Mill Wharf Mittens

When I was in high school and my dad was traveling for work, my mom would peek around my doorframe while I slogged my way through hours of homework and say, “Mill Wharf?” I’d drop everything, change out of my school uniform, and off we’d go to our favorite restaurant in the next town over.

 
 

Mill Wharf sits on the edge of the Atlantic in Scituate, Massachusetts on Scituate Harbor. We’d always eat upstairs - a casual dining area complete with a wood-paneled bar, taxidermied fish on the wall, model ships in glass cases, and captain’s wheel. If we were lucky, we’d get a window seat and watch the fishing boats come in and out of the harbor, loaded with the day’s catch. My mom always got fish and I’d always get a cheeseburger, and we’d talk about our days, my brother who had gone off to college, and my dad who was away for work. My mom and I had countless meals at Mill Wharf and some of my fondest high school memories are of us sitting by the windows and talking. I’ll always think of it as “our place.”

 
 

Having grown up next to the ocean, I’ve always preferred the off-season. To me, a gray, choppy, dark ocean is far more beautiful than its summer counterpart. I prefer the cold wind whipping through my hair, being wrapped in a warm coat, and smelling the salt in the air. The beaches are barren, there are no tourists or beach chairs to weave my way through, and the mournful cries of the seagulls searching for their next meal while they fight their way against the wind is oddly comforting.

 
 

Near Mill Wharf is a long rocky jetty that culminates in a grand old lighthouse. My high school friend Malley and I would carefully pick a route to the very end and sit next to the lighthouse - sometimes for hours - talking and trying to figure our how to navigate our way through high school and life. The waves would pound the jetty and sometimes we’d end up soaked or with a scraped knee, but I never minded. Malley and I are friends to this day, and when I go home to visit and see that jetty, it makes me think of her.

 
 

These two places will always remain important to me. They remind me of a certain time in my life where I knew I was on the brink of something, but wasn't sure how to navigate there yet, or even where “there” was. They bring back that feeling of hurtling 500 mph towards the future and being terrified of making wrong decisions and being scared to leave home and become an adult. Most importantly, they remind me of evenings spent with my mom next to a huge picture window watching the boats, and of having grown-up conversations with a side of silliness.

 
 

I’m happy to release the Mill Wharf Mittens, a DK-weight stranded color work project that’s an ode to my mom and our evenings together at Mill Wharf. Using Primrose Yarn Co’s Jasper DK, a springy 100% superwash merino hand dye in Lake House and The Terror, these colors remind me so much of a churning Atlantic in the winter. I really like the ply on this yarn and it gives the motifs excellent stitch definition. With a picot hem, Estonian Braid detailing at the cuff, and traditional thumb gusset shaping, the surprise is on the inside where fish bones swim across the palms. With a lighthouse, choppy waves, sand dollars, and fish motifs, this is truly an homage to my New England roots. They’re a little piece of home that I can carry around with me.

 
 

I often get asked about how to block mittens properly. It doesn’t take long and it can make a HUGE difference in your finished work. I start by getting out my mitten blockers - my favorites are from Knitting Left on Etsy (they also make sock blockers). Handmade out of varnished birch, they come in multiple sizes and are extra awesome because they have sheep carved right into them (they do have other styles - follow her in instagram to check them out). They come in a handy bag so it’s easy to keep everything together, included the separate thumb blockers. Throw your mittens in cold water with some wool wash for 15-20 minutes. When I take them out I knead out as much water as possible (do not wring out your knitting - that can twist your stitches and they’ll dry that way), roll them in a towel and stand on them. This squelches out as much water as possible. After that, I put my mitten blockers in the wet mittens on a blocking board (remember they’ve been varnished, so they’re water proof and won’t warp) followed by the thumb blockers. I lay them out under a ceiling fan to dry and voila! It can take a bit for them to completely dry… Remember that stranded color work is a double-thick fabric, so it’s usually a day on one side, a day on another (longer if you don’t use a fan) plus maybe even a day inside out to be certain they’ve dried all the way through. I could talk about blocking all day, and I cannot stress the importance of it.

 
 

And mom? Let’s go to dinner together at Mill Wharf next time I’m home.

Download the Mill Wharf Mittens here.

Sparkle Plenty Mittens

I love a good sparkle. I’ve always been drawn towards shiny, bright, sparkly things, which earned me the nickname “magpie” on more than one occasion. I have been known to wear over-the-top costume jewelry, stick sparkly things in my hair, add a bit of sparkle eye shadow, or wear crazy sparkly socks under my boots. I can’t help it.

 
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When we lived on Capitol Hill, I’d often walk to the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC with my son to explore on rainy or cold days. Our default exhibit was the Gem & Mineral Exhibit, a wonderful exhibit in the permanent collection which is also home to the Hope Diamond. The rocks and gems are organized in a stunning rainbow of colors, many of which could come from the pages of a sci-fi novel. While the Hope Diamond is housed in its own special room on a rotating pedistal and is indeed breathtaking, I enjoy strolling slowly through the rainbow of rocks looking for color inspiration.

 
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Gemstones have a secret identity. Often rough, dirty, and not much to look at when pulled from the earth, once they are shined, polished, or shaped, you suddenly have an incredible treasure. People can be like that too - you think they may be one way, but once you get to know them and see the inner person, sometimes you find you’ve won the friend lottery. The notion that it takes the earth millions of years to form some of the items on exhibit is mind-boggling.

 
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I’ve been toying with the idea of some sort of gemstone-inspired Fair Isle project for quite some time. When I look back at notes and sketch books, often there’s ideas starting to take shape, but they were always abandoned in favor of something else. When I found myself doodling geometric diamonds while on a phone call, I knew it was time to make this design happen. Once I sat down and started drawing my charts, the design flew out of my brain like had been there the whole time. Like a grain of sand patiently waits to become a diamond, it had been waiting to go from idea to finished knit.

The Sparkle Plenty Mittens tick all the boxes for me - top-notch fiber, fun motif, cohesive design, a joy to make, and perfect color palette. Knit in Magpie Fibers Swanky DK, a superwash merino, cashmere, and nylon blend in Lite Brite and Strange Brew, once I felt this fiber in my hands I was smitten. With picot hem detailing, mirror-image Latvian Braids, diamond, opal, ruby, and emerald motifs dance across your hands. Sparkly thumbs top off these luxurious mitts and this excellent local-to-me yarn is buttery soft and warm. These Fair Isle beauties are constructed with traditional Norwegian shaping and a thumb gusset on size US 2.5 needles.

 
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These mittens make me feel like I have a secret jewel box hidden in the palm of my hands and appeases my inner magpie. While the finished project might not technically sparkle, it’s sparkly in a different sense.

Shine on!

Download the Sparkle Plenty Mittens here.

Tannei Casey Bags

I was delighted to meet Tannei Casey back in September when I was teaching at Knitter’s Day Out in Harrisburg, PA for the second year in a row (spoiler alert, I’ll be teaching there again next year!) and she was a vendor in the marketplace. I’m always on the lookout for an exceptional project bag and I came across her wonderful bags and was drawn to them immediately. After asking myself, “Do you really need another project bag?” (another spoiler alert, the answer was “yes”), I got to chatting with Tannei. After the weekend workshops were over, I began following her on Instagram and have become a huge fan of her bags, purchasing many for gifts and a few more for myself.

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What makes her bags different? Using designer fabric and canvas or waxed canvas bottoms, her bags are super sturdy, very well made, come in lots of different sizes, are canvas lined with pockets for small notions or patterns, and the price point is ideal. She’s also a knitter and so many of us “cross craft.” Being a sewer myself, I really appreciate high-quality project bags. I am not always kind to mine - they get shoved in bags, thrown about in the car, tossed around by my kids - I need a bag that can keep up with my on-the-go-knitting. Tannei was kind enough to sit down recently and answer a few questions…

 
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Tanis Gray (TG): When did you start sewing and what did you make for your first project?  

Tannei Casey (TC): ?  I learned how to sew from my Home Economics teacher when I was in 7th grade.  She was very patient and methodical and I learned so much from her.  She started by teaching the whole class how to make our own pin cushion.  We had to draw out our own design on felt, hand embroidered it, hand sewn it together then stuff it.  After that, we made an apron, night cap and night gown.  I think she figured if our sewing wasn't great, we could still use those items inside the house!  I was very impatient and wanted to make my own clothes.  The first piece of clothing I made was a pair of gauchos in a navy cotton poplin...hey, it was the 70's!  

TG: You’re a knitter so you know what kinds of project bags we love! What are your favorite things to knit?  

TC: I knit a lot of sweaters and I have to admit, I am a selfish knitter and usually knit for myself.  I do like to knit baby sweaters for friends and families though.  I have made shawls, socks and scarves but they can't beat the satisfaction of a completed sweater.  

 
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TG: Do you have a favorite fabric company you like to use for your bags?  

TC: My favorite is definitely the Rifle Paper Co. line from Cotton and Steel.  I just love all their prints and can't wait for the next line to come out.  Every fabric company is unique in their own way and it's hard to pick one.  For me, it's usually a print that grabs my attention, then it's the weight of the fabric. I generally look for heavier fabrics like lightweight canvas, cotton/linen or twill for my bags because I think it's important to have a bag that is sturdy with a bit of heft to it.  I also use a lot of waxed canvas, especially for the bottom of the bags.  The fact that it's water repellent makes it practical and keeps the knits clean and dry.

TG: Is sewing your primary job or like many of us, do you have another job as well?  

TC: Sewing is my primary job.  It's funny because I've never referred to what I do as a job.  I don't know if it's because I love what I do or because I am doing it at home and I am my own boss!  I studied fashion design in college but did not pursue it as a career.  I ended up working in retail and human resources for years.  When we moved from Toronto to Philadelphia 11 years ago, I became a stay at home mom.  The sewing machine kept calling to me though and as my son got older, I found I spent more and more time in the sewing room.  I eventually set up an Etsy shop to sell my handmade bags and baby quilts. 

 
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TG: How do you decide your color palette?

TC: I really don't plan out a color palette.  The prints that are used for my bags are really varied.  I do tent to like the modern, simple prints but I do love a traditional paisley or floral too.  Every once in a while I will see a fabric line where I could not resist getting most of the prints in the line - a couple of examples of that are Jen Hewitt's and Anna Graham's lines that came out a couple months ago. Cloud 9 Fabrics just released Eloise Renouf's lastest line this week and I HAD to order it all. 

TG: Are bags your favorite thing to sew or do you tend to make a lot of garments also?  

TC: I just like to make things with my hands so it depends what my mood is at the time.  I like making bags to sell because I don't have to deal with sizing or fit.  It is also easier on my hands because I can use a rotary cutter to cut all the straight seams.  I do like making garments for myself every once in a while.  I have a couple pairs of corduroy wide leg cropped pants cut out now just waiting to be sewn.  

 
 

TG: Tell us why your bags are so amazing!  

TC: I think it helps that I've been knitting for as long as I've been sewing.  I understand what a knitter wants. Once I have an idea, I can make one and use it myself first to make adjustments if needed.  As I said earlier, I prefer to use heavier fabrics; it makes for a more durable bag.  The lining of all the bigger bags are a heavy cotton canvas.  This is twofold - the light color canvas makes it easy to see what's inside the bag and the heavy fabric gives the bag so it will stand on its own.  My industrial sewing machine also creates better stitch definition especially when sewing with the heavier fabrics.  Through trial and error over the years, I've been able to source quality supplies and notions to create products that I am happy with at an affordable price to my customers.   

TG: What’s coming up for you? 

TC: I wanted to do something for the holiday season so I am working on a simple waxed canvas medium size drawstring bag in cedar green.  It is the same bag I did for a fund raiser a few weeks back in a different color.  I hope customers will like it!   For 2019, I will be at the Allentown Fiber Festival in April and Knitter's Day Out in September.  I will also be doing a pop-up shop with the Knitting Boutique at a couple of their retreats in March and September.  Being a one person operation, and preferring to keep it that way, I prefer to do the smaller local shows.  They are also more intimate and I get to spend time talking and interacting with customers and other makers and sellers.

 
 

TG: Where can people purchase your amazing bags?  

TC: My bags can be found in my Etsy shop at tanneicasey.com .  If you want to know what's new in the shop or what I am up to most days, check out my Instagram feed under ID tanneicasey. 

TG: Thanks for the interview, Tannei! Your bags make great gifts and I can’t wait to see what pops up next in your shop!

Merida Mittens

I’ve been talking a lot here about how much I love teaching at the Magical Fiber Fantasy Retreat in November in Disney World with The Ross Farm and Four Purls! One of the things I do for the students is to introduce new Disney-themed designs and build my classes around them using all sorts of exciting techniques. Nothing gets you in the mood for a magical retreat than new magical designs to knit!

 
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Over the past couple of weeks I’ve shared the Elsa Cuffs, the Heirloom Braid Cowl, and the Briar Rose Cowl. Today I’m happy to finally get my favorite from this retreat out there and available to all - the Merida Mittens.

 
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Merida is my one of my favorite Disney princesses from the movie Brave. She’s a bit rough around the edges, a tomboy, shuns her princess status and balks at the thought of marrying. She rides horses, shoots arrows, climbs mountains, chases will-o-the-wisps through the Scottish forest, attempts to wrangle her little brothers, and is struggling with leaving her childhood behind and growing up. She has fiery orange hair and wears a deep teal dress. This isn’t my first Brave-inspired design. Back in 2015 I introduced the Chase the Wind & Touch the Sky beaded lace shawl, inspired by my favorite song from the movie. This is one of the Disney films that didn’t get the attention it deserved and has a strong and willful female lead. If you haven’t seen it, get your hands on the DVD!

 
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With Merida and her firecracker personality in mind, I set about designing these mitts, working closely with Queen City Yarn to have the perfect orange and teal yarn to work with in their Biddleville DK. I knew I wanted a picot edging as a nod to her struggles with femininity, Scottish thistles in the cuffs, Celtic cables twisting their way up the front, and Scottish tartan on the palm side. That may be my favorite element - a tartan surprise in the palm of your hand! This design was tricky with so many elements and I worked and reworked the charts dozens of times until it clicked. It also gave me an excuse to watch the film again with my son and get one of my models with gorgeous natural red hair on standby.

 
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Knit from the bottom up in the round on 2 circular needles (DPNs or magic loop can be substituted if preferred) using stranded color work on DK weight, these mittens have traditional Nordic shaping and a thumb gusset. It was fun trying them on as I was knitting them and watching them come to life on my hands. I LOVE THESE MITTENS. I love everything about them and am delighted at how they turned out. It was wonderful to see the sold out class packed with Fair Isle knitters, all working in different color combinations and talking about the film!

 
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Let’s give away a copy of the pattern! Answer the below Brave trivia question correctly and you’ll automatically be entered to win. Be sure to leave your Ravelry name in the comments and I’ll gift the pattern to you directly. A winner will be chosen at random on Friday, November 30th.

What are the names of Merida’s mischievous triplet brothers?

Download the Merida Mittens pattern here, purchase a kit from Queen City here, and enjoy the picture below of my kids meeting Merida in Disney World!

 
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