Review: Spinners Book of Fleece, the missing link!

Oh how I wish I had this book about two weeks ago before I ventured into the woolly world of fleece selection and preparation. Still, I’m fortunate to have discovered it as early as I have.  The Spinner’s Book of Fleece by Beth Smith is like deep-diving into a breed study workshop. (If you’re lucky enough you could actually study with her in person.)

I think if you’re sort of learning on your own, and you don’t have access to a breed study workshop and you don’t know anyone else that spins: This book is your new friend. I also think experienced spinners will be delighted with having all this detail in one reference. The production quality is very high and the photography is lovely. I’m not exactly a fashion guru but I’m sure this is a very now blue.

The missing link in my library

Cover of spinners book of fleeceAfter lots of searching, these are the spinning books in my library:

  • Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook covers sheep breeds, but also fibres from other animals. It has tips on processing and spinning the fleece which is typical of given breed. Simply due to the breadth, it doesn’t cover selection or scouring.
  • Respect the Spindle includes great details on spindle selection use and the science behind it. In terms of fibre it does cover different types, but only commercially prepared wool. It doesn’t cover fibre prep and finishing yarn (much).
  • Spinners Book of Yarn Designs covers spinning and plying in great depth, but not much detail on specific fleece or fibres, and not colour. It’s all about plying and texture, but again, very little on finishing yarn. That is done on purpose, to eliminate some variables.

The Spinner’s Book of Fleece fits into this set very well! She breaks down sheep fleece (no other animals included) into four main types; and introduces distinct breeds which fit into those types. For each she offers tips on:

  • Choosing the source. Purchasing and breed selection.
  • Best scouring, preparation, spinning techniques, finishing for each type.
  • Tracking and measuring results of your experiments, twist, WPI (and recording what you did so you learn!)
  • Best applications for these choices of source + preparation + finishing.

There’s so much included here that I haven’t seen covered much in other books and not much online either (unless you mine the rich ore of Ravelry). Did you know you could reconstitute the crimp in a commercially prepared fibre which has been compressed for so long? Had you considered the degrees of fulling yarns when setting twist? Or why you would? I’ve seen instruction on how to “thwack” the yarn, but hadn’t considered the degrees to which you might do this and to what effect. For this reason, I think even experienced spinners will find something surprising in this book.

It’s really the perfect companion to put in practice the info in the Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook, and help you prepare for using your spindle (Respect the Spindle) and making gorgeous yarns (Spinners Book of Yarn Designs).

Beth Smith’s main message: PLAY!

My biggest take away is what Beth Smith refers to as “sampling”, which is what the book made of: lovely, inspiring, intriguing samples. The sample photos show lots of detail. For example a tag might say “Flicked/worsted spun from cut end/ 2 ply”.

close up from spinners book of fleece

Shows detailed notes of prep and plying.

I want to get experimenting for its own end and not to “make something”. She makes me want to try more prep techniques and get more textural results such as spinning from the cloud. I tried it in Deb Robson’s Introduction to Wool Types workshop at Fibre East, but felt my lumpy bumpy yarn wasn’t adequate. But that’s what it should be like if you spin from the cloud.

Beth Smith makes me want to get organised and undertake my personal breed study. She advises experimenting and keeping records, and provides practical advice on storage, and inspiration of experiments to try.

She includes spinning advice for knitting, types of stitches which work best with a given yarn. She also makes distinctions between finishing yarns for knitting or weaving. There’s nothing specific on twist and crochet, which I’ve seen covered in other sources, but the weaving detail is very interesting. (I know pretty much nothing about weaving heh.)

Keep on playing!

A deft enabler, Beth Smith advises: try a breed at least twice. Because the first time you don’t know what factors are affecting the fleece. She is constantly encouraging the reader to think beyond the reputation of certain wools like the Lincoln. There can be lots of variety in a breed from sheep to sheep. This makes lots of sense to me.

She recommends starting with at least an ounce of fleece (28 grams) to get three or more samples per fleece. I wish I had only washed that small amount from my fleece to start. I would like to undo some of the scouring decisions I made.

Beth made a brave choice to include some problematic fleeces. For example, a Southdown with lots of second cuts led to a nep-tastic yarn. This gave her the opportunity of advising on handling difficult fleeces, which is great! For example, with fine springy yarn, don’t over card.

showing the problematic results. which are actually pretty nice

showing the problematic results, which are actually pretty nice

Great advice on fleece selection

I wrote about my own experience in choosing fleece. Yep, this book could have helped me quite a bit. This book covers fleece selection in great detail. It’s more comprehensive than anything I’ve seen online. She helps you with identifying fleece faults, and even etiquette around inspecting fleece which is something I didn’t know about!

The book includes is good mix of UK breeds and many US Breeds I’ve never heard of, but that isn’t really the point. Beth has chosen representative types, with ideas in cleaning, prepping and spinning, plying for each. When you find your new mystery breed, you can use the examples and a guide.

When you need a biased point of view

Beth has clear opinions on what preparation or spinning technique works best with which types of fleece, which is helpful when you’re starting out. Biased opinions can be very useful way points especially for novices.

Beth will say “this is my favourite way to do this” but then she also shows the alternatives. For example, the difference between curved carders or flat ones. She also shows photos of the “right way” to comb, and what the “wrong way” looks like. Being able to detect when you’re doing something “wrong” is a crucial step in learning. I’m delighted to see instructions which include models of incorrect techniques!

I think Deb Robson’s favourite phrase she says with her characteristic wry grin is: “it depends”. Deb encourages breaking the rules. For the Intro to Breeds workshop full of experienced spinners and even shepherds, a message like that is important. The experienced craftsperson can detect and respond to the nuances of a subject, and they should be testing the boundaries. Beth Smith takes a stand on measuring crimp and estimating how many twists per inch in a ply, but I could imagine enjoying listening to her debate this point with other spinners who might say “it depends” ;)

If you consider the novice’s experience, I believe it’s good to give guidance on “one way that works”, and teaching those rules so you know you’re breaking them and how. I think Beth Smith’s book is a great resource for establishing those rules, if (like me) you don’t already know them. But again, she does talk about alternative methods, and even in her samples she bends the rules and shares the results.

Get the guide for a fibre adventure

Go on and get that puppy sheep! The Spinner’s Book of Fleece  You can get a detailed preview here.

You can also see videos by Beth about spinning. In fact, I think the video showing her daughter doing ‘park and draft” was a video I saw really early on :) If a kid could do it, so could I.

Spinners Book of Fleece is chock full of inspiration. I’ve just booked my summer “staycation” at home and I’m not sorry I can’t travel because I’ll be elbow deep in fleece :) Thank you Beth for this guidebook, it’s so full of woolly love and care.

Fact: Washing fleece will keep you healthy and productive

I am now in the possession of 2 fleece, (fleeces?) As I write this post, I’m washing corriedale in 20 mins increments. Let me shared what I learned… so far…

Previously a skeptic, I am now an evangelical convert. If you’re fearing the fleece, let me tell you: it’s easier than you think and very enjoyable!

As I mentioned in my previous post on choosing fleece: if you asked me two weeks ago, I’d have thought buying raw fleece and prepping your own fibre sounded crazy difficult, messy and possibly a little bit nutty. My mind changed during Deb Robson’s wool types workshop as we explored the locks and could make our own decisions about how to prep the wool.

There are lots of reasons to clean and prep your own fleece.

  • Educational benefits: You learn more about the breeds and their qualities instead of just generic “plonk” of typical wool bases.
  • OCD Control and independence: You can choose how you want to process the wool, how much lanolin to leave in; if you want it carded, flicked or combed.
  • Feel good factor: Help save rare breeds by supporting farmers
  • You can avoid chemicals: Use less chemicals in processing. Industrial processing uses lots of chemicals and even acids to eat away vegetable matter.
  • Benefits of knitting/crochet with handspun. Why I Knit with Handspun
  • You have far too much time on your hands! You’re not knitting because it’s fast fashion, right? Actually washing fleece might be 2 hours total, but only requires active attention for 2-3 minutes in 20 mins increments.
  • Health benefits: See, the way I think of it is, if you’re working from home, (like me) and using the Pomodoro technique for productivity or following health and safety guidelines about not sitting for too long, then washing fleece can fit right into your routine :) Getting off your butt every 20 mins and moving around is good for your brain and body. And meanwhile you get clean fleece. How’s that for maximizing your time?

So for argument’s sake: Washing fleece will make you more productive and healthier! (I can rationalize ANYTHING.)

Helpful references

I’m not an expert, but a learner. I’m sharing my notes and the resources I found helpful.

In this introductory video from spinning daily, Eunny Jang interviews Deb Robson about washing fleece. I saw this a while ago, so it might have been my first exposure to the idea.

Spinner’s Book of Fleece by Beth Smith. This book wasn’t available when I started last week, but I think this is going to be very helpful. A review coming soon!

I mainly followed Deb Robson’s 3 part series on washing wool. She used a bathtub, which is similar to my situation (no washing table out back, no utility sink, etc) Read the whole thing before starting.

The shopping list

Beware all enterprises requiring new equipment. – (modified) Henry David Thoreau

I started off with a plastic dish pan and a broken colander. Slowly, I’m acquiring other tools. You know, because heavy duty gloves are super helpful. I start with the absolute necessities at the top of the list:

  1. A dirty fleece! Read about choosing fleece.
  2. Water source. I used the bathtub.
  3. Plastic dishpan. I realized if I had a second one, I could do twice as much in the same time. Now I’m getting a third one! Productivity BOOM.
    • Deb Robson uses these cool kitty litter trays with inserts. I couldn’t find exactly the same thing, but at a reasonable £4.40 the Savic Cat Litter Tray with Insert, 42 cm means I can lift the wool without swishing or moving it. Yes I feel bad buying this in Amazon, but I couldn’t find anything like it in our nearest pet shops.

      The litter tray on left means I don't have to lift the wool out into a colander to drain.

      The litter tray on left means I don’t have to lift the wool out into a colander to drain.

  4. very thick heavy duty glovesHeavy duty gloves. Doing this without gloves is painful and probably dangerous.
    • My husband gave me very thick gloves, they are cloth lined. About 100x better than normal marigolds.
  5. Cleaning agent: In my case Unicorn Power Scour.
    • I got 3 samples of this at the workshop. You use a TINY amount (about a teaspoon) and it’s amazingly effective. Water itself works well in the first rinses, but this seems to pull out lots of grease. I think you can use fairy liquid, but I didn’t try it yet.
  6. Thermometer. On my wishlist. I don’t have one of these yet, but I really would like to know how hot the water is to start, and how much heat its losing.
  7. Stacking sweater drying rack. On my wishlist. Right now, I’m just rolling in towels and laying it on a clean sheet, but it seems to take a very long time to dry. I’d love to have some more air under it.

Other methods from least intensive to most, in my opinion.

What you need to know about washing fleece

  • Basically if you want to felt you need two of the following: change in temperature, soap and movement. So avoid combining those.
  • Don’t worry about VM. Easier to get out after fleece is clean. Don’t try pulling out sticks or leaves, as you will risk agitating and felting the wool.
  • Wash in batches, 4 oz or 100 g.
  • Each step takes about 20 mins, and the entire process about 2 hours. In which you can’t just “leave” it.
  • Very important, Deb says this in about 10 different ways: “Do not let the temperature in the baths drop significantly throughout the entire wet-wool time.
  • Don’t agitate. Don’t even put wool in the basin and then add water. Water pouring on the wool will agitate it.
  • If it’s very dirty, try to arrange with the tips down in the pan.

Deb’s basic plan

Did I mention not letting the water completely cool between soaks? Keeping that in mind these are the three main steps:

  1. Soaking in clear water. (1 or 2 cycles.)
  2. Soaking in cleansing solution. (Between 1 and 3 cycles.)
  3. Soaking in rinse water. (1 or 2 cycles.)

Now with all that said about agitating, I was SUPER paranoid about even touching the wool as it soaked. But I found the tips still very dirty. In part 2 of her guide, Deb advised that with careful treatment you could encourage some more of the dirt out. In my third washing session, I gave this a go “Lightly pinching my fingers on the tip of the lock, I slide them past each other. I’m not rubbing. I’m lightly compressing—with the intention of loosening the dirt more than of manipulating the fiber.

OK I’m not 100% sure, but I did give this a go. Before rubbing the dirt is clumped to the tips.  before-rubbing

After “sliding the tips”, tips are loosened to the next soak can get into the tips.



For drying, roll in towels, and lay down to dry. I’m finding it’s taking a little too longer (longer than 1.5 days, so I want to get a drying rack or find a way to get some air under the fleece. I really like the new litter tray for soaking. When I lift it onto the towel I don’t need to even touch it to roll it. But I think stacking sweater racks would be ideal.


So now you know how to get healthier and more productive through fleece washing :)

Next I can talk more about the preparation techniques. And that is loads of mesmerizing fun.

Choosing fleece: Must be the cloud in my eyes

Daniel is a Llanwenog x Oxford Down Cross. Ever since I started working with Daniel’s fleece I’ve been singing Elton John: “Oh it looks like Daniel… must be the clouds in my eyes!” Just wanted to offer that little ear worm to anyone reading this blog post. I’m going to talk about where I went wrong choosing my first fleece, and what faults it had and how I could have detected it. There’s also links to resources so you can avoid my mistake or also work with problem fleece. All may not be lost. “Lord I miss Daniel, oh I miss him so much.”  This post became a bit long. You can skip down to the bit about how to actually choose fleece!


Broke in half with combing, lots some length.

Deb Robson’s 2 day “Introduction to Wool Types” last weekend in Fibre East started off in the Down breeds. In her book “Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook” she says Oxford is, “Like all Down wools being overlooked as a fiber resource for spinners.”

I had only worked with commercially prepared tops before (and some Gotland locks). When we got the various down breed samples I was amazed by how springy and elastic they were. I had never tried yarns like that.

Diving into the cloud

You can skip down to the bit about how to actually choose fleece. But I wanted to record, more for myself than anything, how I ended up in this mess! I’m gonna be honest with you, I thought people buying bags and bags full of fleece at the festival were a little bonkers. How were they going to get them home? How would they clean them? What a mess, how nutty! On day 2 of the workshop, I finally learned how to use combs. Deb did a very patient demonstration, and once I got the swing of it, I realized how lovely lovely it was. It was fun to do, and the “nests” were amazing.


I went over to the Griffith’s Mill van, and bought some of the nice wools I had tried in the workshop, and some Deb recommended to me. Kerry Hill, Lleyn, Border Leicester and Polwarth. But it was already carded, already pulled into nice combed top…. I wanted to prep it myself.  But how could I clean it myself in our tiny bathroom?

One of the nice Griffith’s Mills ladies said I could buy a fleece from Michael of Shear Sheep, and they would wash it. I totally misunderstood, because they meant wash and card it. I wanted to comb it myself.

I was overcome with this incredible desire for BIG DIRTY FLEECE OF MY OWN.

fleece-danielThrough the workshop I had started to develop a taste for certain wools, they puffed up with body. However, I also liked longer locks because I liked the smoothness of the combed preparation. So when it came time to look for a fleece I had a sort of idea of what I was looking for:

  • Disorganized crimp, lots of crimp
  • Long staple
  • Soft to touch
  • A little crispy (not floppy/drapey or smooth)

And Daniel seemed perfect. When I spoke with Michael from Sheer Sheep, he brought me over to one sheep, pulled out a lock off the her back, and it wasn’t right. It was crimpy, but short. Then we went over to try a lock from Daniel’s and it looked exactly right. He was also enormous! I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of him. Oxford Down is one of the largest breeds.

Thing is we were rushing about in the heat, and also.. I had done ZERO research about “how to choose fleece” beforehand. Sadly there seem to be some faults in the fleece which I only discovered as I started working with it.

  • Bright yellow in parts which didn’t wash out.
  • The long locks broke in half when I combed it.
  • The breakage turned into little neps as I spun and swatched. Probably not a bad thing, but “dizzing” was more like “tearing”. after-spin

In fact, when I called Michael, who sold me the fleece,  he said it sounded like something was wrong too. :/ He said even he had missed it.

Must be the clouds in my eyes! So sad.

So what could I have done to check for soundness before buying?


A tiny swatch

Choosing fleece: what to look for

When I say choosing fleece, I’m not referring to the qualities of the breed, or attributes of the crimp, fibre thickness… but just “is this fleece OK to buy?”

So Ravelry to the rescue! I didn’t know how to identify what was wrong, or was I just imagining all this. The Fibre Prep group has been very helpful in identifying the faults. They looked at my pics, and also added advice about clues I could have detected before buying.

  • Health of the animal: The health of the sheep affect the fleece quality.
    • Sadly, Daniel had fly. Even Michael was disappointed when he discovered it. Later, he would sheer Daniel’s dad because he found fly there as well. The heat was taking its toll.
  • Listen to the locks: I didn’t know about the “Ping test”. Hold two ends of the lock. Do you hear a “ping” sound? Well I would say *doing* sound.
    • And sure enough, another fleece I bought from Michael, a lovely Corriendale passed the ping test. And Daniels’ fleece sort of made a crunchy sound.
  • Colour: Cream isn’t the same as yellow. Yellow could be a sign of a fault. I was advised if a fleece is particularly yellow, it’s best to wash a lock in just water in the tap. If it’s scourable, the yellow will come out in the same.
    • From Merinonoir on Ravelry: “Unfortunately some very bulky fleeces (often poor staple structure) don’t drain particularly well and if they stay wet in humid, warm conditions they can go very yellow, this usually has an unpleasant , musty smell which often attracts flies – hence the fly strike that the shearer remarked on.”
    • Daniel might not have the “Canary stain” fault, but this yellow wasn’t washing out.
  • Lock structure: If the fleece is “webby” this could indicate damage. Webby apparently means that the lock pulls apart easily.
    • Daniel’s seemed to hold together ok.
  • Lock strength or level of “unsoundness”; Does a lock break with little pressure? Does it break under little strain?
    • This is called a tender fleece. It could be used for felting or something else, but you will have wastage with combing or carding.
    • Daniel’s was not strong and broke in half with combing.
  • Vegetable matter: How much stuff is mixed in with the wool? Can you clean it out with prep? Combing gets out VM.
    • Daniel’s fleece was pretty clear of VM. I was bedazzled by how clean it looked.

If you’re reading this, and you think “WAT?!” because I got something wrong, your feedback is appreciated!

Anyway, I should have done some BASIC research before choosing fleece, or maybe asked someone with more experience to help. I get struck by shyness sometimes and forget to ask for help.

The jury seems out on Daniels fleece: Some folks said they’d work with the fleece; others said they’d not put the energy into processing if the resulting yarn was going to be weak. In fact Deb has some tips on “Working with imperfect fleece”! For Deb, there was no question that a certain rare breed fleece could be rejected because of imperfection. It was worth working with it.

I’m also waiting to hear back from Michael who might have a replacement fleece, or he’s going to see if the sample I pulled was maybe from near the fly-affected section. Anyway, I’ll have to wait.

Book recommendation: Spinner’s book of fleece by Beth Smith

Spinners Book of Fleece

This book only came out on August 1st, so I can’t be blamed for not having read it. But if you’re thinking of buying fleece this looks like the ideal resource, and you’re in luck!

I literally ordered it when I saw the table of contents. It seems to be the missing connection between “Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook” (covers breed type and prep/spinning recommendations), “Spinners book of yarn designs” (covers prep/spinning but not breeds) and “Respect the Spindle” (covers spindle spinning). The book covers fleece selection, quality, as well as preparation recommendations and spinning tips. Absolutely the missing link for me.

So! I will be sure to give a proper review :)

Fibrary from Fibre East

Deb Robson’s 2-day Introduction to Wool Types at Fibre East was fantastic. It wasn’t exactly a beginner class, but I was helped and encouraged to keep pace and gained some great skills. After all, I only learned spinning so I could take this class!

Everyone else there was an experienced spinner and most brought their own wheels. They knew much about breeds already, and Jane of is even a shepherdess with her own flock of Boreray up in Orkney. I was well in the deep end, and they were swimming, while I was wearing inflatable arm bands. I did get lots of help with my spindling, from other workshop attendees, and Deb showed me how to use the tools. It was amazing and worth every minute.

So much more to say about the workshop and Fibre East, but I wanted to start *somewhere*.

Meet My Fibrary

We came home with many samples. I said to my husband that I now owned a fibre library, to which he said, “You mean A FIBRARY?” Indeed!

Deb had organized them to contrast differences in the down breeds with longer locks; and samples with kemp and hairs so we could recognize them and understand how to work with them. We each got a small sample bag and a ‘tasting notes’ card. Deb encouraged us to open the locks, inspect the crimp and try different preparations.

In that way it reminded me of wine tasting. The contrast helps you compare and discern differences you might otherwise miss if you lumped “down breeds” together, for example. I loved the crescendo on Day 2, looking at the crosses, and learning about breed development.

This photo shows the samples we received, and in the order we reviewed them. I’m heartbroken my Lonk sample was lost :(

Fleece for Deb Robson's workshop

  1. Rouge
  2. Hampshire Down
  3. Ryeland
  4. Hebredian
  5. Romney
  6. Lincoln (no pack sample, but a lock was handed out)
  7. Oussant, two colours.
  8. Texel
  9. North Country Cheviot
  10. Badgerface (Day 2)
  11. Lleyn
  12. Lonk (lost this sample, so sad!!)
  13. Soft Fell
  14. Saxon Merino
  15. Corriedale
  16. Polwarth (samples handed out, but not in a sample pack)

Here you can see a sample card showing Soft Fell, and as you can see I didn’t even get to finish my tasting notes. We had to move pretty fast. This is the sheep of the week in the Ravelry Blacker and Beyond group, where you can find notes and pictures about this special sheep. Not yet a recognized breed I think?

Soft Fell - Deb Robson's workshop at Fibre East

Pretty much everyone oo’d and aah’d!

Until now, I only used commercially prepared combed top. My attempts to MacGuyver tools out of household combs and cat brushes were not successful before, (try making a tiny rolag on a cat brush with combed top, when you have no idea what you’re doing).

Fleece prep tools

When I checked my bag, the attendant asked if I had anything sharp in it. Uh.. yep.

Adding to my fibrary

I also added to this by getting a range of fibres from Griffiths Mill, adding to my fibrary even more. They process small batches of fleece, sell their own yarns and fibres from many British breeds, and raise awareness of rare breeds for conservancy. It’s an amazing service they provide for small holders and spinners alike. Looking forward to playing with these :)

  • Border Leicester
  • Kerry Hill
  • Lleyn
  • Polwarth


And I bought a fleece from Michael at 

OK, OK… I bought TWO. But the second one isn’t here yet, (so it doesn’t count?) One is a Corriedale, the other is from Daniel, a cross: Llenwenog (mom) x Oxford Down (dad). I will write more about Daniel and seeing him shorn, and all about picking the fleece…  but already this post is too long, I have fleece to wash!

Look at this lovely bag :)


This is the corriedale from

I’m following Deb Robson’s instructions for washing fleece.

The big points: (1) Don’t worry. (2) Don’t agitate. (3) Don’t let the water cool off too much between baths.

I nicked a couple samples of the Power Scour she had on hand :) So that is getting me started. It smells lovely! Right now I’m on the 2nd wash, and I’ve got a rinse or two to go.


Getting ready to wash fleece for the first time!

Time to go rinse!

Lightfrost shawl in all Fyberspates yarn

This pattern, Lightfrost by Louise Zass-Bangham, alternates silky stripes with translucent stripes. My recent attempts at other knitting projects reminded me I’m still very much a beginner. So I decided to try this super simple triangle shawl. The graphic effect of the stripes is a good pay off for something rather simple. I’ve also learned I really like sh*tloads of stockinette, and I’m OK with that.

lightfrost shawl finished

Some modifications

The original pattern calls for Debbie Bliss Party Angel, (4% Metalized Polyester, 72% Mohair, 24% Silk) for the contrasting (transparent) colour. But around the time I started thinking about this pattern, Fyberspates came out with Cumulus, (74% Alpaca, 36% Silk). It’s a heavier weight and less yardage than Party Angel.

It’s also *exactly* the same colour as the main yarn. This means the design has a more subtle effect. Because of the yardage, I needed two balls of Cumulus. I wasn’t able to finish 8 rows of the final repeat. So it was pretty close. You could possibly just skip the last repeat if you wanted. But I really wanted to stick to the pattern.

I cast off with an “Icelandic bind off” which I found in the “Cast on, Bind off: 211 Ways to Begin and End Your Knitting” book. It comes out sort of “round” on the end, and it blends nice with garter. It was listed as a stretchy bind off.


I hadn’t worked with something so light and fluffy before, but I loved Cumulus. Though it was hard to read. I did realize much later that I had dropped stitches, which meant ripping out 10 rows of knitting


dropped two stitches. trying to show where this was.

I was at a knitting meet-up at the time, and generally we all thought it would be impossible to rip out. But it came out smoothly, which was shocking. Maybe it’s because of the loose gauge? Frogging was bit of a set back, but I learned to be more careful in checking my stitches more frequently.

I liked the idea of buying the yarn from the same company, and supporting them. Here’s a nice interview that the designer Louise did with Jeni from Fyberspates. Jeni’s very driven and works pretty hard. Her mother also works with her dyeing yarns. Though I think Jeni is stepped back from hand dying so she can grow and scale her business. Pretty exciting!

About the designer: Louise Zass-Bangham

Under the label “Inspiration Knits” and for her clients, Louise has 50 tempting patterns. Many accessories, which is nice! I also bought the Song of the Sea cowl pattern. I had seen the stitch pattern elsewhere, but I liked how she had graduated the sizes of waves.

Louise is hosting a mystery cowl KAL, which released clue-by-clue on her blog. The Fyberspates team recommens some yarns for the mystery cowl KAL. We’ll see how I get on with other projects, but it would be nice to pick up some Fyberspates in person at Unwind :) Which is tomorrow!

I wanted to post this FO so I can say I have at least something done. I suspect it’s so I can justify a yarn purchase. Eeek!




p/hop: putting the fun in fundraiser at unwind brighton

So Saturday morning, at Unwind Brighton you can find me at the p/hop table from 11am. p/hop is a knitting fundraiser for MSF. The slogan is pennies per hour of pleasure. There are volunteers slotted in all day, so the load isn’t too much for anyone.

“Choose your pattern, enjoy your knitting, make a donation. Turn your joy of knitting into vaccines, midwives, malaria treatments… See more at:”

There are currently 52 patterns you can purchase via donation. The first time I heard about p/hop was when I saw this lovely Southfields Sweater design by Miranda Jollie. They’ve done really well! Raised: 95% of target £45,325.47 raised of £47,500.00. I’m curious to find out how much they raise this weekend.

Volunteering for selfish reasons is OK, right?

They do calls out for event volunteers on their Ravelry group: p/hop. If you’re going to an event and have some extra time, do check it out.

I have to admit, I offered to help partially for selfish reasons! I have a fear of going to events and not talking to anyone and just being my generally shy self. I remember at a primary school event I went into the kitchen to help do dishes and the ladies were saying how nice I was. Truth is, I just feel better DOING something, and having a purpose. So I think sitting down to help sell some patterns is going to make it easier to meet people. And good people they are!

I just realized that p/hop’s fundraiser page is organised by Nathalie Fergie of the Yarn Yard, which has some wool and fibre I’ve been admiring. There’s lots of great people involved, likely very busy anyway, but they find the time to do this too. Pretty cool!

5 very good knitting podcasts

this is a scene from where i walk

this is a scene from where i walk nearby

This isn’t ALL the knitting podcasts. These are just the ones I’ve really gotten into and listened to consistently. Some of these hosts are going to be at the Podcaster Meet-up at Unwind Brighton. 1pm, Saturday 12th July in the Mezzanine Café at the Corn Exchange. More info on A Playful Day. I actually thought it was just for podcasters, but it’s for anyone who wants to find out about podcasts! So I’m hoping to discover some more when I’m there.

I like to listen to podcasts when I knit, or when I go for a walk. I used to listen exclusively to audio books. I have a hard time following fiction, so I usually listen to some popular science flavour of the month about happiness and brain science. I also listen to work-related podcasts, and was chuffed recently to be interviewed on a few. I like podcasts which have interviews, because they are conversational and engaging. The new “No Such Thing As a Fish” podcast from the QI elves is soooo good!

Here are a few of my favourite knitting podcasts.

Knit British

Well to be fair, Knit British was the first knitting podcast I’ve listened to in any dedicated fashion. There’s minimal music, mainly at the end, and some nice natural sound effects to offset the sections.

Knit British is a great podcast just about knitting. I’ve heard Louise’s needles clacking, and I was knitting while listening. Sort of felt like sitting with her. What I imagine it would be if I had a close friend that knit. She talks about what she’s working on, things you shouldn’t miss. And she also now does fun “on-location” interviews, and she has exclusive news she shares about events or other offers. I keep on forgetting she’s NOT coming to Unwind Brighton. :(

Get a flavour: Episode 8.5. In her latest episode, she shared some news via an interview with Jess James, of Ginger Twist Studio, and designer Clare Devine about a new pattern series with a discount code. In Episode 8, she interviews a yarn dyer, George from Yarn Garden.

Curious Handmade

Because this podcast comes out frequently, you sort of want to follow along. I get sort of wrapped up in her story, and I’m cheering along for her. In one episode Helen spoke about quickly whipping up a design to enter in a contest. I was delighted she won! I had actually voted for her design before I connected it to her podcast, since I didn’t know her name at the time.

Each episode has certain segments so she does talk about her current knitting projects. I thought it was hilarious that she shared her experience of locating a knitting pattern for a sweater, and then in a later episode: PLOT TWIST, it really turned out not to be the right design for her. Just the way it evolved, it had me laughin :) But along the way you’re learning too. Helen has recently been recapping her experience Squam, which just sounds like a Shangri-la of creative fun.

Right now, on her blog there’s a “Design along”, where each week you can vote to choose the next direction for the design. This week: Lace or Textured or BOTH?

Helen WILL be at the Podcaster meet-up in Unwind Brighton, yep.

Get a flavour: There are loads of great episodes. Just go subscribe! Episode CH 31: With Squam Art Workshops founder Elizabeth Duvivier, CH 28: Mindful knitting and a review of Love at First Stitch

A Playful Day

This podcast comes out frequently (2x a month), and there’s lots of news and up to date info about events. I just realized I don’t even know her name and I can’t seem to find it anywhere! She also speaks and writes about life in general too. We actually went and made pesto after I saw the pesto recipe on her blog. The Playful Day blog has also been coming down with tons of contests and freebies, so it’s certainly worth subscribing to.

Her blog has features of small companies in the yarny world and independent designers. She’s been re-blogging great posts about being a small “indie” business. For example, this post Love Our Indies: Karie Westermann. It’s nearly infuriating to hear how difficult it is to do work in a sector where the handwork is so devalued. I feel like A Playful Day has a strong message and point of view. And it’s damned inspiring. It also makes me think about supporting the little guy and how I spend my time and money.

And A Playful Day is organizing the Podcast meet-up, so she will certainly be there.

Get a flavour: Interview with Emily Wessel of TinCanKnits – basically just dig into the archive!

Electric Sheep

this is a scene from where i walk

what i see when i’m out listening to podcasts. hard to find visuals for “podcasts”

Electric sheep seems to come out when it feels like it. So while Katie doesn’t have a consistent schedule, there’s great content if you dig into the archives. This means if you are new, there’s plenty to listen to!  In most of the podcasts, it sounds like she’s reading to you. This means the words are well-considered and it’s more like listening to a radio program than a podcast.

I’m not sure if she’s coming to the podcast meetup.

Get a flavour: Listen to Episode 111, an interview with Jared Flood. reflects the hosts’ style. Hannah Fettig’s designs with pure stockinette, and nothing to hide behind; or Pam Allens brand style. Sometimes you can see good artists have an incredible consistency to everything they do.

I have to admit, I have a new pet peeve about too much music in podcasts. Some of the video podcasts are trying to be like breakfast television with long intros and over processed fluff. Not really for me. I decided I don’t really like video podcasts right now.  So my next podcast recommendation is… Oh it’s refreshing in the minimal sound editing, so you have long unbroken stretches of chatter, and a little back tracking, as happens in real conversation.

I know there is editing and they do plan the shows. But it has a very spontaneous feeling to it. Pam Allen and Hanah Fettig just start talking, all about yarn/design/technique. Not about events, not about life. They just get down to business. They start the series talking about Gauge, then Yarn, then design. It’s fascinating from end to end. Anyway I’m going to keep on the lookout for friendly, natural and relaxed podcasts.

This team is based in the US, so I’m guessing they aren’t coming over, nope.

Get a flavour: Basically listen to ALL of them, starting with Episode 1.





Designing sweaters WITH kids

We zipped by and visited our nieces this weekend. I showed them the baby sweater I was making, and let them guess what the funny shapes were (spoiler: sleeves!) I also showed them the pattern I drew. So we quickly came up with the idea of them designing their own sweaters!

I think there’s a slight risk whenever you make something for anyone that they won’t like it. The saavy advice on Brooklyn Tweed’s blog is “to involve the child herself in the planning and execution of the knitting.” I also like her idea of letting the kids knit some of it too.

Here’s the designs we came up with… I drew the “body” of the jumper and they drew on the designs.

Gold stars and waves

R’s has one white sleeve, one with read and white stripes. Then light blue waves and gold stars. Not yellow, but GOLD, has to be shiny gold. She drew them like that, but made it clear she wants them to look like real stars, it’s just that she can’t draw them like that :)sweater-design-stars

Stripes and waves

C’s has diagonal stripes. And of course some GOLD stars like her big sister’s! She asked me to draw on the stars where she pointed.


Now I’m not sure my skills are up to snuff right now, but I love the idea. We had fun anyway and then we can see what can come of it. I think I’d knit a swatch or sample before going whole hog. Who knows, they might be over stars by the end of the summer!

My first sweater and why I want schematics

OK, this isn’t my first attempt at a sweater, but it will be the first I finish, by gum! It’s for my grand-nephew. The first in his generation. If I was a really great great aunt, I would have started a baby jumper when I first heard my nephew’s girlfriend was having a baby. I keep on thinking “babies having babies” but mum is 25! It’s me that’s getting old. So I’m making this a 6 month size because well, I have a bad track record for slow knitting.

Here’s my progress so far…

about 1/3 through. sleeves and part of the back.

about 1/3 through. sleeves and part of the back. link to ravelry project.

I was attracted to a simple drop-shoulder jumper from “What to knit when you’re expecting”.

I started on the sleeve, because then I could sort of double it as a swatch, and if it worked, yay! But it didn’t work. I had the right stitch gauge but my row gauge was waaaaay off. The sleeve was come out very narrow and long, I knew something was wrong. Because there no schematics in this book, you don’t have an easy way to check. So you count the number of stitches x gauge to find out I should have been making something that would be 5 inches x 10 inches. And this was coming out more like 5 inches x 15 inches (if I had kept on going).

sleeve coming out too long

Matching gauge?? That would take magic!

I was told “swatching” is a dirty word, and now I can see why everyone is frustrated by this. I mean what are the ODDS of actually getting the same exact gauge as the designer?? I’d say pretty slim. Even if you used the same exact yarn and the SAME exact needles. And the trickiest part of the  pattern I’m attempting is a simple trapezoid sleeve… What about patterns with loads of shaping?

That’s why I’m excited about Dani Sunshine’s workshop for Unwind Brighton: Do I really need to swatch?

I can’t change my needle size in this case to “match gauge”, and I don’t think I’d want to. The fabric with this yarn is just fine. I bought it in the US at a local yarn shop near my sister’s. With 4mm, the fabric is firm, but flexible and springy.

Holiday Yarns

So I made up my own pattern, as you do

This doesn’t seem advised for a beginner, but I was surprised… turns out a drop-shoulder pattern isn’t that hard.  I found this really great tutorial on SlippedStitches blog: Baby Sweater Sizing Standards What You Need To Know Before You Buy A Pattern The author gives standard baby sweater pattern sizes with schematics so you can make up your own.

Now I calculate how many stitches + 2 for seaming, and I was off! I used graph paper were 1 sq = 1 inch to make it easier to visualize.


Well there was some back and forth with frogging, but I finally have two sleeves, and starting on the body now. Since it’s straight it’s just smooth sailing.

I wish I had just done it in the round, but I think practicing seaming will be good.

Finding baby patterns that DO have schematics

What I’m confused about is… doesn’t a knitting designer have to make schematics anyway? Why didn’t the publisher include them? I don’t think I’ll knit anything else from “What to knit when you’re expecting”, well unless I make up my own schematic for the patterns. But but but… why not just include them… *sigh* saving paper? I have no idea.

So I asked the kind folks on Ravelry for some tips on baby patterns and books that DO have schematics.

I was looking for fun funky stuff, rather than just the twee usual suspects. I found this awesome site: 100 Baby Sweaters. Stephanie, the designer, said that ALL her patterns have schematics. She also has some free patterns in both crochet and knit. Like this cute cat hoodie in knit or crochet. And LOOK, Andy Warhol for a kid!

(image used with permission) #35 Marilyn -

(image used with permission) #35 Marilyn –

Finding patterns on Ravelry with schematics

I’m assuming there must be more, but it would be helpful if publishers opted to include schematics AND if they also marked their patterns as “has schematics” in Ravelry.

If they do that then their patterns will show up in a search for that pattern attribute: “has schematics”. Voila!

search for schematics