edwardian-lady-scarf-emma-varnamIt is difficult sometimes to know what to wear during the Christmas period. Adverts and magazines project a cosy ideal which seems to combine luxurious cashmere with a sprinkling of sequins. Well I like a well placed sequin as much as anyone, but they are not always practical in front of blazing oven. Probably the best idea would be to wear a combination of comfy outdoor clothes and some wellies and get out for a good old stomp in the open air.

edwardian-lady-scarf-emma-varnamAt work I have not found it that easy to combine the need to look ‘serious’ and ‘professional’ with the desire to be just a little bit festive. But I had a little nugget of inspiration and rootled around in my drawers. I shopped my wardrobe and combined this bohemian inspired supermarket cardigan with an old design sample.

edwardian-lady-scarf-emma-varnamI made this Edwardian Lady scarf for Inside Crochet Magazine back in 2013. You can have a look at the design process in this post. Botanical designs had just started to appear on the catwalk and since then, have not lost their popularity. The scarf itself is a very basic design, but all the details are crocheted and embroidered. I do like the idea of adding beads and sequins to my work. On this scarf they add just enough festive glitter.

I must say that these images are utterly gorgeous. I know the model is by the Thames, but doesn’t the styling look ever so Parisian? Gorgeous!

edwardian-lady-scarf-emma-varnamThe other side of Christmas I know I will crave the colours of Spring. So in the next few weeks I will wearing this outfit combo repetitively. I wonder if you have discovered an old make in your wardrobe recently? I think my resolution for next year should be re-using old handmade samples more – they are original bespoke designs after all!

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christmas-jumper-four-yearsThe Annual Jumper

I have no idea, no idea I tell you why I take exception to shop bought Christmas Jumpers. A couple of years ago the quality of the knit/yarn was so bad that I could not face parting with pennies to buy one. It was four years ago that we started making our own make-do jumpers. You can follow the story of our designs here 2013, 2014, and finally 2015. You can see that penguins loom large in our lives. Last year was a particular triumph as it had a front and a back. We were very tickled with that idea.

Little B has tended to be very much involved in the commissioning process. This year the sketch did not appear but the request was that we put a Christmas Pudding on the front of a sweatshirt to match his crochet beanie hat.

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I had no idea how I was going to get this little project completed before the school Christmas Jumper Day. This year, more than ever I feel like I have run out of time. But a good friend of mine, Gemma, came to the rescue. She was selling beautiful felt potholders at our local Christmas Market. ‘Ah-ha!’, I thought ‘Time to cheat!’.

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Appliqué

So after a quick fifteen minutes on the sewing machine, this beautiful Christmas pudding adorned a festive pullover. It has survived many more outings over the weekend and might even last in a very delicate wash. But really next year I think I should either go the full hog and knit a bespoke design, or give into the commercial offering. The choice is so much more adorable and humourous then it was four years ago. I really don’t see this fun tradition going away any time soon.

Commissioning Kids

Both Gemma and I suffer from ‘commissioning-kids’, but as we both acknowledge we created that particular delight/monster. I think of my own mother who made me the most wonderful dresses and crepe paper bonnets for fancy dress competitions. To have that magic of imagining an idea then making it real is a priceless creative gift. If I can give the idea of the possible to my son and encourage him to pass it onto his children then there will always be delighted, amused giggles in our family.

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superchunky1

It is a strange phenomenon, but if you make accessories or household items with chunky yarn they tend to look more cool and chic. This is great news for the beginner knitter or crocheter. It is particularly good news for last minute gifts running up to the festive period.

Moss Stitch Joy

In the last week I have slipped into a happy moss stitch reverie making this cowl in sumptuous Duck Egg chunky yarn. Utter bliss. I used just 1 ball of Stylecraft Special Super Chunky and I used this simple pattern and 10mm needles. This is a very achievable pattern for beginner knitters. I can’t wait to wear it this weekend. This the the handmade gift than everyone wants to receive.

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Garter Stitch Basics

If you want to go even simpler, you could make this cowl which is just a tube of the simplest garter stitch. Nothing could be easier. But you know there are plenty of examples so similar accessories in the chic shops on our high street. Including this beautiful Maris Scarf from Anthropologie.

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It is just a question of getting your colours right and making sure you whip through your project so you can don your homemade elegance at the weekend.

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Pom-pom Mania

If you want to make a chunky beanie hat this week then my top tip would be to get yourself a faux fur bobble. This will transform you knitting from homespun to high street in seconds.  Shops like Boden, Joules and Next are all adding the faux fur bobble to their hats. LoveKnitting have bobbles in stock and there are a range of funky colours to choose from.

debbie-bliss-plaited-cowl-free-patternconway-bliss-dandelion-hat-free-patternQuick and Easy Knits

Look also at the Debbie Bliss website for some fantastic chunky yarn free patterns. You will find that across the wondrous Internet many chunky yarn patterns are given away free by designers. I think that it is due to the simple nature of the design. But that is all good news for you. My personal suggestions would be this plaited scarf made in sumptuous Lara. You could also make a very on-trend beanie hat

simplestylishknit1Crochet Inspiration

I have rather unusually concentrated on knitting in this post. If you want to find so crochet inspiration there are plenty of books and patterns that will help you whip up a chunky beauty in no time. I love the work of Sarah Shrimpton. Pop over to her blog Annabooshouse to see her fabulous Enormous Squishy Blanket pattern. I would be making one myself if I didn’t have quite a few commissions to complete over Christmas. A little last minute Christmas gift might be her fabulous book; Extreme Crochet. Lot of chic crochet  to be found inside.

Hopefully I have provided you with lots of last minute chunky chic inspiration. If you have time to sit and relax over the Christmas period then a quick and easy knitting or crochet pattern is the perfect solution for some creative cosy therapy.

 

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crochet-meme-emma-varnamRight side, wrong side

I was looking at a well known crochet book the other day and I noticed that a very pretty blanket had been photographed with the wrong side showing. I thought to myself, ‘I bet the designer was really frustrated with that image’. Then it occurred to me that in many ways this was a compliment to the person who made the blanket, the right side and the wrong side were obviously difficult to tell apart.

Now I admit that you need to be a fairly seasoned crocheter to know the wrong side from the right side. The benefit of crochet is that usually the pattern is inter-changeable. This is only possible if you get all your ends neatly tucked away and you take as much care with the neatness of all aspects of your work.

Final touches

The very best craftspeople take proper care of the final touches. I once saw the Queen’s coronation dress displayed in Kensington Palace. What struck me was the detail of the embroidery. Such perfection. The very best haute courture dresses cost so very much because every detail, every stitch is finished by a seamstress of great mastery.

I am not wanting to burst your fun bubble with crochet or knitting. I know that loads of you just want to create and make…’Finishing – Pah!’, you cry, ‘What’s next on the hook baby?’

But after a while the WIP’s (works in progress) pile up and you will need to spend some serious time with the tapestry needle and a pair of scissors to ensure that pile of mid-made monstrosities make their way heavenly heirlooms.

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Good things take time

My advice, for what is worth is to learn to love this last part of the making process. See it as the icing on the cake. I wrote about the ‘Blocking’ process a couple of weeks ago and it would be worth having a small look at this. But before you block it is always best to weave in your ends.

The equipment

I always have a pair of very sharp, small, pointed scissors to hand. These will give you accuracy when you cut. I have a range of tapestry needles, different size eyes for different thickness wool. But if I am honest I do like a sharp point so I can weave in the yarn through the fibres.

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Backwards and forwards

When you crochet it is possible to capture the last end you have cut in your next row. But weaving in as you stitch will never fully make your ends secure. I speak to you now from bitter experince. I have many unraveled projects. Crochet motifs that have begun to look a little worse for wear.

My recent conclusion based on some research and practice is to ensure it end is woven backwards and forwards three times. This will ensure the end will not budge. What it does mean is that if you have already captured your work once in the following crochet row, you can just weave in a following two times.

Handy Hints

When I add in a new yarn colour I have begun with placing the new yarn with a slip knot on my hook and then begin my first stitch. This seems to work for me and I have had fewer unraveling incidents.

I do take time to check how each side looks when I have finished weaving in the ends. I make sure that my yarn has not popped out and made an unwelcome appearance on the right side.

If you are wanting to be geeky – I love an in depth book or manual, then the book Finishing School (Master Class for Knitters) has some excellent tips which work both for knitting and crochet.

If you have a granny square that has begun to unravel then I would also suggest look at a fabulous article Granny Square Repair by Claire Montgomerie. She guides you through how to repair the centre of an unraveling motif, my worst crochet nightmare.

Once you have finished all the weaving in, then blocking will help bind the fibres together.

Look I have no desire to sound like a nagging crochet aunty. But really this blog is about providing you with encouragement to take a little time, have a little patience. Dance like there is no instagram – create as if it will last forever.

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The images I have used in this post have been taken from the  ‘wrong side’. If you have any finishing top-tips you would be willing to share, then please leave a comment below. I would love to learn from you.

 

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xmasgifts16.3There is nothing better than giving a gift that someone really wants. When you really love your hobby it can be a bit daunting for your friends and family to understand what would be on top of your gift list. So here I am like a festive yarn fairy to give you a few pointers. These are my personal recommendations based on my love of yarn and my eye for something pretty.

zigzagcrochet2Yarn Baby

Ok, I am going to help you here. Unless you really do know what you are doing – do not, I repeat DO NOT, buy yarn for your crocheter. Why would you? You will be taking away one of the pure joys of the hobby, the choosing of luscious squiggy yarn. So my suggestion would be to buy a rather generous gift token for your crocheter.

Go into your local yarn store and ask them for a pretty gift token and then add in the card you gift them the gift of time so that you can allow them to browse the shelves.

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Project bags

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a crocheter can never have enough project bags. Seriously, you will never disappoint if you buy a yarn fan something to put their yarn in.

My top tips are the witty bags which are available from Loop London, where they have some rather pretty project bags of different sizes; including this rather gorgeous bird themed bag by Miesje Chafer
I am also enjoying using KnitPro Joy Project Bag it sits beautifully on the side table next to the sofa and inside has some rather handy pockets for hooks and scissors.

Hooks, Needles, Bits & Bobs

I am going to get straight to it. My preferred hook is a Clover Soft Touch Crochet Hooks If you are buying just one or two hooks then a 4mm and a 5mm hook will always be useful. But you can go the whole hog and buy a set and you will be loved forever – Clover Hooks Set of 9

If I am honest – you can also not have enough scissors or tapestry needles. These are easy to pick up in any hobby shop. But if you are looking for covetable beautiful things, then I would suggest a few choice items from Merchant and Mills. Pick out a pair of sharp scissors and these needles in a gorgeous case – Thank you Father Christmas!

Subscription Boxes

crochyay-subscription- box

This year we have seen the growth of monthly subscription boxes, what a genius idea. Every month a new box of goodies arrive with a pattern and all the items you need to make the project. I love this idea and have suggested it to many beginners as a good way to build their skills without having to amass huge yarn stash. For fun and funky I would recommend the lovely Crochyay. For lovers of pretty and things then you should try Little Box or Crochet.

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Magazines

I do have a small magazine vice. I find it very, very difficult not buy the latest issue when browsing the supermarket aisles. If you ask me what one of my favourite Christmas gifts would be, I would have to say, ‘Get me a subscription!’.

For beginners then a subscription to either Simply Crochet or Crochet Now magazine would go down a treat.

I am a huge fan of Inside Crochet Magazine and would suggest this for intermediate crocheters.

Books

Ok, I admit it, I am being a bit naughty here. But if you are buying for a beginner, then I will highly recommend this book ‘How to Crochet’. Yes, I did write it… I know, I know. However I have used it to teach quite a few people and lovely readers do send me emails to say how useful they have found it.

My new book Cute Crocheted Animals is not for the beginner, but is for anyone who wants to develop their toy making skills and enjoys making cute characters. I have started seeing beautiful animals popping up on social media. Such a lovely thing to make for the children you love.

My other suggestion would be Granny Squares by Sue Pinner. A great book which updates the classic vintage pattern.

My friend and uber-designer, Claire Montgomerie has brought out a new book, Hooked. Now I will admit I have not been able to get my mits on this yet. But I can always highly recommend her work and will be adding this book to my Christmas list.

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A Bespoke Gift Box

Finally if you want to take all the hassle out of choosing something for your hooky mad loved one then I would suggest ordering a bespoke gift box for the super stylish Cool Crafting. You can choose the value of your Crocheter’s Good Things Giftbox from £20 – £100 and your parcel will be sent on 20th December. But hurry you don’t want to miss that order!

I hope you like some of these suggestions and don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to keep up to date with all crochet news. Let’s start off your Christmas Crochet gifting by offering two £10 vouchers for Stylecraft yarn, which are redeemable at any ‘bricks and mortar’ yarn shop. If you leave a comment below with your top Christmas Crochet gift on your wish list I will draw out two names at random on Friday 9th December – just in time to put in the post! Good Luck and Happy Shopping.

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adventphoto1

Hello Lovely people – My window for the Stylecraft Giveaway has gone live and you have just 12 hours to enter to get the free pattern and enough yarn to make you own Christmas Pudding Potholder.

You can enter here

 

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Adventmosaic

Christmas Craft Inspiration

Are you feeling the Christmas craft bug yet? Now December has begun I am going to allow myself to get jolly festive! I have decided that I will try to carve out a little time to make a few Christmas craft items for our home.

If you have a few moments to curl up on the sofa, listen to a few joyful tunes then I have a few pointers for you.

christmas, decoration, hygge

Why don’t you not pop over to The Rug Blog? I have been fortunate enough for my Christmas Pudding potholder to be included in their post about Festive crafts to make. I have been inspired by the photos of a Christmas tree made out of paper, and creating a Christmas Village out of clay. Taking time to stop and create is one of the joys preparing for our family time together.

christmas-pudding-hat-emma-varnam

Christmas Pudding Potty

Last weekend, I took a break from working on crochet commissions and made a Christmas Pudding beanie hat for Little B. I made so many of these when he was a baby. Seeing his cute cheeky head with a holly sprig on top just made me giggle. For many years B has not been quite so entertained by his mother’s sense of humour. This year he seems to get my joy of whimsy and I think the pudding hat might be a firm favourite for the cold winter mornings. If you have a must-do crafty make for Christmas please do comment below. I am in the mood for Merry Making!

 

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tennen-noro-yarn-laughing-hensWhen Winter comes I love the opportunity to dress the house with cosy blankets and get out the homemade tea cosies and cushions. With a young son in our house our Christmas decorations tend to be bright and cheerful, as it should be. But naturally I am attracted to pale creams and white in winter. I love the frosts and the snow.

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This week I have tried to balance my work on a new book and add to my homemade Christmas gifts. I was sent this lovely natural Noro yarn which is called Tennen, by the online shop Laughing Hens. Sold in a hank, it looks like the purest form of wool. I got going on the swift and made a rather satisfying yarn cake. The colour I have used is 1, but there are lots of other natural tones to choose from. It seems to be a month of top-tips from me. My top-tip for this weekend, is that the Laughing Hens website have excellent photographs of all the images and patterns in a pattern books. It is where I have gone to check out whether I want to buy a pattern book or not. There you go, a little insider secret for you.

tennen-noro-yarn-laughing-hensBy my estimation I will be able to make two teacosies of the finest quality from one hank. I put a jaunty burnt orange bobble on this version, but might revert to a natural bobble for my second cosy.

I haven’t quite decided yet who will get this cosy as their Christmas gift. So if you are one of my friends reading this and quite fancy self-selecting your gift this year, then do drop me a line.

What will you be making this weekend? I think I might make Little B a Christmas pudding hat for the festive season.

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blockingboard1

I got very excited on Friday. My new Blocking Board arrived. A new bit of crochet technical kit. I have spied this board on the internet and have desired to have my own for a while.

‘Blocking, what on earth and why?’,  I hear you cry. Well if I am ever at a workshop, trade fair or interviewed by a magazine, and they say; ‘What is your top tip?’. My answer is always; Blocking.

Beginners and seasoned crocheters alike avoid blocking their work and it is easy to see why.  If you have just finished a garment or a beautiful blanket you are impatient to show off your finished piece and then start your next project.

But once you have invested in yarn and spent so many dedicated hours finishing your project, there is nothing more crushing than a blanket that looks more at home in a dog basket than displayed proudly on your sofa. Blocking make an enormous difference to your finished projects, and many crocheters will testify to the fact that once you start you never go back to your old impatient ways. .

Blocking

During the making process the fibres of the yarn can often become crumpled and creased. By blocking your work, the fibres can relax, the stitches become regular and your can set your finished piece to the measurements you require.

There a number of techniques which can be used and dependent on the project you can choose different options. Obviously toys, amigurumi, bags and coasters do not need to be blocked. Items like lace shawls, scarves and blankets should be ‘hard’ blocked. Garments can either be wet blocked or steam blocked. In all cases the items need to be wet enough to so that the fibres relax and you can re-shape them into their final position.

blocking board - emma-varnamBlocking – what do I use?

Well I have just bought this lovely new board from Daisy Boo Creations. I make quite a few Granny Squares and this board will enable me to stack a number of squares in exactly the same shape on these wooden dowels.

Firstly do check the ball band to ensure that you can get the yarn wet. I then dampen the square using a waterspray, which you can buy from most supermarkets. I will then pin out the square to the size and shape you need.

Now bear in mind I have been crocheting for many years and make very many projects. You don’t need to invest in blocking boards;. Small projects can be easily blocked on an ironing board. Another really practical idea is using kid’s foam play mats, these link together and can form a really large blocking area for big blankets or garments. I will continue to use my Prym Tensioning and Steamer Mat
which I notice even John Lewis are stocking now. This has a printed grid line system which is really helpful for garment blocking and granny squares.

blocking-granny-squares-crochetHow to block

Take your project and lay it on you blocking surface. Start at one corner and pin gradually along the edges, gently pulling the crochet into place and securing with a pin. As you work around the edge of the piece, you might notice that you have pulled one area more taut than another, simply remove the pins and reshape. Once you are happy with the overall dimensions, spray it all over with tepid water. Leave to dry.

Wet blocking

Many designers wet block their garments as the process fully sets the seams together and it is the process which will be used every time the garment is washed. Soak the item in a little lukewarm water, you can add a little no-rinse wool wash and leave for around 20 minutes. Then drain your sink and very gently squeeze out the water, but do not wring the garment. Ensure that you scoop your item out of the sink and do not hang it out as this will stretch the fibres. Lay the garment between two towels and gently roll the towels up to remove as much of the excess water as possible. You can then lay your item out on your blocking surface and gently pin it out into the measurements you require.

mietred blanket-colourful- Emma- VarnamSteam blocking

This is a slightly faster version of the process above, and is good for removing persistent creases from garments. Lay your crochet out on the blocking surface and use a steam iron or garment steamer to allow the hot steam to permeate the fibres. Make sure you don’t let the iron touch the crochet, because it will easily flatten textured stitches and totally ruin any acrylic yarn, making the crochet limp and lifeless.

In all cases of blocking, make sure the crochet is totally dry, ideally leave your work for 2 or three days if you can.

Essentially this is my top tip for all crocheters. It will make an enormous difference to your finished work. I promise you – you will thank me later.

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inbetween

The Danish idea of Hygge, and how to live a cosy, happy Scandinavian life is dominating the media and the bookshelves this winter. I have a lovely friend and colleague who is Danish. For many years she has talked to me about the way that her homeland creates a cosy and welcoming atmosphere. She lent me the lovely book by Meik Wiking The Little Book of Hygge

summerparty15.9A way of life

As the evenings are darker and it is getting chillier, there are a great lessons we can learn from our Scandinavian neighbours. Get cosy by lighting candles. Invite friends over to make and share a meal together. Go off-line and live in the moment. Read a book or just sit chatting by the fire? Finally, make something cosy?

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Reading this book got me thinking. I think knitters and crocheters have an innate sense of hygge. We enjoy making things, we enjoy the tactile and the slow thoughtful meditation of stitching. Yarn crafters often like to make in the company of others. We were born to this cosy and sociable way of life.

hygge2Top 5 Hygge things to make

It also occurred to me that there are really some ultimately ‘hygge’ items that we can knit or crochet.

  1. The Cowl – the Danes love a big scarf, the cosier the more stylish. My favourite all time make
  2. The Shawl – A new addition to my crochet repetoire this year, but vital for outdoor comfort by the fire
  3. The Lap Blanket – Could anything by more ‘hygge’ then curling up on the sofa with a a loved one with a homemade blanket on your knee.
  4. A pair of Slippers – I made lots of pairs last year as Christmas gifts. In Denmark they make cosy socks available for all guest to wear.
  5. Fingerless mittens – An easy make which enables you to type or knit in warm comfort.

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If you have more items you would add to this ‘hygge’ list then do tell me. Plus when you spot a newspaper article on the Danish ‘hygge’ way of life, smile and think to yourself, you are already living the cosy dream.

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