DIY story: A feltie in 4 steps

feltie feature

I’m not sure what happened the other week.

Maybe it was seeing doll-artist Mimi Kirchner’s doll-making tutorial on Purl Soho, and then being completely blown away by the dolls on her instagram feed. They are incredible.

Maybe it’s the long-going, all-garter-stitch project that I’ve been working on — like cloud-gazing, working its rows tends to lull me into daydreams about things to make.

Or, maybe it’s simply the slow seasonal shift out of winter (fingers crossed?) that’s bringing in a new light and, with it, some unexpected creative whims. Whatever the case and cause, I felt the strong desire to make a felt doll last last Saturday – it was an insistent and oddly specific feeling that a little felt creature of some kind had to happen, and for no discernible reason. I am not known to say no to a surprise visitation from the feltie fairy; I canceled my weekend movie-night plans, brewed a big pot of tea, and took to the drawing board. Here’s the DIY story, in 4 parts.

(Note: I have minimal hand-sewing experience and near-zero needlepoint skills, so the following project is easy enough for absolute feltie beginners!).

1. Designing a Pattern 

I started with a simple sketch – a brainstorm of how I wanted a potential doll to look. I was inspired by one of my favourite childhood drawings: a picture of a somewhat forlorn hippie-bear with vacant pools for eyes. My current doll-prototype has yet to approximate the truth and goodness of this bear; it’s one of my favourite things.

I translated the sketch into a slightly modified paper cut-out that would serve as the doll pattern. Having no experience with designing doll-arms and doll-legs that move, I decided to make a static figure. Very Gumby-like. I held off on the rabbit-ears (but this idea has been very much shelved for later).


2. Stuffing & Sewing Up

Two identical pieces of felt were cut from this template (one for the doll-front, the other for the back). That is about as easy as it gets. Pinning the two pieces together kept the edges aligned while hand-sewing. They were seamed using a visible whip stitch and stuffed using some poly-fill that we conveniently happened to have on hand from felties past. One trick that I found useful (though likely unconventional) was to fill each small section as it was sewn (a leg, an arm, etc.). Skinny limbs can be hard to stuff — the flat end of a pencil can help move the fill to where it needs to go.

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I spent Saturday sewing and stuffing my way through the project, and by Sunday morning, the paper template had a marshmallowy, 3-D version of itself (with a tummy patch!).

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Another lesson learned, here: once stuffed, the resulting doll will be a little thinner than its paper counterpart — something to keep in mind when designing a stuffable template of this kind!

3. Adding Features

Using Mimi Kirchener’s excellent Purl Soho tutorial as a guide, I gave the doll some hair: a simple cut-out from one of her “wigs” that adorably represents a neat little parted up-do. The hair was sewn on, again, with a visible whip-stitch.

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I returned to my creature last Tuesday to embroider some features. This step made me pause: I have almost no thread/floss-needlepoint skills, and the closest I come was a failed 5th-grade cross-stitch project that never saw the light of day (coincidentally, this project was also of a bear, seated, holding a heart which ended up looking more like a deflated beach ball). In other words, not a good track-record to bring to a project that I thought was going well, and didn’t want to ruin in one fell needle-swoop!

Luckily, Nathalie Mornu’s Embroider Your Life: Simple Techniques & 150 Stylish Motifs to Embellish Your World was an indispensable embroidery guide — it’s very beginner- and user-friendly (not scary!) and provides easy-to-read primers on how to do basic stitches and shapes with needle and thread. The ethos of the book is that embroidery and needlepoint can go anywhere.

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Using a water-soluble ink pen to pre-mark where the eyes would go, I used satin-stitch to fill in the eyes, to make a nose on a ‘snout’ (using a contrast colour of felt), as well as for her tiny heart tattoo (because she wears her heart on her sleeve). Back stitch was used for the brows and mouth.

I’m learning that there’s good reason to wait until the doll is stuffed to add its features – it’s simply much easier to see how and where everything will actually be positioned on an already-fully-stuffed head.

4. Last step: some new threads!

This was the part I anticipated the most when I started the project — my imagination was set free by dreams of tiny sweaters galore. I decided, in the end, to start with a basic poncho in the round: after a basic neckline, I worked a few rows of raglan-style increases and kept on knitting rather than separating the stitches off for sleeves (worked on size 4 DPNs and some scrap DK weight from another project, more on that soon).

As in large-scale knitting, top-down construction lends itself nicely to work-in-progress fittings:

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And voilà.

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A feltie and her (fore)bear.

The mini-poncho’s colour work pattern comes from Andrea Rangel’s quite awesome AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary: 200 Modern Knitting Motifs. It’s a great resource for fun colour work charts (you’ll find everything in this book from zombies and squirrels to bicycles and scarab beetles). So much colour work goodness here!

And that’s a wrap! I hope to do more of these. Felties are fun to experiment with, and are great for small-scale garment-making. Following the process from sketch to sewing up can, as you can see, lead to some quite unexpected results (which, I think, is where the joy in design and making lies).

Have a DIY feltie design query? Or any doll-making tips to pass on? I would love to hear them in the comments below.

Wishing you many moments of creative happiness this week!

Knitting up: Recycled yarn, part III

After winding down, naturally, comes knitting up.

I’ve been working nights, over the past few weeks, on my recycled-yarn sweater, and it is slowly taking shape! After dreaming about tackling a seamless top-down sweater (a construction method I love), I decided to work on a seamed sweater project instead. Having had the fun and excitement of making a top-down baby sweater, I felt like I wanted a new challenge.

I felt a twinge of love at first sight when I laid eyes on Roberta Rosenfeld’s Drape front sweater in the pages of a slightly weathered copy of Vogue Knitting’s Very Easy Sweaters (2013).


© Vogue Knitting/Rose Callahan

The sweater looked comfortable, versatile and, yes, very, very easy in its all-stockinette composition. If you recall, the back of the sweater was completed a while ago.

WIP 6-1-17

The front of the sweater has since also been knit up, but with one major modification: it won’t be a draping sweater after all! It will be a plain-fitting, non-draping front. Literally, a sweater t-shirt. It’s as simple as tops get. I chose this modification for two reasons:

1. I learned that I did not have enough of the recycled yarn for the drape version, which requires an extra stretch of knitting at the front. Yep.

2. Knitting up using my recycled yarn ended up requiring making many (many) joins. The sweater is basically made up of yarn pieces! This photo may be tantamount to airing out my dirty laundry, but here’s what I mean:


Sweater front (wrong side): a veritable infestation of joins.

The original pattern requires half of the sweater-front to be twisted after being knit up, leaving half of the front ‘inside out’ (with an outfacing garter-stitch side) and the other half in regular stockinette.  The prospect of multiple loose threads from the joins above coming undone and leaving little ends sticking out did not appeal to me. I decided to abandon the dream of that beautiful drape and keep the joins where they belonged: on the inside of the garment!

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Sweater front (right side): I was sad to ditch the drape, but the joins will be contained once woven in.

What’s left, now, is to block the front, then sew the two pieces together. I’m a little jittery about this last step, but I can’t wait to share (and wear) the results. I resolve to love this ‘first sweater,’ regardless of how misshapen it may turn out. In honesty, I already love this future recycled garment with all my heart: I love that this sweater gave me so much time of happy work. It will be that funny sweater I wear that contains all the hours of joy and delight that went into making it. It will be my Happiness Sweater (for this reason, I really hope it fits!). More to come.

Hoping this week finds you enjoying some stitching under the sun!

Knit, write, run, repeat: On slow progress

Long post alert (but with some knitting updates in tow).

I’m coming to recognize and examine a few things about myself:

1.  I like to get lost in work. Different kinds of work. Usually, whatever it is I have to do. Call it engagement, “flow,” or trance, I rely on that state of zoned-out engagement for a sense of balance and productivity.

2.  I am a slow worker. By this, I mean that I like to take my time. Whether preparing a piece of writing, a piece of knitting, or a meal, I like to consider possible alternatives, undo and re-do my efforts, enjoy all the different steps of a process. I’ve often felt that my slowness has been, up until now, a disadvantage. World records, rewards and races endlessly validate speediness; “slowness” gets a bad rap. But, when I work slowly (and can manage to tame the urgent sense that I should work faster), I get the most work done over the long term. Slow work adds up.

When I first became aware of it, my habit of slow work seemed counter-intuitive and almost paradoxical. Business-y internet clip art and related images of productivity have taught me that productivity thrives on speed: doing multiple things on the go, doing them quickly, one after the other, life-hacking tasks to cut the time it takes to do them. But, the more I committed myself to the kinds of projects I actually enjoyed doing, the more I discovered that there are many things to which shortcuts don’t apply. Some very worthwhile processes are not very “efficient” or streamlined at all. For these processes, slow and steady plodding (with its second chances, pauses, and time for deliberation) feels more comfortable to me. I’m starting to appreciate my disposition for slowness, and am beginning to discover its benefits and advantages.


I cultivate my inner ‘plodder’ through knitting, which is the ability to create durable and interesting things one stitch at a time. Well-intentioned people have reacted to my knitting in ways that expressed that they thought it was admirable, but amounted to a form of tedium. In those moments, I wished I was capable – through some sci-fi mind melding – to transmit the states of pleasure and engagement that come from working on a project. For me, there’s the zeal of the pattern-search, when I entertain hope and collect aspirations; there’s the thrill of a fresh cast-on; there’s the mid-way chill-out that comes with seeing the knit grow (and growing into the knit); and the satisfaction of the final bind off. All of this, further, comes wrapped up in anticipation and self-doubt: I never know how the thing is actually going to turn out, so I knit for the simple pleasure of seeing what happens. There’s always some dread that a project might end up quite horrible, so I don’t rush to my doom.

I’ve made progress on the recycled yarn sweater of the previous tutorial, posted in April. I recall purchasing and unraveling the sweater in March. I’m mid-way through re-knitting it into a new sweater – 3 months coming! Now, that’s a slow sweater.

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Recycled yarn sweater in progress – half the back! (May 15, 2017)
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Completed back of recycled yarn sweater, thumbtack-blocking on a spare sofa (June 1, 2017)


Writing provides similar refuge for my slow-plodder. I’ve been working on a writing project for nearly 3 years. I was once told by someone that, were they in my shoes, they would have given up. I wanted to convey to them how I get lured (tricked) into writing, how there is a wave-like cycle that oscillates between productivity and fallow-time, between the momentum of strongly desiring the things I’m going to write and being absolutely sick of the things that I have.

Unlike knitting, where I can watch my knit grow as I inch towards that FO, I’m often caught off-guard, when writing, by how quickly unrelated content can pile up. A big hunk of my written words, I’ve learned, will have to be cut from the next draft. The equivalent to this experience, in knitting, would be to start, say, a scarf, only to discover that a hat, sock, and some other unrecognizable stuff have also started to insinuate themselves onto the needles. Constant mutation! If my knitting constantly shape-shifted in this way, I would be faced with deciding which one of the emerging projects to pursue; this would come with a twinge of pain at having to say no to some very promising beginnings without any guarantee that they’d be completed later. Having newly committed, say, to knitting the sock instead of the scarf, I might once again find myself re-directed by some new emergent stuff and have to re-decide what it is I’m doing. This is how uncertain and non-linear the process of writing feels to me.

On still other days, there’s just the blankness to contend with. Either way, in the past, I could only make it to the writing table kicking and screaming.

The fear abides. But, I’ve learned that I can make things a little more bearable if I plod gently and slowly: I work my way to the chair, put on some music. I try to keep in mind that none of it is set in stone, and doodle things with pens that no one will see. I work one word at a time, one tiny revision at a time – time enough to build that awkward sentence, register that up-welling horror, and then take a gentler, more yielding stance to it, reworking it where I can. With slowness comes some space to practice forgiving myself, as I go, for all of the bad prose produced. I’m discovering that writing can be a valuable exercise in self-acceptance; the fear is always there.


More recently, I’ve found a new home for my slow, plodding ways: running. Not the race-you-to-the-fence kind of running, but the kind done slowly, at your own pace.  Jogging, I guess.

Last weekend, my partner and I ran Chicago’s 5K Ridge Run. I ran the course in 40 minutes (a plodding 13-minute mile). I found myself – a barely trained running neophyte – having to slow my pace down in order to keep going. But, this pace was slow enough for me to not have to hurriedly toss the little cups of water they hand you to the ground (which felt wrong, the course was in a residential neighbourhood). Instead, I simply jogged to the nearest bin. It was slow enough to see and appreciate the good folks who had shown up, on their own time, to cheer the runners on. And it was slow enough to register the odd bit of chatter between runners –  the way one mother explained to her small daughter the meaning of the word determination (“it means you don’t give up even when something gets really hard”).

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Start at the beginning. At the starting line of Chicago’s 40th annual 5K Ridge Run, May 29th.

We ran in honour and memory of my partner’s father – a seasoned and dedicated runner who ran a Ridge Run (10K or 5K) every single year since the race’s beginnings in 1977. That’s an unwavering 39 races run, over 39 years, in addition to a number of marathons also run, over the years, and all the training that happened in between. I have always been amazed and inspired by this example of commitment. He was able to not only complete courses most would find harrowing, but to maintain his dedication to the sport over decades.

It’s an example to live by.

How do you work best? And how do you, on larger projects, keep motivation alive long enough to go from start to finish?

Happy making, friends. Wishing you a beautiful weekend.

Winding down: Recycled yarn, Part II

In early April, I posted a DIY tutorial on how I harvested the yarn from a recycled thrift-store sweater.

I’ve since hand-washed and dried the yarn, adding some weight during drying to take out the curls. Unfortunately, my strategy didn’t work as well as I thought it would. Once dried, the used yarn was still curling from its previous knit (though you’ll notice the waves are a little looser than before). I think this ‘yarn memory’ is due to several reasons, but the main one, I suspect, is a high synthetic content. It may not be the 100% wool I thought it was!

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Recycled yarn before washing (left) and after (right)

Anyhow, wanting to get on with things, I decided to go ahead and ball this curly yarn. For lack of a proper winder, I made the balls by hand using a toilet paper roll (!) removed when the winding was done. This was time-consuming, but was in line with my love of recycling. Hand-winding, it turns out, is also relaxing in its own way. The result was a neat, center-pull ball. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let those speak for themselves.

presweater composite

Stay tuned to find out just what I have been doing with this recycled yarn. 🙂

Happy Winding!

DIY: Turn a Sweater into Yarn (with bonus Ikea stool hack)

I’m all for experiments and trying new things – especially when those experiments involve getting a sweater’s worth of yarn for $5.

After some Youtubing and hemming and hawing, I decided to try recycling yarn from a used sweater. I went to the local Goodwill, found what looked to be a woolen hand-knit sweater (just my luck) in a beautiful denim shade of blue, took it home for $4.99, and began the unraveling.

As you can see, it is not a bad sweater at all. It’s got some lovely cabling, and was made by an expert hand. But, my knitting dreams need yarn. And lots of it!

Here were my sweater-recycling steps: a conglomeration of different Youtube tutorials + my own spin…

1. Dissassemble the sweater: Cutting the seams

I learned (by trial and error) that the sweater needs first to be disassembled(!). I turned the sweater inside out, and found the seams. There were seams attaching the sleeves to the body, and seams attaching the front and back of the garment. What you see below are ‘good’ seams as far as sweater recycling is concerned (they are hand sewn rather than machine-serged). As a result, it was easy to find the thread that held the pieces together, and cut it. I recommend going slowly at first to minimize casualties (i.e. like cutting into the knitting itself!).

On the ‘wrong’ side of the stockinette, the seam looks like two rows of braids. I picked out and cut the thread holding them together.
The seam appears like a ‘ladder’ strung between the sweater’s pieces.

After less than a couple of hours, the sweater was disassembled: 2 body pieces and 2 sleeves.

Front (neck line removed) and sleeves…

This takes a while. The knitter who made this sweater was fond of securing the seams with huge knots. Impatient, I cut these knots away.

2. Finding a pulling point

I’m sure there’s a better way to go about this, but I simply looked for where I thought the ‘cast off’ edge was on each piece. Since this was a seamed sweater, I assumed it was knit bottom-up and looked for the cast off edge at the necklines and tops of sleeves. With a little sleuthing, I noticed an uneven dip in the collar of the front of the sweater (left, below) which signaled where the last stitch might have been made. I worked on it with a knitting needle + scissors, and was able to prise a thread loose. I was in business for some serious frogging! Woo hoo!

I love the ramen noodle look of un-knit yarn.

3. Frogging it!

This is the fun part – you pull and pull…and pull.

I had read that it’s a time-saver not to leave the yarn in a tangled heap when unraveling, so I was looking for something to wind my yarn around as I went. I noticed that our Ikea Marius stool had a good set of prongs on it, so I recruited the stool in keeping my unraveling job neat, for lack of proper tools. I suppose necessity is the mother of… winging it with whatever you’ve got!

Here is the front of the sweater being frogged: with the sweater in my lap, I’m spinning the stool on a table, winding the strand around the 4 legs. I admit, my first section of frogging  wasn’t a perfect pull; there were quite a few joins that had to be made, places where the yarn broke because of my inexperienced seam-ripping (it pays to be precise!)

The front body of the sweater alone yielded a good amount of yarn. I tied the pieces together:

So many joins… forgive the messy background.

By the end of the whole process, I was left with some really copious blue hanks. Check out all that good stuff!

Frogged front, back, and 2 sleeves.

At this point, the yarn needs to be washed, and hung to dry. Adding a weight to the yarn as it dries will help to take out the curls (more on this process in a later post). Then, the yarn can be wound up, and will be ready for its knitting after-life.

There’s a world of beautiful fibre out there, waiting to be discovered and transformed. This experience is urging me not to dismiss Thrift stores and rummage sales as solid stash-sourcing options!

Have you ever recycled old knits? I’d love to hear about your adventures in yarn-cycling (and more!) in the comments.