Knitting birds with Arne and Carlos

It was a bright, sunny morning on Wednesday when I dropped small daughter off at school and headed the couple of miles from Winwick to Black Sheep Wools in Culcheth.  It always feels very liberating to be out of the day-to-day routine and doing something different, and it feels very decadent to be spending the day on a knitting workshop – especially when that workshop is with Norwegian knitting superstars Arne and Carlos!

Source: Black Sheep Wools

You may remember that I was lucky enough to go to their colourwork workshop last year when they came over to Black Sheep Wools, and I was really thrilled when Sara from Black Sheep invited me to their new workshop based on Arne and Carlos’ latest book Field Guide to Knitted Birds.  I’ve seen lots of pictures of the knitted birds online since the book was launched and I didn’t need asking twice!

There’s always a warm welcome for Arne and Carlos at Black Sheep Wools!

The workshops at Black Sheep always sell out really quickly and this one was no exception. There’s a lovely big dedicated workshop room which fits a good number of people (as you can see).  I took this photo from the table where I was sitting just before the workshop started; the room was full of excited conversation, the sound of new friends being made and tea and coffee being poured.  It was going to be a good day!

We had to take a set of knitting needles and a sewing needle (for finishing the birds later) with us, but everything else was provided so we were all given a copy of the pattern, yarn, stuffing and little beady eyes.  Also provided was the cake with another cup of tea.  They do such good cake at Black Sheep!

Arne and Carlos talked about their knitted birds for a short while before we all got stuck in. There’s a whole range of birds to knit in the book, all based on one basic pattern.  Some are marked like the wild birds that visit their garden in Norway …

others have traditional sweater markings (whaddya mean you’ve never seen a bird wearing an Icelandic jumper?!) …

and more of them are wearing cosy winter hats.  I think that every bird probably needs a chullo hat – but I’d like to see you catch the ones in your garden to put them on! 🙂

Here’s Arne talking about the bullfinch from the garden bird section of the book.  Did you know that the bullfinch is the traditional Norwegian Christmas bird, much like the robin is here in the UK?  I’m sure there’s also a joke here along the lines of “an Arne with a bird in the hand is worth …” but the punchline is eluding me.  It’s probably just as well.

What I’ve enjoyed about both of the workshops that I’ve been to with Arne and Carlos is that they have plenty of time to talk to people about what they’re doing.  They are happy to show techniques (and often multiple times), to chat about their work, their books and their travels, interspersed with useful pointers for creating the birds along the way.  (I hope the ladies who were sitting opposite me don’t mind being in the next few photos – I was just snapping away as Arne and Carlos were spending time talking to our table!)

We all started off with single colour birds, although there was enough yarn to use to bring in more colours if we chose to, and gradually, different breeds of bird began to emerge as the colours changed and people improvised with their knitting.  My bird was coming along pretty well at this point, and I had decided to give it a Fair Isle tummy (well, why not?).  One thing that I was sorry about was that I’d taken 2.5mm needles along with me – that’s definitely habit, they’re the first size that I grab in any situation now – and I’d have done better on a bigger size as we were using DK yarn.  That’s something for me to think about next time.  These birds are pretty quick to knit up so I’d definitely consider knitting another one (or two, or possibly a flock).

I was sitting with a couple of other creative stars – in this picture on the left you can see Lynne Rowe, who designs both knit and crochet patterns for magazines and books, and on the right is Emma Varnam who is also a crochet designer and has just brought out a book on how to make the most gorgeous crochet animals.  I’ve met Lynne before and like her very much, but this was the first time I’ve got to spend any time with Emma and she was lovely too – crafting folk are, on the whole, just brilliant people to be around, aren’t they?

By the time our workshop was over, I hadn’t quite finished my bird (too much chatting – it’s a good job I don’t get school reports any more!) but you can see it here all ready for the stuffing.

Arne and Carlos were sticking around for another few hours as they were due to give a talk on their book and do some book signing, but those of us in the workshop took advantage of the fact that they were there and got our books signed there and then.  Oh, and took a few photos.  It was really lovely to see Arne and Carlos again, and I hope that they’ll be able to make good on their promise to come back to Black Sheep Wools again soon.

More than a few of the people who had been at the workshop stayed for the talk, and it is very handy that Black Sheep has a really good cafe in the Craft Barn.  Lynne had to leave but Emma and I had ordered our sandwiches in the morning so they were all ready for us to sit and eat – and of course, chat some more!  It’s so good for your soul to be able to spend time with like-minded people, which is why I’d always urge anybody to try to find a knit n natter group near to them where they can do just that.

After lunch, we went back into the workshop room for Arne and Carlos’ talk about their book.  It was a free event and a good number of people turned up – it was standing room only at the back!  I didn’t take any photos whilst they were talking and I’m not going to tell you everything they said as I don’t want to spoil it in case you get chance to go and listen to them, but I will tell you that they are such great fun to listen to.  They bounce off each other with good humour and have the knack of turning anecdotes into hilarious stories that make you wish you’d been a fly on the wall when they happened.

The Field Guide to Knitted Birds came about after Arne and Carlos managed to encourage wild birds to visit their garden at their railway station house in Norway.  They had been aware that something was missing from their garden but it wasn’t until a conversation with a neighbour that they realised that the missing element was birds, so they set out to bring them into the garden with nesting boxes and bird food.  It took a while, but gradually the birds started to visit and became the subject of Arne and Carlos’ designs.  Their knitted collection started out with versions of the wild birds – they deliberately chose not to design them too realistically – and then expanded to include pretty much any bird for any occasion.  Some of the designs in the book not only have jumpers but are decorated with feathers and sequins too, and whilst birds always have feathers, I don’t think you’ll find any wearing sequins!  

I said goodbye to Arne and Carlos, and to Emma, and then set off for home.

“Have you had a great day?” asked big daughter, when I got home.  “I’ve just put the kettle on.”  “That’s great,” I said, “I’ve had a brilliant day and I’ve brought my piece of cake from Black Sheep that I didn’t eat at lunch time and you can share … oh no!”

My cake was still at Black Sheep, safely boxed up ready for me to take home.  “You’re not really going back for the cake, are you?” big daughter said, incredulously, as I snatched up my car keys.  I certainly was.  You don’t abandon Black Sheep cake and I’ve seen enough movies to know that famous line – “no cake left behind”.  Or something like that.  Anyway, it  was worth going back for.

Now, if you’re very quiet you can come into the garden with me because there’s been a new visitor recently.  It’s quite shy and likes to hide in the flowers, although I did spot it at the birdbox …

You don’t see many of these birds – in fact, I think this could be the only specimen.  It’s called the Lesser Spotted Fair Isle Greybird (it should perhaps be renamed the “Hardly Ever Spotted Fair Isle Greybird”) and it’s indigenous to a particular garden in Winwick.

I particularly like it’s pink beak, which lets it tone nicely with the flowers it likes to hide amongst.

I wonder what the RSPB will say if I list it in their Big Garden Birdwatch next year?

My huge thanks go to Black Sheep Wools for giving me a place on the Knitted Birds workshop, I had such a brilliant day meeting friends old and new and discovering a brand new bird variety. Creativity and evolution in one day! 🙂 xx

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17 Responses

  1. weavinfool says:

    I'm knitting birds too. They are such fun. I'm going to try adding sequins to some and let my imagination run wild with them all. I would have loved to have been at their workshop. Lucky you.

    • Winwick Mum says:

      Ooh, they are going to be fabulous birds! I like that they can be used as toys or as decorations depending on how you choose to finish them off xx

  2. Christina says:

    How sweet, knitted birds! Love how you have stage yours in the garden xx

  3. Lenore says:

    What a fabulous day Christine. I would love to attend one of their workshops, never know there might be one when Nola and I travel to England next year for Yarndale, your bird is so sweet, I would love to knit two Australian birds – Blue Wren and Scarlet Breasted Robin (very similar to your Red Robin) , they are beautiful birds and frequent the garden as do kangaroos on occasions. Have a great day. Lenore x

    • Winwick Mum says:

      Wouldn't that be great? They're in Sydney next weekend (see the comment below) which I think might be quite a long way from you but it's worth checking their website/Facebook page to see if they're coming any closer. I bet you could put the colours of your birds onto this basic pattern very easily if you wanted to. They both sound very exotic! xx

    • Lenore says:

      We are six hours from Sydney, I would love to go but have other commitments 😩, I will check their website, fingers crossed they will be in Melbourne. X

    • Winwick Mum says:

      Six hours is a long way to travel! Hope they manage to get a bit closer to you xx

    • Lenore says:

      I emailed Arne and Carlos and received the following back. I hope you don't mind Christine that I have posted a copy of their reply onyour Blog but I know a lot of Australian's read it and I wanted to alert Jenny.
      ARNE&CARLOS' trip to Australia is not until mid July. They will be in both Sydney and a Melbourne and will attend the show at Docklands, VI from July 27-31.

      Head over to Cleackheatons Facebook and Instagram pages for more information on their visit. Further information will be released soon.

    • Winwick Mum says:

      Thanks for sharing this information, Lenore, I'm sure it will be much appreciated by anyone living in your part of the world! Australia is such a big place that it must take some organising to get around sometimes! xx

  4. Unknown says:

    Im a bit excited about this. The two gentlemen in mention are coming to Sydney's biggest Craft Show at Darling Harbor next weekend! I hope to see them and purchase their lovely book.

    • Winwick Mum says:

      Oh yes, so they are – they were telling us that they were travelling to Australia in a week or so. Don't be shy about talking to them if you get to go, they're very approachable and always love to see projects that you've made from their patterns and yarn too. Enjoy your day out! xx

    • Winwick Mum says:

      Hi Jenny, I hope you get chance to pick this up – Lenore (see comment above) has emailed Arne and Carlos about their visit to Australia and found some info on the dates which she hopes will be useful to you! xx

  5. Lynne Rowe says:

    A fabulous account of the day – and a most enjoyable read – thank you for the lovely comments Christine – my little bird is sitting here in The Woolnest. Hope to see you again soon – hopefully before Yarndale and if not – at Yarndale xx Have a great summer xx

  6. The Inspired Stitcher says:

    Thank you so much for posting this today. I most likely won't ever have this experience being on the other side of the pond but I can surely live vicariously through you. I especially love that you get to have tea and cake at your LYS! That's my kind of place!

  7. Gill says:

    Late to the game, but wanted to let you know that Arne and Carlos have a great little YouTube site ( in English) where they are as funny and natural as in real life.

    • Winwick Mum says:

      Yes, I subscribe to their channel so get regular updates of their videos. They are very funny on those videos too! 🙂 xx

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