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!

MDSW: The Glorious Aftermath

The weather was glorious, the shopping overwhelming, and it was sheep as far as the eye could see! I got back from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival exactly the way I knew I would: drunk with excitement, completely exhausted, and yet ready for more! There is nothing else like MDSW…

MDSW, Maryland Sheep and Wool
The traffic to get in was CRAZY!!!
MDSW, Maryland Sheep and Wool
And the transport from car park to front gate was appropriate...
MDSW, Maryland Sheep and Wool
The sheep were looking their very best for the judges
MDSW, Maryland Sheep and Wool
And the shopping was... simply overwhelming!

I was lucky enough to run into the lovely Nora Bellows of Noni. I discussed spindles with Sasha Torres of the SpinDoctor podcast. Got to say hello to Amy Singer of Knitty magazine. And I had really enlightening conversations (about credit card machines of all things!) with Andrea Berman (I Speak KnitSpeak), Gale of Gale’s Art, and Jennie Lanners (you know… Jennie the Potter!).

Did I take any pictures of any of them? No, not one. I know …I know!


So, you’ll just have to settle for pictures of my swag instead…

MDSW, Maryland Sheep and Wool
Clockwise from top left: Yarn Bowl from Honeysuckle Pottery, Trindle (spindle) from Trindleman, a hand-sized loom from Hazel Rose Looms (and my friend Sara!), and a Tsunami spindle from Golding

Oh wait! I forgot… I got some really cool stitchmarkers too from Jennie the Potter. Let me go grab my knitting…

MDSW, Maryland Sheep and Wool

I love that they have knit stitches on one side and instructions on the other! So cool! The yarn is SpaceCadet’s Stella in Vibrance.

So, you see how much fun it was? Oodles and oodles, and I am jonesing for more! What are your favourite fiber festivals through the year? Which ones do you love?