deb14home7 If you follow me on twitter and facebook you will have an inkling of why this week is a big Debbie Bliss celebration on the blog. But later this week I am going to show you some exciting patterns that I have been developing with Debbie and Team Bliss. Exciting times!

deb14home2I have kept of meaning to blog about my fabulous trip just before Christmas to London and the opening of Debbie’s new shop, Debbie Bliss Home. Being able to spend a day on the train and visiting gorgeous Debbie and her family was a huge treat and I was fortunate that we could work it around family commitments. Above is my beloved Harris Tweed Debbie Bliss project bag….you see you must always stay on message and loyal with your accessories!


Debbie and Nell have opened a new shop in the heart of the old village of Walthamstow in the East of London (Orford Road, E17). This area of London is becoming increasingly trendy and there was a very cool vibe.

deb14home4 deb14home5 deb14home6 deb14home8It reminded me very much of the cool areas of South Manchester. As you can imagine the look and the product choice within the shop is exquisite. A great mix of affordable gifts, classic designs and homewares from Debbie’s own range.

deb14home1I spent a blissful (pub intended) day sipping a vast amount of Prosecco, catching up with yarn heroes including Sarah Hatton and meeting old friends (Debbie, Teresa and Nell). I also got a tour of Walthamstow village with the dashing Mr Barry Bliss.

DBHome4If you are in the area, go – it is a lovely haven of style and serenity. But if you live far to far away then pop by the on-line shop. I continue to love me Debbie Bliss mugs and tea towels and they are the perfect pressie for yarn fans.

Debbie is now over in India at the moment on a Knit for Peace tour – pop over to her blog to see her adventures.


In the past few months I have done a couple of interviews with crafty heroes. One with Rachel Vowles and another with Sarah Moore. This time I have interviewed the wonderful Donna Smith. Donna has just been announced the 2015 patron of Shetland Wool Week and is a successful accessories designer for Not on the High Street.

Donna Smith & Hazel Tindall

photo by Selina-May Miller

Coincidentally Donna and I lived together at University, nearly twenty years ago. She is one of the kindest and funniest people you could meet. She has such a dry sense of humour and one of my lasting memories of her is her sense of style. I have happy memories of a holiday visiting Shetland in the summer I graduated. Long bright evenings in the most glorious light. Seeing chubby puffins riding the winds near the cliff edges and the wonderful green shorelines dotted with the famous Shetland sheep.

Knitting has such  breadth of complexity. You can create something luxurious and stylish with a simple garter stitch or an heirloom shawl in finest lace weight yarn. In Shetland you will see real skills, knitters weaving complex patterns in the round, on tiny needles. The garments made will last a lifetime, or indeed many lifetimes. I wanted to share the skill and sensibilities of a contemporary Shetland knitter and designer.

So Donna, when did you first learn to knit – was it from the womb? Who taught you and was there ever a period when you didn’t knit? Were you knitting when we lived together? I think was mostly doing needlepoint at that time.

I can’t really remember learning to knit but I remember knitting at my paternal Granny’s house who lived live door. I think it was probably her that showed me what to do first. We also got knitting classes at Primary school so it was something I could do fairly early on although I do remember Granny having to a finish a white acrylic waistcoat I started at school as I got bored! I made various different things when I was at school whenever the notion hit me and I actually knitted an aran cardigan when we lived together (although it might have been in the summer holiday) but I never sewed it together. I think it must be my oldest UFO (unfinished object) and I really must make a point of finishing it soon! I loved the needlepoint you did, and you inspired me to make a few cushions after that. After I graduated I really didn’t knit for quite a few years as most of my time was taken up with working and then setting up my business. I started knitting again when my son was born just over 3 years ago and since then have got a bit addicted!

Was having such a talented family of crafters an inspiration to you. Do you think you learnt trick and tips of knitting because you were introduced to fairisle?

Definitely. There was always lots of knitting going on and my Mum was either sewing or knitting. I tend to do things the way she did. One Shetland method of knitting is using a making belt (knitting belt) and DPNs (double pointed needles), and working in the round. When using two colours I have the background colour on my right hand and the foreground colour on my left. Steeking involves casting on extra stitches and knitting them, these stitches are them cut at the end to create openings, such as the front opening of a cardigan, the armholes and the neck opening. It means the knitting isn’t disrupted and the correct tension can be maintained throughout. I tend to try to make as much as I can in the round, even patterns that are written flat, to avoid seaming and still always use a knitting belt – I tried to use circular needles a couple of days ago with no success!

Unfortunately I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the details while my Mum and Grannys were alive but I have some of their work which I can get information from.    donnaknitting equipment

Do you design knitwear now or use traditional patterns?

A bit of both, traditionally in Shetland knitters don’t work from written patterns so I suppose anything Fair Isle can be an original design, being made up of patterns and colours that are unique. I have recently been using garments that have been knitted by family and friends to inspire new designs.

What special accessories/notions do you use to knit with? Can you explain the knitting belt?

The knitting belt is a leather belt with a horsehair filled pad with holes which is worn around the waist. The working needle (the right hand needle) is inserted into a hole in the belt and then the knitting starts. It keeps the work stable and the knitter can get into a comfortable position without having to hold onto their work too tightly.

donnaknitting with a knitting belt

Tell us how you started working with felt.

In 2000 I went back to college to study Art and Design, it was during this time that I found a book on felt making in the college library and I became intrigued. My Dad keeps a few sheep on the family croft and at that time, it was difficult to sell coloured fleece so I started looking at how I could use the fleece to make a final product. I used to wash it then card it before felting it, so it took many hours to make even a tiny purse, but the natural colours looked great.

Can you tell us about the wool you use and the techniques.

Making felt by hand is very hard physically and after a few years of making scarves and bags (and a bad back!), I sourced pressed wool felt from Germany for my work which is a beautiful material having a very smooth finish and cuts perfectly which means it is ideal for my current work. I cut the felt using a die cutter, I have an assortment of blocks so I can cut several different shapes. I use a hot glue gun to assemble the little bits of felt into the final product.

How has the internet affected your work

It has made life much easier in lots of ways, I used to travel to the mainland to show at trade fairs which was very expensive, getting myself and all my things there was the most expensive bit! Using the internet means I don’t have to go away as much. Sourcing materials is also easier.

In other ways it has a negative effect as I spend too much time on it when I should be doing something else!

donnaspray sq5

How did you work start getting featured on  Not on the High Street (NOTHS)?

I set up my own online shop a couple for years ago but running it took up a lot of time, I had been a customer at NOTHS and really liked their philosophy and their style and they are very dedicating to marketing their sellers. I just decided to apply one afternoon and was accepted, much quicker than I thought, so I then had to decide which designs I would sell and in which colours.

Do you think the Shetland isles has an effect on your sense of style?

I certainly does in terms of knitting as it has such a rich history. I’m not sure if my felt work is inspired directly by Shetland, I am inspired by so many things, from simple shapes to the material itself, so I might have come up with the same designs if I lived somewhere else.

Which knitter or crafters inspire you?

In Shetland there are many inspirational knitters, many are my relatives and would be embarrassed if I mentioned them! Wilma Malcolmson from Shetland Designer has an amazing sense of colour in her Fair Isle designs and Andrea Williamson has put a contemporary spin on Fair Isle products. Outwith Shetland I love the work of Kate Davies and Gudrun Johnston and in terms of general design I am a huge fan of Lotta Jansdotter, Heather Moore from Skinnylaminx.

donnajacket close up sq

What is you top top tip for knitting?

Just try it and don’t be scared! If it goes wrong it doesn’t matter, you can start again. We have a Shetland word “spret” which means to pull back your knitting – it’s something you have to learn not to be worried about! I have had experiences of people saying they can’t knit Fair Isle, and when they are shown they most certainly can. Always make a swatch before starting a project, washing and blocking it even if you think you already know your tension. Another very useful thing to do is to make samples. Make samples of Fair Isle and try out different colours, or try out different stitches and increases and decreases. You can use this as reference and by understanding how the stitches work you can become a confident knitter.

Do you work full time in textiles or do you have another string to your bow?

I work part time as a Science Technician supporting the High Schools in Shetland I have a three year old son, so I don’t have a lot of time for textiles at the moment!

Do you think the traditional knitting skills will ever die out?

I genuinely hope not, but unfortunately we are in danger of this happening unless more people take it up. Historically at one time almost every woman would knit items to sell but when the demand for this fell in the middle of the last century, the number of people knitting declined. As it had generally been considered to be work, the skills weren’t then passed on to the next generation. Things are improving now though as people are beginning to realise that this knowledge and skills could die out and are becoming more interested in learning the techniques.

If you could save just one textile piece from a fire, what would it be?

Oh, that is a very difficult one! I think it would have to be a Fair Isle jacket that my Mum made for herself a couple of years before she died, she always had a unique sense of style and it was admired by many people.

donnamam's jacket

What do you hope to do what are your dreams for the next year?

I have lots of new ideas and plans involving a new blog and new work involving knitting in the next year but finding time is fairly difficult at the moment so I it is very hard to set any timescales!

Visit Donna’s lovely blog here where you can see lots more of her wonderful work



I could have called this post: ‘my favourite things I bought this year’. Really this post came to me in the New Year when I was thinking about improvements I should try to make to our family routine. It occurred to me that there were a number of household tweaks that had made a big difference in 2014. Things I wished I had discovered before.

1. The Slow Cooker

I did blog about the momentous purchase of the slow cooker back in May but it has been so revolutionary in our eating habits that it is worth mentioning again. As a family we are all out of the house from very early in the morning and our usual return is never really before 5.30pm. This pushes homework, supper preparation and the bedtime routine quite late. Having the smell of a home-cooked meal waiting for us as we enter the door is such a delight. I can’t say that I feel very inspired to create a culinary masterpiece after a hard days work – that is not where I find relaxation. But I was getting fed up and frustrated by the quick fixes we were using as a family to eat at the end of the day. It did not make me happy and fast food in its various forms is comparatively expensive.  Since the introduction of the slow-cooker we do have a healthier diet. I feel less guilty about the diet we eat, and specifically the food Little B consumes.

We don’t really make it very complicated and usually accompany the slow cooked stews with rice or pasta. This year I want to extend our repertoire a bit, so all suggestions are welcome.


2. Frozen Onions – and not feeling guilty about them

Success with the slow cooker is reliant on having the right things in the cupboard and the freezer. We have more tins of tomatoes, chickpeas and packets of pulses in stock. One of the things that put me off slow-cooking was the idea of preparing raw meat and handling onions at 7am. But a couple of friends put my mind a rest. My friend Debs told me how she put everything in her crock-pot  the night before and then put the whole pot in the fridge over night. Another friend suggested that I bought packets of frozen veg to help with the process. There was something within me that avoided this extravagance, but in fact the faff of chopping onions in the early hours was making me avoid the whole process all together resulting in us eating a far less tasty, far more expensive and unhealthy alternative.

So now our freezer is stocked with all manner of frozen veg. The preference is to use fresh where we can but having a few things is stock means that the slow cooker is used more often.


3. Weighted Tape Dispenser

What a boon this little gadget was at Christmas. I whipped through the wrapping at double speed. It occurred to me just before the Christmas period that I had one of these at my desk at work, but fiddled about with tape at home, sticking cut pieces to the kitchen work top. This dispenser was a mere £2.50 – a bargain and a lot less faff.


4 Stamptastic Set

It was a tweet by the wonderful Joanna Gosling that alerted me to this company: Stamptastic. (Read Joanna’s books for loads of lovely hints and tricks). This is the second year I have used their wonderful stamps for all manner of things. We have one each! The most valuable task is school uniform naming. Obviously if you follow this blog you know I can hand sew. I sewed my own name tapes into my own school uniform from a very early age. But now it brings me no joy to sew endless tapes into uniform, fully aware that I will be unpicking them and resewing them into a larger item of clothing in six months time.

In this aspect, I am a ‘Slummy Mummy’, don’t put it past me to apply the Sharpie pen to the school uniform, and why not? My handwriting is not very regular or tidy, so these stamps are ideal. It also brings out my inner librarian. The stamps are not cheap but they are small, easy to apply and are bought with a permanent ink pad. This week I even used the stamps to name plastic water bottles and I know the ink will survive the dishwasher.

So there you go, my little round up of relatively cheap purchases which have made a difference to the Varnam household. If you have your own top-tips please do pass them on – or maybe comment on the Facebook page.



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makeittoday1 I have two new designs to share with you for the New Year – one crochet, one knitting


Firstly, it has been a while since I hit the front cover on a magazine. The excitement of spotting a design on the newsagents shelves never goes away. Little B really loves it – there are usually shrieks, (this I assume will fade with age – shame). The nice people at Let’s Knit/Let’s get Crafting have a new magazine, Make it Today. My crochet square of sherbet yarns has made it onto the front cover. What a nice image.


Secondly I have a nifty wee ski hat which is in the latest image of Let’s Get Crafting. It is such a simple shape and a great beginners project. This square shape is also really fun and flattering and in a different colour scheme, popular with boys.


I used the basic pattern myself over Christmas to make a hat for a young friend of mine. Miss Sparkles is only very young, but she knows her design mind. We often chat about her ideas and one day I said to her, ‘If you draw me a design for a hat, I will make it for you’.


Well in fact she found her perfect design idea in a local supermarket. But she wanted her fox hat to be in burgundy, cream and navy. I was happy to oblige. I have no doubt that Miss Sparkles will knit, sew and create her own designs, I just love being part of her vision.


howtocrochetmosaicWhen I think back to a year ago, I remember quite distinctly wanting to take things a bit slower. In all honesty I believe that I have taken my foot slightly off the crafting peddle. This wonderful little haven of yarn and nonsense is really only just a slice of my/our lives. There are other slightly more serious things in the background and they deserve and need concentration. However, I do so love to drop in to this space, to make, share and discuss.

Let’s talk about highlights. The publishing of my book ‘How to Crochet’ was pretty fabulous. I am very happy with how it turned out and I am so glad that the publishers let me have my voice within the text, so it feels very much my book. I was also really glad that I had some projects published in the Dorling Kindersley book Crochet.

2014mosaicOther highlights included:

My lecture at Manchester Art Gallery on Crochet

The publishing of the Gawthorpe Hall patterns

Book-signings and appearances at various yarn shops

The Mystery scarf for Inside Crochet magazine

These are all great fun things and they are probably marked by being a unique opportunity, but held in equal weight are the little projects of love made for my nearest and dearest. The ‘ugly’ blanket made for Little B, the Elsa and Anna Frozen hats and the chocolate orange cosies made for Christmas. I don’t make things to sell, mostly I like to design new patterns. Right at the very foundation of the ‘making’ is the joy of weaving love and prayers into the gift – that never goes away – I just get more discerning about who I make for.

So what for next year? Well there are a few designs and projects in the pipeline that I am excited about. I know, I know I can’t tell you about those things, but they are very pretty and very cute…

I will continue to record each project I make. I did this last year, a year which I thought would be the height of my productivity, but actually this year I made about 20 more items and the total number of things made crept into a 3 figure number…that is just silly.

I expect that I will make fewer things for magazines this year. I don’t have a book in progress, but I do have an idea for one. I want to do more gardening and more cooking. When I design I would like to take more time in the development stage, rushing is where stress is found. Most of all I would like to stay faithful to my little blog. I have ventured into more social media this year, but as most bloggers can testify, social media can dilute your time and ideas. So I think I might like to stay faithful to my blog spot and my joyful blog readers.

Whatever your goals and dreams are for 2015, I hope you have the time, inspiration and peace to fulfil them. Happy New Year.







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.


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!



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


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.


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.


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.



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.


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?


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!


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.


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!