The Woollinn Workshops!

I’m excited about Woollinn Dublin!

After the success of YarnFolk Festival of Wool in August last year, it’s clear we need more woolly events on this island 🙂  Ironically, it will take me as long to get to Woollinn as it does to Edinburgh Yarn Fest (door to door) 😂 😂 😂 😭. This island is so poorly connected. I think if you’re coming from anywhere else the Woollinn location is great, right next to the airport.

So! I was dithering and dithering about which days I would go, what I would sign up to. I have finally registered, so go get yours! In addition to the workshops, I am very excited to see Kate Davies talk about her work and her new book: Handywoman.

Handy Woollinn Workshop Guide

I found it hard to understand the workshop schedule since it’s just a list.

So I made this handy-dandy table if you were curious too. I don’t know if the schedule is subject to change, but is up to date as of 17 March 2018.  Continue reading

Tap when you knit? Use this cute finger protector.

I think Bernie (Bear in Sheep’s Clothing Yarn) isn’t the only knitter who taps when she knits. Once she showed me a welt in her index finger from where she taps on the needle as she knits. Like, a HOLE in the skin. She said she winces each time she taps, but can’t really knit any other way. I’ve heard other knitters get calluses, sores, and cuts.

When I was in Japan, I saw these rubber finger covers and thought they’d be perfect! And here’s Bernie delighted with her new finger protector.

How you can get one of these magical knitting finger protectors

I’m sure someone more clever could fashion a finger protector out of all sorts of things, or cut the top off of rubber finger thimbles. But if you want one of these from Japan, they are easy to get and might save you lots of pain, while still being stylish.

They are called メクリッコ, which sounds like mekurikko. (me-ku-riko). You can search for them on Amazon. I’ve looked around, and I think if you’re shopping from outside Japan, Amazon is handy because they handle the customs declaration for you.

If the Amazon site comes up in Japanese, make sure to switch out for English in the footer at the bottom.


Why so many kinds of finger covers in Japan?

I first found some kind of smelly rubber ones that covered the finger entirely. They were sold in the stationary section. The later, I found MUCH cuter ones which just wrapped around the finger pads, came in pastel colours, and had little bows on them! For example, メクリッコsweet.

As you can see on this ad, mostly they seem to be for managing flipping through A LOT of paper. And people love paper in Japan. They haven’t gone digital and they read many many more magazines and books than we do out here in the UK/Ireland. At least from what I can tell! My mind was boggled with all the beautiful magazines they have, and that seem to take up a much larger floor space in comparison.

The cutest finger protectors I found were advertised for ID protection. Very clever marketing! See, they proved in Jan 2017 that someone could theoretically nick your fingerprint from a photo taken nine foot away. And in Japan, it’s common to take a selfie with your friends posing making a peace sign! This puts anyone taking an innocuous selfie at risk. (Side note: I noticed Japanese folks I follow on Instagram generally much more protective of their online identity, and savvy in general. For example, they tend to blur or block faces in photos to protect them from facial recognition.)

So I think in this case, I saw some finger covers that were rebranded as “ID protectors” – which were basically the same exact product, for a new potential security-conscious market.

And next, I think they should rebrand them as KNITTING FINGER PROTECTORS! 😀


A simple spinning on a stick demo for shows

In my previous rant about the student spindle, I pointed out you’d be better off showing people to spin with a CD spindle, and showing them how simple it is to make one, than giving them a way-too-heavy spindle.

You really can spin with anything, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money.

And spinning with a stick is a great way to teach anyone the power of twist.

How to give a simple handspinning demo with a stick

I did this demo when we went with my guildies to the Rare Breeds Show & Sale recently. This is basically a very condensed version of Abby Franquemont’s Make yarn with a pencil demo. I found I could make it shorter, because you I had lots of takers coming over and waiting to have a go!

Probably all of the terminology will go over someone’s head when you demo this. But the idea of adding twist to keep fibres together will be clearly understood at the end. It looks long, but takes about 7 mins do the demo with groups of 3-4.

Supplies: Good combed top. I used BFL, and it was nice and not compacted. Very important. Sticks. I used sticks from cat toys, chop sticks, etc. Stick should be somewhat smooth if possible?

  1. Set up the challenge: Using combed top, show how to take the very end of the tip and pull a tiny bit out from your fibre supply. Everyone gets a tiny floating piece, which they pull out from the end.
    • Explain this grew from a sheep.
    • Staple length: You can’t pull it apart if you keep your hands close, but if you put your hands at the ends, you can slowly draft out, and pull it apart. Let them see how gently they pull it until it comes apart.
    • OK now we have a challenge! We don’t want it to pull apart. We need twist.
    • At this point they understand that the top is made of fibres that would come apart if you pulled them.
  2. The fibre: Using combed top, rip down a thumb’s width strip about 16 inches long. Give one to each kid, and one for you! (this will come in handy later.)
    • Drafting: Show how you can gently pull the fibre again, but don’t pull too hard because you will pull it apart. Move along the length, and show how you can draft.
    • If someone breaks theirs, hand them yours.
  3. The stick: Now add the stick.
    • With your thumb holding down on the end of the fibre, show how you take the other end and wind it around the stick.
    • If they run our of space they can push it down.
  4. The magic reveal: Check the twist!
    • Take someone’s example, and unroll it. Show how the twist was added when they wrapped around the stick, and it’s not lost when you unroll it.
    • Show you can tug it and it won’t come apart.
    • Ask: Why is that? At this point they can see they added twist and the fibres won’t come apart.
    • You might need to add a little twist as you unwind, to help it along!
  5. Plying and tying
    • You hold both ends and ask them to hold the centre point. Then you bring two ends together to fold it. You can explain this is “plying” which means to fold.
    • And you tie the two ends together to lock the twist.
    • Then they can see their little fibre strip now looks like yarn!
  6. Let them take it home. They are delighted to have something they can take with them. So simple 🙂

Below you can see all the lovely new yarn they made. Usually, the kids were automatically comparing and could see some were better than others.  If they start comparing, you could ask what they think they could do to improve – and they can usually figure it out!


In this example, where mum is helping, they are wrapping it the wrong way, letting the fibres slip so they wrap flat.  She was leading the fibre to wrap around the stick without adding twist. You can see the fibre is flat against the stick. We spotted that and then the kid got set up and was able to do this on her own. She was 4!

Handspinning with a pencil

Abby Franquemont breaks down a demo of teaching spinning on a pencil. You can learn enough in this demo to understand staple length, drafting and the power of twist.

Handspinning from the tip of a stick

This technique is an upgrade from that would be to spin off the tip from a stick. This is nearly how the Navajo Spindle works, except without the whorl. It would work if you had people sitting down, so they could get to their lap easier.




Crafts in the UK will be disproportionately affected by Brexit

The first time I realised craft related businesses were going to be disproportionately affected by Brexit was on Hilltop Cloud’s recent newsletter, Katie assured customers that they shouldn’t feel “guilty” about the sudden discount they were going to receive due to the pound crashing. Afterall, she is getting paid the same…

Problem is, soon her suppliers, and her supplier’s suppliers are going to make increases, and soon small business margins will be further squeezed. This will happen across the entire market.

The next sign, Artesano today announced on facebook they are ceasing trading.

“We have made our best efforts to get stock moving and to fulfil all orders, but once the Brexit was announced last week, our main suppliers took the view not to continue delivering to us.”

We’re not even OUT of the EU yet technically, and it’s starting already.

Small businesses struggle, that is a given. I don’t think this supplier issue was the only factor in their closing up today. Artesano was working on changing their business model, they were trying something new with online sales and new distribution.

Small businesses have to be nimble and take chances to adapt. They have to deal with smaller margins, and smaller scales. There isn’t a lot of “wiggle room.” Running a small business is a risky business on the best days…. but this is going to be like nothing else.

All the businesses we love are at risk right now. Small businesses are often labours of love, and sweat equity, and don’t benefit from big investment. They don’t have the wherewithal to weather this crisis.

As crafters we’re going to notice this most quickly. These businesses rely on other small businesses, they have smaller, niche markets, and they rely on international supply chains.


Vultures may delight in picking among the discounted detritus of crashed businesses. I just feel like saying, I hope you’re happy now. It’s positively infuriating.

I’m going to a local meeting tonight to see what is being planned, how we can advocate for our communities, and work towards solutions. I have to do something, because it’s all looking a bit hopeless right now.



I decorate with sound

This post was inspired by listening to A Playful Day’s interview with Felicity Ford of Knitsonik. I recommend it highly! What a great adventure in sound, something I didn’t realize was so important. I am funny about sound, and I didn’t even know it.

I decorate with sound. I have certain bells on different doors in my home.  We’ve moved a lot. I’ve moved a lot. Since I lived in Taiwan I’ve had this little black bell. This to me is the sound of home. I hear the bell and I know I’m home.

I have small “noisy” decorations on other doors too. These mark going through rooms. They announce if someone is coming. They remind you that you’re home.


Sound is actually far more important to me than I thought. My husband’s voice is very important to me, and I am very sensitive to “ticking” and “drips” kinds of sounds others find innocuous. Anywho! After listening to the episode, I think I can’t “unhear it,” amazing.
So do listen to this episode of A Playful Day – an interview with Knitsonik. As the host rightly points out you may have to listen to it in two sittings, but it’s worth it! I will likely listen again, to be honest.
Felicity spoke about the soundscape around us. She prompted the listener to remember a sound, and explore sound memory. I paused the podcast and got the most amazing memories. They were mixed up with remembering smells. I can rarely remember smells. Try it!
She also spoke about the connection to knitting. The title “Knitsonik” describes her focus. The connection is about marking time in sound, and marking time in stitches. I really never understood the connection until then.
 Great stuff!

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.