How much scaffolding does your creative class or workshop need?

I’ve been very lucky to have gone to a few creative knitting and spinning workshops. Apparently, I’m obsessed with colour work, hence I’ve taken TWO classes on it! This of course led me to compare the experiences and reflect on the differences.

Samples by Karie Bookish

I love learning, but I can’t help myself also paying attention to how the workshops or classes are run. As an experienced trainer I tend to be critical of teaching approaches. I’m always looking at how instructors address a topic and what that experience is like for the learners. Even though my experience is in technical training, it turns out the most important concepts are the same.

  • Let the learners be the heroes. Give them ways to personalize the content and express themselves.
  • Create a context for learning and problem solving. An obstacle course of problems to solve is better than a cable car with a specific path and outcome.
  • Demonstrate steps, provide instructional supports. They need to see what you are doing. Scaffolds and support helps!
  • Give increasing independence over to learners. I do, we do, you do.

Learning can be scary and frustrating at times. The amazing thing is right at the point someone is confused they have a chance for a pivotal learning experience. As a teacher you need to give learners space to get confused and generate problems and good questions. Sometimes you have to let the students make mistakes, so they experience it for themselves. It’s a leap of faith.

For example, I was teaching spindle spinning the other day.  Though I had explained and demonstrated that the “leader” (helping you spin and anchor the new yarn) should be coming from behind the hook (else it might slip). The learner had hooked it from the side, and I knew it was going to slip. Instead of correcting her, I stopped myself and let her make the mistake. The leader slipped and then I called her attention to how she had it hooked. From then on, she certainly knew how to hook the leader on.

Of course, if you have a classroom full of people making lots of interesting mistakes like that you will get some chaos. Structure can help. The more novice learners are, the more structure they need.

What is scaffolding?

When you’re teaching skills you need to give the learners just enough support so they can work on a task without feeling lost. If I’m doing what I’m already capable of, then I’m not learning anything new. There is a  “Zone of Proximal Development” in which I can do tasks just beyond my reach- with some help.

Public domain image

With support, I can extend what I’m able to do, and develop new skills and understanding. In teaching theory, this is called “scaffolding.” Scaffolding could be samples, a demonstration, a template, printed resources, and ad-hoc coaching. Scaffolding balances hands-on practical work as well as demonstration and theory. The supports you provide help a learner understand the steps to take so they can begin the work knowing what to do, and yet be able to make the important mistakes which are pivotal to their personal learning experience.

For the learners, depending on their level of patience, a certain amount of tension will build up to where they literally want you to GET OUT OF THE WAY so they can get started. If you’ve ever taught children, you might have had the experience where they grab something out of your hands. They are like a coiled spring ready to try it out. Demonstrate too long, and you’ll bore people and fizzle out that excitement. However, if you launch too soon, you send people off in all sorts of directions.

Too much open-ended hands-on practice will leave novice learners really confused. (‘How do I do this? What am I supposed to be doing?’) Too much theory/demo can put experienced learners in a passive mode, especially if they are familiar with the content. (‘Ugh, when are we going to get started? I know this stuff already!’)

What kinds of learning supports and scaffolding do you use?

The notion of “learning styles” is one of those theories that sounds so intuitively right, but is so completely wrong, and has been debunked many times but still persists. We’re all visual learners, aural learners, tactile learners: we’re all that – depending on our physical capabilities. We all need to interact with new concepts in multiple ways. The supports you provide can help learners benefit from all the modes.

Samples by Karie Bookish

Colourwork samples by Karie Bookish

There’s a scale from low interactivity to high activity with the different learning supports you can provide in creative workshops. The trick is to ensure you use a blend of learning supports.

  • Samples: Let learners interact with completed samples or samples-in-progress. By looking at example work, they can get an idea of how techniques are used.
  • Lecture: Passive learners listen to a speaker, focus on theory or concepts. Can be more interactive with guided discussions.
  • Demonstration: Passive learners observe someone working on a specific task. Most hand-work requires demonstration.
  • Handouts: Learners can follow printed instructions or use worksheets to complete tasks. Hand out notes of main topics, links and references for learners as well. If you mention a book or a service, tell people about it.
  • Discussion: Learners develop questions and use dialog to express their understand and more experienced instructors provide correction as they form the mental concepts.

You can combine them in varying amounts depending on the content and the experience levels of your audience. For example, you can capture learners’ attention for a lecture or demonstration; and then let them work and practice using samples, templates and handouts. By using discussion, you can help give learners a chance to explain their budding sense of comprehension and you can also provide correction.

A comparison: A class versus a workshop

I notice in the craft world we use the terms class and workshop interchangeably, but I think we can make a more clear distinction between classes and workshops.

  • Class: Some theory, a structured schedule, specific activities.
  • Workshop: Little theory or demonstrations. Learners work in a less-structured, self-directed manner with expert support.

I wouldn’t make a value judgement – one is not better than the other.  However, I do think certain topics and certain audiences benefit from different approaches.

I was able to attend Karie Westermann’s Scandinavian Knitting class at The Glen Gallery in Culleybackey (of all places!) last Saturday. She was very clear in her approach, and she gave us ways to experience the concepts in a hands-on way. At one point she joked we were going to “wreck the shop” which meant hunting around for colours in the shop to find colour combinations, after she had explained some colour wheel basics. This gave us a low-risk way to play with colour and consider how they would affect a design. Then, when she picked up the colour theory again, we had all taken some time to consider these effects, and we could compare the choices others had made. Karie also gave us a way to be creative if we wanted to with custom designing on graph paper, or follow the specific sample design. Having that suited some participants better. This simple hands-on activity of colour picking also let us feel like we were getting started on something without getting into the main project without guidance. Design, afterall, was one of the learning objectives of the course.

In comparison, at Hazel Tindall‘s Fair Isle Colour Work workshop earlier this year, we got immediately to work with little demonstration or theory. We sat down to a pre-knit cuff and immediately got started on a specific design in which we all did one of two patterns. By limiting the project to two specific designs, we could focus on the practical skills of holding the two yarns, colour dominance and tension. We didn’t touch on design because it wasn’t a learning objective of the course.

As people came up with questions, Hazel would collect people with a similar question and answer that in an ad-hoc demo. I think this is a classic example of a workshop model. We were working along with an expert available to help us over our individual hurdles.

In a way, I felt the workshop probably suited many of the participants who were already experienced in colourwork, and had specific technique questions. It’s possible they would have been annoyed by basic introduction or demo in a more structured class, and just itching to just get started. Hazel has lots of experience teaching, so she knows what suits these audiences.

There was an enormous selection of colours to choose from, but we didn’t engage in a specific discussion about why you’d choose certain colours over another, or what effect it might have.  I was probably one of the people who felt a little lost since this was my first time attempting to use two colours at the same time. Though thankfully I had read through Knitsonik’s Stranded Colourwork book so I had a good idea about colour and contrast.

I observed as someone knitting next to me started working with colour choices that didn’t have much contrast. I didn’t feel it was my place as a fellow student to say anything, but in the end, she certainly learned how important colour intensity and contrast is to colour work. In a workshop you are given space to make mistakes so you can learn what you need to. Each person will have their own individual hurdles.

To compare, you could say that Hazel’s class was more hands-on, while Karie gave more theory and concepts. One wasn’t better than the other, it’s down to your learning objectives you have and approach suits what kinds of learners you have.

Novice learners will benefit from more structure, and experienced learners need more open-ended practice and a chance to get coaching on-demand.

Workshop planning tips

A definition of good training is the right content for the right audience at the right time. In real life, however, you will end up with a room full of people with mixed abilities and experience. This makes it hard if you have novices alongside more experienced learners who all need different content and different times. Here are some tips to help plan your workshops.

Define who your learner is: What is are the prerequisite skills required? This will help you limit what you need to cover and help communicate to potential participants if this is the right course for them.

Define your learning objectives: What is the special focus of your workshop? What are the main things you want people to take away? What can you cover in the amount of time you have? Prioritize and review what is important. For example if a specific technique is a priority and you don’t have time to delve into design, limit what designs are provided.

Warm-up activity: Provide a simple activity to warm up without throwing absolutely everything at the learner. In her spindle spinning workshop, Abby Franquemont lets people draft and spin fibre right in their fingers before they even touch a spindle. She also shows making yarn with a stick and pretty much teaches you the evolution of the spindle while letting you experience in a low-risk activity.

Create an obstacle course: In the example I gave above, Karie’s course emphasized design by letting learners look at design sources, and draft their own design on paper. As a comparison, Hazel left this element out of her shorter workshop, so learners would focus on colour and knitting technique. Define what activities will highlight the learning objectives.

Bonus and challenge activities: Planning small detours for more experienced learners can give them something to work on, while novice learners catch up.

Demonstrations: Practice and prepare your demontrations. Keep them as brief as possible for people to get started. Give just enough information. Provide printed materials with notes about the tasks and concepts.

Step away: Give learners space to make mistakes, especially ones which they can do with low-risk. Don’t pounce on learners right when they are about to make their own discovery. Instead, stand back and provide support and prompt insight with questions.

Dealing with larger groups: Depending on the size of your group, you may or may not have time for general introductions or discussions. You can let people speak in small groups however, and elect one person to report to the larger class what they learned or discovered.

And most importantly…

Get feedback: I think it’s odd that at almost every in-person creative workshop I’ve ever done, they never ask for feedback. I find that strange. As a teacher, I crave feedback, and work hard to make sure I get it. It’s the only way I can improve. Bring your own feedback forms, make them anonymous and tell people how much you appreciate feedback.

I hope that helps! If you have questions about planning workshops, I’d be happy to help. Ping me for a virtual cup of tea via Skype chat or Google Hangout to talk about planning your next workshop.

Why I turned off my IFTTT recipe for auto-posting Instagram to Twitter

Isn’t it annoying that Twitter will show “cards” including a summary and image in your twitter feed when you post most links, but it won’t show images from Instagram links? When you share via Instagram you do have the option to connect several networks and automatically post to them. However when you do, your image won’t be included on Twitter. I always found this annoying when I see others share these updates. I call it a #zombiegram. See? No picture.


At one point, Twitter used to show Instagram images in the main flow of twitter stream, but they turned it off in 2012. Sure, why show media from a competing social network? (Instagram was bought by Facebook in 2012.) So for the last few years people have come up with some work arounds.

If this then that to the rescue?

An obvious solution is to re-post the same image manually on Twitter after you use Instagram (nicer filters of course!) But why does that extra few clicks seem like a giant pain?

Instead you can use an IFTTT recipe. The “If this then that” recipes can be used to set up lots of automated services. It’s a rather cool tool! For example, Get an email if there will be rain in your area tomorrow or Tweet your Facebook status updates.

To deal with Twitter ignoring Instagram images, there are a few recipes that will automatically post your Instagram picture as a native Twitter image, and link to your full Instagram post.

There’s two annoying things about this.

  1. Often users have different instagram IDs from their Twitter IDs. Why this is so is completely beyond me! FYI – If you use the native Instagram share to Twitter it will correct the ID if the user has also connected their Twitter account.
  2. Unless you’re really careful how you write the first characters of your Instagram post, you’ll likely get cropped @mentions and #hashtags.


Still a Zombiegram

My other main problem with this is it means your Instagram > Twitter post is still a zombiegram. I notice that when people I follow on Twitter use either IFTTT or the native Instagram sharing option, it’s like a ghost of a post. All the action is over on Instagram and the Twitter share is merely a residual image.

Unsurprisingly, most of the creative people I follow are heavily focused on Instagram. Being a visual social network, it lends itself to artists and craftspeople. So even though the native images are on Twitter, they still aren’t interacting on Twitter. I interact with the Twitter pics and then I realize the conversation is elsewhere anyway. You would still need to click through to the original Instagram post.

Control what you post

Another strange effect I noticed after I set up IFTTT is that I was limiting posting Instagram as much knowing it would go to Twitter. I’m usually pretty careful about what I post on Twitter or how frequently I post. I worry about “my mix”, because my Twitter feed is a weird combo of craft/marketing/technology. I don’t want to drown people in yarn on Twitter. When I was just sharing on Instagram, I didn’t seem to mind sharing frequently, where I know it’s going to be all craft/nature/travel. Over there, it’s more clear why people are following my posts. On the other hand, I rarely share political images on Instagram.

So here’s a solution! Instead of auto-posting everything you can choose what you post. There are two useful options:

  1. Be more selective. Use the Instagram to Twitter IFTTT recipe where you can use a hashtag to mark which Instagram posts to share on Twitter.
  2. Use Tumblr as an intermediary, so you can select to just share to Tumblr those things you want to post to Twitter. Here’s a tutorial.

The thing is, I don’t think I’m going to use it. I’ll go back to sharing selected images manually. I actually don’t use Instagram as much as I intend to. I don’t pay attention to what is happening on Instagram as much as Twitter, but I’d like to. I like that it’s less spammy, less newsy, and more easy to control what I see. I don’t mind that it is an escape from reality. I like that sometimes.

So for now, I’m turning off my auto-tweeting of my Instagram images, and I’m going to probably be sharing more on Instagram too @nearlythere

Affordable art: More accessible than ever

I would kindly request that people stop buying mass-produced prints from dead artists. Art, real art by living artists, has never been more accessible and affordable than it is now. As a BONUS,  you get more than just some decorative objects in your home. Houzz, a decorating site, argues that original art “brings richness and personality to the home — factory-made furniture and slickly printed posters simply cannot compete.” You might be thinking that original art is way out of your budget and only for rich snobs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Start your collection

In the day to day of life, it’s easy to forget The Big Stuff That Matters. Look around your walls. Are they filled with gigantic printed posters? Department store prints? Are your walls blank? That’s sad. Your walls or shelves can be windows into a vision of a world you want to live in; they can make you smile; start conversations with guests; remind you of what you value and hold dear.

Having that vision expressed by living artists who speak your local or cultural language-or use images from your region- will be more evocative and meaningful. Likewise if they are artists from other places in the world you love. This is why living with living art is wonderful.

Collecting art for profit is for a**holes with no taste. Collect art because it means something to you. Because an image or object expresses something that you can’t say in words. Because it reminds you of who you want to be.

Set a budget to get an idea of what is affordable for you. Perhaps you will budget that you can spend 1% for art each year. If your salary is 20,000 you might set your budget to 200. Or if your salary is 60,000 you might spend 600. You don’t necessarily need to spend it all in one place. If you have a grip on debt and reduce spending on dumb stuff you don’t need, you will find you do have money you can dedicate to collecting actual art. Most of the pieces I’ve bought have been between £20 to 200.

The Arts Council in England has a good guide to buying art which includes some terminology about art, media and formats if you’re unfamiliar. If you’re in the UK, there are also a number of schemes to help make art more affordable by providing interest-free loans to purchase. Own Art can turn an art purchase into a manageable £10 a month payment, and there are the same programs in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

Why buy art by living artists?

There’s something magical about having a piece by a living artist. You can own something they have touched and created out of nothing. You can own something that never existed before. And it’s wholly unique and yours only. That is special.

Artists choose a challenging life, often of incredible frugality because they are compelled to say something about the world we live in. You might think they are “living the dream” but it is an arduous path of self doubt, solitude, introspection, rejection; altogether more lonely than you think. They are providing a valuable service, though we make a terrible mistake when we compare them to essentials such as doctors. Artists are tastemakers who influence material culture and express something unique about life and our time. They continually slough off the previous generations’ vision and replace it with a new vision that better reflects our time.

You don’t owe anything to artists, but supporting them by purchasing their artwork has a massive positive effect on their lives. Once you start supporting artists, you may find you feel a warm connection to them and want to follow their progress and help promote them. You become a fan and supporter. I bought a painting from Amanda Blake and I love to follow her progress, and share images of her new work. This is a very different relationship than buying a printed poster by a dead artist, because I might actually be helping her gain an audience.

I was touched by Amanda Blake’s painting of a woman sitting with so much stuff, memory and nostalgia. I can certainly relate to that.

Amanda Blake

Discover in person

Keep an eye out for ‘studio open days’ where groups of artists in a local area will decide on one day to invite the public in so they can view work. Go with a friend, visit studios, meet artists in your area or maybe in a city or town you love to visit.

On the first Thursday night each month, Belfast has an art event, Late Night for Art which can make it easier for people to access galleries and see what is going on in person. Your local art community might have similar events. Keep an eye out for ‘small works’ exhibitions at galleries. These shows offer an opportunity for you to see smaller and usually more affordable pieces of art. In Sligo, Ireland, the Yeats Society has an annual small-works exhibition where you can snap up lovely sculptures and paintings.

Independent restaurants and cafés also often have artwork for sale by local artists. The Rabbit Rooms in Bangor have a great selection of work. For example, they have paintings by Andrew Hamilton of I purchased this one a few years ago. I love the way he transforms unloved prints and paintings into something fresh and fun. This creature has a sewn on sparkly laser zapping this cottage.

My Tar Pit

Art schools have their shows in the spring and summer. These degree shows are a good chance to see affordable art and support someone and have a positive impact on their lives. There’s so much great work, and very affordable.

Student shows are great! I was amazed recently at a student show at GMIT in Mayo. I was delighted to make my purchase and see the little red dot get placed next to this painting by Ciara McCormack. This meant the painting was sold and it would be coming home with me soon after the show finished. Ciara did a series of paintings from film images, she also staged scenes, filmed or photographed them and then painted them. I loved the narrative quality and movement in this isolated figure on a height.

by Ciara McCormack
Discover online

Pinterest and Instagram will help you discover and find artists. On Pinterest, start searching  something you’re familiar with and you know you’d like. Abstract or figurative (realistic)? Colourful or muted? Painting, Prints or Collage? You can even start by searching for specific artist names or genres if you’re familiar with some of those.

For example I was searching for a gift for a dear friend of mine. She loves French surrealist artist Odilon Redon, whose evocative images came from his from dreams. If I start there, and look on Pinterest I can see there are people who have boards dedicated to ‘Surrealist art’ or ‘Symbolist art.’ These folks might pin images from dead artists like Redon, but they also pin works by contemporary living artists. This is where you can find familiar topics and connections. Pinterest is a great resource to find similar work collected by casual curators.

Prints, editions and multiples

You may find that single original objects/images/sculpture are just beyond your price range. Some artists will create editions of their work. They might have a concept or idea they want to explore in several ways.

I was talking with an artist friend recently which made me think about affordable art. She doesn’t believe in making $5000 USD easel paintings. She actually wants to make art people can afford. There is a populist legacy in art that many contemporary artists are dedicated to. If they can’t sell their original paintings at low prices, they produce high-quality prints. Some also produce multiples of sculptures and objects.

For example, David Hochbaum is an artist who combines media (photography, drawing, painting, sculpture) to create magical images and dream objects. He does multiples of certain works, where there’s a slight variation between the objects in a series. This could be why he was able to make this a more affordable item.

I found something quite special in his collection that will be the perfect gift for my friend. Two little bird houses, standing in conversation. It refers to an in-joke we’ve had since highschool. I was nearly in tears when I saw it – it’s just so perfect! I knew this gift would tickle her brain, remind her of her dear friend who loves her when she passes by it in her house. I also know that because it’s by a living artist, that thrill will crackle when she thinks of how special it is. Here it is on her shelf at home :)

David Hochbaum - Affordable art

So don’t think that art is out of your reach.  Of course I’ve pointed out events and locations nearby me in Ireland, but it’s likely you have a cafe near you, or even an art school near you getting ready for their Christmas sale. Keep an eye out and give it a look. It will likely be more affordable than you expect. Art has never been more accessible, enjoy it!

If you have discovered some affordable art, I’d love to hear whose work you purchase, where you bought it and why you chose it.

Belfast Bloggers! 

Last night at The Belfast Bloggers Meetup at Farset Labs I was able to put faces to names and meet folks from all sorts that I probably wouldn’t have met before.  Farset Labs is a great space, and rare in the city. It runs on donations and volunteer effort and buckets of good will. It’s hard to find a place like it.

One thing that connects us: blogging! You can check out the tweets and chat on #BelfastBloggersMeetup on Twitter. The speakers included:

Barry Adams @Badams drawn by @Live_Drawing

Barry Adams @Badams drawn by @Live_Drawing

Thanks to Brian O’Neill, I learned about the background of the labour of love that is Slugger O’Toole. Huge amounts of traffic, a key resource for news and political analysis in Ireland/Northern Ireland and it’s all run off the backs of volunteers and a tiny trickle of funding. (Tip: great place to advertise!)

Thanks to Barry Adams, I learned about the mechanics of blog traffic and Domain Authority; Why Long Reads Win, and the current state of SEO.  There were lots of questions related to the technical aspects of blogging, hosting, and also monetizing blogs. It was great to have the ear of professionals like Barry Adams who can speculate with an informed opinion on the state of Google’s search work and the consequences for content producers. The big takeaway is: Write quality content!

We were even treated to a little spoken word wandering by Brian John Spencer @brianjohnspencr who connected blogging back to the history of the essay, the invention of the printing, and how bloggers can be inspired by John Hewitt’s call to action to not sit by quietly, but speak out. It was a great brush with a newly forming political identity in Northern Ireland which is no longer tolerating bigotry and hate.

See you at the next event?

Since leaving my job I’ve met more people and had more fun connecting locally to my community. (BTW, Hire me!) I’m delighted I wandered down to Caffé Nero one fine evening and met Sarah of @TheSarahStoryNI, Ben of @LeoDanBen, and Adam of @BelfastBloggers/@nurdyninja.

The very first Blogs and Buns meet-up where we planned out this schedule!

The very first Blogs and Buns meet-up where we planned out this schedule! Adam, Ben, Sarah. I;m behind the camera!

We devised a plan for alternating larger, speaker-led events with casual getting-to-know you types of events. I have to say, Adam did the lion’s share of work, but he was glad to re-start these blogger meet-ups that he had running in years previous.

Please join us for next two events:

  • Blogs and Buns Meet-up at various locations in the city. People can bring their computers, and talk blogging shop. Next: Sept 16 at The Thinking Cup Cafe (no registration required)
  • Belfast Bloggers Meet-up at Farset Labs. Speakers and if time permits, small circle discussions.  Next: October 14 – Registration to be announced soon!

Will you join us? The Thinking Cup, where the Blogs and Buns event will be held is a social enterprise, and project of The Book Reserve. Pretty cool!

BTW One tweeter commented that there were no women on the list for the first event and I do regret that. We are addressing that in the next event! At the next meet-up at Farset Labs we’ll have Lana Richardson who will talk about writing viral content. And more speakers to be announced!

Heh, I had to add this. I just happen to have lots of pictures of Barry Adams for some reason! Here he’s being interviewed by Northern Visions TV.

Barry Adams interviewed by NVTV

Barry Adams interviewed by NVTV

Review of Fenella – a lovely yarn by Susan Crawford Vintage

I took a class at Edinburgh Yarn Festival with Hazel Tindall to learn fair-isle colour work. I liked my little cuff I created that day, but I sensed that I wasn’t quite ready to dive into making my dream fair isle vest. I mention this, because I still have a fantasy that one day I’ll knit a fair isle vest. When I heard about Susan Crawford’s Vintage Shetland publishing project, I knew instantly I wanted to support it.

So I was delighted when I was offered a sample of Fenella yarn to try out! Susan launched the yarn in March 2014. She developed the yarn specifically for the Vintage Shetland project.

“Whilst working on the Vintage Shetland Project I have hit a snag with some of the garments that I wish to recreate. As most of the garments are from the 1930s to the 1950s, the most commonly used yarn weight in their construction is that all too elusive 3 ply. Added to this was the lack of appropriate colours available in any yarn that did happen to fit the weight I needed. I realised that the only way I was going to be able to successfully recreate these garments was to have yarn produced specifically for them.” – by Susan about Fenella yarn

The Feel of the Yarn

I hand-wound the balls on a long drive so I had some time to feel the yarn and ponder it before knitting. It feels so light and airy! And the colours really did seem to glow. This might be due to the airyness, with light passing through, as well as the natural transparency of wool. But the dye seems to be through the fibres and not just on the surface, if you know what I mean. Here’s a pic of “Baked Cherry.”

Now that I’m more familiar with spinning, I can see that Fenella is loosely plied. The fibers themselves are well spun in each strand, but the plying is loose and open. For comparison, I put it next to the shetland wool to show you the difference. This is Jamieson & Smith 2 ply jumper weight on the left. It’s dyed in the wool, and woolen spun. With the Fenella on the right, you can see there’s a definite lustre to the yarn. The label doesn’t specify the breed, but it looks like a long wool, and it looks worsted spun. (I wonder if I’m on the mark?) It actually reminds me a bit of John Arbon’s Exmoor Sock yarn just in the way it is plied (not the hairy texture).

In the Fair Isle class, Hazel Tindall responded to a question about using superwash for fair isle. Hazel said that superwash treated fibers tended to be “too stand-offish from each other,” the thought of which made me laugh. But it does make sense. The fibers need to grab on to each other. When you steek fair isle, you cut the strands. They fibers will have bonded well enough with friction that they hug each other affectionately. Meaning, they don’t unravel. Because Fenella is a light airy yarn, it would be perfect for colour work. I think this yarn would actually also work well for lace, and if I can think of a project I’d like to see what I can make with these yarns.

There’s also the added bonus that the colours really pop with brightness. Look at this funky Pthalo green!

Working with Fenella

I was given four colours: two light, two dark.


  • Myrtle (dark green)
  • Pthalo (bright green)
  • Delicot (peach)
  • Baked Cherry (red)

I took a picture of them in black and white and the lighter colours really looked to be the same tone. For the design, I opted to put the contrasting the colours together light v dark. I decided to refer to the awesome Knitsonik Colourwork book to create a new cuff. And I began doodling!

Making some progress! Now i have a border and a design for my cuffs. #knitsonik #susancrawfordvintage #colourwork

A video posted by Heather James (@nearlythere) on

I started by drawing a grid to fit the number of stitches I needed in the round. I came up with the idea of writing “WOW” around the cuff. I used 3mm needles to knit with. If I were to do this again, I would probably go down to 2.75mm for colourwork, but I’m a loose knitter.

Contrary to what you might think, I didn’t find the yarn splitty. I struggle with that when I purl usually, but of course this was in the round and I only purled for the ribbing.

When I finished knitting I thought my stitches looked pretty wonky. I don’t have much experience with double pointed needles, so I was getting some gaps especially when starting new rounds.

I washed it and squeezed it a bit roughly. After squeezing out the water, I noticed my stitches looked more even and the colours blended better. I literally said “WOW” outloud, and then laughed, DUH. I had to explain this to my husband who did a good job of pretending to be impressed! Here you can see my little cuff swatch drying.

Buy Fenella Yarn

You can buy Fenella Yarn right from Susan Crawford’s shop, Deramore’s and Love KnittingOh! And ALERT! There’s a sale on Baa Baa Brighouse right now

Support the Vintage Shetland Project

At the time I’m writing, the project is 253% funded(!) This is a great chance to not only support her publishing project, but you can get a few little extras too. The Pubslush campaign is on for just a few more hours!

If you’d like to see more of the projects and inspiration – you can check out the blog tour.

Review of Creativebug – fun friendly quick online learning

Creativebug feels like Pinterest come to life. Short, bite-sized snackable tutorials, curated and quick. This makes it feel fun, friendly and light.


Most of the creative online learning platforms I’m reviewing in this series have the same features: video players, shared student projects, downloadables, etc. So it’s worth it to focus on what makes them different. For Creativebug, I think the biggest defining feature is actually the pricing and payment model. That payment model even affects their catalog, how people use the service, and it affects the relative “size” of the courses.

There’s a sort of false economy with online learning. People may tend to think “Hey this course long, great value!” But within our attention economy in full effect (oldie but goodie Wired, 1997), we have limited time to devote to anything, much less online learning. From my experience making screencasts, it takes much less time to make a 20 mins screencast than a 5 mins screencast. That compact-ness requires careful scripting and editing. Less really is more. Online learning is moving to shorter formats, and personalized environments. In fact I think for Creativebug, moving to personalization would make a big impact in their experience. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Quick tour of Creativebug

What’s in the Creativebug box?

The Creativebug platform includes:

  • Video player
  • Note taking and bookmarking capability.
  • Downloadable PDFs

Interactivity includes:

  • Student projects

Tips to get the most out of Creativebug:

Overall impressions of Creativebug

I first heard about Creativebug on Crafts from the Cwtch. As Sarah pointed out, the tutorials are mainly product-based.  I almost feel like Creativebug is Pinterest come to life. The topics are often so specific as to fit in a little Pin. But instead of images, you have a friendly instructor with step-by-step activities. The projects seem specific enough that you could conceivably watch a little class, and finish a project in that afternoon. Invite your friends over to make Painted Canvas Pillows or Watercolour Silhouettes! That is sort of how I see Creativebug being used.

“CreativeBug also seems more sort of hip and artsy, while Craftsy is more traditional/crafty,” as Tiny Rotten Peanuts observed. That’s pretty spot-on. I think if you want to build crafts skills, you’d turn to Craftsy but if you want to just make a decoration for a party this weekend, you’d go to Creativebug.

Creativebug seem to work closely with sponsors, such as Michaels which is a craft store in the US. If you’re not in the US, many references about shops, products, etc aren’t relevant. For example a class on dyeing with Kool-aid may leave you wishing you could get technicolour foodstuffs in your country.

Let’s look at the catalog in more detail.

The Creativebug catalog

You can watch quick tutorials for a little decoration, or get absorbed in a longer course to build a specific skill. The Drawing and Illustrations basics course with Heather Ross is over 3 hours long. Sketchbook explorations is another in-depth class. These might be worth the subscription alone.

However it’s the fact that it’s subscription based, and more like a magazine that you’ll feel enticed to maintain your subscription. Check out the calendar when you visit the site.

Creativebug_-_calendar 2

You can see there will be more courses coming up, and you can set up reminders.


They have a range of instructors on Creativebug. They have attracted recognizable talents to their platform. Though the bulk of classes aren’t by those experienced instructors, so the quality can be variable, as one reviewer commented. My main issue is that I don’t find many of the courses enticing. Do I need a tutorial on making a silhouette picture? I think if you’re stuck for ideas though, there’s so much inspiration. I could imagine checking out the catalog when I want to add a hand-made present to a gift. So in that sense, my comparison to Pinterest stands here.

My real issue is that I find Creativebug hard to navigate. I feel like I can’t find things or browse. If I find a class I’m interested in and don’t book mark it, I’d be worried I wouldn’t find it again.

They use the “load more” option at the bottom of each page, and I’m like: when does it end? Am I seeing everything? Again, with a Pinterest comparison, they have a seemingly bottomless pit with a similar grid-style gallery. But my strategy for browsing on Creativebug is very different from discovery and collection on Pinterest. So it seems a strange model to copy, if that is what they are doing.

I think a huge step would be if they included a powerful, faceted search to the platform. In the future, if they included personalization and better browsing capability, their wide ranging catalog will be easier for people to find the value in. Unless the mystery meat navigation was done on purpose?

Creativebug’s special sauce: The Creativebug pricing model

I think the pricing model is generous and attractive, and it’s hopefully going to pay off for Creativebug in a large user base. Currently their pricing is $4.95. Apparently a few years ago, it was $9.95 Creativebug is least expensive outlay in comparison to other platforms I’m reviewing. They also give you one credit per month which allows you to “save” a course you really like. So even when you no longer subscribe, you still have access. This seems to me the most generous of all the platforms.

Free to try: I signed up for the free Creativebug subscription to review a few classes. It’s one of the only learning platforms I am reviewing in this series that gives you full access during a trial period. FREE, for real. Credit card required, but still, that displays a lot of trust in their viewers and the model.

Because they are enticing subscribers to stay, there is a drive on their part to continue to publish new courses and tempt subscribers with the upcoming catalog. They are not bound to try and get higher price tags on their courses, they can fill a special niche with shorter courses. This means the environment seems ever-changing and evolving.

I’ve also reviewed and Craftsy and Creativelive if you’re curious!

Review of CreativeLive – social creative learning

At the most essential, all of the online learning platforms I’m reviewing in this series have similar features: Online videos, some student interaction, a way to share projects – these are all common features. Most of the courses also follow a formula where the outcome is fairly clear. Such as “Learn to do X”, where the instructor starts with a clear “Here’s one I made earlier” example. The sizzle of the spontaneous learning experience that arises from interaction among students and the teacher is lost. It’s very hard to replicate that experience online in a self-paced asynchronous environment. Craftsy manages this by inserting comments at various timecodes, so you see others’ comments in context. But that doesn’t feel spontaneous.

CreativeLive is the most unique platform in that the first time courses are run, they are done so in front of a live audience, both in the studio, and sometimes online. This means you as a live viewer can influence the content of the course. As a viewer watching the recording you also benefit from the fact that people are most likely asking for the same clarification and extensions that you would like to know. The “Live” aspect of CreativeLive is what makes it truly unique.

Video tour of CreativeLive

I’ve recorded a quick video tour so you can see what CreativeLive courses are like.

What’s in the CreativeLive box?

The CreativeLive platform includes:

  • Video player – streaming only
  • Note taking and bookmarking capability.
  • Downloadable PDFs (depending on the course).
  • Sometimes discount codes for services and software.

Interactivity includes:

  • Live Q+A – if you attend the course live.
  • Chat rooms – both a casual lounge and on-topic chat room.
  • Student projects and peer feedback.
  • Sometimes Facebook groups or off-site groups run by the instructors.

Tips to get the most out of CreativeLive:

  • CreativeLive accounts are free, but you pay per course.
  • Pop into the live listing to see what courses are rebroadcasting right now.
  • Watch sample previews to get a sense of the instructor and the content to see if it’s worth investing.
  • RSVP to Join the upcoming/live courses for free. Click “Chat” to join the chatrooms for the live course.

Overall impressions of CreativeLive

Of all the platforms I’m reviewing, CreativeLive does the best job of connecting learners with each other and with the instructors. The social aspects to this platform are some of the most valuable. They seem to encourage plenty of off-site interaction too.

For example a course on Ditching your Day Job also includes a Facebook group you can join. While many online learning platforms may dream of being the all-in-one solution, the problem is that “The Conversation” has moved off of membership based sites and on to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. The ubiquity of Facebook for example, cannot be beat. If you don’t work with it, learners will work around you and create Facebook groups themselves.

Instructors on CreativeLive seem to know this very well. It also means that CreativeLive doesn’t have crusty old message boards – which in terms of community vibe is a real killer. facebook-group In addition to reducing communication barriers, they also make it easier to connect emotionally to the content. I noticed that CreativeLive instructors, even when they talk about fairly straightforward topics, they tend to dig a bit deeper into what drives you as a creative person. In the live course I attended on using  YouTube for marketing the instructor, Whippycake, zeroed in on the thing that is holding many people back. For many it’s not for lack of technical knowledge, it’s having the guts to get in front of the camera. She brought out emotional aspects to engaging your audience to the heart of the course topic. I was actually bowled over with her honesty about her own struggles. Somehow Whippycake manages to create her videos in a home-studio, with four kids running about the place! Many topics in CreativeLive are sort of like that. Let’s look at the catalog next.

CreativeLive’s catalog

CreativeLive does have some straightforward step-by-step types of practical courses on specific techniques for crafts, photography, etc. If they were just competing on those craft techniques courses, then I don’t think it would be very competitive. One thing you might notice as you browse CreativeLive courses is that are a little more expensive than the snackable prices of other platforms such as CreativeBug (at $4.99 a month) or Craftsy which has courses sometimes for $9.99. They are also longer (1 day or 2 day courses) and more in-depth. What makes the CreativeLive catalog special is that there are more courses which could inspire you to take action on your dreams; enhance your job prospects; or help you build a business by determining your market, your pricing and optimize marketing and production.

For this reason, I assume CreativeLive would appeal to an audience who was taking their craft a little more seriously – as in: They can justify the prices because it’s a business expense for professional development. And when you compare the cost of these courses against similar in-person courses, the pricing is pretty reasonable. Michelle Ward charges over $3300 USD for her coaching services; and she also offers CreativeLive courses. In comparison to either her own coaching services or even a local career counsellor, her online classes such as Ditch your day job ($99) or Create your dream career ($99) look like pretty good deals. While it’s not going to be the same as having a career counseller working 1:1 with you, it might be a good first step to get you in gear.

CreativeLive’s special sauce: The live buzz

When you attend as live online class, you can join in a live chatroom at the same time. I found the ongoing live chat is fun. Sometimes it descended into back channel chatter, so I preferred to watch the “on topic” chat room. The facilitators do a great job of monitoring consensus and bringing the questions forward in the classroom. I was amazed in the class when a remark I made was mentioned in the class and the instructor responded(!) That really opened my eyes and I understood the value of having a live event. creativelive-chat Just one tip about finding the chat room: I was watching the class for a while before I realize you have to click the “Chat” link, which opens a pop-up window. creativelive-chat-questions And after that, there are two tabs in the pop-up window. Monitor the Lounge for random chatter, or click the main tab for on-topic chatter. creativelive-chat-tabs

Tip: Get the most out of CreativeLive by attending the free live broadcasts

Look through the list of upcoming, live courses. RSVP for a course and attend the live online class to participate in a discussion. creative-live-rsvp The fact is, attending a course for hours is going to be tricky for most people. The times for the course I attended was 5pm-midnight in my timezone. It went well the first night, but the second night, I received multiple family phone calls which lasted for a long time, and this meant I couldn’t attend the entire class. Of course, you always buy the course! And that is clearly why they allow participants to try before you buy. As one reviewer wrote, “I did try to tune in for the free streaming but I had technical issues and missed most of it. I ended up buying the Optimize Your Online Store workshop and I’m so glad I did.”

No good deed goes unpunished of course. I was amazed some viewers still expected more for free. During the second night of the class I took, I was a bit annoyed by a viewer who complained a few times when the facilitators would remind viewers that the class they were viewing (FOR FREE, mind you) was also available to purchase. The viewer complained that the facilitators were pushing the class purchase. What?! Um, guys, they are a business. And isn’t it nice they let you watch for free? I think they are building great good will within their learner community by offering so much for free, with no credit card required.

I’ve been pleased with the quality of the courses and content, and I’m certainly going to be taking advantage of the current 30% off sale.I think that ends July 27th!!

Have you signed up for any CreativeLive courses?