Designer Q & A’s – Sue Stratford

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 19-10-2017

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This November we are very lucky to be having knitting designer, Sue Stratford visiting our Craft Barn in Warrington. You may recognise Sue Stratford’s name from many toy knitting books, including Christmas themes, meerkats and cats. She can often be found at craft shows up and down the UK, having recently been at the Knitting & Stitching show at Alexandra Palace in London. She is one busy bee and enjoys keeping everyone up to date via social media and through her website.

Sue will be teaching two workshops and doing a book signing / toy knitting tips in store this November. On Thursday 9th November Sue will be in store for the afternoon from 2pm – 4pm sharing knitting tips and signing copies of all her fabulous character books including her latest book ‘A Bird in the Hand’. Bring along your Sue Stratford makes to share or ask Sue’s advice on knitting toys. Very handy if you have a project on the go at the moment eager to finish for Christmas.

On Friday 10th November Sue will be teaching Learn to Knit in the Round, a full day workshop which includes a delicious lunch and an exclusive cat doorstop pattern that you will begin to make on the day. Sue will guide you through the technique so that you will confidently be able to knit in the round on future projects. Other techniques covered include using circular needles and double pointed needles, magic loop technique, jogless join (for working stripes in the round), three needle cast off, short row shaping and the i-cord. There are still places available should you wish to book.

Sue Stratford’s second workshop is on Saturday 11th November – Bird Toy Knitting workshop a full day once again that includes all of the usual yummy delights (lunch and a slice of scrumptious homemade cake in the afternoon) and knitting too. Choose from a selection of birds to knit on the day. Sue will have the packs made up ready for you to select. Making the bird you will cover a variety of helpful techniques that you will be able to use in many knitting projects – including short row shaping ,intarsia colourwork (and a tiny bit of fair-isle), interesting finishing techniques and lots of hints and tips. Find more info and book a place today. 

With Sue’s visit just around the corner we thought it would be nice to ask her a few questions about her crafty life. It is always nice to delve into the creative world of a designer. Sue has answered a selection of questions below and added in one or two pics along the way. We look forward to seeing you in store in November. Enjoy!

Who taught you to knit? What was the first thing you ever made?

My Mum taught me to knit as a child.  One of the first things I knitted was at school, we had to make something that would be displayed at Parent’s Evening and so I started making a navy tie for my Dad.  When my parents found my work it said ‘Susan – bookmark’.  In those days, long term projects weren’t for me!

When designing something new, where do you begin? Is it a sketch, with a colour palette or sampling?

I find lots of things inspire me and spark an idea, it may be a ball of yarn that I just look at and can see what I could make it into.  I always start with a sketch because I can see what I want to end up with in my head, but it really helps to get it down on paper.  I always thought I wasn’t good at drawing but I have had to get better!  I love flicking back to that original sketch and seeing that my finished design looks just like it.

We can’t wait to have you in store teaching workshops in November. How long have you been teaching workshops? What inspired you to teach?

I am really looking forward to coming to Black Sheep Wools to teach workshops.  I have taught for over ten years, starting when I opened my shop in 2006.  I really felt it was important I taught the classes as I believe that it gave my customers confidence in my abilities.  It is very satisfying seeing people learn and achieving something they thought they couldn’t do or was difficult.

You are best-selling author of many knitting books. Which was your favourite to design for?

I have loved working on all the books I have written and have to say that usually whatever I am working on at that time is my favourite but there is a special place in my heart for ‘Knit Me, Dress Me, Love Me’.  The idea came after I made knitted bunnies wearing a sewn dress for my daughters and their cousins for Easter a few years ago, I loved coming up with the ideas for the clothes and enjoyed doing a bit of sewing too!

Do you have a favourite place to knit / design?

I just like to be at home, sat on the sofa when everyone is at school and enjoy the peace and quiet!  I usually have a cat sat near me and our dogs Hetty and Spike.  The time goes so quickly and I get completely caught up in what I am doing.

Do you enjoy doing any other crafts? 

I have an addiction to craft, I like to embroider, I do dressmaking, tapestry and crochet too.  Unfortunately, there are just not enough hours in the day!

Is there a knitted project that you treasure? Made by yourself or a handmade gift from a loved one?

I think that knitters really appreciate a hand knitted gift as they know how much thought and work has gone into it.  My knitty friend Pam gifts me gorgeous knitted socks which I love, Jill made me a fabulous shawl which obviously took her a lot of time to do and was such a thoughtful present.  However, the things that I will treasure most are the baby cardigans that my Mum made for my children, I still have them all and they bring back lots of memories.

Do you have a favourite yarn to knit with?

I am a yarnaholic, I just love yarn!  But I have to say that I much prefer knitting using natural yarns, the feel of the yarn just does it for me.  I have really enjoyed using the Coopknits yarn in my designs and my next ‘Me’ project is a jumper using Baa Ram Ewe ‘Titus 4-ply’ which I have knitted with before and can’t wait to use again.

Do you enjoy knitting for yourself?

I do feel there is no one more grateful than yourself when it comes to knitting.  I knit a lot for me.  Although it may be more accurate to say I have a lot of knitting in progress for me… finishing things is a bit of an issue at the moment but I know eventually I will get round to it!

Do you have a top knitting tip that you could share?

My best knitting tip has to be swatch!  If you are making a garment and feel you don’t want to work a tension square but just start, think twice.  I did this when I was in my early twenties and ended up with a jumper which went past my knees and sleeves that also reached my knees.  Ever since then I have ALWAYS swatched.  To me it is part of the project and the ritual of buying yarn, choosing your pattern and getting ready to make it.


Designer Q & A’s – Emma Wright

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 16-11-2016

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Discovering new knitting patterns to add to your wish list is always such a delight. Even if it takes a little longer than anticipated for them to come to fruition, it is a comfort to know that your list is always there. Over the summer we added a new yarn brand to our collection – West Yorkshire Spinners. Along with delectable yarns, this included a spectacular range of patterns.  Many of which have been designed by the lovely Emma Wright, including the Illustrious book all designed and styled by the talented young designer. The ‘Hermione’ cardigan from this book is now on my wish list!

It was through taking on the West Yorkshire Spinners range that we first came across Emma Wright, knitwear designer. With so many designs under her belt having worked with many well-known names in the industry, already (she’s only in her early twenties), we wanted to know more. We invited Emma to the Craft Barn for a knitting natter and we are very pleased to share that she will be teaching workshops at the Craft Barn in 2017. Keep an eye out on our workshops page for updates. On 25th March next year Emma will be at the Craft Barn for a designer showcase day – pop the date in your diary. More details of this event will be coming up in 2017.

On the weekend of Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th November Emma will be taking over our Instagram. This is super exciting for us as it will be our very first Instagram takeover. Emma will be sharing lots of inspiring photos over the weekend so be sure to check it out.

To delve into the mind of a knitwear designer, I sent Emma some questions to share here on the blog…….


When did you learn to knit? Who taught you?

My nan taught me to knit when I was only young but I never really took it seriously until I went to college. I don’t really remember learning, it’s almost like I’ve always known how. My sixth sense!

Can you remember the very first thing that you ever made?

Unfortunately I have no pictures. Putting aside the teddy blankets, teddy scarves and Barbie clothes, I made a 1960’s inspired shift dress when I was 16 for my first textile project. With a sewn on Peter pan collar and buttons.

Where did you begin your designer journey……..How did you become a knitting designer? Did you study at University? What inspired you to make this decision?

After going to college to do fashion and textiles I went to Nottingham Trent where I graduated in 2014 in Fashion Knitwear and Knitted Textiles. I have always been creative, design ideas pop in my head constantly and after completing the knitted shift dress for my first textile project at college I just knew I wanted to do knitwear. I love the freedom both knit and crochet can offer and I am automatically drawn to colour and texture!

When designing something new, where do you begin? Is it a sketch, with a colour palette or sampling? What is your design process?

Each design is different, something in my everyday life can spark an idea. Something I’ve seen on the catwalk, something vintage I’ve seen in a shop or as simple as a stitch pattern that must be made into that scarf or jumper. I think exciting details, texture and colour can bring a whole new and modern lease of life to a classic jumper.

I am also a massive Pinterest addict, A great place to relax and find inspiration!


As a freelance designer you must have worked with various big names in the industry. Where can we find your designs?

I have been very lucky to work with some of the best brands and designers in the industry such as Debbie Bliss, Erika Knight, Louisa Harding and The Fibre co. I also designed a pattern book called Illustrious for West Yorkshire Spinners which was inspired by heritage and took on a very classic autumnal feel with a wearable modern twist!

star sweater in baby cashmerino

Emma’s design ‘Star Sweater‘ for Debbie Bliss.

wys illustrious book

juliet wys illustrious

hermione wys illustrious

Which other knitwear designers do you admire?

I am a massive fan of Gucci, nobody does glitter like they do! I love the femininity of Orla Kiely and as I’ve said previously I’m very driven by colour, texture and pattern.

What have been your knitting highlights of 2016?

Oh wow! I’ve just recently done a collection of crochet interiors for DYChoice. This is my first crochet collection and my first interior collection so quite an achievement for me and I am very proud of the final collection. Early in 2016, I designed an AW16 collection for DYChoice called Alchemy. Inspired by the magical word itself, to be transformed or created through a magical process. For me this was knit and as the yarn is full of colour and texture through fibre I worked on colour placement around the classic silhouettes. For photography I styled the collection with metallic and dark autumn shades.

alchemy1 emma wright

alchemy2 emma wright

alchemy4 emma wright

Do you enjoy knitting / crocheting for yourself? If so, what do you make?

Yes! When I get time (which is rare) I like to make winter accessories, hats, scarves and headbands usually.

Can you share any projects you have coming up in 2017?

I always dread this question but I have a head full of secrets, I’m pretty good at keeping things hush. I keep my social media as up to date as possible with up and coming projects and new releases, I have also started my own emmaknitted Ravelry group which is quite exciting!

A couple of fun questions before you go……

Knit or crochet? Knit

4ply or chunky? Chunky

Pastel or bright? Oh that’s hard, I love both!

Do you have a favourite place to crochet / design? Does anywhere in my pj’s count?

Do you do any other crafts? If yes, what? I love sewing, embroidery, papercrafts… crafts in general!

Do you have a favourite yarn? Yes! Erika Knight Vintage and Maxi Wool

Keep up to date with Emma on social media here
Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @emmaknitted
Hashtag: #emmaknitted
Ravelry Group: emmaknitted

Sara chats with Heike from Made with Loops

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 27-10-2016

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Last week we had blogger and designer, Heike from Made with Loops at the Craft Barn. Whilst she was here (on top secret business) we took the opportunity to do a video of Sara chatting with Heike about her deisgn inspiration, what her latest projects are and general knit & crochet natter delving into her box of finished makes.

 Here are just a selection of Heike’s favourite projects from over the years. A gorgeous bundle of colour expressed in crochet.


Designer Q & A’s – Susan Pinner

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 27-04-2016



In the run up to Yarn Shop Day 2016 we caught up with crochet designer, Susan Pinner to ask a few questions about crochet. Susan will be here on Yarn Shop Day sharing all of her crochet treats and doing a book signing between 10.30am and 2.30pm. Along with two books full to the brim of her own fabulous designs – ‘Granny Squares‘ and ‘Granny Squares & Shapes‘, Susan also designs crochet patterns for Stylecraft.




There will be many more talented crafty folk to see too, including demonstrations of weaving from Beryl Weir, sock knitting with Winwick Mum and even more crochet with Crafternoon Treats! Read our Yarn Shop Day blog post here.


Who taught you to crochet? What was the first thing you ever made?

My best friend’s Gran when I was about 8 or 9, but I never made anything until my early teens and it was a gold, orange, brown, oatmeal rug in RUG WOOL that someone had given me……very hard going with huge tassels on each corner.

What projects do you have on the go at the moment? Any top secret snippets of crochet you can share?

Nothing TOP SECRET I wouldn’t get paid lol! But I’m doing some felting projects some free form projects and researching some new stitches that always leads to a variation on a new stitch in one way or another.



Have you ever made something that you will treasure forever? A project that took a little longer than expected, a labour of love or perhaps a beautiful piece that you just cannot part with. 

Almost everything I make…I find hard to part with. Two of my favourites are these and old, old freeform flowers on stripes, a felted hat that made it to Knitting Vogue Knitting magazine anything I do from real life like the primsoes and the Chunky Monkey CAL I did last year.




When designing something new, where do you begin? Is it a sketch, with a colour palette or sampling?

How long is a piece of string? Sometimes from a sketch, sometimes from a colour combo, a new stitch or a new yarn. When working with yarn companies you have to be able to adapt your style to their wants and new yarns and sometimes restricted colours

This one was from a sketch…


You now have two books full of your designs – Granny Squares and Granny Squares & Shapes, plus you do lots of fabulous crochet designs for Stylecraft. Do you have a favourite design?

The latest designs are usually favourites but if you push me to pick one for Stylecraft…..the new Tartan blanket and cushion.


And the bead and bezel I did for Stylecraft blog tour…I’ve made them up in lots of colour combo’s since.


Your books are full of really lovely designs, are they suitable for a beginner? Are there any designs in particular you would suggest?

This daisy pattern so versatile, easy to make and can be made in so many colour combo’s and sizes from 3ply sock yarn to Aran, this picture is from a 1950’s colour chart as a box cushion for our 1975 camper.


And the blanket motif…again its versatile.


Do you do any other crafts?  

Not really, these days crochet fills my time, a bit of paper crafting especially at Christmas time.


If my crochet time was my own I would do far more free form crochet, I have  bags of crochet circle waiting for me to join them together and tapestry crochet too, like this one.


Do you have a favourite place to crochet?

My craft room the light is fabulous and I have a double sofa unit like a bed in there, but any where that’s comfy, the sofa, in bed…lots of space to spread out all the yarn and 4 cats and bury myself…..a tidy moment doesn’t look like this often!


Designer Q & A’s – Crafternoon Treats

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 01-03-2016



If you are a keen crocheter and often delve into the crafty blogosphere you may well have heard of Crafternoon Treats, aka Kathryn Senior. Kathryn started her blog back in 2014 and has continued to blog ever since. Last year she began a series on her blog called the ‘Bagalong‘. The idea of the Bagalong is that everyone from all corners of the world makes the bag at the same time. Kathryn has a fantastic Facebook group for the Bagalong where fellow Bagalong crocheters can come together to share hints, tips and offer support. The patterns are usually Kathryn’s own designs, however sometimes she features someone else’s design, all along the bag theme.

This month she has released her latest Bagalong project – Sunny Days beach bag by Annaboo’s House, a bag originally designed as an exclusive pattern for Black Sheep Wools. Kathryn has chosen her own ‘beachy‘ colour theme and slightly adapted the pattern. Both patterns are available to download from our free patterns page or you can purchase yarn kits from our website.


Annaboo’s original bag design

Beachy bag

Crafternoon Treats adapted beach bag design

Whilst we were working with Crafternoon Treats on her Bagalong project, we thought it might be nice to get to know a little more about her crafty world. Read our interview with Kathryn here –

Who taught you to crochet? How old were you?
It was so long ago I can hardly remember! I must have been about 10 or 11 and I think I learned at the same time as my mum. We sort of taught each other. She was a great knitter and very skilful but I never got on too well with two needles. I took to the hook like a duck to water though.
As I got older, life took over and crochet sort of fell out of fashion so I put my hook down in the early 1990s and didn’t rediscover crochet until a few years ago. I was really surprised to find how it had become so popular again and I’m now completely addicted.

What was your first ever crocheted project?
I started with something easy – an intricate lace doily made with really thin cotton and a tiny steel hook and worked from a chart. It just seemed to come naturally and back then, I didn’t crochet with wool or other yarns at all.

Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Ideas just seem to pop into my head – usually when I’m working on crochet projects. There are so many possible things to do and to make, and far too little time. I based my hexagon autumn inspired blanket on some finds from a walk but I often just put colours together because they make me feel good.


What is your favourite yarn to crochet with?
I don’t think you can beat the quality acrylics that are around now and that offer such a huge colour range. One of the things I want to do in the future is to try out other yarns and I’ve been very interested to hear about the possibilities of hand-dyeing yarn from one of the lovely ladies who comes along to my new Crochet and Chat group.

Where is your favourite place to crochet?
Just about anywhere but I have two highly favoured spots – both by full length south facing windows in my house. Crocheting by natural light is the best and I am all set up in my lounge with a lap blanket and a quilt/crochet fusion throw that I made as part of the crochet along with Lucy at Attic24 just before Christmas. These colours are so uplifting. Upstairs in my office/studio I’ve just set up a new spot where I can crochet but also do the photographs for my tutorials and patterns.


Do you ever watch TV or listen to music when doing your crochet? If yes anything in particular?
I do crochet when the TV is on to relax but often find I miss most of the program… crocheting is a lot more interesting than most of what’s on. I also like to crochet with friends, either at the Crochet and Chat that I mentioned or just in the evening at a friend’s house. I have several crafty friends and we each do our own thing – two sew, one knits and I crochet.

Do you have a favourite crochet snack?
No, one of the good things about crochet is that it takes my mind off eating in the evening! Not that I am particularly overweight but those extra few pounds can creep on very easily if chocolate or cake is at hand. Bake off has a lot to answer for as it always makes me crave a slice of Victoria Sandwich but, if my hands are busy with a hook, I can resist!

Are there any crochet designers you particularly admire?
There are so many wonderful designers out there its difficult to choose. I like designers that inspire people to want to crochet and who encourage and produce easy designs that look fabulous. I have been lucky enough to meet up with Lucy at Attic24 quite a few times now and she is definitely Queen of crochet inspiration. I also love the work of Sandra at Cherry Heart, Kara at Petals to Picots and Dragana at Dada’s Place.

What inspired you to write a blog? When did you start blogging?
I started my blog in April 2014 so it’s coming up to 2 years old now. I’d recently lost my mum, who I was very close to and realise now that I used crafting and creating as a way to handle my sadness. I’m interested in all sorts of crafts – handmade books, silversmithing and beading – as well as crochet but I sort of got side-tracked by the hooking and it’s become the focus of the blog. That might change over time but, for now, I’m really interested in sharing my ideas and patterns and makes.

Do you have crocheted treasure? A piece that you could never part with, a gift or maybe something you have made yourself?
I have three small crocheted dolls and some fine crochet lace that were made by my great grandmother. I remember them from my childhood and I found them in my mum’s things after she died, all placed in a special pouch with my great grandmother’s wedding ring. I can’t say for sure that they were made by her but I think there is a very good chance.

You make lots of lovely crochet bags, what other items do you enjoy crocheting?
I like making blankets but they take a lot of time and I find I can’t rattle off blankets very quickly. I love my autumn inspired chunky hexagon blanket, which sits on top of my bed. I’m half way through a seascape ripple, which I must get round to finishing but bags do rather take over!


If you could give us just one crochet tip, what would it be?
Get a little notebook and write down notes to yourself about crochet projects that you do. This is really important for me when I’m designing but even when I’m doing something with a pattern, its essential to note down the colours of yarn, hook size, what the pattern is and any changes you have made as you’ve gone along. We are all guilty of putting projects away for a while and after just a few weeks I find I open up a carefully wrapped piece of crochet with no idea what hook size I was using or exactly which blog I downloaded the pattern from.

What inspired you to start a bag along?
It started sort of accidentally. I’ve always wanted to knit a pair of socks so I joined in with the Sockalong by Christine of Winwick Mum last year. I actually made a sock (still to make one to match but we’ll gloss over that…) and joked on Instagram that we could have a Bag-along and make crochet bags. The response blew me away so I set up the Bagalong group on Facebook to make my Retro Granny Stash bag, expecting it to generate a bit of interest for a month and fizzle out. I’m amazed that so many people are interested in crochet bags – we now have 4000 members and they are all bag-crazy!


Just some of Kathryn’s crocheted bagalong delights.


lace flower bag

Do you find yourself attracted to a certain colour or colour palette when you are starting a new project?
I love bright colours but I also like dramatic palletes and pastels. Vintage greys and muted tones look fabulous. Like I said – so much to crochet, so little time…

kathryn_saraSara and Kathryn in the fabric room surrounded by lots of Kathryn’s designs,

Designer Q & A’s – Arne & Carlos

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 10-02-2016



Arne & Carlos

[Credit – 30 Slippers to Knit and Felt, Arne and Carlos Knitting Scandinavian Style, Arne and Carlos’ Easter Knits, Knitted Dolls with a Designer Wardrobe, 55 Christmas Balls to Knit, Knit and Crochet Garden]

In anticipation of the upcoming workshop and lecture with Arne and Carlos at the Craft Barn, I sent over a few questions to find out more about the talented duo. The answers below are just a brief snippet into their creative lives, I am sure they will have lots more to share in their lecture on 23rd February 2016. If you can’t make it to the lecture* (there are still a few places left) you won’t miss out completely as we do plan to film a short video with them too. Keep an eye out on our YouTube channel for this popping up.

*If you would like to book a place on the afternoon lecture (2pm -3pm) please call 01925 764231 or email

When did you first pick up a pair of knitting needles and learn to knit?

Who taught you? Did you knit / crochet from a young age? Arne started very young, probably before Primary School. He learnt from his mother, grandmother and great grandmother, as they all lived under the same roof, in a farm in the traditional Gudbrandsdal region of Norway, where his ancestors have continuously lived since the early 17th century. Carlos learnt as a child too, also at school, as crafts were taught to children at school in Seden in the late 70s. He stopped knitting for a while, though, and picked it up again as an adult.

Can you recall your very first finished project? What did you make?

Arne made a scarf with the letters: ABBA. Carlos can’t remember, made a bracelet for his mom.

How did you get into designing?

Arne has a degree in fashion design for the school of design in Norway, so he is a professional designer and also worked as a teacher in fashion design and pattern construction.

Your first book ‘55 Christmas Balls to Knit’ was a phenomenal success and has now been published in over 10 different languages. What inspired the choice of Christmas baubles?

It was just the idea, of taking the already existing, traditional knitting patterns that form part of our heritage and finding a new way to use them. The idea of a bauble was very appealing, because it was a small item that could be knitted very quickly. At the time, no one was knitting Christmas Balls.

Do you prefer to make small scale projects, such as baubles or larger items, such as garments?  

Definitely small projects.

What would be your one knitting accessory that you can’t live without?

A nice thick scarf, to protect us from the cold Norwegian winter.

I read that you have worked with many international brands including fashion house Comme des Garçons. That must have been an exciting opportunity, what did you design?

Do you have any photographs? Among other things, we designed the Space Invader Sweater that Arne wears on the cover of 55 Christmas Balls to knit.


Can you give us just one knitting tip?

Knitting tip: When you knit with 2 colours, always carry the thread you are not knitting with for a maximum of 5 stitches, then twist with the other thread, to lock it. That way, you wont have too long floats. If you need to twist on more than one row, make sure you never twist in the same place in the row immediately after, as the other colour will show through.

Do you have a favourite colour combination you are always drawn to for your fair isle knits?

No. We like to work with all colours. I think the way we put colours together is what makes us stand out from all the other designers. We do it instinctively.

Do you enjoy knitting for yourself? If so, what do you make?

Yes we do, but unfortunately it’s been ages since we had time to make something for ourselves.

Where is your favourite place to knit?

In winter, it’s in front of the fireplace. In summer, it’s in the garden.

Where do you begin when you are starting to design for a new book? Do you begin with colour, a theme etc?

We usually start with a small idea and then look for ways to develop. It is not easy to explain how we do it, though.

Do you have a knitted / crocheted treasure? A piece that you could never part with, a gift or maybe something you have made yourself?

Actually, we have an archive of old knitted pieces that we collect. The most precious ones are the jackets and sweaters knitted by Arne’s grandmother, as they are exceptionally well made.

What exciting projects do you have coming up in 2016? Anything that you can share with us?

We are excited about the first catalogue for Schachenmayr (I believe it’s for Patons in the UK) that will be out in the summer and also about the new yarns we have designed for Schachenmayr.

Designer Q & A’s – Martin Storey

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 29-01-2016



Yesterday saw the launch of the very first pattern of Martin Storey’s second Rowan Knit Along (KAL). Martin Storey’s first Knit Along took place in 2014 and was a huge success. Patterns were released over a period of weeks a square at a time. With the final pattern released being the sewing up instructions to guide how to join the beautiful jig-saw of squares together. Sara enjoyed taking part in the KAL too and took her blanket on display at the many craft shows we attend throughout the country. Many of our customers enjoyed taking part including a lady called Chris who’s blanket can be seen in the photo below.


Martin has gone for a different look this time round with 4 colour ways to choose from all in tonal shades, still using the Rowan Pure Wool Worsted yarn, exploring the many different shades there are on offer. The colour packs are available to order on the website already made up for you.


We are lucky enough to have the 2016 KAL blanket up on display in the Craft Barn at the moment. It really is a fantastic blanket that has had so many positive comments, both the design and choice of yarn. If  you are taking part in the knit along please do share your progress with us on social media or on email


To coincide with the start of the Martin Storey knit along 2016 I got the chance to ask Martin a few questions about his life as a designer and working on his second KAL.


When did you first pick up a pair of knitting needles and get the knitting bug?

I first got the knitting bug around the age of 5 or 6. I was taught to knit by my infant teacher, the wonderful Mrs Cross. Mrs Cross felt it important that both boys and girls learnt the basic skills of knitting, sewing and cooking. I still remember the plastic pink and yellow needles we learnt to knit with!

What was your first ever knitting project?

One of my first projects was a very badly knitted scarf, sweater and pair of trousers for Sindy’s boyfriend ‘Paul’ – at the time [the early 1960’s], a very popular fashion, teen-doll. I still have ‘Paul’ dressed in his original knitted outfit.

What / who influenced you to take the next step and pursue knitting as a career?

Around the late 1970’s, friend of a friend introduced me to the fabulous and at the time, quite ground-breaking handknit designs of Patricia Roberts. I just loved her early work and it was probably her design influence that got me thinking about a career in knitwear.

Your first knit along one was a huge success. We can’t wait for your second Rowan knit along to begin. This time you have gone for a tonal colour palette, what inspired the colour choice and overall design?

For my KAL 2 in the Pure Wool Superwash Worsted, I looked to the motifs, textures and colours of our North Europe, knitting traditions. The knitted textures and colourwork patterns of the Shetland Isles; the Faeroe Isles, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland. A look which is currently very popular in interior fabric, wallpaper and fashion design. Unlike my first KAL, the knitter can now choose from four, classic tonal palettes, chosen to fit in with the most popular, interior colour schemes. A very soft and natural palette: a calming, blue palette; a fresh green and a zingy, spice palette. Whichever colour suits your mood and interior.

Can a beginner knitter join in with the KAL? What sort of stitches will feature?

Once again this KAL has been designed with the beginner knitter in mind. In the first KAL we explored simple texture created by knit & purl stitches, together with simple lace and cable techniques. Having gained those skills, I’ve developed them a stage further and in this blanket we start to create more recognisable motifs in both one colour and two colour squares. Delicate heart motifs in simple texture, lace and with a further option that introduces the beginner knitter to a simple bead technique; Nordic tree motifs in texture and eyelet stitches; A fun, moss stitch spots square. Linking all these motif squares together and introducing a brand new ‘colourwork’ skill for this KAL, I have designed three squares in two colours and without the ‘fairisle-headache’ of stranding or weaving the yarns at the wrong side of work. These colourwork squares are all achieved by working two or four rows in each colour [as if you were working a stripe] and the colour-effect gained by simply slipping stitches.

How do you begin the design process? What comes first a knitted swatch or a sketch of the design?

Before I even put pen to paper or yarn to needles! I begin with lots & lots of research from all sources. I buy all the best fashion magazines every month [a must for keeping up with knitting trends], I have a huge collection of vintage knitting patterns, old cross stitch & embroidery books [great for colour work inspiration]. I trawl antique fairs for interesting fabrics, charity shops, people wearing interesting knits on the street, the internet, on holiday, films, watching the tv! Then, once I’ve compiled all my research, I start to refine ideas into groups and that’s when my actual designing process begins. From this point it’s normally a swatch first and when I’m happy with the look of the swatch, I start to sketch out the ideas into a knit-shape.

What excites you about knitting? The 3D fabric it creates, the variety of stitches, yarn or the endless possibilities?

I suppose I particularly enjoy designing for men, usually with myself in mind, so I know that I can get something I wanted knitted! Anything textured or cabled is my signature handknit design – though I am rediscovering the joy of designing handknits in fairisle or intarsia colourwork. Pattern and colour are once again, very popular in hand knitting.

Does the yarn you are using influence your design?

Yes, for example if I was working on a cable or texture design then I tend to go for the more traditional ‘pure wool’ yarns that in my opinion always show cables to their best effect. For colourwork my ‘go-to’ yarn is Felted Tweed. The Felted Tweed colour palette is sumptuous and the yarn gives colourwork pattern a real vintage and timeless feel. I used Felted Tweed in my recent, ‘Easy Fairisle Knits’ book.

Which other designers do you admire?

Oh, a difficult one to answer. I’ve always admired all my fellow Rowan designers:- Kim Hargreaves, Marie Wallin, Lisa Richardson and Sarah Hatton. Also, I very much like Jared Flood’s, ‘Brooklyn Tweed’ range of designs and the uniqueness of Steven West – I particularly admire his bright choice of colours and the originality of his knit designs.

What is your favourite yarn to knit with?

I love working with Felted Tweed. The colour palette is sumptuous and the yarn gives pattern and texture a real vintage and timeless feel. I used Felted Tweed for my recent book ‘Easy Fairisle Knits’. The sequel ‘More Easy Fairisle Knits’ is due to be launched this summer 2016.

Do you enjoy knitting for yourself? If so what do you make?

These days, I don’t tend to knit much for myself. My knitting time is usually spent on swatch ideas or experimenting with stitches. I recently started knitting myself a shawl collar jacket. I got the back knitted up quite quickly and put it aside to concentrate on design. Six months later it’s still sitting there, waiting to be completed….!

Do you have a knitted treasure? A piece that you could never part with, a gift or maybe something you have made yourself?

Yes, my Patricia Roberts grapes and cherries slipover. It was my first challenging knit that I made way back in the early 1980’s. I took it along to my interview for a place at Art School, where it was much admired and I believe the reason I was offered a place on the course.

If you could give us just one knitting tip, what would it be?

When slipping stitches, always slip the stitch purlwise unless otherwise stated on the pattern. This will help to prevent your stitch from twisting. This is how I would advise to slip the stitches on my new KAL.

With a new year ahead of you what knitting plans do you have for 2016? Are there any projects you can share?

Design-wise, 2016 is going to be a busy year for me! The sequel to ‘Easy Fairisle Knits’, ‘More Easy Fairisle Knits’ is due to be published this summer. Also, two new books in the pipeline for autumn 2016 – a sequel to ‘Nordic Knits’ and a book featuring Afghan throws, blankets and cushions for the home. In the meantime, I will continue to contribute designs for the Rowan Magazine and their seasonal brochures.



Q&A with Knit Now Editor Kate Heppell

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 12-11-2015



We are really looking forward to our fabulously, festive Knitmas evening next Thursday at the Craft Barn. There will be lots of fun Christmas demonstrations from members of the Black Sheep team and an interesting talk from Knit Now magazine Editor, Kate Heppell. We thought we would get to know Kate and Knit Now magazine a bit better before the event with a quick Q & A. Kate has kindly answered a selection of questions below, she has even included a couple of photos too. The ‘Staggered Cardigan’ looks like the perfect kind of cardigan to wear with everything! Not only is Kate the Editor of Knit Now, she also creates incredible pattern designs too.

Describe your magazine in 3 words…..

Inspiring, modern, friendly

What type of things might we find in an issue of Knit Now?

We try to pack every issue full of projects to suit a variety of tastes, so you’ll always find some quick accessories, toys and baby knits as well as stylish garments to fit and flatter – including plus sizes! We also have how-to features, interviews with interesting people, competitions and giveaways. One of my favourite features is the review, where we get a group of real knitters to test out some new yarns and give their opinions.

As the Editor of Knit Now magazine do you often get tempted with all of the new projects in each issue?

Oh, I’m tempted every issue – most of what we publish is there because I want to knit it! Unfortunately though, I don’t have as much knitting time as I would like and most of that is taken up with design work so it’s rare that I ever manage to knit anything from the magazine unless it’s something I’ve designed myself.

How old were you when you learnt to knit?

I was taught to knit at school when I was 11 but I didn’t really take to it. I ended up begging my Nanny and Grandma to finish the teddy bear we’d been told to knit. I knitted a few little things in my teens I was much more into sewing and dressmaking, but I took up knitting again when I was at University and haven’t looked back since.

Can you remember the very first thing you knitted?

Well, there was that teddy bear which I did for school, but I don’t think that really counts since my Nanny and Grandma finished it off for me! I think the first thing I finished was a rainbow-stripe belt with beaded tassels when I was about 13. It was definitely not as cool as I thought it was.

What kind of knitter are you? Do you keep to one project at once or do you have plenty on the go at once?

I’m definitely much more of a starter than a finisher! I’ve got loads of projects in hibernation and unless I’m on a deadline it can take me a long time to finish something because I’m easily distracted.

Do you enjoy any other crafts? If so, what?

I do enjoy sewing, and my colleague Amy (editor of Love Sewing – she blogs at has an infectious enthusiasm for dressmaking, so she’s got me stitching again. I made my pocket money when I was at uni from making clothes out of old duvet covers, so most of my fabric stash is Rainbow Brite, Duckula and Postman Pat though – I should probably invest in some more practical fabric!

Do you have a top knitting tip you would like to share?

When you’re knitting Fair Isle or stranded knits – don’t twist the yarn at the back of your work unless you want a very dense fabric. I see so many patterns which tell knitters to twist the yarn at every colour change and that only applies to intarsia, not stranded knits. Always carry the main colour above and the contrast colour below.


When you get the opportunity to make something for yourself what type of thing do you like to make?

My favourite technique is stranded knitting – I love designing patterns with a colour work yoke or cute colour work hats. The only problem is that I have warm blood, so if I knit myself a wool jumper I rarely end up wearing it!

Are you making anything at the moment?

I’m currently working on a secret project featuring a well-loved children’s TV character so I can’t show you that! But when I go on holiday next week I’ll be taking a pack of Rowan Calmer that I bought from Black Sheep last year – I think it’ll become a comfy cardigan. I think I’m going to knit the Staggered Cardigan from Issue 45 of Knit Now – I’ve been eyeing it up ever since we published it!


What yarns catch your eye? Are you always drawn to a particular colour, fibre or yarn weight?

At the moment, I’m in love with lightweight chunky yarns – so I can knit big cosy jumpers and scarves without them weighing a tonne! There are some great ones out this year like Debbie Bliss Paloma and Rowan Kidsilk Amore.

Is there a yarn brand that you just can’t resist?

It wouldn’t be fair for me to play favourites – every yarn brand I work with has at least one yarn that I love. My favourite fibre to work with is Shetland wool – it’s just so satisfyingly crisp and cosy.

Do you have something that you made or received as a handmade gift that you can’t part with? Something that you will keep and treasure forever?

Way back in Issue 28 we published one of Emma Wright’s first garment patterns – a lovely raglan jumper with a diamond-patterned yoke, knitted in Blacker Yarns’ lovely cosy wool. The sample fitted me and I posted a photo of me wearing it on the shoot in a very cold house up in Rochdale. Emma saw the photo and told me to keep the jumper – it’s stored very safely in a vacuum-packed bag in a suitcase in the bottom of my wardrobe.


On what sort of scale would you say your yarn stash is?

Relatively modest actually! It used to be pretty huge but after a hellish moth infestation last year, I trimmed it right down to a manageable level and packed everything into Ziploc bags – it’s only about 3 medium-sized boxes now.


Designer Q & A’s – Mr X Stitch

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 15-09-2015



We are very excited to be hosting an event with Jamie Chalmers aka Mr X Stitch at the Craft Barn in October. Jamie will be hosting two workshops and one presentation on Saturday 24th October. Take a look on our website for more information. There are places available on the AM workshop and PM workshop. It is set to be a day full of fun and cross stitch!

To coincide with the event we asked Jamie a few questions to find out more about his cross stitching and being Mr X Stitch.

mr x stitch grey

How long have you been cross stitching?

About twelve years. I was late getting into it, but I’m glad I found cross stitch in the end!

What inspired you to get into the craft?

I was looking for a pastime for a long-haul flight, found an art nouveau cross stitch kit in a shop and thought it would be funny to try such a traditionally “old lady” craft. As it turns out, it’s a brilliant thing to do and I fell in love with it – the rest, as they say, is history.

Where is your favourite place to cross stitch?

My lounge at home is definitely up there, as are Florence and New York, but more often than not I’ll end up stitching on planes and trains – cross stitch is an ideal craft for travelling and as long as your scissor blade length is under 4cm, there’s no bother with airport security.

What is the last project you finished?

The irony is that I’m so busy being Mr X Stitch that I don’t get a lot of time to do stitching. I recently finished a cross stitched version of the Nirvana album cover, which took quite a while to do – there’s a lot of blue stitching in there!

nirvana Mr X Stitch

Do you listen to music or watch TV whilst stitching? If so, what?

I like stitching while watching the TV, as I feel like I’m slightly wasting my time otherwise. Recently I’ve stitched my way through the latest series of Orange is the New Black, which was ace. Pretty much any telly is good for stitching, unless there’s subtitles..!

Are there any other crafts that you enjoy?

I’ve tried my hand at a fair few crafts, and enjoyed carpentry while I was doing it. I get a lot of enjoyment from cooking, and that’s something I’m definitely trying to improve on.

What is the most unusual design you have ever stitched?

I did a cross stitch of one of my ninja cats, stitching a black animal on black canvas. It was pretty tricky to see at times but I’m glad with the results.


If you could give us one crafty tip what would it be?

Make sure you’ve got good light! Eyesight is important, so don’t abuse it!

Whose work / designs do you admire?

There are loads of great needlework designers, but one that immediately springs to mind is Hannah Bass, whose needlepoint designs of city maps are really fresh with great colours.

Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

I’m in an enviable position to have seen thousands of pictures of embroidery over the seven years I’ve been Mr X Stitch, so I’m never short of inspiration. Trying to find an original idea when I see people doing such amazing work, now that’s the challenge!

Do you have a piece of work that you will treasure for ever? What is it?

I’ve been lucky to have collected some great embroideries over the years, swapping with people and buying the odd piece. One of my favourites is a needle felted tentacle that I got from Zoe Williams, an amazing artist from New York. It lives in my lounge and I love it.


Designer Q & A’s – Craft Cotton Company

Posted by Amy | Posted in Designer Q&A's | Posted on 07-09-2015

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A couple of weeks back we had a visit from Vicky, who is Head of Design at The Craft Cotton Company. She had brought along some very exciting new fabric kits and swatches for us to take a peek at. We currently stock cute fat quarter bundles from the Craft Cotton Company, that are ideal for patchwork projects. Each bundle contains 6 fat quarters in assorted designs, often based around a colour theme or contrasting prints. A lovely finishing touch to the stack of fabrics is a pretty ribbon to bring them all together. In the next few months we will be adding more Craft Cotton fabrics to the website.

In the mean time we thought it might be nice to find out more about Craft Cotton Company designer Vicky Cowley. With so many beautiful designs under her belt we wanted to know – how does she come up with so many fab designs? Read all of her answers below along with some extra photos.

Craft Cotton Company

How did you get into designing fabrics?

I was approached by the Craft Cotton Company through a friend who had told them about me and my passion for design and crafting, the rest was history! I already had a background in fashion design and textiles so it was an easy and fun transition to make.

Where do you find inspiration?

I get inspiration from everywhere really, I see it in everyday life. However, if I am actively looking for inspiration I will go to Pinterest as I think this is a fantastic library full of brilliant ideas and images which often escalate into something else! I also love looking at homeware and interiors for fabric, trend and colour inspiration.

Out of all the designs you have done, do you have a favourite?

It is really hard to pick a favourite as I love them all for different reasons, but if I had to pick one I would say one of my newest creations ‘A vintage tea party’ is my favourite so far.

Craft Cotton fabric

How long have you been designing?

I have been designing officially for 6 years within fashion and textiles but unofficially since I was a child. When I was younger I used to love designing clothes, gardens, houses I was always drawing and designing something!

Do you sew? If so, what do you enjoy making?

I don’t get time to sew as much as I would like these days but my favourite things to make are cushion covers as they can add a new look to your room and freshen it up very quickly. I cannot count the amount of cushions I have in my house!

What was the first ever sewing project you made? Was it a success?

I remember sewing a patchwork cushion cover in textiles when I was about 14, this is the first thing I remember sewing and was very pleased with it when I had finished! When I was studying clothing design and pattern cutting at University I did made a few horrors but it all clicked into place towards the end! I love making clothes but prefer to make items for my home.

What other crafts do you enjoy doing?

I love anything that involves being creative! I am a huge fan of scrap booking and mood boards, I can literally create a mood board for any occasion! I am currently planning my wedding so I have experimented with making invites and also tried my hand at a bit of floristry and I can honestly say I love it all!

Of all the Craft Cotton /Visage fabrics which is your a favourite?

My favourite fabric would have to be the Patchwork Dove which was the first Fat Quarter set I ever designed and it originated from a cushion I had made previously when I used to run my craft business so it has a personal story behind it.

bird cushion

craft cotton company

craft cotton company
Are you always drawn to a particular colour / colour palette?

I tend to get drawn towards more muted shades and pastel colours. However when you are designing for a wide range of customers you have to be open to colours you wouldn’t normally consider, I often look for different colour palettes on Pinterest.

Do you read any craft magazines? If so which ones?

We are lucky to get Quilt Now and Simply Homemade in our office and I will often have a flick through these as I love the contemporary look they have and all of the brilliant ideas they come up with that I would never have thought of.

If you could give us one patchwork / sewing tip what would it be?
From my own experience I have 3 sewing tips all of which save time and frustration, the 1st would be to ALWAYS keep a quick-unpick nearby I hate having to route around for one when I’m in the middle of a project and make a mistake. The second would be always leave enough thread through your sewing machine needle, there is nothing worse than sewing the straightest neatest seam in the world and then realising that it hasn’t even stitched! The third would be, always check you have enough of your colour thread before you start a project, I have been known to start a project Sunday afternoon, run out of thread and have to wait until Monday evening after work to finish something I couldn’t wait to complete because all the shops are shut and I couldn’t buy anymore thread!

Which designers do you admire?

I really admire Cath Kidston, I love how she started her business from a small store in London making tea towels and has grown it to the size it is today, I think it has a brilliant story behind it, I adore the cute/novelty prints too. I am also a huge fan of the Laura Ashley brand as the style is more grown up and colours are easier to work with when decorating your home. I also love watching Kirstie Allsopp on TV as she isn’t afraid to try her hand at anything, which is very similar to myself! Not many people know that Cath Kidston and Kirstie are cousins and that Cath’s family used to be neighbours with the Ashley family. I admire them all and find it interesting that all my favourite people are connected in a certain way.