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I was warned. I was told quite distinctly by Sara from Black Sheep Wools that if you meet Arne and Carlos, the celebrated knitting designers, you will fall in love with them.

‘You must come,’ she said, ‘you will adore them….please say you will be there?’

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So there you have it. That is why I took a day of annual leave and popped over to the lovely yarn barn for a full day of knitting joy and laughter. I rocked up to the shop to find that there was almost a queue waiting to see these fabulous gentleman. If you don’t know anything of Arne and Carlos, they are celebrated knitting designers and authors. They live in Norway and the Scandinavian style greatly influences their work. But more significantly it is their sense of fun and joy which permeates their design that makes their books so very popular.

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The workshop last week took us through making a knitted bird. They have just published the utterly fabulous; Arne & Carlos’ Field Guide to Knitted Birds: Over 40 Handmade Projects to Liven Up Your Roost. The spacious workshop room at Black Sheep wools was full to bursting. I was so delighted to sit next to good friends Lynne Rowe and Christine Perry aka Winwick Mum. Whilst we wrestled with our five double pointed needles we chatted happily about, knitting, crochet, designing and blogging. I was utterly delighted to learn a new way to increase stitches – I adore a new trick.

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It was also very special to see how Arne and Carlos skillfully tutored and socialised with the workshop students. They were so so supportive showing people how to work the patterns. This new book is inspired by the way Japanese knitting and crochet patterns are written using diagrams or schematics. I very used to schematics for crochet, but it took me a while to get my head around a knitting pattern. It is great fun.

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The good coffee and delicious cakes were available as unusual and miraculously at the end of the three hours I had made this rather sweet seagull. B has named him ‘Flutter’. As you will have guessed he has already been adopted by B and disappeared into the menagerie of his bedroom.

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Following a fullsome lunch, we popped back into the workshop space for a talk. Arne and Carlos talked about how the ideas for their book evolved and the development of their beautiful garden in Norway. Their talk was fun, disarming and entertaining. I loved every minute. So many of the people I meet through craft are so kind and generous. This was another day when I left Black Sheep Wools, my heart full of joy, great memories and yes, a little bit in love.

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Dear Lovelies, once again I have been thinking about the end of year pressies for valiant teachers. I thought that in a few weeks I would do my round up of makes I have thrust upon unsuspecting teachers. However if you are a teacher or work in a school, what do you welcome at the end of term? What is best to avoid? I would love to know. Please leave your top tips in the comments below – thank you in advance x

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As the summer approaches I am constantly thinking of the outdoors, holidays and having friends over for lazy summer lunches. Then I think; What shall I crochet? You will have seen watermelons and pineapples everywhere as key summer icons. So I have created a couple of quick and easy crochet projects to brighten up your summer holidays.

Firstly, the Pineapple Potholder. Such a simple project and perfect for a beginner. It uses the new Paintbox Yarns Cotton Aran from LoveCrochet. I have mine hung up in the kitchen, but I reckon if you made a few they would make very jaunty summer bunting. You can download this pattern for free from either my blog here or the LoveCrochet website.

There is also the Watermelon and lemon potholder and mats which will add to your fruit salad theme. If you have not worked crochet in the round, this is a perfect pattern to start with. You can also practice your surface crochet and embroidery to create the melon veins and seeds. Download this again from here and or the LoveCrochet site.

Finally I have a couple of cheeky wee patterns coming out in issue 92 of Lets Get Crafting. Two broaches, Cherries and Watermelon. I know my god-daughters are just going to love these.

 

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I am so excited that my book Cute Crocheted Animals has been nominated in the Best Crochet Book category of the British Knitting and Crochet Awards 2017. I had no idea that it would get into such prestigious company.

Obviously it delights me that so many of you who have made the animals and sent lovely photos of your sweet creations. The awards have grown enormously over the last few years and crochet has begun to get its own place within the categories. These awards are wonderful because they not only feature the large companies but also reward small independent shops, bloggers and authors.

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When I started designing the toys for Cute Crocheted Animals, I would never have believed that people would enjoy making them so much.

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My childhood memories

I have very distinct childhood memories of sitting in my own imaginary world playing with my toys. There was one pretty rag doll that I happily dressed for bed, settled her in a small wooden toy cot and smoothed her woolen hair imagininig her drifting off to sleep. The play-acting of the nurturing role is universal I think. An added joy is to choose and dress toys – creatively putting different combinations of clothes, shoes and accessories together.

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All of these moments of play and flights of fantasy are such a precious part of a carefree childhood. It occurred too me that it would be delightful to create animal characters that could be dressed, loved and cuddled for a new generation.

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Design development

Over the years I have designs and developed lots of different animal patterns and I really enjoy making rabbits. I was commissioned to make a lovely bunny for Inside Crochet Magazine  dressed in a pretty Liberty print dress. Over time I kept thinking it would be great to develop a whole wardrobe of clothes for a bunny. I also wanted to develop my pattern design to make the toy easier to dress.

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I started talking to my publishers at GMC, and we began thinking about different animals I could create and the kind of outfits I could design. It was lots of fun and soon little characters began to emerge. I drew the animals and their outfits first and then I had conversations and email discussions with my precious editor Wendy. The outfits are intended to have a quintessentially English style.

That must be me!

When I visited my oldest friends and their children. I took a copy of the book with me to see what they thought. I sat quietly in an adjoining room listening to their conversation; ‘That cat is definitely me, listen to the description – that is me!’ ‘Well we all know I am the fox… I love her cardigan…’. Such precious sounds. A happy smile spread across my face as their imagination was sparked.

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When you make things with your loved ones in mind nothing is more satisfying then to hear them participate and enjoy the journey with you. If you get to see the book, even if you can’t crochet – I hope you will see and read the humour within it. Some of it is my own crazy imagination, lots of it is due to the fabulous creativity of my editor Wendy and designer Rachel, who captured the joy of the project too.

If you have liked the book and perhaps even think about making your own toys. I would love it if you would vote for Cute Crocheted Animals. You can click on the link on the Let’s Knit Website – VOTE HERE. Or use the link button below. When you vote you will be entered into a prize draw. Voting continues until 30th August, but please don’t forget to cast your vote now.

 

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Ben Fox

07/06/2017 · 0 comments

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Ben Fox is getting a little bit excited about some news due out tomorrow! He can hardly contain himself and he also needs your help. So if you have loved and enjoyed his book ‘Cute Crocheted Animals’ will you pop back into the blog to hear what he has got to tell you?

In the meantime, don’t forget I have recorded you some video tutorials with some of the specific crochet techniques. Ben was the model for these videos and is now finished in his jaunty green outfit.

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If you don’t know what ‘yarn bombing’ is then let me explain. It is basically decorating things with knitting and crochet. Usually it is the unexpected, boring things like fences, bridges, street lamps and sculptures. Most often it is done with enormous humour and creativity. If you have never come across this yarn graffiti before I urge you to do a little on-line searching. But be warned, you will descend down a rabbit hole of joy and fascination.

Until a couple of weeks ago I was a yarn-bomb virgin. I had not yet been invited to get involved in a community installation and certainly hadn’t made my own clandestine assault on the local public bench. But then I was motivated to jazz up the new wheelchair of my friend Rufus.

An Angel

Rufus is the most loving and fabulous boy, he also has Angelman syndrome. You can read about him on his parents’ brilliant blogs here and here . As Rufus gets bigger he needs more and more sophisticated equipment to make sure he can live an active and exciting life. I know from my own experience that access equipment is often ingenious but frequently quite boring to look at. It would be very possible to use tape and stickers to ‘pimp’ wheelchairs, but I think the worry is that as children grow you need to upgrade the sizes very frequently. That is why yarn bombing is a perfect alternative. Making something quickly in crochet means that you can cover boring bits of wheelchair very easily. Then when you need to hand the chair back for a new model, you can quickly cut away the decoration.

Color Choice

Dan and Lucy measured the sections for the chair for me and I made small colourful strips in cotton double crochet. This was my first attempt and I made the pieces slightly smaller than the measurements so that I could stretch the crochet around the tubes. For this first attempt I tried to create a subtle rainbow. Dan and Lucy are super-stylish and whilst I wanted to create a bit of colourful interest I also didn’t want to be too impractical or embarrassing. I borrowed the chair for about fifteen minutes and whip stitched the sections in place. We will wait to see how durable they are.

Crochet, knitting and craft is really all about ‘love’ for me. I cannot think of a better use of my craft super-powers than pimping Rufus’s ride. He brings such joy to our world. His chariot of fire should be just as joyful.

If you have any good ideas for a wheelchair will you leave a comment or send an image? I am thinking about future versions.

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Pretty Emily Rabbit, she is so enchanting. In recent weeks I thought it might be fun to return to my crochet pattern of Emily Rabbit and try two new things. All of the animals in Cute Crochet Animals use Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. This is a quality yarn with a soft finish and a vast array of colour choice. I thought it would be intriguing if I made Emily in larger weight yarn and compare the size with the animals made in the original 5ply cashmerino.

Emily-Cute Crochet Animals-Emma-VarnamClothes

Secondly all the clothes designed for the book are crocheted. There is good reason for this. It does mean that if you can crochet, you can complete all the projects. However I do like a little bit of sewing and I also enjoy my knitting and the different texture it creates. I had in mind that I would like to sew her a pretty skirt, use the crochet pattern in the book to create her cardigan and then finally knit her a delicate keyhole scarf.

Returning to a pattern

It is not often that I return to my original designs. Once I have made and written the patterns, I am done. This seems especially true of the patterns I write for books. There is quite a gap between the making and the final reveal of publication. All that time, the projects must remain a secret. So it seems better not to return to those patterns during that period.

Bigger scale

For Emily’s head and body I used Rowan Pure Wool Worsted in a light cream colour. Her knickers use a random pink aran yarn I had in my stash. This Emily is certainly a much bigger bunny in comparison and I was pleased that I had some larger safety eyes in stock.

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The skirt was fairly easy to whip up on thew sewing machine. I made a basic short rectangle and just gathered the skirt at the waist with elastic. I used less than the ‘fat quarter’ bought from my local craft shop.

The keyhole scarf uses beautifully fine Debbie Bliss Rialto 4ply in Ecru. I used the standard formula for this pattern and just kept adding to the length until I thought the scarf would fit.

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Making the larger Emily was slow burn project. I gradually added new elements to her as weeks past. Because such a long time had elapsed since I created the original animals, I felt like I was playing with my own designs. By the time she was finished a new owner for Emily had been identified. I very rarely accept a making commission, it feels like an added pressure I need to avoid. But as a special favour for a friend, I was happy for this precious rabbit to find a loving owner. Will I make another of my designs? I am sure I will – but it will always be for fun and there will always be a little bit of play and accessorising on the way.

The beautiful photographs of Emily were taken by the very talent Lucy from Smith Imagining.

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The British Summer is a capricious thing. I am often tempted by all the floaty fabrics I see advertised online, in-print and in the super market aisle. But as I find my hand stretching towards another embroidery anglaise top or skirt, I need to remind myself that at best I will get to wear that white summer fabric only once or twice.

It is far better to add to your seasonal wardrobe a few bright cotton yarn tops. Layered on-top of t-shirts or dresses these items will be surprisingly practical in our less balmy summer days.

During the Spring, I went to visit Stylecraft yarns and was immediately drawn to their new denim look cotton; Jeanie Denim. This yarn has a lighter weight than the traditional denim cottons and it won’t naturally fade.

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Over the Easter holiday, I took a little break from my crochet work, and relaxed with a little knitting. I chose to make this simple T designed by Stylecraft. The design has a simple scoop neck and split seam sides and is pattern 9358. I know I am not the best model or advert for this design, but I do promise you that I will get a lot of wear from this jumper.

The light blue I chose is Dixie and has a fresh coastal look and will look well on top of a white t-shirt with some light jeans or dare I say shorts.

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I must say that I don’t always run towards the proper way of joining seam; the invisible and magic mattress stitch. But this stocking stitch knit warranted a little extra care in the finishing. The results were quite pleasing although I felt like I only took one breath through the duration of sewing one seam.

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As summer approaches it is easy to think that knitting will go to the bottom of the list. Don’t let the season fool you and check out the summer seasons knits. You might just find a new favourite which becomes your go-to outfit for the lazy hazy summer days.

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Over the past few weeks I have responded to the requests from readers of my book, Cute Crocheted Animals. Some people have messaged me and asked if I could post some video tutorials to help with their making. If you pop over to my tutorial page you can find links to all my video tutorials posted on Youtube.

There are two new guides for you there:

Creating Character on the Animal Faces

Joining Legs on Cute Crochet Animals

I will be honest with you and have no real desire to be on video, but it is nice to be able to show you specific techniques for this book in real time. If you find these videos helpful please do drop a comment below.

 

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I really enjoyed Yarn Shop Day this year. Black Sheep Wools, my old friends, invited me back to spend the day with them. We had such great fun.

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When I turned up with all my gubbins just before ten the yarn barn was already buzzing. It seemed indecently too early for such excited yarn buying. However Stylecraft Yarns had promised a number of yarn giveaways, so customers were eager to get their sticky mitts on those.

yarn-shop-day-2017Setting out my stall

My table full of books, patterns and sample toys was situated very near the door. Nobody could get past my beady eye. Now I would like to confess that any type of workshop, talk or book signing provides me with some trepidation. I imagine I will sit there dutifully for hours…alone. There is a Mancunian phrase which sort of describes it beautifully; Like being pithy on a rock bun!

I shouldn’t have fretted. Lots of lovely people came by to say ‘hello’. I even had a queue of eager crocheters after lunch. Lovely Sara from Black Sheep Wools had to explain; ‘She will be with you in a minute, but just like you, Emma likes a little potter amongst the yarn’.

yarn-shop-day-2017Catching up

Well if you did come and say hello, thank you so much. A special mention should go to the lovely Laura who brought me the Cute Crocheted Animals: 10 Well-Dressed Friends to Make she had made from the book. Ah how my heart jumped for joy. They were so beautiful. I can’t wait to see who she makes next.

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I also caught up with Janet who has created a Katy Cat wearing a fabulous yellow N.F.U. gilet. Isn’t she fabulous.

My friend Lucia popped by with the very fabulous Fay from The Crochet Circle. We had a brilliant in depth chat about all that is new and exciting in the yarn world. I am looking forward to catching up with her again.

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Finally I saw one of my knitting heroes and lovely friend, Sarah Hatton. Sarah is one of the foremost British Knitting Designers and has worked with all  the greats. She has a new knitting book out with baby patterns. It is so beautiful and all the designs within it have her trademark class.

It was a lovely day. All of the ladies at Black Sheep Wools are so kind and generous. Sara and the gang always make me feel so welcome and it has to be said that the cake is second to none. I do not think I have ever seen the yarn barn so busy. Over the years Yarn Shop Day has really gathered momentum. I am so pleased that Let’s Knit Magazine have continued to co-ordinate and grow this festival. The joy and the excitement in the shop was palpable and it feels like a a wonderful way to support your local shop. I am looking forward to next year now.

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