Craft

Hidden in plain sight – the Crochet Cactus

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The sweetest words…

‘Ooo I love your cardigan! Where did you get it from?’

There, right there…those two sentences are the sweetest words a maker can hear. Obviously substitute cardigan for; jumper…hat…scarf…or indeed blanket. But in essence there is nothing more complimentary or thrilling that can be said to a maker. Now there is one proviso… if you have made a toy for a child, there is no need for an audible response. What you want then is a grab, followed by a kiss, then a hug, followed by a determined waltz off into the distance with your homemade toy for a little play.

But if your handmade makes are admired by an adult, who assume they have been shop bought, then this my friend is the golden goal. These instances are few and far between in current times. Firstly in British lockdown it is rare to see a physical human being who can appreciate a woolly jumper. Secondly, most people who know me, know I knit and crochet, so there will be a little check in their head…’she probably made that’. In fact I manage to fake-it with a number of jumpers that have been manufactured and people think I have made. I’m saying nothing.

On Thursday night I finished my Denim Crochet Knit Cardigan. I was happy with the final result. Although it is a bit too ‘weekend-woolly’ for the formal online meetings I had on Friday, I slipped it on between zoom calls. In the middle of a very hectic afternoon someone came to our door and greeted me with the joyful, ‘Ooo I love your cardigan, where did you get it from?’ Super-stressed and late for the next meeting (it was late Friday afternoon…not cricket!) I brushed off this compliment…’Oh I made it…thanks…..how can I help?’

A bit like seeing a celebrity in the street… it was many minutes later that I thought…’Ooo wow that was a moment and I missed it!’

Not every garment I make is a success. Not all become good familiar friends. In the last few weeks I have hardly taken off a pastel pink bobble hat that I made using Little Grey Sheep wool. It is a winner. But of the larger items I go back to my Granny Square Cardigan, my chunky Pink Cardigan and my Arabian Nights scarf. Will this Denim Knit Crochet Cardigan become a staple for the wardrobe?

I was inspired by a lovely cardigan sold by Plumo (sorry I think they have sold out). The price point was at the luxury end (understatement) and if you can make your own garter stitch cardigan why wouldn’t you?

Stylecraft have just launched a new Denim Shade in their 400g Special Aran with Wool range. I used about 600g for my cardigan. Being a small person I decided to go with a shorter boxy shape. I began with 5mm needle and edged the hem with an Irish Moss Stitch for 10 rows. Moss stitch of any type will knit up tighter than a loose garter stitch. So you will need to fight your instinct and make the edge with a large needle than the body of the garment. I then went to a 4.5mm needle for the soothing garter stitch. For both fronts I cast on more stitches than I needed and once I had finished the welt left about 10 stiches on a holder for the front opening. Once the back and the fronts were finished I sewed the shoulder seam together and then knitted the front edges separately, knitting enough to fit up the front and then along the back of the neck. I then whip stitched the edges and the front opens together. I hope that make sense.

The real star of this garment are the jaunty granny square pocket. This being a home-knit I had no desire to break the ball band on new skeins. So I took some lovely Debbie Bliss Cashmerino and made each circular motif with a double strand. This pretty much replicates an aran weight.

Honestly will I wear this cardigan? Yes I think I will. The British weather being what it is, the aran weight is fine for the indoors during winter and excellent thrown over a cotton dress to take the chill of balmy outdoor summer evenings.

I know you will shout at the computer when I say. I haven’t written up the pattern. Sorry – it was just a bit of creative whimsy for me. Crochet is my design work. Knitting is my hobby. But I will point you in the direction of something similar. Have a look at this and this and just add a granny square pocket. I suppose my encouragement to you is to create what you want to wear – don’t be put off my luxury prices – make luxury pieces.

Next time you meet a crafty friend…even if you know the answer…ask them…’Where did you get that from?’ The biggest smile will come across their face. You will make their day.

The Reluctant Teacher and the birth of Mrs V’s Crochet Society

I have never really taught. I have too much respect for great teachers. I don’t dare step on that hallowed ground. I had some incredible teachers when I was at school. Inspirational, funny, fiercely clever. I have good friends who are stunning teachers and when I have had the privilege of watching them – it is like art. They impart information, adapt the subject matter to make it relevant to a child who is struggling and then manage to control a huge room full of very different individuals…in a finite time…how do they do that?

I have been asked a few times to deliver crochet workshops and managed to deflect the question. But I have taught a few people individually to crochet; a one-on-one session. They have tended to be good friends who I know have ‘needed’ to learn. Famously I have one good friend who I have always refused to teach. It has become a thing. I always said… ‘you don’t want it enough, there is nothing that you actually want to make…therefore I won’t teach you.’ Isn’t that dreadful. Out of frustration she has scoured department stores and in fact door-stepped a rather famous yarn producer and persuaded her to teach her the basics… The Granny Square she produced following that encounter is one of my most treasured gifts.

I still won’t teach her.

When the second lock-down came I felt a huge ache of friends saying …’Oh no… we are going into the darkest days of a British Winter…I cannot cope!’ It occurred to me that for those of us in the yarny community the announcement was softened. Many of us thought, ‘well it’s not good, but I do have a lot of projects to finish before Christmas… I will hunker down’. It seemed selfish not to share the consoling balm of our hobby. I put out a quiet call to my friends on Facebook asking if anyone wanted to learn the basics. I thought I might get perhaps one or two flickers of interest.

In fact I was overwhelmed. The only answer was to set up a Zoom tutorial. Mrs V’s Crochet Society was born. In the end we had about 9 willing students. I set a time and date for a little introduction meeting and then the realisation hit…how on earth was I going to do this?

In the introduction session I showed everyone the sort of things they could make and pointed out some good books and websites that are worth visiting. I also wanted to glean what their ambitions were. Was there something that they wanted to make? How keen were they…etc.

We set a date and time for our first actual on-line tutorial. In that intervening week I ordered yarn in their favourite colour, some hooks in the correct size and obtained enough copies of my book, ‘How to Crochet’ so each participant had their own to refer to. It took me a while to settle on our first project but in the end I devised a simple cowl pattern – something you could proudly wear once you had finished. Later that week I drove round our city dropping of this yarny starter kit, thinking all the while, ‘What am I doing! I can’t teach and certainly not remotely!!!’

Experience told me that for both the teacher and the students it was a good idea to set a session limit. I committed to 4 sessions, weekly on a late Sunday afternoon. Technically it wasn’t a total breeze. I am fortunate that my husband is a whizz with video and computers. So I was able to swap between a camera looking at the my face and then an camera positioned over my hands.

On the first session we covered making a slip-knot, completing and foundation chain and successfully learning the double crochet stitch. It is hard not being able to actually stand over the shoulder of someone as they crochet. All the students showed incredible patience both with me and with each other. At the end of the first hour and a half, everyone was off and running with a simple double crochet cowl.

For some the stitching came easily. For others the mid-air manipulation of the yarn and the hook was frustrating. What totally surprised me was that by the following week virtually everyone had made their cowl!!! That blew me away. Some people were on to their third!

I was so amazed after the first week to be able to get a cowl underway (albeit a bit wonky!) I loved that despite my imperfections it looked great! The second one I embarked on was a lot neater and I was so pleased to find it looked more like the photo in the book! – Helen

In the second week we picked up some problems, perfected techniques and began looking at treble crochet and the granny square.

At week three some students had begun a chunky Granny Square blanket, others had begun a Christmas production line of cosy cowls. The progress and passion was inspiring. I introduced everyone to amigurumi in week three and the magic ring. This is complex stuff, but if you get it – you never go back.

On each session there were good friends of mine, their daughters, teenagers and even an awesomely talented 9 year old. Everyone had a mixture of crafty experience and competency. I taught Kate to knit a few years ago for her Duke of Edinburgh award and I knew instinctively she would love crochet – I loved learning to crochet!! I’ve tried knitting before but just as Emma said, once you crochet you never go back to knitting, and I don’t think I will! The technique is so fun and really simple once you’ve got it so it’s really easy to continue developing more styles and patterns! – Kate

In the final week I invited some expert crocheters to join us on our last zoom tutorial to share their top-tips and favourite makes. They joy of hearing these new crocheters and established experts conversing was thrilling.

My little star Hadiah has such passion for the craft and as a close neighbour I would often see her on my doorstep. She kept asking me to teach her amigurumi. She wants to make the little rabbit in ‘How to Crochet’. I think perhaps this was the second and most compelling reason for working out how to teach on-line. Her Mum, Mars was delighted;

Mrs.V’s crotchet club is an inspired thing. My 9 year old has absolutely adored having sessions on-line learning to crochet. She’s now developed a creative hobby that will keep her busy for the rest of her life. Since the classes, she’s been busy making crochet presents from star Christmas tree ornaments to cowls for friends and family. It was lovely to see her engage with Emma on-line and get excited every Sunday when she knew she was going to have another lesson. She even told her classmates about her lessons with a celebrity in the crochet world, and took in a signed copy of her crochet book as evidence of her crochet superhero Mrs. V!

I think that for some of my friends, that little autumn workshop will be a one off adventure. Others I know have become gloriously addicted and like Alice have fallen down the rabbit hole of crochet adventures. Bella said: I never imagined I could actually master crochet as it looked so complicated. I was surprised how quickly I picked it up’ I loved it

It is also a weird thing that often I seem to lead a double or triple life. Some friends and work colleagues never really know that I crochet or even write books about it. The thought of teaching my oldest friends felt awkward and certainly I didn’t think I could do it successfully (see my previous reticence). Setting up the online tutorial made it far easier. I am sharing with you this experience to encourage you to take a step either to share your skills with a friend (they will appreciate it) or discover a new craft in this difficult year… it will be enormous fun! – my friend Charlotte pretty much sums it up.

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. -Francis of Assisi

I was probably the most reluctant beginner and realised that my hesitancy to learn crochet came, not from a lack of interest, but a lack of confidence. I would look at Emma’s crocheted masterpieces with admiration and decided that I wouldn’t even bother learning because I’d never reach those heady heights. Once I had put my pride to one side, accepted that learning is a journey where you are ALLOWED to make mistakes ( and indeed should make mistakes), I did what was necessary, picked up the hooks and yarn, leaned into the advise and was soon doing the ‘impossible’…I am the proud creator of two crocheted scarves. They might not be perfect but I am ok with that ❤️

If you would like to make your own beginners cowl here is the Yarn Recipe:

You will need: 1 x ball of Stylecraft Special Super Chunky XL, 1 x 10mm crochet hook, 1 large eyed tapestry needle

The Cowl Pattern –

Using a 10 mm hook and super chunky yarn, you are going to make a slip knot and then chain 21 stitches.

You will double crochet into the second chain from the hook. (20 stitches) Work a double crochet into each chain to the end.Turn the work. Work 1 chain. 1 double crochet in each stitch to end. 20 stitches. This is your pattern. Work straight until your crochet measures, 50 cm/20 inches.

Row 1: Using 10mm hook and yarn A ch66 sts.Do not fasten off.

Finishing Create the circular cowl by twisting the yarn once, so that point A meets point A, and point B matches point B. Then slip stitch the side edges together. Wear with pride.

My little Crochet Society was created by my super talented friend Eve

Your handy Yarny Christmas Guide

If you are reading this…I hope you have found this article subtly and rather nonchalantly left open or shared your craft obsessed ‘loved one’.

Yes you could buy them something from a large retailer… but how much more delightful to shop small, bespoke and quite frankly clever. So here goes…

Gorgeous Gubbins from Beyond Meaure

These are fabulous gifts that will delight the knitter, crocheter or even sewist. Pop over to the joy that is Beyond Measure. Grace has a beautiful online shop and when I go to yarn festivals I always head to her stall to be tempted by the treasures she selects.

Winter 2020 edition of the Cohana mini snips.

These incredibly tiny scissors are so cute and are perfect for keeping in a bag, tool box or pencil case.

As always, Cohana have sought out the best manufacturers to create their vision of beautiful, high quality tools. These snips are made by Hasegawa Cutlery, a manufacturer of cutting tools established in 1933 and located in Seki, Gifu Prefecture, Japan’s foremost cutlery-making town.

The scissors work by gripping and pinching lightly to cut your thread or yarn.  Despite their small size, these cute mini-scissors have great cutting ability!

The small silk tassels are carefully handmade by Imasato, a specialist in tassels and knots founded in 1907 and located in Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture. For over 100 years, Imasato has been making tassels for Yame Chochin paper lanterns, which are a traditional handicraft. 

Available with grey, gold, blue, turquoise or pink silk tassel, plus limited edition creamy beige/metallic version for Winter 2020

Each pair comes with a little leather pouch and in a beautiful Cohana gift box. Snips measure about 3.5 cm long.

£1 from each pair sold (any colour) will be donated to the Runnymede Trust who generate intelligence to challenge race inequality in Britain through research, network building, leading debate, and policy engagement.

Wooden needle cases

These are great for DPNs and crochet hooks

Made from wood, this lovely case from Serradura of Lisbon is ideal for storing your tools. With a push on lid, it will keep your crochet hooks, DPNS, or even pencils safe and neatly stored!

Measures 7.5 inch or 19 cm long. Usable inside length 3/4 inch or 2 cm diam by 7 inch or 18 cm long. 

Maybe the advent calendar would be a nice seasonal thing too?

Create your own Advent tradition with this beautiful Advent Tree from Jurianne Matter. 

Paper and Wood advent Tree

Build the tree using the wooden pieces then every day, select one of the 24 sweet decorations to adorn the branches, adding the star on Christmas Day.  Or add them all at once if you can’t wait and enjoy the tree throughout the winter season!

The tree comes in a special A4 storage box so it can be used for many years to come and also makes a wonderful gift to post!

Everything you need is in the package; no tools or glue required:

1 easy to assemble Advent Tree comprising one beechwood trunk (33 cm high), one beechwood base, and twelve ‘branches’.

24 pre-punched ornaments of traditionally crafted heavy-duty paper plus one star for the top of the tree.

Made with FSC-certified wood and paper and printed with vegetable inks.

Tiny Tins

I fell in love with these little tins by Yorkshire artist and jeweller Leigh Shepherd.  Leigh creates the little drawings herself and they are set in resin in the lid. Perfect for your pins, buttons, needles and bits and bobs.

Available empty or add a small pack of 20 copper bulb pins (great as stitch markers).  They also work well with their beeswax thread conditioner.

In tiny tins, choose from Beehive, Fern, Acorn, Sycamore, Winter Trees or hand painted Sprig designs and also available in our natural dye collection

Tiny Tin measures 5 cm long – fits pack of two small buttons or pack 2 acorns.

Beehive and Acorn tin also available in medium size, 6 cm long – fits beeswax block and pack of large/small beeswax buttons.

Tangled Yarn

My next top shopping tip is from the glorious Tangled Yarn. Very local to me – but actually an online shop, Rachel has impeccable yarn tastes.

Just this week I have ordered some important items to keep the inspiration going.

For Knitters I would suggest, ChiaoGoo TWIST Interchangeables are possibly one of the best Stainless Steel circular needles you will find. Beautifully presented in their own case, each needle tip has it’s own labelled pocket, so you know exactly where to find it. There are pockets for storing the cables and additional accessories too.

Also on my list would be the Cocoknits Accessory Roll is comprised of an outer wrap that encloses four removable triangular envelope-style pouches attached by snaps. The elastic bands hold the roll closed, and can be customised with any of three additional colours provided. Convenient at home or on the go, the Accessory Roll organises all your little essentials. Fill up each section with your knitting notions, craft tools, makeup, jewellery, earbuds, phone charger, and bottle opener – whatever you need to have at hand. Take the whole roll, or simply unsnap one or two pouches to toss in your bag and be prepared for your active day.

I have just ordered for myself two Toft Alpaca Fur Pom Pom’s They are the perfect way to finish off a hat!

Available in a range of bright colours, each pom-pom is attached to a press stud to enable you to swap between colours easily. To wash, remove the stud with the pom-pom and re-attach once your piece is dry. They are by far the fluffiest pom-poms around!

Also I purchased the utterly beautiful Fair Isle Weekend Book. It takes you on an exciting trip to Fair Isle, a windswept island in Shetland, famous for its traditional colourwork knitting. During her many trips to Fair Isle, Mary Jane has been fascinated and inspired by the island’s rich textile traditions, learning about Fair Isle knitting by looking at old textiles and sharing stories and knowledge around a cup of tea. Now, she has created a gorgeous collection of designs which she would take with her for a weekend trip to Shetland when a carry-on bag is all you take with you.

For Crocheters….

This is not cheap but then I use mine everyday; a set of beautiful hooks. Tulip Etimo Red Crochet Hooks are not only a thing of beauty but they are great to use too! If you crochet you will love these! They are ergonomic, with a cushioned support grip that fits comfortably in the hand making it possible to crochet for longer with less fatigue. The matte red tones of the hook tip do not reflect light and are gentle on the eyes.

Socks

At this time of year, sock knitting is a wonderful thing to do in the evenings.

Exmoor Sock by John Arbon is designed to be perfect for socks, whilst still having the versatility to suit garments and accessories that relish a hard-wearing, machine washable yarn. It comes in handy 50g skeins so is ideal for knitting stripes or colourwork!

A wonderful yarn Exmoor Sock enhances the durable character and bounce of the fibre from local Exmoor Blueface sheep – a crossbreed of the Exmoor Horn (full-bodied and hard-wearing) and the Bluefaced Leicester (renowned for its softness and lustre).

Another great idea would be to buy a book on Sock making. My friend Christine is the Queen of teaching beginners how to make socks. I can testify that she taught me and I use her method every time. Pop over to her website to grab a copy of her book: Super Socks.

Kits…

Ok I’m not going to pretend… a kit at Christmas is a glorious thing! And yes I am going to suggest that you buy one of mine from my Etsy shop. Because…well I have put lots of love and care into choosing the yarn and writing the pattern and I think they make a great gift.

For a beginner why not buy a crochet cactus kit and you can combine that with my Crocheted Succulents book for a cracking gift.

To melt the heart why not choose from one of my Baby Animal kits. Perhaps Bobby Bunny, or Sam the Lamb and now very popular is Tony the Pony. In the run up to Christmas you can get 20% off a Gertie Goose Kit to ensure you have a glorious goose for the festive period.

If you are on the Etsy Shop it is worth look at my book selection. How to Crochet is perfect for beginners and the Granny Squares books are also very popular. Pop over and see what you think.

Support your local yarn shop

All of the suggestions above support small producers, authors and online shopkeepers. If you are aiming to shop small this Christmas I promise you that every order placed will thrill an individual business owner.

But also in these lockdown times please don’t forget your local yarn store. You may not even be aware of what bricks and mortar shop is near to you. Well my top tip would be to pop over to the UK Handknitters Association website. They have an excellent search facility which helps you find your nearest shop. If nothing else, you can telephone or contact the shop to buy a gorgeous gift token. I promise you one thing, there is nothing finer than having the opportunity/excuse to buy new yarn in the New Year.

This is a good list my friends! Exciting classics that will thrill and delight! But what would you suggest? If you commented on my last blog post I cannot thank you more!

The agony and ecstasy of the #WIP (work in progress)

There is a moment, perhaps half way through, more likely two thirds, when I am at my optimum project moment. For every substantial knitting or crochet project there is that terrible balance of enjoying the making and yet wanting to finish.

Do you know what I mean? I love the making but there is something really brilliant when you finally sew in the last end and hold up you finished woolly – that ‘TA-DAH’ moment.

My biggest struggle is found in knitting when I am making a garment. My latest project cast-off this week is a boxy fairisle cardigan made with Stylecraft Highland Heathers.

I have enjoyed using the yarn. The colour has a depth to it which is beautifully subtle, almost a tweed. The blue has flashes of pink and green. I also like the simple fairisle motif and the contrasting edge. Throughout I have been intrigued to see how the project will turn out. I have enjoyed the simple stocking stitch rhythms. So it is with mixed emotions that I have cast off the final sleeve. I don’t even mind the sewing up and this time I invested in using the magical mattress stitch. (FANCY).

Although I know this cardigan will be a welcome addition to my winter wardrobe, I now slightly grieve its loss.

emma-varnam-v-stitch-blanket

The crochet equivalent would be blanket making. My ‘V’ stitch Vintage Virus Blanket which I started at the beginning of lockdown has been my longest ‘WIP’ of this year. There were moments that I questioned why I started it at all. But then almost 50 rows from the end, I began to become quietly addicted. I was frequently found in a corner, secretly hooking away a few sneaky rows. When I had finished the blanket I missed its warm comfort and its familiar pattern.

In Homer’s Odyssey, the character of Penelope waits for her husband to return from war. She has many suitors in that time and she keeps them at bay by promising that she will not consider anyone until she has finished her weaving. Every night for three years she unravels the work she has done the day before. Well it might have kept the pesky chaps at bay, but perhaps she was also enjoying the simple pleasures of an excellent ‘Work in Progress’.

cornwallis-rowan-emma-varnam

As we head towards Christmas I have a number of commissions on the go and a few gifts that I want to complete. But I have yet to decide on a delicious ‘work in progress’ that tempts me into snuggle into the sofa and I cannot almost bear to finish.

The Cardigan I have made is 9794 by Stylecraft – I have used colourways Loch and Gorse and I made mine in the Medium size. I am a Stylecraft Blogstar so I am able to view and access Stylecraft yarns before they have been released.

The scarf in the photos is Arabian Nights knitted using West Yorkshire Spinners sock yarn. There is a post about that project here.

You can find my simple free pattern for the V-stitch blanket in this blog post.

Sweater Weather

Oh my, oh my it is a little bit chilly isn’t it? Never mind…sweater weather… a perfect excuse for the yarny amongst us to get out the needles and hooks and work on new cosy garments.

sweater

I was on one of the (endless) Skype meetings this week and found myself playing a brand new quiz: ‘Whose sweater game is strong?’

Being just ‘head and shoulders’ rather than a whole person, does really demonstrate who is head and shoulders in the ‘working from home’ outfit.

If you are being mean with the heating then a cosy jumper is just the thing. I’ll be honest the bright colours of a ‘top-down’ fairisle yoke will really catch the eye. How much more impressive would it be if you can admit you made it yourself? This the Birkin Sweater by Caitlin Hunter and I adore it. I finished in the Summer and it has made a few outings this week on the work meetings. I always worried that it would be too small. But surprisingly I was wrong and it has worked well.

stylecraft-lime-tank-top-emma-varnam

This week I have also delved into my drawers and found my cosy tanks. They have the advantage of keeping you body warm and yet you have the flexibility of movement. This zesty lime green tank is a design from Debbie Bliss (my darling friend) but when I make and buy her designs I pay cold hard cash for them…because I’m a discerning customer too and hey we all need to eat!

marius cardigan- emma -varnam

The cardigan is always a good choice to stay warm. In a changing climate as you can take it on and off quite quickly without messing up your hair or make-up.

arabian-knights-emma-varnam-pink

Now you might think I am mad, but even in my own home I have found myself putting on a cosy scarf. Bear with me… having a colourful but thinish scarf around your neck can bring added warmth, jazzing up what is ultimately quite a boring polo neck or sweatshirt. If you use a 4ply sock yarn you can get lots of warmth without it being very bulky. Have a look at this post to see all the details of the pattern.

So what am I making at the moment? Well for a few weeks I have been making a Stylecraft pattern using their new Highland Heathers yarn. Being a Stylecraft Blogstar I am fortunate to view all the patterns ahead of the season. Annabelle and Juliet from Stylecraft always know that there will come a moment in the season preview that I will say…’ooooo I like that!’. That usually means I will will want to knit that design for myself. So I am making the romantically named 9794 in Loch and Gorse. I am a very big fan of this new yarn. It has a lovely tweedy quality and I am currently using it quite a bit for some new projects. Hopefully in a few weeks I will finish the cardigan and be able to show you.

If you have any ‘Zoom’ style tips, I would love to hear them. I think strength of colour and a little interest in the neckline is the way to go. Oh, and if you can manage it from 8 hours of screen time…a little smile.

Getting Winter Ready

I almost don’t want to say it, but I think that this might be a difficult winter period for those of us living in the Northern hemisphere. For some of us – we have felt rather stuck indoors for a while. I seem to have a very selective memory and can easily forget those heady hot weeks of April and May. But bearing in mind: ‘the nights drawing in’, I have decided to get proactive.

A good friend of mine, sent me a link to this very interesting article in the Guardian this week. I found it helpful. Essentially it takes the good practice of our Scandinavian neighbours who have much darker and colder winters than the Brits. They acknowledge and embrace the season, focus on it’s characteristics and proactively get involved and organise activities that can only be done during this season.

Don’t get me wrong – up to now I have been fortunate enough not to suffer from S.A.D (seasonal affective disorder). I have many close friends who it effects deeply and they dread the long dark season. The newspaper article reminded me to dig out all the advice and joys of the ‘Hygge’ phenomenon that was very a fashionable a few years ago. So I have made myself a few little promises to get into the ‘hygge mood’

Vintage-look-life-dk-scarf-emma-varnam
  1. I’m going to dig out the fairy lights. They bring twinkle and sparkle to any dimpsy room and can instantly lighten my mood
  2. Get out in the daylight in the middle of the day. I can’t always do it but even if I could carve out 15 minutes at lunch time to have a stroll outside I know it will be beneficial
  3. Ensure we do an outdoor family activity every weekend. It might just be in our garden – but with warm/waterproof clothes it should always be possible
  4. Plan for a start cosy knitting and crochet projects. There is nothing better than snuggling up under a homemade blanket as your are working on it.

I’ve said it so many times – but I am blessed to have a yarny hobby and it is a real benefit to me in the winter months. I know I have lots of friends that want to learn to crochet. So this weekend I am running a ‘Giveaway’ of my book How to Crochet over on my Instagram account. If you follow, like and tag a friend you will be entered into the draw.

I still love and enjoy all the projects in that book and there a many patterns that I use and give as gifts every year.

What are you top tips for staying Winter Happy? I would love to know.

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