It’s All in the Details… Melissa Jean Handknit Design

Somehow….. somehow it turns out this weekend is the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival (MDSW).  And even though I’ve had my hotel room booked for months, it has still managed to sneak up on me.  Will you be going?  If you will, please look for me — I’m not vending (I wish!) but I’ll be shopping and having the fibery time of my life!  You can spot me by the SpaceCadet tattoo on my cheek and please stop and say hi — I’d love to meet you guys in person!

But listen, there’s someone else who’ll be at MDSW that I want you to meet, and even if you’re not going to be there this weekend, you’ll still want to get know her.  Her name is Melissa Tompkins-Stahl and she creates beautiful buttons and knitting patterns as Melissa Jean Handknit Design.

Melissa Jean handmade buttons


I’d mentioned previously that I met her at Rhinebeck, but I love her work so much, I wanted to get a little more in depth with her and she was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.


The Dublin Tee by Melissa Jean Designs

Which came first, the buttons or the knitting patterns? And which do you feel is more your ‘true’ calling?

Knitting definitely came first.  I was writing children’s patterns and making them up as kits.  I wanted to write the patterns, dye the yarn and source the buttons. I met some potters who made buttons for me, but I had specific ideas of how the buttons should look, I decided to start making them myself.  I worked for a pottery called MacKenzie-Childs and felt comfortable venturing out on my own…however, there was still a learning curve. I had to do quite a bit of research along with trial and error before my buttons were good enough!

As far as knitting, I knit a lot but have not released any new patterns in a few years.  I am waiting for my youngest to go to school full time, which she will do this fall.  I have 2 patterns to release this summer…Dublin Tee (pictured below) and Janey Pullover (a rerelease actually).  With my kids in school, I feel I can better meet deadlines…pattern writing involves more than just me…test knitters, tech editors, photo shoots, and the public.  Buttons making is much more solitary and I can fit it in as I can.  I can’t wait to get more ideas out of my sketchbook and onto my needles.

 So, tell me what you love about your job…

I love that I work in my studio at home…I can crank my music, or listen to podcasts and work.  It affords me time to take care of my family while doing something meaningful to me.  I also like the process of making buttons, working with my hands, with color.  I love the element of surprise when I open the kiln and find shelves of color…that never gets old!

 Buttons by Melissa Jean Designs

How crazy does it get for you before a big show like MDSW or Rhinebeck?  How many buttons do you bring, and how long does it take for you to make them?

No matter how far in advance I start gearing up, the 2 weeks before Maryland and VERY busy.  I bring about 5,000 buttons (I did not count) but there are a lot!

Where will you be located at MDSW this year?

I’ve changed from a tenter to a barn dweller this year.  I will be hunkered down in Barn 4, booth 12.

Gorgeous handmade buttons by Melissa Jean Design

What new or interesting buttons are you taking that we should be looking to nab at MDSW?

This year I’ll have very small buttons with shanks, I am very excited about.  They lend themselves well to sock weight yarn. On the other hand, I will also have some very large buttons, great for bags, hats and shawls. I will also have a beautiful teal color and a deep red.

Where else can we buy your buttons and knitting patterns?

My website is   Besides Maryland, I vend at Finger Lakes Fiber FestivalNY Sheep and Wool fest (Rhinebeck), Fiber Festival of New England, Yarn Cupboard Retreat. But keep an eye on my website’s event page because I may be adding a festival or three this year.  As far as shops, I have not ventured into wholesale yet…..but hope to this year, so follow me on Twitter, or like my Facebook page.

Gorgeous handmade buttons by Melissa Jean Design

Don’t you love her buttons?!?  I do — and I’m going to buy a ton of them at MDSW so if you want them, you better get there before I do!  I have a hankering to knit some lovely wide wrist cuffs and put Melissa’s buttons all over them.  What do you think?

Oooh, and there’s one button up there in particular that’s really calling to me — ten points to the first person to guess which one it is!

The Best Resolution of the Year

Fresh new year.  The first week of a fresh new year and it holds so much possibility.  Sparkling and brand new.  Beautiful, perfect… like freshly fallen snow.

And we try to fill the space of those possibilities with resolutions.  I will lose weight.  I will read more.  I will stop smoking.  I will pay down my debt.  I will… I will…  I will…

SpaceCadet Fingering Yarn with Bamboo in Inlet, for knitting or crochet

The thing is that, while also those resolutions promise to lift us to a higher place, they start the year out by reminding of the things we most dislike about ourselves.  It’s a strange way to set out into the newly fallen snow.

My friend Natalie and I were discussing resolutions last week.  Mine were all of the usual sort, the sort that pulls you down before bringing you back up by kicking you in the backside.   And her resolution…  well, it stopped me in my tracks.  “I’m going to knit something green each month of 2012.”

SpaceCadet Celeste Fingering Yarn in SuperWash Merino in Rescue, for knitting or crochet

Green is Natalie’s favourite colour — favourite like an obsession.  She says, “You know my green sweater?” as though anyone could know which green sweater she might mean.  So it wasn’t that that surprised me.  It was the simple positivity of her resolution.  Her resolution is about doing something she loves, in a way she loves, more often.  Now that a resolution that feels worthy of  the brand spanking new year.

So y’know what?  I’m rethinking my own resolutions.  Maybe I can afford to ditch all the self-improvement ones (because, really, they’re on the cards already regardless of the time of the year).  My life is so busy that I rarely get the chance to sit down and knit as much as I’d like.  So maybe I could resolve to…  just knit more.  To just knit when… well, when the knitting calls to me.  As resolutions go, it actually feels pretty radical.

And pretty uplifting.  The way resolutions should.

SpaceCadet Lucina Fingering Yarn with Sparkles in Torment, for knitting or crochet

So what are your resolutions for the new year?  Do you have any that you’re especially excited about?  Or one that is just simple and uplifting and fibery?

Leave a comment — I’d love to know!


SpaceCadet Astrid DK Yarn in Happy Secret, for knitting or crochet

The SpaceCadet’s Ebook: Launching into Hand-Dyed

One of the things I love most about doing a yarn show or festival is getting to meet all of you.  It’s so wonderful to get to put faces to email addresses, and talk to you about your yarn choices and your projects.  I enjoy that so much!

But sometimes I see a customer pick up a yarn and, even though I can tell she clearly loves it, and even though she turns it over and over in her hands to admire all the different colours, I hear her say to her friend, as she reluctantly puts the skein back, “But how would I use it?”

Variegated knitting and crochet yarns from SpaceCadet Creations, featured in the new ebook, Launching Into Hand-Dyed: a basic guide to knitting and crocheting with hand-dyed yarns

I always want to reach out to her and offer the chair next to me, so we can sit down together for five minutes and talk through hand-dyed yarns…  I want to show her how to understand all those colour changes so she choose a project that will use them to their very best advantage.  But yarn festivals are crazy-busy places, and there’s never the opportunity…

The SpaceCadet’s Guide to Using Hand-Dyed

the new ebook from SpaceCadet Creations, Launching Into Hand-Dyed: a basic guide to knitting and crocheting with hand-dyed yarnsBut now there is!  Because today is the day I get to release Launching into Hand-Dyed: A basic guide to knitting and crocheting with hand-dyed yarns It’s a new ebook from SpaceCadet Creations and, in it, I get to do what I never get to do at those yarn shows.  I get to sit down with you and talk about how to choose a hand-dyed colourway that’s going to work with the pattern you have in mind   …or how to choose a pattern that’s going to work with the yarn you just fell in love with.

And it’s not just me telling you this.  Abigail Horsfall of TAAT Designs shows how she chose a pattern for her SpaceCadet yarn, and Sharon Silverman, of Sharon Silverman Crochet, walks you through how variegated yarns work with different crochet stitches.  And then to round it out, textile conservator Christine Maurhoff discusses different ways to wash and care for your projects made with hand-dyed yarns.

Authors of the new ebook from SpaceCadet Creations, Launching Into Hand-Dyed: a basic guide to knitting and crocheting with hand-dyed yarns

Doesn’t it sound great?!?  Doesn’t it sound like something that’d be really helpful for that customer who’s fallen in love with that beautiful yarn but doesn’t know what to make it with it?  Does it sound like something that’d be helpful to you?

the new ebook from SpaceCadet Creations, Launching Into Hand-Dyed: a basic guide to knitting and crocheting with hand-dyed yarnsWell, let me tell you the best bit.  It’s yours.  No, really, it’s yours — for free.  The thing is, I really hate to see people fall in love with a yarn but not be sure what to make it with it.  Hand-dyed yarn is for more than petting (no, really, it is!).  Hand-dyed yarn is for using   …for knitting, for crocheting, for running through your fingers and turning the colour loose stitch upon stitch.  I want you to have this book and so I’m making it available free for signing up to the SpaceCadet mailing list.  Just click here and get yourself a copy!


Cue the Oscar Style Tears…

Carrie Keplinger, editor of the new ebook from SpaceCadet Creations, Launching Into Hand-Dyed: a basic guide to knitting and crocheting with hand-dyed yarnsNow, I just have to tell you something else.  You know when you read the first few pages of a book and the author is going on and on about how they owe everything to their editor for being such a support and sooo patient and blah blah blahhh?  I always thought those dedications were overdone.  I mean, really, this life-long devotion? Really?!?

Yeah, well…  I was wrong.  Turns out there’s a reason authors write with such love and dedication to their editors.   I thought I had this book all ready to go when I turned it over to my editor, Carrie Keplinger (of Ebooks That Rock), but I had no idea how much more there was to do.  And she was incredibly patient with me as we went through edit and re-edit… and re-edit.  And I changed the pictures, and then changed them again, and then tweaked them for good measure.  I never, ever, ever would have got this done without her — even though I had no idea how much I would need her.  So, yeah, I learned why authors are so dedicated to their editors.  And I want to tell you, Carrie is worth her weight in… well, yarn.  Could I come up with any higher praise than that?


Tell Me What You Think!

I am just so excited about this, I can hardly tell you.  This book has been months and months in the making, and I so genuinely hope you find it useful and inspiring.  So go on and download your copy right now!  And then, please please do come back and leave a comment below to tell me what you think of it.  I can’t wait to hear!

And for everyone who is already a subscriber — don’t worry!  You guys have been dedicated readers for a long time, so you’ll be getting a special email shortly with your download link.  Keep an eye on your inbox for it!

Things My Non-Knitting Sister Says: the Trouble with Knit Groups

You may recall that my sister, who spent the last two decades pshawing my suggestions that she try knitting, has picked up the needles at last  …and discovered that she loves it.   She’s on her second garter-knit scarf and carries her WIP with her everywhere.  She’s becoming a knitter.  I’m more than a little stunned.

But so far, she’s been knitting in isolation.  Occasionally, she’s run into a fellow knitter on the bus and they’ve discussed projects and yarns in the short time before her stop arrives but, for the most part, she’s been knitting on her own, without the camaraderie of other knitters.  And that’s not right, is it?!?

SpaceCadet Creations fingering yarn in Merino/Nylon/Bamboo in SeaFoam, for knitters and crocheters

And so I’ve been encouraging her to check out her local LYS’s knit groups.  But it turns out they’re on nights that don’t work with her schedule.  And joining a new group can be a little intimidating, especially for someone who has just learned to knit.  The one night she did make it there, she wandered around looking at the yarn and peeking at the knitting group from behind the shelves — but never got the nerve to actually sit with them and knit.

I understand.  It’s hard to join a new group, knitting or not.  And…  well…  she’s seen with her own eyes how crazy knitters get!  So, yeah, I can understand…

SpaceCadet Creations Luna Laceweight yarn in Merino & Silk, in Covetous, for knitters and crocheters

I was on the phone to her this week.  “Oh! Oh! I have to tell you!” she suddenly exclaimed.  “It’s about the knitting…”  She’d been chatting to a neighbour who, out of the blue, mentioned something about knitting.   My sister pulled out her WIP.  They discussed projects, yarns…  and then, the neighbour said she wasn’t going to the knitting group that week.

“The knitting group?” my sister inquired.

It turns out that there is a knitting group in her apartment building.  What’s more, it turns out that there are a lot of knitters in her building.  So many, in fact, that there isn’t enough room for all the knitters in the building to join the group.  My sister has been knitting in isolation in her flat whilst, all the while, surrounded by knitters on all sides, and never knew it.  She squealed a little as she told me.

Here was a group she could join!  These were people she already knew, and liked  …and they’re knitters too.  It couldn’t be more perfect.

SpaceCadet Creations fingering yarn in Merino/Nylon in Translucence, for knitters and crocheters

BUT… this group also meets on a day that doesn’t work with her schedule.  Ok, I said, so maybe you could open a sort of second “branch” of this knitting group, on a day that works for you.  And people could go to either or both, whichever best fits their schedule.

She laughed out loud at the thought.  “You mean, in a few weeks’ time, I could actually belong a knitting group?  That meets in my flat?!?”

Yeah…  I guess she…  well, she really could.

You remember I said up at the beginning that her knitting adventure has me a bit stunned?  Yep, at that moment, you could have knocked me right over with a feather.


Oh, hey, listen…  Thursday is Thanksgiving (which has totally taken me by surprise — were you ready for it?!?).  So first, a very Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

And then, of course, Thanksgiving starts the madness that is the holiday shopping season, so I want to give you a heads up that I will be launching a special Holiday Gift Subscription the the SpaceCadet’s yarn club, the InterStellar Yarn Alliance.  It’s a fabulous way to give a gift to a knitter or crocheter in your life that will keep them happy all year long.

And be quick, because spaces are limited and the Alliance doesn’t open to new members very often at all.  But more than that, I’ll be offering a special one-day introductory discount on Black Friday only.  So, enjoy your turkey, have a wonderful wonderful Thanksgiving…  and then, on Black Friday, let everyone else go mad rushing off to the shops, and you can score yourself some great Gifts of Yarny Goodness without even changing out of your PJs!

(Want a reminder on Friday morning?  Do make sure you’re on the mailing list!)

Pattern Roll-Call: Mini-Skein Patterns, Part 2

Usually when I do a Pattern Roll-Call, I like to feature several patterns by different designers.    But as I was sifting through all the mini-skein patterns on Ravelry, I came across a little treasure trove full of patterns that I just love so much that I had to dedicate a whole blog post to them.

It started with this sweet little Pinwheel Purse.  Isn’t it lovely?  It’s the same origami you did as a kid — but in knitting!  So cool.

Knitted Pinwheel Purse by Frankie Brown

And so from there, I began looking through the rest of the designer’s work, and found that her sense of colour and shape really spoke to me.  I love the gentle, organic changes of colours and yarns, the very simple shaping, the modular construction, and — maybe most of all — the almost complete lack of sewing up!

Frankie Brown modular knitting designs, perfect for mini-skeins

All of these patterns are by Frankie Brown.  And instead of charging for her patterns, Frankie offers them all as free downloads on Ravelry — with the request that knitters who enjoy her patterns make a donation to the Children’s Liver Disease Foundation. So far, she’s raised about £2,500 and hopes go on to raise £1,000 a year.  What a fantastic thing to do!

There’s a lot of yarns that would work well with these patterns, but I love how well these patterns would suit mini-skeins of fabulous variegated and semi-solid yarns.  Can’t you just see it?  All the colours coming together to compliment each other in some places and contrast one another in others.  Beautiful!

Frankie Brown modular knitting patterns, perfect for mini-skeins
If you’d like some amazing mini-skeins to knit these patterns in, check out the SpaceCadet’s new Mini-Skein Club. Each month you’ll receive a surprise selection of gorgeous SpaceCadet yarns delivered to your door, so that you can try out all the SpaceCadet bases and feed your mini-skein project addiction!

Click Here to Join the SpaceCadet's Mini-Skein Yarn Club!

Two Rhinebeck Discoveries and a Shop Update

Last weekend was Rhinebeck, otherwise known as the New York Sheep and Wool Festival and one of the best and most exciting fiber festivals in the country.  Or…  so I’d been told.  I’d never been to it before, but this year the stars aligned and I got my chance!

The Ravelry Meet-up at Rhinebeck Sheep & Wool Festival

Rhinebeck was everything I hoped for.  Sheep, alpaca, llamas, kangaroos (seriously!), fair food, fine food, wine, spinning wheels, spindles, fiber, and yarn yarn yarnyarnyarn.  At the Ravelry meet-up (above), I got the chance to meet Laura Nelkin, a designer I’ve featured here before and whose work I’ve admired a long time.  I also ran into the delightful Ariane of Falling Stitches, my friend Julia of Knitterly Things, my friend Gwen of GwenErin Natural Fibers, and Ravelry’s own Mary-Heather and Sarah (wearing a fast-asleep Carlton).

But never mind all that, because I discovered two people whose products I loved so much that I really thought you’d want to meet them!

First is Melissa Tompkins-Stahl, whom I liked right from the moment I met her but — more importantly for you — who also makes absolutely lovely ceramic buttons.   Seriously, they are like candy for knitters.  My friend Kristen introduced us and pointed out how beautifully the colours of Melissa’s buttons and colours of SpaceCadet yarns go together.  Kristen put several buttons against a cowl she’d spun with SpaceCadet fiber and she was right.  Melissa and I clearly share a colour connection, and if you’re ever looking for buttons for a project you’ve made with SpaceCadet yarn, it’s worth looking at her website

Melissa Jean handmade ceramic buttons for knitters and crocheters


And the other person is Leah LaFera of Ulster Soaps.  I knew I needed to check out Leah’s stall even before I saw it — the smell of her soaps was tugging at me!  And when I got there and met Leah, I knew I wanted to tell you about her.  I’ve always wanted to try soapmaking (don’t you?), so I asked her a whole bunch of questions, and she answered them all so enthusiastically.  It’s clear she loves what she does!  I chose some soaps: Peppermint Delight, Lavender Dream, and Lemon Poppy Seed (nom nom nom!) and I knew I wanted to share them (and her!) with you too.

Ulster Soaps, handmade soaps by Leah LaFera

And of course, there was all that yarn — so much fun to look at it, to smoosh it, to pet it!  And it inspired me to do a shop update…

Clockwise from top left: Fingering yarn containing Bamboo in a Dept of Rocket Science colourway, Celeste in Cove, Estelle in a Dept of Rocket Science colourway, BFL yarn in Algae, Celeste in Cove, BFL yarn in Salmon.Shop Update of SpaceCadet Creations yarns for knitting and crochet