The state we’re in

Ear Muffs made using Erika Knight British Blue Wool (image credit Tailor Made Publishing)

It’s Wool Week again, a time when my instagram, twitter and facebook feeds are full of woolly themed posts, photos of famous people wearing wool, invites to come and see wool and a general “celebrate British wool” vibe permeating through social media.

Isn’t that great? British wool is a fabulous thing. I don’t want to romanticise the farmers life (it’s bloody hard work) but the UK has a long history of producing and processing wool and buying British makes me feel I’m a part of that tradition. In just the same way as I would rather buy British lamb and mutton than an import from New Zealand.

It makes environmental sense too – shopping locally, reducing the miles a product has to travel and reducing waste are all “good things”. Sheep have to be sheared, so it seems daft to me that farmers can’t get a decent price for the fleece – but then again we live in a society where the milk price paid to farmers is insultingly tiny so that supermarkets can offer a cheap product to consumers and  so I shouldn’t be surprised. I find myself asking (again) when did British farmers become so undervalued?

Wool blanket made using Debbie Bliss British Blue Faced Leicester (image credit: Tailor Made Publishing)

As a designer working for several different magazines and publishers it’s impossible for me to choose British wool and yarn for all my commissions (some editors are more willing to use British wool than others). But for personal projects, seeking out and using “real” British yarns has become the norm. My most notable recent purchase has been some glorious alpaca. Reared, spun and sold in Cumbria (read about the whole kickstarter project here) and there is plenty of wool from British breeds in my stash.

Herdy wool cushions, made using British wool and trimmed with Cumbrian Herdwick

Herdy wool cushions, made using British wool and trimmed with Cumbrian Herdwick

I love how more and more knitters are seeking out British wool and enquiring about the provenance of their wool. Sadly they are  often duped and disappointed to find the “made in the UK” label is wrapped around Australian merino or Peruvian alpaca. If the labelling is misleading, how are knitters supposed to make an informed choice?

Of course there’s nothing illegal about this labelling. If the yarn is processed in the UK (spun, wound or dyed here) then a company is entitled to promote it as made in Britain – and many  do exactly that – because they know knitters love the idea of (and will pay a premium for) a British product.  I’ll often spot the union jack prominently displayed on a label, but search in vain on the website for the source of the fibre, an early clue that it probably didn’t come off the back of a British sheep. I wonder if the time is ripe for a new kind of labelling where the source of a fibre has to listed on the label?

Occasionally I have asked companies why they don’t use British wool and I’m told that British fleeces are ” poor quality”  or simply (and honestly) foreign wool is cheaper and easier to source. That makes me sad. Which is why This post, written from the perspective of a designer and daughter of a shepherd struck a cord.

The last time I wrote about British wool (in response to the WI launching an acrylic range with Hobbycraft)  I was inundated with messages, tweets and emails from small scale producers who are trying to find a market for their yarn and from knitters who want to buy great quality British yarn.

Finding a British yarn within the offerings of the larger manufacturers isn’t hard – Rowan, Debbie Bliss etc usually carry at least one British wool within their range. But is this enough today? Wouldn’t it be fabulous to see the Wool Marketing Board and British yarn companies working together to source British fleeces and support British farmers – and in turn support British mills in processing the yarn? Yes, I know there are cost implications “infrastructure” and numerous other obstacles to overcome. But, British wool was once the envy of the world, couldn’t that be a goal to aim for now?

PS if you are interested in sourcing British wool from British sheep here are a few places to start:

Knitbritish guide to British wools under a fiver (yes, really!)

Baa Baa Brighouse which stocks a wide range of British yarns, including Wendy Ramsdale and Herdy (two of my favourites)

Brityarn an online yarn store with a real commitment to British yarns and British independent  producers, Isla lists the provenance of all her yarns and is incredibly helpful.

And (as far as I know, the newest kid on the British wool block) Purl and Jane  are stocking Malham Mule (reared, sheared, spun and sold in Yorkshire)

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New pattern: Allonby cowl

Allonby Cowl

My favourite Sunday afternoon walk is a stroll along Allonby beach – boy it can be windy – even in summer. So, I always have a few woollies in my rucksack to guard against the chills. My current favourite is this super smooshy cowl which is made in Eden Cottage Yarns Whitfell Chunky. The colour “Tulip”, is even more stunning in real life and the soft baby alpaca really keeps out the cold. I made this version quite large, so I could easily slip it over a bulky coat and I’ll admit to wearing it around the house too!

The button came from Bag Clasps, I spotted these at Woolfest and Julie kindly let me take one away to play with. I think you’ll agree it’s stunning and really sets off the cowl beautifully. If you’re off to Yarndale this weekend, look out for the Bag Clasps stand or visit their website (I have yet to find a website which is so well stocked with everything you need for bag making and Julie is really helpful too, always willing to advise and offer suggestions).

Image credit: Eden Cottage Yarns

As I was writing this, I realised the Whitfell Chunky / Bag Clasps combo is becoming a bit of a theme in my designs. This gorgeous bag also uses Whitfell Chunky and features straps from Bag Clasps leather range. You can buy the pattern from Ravelry by clicking  here

It’s no secret I love working with natural fibres, and alpaca yarns do feature high on my list of all time favourites. Lucky for me Eden Cottage Yarns are launching two new shades of Whitfell Chunky at Yarndale this weekend. I already have plans for these gorgeous shades:

Allonby new shadesIf you would like to buy the pattern for this new design, you can find the Allonby Cowl on Ravelry, or on Love Crochet.

Of course, I can’t write a blog post about Eden Cottage Yarns without a shameless plug for “Drift”. This new collection features some beautiful knitting patterns by a very talented group of designers, and I’m pleased to say you’ll also find three crochet designs by me in the collection. I’ve added a whole page featuring the collection (click on the “Drift Collection” tab to read all about it or you  can view the lookbook and drool over the beautiful designs here.


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Put your feet up!

crochet pouffe image 2It’s the time of year when I start to think about bringing the chunky blankets and textured cushions out of storage ready for cosy autumnal evenings. This “Chunky Pouffe” is fabulous for putting your feet up while watching tv and is ideal for a beginner. You can find the pattern on Ravelry and Love Crochet. (Some readers have told me they have difficulty finding my patterns on Love Crochet,if this link doesn’t take you to my designer page, type my name into the search bar and the complete list should come up),

If you’re looking for a quick but practical make for the autumn, this might just fit the bill. So, why not put your feet up and grab your hook!

And, if you’re a knitter, not a crocheter, keep an eye out for this knitted version which I’ll be posting soon.

Image (c) Practical Publishing

Image (c) Practical Publishing

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Pattern: Crochet Hedgehogs

The hedgehogs are back! These cute little hedgehogs are out of “hibernation”. You can buy the pattern on Ravelry  Or, why not hop over to Love Crochet where you’ll find I’m posting all my updated patterns.

I did enjoy designing these little cuties, and only realised today the pattern is over two years old. They are quick to make and use tiny scraps of yarn. So, don’t go buying yarn especially for these (or if you do – hold onto your leftovers as they will be ideal for my Christmas pudding pattern coming soon!)

The pattern instructions contain all the information you need to make small. medium and large hedgehogs and is written in UK crochet terms.

I’ll be back soon with a big post all about my new designs for Eden Cottage Yarns, which are launching at Yarndale this weekend.

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Star garland


I am making a new kitchen garland today. “Repurposing” an old pattern and a few yarns I’ve had in my stash for a while. The  pattern for the star motif was published in issue 64 of Inside Crochet as part of a feature I wrote on crochet for celebrations. It’s still available as a dugital download.
One of the yarns I’m using is Habu textiles natural cover cotton, which I love. I bought a huge supply from Purl Soho  in New York, knowing it would come in useful  some day.
It’s no secret that I love working with natural fibres and I love how the Habu is crocheting up so firmly (on a 3mm hook). I’ve also been using up some Stylecraft craft cotton, which was originally bought to make dishcloths!
For me, this project sums up my philosophy of craft, using natural fibres, simple patterns to create beautiful things.
I’ll hang this in my kitchen , where it will make me smile.

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In love with small things

pumkin 2My love affair with all things tiny shows no signs of burning itself out. I’ve never really tried designing amigurumi – there are too many fabulous and talented designers  making tiny marvels already – but after finishing “the book” I just need some downtime and amigurumi seemed the perfect choice.  This week has had an autumnal feel about it and so a tiny pumpkin was inevitable I suppose.  here it is, another freebie (I know, I’m just too good to you at the moment!) You will whip these up in no time at all!

Teeny Pumpkin

The smallest version was made using DMC Woolly and a 2.75mm hook, the larger was made using  cotton chenille from my Mother in Law’s stash, I used a 3.5mm hook for that one. You’ll need a tiny length of brown or green yarn for the stalk.

Sizing and tension: Obviously, your pumpkin will turn out slightly differently because you’re going to dive into your stash, find some suitable yarn and get hooking. So, don’t worry about tension – just make sure the stitches are tight enough that the stuffing won’t show through the fabric.

You’ll also need some hollow fibre toy stuffing (or old tights -yes, some of  us do still keep old tights for toy stuffing!) and a sharp needle with a large eye and a stitch marker is helpful to keep track of each round.


Notes: The pumpkin is made in spirals, do not join and do not turn at the end of each round. I have used standard UK crochet abbreviations throughout.

With your chosen hook and yarn make 6ch, join with a slip stitch to make a ring.

Round 1: 6 dc into ring (6 dc)

Round 2: (2 dc in each dc) 6 times. (12 dc)

Round 3: ( 1 dc in next dc, 2 dc in next dc) 6 times. (18 dc)

Round 4: ( 1 dc in each of next 2 dc, 2 dc in next dc) 6 times. (24 dc)

Round 5: ( 1 dc in each of next 3 dc, 2 dc in next dc) 6 times. (30 dc)

Round 6: ( 1 dc in each of next 4 dc, 2 dc in next dc) 6 times. (36 dc)

Rounds 7,8, 9: 1 dc in each dc around.

Round 10: (4 dc, dc2tog) 6 times. (30 dc)

Round 11: (3 dc, dc2tog) 6 times (24 dc)

Stuff your pumpkin, adding more stuffing as you work subsequent rounds, but not too firmly

Round 12: ( 2 dc, dc2tog) 6 times (18 dc)

Round 13: (1 dc, dc2tog)  6 times (12 dc)

Round 14: (dc2tog) 6 times (6 dc)

Cut yarn, leaving an extra long tail (this is used to make the pumpkin segments) and thread yarn tail onto a sharp pointed needle, draw yarn through the 6 dc to close the hole at the base. Do not fasten off yarn.

Make segments as follows:

Bring the yarn to the top of the pumpkin and insert the needle through the centre ring, wrap the yarn around the pumpkin side and insert the needle back into the base, pulling it out at the top. As you pull gently on the yarn, the sphere will squash down and you’ll see how the segments are created. Repeat 5 times, evenly spacing the segments around the pumpkin. Fasten off the yarn at the base.

To make the stalk:

Make 7 ch, sl st into 2nd chain from hook, make 1 sl st in each ch to end. fasten off leaving a long tail. Thread the yarn tail onto your needle and sew to the top of the pumpkin.

Larger pumpkins may need longer stalks, just make a longer chain.

Of course, you can make even larger pumpkins by making more increase rounds, just work an extra straight round for each increase round and remember to decrease in sequence.

And if you thought I was crackers for making tiny pumpkins – here’s what else I hooked up yesterday!toadstools





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Free pattern: Variable cowl

2013-11-28 14.03.47This autumn the Variable cowl is having a make over – I can’t wait to show you my new version. Meanwhile, here’s the original for you – just in case you’re starting to feel autumnal and need something you can slip on when the weather turns chilly.

You can easily substitute a different yarn (just use the appropriate hook) and alter the length or width by working a longer foundation chain or more rows. Like I said it’s “variable”, which means you can make it your own!

Yarn and Hook requirements:

8mm crochet hook

1 hank Debbie Bliss Paloma or equivalent.

4 buttons (two for the front and two for the back).

Tapestry needle to weave in ends

Needle and cotton to sew on buttons

Pattern: (In UK crochet terms)

Finished measurements: Length 95cm, width 13cm

dc: double crochet

ch: chain

dcblo: double crochet into the back loop only

Make 51 ch.

Row 1: dc into 2nd ch from hook, 1 dc in each ch to end, turn (50 dc)

Row 2: 1ch, 1dc in first dc, 1dcblo in each dc to last st, 1dc in last dc, turn.

repeat row 2 another  eight times.

Fasten off yarn.

Weave in ends. Sew buttons to one end, with front facing buttons lined up with “back ” buttons. I found it helps if the back buttons have a shank as this makes fastening easier.

To fasten your cowl, pop the back buttons through the fabric as desired and wear with a smile.

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