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You will have noticed that in the past few months most of my designs have been for children. I find myself returning to my first love creatively. Like so many crafty people my return to knitting was stimulated by a desire to make hand-knits for new little babies arriving on the scene. My first garment as an adult was a jumper for my godson, Harry. He is now a strapping teenager and thankfully is still happy for me to thrust knitted garments upon him. These day it tends to be cool skiing beanie hats. What a kind chap to indulge me still! Little B is not really keen at all to wear anything I make. But can appreciate the skill and had suggested on our recent holiday that I teach him to crochet. In fact life was far too exciting to sit down and concentrate on hook and yarn, but we might have another go in the summer.

My recent projects for Debbie Bliss have been a great delight. I think there are more crochet nursery designs to be developed and when it comes to toys you can’t beat amigurumi crochet for its seamless durability.

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My recent creation for Inside Crochet was an imaginative leap of what I would have enjoyed playing with as a child. I had a little wooden dolls bed which I adored playing with. Oh, the many simple hours, tucking up dolls and teddies under the quilt. My Mother had made a pretty mattress, pillow and quilt for the bed, edged in a cotton lace. The whole set is something I still treasure.

The design comes in two sections. Firstly you can make the little Bunny. You don’t have to be gender specific and can avoid having coloured pants altogether.

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I then created some clothes to dress the bunny in. A simple cotton dress, a cute raglan jumper and some jeans, (with a handy hole for the cottontail).

Finally there is a little bed, made with t-shirt yarn. Inspired by the set made by my Mother, I created a simple cotton sheet and pillow edged with a simple crochet pattern in fine embroidery thread. There is also a fancy stash busting blanket to complete the set. These are the type of designs I love to make. They are from the heart, they are intended to bring joy and I am fortunate that people like Debbie Bliss and Inside Crochet are happy to publish them.

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How to Crochet - Ami graphic

Hello Lovelies! I am so sorry that it has been such a long time. Family Varnam has been on a bit of an adventure, which I hope to share a little bit with you. There has been lots and lots of travelling and quite a bit of crochet so I will look forward to updating you on that.

In other news, I am delighted to be joining my friends at Black Sheep Wools for Yarn Shop day.

Love Your Yarn Shop Day is a fabulous idea thought up by Let’s Knit magazine for shops to show off what is so great about visiting a bricks and mortar store. This special day is on Saturday 2nd May and there will be all sorts of fun, free workshops and demonstrations going on at the Black Sheep Craft Barn in Warrington. All events throughout the day will be free to attend. I  would love it if you could come along and say hello. I will be there between 2pm and 4pm giving hints and tips on Amigurumi Toy making, so if you would like to come and chat you can keep me company.

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I love the Easter season, for so many different reasons. This seems reflected in the number of designs I have made for Easter over the years. I really do like making a gift for Easter. Don’t get me wrong I could consume my whole body weight in chocolate, but distracting my brain cells with a little bit of crochet is a good thing. The photo above is by Smith Imaging – a brilliant creative photographer.

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Firstly, this little bunny pattern is available free on my blog. I published it in my first year of blogging, but it is still a cute idea.bunnycosy3

This egg cosy is also available and is still one of my favourite designs.

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He evolved into this beginners crochet toy design which is in my book How to Crochet, there is still plenty of time to make him ready to hide in the garden for an Easter egg hunt.

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These designs were made for Let’s Get Crafting last year. They are simple and a perfect amigurumi starter pattern.

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Don’t forget that this bunny and duck combo are available from the Spring Summer Debbie Bliss Magazine 2015.

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Finally if you want a project that will develop, Inside Crochet Magazine have just published the first instalment of my Bonnie Bunny design. She has a clothes set and bed to match. I hope you have a lovely peaceful Easter, whatever you are up to.

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I won’t deny it, I love a factory. I have a deep love of industrial heritage and there is something so thrilling to see human ingenuity and the brilliance of engineering in practice. In another part of my world I have spent half a life-time telling the stories of the industrial heritage of Britain, both good and bad. Much of the time we talk in the past tense. However in the last year I have been to visit two factories which have been operation for over a hundred years and produce tradition products using the the latest high-tech machinery. The first was a biscuit factory which makes wonderful products like Custard Creams, oh my I could bore for Britain on that subject (and I have).

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I had my second adventure a couple of weeks ago. Just an hour away from where we live, a little hop, skip and jump over the Pennines is Spa Mill, home to Spectrum Yarns who make the new brand, Yarn Stories. On a sunny Friday afternoon I arrived at their imposing Factory building to be met by the wonderful Juliet Bernard. Those who are in the know about the knitting world will remember Juliet’s impressive tenure as Editor of The Knitter Magazine and her extensive career, supporting, developing and celebrating knitting talent and design. She is in the knitting celebrity category and I was in some awe to meet her. Luckily like so many of the people you can meet connected with yarn, she is the most joyful and enthusiastic person. She was keen to show me the home of Yarn Stories and the people who are at the heart of making this wonderful brand.

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I was introduced to Mick, who has spent his life dedicated to spinning wool and is the head operation honcho at the factory. He kindly gave me a tour of the factory from the very base to the top. Seeing wool spun, on an industrial scale is quite some spectacle.

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Right from the early ‘slivers’ of soft fibre, through to the finest suiting wool thread ready for weaving into cloth for Saville Row. I was able to see the intensity and the precision of spinning wool for weaving suiting cloth.

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I literally lost count of processes which were undertaken to get this majestic fibre from fleece to fine lines of yarn.

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The machines used combine traditional wisdom with up-to-date technology. Breakages, knots and faults are detected and eliminated. The wool being spun in this British factory really is of the highest quality to make some of the most luxurious yet hard wearing material. It is no surprise that the woollen cloth originated from this Yorkshire town is so sought after across the world.

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The factory has a number of different specialisms, which include making fine Merino yarn for sports jumpers.  I was like a giddy school girl in the embroidery section. Look at these colours.

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I also saw the massive distribution operation, yarn packed up and ready to be sent out across the country, indeed across Europe to yarn shops. Tons and ton of hand-knitting wool for fans of Stylecraft. I also popped into the laboratory to see where they test the yarns and the fibres which are spun for their quality and consistency.

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What struck me, is the passion and the seriousness which this brand family take with their job. When I had completed my tour, my general feeling was pride. Pride that English woollen spinners were still spinning, that the industry is not only evolving and developing, but we are also still at the top of the international tree in terms of quality.

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At the end of my visit I was able to hear about the vision and the products Yarn Stories are developing. I already really like the wool. Making the Steiger hat was a joy. Juliet is right, once you hold a ball of this softest yarn in your hand, you just want to whip out your needles and hooks and start creating something. I met the Head Designer, Amanda Crawford, and we chatted about the upcoming designs and projects for the brand. The lovely thing is that this British Company wants to invest in British design talent. If you go to the website you can see the design collections and the range of yarns.

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If you get a chance get hold of a ball of wool. It is a delight to knit with and there is something so satisfying to know that care, time and some great love has gone into producing it. A brand and a yarn family worth investing in.

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Hello Lovelies, over the weekend on facebook I have been holding a give-away of my baby crochet patterns I designed for Debbie Bliss. I decided that as the blog is my first love I will happily have a give-away on the blog too. I will do a random draw from friends who leave friendly comments on this post. (Obviously if you have liked on facebook, you can enter here, but you win both give-aways). Please leave a comment below, I will randomly pick the name on Friday 20th March 2015.

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Inside Crochet - Cowl - front coverI had forgotten how thrilling it is to see a design in print. Well more significantly how exciting it is to see one of my designs on the front cover of a magazine. Frequently you don’t get any warning from the lovely people at the magazine. Probably because they are working a minimum of three months ahead and once a magazine goes to print their minds are in an entirely different season.

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When I saw the front cover of the current issue of Inside Crochet (63) I literally did a little jig. I just love the styling and the photography of this shoot and to see this image staring out at me at the newsagents, well that is very exciting.

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I made this cowl in late summer, early autumn. The colour choice was done by grouping the balls of yarn together. Thinking of the colours of Spring, the purples of crocus, the yellow of daffodils and the pink of blossom is how I came to the final choice.

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I also really like using buttons on my designs, usually very unfussy shell buttons. Cute, plain and timeless. Like many of my longer cowl designs, this item really isn’t about warmth, more a yarn necklace. A real staple of my wardrobe.

 

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I usually have a little knitting project which sits quietly in my project baskets. By definition it tends to be a from a pattern, not written by me. It tends to be a piece of clothing which I would find useful and it might take me months to complete because I pick it up and put it down depending on the volume of commissions.

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I have a couple of jumpers or tanks which I pop on at the end of the day. Scruffy play clothes which I am happy to cook or do the housework in. Recently I realise that one of my favourite tops had got very scruffy and limp. So I decided to make a new version, in pink.

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I also decided to add a crochet edging. I am not sure why more designers don’t combine both skills. In Britain you will find crafters who are happy to pursue both knitting and crochet and it makes good sense to take the skills and add them together.

This pattern is taken from an old Interweave Magazine, which is an American publication. I love it and the new colour pink version fits well with my spring like mood.

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Funnily enough I realise this colour swap is exactly opposite to my other favourite go-to jumper, which I blogged about a couple of years ago. My colour choice is so  predictable.

If you have a favourite sloppy joe jumper pattern – please do share it. I might contemplate starting a new ‘about-the-house’ jumper project.

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For lots of joyful reasons we like to go away for the February half-term break. There are lots of birthday celebrations and it feels like a perfect time to visit our beloved Lake District in the north of England. We had a fabulous time this week visiting our old Lake District haunts; cycling, climbing, walking and laughing. Waking up to the stunning views of the mountains and the tranquil water is such a luxury and it feels well with my soul.

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During a family holiday I either madly work on a huge knitting/crochet commission or better still find a pattern designed by someone else so that my brain can relax and my fingers do all the work. Last year I chose Kate Davis’s Betty Mouat Cowl – I wore the cowl lots in the last week.

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This year I downloaded the Steiger Hat pattern designed by Juliet Bernard from Yarn Stories. Yarn Stories is a new yarn company whose product is spun in Yorkshire. I chose the French Navy and Cream in Merino DK – it is such a soft yarn, gorgeous to touch, fabulous to knit with. I was so eager to start, I began casting on in the car and started to rib as we made our way up north. Two days later my hat was complete.

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If you have never tried the fair-isle technique, this would be a good place to start. I almost love the reverse side patterning as much as the pattern proper. The stranding across the back makes the hat incredibly warm.

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If you have read this blog before you will know that I am a huge fan of blocking your work. There are previous posts here and here. Being on holiday doesn’t preclude you from blocking. I found a pudding bowl of the correct size and used the holiday cottage iron to dampen the hat. I always like to leave blocking for about 48 hours to dry properly.

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Funnily enough the master bedroom of the holiday house we were staying in had this beautiful china egg on the window sill. It really reminded me of the hat pattern.

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So knitted, completed and blocked the hat was ready to wear, my ‘Yarn Story’ was inspired and created in the Lake District and I was ready to take to the hills, cosy and warm.

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Do visit the Yarn Stories website, there are some wonderful new patterns available and my yarn arrived in the most beautiful packaging.

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If you have been following the blog for a while, I hope you might have picked up that I generally like to have a positive attitude and bring you ideas, designs and recommendations which I like or find useful. That is not to say that life does not have it’s challenges and irritations, but this space is about the joys of the small things that bring a smile to my face.

A couple of weeks ago I did a blog post on a couple of discoveries that had made a positive impact. This week, I want to share more about the lovely people at Stamptastic, because frankly their name labelling stamps are just so darn fantastic.

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I was thrilled to see this week that they got an award from ‘Dragon’ Theo Paphitis and his Small Business Sunday campaign. I can see why. I now wouldn’t consider naming Little B’s clothes, pencils, water bottles, forehead in any other way. The permanent ink stamp lasts for such a long time and the effect is neat and really legible.

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When I first ordered from Stamptastic I bought a name stamp for all the family. If I am honest, Big B hasn’t used his stamp much…however the inner curator in me is quite happy to stamp away and especially on things that tend to go walkabout….like office mugs – (now that has given you a brief and scary glimpse into my psyche).

 

Recently the lovely ladies at Stamptastic have branched out into bespoke and seasonal stamps. Sorry for the spoiler, but I am thrilled with this Easter Stamp which we will be using this year. It also means that Little B is happy to work with me on the production line creating our gift cards. Stamptastic even do a ‘Save-the-date’ stamp for weddings and parties. I love this idea and I know a number of couples who have used this tactic for advance warning of their nuptials.

When I get organised my next purchase will be an address label and ‘Emma Varnam’ logo for my design work.

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