Rene's Menagerie

November 24, 2014

My friend Rene gives a terrific party, whether in her vineyard-adjacent home (posted about here, here and here) or her San Francisco apartment surrounded by spectacular views (here and here). But today she's the creative source behind a toy party populated by a menagerie of adorable knit critters. Lots of critters. Why so many? Well, Rene has five grandchildren who know that snuggling up on her lap and sweetly asking their Zaza for an octopus with orange spots, a pink Teddy bear or any other manner of whimsical creature are requests she can't resist.  Who could?

She started knitting as a youngster in her native Scotland, where most girls learned to knit and sew as a matter of necessity. "We needed those warm wool jumpers because it was so cold," she says.  45 years of living in far-warmer California have only increased her love of knitting, quilting and other sewing arts, and her skills levels are impressive.  An avid gardener, she also has developed a bold sense of color. It won't surprise you that she is a major fan of Kaffe Fassett.

Her first knitted toy was a noddy with big ears, a gift for a niece. "She had it until she was an adult, when it finally fell apart!" Nowadays, all the toys are for her grandchildren. "Some of the toys seem to have disappeared into the toy box. Of course my grandchildren have their Lego sets, computer games and building sets, but when I ask them if they actually play with the knitted toys they always say, "Oh, yes, Zaza; we love them!'"

Can you mentally fast-forward 20 years with me and see these grandchildren passing their wooly toys on to their own children? What a legacy!

If you'd like to knit your own menagerie, Rene shares her sources: 

Most of the toys came from this highly recommended book,  Knitted Toys by Zoe Mellor

Nellie the Sheep is from Debbie Bliss Baby Style and the lamb is from Fiber Trends Felt Flock.

The other patterns have been found on Ravelry:  Ribbit Frog is a free pattern by Susan B. Anderson and had to be knitted 3 times for the the 3 children of her youngest daughter, seen below with Rene.  There is a tennis ball in the body which gives them a big, full tummy.  As with all of the knitted toys, Bunty Bunny was fast knitting, but the assembly took time and getting it to look like a rabbit was the challenge.  Golden Bunny by Madmonkeyknits.  Octopus Plushie by Alison Kao is free.

Rene chooses her yarn mostly for the color and also pays attention to the gauge.  Her yarn preferences when knitting toys are Rowan All Seasons Cotton, Encore, Jamiesons Shetland DK,  plus Baby Ull and Rowan Pure Wool 4 ply for the finer knits.

With all this toy knitting experience under her belt, Rene shares a few tips when making up the toys:

1.  I have discovered in assembling a toy that I often want to adjust something after having just sewn it onto the body!   Now I sew it on lightly and leave the end of the yarn hanging so I can go back and change something if needed.  Often when I look at the almost completed toy again I realize that the ears (for example) need to be up higher and more jaunty!  Leaving a long tail allows for a change if needed, and if it's not needed, I just weave it in.

2.  I use a smaller needle size to make the knitting tighter so the stuffing doesn't show or start to come out.

3.  I save all ends of balls of yarn and try to use them when possible.

4.  I tell the kids to bring back the toys if they start to fall apart, and you can see that some have been mended.


Thank you Rene for sharing your sweet menagerie.


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  1. So fun and adorable! The octopus is definitely my favorite!!!

  2. Adorable, the children and the animals. Rene is so talented.

  3. What a talented lady! Her grandchildren are very lucky!


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