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emma-varnam-crochet-blog
emma-varnam-crochet-blog

I’m so sorry dear Friends, I have been absent for far too long. It’s appalling. Never before have I had such a gap in my little updates. But then ‘life’ has been rather busy.

Whilst I have been away there has been lots and lots of real work. That is important to me and it’s vital that I dedicate time and energy to it. When I have sat down I have turned to the crochet hook and the knitting needle.

As usual there have been plenty of design projects, lots which I can’t show you – which really does frustrate me at times. I’ve already finished some commissions for Christmas. I hardly dare say it.

I”ve also been working on the sequel to Cute Crocheted Animals. If you made some of the little chaps from the first book, you will be delighted to know that I have designed some new outfits for you. The most exciting

thing has been creating the new creatures with new features.

Whenever I’m in the midst of a big commission, I do end up distracting myself with a cheeky wee project on the side. I began working on some projects for a friend of mine who is having a baby.

I decided to start making her a blanket that had both knitted and crochet squares. Both of which would be fine, but the knitted squares take so much longer. I’m worried that I won’t get it finished.

I did manage to complete this cute little cloud cushion for the cot. Definitely a Friday evening project. I went all maverick and didn’t even write down the pattern. I know, I know….what a fool. But sometimes its nice not to be crochet-responsible.

I also went mad and picked up some shimmery cotton. Like a woman obsessed I decided that I MUST make a crocheted skirt for the summer. I mean really… Fortunately it seems to work Ok, but you definitely need a slip under it. Sorry to say I am far too vain to show you. But I think it will work both in the summer and into the autumn with tights.

Finally I have some really brilliant news – Crocheted Succulents has been nominated in the ‘Best Crochet Book’ catagory of the British Knitting and Stitching Awards. If you have nominated. Thank you so much. If you haven’t voted – please do pop across and do so. I would be so very grateful. Lots of

my yarny friends have nominated too – so I am delighted for them. You can vote via the this link – Let’s Knit Awards

I promise I will try not to leave it so long before I post again. There is plenty to share with you and plenty to tell you. If you have projects to share or news, don’t forget to comment below. I love to hear from you.

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emma-varnam-cacti-rico

When I started designing the projects for my book; Crocheted Succulents: Cacti and Succulent Projects to Make"". I scouted around my local yarn store for the perfect yarn. It was a happy accident that I came across a new ‘tinsel’ yarn by Rico.

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The minute I picked it up I knew how brilliant it would look attached to a yarn crochet base. It was one of those moments when you rush home and almost immediately reach for the crochet hook, just to see if you instincts are right.

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I had so much fun looking at text books on real cacti and succulents and then see if I could replicate the look in yarn. In fact many of you have started sending my photos of your stealth plants, sat amongst your real houseplants. Not many people can spot the difference.

Making these small amigurumi plants can be a brilliant way of using up your yarn stash. But it can be rather frustrating if you come to the end of your ball and only need a few more metres. Like many other crocheters, I am thrilled that Rico have started making really small balls of yarn in Dk cotton – Ricorumi. Each ball is 25g and the colours are vibrant and perfect for the flowers in my book.

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When it comes to creating the spikes on the cacti, you will be interested to know that the Rico Bubble yarn is really easy to work with. The Cardon Grande Cactus in my book uses a yellow and is crocheted along the ridges of a ribbed length of crochet.

If you want to see me demonstrating the technique. You can pop over to this video tutorial and see how utterly easy it is.

Having collected quite a few colours of Rico Bubble, I fully intend to make some washing up scrubbies both for home and for gifts. They would be perfect for a simple stocking present.

I suppose the moral of the tale, is when you see an unual yarn on the shelves of your yarn shop, don’t dismiss it out of hand. It might just be the spark of creative inspiration you are looking for.

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Rico gifted me some Bubble yarn and Ricorumi – however I have bought many balls of their yarn for the creating and making of Crocheted Succulents and will be happy to do so again.

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I’m fully aware that this is not the place to share this culinary journey. I know this is really a place for woolly adventures. But then we know each other fairly well now – and any joyful making experience is worth sharing, isn’t it?

In a Jam

Back in January, well if I am honest over the Christmas period I determined that this year, yes this year I would make my own marmalade. There are few things that I enjoy more than homemade marmalade. Let’s be specific; excellent toasted bread, white or brown (more likely white) with salted butter (very cold) and then on top a slightly tart marmalade. Once you have you have taken your first bite, you should really be able to see the tail-tale teeth marks.

So whilst my affection is easily bought – through the medium of flowers and/or marmalade, the homemade variety is hard to come by.

My good friend Mrs J, makes an excellent version and I greedily enjoy huge spoonfuls at her breakfast table. In the Autumn of last year I resolved that instead of looking winsome at the homemade stash of others, I should have a go myself.

Seville Marmalade is the King or orangery preserves and if you are going to get into this game you need to get involved in January – when the fruit is in season. I waited until the Seville Oranges were in the shops and then I pounced. Luckily the month of January is very quiet and when I began this little escapade I had no idea that marmalade making is very much a two day affair.

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I assembled my recyled jars. Got hold of my pan and followed the recipe I had been given. Uneducated and foolhardy I let my sticky concoction bubble for far too long. The result was a very dark, very solid, thick cut marmalade. It resembles in some lights…..tar. Now I like a dark marmalade but risking breaking a teaspoon when you try to extract it from the jar seems a bit excessive. Together we all laughed at the result and both my husband and my son thought that was the end of the matter….They should know me better.

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The gloriously helpful people of Instagram came to my rescue. ‘If you want to make marmalade you need to learn at the virtual kitchen table of Vivian LLoyd‘ they advised. So by weekend two I was much better informed. I had learnt about cutting techniques, soaking the pith and pips, boiling points and impurity removal. I was genned up and ready.

Batch two was better – but still dark. The use of golden caster sugar certainly added to the toffee texture. By weekend 3, I was in the zone and my family thought I had gone a little crazy. But at Batch 3, I knew I had a passable texture, colour and consistency. Actually due to a huge amassed collection of oranges, batch 4 and 5 followed. But it is batch 3 that really was the best.

Whilst creating something ‘homemade’ has in itself a deep sense of satisfaction, I was not really ready for how the process – the slow and deliberate stages could be so peaceful and bring such joy. In the dark and cold wintery afternoons of January, the smell and colour in the kitchen lifted my soul. The hot bubbling liquid, the sticky golden gloop and then the joyful lines of glorious orange treasure. Stored away. Awaiting weekend breakfasts.

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In a very mad moment I decided that I would take my chances and enter Batch 3 into the World Marmalade awards – in the first timers category (obviously). I forgot about it and then just like the very best surprises a quite lovely envelope came in the post – my cheeky efforts had won a ‘Silver’ Award. I won’t deny it – I did a giddy jig in our kitchen to celebrate.

And what has happened to my sticky haul? Well I now I fully understand why homemade marmalade is hard to come by. Much like a knitted hat or crocheted blanket – this is a labour of love. Jars must only be shared with those who understand the treasure they receive. My husband and my Dad are big fans of dark marmalade and so they get the exclusive access to Batch 1 and 2. But Little B can’t abide marmalade at any cost…..so I have another sticky plan (obsession) and it might involve the odd raspberry – or two. All your tips and tricks are gratefully welcomed.

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This week I have had so much fun. On Thursday I traveled across to West Yorkshire to join the Knit Now – Knitter of the Year Awards. All the award winners were invited to West Yorkshire Spinners for a factory tour and absolutely gorgeous lunch.

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We had a wonderful day listening to the great things that British Wool are doing to preserve this great part of our industry and heritage. We learnt about the grades of fleece available in Britain and how they all have different purposes and weight. It is a stunning process and until you have looked and felt the different fibres, it is so easy to assume that all wool is the same  – it is not.

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The wonderful people at West Yorkshire Spinners gave us some background to their company and their passion for British Wool. The fabulous Peter and Richard provided a personal tour of the factory. We were able to see how the wool tops change from a fluffy fibre to strong and colourful yarn we craft with every day. We were even allowed to look at the very secret dye house, which was such a revelation.

west-yorkshire-spinners-emma-varnamhttps://www.britishwool.org.uk/Great Adventures

As mentioned in my previous post I have worked with West Yorkshire Spinners this year on our Bo Peep Great Adventures book. The trip provided me with the opportunity to put a face to the names of many of the great people I have been working with remotely. I met the lovely ‘Yarn Fairy’ Helen who has pattern checked and crocheted many of my designs. It was a thrill to see her.

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There was a lovely display of the patterns at the factory with the cutest mini-wardrobe. I was so thrilled to pick up the bears and give them a quick cuddle.

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I also saw my lovely friend Christine – Winwick Mum. She won the ‘Online Innovator’ Award and you should pop over to her blog for her in depth post of our day.

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The end of the day culminated in an awards ceremony. I have never won an award before so it was a very lovely thing. To celebrate the award and the launch of Great Adventures I thought it might be quite nice to have a fun giveaway.

Give away

I am giving away a copy of Great Adventures and the yarn to make a bear and the outfits. It is a wonderful opportunity. If you would like to enter the please leave a comment below telling me why you like to craft for children. Entries will end at 6.am (GMT) on 25th March 2019
This has now closed and CONGRATULATIONS to Chloe who was comment 21 – as picked up by the random number generator. Thank you to all who commented. It was so fabulous to read all your lovely comments and how you are inspired to create for children. x

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Last year was such a fun year creatively. Not only did I write Crocheted Succulents (see previous post), I also worked on a a really fantastic collaboration with West Yorkshire Spinners. We talked about developing a pattern collection for Bo Peep yarn for nearly a year. After looking at the colour range and chatting about the concept we decided that it would be a brilliant fun idea to create a ‘best friend’ Teddy Bear: Bo. We then thought it would be fun to match Bo’s wardrobe with items for kids. My imagination ran wild.

Imagination

When I was a child, my teddy bear was always the best companion I had for imaginary fun. For a bear to have that important ‘pillow status’ he needs to have a kind face and cuddly feel. The bear I created is perhaps a third larger than my normal creations. When you design a toy that will have clothes you really have to think about leg, feet and arm proportions and  have ears that will work with a number of hats. It must be easy and enjoyable to dress the toy. Nothing too fiddly or annoying, but something that will be fun and nurturing. We care about our bears and we don’t want them to get cold.

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The clothes

Oh my…I made about 3 fully created versions of Bo before the final pattern was settled upon. Then it was all about the clothes. I have my favourite looks and indeed some of the designs were based upon the clothes I made for our son many years ago. The poncho was based a on design I made for my young friend Betsy. In fact when I created jumpers, hats or scarves I generally have a child in mind who I know would love to wear the outfit. There are jumpers, dresses, hats, scarves, bags, all to take on a joyful adventure together.

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Back to where I started

This book is definitely a dream come true. Working with West Yorkshire Spinners was such fun. I began my design career creating knitwear designs for children and it was fabulous to return to my roots. I couldn’t have done any of it without the super talented, Rhiannon. Rosee Woodland, Helen Birch and my friend Lynne Rowe made this publication incredible.

I think the colours of the yarn, the glorious illustration and the range of patterns make this book enchanting. If you like it will you tell me how you get on. I would love to see your bears and their little owners. Pop across to the Facebook Page or used #bopeepbear over on instagram. We can’t wait to see.

The book and the yarn has started appearing in many yarn shops and is available via on-line retailers. If you are in the U.S.A the book is being distributed via Sirdar yarn so you can ask you local stockist if they will be having the book available.

I have a special give-away this weekend – so if you are interested please pop back to get involved.

 

 

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emma-varnam-crocheted-succulents

Do you have moments of creativity which you seem to remember forever? You know, when you stop and think…’ah I’ve had an idea!’ When I was creating an writing my new book, Crocheted Succulents, there seem to have been more than the normal moments of joy and excitement.

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It was quite a few years ago that I started to find succulents fascinating. In the last few years they have grown in horticultural trending. My real love affair with these fleshy beauties began in South Africa. Seeing so many of their regular, colourful leaves in their natural habitat was enchanting. It dawned on me that with our ever changing environment, growing succulents might be an important skill to develop. I began buying the plants and increasing my knowledge of their care.

At the same time our son began collecting and purchasing Cacti. I don’t have quite so much love of the spiky fellas. But B finds them very endearing and gives each of his collection names like Bob and Muriel. I know don’t ask me why.

At our local garden centre, Bud, the gorgeous own Brenda encourages B with top tips and points out all the new and fascinating varieties that have begun to appear. She suggested that we went on a course to learn how the look after our growing collection.

Well if you have followed this blog or my instagram account you will know that I have used these plants often in my photos. It was my editor who suggested, why don’t you think about making some in crochet? She is a genius….

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How this process usually goes is that we have an idea….I then think..’no I don’t have time. Then I spend 3 or 4 days thinking of nothing else. For this particular book I had a discussion with my crafty friends Lucy (Attic 24) and Christine (Winwick Mum). By then end of a very long conversation of me talking round the houses of creating the book. They rather astutely realised that even though I didn’t really have the time to write it. I was going to anyway.

emma-varnam-crocheted-succulentsA lightbulb moment

The deal was finally sealed in my mind on a little Saturday shopping trip to Black Sheep Wools. I found some amazing spiky yarn by Rico. It is called Bubble. I knew immediately that it would be brilliant to create the fine spikes on the outside of the cacti. I went home and like a crazed woman on a crafty mission created my first design for the book. When I had stuffed it, placed it in a plant pot and stuck it on the mantelpiece, it made me chuckle with delight. Not event thinking I took the photo and sent to some of my close friends. I must be a VERY random person to be friends with.

emma-varnam-crocheted-succulentsThe Book

Well 24 projects later and the book was finished. I did quite a bit of research in my local Library. I bought a load of gorgeous plant books and you will find that each project is based on a real plant. If you have basic crochet skills you will find the projects quite easy. I have provided lots of description of how to construct the project and how you can manipulate the leaves or create flowers to decorate your cactus. There are also some patterns for pots and lots and lots of technical diagrams.

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I really can’t take credit for how beautiful the book looks. The lovely people at GMC have done a fantastic job. Particular thanks should go to Wendy, Jonathan, Neal, Martin and Wayne. Jude Roust and Nicola Hodgson did all the checking (thank goodness). Lots of lovely people have asked me if I will make them a crocheted succulent. My answer with a cheeky twinkle is…why not buy the book and see if you can make one. They are alot of fun, and best of all you can’t kill them!

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emma-varnam-circus-blanket-inside-crochet

Sometimes you make something and you feel just a little bit joyful about it. You have an idea, plan a project, make it and then it turns out grand.  This is true of the Circus Blanket. The idea, what it would look like and how I would make it was a thing of moments. Those are really the best. I’m telling you this – because it is not always so. Sometimes the ideas, the design seem to be very hard won.

This design is issue 110 of Inside Crochet Magazine. I love working with this magazine and when I can it is great fun to collaborate with the team.

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I have used the gorgeous faded shades of Stylecraft Batik DK. This yarn is a firm favourite with me for crochet. It is beautiful to work with and I always enjoy the muted shades. I matched a rainbow of colours with Stylecraft Life DK. For me the slightly lighter twist of Life, works better with Batik. I find Special DK is a bit too bouncy and fluffy to match the tension.

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Now my friends you can work this blanket in two ways. It is worth you knowing before you start. The basic design uses the corner-to-corner technique; building on treble cluster blocks diagonally. In the magazine I have provided some technique photos. But if you are unsure then do look at the myriad of video tutorials available on the web. Because there are many different colours involved in the blanket. That does mean there are quite a few colour changes (that also means ends being sewn in – don’t be surprised by that). If you don’t fancy working on a large diagonal you can break up the design into squares and then sew the squares together. This is an easier option for a beginner.

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This blanket design is totally inspired by patchwork patterns and the wonderful illusions that repeated patterns can make. I love the mix of colours and in the still quite dark days of early spring this project brightens up any evening. My advice would be to get cracking now and then by the time we have summer picnics and trips to the beach, your new Circus Blanket will be ready and waiting for a fun excursion.

If you don’t live in the UK – you can get the pattern via the Inside Crochet online subscription.

 

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Oh what to make…what to make? I know if you are like me, you will see something in a magazine or instagram and think, ‘I REALLY want to make that!’ do I have the yarn already….no….ok, I’ll order some now…actually could I pop into my yarn store and start it this evening?’ We can be an impulsive lot. Hey, when the mood takes us, we just have to cast on. Having something manageable and do-able is definitely an attraction. We don’t need guilt in our hobbies and are keen to actually finish what we start. The mounting numbers of ‘WIP’s’ (works in progress) drive us to distraction.

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The zeitgeist items for makers tend to be accessories or blankets. Smaller items or things you can make for the home. Don’t get me wrong, people are making garments, but they tend to be complex and heritage pieces and not made for necessity. I am perhaps part of the last generation who wore school uniform knitted by my grandma. Bottle green cardigans which swamped me in Autumn and looked tight and pilled by early summer.

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The heartbreak of starting a jumper or cardigan and it looking….’all wrong’ seems to loom large in our minds. In 2018 – due to promising not to buy any new clothes, I made many more clothes than I had done in years. The experience certainly taught me a few do’ and don’ts. There is nothing worse than devoting weeks and months on a project and then just hating it when you finally try it on.

1. Measure up

I say this knowing I sometimes shy away from it. But to ensure your garment is really going to fit you, it is worth measuring yourself. I’m going to be honest. I have made a few things that have either swamped me, hanging off my shoulders. Or more likely, I have been a bit optimistic in terms of my size and the end result is unflatteringly tight. Just being honest. The big danger area is obviously the chest. You can easily measure this yourself and honestly if you have an accurate idea of what that is then you can save hundreds of pounds of woolly mistakes. Worth saying though that to get the perfect garment you should have an idea of your body and arm length. I have slightly shorter arms and torso. This means for a jumper to really work I should take a couple of centimeters of the length and it saves me rolling up the sleeves. Lots of people don’t do this…but you know why wouldn’t you make the best you can make.

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2. Swatching is kinda worth it.

Seriously I know how you don’t want to make a sample square to test your tension. But for garment making it is worth it. I made a really beautiful tank top recently. It is a tad too small because my tension is a bit tighter than the pattern…silly girl. I didn’t swatch the fairisle pattern. Just a short cut too far and now I won’t wear that tank as much as I could have.

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3. Have a small practice.

When I first became attracted to fairisle knitting again, I knew I need to improve my stranding technique. I actually attended a workshop with taught by my friend Juliet Bernard. Those few hours were well spent. I made quite a few hats using this technique before I embarked on a cardigan or jumper. The process helped me iron out the problems and when I did get a bit stuck, the project wasn’t too big that I felt daunted.

fairisle-teacosy-blue-yellow-emma-varnam4. Make it interesting.

Rows and rows of stocking stitch 4ply knitting look utterly glorious, but they do require commitment. Who hasn’t made a rib hem just a few rows too short, because they couldn’t bear going on any further with knit 1, purl 1?

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It is no surprise that for garment knitting the complex patterns are becoming popular. Knitters need something to keep their interest. I know that even a stripe can help motivate you through the pattern. That is why fairisle can be so intoxicating. It wrings the changes to ensure that you interest is maintained. The ideal make has enough interest to keep you going, but is not so complex to incite a migraine – or indeed the urge the throw your work and needles across the room.

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5. Don’t give up

Finally don’t give up making, be brave, commit to knit or crochet. There is nothing more thrilling than making a gorgeous homemade garment and someone stopping you and saying. ‘where did you get that…I love it!’ You smile and say (beaming) I made it myself. What ever you do…stay strong, so strong….when they reply, ‘Will you make me one?’ – ALWAYS – BUT ALWAYS REPLY.s

‘No, but I will teach you how….’

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What have you planned to make this year?

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Have some exciting news! I am a Knitter of the Year 2019! If you nominated me then – ‘Thank you!’. If you voted…thank you also. It is a wonderful treat and I am so so grateful. It has really given me a huge spring in my step. All the announcements are now on Knit Now magazine website – x

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I have never been ashamed to craft. Back in my University days I would happily sit with a needlepoint tapestry on the long (and I mean long) train journey between home and my college town. Very rock and roll. In the last decade I have become a braver ‘alfresco’ knitter. A train journey is perhaps my favourite ‘out’ experience. I sense people staring at me. Gone are the days when I look ‘too young to knit’ but I think the speed of the hands is quite mesmeric for the onlooker. For fun I will quickly look up and stare my observer in the face. Embarrassed they will often look away, but mostly they smile and ask me what I’m making.

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When knitting and crochet becomes a vocation or a job, then crafting in public is not so much a performance or luxury, it is a deadline necessity. When I need to finish a project the urgency compels me to take my yarn wherever I go. I might arrive at a friends house and make my excuses while we sit and chat. Most of my close friends have enough experience of this oddity. They know I am fully engaged in the conversation. I might be quiet, but I am thinking. Quite often my knitting figure is compared to the guillotine spectator ‘Madame Defarge’. One could take offense, I choose not to. A historical and literary reference merely denotes how knitters have been multi-tasking for centuries: ‘Say something witty and entertaining and I’ll look up!’

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If you are in a group of ‘tricoteuse’ then you can feel very brave. In the Autumn I was very lucky to join some of my Stylecraft Blogstars on a trip to Breidagen yarn festival in the Netherlands. We had a wonderful time, talking and teaching with yarn enthusiasts from across Europe. Hilariously at dinner, either in the hotel or a restaurant our bottoms barely hit the seat before the project bags were open and our hands worked the yarn. There is definitely security in numbers, but in these circumstances it would almost seem rude not to. In these moments, chatting away we shared our love of the craft. We quickly passed on our hints and tips like a supers-speedy masterclass. (The photo below is some of the Stylecaft Blogstars at Spa Mill – the gorgeous Phil Saul of Twisted Yarn took the image).

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Anyone who attends a regular knit and knatter group will tell you how much they love to craft in community. The activity is as old as the hills and is so important for the future of our craft.

There are still places and instances where I don’t knit or crochet. A special birthday, a posh restaurant, a wedding or funeral. In these very busy days I very rarely knit at work. I don’t have time to take the needles out at lunchtime.

However, in the last year I have expanded my extreme knitting venues. Learning to knit socks has enabled me to knit in the cinema. This is particularly useful if the film is not quite my taste – a film my son would like me to enjoy with him, but wouldn’t normally be my first choice…basically Star Wars. Knitting in the cinemas is also helpful for really tense films. Over Christmas we went to see the climbing movie, Free Solo. Oh my word. As the action got more tense my stitching got faster and faster.

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You might wonder in the dark, how is this possible? With a small circular needle and a basic stitch my fingers know exactly where to go. I can feel where the next stitch is and instinctively I even know if I have gone wrong. How bizarre. But this is just knitting. Even though I am ambi-tectrous (can knit and crochet) I still need to be able to see where I put the hook in for crochet. When I crochet, I am a much faster and proficient, but a little less instinctive.

I love the fact that I see more and more people sewing, knitting and crocheting in public spaces. Perhaps it is due to the growing numbers of people taking up a craft. In fact as I try to stay off my phone, knitting or crochet seem more appealing. I just must remember to look up more. – Then tell Wind and Fire where to stop, but don’t tell me.

Where will you knit or crochet – where will you not?

 

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