Handmade: Army veteran enjoys knitting, crocheting

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Growing up as an only child, Southfield resident Gwen Jones often found herself "kind of bored," so around age 10, her aunt (Ise Watson) decided she needed something creative to occupy her time.

Gwendolyn R. Jones holds a crocheted beach coverup, left, and a knit dress while wearing a top down Fair isle knitted sweater, which she also made.

"One day after church, she told me, 'Let me give you something to do.' So, she bought some yarn and a crochet hook, and taught me how to crochet," said Jones. "Then, the next day, she said, 'I bought some knitting needles. I thought you might like this better.'" 

As it turned out, Jones immediately fell in love with both. All she needed was a little guidance, a few basic skills and she was well on her way to becoming a knitting and crocheting enthusiast. There was just one problem -- finding a place nearby that sold yarn.

"I'm from Brooklyn, and the area where I lived didn't have big department stores, other than Woolworth," she said. Lucky for her, it sold yarn, along with knitting and crocheting pattern books. After making a trip to the five-and-dime store, she said, "I went home, and the first thing I made was a crocheted hat and scarf for my mother, and she still has them!" She used the pattern book she'd purchased only as inspiration for her original designs.  

A few years later, the young designer realized being in high school and having a job left very little time for pursuing her hobbies. "I stopped for a while," she said.

This knitted top, made with handspun yarn, is another one of Jones' creations.

Then, in 1983, shortly after graduation from high school, Jones joined the army where she met and married her husband (Edward). And, to her surprise, it was also where she rekindled her love affair with knitting and crocheting.

"When my husband and I were stationed in Germany (for seven years), we started walking around. We walked past a yarn store. I had never seen a store that sold only yarn," she enthused. "I went in and got some needles and yarn and started knitting again."

She left the army in 1987, and spent the next five years travelling with her husband, who was still serving in the military. Inspired to make "beautiful things," Jones kept busy knitting and crocheting garments. 

And, no matter what country they later vacationed in -- France, England and Panama -- Jones, who has knitted and crocheted with "everything from raffia to cashmere," always made sure she found the local yarn shop. "Sometimes I had to ask, but now you can map it out with Google Maps."

Cowls and a hat with a pom pom are some of the hand knitted items Jones has crafted.

After having lived in Germany, Georgia and Texas, Jones and her husband moved to Michigan 22 years ago, making their home in Oak Park. A couple years later, she began selling her exquisite work under the name "By Gwen's Design Knitwear & Jewelry." She said, "I had always created clothes, but I didn't have a business." 

The mother of three adult children, Jones, 53, prides herself on being a "visual" knitter and crocheter. "I can knit anything I see, and I can crochet anything I see. When my kids were younger and in high school, I started knitting St. John (inspired) suits and dresses." They became the most popular items among her collection, attracting women willing to pay the price for a one-of-a-kind.

Describing her customers as "classy, sassy women," she added, "They like being a little different. They're very particular about the things they wear. I don't make inexpensive things, and they didn't mind spending money to get the things they wanted. (Also), I never made the same thing twice."

Although her passion for knitting and crocheting continues to keep her busy -- anywhere from one to six hours a day -- Jones said she's retired, and sells only by "word of mouth"  and special requests. However, she remains open to teaching. "I am left-handed, but I know how to teach both left and right-handed people how to knit and crochet." 

In the past, she's "taught hundreds of people to knit and crochet." She said, "I've done classes, parties, and the Maker Faire at Henry Ford. I'll pull something (a project) out of my bag anywhere. I've even taught in the airport." 

Jones knitted this skit and cardigan with removable Mongolian lamb collar.

Recently, Jones has taken her design skills to another level by writing knitting patterns for publication. She has a poncho pattern that's expected to be published within the next couple months, and two more waiting for approval from the publisher.

Detroit News columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact By Gwen's Design Knitwear & Jewelry, on Facebook or Instagram. Email: bygwensdesign@gmail.com