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!

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!


A Special Retreat and Some Sheep

Ryeland Sheep & Fleece
Ryelands are one of the oldest British sheep breeds and have been in the UK for hundreds of years.  Their legs are covered in fleece as well as their bodies, which along with their cute noses, gives them the distinctive ‘teddy’ appearance.  They are great mothers, good for both fleece and meat and rarely suffer from foot problems.  They can have either coloured or white fleece.  Wow!
The wool is great for spinning or needle felt.  it has a rather unique ‘crispy feel to it without being at all scratchy and will not pill or felt easily when made into knitwear.

One of Jacqueline Bonner’s Ryeland sheep

The Best Wool for the Job

I think that imported Merino is over rated as a spinning fibre, although its availability in as coloured tops makes it a good choice for UK based feltmakers who do not want to work specifically with indigenous fleece.   If you live in a country that produces it in larger quantities such as Australia or New Zealand, it is a good choice for you of course.    And there are breeders this side of the Pond of UK version of the breed, called Bowmont.  Although Merino type wool is soft it is prone to felting, hence its popularity with felt makers.  it is lovely for babywear if the parents don’t mind handwashing.  But Ryeland is a good all rounder and I love its ancient roots as a breed.

An Exciting New Retreat for Textile businesses

Janet has launched her very first Retreat specifically for those with a yarn, fibre or fibre animal business.  She has provided 1-1 mentoring for many years and this is something she is really excited about.   The Retreat will take place at the same amazing venue as the Create With Fibre knitting and spinning retreats.  So the views, food, wine, woodburning stove and time to spin, knit or crochet will all be there.  At the same time, we will talk about the business dilemmas and plans we have.  There will be 1-1 time with Janet and also a chance to actually get down to the nitty gritty and do some work on those plans.  Together we are stronger!

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.

Higham Hall Knitting and spinning retreat

April 2017 has been a busy month – nothing new there then!

A knitting and spinning Retreat at Higham Hall in Cumbria, English Lakes. This was a new venture.  Although I regularly deliver courses for Higham, this was  the first Retreat I have done there and I am sure it will not be the last.

An absolutely brilliant time and Higham let us use their sitting room with it’s wood burning stove.   We were knitting, crocheting and spinning. Not all at once you understand but people  chose what they wanted to focus on.  We did a wee project as usual.   this time it was mug hugs or cosies.

mug cosies was the project this time.



And courses for Wigtown and Eden Valley guilds of weavers, spinners & Dyers this month too.  An ‘Improve Your Spinning’ course at Wigtown and Silk Spinning at Eden Valley.    We stayed in the Lakes for a few days and had the very great pleasure of visiting the Camping Barn near Keswick  and having a good old knit, natter and cake eating afternoon with Sarah and her friends!

There will be another Retreat at The Old School in October 2017 by the way… They of course are our regular Retreat venue.   Only four rooms, but they can accommodate a couple of camper vans and day places are available too.

Spinning and Weaving Courses Chez Nous

One of the things I love to do most is have people to visit.  We live in a plain wee street in a lovely bungalow in a simple Ayrshire village.  Our back garden is a real surprise, as we grow a lot of veg in a relatively small space and are actually WWOOF hosts too.  (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms).

Simple living has always been a part of what we do and we decided years ago that living in a village was more sustainable and a better life than being in the hills (as we were previously).   So we have a modern, well insulated bungalow, solar panels, a wood burning stove, grow veg and live in a place with three buses an hour, people around during the day and hills in every direction.  Yes, we still have the hills.  You can set off and walk in any direction from here.

So it makes perfect sense to have ‘cosy courses’ in our living room.  People love them and the numbers are smaller – often 3 or 4 people but certainly no more than 5, depending on what it is.   Hubby makes soup for us and we eat around the kitchen table.

The most recent course was a ‘flexible’ two day spinning course.   Beginners on day one and improvers on day two.  You could book for one or both days, and all levels except complete beginners can come to day two.

Local accommodation is available and we also have a spare room where you are welcome to stay.  You can have a wee peek at our house here we are air bnb hosts.

Oh and we also do one to one tuition, anything from half a day to two days and stay the night!  Your very own micro retreat chez nous, in other words.

To see the current course list, visit Create With Fibre.

Victoria on a one to one spindling lesson

What do we get up to on a knitting retreat?

The dates for our knitting & spinning retreats are filling up for this year.  Feb 2017 is fully booked.

Visit my updated knitting retreats web page to see what is still available.

These retreats have just sort of grown organically.  Our wonderful Ayrshire venue, The Old School became known to us via Victoria, the neice of the owners.   She came to Create With Fibre for a one to one spindling lesson, having failed to get a place on any of the spindling courses Janet was teaching at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival.   She is a jazz singer and what with her and Fiona, who sings wonderful Gaelic songs, some wine and the woodburning stove, the evenings are the best of fun.

And then it just sort of grew and now there are four retreats a year, two in the spring and two in the Autumn.  They have become knitting, crochet and spinning retreats because people learn whatever they like and have an individual programme worked out for them.   And people just keep coming back.   You can see why!

The dining room at The Old School has been lovingly restored, just like the rest of the building.  You have a whole classroom as your bedroom!

Knitting, crochet and spinning at a Create With Fibre Retreat.

Results of a productive weekend Retrat.  Rachel and Kerrie travelled all the way from Bedfordshire for this Retreat.  Some Retreaters live just down the road though.



Thrilling to be on the east coast because not only have I cycled up Scotland as far as Dingwall but I have now also gone from one coast at Ayr in the West to Prestonpans on the other side. Dipped a finger in the water just to prove it!

The Bike at Preston Pans

I’ve lost the pattern!

I have lost the pattern for the Sanquhar gloves.  As you may know, I am not very good at using patterns and this one drove me mad.  I tend to mis-read them and do better making up my own.

So I struggled on with this one and even got a chart for the Midge and Fly pattern.  It was different however, and one of those patterns that creates an optical illusion that shifts before your eyes, so not much help.

Oh dear oh dear.  I bought a new copy but cannot remember what row I was on.  each row is numbered with no other description.  And given I am using 1.5mm needles and hand spun Cashmere and Yak (therefore slightly fluffy) yarn counting the rows is also a challenge. 

so the Sanquhar gloves may well end up in the bin if that pattern does not turn up.

If you want to see what they look like, see the previous entry about them in December 2012.  Then add two more rows…