In September 2009, I opened my new issue of Piecework Magazine to read a re-print of a 1994 article by Linda Ligon called “The Ubiquitous Loop.” That was my introduction to simple looping, which became a gateway into the broader world of single needle work.

Simple looping is generally agreed to be the simplest form of single-needle fabric creation. The structure of it looks like this:



And here’s a piece I made in simple looping using jute garden twine (it’s upside down as compared to the drawing of the structure above):

It’s made with one needle (or no needle at all if your fiber is stiff and pointy enough to be worked by itself), and the movements are akin to hand sewing. In fact, the movements are exactly the same as for the buttonhole stitch in sewing or embroidery, only done in the air instead of in a piece of solid fabric.

And with this one “airy gesture,” as Ligon calls it, we span the millennia of human technology:

  • A fragment from Northern Germany about 7000 BCE, and net fragments from the Late Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age in Scandinavia and other northern European sites,
  • Fragments and a pouch or hat in a fancy openwork pattern from the desert southwest of the Dead Sea in about 6500 BCE,
  • A shirt from the first millennium BCE in Peru,
  • Sandals and bags from the first millennium CE in the American Southwest.
  • From historical accounts, baskets made by First Nations Athabascan-speaking people in northwestern Canada, and
  • Today in Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, Ecuador, and among the Hopi people, loop upon loop builds practical bucket-shaped bags, large decorative carrying bags, and gourd covers for ceremonial use.

Simple looping has been used for sturdy objects, like baskets, bags, and shoes. It has been used to create decorative edgings on larger textiles. It can be made simple and dense, or with skipped stitches and contours for an open, decorative fabric. Like crochet, it is endlessly organic and flexible. It’s very easy to create a fabric around an object, shaping as you go, to make a “sleeve” that was made to fit.

After reading the short article by Linda Ligon and then completing the tiny pouch from the related project, I was hooked. (If you’re interested in that pattern by Robin Taylor Dougherty, which includes a basic how-to on simple looping, you can find it on the Interweave Press website at I made a couple of other pouches at different gauges, following the same basic idea. Then I found Donna Kallner (you can find her too online at, bought her book, and worked through many of the projects in it. I fell deep into the rabbit hole of single needle work, adding traditional northern European needle binding (aka naalbinding, just to offer one possible spelling) to my list of fiber habits. Other single needle techniques include netting, needle lace, and (if you want to follow me right off the edge), shuttle tatting.

Give it a try. Maybe you’ll fall in love with this ancient, organic fabric-making approach. Just one needle and a couple arms’ lengths of yarn will connect you with some of humankind’s earliest technology


Katherine will be at Sheep and Shawl on Sunday March 5th.lecturing on Naailbinding and will be giving a one day work shop later in March.  Check out the Sheep and Shawl website for more details.





FIBERuary is a celebration of all things fiber. I myself participate in a wide variety of fiber-related activities as a production weaver and a knitting teacher. I’m also a lazy spinner, an occasional felter and have dabbled in dyeing. Across all these fiberful activities the thing I love most is the community of other fabulous fiber fiends that make working with fiber so much fun. I could write about any of these communities, the spinning group that I have am lucky to be a part of, or of the wonderful dye party I attended last summer or about the joy of watching my knitting students learning not just from me, but from one another. But instead I am going to write about my weaving community, and in particular, about a wonderful, magical week-long collaboration I did with another young weaver, Kira Frech.
People often think of weaving as a solitary activity, and of course, it can be. But it needn’t be, and historically weaving would have been a community affair. I learned (in my time as an apprentice at the Vävstuga Weaving School) that in Sweden each village would have had a loom or looms in a sort of community center. Weavers would spend the winter cutting up rags which they would then weave on the community looms in spring (or whenever it was their turn). Weavers helped one another dress the loom and so many hands made light(er) work. Because of this Scandinavian tradition of cooperative weaving, students at Vävstuga learn to dress looms in teams.

Kira and I became friends when I was an apprentice and she came to Vävstiga for Basics, the pre-requisite for most other weaving courses there. Later, she returned for the Väv Immersion program, a 15-week course inspired by the weaving course Becky Ashenden had taken nearly 35 years ago at the Sätergläntan School in Sweden. We stay in touch thanks to the internet and earlier this year decided to create our own weaving mini-retreat and collaboration at my studio in Shelburne Falls. In 5 days we wound, beamed, threaded, sleyed and wove a 10-shaft satin damask block design and an 8 shaft pinwheel draft.



We each chose a project that was somewhat outside of our weaving norm and which allowed us to take advantage of each others expertise. I designed the pinwheel project in wool (for pillows!) with the knowledge that any troubles I had could be helped by Kira’s greater expertise in weaving wool. She designed the 10-shaft satin damask project in cotton and linen knowing that I spend a lot of time weaving similar block structures. We were thus able to support one another and felt encouraged to try new things.

Because we are trained, literally, in the same school of weaving, Kira and I were able to almost seamlessly move through the steps of setting up the looms together. It was truly magical. We worked together to solve problems along the way and accomplished more as a team than we could have flying solo. Here are some photos of us setting up the damask piece together.

Threading together:

Threading together and laughing:

Taking a break from sleying:

Once the weaving began our looms were booming and shuttles were flying and the studio just felt more alive. A few days later we were cutting off and packing things up so Kira could escape before a snowstorm hit. When she was gone the studio felt empty and I found myself wishing I could have a weaving buddy with me every day!

The bottom line is that weaving in community is so much better than weaving on your own. In fact, even Kira and I together could not have done this by ourselves! And that’s because we borrowed a pair of damask pulleys for this project from another local weaver, Elaine Palmer! It was only by all our powers combined that so much amazing weaving happened that week. I feel so grateful for my wonderful weaving community.

Happy FIBERurary.


Emily F. Gwynn is a handweaver based in Shelburne Falls, MA. She specializes in weaving heirloom-quality textiles for the home. Visit her website

Kira Frech is a handweaver and natural dyer based in Harrisburg, PA. Visit her website at

The Vävstuga Weaving School is located in Shelburne Falls, MA. While the apprenticeship program no longer exists, the 15-week Väv Immersion program is going strong and applications are being accepted now. For more information visit


First Year In Sheep (almost), and Then Some

It’s February, 2017, and there are seven young Finnsheep up in my barn.

They are currently about 10 months old: five ewes and two rams. Most of them have been here since they were 10 weeks old.  Seeing as they are my first ever sheep, it’s been a busy, educational, eight months for me – but to be fair, the education began a long, long time before the sheep arrived.

Reading through FIBERuary, I see that most postings are expositions on pretty specific topics concerning any-of-many aspects of fiber, written by people with loads of experience and practice and time in their fields.  I’m essentially a raw beginner, and I’m still surfing the waves of anxiety and doubt that come right along with the excitement of a new venture. I can tell you what setting up a fiber farm has been for me, so far, but I can’t tell you how it will go from here, or where I’ll succeed and where I’ll need to, um, try harder.  For folks wondering what goes into starting a fiber venture with animals, I expect that there are as many paths as there are people.  Here’s a little view of mine…

Almost three years ago, when we moved to Western Mass from the mid-west, I knew I’d be looking to set up with animals. Though I wasn’t raised in the country, in Minnesota we’d had chickens and horses and land, so I had experience with pastures, tractors, manure piles, frozen water buckets, and the like – enough experience, hopefully, to know what I needed and what I was getting into. We found a property that would be suitable for a small flock and also meet the requirements of the other (human) members of my family.  It was time to buckle down and learn what I needed to do.

I tried to learn in whatever ways I could. There were books in the library, books on my bookshelves, magazines and websites. I attended online webinar series (yay! Maryland Sheep&Goat!), fencing seminars, Sheep and Wool Festivals and the workshops they hosted, Jill and Jim H-L’s Sheep-in-a-Day class (yay! pragmatic and hands-on!), Sheep Growers’ Association days. I talked to everyone I encountered who had or had had sheep.  I got a spinning wheel and learned how to use it.

I tried to learn something about EVERYTHING, or at least it feels that way.  Sheep breeds. Sheep diseases. The structure of wool, the structure of yarn. Fencing types, pros, cons. Livestock guard animals. Fleece processors. Mills. Carcasses. Wholesale cuts, retail cuts. Parasites. Forbes. Electricity. Drum carders. Combing. Picking. Flicking. Sheep reproduction. Scours. Scouring. Netting. Deep bedding. Skirting. Hoof trimming. Hay. Rhododendron, Yew, Mountain Laurel. Antibiotics. SubQ, IM. Drenching. CDT. Selenium. Copper. Hi-tensile knots. Coating. Creep. H. contortus. On and on. And all the while, I knew that I couldn’t really learn husbandry from a book – that at some point, soon, I was going to have to jump in with both feet and make my mistakes and take my knocks.


Getting my infrastructure in place took up the second summer in Massachusetts.  My property had lovely hillside pasture, but no fencing or barn.  I know that a lot of people run their sheep with portable electric netting alone, but I chose to build a permanent fence –  wood posts, woven wire, electrified wires at the top and bottom – and it helps me sleep when the coyotes are singing their crazy songs. My son and I built the entire fence by ourselves, and that is a whole ‘nother story entirely – I can just say that it was a rich learning experience.

Structure-wise, all the sheep would need was a simple shed.  But, for me, I built a barn (had it built, truly), one with four walls and doors that close. So now there is a place for the sheep, and room as well to store equipment and hay. And all of us, the ewes and me, will be comfortably out of the wind and wet when lambing time comes.   Currently, the barn seems really big, but with luck my estimates were sound, and when my flock reaches its full number, the square footage will be just right – Goldilocks style.

So a year and a half in, I had a barn and a fence and a head full of info, but when it came time to choose a specific breed of sheep, I was adrift.  I’d collected an embarrassing number of fleeces and partial fleeces, trying to decide what I liked for handspinning, but nothing was clicking. Or if I liked the fiber, I was finding that the breed was too wild, or too big, or not suited to a Massachusetts climate, or something else that made them not right for my farm.  I’d ruled out Finns early on because I didn’t like the sound of “litters of lambs”. One of Finnsheep’s most notable characteristics is their propensity to birth multiple lambs: not just twins, but triplets, quads, and beyond. Despite my reservations, I ended up talking to a Finn breeder at her booth at Rhinebeck in the fall of ’15. She assured me that Finnsheep’s awesome mothering instincts more than made up for the multiples – Finn mothers love their lambs and will not only NOT reject them (which sometimes happens with other breeds), they are even known to steal other ewes’ offspring.  This breeder assured me that she didn’t put up with bottle feeding lots of orphans, or “bummer” lambs, and that the sheep did the work. The conversation peaked my curiosity, and soon I was collecting more fleece samples, this time from different Finn farms.

And I loved what I found. Finn fleeces vary, from animal to animal and farm to farm, but they are generally soft and silky, retaining both a good degree of bounce and often remarkable luster.  They come in colors – there is a broad palate of blacks, browns, grays and fawns, and patterns – solid, badger (light top, dark under), HST (head, socks, tail) & Piebald. For me, they were fun to spin and easy to prep – not a lot of grease and easy to wash, with fairly uniform staple length and consistency within each fleece.  Some samples felted very easily, others not so much, so there is variability in that, too. And beyond the fleece characteristics, I really liked what I found about Finns as a breed:  they are medium sized animals, naturally short-tailed so no need for docking, hardy in our climate, used as dual-purpose animals (fiber and meat), and known for their very sweet dispositions.  And all those darling babies.  It looked like a good match for a new shepherd who would be working solo and wasn’t getting any younger. I picked my favorite sample and placed an order with that breeder, and waited for my lambs.

From the time I picked them up in mid-June, it’s been smooth enough sailing, I think. I can’t say I was prepared for absolutely everything or knew what to do at every turn, but the sheep have been sweet and easy, and so far everybody seems well. We’ve gotten through vaccinations (oh no, needles!), de-worming (not so bad), learning about electric netting (only takes once), separating the boys from the girls (don’t wait too long!), putting them back together (no fireworks to speak of- seems sheep are discreet), and learning to love hay and put up with the dull days of winter. By late summer, I got a llama to serve as sentinel for the flock.  Chris took to his new job with surprising conviction, and the lambs took to Chris with surprising affection. As our strange February weather begins to hint at spring and the maple trees get going, the flock’s fleeces are big and thick and I’m looking forward to shearing day, even though it’s clear that I’ll need to get better at keeping the hay out of their wool (dribbly llama, indeed).  I’m wondering if the girls will be showing their bellies when the wool comes off.  They are young, but Finns are said to be capable mothers even as yearlings, so we’ll see. They certainly tell me they’re hungry enough to be growing lambs, every time I show up in the barn to feed them!

So I was prepared, to the extent I could be, and I am pleased, beyond expectation.  All along as well, I’ve been making mistakes: doing things wrong and doing ‘em over.  Small stuff, mostly, I think – I’m likely not yet aware of half the mistakes I’ve made so far. Hopefully none of them is critical.  And while I hope my sheep are pregnant, I’ll certainly be terrified if, and when, the lambs arrive in a couple of months. In other words, not every day is easy, and not everything is fun. I’ll be glad when I have several seasons of shepherding under my belt, and when every situation is not brand new, another test to pass. But I’m grateful to be learning so much, and to have great people and resources at hand to teach me.  I’m grateful as well that this education so far has only scratched the surface: it’s headsmacking to appreciate how much there is that can be known, and learned, and done. If I keep the right attitude I will stay satisfyingly busy until I’m dead.  It’s good to have goals.

One thing I wasn’t expecting was how taken I’d be by these animals’ temperaments.  I thought sheep would be fairly neutral: interested in grass, grain, and each other, tolerant (I hoped) of their keeper. These sheep are curious, friendly, and sweet as well: I get tail wags and zipper nibbles, they get their faces petted. I always have help with whatever I’m shoveling, or moving, or mending. I don’t know if this is sheep in general, Finnsheep in particular, or just my sheep especially. And for this, I’m not really concerned to find an answer. I’m happy to be these sheep’s shepherd, and I’ll look forward to their mentoring.  Here’s thanks to the sheep in the year that’s passed, and thanks to sheep in the years to come!

Marti Ferguson

Buckland, MA, February 2017




Massachusetts Sheep & Woolcraft Fair :: May 27 & 28, 2017


Shepherds are getting their sheep and fleeces ready, vendors are getting wool, yarns and crafts ready for you  to see and workshops are now in place.  Come and join us at the fair.  Located in the beautiful town of Cummington, Massachusetts, at the fairgrounds.   Good food will be available bring the family for a day of fun.  Sheep shows, Dog trails and lots of demos will await you.


We are pleased to present our workshop schedule for 2017. We host great teachers from near and far. Bruce Engebretson writes for Spin Off Magazine, and teaches at Marshfield School of Weaving. He was trained in the Scandinavian tradition of fiber work. Katherine Johnson will teach us about Naalbinding, spelled variously: in English it is needle binding. Emily Gwynn enlightens us on using charts for knitting! Dotty Taft will be bringing her fleet of drum carder for us to experiment on.
On Saturday the cotton expert Joan Ruane of Bisbee AZ will be demonstrating how to spin cotton. On Sunday, Bruce Engebretson will demonstrate. Other guests will be joining us for various demonstrations.. Check out the Website for times and days.


Potluck Supper

A potluck supper will be held on the fairgrounds dining room at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday. Everyone is welcome. Please bring a prepared dish or salad sufficient to feed your family to the kitchen by 4:00 p.m. NO BREAD PLEASE! Rolls, beverages, and place settings will be provided.  Both refrigerators and a warming are available on the grounds.

Fleece Judging

The Dog Trials are always an exciting event

See you there











                                 HANDWOVEN KITCHEN TOWELS  by LISA BERTOLDI

Kitchen towels!


I love big, thirsty, durable, substantial kitchen towels.  They speak to me of comfort, of meals prepared with caring and thoughtfulness.  Of hot corn bread carried to potluck suppers.  Picnics in fields.


When I was a child doing kitchen chores, I always had certain towels for which I reached.  Often they were decades-old linen towels.  One I have in my mind’s eye was a threadbare rag, so beloved for its softness and its generous size.


For the past nine years I have been weaving those towels.  Always in twill, for the maximum number of threads packed in per square inch, and always in cottolin and linen.  Cottolin, a Scandinavia invention from around the time of World War II, is a terrific thread:  it combines the strength of linen with the forgiveness, the stretch of cotton.  As a warp, it is nearly perfect.  And a weft, or crossing thread, of linen singles, gives gloss, gives absorbability.  I utilize threads from Sweden because they are of very high quality.

I weave these towels on a 160 centimeter Swedish loom, called Glimakra.  It’s a workhorse.  It behaves dependably and admirably, and I love it.  We are used to each other.  I know how the beater should sound, how the treadles should feel with each and every pass of the weft thread.


Each individual warp has a sweet spot, an inch or two in which the weft threads flow like water, and flow dependably, and each beat with the overhanging beater is perfect and satisfying.  That sweet spot is one of the great joys of weaving, for me.


The weaving, or weaving off, of the fabric is about one-third of the effort of the creation of new cloth.  One must design, then plan the warp;  wind the warp threads;  make the warp chain from those threads;  dress the loom;  then make the all-important sample.  Finally one weaves off the fabric.  Still not done!!  Hemming, then finishing of the fabric.  The final step is inspection of each towel.


I sell these towels to an enthusiastic public.  Women and men collect them year after year, in various color ways.  They are given as gifts for weddings, birthdays, house warmings.  I weave them large, nineteen or twenty inches wide, by about twenty-nine inches long, so they can be truly useful in the kitchen or at the picnic. They look great.  They become very buttery soft and yet more absorbent with time and use.


I have chosen to focus my weaving on one item, to make that item the best it can be.  Utility is foremost in my mind:  I want to supply superbly absorbent kitchen toweling.  Durability is critical:  I use strong, well made threads from a respected company.


I have a limited line, in a sign, which utilizes as a weft thread handspun linen.  I spin this linen thread myself, out of the highest quality flax stricks.  The thread is glossy, strong, lovely.  It is a slow and very satisfying process, and the resulting towels are special:  they look a bit rustic, they are a bit heavier, and the drape is exquisite.  They age marvelously.


Each year I perform experiments with rags made from my towels, to see how much use they can withstand.  They hold up really well, and can take many dozens of washings, they can take abrasion, they can take it all.

Weft Handwovens


Lisa Bertoldi

51 Conway Road

Williamsburg MA 01096

Landline 413.268.7485

Lisa also sent us some pictures of a recent Dye Party in Worthington last summer

Thanks Lisa for showing some naturally dyed yarns.  What a fun dye party that must have been,





GREETINGS My Fiber Friends


For those of you who did not attend it was a fully packed 2 days of speakers, information, and just plain fun.Speakers and participants were from all over the country and Canada.  We were growers, want to be growers, weavers, spinners and dyers and much more.   We learned so much, made contacts with like minded people.  It was  a perfect event.  A big thank you to the members of The New England Flax and Study group and Old Deerfield Village who supplied such a wonderful place to hold this event.  I am sure there will be much more about this event coming in Feburary but for now here are some pictures of the event.

Hope you enjoyed this pictures.  I am hoping that this event will continue in the future.


Would you like to write an article on your adventures in fiber?  Please e-mail me





FIBERuary Day 28  GROWING AND PROCESSING FLAX   Talk and demo at Sheep and Shawl.                               with Michelle Phillips

Today was the last in a series of 4 talks given at Sheep and Shawl. Thanks to Liz and John for hosting these wonderful talks.

Michelle did a wonderful job of explaining the planting and finishing process of Flax.  I wanted to share with you pictures of this event. Everyone who wanted to got a chance to try their hand at it and see many wonder samples from the plant itself to the finished product.


Three different varieties of Flax


Dryed and Retted, ready for processing


Michelle using a Flax Brake.  This brakes the fiber from the stem.


This is a plant with a break in it, you can see the fiber between the break


Michelle using the Heckle.  The heckle splits and straightens flax fibers for spinning.

A wonderful time was had by all.