Craft

Lovely Jubbly Cakes

When my friends at Stylecraft had an idea of running a celebration for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – a virtual Garden Party – I knew immediately what I was going to make. It had to be crochet cake! I am so delighted that all my blogging friends are collaborating together to create a festival of garden party patterns.

Amigurumi cakes were some of the very first things I made when I first learnt to crochet. The first things I made were granny squares, I then tried to get lines of double crochet straight. Not that easy. Then, very quickly the whimsical and fun makes drew me in and I began crocheting in the round. I still am.

In the early days our son, Little B…(not so little now) enjoyed playing with the creations I made. Pretend food, little monsters and of course small cuddly penguins. With those days gone I still enjoy making pretty cakes and biscuits to play with or as a table decoration.

There are two types of cupcake – a chocolate and lemon. Each can be removed from their cup-cake case. The chocolate cake has piped frosting and a strawberry decoration. The lemon drizzle cake also uses a creamy frosting and a slice of lemon.

In true British afternoon tea style I have made a few fondant fancies – these are so much fun and you will have enough yarn to make lemon, strawberry and chocolate.

Finally I have made my own Jammy biscuit – all of the delight, none of the calories. They are so easy to make and I think it might be fun to disguise a couple of these in amongst your other biscuits. All three patterns can be used as a base to make other flavours and add on your favourite toppings. Why not add beads for sprinkles or even a little bit of glitter.

The yarn I have used is Stylecraft Naturals Organic Cotton DK in: Coffee Bearn, Wood, Flax, Gypsum, Poppy, Leaf, Buttermilk, Bone and Blush. This pattern will be available to download for FREE until the end of May from my SHOP.

One lucky Stylecraft fan and their friend has the chance to win the yarn to make this project. Checkout the link to Stylecrafts Instagram account here to find out more. 

All the patterns for the Blogstars Garden Party are so pretty and there so many decorative projects you can choose from. The patterns are available throughout May and I am delighted that the next pattern is out on 20th May by my friend Helen Kurtz – you can check out her blog post here

if you do make some lovely cakes or biscuits I would love to see them and do tag me in either on Instagram or the Facebook page and I will share your beautiful makes x

Bags…when is 1 more too many?

How do you feel about bags? I think I have a ‘love-guilt’ relationship with them. I love them. I am attracted to them. I am always in pursuit of the perfect one, which in itself is a ridiculous crusade. There are so many options, so many uses and the prevalence of choice is really a luxury. If I never bought, was given or made a new bag…I would still have more than I need. But oh… I love them…they can be like art, they are an expression of how we feel, they hold hidden treasure…rubbish and valuables in equal measure.

In many countries a large piece of cloth or a basket will suffice for many carrying needs. A good pocket will also make a small bag redundant. As people use their phones as their wallet, I see fewer and fewer bags being used. But the crafty still need their project bag.

For crochet I have range of bags. Some bought, some made, some gifted.

At home I have two baskets, one next to the sofa, another next to the armchair. They are both static but they seem to keep the current projects or yarn that I am noodling with in place. They usually keep spare needles, wire and stuffing also.

Full disclosure – this is not the location of the ‘STASH’ that is very much hidden away…lurking in wardrobes and under beds.

I then have a number of project bags. They are different sizes and have different fastenings, pocket and handles. Event though I have quite a range – the same few get used more often than not. Firstly the pretty drawstring bag in yellow. This is ideal for small projects; socks, toys and perhaps the sleeve of a garment. Being yellow it is easy to find and it is the most useful for throwing into a handbag for travel.

I have a lovely calico bag with a leather handle. This is a post crafters bag and it is almost like a statement piece – ‘if you know you know’. It has a flat bottom and a wide opening. This seems to me to be the very essence of use-ability. It does have a rivet in the inside pocket. I think the purpose is the thread yarn through… have you ever used this? It seems like a pfaff to me and will annoyingly snag your yarn. I have never used it. Please…if you have a better understanding of how to use a yarn rivet or hole in a craft bag…you just have to tell me.

Lots and lots of you who have a knitting and crochet habit will be shouting at this blog and say; ‘YOU ARE FORGETTING THE GAUZE BAG!’. You are correct of course. Since Covid, and due to our online yarn buying habit more and more of us use the gauze bags that our yarn is packaged in to keep our projects in order. I can’t deny they are a great storage solution. You can spot the yarn straight away and keep all you yarn neatly packaged. I always use mine for my toy stuffing!

But I have two current favourite project bags. One made and the other gifted. A lovely friend, Judy from the yarn group I visit in Skipton gave me this glorious bag just before Christmas. It is just about perfect. A flat bottom for stability, long useful handles and in the prettiest blue which means I am happy to have it sitting almost permanently in the living room.

My next favourite for large project is a version of the Granny Square basket I designed for Inside Crochet Magazine. The Dorothy basket is a classic idea and so simple to make – it is ideal as a weekend project. I have lined mine with some cardboard for a stable base and put a fabric inner within for durability. A few years on this bag is still going strong and there have been a few visits to the beach and to the park to challenge its durability.

Inside Crochet have just re-released this pattern in this month’s magazine. Do seek a copy out. It is a gem. But also please do tell me about your favourite project bag and why. I always like to know and you never know I might just add to my guilty collection.

Noodling about and the issue of what to pack

Packing for a journey has always been a bit of conundrum and at worst a tad stressful. I would adore to be one of those people who just throws 6 things into a hold-all and magics out 14 different outfits using a sarong and well chosen jewellery. ‘Oh yes, hiking in a downpour followed by a surprise cocktail party… I have just the thing!’.

I am not that person.

I have evolved into being a lighter packer and I might even suggest that I am the lightest packer in our household. There are several reasons for this:

a) Age – I think I am less hung up about what is right or wrong sartorially.

b) I chose one colour to wear when away from home.

c) I need more space for yarn.

(c) is the biggest driver for this evolution.

On our recent trip away for the half term holiday I took 2 substantial bags dedicated to knitting and crochet. ‘This is a ridiculous amount woman!’ I hear your cry.

No my friend, no! It is mostly because I need yarn variety and all spice it can throw at me. The projects I took split into three.

I took a fairisle cardigan knitting project and additional yarn. Just in case.

(Top packing tip – I photocopied the pattern instead of taking the pattern book).

I also took enough yarn to start sampling my dolly pattern – various colours and types. I had edited the colour selection but in some cases I took two balls of a colour. This also meant I needed to take toy stuffing. Also in the bag is the obligatory note book, tape measure, various sizes of tapestry needles, various sizes of crochet hooks, small scissors, buttons… Ok the full notion bag.

That’s quite a lot of stuff isn’t it? Two hobbies, knitting and crochet. This enables me to switch from one project to another as the mood takes me. Having spare yarn also enables me to start dreaming an inventing new designs. This week I had a desire to revisit old cupcake patterns (there is a reason). Oh my word. I had so much fun – new cakes kept popping in to my mind.

That is where the real rest and relaxation resides for me. Moments of whimsy and hilarity. Silly noodling about with yarn – because time and headspace allows.

For that reason alone it is worth making space in the suitcase. I am not sure how other hobbyists fare. I imagine that for embroidery, patchwork, drawing… its all fairly containable. I have known people take guitars on their holiday. Plus we all know that avid readers are delighted by the invention of the Kindle which allows that to take a full library with them on their travels. But what about more cumbersome distractions. Pottery for example…woodturning…? Well if you have any top tips or stories of sacrificial packing I would love to hear.

For my next trip away from home I am wondering if a jumpsuit and a toothbrush will suffice? Oh and a bin bag of DK yarn.

If you enjoy reading my ramblings – can you help me with a little thought – if I blog regularly would you prefer the post being uploaded at a regular time each week – and which day would suit you better – a Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning? Your thoughts and suggestions would be appreciated – please comment below.

Catching up

stanley-the-cat-emma-varnam

So let’s get the formalities out of the way – sorry. I have been away from this little blog for a while. Not a huge ‘I’m giving up’ amount of time, but much longer than I would have liked. The absolute ‘LAW’ of blogging is to be consistent. Blog monthly – weekly – daily if you must, but at the same time, on the same day and with regularity. Yeah… well that ship has sailed. However with all the mea culpa done and dusted – here I am.

Honestly, any absence from this little space is mostly due to busyness in other areas. Work has been…let’s say…busy. Christmas is always a time where preparations and family are a priority. But in the background I have been writing and designing my next book. I am very excited about it and I apologise in advance that I cannot do any show and tell.

stanley-the-cat-emma-varnam

With any large design project there has to be trial and error, mostly error. Some ripping back, starting again. Some walking away from a pile of abandoned yarn. The first few designs flew off hook, my theory was to design the ‘easy’ projects to get my eye in. But like an errant student the later pieces got harder and harder. Any exponent of modern ‘to-do’ list philosophy will tell you to tick of the most difficult projects first and then the rest of your list will become a dream. All well and good – hurrah for you and all that but that’s not how it works is it? Why then would we have so many books on time-keeping and to-do lists?

So like a very pedestrian and cosy suspense movie the clock clicked towards the deadline. Luckily I got all my homework in on time. There are very few people I can celebrate that milestone with. No ‘whoop whoop’ on social media here. My yarn blogging pals are happy to accept a random picture. They are very patient.

I do wonder about what our son will say in years to come…’It was rare to see my mother without yarn and hook in her hand and I do remember that most of my childhood she would thrust a cactus/rabbit/campervan in my face and say…’Look! What do you think? Do you love it?’….it was best to say ‘Yes its wonderful!’ – in the hope she would stop obscuring the telly’. Poor lad.

Almost immediately after finishing the book project list I had an urge to make a auricula. I can’t say why. I love their graphic look and I have a few plants potted up in our garden. It was a bit of design whimsy that just had to be pursued. Then back to the commissions – a rather gorgeous soft blanket which is now being blocked before the final finishing.

But when all the designing and pattern writing is completed – what then? Well I usually have some guilty WIP’s (works in progress). First a glorious fairisle cardigan in 2ply jumper weight – and then another cardigan in a soft aran. Both are for me – one dominates in its pink tones and another in light blue. These are both colours I enjoy wearing in my silver years.

stanley-the-cat-emma-varnam

I have fallen out with both these projects – we are not speaking to each other. Lets talk about the light blue aran first – the top of the sleeves have short row shaping. Using a the German method. If you are a knitter you might know what I am talking about – this is not a natural technique for me and I need to do more research to embed the process in my head. If you NOT a knitter reading this and you are thinking – wow that sounds complex… I’ll skip over that….YES YOU ARE CORRECT! AND YES… THAT’S WHY THE CARDIGAN IS ABANDONED.

We are still not speaking.

I have however picked the first project back up. This is a fairisle project using the glorious Wiola design by Kristin Wiola Odegard. It is so so pretty, but taxing for me. The knitting is pleasurable, but you need to keep you eye on the ball.

The main body flew off the needle. It is knitted in the round and will be steeked to create the cardigan. I began the sleeves, but combining the increases with the pattern really was a little challenging – plus I really do need a smaller circular needle – say 25mm. Annoyingly I packed this project for our half-term get-away and the lack of a good circular needle has made the progress frustrating.

We are friends again and my head is in the game. I determined that this garment will be completed for next autumn. Forward planning if ever there was.

stanley-the-cat-emma-varnam

I have also been designing a new toy project. If you follow me on Instagram you will know that I have been playing around with a doll design. At this stage we are in the prototype phase. I am trying out limb length, yarn weight and colour range.

My thinking so far is that this will be a downloadable pattern for the basic doll with one outfit – but then I would add clothes and accessories. If you would like to get involved and suggest items I should add, please do. The comments are always welcome.

So there you go – a few knitting projects and a crochet experiment. Now were are my circular needles…. and shhhh…I’m counting.

Cheeky Christmas Cosie

christmas-striped-mug-cosie- emma-varnam

Are you getting in the festive mood yet? Even though I am a winter baby it does take me to mid-December before I am ready for the trees, the decorations and the carols. Designing for Christmas in the middle of summer, can mean that I need to get myself excited when the season actually comes round. However this year I feel more jolly.

I have written up a cheeky wee pattern for you which will be a quick and easy gift to make and will bring a smile to your mulled wine or Christmas cup of tea. This design means your mug can wear its own Christmas jumper. Make in the traditional candy stripes or perhaps just go for a plain design. I know you will able to customise this design yourself.

I have used some oddments of yarn left in my stash – Stylecraft Special DK in Lipstick, Cream and Bottle.

christmas-striped-mug-cosie- emma-varnam

Only the basic knitting skills are required. I have popped the pattern over on my shop and it will be free download for the rest of December 2021. If you do make one please do tag me into your photos – I would love to see them. Happy Christmas!

Getting Festive

christmas-car-emma-varnam

Every year I put together a few little lists of great gifts I have spotted for crafty friends. Sometimes I message their partners and helpfully hint that I might have solved their gift dilemmas – all they need to do is read my blog.

This year I have loved expanding my online shop and pattern range. I don’t think it is too indulgent to point you in the direction of the gifts I have put together for my blog readers and lovely customers.

how-to-crochet-beginners-kit-emma-varnam

Firstly lets talk kits – my favourite kind of gift. The sort of present that illicit ‘ooo’s’ and ‘ahhh’s’ from crafty people. The sort of present that is perfect to start on boxing day curled up in front of the fire with a festive movie. I put together a Beginners Crochet set – all the things you need to get going with this wonderful hobby. The set includes a signed copy of my book – How To Crochet and the yarn, stuffing and toy eyes to complete the amigurumi bunny pattern inside. You also get two splendid balls of cotton yarn and my favourite 3.5mm Clover Soft Touch crochet hook. With this yarn, beginners can start having a go at granny squares and practicing their stitches.

If you really want to spoil someone, why not purchase the Premium set which includes all those items and a gorgeous craft bag and beautiful needlework scissors. I cannot think of anything nicer.

For the seasoned crafter, then the beautiful hand-turned pin cushion is just the thing. Made by my friend Joel – I have just a few bespoke pincushions in my shop. I always need my tapestry needles and pins to hand that I have almost a pincushion in every room. The base is hand-turned in oak and the centre has sustainable cork to keep pins and needles firmly in place. A thing of beauty, I am sure this pincushion will become an heirloom.

If you are not crafty but love to give handmade items as gifts, then I might be able to help you out. These are the items that I love to give. A jaunty handmade crochet cactus. Sat amongst other houseplants it always amuses visitors to our house – is it real….is it woolly?

christmas-pudding-beanie-hat-holly-emma-varnam-handmade

Every year I make a few knitted Christmas Pudding hats for the small people in my life. My son and nephew still wear theirs in the run up to Christmas. I wonder how they still fit! But there is nothing more delightful to keep your ears warm in December.

Finally for the tea drinker in your life. Why not put a handmade tea-cosy in your basket. Very practical, but also very heart warming to see on the kitchen table. Surely there is nothing nicer than a handmade gift!

For my followers I have added a new downloadable pattern and kit. I made the ‘Driving Home for Christmas Car’ as a tree ornament as a gift for my son. But finally…finally after much nagging I have written up the pattern. You can buy this either as a downloadable pattern or buy the kit with all the bits and pieces included. I do hope you like it.

So there you go – a few little items to add to your list. Do pop into the shop to see what you can find. There are of course the signed books, postcards and my best-selling toy kits. I just love seeing what you make!

Happy Festive Preparations!

Hidden in plain sight – the Crochet Cactus

homemade-cactus-emma-varnam

In the town where I spent my early childhood there was an amazing game which the local shops played. It must have been during Carnival week, in the early autumn. Each shop window displayed an item which was totally unrelated to their business. The competition trail asked children to spot and name all the incongruous hidden gems displayed in the windows. I loved this trail. I am sure it was never as extensive as my memory serves – but the joy of spotting something hidden was an utter thrill.

homemade-cactus-emma-varnam

When I worked in museums – staff knew that there was nothing I enjoyed more than treasure trail and we took the game of my childhood and would hide tiny woolly sheep or teddy bears amongst the exhibits and display cabinets. My inner child is never very far away. I think it is this penchant for whimsy that makes me so fond of making crochet cacti.

When I made my first crochet cactus I became almost giddy with delight – I popped it in a teacup and sat it on the mantlepiece amongst my other house plants. It sat there, in disguise for many months. Only a few guests spotted it was not real. During that time I added to my woolly plant collection for the book Crocheted Succulents. Each completed plant tickled me. They were fun, quick projects – but most importantly wilt due to neglect or more likely overwatering.

In the years that have followed I have seen hundred of photos of completed cacti by readers of my books. Each one is a joy to behold. Last year I launched a beginners kit and pattern for anyone who wanted to dip their toe in the crocheted succulent pond.

homemade-cactus-emma-varnam

A few of my friends have sheepishly admitted that they have no intention to learn to crochet…but ‘hint, hint’ they wouldn’t mind one of my Cacti. Well I have made a few and there are a small number available to purchase in my shop. If you visit our house – you will spot a few homemade cacti dotted amongst the bookshelves and nestled next to my real houseplants. No one can resist picking them up – and a broad smile stretches across their face. ‘Oh to have plant you can’t kill!’

Another bit of pretty – Embroidered Sweatshirt

I know, I know it isn’t crochet and it is isn’t knitting…but will you indulge me just a little while? I simply loved making my embroidered floral cowl – I have worn it most days. It fits nicely under my coat is is just the right size to be warm and snug without be claustrophobic.

The sewing of the floral detail was very relaxing. I also went down a bit of a research rabbit hole, brushing up on all my embroidery stitches, remembering old techniques from childhood crafting.

Furtling round in my craft stash led me to find my old wooden embroidery hoop and some silks. My quizzical crafty head began looking for the next doodle and before I knew it I had the idea of embellishing a basic sweatshirt. Embroidery on clothes has been a bit of a ‘thing’ for the past few summer seasons. It is not hard to find high street inspiration.

Instead of using the dissolvable transfer material I drew a design on the sweatshirt using a soluble pen. With each leaf and flower my technique has slowly, very slowly improved. I found using a herringbone stitch for the leaves provided the most even and consistent coverage.

The satin stitch I used for the flowers is in some places…dodgy. However after watching a few videos, my ‘french knots’ are nailed. I’ll be honest, this is not quick work. Slow, deliberate and steady. Plus, after a gap of decades, I have found that my eye sight is not up to threading a needle with multiple strands of silk. A needle threader is a must.

emma-varnam-floral-sweatshirt-embroidery

Once I had finished my last pink rose, I popped the sweatshirt in a gauze yarn bag and in it went into the washing machine for a quick rinse. It was with some trepidation that I hoicked it out of the machine. I feared all my precious stitches would have unravelled. Thankfully no such worries and the pen lines had magically disappeared.

Once dry, I used the iron to straighten out any puckering and then used an interface stabilising material on the inside of the sweatshirt to cover the wrong side of the embroidery.

I’m delighted with the effect – and I found the process really restful and meditative. I am glad I chose to extend the leaves and the flowers round the back to the sweatshirt – that feels like a little surprise and I am glad I did it.

floral-sweat-shirt-embroidery-emma-varnam

My stitch tension needs work, but just like knitting and crochet it is just a question of practice and muscle memory. Will I do more? You know what I think I will.

Happy Mumday Funday Sunday!

Easter Bunny Egg Cosy

There is something joyful, exciting and creative about anticipating the Easter celebrations. A sunny Easter weekend, full of family fun and old traditions is a thing of joy. Spring is in the air and perhaps the very first of outdoor adventures are planned.

Some years I enjoy setting the table for Easter Sunday and it is fun to make a range of cute Easter Bunny Cosies, hiding scrummy chocolate eggs – I created this little pattern over ten years ago and it was one of my first free crochet patterns available on the blog. You can download the pattern here – I have used natural brown but why not make a few in pastel shades…they make lovely hand puppets for little hands.

If you do make some please do send me some photos.

Floral Cosy Cowl

flora-bandana-cowl-emma-varnam

I have no idea where the idea came from. I have no idea why I suddenly felt compelled to make a new cowl. However if you have read this blog for a few years you will know how much I love the practicality of a cowl.

Once I had finished my Knit Crochet Cardigan, I had some of the super soft aran yarn left. For years I have wanted to make the Bandana Cowl from Purl Soho. It is a free pattern and has always been in my to-do list. Before I knew it the stitches were cast on and I was enjoying the calming knit rows but also the clever construction of the short-row shaping.

flora-bandana-cowl-emma-varnam

The cowl in its simplest form is lovely enough. The soft denim hue, the excellent ‘V’ of cloth which fits nicely under a coat. An excellent ‘do-er’ of a garment. But my eyes have been looking at summer clothing. Pretty embroidered patterns have been appearing in my pinterest and instagram feed. It made me think…I wonder could I stitch a little pattern to this cowl.

flora-bandana-cowl-emma-varnam
flora-bandana-cowl-emma-varnam

I know it must have been 17 years ago that I made a beautiful little embroidered cardigan for a friend who was expecting a little girl. It was a pretty pattern from Debbie Bliss’s book – The Baby Knits Book. I dug out my old copy and used some of the flower designs to add decoration.

I went backwards and forwards thinking about what I should use to complete the embroidery. I have some old embroidery thread in my stash, but worried that the thinner strands would cut through and perhaps pucker the chunkier aran stitches. I thought about cotton yarn. But that felt quite a heavy choice against the lighter threads of the wool. In the end I chose some Stylecraft Bellisima. This has a soft silky texture but seems light enough not the out-weigh the knitted stitches. The colours I have in my stash were also in that soft pastel colour range.

flora-bandana-cowl-emma-varnam

I’ll be honest I was slightly nervous about my first embroidery adventure in many years. Working on a small piece of knitting like this cowl freed me from worry about mistakes. If you are thinking about having a go there is no need to for any special equipment – you can just crack on. Saying that I did use two things which I think really help the finish. Firstly a water soluable embroidery stabliser…(oooo get me). Essentially it enabled me trace the pattern I was wanting to use on to the stablising fabric, place that onto my knitting, I then stitched through both the stabiliser and the knitting. I also used a small embroidery ring which I already had a home. I don’t think this is essential, but I think it does avoid puckering the knitted stitches below.

flora-bandana-cowl-emma-varnam

I really enjoyed the stitching. The concentration and choosing of where to put the needle is very absorbing and therefore relaxing. I did brush up on my stitching techniques. A quick flick through old craft books I have in my collection and good old browse through pinterest. It was well worth the revision.

flora-bandana-cowl-emma-varnam

Once I have finished the embroidery the magic could happen. I can’t tell you how excited I was. I rinsed the cowl under the cold tap and all the stabliser fabric magically disappeared! So exciting. The hardest part was waiting for it to dry so that I could put it on.

flora-bandana-cowl-emma-varnam

I can’t tell you how useful this cowl is going to be. Even though Spring is coming – the air is still chilly. It will be a boon! Have a caught the embroidery bug?… I might have…. one more little embellishment project I think. I’ll keep you updated. If you have any projects you have embroidered please do share them. I am looking for inspiration and love seeing where your creativity is taking you.

flora-bandana-cowl-emma-varnam

I made the Bandana Cowl using a free pattern from Purl Soho. The yarn I used was Stylecraft Special Aran with Wool in New Denim. I then used Stylecraft Bellissima DK for the embroider in Single Cream, Precious Posy, Ash Rose, Bashful Blue and Overly Olive. The water soluable embroidery stabliser and the embroidery hoop can be purchased from any online shop that supply craft materials.

Cart
  • No products in the cart.