Category Archives: HAND SPINNING

About different handspinning techniques and fibers.

No-Nylon Sock Knitting

Since I had cancer last year, I have spent time examining how I live and what possible environmental effects could have had an influence on getting this disease. I have had to change many things in my life and to examine what foods I eat, the types of fabrics and clothes that I wear, the yarns, fibres and dyes that I use in my work. In addition to the air pollution around us from cars and factories, working as a weaver/spinner, we know that fibre creates dust and small airborne particles that we breathe. Those particles get into our lungs, our food, and everything we touch and can be absorbed by our skin.
As we know, in recent months there has been growing concern about the use of microplastics, that pollute our rivers, streams, oceans and invade the delicate balance of our world. The concern is not just plastic bags, plastic water bottles but also the bits of plastic particles that are in most of our clothing and fabrics.

So the gentle hobby of knitting that we enjoy also has an impact on our world. What yarns we choose to knit with and to wear can make a difference. Since it is November and the days are cold, I have been knitting some socks and mittens. There are many yarns and fibres to choose from – wools, mohair, silks, cottons,yak, alpaca, cashmere. A random Google search led me to a huge selection of sock yarns. When I looked at the fibre content of the yarn blends, most of them contain 10% to 25% nylon/polyamide. That might not seem like a lot, but it all adds up.
I begin to wonder, is nylon really necessary to add to the sock to give it strength? When you add up all the wools and other yarns that contain nylon, that adds up to a lot of microplastics.
When I knit socks that contain nylon, I find that they do wear out rather quickly at the heels and the bottom of the foot. I look at the yarn and how it has worn, and I see that the wool has broken and the nylon remains. I wonder if the nylon could be abrasive and causes the wool to wear?

I thought back to the days when my mother used to knit hats, mittens, socks, sweaters for our family. My Dad, my brothers, sister, nieces and nephews each got a sock, hat and mitten set every Christmas. She only used pure wool for her knitting. The socks were hard-wearing and almost never wore out. Our sock drawers were full of hand knit socks, made many years ago, though we did get a new pair to add to the collection every year. When the socks did get a bit worn, she would darn them with other bits of leftover wool. Make do and mend, and those socks would again be warm and durable.
I found some of my mother’s old double point sock knitting needles. I remember that she would use different sizes of needles for the socks – for the body of the sock she used a slightly thicker size of needle and a thinner one for the heel and foot of the socks. I measured her old knitting needles – and the fine ones were 2.0.

Sock Knitting Needles
Sock Knitting Needles

For socks that I knit, I have been using the recommended 2.5 mm to 3.0 mm for most of my knitting and the socks do wear out quickly. Perhaps the socks also need to be knit with a tighter tension to give the sock more strength. I will test this and knit with my mother’s fine needles on my next pair of socks.

As a hand spinner I am aware that the type of wool fibre that you use can make a difference to the durability and softness of the sock. And also how the yarn is spun – with a tight twist or a loosely spun one.
Wool spun for socks should be made from a sheep breed that has a long staple length and is worsted spun with a tight twist. Soft wools such as merino are not really suitable as the fibre is very fine, the staple length is short and I find that merino tends to break off and pill when it is worn. Merino is better suited for knitting lace shawls, hats or wool sweaters that don’t demand a lot of hard use.
I have some wool sensitivites and I find that many wools make me itch and can give me a rash. A sheep breed such as Blue Faced Leicester is my favourite yarn for knitting. Romney is also another favourite of mine, though it is difficult to find in the UK.
It is difficult to find a sock yarn that doesn’t contain some amount of nylon. Perhaps if we as consumers become more demanding and ask yarn companies to produce yarns that are nylon free, non-superwash, and use eco-friendly dyes and methods, this will change. For now, I dye my own yarns with natural plant dyes. Both for personal use and for sale. You can find some of my Indie dyed yarns in my Paivatar Yarn Etsy Shop. Please also support other Indie dyers and crafters who work with natural materials.

Naturally Plant Dyed Knitted Hanwarmers
Naturally Plant Dyed Knitted Hanwarmers

Comments from Readers
After publishing this post, I received this comment from a long time friend and All Fiber Arts community member.

I never did like the idea of nylon in our wool socks. I did not believe that it make the socks last longer; I just could never understand how it could. What I knew was that the wool would disappear and the nylon would remain behind — and we THOUGHT that made the socks stronger. It didn’t.

I remember many years ago, I had purchased a pair of socks, machine made, that looked sort of home-made. They were in a natural sort of uneven grey colour, and appeared to be warm. They weren’t. They were not even wool, but mostly a loosely spun acrylic! [I didn’t read labels very carefully back then!] They wore out very fast…. I perhaps only wore them twice, and they seemed to wash away! I had holes in the bottom of the heel and ball of foot.

So I darned them. I decided to do duplicate stitch. After all, I could see the stitches (in nylon) and the rest of the sock had vanished. So it seemed so easy to just stitch over the stitches as they were already there, and it would all be good! Famous last words.

It seemed to take so long to do! I used my own hand-spun yarn, and covered the hole with neatly made stitches just as they were. For a darning mushroom, I used a light bulb (remember those?). I stitched a little beyond the hole so it would blend in. The heel was done with short rows, and I followed the pattern, and discovered how they were made. I stitched under the ball of the foot, and then the toe, and any thin area. I never knew where to stop! I mean, should I go only up to this stitch, or should I include the one next to it as well? I really felt that I could have knit the socks from scratch with my own yarn faster than it took to darn them! But it was a very good learning experience.

[I do remember where I was living at the time. I was sitting in my kitchen, with the oven door open — it was very cold then in winter, and I had little heat. I was listening to the federal finance minister presenting his budget at that time as well. I remember very well thinking whether he ever has sat and darned his own socks! If he did, THEN he could talk to me about restraint and higher taxes!]

When I did a lot of weaving, I do remember reading somewhere that you should NOT use nylon as a warp when weaving rugs because it would cut through your wool weft. That was a revelation to me…. and I always remembered that. So putting nylon in socks seems to be counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t the nylon cut through the wool? Of course it did! But that only meant you would have to buy more socks sooner! [there is some sense behind their madness!]

I could never understand how the addition of the nylon, whether blended with the wool, or added while knitting, could make the wool last longer. All I could see is that the wool could disappear, but the stitch would still hold together… there could still be some fabric there…. and it would “last longer”.

I thank you for bringing this to our attention. I don’t like the prevalence of all these synthetics in our lives. I can’t believe they are doing us any good. I am so distressed when those ignorant knitters on the forum write that they HAVE to use acrylics for their grandkids because their children are too busy to be able to hand-wash any baby clothes. But they prefer to give them toxic clothes instead? Have any of you ever seen a baby burned by melting acrylics?? As you know, wool does not burn without a flame on it. Only one conclusion in my mind.

We need to be reminded of these things from time to time. We soon get caught in the ways of the world, and we forget. Until it is too late.


Plastics and Pollution
I was very happy to see in The Guardian newspaper today a beginning of awareness that the clothing we wear has an impact on the world around us.
The Christmas Jumper, so loved by everyone in the holiday season, is causing harm to our planet.
Christmas Jumpers Add to Plastic Pollution
“95% of the jumpers were made wholly or partly of plastic materials. The charity said the garment had become one of the worst examples of fast fashion, now recognised as hugely damaging to the environment.”

The contribution of washing processes of synthetic clothes to microplastic pollution
Recent estimations have assessed that synthetic clothes contributes by about 35% to the global release of primary microplastics to the world oceans, thus becoming the main source of microplastics.

Plant Dyes and Your Health

Sock Knitting Books
Jorid Linvik’s Big Book of Knitted Socks: 45 Distinctive Scandinavian Patterns

The Sock Knitter’s Handbook: Expert Advice, Tips, and Tricks

The Knitter’s Book of Socks: The Yarn Lover’s Ultimate Guide to Creating Socks That Fit Well, Feel Great, and Last a Lifetime

Knitting Vintage Socks

Knit Like a Latvian – Socks: 50 Knitting Patterns for Knee Length, Ankle and Footless Socks

150 Scandinavian Motifs: The Knitter’s Directory

Sparto Weavers Spanish Broom

Sparto (Sparta) Spartium junceum also called Spanish Broom or Weavers Broom is an almost forgotten textile plant that is native to Mediterranean countries. Spanish Broom was introduced to North America and other countries where it has spread in many areas and has become a menace. However, Sparto was once a very useful textile plant.
There are references to weavers broom plants being used for making ropes, footwear, nets, mats, cloth and stuffing for pillows. The flowers are fragrant and can be used for making scented soaps and perfumes. The flowers are also a good source for yellow dyes.
It is thought that the use of Sparto as a textile plant diminished because the fibre is more difficult to process by mechanical means, compared to flax.

Sparto - Spartiumjunceum
Sparto – Spartiumjunceum

The Sparto plants grow along the rocky seasides of coastal Corfu, Greece.

I go on holidays to Corfu every year, where I have a chance to visit with my friend Agathi the weaver. Every time I visit, she pulls some wonderful textile treasure from her many shelves and tells me about it. This time, it was a bedspread made of hand spun Sparto that was made as part of her dowry.

As Agathi does not spin, the Sparto yarn was hand spun by a friend of hers, using a drop spindle. The bedspread was woven on a narrow loom and neatly stitched together in long panels. The handspun Sparto yarn was used as weft along with cotton yarns.

Agathi explained how the Sparto was collected and processed for hand spinning. The process is very similar to that of processing flax fibre.
The stalks of the Sparto plant are cut and then laid to ret in sea water along the shore. Rocks are placed on top of the fibres to keep the Sparto from floating away. This retting process usually takes 3-4 days. The warm salty water breaks down and softens the fibre so that it can be removed from the plant.
The fibrous part is on the outer core of the plant and the woody stem is in the centre. After retting, the fibre is dried and then beaten with a rock or wooden mallet (or scrutched) to help break up the woody core. Agathi described the fibre that is removed as being ‘soft and cottony’ The fibre is then hackled or combed and spun with the drop spindle.

Agathi said that the best time to collect Sparto is in May or June when the stalks are tender and green. I took a short foraging trip along the coast line to see if I could find some of these plants. In September, most of the Sparto have dried and are in seed, but I did find a few plants that were still green. I cut some stalks and brought them home for sampling.
(In the UK, you can purchase Spartium lyceum plants but they are not very hardy in our climate.)

As we live by the seaside, we took a short trip to collect some seawater for my experiments.

Sea Water Collection
Sea Water Collection

I had collected about 400 grams of Sparto stalks, so I placed these into a large bucket of sea water. The stalks are quite long so I had to fold them to fit them into the bucket.

I will leave the Sparta fibre to ret for a few days and check them daily to watch progress.

Well, it took more than a few days to ret the Sparto – more like a month. I suppose England is not as warm as the mediterranean sea.
The soaking bucket fermented and the Sparto stalks have softened.
I removed them from the bucket and rinsed the stalks with the garden hose. The stalks are now drying in my airing cupboard.

Sparto – A Greek Textile Plant
Helen Bradley-Griebel

The Revival of Sparto
University of the Aegean, Dept of Product and Design Engineering
A research study on the potential of a forgotten natural fiber in today’s world

Spin Flora Roving on EBay

Skein Winder Counter

Did you know that you can set up a simple bike odometer for use as a skein winder counter? For several years, I have struggled with keeping track of counting how many times to turn the skein winder in order to wind on a given length of yarn. Often I would lose track and have to start again, or recount the number of strands that have been wound on.

As I’ve been winding a lot of skeins lately in order to dye yarns, I decided to try and find a better solution to the counting and keeping track problem. Happily, I discovered that adapting a bike odometer will solve this problem. I purchased an inexpensive bike odometer from Amazon.

You can use the Distance counter on the bike odometer to keep track of the ‘distance’ or length of yarn that has been wound or has travelled around the skein winder. DST – Distance of Single Trip. Here’s how.

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The bike odometer that I purchased has everything you need to get started:
Bike Odometer
When you get your bike odometer, install the batteries as instructed. One goes into the odometer, and another goes into the sensor. You will need to calibrate the odometer to the circumference size of your skein winder (bike wheel)
Use a tape measure to determine the circumference of the skeind winder. You probably know how much this is already since you wind and measure skeins already. But double check.
The bike odometer should work in both km and miles, but I find it easier to do the calculations in metric.
My skein winder has a 132 cm circumference or 1.320 meters.

Skein Winder Circumference
Skein Winder Circumference

Follow the instructions to calibrate the odometer. I set this to 1320.

Then attach the Magnet to one of the spokes on the skein winder. It’s best to put the magnet at one of the far ends of the spoke and not close to the centre. Then attach the Sensor to a fixed position like a table leg. This has to be quite close to the magnet, so that as the magnet passes by the sensor it picks up the movement. In the instructions for this bike odometer, the sensor/magnet distance has to be within 3 mm as it passes on its rotation.

Bike Odometer Sensor / Magnet
Bike Odometer Sensor

Set the odometer so that it is ready to record. You will be using the DST setting. The reading that the odometer provides is the number of meters or kilometers that the bike wheel or skein winder has travelled, not the number of rotations. So this provides you with the number of meters of yarn that have been wound onto the skein.

Skein Winder Counter
Skein Winder Counter

In this example, I have wound on 150 meters of yarn onto the skein – 0.150 km on the DST reading.
Reset the DST reading back to zero every time you wind a new skein.
I tested this on several yarns by calculating how much I thought should be on the skein and comparing it to the weight of the skein.
For this yarn, it has a yardage of 3000 m/kg.
So a 50 gram skein of yarn should have a length of 150 meters.
I weighed the skein and it does weigh 50 grams.
An ongoing problem solved, without a lot of expense!

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Madder Root Dye

Madder Root Dye Recipe for Linen, Cotton and Cellulose Fibres

All cellulose fibres, yarns and fabrics must be scoured prior to mordanting or dyeing. Please see my previous article on how to do this.
How to Scour Linen

For these samples, I used several different linen and cotton fabrics as well as wool yarn.

Linen and Cotton Fabric Samples
Linen and Cotton Fabric Samples

Unbleached Cotton
Bleached Linen
Linen/Cotton Blend
Natural Linen (light weight)
Natural Linen (heavy weight)

Madder Root Dye Recipe
for 100 grams of fibre
20 grams Indian Madder Root powder – Rubia Cordifolia
Put Madder Root dye powder into dye pot.
Let simmer in dyepot for +1 hour at 50 deg.
Add pre-mordanted wool yarn and sample fabrics.
Let simmer in dyepot for +1 hour.
Remove the wool yarn. Let this cool and rinse thoroughly to remove the excess dye powder.
Turn the heat off the dyepot and leave the linen and cotton samples to soak overnight. More colour will continue to develop as the dyebath cools.

Indian Madder on Linen and Cotton
Indian Madder on Linen and Cotton

Himalayan Rhubarb Plant Dye
Eucalyptus Leaf Plant Dye
Brazilwood Plant Dye

Paivatar – Plant Dyed Wool Yarns
Look for some of my plant dyed yarns at my PaivatarYarn Shop on Etsy.

Plant Dyed Wool Yarn
Plant Dyed Wool Yarn

Natural Dyes
Anne Georges
Wild Colours

Natural Dye Books

Indigo from Seed to Dye

Indigo: Dye It, Make It: Techniques from plain and dip-dyeing to tie-dyeing and batik, in natural indigo blue

Wild Color, Revised and Updated Edition: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes

Natural Dyes

The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Traditional Recipes for Modern Use

Dyes and Mordants on Ebay

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Distaff Spinning

Both flax and hemp are usually sold in roving form or tow, where the flax has been heavily processed into short 2-4 inch lengths. The flax or hemp roving has often been bleached or dyed. This type of flax and hemp are quite easy to spin as a roving, using a short draw. A distaff is not needed to spin this type of flax or hemp. The flax needs a light to medium twist to hold it together. When I spin the flax roving, I spin it wet, as I have a small dish of water beside me, and wet the fiber with my fingers while spinning. This helps to soften the natural pectins in the fibre and smooth the rough ends together.

Both Flax and Hemp also come in long line strick form, though this is quite often hard to find. The flax fibres are long, 2-3 feet in length, as they are in the original flax plant. The flax comes in a strick, where the long fibres are twisted and rolled together and often tied at one end, in order to hold them in place.

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Distaff spinning is used when spinning the long line flax or hemp. The distaff holds the long length of fibres in place, so that you can easily draw a few fibre lengths at a time from the tied bundle as you spin.
I don’t own a flax wheel with a distaff attachment, but I made a small modication to my Kromski Sonata wheel, so that I could attach a distaff to it. I purchased the Kromski distaff that is designed for the Kromski Minstrel wheel.
The Minstrel wheel distaff comes in 2 pieces, one is the distaff itself, and the other is the piece that attaches the distaff to the wheel.
The hole in the attachment piece is too large to fit the Sonata wheel, so I used a bit of wool roving to stuff into the hole to make a more secure fit. I also used a few rubberized washers to raise the height of the distaff slightly on the wheel.

Dressing the Distaff
To dress the distaff, or to tie the long line flax to the distaff, open up the flax bundle and shake out the fibre so it is loose. Examine the fibre to determine which is the easiest end to spin from. One end will be a bit more tangled and knotted together and the other end will be easier to draw fibres from. Lay the fibre onto the table and open it up a bit. Place the distaff on top of the fibre with the top of the distaff at the more tangled end.
Use a length of cord or ties, about 2 meters in length, fold it in half, and lightly wrap it at the top end of the distaff, to secure the fibres to the distaff.
Loosely wrap the flax fibre around the length of the distaff, so that the fibres are all running straight along the distaff.
Then loosely wrap the remaining lengths of the cord around the flax fibre and down the length of the distaff.
Then place the tied flax distaff onto the distaff attachment on the wheel.

Spinning from the Distaff
Because the fibre length on long line flax or hemp is very long, you don’t need a lot of twist in order to hold the fibre together. I spin this on the lowest ratio on wheel. To start spinning, run your hand along the length of the flax that is on the distaff, and select just a few strands from the very end of the tied flax and gently pull these out and begin to spin. You will find that you need to draw this length of fibre out quite a long way, (2 or 3 feet) before you reach the end of that fibre length, and then draw out another few fibres from the flax bundle.
As with any hand spinning, how many fibres you draw out, will determine the thickness of your yarn. To spin a fine flax or hemp yarn, draw out only a few at a time, to spin a thicker yarn, draw out more fibre.
I have a small dish of water beside me, and I dip my fingers into the water to moisten them, and run my finger along the length of the fibre I have just spun, to wet it, before I let the length spin onto the bobbin. This helps to soften the fibre as you are spinning.

Both Hemp and Flax long line fibre can be purchased in my Etsy shop or my Spin Flora website.

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Brother Electric Drum Carder

A few days ago, my new Little Brother Electric Drum Carder arrived. It is wonderful and it is a beautiful thing to look at as well as to use. The craftsmanship is superb. The woodwork has all been well made and polished. The motor is surprisingly quiet to operate. I have used electric carders in the past, and after a few minutes of use, the drone of the motor would get very irritating. And it is very easy to use. The carder has a variable speed motor that operates smoothly and easily with a gentle turn of the button. The drum carder also has a reverse function, that makes it simple to remove the completed batt from the back of the drum.
The drum carders come in a range of widths and sizes. I purchased the smaller one – the Little Brother. I has an 8 inch drum width and will make an 8 inch x 22 inch batt. The amount of fibre that it will hold can vary depending on what type of fibre you are using and how well you pack it in while carding. So far, I have managed to card about 50 grams onto the drum, but I think I could add more (perhaps 100 gr) if I card and pack carefully.

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The drums also come with a range of carding cloth sizes.
54 TPI (teeth per inch) – good for carding art batts and thicker wools, 72 TPI, 90 TPI, 120 TPI and 190 TPI (for super fine fibres). If you work with different weights of fibres, you can also add additional interchangeble drums.
I purchased the 120 TPI size, because I mostly work with finer fibres, such as merino, alpaca, silk and also the vegan viscose fibres such as Bamboo, soya silk, tencel and other cellulose tops and roving.
I found the carder extremely easy to use, first time. The soft bamboo and soya silk that I carded tend to be very light and fluffy, and some of the fibre was catching on the small licker drum. The distance between the licker drum and the larger swift drum is easily adjustable. I unscrewed the 4 bolts and gave the adjustment screws a slight turn, to add a bit more space between the drums. This solved my problem of the fibre grabbing onto the licker.
For my first set of batts, I blended some dyed bamboo, soya silk and Pearl Infused Cellulose. I rolled these into small punis, and will be spinning this as a singles, and Navajo plying the yarn to add extra texture.

The flowers are in full bloom in my garden right now. A small patch of Petunias and Nasturtiums gave me the inspiration for my second blended batt. I used Commercially dyed Bamboo, hand dyed soya silk and some tencel for this fibre blend.

Brother Drum Carders
Gabriel at Brother Drumcarders was extremely helpful when I placed my order. The carder was shipped almost immediately. There was however, a very long delay with USPS postal service, as it took about 2 weeks to move the carder from Oregon to the International shipping location of San Francisco. Once there, the carder was onto the plane and arrived at Heathrow the next day. Then a few days delay at Parcel Force while they determined the standard VAT customs duties I had to pay.
The carder does come with an adapter so that it works on UK 220 power outlets. I switched the 2 prong plug that came with the unit, to a cable that had been on one of my old printers – so it now plugs in correctly into 3 prong UK plugs.

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Spin Flora Dot Com

When I was asked by the AGWSD to teach a workshop on spinning flax this coming summer at their Summer School, I started to do some research on spinning with plant fibres. Never did I expect to fall down such a large rabbit hole! I started by ordering a few small sample packs of different flora fibres, flax, hemp, ramie and a few of the new plant-based fibres such as banana and seacell that have recently come onto the market. I fell in love with the variety and the textures that these plants have to offer. Spinning flora took over in my studio. As I used up my plastic crates filled with wool, they quickly filled up again with a delightful assortment of flora fibres.

Spin and Weave Flora
Spin and Weave Flora

I generally like to use acid dyes for dyeing wools and silk, but of course, the acid dyes won’t work on cellulose fibres. So I decided that really – plants should be dyed with plants. I rummaged through my dye stash and found a supply of madder root, indigo, osage, and other natural dyestuffs. And began to experiment.

Indigo Fructose Dye Vat
Indigo Fructose Dye Vat

Each of the fibres have their own unique characteristics. Some are soft and slippery, some feel like the finest of silk, some are a bit rough and coarse. They all need to be spun with a slightly different spinning technique. They can also be blended with each other or with wool. Handspinning with flora fibres are also a lovely alternative for those who are allergic to wool or who prefer not to use animal fibres.

Spin Flora grew and it was time for it to have its own website – a place where you can explore this world of Flora and also purchase a few samples of your own to experiment with.
I hope that you will visit Spin Flora not Fauna

HTTPS Secure Server Migration

In this age of cyber hacking and concerns about security, I have decided to move all of this website to a secure server – Https not http. Although no personal financial information is collected at this site and I provide information only, you can’t be too careful. This has been done now. You will see that the top address bar now takes you to

However, there is still much work to be done at my end, to convert all of the pages to the https SSL protocol. This involves mostly changing all of the images and links within the site, so they don’t still pass information from the older http site. While this migration is taking place, you may still see some warning signals on your browser. Please don’t be alarmed by this, as it will take me several weeks to find and replace the offending links on several hundred pages.

I have had to remove the link to the old Delphi Forum, as this was an unsecure link.
Some of my older content will have to be removed as some pages may be too difficult to update.

Please note, that I do run advertising on this website, (such as: Google, Amazon, EBay, Interweave Press) as it offsets my costs of keeping this website alive. The ad networks will have cookies associated with the ads. These cookies allow the ad networks to determine which ads may be relevant to you, so that they can serve appropriate ads to your browser. I try not to allow annoying popup or full page ads – as I can’t stand them either.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.


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Sewing to Sell – The Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Craft Business: Bonus – 16 Starter Projects • How to Sell Locally & Online

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