Knitting and felting help keep Orrington women in stitches

Posted March 11, 2014, at 9:56 a.m.
Using a circular needle, knitter Phyllis Michaud of Orrington works on the collar of a child’s sweater, a special order that she is knitting for one of her customers.
Ardeana Hamlin
Using a circular needle, knitter Phyllis Michaud of Orrington works on the collar of a child’s sweater, a special order that she is knitting for one of her customers.
Phyllis Michaud of Orrington knitted these felted hats, one decorated with a floral design, the other sporting a butterfly. She knits many hats each year.
Ardeana Hamlin
Phyllis Michaud of Orrington knitted these felted hats, one decorated with a floral design, the other sporting a butterfly. She knits many hats each year.
Monica Gaither of Orrington knit this hat, fingerless gloves, and cowl. She used a yarn in which bright green, one of Gaither’'s favorite colors, predominates.
Ardeana Hamlin
Monica Gaither of Orrington knit this hat, fingerless gloves, and cowl. She used a yarn in which bright green, one of Gaither’'s favorite colors, predominates.

ORRINGTON — A trio of local residents representing three generations of women in one family refer to themselves as “knitting fools,” even though one of them crochets instead of knits. The “knitting fools” are Phyllis Michaud, her daughter, Monica Gaither ,and Monica’s daughter ,Krista Morneault. Together they operate a home-based knitting business, Crafty in Maine, which they began in 2011.

“I started this business all because I wanted a felted purse,” Michaud said, laughing as she told the story. “I saw this tiny purse in a shop down on the Midcoast, and it was $85. I couldn’t afford that, so I decided to knit and felt one of my own.”

Michaud is no stranger to knitting. She took her first stitches on a knitting needle at age 4, taught by her grandmother. Monica also learned to knit when she was a child, taught by Theresa Soucy of Eagle Lake, where the Michaud family lived at the time.

“We’re not the type to just sit around and do nothing,” Monica. “We always have something going in our hands. We pretty much knit all day.” The items they knit are for men, women, and children.

Between them, Michaud and Gaither have a total of 84 years of knitting experience. They knit — all by hand — hats, doll clothes, purses, jewelry, travel bags, socks, mittens, fingerless gloves, dishcloths, facecloths, table runners, and wine bottle bags. Some of the items, such as the hats and bags, are felted.

“Hats are my passion,” Michaud said.

The women never know what will come first, a pattern they just have to knit or a skein of yarn they fall in love with. It can go either way, and it doesn’t matter which way, as long as they can knit. They find inspiration everywhere,  in yarn shops and by observing what knitted items others are wearing.

Often, Michaud adapts knitting patterns to suit her own sense of design. “She’s the artistic one,” Gaither said.

“I like to make things that are unique, one of a kind,” Michaud said.

When Michaud and Gaither aren’t knitting, they visit yarn shops and go on knitting retreats in southern Maine, New Hampshire, and Connecticut — and Alaska, where Michaud’s friend, Sharon, lives. While they were in Anchorage, they stopped at Far North Yarns to purchase yarn; that shop remains one of their favorites.

In Maine, one of their favorites places to purchase wool yarn is at Heavenly Socks in Belfast.

“I finally mastered socks this year,” Michaud said. “I had the worst time learning how to knit socks. I had this mental block; I could not do it.” The key to breaking her mental block was Gaither.

“I read aloud the instructions to her as she knit,” Gaither recalled.

“Monica is the talented one,” Michaud said. “She puts all of our patterns on her iPad, saves them to USB, and shares them with our friends who also have iPads and knit.”

The Internet and the use of mobile devices have made it much easier to access patterns and to find really good deals on yarn, Gaither said.

“It’s also a good source for ideas,” Morneault said. She crochets headbands, clothing for dogs and cats, baby blankets, Christmas stockings for pets, book bags, stuffed animals, and pillow pets that can be spread flat or made to stand on all four feet.

But before there was knitting as a business, there was real life. Michaud and her husband have run several businesses. She also is a hairdresser and has owned three different salons over the years.

Gaither worked in the mental health field as a house manager for those with intellectual disabilities, but her career was sidetracked by a brain hemorrhage in 2001, leaving an aftermath of severe headaches and making it impossible for her to work a regular job.

“Knitting is easier to do around the headaches,” Gaither said. “It’s fun and offers flexibility.”

Morneault followed her mother’s career path; she, too, works with people who have intellectual disabilities.

All three women follow their hearts when it comes to yarn. Morneault works only with acrylic yarns because many of the items she creates need to be washable. Michaud is attracted to wool yarns, especially fisherman’s wool, which she likes for its felting properties, and uses in her travel bags. Yarn brands the three women enjoy using are Lion Brand, Patons, Bartlett’s, Red Heart, and Caron.

“I’m fascinated with purple, pink, bright green, and weird colors,” Gaither said.

“That’s the French coming out in her,” Michaud quipped, and the room filled with the good-natured laughter that is a hallmark of a closely knit family.

“It keeps us out of trouble,” Gaither said of knitting, her comment adding to the laughter in the room.

Prices for items the Crafty in Maine women produce range from $3 for a bracelet to $240 for a felted travel bag. Their felted bags and hats are available for purchase at Huckleberries at the Brewer Shopping Center. The women are vendors at six craft fairs each year, including United Maine Craftsmen and the University of Maine craft fair. They also knit to order if someone wants an item in a specific color or type of yarn.

For information about Crafty in Maine, contact Phyllis Michaud at 944-3053 or phyls8700@yahoo.com.

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