Felt doll #2: Doe

In the first week of March, I started work designing and making a 2nd felt figure. After my first one, I was on a bit of a felt-doll kick and decided to run with it.

The Idea

The idea for this doll came unexpectedly, but once it arrived, it didn’t let go. One night, while looking aimlessly at the faux-marble designs on our kitchen floor tiles, I saw the face and figure of a little doe in the marble-y striations (my childhood habit of cloud-gazing, it seems, is following me into adulthood). This little doe caught my imagination. I knew then and there that she would be the next doll.

On reflecting further, there was good reason for my little deer vision. My partner and I live near a forest preserve. Last summer, we regularly went on hikes through the more heavily wooded areas, off the path. There, one encounters many little worlds. There was, for instance, the place we called “Frog Central,” which was just that: a nutrient-rich pond covered entirely by luminous green, seed-sized duckweed leaves; its busy banks were always a favourite frog and turtle hangout. What I still remember vividly, though, were the encounters with deer: spotting a lone and roaming stag, twice and, several other times, crossing literal paths with a doe and her fawn, trailing behind. The city makes it easy to forget that we share our world with other creatures who, like us, are simply trying to go about their lives, undisturbed.

Sewing Up

On March 4th, I started to draw out different paper templates. By the 5th, I was cutting out my pieces and threading my needles. I was driven by a lot of curiosity and helped by making a lot of mistakes (some which I kept on the FO, like the different stitch patterns on the doe’s arms, as a reminder for future dolls).


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Button joints lend moving limbs.
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Close scrutiny of an offered ear (after several tries, this one passed the test and was deer-approved).


A Dress for Spring

By the following week, the deer was sitting for a dress-fitting. Coraline’s miniature-knits were still fresh in my memory (this dress is huge by comparison, of course).

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I generated a very minimal design and, after knitting up the dress, I was reminded of the advice given by the instructor who taught my college class on painting fundamentals. She was a professional landscape artist who had an irreverent and humorous teaching style (and inducted us into painting by having us build and stretch numerous 16 sq ft canvases in the studio). Early in the course, she told us “When you find yourself ‘decorating’ your work, stop!”

I have never been good at following this advice. At my core, you’ll find an inveterate “decorator.” I learned this early on: in another art class, we were asked to make a simple “fetish object”; while the other students’ works were nearly all very interesting conceptual objects, I arrived to our critique with a glass bottle that I had fully bedazzled with multi-colored rhinestones and acrylic paint. I felt like I’d missed the point of the assignment! (and discovered, in that encounter, the presumed and often discouraging hierarchy between “art” and “craft”).

I’m recovering my love of embellishment, however, so I had to add a little something extra to this tiny dress. I tried to practice some restraint, though (no rhinestones!). The X’s and O’s on the yoke are my take on Fair Isle patterning. The dress is knit from bamboo yarn; I added sequins to complement the bamboo’s natural luster. The dress is designed to catch those Spring-time rays.


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I hope that this week finds you like this doe – basking in the glow of a long-missed sunbeam.

To Spring! (and to unseasonable, un-Spring-like weather here in the Midwest. I’ll take the sun any day).

Tiny Knits in Coraline

This is probably old hat, but have you seen Coraline?

The 2009 movie is based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, and was directed and written for screen by Henry Selick. I right away assumed that Tim Burton was involved in the film, but he was not – this was a surprise to read, considering the visual and style-similarities between Coraline and the Nightmare Before Christmas (and other delightfully creepy Burton-worlds).

Coraline is a girl caught between two worlds, two versions of reality which, in the style of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, are connected by a portal in her newly-occupied rural home (convenient!). That’s all I’ll say, plotwise. But check out some of the film’s visual and hand-crafted delights!

A doll-making scene opens the film. The vibe is Edward Scissorhands meets hand-sewing. Seam-rippers, buttons, spools, patterns, needles-and-thread come alive (and since doll-making has been my preoccupation for the past couple of weeks, my attention was grabbed. I love these creepy doll-maker’s needle-hands.)

The Coraline cast of characters also includes a smooth-talking feline sidekick who accompanies Coraline on her cross-world travels…

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…a duo of aging starlets — Miss Spink and Miss Forcible — and their knitting needle shenanigans….

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…and an enthusiastic audience of (what else?) circus-going Scottish terriers.

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Last, but not least, of the movie’s visual delights: beautiful, super-tiny knitwear.

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Am I the only one who wants this sweater, full-scale?
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Photo source: Robert Scheer / Indy Star

The above sweater and glove pieces were indeed hand knit by Bloomington, Indiana-based fiber artist, Althea Crome, who specializes in micro-knitting. She is known for her marvelous mini-sweaters, some of which are knit at a gauge of 80 sts to the inch (!) and often feature complex colourwork patterns (all of which are knit rather than embroidered). Here, Althea Crome talks about micro-knitting:

And here I thought working a fingering weight on size 2s was ‘small’!

All in all, a fun film! (short post today)

Until next time!


DIY story: A feltie in 4 steps

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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!

My Top 3 Knits of 2017

Hello, makers! I’m wishing you all a very Happy New Year!

With 2018 approaching, I had the idea of posting a chronological knitting Year in Review. I relished the idea of seeing all my knits pictured together in a single post. Due to time constraints, I decided, however, that the knitting of 2018 might just as well be served by a more selectively reflective round-up of 2017’s knitting favourites. These are projects that not only stood out for being memorable ‘firsts’ for me (cheers to trying something new), but were projects that taught me a lot of valuable lessons during this first year “back” to the craft.

So, here’s a wistful look back on 2017’s Top 3 Knits.

Number 3: Sydanmäa Mittens

Sydanmaa FOs

Continue reading “My Top 3 Knits of 2017”

For the 11th hour: super quick mini Christmas stockings

It’s just a few days before Christmas. Where does the time go? The past week has found me getting my holiday knit on, combing through Ravelry’s collection of mini-stocking patterns and trying my hand at a few. My usual writing table has been temporarily transformed into a workshop strewn with yarny bits, coloured pencils, the odd DPN, and darning needles which tend to roll into their favourite hiding place: under all of the other mess. I now appreciate the true meaning of trying to find a needle in a ribbon-paper-and-tape stack.

If you’re pressed for time and are looking for a last-minute holiday knit, I’ve found mini-stockings to work well. The patterns are easy and can be worked + finished up in an evening (I am a slower knitter, so the speedy-stitchers among you could zip one off in no time).

The Patterns

I worked 6 different patterns.

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1) Gemma Towns’ Mini Christmas Stockings  turned out to be my favourite pattern of the lot. Striping, a contrast colour on the cuff, heel and toe, and ample space for stuffers — what’s not to like? Worked on DPNs, the heel is shaped through a series of short rows. Quick Kitchener-stitch to graft that toe. Easy peasy.

2) Kat Mcab’s Small Holiday Stockings are a fun take on the mini-stocking, and they knit up really fast with minimal finishing. The stocking is worked in the round and is shaped with a set of increases. The simplicity of this pattern allows you to personalize or customize it easily. Only the bottom of the stocking requires a quick seam: a kitchener stitch graft or a 3-needle bind-off.

3) Jean Greenhowe’s pattern for Mini Christmas Stockings is worked flat. The stocking is shaped through increases, and the seam is sewn up the ‘back’ (the right side of the ornament in the picture). I thought that this pattern made for the most traditional ‘stocking’ shape, but am discovering that I’m a bigger fan of DPNs than I am of seams! This pattern walks you through different variations for colours and striping.

4) Juliet Bernard’s Christmas Stockings are quite special: worked on DPNs, they feature a ribbed cuff, some variations of easy colour work to choose from, and a full slip-stitched heel and gusset. If you’re looking to bring some 3-D sock-realism to your stocking collection, this pattern is it.

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5) Beverly Leestma’s Mini Knit Stockings are worked flat, include short-rows for heel-shaping, and are seamed along the front of the stocking. This pattern produced the tiniest of the stockings (a mere 2.5″ from heel to cuff when using worsted weight and size 6 US needles). The pattern has variations for striping and working heel & toe contrast colours.

…and 6) comes from the pages of Joelle Hoverson’s Last-Minute Knitted Gifts (2004) – the Sweater and Stocking Minis pattern. True to its word, the book provides a range of 11th-hour knits. This one is under the category of “2-hour projects.” It knit up so fast, I was able to finish the stocking in the library and did not need to bring the book home with me (there is a lovely room in the library with a high, domed ceiling, a real fireplace, and huge windows that let all the light in. It is perfection for knitting). This one knit up the lumpiest, though – my mistake: the heel uses a few yarn-overs during the short-rows and my attempt to close up all the holes while finishing up left some bumps in the fabric. Lesson learned.

…and I-Cord Hangers

When attaching hangers to the stockings, I first tried a crochet slip-stitch hanger, but found this flimsy and shapeless (see stocking #2 above). What my heart desired (and what it got) was an i-cord loop. I-cords are so much fun to work! They make for a very sturdy hanging loop for heavier things, too (if you’re interested, you’ll find a tutorial for making a 2-colour i-cord at the end of the post).

For these ornaments, I worked a 2-colour 4-stitch i-cord on size 2 DPNs, then sewed the ends together to make a loop.

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Making an I-cord: just 4-stitches slid along a DPN produces a sturdy column of stockinette.


I attached the loops to the stocking corners, and with that, a first batch of stockings was ready:

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What do you think of these different patterns? I will try to work a few more stockings until just before Christmas – that will be my gentle quota for the next few days.

Are you putting in the last stitches on a project or two? I hope that this week finds you warm and well, sharing cozy times with loved ones & furry friends, and recharging your holiday energies wherever and whenever you can!

Happy Holidays!