Knitting the Enchanted Mesa

The Enchanted Mesa is a knitting pattern by designer Stephen West. And over at the Create With Fibre Community on Facebook, we decided to have an Enchanted Mesa Knitalong after Beata showed us her lovely creation.
It is surprisingly easy to knit, with just enough interesting stuff going on to make it also great fun. The ‘interesting stuff’ in this case is the fact that the shaping is done entirely by knitting short rows, hence the wonky shape. Don’t be fooled by the strange sleeves, it is very comfy to wear too.
This was a stashbusing project. My stash is enchanted too, actually. It is all handspun and mostly bits and bobs. And despite several stashbusting projects, the pile of yarn is not getting any smaller! So far the tally is:
six handwoven cushions
a knitted mini skirt
Dinky loom squares that will eventually make a jacket. Total so far about 30 squares
a half finished shawl

It is only one largeish bag of yarn, how can it not be smaller?!
Anyhow, Mesa here are the yarns chosen for the Mesa

yarns chosen for the Mesa

A few more were added enroute and black shetland/alpaca, spun and now used in several projects was chosen to separate the colours.  But not one single ball of yarn was completely used up in this project.  And hardly  any in the other projects either.  See what I mean, enchanted stash!

The neck is done first, then the short rows begin.

The neck and first part of the shoulders are knitted in merino and silk, spun from commercial roving, with the black  in between as above.  The fun started when I let go of worrying about how the colours would work out.  If you have selected them before hand, it just seems to work and I make a lot of things this way.

portable knitting!

this is easy to knit in groups or when out and about, as once you get the hang of the short rows you don’t need to think too hard.  It went with us on the train to Carlisle at Christmas and I picked this book up in a charity shop.  Great holiday!  The shiny part is random stuff spun for demo purposes when I taught some of our many courses.  That is why I end up with such a random stash.  And maybe why quantity doesn’t reduce.  Hmmm…  The multicoloured stuff is Icelandic roving, spun then dyed.  The stuff you get as a ‘wheel’ and are supposed to knit with.  Far better if spun first.

the body is taking shape

you can see how it now goes down one side more than the other.  You catch up with the other side later.  More leftover yarns from spinning courses and retreats… The black in between worked well to give the colours definition.

the Mesa is easy to try on as you go

It is rather like a shawl jumper combo, this.

This was a quick knit and great fun.  It is also comfy and easy to wear.  Success!

how to choose a fleece for hand spinning

This is a question that crops up a lot in the Create With Fibre Community on Facebook so I thought I would talk about it in more detail here.

Fleeces, like sheep come in many varieties.   The British Wool Marketing Board classifies them and grades fleeces in the UK and there are most probably equivalents in your country if you live elsewhere.  The BWMB have published a very good and inexpensive book, The British Sheep and Wool Book,  which lists the main breeds available in the UK and this is most helpful if you want to learn more.

To some extent, the principles  described here apply to pre-prepared fibre too, although the type of prepararations you want to buy, carded fibre or combed tops is also a factor and will depend on how you want to spin it and whether you like spinning from tops in the first place.  More about that another time but just don’t get too hung up on it, try something and se it it works.   Here we are talking about wool from fleece specifically.

BTW, If you sign up to the Create With Fibre e-zine, I will send you a FREE copy of my article, ‘Sorting and Washing Fleece’.   This is re-produced with kind permission of the Association of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers.  Visit their website to find you nearest Guild.  Guilds are wonderful and your best source of real life information about working with fleece.

sorting fleeces at the BWMB in Irvine Scotland

Staple length/lustre

If you are unsure, buy

something with a staple length of 8.5-14.5cm/3-5 inches. It will do for pretty much anything and be the easiest to spin.

Very short fibres, ie less than 5cm/2inches long are harder to work with unless you know what to do.  Having said that, there are some lovely fleeces in the Shortwool and Down Catetory.  For example, Oxford Down and with a little practise you will enjoy them, as they are soft and crimpy.

Very long fibres, ie longer than 17cm/6 inches are also harder to work with and you need to have your hands a lot further apart in order to draft them.  NB you don’t need them closer together to work with short fibres, you can just draft differently by using extended draw (long draw in the US) or long draw (English long draw in the US) techniques.

if you want something warm and woolly, choose short to medium fibres, if you want something with more lustre or hard wearing, choose longer fibres.   But really,  most people don’t pay too much attention to that unless they are spinning for socks or something, so don’t get hung up on it.  What do most of us do?  See a fleece we like and buy it.  Then spin it and decide what to do with the yarn afterwards.  Simple. Its a hobby after all!

Fineness or coarseness of fibre

This will depend on the type of project you want.  Coarser for durable  such as rugs and bags.  Examples are Devon, Herdwick, or for something a bit softer try Scottish Blackface.

Finer where you want something soft, such as a good Shetland.   And do check out how often the finished item is likely to be washed, if it is something that will be washed often and you are buying wool as pre-prepared tops, merino is not great, unless you buy Superwash merino as pre-prepared tops.  it is Teflon coated to prevent felting during washing but it does still need careful handling.

A Scottish Black Face Tup or ram.

For frequent washing and softness Blue Faced Leicester is good but really is best bought as tops unless you want to spin a curly yarn, because  it has such tiny curls.

And there are lots of Medium fleeces that are good for most things.  Jacob, Shetland again,  Cheviot, North Country Cheviot (actually a separate breed) Texel, Zwartzbles…the list goes on.  The good old Mule is nearly always brilliant for spinning.  This is a cross between two breeds and each area tends to have its own favourite cross.  Here in the West of Scotland it is normally a Blue Faced Leicester tup crossed with a Black Face ewe.

Sorting a Zwartzbles fleece

The younger the animal, the finer and softer the fleece.  And individual animals vary too.  Which is why the Wool Marketing Board tends to grade by the fineness of the actual wool rather than by the breed of sheep.

So the best advice? Have a go and have fun with it, don’t get bound up in rules and trying to figure it out.   You could also do worse than buy my book, ‘How to Spin Just About Anything‘ which has loads more about wool, other fibres and how to spin them, along with over 140 photographs.

‘How to Spin Just About Anything’ a great source of info


So much to do, so little time

So what is your biggest challenge with yarn and fibre crafts?

  • How to follow a pattern?
  • how to get knitted and crocheted garments to fit?
  • warping the loom?
  • cutting your weaving?
  • getting the thickness of yarn you want when spinning?
  • All of the above??

Or perhaps, like me its actually finding the time to make things and having the focus to do it.   Here’s how it goes for me: I resolve to start knitting, spinning, weaving or crocheting once I have completed my work day; fulfilling orders, planning spinning and weaving courses and Retreats etc etc.   Then – oops – there is more to do so I will sit down and knit, spin etc when  dinner is made/the dishes washed.  Then…just check the emails first.  …Get wood and light the fire, and so it goes on.

So finally, time to sit down, hooray!    But as soon as you begin to relax, something happens.  All the things you forgot to do start to pop into your head.  Put the bins out, make lunch for tomorrow, phone a friend…and up you get before they go out of your head again.    Or horror of horrors, by this time one of the kids has got back out of bed.

this bunting is a quick Christmas make.  If you have existing bunting, remove it from the hanging ribbon, string, turn it upside down then attach it again.  Voila, Christmas bunting!

The solution to the ‘before I forget’ thing is to have a notebook within reach.  Then, it’s easy!  Simply decide which project to focus on.  Or do you want to read that book?  Ahhh, not so simple after all!  And you forgot to make a cup of tea you had been looking forward to.

I will pick up project number one, a shawl for a friend’s birthday and  resolve to work on it until it is finished.  Then remember the baby bootees are rather more urgent and also smaller so wouldn’t it be better to get them finished first.  Just focus until they are done.  But I have second bootee syndrome.  Yes, its related to second sock syndrome but I may just be the only person who suffers from it with bootees!  And now, of course the phone rings and after chatting for half an hour (lovely, but I forgot to take my knitting with me when I answered the phone)  and I am nearly out of time.

So here is the solution!   Yes, really.  Let yourself off the hook here because the reality may just be that you don’t have much time for knitting, crochet, spinning or weaving right now.  Do ten minutes a day/at a time instead of trying to carve out large chunks of time.  It is amazing how much you get done in ten minutes a day.

Another quick make, wee crocheted baskets, each containing a Ferrero Rocher or similar chocolate, or if you are sugar free, a walnut works well. this is now available as a Ravelry pattern.

And the secret is this:  there may well be more than one ten minute slot a day.   it is amazing how many ten minute slots there seem to be, once you stop trying to carve out those non-existent larger chunks of time.  Those who have done my spinning courses or read the ‘How to Spin’ book will be familiar with the ten minutes a day them for spinning and many of you have  and got in touch to say it was a revelation!

I spin ten minutes in the mornings and treat it as a meditation but what if you did something else for ten minutes in the afternoon or evening?  It is so much easier to find ten minutes than an hour.    So I am off to knit for ten minutes, see ya!


Knitmas is coming…

What are you knitting for Christmas?  I am, as usual overambitious.  It seems like there  is plenty of time for the three scarves and several hats I want to make but then suddenly the time always seems to run out.  Then I am knitting morning, noon and night to get things finished, giving Unfinished Objects as presents to be continued in the New Year, and coming up with other solutions.

these Squash blossom book marks  created by Bonnie Sennott are a quick knit, using a free Ravelry pattern if you are running out of time.  I have knitted rather a lot of them, aren’t they great?

Zuccini flower book marks are quick knits in time for Christmas
Beaded French knitting jewellery is another quick make for Christmas

Need ring-fenced knitting time and cake?

Enter Knitmas.  It is our first Create With Fibre Christmas event and we are excited!  Come along and work on your Christmas knitting in front of the log fire.  On the afternoon of Monday 4th December, we will congregate at the old Black Bull pub Dalmellington Ayrshire.  This is a small event with only 20 tickets on sale and there are 9 spaces left.

The Black Bull is a 17th Century coaching inn, which is now the quirky and unique home of our friend and sometime Create With Fibre helper Jane.

  • We will knit in front of the log burning fire and eat cake.
  • There will be a goody bag for everyone
  • £1 from each ticket will go to labour behind the label.
  • There will be a free mystery mini workshop.
  • McHatties Yarns will have their designer yarns for sale
  • Create With Fibre surprise goodies will be available.

So bring  your knitting, wear your best woollies and don’t eat too much lunch before you come!

Are you a textile artist?

Ever dreamed of turning your  textile love into a business? Sounds amazing, huh?
The reality can be a little different however.
Which is why Janet of Create With Fibre has decided to add to her business mentoring service by offering a retreat for those with a textile business.

weaving with primary school children

It can be hard to turn your passion into a business, because its not always how you thought it would be.
Working out what to charge, asking for money for your work, how to earn enough to pay the bills…if you are just starting out there are systems and accounts to worry about, too. The reality may be that you will only spend half of the time actually doing what you love.

A book signing at the local Chemist’s shop

Or you may be struggling to come up with a money-making idea to even start your business.
And if you were used to having work colleagues and now work from home, it can feel isolating. Lots of us dream of working from home, right? In reality it can be challenging.
Especially when the rest of the household go out in the morning and your day starts with a mountain of dirty dishes.
Of course, it can be wonderful working for yourself and doing what you love but only if you know how to make it work. Time out to focus on your business can really help give you perspective. A chance to have fun and relax whilst sharing with others who know what its like.

And 1-1 time with Janet to think about your business. And time to really focus on planning and action. All whilst having fun in a 4 star guest house, with beautiful views, a woodburning stove, and likeminded people.
And why Janet? She has spent over 20 years earning her living as a textile artist. And has mentored others individually for much of that time. In fact many of the UK textile artists you may know have been helped or started on their business journey Janet. If you want to know more, visit the createwithfibre website

Yarn and Fibre Festivals

Knitting is the new black.  You heard it first here.

Take the UK. A few years ago, North of Watford, there was Woolfest, the Massam Sheep Fair, Wonderwool Wales and not really much else.

‘Herdies’ or Herdwick sheep at Woolfest

Now, even here in Scotland – where perhaps the midges, and a national population of only 5.3m (to give that some context, the population of London England is about 8.7m)  would, you’d think cause slower growth – there are lots and lots of fibre and yarn festivals.  but we make up in enthusiasm for what we lack in numbers up here in the North of Britain…

So then there was Shetland Wool Week.   Then Edinburgh Yarn Festival,  and now… Perth Festival of Yarn is in its second year.  I have not been there before but am so looking forward to teaching at it in September 2017.   There will also be a Create With Fibre stall at the Festival and Lee will be selling his amazing Dinky, Midi and Scarf Looms and blending boards.  He is having trouble keeping up with demand actually but promises he will have some on sale there!

Woolfest in Cumbria in the North of England continues to thrive and I volunteer at it every year.  Just love their sheep and spinning focus of course.    The Rheged Centre, also in Cumbria now has a wee wool festival in the spring.    They showed the film Yarn in the Rheged film theatre.   I totally love that movie by the way…

As the knitters, spinners, crocheters, felt makers and weavers just keep growing in numbers,  the yarn festivals are multiplying.  All are busy and there are many, many more that I have not mentioned.

Here are my wool festival highlights this year:

Janet teaches spinning at EYF

Courses at Yarn Festivals

Lots of you come to the courses at EYF and all of their courses have filled up fast.  In fact, the second year I taught there, they started out by asking me to do two and I ended up doing five courses.  I did get to have a very quick tour round the Festival in the last 20 minutes and yes, it is surprising what you can buy in 20 minutes…  Like all of the Festivals, EYF is unique and in particular it has a very international clientele.  There were people on the courses I taught there from New Zealand, Russia, Norway, Poland and more.

And I volunteer on the Woolclip stall at Woolfest most years, (the only year I missed was when I was away doing my Knit 1 bike 1 project) and I just love Woolfest, the Woolclip and all of it.  So glad to do my bit there.  The Woolclip is the cooperative that organises Woolfest and also the shop.  Higham Hall sometimes have courses in conjunction with Woolfest and I have taught a couple of those over the years too.  Along with all the regular courses I have done there over the years, and the recently added Higham Knitting Retreats.

So this year, check out Perth festival of Yarn.  I will be there both days and am teaching spinning, crochet and weaving.  Can’t wait.

Spindling Changes the World…

Spindling is a game changer if you are a textile artist, spinner or yarn enthusiast.    The reasons are this:

It is portable.  So although it may be slower by the hour than wheel spinning, (although more about that later, it is actually faster than you think) it is faster by the week.  whilst your friends chat at the spinning group they have to get up and leave their spinning wheel.  You on the other hand can wander about and take your spinning with you.

Many moons ago, I was taught spindling, backstrap weaving and Andean Braiding by a Canadian called Ed Franquemont.  He is the father of Abby Franquemont, who is still spindling away and whom many of you will have heard of.    Ed was a spindler through and through.

At one point, he and others fundraised to buy spinning wheels for the community they were working with.   They returned there a year later to find no one was using the spinning wheels but were back to handspindles.   Why?  the spindles were ‘slower by the hour, faster by the week’.   You could spindle whilst doing other things.   You produced more and were not stuck at home on your own.   And that is the essence of spindling.

Sadly, Ed is no longer with us but the time I spent learning with him will always be special.  He was also an archaeologist and worked with communities in Peru.  He gave me one of the Peruvian spindles made  in a community he worked with.  I still have it and treasure it greatly.

Being a keen spindler, I often spin a lot of yarn whilst on holiday, wating for trains, cooking, you name it.  These  Entrelac socks are made with spindle spun Blue Faced Leicester yarn.    The toe, heel and strip around the ankle are made from commercial sock yarn (pink in photo).   Partly to add durability but partly just because it needed using up.

Spindle spun entrelac socks

The thigh roll, the kick and the wrist distaff

These amazing techniques are what make it possible to really get up speed on a hand spindle.   There is a myth that you need a special gadget in order to kick a spindle.  Well you heard it here, all you need is a pair of sensible shoes.

Simply grip the spindle between your feet at the widest point and flick the right foot back to kick the spindle clockwise.   I do lots of free videos in our lovely Facebook group, Create With Fibre Community.  Check out the spindling one here.    You will have to join the group in order to access the videos, then click on the videos tab to see them all, or do a ‘search in group’ with the word ‘video’.

Using a wrist distaff

And here is a FREE excerpt about spindling from Janet’s book.  

A summary – some tips for spindle spinning

  • Practise pre-drafting fibre and then twirling the spindle with a piece of scrap yarn. Do each of step until you are confident before attempting the next one.
  • If you struggle to join on the fibre, just tie a piece of yarn onto the spindle and tie this around a small amount of fibre, or make a loop, thread a small amount of fibre through it and double it back on itself. This can be done at any stage not just when joining fibre to start a new bobbin.
  • Take your time. Pre-draft the fibre then spin the spindle to insert the twist.  Then stop, sit down and wedge the spindle between your knees and draft some more rather than doing everything at once.
  • If you get in a muddle or the spindle is spinning too fast for you, stop by lowering the spindle onto the floor. This will give you time to draft without the spindle spinning.
  • If the yarn is getting over-twisted it is important to stop immediately or it will just get worse.
  • To ply, wind two lots of singles yarn into a double stranded ball. Put this in your pocket and then ply from it.
  • Remember to go clockwise when spinning and anticlockwise when plying.
  • Refer to the section on plying yarn on a spinning wheel for some extra tips.

You can check out the book some more on the Create With Fibre website, and can also find out about Janet’s courses and retreats there.

The Wonky Weaving Project

This has been so exciting and I love projects that emerge and develop as they grow.  We are working in Maybole, South West Scotland.  I was asked to do a weaving project to celebrate the town’s 500th anniversary as a Borough.

The weaving on one of the eight rigid heddle looms

The organisers were enthusiastic about the idea of a weaving project because this like many, was a weaving town. They wove Ayrshire blankets here and there were also many home weavers if you go further back.

But get this: the weaving riots in Maybole were just about the worst anywhere. Far more so than the oft talked about Paisley riots.  The riots were about mechanisation and factories destroying the livelihoods of home weavers. Difficult times.

So the group involved in this project  wanted to learn to weave, create  a wall hanging and learn a tiny bit of history at the same time.  And they have been amazing.  Only two had ever woven before.  They range in ages from 14 to 80-something and only a couple really knew each other. Weaving has brought them together.

The weaving is all done and now needs to be put together.  We did it on ‘rigid heddle’ looms but pretty much any loom will do, including a frame loom like our very economical Create With Fibre midi frame looms of course.

I call it ‘tapestry type’ weaving. It is not true tapestry, you can see the warp in places especially when we add those lovely bits of curly fleece.  Far easier and faster too.  We created slopes, curves  and texture and somehow the eye sees a landscape. And ‘wonky’ because of all those curves and wonky bits of course!

The finished weaving will now be backed and hung

We will add tiny needle felted sheep and boots now. Boots because Maybole was a boot making town too.

Weave, weave, weave…

Right now, weaving is the new black.  So many people want to learn.   So here is a spot of advice: don’t buy the largest loom you can find, thinking it will ‘do you’ for longer and save you buying another. 90% odds that not only will you have no dining room any longer (unless you have dinner round it) you will also rarely if ever warp it up ready to weave.  It is too daunting.  And my take on it is this: you can weave pretty much anything on a ‘rigid heddle’ loom.

A folding Rigid Heddle Loom

It will fit in a cupboard. You can sit in a chair and weave with it propped up on a windowsill, they are designed like that,  and simply weave panels if you want something wider.

The range of patterns that can be done is awesome.  Check out The Weavers Idea book by Jane Patrick.  It and other books especially for rigid heddle weaving are what you need.  Sarah Howard wrote a lovely book called ‘Wear Your Weaving’ which shows how to create garments using narrow panels.  

And if you just want to have a go, you can even weave around a cardboard box.  We have a FREE e-course ‘5 days to become a weaver’ which shows you how.   Check it out here and get our free e-zine at the same time.   Https://

Hubby has been making our newest products, the ‘Dinky Loom’ and Midi Loom.  They enable you to do the simplest of weaving with tiny scraps of leftover yarn. I am making squares for a woven jacket.

Squares woven on the Dinky Loom

They are so quick to do and portable enough to take anywhere.

The dinky loom in action



Teaching spinning, weaving and knitting is what we do…

Was just looking through the diary for 2016 and it hit me.  I have taught a lot of people.  When we started this in 1994, I had this vision of growing spinning, weaving, knitting and all things fibre and yarn all over the UK.  Kind of like planting seeds.  Well it is happening!  So I am blowing our own trumpet just a tiny bit here, just because what we do is not always evident.

Having taught many of the people who are now in their turn teaching spinning, I can see it.  Some of them have quite high profile businesses now, and some of them I have gone on to work with in partnership for many years.    See the current courses on our Create With Fibre website.

Then I realised.  I have taught over 750 people this year.    The 750 has admittedly included about 200 new weavers at two larger scale events:  A music festival  commissioned us to teach weaving all weekend, and a primary school who had me there for two days teaching nearly all of the classes….But all of the rest are in relatively small courses.  sometimes, like this week,  I am teaching three courses in a week (weaving wednesday, Indigo dyeing Thursday and beginners spinning on Saturday this week).

Often there are courses for one of the Guilds of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers.   Last weekend we were at East  Central Guild, and before that Eden Valley.  The beginners spinning is one of a series of special courses for Dumfries & Galloway Guild.

Then there are the courses for Councils, youth groups and voluntary organisations.  At the moment, a series of several weaving sessions and a wall hanging project for Maybole 500, which celebrates the town being 500 years old.   These  have been many and various over the last couple of years.  A tipi making project with ten different youth groups (that one went on for months), and weaving projects with a number of schools for example.

weaving with primary school children

And I teach at other locations.   This year I have taught at Higham Hall    four times, weaving, spinning on a spinning wheel, spinning on a hand spindle and a fibre and yarn retreat.  They have already booked me for next year if you fancy a retreat…  The workshops for Scottish Fibres  have gone on for years.   Two a year usually, although this year we have added in extra ones, one on spindle spinning and one on weaving.   And we do them at yarn festivals too.  Look out for us at Perth Festival of Yarn this year.

Beginners spining for Edinburgh Yarn Festival

Then there are the fibre and yarn Retreats at The Old School.  They are completely awesome.  Only in February/March and October/November each year, because The Old School gets very busy and cannot fit us in at other times.  So who wouldn’t want to come on an exclusive Retreat at a 4 star, rather special, quirky and unique guest house?  With wood burning stoves, panormic views and each of the four bedrooms a whole, lovingly restored classroom.    Did I say it has 9.8 on Trip Advisor and a Taste Scotland award?

Oh, and I do a few ‘cosy courses’ courses here at my home each year.   We are just about to launch our 1-1 bespoke retreats at our place, so it is an exciting time.

nattural dyeing course chez nous

Yeah, like I said, courses are what we do…