Yarn Mania

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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Rescued Needlework Projects


In my rambles through estate sales, tag sales, and rummage sales, I often come upon wonderful needlework projects in need of a bit more (or a lot more) additional work. Sometimes my finds are needlepoint canvases on which the crafter did all the stitching but then tucked the work away without going further.

These little pillows started out as completed canvases I found at two different sales. I turned them into pillows by cutting velvet backs from a velvet remnant I had on hand, stitching the velvet backs to the needlepoint fronts, and stuffing the result.

Here are the backs. My velvet remnant was a perfect color to complement the flower designs.

This stool is the result of a double rescue. A neighbor was getting rid of a little stool whose fabric top had become worn and grubby. I removed the old fabric and substituted a completed needlepoint canvas that I found at an estate sale, adding some cotton batting underneath.

I can’t resist anything with pansies on it.

This pillow came into my life as a partly finished kit with yarn and directions included. Some ambitious crafter had gotten bored with it and set it aside, and it ended up at a tag sale. I worked on it for a while but then I got busy with other things so I passed it on to my mother, who is a long-time devotee of needlework and very talented.


Lo and behold, the following Christmas it came back to me–complete, and made into a pillow by my sister. As you can see, the design uses a wider variety of stitches than the simple needlepoint technique.

Sitting on a shelf in my study are two more partly finished kits I rescued from, I think, a church rummage sale. This one is a needlepoint kit, maybe the type that comes with the complicated part already worked–in this case, the flowers.

The crafter then has only to fill in the background. This crafter apparently started but didn’t get too far. One of these days, when I finish several other projects, I will take up where the original crafter left off.

The other is a really cute thing–a crewel embroidery kit that definitely deserves some love and attention.


PeggyRescued Needlework Projects
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Vintage Collapsible Knitting Basket

My mother gave me this wonderful vintage knitting basket the last time I visited her.

She was an avid knitter for much of her life–though now her favorite craft is needlepoint. But I don’t recall her ever using this knitting basket. I think it’s a recent tag-sale find. Like mother, like daughter: I can never resist a tag sale and must have gotten my love of vintage treasures from her.

It’s quite cleverly designed. As you can see, it has a wooden frame that enables it to stand on its own.

But it can also be collapsed for easy carrying–though it doesn’t hold as much when it is collapsed.

I recently saw exactly this same knitting basket–though with a different flowered fabric–in the wonderful British series All Creatures Great and Small. (Highly recommended!) The series is based on the books of James Herriot and follows the adventures of a veterinarian in Yorkshire from the late thirties to the early fifties. In one episode, his sweet wife, Helen, has her knitting stored in just such a basket.

And on a recent tag-sale outing I was delighted to see that a twenty-something woman had snapped up a basket just like mine. These old objects seem to have so much more charm and personality than new things.

PeggyVintage Collapsible Knitting Basket
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Matthew’s First Christmas–Forty Years Later

When my son was born on November 25, 1979, my mother gave me a needlework kit to make him a Christmas stocking. It might seem that the first month at home with a new baby (my first and only) would be too busy to think of crafts, but I found the needlework a relaxing diversion and finished the stocking in time for Christmas.

We have gotten it out every year since then as part of our Christmas decorations, though over time it has begun to show its age.

It’s hard to believe how quickly forty years have passed!

PeggyMatthew’s First Christmas–Forty Years Later
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Finished at Last

My granny-square afghan is finished at last.

Inspired by the granny-square afghan that came to me from my real granny, Grandma Ehrhart, I decided to make one myself. This was more than three years ago, before I launched the Knit & Nibble series–otherwise maybe I would have tackled a giant knitting project rather than crochet.

Grandma Ehrhart’s afghan featured random colors with black borders so I used that color scheme too. I love the afghans in that style because they seem to derive from the same impulse behind patchwork quilts: a way to use up leftover odds and ends–in this case yarn remnants from other projects. Not having a huge backlog of yarn remnants, however, I went to the hobby store and bought skeins of yarn in every color that caught my eye.

First I made the squares. Here’s an early batch. Eventually I gave each a black border, but it was so much fun working with all those colors that I did many middles first.

I planned for the afghan to be 15 squares by 20 squares, so the goal was 300 squares. Then I started sewing them together, using a yarn needle and the black yarn from the borders. They can also be crocheted together.

I sewed them together into sections that were easy to handle in my lap while sitting on my sofa. Eventually I had many sections and began to fit them together like a puzzle.

Near the end, I discovered I’d only made 299 squares, not 300!

So I made another square.

Eventually the project got too big to hold on my lap so I moved it to the dining room table. The strip draped over the chair was the final piece.

Since it is now August, we won’t be needing an afghan to keep us cozy for a few more months. So my new afghan is folded up on a trunk waiting for cold weather.

Granny squares are really fun to make and they’re the perfect portable craft project. It’s easy to find tutorials online or in how-to-crochet books at the hobby store.

In my post of July 23, 2018, “A Genuine GRANNY-Square Afghan,” I talk about Grandma Ehrhart’s afghan.

PeggyFinished at Last
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Darning Egg

My daughter in law found this antique darning egg for me at an estate sale. Like many utilitarian objects from the past, it’s made of wood and finely crafted–more of an art object now than something a person would use.

Darning eggs can be made of other things too, like porcelain or stone–or even gourds.

Darning eggs are still manufactured and can be purchased online, naturally. But in an era of cheap disposable clothes, who would take the trouble to darn a pair of socks? You can see though, in this picture, how a darning egg would keep the problem area stable as the darning proceeded.

People did take the trouble to darn socks once–women mostly. Picture a domestic scene before screens took over our evenings. A man and a woman are sitting before the fireplace listening to the radio. A dog is stretched out on the carpet. The man is wearing slippers and smoking a pipe. The woman has permed hair and is wearing a neat housedress. He’s reading the paper. She’s darning a sock.

Perhaps she learned this skill as part of the training young women received to prepare them for their future role in life.

PeggyDarning Egg
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Easter Bunny

Here’s one of my own creations. To make this Easter bunny, I used the directions for Cozy Cat that appear at the end of Died in the Wool. Instead of the simple garter stitch, though, I used the stockinette stitch, and just for fun I knit him from an ombre yarn in the wildest color combination I could find.

Instead of Cozy Cat ears, I gave him bunny ears. (Scroll down for ear directions.)

And I found these amazing eyes at a local bead store.

Of course he had to have a bunny tail. (Scroll down for tail directions.)

Here are directions for the ears:

Cast on 10 stitches. Knit 18 rows. On the 19th, begin decreasing one stitch at each end of each row until you have just one stitch left. Slip it off your needle. Cut your yarn, leaving a tail of a few inches. Thread the tail through the loop you slipped off your needle and pull tight. Thread a yarn needle with the tail and stitch along the edge of the ear for half an inch or so to hide the tail. Cut off what’s left of the tail. Using the yarn needle again, sew the long edges of the ear together just to where the decreasing started.

Repeat these directions for the other ear.

Sew the ears onto the head with the seam facing the back.

And for the tail:

Cast on 12 stitches. Knit five rows. On the sixth, begin decreasing one stitch at each end of each row until you have just four stitches left on your needle. Knit seven rows. Cast off. Sew the edges of the 12-stitch-wide section together to create a tube. Fold the flap down and sew its edges to the top edges of the tube. Stuff the tail with a bit of the same stuffing you used on the body of the bunny—see directions for Cozy Cat. Sew the tail on the back of the bunny body. Try to sew around the open edges rather than flattening the edges together and sewing straight across.

PeggyEaster Bunny
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