Monday, September 24, 2012

Craftsy Class Review: Know Your Wool!

In this free Craftsy class by Deb Robson, co-author of the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, you'll learn how to pay attention to the fiber content of the skein of yarn you're holding. As Deb notes in the introduction, lovely-hued yarns can often distract us from the characteristics of the yarn's fiber.  If you want to be satisfied with your finished project (not to mention have it last a long time), it's important to examine the fiber beneath the color.

In the introduction, Deb covers the basics, sharing the four categories she uses to approach any new wool she comes across (fine, medium, long and double-coated). There are thousands of breeds and types of sheep; when working on her book with Carol Eckarius, they identified 125 breeds of sheep 'reasonably available" to english-speaking fiber folk alone...the book itself contains more than 200 breeds, but if they had keep going from there, it would have never been completed!

Following the comprehensive introduction (it clocks in at just over 20 minutes), Deb takes you to the Estes Park Wool Market. Get ready for lots of adorable baa-ing sheep! You'll get to meet 2 handsome Lincoln Longwool rams in person and see Bond and Corriedale fleece up close. Deb interviews several sheep breeders and interjects lots of interesting facts along the way, too.  The emphasis in this lesson is to focus on the qualities of the fleece to understand what specific breeds do well - both for the hand-crafter and the breeder. The lesson ends with several drool-worthy shots of skeins of yarn, each hand-spun from a specific breed of sheep.

Can't make it to a wool festival? Deb shares some helpful tips to track down breed-specific yarns online, from a few of her favorite sites to tracking down specific breeds via Etsy and eBay. I'm intrigued especially by, which I'll definitely be exploring.

When you're ready to knit with your hidden treasure, it's time to swatch! Though many knitters avoid swatching as much as possible, it's an important step when working with a breed-specific wool you've never used before.  Deb recommends making several gauge swatches, starting first with a simple stockinette swatch; swatching is when you get acquainted with the yarn, paying attention to how it is behaving as you work with it.

Once the knitting is done, give it a rinse in your favorite fiber wash and lay it flat to dry. Now it's time to really get to know your wool! Deb walks you through the steps one-by-one to make sure you cover all the bases - after the stockinette swatch, it's time to put the yarn through its paces as you prepare to find the right project to cast on. She also shares a fingerless mitt pattern that she recommends using in lieu of a swatch if the idea of swatching is complete anathema; other small projects are also ideal for the swatch-phobic.

I aspire to one day keep a swatch notebook as Deb outlines in this course; as a sometimes-designer, you'd think that's something I would already be doing, but of course that is not the case! Consequently, I spend a lot of time staring at swatches I assumed I'd remember the particulars of at the time. I'm sure I'm not the only one with this problem!

Finally, Deb covers the ins and outs of selecting the right pattern for you yarn, sharing many of her finished projects and outlining why each specific breed worked for the particular type of garment or stitch pattern. As a classmate wrote in the comments at the end of the introduction, "I grew up on a farm [and have been knitting] for nearly thirty taught me a few things I didn't know!"  That pretty much sums it up - no matter how much you think you know about yarn and fiber, there is always something more to be learned!  Deb's decades of fiber experience are food for thought for the fiber fanatic. This free course will educate, excite and delight knitters, crocheters, spinners, and weavers of all skill levels.

Click here to sign up for free on!


  1. I signed up for the class ages ago but I haven't sat down to go through it. Thanks for the overview! I think I'll carve out some time and watch it.

  2. can't wait to watch this!