Patch Passion

I have been inspired by patchwork for such a long time. Seriously it is the craft I would love to do – but I don’t. Why? I mean I love it so much and I understand the basics. I have even done some English piecing when I was young (you know covering little paper hexagons with fabric and sewing them together). Yet I never seem to carve out the time.

I had lovely memories of a house I used to visit as a child. The mother of a friend had made beautiful hand stitched patchwork curtains for every room. They were mesmeric. Very beautiful and such a labour of love. When we first moved to our current house I decided to make a patchwork curtain for the spare room. I really can’t believe I had the dedication. But it is rather special and has fabrics which belong to treasured clothing, pieces of embroidery from old pyjamas. It is these memory scraps which make it so beautiful. And yet that was the last time I did any patchwork.

But the patterns, the traditional blocks are so inspiring. The combination of simple shapes to create a new pattern. They really lend themselves to our crochet craft. I literally have about 5 blankets in my head that I would like to do.

The Stargazer is really popular and I love that so many people have downloaded the pattern. Currently in use in these cold days it brings so much joy. But then my next adventure has just been in a recent issue of Inside Crochet. the Hexagon Blanket is so fresh and joyful and so reminiscent of traditional granny flower patterns it is wonderful used as a bed spread. A number of years ago I designed a Scandi inspired blanket in browns, yellows and ochres. It was my first play at traditional quilt patterns. I really enjoyed the pattern, but have re-worked the colours in blues and pinks – colours which I am very fond of. I think if you remake a large pattern, you really do need a bit of space so that you can enjoy the making journey again.

I have come to the conclusion that I am not sewing patch work because crochet for me as a much quicker craft – and if I am honest it is much more mobile. So what is on the hook now? Back before Christmas I was inspired to star making a scrappy pattern. I have used the smallest squares of Bellissima and Bambino as a central pattern. The pattern was inspired by the new quilt book by ‘Quilt Alchemy’ by American artist Sara Larson Buscaglia. You can see her work on instagram as Farm and Folk.

Honestly I think I need to say that the quilt inspired designs are not always plain sailing. This design definitely has fiddly sewing-in elements. I enjoy working half-and-half Granny Squares, but they are not everyone’s jam. Finally since taking this photo I have decided that I do not like the beige colour and have switched to my faithful blue. So there has been some quite severe ripping back. That might explain why I haven’t quite finished this project yet.

So even though I can’t get into sewing Quilts…luckily one of my lovely and brilliant friends is a fabulous quilter. You can find her on Instagram here. For my birthday. She presented me with this beautiful quilted bag. Isn’t it just simply gorgeous! It even has a liberty print liner. I can’t tell you how excited I am to use it this weekend. Whilst I am not quilting I am still surrounded by clever people who are and the inspirational patterns and that I can bring to life in yarn. All I need to do is to get those 5 other pattern ideas out of my head and onto the hook.

I wonder if you have a craft you keep meaning to take up – but just don’t seem to be able to divert your time. Is it just better to admire from afar?

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Making and re-making – the little doll

If you read last week’s blog, you will know that one of the things I would like to achieve in my crafty world this year is to finally finish, write up and and publish my doll pattern. It has been a two year journey – no not a journey, because we have not been going anywhere – a two year stop-and-start.

I have made lots and lots of toys. Bunnies and bears are a joy to me, in lots of shapes and style. But a doll design has alluded me. I’m going to be honest – I have designed a pineapple last year in a morning… I mean seriously how hard can it be!

There are a number of things I like to get right before I let a design go into the world. Firstly I do think about the yarn. I think about the price point – is it reasonable? Also how easy is the yarn to get hold of? Now these things are important. I know you might make a design using your stash, and to be fair that’s the best scenario, but no one would thank me if I didn’t say what yarn I have used in the original.

Honestly I think I have made 3…perhaps even 4 versions of a doll. For most of the toy animals I make I have used a DK weight yarn, but with the doll I felt I need to finer stitch. It seems to matter more with the faces. So I have been searching for the perfect 4ply yarn – oh my we have been around the houses. I think I have experimented with 5 different types. It can get a bit expensive this trial and error. But the availability of tones has been important to me for skin colour – I think I have finally cracked it. I know if you make toys you might say – Emma …4ply that is fiddly! Yes… Yes I know but I promise you – have a go and I am sure you will get into it. Or lets be honest – used a larger hook and DK you already have – your doll will just be a bigger toy for bigger hugs!

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The really….really difficult thing has been the faces. I have never been really pleased with the head size and the face shape. I have made 4 versions of the head, and looking through my notebook with all the crossings out and over writing it has been quite difficult to decipher. I was so frustrated with me lack of ‘getting it’ the lovely little girls have made as samples have been placed quite firmly in the corner – poor things. But in the New Year break I was determined to crack it – and started again.

Crochet friends of mine have said that the ability to create good faces for toys is one of my USP’s (they are kind people), so I didn’t want to get this design wrong. So I think we are there now. Ideally to help you replicate the look of the doll and for you to feel satisfied with your make I like to be specific with the placing of features – which round to place the eyes – how far apart they should be etc.

(If you are reading this and are not a crocheter…sorry this might be far too much tedious detail…but this stuff matters).

Then there is hair… thinking about it… it might be the hair that has really halted this project. For a crochet doll there are lots of different ways you can tackle the hair. You can make essentially a ‘hair-hat’ or helmet. An added piece of crochet that fits the shape of the head and that is just sewn on. You can also just take strands of wool and sew them to the head at a centre parting. I have done loads of ‘doll hair’ research. Perhaps too much. I have even used my sewing machine to sew a centre parting between two pieces of paper with professional doll hair. I mean it was fun. But it just didn’t feel like a technique that was accessible to everyone. I couldn’t solve the problem. What I have finally landed on, is a combination of two techniques. Creating a piece of crochet to sew to the head and adding some simple pompoms for bunches. I think this looks cute and is easier to recreate.

The body and the limbs haven’t changed much at at all. I have been happy with them all along, but I have thought quite a bit about the clothing. Full disclosure my preferred option would be to release this design with a pretty cotton skirt. My very first bunny design for Inside Crochet – way back in 2015 was Bonnie Bunny. She was really the prototype for what developed into Jack and Emily in Cute Crocheted Animals. But in that design, I combined some simple crocheted clothes with a pretty and simple cotton dress. I have wanted to return to this idea. So the doll design will come with two options; a simple crochet dress and instructions to make a very simple skirt made from cotton fabric. The dress is small enough that it could be hand sewn and would not need a sewing machine.

Two years ago I did ask you all what other clothes and accessories you would like me to design for the dolls. I still have that list – but I am always keen to add to the idea. So if you have a suggestion I would love to know.

So what next? Well what I need to do is to take a few instruction photos, which will much easier to follow the pattern. At the moment I am thinking I will release this pattern on my website and Etsy shop. So after I have taken all the photos I will begin writing up the pattern and then get the pattern tech-edited. This is really very important. I have a few dedicated makers who make lovely versions of my toys, so I will also ask them to have a look at the patten and make up their own version. After so much trial and error, I am finally pleased with how things are looking. I hope you like the dolls too. See what you think and please do leave a comment below. Have you got a project that took you years and years to finish?

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Making good lists

I respond well to lists – there must be some deep seated, school based reason – but lists work well for me. I am not obsessive. I can function without them. In fact most of the time I do function without them. But if I really need to get something done – a good list is ideal.

Just before going back to work after Christmas I made a very prosaic list – you know boring stuff like… put away clothes, put away Christmas decorations, clean fridge, book hair cut. How ridiculous – all these things were staring me in the face, but to really get them over the line – the physical list had to be made. I don’t know about you but there is something about a line going through the task which helps and I need to balance my tragic sense of achievement with an inner rebelliousness and procrastination. There is the nub.

This year I am not in the market for a New Years resolution – some years… Yes. Not this year. But a list seems like a good idea. But in addition to the practical ‘to-do’, I’m going to make a good list.

  • Laugh more
  • See more friends – actually do the arranging
  • Arrange a holiday
  • Hug my son – even if I have to surprise him
  • Hug Stanley the cat more
  • Go on a walk – weekly
  • Read more books
  • Design and dig the new bed in the garden

That’s enough to be going on with – those are life lists and to be fair if I managed all of these – and indeed more of these past the first few months of the year that would be excellent.

But what about the creative lists? Well yes, there will be one of those, but I am trying and aiming to not give myself too much ‘to-do’ on the old designing front. I have designed ALOT in the last year. You can see a correlation between my blogging activity and my designing/writing. When I am designing a lot then I go very quiet on this space. There is not enough time for both. But what am I thinking for the first few months? Well here is my mini-list:

  • Finally write up the dolls pattern (sorry Ida… I know you have been wanting it)
  • Work out which of the blanket designs in your head you want to do
  • Design 1 blanket in 2024
  • Actually TELL people about the books you have written
  • Publish some of your Christmas designs you have never published (they are stuck in a wardrobe)

So there you go that’s it – finally. We will stick to those too lists and any more is a bonus. Have you made a list this year? Or a resolution? Do you make a crafting list? I would be intrigued to find out – or do you find it annoying and does it cramp your creativity. Honestly I would like to add ‘blog more’ to my list but don’t just dare at the moment. We will just leave that there and make it a very, very secret aspiration.

Have a lovely weekend.

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Fun food – just because

cute-crocheted-food-emma-varnam

There are lots of brilliant things which I enjoy about crochet. I’ll be honest, what I really like is that it allows me do indulge in my playful side. In the last week I have been binge watching a programme on Channel 4 about the Duchess of Northumberland. She has the most amazing imagination and incredible drive. A few years ago we visited her incredible garden at Alnwick and it is the most amazing vision. The television programme charts her two year journey to create a fantasy play space for children. It is obvious from the footage that she has a mind that enjoys thinking about how children play and a desire to spark their imagination. I love that about her!

Frequently when I am designing I try to access the childlike part of my brain and imagine making imaginative items that I would have enjoyed as a little girl. Over 18 months ago Stylecraft yarns asked me to make some items with their organic cotton for a celebratory tea party for the Queen’s Jubilee. I so enjoyed making cakes and biscuits that I began to go down a bit of a crochet food rabbit hole… and so that is how the creative part of my new book began.

I have forgotten to share it over the summer. Mostly due to busyness – but that is a shame because I am so excited about the patterns in this book. For a beginner or someone new to amigurumi I think small engaging projects are really motivating. The graphics which the team have done are so brilliant as well. It has a totally different look to my other books.

Once I have made 25 items…25 count them and written the patterns… I kind of go off making any project which is similar. But then if I had small people to crochet for I might make a range of the food items to add to a play kitchen or pretend garden.

Of all the items that really attract people – the burger and fries really seem to prompt a giggle. I am a fan of the avocado … because its stone tummy pops out!

So – I am glad that we have created this book, the patterns are pretty simple for the beginner and there are more complicated makes like the pineapple if you want to stretch your skill. I try with all my books to make the patterns that I know I want to make. If I start to go back to those patterns for gifts or things for our home…I know it is a success for me. See what you think and do you think there is an item of food I have forgotten?

If you would like to buy a signed copy from me – then there are just a few copies still in the shop… I will also send you a couple of very cool stickers!

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What have I been making? Shocking Pink

I like the fact that there is a seasonal rhythm to our year. I like the fact that in January I dedicate weekends to full blown marmalade production. Now at the end of August the trees are heavily laden with plums and my mind turns to sticky jam making. All is pretty pink and has soft tones in that late summer light.

This year has been very book focused. So much so that I have failed to share with you my latest book published in any detail. I promise I will. One book, started in the very early Spring is now finished. Things will happen in the background now and I won’t see it until Spring next year. Then over the summer I have been designing items for the next book. These are all things I can’t share with you as the develop, which makes for a very quiet and dull blogging life.

But….but… when I am designing, I also need my hobby projects. Items which have no pattern, no purpose apart from delighting me. Firstly lets talk about my new Granny Squares Jacket. I have called it my Dahlia jacket, as the colours are inspired by the vivid tones of glorious Dahlias. I made a red Granny Squares jacket years ago (2017!), way before the last seasons fashion obsession of our joyful classic squares. I love it very much and it often makes an appearance around Christmas time. This original jacket is made in Stylecraft Life DK and it has knitted sleeves using a double moss stitch pattern. I knitted the sleeves as I wanted to eliminate the bulk of a crochet stitch. But even as I was making it, I thought…perhaps I could create these sleeves in a crochet linen stitch for the same type of drape.

In early summer I went off the Black Sheep Wools for a book signing event and the evening before I thought…’it would be helpful if I had a summery Granny Squares jacket….something bright and colourful…’. The idea of the Dahlia version was born. I took the idea of the colours in our garden at that time and threw in a little bit of neon pink for added zing. Sitting with my family watching the TV, both boys would look across and then immediately avert their eyes, declaring…’argh! it’s too bright!’. Good I say. Exactly the look I am aiming for.

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So I used my first jacket as a template, and made the set it sleeves in crochet linen stitch. I made this jacket slightly smaller as I always make my knitwear far too large. I am more than happy with it… it is bright and joyful. Looks great with white. I think it will work in the early autumn. I can only apologise to friends who are forced to spend time with me wearing it.

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granny-square-pink-jacket-emma-varnam
granny-square-pink-jacket-emma-varnam

I know some people may ask, have I created a pattern? I am sorry that I haven’t. For a number of years I designed crochet garments for Inside Crochet Magazine, which I loved. But I found the sizing challenging and I am always very conscious that creating a design needs to encapsulate all sizes and shapes. Perhaps in the future I will work with a tech-editor on this design. In the mean time I will enjoy wearing the jacket in all it’s crazy colours.

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For those who have interest – the colour recipe is from Stylecraft Special DK – I have used Bright pink for the base and added in Spice, Dandelion, Powder Pink, Vintage Peach, Pomegranate the real zinger is Fiesta… I adore it. I have used linen stitch for the edges and have created a collar, exactly like my first jacket. It hurts the eyes to look at. No photo really does the colour justice, but boy does it make me smile x

If you are looking for something simpler to make, I have seen that lots of people have returned to my free Autumn pumpkin pattern which is in my shop. This has been available for years and it is a really simple pattern for the season ahead.

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Summer is made for Crochet

Get the pattern for this beautiful bag

So many people think that as yarn crafters we throw away the hooks and needles as the seasons heat up and the yarn is banished to all the normal hiding places for the short months of summer. But I love the changing seasons for my crochet. Yes I love to make snuggly blankets for chilly months. Come January I frequently make a new hat for the out-door pursuits. But then summer is just as inspiring.

The good people of Stylecraft asked their Blogstars designers if they would be happy to take their either their organic cotton yarn, or Naturals Bamboo cotton yarn and make something perfect for the Beach. YES PLEASE! In cottons I am most frequently attracted to the bright primary colours. I also love to make practical, helpful accessories.

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I have chosen to make a bright and glorious Granny Square Beach Bag. The classic gawdy hues that make crochet so attractive and capacious enough to hold all the sandy towels at the end of a joyful day by the sea.

I will admit that I rather selfishly designed this bag so I could use it this summer. Yes it will get much use. I did not line this version as I was keen to get the stretch which crochet can give you. But I did sew some ribbon to the inside of the handles.

I have two top tips for you if you are making this pattern. Use the most colourful and joyful cotton colours you can find. If you find yourself on the beach – you bag will be unlike any other – meaning you will not lose it.

Secondly I do like to block my squares when I am finished. It really helps to get straight edges when you join the squares together. I have once again used my favourite slip-stitch join. It provides a clean and sturdy line between two squares.

There are many gorgeous patterns you can download for this Blogstars Beach festival. I just love the parasol made by the super talented Catherine Bligh. But then also look at Lucia’s fabulous Starfish bag! So much talent.

I will be releasing this pattern for just this week at a sale price on the blog shop and then it will go for sale at my normal pattern price. Please pop over to the blog shop for the pattern.

The very generous people at Stylecraft are doing a fabulous yarn give away for each project with the pattern, and all the yarn for each project. Keep watch on their facebook and instagram accounts for a chance to enter.

So now is the time to make your perfect summer bag for all the joyful gubbins for holiday adventures – if you do make one please do show me your version!

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Pyjama Patrol and daring to dig

For days on end I have been out very early in the morning and peered down at very unpromising flower pots. Day after day nothing seems to appear. I was getting a bit concerned. We have had a very cold spring and I have been worried that I had planted out my dahlia tubers far too early. The cold and frosty winter ‘did-for’ last year’s tubers. Even though they still had their summer soil keeping them cosy and were wrapped in newspaper, their hibernation in the garage was disastrous. Not one tuber survived. Unwrapping my precious collection was like a very soggy version of a rotten potato Christmas.

So I started my collection again – some very reasonable sale bargains. My ‘Cafe au Lait’ tuber was a must at any price. All were placed in a pot of soil to ‘start them off’. But I have gambled with weather and with no cold frame or greenhouse, resolved to just place them near to the house on the patio.

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So there we are daily pyjama patrol checking on the promise of floral glamour for the summer. Finally tiny, tiny little lime green shoots appeared on the surface…hurrah. Then like nothing I have ever seen. The shoots grow almost visibly. Another debate appears on the horizon. When do I turf the tulips out of their pots to make space for their summer cousins; the sweet peas, the cosmos and the dahlias. This weekend has seen the great change over. The whole process takes much longer than I think.

I allow myself to indulge in pure hobby inefficiency. It you were watching – you would witness how random and cluttered the whole process appears. I revitalised old compost with some new peat-free (OBVS) and dig deep into the pots to find hidden bulbs. Hours fly by and I almost forget about meals. Finally everyone is in their new home. Yes I have too many sweet pea plants. Surely they are the courgette of the flower world. Yes, in their new home the sweet peas are sulking. They always seem very unhappy to be moved in to larger, pots of beautiful yummy compost. Proper mardy.

The pot collection has grown… I don’t know how… really I don’t. But I do know that growing in pots has given me confidence with plants I would never had the courage to raise. I would never have put the tulips in the borders had I not seen the success in the pots.

I have added hollyhocks and and delphiniums to my collection this year. It is a daring thing to do. I love their cottage garden prettiness so much, that I can’t bear it when they get eaten. It is heart breaking, But we will see. If dahlias have taught me anything it is…who dares wins.

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The image are some dahlias and cosmos from last year. I always forget how big they get and so I have put in the ugly supports in already – it will save me snapping stems unintentionally. I have top dressed the pots with Strulch. I love it (no ad/or gift here) I genuinely love it for my beds and copied my local nursery who have used it for top-dressing.

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The Flower Patch

It has been too long my friends. Too long since I popped in here to chat about creativity and design and whatever is inspiring me. Lots of reasons. Mostly I have been completing designs and commissions. Things I can’t share. Then…a thing happened that I never imagined. Two commissions, destined for two different customers got lost in the post. A total of 6 crochet items. Just as I was about to raise my head from my secret making, I had to rewind and make all 6 things again. Speed crochet style. Well that is enough to make you want to go and sit in a corner and ignore your hook for a while.

The garden is my alternative ‘good place’ to melt away any concerns or stress. But it has been a very cold spring and for so many weeks, way too wet to be furtling about in the flower beds. Deeply frustrating.

The boots were a birthday gift from Poddy and Black

As Easter dawned the weather seems to turn a corner and I flung myself into long garden days. We spent time refurbishing the pond and adding a new marginal plants. I went mad a cleared a large bed of weeds and plants that were not pulling their weight. The cooped up energy burst out. in frenzy of planting, pruning and clearing. Good for the soul.

Last year in the early summer

I am always so grateful when I have remembered to plant bulbs in the Autumn. The late frosts have ‘done-for’ some of the tulips, but new daffodils are a triumph and I have resolved to start make some notes now – be a full adult – so that I can plan for next year. I don’t think my colour combination is as successful as last year but then every bloom is so very beautiful. I get to try again another year.

I know that I have mentioned it before but I must say that the wonderful book The Flower Yard by Arthur Parkinson has transformed my flower growing. Growing in pots seems to me far less intimidating and I am delighted that I can just move a plant which is just past its best.

So what about crochet? Well yes… sorry. I currently in between projects and so I am making a new blanket for the home. Inspired once again by patchwork. (One day I will make a quilt). I have been making a simple hexagon blanket in a ‘Grandma’s Garden’ pattern. I think I will call this my Flower Patch blanket. I have returned to pastel colours and a lovely cream as the contrasting base. Strangely I have been building the pattern in rows. It is giving a lovely idea of how the pattern will grow.

All well and good until I realised this morning that I am not happy with one of the colours. The lightest green looks sickly against the cream and has to go. Arghhhh! This is the mess that ensued. You might think I am mad to rip this out now, but if it is not right. It is not right. I don’t want to fall out of love with a project. So this evening I will be repairing the void. Tricky business where patience is required. Have you ever done this? At one point I wondered if the blanket would be irrepairable.

Crochet and gardening have so many similarities. Hobbies that require time and patience. Plus, if a flower is not pulling its weight, it needs to be hoicked out the patch. Make space for just the right flower. The flower patch will be better for it.

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February is made for…hats and scarves

There is nothing more exciting than making an item of clothing that you actually wear…and actually like…and is actually useful. The kind of thing that half way through the day you think to yourself, ‘Well I’m glad I’m wearing that: hat/scarf/mittens…I think I might make another.

February is always my month for making accessories. We are post the Christmas rush and the marmalade weekends of January (see previous post). Now is the time to prepare and make cosy outdoorsy items for bracing walks and mountain views.

Since our little/towering boy was a baby, we have enjoyed a February visit to the lake district. If you have read this blog for a while you might recall February breaks and the hat making that feature in my holiday endeavours.

This year I might have cracked the holiday packing. I have a dream of being a minimal capsule wardrobe-ist. It is an absolute flight of fancy. But this holiday…I think I have succeeded. A base of wick-away dour black and then red…red…burgundy and red accessories. The suitcase was only half full. Hurrah!

Planning ahead I finished my last (I promise) Sophie Scarf from Petit Knit. This scarf has my highest accolade of being a ‘boon’. I adore the garter stitch, I adore the I-cord edging. I am also particularly fond of the red tweed yarn. It is Sirdar Haworth Tweed in West Riding Red. Tweed can feel a little bit itchy, but not this yarn. It is 50% wool and 50% nylon and is very soft and so suitable to wear round the neck. The flecked nature of the twist gives the knitting a lively kick. I know this scarf will be a favourite well into the Spring. It will go well with denim and navy. It is also a brilliant scarf for walking. Small enough tie tightly around your neck and none of the long ends which can be so annoying.

I have almost completely abandoned hat making for loved ones and friends. (Sulking pout). Whilst it is an expression of love on my part…thrusting enthusiastically made hats on friends can be received with an awkward…’Oh thanks’.

However as an absolute knitted swan song, I found the glorious Weekend Hue hat, again by Petit Knit. This pattern has a very ‘now’ shape. When I saw it I knew immediately that I wanted to make it for my fashion maven friend. She always has her finger on the style pulse and is particularly rocking saturated cobalt blue. I loved making this ribbed pattern. There is a generous double folded rib cuff brim. As I hoped she was utterly delighted by her gift and popped it on making it look cool, instantly. Both of us, very happy.

Back to the holiday hat, I chose to bring my Shetland Fair isle Katie’s Kep by Wilma Malcolmson. The pattern was the featured hat for the 2020 Shetland Wool Week. I’m a big fan of fair isle. I find the complications of working the yarn, a relaxing concentration. Working the pattern in pure wool also has lots of advantages. The fibres stick nicely together making it easier to knit. Plus the natural characteristics of the yarn make it almost waterproof.

Out and about and caught in a light drizzle, the hat is fine and less restrictive than a hood. I love pattern. You will have to take my word for it that the crown has stunning star design. It does. But for outdoor fun, my February hat just has to have a bobble…and what a bobble! I think the phrase – ‘a right bobby-dazzler’ is appropriate. If you want to jazz up any hat I would highly recommend a Toft Alpaca bobble. No need for a mountain flare…you can will be spotted miles away.

So I wonder if you are enjoying making hats, scarves and mittens at the moment. When the daffodils appear I think our minds turn to more spring-like pursuits. But for now the bobble hat reins supreme in the rain and the shine.

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