Swiss Darning

Swiss Darning

To add colour to a previously knitted item, Swiss darning is perfect. Swiss darning or duplicate stitch as it is sometimes known, can be used to strategically place a pre-designed motif to reflect the wearer’s personality. Swiss darning can be applied in the moment, as the mood takes you. I knitted a garment which included a Fair Isle pattern of muted colours and it worked out really well but it needed a bit more colour within the motifs and elsewhere in the cardigan. I added Swiss darning between the Fair Isle stitches and in a different area, the sleeves. The changes gave the garment a uniqueness and the colours seemed brighter even though I had only used more of the original knitting colours.

My Diamond Cowl pattern, I designed using Swiss darning to add colour to a plain background. The maker, Swiss darns motifs within the diamond shaped panels with embroidery wool/4ply used double. My pattern includes suggested motifs. A Diamond Cowl Kit containing wool for the cowl, coloured embroidery wool for the Swiss darning and patterns is available from The motifs could easily be changed to suit the hobbies, character, interests of the wearer.


Swiss Darning is a good introduction to colour work knitting. It makes the knitter aware of stitch construction, tension and colour combinations and avoids floats. Floats are strands of yarn which hang across the back of your work. They begin when the coloured yarn is not being used and end when the colour is being used. Floats can become troublesome when one colour is used for more than 4 stitches. They can be caught on jewellery, fingers etcetera. Floats and float management are for another day’s blog.

In the meantime enjoy Swiss darning and explore your own exciting design work.

Crochet – Twirls

What to Make with Wool

Do you have a stash of wool yarn?  If so, I am quite sure that you have small amounts of yarn which are left over from projects too. Do you sometimes wonder what you can make with this bits and pieces?  It is the small amounts of yarn that we can use to make something practical, attractive or both, TWIRLS.

Twirls don’t take up very much yarn and can be made in all weights from fine to chunky.  Attach twirls to all manner of things, the handle of a door or drawer to help in opening or to serve as a reminder of where an item is kept.

Depending on how much yarn there is to spare, more than just a few can be used to edge a lampshade or a poncho in one colour or a rainbow of colours.

Why not attach several to a clip and slip it into your hair or wear on a hat.

 A bunch of twirls on a wrapped present is an unusual, pretty embellishment which can be used by the recipient or passed on again by being attached to another parcel.  

Several twirls also look attractive on a basket as well as on a suitcase which is where my very first twirl still lives.  I found that my suitcase was being mistakenly taken from the airport carousel before I could claim it and so I gave the case an unmistakeable embellishment, a twirl.  It has remained in place through many airports and its success began my TWIRL addiction.


If you have ideas for TWIRL usage do let me know.

Have fun making.

Knitting – Thrums

It is August and the nights are getting shorter already.  Now is the time to start a project that will be appreciated in winter.  An extra layer is a must but what do you do when an extra layer is not enough and those pinkies are frozen?  The answer is thrums.  A thrum is a narrow wad of fleece, fashioned into a shape that becomes part of the knitting fabric. You can see how in this video.  The thrums are spaced out evenly during knitting and when finished the mitten or sock or even jacket has another layer on the inside of the garment or accessory.  A little care is required when slipping the item on or off but after a while the wads of fleece become felted and the extra layer of warmth really begins to surround you with a glow.

Give thrums a try this autumn.

Fleece is Being Composted or Incinerated

That is what we hear and it is such a shame. This country grew rich from sheep fleece (I shall leave that subject for another time). Fleece is versatile and sustainable but we do not use it all. We should not waste fleece. Even spinners, myself included, will spread out a fleece and separate the best fibre from the parts which are not good enough for spinning. The rejected fibre is usually found around the edge of the fleece. It may have been dyed by the raddle or matted and covered with sheep muck and vegetable matter. The separation of the unwanted fleece is known as skirting. Also there are guard hairs found on some fleece which can be removed and discarded if particularly course.

Possible Uses

So what can spinners do with the unwanted parts of a fleece? If the fibre is too coarse for a garment, but is otherwise spinable, then spin it and use the string in the garden for tying runner beans, roses etcetera. Fleece string is sustainable, compostable and looks better than commercial green ties, which may splinter into tiny brittle plastic bits and which will never leave the soil.

What if the unwanted fibre is not spinable? I use it to stop soil falling through the bottom of flower pots. It also acts as a reservoir to hold water through the long hot summer (that we are looking forward to). Some say that putting fleece on top of the soil, around vulnerable plants, keeps slugs at bay. How about hanging baskets too? Mine, I am sure were fuller and more floriferous last year due to completely lining the inside of the baskets with approximately 8cm of raw fleece.

Last but not least

A Chimney Plug. A what! To stop draughts, due to an open fireplace and chimney, use a Chimney Plug.

To make: Measure chimney width and depth. You will need enough fabric to make an envelope i.e. 2 thicknesses and 10cm/4″ larger all around than the size of the chimney flue. Fill the envelope with washed or unwashed, unwanted, unusable fleece. Too much is better than too little fleece. Sew the 4th side of the envelope. Sew through all layers to hold fleece in place. Mine looks like buttoned upholstery. You could plug the chimney now but I like to wash the plug in the washing machine to slightly felt the fleece. Dry. Attach, in the centre a medallion (I used a fir cone) on a piece of yarn to hang. Now place plug in chimney with the medallion hanging and visible in the grate. This medallion serves as a reminder not to light a fire whilst the chimney is blocked. Bob’s your uncle!

Fabric Envelope
Raw unwanted fleece

Envelope Full of Fleece

A Stitch or two through all layers.

When the plug needs to be removed, place a bucket in the fireplace, pull the medallion and out will come the plug and any debris into the bucket. Shake plug outside and it is ready for when the chimney is no longer in use.

Contact me with your ideas for unwanted fleece.

Til next time.

Update 25.1.21

Jane at Broadstone Rare Breeds uses waste fleece – She places it around the base of young trees to stop weeds growing and taking precious nutrients.

Sheep and Shearing

From a hand spinner’s perspective.

It’s HOT

Sheep seem such simple souls. Left in a field to their own devices, they grow fleece and make lambs. Simple. Not so, they require a person with a job (career) all of their own, dedicated to them i.e. shepherd/ess. Of course farmers manage a whole farm with endless work to do, but there seems to be so much to know about sheep. Sheep and shearing are very physically challenging jobs.

Take shearing, a sheep needs to be sheared once a year to keep it healthy. Too much fleece would not allow freedom of movement, the animal would be attacked by insects and unable to eat because the fleece does not stop growing. At shearing time sheep must not eat or drink for 8 hours beforehand and must be kept in shade and dry for the duration. Wet sheep cannot be shorn. If they do eat or drink before shearing, the animal is liable to suffocate because of intestines impacting on the lungs, which would then be unable to inflate.

A professional shearer is valuable as he/she knows from handling each animal if there are health issues which may have been missed, through no fault of the shepherd/ess. Shearers need to be strong and able to manoeuvre the animal onto its back and sides without causing pain. Some sheep are only too pleased to be free of the weight of fleece and lollop between the shearers legs, like a well behaved drunk. Whereas, others need to be firmly restrained by the shearer until the job is done.

Where do the shearers come from? Are they always here, but only work in spring? Many I am told come here from Australia and New Zealand in shearing gangs. They travel around the world, working and following spring. This year, because of Covid. 19 that plan was in jeopardy. Some came but others didn’t. Depending upon the size of farm and amount of sheep living on it, dictates who shears. British shearers, when they are not shearing, carry out worming, foot trimming and other sheep related work for the rest of the year.

A gorgeous Hampshire Down sheep and fleece.

A good, professional shearer wears moccasin shoes to stop slippage and stands on a board on which to manoeuvre the animal, thus keeping the fleece as clean as possible. A clean fleece is what I desire. A fleece that is covered in mud, muck, straw and other vegetable matter is not worth cleaning. It is a long and laborious job, to try to rid the debris from even the most gorgeous fleece. Therefore, us hand spinners who use natural fibres, really appreciate a clean sheep and a good shearer who only cuts each staple once. Did I mention second cuts? Well I shall save that for another day.

I am pleased you are reading this, otherwise I would be writing to myself! Till next time.


How it feels

Foraging for dye plants is like panning for gold. In old American western films you will often see a gold prospector, swishing water and gravel around a shallow metal basin. He concentrates intently on his search, until suddenly his eyes widen and he becomes very excited. He has found GOLD! Well foraging is a bit like that; to find exactly what I am searching for is just marvellous.

Ideal conditions

Plants that give colour include the latin word tinctoria in the name, meaning that the plant yields colour eg. Indigofera Tinctoria, yields the colour blue. It grows in the tropics and requires full sun with a temperature of 22-28 degreesC for 4-5 months. The indigo plant can be invasive in the perfect conditions. I am not going to find any in the Sussex countryside. Neither will I find madder (red dye) or woad (blue dye) despite being used for the Bayeux Tapestry, (which was actually an embroidery). I cultivate madder and woad in my garden. They have been successful, as long as the weather is kind. Some plants require the right amount of shade and it is likely that they will only be right for harvesting at a particular time of year. Each colour giving plant is different from another as to their optimum growing requirements. I may see a patch of greenery, recognise it, decide that it will give me green colour but realise that it will be mature enough in one week only to find 7 days later that it has been strimmed!

Company Whilst Foraging

The aim of my countryside foraging walks is not only to collect dye plants but to collect them in amounts that nobody will miss. I hunt for dock, nettles, lichen and more. I used to enjoy foraging in the countryside with my faithful dog, who sadly is no longer with us. A friend said she would come foraging to keep me company instead. I told her that we were waiting for our puppy to arrive so she would not be ‘helping’ me for a few months. My friend thought that our outing in the countryside would be a good time for a chat. It didn’t work out quite how she envisaged because as soon as I saw a likely leaf, I was heading in another direction, whilst she was thinking I could still hear her chatting. Despite arming her with gloves, foraging bag and pertinent information, she was not concentrating on the job in hand. We returned home with few leaves and many questions about when puppy would be old enough to accompany me foraging ha ha ha.

British wool naturally dyed with nettles by Paton and Daughter
I am sure puppy will be a patient forager, in time.

Plants that give us colour require certain soilds, the right amount of sun or shade and are Plan

It is easier to grow dye plants in the garden, however not everybody sees these ‘weeds’ as gems. Nettles for instance take up a lot of space but do encourage butterflies. Not many dye plants are deemed attractive enough to deserve a place in a flower garden and so a designated section needs to be kept as a dyer’s bed.

I am so pleased that you have joined me in this space.

Until next time, I’ll be here if you’ll be there.


Using Stash

A very warm welcome to you. This is a bit of space where I can share my making musings, successes and complete failures. It’s all a learning experience: we never stop learning. The most important thing is to (as my friend Jane reminds me) have fun.

About 5 years ago, another friend, Rita gave me some selvedge. Selvedge used to be a throw away item that the wool mills cut from cloth and discarded, but not any more because we makers found uses for it. The selvedge arrived in huge balls. Rita purchased it from a stall at Wonderwool Wales and I was over the moon to receive it from her. I had such plans, but just didn’t get around to using it. When I did have the time, I couldn’t decide whether to use it on the peg loom, on oversized knitting needles or some other process. Not until necessity ‘kicked in’ did I finally use this stash of selvedge. I needed new pad/cushions for my kitchen chairs. So now the problem was not what to make but how. This selvedge is thick, hard wearing, sustainable and natural. It is woollen cloth in a continuous strip.

Crochet! Using a very large crochet hook I started in the middle, 5 chains, join to a loop, several d.c. into the centre of the loop and carry on around adding two dc where necessary to stop the circle turning upwards until the pad/cushion was the required size. I used the same selvedge strip in 4 lengths to attach the pads to the chair by weaving in and out of the circular rows and then around the 2 legs and 2 back parts of the chair. Voila! Next, I made a square one. Only 4 more to go.

Have fun whatever you make.

A ball of selvedge half used
2 Finished pads.