Written by Emma Mitchell


Knitting beards for Comic Relief

From distraction cakes to copulating crotchet guinea pigs, Emma Mitchell recounts the highs and lows of launching a fund-raising craft magazine.

Miranda Hart models a knitted beard

Have you ever crocheted a small owl or thrown some glitter at a piece of Pritt-smeared cardboard in the company of friends and in close proximity to baked goods? No? It’s lovelier than that miniscule piglet scampering through blades of grass that went viral on Vine. As Blur once wrote, “It gives me a sense of enormous wellbeing.”

I’ve often wished I could save up a few minutes of that crafty joy for days that are full of laundry or dreary rain.

In 2013 I wondered whether this love of knit and stitch could somehow be channelled into raising cash for charity. Ros Badger and I gathered 22 designers together and made four dolls for Red Nose Day, each with more tiny handmade accessories than a well-appointed Sylvanian Family member, including a knitted dog called Dave. We auctioned them on eBay, made over £4,000 and our Facebook page went viral several times. I knew we were on to something.

Then Jodie Carleton, soft toy design genius, felt engineer and one of my partners in crafty Comic Relief crime, emailed to suggest craft patterns rather than finished items for 2015. Patterns cost just a few quid: everyone can join in and make things. It was an inclusive and inspired plan.

I had cake with Jane Toft, co-inventor and ex-editor of Mollie Makes, a brilliant craft magazine. I said: “What about a whole mag full of special patterns for Comic Relief?” She didn’t laugh me out of the café. Instead she pitched it to the Mollie Makes team, who said yes. We told Comic Relief, who were so excited they lent us a whole person (called Kate) to help us hatch our plan.

We needed a sponsor to help with at-cost printing and distribution. At first we had one, then we didn’t, then we thought another might step in, then they didn’t. The idea of the magazine teetered and nearly fell down the khazi. Twice. It was like a real life version of a reality programme: “WILL THE POORLY PUPPY SURVIVE TO SEE ANOTHER DAY? IT LOOKS HALF DEAD” *cut to adverts*.

My fingers were gnawed to stumps. I made so many distraction cakes that my children were in sugary heaven. Then Create and Craft sponsored us. Heroes. Tears of relief. The puppy got up and scampered about. It was going to happen.

I had felt strongly for some time that the world needed to hold guinea pigs in higher esteem. I suggested a g-pig to Jodie based on a particular cavy called Ron who appears on Twitter and has his own Instagram feed. She proceeded to invent a genius piggy pattern. Designers from Seattle to Skipton conjured original handmade things for us. Knitted beards, hand-sewn knickers and cross-stitched Mexican wrestler guinea pigs plopped into our inboxes.

Ron and Audrey

Jane and I set about making them into a magazine. I was her co-editor, something I hadn’t been before. Kind people agreed to model knitted beards for us. Some other lovely people promised to help us promote the magazine. Sainsbury’s said they’d stock it. Sainsbury’s!

Originally I’d planned to have a few copies made down my local printers and flog them to crafty friends. The plan seemed to get bigger by the week as Jane and I became more bedraggled.

Several times pre-deadline Mr Mitchell had come downstairs in the early hours to find me asleep on my laptop keyboard or exclaiming, snottily, with a hint of lunacy, “oh-my-fucking-god-whose-idea-was-it-to-make-this-shitting-thing-it’s-going-to-kill-me” or similar. He would say calmly, “It’ll be worth it, keep going” and make me some 2am tea. Gawd only knows how Jane got through it. It had become a sort of crafty Everest.

Both print and digital versions of the magazine went on sale on 29th January with a toot on a handmade trumpet. Our community Facebook page went bonkers. Now, after a couple of weeks, people around the world have made their own versions of Ron and his girlfriend Audrey.

Some have hairy bums, some are pink, some are ever so slightly wonky and some appear to be making sweet piggy love. I’ve lost count of the number of knitted beards and crochet red noses that have been tweeted to us.

I think the plan is working, and now I’m off for a little lie down.

You can buy The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon at around a third of Sainsbury’s stores. It costs £7.99 and £5 from each magazine sale goes to Comic Relief.

Twitter: @CRCrafts

Facebook: The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon

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Written by Emma Mitchell

I make things, mostly out of silver, sometimes out of wool. I’m never too far from a bottle of PVA glue.