Fashion Fast

How to Fail at Knitting

I knew I wanted to make the aran cardigan the minute I saw it. In January, following my fashion fast, we made a plan to have a bit of shopping fun in London. Visiting the ‘mothership’ of Liberty is a must. The shop is always in my heart. The mad, unique and eclectic collection of fashion, stationary, crockery… it goes on. To not visit would be disloyal to my childhood and identity.

On the top floor there is a discreet and rather rarefied haberdashery. Back in January they had a large and well displayed collection of Rowan yarns with a vast array of patterns. It was there that I spotted it. Gloriously laid out on a fine oak table. Heavy – detailed and luxurious. A creation worthy of heirloom status.


I knew then I would make the Defuse Cardigan, designed by Kim Hargreaves – featured in her Pale Collection. Now this is not a design for the novice, the many cable stitches which repeat on different rows require concentration. It was not a mistake or a foolish ambition to add this design to my long ‘to-do’ list. But right then I made my first of two enormous mistakes. I should have chosen the yarn when I could see the shades in person. Instead I bought the pattern book and resolved to order the yarn online at a later stage.

It was weeks later that I chose the colour and made my purchase. It was quite an investment and the small shades samples online didn’t give me the correct impression of what I bought. Don’t get me wrong – the dusty mauve ‘Enchanted’, is very pretty. But the tone is way to muddy for my skin tone. I should have gone for a brighter tone.


Ah well….silly girl. Undeterred I resolved to enjoy the start of knitting on our Lake District holiday in February. The gorgeous Alpaca is perfect for soft snugly knitting. Curled up, sat in a window seat with a hot cup of coffee by my side I began the fancy cable rib – stitching bliss.


The whole project came and went over the next few months according to my commission commitments. It was only until I had finished the back, both sides and was mid-way through the second sleeve that I realised my catastrophic mistake. I had not read the pattern properly!!!!

Yes my friends…..even though I design patterns, even though I sometimes guide my followers to read the full pattern before you embark on the project…I didn’t heed my own advice.


If you want to know how bad it was – basically I had done a rib on the sides of the garment instead of a moss stitch. What was I thinking! It made the whole garment far too narrow and failed to have all the pretty and traditional detail which moss stitch gives an aran design.

What would you have done? At this moment it is easy to give up. Pure frustration with your own stupidity can start to prick tears behind the eyes.

No…rip it back. The pattern was too pretty. The yarn too valuable. This won’t be, can’t be a discarded crumpled mess to be found by others in years to come. Plus, I enjoy the process, the physical stitching…if I can get past the private irritation of my own carelessness – why not enjoy the making process another time? So I pulled it right back. I finished the first sleeve. Went on to the second and then unraveled the back…..Oh the heartbreak. By the October half term I was on the home straight. The weather was getting cold again, which is a final consolation.


This weekend I have finally completed this humongous task. The cable design is so so pretty, the yarn so soft….it is still not my colour. But I will wear it with pride (with a white blouse) a failed attempt, a rushed mistake, a lack to attention to detail, ripped back, re-set and redeemed. Its only a cardigan – but then knitting is never really about the finished item it always more than that – its what it teaches us – how to fail.

The Year of the Fashion Fast


This time last year I made the rash decision that my New Year’s resolution would be; buy no new clothes, a fashion fast. One year on, twelve tempting months, how have I got on? Well, I’m going to admit, I really surprised myself. My wardrobe is still bulging but has very few additions. It has been a wonderful experiment and discipline.

The most rewarding aspect of this self-imposed denial has been the lessons I have learnt about myself. Things already knew but have come into sharp focus.


Firstly, let’s get the whinge out of the way. A few of my friends have chided my efforts. Either they don’t enjoy clothes shopping or indeed don’t have any interest in fashion. Their view right from the off has been, ‘I can’t see what the fuss is about, it’s so easy… who likes clothes shopping anyway…everyone knows buying fast fashion is wrong…’ Fine I get that. If clothes or fashion are not interesting to you, my little resolution is no ‘biggie’. But then I could quite easily give up drinking tea for a year. I really dislike it so would be no problem.

The challenge was personal – failure or success was in my gift. It was my choice of self-discovery and others will have their own personal challenge. Each to their own. The real trick has been to sustain the resolution for twelve months as opposed to a mid-February abandonment of resolve. That my friends is when it hurts.


Others friends could really feel my pain. They understood that I would be making decision not to cruise the shops to see what was new. They got the heartbreak of knowing, ‘that dress would be perfect for a party’ but knowing that the season would come and go and the opportunity to purchase it would pass me by. Some people have actually felt quite sorry for me, which is touching and I have received a 2 or 3 items as gifts or hand-me-downs. I have to be honest in each case I was pathetically grateful.

So what have I learned?

Cold turkey is obviously the best discipline for me – Complete denial with a hard a fast rule. Then there is no mission creep.

I like blue and white stripes…(Obviously)

If you want to avoid buying something stay away from the shops, unsubscribe to the shop newsletters and avoid fashion parties etc.

I have far too many things in my wardrobe

Denial can spark creativity


The last point is perhaps the most significant bonus of this year. When I was younger I used to make loads of my own clothes. Time and lack of skill prevented me from making more as I have got older. But the self-imposed fashion fast encouraged me to knit or crochet new items to mix up the changes. I’ve made two cardigans, two tank tops, 2 cowls, a shawl, 1 jumper and countless socks. All have been worn and I have enjoyed the challenge of solving a creative problem.

My lastest make is a total triumph. A crochet version of the Cassie Tank Top using Stylecraft Special DK in Navy. I have worn it twice already this week and I adore it.


When bored by my choice in-front of the wardrobe I have found solace in accessories. On many occasions scarves and necklaces have come to my rescue to liven up a drab outfit.

When January arrives, will I go on a huge shopping rampage? Honestly I don’t think I will. There are a couple of items I really need to renew. Navy and Black trousers for work. I could do with another smart jacket for work and my white shirts are looking on the edge of grey. My most favourite blue and white breton top could do with a refresh. However I think that this year has significantly altered my habits. My sense of what suits me is more defined. I will aim to avoid rash and impulsive fashion mistakes and I feel more informed about ethical fashion and how the production of our clothes effects the most vulnerable and is eking plastics into our water system. Basically I think my fashion fast has made me a fashion grown-up.

Would I suggest you have a fashion fast in 2019? Well yes if want to save a few quid, discover which clothes you really wear and you will enjoy the creativity of shopping your wardrobe. But for now I am planning a big clear-out…anyone want a stripey top?

A useful knit – the Tank Top


Boy – oh Boy, I have made a lot of items this year. The very scant number of blog posts means that most of those projects I have not been able to share with you yet. Life in 2018, has been busy. I am not complaining, my work has been hectic and I have done much more designing than I imagined at the beginning of the year.

I saw a dear friend of mine this week. She said, ‘WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?! – seriously what have you been doing?’ Good point. When not working there has been quite a bit of secret stitching and that means it takes a while before it is visible. Not excusable, but true.


So much making

Amongst the book designs and commissions, you know that I have knitted a heap of socks and I have added to my wardrobe by knitting a useful tank top. I promise I will do a round up of my ‘Fashion Fast’ in a few weeks, but I will admit that crashing into Autumn I was slightly bored with the work-wear options.



Stylecraft had given me a free ball of a new shade of Special Aran in a glorious Lime. Now this colour is a weird one for me. I don’t often wear green at all. But I know that this colour strangely suits my skin colour. It sort of gives me a surprise tan. I’m not really sure why.

I new immediately what I wanted to do with it. I got hold of three 100g balls and started knitting a chunky tank-top, using a gorgeous perennial pattern from Debbie Bliss as my base. This pattern is called – Cassie I didn’t use the stitch pattern for the design and instead went back to my favourite double moss stitch. Any moss stitch can seem like a bit of a fiddle. However the aran weight yarn made the project bearable.

Very quickly i had made a very simple tank top. If I am honest I should have chosen to make a smaller size. But let’s not worry about that. I have worn the top on several occasions at work teamed with a crisp white shirt. It also serves very well at the weekend. A good addition to the dress-down Friday work-wear wardrobe.


A useful knit

I have always liked a tank top for work. You have the freedom of movement but have the warmth which knitwear provides. I am so inspired by how useful this item has been that I am currently making a crochet version using a navy yarn. I cannot wait to see how it works out. If it works I will share the pattern with you. If you are planning to add to your wardrobe this year with you own knitting or crochet please do share your plans with me I would love to know. I have plans already swirling in my head for me next projects!



cornwallis-rowan-emma-varnamcornwallis-rowan-emma-varnamcornwallis-rowan-emma-varnamcornwallis-rowan-emma-varnamcornwallis-rowan-emma-varnamcornwallis-rowan-emma-varnamBy any sort of measure, I should not have made my new Cornwallis Jumper. Firstly – yellow is a very difficult colour to wear, anybody will tell you that. Think about it, apart from the glorious Seasalt Jacket that revived our love for Souwester-chic, you won’t see many people sporting sunshine yellow. Mustard, now mustard is a different thing. It is on the very edge of chic, but is worn by the brave and the knowing, along with orange and fuchsia.

Secondly I have had plenty to do on the crochet front that it was almost irresponsible to start another project. At the very least, naughty. Finally – stripes. If you know me at all, you know I love a Breton Stripe. I always have. I have had Breton stripe t-shirts in my wardrobe when the only place to get them was…. Brittany. Way before the high-street shops made them wonderfully accessible.

But you know what? I know I really shouldn’t wear stripes. Or if I do, I know that I need to be a bit careful. Let’s not be too coy, a slightly lumpy lady can look even more ‘bumpy’ in a horizontal stripe. I know this fact and flagrantly disregard it.  So there was incredible sense of inevitability about this pattern. I knew that one day I just had to make it. Like a bar of your favourite chocolate sitting in the fridge.  You try to be ‘good’ but then one day you succumb and devour in one sitting.

If you knit or crochet, you might be aware of the hypnotic power of the ‘must-do’ project. An idea takes hold and you ‘must’ cast on and begin. I don’t sleep walk, but it has occurred to me recently – do I sleep knit? I had all the yarn I needed for this project in my stash. The pattern was designed few years ago by Martin Storey for Rowan. The pattern has featured in Rowan’s 40th anniversary magazine.

I don’t remember what time of day it was, or what I should have been doing instead of mucking about with yarn. But before I knew it the stitches for the back were cast on. I had the yarn in my stash, Stylecraft Special DK. If you are interested I have used Cream, Navy and Mustard. I chose to work 4 rows of garter stitch at the hem-edge and cuffs to try and avoid the inevitable roll of stocking stitch hems. It hasn’t totally worked, but I don’t regret my choice.

You might believe that stripes would be boring to knit. I actually find the reverse. Pattern knitting can via between ‘challenging’ needing ultimate concentration,  or be rather encouraging. Unlike a plain knit, you can see that you are making progress. A stripe marks the gradual growth of the project and has a mindful repetition. You can hear your self thinking…’just two more rows’.

In all, interspersed with other projects, the jumper took me about 3 weeks to complete. The sewing up can always be a bit of a concern. A sweater can be ruined in these last details. A lazy alignment of seams can take you from success to woolly mess. Perhaps due to my ‘fashion fast’, I was keen that the finished looked as good as possible. I blocked it twice. Once before the joining of seams and then again when I had knitted the neckline.

Final judgement

Am I pleased with it? Will I wear it? Yes I think so. This is not a random or ridiculous question. Many makers will tell you that even though they spend hours making an item of clothing it is with GREAT trepidation that they finally wear it and look in the mirror for the great judgment – has it worked? I am frustrated that the arms are a little too long. Has it taken me all these years to realise that I have short arms?

It is rather jaunty and I do like the texture jump at the yoke from stocking stitch to garter stitch. I did wear it last Sunday and I might wear it again today. As the days grow colder here I feel that I will benefit from an additional snuggly item. Bouncing into Autumn, I am not sure I will have time to add to my ‘homemade’ wardrobe before my self-imposed fashion fast is over. The Cornwallis might tide me over into Winter and there is still plenty of old winter clothes I can discover to ring the changes. I am so glad that inevitable jumper became a reality. Make when you can – wear with pride – and just occasionally try to wear a colour you would never normally wear. You might be surprised.




The Fashion Fast – 5 months in and temptation

Dear Lovelies, if you pop by my blog for crochet and knitting news this is one of the few non-yarn posts. If you pop by regularly you will know that since the New Year I set myself a challenge. Not to buy any new clothes in 2018. No small feat for someone who enjoys fashion and can be tempted by a quick supermarket or on-line purchase.


Well we are now at the beginning of month six – and I have survived! In the spirit of full disclosure, we did have one crisis. Staying with my folks around Easter I found that I had completely packed the wrong things and my husband rather wonderfully bought me an emergency blouse….as an Easter Egg present. I happily wore it and in-fact had eyed it up in Marks and Spenser’s. However due to a feeling of guilt, I haven’t worn it again.

If I am honest I am surprised I have lasted so long. As predicted the summer months have proved more difficult. The hot weather we have enjoyed here in the last few weeks has really challenged my creativity. Like any addict, I have found the best way to avoid temptation is not to put myself in temptation’s way. I have only occasionally drifted by clothes shops and am rather relieved that new privacy laws here in Britain mean that I will not receive quite so many emails from favourite shops.


Making my own things seems to keep me out of trouble. I resurrected my old school craft skills and made two macramé necklaces with parachute cord. I really like them. They work well with a Breton stripe t-shirt. I have also made a lovely festival shawl which I will share with you on another post. But I thought it might be quite fun to share with you what I might have bought if I was not under my self imposed fashion fast. I have not had any payment or associated sponsorship for this post – it is quite simply an honest round up of my window shopping.

Up first is a lovely Cornish stripe t-shirt. You know and I know I have no need for another striped t-shirt. But I must admit I might have room in the wardrobe for this lovely red and white number from Seasalt.

Workwear Dilemma

Workwear is particularly difficult. How to look smart and elegant without ‘glowing’ under a suit. Not easy for men, not easy for women. Still with Seasalt this Freshwater dress caught my eye. It is just the style which I find forgiving and flattering. I would also be tempted in the sales by Boden. The Phoebe dress has particular resonance for people based in Manchester and its classic shape would carry me through a few seasons.

In addition I might also think about a simple pencil skirt in this bright and joyful pattern but matched with a simple blouse. I do love this flower pattern and both would work well with some killer heels.

If I didn’t think I could stretch to those prices but wanted a summery colour I have spotted this skirt in Sainsbury’s – my quick buy downfall. A lovely alternative.


For at-home outfits I have spotted a very ‘me’ blouse in the Toast sale. I love Toast, but these are long-lasting heirloom purchases. This ruffle blouse is right up my street. I have also found a lovely, lovely shop based in Cheltenham, Olive which has proved to fabulous eye-candy. My new go-to evening outfit is a jumpsuit and in a different year I might be tempted with this cheeky number. I would of-course need very tanned legs. Ah well.

So some of these choices are rather aspirational in price – but you can dream when you window shop. My solution, which if I can find time to sort out is to think about making a work dress. Now that is aspirational. I have purchased a pattern from the utterly fabulous Makers Atelier and we will see if it is a success or a disaster.

What are you buying and wearing this summer. If we are all fortunate it will be summer shorts and t-shirts. Simple and cool.






Fashion Fast – February Update


So I have survived two months now. Not buying new clothes. No compulsive quick fix. I have avoided the sneaky supermarket purchase. I have not even made an absent minded online purchase. If I am honest, I am rather surprised. Seriously. You might have thought that basic boredom might have got the better of me.

Like I mentioned before, I do know these first winter months are going to be the easiest. Black and navy, the base colours of my everyday outfits are very much in use. When the weather and the days brighten and new colours start appearing in the shops, the struggle will be real.

Every month I learn something new. This month it has been the joy of clothes with a purpose. The Februray half term is a week we love to go away as a family and do some serious walking in the Lake District. I love this week, it is a marker in our calender that I look forward to. It is a time to be outdoors as a family and look at the big, wide vistas.


Nice Packing

I also don’t mind packing for this holiday. It is so simple. We need nothing glamourous – just basic practical outdoor clothes. Whether I wear cheap t-shirts or even my more expensive technical gear I have finally learnt to buy just one colour. Black is the name of the game and colour and fun is added in the accessories. This means everything is interchangeable and I can go proper crazy with the hat and scarf making. The simplicity of the choice is gradually demonstrating to me the benefit of a capsule wardrobe. Finally this has been achieved in my outdoor activity clothes. However I now wonder if this might now filter through as a principal to the rest of the wardrobe throughout this year.

With Spring/Summer catalogues popping through the door, the temptation is rising. By the end of March we will be one quarter of the way through the year. No-one will be more surprised than me if I stick to my resolution by the end of this month.


The Fashion Fast – January

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

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

The Clear Out

In the end I cleared out:

1 x Jacket (the colour is dated)

3 x Jumpers (too worn, too bobbly)

1 x Dress (saggy in the wrong places)

1 x pair Trousers (weird length)

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

3 x Shirts (wrong colours, wrong fit)

1 x pair of shoes, 1 pair of boots

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

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


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




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