy making rabbits. I was commissioned to make a lovely bunny for Inside Crochet Magazine and that bunny was dressed a a pretty Liberty print dress. Over time I kept thinking it would be great to develop a whole wardrobe of clothes for a bunny. I also wanted to develop my pattern design to make the toy easier to dress.

I started talking to my publishers at GMC, and we began thinking about different animals I could create and the kind of outfits I could design. It was lots of fun and soon little characters began to emerge. I drew the animals and their outfits first and then I had conversations and email discussions with my precious editor Wendy. The outfits are intended to have a quintessentially English style. Children I know should recognise and like the clothes which their animal will wear.

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That must be me!

Each animal in the book has a character of its own. A couple of weeks ago I visited my oldest friends and their children. I had taken a copy of the book with me to see what they thought. I sat quietly in an adjoining room listening to their conversation; ‘That cat is definitely me, listen to the description – that is me!’ ‘Well we all know I am the fox… I love her cardigan…’. Such precious sounds. A happy smile spread across my face as the imagination of young people was sparked.

When you make things with you loved ones in mind then, nothing is more satisfying then to hear them participate and enjoy the journey with you and get the joy of creating small toys which have a character of their own. If you get to see the book, even if you can’t crochet – I hope you will see and read the humour within it. Some of it is my own crazy imagination, lots of it is due to the fabulous creativity of my editor Wendy and designer Rachel, who captured the joy of the project too.

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I hope you will like it and will be able to think of someone you could make an toy for.

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So my first month has past – just one of twelve. I promised myself that I would not buy any new clothes in 2018 but instead, ‘Shop the Wardrobe’. That is the plan. As you can imagine the first month should really be the easiest. I did get a few new things for Christmas so there has been some un-worn items to pique my interest.

What have I learnt so far? Well interestingly I did do a bit of a clear-out during the beginning of this week. Sounds like madness, doesn’t it? Surely I should be hanging on to every last item. Well instead I think I came to the conclusion that even in a fashion famine there were a few items I was never going to return to. It seemed better at this stage to get rid now. I bought a long skirt from M&S in the Spring last year. I wore it again last week and realised that rather than being trendy it made me look frumpy. It had to go.

The Clear Out

In the end I cleared out:

1 x Jacket (the colour is dated)

3 x Jumpers (too worn, too bobbly)

1 x Dress (saggy in the wrong places)

1 x pair Trousers (weird length)

2 x Skirts (1 frumpy, the other makes me look even more hippy)

3 x Shirts (wrong colours, wrong fit)

1 x pair of shoes, 1 pair of boots

I am rather surprised that avoiding shopping temptation is easier than I expected. Though I have been careful to avoid the shops, swerving those trendy impulse buys. Realistically the new season fashion images have not begun to flood my consciousness. I imagine that if I see a new style or look which I know might suit me, then I will find the whole resolution much harder. Even though I have allowed myself the opportunity to buy new shoes, I haven’t even strayed into that retail therapy. No-one could be more surprised than me.

Making my Granny Square Jacket and the Duck Egg Marius Cardigan has certainly enabled me to satisfy the ‘new-thing-to-wear’ itch. Making something for myself may well be my salvation this year.

Accessories

My final conclusion  is that accessories have been and always will be my friend. Scarves are the answer. I have worn ALOT this month. The classic shirt and trouser combination has been lifted by a jaunty scarf. This I think will be my downfall. I can see myself cheating and requesting a new silk scarf for Easter. However as February begins I feel pretty confidant that we might survive another month. Will there be another clearout? Who knows.

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On a recent pilgrimage to the lovely Yorkshire town of Skipton, I made a visit to the very pretty shop; Cool Crafting. This very sweet haberdashery is the home of the lovely felt rabbit Luna Lapin. I have visited the Cool Crafting stall at the Knitting and Stitching Show many times. I love the fabrics they sell, the thick and luxurious felts and the beautiful animals kits. This shop and its contents did not disappoint. I had a lovely chat about crafting and spotted some of my own books, which was an absolute delight.

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I have a rather shameful stash of yarn and have no need for any more. However I couldn’t resist buying a hank of the super squishy Mrs Moon Plump Chunky. I bought Gooseberry. The shop were selling a lovely quick knit kit pattern for a cowl. This colour is a funny one for me – even though my skin tone suits bright and clear colours, this chartreuse green always seems to suit me and gives my face a bit of a tan. I have never been able to work it out. Ah well. With chunky 10mm needles the pattern took me a few short hours and by Monday morning I was wearing my Plump Cowl to work.

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marius cardigan- emma -varnam

Some projects are instantaneous, you have an idea and virtually storm into the house, pushing animals and small children aside to get to your yarn stash. Immediately you begin casting on, or making a magic ring and there it is; a compulsive project. Fun and immediate.

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Other projects take months, perhaps even years to gestate and become a real item. This was very true of my Marius Cardigan I finished just a few days ago. Back in October 2016 I attended a ‘Steeking’ class at Black Sheep Wools with my lovely friend and tutor Juliet Bernard. Not only did she provide me with confidence that you could cut knitting, she also taught me how to do two-handed double stranded knitting. If you have followed my blog at all last year, you will know this was a personal delight, a revelation and has opened up many more opportunities with my pattern choice.

Throughout the year I built up my knitting skills, attending a bird making class with the sublime Arne and Carlos and then a sock making class. Around this time I admired a beautiful fairisle cardigan that Juliet had completed. I had cardigan envy let me tell you…an obsession developed. Juliet explained how much easier it was to knit a garment like this in the round and to then cut in the arm holes and the button band. I started watching a few more steeking tutorials. Arne and Carlos have a series of four videos on their You Tube Channel.

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So there I was sitting in the Arne and Carlos sock workshop, chatting away to other students and I started admiring a beautiful cardigan worn by one of my fellow knitters. She told me about the way she learnt to knit in the Norwegian style and signposted me to the lovely pattern shop, Scandinavian Knitting Designs. I knew then that I needed to embark on my most courageous project yet, choosing the traditional Marius Design and settled on a Duck Egg and Red colour combination.

Right in time for the festive period started the project back in the first week of December. I wish I had recorded the date! The gauge is quite small, with the rib made with a 2.5mm needle and the main knit stitch uses 3mm circular needles. I embarked upon the two sleeves first and then worked the body of the jumper. There is a certain moment when you work across the body and then incorporate the two sleeves to create a unified yoke. Have I lost you at this stage?

marius cardigan- emma -varnamThe guideline

Throughout the whole process I wove a yellow guideline up through the centre of the work. Marking where I would eventually cut my material. After weeks of plain knitting I couldn’t wait to work on the intricacies of the white colour work. Knitting line by line is quite obsessive. I find the concentration required an enjoyable discipline. Your mind cannot wander onto any other topic. Eventually when I had finished I placed a line of yarn into the very last stitches of the collar. I then made two placket button bands.

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The genius of the Norweigan style is that you not only make a rib  button band but also a stocking stitch lip which will cover the edge of your cut opening.

The Cut

It was quite a few days before I had the courage to make the cut. I am not sure what I was more scared of; using the sewing machine to snarl up my knitting or taking the scissors to my work. On each side of the guide like I made two zig-zag lines with the trusty sewing machine. Then in the daylight I used the scissors to cut open the front of my cardigan.

You can watch a video of my cutting the knitting if you like. My heart was in my mouth.

I used my sewing machine to attach the button band and folded the lip over to cover my exposed cardigan edges. Finally I picked up the stitches of the collar and attached the buttons.

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It is at this stage that there is a temptation to wear your newly created garment. But we must all resist and add the finishing touch of blocking the knitting. Experience has taught me what a difference this last step makes to the final look of the garment.

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There are two big questions: am I pleased with the finished work? Yes I think so – it is a little snug on me…. perhaps not the most flattering shape for my figure, but the fairisle pattern is very pleasing. Would I use this technique again? Oh yes definitely, I have no fear at all now. It makes utter sense to work in the round, so much faster and you have no pesky seams. I will be taking my scissors to my knitting again. This may be my first cut but it wont be my last.

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I just wanted to pop in and see you mid-week to say there is a brand new quick and easy pattern of mine in the new issue of Crochet Now Magazine. Every month they are sharing a brief interview and pattern from a Stylecraft Blogstar. I love being part of this happy group and I was delighted to make something with the lovely Batik yarn. This month there is a great free gift of a colour wheel, which I am really enjoying playing with. Anyway tell me what you think. Have a lovely rest of your week and don’t forget to leave a comment to say hello x

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For all of us there are some colours that really appeal. They may have memories attached to them. They might be colours that make your complexion sing. They might have an ancient symbolism. When I am designing, there are some colour combinations which I keep returning to. Top of my list is Duck Egg and Red. I simply adore this pairing, it speaks to me of the simplicity, of vintage hues and cheery summer colours. Coastal seas and bright deck chairs. Cornish blue with polka dot red. Village Church Hall crockery and gingham table clothes. Time and time again this double act reoccurs in my work. Whilst I dabble in trendy yellow and grey, teal and copper, duck egg and red are the tones you will find in my home.

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Over December and into the New Year I have taken a crochet break and exercised my knitting skills. I have been working on a fairisle cardigan, worked in the round with a yoke. I quite happily could have gone with the blue, white and red traditional colours for this Norweigan pattern. Instead I turned to my favoured palette for a bit of a change (not). I promise that I will share with you my finished cardigan.

It has been quite an adventure. However at the same time I have decided to make a knitted mitred square blanket. The vintage crochet blanket in Granny Squares Home has proved so popular that I felt it was only fair to try and make an equivalent vintage pattern which was knitted. Happy colours to brighten up the winter days. What are you favourite colour combination?

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I stood in front of the wardrobe. Frustrated and non-plussed. It needed more space. For starters there were too many unused hangers clogging up the rails. Perhaps I should have another sort through? Well actually I have just done that about a month ago and put my summer clothes in a box on top of the wardrobe. What shall I get rid of? If I am honest; nothing. There are lots of good serviceable clothes in there, lots of things I only wear once a year…the sequin jacket for instance. The problem is that I have way too much of the same thing.

After years of fluctuating, worrying, making huge fashion mistakes, I think I know what my style is. Probably ill advised, but my style. I do love fashion. I enjoy reading about it, watching it, appreciating it. Even as a young teenager I scoured the fashion magazines. From the period of about thirteen to twenty years old I had quite a flamboyant individual style. I made my own clothes, I wore bright colours in interesting shapes. But then in my early twenties, I lost courage. I felt awkward about my body, I didn’t like or enjoy having curves and became boring and conservative as a result.

I wish in some ways I had a the studied discipline of my friend at college; Penny. Now a revered magazine editor she had the wisdom to buy few item of clothing but each was classic, an investment. Instead I have the flighty habits of a magpie, seeing something inexpensive and trendy and wearing it immediately. As the years have rolled on I make fewer fashion mistakes. I have some well chosen classic pieces. I still wear a jacket I bough twenty years ago; glorious.

But there, stood in front of my wardrobe in mid-December I made a decision. In 2018 I would aim to buy no new clothes.

Stunned silence.

Many have done it before and some have no choice. This is a first world contrivance. But a good discipline in which I expect to discover some truths.

Firstly I think the project will instill a little more creativity. I will have to venture into areas of my wardrobe I very rarely use.

Secondly I think it will hone my sense of style still further. If I haven’t worn something after one year, I am unlikely to ever wear it.

Thirdly I expect I will save a heap load of cash and avoid some ill advised ‘sugar-low’ impulse buys.

The Rules

Having done some research I have established a couple of rules:

  • I can buy hosiery and underwear, let’s not be ridiculous.
  • I can buy shoes, especially for work, but I will aim to be disciplined
  • I can make new clothes – the creative juices will flow

So there you are. Will I survive? Not sure. I have already identified areas where I might find the whole experiment difficult. White shirts, I will need to be very careful to look after my white shirts. But it will also mean that I will need to ensure I keep on top of my weight and perhaps even lose a few pounds to enable me to visit long-lost clothing friends. I am looking forward to see what I discover. Will I cement my personal style or will a new more exuberant and will wacky Emma emerge? Only time will tell.

 

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What a great and crazy year it has been. Looking back I have made so many things. Things I have been able to share with you and some items which are in the pipeline. Granny Squares Home was published in the Autumn and I realise now looking at the photos that this time last year I was making the Vintage style blanket. In many ways the perfect project for a cosy Christmas break. This Christmas I am not ‘mid-commission’ so it gives me the opportunity to just make, perhaps follow the pattern of another designer. That is a very restful feeling. In 2018 I have another book ready to be published and having had a sneaky peek at the photos, I am hopeful it will have the same appeal as me previous two books.

Last year in a crazy wave of honesty I published my new-yarn resolutions. So let’s have a look how well I did….

Keep a record of everything I make – Yes I did this…suprisingly. I made over 90 knitted/crocheted items (madness).

Keep looking and spotting – Think I did this but not enough

Make notes of new ideas – Failed – need to do more next year

Write down the yarn I use in my notebook – Failed again – totally

Dream big dreams – Sort of… more of a doing year than a dreaming year. Will try again

Have creative fun – Certainly

Compliment my hero or people who inspire me – I did some of this but I will do more!

I have begun to write my new list for 2018, which I will share with you and I would love to hear yours if you are wiling to share – but my most 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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