December Diaries – last minute gifts

chocolate - orange- cosy- emma -varnam

This should be the ultimate making month don’t you think? Yet time again I rush headlong in crazed list creating and catching up.

I imagine myself curled up on the sofa … fire blazing and carols faintly heard in the distance. The perfume of the Christmas tree catching the air in waves.

More likely I finish work – later than planned. Despair at my lack of menu planning and scrabble to make something half decent for tea. When all is scoffed – plates are left aside while I hide on the spare room floor wrestling with sticky tape and paper. This year we have the extra frisson of wondering if parcels will be delivered on time. My word what a pickle.

So while December should really be the key making month of Winter. In reality November and January seem far more productive.

If you are a seasoned maker and sickeningly organised, then your gift making might start in August. Seriously?! Yes seriously. Nowadays I don’t always make crochet or knit gifts. But there are a few patterns that are a good standby.

Chocolate Orange Cosy

Every year I say I won’t make more of these. Yet every year I am tickled by the idea and remember what a great mini-gift they are.

The Chocolate Orange is a stalwart of the UK festive season. Zingy little segments of zesty infused milk chocolate. Classically you were taught to ‘tap and unwrap’ the solid ball in order to prise free the first segment. In our house the chocolate orange is a MUST in the Christmas stocking. A revolt would ensue if it were not there.

First segments are eaten before breakfast. Cheeky, sickly traditions. In the old days, after all the segments were eaten a central core of chocolate would remain. We christened it ‘the bark’. This added bonus was seen as the final eating honour. Whilst you might have generously offered others one or two segments. The ‘bark’ belonged to the orange owner. Stealing such revered chocolate would be criminal.

Don’t ask me why – but this welcome design fault has now disappeared. Shame I say.

The milk chocolate chocolate orange is adored by the boys and I prefer the plain chocolate version. I drop heavy hints to Santa in the run up to the big day to ensure he hasn’t forgotten.

A few years ago I saw a chocolate orange covered in a crochet cosy – disguised as a Christmas Pudding. This idea appealed to my sense of humour. I created my own pattern and for more years than I care to count have made them as teachers gifts and small gifts for friends and colleagues.

I always use oddments from my stash. Sometimes I purchase red buttons to create a holly berry other times I make a bobble using yarn.

This is my link to the jotted down yarn recipe. Use it if it is helpful. But get a wiggle on… I can hear sleigh bells


Saints Preserve Us

I’m fully aware that this is not the place to share this culinary journey. I know this is really a place for woolly adventures. But then we know each other fairly well now – and any joyful making experience is worth sharing, isn’t it?

In a Jam

Back in January, well if I am honest over the Christmas period I determined that this year, yes this year I would make my own marmalade. There are few things that I enjoy more than homemade marmalade. Let’s be specific; excellent toasted bread, white or brown (more likely white) with salted butter (very cold) and then on top a slightly tart marmalade. Once you have you have taken your first bite, you should really be able to see the tail-tale teeth marks.

So whilst my affection is easily bought – through the medium of flowers and/or marmalade, the homemade variety is hard to come by.

My good friend Mrs J, makes an excellent version and I greedily enjoy huge spoonfuls at her breakfast table. In the Autumn of last year I resolved that instead of looking winsome at the homemade stash of others, I should have a go myself.

Seville Marmalade is the King or orangery preserves and if you are going to get into this game you need to get involved in January – when the fruit is in season. I waited until the Seville Oranges were in the shops and then I pounced. Luckily the month of January is very quiet and when I began this little escapade I had no idea that marmalade making is very much a two day affair.


I assembled my recyled jars. Got hold of my pan and followed the recipe I had been given. Uneducated and foolhardy I let my sticky concoction bubble for far too long. The result was a very dark, very solid, thick cut marmalade. It resembles in some lights…..tar. Now I like a dark marmalade but risking breaking a teaspoon when you try to extract it from the jar seems a bit excessive. Together we all laughed at the result and both my husband and my son thought that was the end of the matter….They should know me better.


The gloriously helpful people of Instagram came to my rescue. ‘If you want to make marmalade you need to learn at the virtual kitchen table of Vivian LLoyd‘ they advised. So by weekend two I was much better informed. I had learnt about cutting techniques, soaking the pith and pips, boiling points and impurity removal. I was genned up and ready.

Batch two was better – but still dark. The use of golden caster sugar certainly added to the toffee texture. By weekend 3, I was in the zone and my family thought I had gone a little crazy. But at Batch 3, I knew I had a passable texture, colour and consistency. Actually due to a huge amassed collection of oranges, batch 4 and 5 followed. But it is batch 3 that really was the best.

Whilst creating something ‘homemade’ has in itself a deep sense of satisfaction, I was not really ready for how the process – the slow and deliberate stages could be so peaceful and bring such joy. In the dark and cold wintery afternoons of January, the smell and colour in the kitchen lifted my soul. The hot bubbling liquid, the sticky golden gloop and then the joyful lines of glorious orange treasure. Stored away. Awaiting weekend breakfasts.


In a very mad moment I decided that I would take my chances and enter Batch 3 into the World Marmalade awards – in the first timers category (obviously). I forgot about it and then just like the very best surprises a quite lovely envelope came in the post – my cheeky efforts had won a ‘Silver’ Award. I won’t deny it – I did a giddy jig in our kitchen to celebrate.

And what has happened to my sticky haul? Well I now I fully understand why homemade marmalade is hard to come by. Much like a knitted hat or crocheted blanket – this is a labour of love. Jars must only be shared with those who understand the treasure they receive. My husband and my Dad are big fans of dark marmalade and so they get the exclusive access to Batch 1 and 2. But Little B can’t abide marmalade at any cost… I have another sticky plan (obsession) and it might involve the odd raspberry – or two. All your tips and tricks are gratefully welcomed.


Warm outdoors…and a woodsmoke hangover

sunshinemandalaIs it possible to have a woodsmoke hangover? This morning I woke with the sense that the outside is very much inside. The whiffs of woodsmoke are throughout the house, my hair…well everywhere. Last night we had very two of our oldest friends over and even though the outdoor temperate was distinctly parky we were determined to have some of our evening meal outdoors.


Both Varnam boys do not need much of a hint to get a fire going, so both the chiminea and the fire-bowl were roaring away in no time. I am going to be honest, the fire-bowl looks very cool. It is a focal point, a thing to watch and great fun for late night marshmallow toasting. But even the merest breeze and you can find yourself chatting through a fog of smoke. The heat is also quite dissipated and on an early summer evening you need to sit on top of it to feel the benefit.

On the other hand, the chiminea in my humble opinion does not look cool, or rather it look incongruous in our distinctly English garden. But it does what its name implies and the chimney funnels away most of the smoke. You also can feel the heat and don’t have to sit on each others laps in order to benefit from the warmth. I resisted buying it last year, for ridiculous style prejudices, but conceded last night that it is by far the most effective of our outdoor heaters.


Within seconds of sitting round the garden table I knew that I should fetch the blanket basket. This used to be just a summer feature in our kitchen, but it seems to have taken up almost permanent residence. All my favourite crochet blankets live here, so that they can be dragooned into cosy comforting at a moments notice. I am sure that the blanket basket has extended the hours we spend outdoors throughout the year – we move from late sun to twilight very easily.


Last night was the first outing for the Lyme Bay shawl – not worn by me but borrowed with style by my friend. I care not whether there is a bit of ‘Granny’ chic; a lovingly worked cosy accessory will never go out of fashion. However it might need a bit of an airing today – it does have a rather outdoorsy smell. But you know the best bit about finding ways to stay outdoors on a British summer evening is that it extends the time chatting and giggling with good friends, old friends, friends who know you inside out and love you for who you are – even it does mean that they leave smelling like a kipper. More evenings like that I say… Bring on the summer!

A Christmas Pud Choccy Cosy

choccyorangeVarnam1There is a Christmas tradition in Britain to receive and eat a lovely Terry’s Chocolate Orange. I can’t remember a year when one of these babies did not appear in my Christmas Stocking. The size of the wrapped box is quite distinctive. The ‘tap-and-unwrap’ method of opening this chocolate delicacy is almost a national tradition. Like their more healthy cousin, the satsuma, the chocolate orange is quite a cheap round. Passing it round on a festive afternoon you will appear quite generous and yet…..nobody but nobody should steal the centre of the orange, that is yours and yours alone.

This will mean very little to you if your have never seen or tasted  this confectionery icon. Like the humble digestive biscuit, Heinz Baked Beans, Tunnocks Teacakes and a cup of tea, the Terry’s Chocolate Orange is a British institution. (It’s not Terry’s, it’s mine!) We might not do patisserie or cordon bleu cooking (actually nowadays we do), but we British know how to make a reasonably priced sweet snack.


After that reverie, you can imagine how tickled I was to see lots of inspirational photos of Christmas pudding Chocolate Orange cosy on the web. They just made me laugh! There are lots of patterns online, but I just made mine up and enjoyed bashing through the stash. I found these cute berry buttons locally for 10p and they perfectly finish off the holly. I have almost finished my Christmas makes for this year, but this pattern has given my festive activity new life. Once the velvety chocolate delight is all gone, there is really no use for the cosy. However like all the best luxuries they serve little purpose, but bring a smile to your face.


A summer of….crochet


Sometimes my design work takes me out of the seasons, for example I have been doing ‘Spring’ work in the last few weeks. Oh yes, we are so over Christmas here! This mismatch of time means that I frequently forget to enjoy the ‘now’ of the season we are in. These photos are from across the summer. They omit some of the designs I can’t share with you yet. But when I think about this summer I was really inspired by the book Outdoor Living by Selina Lake.


We were really fortunate to have some landscaping work done on our garden. Work that I have dreamed about for the last five years. I knew in my heart that I wanted to celebrate the end of summer by having a few friends over to enjoy the garden.


I took inspiration from Selina’s book at the beginning of the summer and made a comfy den for Little B, this is our full English brekkie photo in the den.  When all the work was finished in the garden we made a picnic space at the bottom of the garden.


The blankets I had made throughout Summer 14 adorned our cosy space. I even decorated our garden gate with pom-poms and ribbon. Very festive. When I think back at this summer I will remember plenty of adventures and new garden beginnings with a little crochet thrown in.

Things to make this summer #3


Food covers my friends! Your granny was right … actually one of my best friends was right – see here and here.

This is what you need for summer breakfast outside. An evenings work but pure genius. If you don’t crochet but have a friend who does, invite them over for a meal or coffee and say – ‘Don’t bring flowers or wine as a gift, make me a food cover so that I can spend every meal this summer outside with my food and yummy drinks unperturbed by silly flies!’

It’s a plan

Cupcake Doorstop

Cupcake doorstop3

I will always be astonished by how popular my Campervan doorstop pattern is – it surprises me all the time. I love how making a doorstop can bring humour and delight into a room and is hugely practical. Lots of people love to make doorstops as a gift. In fact if you can find an appropriate pattern they make a perfect house warming gift.

Cupcake doorstop1

A good friend of mine told me recently that her daughter really wanted to have cupcake doorstop for her bedroom. Over the years I have made quite a few cupcakes. Do you know my first ever design was a little girl’s cupcake jumper?


There is even on my blog header (I should really get round to change it!) It seemed like unfinished business not to create a cupcake doorstop. I wanted to use a ridge stitch which would represent the fluting of the cupcake case. I also loved the idea of having a cheeky cherry on top. Double Knit cotton is perfect for this pattern. It is both hardwearing and the colours are vibrant.

Cupcake doorstop2

This was a delightful pattern to create. It made me smile and I am happy with the result. The pattern is currently available in the current issue of Inside Crochet and if you don’t live in Britain you can download a digital version from here.


I wonder if I will make another cupcake pattern? Never say never my friends.


Going a bit retro and slow


When I first started writing the blog I seemed to have more time to chat about recipes Little B and I were making at the weekend. If you have tuned in for yarn related news or stories I apologise for the change in programming. Recently we have been baking less – perhaps what I have been trying to do is eat less cake! The busyness of life also has meant that I have de-skilled in the cooking department. Rushing home in the evening I can stare quite blankly at the fridge and I think that no Cordon Bleu training would enable me to rustle up something scrummy from what festers at the bottom of our salad drawers.

Supper in our house can be a bit instant – from the bad to the downright sinful. This lack of imagination or indeed nutrition has begun to gnaw away at me. Firstly I would quite like to live economically – the instant is obviously more costly than a planned menu. I would quite like to raise a healthy and unfussy son……Mmm we might succeed with the first, time will tell with the second. Finally I would quite like to regain my confidence in cooking. I used to be okay, a dinner party for eight was no sweat, now it makes me come out in a cold sweat. It has got ridiculous.


I know that for me, habit change requires some research, wide reading, a little bit of inspiration and a serious nudge. Well the change (fad?) had begun this weekend with the purchasing of a rather reasonably priced slow-cooker. It has taken me longer than it should have done to try this solution because I have had to swallow a very large piece of humble pie. A couple of years ago, my Granny, a successful career woman, quite generously suggested that I might like a slow cooker for a Christmas. ‘No Thanks’, I said ‘I would rather have this retro black phone instead!’. Of course with the increased use of mobile phones the slow cooker has already seen more action than my stylish phone.

I should have listened to Granny. A couple of months ago I heard a really interesting programme on slow cooking and retro gadgets on the Food Programme on Radio 4. It got me thinking. The explanation of the process really did make sense for our lifestyle. Then I met two friends at a ‘bring and share’ lunch who had quite effortlessly made some delicious curries while they were ‘out’. No desperate rushing around for them. They just popped the lid back on and drove their crock-pot round to the party. Cool!


So after a bit of research I am going to give this new way of cooking a try for our family meals. I don’t like adding more gadgets to the kitchen worktops – but really that is a vanity – no-one is photographing our kitchen for Homes and Gardens. So here is our first chicken casserole made in the slow cooker yesterday, which Little B really enjoyed. The filter on the photo gives the meal a brilliant tinge of ’70’s cookbook. I remember those Sainsbury’s hard backed books which so many people had. But hey, isn’t retro ‘in’ ?

It goes without saying if you have a great ‘slow’ recipe please do share – would love to get your inspiration!

Crafty Magazine ~ I’m loving it!

Issue 9 cover project Sarah Fordham(1)

There is a new craft magazine on the block – Crafty Magazine is now on issue 9 and I have to say it has turned my head in the supermarket aisle.

I really do like the ideas they have and I must say I do enjoy following their Pinterest site. There is also an added bonus for me because the publisher is local and it makes me very happy to support a local company.

Knit Purl Gloves - Emma Varnam(1)

I will really thrilled that the editor of the magazine  wanted me to produce a tutorial for their current issue. Making cheeky wee tattoo inspired gloves. I had lots of fun with this project and it enables you to have all that attitude with none of the permanent ink. There is something incredibly fun and inventive about the new craft resurgence. Think of any words you might want to embroider on some gloves and you can have lots of fun with a personalised gift. Crafty Magazine are currently showing my photo tutorial on how to do chain stitch, so if you fancy brushing up on your sewing skills, there is a little reminder there – I realise now, I should have got a manicure.

Japanese Boro textile sewing Elizabeth Healey 2(1)

Other great things to make in this issue are some beautiful scrap cushions by Elizabeth Healey. I adore these textures.

Meringue Kisses - The Meringue Girls(1)

Finally if you are a baker rather than a maker find inspiration from the glorious colourful meringues by the Meringue girls. So pretty, almost too pretty to eat….on second thoughts!


Taking a break – for a little rest and inspiration

mallorca13.11 You might have noticed a little silence on my part – a wee break of a week. Ah the peace and the quiet….


Well we have just returned from a week away on the beautiful Spanish island of Mallorca. No technology, no surfing the web, just fun in the sun and a little bit of reading with some restful needle time. Lovely. If you read this blog often, you know that I am a big fan of the British staycation. I think you can go the length and breath of these isles and find a different landscape, a unique experience and not even get on a plane.



But there is something about being outside of your culture, listening to the ‘different music’ of a language not of your own, which is so refreshing. Each year I am drawn to colour, the flowers, the markets and the sky.

mallorca13.3 mallorca13.4 mallorca13.5 mallorca13.7

Look at that colour!

mallorca13.14 mallorca13.8 mallorca13.9 mallorca13.12 This year I found myself looking at the architecture, interior and exterior. So beautiful. I actually took fewer photos this year, wanting perhaps to be in the moment rather than recording it. Just a little bit of rest, great memories and a smidgeon of inspiration.


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