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I think it was last year that the Christmas Jumper made its ironic début on the festive scene. When Little B had a Christmas Jumper day at school I couldn’t quite bring myself to purchase a supermarket solution. Now I am not a wool purist, but there are limits. I certainly didn’t have the time to knit a design and actually Little B was really very keen to create his own vision. Here is the story of last year.

xmasjumper3We came to the excellent compromise of adding a felt appliqué design to a basic sweatshirt. Quick and easy to do and he could dictate the festive theme.

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This year there were far more ideas brought to the creative table. Some of them were quite complex….We finally decided to use Bernard as our muse. Look at this cheeky boy!

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I bought just a few pieces of felt and sketched the basic shape onto some double sided bonding interfacing.

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I then ironed the design onto the felt and then was able to accurately cut out the shapes. Being able to iron the shapes onto the sweatshirt make sewing so much more accurate far less stressful. I used green buttons for Bernard’s eyes and sewed a few snowflake sequins onto his hat for added sparkle.

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I had worked accurately to the design brief and when finished I presented the final design to Mr Little B and he looked with studied consideration. ‘It is good….very good, but….’, he gestured to the base of the cat shape, ‘this is a very large expanse of black….I think it could be broken up with a parcel, perhaps in red…..with a yellow ribbon…’  He walked away.

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I stood there for a while. Staring. Annoyingly he was right. You may say, ‘For heavens sake woman, say no!’ You may even say, ‘Well you created the Monster, deal with it’. Yes, I agree, I have encouraged my son to create, to think about improving his ideas, to edit, to modify, to change. Hey it took me 10 minutes to make the modification and the final design was so much better. I can’t think of anything nicer to do just before Christmas, making something together with my son – something that makes us both laugh.

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chrisrea1

I can’t say why the festive bug has caught me so early this year. Well Ok, I was making Christmas tree angels in July… It has been a long time coming. I think the wonders of Pinterest have also wheedled their way into my mind. Of all the social media platforms, this is the one I tend to find the most useful. I chatted about this before and how I really have to discipline myself before a big design challenge to stay away from the pins. Where I really let my Pinterest inspiration (stealing) go is around the house and in the garden. My garden board is perhaps my favourite – followed by clothes…. there are a lot of Breton stripe photos in that section.

This Christmas I have really enjoyed all the new ideas for decorating and tried to adapt a few for our house.

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Seeing photos of Christmas trees tied to toy cars really amused me. I have now put this car in a lovely little bell-jar. I call it my Chris Rea display. It make me smile, and anyone who visits our house. Look at Bernard! How cheeky is he?

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Since September I have been keen to use a blackboard and blackboard pen to express our Christmas Greetings. I combined a lovely wreath made by my local garden centre, Bud and then glued a circle of MDF which had been coated in blackboard paint. I loved using a chalk marker to make this sign. If I am honest they are frightfully expensive to buy, so go for some good old fashioned chalk and you can get a more subtle effect.

wreath14.2So thank you pinners – Joy to the world – Joy to the creative!

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choccyorangeVarnam1There is a Christmas tradition in Britain to receive and eat a lovely Terry’s Chocolate Orange. I can’t remember a year when one of these babies did not appear in my Christmas Stocking. The size of the wrapped box is quite distinctive. The ‘tap-and-unwrap’ method of opening this chocolate delicacy is almost a national tradition. Like their more healthy cousin, the satsuma, the chocolate orange is quite a cheap round. Passing it round on a festive afternoon you will appear quite generous and yet…..nobody but nobody should steal the centre of the orange, that is yours and yours alone.

This will mean very little to you if your have never seen or tasted  this confectionery icon. Like the humble digestive biscuit, Heinz Baked Beans, Tunnocks Teacakes and a cup of tea, the Terry’s Chocolate Orange is a British institution. (It’s not Terry’s, it’s mine!) We might not do patisserie or cordon bleu cooking (actually nowadays we do), but we British know how to make a reasonably priced sweet snack.

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After that reverie, you can imagine how tickled I was to see lots of inspirational photos of Christmas pudding Chocolate Orange cosy on the web. They just made me laugh! There are lots of patterns online, but I just made mine up and enjoyed bashing through the stash. I found these cute berry buttons locally for 10p and they perfectly finish off the holly. I have almost finished my Christmas makes for this year, but this pattern has given my festive activity new life. Once the velvety chocolate delight is all gone, there is really no use for the cosy. However like all the best luxuries they serve little purpose, but bring a smile to your face.

 

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uglyblanket5This weekend is a crazy work weekend for me…in another part of my life. There will be little time for family snuggles. Last night I was sitting quietly listening to story time. Little B loves stories read by his Daddy. Big B is very good at it and the accents are hilarious. Frequently I use this time to do quick chore; hang out some washing, pair socks, you know the drill. But last night I just sat in the chair in the corner of Little B’s room and listened. Facing me, draped over the end of the bed was the Ugly blanket. It occurred to me that of all the projects I have made this year, this crazy colour mixture has brought me such joy. Funnily enough, Little B moved the blanket from the kitchen to his bedroom. ‘It is mine, and it does have my initials on it!’ He makes a fair point.

So while I was there thinking, ‘Oh my, that it a lot of knitting ‘, it occurred to me that we have gone past rather unceremoniously my 4th blog anniversary. Where did that time go?

Will I continue? I think so. I do love this diary space. Sometimes it feels quite like talking to yourself. I am not a big attractor of comments. But I know there are people out there reading. In fact much easier to imagine that there is no one reading at all. I have deliberately aimed to keep the blog non-commercial. Obviously I want to share magazines and books that feature my patterns. But as you can see I am not running the blog as a business. That would be far to complicated. So we shall keep going, enjoying a little bit of creativity together. Happy Anniversary!

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You know me, I love a hero. I like to be inspired. I like to think and then ask. ‘How did you do that?’ Most people are incredibly generous if you ask them for advice or a little guidance. In my little series of Crafty interviews I have asked questions of people I admire. I want to know what inspires them, what their dreams are for the future, basically I am being nosy and hope you will want to share my discoveries.

This week I have interviewed the fabulous Sarah Moore. I have loved Sarah’s work since I was bought her first book as a birthday pressie in 2012. I wrote a review of the book here and here, and Sarah being Sarah said ‘Thank you’. Wow! Well frankly that kind attention ensured my loyalty forever. Since then Sarah’s work has gone from strength to strength. She has a regular craft column in my all time favourite magazine, Country Living. She also won the first serious of the Great Interiors Design Challenge on BBC 2. I love her aesthetic, for a long while I felt that my own particular love of colour, floral patterns, tweed, and collecting had got lost in the interiors world. That rather elegant, comfortable, worn and homely English style seemed to disappear.  But reading Sarah’s books and particularly Vintage Home  rekindled that fire. Hurrah! So please join me in admiring this wonderful creative force.

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How would you describe yourself and your work?

Eclectic and a bit unusual describes both I think! I love making and designing and breathing new life into old stuff.

Where did your interest in designing and making come from?

I think that living in the middle of nowhere as a child you had to find your own occupations to keep your self busy. I have always been a bit of a magpie, gathering interesting things on walks, or pebbles on beaches and then turning them into things that I like the look of.

I think I first became aware of your work through the Biscuiteers – is it right that you initially trained as a chef?

I ran a full on top flight kitchen for an events company in the middle of London. For about 12 years I worked a very hard cooking and later designing menus with fabulous company Lettice. I designed service equipment, food installations and cooked for hundreds and sometimes thousands of people. A lot of hard graft, but a lot of fun and great team work and sense of achievement.

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How did you get into textiles?

I am definitely a hoarder and I just found that I liked certain fabrics and I love a stack of these, mainly 40’s and 50’s linen fabrics. And you cannot really justify buying LOTS of fabric unless you are happy to make stuff and sell stuff made out of it.


What inspires your work?

The fabrics themselves inspire what we make: We have been making lots of teatowels recently because they look lovely in the house and they make a chore like drying up slightly less boring!

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How does your initial inspiration become a finished article?

I find imagining how an end product will be fairly easy and seem to be able to see very clearly how to make it in my head, so I confidently write and make things up all the time. I use a very forgiving and sweet old singer sewing machine for all my sewing, and then have a few lovely makers who come along with proper machines to speed through the real things.

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For a long time I felt the British interior style seemed a bit a sea, everything was very much in chalky colours and we all seem to have to follow the Scandinavian ideal. I think when I first saw your books, I felt ‘At last I recognise the British style which I love so much!’ When did your style emerge?

I think that colour and patterns and pretty things around the house just make living a little bit lovely. If you line your shelves with papers, fill you walls with pictures, dressers with china and sofas with cushions and layer up your favourite things I think it makes your space at home more personal and more relaxing to be in.

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Last year you won the BBC2′s The Great Interior Design Challenge, has that changed your work and did you enjoy the opportunity?

It was So much fun. Like being on holiday. I refused to work late on my projects, trying to keep things simple and enjoy everything as much as possible. I didn’t want to win, but I did want to stay in the process as long as possible, learning all the way. It has not really changed my work, but I do feel armed with a new set of skills and cant wait to try out proper room schemes at home.

What next? What do you see yourself doing in five years’ time?

FIVE years! I don’t tend to think much beyond tomorrow, possibly this afternoon. It gets me into quite a lot of trouble at times, but I love living for the moment. So I have no idea about 5 years. Our new house has some buildings and a sweet meadow with it: I would love to create some really enchanting camping there. Handmade wagons and pretty decking, cattle trough baths and recycled interiors.


What’s your favourite and least favourite part of designing or running your own business?

I can pack up my laptop/sewing machine/gluegun at a moments notice and be around for my Children, watching them play matches or being in their school plays or whatever it is that they are involved in, and then make up for it later in the day. Part of the worst bit is the looking ahead and planning side of things. I am easily distracted and truly dreadful at admin; fortunately I have mentors in town (who run Biscuteers) who guide me through accounting, tax and compliance of running a small business.


Who do you most admire in the craft or design world?

I am very taken with Marna Lunt at the moment. Properly clever lady with a needle and thread.

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What are your favourite things to design or make?

I really like the taxidermy that I make using old fabrics, wools and materials but I have to be very peaceful to do them properly. I can tidy my studio for hours before finding just the right frame of mind to crack on with them, but they are very satisfying to make.

Do you have time to make things for yourself, friends, family?

Its often quite last minute when I am making for us. But I do settle down to make a bed cover or curtain sometimes.

What has been the strangest thing you’ve designed?

A huge perspex fish tank style structure to serve layers of squid in spaghetti, caviar, sour cream and smoked salmon at a big company launch back in cheffing times. A line of funnels and tubes tied to a hedge as an impromptu loo for boys at a friends very rural wedding where the facilities had not arrived…fortunately only involved in the pre design process! And for work, a mad hatters outfit that I made without ever meeting the person wearing it.

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For over a year now you have written craft articles for my all time favourite magazine, Country Living. How did you start working for them?

They rang one day. I nearly fell off my chair. I too have always been a massive fan and they had seen a copy of my Vintage Gifts book and asked to feature it and then approached directly to see if I would contribute directly. It is probably one of the things that I am most proud of!

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You have just moved house and have the most wonderful barn for workshops, what are the plans?

We are hosting out first open Barn next month: Five favourite vintage sellers and a big winter wreath making class too. We shall see how this goes down and then make plans for more workshops in the new year. Eventually I think that we would like to make a more permanent studio space in one of the buildings as I am currently working out of a little room in the dairy.

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What advice would you give to someone wishing to get into the design and interiors business?

It’s hard work to get a little business off the ground. You have to have real conviction and a proper vision for your products, ideas and designs. I certainly wouldn’t like to have worked out my hourly rate for the first couple of years, but if you have a product that people like or a style that people want to tap into you just need to go for it! Be prepared to embrace social media, and if you have left a “proper job” be prepared to take on all the chores, (changing the ink, sending out the newsletters, filling out the forms) and it should all pay off.

The photos in this interview are taken by the fantastic photographers Debi Treloar, Katie Hammond or by Sarah Moore

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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villageknitters

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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elsahat1

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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littleduck

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

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