Monday 1 January 2018

New Year, new workshop dates and more

Happy New Year!
The blog has been very quiet, in fact I've neglected it entirely for months. So a New Year's resolution - blog more frequently. well, maybe....! You can always keep up with what I'm doing on Instagram, where you can find me as deborah.gray7.
 I've been winding up one phase of my life, my NHS job, and packing up one of my homes. In a week I will be a full-time resident in Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, and no longer splitting my time between two bases and two occupations.
2018 holds some exciting journeys, both literal and metaphorical. I am travelling to new Zealand and Australia to visit friends and soak up some antipodean inspiration, before spending the summer in Iceland at the Textilsetur in Blonduos. I'm going to be exploring some of the characteristics of the Icelandic sheep's two fibres, tog and thel, and using them to create some new yarn structures.
I'm also planning to spend more time spinning, knitting and designing, as well as baking, making and growing, all of which will be documented on Instagram if not here. Some of you may know that in my 'other' job I was a Public Health specialist, and I'm going to continue as a freelance mental health trainer, delivering Scotland's Mental Health First Aid and Suicide Prevention training around Scotland.
Some of my travels will involve teaching engagements, already lined up at Edinburgh Yarn Festival (15-17 March) and Shetland Wool Week (23 - 30 September). Those class details have to stay under wraps until the festival organisers release their programmes, but I'm very excited about them! I'm hopeful that the Fasanta Textile Festival will take place this year in Oban in October, and I will have an Open Studio weekend in August to exhibit the work I do in Iceland.
Of course I also have some workshops planned in Oban. Some dates are provisional so e-mail me if you are interested and I can confirm details.

Sat 3rd March  pm  Design and knit stranded colourwork bunting. £40 inc materials
[15th & 16th March -   Edinburgh Yarn Festival classes]
Sat 24th March  pm  Knitting Socks two-at-a-time and toe up.  £35  (email me for list of materials and needles to bring)
Sat 5th May  pm  Inspired by Scotland - blending fibres to create unique shades and mixes inspired by images of nature. £40 inc materials
Fri 24th - Sun 26th August Open Studio inc exhibition of work from Iceland
Sat 15th September  pm  Drop Spindle Spinning for beginners £40 inc materials
[23rd - 30th September -  Shetland Wool Week classes]
[12 - 14 October - Fasanta festival of textiles to be confirmed]
Sun 28th Oct  am Fleece preparation for handspinning  £40;  pm Drop Spindle Spinning for beginners £40 (or £70 for both classes)  inc materials
Sat 10th Nov  pm  Design and knit your own Fair Isle Christmas bauble £40 inc materials
Sun 2 Dec pm  Design and knit your own Fair Isle Christmas bauble £40 inc materials

Individual tuition for anyone who wants to learn or improve spinning or knitting skills can be arranged on mutually convenient dates.
For further details or to book, please email


Monday 6 February 2017

Workshops update - 2017

This year I am going to be delivering most of my workshops in Oban, at 22A Alexandra Place, Corran Esplanade PA34 5PU - so you can enjoy the view as well as the crafting! I'm also going to be teaching six classes in Lerwick during Shetland Wool Week (September) - details of these will be on the Shetland Wool Week site in due course.
 Here are the workshops I have planned from February to June 2017:
18th Feb 2 - 5pm FOLDED BOOK ORIGAMI
Learn how to upcycle an unwanted hardback book by folding the pages to create a design or word. Create an unusual decorative piece which makes a great gift. £35, materials included.
E-mail me in advance if you want a special word or name as I may have to design a new pattern for it.
4th March 2 - 5pm  FAIR ISLE KNITTING
Learn tips and techniques for better results with this traditional technique while starting a small project. Yarn provided - please bring a set of 4 double-pointed needles or a long (100cm) circular needle, size 3mm. £35
Bring along your own project or use the yarn provided for a pair of simple wristwarmers. £30
If you don't like knitting with double-pointed needles but want to knit in the round, tis is the class for you! knit a phone cover or start a circle while mastering this useful technique, a good one to add to your repertoire for knitting socks, sleeves, hats and circular shawls. Yarn provided, bring a 100cm long circular needle size 3mm.
An ancient, portable and inexpensive tool, a drop-spindle is the ideal way to learn to spin your own unique yarns. With the spindle we can slow the spinning process right down to learn the different steps involved. Once learned, the skills are transferable to the spinning wheel. Materials included. £40
Learn how to upcycle an unwanted hardback book by folding the pages to create a design or word. Create an unusual decorative piece which makes a great gift. £35, materials included.
E-mail me in advance if you want a special word or name as I may have to design a new pattern for it.
20th May 2 -5pm KNITTING SOCKS TWO AT A TIME and toe up

No more second-sock syndrome! Knit both socks at the same time, on one circular needle. Knit them toe-up to ensure perfect fit and matching. Knit them as long or as short as you like, or as your patience and yarn supply allow. Add colourwork, lace or cables to the basic pattern supplied.
Bring sock yarn and a 100cm long circular needle in the suitable size for the yarn (2.5 - 3mm). £30
If you are not confident with the Magic Loop technique I recommend my Introduction to Magic Loop Knitting workshop on 2nd April as preparation.
3rd June 2 - 5pm  BLENDING FIBRES inspired by the colours of Argyll
Delve deep into the world of colour in the Scottish landscape. Inspired by iconic images of Scotland we will deepen our appreciation of colour while blending evocative new shades using only primary-coloured and natural undyed wool fibre. Create subtle new shades or vibrant textured mixes, according to what speaks to you from the image. \your unique blends can later be used for spinning or feltmaking. materials and a selection of images provided - bring your own inspiring image if you have one. £45
Cutting in to your knitting sounds scary, but steeking and cutting allows you to knit garments in the round and cut openings later. Traditionally used in fair isle knitting. Learn how to steek so that your knitting won't unravel when you cut it, and how to get a professional finish for all your knits. Materials provided. £40
For further details and to book places, please email
A deposit of 1/3 of the workshop fee is payable on booking to secure your place. The deposit is non-refundable if you change your plans, but would be refunded in full if I had to cancel the workshop for any reason. The balance is payable on the day of the workshop.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Shetland Wool Week 2016

Shetland Wool Week is one of the highlights of my year. The planning and preparation seems to go on for ages, then the week (well, nine days really) passes in a flash.
I had set myself a busy schedule, teaching six classes in five days, so I flew up to Shetland a couple of days before the official start of Wool Week, to meet my new housemates
with Nancy and Gabriella - all wearing Crofthoose hats of course!
and get myself organised. This included rushing round all of Lerwick's charity shops buying up hardback books for my Woolly Words book origami class, as well as collecting and checking the three parcels of materials and equipment I had posted up in advance.
It also gave me a chance to catch up with Shetland friends, some of whom were kind enough to take me (and my housemates) to the wonderful exhibition of haps in Ollaberry hall. Here are just a few of the 80+ haps that were on show.

many of the haps were labelled with details - some with photos - of the babies or brides they were knitted for

I love these homely natural-coloured haps showing signs of keeping their owners cosily happed-up for years

This unusual circular shawl has sparked a lot of discussion on Ravelry

This stunning shawl was labelled 'most outstanding exhibit'

Among the haps and shawls was a knitters order book from 1928 - just look at the prices
The exhibition of haps was accompanied by a Sunday Tea - itself an exhibition of home baking - which we thoroughly enjoyed 
Stuffed full of sandwiches and fancies, we were then taken on a surprise trip to Eashaness. Nancy was particularly delighted as she is a keen photographer (and I'm sure her pictures are much better than mine). I had never managed to get to this corner of Shetland on any of my previous trips, so I am very grateful to Jan and Yvonne for taking us.

 We got back to Lerwick in time to head to the Opening Ceremony, passing Clickimin Broch as the sun was setting
 The Opening Ceremony was packed, and everyone seemed to enjoy the mix of talks, fashion show, Q and A, music and a taste of Shetland delicacies.
My first class was on Monday morning - Introduction to Magic Loop Knitting. You can see the concentration as people got to grips with a new technique.

 I had a free afternoon, and enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather on a walk.......
King Harald Street dahlias
 ....... to the supermarket!!
In the evening I had a full house at my Woolly Words book origami class, so all those hardback books from the charity shops were put to good use as different wool-related words were folded into their pages
designed for Wool Week - wirsit is the Shetland word for yarn
It was a pleasure to have Shetlanders in most of my classes this year, and particularly in the Woolly Words class they livened up the discussion and taught us soothmoothers many Shetland words and phrases.
Tuesday morning found me teaching Drop Spindle Spinning in Jamieson & Smith's famous shop. The shop was busy all morning, especially when Gudrun ans Mary-Jane brought their tour group in, but my learners managed to concentrate and produce some yarn.
Marena with her first ever handspun yarn

On Tuesday evening I went to a talk with the intriguing title 'Did Shetlanders Knit their own Furniture?' by Ian Tait from the Shetland Museum and Archives. The talk was fascinating (the answer is no, they didn't!), looking at the wide range of crafts needed for survival when the islanders had to be more or less self sufficient, and the disproportionate amount of attention given to textiles in a range of different archives and sources. The discussions after the talk were lively and interesting and I could happily have stayed much longer.
Wednesday was a packed day. In the morning I taught my 'Blending the Colours of Shetland' class.
I took the photos we used for inspiration last year, the one on the left above is Melby beach on the West Mainland, the one on the right is an upturned boat used as the roof of a small shed, on Kettlaness (Burra).  Each learner got a pack of fibre in bright primary colours plus natural black and white, and one of the two photos.
Using handcarders they blended shades that they could see in the photo.

so many shades - all inspired by the 'boat' picture

two different palettes, inspired by Melby beach
I have taught this class many times, often using local images, and am always amazed that two people sitting next to each other, and using the same image, can come up with very different shades, all clearly related to the image and all beautiful. I'd love to see what people go on to make with their blended fibres.
After a quick sandwich I taught a Drop Spindle Spinning for Beginners class, and was too busy to take any photos! As usual, some people produced more yarn than others but everyone left with some yarn they had spun, knowing how to go on spinning, and with a smile - which is the 'product' I'm most interested in.
In the evening, 'In search of lace, tweed and haps' was three talks, by Carol Christiansen, Andy Ross and Louise 'Knit British'. All were very interesting, the result of lots of research into their respective topics. Haps are particularly 'hot' at the moment after the publication of that book, and several haps knitted from patterns in The Book of Haps were in evidence. Here is my housemate Nancy in her Montbretia hap, which was greatly admired by all.
Thursday was my day off from teaching, so I headed off to one of my favourite non-woolly places in Shetland
Red Houss Shetland, on East Burra, the studio of Mike Finnie

with great views in all directions

- here are some clues to what I was doing there:

Setting some of my Willow Pattern beach pottery, which I have used as inspiration for stranded colourwork knitting, into silver to make a pendant took all day - in fact Mike had to finish it for me later - as there were so many visitors to his studio.
Thursday evening was Baltic Knitting Night with Outi Kater and Kristi Joeste. I have knitted some of Outi's designs but some of Kristi's Estonian mittens have over 200 stitches per row so... maybe not!
On Friday morning I taught my final class for this Wool Week, Knitting Socks Two-at-a-Time and Toe-up. Like the others, this class was full. Everyone made a good start on their socks, and went away knowing how to finish them. Hopefully by now (a month later) they are keeping some people's toes warm.
I was lucky enough to get a place in Donna Smith's Traditional Shetland Haps class on Friday afternoon - it was the one I most wanted to do but as most of my week was filled with teaching I didn't have much opportunity to attend other classes, so I was very glad it fitted in with my schedule. Donna showed us some lovely old haps knitted by her great aunt and others, and explained the different construction methods. We started to knit a mini hap, following all the steps used for a full size one. I finished mine a few days later as I wasn't fast enough to finish it in class.
The other class I went to was 'Wirds in Wirsit', making words out of wire covered in wirsit (yarn). We all chose Shetland words connected with wool - I chose makkin (knitting) and spent a satisfying couple of hours bending wire and wrapping it in yarn (100% Shetland wool of course!) while drinking tea in the Peerie Café

On Saturday I stayed away from the Flock Book - even though I enjoyed it so much last year. I'm still spinning and knitting the championship fleeces I bought there last year! I expect I'll go next year as it is a fascinating day (if you are interested in sheep!).
I had some errands to run, including delivering some spindles and carders to Jamieson & Smith. Somehow while I was there I accidentally bought a kilo of their new Heritage naturals yarn - how did that happen?!!
I found this poem in the public conveniences:
Bards in da Bog - what a brilliant idea! Great poem too!!!
 Mike and Gill Finnie came to lunch and brought my finished pendant, with which I am absolutely delighted.
Mike also delivered a picture I had bought from him, securely wrapped for travelling. It now graces my bedroom wall and makes me happy every time I look at it.
The Makers Market was doing brisk business when I got there, not least the splendid Teas, with another amazing selection of home baking. Having encouraged Nancy to buy one of Nielanell's creations, I contented myself with a new shawl pin.
After a stroll round Lerwick and a fabulous hot chocolate in the Peerie Café we had a spell in the Wool Week Hub with other knitters (all looking a bit weary after a packed week!), then a fish supper (which is mandatory at least once per visit to Shetland). Suitably restored we went to Mareel for the launch of Ann Cleeves' latest book in her Shetland detective series.
Sunday was my last day in Shetland but the morning was bright and calm and I had time for a walk to Hay's Dock and the museum.
I love the way the shape of the new building echoes the shape of the old one

Nil Desperandum

I've just had a pair of these glove boards made for me

Rather blurry - but this 1910 - 20 makkin belt is almost identical to mine, which I got second-hand

Too good a day to have to leave Shetland
I have already started planning for Shetland Wool Week 2017.....