Handmade: Knitting with pencils pays off for crafter

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

All Pam Hoffman wanted was several items to give to her 20-something daughter as a Christmas present – yarn, pattern books and knitting needles. So, she paid a visit to her local yarn shop, and left with far more than she could have ever imagined — an idea that would have her knitting all the way to the bank!

“The gal at the yarn shop, said, ‘Oh, she’ll love these square knitting needles.’ She began to explain the benefits of the square knitting needle, which is that the flat side helps your hands hold on to the needle. She took the needles down off the wall, but couldn’t knit with them,” said Hoffman. “I understand about the flat side making it easier to hold on to, but square things don’t fit into round holes. I got a different brand and left the store.

Pam Hoffman and Mark Bartholoma

“I wondered why someone thought that would be a good shape for knitting needles,” continued the Oxford resident. “I started thinking – what would be a better shape? I just could not get it out of my head as I was driving. I had a little pencil on my dashboard and thought, we have better control with a pencil because of it having flat sides, and yet it’s still round in nature. When I got home, I cast on some yarn to pencils and started knitting, and thought – this feels wonderful!”

Hoffman knew she was on to something – wooden hexagonal-shaped knitting needles! With the help and support of her husband, Mark Bartholoma, who thought it was a “great idea,” she developed a plan, and in 2009, was awarded her first patent for the shape of the needle. In May of 2010, she launched Indian Lake Artisans. The company started with three sizes of single-point needles, but now makes double points, fixed circulars, and “newly introduced this summer – interchangeable circular needles.”

President and sole owner of the company, Hoffman said her husband, who learned to knit several years ago, is an integral part of Indian Lake Artisans, and she “couldn’t do it without him.” She stated, “He’s really making the needles. I designed them. He cuts the wood and does all the initial sanding and puts everything together. I do all the finish sanding, packaging, and all the other things. We are definitely a team.”

The company’s website ( reads, “The hexagonal shape allows for easy control of needle handling, while producing beautiful uniform stitches. This unique shape allows the beginning knitter to quickly master control of the needles, and the advance knitter to knit for longer periods of time with less muscle fatigue and hand stress.” Hoffman said “It’s that flat area, that’s resting under the yarn, that gives you a little extra room, so it’s really easy to put your needle under that stitch.”

Wisconsin resident Barbara Bermel, who has arthritis, says she finds the Indian Lake Artisan needles easier on her hands.

Appleton, Wisconsin, resident Barbara Bermel, who met Hoffman at Stitches Midwest last August, has arthritis in her hands and has had her left thumb basal joint replaced, causing her to “wear a Silver Ring Splint on that thumb to prevent further joint damage.” She said, “I ordered the interchangeable set and love them. I can knit longer with less fatigue and soreness.”

And, Pat Hensley of Ridgewood, New Jersey, a knitter for nearly 40 years, said, “I own every pair of straight and every pair of circulars they make.” (They) grab the yarn so you don’t drop stitches, but not so much that you’re fighting the needle.”

The handcrafted needles are made with walnut, cherry and maple wood, all from a Michigan mill, and they’re finished with 100 percent beeswax that “enhances the color and grain.” The straight needles come with little copper-plated toppers, made with ABS plastic. All production materials are sourced from cities in Michigan, including Detroit (copper plating), Grandville (toppers), Benzonia (beeswax), Rochester (packaging) and St. Clair (stainless steel circular needle connectors).

The handcrafted needles are made with walnut, cherry and maple wood, all from a Michigan mill. The straight needles come with little copper-plated toppers.

By year’s end, Hoffman expects they will have made “close to 3,000 sets of needles.” And how’s business? Well, because of the interchangeable circulars, she said, “We are probably going to be up 30 percent, overall, from last year’s sales!”

Locally, Indian Lake Artisans needles are sold at Wool & Honey in Cedar; Knit Knorth, Traverse City, and Nautical Yarn, Ludington. Prices are $35 for straight and double points, $30 for fixed circulars, $325 for a set of nine interchangeable circulars, and $415 for a set of 12 interchangeable circulars. A needlecase, made by Hoffman, is included with the interchangeable sets.

Indian Lake Artisans, possibly the only producers of hexagonal-shaped needles, is currently running a “holiday special” on their website with coupon code “Detroit News” that gives customers 10 percent off an online order through Cyber Monday (Nov. 28) at midnight.

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, or

Contact Indian Lake Artisans at (248) 648-1218 or