Melissa Jean's Blog

Exploring creative endeavors and sharing the experience

A Museum of Makers

This past Fourth of July my family and I traveled to Vermont as we often do to visit friends.  This time, however, I finally took the time to visit the Shelburne Museum, a really extraordinary place!

A hooked wool rug by Patty Yoder on diplsay in the Hat and Fragrance Textile Gallery.

A hooked wool rug by Patty Yoder on diplsay in the Hat and Fragrance Textile Gallery.

It is a museum of Americana, folk art, fine arts, and archetecture with most collections housed in historically important buildings that were moved to the park like grounds. I was so impressed with the collections I went back a second day (admission tickets are good for 2 days) because you cannot possibly see everything in one day.  As a maker and fiber person I especially enjoyed the Weaving Shop, Hat and Textile Gallery, and the Variety Unit. Here are glimpses of what I saw, but I urge you to make the trip to Shelburne Vermont yourself!

Some of the items on display in the Weaving Shop.

Some of the items on display in the Weaving Shop and Settler’s House. I have never seen flax growing, it is so beautiful. And I learned that making cloth was very patriotic during colonial times. Next July 4th, break out those spinning wheels!

The doll collection was quite impressive.  Here is an example of one of the diaramas,  check out all those details! Miniature hat boxes, ribbon, bolts of fabric, spinning wheel, scissors, it’s a game of Eye Spy!

One of the many diaramas on diplay in the Variety Unit.

One of the many diaramas on diplay in the Variety Unit.


Look at the tiny buttons!

A beautiful scrimshaw swift made from whale ivory and bone, wood and a walrus tusk.

A beautiful scrimshaw swift made from whale ivory and bone, wood and a walrus tusk.

 I also really appreciate the vision of Electra Havemeyer Webb, the museum founder and whose collections are the core of the museum.  Without her love of handmade things from times past we would not be able to enjoy and marvel at the beautiful things our ancestors made. The Shelburne Museum is a very inspiring place. It supercharged me to get making!


Yogurt: the Beginning of a Summer of “Making”

This summer we are going to make things at home that we would normally buy in a shop. This is extremely exciting for me, as I have always been a maker…just ask my mom what I used to do with my diaper. This week we made yogurt!  We started with the most amazing yogurt I have  tasted from North Country Creamery, it’s gorgeous stuff!  You can use live cultures as well which can be purchased online, but we just used high quality yogurt.


North Country Creamery yogurt was used as a starter.

North Country Creamery yogurt was used as a starter.

I put the starter yogurt on the bottom of a clean 1/2 gallon jar, about 1 cup per 1/2 gallon of milk.

use about 1 cup starter yogurt per 1/2 gallon of milk.

use about 1 cup starter yogurt per 1/2 gallon of milk.

Earlier that day I had purchased raw milk from Greyrock Farm in Cazenovia, NY. (Really quite an impressive farm, more to come from them this summer). Their cows are Brown Swiss and I noticed that their milk is a little smoother and sweeter than the raw Holstein milk we were getting.  I heated the milk to about 180 degrees F, then let it cool down to 110 degrees F. We strained out the cooked bits (oops, got a little hotter than intended). A slightly messy job despite the many helping hands.

heated milk from Greyrock Farm's Brown Swiss beauties!

heated milk from Greyrock Farm’s Brown Swiss beauties!

Next, I placed a cloth secured with a rubberband over the jar and wrapped it in a heating blanket.  Using a thermometer, I checked in on the yogurt a few times to make sure it was maintaining the 110 degree temp. It stayed nice and warm for about 10 hours….you can keep it going for a shorter time, and even a longer time…but at this point my yogurt was nice and thick so I let it cool a bit before placing it in the fridge.   The next morning I scooped out a nice bowlful and drizzled it with some local honey! YUM! Creamy and smooth.

This yogurt was very creamy and naturally sweet, did not really need the honey!

This yogurt was very creamy and naturally sweet, did not really need the honey!


Squam Art Workshops

It’s hard to put into words what Squam meant to me this Spring without gushing.  It was magical, inspiring, perfect….it was like letting go and having everything work out. There was no stress, well maybe a little when reading the Shetland Lace charts during Gudrun’s class, but I can handle that kind of stress any day! Everything felt effortless and charmed.

I wish I had taken more and better pictures, but here are a few that captured some of the essence of Squam.


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The Dublin Tee, a Designer’s Tale

Three years ago I had an opportunity to travel to Ireland and  jumped at the chance to go.  As a knitter, of course I had to create a sweater to bring with me.  A few ideas danced around in my head but I settled on a lacey cabled short sleeved tee-shirt style.  I had been looking through  Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitting Workshop and liked the saddle shoulder construction method I’d read about. The cables of my new sweater would lend itself well to this technique.  So I cast on, no drawings, no calculations, just cast on and go.  Have you ever done that?  I knit up my sweater in about 3-4 weeks….jotting down a few notes but not much more.  It fit, looked good, and in May of 2010 I set off for Ireland!


The trip was great, unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of my sweater while in Ireland, but here it is in a field next to my house:


I’m wearing a size Small with about 4″ of negative ease. The yarn is Nature’s Palette sock yarn, which is discontinued. Good substitutes would be Space Cadet Creations Celeste or Estell, Madeleine Tosh fingering, Koigu KPPPM, or any Wool yarn in a similiar weight that will spring back. You don’t want to choose a yarn that will not keep it’s shape when knit up. Also, a solid or semi-solid will work up more attractively than a highy variegated yarn with lots of colors.

I started wearing the sweater at  Sheep and Wool Festivals and was asked many times for the pattern.  When I sat down to write it, I had no concrete information, and had to start from scratch. Well, it was easy enough to calculate my size, but calculating mulitple sizes given the stitch pattern and construction method was not. It took a couple of years, design classes, tech editing classes, lots of math and one bad ass tech editor but I was able to publish the pattern for a range of sizes in a way that a moderately experienced knitter can understand. Whew! Feels great to have this pattern out there!


Our lovely model is wearing size 1X with 2″ of negative ease. The yarn is Space  Cadet Creations Lyra sportweight in the colorway Honey.

The Dublin Tee begins at the hem and is worked in the round, by the time you reach the underarms you’ve memorized the stitch pattern. Gussets are added to accomodate the sleeves.  Sleeves are constructed and attched, and  raglan decreases are worked  2/3 up the yoke.  Next is my favorite part, saddles!  The shoulder saddles are worked seperately.  Stitches are “eaten” up on the front and back, then the back only for neck shaping.

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MJ Design 065

Once the saddles are complete, you work to the center back and “eat ” up saddle stitches on either side, bringing up that lovely center cable.  A few rounds of 1×1 ribbing and you are done! How to choose a size?  Because the lace cable has so much give, there are options. If a snug sexy fit is more your style, choose a size that will give you 3-4″ of negative ease (for example, if your bust measures 32-33″, choose size small, which has a finished bust circumference of 28″).  If you would like a little more room, choose a size with 1-2″ of negative ease.  Use the schematic to figure it out: dublin_schematic

I’m looking forward to seeing  more Dublin Tees!  For more info visit my website  or Ravelry page

Enjoy a few more pictures of Ireland:

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Autumn is Wool Festival Season!

With autumn comes crisp weather, sweet apples, and sheep and wool festivals galore!  My first show is in Central New York, a small but very good show called the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival.  This year I was so impressed with my customers’ creations from purchases past.  Look at this amazing felt hand bag, made from the maker’s husband’s navy uniform, decorated with hand dyed felt and my porcelain buttons.  Really stunning!

Beautifully crafted felt handbag with Melissa Jean porcelain buttons!

Next a little one wearing a mini version of Anne Hanson’s Sprossling, how cute is she!!?

Beautiful use of buttons!

Look how the pink buttons pick up on the flecks of pink in the yarn, nice choice!

Looking forward to more!  Please stop in and say hello, check out my events page  for a list of shows.

Shop update! Oh la la!

I handcraft a whole lotta porcelain buttons, and enjoy every minute of it…..but, not every project is best suited to a porcelain button, sometimes wood, tagua, metal, or shell is a better choice.  I am all for the appropriate accessory for the project, to make your FO the BEST it can and should be!  So, I order the coolest most interesting buttons I can find at a reasonable price and offer them as well as my own handmade ones, it makes me happy and feeds my button fetish!  I just found some really cool buttons and uploaded them to my web-shop, here’s a preview:


Come take a look!

An Excursion Close to Home

I am fortunate in that I live out in the “country”, as you can see by the view out my front yard. Here are the kids coming home on the last day of school:


Yet, one of the best quilting/fabric stores in the country, Patchwork Plus is within walking distance of my house.  So when they had their 25th Anniversary sale I had to hop on my bike and get in line by 6:30am to get in on the deals to be had!


I enlisted my friend Kristen to help me scope out the shop the day before, and we planned our purchases carefully, writing lists and making sketches at a diner next door. We found lovely 1940’s prints, to be used as girl’s skirt bottoms sewn onto knitted tops, wool felt for a brand new booth sign,and  a great apron pattern and fabric to make and then wear in my booth.


Now it’s time to get to work!  Come visit me at my next show or festival to see how we utilized our purchases!

Maryland 2012

Fantastic…once again.  The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in West Friendship, Maryland takes place on the first full week-end in May and has done so for the past 39 years.  I have been lucky enough to have participated for the last 5….wow, 5  years! Getting ready for the show was no less frenzied than in years past and this year I decided to leave my husband and camper at home and take fellow knitter Kristen along. You can see her here helping customers choose buttons.  What a FANTASTIC  booth mate she is.

This year I brought a few new designs; a pretty lattice button, small shank buttons, and a new square flower button were among them.

As busy as our booth gets, I do try to sneak out to see what’s new, shop,  and say hello to fellow vendors. While walking around Friday afternoon, I came upon Fiber Optics and nearly got whiplash.  Creator/dyer Kimber Baldwin is a chemist by trade and uses her knowledge of chemistry to help achieve a super saturated fiber, really stunning.  I will definitely use her fibers in the future.  In fact, watch my blog for upcoming news about Fiber Optics!  She also had a stunning display of shawls:

As a bonus, I was able to spend time with  Julia Hilbrandt who makes FABULOUS felt bags. We displayed one of her bags in my booth on Sunday, shown here with a new pattern (Dublin Tee).  Also shown on the dress form is a necklace by Laura Nelkin.  We sold her kits at the festival and again, they were hugely popular!

We all had fun on Cinco de Mayo at a beautiful restaurant called Azul 17 where they serve the BEST mojito and have a separate menu for tequila! Just look at Kristen’s lamb dinner (yes, she finished it!)

Sunday afternoon I went to visit my old tent neighbors, Larry and Kristina of Peavine Hollow Farm.  They Raise and sell Angora goats and Maremma Livestock Guardian Dogs.  The Angora fiber from their goats is just gorgeous!

By the end of the week-end we were exhausted, but uplifted by our many wonderful customers.  Thank you all so much! I am already looking forward to next year!

Introductions and a bit about my buttons

Hello!  My name is Melissa and I make porcelain buttons and design hand knitting patterns.  I’ll talk more about patterns in upcoming posts, in this post I’ll give you an insight on how I make my buttons.

First I roll a slab of clay with a wooden rolling pin.  I use cutters, (some meant for clay, some for baking) to cut the shape I want.  I make stamps of the design I would like to use.  Usually  these stamps are made from the same porcelain and sometimes from rubber. The edges of the shape are smoothed by hand and the piece is stamped with designs.  I also stamp the back with my signature.

Once dry, the pieces are “cleaned” with a sponge and then painted.  Some are one color, others are intricately painted with many colors. Here a kiln shelf is being filled with painted buttons.

The buttons must not touch each other on the kiln shelf because they expand while firing and would fuse together.  Once all the shelves are carefully arranged, the lid is closed and the ramping up begins, the temperature is slowly increased over 8-12 hours until the proper temperature is reached, approximately 2150 degrees Fahrenheit.  I love opening the kiln when firing is complete to be greeted with a happy medley of color!

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