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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Emily-Cute Crochet Animals-Emma-Varnam

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.

Busy Busy Busy

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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What did you get up to at the bank holiday weekend? I must say that I spent a fair chunk of my time in the garden. I decided we needed to get ‘outdoor-living’ ready. The sun was shining I a dragged out some of our outdoor, vintage blankets, getting prepared for garden picnics and evenings huddled around the firepit. I was amused that one of our blankets, which must be over 50 years old is very like a colour scheme I am working on at the moment.

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New colours

Back in the Spring I received a ball of each new shade to trial. Vintage Peach, Buttermilk and Mushroom. It has taken me a while to find the right project but luckily as spring has developed my favourite shades have altered. I am just working on some new project for my next book. So really I am giving you a sneaky peek of a proposed colour combination.

Here I have matched the new colours; Vintage Peach, Buttermilk, Mushroom, with old favourites; Storm Blue and Duck Egg

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The lovely Lucy from Attic 24 identified that these vintage shades were missing from the huge Stylecraft Special DK palette. So we do have Lucy to thank. I must say that I am sorry I cannot reveal a bigger photo of my new project. But when the new book comes out you will be inspired by new colour combinations for every season. I know how much crocheters love Stylecraft Special DK. The texture is soft, the shades are extensive and the price of each ball is reasonable. This means that making a large blanket is not too daunting for the pocket. It is always worth watching out for the new shades. Well they might be new, but looking at the heirloom blanket they will have a long life on the colour chart.

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My parents are quite frankly awesome gardeners and cheeky though it is I thought I would share with you the 10 top tips I have gleaned from watching them. My love and appreciation for gardens first developed when I spent an extended summer holiday with them about 20 years ago. They had just moved to picturesque Somerset and their new garden was vast and ripe for a new vision. Together we spent many days touring the important and influential gardens of their local area. We saw the inspirational colour palette Hadspen, when it was at the height of its power. The cottage garden of Margery Fish at East Lambrook, the statuesque hedges of Montacute House and the lovely Tintinhull House and Garden.

In the past two decades my parents have invested huge amounts of time and skill into their space. It is a private joy to them and any friend who has the privilege of spending time in it.  The garden could very well be a visitor attraction of its own.

Different gardens, different scale

There are some major differences in our gardening experience. Their plot hats many levels and many acres. Our garden is a relatively small suburban garden. My parents spend huge amount of time and effort working their land and their experience and knowledge is extensive. We on the other hand spend little time in the garden and a fraction of the investment. But there are some valuable lessons I have learned from watching and listening to them.

1. Create views

The very best gardens break up the space available to them to create different rooms and a variety of views. When I look at my parents garden I catch a glimpses of a very well considered scenes. There is something to look at and appreciate in the foreground, middle distance and background. Perhaps one of the best investments we made was our fairly inexpensive white garden bench. It creates a focal point at the end of our garden, a bright contrast against the dark green backdrop of the trees at the bottom of the garden. We also have somewhere lovely to sit at the end of the day during the summer.  A happy place for chatting and relaxing.

2. Feed and Mulch

In previous years we have not done enough of this, but I think the principle is finally getting through. I believe that our soil is much easier to work than the unyielding clay of my parents garden. But my, oh my have they invested in their soil. After years of digging compost and manure into their borders you can certainly see the benefit. Their plants are like monsters; huge, robust, disease free. If they were athletes you would say they were on steroids. The investment and sheer effort that has been made to improve the soil pays dividends. I promise that this year I will try to do better.

3. Borrow the landscape

One of my favourite views in the world is the view from my old bedroom in Somerset, across the garden and then into distant fields. Utterly English, utterly peaceful. Often when we think about our garden we forget that we do not live in a secluded box, but the distant views and trees have a borrowed benefit on our private landscape. In our own garden we benefit from the most glorious magnolia tree next door. From the back of our house we also enjoy the views of an elegant and huge eucalyptus and a tall silver birch. If you are able to consider the gardens around you and use the distant trees and shrubs to inform your own patch then your garden will feel so much larger.

4. If you don’t like it – ditch it

The garden we inherited had some rather good mature shrubs. But I have to admit I didn’t always warm to them. However I felt guilty at the thought of digging them up and throwing them away. Watching my parents garden, I witness that when a plant has overgrown its welcome or doesn’t fit into their planting scheme it gets the heave-ho. Obviously if you can remove a plant without destroying it and find a welcome new home, all to the good.

5. Watch your neighbours

There is a vast climate difference between the sunny hillside of Somerset and the slightly colder weather of the North West of England. Some of the plants my parents grow very successful are just too tender for our weather. Our climate and growing palette is far more akin to the Lake District. Ferns, acers, rhododendron, azaleas all do well. I have often had a quick nosy in the neighbouring gardens to see what is thriving and surviving. Whilst I might covet that large and healthy agapanthus which thrive in the ground down south, I know they will only survive in my garden in pots. Quite a bit of heartache can be avoided by choosing the plants that will survive and thrive in your plot and then celebrate the diversity of visiting friends and family whose garden in a different weather.

6. Think about the small delights

Ornaments in the garden often get a bad press. I believe the gnome is still banned from the Chelsea Flower Show. But a few well chosen artifacts or small garden sculptures strategically placed can bring a little joy and amusement to your space. I can still vividly remember the excitement of trying to find all the garden gnomes in my grandmas suburban garden. There are no such ‘items’ in parents garden. But they do add in the odd well chosen feature or ornament. These things add a sense of play and interest. Quite simply they bring a smile to my face.

During the summer we have a party for friends and I really enjoy hiding small wooden animals, painted stones or wire birds in the undergrowth.  Our garden treasure trail is a hit with young visitors and has even become a bit of an institution. Have a look at my blog post from last summer Let’s not get too po-faced about our space and instead create a bit of surprise and delight.

7. Give you plants more space than you think

When we re-planted our garden about 3 years ago I felt unnecessarily affronted by bare earth. I crammed far too much in our borders and didn’t give each plant the valuable space it needed. Gardening is not an instant art and three years on, the plants have really filled out. Patience is indeed a virtue, as is reading the plant label to see how large your mini-specimen will be when it grows to maturity. I need to now make some painful decisions to thin out some our our borders. It would have been far less expensive if I had listened to the sage advice of my stepmother.

8. Before you plant – soak

Oh this is absolutely a top-tip. Give your new plants a thorough soak in a full bucket of water before you transplant it into the soil. I have followed my Father’s instruction on this matter and I know it has benefited the plants I have introduced to our borders.

9. Can I have some of that?

Being cheeky can help you enormously when you need to develop your garden. My folks are brilliant at sharing their plants and will give me sound advice on ground cover and what we call in our family a ‘good doer’. This is plant which is disease free, helps to suppress the weeds and has a long growing/flowering season. I have pulmonaria which has made its way from my Granny’s garden, to Somerset and is now admirably covering a dodgy corner of our garden in the wet North West. Now that plant is a survivor and an admirable ‘good do-er’.

I have also benefited from some beautiful roses and geraniums which have outgrown their position. The cheapest and most delightful garden centre you could imagine. Check out the plants in the gardens of your family and see what you might be able to ‘borrow’.

10. Enjoy it

Having fun in the garden, celebrating, playing, eating, chatting and dreaming is so important. I have precious memories of my parent’s garden; our wedding, my son and my nephew playing, parties and family lunches. All of the work that goes into that garden is born out of love. Perhaps the most potent horticultural skill. I will never have the vision or design skills of my parents, but I have inherited their love of being in the garden and that is a gift I hope to enjoy forever.

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Hello Lovelies, I cannot believe that Yarn Shop Day has come around so quickly again. On Saturday 6th May I will be making my way over to Black Sheep Wools in Warrington to spend the day with my lovely friends at the Yarn Barn. In 2015 I was part of Yarn Shop Day with Black Sheep Wools and they won the British Knitting Awards for best event, that was how good it was. There is nothing more wonderful than supporting you local bricks and mortar yarn shop and this glorious day is supported by Let’s Knit and Let’s Get Crafting magazines

This year I will be showing you the gorgeous crocheted characters for Debbie Bliss and you can chat to me about my latest – Cute Crocheted Animals: 10 Well-Dressed Friends to Make
Come and take a peek at my designs and get some 1-2-1 advice on your crochet technique.  If you have already made one of my animal designs I would love to see them.

Workshops

I have two drop-in workshops planned

Amigurumi Crochet How to | 10am – 11.30am | 1.30pm – 3pm

I will be sharing my top tips on how to create cute features for the faces of your adorable animals. A slight slip of the stitch here or another stitch there can really change the face from being happy to angry. I will also be demonstrating working in the round and how to attach limbs.

Sarah Hatton will also be at the yarn barn. I love Sarah. He designs are so fresh and modern. She is truly a British Knitting celebrity and I always love to hook up with her when we are at the same knitting shows. You will recognise her name from being featured in many Rowan publications over the years and in her own books, most recently Modern Mini Knits. Garments from this book will be on display for you to discover Sarah’s designs. Sarah also teaches workshops too, having taught many here at the Craft Barn in Warrington.

Knitting Tips & Tricks | 10.30am – 11.30am | 1pm – 2pm
Sarah will be holding drop-in sessions where she will be showing knitting tips and tricks that will improve the overall finish of your knits, sharing her most favoured methods of sewing up and finishing. She will be happy to answer your knitting questions and help to advise on your next project too.

Knitting SOS with Sarah Hatton | 2pm – 3pm
Bring in your latest project for a quick once over. Sarah will be on hand to help with any knitting mishaps that you might have encountered recently.

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Added Bonus

Being a Stylecraft Blogstar I know that I will also have some goodies available from my friends at Stylecraft and you must also plan to take time to eat some fabulous cake when you are there.

Please do pop across to say hello and have a little yarn knatter.

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I don’t often take commissions. In fact I said the other day that I don’t ever. Why? Well it is difficult to explain and there are many reasons. I think the joy of making for me is about the joy of giving. My very best design ideas and projects tend to come from little conversations, small asides. Little seeds of inspiration grow in my brain and often the people who have inspired them have no idea they were a participant.

One such conversation happened over the Easter break. We were away, having a sunny break by the seaside with many families. Good friends of mine have the most delightful 6 year old son. Spud and I get along. Indeed I get on very well with both Spud and his sister Eve. (I made Frank the sausage dog for Eve).  Although many decades separate us in age, we all like fun, whimsy, creating and collecting. Now Spud is a collector of a specific toy, the Tsum Tsum. This is a small beanie plush toy which Disney have created. They have taken their iconic characters and created stackable soft toys with a Japanese aesthetic. They are really rather cute, quite affordable and therefore deeply collectible.

Tsum Tsum

Spud brought many of his Tsum Tsum toys on holiday and promised to give me the full tour. The only problem was, on a busy holiday, I was rather elusive. The photo above his Spud in hot pursuit to detect that wayward Emma Varnam. When we did eventually make a date we set aside MUCH time to survey his most treasured artifacts. The conversation was delightful. On full inspection I realised that it would be very easy to make a replica out of crochet. Perhaps it is because amigurumi has its origin in Japanese design but the link was obvious. I asked Spud which character he was missing and he told me with a slight hint of sadness; Pooh Bear….Bingo!

Back from our holiday and washing, spring cleaning and chores completed, I scrattled around in my yarn stash to find the correct colours. I had a quick look at Pinterest, knowing full well that if I had made the creative connection, others would have got there before me.

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The design is oh-so simple. There are plenty of designs available to purchase on Etsy and Ravelry if you fancy a go. Annoying though it might be, I am able to freehand this kind of design and so by the end of the evening my Pooh Bear Tsum Tsum was complete. I was almost giddy with excitement to see Spud.

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Handing it over to him, to see his face, to see the excitement of his sister Eve and the anticipation of my son, is the stuff of dreams. I love writing books, I love designing for magazines. To see your work in print is a real buzz. But to see something you make lighten up a face, to see that enchantment and for you to feel that love too. That my friend is the magic of making and what a gift it is both to the recipient but mostly to the maker.

 

 

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