Yarn Mania

Hand-Knit Christmas Tree Ornaments

My sister Heidi made these knitted Christmas tree ornaments for my mother. My mother is gone now and the ornaments have come to me.


Each one is different, but they all use various Nordic designs–and some have a special holiday touch of sparkle.

Here’s a reindeer.

A stylized snowflake.

And a sweet little bird.

Heidi described the process of creating the balls as “like knitting a sock–four needles. You start with a very few stitches and increase, then decrease again.” The technique used to create the designs is often called Fair Isle knitting or stranded colorwork knitting. The key thing is that the color not in use is carried across the back. Heidi’s pattern for the yarn balls came from Arne & Carlos, Norwegian craftspeople and designers. Their website includes an online shop offering many, many wonderful patterns, for sweaters, toys–all sorts of things, most involving Nordic designs. They also post on YouTube and have a very entertaining blog.

Here’s a closeup of the bottom of one so you can see the increasing happening.

And here’s a closeup of the top.

They don’t have to go on a tree.

Or . . .

Happy Holidays to All!

PeggyHand-Knit Christmas Tree Ornaments
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Chihuahua-Sized Dog Sweater

I found this wonderful creation in a bin of miscellaneous objects at an estate sale. I love anything made with variegated yarn, so the eye-catching colors were what first attracted me.

When I picked it up and examined it, I realized it had to be some sort of garment, with arm-holes and a button-up front, and it had been lovingly crocheted–perhaps for cat. Naturally I had to buy it!

As I was settling up with the person running the sale, I commented on what a curious and fun treasure I had found and suggested it might be for a cat. No, he said. The woman who owned the house had been a chihuahua lover–“teacup chihuahuas,” the really tiny ones, and had owned two of them. I guess the rest of their wardrobes moved with them. Perhaps this garment was too gaudy for their tastes.

PeggyChihuahua-Sized Dog Sweater
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A Blast from the Past: 1970s Granny-Square Afghan

It seems odd to be writing about something as cozy as an afghan with temperatures here in northern New Jersey hovering in the 80s and 90s, but anyway . . .

My mother found this afghan in a thrift shop and gave it to me because of my fondness for granny squares. I don’t know if it’s really from the 1970s, but the color scheme certainly brings that era to mind. The browns and greens so popular then were a holdover from the 1960s back-to-nature vibe–or a reaction against some of the psychedelic color schemes of the previous decade? And since it had been 20 years since the 1950s, turquoise and peach had cycled back into favor.

I lived through the 1970s and I recall being drawn to homey arts and crafts, and music like bluegrass, which seemed comforting perhaps–given what was going on in the world at large (not that things are any calmer at the moment). I also recall making several granny-square projects, but nothing as ambitious as an afghan.

When my husband and I bought our house in 1979, the living room was painted avocado green and the dining room was harvest gold. We were horrified and reacted by painting everything white–never mind that several decades later our living room walls are peach!

Here are close-ups of some of the squares, which are much larger than the ones that make up the afghans I’ve featured in other blog posts. Granny squares can actually go on and on. You could make a whole afghan that was one giant granny square since they’re constructed from the center outward.

Here we have orange and rust and two shades of green–plus harvest gold.

Here’s another one . . . green and more harvest gold, and peach in the center.

And another one . . . a different shade of brown, and tan, and peach and turquoise!

Not sure what happened here–multicolored ombre yarn perhaps? No other squares are like this.

I like the design of this afghan too. The stripe livens things up.

Here’s a fun website that shows lots of typical 1970s color schemes.

PeggyA Blast from the Past: 1970s Granny-Square Afghan
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Cozy Mickey Mouse Afghan

I found this Mickey Mouse afghan at an estate sale. Its creator had been a whirlwind of knitting and crocheting activity in her lifetime, according to the daughter who was running the sale, and an entire room was filled with knitted and crocheted creations. I came away with many many treasures and could easily have browsed for another hour. The daughter was quite happy to be finding good homes for her mother’s enormous output.

. The details are amazing, the colors are perfect, and I love the lacy border. Here’s Mickey’s face up close.

What’s the point of an afghan, though, if one doesn’t cuddle up in it?

PeggyCozy Mickey Mouse Afghan
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Needlepoint Cat Pillows

My mother was a devoted crafter, even doing her own upholstery! She knit–including argyle socks, sewed clothes for herself and her children as well as elaborate drapes, turned out quilt after quilt . . . I hardly recall her ever being idle. As she got older, she turned to needlepoint. She left a needlepoint project unfinished when she died last summer at the age of 99. One of her grand-daughters is now finishing it.

Shopping for gifts became very easy when she entered the needlepoint phase: needlepoint kits were always appreciated. Usually the kits were intended to become pillows once the design was worked, and my sister became adept at adding the backing and stuffing that would transform them.

Several of the needlepoint pillows have now come down to me. Because of the cats in my Knit & Nibble mysteries, I ended up with a batch of . . . CATS!

This one is quite realistic. The needlepoint design does an amazing job of capturing the effect of a calico cat–or maybe tortoiseshell.

Here’s a close-up of the face. I love the whiskers.

Here’s one that poses a cat against a stylized field of flowers. My mother liked kits with a lot of detail rather than those where the fun of working the central design was followed by the boring task of filling in a solid background. This cat seems to be a black and white tabby.

I feel like the kitty is staring right at me.

And this one is more fanciful. As I recall, the kit was a gift from me–a striking tortoiseshell cat with green eyes.

There’s a kind of desperate look in the eyes, as if to say, “Why are you making me wear this silly outfit?”

For the interested needlepointer–the kits came from Ehrman Tapestry. The company really produces lovely designs.

PeggyNeedlepoint Cat Pillows
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Crochet Santa

I found this crocheted Santa at an estate sale in a house that had been inhabited by a veritable yarn virtuoso. An entire room was piled with her creations, but this Santa especially caught my eye–just in time for the holidays.

His creator cleverly used the spiral crochet technique for his legs and arms.

His beard and nose are pompoms.

And the trim on his hat is the crochet popcorn stitch.

Happy Holidays to all!

PeggyCrochet Santa
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Knitting Knobby

I found this curious object at an estate sale last year and realized it was a commercial version of a device we made with wooden spools and little nails when I was a child. It dates from the era before everything was plastic, so like the handles of vintage kitchen tools, it’s made of wood and painted with a bright enamel paint.

Old as it is, the instructions it originally came with had been preserved too. Note evidence at the very bottom of the instructions that it predates the era of zip codes. Susan Bates was located at 366 Fifth Avenue (Very classy!) New York 1, N.Y.

We didn’t call them Knitting Knobbies, however. I’m not sure we called them anything, though maybe spool knitters, which is another name–along with Knitting Nancy and French knitter–for the device.

Despite the fact that my vintage Knobby came with instructions carefully saved by its original owner, I had to consult the Internet to really get the technique back. (Thanks, YouTube!)

Basically it’s a kind of knitting–thus the name–though there’s no way to end up with anything other than a yarn worm. The yarn is first fed down the tube in the center and then looped around the prongs as a sort of casting on. Then the strand of yarn is drawn past the prongs one at a time and each loop is lifted over the strand of yarn and over the prong to create a “stitch,” around and around and around as the yarn worm grows.

In order to do this, a tool–which can be a very thin knitting needle–is used.

As you can see from the instructions, other things, “Lovely Things,” can be made from the yarn worms, including beanies and belts. And my daughter-in-law pointed out that a very patient person could even make a long enough yarn worm to coil into a rug.

Thread doesn’t come on wooden spools now, but I had one from a batch of sewing supplies I found at another estate sale. With the addition of four little nails I made a replica of the ones I used to make as a child.





PeggyKnitting Knobby
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When an ordinary hanger just won’t do . . .

In the days before people could buy “designer” hangers in stores like Home Goods or Bed, Bath, and Beyond–and were more frugal than to spend money on things like that anyway, they relied on their own artistry to add a bit of flair to everyday household items, like coat hangers.

On my (pre-coronavirus) estate-sale prowls I often found hangers embellished with hand-worked yarn covers. I have assembled quite a collection and they are not only cute but they are useful. The covers protect garments from the sharp angles of the hanger and keep wide-necked garments from sliding off. One woman I bought some from told me that her mother had made them for all her daughters.

(The quilt the hangers are lying on is also an estate-sale find–a beautiful hand-made creation so old that some of the fabric has deteriorated.)

I truly do not know whether these hanger covers are knitted or crocheted, though I lean toward crochet.

The wonderful pink detail on this one definitely looks like crochet.

Sometimes they sport extra flourishes. And what fun to use ombre yarn!

So far these are all based on wooden hangers, but here’s one that starts with a wire hanger.

These hangers are all beautiful and useful, but for the truly ingenious we turn to . . .

My sweet daughter-in-law found this on a recent (masked) estate-sale prowl and sent me photos.

In her accompanying note, she said, “When we stepped outside of the sale, family members of the homeowner were observing the madness inside. They were very kind and spotted the hanger in my hand, saying, ‘My mother made one of those for each of us!’ I mentioned that I was thrilled to give it a new life in our home, and I plan to repair it and use it as a drying rack for our hand-washed face masks. They were so touched that they asked to take a photo of me with it to share with their mother. The whole experience was very charming.”

It will be very useful as a drying rack for hand-washed face masks–though a sad testimony to the weirdness of our times. But what on earth could its original purpose have been? Drying rack for hand-washed nylon stockings in the days before panty hose? A way to hang scarves so they wouldn’t get wrinkles from folding?

If anyone has any ideas, please use the “Contact” feature on this website to share them with me!

PeggyWhen an ordinary hanger just won’t do . . .
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Spindle Woman

Like many people, my husband and I have been using our coronavirus-enforced seclusion to sort and tidy. The other day while cleaning out my study, I came upon this photo that my husband took when we traveled to Peru nearly two decades ago.

I think this woman was selling her wares in the marketplace in Cusco. She was also using her time productively by doing some spinning. You can see she is holding a drop spindle in her right hand, but I think she’s gotten to the stage of removing the spun yarn once the spindle is full and coiling it into a hank, which is what we see wrapped around her left hand.

She seems to be spinning with wool–maybe alpaca?–that was dyed before being spun: “dyed in the wool” actually.



PeggySpindle Woman
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Navy and Neon Granny-Square Afghan

I found this gorgeous granny-square afghan at a pop-up flea market in a school yard near where my son and daughter-in-law live in Brooklyn.

I love the way the creator used navy blue yarn as a background for the amazing assortment of colors in the individual granny squares–including neon orange and pink. The afghan is similar to the traditional style that rims each multicolored square with black, like the one I made based on one my grandmother gave me, but the navy blue and neon give it an interesting twist.

The different shades of navy blue suggest that the creator was frugally using up navy yarn left from other projects–or she ran out midway through and couldn’t match the dye lot.

And I love the elaborate border that carries out the neon theme.

The craftsmanship in this afghan is really marvelous, and the yarn gauge is quite fine so the work must have been slow-going.

The afghan is huge–huge enough to cover a twin bed. Based on my experience making my own granny-square afghan, it represents years of labor.

I suspect that most of the vintage items offered at flea-market stalls come from estate sales. When I go out on my estate-sale jaunts, I often see afghans for sale. Usually, since the point of an estate sale is to clear out a house so it can be sold, they can be had for just a few dollars. I’ve rescued a few myself and like to think the creators would be happy that someone else appreciates their work, even if I didn’t pay much for it.

I did, however, pay quite a bit for this flea-market afghan. In fact I had to bargain quite vigorously to bring the asking price down to where I didn’t feel too extravagant. But the flea-market booth’s proprietor deserves credit–and a good mark-up–for recognizing and rescuing this gem.

PeggyNavy and Neon Granny-Square Afghan
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