Wow it seems to come round fast – but the nominations are open once again for British Knitting and Crochet Awards. Why not nominate your favourties…favourite crochet blogger for instance or indeed crochet book published this year. Obviously don’t be compelled or anything – but quick hint below if you are stuck for ideas. Go here to vote http://www.letsknit.co.uk/awards/

Granny Sqaure Home - Book- crochet- Emma - Varnam

Granny Sqaure Home - Book- crochet- Emma - VarnamGranny Sqaure Home - Book- crochet- Emma - Varnam

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I frequently forget that over the years I have made loads of crochet patterns which are great for Easter. There are a number of patterns which are perfect for a non-chocolatey gift on this very blog. You are welcome. But also don’t forget that my books also have some cute bunny makes.

Emily-Cute Crochet Animals-Emma-Varnam

Why not make either Emily or Jack Rabbit from Cute Crocheted Animals. I made a version of Emily in DK weight yarn last year. She comes up slightly larger and I just used the same weight yarn for her cardigan. If you feel adventurous you can sew a fabric skirt as a pretty alternative.

Cute-Crocheted-Animals-British-Knitting-Crochet-Awards-2017

Cute-Crocheted-Animals-British-Knitting-Crochet-Awards-2017

What about making my starter egg cosies.? This bunny and chick duo are a great beginner project for anyone starting to learn how to crochet in a spiral. I think they make a great gift idea for children at Easter. So from now until Easter 2018 you can download these PDF’s for free. Please subscribe to my news letter as it is great to keep in touch.

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So you can down load you patterns here:

Fluffy Bunny Egg Cosy       Cheeky Chick Egg Cosy

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You can see that I evolved this egg cosy into my Bunny baby toy for my book How to Crochet. If you have a copy of the book it is worth revisiting this pattern for a lovely table gift for young friends on Easter Sunday. An idea might also be to hide him in your garden for a little bunny hunt.

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Finally, I do get lots of likes for this little free pattern, designed many many years ago. He is rather sweet and is the perfect size for little baby hands. This is another free pattern on the blog. I hope I am giving you enough time to make a few cheeky spring gifts. Oh how I love this time of year! If you have an idea for a pattern you would like me to create I would love to hear.

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fashion-fast-february

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.

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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.

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stylecraft-head-over-heels

So if you regularly read my blog your will know that sock knitting is really only a recent interest of mine. I found ways to increase the speed of my knitting and the new colours and yarns have made the idea much more appealing. Well what I haven’t been able to tell you is that back in the Summer I got a chance to do a bit of sock yarn designing with my fellow Stylecraft Blogstars.

stylecraft-head-over-heelsThanks to Phil from The Twisted Yarn for the photo

Given the inspiration of David Hockney’s work we were asked to pick some shades of Stylecraft Special DK and these would be used as a foundation of a sock yarn. All our colour choices were worked up anonymously and Stylecraft have spun 8 colour choices in stripes and 8 in melange wide stripes.  Now there is a competition which you can vote for from today until March 31st 2018.

Thanks to Phil from The Twisted Yarn for the photo

Choose your favourite in each category and 6 lucky voters will win a complete set of the new yarns when they launch! Just follow the link below to vote! https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/6TXBFJ6

More than that, the top 3 colour mixes in each category will be added to our range in the autumn. So you have the power to decide! If you know me well you might be able to guess my colour choice. But I am not very sure that it will win. There are some many fabulous colour mixes and I really can’t decide which one I will vote for in the melange range. You might have dreamed as I have of creating your own yarn colours. But what this experience taught me is that it is far harder than you might think. Creating the right combination of colours and stripe depth is actually very difficult. Perhaps it is best left up to the professionals

The winning colours will be announced on the 19th April, when you will also get to find out which Blogstars have triumphed! Even though I am a slow sock knitter I promise I will knit some socks from my own colourway if it gets chosen. At my current rate they might be ready for Christmas.

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miter-squre-blanket-emma-varnam

Over the Christmas break I really did just knit. By this I mean when I sat down and did something crafty I did not touch my crochet hook. There was not a design or commission in sight. Instead I felt the need to work my way through the ‘stash’. Work slowly and determinedly on a project that really had no future apart from joining my ever-growing blanket collection. I also wanted to make a knitted companion to the Vintage crochet blanket which is in my new book – Granny Square Home. Why should the crocheters have all the shabby chic fun?

A couple of years ago Memory Blankets or Mood Blankets were all the rage. Many great bloggers used the year to knit or crochet a square a day which would either capture their mood or mark a memory. At the time, I admired these projects but had other commitments. However I do really like the look of a knitted mitered square so began working through my yarn stash to create a knitted blanket. If you are wondering how it works – you either cast on, or pick up a number of stitches along two sides of a square and then decrease the central stitches every other row to create a square. It is a simple and relaxing pattern. If you are keen to follow the pattern yourself I would suggest looking at this post on Ravelry.

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My squares are quite small but I am being rather ambitious in scale. I am aiming to make it approximately 50 x 60 inches which is the standard single bed side. My progress was going well until new commissions and designs came into the schedule. Now my lovely soft blanket is looking a bit sad in a basket upstairs. However I am going to be kind to myself and see it as a year long project. If you are interested to know what the yarn is – I am using the squiggy Stylecraft Special DK and have chosed, Duck Egg, Cream, Matador, Pistachio and Fondant. I am using 4mm needles and finding a short circular needle really helpful.

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The telling thing is – as a crocheter – making a knitted blanket takes SO SO SO much longer…. If the colour combination wasn’t so pretty I might be tempted to give up. But no, my friends I will persist. This is after all a long game and I will love the end result.

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arne-carlos-sock-knitting

Confession time; I am not much of a sock knitter. What is the obsession? Perhaps I am too precious about my knitting to contemplate the wear and tear rubbing away at my handiwork. Before sock yarns were developed and got all creative, I believed that my socks would be all baggy and uncomfortable. Anyway I had plenty designs/commissions and woolly adventures that I had no need to turn my head to the sock world.

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Well in the Autumn my friends at Black Sheep Wools invited me to join the Arne and Carlos Sock workshop. They were teaching how to make socks from the toe up using their easy Norwegian pattern. Both chaps are great value and enormously entertaining. I was happy to get involved.

arne-carlos-sock-knitting

arne-carlos-sock-knitting

I was lucky enough to sit in between my bloggy friends, Lynne Rowe and sock maker extraordinaire, Christine aka Winwick Mum. We were very happy to chat and make together. Although Lynne and I found it incomprehensible that Christine would join any sock workshop – she is an expert in her own right.

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Mini-sock

Our task all day was to make a little mini-sock, using all the techniques you would need to make an adult version. I wrestled rather ineptly with my four double pointed needs. Others turned to their tried and trusted ‘magic loop’ technique. We giggled, shared stories and caught up whilst the needles clattered away. You will know from my previous blog posts, I love Arne and Carlos. They are great fun to learn from and I think their ‘toe-up’ method of sock knitting makes utter sense if you are trying to get your sock to fit your foot without taking many measurements.

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In the afternoon I made a start on my first full size sock and I was impressed with how quickly the work grew. By the end of the next day I had finished my sock 1. B adopted it immediately and declared it very cosy. Good news. That was in November, Christmas was looming and the sock yarn and the needles were set aside. Weeks past.

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The second sock

Well my friends I am not comfortable with many languishing WIP’s, that does not make me very happy. So last week I was determined to finish my next sock. After a little bit of research, I made a decision to invest in a small circular needle. What a boon! The knitting grew like topsy. I was delighted. So the pair are completed and lie abandoned on the floor of a boy’s bedroom.

arne-carlos-sock-knitting

I believe that the short circular needle is my way forward. But I also think I need to invest in Christine’s book Super Socks. Christine is so enthusiastic and has a passion to teach people how to make your own sock is infectious. I need to expand my technical knowledge. I have in my mind the idea of making my Dad a pair. He is a great believer in the benefits of a bed sock. However he is super stylish and not a man who would wear a crazy variegated tone, in bed or out and about.

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If any of you have some good suggestions of a sock yarn that would suit a dapper chap, please do point me in the right direction.

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Cute-Crocheted-Animals-British-Knitting-Crochet-Awards-2017

Over the weekend I caught up with all my Blogstar Friends over at Spa mill. We saw the new yarns and patterns from Stylecraft for the Spring Summer. I took a couple of my animals from my book Cute Crocheted Animals and my friend Sandra Cherry Heart said that she would like to try my book and have a go at making one of the animals. Go over to her podcast 42 to see how she got on. I am so very excited. I wanted to give you a little background to why I designed the patterns and wrote the book.

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My childhood memories

I have very distinct childhood memories of sitting in my own imaginary world playing with my toys. I was very fond of one particular pretty rag doll,  happy dress her for bed, settle her in a small wooden toy cot and smooth her woolen hair as I imagined 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.

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 and that bunny was dressed a 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.

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. Children I know should recognise and like the clothes which their animal will wear.

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That must be me!

Each animal in the book has a character of its own. A couple of weeks ago I visited my oldest friends and their children. I had taken 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 the imagination of young people was sparked.

When you make things with you loved ones in mind then, nothing is more satisfying then to hear them participate and enjoy the journey with you and get the joy of creating small toys which have a character of their own. 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.

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I hope you will like it and will be able to think of someone you could make an toy for.

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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.

Accessories

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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On a recent pilgrimage to the lovely Yorkshire town of Skipton, I made a visit to the very pretty shop; Cool Crafting. This very sweet haberdashery is the home of the lovely felt rabbit Luna Lapin. I have visited the Cool Crafting stall at the Knitting and Stitching Show many times. I love the fabrics they sell, the thick and luxurious felts and the beautiful animals kits. This shop and its contents did not disappoint. I had a lovely chat about crafting and spotted some of my own books, which was an absolute delight.

gooseberycowl-emma-varnamSo Soft

I have a rather shameful stash of yarn and have no need for any more. However I couldn’t resist buying a hank of the super squishy Mrs Moon Plump Chunky. I bought Gooseberry. The shop were selling a lovely quick knit kit pattern for a cowl. This colour is a funny one for me – even though my skin tone suits bright and clear colours, this chartreuse green always seems to suit me and gives my face a bit of a tan. I have never been able to work it out. Ah well. With chunky 10mm needles the pattern took me a few short hours and by Monday morning I was wearing my Plump Cowl to work.

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marius cardigan- emma -varnam

Some projects are instantaneous, you have an idea and virtually storm into the house, pushing animals and small children aside to get to your yarn stash. Immediately you begin casting on, or making a magic ring and there it is; a compulsive project. Fun and immediate.

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Other projects take months, perhaps even years to gestate and become a real item. This was very true of my Marius Cardigan I finished just a few days ago. Back in October 2016 I attended a ‘Steeking’ class at Black Sheep Wools with my lovely friend and tutor Juliet Bernard. Not only did she provide me with confidence that you could cut knitting, she also taught me how to do two-handed double stranded knitting. If you have followed my blog at all last year, you will know this was a personal delight, a revelation and has opened up many more opportunities with my pattern choice.

Throughout the year I built up my knitting skills, attending a bird making class with the sublime Arne and Carlos and then a sock making class. Around this time I admired a beautiful fairisle cardigan that Juliet had completed. I had cardigan envy let me tell you…an obsession developed. Juliet explained how much easier it was to knit a garment like this in the round and to then cut in the arm holes and the button band. I started watching a few more steeking tutorials. Arne and Carlos have a series of four videos on their You Tube Channel.

marius cardigan- emma -varnam

So there I was sitting in the Arne and Carlos sock workshop, chatting away to other students and I started admiring a beautiful cardigan worn by one of my fellow knitters. She told me about the way she learnt to knit in the Norwegian style and signposted me to the lovely pattern shop, Scandinavian Knitting Designs. I knew then that I needed to embark on my most courageous project yet, choosing the traditional Marius Design and settled on a Duck Egg and Red colour combination.

Right in time for the festive period started the project back in the first week of December. I wish I had recorded the date! The gauge is quite small, with the rib made with a 2.5mm needle and the main knit stitch uses 3mm circular needles. I embarked upon the two sleeves first and then worked the body of the jumper. There is a certain moment when you work across the body and then incorporate the two sleeves to create a unified yoke. Have I lost you at this stage?

marius cardigan- emma -varnamThe guideline

Throughout the whole process I wove a yellow guideline up through the centre of the work. Marking where I would eventually cut my material. After weeks of plain knitting I couldn’t wait to work on the intricacies of the white colour work. Knitting line by line is quite obsessive. I find the concentration required an enjoyable discipline. Your mind cannot wander onto any other topic. Eventually when I had finished I placed a line of yarn into the very last stitches of the collar. I then made two placket button bands.

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The genius of the Norweigan style is that you not only make a rib  button band but also a stocking stitch lip which will cover the edge of your cut opening.

The Cut

It was quite a few days before I had the courage to make the cut. I am not sure what I was more scared of; using the sewing machine to snarl up my knitting or taking the scissors to my work. On each side of the guide like I made two zig-zag lines with the trusty sewing machine. Then in the daylight I used the scissors to cut open the front of my cardigan.

You can watch a video of my cutting the knitting if you like. My heart was in my mouth.

I used my sewing machine to attach the button band and folded the lip over to cover my exposed cardigan edges. Finally I picked up the stitches of the collar and attached the buttons.

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It is at this stage that there is a temptation to wear your newly created garment. But we must all resist and add the finishing touch of blocking the knitting. Experience has taught me what a difference this last step makes to the final look of the garment.

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There are two big questions: am I pleased with the finished work? Yes I think so – it is a little snug on me…. perhaps not the most flattering shape for my figure, but the fairisle pattern is very pleasing. Would I use this technique again? Oh yes definitely, I have no fear at all now. It makes utter sense to work in the round, so much faster and you have no pesky seams. I will be taking my scissors to my knitting again. This may be my first cut but it wont be my last.

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