According to KnitMeter.com, if Molli Hartel unraveled all the yarn she’s crafted into projects this year it would stretch about 173 miles. It would reach from her home in Caro to the family’s log cabin at Fife Lake, south of Traverse City, and back to the Thumb.
The online yarn-usage calculator isn’t the only measure of her productivity. Molli’s hats and mittens are warming the heads and hands of her husband Scott, son Brandon and daughter Rachel and their spouses, four grandsons, and countless other relatives and friends she’s gifted with her handiwork. Strangers, too, are cozier in the hats, scarves, mittens and baby sweaters she’s made for those in need at domestic abuse and alternative care centers.
You won’t, however, find her fiber arts projects for sale. “I’ve never done a craft show. To have to ‘knit to order’ turns it into work,” explains Molli. She likes to create what and when she wants, even to switch projects midstream. “That’s when it’s fun for me.”
The prolific knitter is a self-described “computer geek” who worked in the IT business for over 25 years before directing her expertise to Scott’s company, Testing Services Group, in Lapeer. Her part-time post there allows her plenty of opportunity to knit, crochet and sew—skills she learned as a young girl growing up in Cass City from her grandmother, Mollie Holzwart.
By the time Molli reached high school, her fiber arts talents were well-known around town. She’d swept the 4-H ribbons at the county fair and, instead of enrolling as a student in Home Ec class, was made an assistant to the teacher. It’s not surprising that she made her dress for the high school prom, but Molli also stitched a tuxedo for her date and future husband, Scott. The Cass City couple met in second grade and started dating at age 15. When the bride created her wedding gown, she incorporated lace crocheted by Grandma Mollie.
Although Molli always has a variety of projects in the works, from piecing together quilts to making mosaics from broken Fiestaware, knitting is her predominant craft, largely because it’s the most portable. “I can take it with me anywhere,” she says. A recent seven-hour road trip to see the Detroit Tigers play in Cincinnati meant another pair of socks for a future gift. “I’ve knitted in canoes, innumerable ballgames, movies, in the dark…it’s what I do.”
Living Crafts magazine has featured two of Molli’s projects, both inspired by her grandsons. One is an original design for knitted mittens with long cuffs to cover the skin between the mitts and jacket that is typically exposed to the cold. The cover of the January 2012 issue of Living Crafts shows her “Blankie Baby,” something Molli created for the boys because, she explains, “Matchbox toys were too noisy for church; they needed a quiet toy, so I made one.”
The “Blankie Baby” pattern is included in the magazine and sold at ravelry.com, a website for knitters. The dolls, which her grandsons call “Abba Babies” (after their nickname “Abba” for Molli) measure about 8 inches tall and 5 inches across, and are made of superwash wool and sock yarn because they’re washable and durable. The heads are stuffed with a bit of quilt batting to give them some dimension.
“It’s an absolute privilege and joy having grandkids to do this for,” says Molli of her projects. “The thing I’m most proud of is that I have a family who appreciates what I do.”
For self-conscious, would-be crafters she encourages, “There isn’t anybody who isn’t a crafty person. They just haven’t found their medium yet.” She suggests experimenting with different materials because, “There’s a value to handcrafting. Anybody can spend dollars to purchase a gift, but to make something for someone…it shows time and caring. There’s no limit to the value that making things can mean to someone.”
– Kath Usitalo