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Gold, Frankenknits and Myrrh

It's the time for winter gift giving and where better to draw inspiration than the only gifts even MORE traditional than a fruitcake doorstop -- gold, Frankenknits and myrrh?

In this column you'll find some great project ideas that will make perfect gifts for the knitters in your life. They're quick, you'll likely find what you need to make them at home, and they won't them is expensive.

Going for the gold

I like the idea of homemade gifts. And I also like re-using things that have outlived their moment. Not only is the end of the year a time of giving, I always think of it as a time to separate the wheat from the chaff and start the new year with just the good stuff.

So can you just give old stuff or old stash away as gifts? Maybe if it's still unused and you have enough of something to make a certain project that is really perfect for your friend then it counts as a gift. But what about those more ambiguous cases? The half knit (or all knit!) sweater that never fit. The various left over single and partial skeins that are "too small to use and too big to throw away" or were impulse purchases in weak moments. Clearly charitable donations are one possibility. Knitting them into something is another, but it's already December and time is running short on the holiday knitting schedule. My suggestion: take these leftovers (or hunt for some sweaters aching to be unravelled at the local second hand shop) and remake them into new yarns that the recipient could never buy for herself.

Here's one way to turn straw into gold: If you've got loads of little balls of yarn, and bits of novelty yarns you have no idea what to do with or what made you buy them in the first place, this is the project for you. First, find a color range or palette you like. Maybe it's pink-orange-red or green-brown-gold, but limit yourself so you end up with a pleasing result -- many knitters find themselves gravitating toward certain colors anyway, so you may have already unintentionally taken this step. If you don't have a bunch of different yarns, consider getting together with your knitting pals and doing this as a group activity. You should also think about how thick the yarns are. Four stitches per inch or finer belong in one pile, the chunkies and bulkies deserve their own project.

Then, start taking lengths from the various balls of yarn, each between 1 and 6 yards long and tie them together, winding a ball or skein as you go. Be mindful of spacing textural elements like mohair or eyelash so that they come up at somewhat regular intervals, work groups of dark colors together, then groups of lights to create subtle stripes rather than alternating between dark and light. Keep going like this until your ball has between 200 and 400 yards of yarn.

Knitting from this ball will be like unwrapping a present all the way down as the recipient will never know what's coming next.

This issue, I've challenged Betz White to get Frankenknitty with us. Betz combines the ancient technique of felting with today's cast-away sweaters to create what she calls "felted wool, artfully stitched". You can see her work, including my favorite, the Cup O' Joe Pincushion, at For us, she's created this beautiful Winter Garden Shibori Scarf. I can't wait to make one (or three) myself!

Winter Garden Shibori Scarf

Shibori is a term for traditional Japanese resistance dye techniques. Similar techniques can be used when felting wool. Various objects are tied into the wool fabric as a "resist" before felting. Keeping parts of the fabric from felting creates amazing three dimensional surfaces.

The Winter Garden design takes this technique one step further. To add a little extra pop and dimension, I've added shibori flower appliques to the scarf.


unfelted feltable wool sweaters
washing machine
sewing machine (optional)
cotton string
corks, beads, coins, buttons (Several of one these items, or a mix of all will do.)
felt scraps (optional)
embroidery floss or yarn (optional)

The first step is to select a sweater. This sweater is a fine gauge lambswool. The content should be at least 80% wool. Other animal fibers are okay, such as angora or mohair. Betz cut off a sleeve to test-felt to be sure she would get a good result before trying the shibori techniques. She washed the sleeve in the washer (on hot) and dryer (on low) with some other laundry. The sleeve shrunk about 4" compared to the unwashed one so the sweater seemed like a good candidate.

Next I cut the sweater into 3 rectangles (each about 8" x 20") and sewed them short end to short end. I chose to use the hem from this sweater to be the ends of the scarf, but raw edges will do just as well.

I also cut swatches of two other sweaters in coordinating colors for the extra shibori embellishment. These swatches are about 5" x 5".

Lay out your design on the scarf and mark placement. I am using corks that were sliced into 1/4" thick "buttons". Many items can be used (buttons, corks, super balls, soda bottle caps, whatever!) and it is fun to experiment.

Tie cotton string tightly around your chosen "felt resisting" objects. Wrap the string several times and tie off securely. The wool will shrink everywhere except where it is tied off. Be sure to use COTTON string because it has a high wet strength and it won't felt.

I left the center rectangle plain, without any objects. This will leave the scarf smooth, without texture at the back of the neck.

Put the scarf in a lingerie bag. Felt in the washer by using hot water and a little detergent. Put some jeans in the load for some added friction. Check after one cycle. If it doesn't look like it felted very much, put it through again. Stop when you get the desired result. Dry in the dryer on medium then air dry. Use a seam ripper to cut the string and remove objects after it is completely dry. Be patient, it may need to sit overnight and it must be totally dry before you remove the objects.

You could stop now and have a fabulously textured shibori scarf. But for this design, I wanted to add some extra embellishment using the swatches cut earlier. These will be made into flowers to add onto the background scarf. I tied a round bead in each swatch and put them in a lingerie bag to felt (as with everyday laundry, it's best to felt like colors together. I also tied ivory swatches and felted them in a separate load.)

The result is these felted little bobbles, after removing the string and beads.

To create flowers, mark the swatch with pins at the positions of 12:00, 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, and 10:00. Snip with scissors at each mark, stopping 1/2" from center bobble. Trim into petal shapes. Don't worry about the permanent folds formed in the felt. That's what gives the flowers dimension and makes them more flower-like!

Lay out shibori felted scarf (completely dry with all string and objects removed). Place shibori flowers where desired and pin into place. I decided mine needed a little color pop, so I added the green leaves cut out of felted wool scraps. Wool craft felt would work nicely as well.

I used embroidery floss to decoratively attach the elements. Leaves were stitched up the center, flowers have one stitch in each petal near the bauble. Plain matching thread could be used to attach them invisibly.



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