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A new law is shutting down little creative businesses - help us stay alive.

All about Helen Free, aka Enfys.

I was born and bred in South Wales, in and around Cardiff but in the New Year of 2004 moved to the Cambridgeshire Fens, England.

Helen Free, designer and textile artist, wearing her lovely warm Noro Taiyo hat and gloves.

I started crocheting as a child, my Dad taught me.  I was never very serious about it. I got back into it in my early 20's.   I had just bought a house, couldn’t afford to go out and needed something to occupy my evenings.

I started getting requests for items I had made and, in an effort to make ends meet when the interest rates went sky high, decided to make items to sell.

I hadn’t even considered there would be a market for the patterns until I started getting requests for them.   I was always good at just "making things up as I went along" and never thought of it as designing until I discovered the wonderful world of crochet online.   I met a group of lovely ladies who encouraged me to write down my designs and sell them.

Rainbow Valley Patterns

Rainbow Afghan Crochet Pattern.

My first pattern, the Rainbow Afghan, was a success and still remains one of my best selling.   It is based on an Artex ceiling pattern. I remember thinking it looked like Rainbows.

The original one was made in bright Rainbow colours before I made the pastel one for babies.   If you think is looks too girly, try it all in blues for a boy.

Pond Puppets crochet pattern

These Puppets were originally designed for my son.   I made him a couple to play with and ended up making and selling 24 at the WI market in the month before Christmas.

They have evolved over the years and I have started re-writing the earlier ones in the same style as the later ones.   There are now twelve sets of bright and cheerful puppet patterns to choose from.

Snakes and Ladders Garden Game

The Snakes and Ladders is the second garden sized game. The "board" doubles up as a snuggly blanket.   This one was designed with younger children in mind.   The first one was more ambitious - a Chess set.

There are now cuddly toys on this page as well, including my latest creation, Valentino Hare.

Denim Delight Designer Clothing

Then I started playing with thread.  I experimented with working directly into fabric to produce clothing.   Denim Delight uses a loose weave denim and the seams are crocheted together.   Not difficult but a little bit fiddly.  There is a free pattern using this technique if you would like to have a go.

I have also designed a Lacy Lingerie set in sizes up to a UK 22.

Rainbow Earrings crochet pattern.

Thread crochet also led me to Jewellery.  The Rainbow Earrings are part of another set.   Due to demand, I have released them as a separate pattern.

There are a more Jewellery patterns available in different styles.

Just before Christmas 2009, I slipped on the ice and badly hurt my wrist.  I could wiggle my fingers so figured it wasn't broken.   I spent all Christmas in pain and frustration at not being able to crochet then, as it wasn't getting better, I finally went to see the Doc.   Imagine my surprise on finding out it was broken and then having to spend six weeks in plaster!!!!

William Kennet crocheted clematis.

When I finally was able to crochet again, it hurt!  I was not able to carry on with the project I was working on before the accident as it needed a tight tension and lost all motivation.

Our Craft Club decided to hold a "Summer Challenge" and the result of this was my Clematis.   You can find more information about the making of it on my blog.  As you can see, I found my motivation again.

The Clematis was never intended to be a pattern but, after numerous requests, I finally gave in, wrote and published it.

I was doing ok but not wonderfully well with my designing.   My patterns were selling steadily but never at the level that could be classed as an income, let alone a living.   In fact, it was probably more realistic to say that I spent more than I earned from it.   Especially when you consider that my wages from my part time job was supplementing my crochet.

Inside Crochet

I met the Inside Crochet team at the Knit and Stitch show in London, October 2010.   A photo of my Clematis had appeared in a previous issue and, when they realised I was "The Clematis Lady", they were delighted to see me.

Inside Crochet Baby Boy Inside Crochet Baby Girl The result of this was getting "published" in the magazine. There is no way to describe the feeling of seeing your name in print for the first time.

It is still really exciting but the first time is always special.

And the best news, my pattern sales soared. This was the beginning of a long, if rocky, relationship with Inside Crochet.

The complete set of Alphabet Mobiles are available as digital downloads.

Crotat Tutorial

A favourite technique of mine is Crotat. It is a form of tatting made with a crochet hook. Unlike the other forms of tatting, it combines with crochet to stunning effect.

I produced a "How to Crotat" guide for Inside Crochet, along with some other patterns.

I now have a whole section on How to Crotat, along with some Crotat patterns.

In November 2011, the care home I was working in closed down and I was made redundant. I started looking for another job because, despite the fact that I love designing, my bank balance doesn't. In the meantime, I decided to concentrate on building up the business.

And the "rocky relationship"?

The company who owned Inside Crochet were not very good at paying their designers.  In fact, they were not very good at paying anyone.   There are lots of stories (including proof) on line about them.  I was paid very late for my patterns - but at least I got paid.  Many designers didn't. During the time I was involved with them, they changed their name from KAL Media to All Craft Media and finally went into administration early in 2012.  I was never paid for my final pattern.

The craft magazines were taken over by Select Publishing later in 2012 and things have improved greatly.   The new company has a proven track record and a good business reputation.

Aran Poncho crochet pattern Duck Bathmat and Flannel set

Inside Crochet is now published by Tailor Made Publishing.  I have designed more patterns for them including this warm Aran poncho made with 100% wool from Donegal in Ireland and the Duck Bathmat and Flannel set.

Of course, I don't just write patterns for magazines, as you can see from this website.  I have designed a few more patterns and opened shops with a variety of on line selling platforms.

DMC Home Banner Kit Yarnmaker Handspining Magazine

 

As well as Inside Crochet, I work with DMC and have designed a crochet kit for them.

I also design regularly for YarnMaker using hand spun yarn.

Modern Crochet is about Art.

One of the things I love about crochet is the versatility of it.   It is no longer Granny Squares and Doilies, although these still have their place and are widely popular.

It doesn't matter whether you wear it or hang it on the wall.   It is about colour and creativity.   It is about pushing the accepted boundaries.

Four Seasons Flower Wall Hangings

The Four Seasons were made because I wanted to do some more "Art Crochet".   I wrote the patterns as I went, more from habit than any things else although the original idea was more as a fun project for me.

I had no idea they would be as popular as they were and this particular picture went viral on FaceBook!

The backgrounds are worked with Tapestry Crochet and the flowers appliquéd on for a 3D effect.

Going International

Another exciting thing which has been happening with the site is that Rainbow Valley going international!   The German section went live in October 2013 with the Swedish section following in January 2014.   There is a selection of patterns on both.

Deutsch Svenska Español Nederlands

I had planned that the Spanish and Dutch pages would be going live later in 2014 with the possibility of French not long afterwards, however, this has had to be delayed.   New EU distance selling regulations, which came into force in June 2014, meant a major overhaul of the site.   This was followed by the badly thought out and implemented EU VAT regulations in January 2015.   I was uncertain about whether I would still be able to sell to the EU until just before Christmas 2015 when HMRC finally clarified the situation.

The good news is that I am now working on the Spanish section with the aim of it going live in September 2015.   I have started working with a Portuguese translator and, although there is no fixed date yet, we hope to go live either late 2015 or early 2016.

Personal issues have also contributed to the delay.   In December 2013, I left my partner of 10 years, moved into a new home with my son and am working on building a new life for us.   It is something I should have done a long time ago and my son and I are both much happier for it.

The really exciting part about all of this for me is that I now have the freedom to do a lot of things that I couldn't before.

I love teaching!

Rainbow Valley Weekend

My lessons have been proving popular which means more time teaching and less time spent designing.   However, as I enjoy teaching as much as I enjoy designing, this is no hardship.

I currently hold regular weekly lessons from home.   I love seeing my students who have been struggling with holding the hook, bloom and produce a piece of work they are pleased with.

I hold workshops for those who want to learn a new technique, brush up on an old one or who just can't make it to my regular weekly lessons.

Even more exciting, I worked with Unravel and Unwind in Rochester, Kent to organise my first weekend of workshops in July 2014.   It was so much fun we did it again in June 2015 and are planning another for October 2015.

Let's Knit May 2014 Let's Knit December 2014

 

I had a pattern in the May 2014 issue of "Let's Knit".  Don't worry, I haven't gone over to the "Dark Side", it was a crochet pattern.

I did another for the Christmas 2014 issue. This time it was Holly and Poinsettia.

Another is planned for the Christmas 2015 issue. Keep an eye out for it.

Kits and Supplies

Christmas Crochet Kits

My latest exciting adventure is Crochet Kits!

So far I only have Christmas patterns made up as kits.   I am planning a lot more but it all takes time.   If there are any of my patterns you would particularly like as a kit, please let me know.

As an off shoot from this, I am now selling a small amount of crochet supplies.   At the moment it is only the excess materials from the kits (I have to buy full boxes and only use one ball at a time) but I hope to eventually carry a wider range.

The Future?

I am in the process of building Rainbow Valley into a business which can actually earn me a living, something I thought I would never be able to do.

Ok, so this means a 70 hour week with no time off for good behaviour.   It means sleepless night and "Should I really have done that?" on a regular basis.   It means accepting the fact that I am never going to get rich doing what I do.

But how many people can say that they earn an income by doing their favourite thing?

Site and Contact information

Interview from Scarlet Dash, May 9th, 2011
Interview from Maggies Crochet August 16th, 2013