Fall Designs Featuring Animals

This fall I’ve got a number of designs coming out, and several of them are children’s garments featuring animals.  I’ve noticed an uptick in my interest in designing children’s garments (I wonder why? *coughlittleturtlecough*).  There’s two children’s designs I wanted to highlight today.

Raynard Willow YarnsRaynard is a children’s dress featuring sweet little foxes on the front of the body and pockets.  Featuring a folded over hem at the base of the dress and on the pockets, this simple and sweet dress is an idea that came into my mind fully formed.  I blame the proliferation of forest animals featured in baby items lately – foxes just seemed to be everywhere.

The Foxes are worked with duplicate stitch before the dress is assembled, meaning this project is very approachable to beginners looking to stretch their skills.  And with the majority of the pattern worked in the round, this dress fairly flies off the needles!

It was a joy working with Willow Yarn’s Daily Worsted – this blend is washable while still being durable and soft.  And with such a range of colors, you can come up with some adorable color combinations.  Willow even offers the pattern at a kit – which takes the decision making out of the process.

You can purchase and download the pattern here!



lok-window-cat-1 I’m also excited to tell you about my first pattern in Love of Knitting magazine.  This pattern features some animals near and dear to my heart – my cats, Peake and Watson.  I’d originally envisioned this as an adult pattern, but the editor of Love of Knitting, Deborah Gerish, pointed out how perfectly it would work as a children’s sweater.

I think she was correct.

Inspired by the silhouette of Peake and Watson as they sit on the window watching the outdoors and birds, the pattern is titled Window Cat.  The cats are written as intarsia, but could also be added after the fact with duplicate stitch.  I have them on the pattern facing away from the viewer, but with a little ingenuity, you could add eyes and whiskers so that they’re facing out.

The sweater is worked in Classic Elite Yarn’s Liberty Wool, one of my favorite yarns.  Liberty Wool is sturdy and soft and long-wearing.  It’s washable and comes in SO MANY COLORS.  While the solid colors are stunning, I also think it would be fun to make the cats calico – by using one of their variegated yarns in browns and oranges and whites.  I have so many ideas for how to adapt the pattern!

I also love the finishing details on this pattern – the vintage buttons match the sweater perfectly.  They’re not too upscale.  Instead they match the quality of the sweater, casual and much-loved.

I love the brown of the trim, the garter stitch around the yoke, the crochet trim around the neck.  Simply put, I love the way this pattern turned out.

I have to admit, I have some plans for this motif in the future – I’d love to turn it into a matching hat and cowl pattern too!  So many potential options!

Do you have cats?  How would you customize this pattern?


Spinning Resources for Children

Recently I’ve had a number of individuals get in touch with me about spinning supplies for their children.  It can be hard for parents or guardians to know what to get their children when they have no knowledge of the craft itself.  Says one parent,

My daughter took your class over the summer and I wanted to get her craft supplies for the wool felting and the other crafts (except for crochet). What do you recommend and where can I get them?

I’ve created a list of supplies, resources and tools to help you get your child on their way to spinning!

Generally children first learn how to spin on a drop spindle.  These are either made from wood or plastic and are a dowel with a weight around it to enable the drop spindle to spin.  Think of them like tops – they look very similar!

Camper using TurtleMade Turkish Drop Spindle

Camper using TurtleMade Turkish Drop Spindle

  • TurtleMade ($25): Hands down my very favorite drop spindles to use with children.  I’ve used their Turkish Spindles – the advantage being that, when used correctly, the spindle creates a ball of yarn when done.  It’s much easier to ply from when first working with spinning.  Get the Standard size spindle – sometimes the smaller sizes are harder to use for children, as there’s less to grab onto.  I love that TurtleMade has different colors, and does special holiday themed spindles – there’s some really cool halloween printed ones.  TurtleMade’s plastic spindles have never broken on me, and even if they do, they sell replacement parts.
  • Knit Picks ($14.99): Wooden Drop spindle, heavier than TurtleMade’s, and is a solid option.  I don’t find these as sturdy.
  • There are a variety of other spindles out there, mostly in wood.  They range in prices from $39 to $50, and are really only worth acquiring if your child really gets into spinning.  Same thing with spinning wheels (which range from $150-1,000) – only get one if your child is serious about the craft.

When children first learn how to spin there’s quite a bit of waste.  Normally it’s best to get a good amount of something affordable, and a little, “special” bit for when they’re further along.  A 4-8 oz amount of wool normally spins up to make something, depending on the thickness of the yarn.  Your child may be able to spin enough to make an accessory, such as gloves, a hat, or fingerless mitts.

  • Neutral colored wool ($1.49/oz):  Wool is generally a good fiber to begin spinning, as it tends to be the most cooperative for beginners.  Order anywhere from 4 – 8 oz to start – and don’t be surprised if your child goes through the amount quickly!  When you’re first learning, there’ll be a fair amount of waste.  If your child is interested in having colored yarn, after the yarn is spun you can experiment with food dyes.
  • After your child has mastered spinning, they may want to venture into other fibers or colors.  A few hints: DO not, until you know what you’re getting into, get anything called “Raw wool” – it’ll be tempting because it’s a lot cheaper, but that means the wool has not been cleaned (IE: has grass and oils from the sheep in it), and has not been carded.  Instead, look for words like, “Combed Top,” “Roving” or “Carded Batts.”

There are a number of resources for adults looking to spin, however, not all of these are particularly accessible to children, depending on the age.  The books/resources I’ve listed below are the best ones I’ve found for children, and contain lots of pictures!

  • Teach Yourself Visually Handspinning ($14.99): Plenty of pictures, this is one of the books that got me started.
  • Craftsy ($20 – $30): Craftsy has some great resources, if you don’t have access to local teachers.

Tinking Turtle’s Summer Camps: Knitting, Crochet, Sewing and More!

young child learning to sew

Sewing with Next Step Needlecraft from Tinking Turtle Designs

It’s that time of year again: the weather is warming (despite all the rain we’ve had this week), and on my walk this morning, I found the first delicious blackberries.  It’s summertime – and it won’t be long now until school wraps up and those hot days will be around the corner.  It won’t be long until Tinking Turtle’s Craft Summer Camps start!

For me, this means a shift in Tinking Turtle’s focus: I’m beginning to get ready for the summer camps that I’ll be running.  They’re one of my favorite parts of the year.

You see, way back before Tinking Turtle was a name written on a piece of paper, before I’d even dreamed up my first pair of socks, I was a camp counselor at Chimney Corners Camp.  I’ve talked about CCC (as it’s known to campers and alumni alike) before: it’s the place where I met my longtime friend Becca, and where Mr. Turtle proposed to me.  CCC’s been a huge part of my development as a person – not only personally, but professionally as well.  CCC was the place I taught my first students: figuring out how to break down knitting, crochet, embroidery and cross stitch to campers aged eight to fourteen.  I was only about seventeen myself, and I had very little clue what I was doing, but I figured out.

Since then, I’ve continued to love working and crafting with children.  I worked as a nanny for many, many years, and last year I ran the camp String Theory through Montgomery College.  It was a hit and a blast, and this year I’m adding to the lineup with two new classes: Next Step Needlecraft and Knockout Punch Rug Needlework.  Let me tell you a bit about the classes:

String Theory is my flagship class, now in it’s second year.  It’s a variety introduction to needlework

young girls showing off their finished knit mitts

Finished knitted mitts from String Theory!

and crafting for both boys and girls ages 8-12.  Campers learn how to knit a fingerless mitts (or two!), sew and decorate a project bag, learn to process, card and spin fiber, and the basics of how to dye wool.  This year we’re offering three sessions: 7/20 – 7/24 from 1-4 pm, 7/27 – 7/31 from 1-4 pm, and 8/3 – 8/7 from 9 – 12 pm.  You can click on the links to find out more and signup!

Because we received such a great response to String Theory, we’ve added Next Step Needlecraft.  Intended for campers who loved String Theory and want to learn more, or for older students looking to learn some more interesting crafts, it’s a great next step.  Students learn how to crochet, how to spin yarn, the basics of needle felting, and how to create stunning punch rug pieces.  This class is meant to sink students’ teeth into needlecrafts you don’t get exposed to nearly anywhere else.  This year I’m offering two sessions: 7/20 – 7/24 from 9-12 pm, and 8/3 – 8/7 from 1-4 pm.


My last class: Knockout Punch Rug Needlework is a very focused class.  Unlike the other two camps which focus on variety, this one dials down into the art of rug making.  In this class students will have a lot more independence to learn, plan and execute one, if not two projects.  This class focuses on giving students the independence to decide and plan their own projects, and my help to make them a reality.  We’ve got just one session of this camp, so if it sounds like something your child would enjoy, make sure to sign up as soon as possible. Knockout Punch Rugs will run 7/27 – 7/31 from 9 – 12 pm.

Child learning to knit with multicolored yarn

Learning to Knit in String Theory

If you’re looking for a great crafting camp for the summer, these camps are for you.  Don’t have children of your own?  Tell your friends about these camps.  Teaching kids crafts improves dexterity, problem solving and creativity – and preserves these traditions for the next generation.

Let me know what you think about the camps – and what other crafts I should look at adding to the repertoire!

The Very Last First Time

Somehow it’s become the middle of January, and I’m not quite sure how that happened!  It’s cold and rainy out today (as it seems to the the majority of the winter in the South), and it’s got me thinking
about a winter-themed book I loved as a child.

The book is not my own; I perhaps only read it a handful of times, as my first grade teacher had the book in her library.  But the concept and drawings stamped themselves on my memory.  The book is called Very Last First Time and is the story about a young Inuit girl named Eva.  Eva and her mother are going to the ocean.  They live in an area where the top of the ocean freezes during the winter, and at low tide a person can go under the ice and collect muscles and other seafood for eating.  This is her first time going under the ice alone.

Very Last First Time is a story full of wonder as Eva and the reader see wondrous and strange sights below the ice become something happens, and Eva must problem solve to get safely to her mother.

I love this story for so many reasons: it’s the story of an adult allowing a child independence so they can explore and problem solve themselves.  It’s a story of a very different way of life, and of things many people might not get to experience.  And it’s a story of first times and last times – and how things will never quite be like the very first time you do something, when it is all wondrous and new.

That tension between first and last times is why the story has stuck in my mind all these years (that, and the idea of being able to go beneath the surface of the ocean), and why I still think about it today.

So much of my work is helping people with their first times: their first time knitting, or crocheting, or learning a new skill.  I get to watch people’s faces light up with wonder as they master their first time, and as their first time transforms into their seventh and twelfth and twentieth, and the things which once were new become familiar.

This year is looking to be the year of many firsts – some I’ll be able to talk about soon, and some which will have to stay in my back pocket for a few more months.

Do you have a favorite book from childhood?

Precious Little

I have an infinite fondness for children’s books, and have a
fairly large collection of them that I haul from place to place.  Some of them are mine, some of them I “appropriated”
from my home.  Some of them are gifts and
some of them are children’s books for adults. 
Children’s books I love because when they are done well, there is a
perfect melding of text and illustration that enriches both.
I suppose some people could make this argument for comics,
and while I enjoy comics, I just don’t have the same attachment to them as children’s
I came across one the other day while at the Hyattsville
Library.  Now, the girls and I have a
favorite librarian at the Hyattsville Library. 
We call her Mrs. D for short (Mrs. Danielle).  She’s amazing.  She remembers that Bella loves mysteries and
Vivi loves Maisy and knows my standing rule is I’ll only read 3 character books
per child before we have to pick something else. (character books are books
like the Bernstein Bears, Dora the Explorer, Aurthur, Franklin, etc… basically
books that are perfectly lovely but a bit formulaic, and can get boring for an
adult to read.  I want the girls to
discover things other than mainstream books). 
She’s the one who has recommended children’s books to me that have
stayed on my keeper shelf: Ladybug Girl, anything by Gerald Morris, and several
Yesterday she pointed me to Precious Little, a new children’s
book that has come out.  Precious Little
is up there with some of my other favorite children’s books, that melds art and
story in a way that is just… amazing. 
The illustrations for the book have depth, the allegories and metaphors
are great.  It was a book that after I
finished reading it to the girls (twice) I stayed looking at it myself because
it was just that good.  I’m planning to
buy myself a copy.
Now, I don’t talk and recommend books very often, both
because my tastes tend to run toward a very specific set of genres, and also
because… well, my love of books is very deeply personal in a way that is almost
like telling a room full of strangers my most embarrassing moments.  But this book I think deserves to be talked
So just… go to your local library and check it out for me.
On a side note… do you have a favorite children’s book, or a
book that speaks to the child in you? 
Tell me about it.  I’m always up
to reading new books.

7 Pragmatic Tips to Teach Children How to Knit Ages 3-6

See?  Smiling.  They’re having fun.

People will sometimes come into The Yarn Spot or A Tangled Skein, or when people find out I’m a nanny and a craft instructor, and they will ask me a common question: “How young can you teach children to knit?”  This will be closely followed by, “How do you teach children to knit?”  This series of posts will address some of those questions.  (This also happens with crochet, but I say knit because people assume very often, even when I’m crocheting that it’s knitting.  Depending on my mood and their level of interest, I’ll sometimes correct them.)

Sweetness has been knitting since a few months after I met her, so around 3 1/2.  Light is 2 1/2, and is already showing interest.  She has her own needles, and will ape what Sweetness and I are doing, but she doesn’t quite have the attention span.

As follows, a sweet list of 7 tips for teaching very young children:

Make sure they’re interested.  If you are teaching them to knit at a young age, the desire has to come from them.  At three or four, they only way they will be interested in learning is if THEY are the ones who came up with the idea.  Don’t try to force learning on them.

Keep it Short.  Lessons should only go for at most 10 minutes.  Keep it short.  Stop while they still want more.  The longer you go at it, the more likely they’ll get frustrated and loose interest.  I know it’s tempting to keep going when it’s going well, but you want to end each lesson with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, not frustration.

Have them sit on your lap and hold the sticks with you.  Sweetness was (and still is, but it’s a close thing) small enough to fit on my lap when we started.  I would hold the needles with her and do the stitches.  Later, she took over the right hand, and then the left hand.  I still would do the wrapping of the yarn, while she figured out what was going on with the sticks.

Show them several times, then have them “teach” you.  This does two things.  One, you can listen and hear how they are thinking about the stitches and the movements they are doing, and then use the language they are using.  If they think of it more like a wrap instead of a yarn over, call it what they call it.  The proper language can come later.

Take turns.  Have them do a row, then you do a row.  This does two things.  First, you can correct any mistakes they made on the last row, like wrapping the yarn the wrong way and creating twisted stitches, picking up dropped stitches, or evening out their tension.  Second, their square grows faster this way.  Don’t be afraid to do a few rows after they’re done, to keep it growing.

Give them short needles.  Long straights, or even circulars, can be hard for small kids to manage.  I normally use a pair of double pointed needles, 8″ long, and put rubber bands at the end.  This way, if we loose one, I got 3 to replace it (packs of DPNs normally come in 5) and the shorter needle is easier to manage.

Focus on the skill, not on the result.  At 3-6 years old, children are still developing fine motor skills.  They’re first knitting may not even be usable.  Don’t focus on making anything in particular other than a square.  Just focus on getting the skill down.

Please, don’t set their sights on a scarf.  So many people come into the store with kids, saying that they want to knit a scarf and it’s their first project.  I always try to steer them to some different options – some of which I’ve listed HERE.  After the first 6-10″ a garter stitch scarf gets really boring.  Children are young.  The amount of time it takes for an adult, never-mind a child, to knit a scarf is LONG.  Give them a more attainable short term goal.

What type of advice would you give someone who was teaching a young child to knit?