During most of 2013, will be hosting a monthly mini-series, each month edited by different crafters and designers. Enjoy!

The theme for this month is Make It Local :: with Alexandra Smith of Lola Nova.

Today, Alexandra introduces Annie of knitsofactoAnnie is a blogger, photographer, knitter, natural dyer, and country girl who lives with her husband, four children, and six dogs in rural north Wales, UK.  She spends her days wrangling yarn and whippets, and dreaming of owning a wool shop and a proper dye house.

Old Woollen Mill #1

There are ancient cottages here, slate roofed and built of local stone, that look to have grown from the soil. That they were once scaffolding and whistling workmen is almost beyond comprehension. They belong to this land, this place, and it is impossible to imagine them existing elsewhere. Much the same might be said of the old fulling mill at Trefriw.

The woollen industry has been economically significant here since Hywel the Good ruled Wales and included in the annual ‘tribute’ paid to the English “one hundred pounds of wool”. But woollen cloth, before it truly has value, must be scoured and fulled to wash away grease and dirt and to close the weave. This was the first part of the woollen production process to be mechanised and is the part that requires the most water.

In Trefriw that water comes from the fast flowing river Crafnant, which also powered the waterwheel that powered the mill’s fulling hammers, and which today powers its turbines. Crafnant, or ‘the valley of the wild garlic’ … even now, when the wild garlic flowers, Trefriw is suffused with its scent. And I can’t help but wonder if, centuries ago, the same pungent fragrance that I smelt while there to take these photographs tickled the nostrils of the village’s weavers as they carried their cloth from cottage to mill to be fulled.

Old Woollen Mill #2

Wild garlic, or ramsoms, and the ubiquitous yellow gorse both proliferate here, the first a food plant the juices of which act as a natural moth repellent, the second a coconut smelling godsend to the dyer (and the maker of country wines!). But where once the dye house at Trefriw might have been heaped with bundles of gorse, today the dyeing process is all about chemistry. The almost-alchemy of the past is consigned to the archived dyer’s ‘receipt’ books, yet the old stone sinks remain beside the modern stainless steel dye vats. And waiting to be coloured, the knitting yarn they still spin here. To knit with yarn from Trefriw, now that’s making it local!

The women of Wales have long been knitters. An 18th century traveller once remarked of them: “I cannot speak too highly of [their] industry … always knitting as they walk along even with heavy loads upon their heads, they must make a number of stockings which I suppose they sell, for they will go bar foot and bar skin as they themselves term it.” He was right, they were knitting stockings for the ‘stocking men’, who travelled from door to door buying the finished goods for a pitiful three pennies a pair and stringing them onto poles which they carried on their shoulders.

This was piece work and these women were poor, so of necessity they knitted as they went about the business of their day, often with a baby or a toddler slung in a nursing shawl at their waist. They knitted – our traveller again – “during the whole business” of taking a beast to market, “though many of them held a horse or a cow” throughout. They knitted without benefit of a pattern, having learnt all the design skills and stitch combinations they needed at their mothers’ knees. And they knitted at knitting evenings held in each other’s cottage homes, nosweithiau gwau, where they would gather together to be sociable and to save on fuel, to knit by firelight and to gossip. Clearly stitch ‘n’ bitch is nothing new!

Old Woollen Mill #3

Trefriw’s principal product in recent years has been woven Welsh blankets not so very different to the traditional wedding coverlets, orcarthenni, that were made hereabouts in the past. Visit when the mill is working and you can see and hear – you’ll need to shout to be heard above them – the carding engines, spinning mules, and looms in action. My paternal grandfather worked in just such a mill, his days measured by the clackety-clack, clackety-clack, clackety-clack, clackety-clack, of the machines at the mill’s heart. He belonged in that mill just as the mill in turn belonged in the valley that supplied the stone from which it had been constructed, the water that powered it, and the generations of skilled craftsmen that kept it working.

If my grandfather had been born and raised in a different Welsh valley he might have quarried roofing slate or mined silver. But he was born where he was and so he did what men raised there did. It was in his bones. And that connection he had to place is something I fear we are losing and something I do not want to lose. The old woollen mill at Trefriw connects me to those who came before me. Men and women who made things local, and with wool, just as I do. Folk who knew where the wild garlic grows.

Old Woollen Mill #4



During most of 2013, will hosting a monthly mini-series, each month edited by different crafters and designers. Enjoy!

Introducing Abby and Stacey for the month of March. The theme for their month here together is the notion of making something from nothing.

Stacey Trock: blog :: twitter: @freshstitches

Do you have lots of leftover bits of yarn lying around? Maybe you made a project that only used up half of a skein… what do you do with the other half? Or maybe you bought a ball of yarn because it was a pretty color… but what are you going to do with just one ball?

Today, I’m going to share some ideas with you for using up those leftovers in creative ways… using patterns that are already available! If you’re willing to play around with color, you’ll find that there are oodles of patterns that you can use!

earth sky

Idea 1: Find a colorwork pattern… but don’t buy whole skeins!

Here’s a scenario… you find a beautiful pattern that uses 4 different colors. So you want to make it… but hold up! Don’t go to the store and buy new skeins… check your stash!

If a pattern calls for only a little yardage of a particular color, chances are that you have it in your stash, and it’s a chance to use up a fraction of a ball.

I used this technique when I knit Stephen West’s Earth & Sky shawl. The pattern calls for 3 colors of yarn in fairly small quantities (less than 180 yards each). I did a little stash-diving and came up with the yarns!

For one color, I didn’t have enough… so I threw in another color — I used the same principle on the pattern ‘To Norway with Love’:

heart hat

Each row of hearts needed so little yarn… I found enough in my ‘leftovers’ pile!

When looking for patterns, keep an eye out for how you can tweak it to use what you already have.

Idea 2: Use leftovers instead of a gradient yarn

Gradient yarns (yarns that change color) are beautiful, and they’re often used in patterns. If you see a gradient yarn being used, keep in mind that you can make your own gradient using leftovers!

The Wingspan shawl is shown (on the pattern) in a gradient yarn… but I had a whole bunch of leftover bits of sock yarn. Do you know what I did?

I arranged my leftovers into a rainbow array… and started knitting! I just switched to a new color when the old one ran out! Now I have a beautiful shawl, and fewer leftover pieces of sock yarn!


Idea 3: Add stripes to a solid pattern

Just because a pattern is shown in the sample in a solid color… it doesn’t mean that you have to do it that way! This may take an adventurous spirit, but you can do it!

If you find a pattern that is made in a solid color, think about whether it would look alright in stripes. Adding stripes is a fabulous way to use up odd quantities of yarn!

With these three ideas, I hope you’re convinced that you can do a little stash-diving and use up your leftovers!

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During most of 2013, will hosting a monthly mini-series, each month edited by different crafters and designers. Enjoy!

Introducing Abby and Stacey for the month of March. The theme for their month here together is the notion of making something from nothing.

Stacey Trock: blog :: twitter: @freshstitches

Have you heard of a magic ball?

magic ball

It’s a ball of yarn that changes colors and textures as you work. It’s something offered by a number of artisan yarn makers… but it’s also something you can make yourself with your leftover yarn!

pile of scraps


Besides ending up with an awesomely fun end-product… you’ll finally get to use up all of those weird leftover pieces of yarn that are too small (you thought!) to do anything with! How great is that?

Ready to get started?

You’ll need two things. One, gather all of the leftover yarn bits that are lurking in your stash. You know what I mean. They’re too small for their own projects, but too big to toss out. You keep thinking you’ll do something with them…

And a tapestry needle — (mine is a bent-tip needle, but that’s by no means necessary for this. All you need is a needle that’s big enough to fit your yarn through the eye.)

Okay, now we’re ready to start! We’re going to make our magic ball by joining all of these leftover yarns together using a technique called the ‘Russian Join’. The Russian join allows you to fasten yarns together without a knot, and it has the advantage of working with any type of yarn (unlike the ‘spit splice’, which relies on 100% wool yarn.)

In terms of grouping your yarns together, you’ll want to group yarns in a way that is pleasing to you. Some folks prefer the random approach, but I like creating a color theme. For my magic ball, I’m attaching only various shades of purple. I also recommend using yarns of the same weight. My magic ball is composed entirely of worsted weight yarns.

Let’s learn how to do the Russian Join.

Step 1: Thread your tapestry needle with yarn A (to start, yarn A will be an arbitrary choice. As you continue, yarn A will be the yarn that is attached to your ball).


Step 2: About 2 inches from the end of the yarn, insert your tapestry needle through the yarn. Split the plies, and work the needle through the yarn for about an inch, then pull the needle through, bringing the yarn tail through this bit of yarn.



Notice that you have a loop!


Step 3: Okay, now, thread yarn B (the other yarn) through the tapestry needle, and stick the tapestry needle through the loop in yarn A.


Step 4: About 2 inches from the end of yarn B’s tail, insert the tapestry needle through the yarn… just like you did before.


Now you’ve made a second loop, joined onto yarn A!


When you pull the ends, you’ll notice the two yarns are fully joined! Hooray!

step7To make a magic ball, keep attaching yarns, one after another. You’ll probably find it helpful to wind the ball up as you go, particularly if you’re using long leftover lengths of yarn.

Once you’ve run out of leftovers (or have a ball that’s big enough), you can use your magic ball for any project! When knitted or crocheted, it’ll create an awesome striping-effect! And, you don’t need to do anything special at the joins, just keep working!

Isn’t that fun? And doesn’t it make you want to gather up (and use) your leftovers?


We both share a love of making practical things from humble materials, but what brought us together initially was our love of designing patterns for stuffed animals. We are really excited to announce that we’ll be releasing our first collaborative pattern on March 20th: Pepper the Penguin.
Together we’ve designed an adorable penguin softie. Stacey created the crochet pattern and Abby created the sewing pattern. And you’ll get both in one! Pepper comes with patterns for a cute wintry hat and scarf, too, so that you can mix and match. Sew Pepper, then give him a crocheted hat and scarf, or crochet him and then sew up his accessories. It’s so much fun to mix and match! We hope you’ll enjoy sewing and crocheting Pepper. He’s terrific both ways!
Get the pattern beginning on Wednesday, March 20, at freshstitches and whileshenaps Thank you!


Tricksy sock patterns for sock knitters {if anyone would like to knit me some socks — i wouldn’t say no! :) hint hint}

  1. Skew (a friend of mine has been these a couple of times, loves knitting and wearing them)
  2. Pucker
  3. Brainless
  4. Double heelix [pictured above]
  5. Polly jean
  6. Squirrel socks [pictured below]
  7. Tern
  8. Summer slice
  9. Circle socks
  10. Riff


Do you love to snuggle up with a hot water bottle? Here are five fun patterns to knit for this winter or next!

  1. Simple pattern [pictured above]
  2. LondonLeo Classic [pictured below]
  3. Colorwork cosy
  4. Pocket sized cozies
  5. Chunky knit cosy