threaded in tiny detail
With her bag of crochet hooks and cottons, Yorkshire craftswoman Steffi Graves stitches exquisite floral jewellery
Sitting on a shiny wooden bench, bathed in the spring sunshine streaming through a tall leaded window, a woman carefully balances a spool of gossamer-fine blue thread on her knee, a crochet hook ready in her right hand. With a rhythmic motion, she uses the hook to nimbly loop and twist the cotton over the fingers of her left hand. As if by magic, a tiny crocheted forget-me-not flower appears, measuring less than half an inch in diameter. Intrigued, passengers bustling along the platform at Pickering station, home of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, pause to chat as she crochets. “My work is so tiny that people have to come up close to see what I’m doing,” says craftswoman Steffi Glaves. She has been making miniature crochet jewellery pieces since 2013. The nature of the work allows her to be mobile, carrying all she needs with her wherever she goes. It also proves a conversation starter with passers-by. Just a few minutes’ walk from her home, the 1930s-themed building is a favourite location. “It’s a change of scene from my cottage workshop, and I enjoy the interaction with others. It does slow me down a little though, because my work is very precise, and I’m always counting stitches in my head.” As well as forget-me-nots, she creates pansies in deep purple, scarlet poppies, Yorkshire roses and colourful daisies embellished with a tiny 2mm silver bead. Each is made with intricate stitches and is used to create earrings, pendants and lapel pins.
“My mum taught me to crochet when I was 18,” she explains. “I was going on a coach trip, and I asked her to teach me the basics so I’d have something to do. My first attempt was terrible. The results looked like a misshapen fisherman’s net. But I persevered and used online tutorials to improve. Once I’d got the tension right and understood the mechanics, it became much easier and a lot more successful.” Steffi had a creative upbringing with her artist mother. “I was constantly surrounded by ribbons and paintbrushes,” she explains. “She often took me to the craft fairs where she was selling her artwork, and I passed the time by making things too. Because we were often on the move, I chose small, portable crafts which I could pack in a bag, and I suppose that’s what I am still doing.” Following an art foundation course at York College, she took a degree in design crafts at De Montfort University in Leicester. “I worked in all sorts of disciplines, but I was always attracted to making things on a smaller scale,” she says. It was not until Steffi graduated and returned to live in Pickering that she had the idea for producing micro-crochet jewellery. “One day, I was messing about with some hand
quilting cotton. A friend had given me a very fine crochet hook with a bone handle, and I put the two together and made a little flower,” she explains. “I was surprised how nice it looked. I did some more and created three pairs of stud earrings. I put them in mum’s shop and gallery, and they sold the very next day. I realised that I was on to something.”
She moved into a small cream-painted studio within her house in April 2017, after her sister moved out of the cottage, freeing up some space. The studio overlooks a cottage garden, which is a source of inspiration. It is naturally planted with honeysuckle, blue clematis scrambling over trellises and purple aquilegia. “My sister is the gardener, but I like looking at the plants, and I love to visit open garden events,” she says. The studio contains a built-in desk running the width of the room under the window. Neat displays of work are placed in plain wooden cabinets. “I like to see the finished items in front of me, with evidence of past experiments that have gone right and wrong. But I prefer to keep my workspace orderly and uncluttered,” says Steffi. The only decorative detail is a small glass cabinet filled with miniature treasures collected over the years. They include lace-making bobbins, a vintage cotton reel and thread, a bird skull and a wood-turned apple. At the opposite end of the room is a vintage trolley upon which sits an electronic cutting tool. This is used to make packaging of neat candy-striped boxes to protect the delicate pieces.
Learning from mistakes
It takes approximately 15 minutes to crochet one flower. Until the middle of 2016, Steffi was unable to read a pattern, so created her own, jotting down the stitches and combinations for future reference. “I decided it was time I did learn, although I still work better from my own notes,” she explains. “I do make mistakes, but I use a slightly waxed thread which makes it easy to undo and start again.” To make the forget-me-not studs, which are her bestsellers, a 0.5mm crochet hook with a handle is required. She starts with the centre of the flower, using what is known as a magic ring stitch in yellow thread, and works in circles, wrapping the thread around her fingers to create the stitches. It is a neat technique which is also secure. She uses a double stitch, 10 times exactly, and pulls the loops to make the thread come together like a mini drawstring bag. The five petals are then formed with blue thread and a combination of chain stitch and treble crochet. Delicate double crochet stitches create the miniscule points on each petal. A bead embroidery needle is used to sew in the ends, with any excess thread tucked under existing stitches, then cut off. Steffi makes six flowers at a time and hopes to get
“Just living is not enough... one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” Hans Christian Andersen, ‘The Butterfly’
one matching pair from each batch. She keeps the leftover flowers to pair up at a later date. An occupational hazard is stabbing her fingers. “These crochet hooks are like needles, they’re so fine,” she says. To make the flowers into stud earrings, each one is attached to a sterling silver disc using a strong but flexible glue. It sets in 10 minutes and needs 24 hours to solidify. Pendants are also made using a disc backing on the flower, so they are heavy enough to hang properly. The flower is then sewn onto an oval jump ring, using double crochet stitches, before the chain is looped through.
The largest pieces are lapel pins, measuring approximately 1in by 1½in (2.5 x 3cm). She cuts a 2in (5cm) stem in silver wire, just 1mm thick. Holding it with tweezers, she dips the end in borax flux, to help the solder flow, and heats the metal with a small blowtorch until it glows and forms a ball on the end. This dot will form the centre of the flower. The other end is trimmed and filed to the desired length when cold. The stem is then soldered onto a ¼in (8mm) disc of sterling silver. “I use a paste made from solder particles and borax flux,” she says. “It’s a bit like a thick glue, which I apply with a small paintbrush to the two surfaces. I point the blowtorch at the lapel pin until I see the solder melt and flow to create the bond.” After this process, the pin is covered in messy oxide and residues, so it is bathed in a weak acid solution, called pickle, to dissolve them away. Steffi can now polish the metal with three rubber discs and a rotary tool. She starts with a coarse grade that produces a satin finish and ends in a finer grade, giving a high shine. The flower is then attached to the pin by threading the balled stem through the centre. She crochets a tiny disc of cotton, and pushes the lapel pin through it to the back of the flower. Everything is then glued and sewn firmly in place. “I like the fact that I can make friends through my craft,” says Steffi. “Also, it is such a satisfying process. It’s amazing how quickly a piece can grow in your hands. I get instant maker’s satisfaction, and there is always tangible evidence of what I’ve been doing with my day.”