If You Love Noni, You Must Read This

100_Books_home_imgA page is turning in my life and I have decided to close Noni Designs (for the most part-I will still design and add new pdfs to my website) to follow a strong pull toward new and exciting opportunities. I plan to return to school for another advanced degree, spend more time writing, possibly on the knitting project people have asked for for a long time: new bags and flowers all in one book – I am working on the book proposal right now! I have other books in me, too.

New-Chapter-in-my-lifeI plan to spend more time having adventures with my son, Soma.

My son enjoying the ice cream left on the dasher after making ice cream the old way with my father.

My son enjoying the ice cream left on the dasher after making ice cream the old way with my father.

I am excited about these new paths and where they will take me.

My-path-to-somewhereNevertheless, I will miss Noni and all of the wonderful and talented people I have had the pleasure and honor of meeting, teaching, working with: you, your stories, feed-back, projects, enthusiasm and support have made for an unforgettable 10 year chapter in my life.

I do have some great news for all of you: news I’d like you to share with as many knitters and bag-makers and bag-loves as you know: help me get the word ot that I will be selling many of my one-of-a-kind bags. This process may extend beyond the studio close date of January 31st. More on these small releases as we get closer to the first one and those following: it will be soon.

Delicious little bags . . . one could be yours

Delicious little bags . . . one could be yours

The other exciting news is that I will be designing a small fare-well collection that will include updates to some of my classics: look for my these exciting designs.

Possible_new_designs_2Possible-New-Bag-DesignsLOOK FOR MANY TASTY PROMOTIONS ON VARIOUS PRODUCTS EVERY WEEK STARTING THIS TUESDAY until the studio closes. Keep up-to-date on my latest activities, discounts, and special promotions via e-mail (make sure you sign up at the bottom left of my home page), Noni Designs Facebook page, blog postings, and Ravelry announcements in the groups associated with Noni. As inventory is sold, except for yarn and some essential products, it will not be replaced: In other words, shop early and often for patterns and kits containing everything you need to make those projects that have been on your mind for a time. Add them to your Noni queue.

Thank you for bringing me and my work into your creative life, and for making Noni such a wild, fun, beautiful, and rewarding journey for me.

It has been a great run. Help me make the last months of Noni just as wild and fun.

Thank you all. I've had so much fun!

Thank you all. I’ve had so much fun!

My Knitting to Please Myself Project

follow-your-passion2When a passion becomes a job it often changes the passion or even empties it out. There have even been studies about this. The landscaper who once had a beautiful garden gets so caught up with other people’s hard-scapes and gardens that his own are neglected. The knitter who began designing for herself with a sense of intrepid adventure lapses into design silence. There are no projects on the needles.

There are, of course, landscapers who constantly invest their creativity in their own garden, and so it becomes an oasis, an inspiration for others. If you reclaim knitting for yourself, perhaps the designs that result will be more sought after than the ones you thought would sell.

Lately I have been contemplating what I want to knit. Perhaps it is because Noni is 10 and I am looking back at where I started, the things I have done, and where I want to go.

But before I launch into ideas for myself (and I will in upcoming posts), I bet there are a lot of you who also don’t always knit to please yourself . . .

I’d love to hear in the comments what you would really like to make for yourself, or just for the pleasure of it . . . and for some reason you haven’t, yet.

When you seek inspiration, look into the world

Bluebells-Gauntlets-with-Forget-me-notsI look forward to and enjoy Spring flowers more than I ever did before I wrote my book on knitted flowers, Noni Flowers. It has always been my favorite time of year, but the process of working on knitted flowers for my book taught to me notice things about plants that I had previously been a bit blind to: the structure of a flower, the coloring of its petals, the way it unfurls, the shapes of buds, the procession of leaves, bud, flower. . . there are details I had not previously noticed. I notice the color of stems now, the shapes of sepal leaves, the colors and form of stamens all with an eye not just to enjoy but to knit.

The Forget-me-not flower details we can't usually see.

The Forget-me-not flower details we can’t usually see.

When an interviewer asked me, on the heels of the book’s publication in 2012 what inspired me to make these flowers, “lifelike flowers,” my answer to her question is, in many ways, the same answer or, rather, advice that I gave to writing students so many years ago and to my knitting students now: When you seek any inspiration, the basis for a story, a description of place, events in the past or future, a design theme, a color scheme, a fair isle design, the colors to pick for the tulip you might be inclined to knit out of my book, you don’t have to come up with that material whole cloth out of your own brain.

tulip-color-possibilitiesIf I resorted only to what resided in my mind already, the flowers I might knit would look little different from those in the drawings of daisy-like or tulip-ish flowers I drew as a child. They were approximations of what I was then capable of drawing, the flowers most familiar to me.

I suggest to all of my students to become better observers of the world, but also to trust their own creative impulses. So often we talk ourselves out of our ideas. The first idea might be so grand we don’t think we can possibly make it real . . . but maybe we can. Maybe you can. When I started working on my book, I didn’t know if I could pull it off. But I said I could and I told Random House I could. And then I did. There were flowers I chose not to try, telling myself they were too hard: orchids, for example. but I am quite certain now that if I set my mind to sit down and work on an orchid until I could hold the finished one in my hand, I could do it. I could make an orchid out of yarn.

It’s not easy to sit down and do what you don’t think you can do. . . but what if you do and you create something amazing. There are examples of this everywhere. Take a look at this inspiring Ted Talk “Embrace The Shake” by artist Phil Hansen. And his inspiring and unconventional work:

Phil Hansen's beautiful portrait on Starbucks cupsHis recipe for exploring the limits of your creativity?

phil-hansen-quoteDon’t talk yourself out of your creativity.

Expect to fail. Expect the creative process to lead you to a place you might not have thought you’d go.


Summer Pleasures: Making Simple Syrup with My Son

Simple-SyrupRoses are in bloom here in the East. My own New Dawn climbing rose, trained on an east-facing wall of my house, is spectacular. Beneath it, on the brick path, is a bed of pale pink fallen petals.

Now is the time to make simple syrup, a rose-petal colored syrup that I like to use in many different ways:

Drizzled over vanilla ice cream, a lovely sweetness to delicate ice teas, a refreshing addition to an icy cold glass of water . . . you can think of other ways to use it, I’m sure.

Making the syrup couldn’t be easier. I make it with my son (it’s a simple, fun project for adult-kid collaboration. All the collecting is fun, too) and we have a great time thinking up new syrups to make: lavender syrup, for example.

The syrup itself is easy to make:

All you need is a sauce pan, 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. Increase the 1 to 1 ratio to make bigger batches.

To make rose syrup, collect a cup of rose petals right off the plant. The fresher the better. We just pull them from the flowers still on the stems.

Add the water and petals to a saucepan, boil until the water is the color of the petals, but softer. Scoop the petals from the water with a slotted spoon. Next, add the cup of water and bring to a boil. Boil until all of the sugar is dissolved.

Rose-PetalsWe like to pore the syrup into pretty class bottles. Cool, then put tops on. Refrigerate.  To save syrup, you will want to sterilize jars in hot water bath or dish washer (from which you remove them when they are still very hot), pour in syrup, and then put on sterile lids. Make sure they seal. Give as gifts or store as you would jams and jellies. We like to use our syrup right away, however, so we just refrigerate.

If you use it right away in a tall glass of icy water, you might even put in a rose petal or two – so beautiful. I’ve served this to dinner guests and it has always been a dinner favorite.

Simple-Syrup-in-Cold-BottlesTo make Lavender syrup, you collect the fresh purple blossoms, taking them carefully off of their stems. A tablespoon or two will do the trick. Boil as you would rose petals and follow the same procedure as above.

My grandmother used to do the same with violets. To this day, I can’t see violets without thinking of her. I have let them take over one side of the house and we call it violet valley. In Spring, it is magical.

Both Lavender and violet syrup have a pale purple color but Lavender syrup takes on the distinct flavor of lavender. It is very exotic and fantastic over ice cream.

Amazing Amazing Wool!: Felted Soap

I am going to my little boy’s classroom to teach the kids about wool, about felt, and then we are going to make felted soap. I have spent the weekend trolling through videos that show lots of different ways of doing this . . . and I have made a number of bars of felted soap myself. I have to say that I have loved the process. . . and loved the process of thinking about how to introduce my great abiding love for wool to second graders. So, what follows, at least for now, is my lesson plan. I have 1.5 hours in Ms. Woods second grade class. . . I confess that in all my years of teaching (teaching English, Creative Writing, Literature, Knitting, Felting. . . ) I have never spent so much time and put so much thought into a lesson plan. Even this bare bones outline can’t possibly convey the hours, the worry . . . nor can it convey the finished result [to commence at 12:30 on today!]. I plan to take pictures and post them here, but it may be that I get so drawn into the experience I forget and take no pictures. . . hmmmm. Perhaps I will task my son with the role of documentary photographer . . .

In any case, if you have kids or just want to get your hands REALLY clean, this is a fun project. And here is my lesson plan: I am going to use this blog posting on a smart board in the classroom.

Rules for Today:

If you might want to say EWWWWW, instead say AHHHH, So INTERESTING! You will learn more if you are interested and open-minded than if you reject something as gross.

You will learn more by making mistakes than by getting it perfect, so don’t be afraid to mess up. The worst that can happen is you start over. When you start over, you become an expert faster!  How cool is that?



Wool is the hair of sheep.


Liester Longwool04-grazers_louise-fairburn

There are MANY breeds of sheep: they all look different.

Rare-breedsSheep have been living with people for so long that most breads have fur that keeps growing and growing. They need people to cut their hair. Cutting a sheep’s hair is called “sheering.”

This is Shrek, a sheep that was not sheered for 6 years!Shrek-before-sheering This is what Shrek looks like during his first sheering.

Sheep-getting-sheeredWool is AMAZING!

It has incredible characteristics:

it is warm. And it can keep you warm, even when it’s wet.

It kills germs! And resists mold.

Wool has an oil on it called lanolin that is a wonderful oil and good for the skin. It also makes wool water-proof!

Wool can felt . . . This means that wool fibers matt together with other wool fibers and make a fabric.

People have used wool’s felting power to make lots of things that are useful:

To make Boots . . .

original_Sheep-wool-booties-group-NOTHSFelted boots2And slippers. . .

felt_slippersAnd Clothes

Felted Jacket1 mens felted jacketnunofeltedjacket

And bags

LIPSTICKANDCHANGE-Sparkle-line-upBag for St. John's Parish School fundraiserAnd Rugs


Here is a video that shows how to make a felted rug.

You can also make Houses OUT OF FELT!

felt_yurtmaking a yurtWhy does wool felt?

Here is a picture that shows why wool felts: each hair has “barbs” or scales that want to lock together with other wool fibers.


What makes the fibers do this?

Irritation! By friction (hands rubbing together, pounding on the felt, putting the felt in the washing machine).

Change in PH!  Add a little soap (this creates an alkaline environment) and this irritates the fibers even more. . .

Change in temperature. Shock the wool between hot and cold and the wool freaks out and grabs onto its fiber friends!


Now we are going to see first hand how wool felts . . . Before we get started with our project, I want to talk a little bit about how we are going to learn about felting.

Learning Styles: Everyone Learns in a Unique Way

Some people learn . . .

by seeing (watching) . . .

by listening . . .

by speaking . . .

by doing . . .

by teaching . . .

So, for today, this is how we are going to learn:

1. Watch what I do.

2. Listen to what I tell you.

3. Then tell me what i did.

4. Then do it.

5. Then teach someone else. Go home and teach your parents and your sisters and brothers. Teach your friends.


Now. . . for felted soap!

First is the decoration . . . Just to get you thinking. . .

MonsterSoapsfelted soap 3mini_monster_felted_soap_blueFelted-Soap-Labelsfelted-soap-kitsfeltedsoap2 feltedsoaps3mini_monster_felted_soap_pink_2red monstor soap zombie_ate_my_brains_felted_soap_1blueowelsoap Brightly-Colored-Felted-Soap

More Felted Soap Ideas

Materials You Need:


Wool (I am using carded Merino top from New England Felting Supply)


A bit of a “sock” (a bit of stocking works well! I cut knee high stockings into 3 pieces after knotting them in 2 places.)

A bit of friction (rubbing hands and then, at the end, plastic canvas to rough things up)

Temperature differential: have a bath of cold water and a bath of hot water and shock the soap back and forth (if necessary) between the two. Squeeze out excess water and keep going.

FIRST STEP: Make a little bed for your soap that is no bigger than half a sheet of regular notebook paper.

RULE 1: If you are using more than one color, the colors must overlap.

RULE 2: If you are using sparkle, you must put a little wool spider web over the sparkle.

RULE 3: The wool be shouldn’t be too thick, or too thin, but just right.

This is the step in which your creative brain is going to be working. While we are working on our designs, we belong to a creative community!

Rules for a creative community:

1. Learn from each other.

2. Inspire Each Other. Share Your Ideas. Don’t be afraid to Copycat but add your own twist. This is what creativity is.

3. Help Each Other.

4. Comment respectfully on others’ work: all of our creations teach us something.


SECOND STEP: Make sure the little bed is not too thick. Think spider web rather than blanket!

THIRD STEP: Put your soap in the bed and wrap it up.

FOURTH STEP: Put the little soup in a blanket in your sock.

FIFTH STEP: Get it wet, then get the excess water out.

SIXTH STEP: Gently rub on all sides until it suds.

SEVENTH STEP: “Wash hands” for 2 rounds of the Cup Song (at least) before checking your soap!

Original Version of the Cup Song

Irish Version of the Cup Song


There will always be troubles! This is part of the creative process. The REALLY IMPORTANT part is HOW YOU SOLVE THE PROBLEM, FIX THE TROUBLE, AND WHAT YOU LEARN FROM THAT!

Too much wool? DOES THE SOAP HAVE A MOHAWK OR  AN EXTRA ARM OR SOMETHING?  Fold the extra over onto the soap, rinse, squeeze out all extra water, and keep going. Use your scrape tool for extra friction and keep going.

Too little wool? ARE YOU SEEING HOLES? Add another spider web layer and try again.

Also Better: Adding Cabochons as Ornaments

As I mentioned previously, ornamenting your felted bags need not be time-consuming or expensive. I have taken a liking to cabochon rivets and use them to decorate bags, my ready-made clothing, my knitted coats, my boots.

They are a nice, quick way to add both interest, sparkle, and a pretty cool look to almost any bag. Here, I’ve used them in an off-set pattern on the front of the little bag we’ve been visiting for a couple of days now met. This is, in my opinion, like the flower we saw yesterday, an example of better. And for some bags, this would be the BEST.

2014-02-10-17.09.25While you can go hunting for specialized tools with which to set these special rivets (and I even sprang for the expensive tools, I confess, but didn’t like using them and found the setting process to be frustrating and laborious), you don’t have to. I have experimented with a few different methods and find that superglue works really well to attach these rivets.

Here’s what you do:

Get a little bottle of Locktite Superglue. I prefer Extra Time Control. Place all the rivets where you want them and satisfy your eye that they are just right. If not, re-locate. Snap the front cab part (the female part) to the back (the male part) and wait for the click. They are placed, at this point, but not set. To set, I twist off the cab front, put a drop of glue in the receptacle and click back in place. Hold for a few seconds. I work systematically so I know which rivets are done and which are not.

Let sit for a bit and you are done!

Where do you get Cabochon Rivets, you might be wondering?  Noni has cabochon rivets in 3 finishes: antique brass, gunmetal, and nickel (pictured above). Call to place your order.

Better: Adding a simple flower to a tiny bag for a big statement

Red-Bag--better-with-flowerAbove you can see our little red bag dressed with a single Camellia flower. I love this look. Simple, big statement, quick knit. If you’d like to knit this flower yourself, you can buy the pattern now. To make the flower as pictured, I used a size 6 needle and a single strand of worsted weight yarn. 5 larger petals (as written) and then 4 – 5 smaller petals.

Check back tomorrow for another “Better” dressing idea for this little bag.

We’ll save the Best for later this week!

Good, Better, Best . . . Dressing a little bag for business cards

Sometimes I don’t have time to go back to a particular bag and dress it the way I would like. I tend to like little bags that are crusty with beads and flowers and ribbon in swirls. Such ornamentation takes time. And, well, for the knitter looking at my bag, such ornamentation might be a bit off-putting or intimidating.

But ornamentation need not be intimidating or time-consuming. My aim with Good, Better, Best is to show how easy it can be to turn a bag from “It’s nice,” into “I love it!” into positively “WOW!”

Here is a picture of a cute little bag that is perfect for business cards or those tiny fold up into nothing glasses that fit in a tiny case. Right now, it’s fine. It’s good.

naked-red-bagTomorrow, I’ll show you better. . .





Beguiling Golden Finches, Part 1

I have a series of bird feeders that I can see from my kitchen window. This year, I am concentrating on luring Goldfinches to these feeders. I have, according to the FAQ I recently read about attracting them, done everything right: I have a feeder specifically for Goldfinches that has a bright yellow top and is full of nyjer, a feeder of black sunflower seeds, a feeder of “Finch Supreme” mix, a water source that I keep free of ice . . . but no Goldfinches.

likely-Goldfinch-AmericanThere was one the other morning and I was so excited, creeping toward the kitchen window to get a better look, no sudden moves to catch its attention and scare it away. It ignored the Nyjer (is the seed too old?). It lept from the fence to the big hook that holds the feeder. It tested the Finch Supreme mix but seemed unimpressed. It lept back to the fence and hopped down to the hardy Jasmine vine, worked its way along the vine toward the big ceramic pot that holds my mosquito fish and is heated to the point that it steams like a dragon’s nostril on cold mornings. There is even a water lily sending up leaves to the surface. Earlier in the season it held two frogs that would cool their backs in the frigid air. I hope they left for their soil cocoons when we turned off the heater during cool days that stayed above freezing.

The Goldfinch lept to the lip of the pot and looked down at the water as if to say, “How am I going to manage to drink from this?!” but it quickly figured things out and It worked its way around the lip of the pot to the place where the black cord goes into the pot and down into the water to the pond heater. It hopped to the cord and inched its way down to the surface of the water, took a drink. A second drink. Then off it flew with a thrum of its wings.

I whisper, “Bring your friends . . .”

But the feeders are lonely of Goldfinches. Throngs of sparrows fight over the Finch mix, Cardinals and Jays like the sunflower seeds. My Nyjer must be past its day. How do they know without tasting? “At least taste,” I think to myself. Maybe they do when I’m not looking.

My friend Beth say she has “mobs” of Goldfinches. Never has the word mob sounded so lovely to me. I want mobs of Goldfinches, too.

I think of those stacks of knitted yellow sunflowers I’ve got from the days of working on the book of knitted flowers, Noni Flowers.

I get to thinking. Would a Goldfinch be beguiled by a knitted sunflower? And in the middle of Winter?

Let’s see. . .

I’ve got my plan. Join me here next week for a plan update.

Noni Q&A: Beaded Hearts on Heart on My Sleeve

2-Hearts-2Noni’s Heart on My Sleeve, is embellished with beaded hearts . . .they are beautiful, but took a bit of trial and error before I hit upon the right technique for getting a solidly beaded heart that was a pretty shape.

I rejected a bunch of lop-sided hearts (all of which got undone) before we came up with a plan for beautiful hearts every time.

Find a clean, well-lit place to work, of course: Lay down a piece of clean paper or other material on your work surface – when beads are involved, sometimes it’s nice to put down a towel so if beads go astray they don’t roll everywhere.

Gather Your Materials: No. 8 seed beads, a small dish in which to keep them, a beading needle, nylon beading thread, your almost finished bag, and scissors or thread nippers.

Decide on the Location for a Beaded Heart:  or, if you can’t decide, just pick some place with abandon. Start on the inside with your double-strand of thread knotted on the end.

Zinnia-HeartFirst, Outline The Heart with Thread:

Outline-the-Heart-with-threadAs you can see above, I used a modified running stitch. A backwards running stitch will also work. I use the outline to guide the beading process.

Second, Outline The Heart with Beads:

You can see above that I have started to follow the thread outline with beads. I go all the way around then decide how much of the heart to fill in. Sometimes, I only filled in part of the heart.

Christmas-Red-HeartFill the Heart With Beads:


I have not scientific method for this process, save I keep traveling through the felt until I get the tip of the needle out again, put a bead on the needle, and then go back into the felt (rather than all the way through–in this way, I can stay working on the outside of the bag), catch a bit of the felt, and out comes the needle somewhere else ready for another bead. i do not feel that I must start at the bottom and fill in from the bottom up or the inside out or the outside in. My only concern is that I stay inside the lines.

Questions?  Post them here and I will answer in the comments or add to this blog posting.