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.


Hand – Dyeing Workshops with Debbie Tomkies

Posted by Amy | Posted in Company News | Posted on 11-05-2017

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Have you ever dreamed about creating your own yarn? What colours would it be? What weight would you go for? All of your wishes can come true at one of Debbie Tomkies Hand – Dyeing Workshops at the Craft Barn.
Debbie is a textile designer with over 25 years experience. She runs workshops at various locations working with both yarn and fabric. Debbie also runs a social enterprise called ‘Making Futures’, working with colleges and community groups, doing creative activities to help build confidence and self-esteem. Not only that, Debbie is also an author of three books.

This summer Debbie Tomkies will be teaching two different hand – dyeing workshops, one using natural dye extracts and the other using synthetic dyes. A great excuse to have a day of fun playing with colour. Each participant will be given a 100g hank of yarn to dye. Debbie will bring a selection of Merino, Bluefaced Leicester and wool blends in either sock (4ply), laceweight or DK. As part of the workshop Debbie will also give everyone one of her pattern designs, so that you can get started knitting or crocheting your hank of beautifully dyed yarn as soon as you get home.

I asked Debbie for a run down of the difference between the two workshops –

“In terms of the differences between the synthetic and natural dyes, I would say that the synthetics are more repeatable and give more reliable repeatability between batches. It is also easier to predict the final colour as the dyes look on a test paper much the same as they will look on the final yarn. The synthetic dyes give the full range of colours from very bright to soft, muted tones and pastels (they needn’t all be eye-popping brights!). Synthetic dyes are very consistent in terms of strength and it is relatively easy to predict how much dye to use to give a desired depth of colour. Synthetic dyes are ideally suited to a wide range of techniques, including immersion, handpaints, rainbow dyeing, gradient dyeing, speckling and all kinds of fun projects. They are also suitable for fibres, fabrics and other natural materials.

The natural dyes, on the other hand, have more tonal qualities as they often contain numerous different colour components within the plant itself. This gives a subtle toning to natural dyes that is harder to achieve with synthetics. The natural dyes can certainly be rich in shade and give deep colours but tend not to be on the ‘neon-bright’ end of the spectrum! Natural dyes are a little harder to predict as the powders tend to look quite different and often the colour only really blossoms once the dyeing is in progress. Of course that is part of the magic! Natural dyes are also sensitive to other factors. Colours can be changed by adjusting water pH or by adding ‘colour modifiers’ (for example, citric acid, iron sulphate or sodium carbonate). This really extends the colour palette and makes for interesting combinations. Natural dyes can be used for handpainting and other techniques but this does take a little more mastering than with synthetics. Like synthetics they can be used on virtually any natural fibre, yarn, fabric or other material.”

Hand-Dyeing wih Synthetic Dyes

Introduction to Hand – Dyeing with Synthetic Dyes is taking place on Saturday 20th May. This is a full day workshop that costs £65, which includes all materials, a delicious finger buffet lunch and a tea break in the afternoon with homemade cake. You will have a gorgeous hank of yarn to take home and one of Debbie Tomkies’ patterns.

Hand – Dyeing with Natural Dye Extracts

The Introduction to Hand – Dyeing with Natural Dye Extracts workshop is taking place on Friday 2nd June and cost £65 for the full day.. Natural dye extracts are so versatile and easy to use. There are so many beautiful colours that can be created mixing the powders. The same applies for the natural dye extract workshop to the synthetic, all materials are provided (including a pinny) and your choice of 100g hank of yarn to dye.

We are always updating our workshops listings online. If hand-dyeing doesn’t take your fancy, then take a look at the many other workshops that we offer.


Emily Learns to Sew

Posted by Amy | Posted in Staff Projects | Posted on 17-03-2016



Emily recently joined in with Yvonne’s ‘Learn to Sew‘ 5 week course at the Craft Barn. She has always been interested in the idea of sewing and couldn’t wait to get settled on the machine and sew her first seam. Emily works in customer services, it is her cheery voice that you hear on the phone and she also answers all of your email queries too. Always busy she enjoyed taking a mini break from her day job to learn how to sew. With all of the gorgeous fabrics that we all see passing by on a daily basis, the temptation of sewing was bound to take a hold sooner or later.

Each week Yvonne taught a different aspect of sewing. Week 1 – exploring different fabrics and patterns, week 2 – understanding the sewing machine and seam widths whilst making a panelled cushion front, week 3 – finishing off the cushion cover and putting in a zip, week 4 – making a cosmetic bag with zip and lining, week 5 – making a peg bag with lining and bias binding.


Week 2 – Emily chose a selection of fabrics, including many Kaffe Fassestt designs for her cushion front.


Week 3 – Emily sewed in her first concealed zip and added in a cushion pad to plump up her finished cushion cover.


Emily answered a few questions to tell us more about her experience on the 5 week course.

Have you ever done any sewing previously?

No, but I have always been interested and I’ve watched my mum sew at home.

What made you choose to do the ‘learn to sew’ workshop?

After watching the sewing Bee I was fascinated by the way clothes were made and how there is so much detail involved. Before I did the workshop with Yvonne I didn’t realise how many different variations of zips there were! Being surrounded by so many nice fabrics I couldn’t help but want to learn.

Do you think that you will continue to sew?

Yes, I plan to make a skirt for the summer. It’s just going to be a hard decision with all of the lovely fabrics we stock.

Did you enjoy Yvonne’s tecahing style?

Yvonne was a brilliant teacher. She was very patient and explained everything very clearly. If any of us came across a problem she always took the time to explain again. The five weeks were planned well. I like the way each week was dedicated to a different skill.

Over the 5 weeks you covered many techniques, which was your favourite week?

I was pleased when I completed my cushion cover and learnt to sew in my very first zip. Another week I enjoyed was learning how bias binding works, whilst making the peg bag with a curved edge.

Do you feel the workshop met your expectations?

I learnt a lot more than I thought I would and like the fact that we made mini projects throughout. I strongly recommend anyone who has never sewn before to come along to the next learn to sew workshop with Yvonne. I especially liked the length of the workshop, having it split over 5 weeks into 2.5 hour sessions made the information less overwhelming and more enjoyable.


Week 4 – Emily made a lined cosmetic bag, with zip. There are a few pins as Emily hadn’t finished it off when I grabbed it for a photo.


Week 5 – Here is Emily’s peg bag with bias binding. There are still a few pins as she was ready to finish this part at home.


We plan to run a similar workshop again later in the year. If this looks like something you would be interested in, please take a look on our workshops page for upcoming dates.


Behind the scenes at a workshop

Posted by Amy | Posted in Company News | Posted on 03-08-2015



We are so lucky to be able to hold so many fantastic workshops here at the Craft Barn. Nestled away, behind the scenes of the hustle and bustle of the Craft Barn you will find our serene and spacious workshop room, a sanctuary for crafters to hideaway for the day, whilst learning a new skill. From time to time you will also recognise a member of staff joining in too – giving in to temptation. It really is hard to resist the number of exciting workshops that we have on offer!

Take a look below at a selection of photographs taken during various workshops at the Craft Barn in Warrington and a sneaky peek at some of the projects too. If there is a workshop that catches your eye be sure to click through to our workshops page and see if you can spot it on the list. If you can’t, then please do email me – and we will look into booking the subject again in the future. It is always great to have your feedback 🙂

Jane Crowfoot - Fun with Crochet


An abundance of chaos and colour on Jane Crowfoot’s Lily Pond Bag workshop.

Jane Crowfoot - Fun with Crochet

Crocheting with beads and lots of colour on Jane’s bag workshop.

Jane Crowfoot workshop

Spinning with Cathy Wright.

spinning workshop

spinning workshop

Leave at the end of the day with your own hank, handspun by you!

spinning workshop

Learn to Sew with Melanie Boocock. Everyone has there own Pfaff sewing machine to use on the day.

Learn to Sew with Melanie Boocock

Make a pretty pinny, whilst learning all of the basics you need to start sewing.

Learn to Sew with Melanie Boocock

How about hand applique with Melanie Boocock. Create your own design and make it into a note book cover, bag or tablet cover.

Hand applique with Melanie Boocock

Hand applique with Melanie Boocock

Join Melanie for ‘Hand Applique‘ on Friday 9th October 2015.

hand applique with melanie boocock




September Workshops 2015

Posted by Amy | Posted in Company News | Posted on 22-07-2015

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Wait until you see all of the exciting workshops we have lined up for this autumn. There are plenty of new additions, plus many favourites back by popular demand. We are always looking to add new workshops to our repertoire, so if there are any that you would like to see held at the Craft Barn please get in touch and we will see what we can do – email:

We have a selection of knitting, crochet, patchwork and sewing workshops aimed at all levels of crafter. They aren’t just for those picking up a new skill, oh no – we have workshops for the well-seasoned  crafter to advance their skills further too. There are a mixture of both full and half day mini workshops to choose from taught by either Rowan tutors or our highly talented members of staff.


Our very own Barbara will be teaching her very popular ‘Basics of Patchwork‘ workshop on Thursday 3rd September. This is a great 2½ hour workshop to help kick start your love of patchwork.

basics of patchwork workshop


Rowan tutor Jem Weston will be sharing her love of toy knitting and cute creatures in her brand new workshop ‘Toy Knitting‘ on Friday 4th September.

toy knitting workshop


Rowan tutor Melanie Boocock will be teaching the first patchwork workshop of the new season ‘Patchwork Bag‘ on Saturday 5th September. This workshop is perfect for those who are new to patchwork or those who wish to brush up on their skills.

patchwork bag workshop

patchwork bag workshop


Black Sheep Yvonne has had fabulous reviews about her 4 week ‘Intro to Sewing‘ workshop. Over the 4 weeks Yvonne will guide you through to begin your sewing journey. The course will be held on consecutive Thursday mornings starting with Thursday 10th September and ending on Thursday 1st October.

intro to sewing workshop


Jane Crowfoot will be back for two workshops on Friday 11th September and Saturday 12th September. On Friday she will be teaching ‘Fair Isle & Intarsia knitting‘ then ‘Professional Finishing‘ on Saturday 12th.

fair isle and intarsia knitting workshop


Rowan tutor Carol Meldrum has a brand new workshop for autumn – ‘Brioche and Tuck Stitch Knitting‘ on Friday 18th September. This would be a great technique to learn for making gorgeous scarves and snoods this winter. On the day you will start making a cowl.

brioche and tuck workshop

brioche and tuck knitting workshop


Carol will also be teaching ‘Learn to Crochet‘ the following day on Saturday 19th September.

learn to crochet workshop


Betsan Corkhill will be holding a unique workshop based around her book – ‘Therapeutic Knitting‘ on Saturday 26th September.

therapeutic knitting workshop


All of our workshops are held in our fantastic workshop room within the Craft Barn in Warrington. Julie or Jayne will look after you throughout the day keeping you fed and watered with a delicious lunch, mouth-watering cakes and fresh pots of tea.

There are many more workshops taking place throughout October, November and December. Take a look here on our workshops page for more information.

Testing, testing 123

Posted by Amy | Posted in Company News | Posted on 12-09-2014



Last week myself and three other ladies from our knitting group spent the day as guinea pigs. Obviously not the cute furry kind, we were willing volunteers for the lovely Jem Weston. She is embarking on a new journey as a Rowan workshop tutor. For many years she was our wonderful Coats rep, sharing the new products from Rowan, Patons, SMC and Anchor, plus our latest addition Coats fabric. Always full of enthusiasm and knowledge taking the step to become a Rowan tutor seems like the perfect job for Jem. She also designs for Rowan and last year brought out a book showcasing her talents – ‘Cute Little Knits’.

Before the start of her workshop calendar next month Jem asked if she could do a test run of her professional finishing workshop here at the Craft Barn. I was quite excited to do a professional finishing workshop as this is a workshop I have not done before. Finishing is not high up there on my list of fun things to do, so I was eager to learn and hopefully in time learn to enjoy completing any future garments I make.


The day went by so quickly with lots of different techniques covered including 2 different cast on methods, button holes, three needle cast off, increasing, decreasing, short row shaping and mattress stitch – which I now absolutely love! Mattress stitch should be called ‘magic’ stitch. I find it incredibly fascinating how the pieces marry up so perfectly creating the illusion of no seam at all. Of all the things I learnt, this has got to be my favourite and so useful too.



Jem was a fabulous tutor taking the time to explain each technique carefully and demonstrating as she worked her way around everyone. She was also on hand to help resurrect any minor mistakes. Which there weren’t many of I must add, well, apart from when I managed to create a hole somehow?! Throughout the day we were making a little cardigan covering the techniques as we went along. I am ashamed to say I haven’t completed my cardigan yet. Cathy and Sally from knitting group brought there’s in to show on Tuesday. Sally has even found a teddy bear to wear hers!