threaded in tiny de­tail

With her bag of cro­chet hooks and cot­tons, York­shire craftswoma­n St­effi Graves stitches ex­quis­ite flo­ral jew­ellery

Landscape (UK) - - In The Kichen - ▯ Words: Fiona Cum­ber­patch ▯ Pho­tog­ra­phy: Clive Doyle

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.

Creative ties

“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.”

In­spir­ing view

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.

Pre­ci­sion work

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.”

The tools of her trade fill St­effi’s com­pact work­shop with colour. Co­or­di­nated rows of bob­bins line a dec­o­ra­tive cigar box; a plump scar­let cush­ion is burst­ing with nee­dles and pins; a trea­sured tin spills over with an ar­ray of cot­tons, and a se­lec­tion...

Boxes of sam­ples are ar­ranged neatly on St­effi’s desk, lit by the spring sun­light (top). Held care­fully be­tween fin­ger and thumb, the tiny scale of a cro­chet flower is ev­i­dent as St­effi com­pletes the fi­nal stitches (above).

Flow­ers are St­effi’s in­spi­ra­tion, in­clud­ing blue for­get-me-nots, with their pale cen­tres, and the dis­tinc­tive white rose of York­shire.

Largely self-taught, St­effi works on a larger piece of cro­chet in­cor­po­rat­ing rows of colour and a va­ri­ety of stitches.

A match­ing poppy lapel pin and ear­rings. The ear­rings are fixed to a disc with a sil­ver post and scroll by a glue which needs a full day to ‘cure’; the chem­i­cal re­ac­tion caus­ing it to so­lid­ify.

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