Handmade: Mosaic knitting no longer a 'secret'

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News
E-commerce and social media intern Kaley MacLeod (left) and yarn manager Elizabeth Wakefield arrange a display of yarn and a hand-knitted shawl called 'Nightshift,' designed by Andrea Mowry (not pictured) and knitted by Wakefield inside The Wool and The Floss knitting shop.

As a knitter, chances are you've heard of Fair Isle and Intarsia -- techniques used to add colorwork to projects, either in the form of a design or to spell out a word(s). Maybe you've even practiced one, or both, yourself as a way to broaden your skills. 

But, have you heard of mosaic knitting? It's another form of colorwork in the world of knitting that's often been described as "a well-kept secret."

Well -- if Elizabeth Wakefield of Grosse Pointe Shores has her way, that'll no longer be the case around town. Last month, she began teaching mosaic knitting at The Wool & the Floss in Grosse Pointe, where she's been the yarn manager the past two years, after being hired three years ago by the shop's previous owner. She also teaches general knitting at the shop twice a week, a has done a number of project and technique-driven classes, as well.

When it comes to mosaic knitting, she agrees it's been a secret because she's mentioned it to a lot of customers who had never heard of it before. "A lady named Barbara Walker coined the term in the 60's, but I assume it's been around before," she said. "I think it's so simple that it's not put in the same category with colorwork all the time, even though it is."

Yarn manager Elizabeth Wakefield wears a hand-knitted shawl called 'Nightshift,' designed by Andrea Mowry and knitted by Wakefield inside The Wool and The Floss knitting shop in Grosse Pointe.

And, by comparison, she finds it to be a "much easier" technique than Fair Isle and Intarsia. "With mosaic knitting, you're only working with one color at a time and you do two rows with that color, and you don't have to be conscious of the tension as when you're doing Fair Isle and Intarsia because you don't have the floats (strands of yarn across the back). The other bonus, for me, is that you don't have to worry about the two balls (of yarn) getting twisted, like with Fair Isle. You're just switching colors every two rows, and you're going back and forth." 

I asked Wakefield, who learned to knit when she was 8 years old, how she discovered this rare technique that produces a beautiful piece of somewhat thick fabric? She said, "I have loved patterns written by Andrea Mowry, a knit(wear) designer who was based in Michigan but recently moved. Her designs are very wearable with lots of color and well-written patterns. She came out with this full line of 'Shift' -- multiple patterns using the mosaic pattern colorwork. They're similar, but different garments.

"Usually, after Christmas, I knit a project just for me," she continued. "Last Christmas, I knitted the 'Nightshift.' I showed it to my customers and co-workers and they were wild about it. I've also done some research on it. I did some when I was a customer (here) and Jean (Candler, the former owner) was in the shop. She always encouraged me to try different things, and pushed me to learn different techniques." 

Wakefield, 37, said anyone who has the basic knitting stitches (knit, purl and slip) "under their belt" can learn mosaic knitting. In fact, after completion of her first project, she felt comfortable enough to teach others. "Once I got the technique down, I practiced it throughout the entire project. And, one of my students (from another class) started a mosaic project, so I sort of had a practice run (for teaching it) with her."

Mosaic knitting is a great way to use leftover yarn, however, Wakefield said, "We did bring in a yarn that's similar to what Mowry used that has an ombre affect -- 'Painted Sky,' and it's a worsted weight. I recommend it for the class, and some of our customers are mixing it with 'Rios' yarn.

"With these projects, I think if you're a person who lives to play with color and experiment, it's a great way to really play with all kinds of color and see what can happen. I have an art degree, and I think that's my draw to this project -- being able to mix, match and coordinate the colors." She earned her degree from Wayne State University where she taught a computer program in the art department.

If you'd like to try your hand at learning mosaic knitting, classes with Wakefield are scheduled for Nov. 23, Dec. 13 and 21, from 1-3 p.m. at The Wool & The Floss. The fee is $30, which covers as many sessions as you'd like to attend. Yarn is extra, however, Wakefield said, "It does not have to be purchased at the shop. (Of course), we would love for them to, but we welcome stash yarn." Interested persons can register either at thewoolandthefloss.net, or by calling the shop.  

A close-up view of a hand-knitted shawl called 'Nightshift,' designed by Andrea Mowry and knitted by Elizabeth Wakefield using Malabrigo Rios yarn.

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 The Wool & The Floss (397 Fisher, Grosse Pointe) at (313) 882-9110, thewoolandthefloss.net, or on Facebook.