I was chatting with my husband only this week and we were talking about ‘the balance of life’- no small talk there. I was sort of being a bit apologetic that along with the day-job I have other looming deadlines.

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Luckily we are both fairly comfortable with the juggling of work/life/passions in our family life.

‘The way I see it – knitting/crochet is a bit like you breathing…you need it to survive’. He said it not in a dramatic way, but quiet and understated and I don’t think he is far wrong.

Survival

I seriously don’t think there is day that goes by when I don’t pick up the hook or the needle. At the end of a busy work day – the slow meditative stitching is important to process. The stitches smooth my thoughts back in order. Long journeys are made useful and even joyful with a yarn project. I will admit in this strange isolating times, I yearn for a long train journey. The more I am under pressure, the more important my creativity. I don’t really care what people think – if you know me well and we meet at a social occasion I might get out the wool – but I am always very much present – I can hear you – nothing is lost.

Solace

At the saddest or most challenging times in my life, I have NEEDED craft. Something quiet, distracting and ordered. My hands are very practiced at the repetitive rhythms – so no concentration is required… but something good is happening. I have come along-side a number of friends who are grieving or perhaps facing some difficult health or work issue. Sometimes I feel helpless to make any positive difference but I am thrilled to teach them to knit or crochet. The craft is a gift that must be shared not just for what it produces but how it can heal and soothe.

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Solution

Most of my making is prompted by one of two things. Either finding a practical solution…. ‘Wouldn’t it be helpful to have another potholder…?’ or ‘that beanie hat is looking a bit worse for wear…’ Make-do-and-mend is a great reason to knit and crochet. Oh the satisfaction of solving a practical problem by making the solution yourself.

Sharing

My design work is really about fun. There may be a new yarn or a new colour combination that has sparked an idea. The best bit of designing is that rush…the magnetic pull to start swatching. I don’t know if it has ever been claimed that crochet is and adrenaline fueled sport – but this bit – the race from idea to first stitches definitely pumps the endorphins. Funnily enough I have some memories where I can look at a design and remember where I was and what it was that inspired the idea. Once I am happy with the final product I’m really keen to share it with you. I love writing the books because they give me an opportunity to share the tips and tricks I have learnt along the way. Sharing our craft is a huge motivator for me and when I see one of my designs on social media or even better in the flesh…well that is an incredible thrill.

…to say I love you…

There a very few adults I will make for now. The pain of re-gifting is the ultimate craft betrayal. Too many re-gifting incidents can break the heart of a crafter. Better to send a bunch of flowers or buy a bottle and let your heart remain in tact.

Without a shadow of a doubt the very best people to make for are children. When you make a toy for a child and they grab it, kiss it, hug it and then name it….that my friends is the jackpot. That is woolly gold.

Children understand the currency of craft-gifting. If you receive a beautifully crayoned portrait of yourself drawn by a four year old, you know you have made it. Perhaps being a bit of a child at heart is why I make a lot of toys. Many of them have to be kept for photographs, some go on book tours, but my favourite are those who are created for a special person. Recently I was sent a video of one of my godson’s playing with a fluffy cloud I had made for him. The joy in his face, the passionate kisses he gave the cloud, the peel of giggles. I’m an old hand – but oh my the tears might have welled up a little.

I turned my phone round to show my husband the little film…’there you go darling…that’s the reason why….’

My blog has been nominated for the Love Crafts Crafties Award – If you enjoy my blog and would be happy to, I would love it if you would vote for it here: Vote

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Finally after many many weeks I have finished my Vintage ‘V’ Stitch Blanket. Right at the beginning of this blanket journey, I had grand plans to crochet a row of pretty ‘V’ stitches for every day of the Covid Pandemic. As is natural and normal it didn’t quite work to that plan. Some days I would crochet 10 rows – those would be lazy Sundays. Some weeks I didn’t manage a line at all.

emma-varnam-v-stitch-blanket

As in my previous post – the idea was to represent each day and then create blocks of 7 lines of colour seperated by a line of cream to create weeks.

In all I have worked 16 blocks (weeks). The overall blanket is about 200cm long and 160cm wide. It is large and heavy and generously covers a single bed. In actual fact it mostly covers a Super-King size bed.

To finish off the whole blanket I worked a linen stitch edge. This is a nice and simple edging and doesn’t add extra fussiness to what is a rather bright and clashing palette.

My intention has always been to honour the scrap blankets of the war-time era. A make-do-and-mend aesthetic. Grab what I had in my stash and work it into the design. But let’s be honest. There was a little order. I didn’t repeat a colour within a one-week block. By adding in the regular cream lines there is a subtle regularity to the design.

Nearing the end of a big project like this – there is a strange conflict. I was keen to get to the edge, try out how it would look. At the same time there is a sadness of saying goodbye to an old friend. Certainly I was very cosy under the mass of yarn as I finally finished off the design.

emma-varnam-v-stitch-blanket

The ‘V’ Stitch Blanket will now be our cosy blanket of choice for our bed during the Autumn and Winter months. That is if our son doesn’t adopt it in the meantime… there is a real possibility of that happening.

If you want to make your own version – please do use your stash of yarn. The majority of yarn I used was Stylecraft Special dk from my stash – to give you a list here are the colours: Cream, Dandelion, Mustard, Copper, Silver, Bottle, Apple, Duckegg, Petrol, French Navy, Lapis, Cloud Blue, Boysenberry, Bright Pink, Powder Pink, Bright Pink, Lipstick, Claret, Candy Floss.

You will need:

Lots of yarn of the same thickness (weight). I have used Double Knit yarn.

4mm crochet hook for the main pattern.

(If you have it, a 5mm crochet hook for the foundation chain)

Some small sharp scissors.

A tapestry need with large enough hole (eye) to thread yarn through.

Pattern

Using A and 5mm hook, chain 187

Row 1: 1dc in 2nd ch from hook, dc in each ch to end, turn. 186 sts.

Row 2: Using 4mm hook, 3ch, miss dc at base of ch, miss 1dc, (2tr, 1ch, 2tr) in next st, *miss 2dc, (2tr, 1ch, 2tr) rep from * to last 3sts,  miss 2dc, 1tr in last st, turn. (63 V clusters).

Change to yarn B.

Row 3: 3ch, *(2tr, 1ch, 2tr) in next ch sp, rep from * to end, 1tr in top of 3rd ch, turn. (63 V clusters).

Row 3 forms the pattern. Change the yarn colour every row. Weave in the ends as you go with your tapestry needle. Work until your blanket measures 180cm. The width will be approximately 160cm dependent on your tension.

V-stitch-pattern-emma-varnam

Edging

I crocheted 10 rows of linen stitch for the edging. I did an initial row of double crochet around the edge. Making 5 dc stitches for every two rows. Use a 5mm hook and this will avoid some puckering of the edge. Here is a basic stitch pattern for linen stitch. My advice is to work (1dc, 2ch, 1dc) into each corner.

If you start making a Vintage ‘V’ Blanket please do share your images over on the Facebook page or tag me in via Instagram. I would love to see them. Remember to really get the Vintage look the more colour clashes the better. In my blanket I have made every 8th row a cream row. But you could substitute this with a muted grey or even black which brings a little bit of neutral colour order to the overall look. Happy Making!

Abbreviations: st=stitch, sts – stitches, ch- chain, dc = double crochet (UK)/single crochet (US),
tr = treble crochet (UK)/double crochet (US), sp – space.

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Seeing that I have released some new designs this week – I thought I would share a little insight into how I design and the processes I go though.

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I have a small thing to share with you. It has been a very long time in the development. I have created a series of 5 patterns which I am selling as single patterns.

Over the years I have designed toys for my books, for pattern houses, and magazines. But I haven’t really designed a collection which I can sell as a designer. This is something I really want to do – take the project though from the little spark of an idea and then birth it as a pattern in my style and finally as a limited range of kits. Its so exciting. I have been thinking, chatting and dreaming about this project for about a year.

emma - varnam - Baby - animals

I have two very lovely and very experienced yarny friends who have helped me think about the concept. When we meet up we chat through our ideas and dreams and their advice is invaluable.

If you follow me on instagram you might remember that in February I was sharing pictures of these little animals out and about in the snowy hills of the Lake District. Designing and making time during any holiday is so important. The stillness of holiday give me time to tweak and to play.

I have no idea of how many yarns I trialed….so many. There are also some animals that I wasn’t really happy with – who didn’t make the cut…

Finally I settled on 5 little characters – Bobby Bunny, Gertie Goose, Pat Puppy, Sam Lamb and Poppy Piglet.

Then the hard work begins… the pattern writing. I worked with my good friend and pattern editor Lynne Rowe. Lynne and I have worked on many publishing projects together and she knows what makes sense to crocheters. She spots the things which I leave out.

I then approached some regular makers of patterns and some expert crocheters – thanks to Linda, Sioux – super stalker and Babs for trialing the patterns. You are awesome.

emma - varnam - Baby - animals

The yarn I have finally chosen comes from the UK yarn house – Sirdar. You know I work with and love lots of yarn houses. They are all great. I chose Sirdar because I wanted to use their Snuggly Yarn ‘Bunny’ for the tummies of each animal. It made sense for the other yarn in the design to come from the same yarn company. I also wanted the yarn to have a good price point for you and be widely accessible across the UK.

emma - varnam - Baby - animals

Sirdar Snuggly Bunny is a fancy yarn and when you are crocheting with it you will need to pay attention – feel and look where you are putting your hook. The final feel of your toy is totally worth the concentration.

If you are interested in these designs they are available for digital download from my Etsy Shop.

Tell me what you think – I would love to know – which one is your favourite? If you end up making them will you post your baby toys and I would love to see images #crochetbabyanimals.

Finally you might notice a bit of change in my logo and brand. The launch of my pattern range seemed a good time to make the change. Plus my good friend Gemma said, ‘Emma is it time for a rebrand…..?’ in that way that isn’t really a question. She was right.

So there you go – exciting/scary times. All in a period of lockdown. I hope you like this new step and thank you to so many of you for supporting me.

Happy Weekend.

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How are you at the moment? Are you finding that your crafty life is actually more of a life-line than it has ever been? Me too… After a long day sat at the screen in Skype/zoom/team world I crave the time spent with my yarn. Every stitch seems to smooth out the crinkles in my brain.

This week I am thrilled that the new issue of Inside Crochet Magazine will start to appear on the doormat or the shop shelves. I’ve had a look at the patterns and the colourful and zesty colours are brilliant for the summer season.

It seems an age ago that I designed the Crazy Daisy Cushion for this issue. If you follow this blog you will know how much I love using crochet in the garden. There is nothing more luxurious than piling swathes of cushions and blankets on to the grass.

The great thing about outdoor soft furnishing is that your colour scheme can be a bit more adventurous. This design is very quick to make as it uses Stylecraft Special Aran and 5mm. Drag out your stash to aran and let your imagination go wild.

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I have got to admit that I adore designing for Inside Crochet Magazine. The images they take are glorious and I get so excited to see how they have styled my work. I made two versions of the same pattern, using up as much of the yarn as I could. Do tell me what your think and it always lovely to hear how you are getting on with your lock-down craft projects. For now have a happy weekend and let those needles or hooks fly with creativity.

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Living the great northern city of Manchester we have in the last few years really owned the worker bee symbol. It is nearly 3 years since the tragic MEN arena bombing. A terrible time which birthed a renewed sense of community unity. A few of my key-worker friends asked me to make them a mask mate which was in the shape of the Bee. I’ve done something very very simple and I share it here for you just in case it is helpful. Stay safe and ‘Thank you’ to all those who are working hard to look after our community.

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Lovely blog readers, I am just putting these images here for you. I have lots of friends and colleagues who are key workers. They all have to wear masks as part of their everyday job. I had the most hilarious conversation with a friend who came to drop off a little treat at my door,’Why have all my friends got crochet mask adjusters and you are a Queen of Crochet and you haven’t made me one?’ she was joking…but she was right….

So when she left…slightly ashamed I rushed to my stash and started making. I made a plain – professional one. A joyful flowery version and a cheeky froggy pattern. I have another which is brewing in my head and soon I shall share a pattern with you. These are so easy to do. My advice is to make them if you have willing recipients. There is nothing worse than passionately creating woolly gifts only to discover they are swamped under a tsunami of crafty kindness. But it is nice to think that the hooky people among us can provide a little comfort in these difficult times.

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birkin - emma - varnam

Has there ever been a time that you have been more grateful for your crafting habits? I think I would have gone bonkers without the calming rhythm of knitting or crochet. You might have seen a series of quite amusing memes on social media basically pointing out that for craft fans…nothing much has changed…being forced to be indoors is just another opportunity to dedicate time to your yarn stash.

Well that is true. I have probably 3 projects on the go a the moment. My Vintage Virus V stitch blanket (see previous post). I am finishing some new designs for publication. I’m quite excited about them, but it is a slow burn project. My third project has been returning to the Birkin Sweater which I started in the Autumn of 2019.

birkin - emma - varnam

I’ll make a confession. My first run up at this project ended with an epic fail – I was overly optimist about the size… I didn’t do a tension swatch (Bad Emma, Badly Done!) and the yoke turned out tini – tini – tini – tiny….. There was no saving that disaster.

The pattern is made in pure wool and so frogging was not on the cards. The benefit of fairisle knitting in pure wool is that it is sticky – so the pattern doesn’t unravel. The downside of fairisle knitting in pure wool is that is is sticky so the pattern doesn’t unravel….you get my gist. So I started again.

All well and good in the first few weeks of lockdown. My serious day job has required the necessity of working long hours, full of concentration and dedication. The evenings have been shorter and more full of household chores. Everyday, everybody sort of stuff. There has been more time for a bit of baking and our waistlines have suffered the result. But this kind of activity has its joyful distractions.

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However in the run up to Easter we discovered that we were rather in COVID category and so self-isolation began. I have never been more grateful for fairisle. Complicated stitches, the need to focus, the need to count to flick the yarn rhythmically in a woven pattern is just what the doctor ordered. Craft as a distraction. The sitting, the waiting, the wondering, all eased a little bit by the needle and the hook.

When people wonder if craft will ever die out, I don’t even think twice about it. Of course not. There is always the product of our labours – yes we could buy a jumper, a bag, socks, scarves, a hat. Sometime we do. But often the final product is a happy bi-product. It is the time, the stitching, the thinking, the working out of the problem, the working out of emotion that is far more significant. It’s the difficult musical scale, the kneading of the bread, the fiendish jigsaw…

If in doubt, find something complicated to make and let your thoughts take a break.

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Currently I don’t have much thinking space or time to be working on complex crochet patterns. My mind wandered last week, remembering the crafters and makers in the Second World War. They used whatever they could find, whatever could be re-purposed to make their creation. Then I remembered that we have a wonderful scrappy blanket in our cupboard, inherited form my husband’s grandma.

vintage-v-blanket-emma-varnam

It is a simple pattern and each row is a riot of clashing colours. A perfect project for difficult times. It seem to me that would be a lovely idea to try and crochet a row each evening as we remain in lock-down. All being well, at the end we will have a new crazy coloured celebration blanket.

So I am sharing the pattern with you. If you are a beginner this is a good place to start. Find as much yarn as you can and don’t think too hard about the colour combinations.

You will need:

Lots of yarn of the same thickness (weight). I have used Double Knit yarn.

4mm crochet hook for the main pattern.

(If you have it, a 5mm crochet hook for the foundation chain)

Some small sharp scissors.

A tapestry need with large enough hole (eye) to thread yarn through.

Pattern

Using A and 5mm hook, chain 187

Row 1: 1dc in 2nd ch from hook, dc in each ch to end, turn. 186 sts.

Row 2: Using 4mm hook, 3ch, miss dc at base of ch, miss 1dc, (2tr, 1ch, 2tr) in next st, *miss 2dc, (2tr, 1ch, 2tr) rep from * to last 3sts,  miss 2dc, 1tr in last st, turn. (63 V clusters).

Change to yarn B.

Row 3: 3ch, *(2tr, 1ch, 2tr) in next ch sp, rep from * to end, 1tr in top of 3rd ch, turn. (63 V clusters).

Row 3 forms the pattern. Change the yarn colour every row. Weave in the ends as you go with your tapestry needle. Work until your blanket measures 180cm. The width will be approximately 160cm dependent on your tension.

vintage-v-blanket-emma-varnam

Here are some video tutorials to help you get started:

If you start making a Vintage ‘V’ Blanket please do share your images over on the Facebook page or tag me in via Instagram. I would love to see them. Remember to really get the Vintage look the more colour clashes the better. In my blanket I have made every 8th row a cream row. But you could substitute this with a muted grey or even black which brings a little bit of neutral colour order to the overall look. Happy Making!

Abbreviations: st=stitch, sts – stitches, ch- chain, dc = double crochet (UK)/single crochet (US),
tr = treble crochet (UK)/double crochet (US), sp – space.

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wild-animals-book-emma-varnam

I can’t tell you how excited I am to show you this book. Look, this a big, vulnerable thing to do. Each time I start with an idea. Each time a draw, design and crochet a new project for a book…it’s a wonderful and scary day.

Since the first book was published, lovely makers started contacting me and asking…’Can you make an Elephant?’, ‘What about a Monkey?’ I started making a few notes and collecting a few ideas.

So after a lot of chatting my gorgeous editor, Wendy we narrowed down our family of friends. Let me introduce you.

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Our cover stars are Barbara and Cyril Elephant, cosy in their nightwear. Barbara is a fan of Ballroom dancing (I’m a Strictly fan!) and Cyril is also passionate about the foxtrot but also his garden. Both toys have little accessories, a blanket, a hotwater bottle and even a mini teddy bear. Cute!

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The Zebras are Peggy and Jeff, Peggy is and adventurer who loves to climb mountains and Jeff is like a fair few of my male friends – always first on the dance floor creating some great shapes.

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Monkeys Molly and Billy are lots of fun, Billy loves the rain and skateboarding and Molly is an aspiring actress – both have outfits which I designed to appeal to my younger readership so that you can create a toy which is all matchy-matchy.

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Pandas Maisie and Sidney are ready for the Beach. Their outfits are fun and colourful, but they also have loads of beach accessories which will be fun to create for any toy taken on holiday.

Finally the Lions are Roger and Ada. Ada is based on one of my oldest friends; organised, funny and fashionable. Then Roger the Lion is also a fun loving joyful chap based on a good friend.

If you made the toys in my the first book, you will be delighted to know that the clothes will fit your creations. This book expands the wardrobe options and I have also listened to some of the queries and advice you have given me since writing Cute Crocheted Animals. I have written more about creating features and added in my top toy making tips.

The photos of each of these little friends just fill me with joy. I have Jonathan, Wendy, Rebecca and Martin at GMC to thank for the time and dedication they put into each and every book. Jude Roust patiently does all the pattern checking – thank heavens for her. The funniest thing is that these little character come to life on the page. Even I read some of the text and giggle – Wendy adds in some surprises for me…

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To celebrate its publication – I would like to do a small giveaway. If you would like a chance of winning a signed copy of my this book, please comment below and tell me about the most toy you ever owned. I will be choosing a winner at random on 29 February – Leap Day! I do hope you like it – Happy Weekend x

Congratulations Wendy – you have won the giveaway – so thrilled!

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