Toys

Billy Bear – My first crochet toy

The first toy you ever have – always has a special place and for a maker is a gift of love. I have updated my Billy Bear pattern to create my very best guide of a first crochet toy.

People often ask me what they should make if they are just starting to make crochet toys. If you have begun crochet making a granny square then the jump to working in the round or making ‘amigurumi’ can seem a bit daunting. Perhaps it is just the name. But essentially you are just working the most basic double crochet stitch in a spiral to build up a seamless shape.

Billy Bear with his striped jumper and simple legs and arms is a brilliant introduction to all the techniques I use in my other toys. My preference in all my toy designs is to incorporate the limbs into the fabric of the crochet. This will ensure that no matter how much play a treasured bear might have – their arm will not unravel. I also like joining each leg together before you work the body. Before you have your first go – this technique might seem complicated. But never fear it is actually quite simple.

I have written the pattern for you with helpful photos and honestly I am keen for you to fly with you toy making and to feel confident with all the techniques. If you are are a real crochet starter and not sure that this will be your thing, I have introduced a few simple kits to my shop so that you can buy just a few of the items you need before you start building a huge stash. You can choose from a beautifully classic duck egg colour or the softest powder pink. One of my customers messaged me to ask if I had a bespoke colour that she could use and I was able to help her and pop it in the kit. So if you have different stripe in mind, do message me.

Followers to this blog will notice a little change. I have added my own shop to the blog so that you can buy kits and books directly from me. It’s a new exciting venture and I am so delighted to connect with you and help you develop your crochet.

Pop over to the shop to have a look and tell me about any other items or patterns you would like to see.

How I design

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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Small Bunny – Big Bunny

I was thinking about Easter…I know, I know, but when you work on designs the seasons are always out of kilter. I have a huge collection of soft toys I have designed over the years and I was looking at some chunky yarn in my stash and it occurred to me, wouldn’t it be fun to see quite how large my Harris Hare pattern would become worked in chunky yarn? When we have children around at Easter, we love an egg hunt and for added fun it is quite delightful to find an Easter Bunny in the hedgerow. This bunny is a perfect cuddly companion for any young treasure hunter.

I created 4 Woodland Animal toy designs for Stylecraft yarns last year. The designs use Life DK and are published in the leaflet format, (pattern 9666) The original Harris Hare has beautiful mottled fur using, Stone Nepp. You need just 2 x 100g balls. You will also need a little cream dk yarn from your stash for his pom-pom tail. He measures 46 cm (18 in) tall.

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I have got to admit to you – Harris is a bit of favourite. I really couldn’t part with him. Unlike some of my other designs he has a round base at his bottom, which means he sits rather nicely and his legs dangle down.

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Sometimes people who see my patterns feel they must use the specified yarn in the original design. I totally understand that, I can be very much the same. But don’t be afraid to create something new by using the pattern but with a much finer yarn or a chunky wool. The only thing you must remember is to choose a hook or a needle which suits the gauge of your yarn. If you are looking for pointers, just have a quick look at the ball band and there is always a suggestion of the ideal hook/needle size for that yarn.

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For my very large Hare – I used 4 x balls of Stylecraft Bellissima Chunky in Paper Parchment.

I chose to use a 5mm hook and our cute bunny is now a mahoosive….66cm (26in) – his tail alone is 10cm (4in) wide. I have to be honest he is joyful to cuddle. I also designed him a little neckerchief if Bellissima Chunky Double Denim. I am thinking of making my godson a version – to be honest this bunny is much larger than my baby godson so it would fit.

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Why not look through your yarn collection and see which yarns you could use for different purposes – don’t be scared – just have fun and scale things up or down.

My plan is to send Chunky Bunny off to my pal Helen Kurtz for her Fibres for Fibres Fundraiser. She is raising money to support research into Myositis – it is a rare muscles disease which is very debilitating and causes muscle inflammation and weakness. I’ll keep you updated of when the Bunny will be available and perhaps you can give him a good home.

For the love of toys

I have been thinking about making toys recently. As you know, often I can be beavering away in the background, making something secret I cannot share. You will imagine that it will include toys – toys for babies, toys for toddlers, toys for play, toys to amuse and in some cases toys that adults love. Well I know that there are really three important factor that make a great toy.

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Make it stand the test of time

Firstly, it needs to be hard-wearing. A really successful toy is not just admired – it is loved. Indeed the ultimate goal of a toy is to be ‘the one’. That means lots of imaginative play, lots of trips to unknown places. Lots of adventures in the garden, lots of holidays and even being flung out of bed in the middle of the night. Very undignified. Toy making began in earnest for me when I learnt to crochet. I discovered something. Working in the round; amigurumi, meant there were fewer seams. That meant there was less chance of having arms, legs ears pulled off in enthusiastic games or just from general wear and tear.

Do you know that this little monster was the very first crochet toy I ever made for my boy. At the time it sat neatly in his hand. Now he has enormous hands and this little chap seems very very small. In Cute Crochet Animals I suggest that you attach the arms by incorporating the last stitches of each arm into the rounds of the body. This means that the limbs become part of the whole piece and won’t fall off or unravel. This is my very favourite technique and I use it whenever I can.

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Be inspired

Some my very favourite designs or makes have been inspired by small conversations. Chatting away to children or friends you get to know what they really love. I tell you nothing, absolutely nothing is more wonderful than a home made treasure which someone has made specifically for you. It is not only the time and effort it takes to make that object, but the added value of listening to you, hearing and noting your passions and then turning that conversation into an idea.

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I have designed many penguins over the years – for one simple reason – my son loves penguins. His love of these comical birds has changed our family. Who knew there were so many species? I have watched more films, cartoons and documentaries about penguins than I dreamed possible. They have infiltrated my design work – and I am so glad they have. But I make Penguins because I love him and I want to delight his heart – I am sure I will make more

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Look for the cute

The last bit of making a toy is the very most vital part. Placing the features – I have three pieces of advice for you. Firstly, relax. Homemade toys – are meant to look like just that – homemade. They are not made by robots – they are not made in their hundreds. They are unique and therefore should look different and bespoke. Secondly if you pour love into the process then your toy will reflect that love and care. I can’t explain it – but it is like a small sprinkle toy-maker’s magic dust. The care, the time, the joy comes seeps out through every stitch.

Placing

Finally do take your time. I might place the eyes in several different places before I finally settle on their lasting position and fasten them. Even though I have made hundred of toys I will rip out noses, mouths and ears and start again. If in doubt – rip it out. But do finish it.

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It occurred to me recently – when my boy is all grown up – will I stop making toys? I don’t think so, because you know who gets the most joy from making these toys – the biggest kid – Me!

Hello New Cute Animal Makers

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

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My childhood memories

I have very distinct childhood memories of sitting in my own imaginary world playing with my toys. I was very fond of one particular pretty rag doll,  happy dress her for bed, settle her in a small wooden toy cot and smooth her woolen hair as I imagined her drifting off to sleep. The play-acting of the nurturing role is universal I think. An added joy is to choose and dress toys – creatively putting different combinations of clothes, shoes and accessories together.

All of these moments of play and flights of fantasy are such a precious part of a carefree childhood. It occurred too me that it would be delightful to create animal characters that could be dressed, loved and cuddled for a new generation.

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Design development

Over the years I have designs and developed lots of different animal patterns and I really enjoy making rabbits. I was commissioned to make a lovely bunny for Inside Crochet Magazine and that bunny was dressed a a pretty Liberty print dress. Over time I kept thinking it would be great to develop a whole wardrobe of clothes for a bunny. I also wanted to develop my pattern design to make the toy easier to dress.

I started talking to my publishers at GMC, and we began thinking about different animals I could create and the kind of outfits I could design. It was lots of fun and soon little characters began to emerge. I drew the animals and their outfits first and then I had conversations and email discussions with my precious editor Wendy. The outfits are intended to have a quintessentially English style. Children I know should recognise and like the clothes which their animal will wear.

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That must be me!

Each animal in the book has a character of its own. A couple of weeks ago I visited my oldest friends and their children. I had taken a copy of the book with me to see what they thought. I sat quietly in an adjoining room listening to their conversation; ‘That cat is definitely me, listen to the description – that is me!’ ‘Well we all know I am the fox… I love her cardigan…’. Such precious sounds. A happy smile spread across my face as the imagination of young people was sparked.

When you make things with you loved ones in mind then, nothing is more satisfying then to hear them participate and enjoy the journey with you and get the joy of creating small toys which have a character of their own. If you get to see the book, even if you can’t crochet – I hope you will see and read the humour within it. Some of it is my own crazy imagination, lots of it is due to the fabulous creativity of my editor Wendy and designer Rachel, who captured the joy of the project too.

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

Baby Strawberry

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Oh how I love to make homemade gifts for babies. There must be a universal reaction that is triggered by the news a little one is on it’s way. I know a fair few mums who rekindled their crafty skills when they discovered they were pregnant. Well my baby is now a strapping boy, but the knitting and crochet for babies has not abated.

Some friends of mine were keenly expecting a gorgeous little girl and her little big brother had very sweetly named the growing bump ‘Strawberry’. Knowing that this baby was due in July I crammed my commission work in with a little bit of toy making for Strawberry. Suddenly I realised I had missed a trick… why didn’t I tie in my making with her nick name.

The light bulb went on in my head and that my friends is when it all becomes a little bit dangerous, a little bit obsessive. I dug out some Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Yarn, which is my preferred yarn for baby projects and I stared to crochet.

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Booties

First came the strawberry booties. I used my ‘go-to’ pattern for bootie slippers and added a row of dark green for detail and some strawberry flowers.

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Hat

Next came the hat. Here I used a pattern I created for Debbie Bliss and added the crochet flower to create a matching set. You can find the pattern if you would like to use create something similar here.

Rattle

You would think by now I had finished. By oh no…there was one more thing. A baby strawberry needs a baby strawberry rattle. A little amigurumi strawberry baby who tinkles and rattles to amuse. I managed to make all three gift just using 1 ball of Baby Cashmerino in Ruby.

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So you might wonder, what was the verdict from little Baby Strawberry? Well I think she was suitably delighted. Isn’t she sweet? The best kind of making, making for love.

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What I have been making – Ralph the Dog

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I have often said that since I learnt to crochet, it is rare for me to knit a toy. Let’s face it, the crochet in the round technique ‘amigurumi’ means there are fewer of those pesky seams to sew. The toys also seem to be less floppy and more durable. Then, a pattern comes along which means you are full of contradictions…this time it was Ralph the Dog.

I spotted Ralph behind the counter at Black Sheep Wools. A little bit of love at first sight. In the last few weeks we have taken a mini-break holiday and it is nice for me to make a pattern which I haven’t designed myself. There is something about following a pattern which enables the making to feel more like my original hobby. The original design I think uses Sirdar Harrap Tweed DK in Brace. I actually used some wool in my stash.

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I was really worried that I might run out of yarn before I finished the project. But you forget that knitting uses up much less yarn than crochet. Isn’t his tail really rather sweet? The neckerchief I made is slightly different. I just had a moment of whimsy and wanted to practice my fairisle technique again. I have no idea who might be the proud owner of this little dog. Until I can find someone who will properly love him he has pride of place on my mantelpiece.

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If you would like to make your own Ralph you can buy the pattern from Black Sheep Wools here. Don’t forget to also visit the facebook page Sue Jobson and her designs: Sardines for Tea, where you will find lots of other fabulous animal designs. so sweet and so cuddly. I must I think for dare I say it, festive gifts. Have a lovely weekend making.

 

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British Knitting and Crochet Awards – please vote

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I am so excited that my book Cute Crocheted Animals has been nominated in the Best Crochet Book category of the British Knitting and Crochet Awards 2017. I had no idea that it would get into such prestigious company.

Obviously it delights me that so many of you who have made the animals and sent lovely photos of your sweet creations. The awards have grown enormously over the last few years and crochet has begun to get its own place within the categories. These awards are wonderful because they not only feature the large companies but also reward small independent shops, bloggers and authors.

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When I started designing the toys for Cute Crocheted Animals, I would never have believed that people would enjoy making them so much.

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My childhood memories

I have very distinct childhood memories of sitting in my own imaginary world playing with my toys. There was one pretty rag doll that I happily dressed for bed, settled her in a small wooden toy cot and smoothed her woolen hair imagininig her drifting off to sleep. The play-acting of the nurturing role is universal I think. An added joy is to choose and dress toys – creatively putting different combinations of clothes, shoes and accessories together.

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

All of these moments of play and flights of fantasy are such a precious part of a carefree childhood. It occurred too me that it would be delightful to create animal characters that could be dressed, loved and cuddled for a new generation.

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

Design development

Over the years I have designs and developed lots of different animal patterns and I really enjoy making rabbits. I was commissioned to make a lovely bunny for Inside Crochet Magazine  dressed in a pretty Liberty print dress. Over time I kept thinking it would be great to develop a whole wardrobe of clothes for a bunny. I also wanted to develop my pattern design to make the toy easier to dress.

crochet-fox-ben-cute-crocheted-animals

I started talking to my publishers at GMC, and we began thinking about different animals I could create and the kind of outfits I could design. It was lots of fun and soon little characters began to emerge. I drew the animals and their outfits first and then I had conversations and email discussions with my precious editor Wendy. The outfits are intended to have a quintessentially English style.

That must be me!

When I visited my oldest friends and their children. I took a copy of the book with me to see what they thought. I sat quietly in an adjoining room listening to their conversation; ‘That cat is definitely me, listen to the description – that is me!’ ‘Well we all know I am the fox… I love her cardigan…’. Such precious sounds. A happy smile spread across my face as their imagination was sparked.

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

When you make things with your loved ones in mind nothing is more satisfying then to hear them participate and enjoy the journey with you. If you get to see the book, even if you can’t crochet – I hope you will see and read the humour within it. Some of it is my own crazy imagination, lots of it is due to the fabulous creativity of my editor Wendy and designer Rachel, who captured the joy of the project too.

If you have liked the book and perhaps even think about making your own toys. I would love it if you would vote for Cute Crocheted Animals. You can click on the link on the Let’s Knit Website – VOTE HERE. Or use the link button below. When you vote you will be entered into a prize draw. Voting continues until 30th August, but please don’t forget to cast your vote now.

 

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For the love of Tsum Tsum

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I don’t often take commissions. In fact I said the other day that I don’t ever. Why? Well it is difficult to explain and there are many reasons. I think the joy of making for me is about the joy of giving. My very best design ideas and projects tend to come from little conversations, small asides. Little seeds of inspiration grow in my brain and often the people who have inspired them have no idea they were a participant.

One such conversation happened over the Easter break. We were away, having a sunny break by the seaside with many families. Good friends of mine have the most delightful 6 year old son. Spud and I get along. Indeed I get on very well with both Spud and his sister Eve. (I made Frank the sausage dog for Eve).  Although many decades separate us in age, we all like fun, whimsy, creating and collecting. Now Spud is a collector of a specific toy, the Tsum Tsum. This is a small beanie plush toy which Disney have created. They have taken their iconic characters and created stackable soft toys with a Japanese aesthetic. They are really rather cute, quite affordable and therefore deeply collectible.

Tsum Tsum

Spud brought many of his Tsum Tsum toys on holiday and promised to give me the full tour. The only problem was, on a busy holiday, I was rather elusive. The photo above his Spud in hot pursuit to detect that wayward Emma Varnam. When we did eventually make a date we set aside MUCH time to survey his most treasured artifacts. The conversation was delightful. On full inspection I realised that it would be very easy to make a replica out of crochet. Perhaps it is because amigurumi has its origin in Japanese design but the link was obvious. I asked Spud which character he was missing and he told me with a slight hint of sadness; Pooh Bear….Bingo!

Back from our holiday and washing, spring cleaning and chores completed, I scrattled around in my yarn stash to find the correct colours. I had a quick look at Pinterest, knowing full well that if I had made the creative connection, others would have got there before me.

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The design is oh-so simple. There are plenty of designs available to purchase on Etsy and Ravelry if you fancy a go. Annoying though it might be, I am able to freehand this kind of design and so by the end of the evening my Pooh Bear Tsum Tsum was complete. I was almost giddy with excitement to see Spud.

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Handing it over to him, to see his face, to see the excitement of his sister Eve and the anticipation of my son, is the stuff of dreams. I love writing books, I love designing for magazines. To see your work in print is a real buzz. But to see something you make lighten up a face, to see that enchantment and for you to feel that love too. That my friend is the magic of making and what a gift it is both to the recipient but mostly to the maker.

 

 

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New cute toy designs for Debbie Bliss

emma-varnam-penguin-debbie-bliss I love to create ‘cute’. I think what I really like is the idea of making a toy that will inspire a cuddle. If you have followed this blog for a while or indeed read any interviews I have done, you will know that most of my ideas stem from knowing and loving real people.

Firstly I love Debbie Bliss, my gorgeous inspirational friend. When we meet up (too rarely), we conspire to create new designs together. One of my most joyful experiences is being able to make and create under her design label.

emma-varnam-panda-debbie-blissThis spring I have four toy designs published in leaflet form, two use Rialto 4ply and two use Rialto DK.

You know Perry Penguin is inspired by Little B, what he does not know about Penguins is not worth thinking about. The figure largely in our family life. Perry is a baby penguin with chubby cuteness. My only hope is that when he returns from his travels across the world, touring the knitting shows, he will make his way back home to the open arms of my boy.

Panda Love

The new Panda design is inspired by my sister. She always loved pandas and had a rather special monochrome bear which still exists today. This panda is made with the finer Rialto 4ply which makes the crochet dense and very durable. I like using Debbie’s yarns for toys because they have a soft quality which makes them more huggable and they are not very susceptible to splitting.

emma-varnam-dino-debbie-blissDino Danger

The little green Dino was made with my newphew in mind. He loves his dinosaurs and when I think of him I often remember his doing a rather impressive ‘GRRRRR’. Well this dino, has a cheeky smile and really is quite friendly.

emma-varnam-simon-bear-debbie-blissSimon Bear

Finally there is Simon Bear. A much larger toy than I usually make and with much bigger paws and feet.  He has a Debbie inspired Jumper. He would make a great companion for a larger child and has a very friendly face.

All of these patterns are published as single leaf leaflets and they are available from  yarn shops and online stockists. Please tell me what you think and if you have new ideas for new toys you would like to see, I am always open to suggestions.

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