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Hello dear knitters, 

There is something especially intimate about getting to know someone through the familiar things they choose to see and use in their daily life. Today, for the latest in MDK’s series of  designer profiles, we’ve asked Mary Jane Mucklestone, whose colorful designs for Icelandic wool are featured in Field Guide No. 17: Lopi, to share a bit about herself through objects from her home, studio, and life in Maine.

What are the touchstones of your everyday? What would you include in your own portrait in objects?

—Kay and Ann

I’m counting my mug collection as a single object. It’s too hard to choose just one. My favorites are continually shifting, and of course, occasionally break. It’s important to me to use the things I love despite the risk breakable items pose for an easily distracted person. I choose my morning mug based on my mood and to make sure everyone gets used. I don’t want to neglect anyone and cause hurt feelings.

I’m currently fond of the Vintage 60’s allover florals from England; they remind me of Liberty Tana lawn cotton fabric. Springy! I’ve got a 1930’s OXO cup, that’s rather special. It was made as advertising for the bouillon cube broth, but it will always mean a Fair Isle stitch pattern to me!

Maps are irresistible. Maps are essential. I think planning adventures, imaginary or otherwise, are best done with good old paper maps. Spreading out the pages allows you to better understand distances, noting the topographical features. I got this map at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory and decided to hang it like it was in the South Lighthouse B&B. I feel like I can roll it up like a pirate’s treasure map and stride off in search of riches. The riches being wondrous natural beauty and wildlife. It’s a very detailed map, locating every croft and every nook and cranny of the coastline.

My little bud vases from KriKri are welcome home companions; I have several. Sublime, simple, and colorful; I select the color based on the tenor of the day and what’s blooming in the outdoors–or not, sticks are pretty too! One winter, I made the mistake of picking some very pretty dusty white berries amongst my bittersweet. Thinking they were bayberry, I wondered why they didn’t have a lovely scent and concluded I must be getting a cold. I never knew the second part of the rhyme “leaves of 3, let them be,” which is “berries white, run in fright”! That’s right, I had a lovely small bouquet of poison ivy.

Seattle artist Kristin Nelson is one of my oldest and dearest friends and provides unending inspiration. Besides being a full-time artist, she’s an intrepid traveler and athlete. She and her husband make epic kayaking journeys to Labrador, Indonesia, crossing the Baltic; they make the seemingly impossible possible! Being a hometown girl at heart, I’m hoping to get one of Kristin’s Space Needle lamps next.  

They call them jugs in the UK which seems especially cheerful and somehow like nursery rhymes to me. In before-times, I traveled to Shetland every year, hosting small groups of knitters along with my friend and fellow designer Gudrun Johnston, our Grand Shetland Adventures! I coveted this pitcher over an entire summer. Made by ceramic artist Bill Brown, it was living in the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale, Mainland, Shetland. Every time we stopped at the picturesque art gallery and café; I’d be frozen in my tracks by this uncomplicated streamlined depiction of a puffin. Smitten.

It was becoming an old friend, and I sadly reasoned that I’d just have to leave it on the island; having spent all my souvenir money on yarn, my budget was tight. And lo! At the end of our summer sojourn, as our thoughts were turning homeward, Gudrun presented me with it! True friend! Now, rattling around my apartment, just catching a glimpse of my jolly jug makes it impossible to maintain a bad mood.

Horrors! Just the thought of a member of this insect group sends shudders through the body of a knitter. However, I feel this exquisite embroidery acts as a talisman against the dreaded yarn predator, whose name I shall not mention again. This specimen does not eat wool, and so all is good and fine. It is stitched by my friend Martha Nishida, a multi-disciplinary artist in New York City. We met in art school as printmaking majors, and whenever we meet, it’s like no time has passed at all. I usually see her yearly when making the jaunt down to NCY for Vogue Knitting Live. She always has an adventure planned for us.

One year we visited all the gates in Central Park, such curious gates there are! Artisans Artists, Boys, Children’s, Engineers, Farmers, Girls, The Gate of All Saints, Hunters, Mariners, Merchants, Miners, Pioneers, Scholars, Strangers, Warriors, Scholars, Women’s, and Woodmen’s; we saw them all! Another year we found all the arches and bridges in the park. There are so many we had to keep searching until after dark! It’s such a fun way to explore–architecture adventures! I wonder where we will venture next time.

There is almost nothing as satisfying as a yarn color-card. The imagination takes flight and soars with endless possibilities. My friend Jani Estelle uses the fleece from a very special flock of sheep and turns it into yarn in her small mill. This particular wild flock has been living on Nash Island in downeast Maine for more than a hundred years.

Although having sheep on islands in Maine was once common, these days, it’s rare. The particular factors of island living and micro-climate contribute to the loft and lustrous sheen of the fiber. Jani gives me little knit swatches of the yarn colors to see how the colors knit up. Hours of enjoyment pass, shuffling them around, combining this color and that. This ring of color is a representation of dreams. 

That’s right. I collect rocks. I think I actually worship rocks. Life is just better when you have a small stone in your pocket: smooth stones, rough stones, stones covered in yellow lichen. Pink granite, grey granite, and the two smashed together. If I were to do it all again, I think I’d like to be a geologist. I have two rocks from the opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean that are the same granite. One from Muckle Roe in Shetland and the other from Baker Island in Maine. I think perhaps they were once connected! I have a rock that floats! Lava, found on the beach at Muckle Bousta in Shetland, do you think it floated down from Iceland? Here we have stones circled with lines: wishing rocks. Light a candle, make a wish, stare at the flame, and all is right with the world.

These two feature as a single object because I have two kids. On the left is Space Potato knit when Sophie was around 8 at school. They were supposed to be knitting Nat the Cat, but she had other ideas. Space Potato has made it through many exciting times, including a house fire. Space Potato prevails. Space Potato invigorates! Space Potato has an enviable hairdo. Then we have Mask Man crafted by Nick in high school. Mask Man is surprised, outraged, and takes no nonsense. He’s good to have on your side. Once he trusts you, he’s your steadfast friend for life. All hail Mask Man.

About The Author

Mary Jane Mucklestone travels the world to study traditional knitting techniques and the history of the craft. She is a beloved, encouraging teacher and a prolific designer.

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  • Thank you so much, Mary Jane, for sharing this little slice of your life!!

    • You are so welcome!

  • OMG! Rocks! How many times over how many decades have friends who have moved me, lamented and laughed over my boxes labeled “rocks.” Each one has stories and memories attached. They hail from the Isle of Arran, Scotland; Mt Desert Island. Maine; Nova Scotia, Canada; Sedona, Arizona… one from Maine found on Fry Mountain in Knox that was formed by ocean waters!
    Love every glimpse of your “talismans” Mary Jane.

    • Now I need to hike Frye Mt. again and find some ocean rocks. There was a prehistoric walrus head found on my friends yard in nearby Prospect!

      • A prehistoric walrus head in Prospect???? OMG!

  • Thank you very much Mary Jane. So fascinating. Love to be in the group going to Shetland with MDK.

    • Is MDK visiting Shetland? I go wirh my friend designer Gudrun Johnston. Our trips are called “Gudrun and Mary Jane’s Grand Shetland Adventures”. You can find info on both our websites, but we’re paused for the time being.

    • Thanks for the inspiration and reminders of nature’s beauty. As a Seattle hometown girl myself (Queen Anne HS, 1971 grad!) I am excited to learn about the Space Needle lamps! Getting one asap!

      • Yay for the hometown!! You’re not lacking in natural beauty! I’m always astounded by the size of the rhododendrons! Visit KriKri you’ll love her things ❤️

  • Thank you for letting me into your home this morning. I loved seeing all your “artifacts” while I had my morning coffee from my own carefully selected mug out of my eclectic collection. It never occurred to me that other people did the same!

    • It was nice having coffee with you in our mismatched mugs!

  • Reading this I felt as if I was part of a Tribe I didn’t know existed!!! Mugs rocks little funny bits and bibs so much a part of my life! I ado collect sticks and miniature evergreen trees and lighthouses!! Your post lifted my spirits on high! Thank you Mary Jane

    • Kindred spirits are so comforting. Love this peek into your world. Such a lovely, inspiring, and beautiful way to start my day. Thank you Mary Jane.

  • Loved every colorful thing about this! Plus that map!

  • I totally agree about the rocks. This is one of my favorite children’s books:

  • I loved reading this essay. Thank you

  • Let’s be friends!

    • MJ I enjoyed this little tour of your “stuff” so much! We all have our treasures! I brought home only one rock from Shetland and sadly had to leave the heavier one behind! I know you’re missing those trips with Gudrun.

  • Lovely to read first thing on this beautiful sunny morning.
    I also rotate my mugs, my dishes, everything , so no one has hurt feelings.
    I pick up rocks on my beach walks and just hold them and look at them.
    Do we all believe we are the only ones who do these things?
    Thank you, Mary Jane, for this.

  • Well now, isn’t this a sweet way to start my day with a cup of coffee! I LOVE to see other people’s “stuff collections”. I just visited my sister in Phoenix, whom I hadn’t been able to see for 2-1/2 years (!). The only thing I wanted to do was to have her tour me around in her house to see her stuff – what’s in her pantry, her craft room, her china cabinet, her closet, her kitchen junk drawer, etc. That’s where you get to really know a person…see what’s in their kitchen junk drawer!

  • ROCKS ROCK! I have a collection of heart rocks, bowls of rocks, boxes of rocks, rocks in my garden, and have to check my pockets for rocks before I wash my clothes. My grandparents were rock hounds, can I blame them? Thank you for sharing a little glimpse of your world Mary Jane, you rock. 😉

  • I am a fan of a tableau and so enjoyed this article. It’s like your own mini museum. Love this!

    Sue Carney

  • It made me so happy to enjoy all of your treasures this morning. Thank you for sharing all of this so generously and connecting us, as you do. You have been a continual inspiration to me and the knitting world with your appreciation of nature. I can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve put in my head and hands. Keep going, Mary Jane!

  • I would love to be a part of one of those Shetland trips!! As I get nearer to retirement I keep wondering why I’ve held off. And, I do miss the variety of artisan fairs and garden tours in the Pacific Northwest. Thank you for the lovely article

  • I once had a wishing rock that I found on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in NE England. But it had two quartz inclusions forming a cross which I thought was just too unbelievably appropriate.

  • Loved this!

  • LOVE seeing what other people value, treasure and love. What a great post! Reminds me to put some of my own well loved items out to be seen or used more often.

  • Thanks for the reminder to find rocks in Shetland, if I ever get there.

  • I love these all! The Space Potato is especially wonderful.

  • I’m just so delighted that you know Krikri! I got to know her and her art briefly through my kayaking circles up in Seattle. I still have her plates and a wee cup that holds the lost puppy teeth. Thanks for sharing your space-I’m inspired!

  • I just inherited a large amount of money and for the first time since my divorce 22 years ago I get to purchase my own home and I’m looking for inspiration every where I go. I’m not staying in Colorado but Oregon is my dream location. No fluff or precious moments for me Simple, straight forward and clean design is difficult to find but keep it coming

  • Every item of your treasures makes sense to me. I dare say as I look atound I would choose similar items and I too have a cup collection from places I have visited. Our treasures describe us.

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