Category Archives: Crochet

Thank you 2017

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What a great and crazy year it has been. Looking back I have made so many things. Things I have been able to share with you and some items which are in the pipeline. Granny Squares Home was published in the Autumn and I realise now looking at the photos that this time last year I was making the Vintage style blanket. In many ways the perfect project for a cosy Christmas break. This Christmas I am not ‘mid-commission’ so it gives me the opportunity to just make, perhaps follow the pattern of another designer. That is a very restful feeling. In 2018 I have another book ready to be published and having had a sneaky peek at the photos, I am hopeful it will have the same appeal as me previous two books.

Last year in a crazy wave of honesty I published my new-yarn resolutions. So let’s have a look how well I did….

Keep a record of everything I make – Yes I did this…suprisingly. I made over 90 knitted/crocheted items (madness).

Keep looking and spotting – Think I did this but not enough

Make notes of new ideas – Failed – need to do more next year

Write down the yarn I use in my notebook – Failed again – totally

Dream big dreams – Sort of… more of a doing year than a dreaming year. Will try again

Have creative fun – Certainly

Compliment my hero or people who inspire me – I did some of this but I will do more!

I have begun to write my new list for 2018, which I will share with you and I would love to hear yours if you are wiling to share – but my most abiding rule is to be ‘thankful’. Thank you if you have enjoyed and commented on the blog this year. I am looking forward to a new creative year.

 

 

 

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Snow Baby Penguin and Blanket

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On the other day a very good friend of mine asked me, ‘How do you get your ideas? Do you never run out?’. If you are a crafty person you will probably guess my answer: I have more ideas in my head than I have time to make them. Very often the ideas in my head take months to make their way from an unconscious thought through to a final design. When we were in Italy in June I fell in love with the monochrome tiles in our hotel. Their worn age and the simple patterns were so addictive. The idea of these patterns lodged itself quite firmly in my head. Then in September I began to play with ‘plarn’ it was such a fun idea to make things with old plastic bags, but other commitments meant I could really make very much more with this material. Then on a trip of Black Sheep Wools to pick up another ball of red yarn for my Granny Square I spotted the incredibly fluffy ‘Flutterby’ by James C Brett. I knew immediately it would make a brilliant and super cool baby blanket.

But why the Penguin?

So there you are the journey of an idea.’But what about the penguin?, you ask….ah well…can you guess who was with me on my yarn shopping trip. Yes the very same Mr B, lover of all things to do with birds and especially Penguins. It was he who picked up the grey ball of yarn and said, ‘This feel like a baby Penguin!’ – so there it had to be designed an made.

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Hooks and Tips

I have used a 6mm hook to make both items. I would suggest that you just use a remnant of orange yarn for the beak. With fashion yarns like this one you need to have a good long end to sew in. They are more slippery to secure so I like to sew in the ends very firmly.

snow-baby-penguinCute People and their cute toys

It is a very long time since I have designed for the gorgeous Inside Crochet and I do so love working with them. My only problem was wrestling the Penguin off Mr B so that he could go and have his photograph taken. It wasn’t long before he was returned. Claire the stylist knows how much the Penguin would be missed, and her own daughter was so fond of our snowy feathered baby that she had made it a pom-pom necklace as a surprise gift for Mr B. There you go, the joy of making cute things for cute people. Priceless.

These two patterns are published in the current addition of Inside Crochet Magazine – Issue 97

 

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Granny Square Jacket

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I have no idea when it was that the idea came to me. It might have been in discussion with my friend Gemma. It might have been looking at crochet jumpers in the High Street store, Zara. It might have been the aftermath of finishing my last book on Granny Squares, but the notion came upon me. I needed, felt compelled to make a Granny Square Jacket.

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Making a crochet Granny Square Jacket is not a task to embark upon lightly. In the 1970’s a granny square jacket was ‘de-rigeur’ and like many aspects of fashion from this period, the Granny Square can veer from striking and fashionable over to mad and a bit batty. Having written ALOT of patterns this year, I knew this design was just for me. No noting down, no scaling up for different sizes. A one of unique, bespoke project. I did a fair bit of research before I began my design, I looked at Pinterest and vintage 70’s patterns to work out how many squares I should make and the very best arrangement.

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Colour Choice

Any Granny Square garment is quite a fashion statement. I decided that I wanted to tone down the look with a block colour sleeve. I also know from experience that you have to really be very careful with the crochet stitches you choose so not to make very stiff and bulky garments. For that reason it occurred to me that it might be better to knit the sleeves. I did not take the easy route my friends and chose the very beautiful but labour intensive double moss stitch. So before I began any part of the crochet I knitted the two sleeves. They took quite a bit of time, but it was a discipline I felt I had to follow.

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When I got onto the granny squares the project seem to fly by. I had just a couple of rules. There were to be no half-squares or triangles. I endeavoured to keep the colours evenly spread and the last round of each square had to be completed in the signature red. I forgot to mention that I chose to use Stylecraft Life DK and I chose bright and purposefully clear colours. When I was at University I had quite a few bright red jackets. Red is one of my happy colours and even as I get older the colour still suits me, so why not.

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Making up

I blocked all the squares when they were all completed and marked out the layout. Each square was attached using a slip stitch seam in rows. This is a firm yet flat seam, to create a nice cohesive material.

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When the body was finally constructed I seamed the sleeves and added a crochet linen stitch cuff and linen stitch around the hem of the jacket, the button band and the collar. In my first pass at this I found the neck opening too floppy and open and so I added a few more rows and finally decided to add a moss stitch collar. The final garment is far more wearable because of these additions.

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Am I pleased with the final jacket? Yes I think so – I have worn it many times and when I was shopping the other day my friend recognised my jacket before they recognised me – so certainly this Granny Square Jacket is eye catching – good or bad.

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New Skill – Part 1 – 50 top tips from Shetland Knitters

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Learning something new is a great joy to me. It has occurred to me several times this year that I can become really animated when ‘a penny drops’. This year, 2017 I have learnt A LOT of new things. In my working life my horizons have expanded. I learn something new each day. That can quite tiring. In my yarn life I really wanted to challenge myself with some new skills. For crochet this has definitely been the year of the Granny Square, writing two books and making over 40 projects. In my knitting life I knew I wanted to expand my skill.

Knitting Challenge

Back in March I blogged about an excellent workshop I had attended with the fabulous Juliet Bernard. Juliet taught me how to work ‘two-handed’ fairisle and how to steek. She also prompted me to investigate knitting in the round and a more Scandinavian way of making garments. If you are not a knitter, bear with me. Knitting in the round is either done on one knitting needle with two points connected with a cable, or 4 double pointed needles. This means that you work round in a spiral, you have no seams and because you are just doing the faster knitting stitch, you don’t have to do the slower and more awkward purl stitch.

Learning from the Masters

For efficiency and the pursuit of speed I have begun adopting this way of knitting. Well in order to perfect my knitting techniques, Juliet pointed me in the direction of this DVD; 50 Top Tips from Shetland Knitter by Hazel Tindell and Elizabeth Johnston. Essentially it is like being part of knit and natter,  sitting next to expert Shetland knitters and enjoying a download of all the tips and tricks in concentrated form.
I have been knitting for many, many years but I certainly learnt many new things which I have already incorporated into my work. An added joy is to here the beautiful lilting tones of the Shetland accent.

The quality of the DVD definitely has a homely quality, more reminiscent of the YouTube tutorials, but the contented chatting away between Hazel and Elizabeth Johnston demonstrates how easy they are in each others company. I do quite like the pragmatic nature of what they say, for instance they will give you the reason why they do a stitch a certain way and how their years have experience have taught them to take some short cuts. If I had just one criticism I would say that if practically possible it would be good to bring the overhead demonstrations even closer in to the stitching. Here I am knitting and watching at the same time

triangle-cowl-emma-varnamMy copy – mine

My young son couldn’t quite believe I was watching this video. I pointed out that there was not much difference between an expert commentary on knitting to an expert commentary on Minecraft gaming and he seemed satisfied with that. It is possible to buy this DVD form either Hazel’s website here where you can buy the DVD to keep or as a download. I got my copy free to review, if it is any indication as to how helpful I found it I have decided to keep my copy as opposed to giving it away in a competition. I really want to refer back to their tips as I start improving my fairisle knitting. My copy is far too precious.

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Inspired by the DVD I started a new fairisle project in the round. I made a snug knitted cowl with a triangle pattern. The yarn is Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal and I used the patten as way to practice some of the new knowledge I have gleaned from my crash course in Shetland Knitting. In the image above you can see the right side and the reverse side with the floats from two stranded fairisle. It doesn’t matter how long you have been knitting or crocheting. Everyone of every age can learn something new. The joy of a craft is improving, evolving and experimenting.

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Seven year Stitch – Happy Anniversary

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I always, always miss the date! Yesterday was my seven year blog anniversary. I can’t quite believe it. I still love this little space and I will keep going for another year – allowing my ramblings to float into the ether. In the past seven years blog popularity has ebbed and flowed. I think the media industry would say that visual platforms like Instagram are now the more popular and immediate way to share ideas. But for another year I will keep posting and sharing here.

Over the years I have had periods of tweaking and improving the blog. I have watched visitor stats. I have been disciplined in my scheduling. I have edited my posts and thought about my writing style. But I have never really wanted to monetize this space. I just haven’t had the time or the desire to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I do admire those who have developed their brand and their blog to evolve a career. It is just not a goal that fits into our life at the moment.

The blog has been an excellent place to develop ideas with you. When people ask me about my books, I always credit the blog as being key to that development. Posting here has provided me with opportunities to meet and connect with creative people I would not have otherwise met. But the blog is not the engine, not the source of ideas – the crochet, the knitting, the garden comes first. I don’t dream about the blog last thing at night, it is the colours, the patterns, the toys that inhabit my sleepy thoughts.

chevron-blanket-emma-varnamThe Stats

Do I get a lot of readers? I do Ok – thank you. In the blogging world that is a bit like asking someone their dress size. Brands and companies who want to connect with you to promote products certainly know how to get hold of your statistics, so it is not a secret to those who need to know. I think I have a faithful core of readers who pop in and read from across the world. In all honesty, a giveaway or free pattern will make those numbers jump incredibly high, but when that promotion is finished the readership will drop down to its normal comfortable level.

The ideas

This year has been quite hard to ensure regular posts. In a crazy world when my ‘real’ job has changed got a bit more serious, I have written two books. None of the content, the secret stitching can ever been shown to you prior to publication. So that means I need to work on and share creative projects that sit outside of that activity. Often you will notice that during an intensive crochet design time, I tend to revert to knitting as the hobby. But then looking back I realise that this year I have been expanding my skill levels and learning new techniques. I have enjoyed learning and practicing fairisle knitting and having a go at Tunisian crochet. Both have been fun, but I have yet to incorporate these techniques into my design work.

So what is on the hook and needle at the moment. Well I need to share with you my adventures making a Granny Square Jacket – I look quite mad in it, but the very fact I am wearing the jacket tells you that my idea for the design did work. I have also been making quite a few beanie hats, so I promise to share those with you too. This week I have been on a lovely sock making course with Arne and Carlos. I have never really made socks before. I have made one pair, never worn them. How rude! Well  this week I learnt a technique which means I can make the sock fitted to the foot. Could be revolutionary. So there you go, a number of new posts planned. I hope you will join me on another year. Happy Anniversary!

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Gift Ideas for Gardeners – Enamel Mug Cosy

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I do love being in our garden in Winter. In the long dark days we often end up leaving the house before the sun rises and returning in the inky dark of the evening. At the weekends I get the opportunity to see what is changing. To view the shrubs, see what is dying back, glimpse those promising wee shoots of new life.

There can be nothing better than standing, in the frosty morning, mug in hand, dreaming, planning and appreciating the stillness of a winter morning. When I have been fertling in the flower beds for a few hours a coffee brought to me is heaven sent. You can of course use old ‘unfavourite’ mugs which you don’t mind chipping or getting very dirty. But many gardeners like to rely on an old fashioned enamel mug for its robust utility.

I find the shape nostalgically pleasing. But let’s be practical, its metal nature can make the mug way too hot to handle with a piping hot brew. The best idea is to make a lovely cosy. This small addition not only protects your fingers but also keeps your coffee warmer for longer.

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If you would like to make one of these cosies for a gardening friend, the recipe is below:

Enamel Mug Cosy

To fit: One standard enamel mug

You will need: Some chunky weight yarn, 4mm crochet hook, 2 shell buttons.

Foundation Row: Chain 41 stitches.

Row 1: 1 htr in the second ch from the hook, 1 htr in each chain stitch to end. (40 sts).

Row 2: Ch 2 sts, 1 htr in the back loop of each st to end. (40 sts).

Repeat row 2 five times. Fasten off.

Loops: Attach yarn to the top side edge of the crochet, make 10 ch sts, fasten off. Sew the tail of the chain stitch to the edge, to form a loop. Repeat at the bottom edge. Sew two buttons to the other side edge of the crochet to correspond to the loops. Weave in all ends.

(Abbreviations: St(s) – Stitch(es), Ch – Chain, htr – half treble stitch)

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For an ideal present buy a new mug for your friend. I have found a good range of enamelware in my local hardware shop and market. However I have also found some great examples on line from Dot Com Gift Shop – some even with candles inside. An alternative can also be found at Garden Trading – lots of lovely ideas for gardeners.

If you want more ideas for your gardening friends why not pop over the the wonderful Middle Sized Garden Blog, my first place to visit for gardening hints and tips.

 

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Yarn-lovers Gift List 2017

Here I am like a woolly Fairy Godmother to help you out with your Christmas list, essentially you could just waft this blog post under the nose of a loved one and say; ‘Have a look! Hint, Hint and top tips – get out your online wallet!’

These are my personal choices but are based on my experience of what knitting and crochet enthusiasts like and what I know will be helpful for beginners. If you are a long suffering partner or a thoughtful friend there should be something in this list which will delight any yarn addict.  I have put in links for you which should make your shopping easier.

Equipment

Good equipment is a joy for a crafter. When I knit I enjoy the KnitPro range of needles. My particular favourite would be the colourful Zing Needles. If you are clever you could ask your knitting friend; ‘Which size needles do you use the most?’ However if you are not keen to blow your cover then a pair of 3.5mm needles and 4mm needles are alway very very helpful. You can get a swanky set of KnitPro Zing Deluxe or if you prefer a lovely KnitPro Symfonie Wood Interchangeable Needle Deluxe Set

When it comes to crochet hooks I always use Clover Soft Touch – I have used and tried many different types over the years, but these are my preferred make. If you are thinking about being generous and buying a couple for the stocking I would suggest at 3.5mm, 4mm, 5mm and 6mm. That will make an excellent start for you.

Accessories

Now my top top tip is a fabulous online shop I found recently – Beyond Measure. They sell quality items for all crafters. I couldn’t resist buying myself a leather wrist ruler in powder blue. It comes in a lovely metal case and would make an exquisite Secret Santa present.  Also on my list will be  magnetic pin block is very, very useful.

But also have a look at the beautiful heirloom pieces like the wooden turned pin cushions and tape measure. A real luxury are the beautiful leather covers for scissors. I do believe I am getting a small scissor obsession, so I quite fancy a red leather cover for my sharp merchant and mills mini scissors.

Subscription Boxes

Now this is a wonderful idea for a year long present. You can purchase a monthly subscription for a new crochet project to be posted to your yarn enthusiast. Obviously this project will be a surprise. But I think it is a great idea to build up skills and to provide a new and achievable project each month. My top tip would be the utterly delightful Little Box of Crochet.

Inside you get the yarn and the all the necessary equipment you need for the project. The box is so beautifully put together. Last years Christmas box had a super cute wrist warmer pattern. The box also included fabulous scissors, some tea, a hook and a lovely stitch marker. The mini magazine that comes with the box is also brilliant. This year they are also doing Hygge Box which provides you with all the equipment to make this fab cap. A top gift tip.

Magazines

I do have a small magazine vice. I find it very, very difficult not buy the latest issue when browsing the supermarket aisles. If you ask me what one of my favourite Christmas gifts would be, I would have to say, ‘Get me a subscription!’.

For beginners then a subscription to either Simply Crochet or Crochet Now magazine would go down a treat.

I am a huge fan of Inside Crochet Magazine and would suggest this for intermediate crocheters.

Books

Ok, I admit it, I am being a bit naughty here. But if you are buying for a beginner, then I will highly recommend this book How to Crochet. Yes, I did write it… I know, I know. However I have used it to teach quite a few people and lovely readers do send me emails to say how useful they have found it.

I’m also going to have to mention Cute Crocheted Animals because it is so dear to my heart and I love those cute toys so so much.

My new book Granny Squares Home seems to be going down very very well, so I will recommend it to you. The patterns are classic British vintage and the essence of all that is good in crafty boho chic

New books this year I love include Tunisian Crochet Workshop by Michelle Robinson so many projects on my to-do list here. I must also recommend the fabulous book Hooked by Claire Montgomerie – lovely modern pattern in this.

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Workshops

Another great idea would be to book your loved one on a workshop day. I have been on several this year and love expanding my skills with great tutors. You also meet new friends. Local to me are Black Sheep Wools based near Warrington. I know a lot of people travel across the country to attend one of their events. The facilities and the retail therapy makes it an excellent trip. But I must say the lunch is always fabulous and the cake is to die for. Pop over to their workshop listing to see what is suitable.

On my list this year I really want to go up to Kirby Lonsdale in the Lake District and visit the fabulous Cool Crafting. I really do fancy attending one of their sewing classes and get back into making my own clothes.

Kits and Yarn

 

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Kits provide an excellent go-to gift for someone. Recently I made this beautiful hat Torshavn with kit by Juliet Bernard. The kit is available here and it comes with the pattern and the yarn included.

For toymakers you can’t go wrong visiting the Toft Alpaca website and choosing one of their delightful animal kits. They have a fabulous cracker gift set which would make a lovely pressie for knitters and crocheters alike.

Finally why not buy a lovely gift card which will you know your yarn obsessed friend will happily spend on all their much desired wool. I do hope you have found some of these suggestions useful. You will just have to wait until Christmas Day morning to see if you get a great big woolly hug!

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A little bit dapper – scarves for chaps

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In all the making of toys, shawls and homeware, it is very easy to forget my chap. Big B, might of course be quite relieved. But sometimes I do feel a bit guilty that he is not top of the making list. This autumn I decided to rectify the situation. It is not often that he needs extra layers to keep him warm. He does seem to have his own internal heating system. But very early in the morning on a station platform and cosy scarf is most welcome.

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A scarf is quite an undertaking of time, and because I am quicker with the hook than with the needle I chose to crochet the scarf with a linen stitch pattern. I used a 4mm hook and alternate 2 rows of Stylecraft Life Vintage Look Dk in Volcano with Life Dk in Silver Grey. By alternating the colours you can tone down the self-striping pattern and create more muted tones. I used just one ball each and when I had completed the length finished the scarf with a crab stitch edging.

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Not too bulky

What do you think? Ideally I wanted to create a beautifully soft and textured look without seeming too homemade. Smart enough to wear to work beneath a woolen overcoat. Big B doesn’t like something too bulky around his neck and the scarf needs to pack away neatly in his work bag.

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I will be honest, this will not be your most scintillating make. But it will be very welcome on a frosty morning or trudging home in the dark at the end of the working day. A little reminder that there is someone at home who loved him enough to make a dapper scarf.

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Stylecraft Blogtour 2017 – Maple Shrug

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This has definitely been the year of the Granny Square for me. I have loved finding new ways to use this crafty classic and make a whole range of objects and accessories. You might think that having one theme for my book might feel restricting. In reality it tends to free my imagination and curiosity. I try to think of new ways to make, fold and use a basic crochet square.

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The colours

Back in the summer, when all the Stylecraft Blogstars got together we were given a choice of three colour packs. I chose the ‘Desert’ theme. I knew our blogtou11r would be live in autumn and it occurred to me that the colours would be perfect for cosy project. In this pack there are four balls of Batik Elements Iron and 1 ball each of Rose, Cherry, Coral, Old Gold, Heather, Graphite. Pretty, pretty, pretty.

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I make a very awkward model for this garment but you can spot cheeky Stanley getting in on the act!

The pattern

I have created a cocoon shrug. Quite surprisingly it is just a huge granny square! I know that doesn’t seem to make sense. The pattern is very very simple and for the two weeks of the blogtour you can down load it for free. Then I will make the pattern available for purchase.

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Waste not – want not

I had a little bit of the yarn left over from making the Maple shrug and I made a little additional project which I will share with you at the end of the blogtour. If you haven’t used Batik before I know you will love it. Batik yarn is very very soft and the marled effect of the blending gives the crochet material a pretty faded look.

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Getting hold of some yarn

For those of you who fancy making your own version of the Maple Shrug you can download the pattern for free Maple Cocoon Shrug – Emma Varnam. I would love it if you would subscribe to my monthly newsletter as well. If you would like to win a pack of the yarn then please do go to the Stylecraft Competition page and enter **here**. I should hear who has won the prize tomorrow!
Congratulations to Catherine who won the yarn pack and thank you to so many of you who entered! I am also so grateful that so many of you have left kind comments.

This year there are sixteen designers and bloggers involved in the blogtour who have used the Batik Shades with added Batik Elements as their inspiration. That means sixteen chances for you to win a pack of yarn and get a unique free pattern. Tomorrow please visit the awesome Polly Plum and her fabulous blog Every Trick on the Hook. She creates the most wonderful Granny Squares and I can’t wait to see what she has created.

Other bloggers involved include my lovely blogstar friends; Crafternoon Treats, The Twisted Yarn, Patchwork Heart, Hand knitted Things, Cherry Heart, Annaboo’s House and Keep Calm and Crochet on; Catherine’s Crochet Corner, Lucia’s Fig Tree, Zooty Owl, Attic 24, Janie Crow, Crochet Between Worlds, Get Knotted Yarn Craft,

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