Handmade: Avid knitter makes room for yarn stash

Jocelynn Brown

Longtime needle artist Marchella Patillo has turned a room in her west side Detroit home into a colorful knitting studio, where she’s able to unwind surrounded by tons of yarn, knitting books and notions, while spending hours making everything from house slippers and warm mittens to fun hats and “thick cozy sweaters.”

Patillo says what she loves most about knitting is the finished product and the process, which can be “challenging,” at times. “It keeps your mind active, and I sincerely love all the yarns that are available, (including) the colors and textures — thick, thin, handwoven and the kind with roving and sheep locks woven into it. I think I’m a visual textile person.”

Patillo, who doesn’t always follow a pattern, learned to knit from her big sister at age 10, but stopped for a long period, until about 15 or 20 years ago when she put her needles to work once again.

“My mother had to move back to Michigan from Alabama, and my cousin was going through an illness. We started doing it together as a family. We would knit, crochet and do jewelry together. We reunited, and that (crafting) was a common thread,” she said. “My mother was a big crocheter, and I did a little crocheting when I picked it back up, but I was a little more into knitting.”

And, to this day, Patillo remains more a knitter than a crocheter. “It started off because you use less yarn, and it seems you can do more with knitting. The finished project is more popular, and patterns are more readily available,” she explained. “Crocheting is more textured, but I like the knitted fabric better because I like the closer stitches.”

Like so many knitters, Patillo creates a range of garments and accessories, but her favorite projects are wraps in different styles, weights, lengths and textures. “I love, love, love wraps because they’re something to throw on your shoulders, wrap around your neck, and look ladylike and feisty.”

And, as a Continental knitter (one who knits using what’s thought to be a faster technique, whereby the yarn is held in the hand opposite the working needle — as with crocheting), Patillo is able to quickly produce knitted items for “Shuga Babies Knitting,” the name under which she sells her work at a holiday bazaar at St. Joseph Hospital in Ann Arbor, and at Detroit’s Eastern Market on Sundays during summer months. She’s also at the market three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her customer base spans “younger people who like the slouchy hats” to women in their 50s wanting holiday gifts for their daughters and something for themselves.

Prices start at $25 for a pair of felted slippers or mittens, and so far, her most expensive item fetched $160. She said, “It was a yummy, yummy shawl made with an accumulation of yarns from the ends of skeins, and I put locks in it.”

The prolific knitter acquired her Continental knitting skills in a two-hour class at Crafty Lady in Macomb and says, “I haven’t looked back. I like it better because it’s quicker, easier and simpler.”

With wool being her favorite yarn, she said, “I stumbled into wool, and love it so much because you can felt it.” Her growing stash is the result of shopping online with WEBS, America’s Yarn Store; at the Washtenaw County Fiber Expo, the Spinner’s Flock (Spring and Winter) Fleece Fairs, and with local yarn shops, including Woolly & Co. in downtown Birmingham, City Knits in Harrison Township, the Wool and The Floss in Grosse Pointe, and Spun in Ann Arbor.

Patillo has shared her knitting skills with co-workers during lunch breaks, her grandchildren, fellow members of the Detroit Knitting and Crochet Club, and those attending needleart sessions at Detroit Vintage Coffee and Teahouse.

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

Contact Shuga Babies Knitting at (313) 341-2189, or