After an extremely long hiatus, Yarn Loop is proud to present another Designer Spotlight! The spotlight was started long ago, before COVID-19 and the chaos that followed with families and friends separated for months on end. This little Texas shop has been supplying massive quantities of yarn to housebound customers all over the United States, especially Maine, New York, & New Hampshire. Our hearts and prayers reach out to all the affected daily, and we can't wait for the tide to turn.
Without further ado, please allow me to introduce the felting guru and amazing knitting designer, Cindy Pilon of Cynthia Pilon Designs! Cindy always incorporates simple design and construction to generate beautifully shaped felted hats, bags, toys, slippers, baskets and holiday decor that seem highly advanced and sculptural. All knitters, from novices to advanced professionals will find joy and enthusiasm while making her patterns. Most of Pilon's designs are simply crafted and wonderfully written for anyone who has mastered basic stitches and tension.
Cubby the Bear, Vine Cloche Felted Hat, Knot Bag Felted Purse, House Clogs, Gnomes & Wobblers (left to right)
As with everyone, Cindy experienced firsthand the changes that accompanied COVID-19. "Knitting has been a godsend for me during the pandemic- something I can do at home, that's calming and restorative. And I don't think I'm alone. I've come across a number of articles recently citing research about a hand-brain connection and mental health." So when someone is pestering you about playing with string, tell them you are caring for your mental well-being. ;)
Please join me as we are transported on Cindy's design journeys, where everything is thick, sturdy, and delightful while remaining soft and supple. Every felting enthusiast can find something suited to their skill level and creativity including perfectly formed animals, stylized baskets, knock-around Wobbles, organically shaped bags, and amazing hats. Cindy says, "What I like to design changes every few months or so. I started with simple containers, then sequentially had a passion for bags, hats, stuffed animals, and puppets. Recently, I’ve been designing these little toys reminiscent of 70’s weebles which I call Wobblers." Cindy has also been "experimenting with knitting with wire," to make beautiful jewelry.
Cindy became passionate about felting from her very first felted bowl. She says, "Felting is easy, no question about it! The washing machine does all the work. You just need to remove [your piece] from the washing machine when it’s done!"
Large Drawstring Felted Basket (above)
Cindy further explains that "Felting captured my imagination!...I couldn't believe I could create something so solid and sculptural with knitting. It's strange because I had been knitting for years but had never tried to write a pattern before." The spark of inspiration set in, and Cynthia Pilon Designs now has a repertoire of almost 200 published patterns with only a handful designed purely for knitting and not felting!
What is felt? First and foremost, the thick, dense, fabric is created through matting fibers together. Felting most easily occurs in a warm water bath with lots of agitation (aka the washing machine). Felting does not occur with every natural or man-made fiber. Wool is best known for its felting abilities because of all the barbs along each wool fiber that can grab and catch the neighboring strands. This tangling is what creates the dense felted fabric. Cindy says, "Just about all of my work is done with 100% wool yarn, usually with worsted or bulky weight. While all animal fiber will felt, I have found that wool is the most consistent and predictable."
Please be careful though because Superwash Wool cannot be felted. Superwash wools have had the barbs burnt off or have added plastic coatings applied to keep the fibers slick.
Knitting objects with the intention of felting takes a little bit of calculation due to shrinkage. Wool objects are made 20-25% larger than the finished piece because felting tangles up and locks all of the little fibers into place, thereby shrinking the object. If you have ever accidentally felted a knitted hat or sweater, you know how the size is effected firsthand! Pilon encourages everyone to "Be fearless, felting is more forgiving than you think! Even if something is felted a bit too small, it can be stretched back to size while damp." For a full tutorial on felting with Cindy, please proceed to the bottom of this interview.
Cindy's repertoire of work is immersive with almost 200 projects currently available. With such a vast repertoire, you might ask what all of these eclectic designs have in common. Cindy says, "I love to create 3-D objects from wool, usually through knitting and felting. I try to design my objects with knitting in mind. That means minimal or no sewing." One of her earlier designs, the Small Felted Tulip Basket (left), is very well received due to its recognizable form and fanning petals. These colorful baskets make cheerful containers for odds and ends.
Sewing is kept to an absolute minimum in most of the stuffed animals by Cynthia Pilon Designs. "Even complex animal shapes have just a single seam to close a flap after inserting stuffing." Seamless toys are preferable because the stuffie will last much longer. There is nothing worse than a detached arm or head after a squabble among siblings. Of course, felting a toy is absolutely brilliant because there are no seams left once the fibers weld themselves together during agitation. And the finished animal is dense and practically child-proof (so long as you can keep the toy away from stains from food like ketchup or grape jelly).
Cindy demonstrates her sculptural abilities in many totes, bags, & purses. "With bags, I like to create shapes that are unique and natural to knitting and felting. For instance, the sinuous forms of the Knot Bag (seen at top of page) or Twist Bag (above) are continuous and without seaming. These forms could not be achieved in a material such as leather."
Most of the bags are organically shaped with round bottoms and built-in straps, a distinctive cinch and perhaps a decorative flap closure. Each purse, bag or tote is intuitive and demonstrates a specific detail to make each unique.
Cindy Pilon has perfected the integral cinch in so many ways on many different designs. The Celtic Knot Felted Purse (below left & center images) has an integral cinch that slides up and down the handles to secure the items inside. It's such a brilliant design to solve the age old problem of a purse dumped over in the car or kicked over at the movie theater.
The Boho Knot Bag Felted Purse (third image above) utilizes two straps that interlock at the top of the purse to secure the contents inside. Simply feed the long strap through the other and throw over your shoulder for that Boho Chic look that is both minimal and practical.
The Loop Bag (below left) & the Pear Bag (below center & right) have similar shapes with very different catches to close the bags. The strap of the Loop Bag is actually threaded through a grommet on the opposite side which provides the self-cinching closure each time the bag is picked up.
The Pear Bag has a small slit in the strap so that the button loop slides through to the outside of the bag. The big horn button combined with the minimal shape adds a touch of sass and flair to the project, too.
Pilon's most recent purse design, the Sweater Bag (above), is constructed and felted before the highly textured bits are added after the washing/shrinking. I adore the small side pocket for glasses (or hooks and needles!) and the big toggle closure that is so easy to grab and manipulate.
She also shows her creativity in stash-buster projects like the Amantine Bag which uses any and all random strings left over from other projects (below left).
Last but not least is the purr-fect bag for a little girl, the Cat Felted Purse (above right). Pointy ears and embroidered eyes and whiskers will show her love of felines wherever she goes.
Cindy Pilon spent her formative years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before going off to Notre Dame in Indiana for college. She spent a short time in New York before settling down in the Washington, DC area.
It is no surprise that Cindy Pilon was an architect before she became a knitting designer. Her understanding of three-dimensional shapes is astounding to say the least! Cindy states, "I have a Bachelors of Architecture and was a licensed architect for a number of years. I eventually left the field because I just wasn’t passionate about the work I was doing, and it really wasn’t a good fit for me anyway. Over the years, I have learned that my interest in design is much more about beautiful objects than it is beautiful space. Of course, I love beautiful space, but my mind just doesn’t generate ideas for creating space like it does objects. I’ve carried my architectural training over to pattern writing, however; I illustrate how to construct my designs just like I would a building!"
While some would consider these amorphic shapes to be difficult to design and even harder to make, Cindy's instructions are very clear and precise, even for a semi seasoned knitter. I absolutely love Cindy's pattern writing for its clarity and ease of understanding. I have started many a project in the past and been confused for several rows until the shape emerges. Cindy always labels each individual section clearly in a heading before a single stitch is made and includes a snippet or two to explain where a color change takes place and any pertinent details. By taking the time to add these details to the pattern, Cindy gives confidence to the knitter.
If you have been following the Instagram feed, you have seen the FO, House Clogs by Cynthia Pilon Designs. Typically, I hold off to make my first project once the Designer Spotlight is released, but I couldn't resist and made these immediately. The details include specific color changes from sole to top, a perfectly shaped toe box with short rows, and a foot hugging sole, all wrapped up in squishy felted wool.
As mentioned before, felted projects are made larger than the finished dimensions, and the House Clogs are gigantic before felting! I made size M/L which could easily have fit my husband's size 13 foot (first image above) before the magic spin in the washing machine. While still damp, I slid the newly felted shoes onto my feet and could not believe how each shoe hugged each curve perfectly. I have to admit that I never take them off inside my house! They are perfect...amazing fit, soft and flexible like socks but thicker, and always the perfect temperature to keep my feet from sweating or freezing. Another reason I wear them constantly is because of my infamous son, the Clogs Snatcher. He loves them just as much as I do (and uses them as mittens or slippers depending on his mood and imagination).
Flaps, Cozies, & Sporties (above: left to right)
The House Clogs are but one example of a growing collection of slippers currently available. I am currently deciding which slippers should be an Autumn Knit Along. Perhaps the KAL will be the Cozies, practical slippers with ribbed ankle cuffs and ultimate warmth through the cold winter months.
Cynthia Pilon Designs will be your newest, most beloved designer for anyone who loves millinery. Beanies, beret's, night caps and brimmed hats are just some of the amazing patterns currently available.
Above: left to right- Bell Felted Hat, Cleo Cloche, Edith Hat, Plaid Felted Hat, Breton Felted Hat & Snowbird
Classic shapes and styles like cloches (above) and the fedora (below left) are liberally dabbled through the collection. Some have very little ornamentation so that the shape makes the statement. Simple bands and decorations are designed to mimic ropes or belts, thereby adding just a touch of individuality and elegance. Baubles and ribbing add lots of retro fashion as well as warmth around the ears for that special dead-of-winter hat like Snowbird.
Beautiful additions such as appliques adorn many of the hats in ivy swags and delicate garlands such as the Vine Cloche Felted Hat (center image above). These appliques are created separately and added before and sometimes after felting.
For those who love baseball hats, make sure to get a good look at the felted Billie Hat which has a front-facing brim and a boxy, militaristic shape (third image above on right).
There is a sense of whimsy and playfulness in Cindy's toys. I highly recommend toy making to anyone with children or grandchildren bounding about. People are always amazed at how well-received handmade toys are. I have seen children from 18 months to 10 years flock to the maker-made objects and ignore mass produced toys at birthday parties. There is something infinitely charming in a squishy, squashy, fluffy stuffie that all children seem to understand.
I encourage you to browse through the 40 or so cats, dogs, bunnies, koalas, and teddy bears to name a few. Cindy is particularly fond of Sparky the Pig. "Sparky turned out just as I envisioned him. There is a simplicity and joy in Sparky that I aim for but don’t always achieve."
Sometimes, a pet project comes along due to a world event like the wildfires in Australia in early 2020. While Cindy doesn't work with specific donation organizations often, she has a generous heart, and helps out when she can. Cindy was asked "to design a koala by a customer in Australia. She wanted to sell stuffed koalas at a handicraft fair to raise money for wildlife relief. Like everyone, my heart was breaking for the koalas, and I thought it was a worthy project. So I designed a little stuffed koala, named him Walla Koala, and contributed half of my proceeds for the first month of sales to WIRES, an Australian Wildlife Rescue organization: https://www.
Mouse Wobblers & Snowmen Wobblers
Cindy is designing a growing selection of Wobblers, "these little toys reminiscent of 70's weebles" that are weighted with stacks of large washers in the bottom so that when you tip them sideways, they bounce back up. Ingenuity and creativity always excite me, so it's always fun to see the mechanics of simple toys that are simply delightful. Currently, the Wobbler collection includes cats, bears, mice, gnomes & snowmen!
For those with a more hands-on approach, make sure to browse the extensive hand puppet collection by Cynthia Pilon Designs. These toys inspire young imaginations to do big plays with equally fun dialogues between child and character. I adore the Hound Dog Puppet with his extremely big, floppy ears and crinkled face (above). But with a lion and a Halloween Witch Puppet (above) among the mix...fables and fairy tale characters come to mind with so much to be acted out and presented to adoring parents.
Lastly, there are a dozen or so holiday projects designed by Pilon. There are patterns for ornaments, elves, gnomes, a Yeti and snowmen for the winter months, the scary witch puppet for Halloween (above), and rabbits galore for Easter celebrations. Cindy has designed several children' baskets that can be used for Trick-or-Treating and egg hunting, too. (Coming soon!)
Front & Back of Bunny Easter Basket
Cindy's latest design journey has included fine wire knitting. This is her smallest collection to date, but it has a profound impact nonetheless. The Wire Pear Ornament is stunning, and I can imagine it sparkling in the lights of a Christmas Tree or decorating a mantle (below left). The shape is absolutely perfect, and the knitted leaf is such a beautiful touch, too.
With every Designer Spotlight, www.yarnloop.com likes to add a bit of fun by including a giveaway! We are thrilled to include the Twist Bag Kit, the Yarn Loop Tote Bag & Swatch Gauge in this giveaway. The knitting kit includes the pattern, enough Chunky by Malabrigo yarn to complete 1 bag, a beautiful horn button. Please click on the Rafflecopter below to enter the drawing, and make sure to follow the instructions for valid entries. Hurry, the drawing closes on January 20, 2020 at midnight CST. The special winner will be chosen by Mischief the Parrot on our social feeds like Instagram & Facebook on June 21st at noon CST.
I am sure that we will see many, many more amazing creations from Cynthia Pilon Designs, and I want to thank you for taking the time to learn more about this wonderful designer and the process of felting your knits. I hope that you are excited to try this ancient technique of playing with wool to make delightful toys, hats, slippers, and beyond.
Make sure to browse our other Designer Spotlights which highlight very different designers, their craft and their process. We hope to provide inspiration and instruction with each spotlight, so please feel free to add comments or questions below. And please continue below to learn even more about felting.
With a common tendency for people to underfelt projects, Cindy has put together this useful Q&A to guide the process.
How do you know how long to felt a project? When is it done?
"Felting time depends on your washing machine, the yarn you use, and type of project. It can be anywhere from 1 cycle to 7 cycles." Given that, use the following questions as a guide when felting:
How flexible or stiff do you want the project?
"Unstructured items (aka organic shapes) such as the Knot Bag Felted Purse and the Oversized Slouchy Bag should retain flexibility and be felted just until the stitches disappear. Generally, check your item every 20-30 minutes to see how it is progressing." Cindy prefers Cascades Eco because it is really difficult to overfelt this yarn.
"Structured bags, on the other hand, should be felted until they have some stiffness [so felt them in the machine for a long time]. The Phoebe Purse and the Peggy Purse are examples of structured bags. These bags can be shaped while damp and will hold their form once they dry."
Do you want stitch definition?
Cindy says "For just about all of my designs, I don't want any stitch definition. The final fabric should look like felt, rather than felted knitting. So, felt it at least until there is no stitch definition."
Does this item need to be an exact size?
For items like hats, mittens & slippers, "felt it to the correct size". Check your item often (at least every 20 minutes) until it is approximately the size you prefer. The longer the object agitates in the washer, the more fibers tangle up and shrink the object.
For items that can be any size like containers and toys, Cindy says "just go for it, and pull the item once it's fully felted!"
It's felted and floppy and mis-shapen. Now what do I do?
To get a smooth uniform finished object, "be sure it is fully felted.
Secondly, stuff it with fiberfill very tightly while it is damp. Once it is dry, remove the fiberfill and you will have a beautifully smooth shape. It is really that easy."
A ball or hat form can be also be used to shape your hats.
What yarn sizes, plies & colors are best suited for felting?
Cindy provides this insight into her favorite feltable wools. "I use both single ply and multiple ply yarns to felt with. The single ply may felt a bit faster but in the grand scheme, both work well so I don't even consider that when I felt. One thing to consider is light colored yarns. In some lines, the bleaching process makes the yarn hard to felt (you have to be really careful with white yarns). That's why I often just go with Knit Picks Wool of the Andes because I know all their yarns felt, even the whites."
Can I learn even more with Cindy?
Absolutely! Join Cindy's newsletter to learn all sorts of little tips that can help with felting that are too varied or random to include in every pattern. The Newsletter goes out once a month and has little bonuses, too!
Photos by Cindy Pilon & Yarn Loop
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