Just don’t tell Margo

Christine Harvey surveys the garden from the door of her cottage.
Christine Harvey surveys the garden from the door of her cottage.
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A dream of living the Good Life has come true for crochet designer Christine Harvey but only after a lot of hard work. Sharon Dale reports

With 20ft leylandii overshadowing an overgrown garden cluttered with outbuildings, it took vision to see that the scruffy plot could provide everything a family needed to live the “Good Life”.

Fortunately, Christine Harvey could see the potential and her first investment when she bought her cottage, near Bingley, was a chainsaw and some petrol-powered tools.

After months of backbreaking digging, weeding, chopping and landscaping, she now has vegetable patches, a greenhouse and an orchard that yields apples, pears, plums, cherries and damsons. Her three hens, Penelope, Felicity and Matilda, provide her with three free range eggs every day and there’s also a play area for her daughters Eleanor, eight, seven-year-old Florence and Abigail, five.

Some of the eight outbuildings have been put to good use. The coal shed is now a play house for the girls and another is a hen house.

“I fell in love with the garden even though it was in a state. It was far bigger than I could’ve hoped for because the cottage had been part of an old farm,” says Christine, who bought the five-bedroom property in 2009.

Although she loved the terraced house in Thornton, near Bradford, that she had bought and renovated herself, she and her husband were desperate for more outside space to fulfil an ambition to be semi-self-sufficient.

“We were lucky that we were able to remortgage my house to get a deposit to buy this one so we were in a good position. There was another person who wanted this cottage so there was a bidding war but luckily we won,” she says.

Although the garden was labour- intensive, the house didn’t need too much work. The previous owners had extended it, creating an enormous light-filled, open-plan living kitchen linked to the older part of the building.

All Christine had to do was redecorate and put her own stamp on the property. Furniture is a mix of old, new and revamped pieces.

The dresser is from an auction and she stripped and waxed it. A friend gave her the sitting room fireplace and she added a York stone hearth and a new fire. She also remodelled a second-hand “orange pine” platform bed.

It is now in Florence’s bedroom and after a few coats of white eggshell paint it looks like new, as does the £5 plate rack from a charity shop that provides storage in her workroom.

Decoration includes vintage finds like her collection of Pyrex dishes that look perfect piled high on the windowsill, where their colours catch the light.

The rugs in her daughters’ bedrooms have been crocheted from strips of their old clothes. Most of the rooms feature her crochet work. There is a collection of wooly primulas in pots, blankets and cushions, “calorie-free” cakes and trendy hats that live in the alcove at the top of the stairs.

Christine is a well-known crochet designer, whose patterns feature in magazines and books. She also makes and sells gifts and accessories.

The back bedroom is the headquarters of her one-woman business, Rose Cottage Crafts, which is her fourth career. She began as an archaeological scientist then became an archaeological geophysicist, carrying out surveys to find ancient deposits before they were destroyed by development. She also worked on Channel 4’s Time Team before retraining as an IT teacher. Although she loved teaching, she gave it up to become a full-time crochet designer, maker and tutor, after developing fibromyalgia.

The decision has seen an improvement in her health and allows her to manage the debilitating condition more easily.

“My mum taught me how to knit and crochet when I was little and I started crocheting again as a way to relax in the evening. I found it very therapeutic and calming. I especially love creating the crochet patterns because they read very much like computer programmes,” Christine adds.

A stall at the school spring fair sparked the plan for Rose Cottage Crafts.

“It did really well and it grew from there to craft fairs and selling on sites like Etsy and Folksy. It was a big decision to do it full-time but I’m so pleased I made it.

“I have a much better work-life balance and my health has improved, though we do have a smaller income, which isn’t such problem because we aren’t materialistic and we grow lots of our own food now.”

The only challenge is working alone, though the internet helps. Christine is a member of the Facebook group Craft Soup, which is for Yorkshire-based designers and makers.

“Working at home can be isolating so Craft Soup is great. It’s made up of designers and makers, who are really supportive and informative. There’s always someone to chat to even if it is online rather than face-to-face.”

If she gets too stir crazy inside, she goes into the garden.

“There is always something to do there. It’s an ongoing project. What I’d really like to do is convert one of the outbuildings into a studio so I can work there surrounded by chickens, home-grown vegetables and flowers.”

For more details of Christine’s crochet designs and workshops visit www.rosecottagecrafts.net