Handmade: Knitter uses skills to connect with others

Jocelynn Brown, The Detroit News

Just ask prolific knitter Tanya Thomann if she sells any of her work, and chances are she won’t hesitate to give you a clever response: “Typically not. I tell people, ‘Knitting is a little like sex; if I love you, it’s free. If not, you can’t pay me enough.’ ” (Love it!)

Being actively “involved in a feminist community,” Thomann, 47, didn’t think twice about gifting 12 good friends “pussy hats” to wear in the recent Women’s March on Washington and other sister marches across the country. She said, “Knitting has been the latest to pull people together and pool our funds.”

But, it’s probably that hard-hitting, straightforward honesty that led her to become a co-founder of the Black Sheep Knitting Guild, in which she held a leadership role for over two years. She’s now an “at-large committee member.”

“My friend and I were members of another guild. They were fairly stuck in their ways of doing things. We were newer and wanted to expand some of our ways of doing things. We wanted to see if there were other people like us. We hoped to have about 10 or 15 members at the end of our first year, but for the last five or six years, we’ve flirted with 100 members in the guild. It’s a nice group of folks interested in each other and doing things. Whenever there was an illness or tragedy, the rest of the guild stepped up.”

When Thomann moved to Berkley in 2003 to accept a job as a special education teacher at Berkley High School, it was knitting that linked her with others in the area. She said, “When you come to a community without children, it’s hard to get connected. I didn’t have a church, or anything, so the guild has become that family for me.”

Thomann, who’s also a knitwear pattern designer, had her first published pattern released around 2007, after entering a contest called, “Think Outside the Sox,” sponsored by XRX Publishing. “I’ve always had some kind of craft in my hand, and was always encouraged,” she said. “I’m 6 feet tall, so whether it’s sewing, knitting or crocheting, I was always modifying things. So, the designs I have created in knitting — none will ever be on the cover of Vogue. But, the patterns I write are for knitters to have an easy time knitting something. The end result, I think, is something that makes them look clever.”

Her patterns are mostly for accessories — hats, cowls, socks and shawls — and she sells her self-published, “tech edited and professionally laid-out” patterns on Ravelry. She also makes and sells (fabric) project bags on Etsy, along with knitting kits she’s filled with locally sourced yarn dyed in Chelsea. All items are sold under her business name, MayBea Crafted.

The kits are the result of purchasing a large quantity of wool, her favorite fiber, from a friend’s Michigan-grown flock, and having it processed in East Jordan at Stone Hedge Fiber Mill. She feels the kits “take that hard part out for knitters” — selecting the yarn and pattern for a particular project. “I think people sometimes struggle with what colors to use, and is this the right yarn for the pattern?”

Thomann, who once taught knitting at Spun in Ann Arbor, where she grew up, now holds a weekly class in her home. The talented fiber artist will also share her skills at the Michigan Fiber Festival, set for Aug. 16-20, at Allegan County Fairgrounds. She’ll instruct three classes — “Look Mom Two Hands (Colorwork),” “Working With Hand-Painted Yarn,” and “Choose Your Own Adventure (Hat).” Knitters can register online at

Thomann will also be a vendor July 29 at Sandhill Crane Winery’s Wine and Wool Festival in Jackson. Admission is free, and visitors can shop for locally dyed yarns and fiber. She said, “The winery offers wine tastings, and has a great cafe for lunch. It’s a nice day trip. I encourage people to bring their knitting and stay for the day.”

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


Contact MayBea Crafted at, or on Facebook or Etsy.