How to Knit a Scarf Inspired by Nature: Secrets from Sheryl Thies

If you’re new to knitting scarves—or if you’ve knitted scarves since you could hold a stick in each hand—you’ll want to know Sheryl Thies. She retired from a 35-year career in health care to follow her artistic passion. We’re so glad she did. Her designs are gorgeous and timeless, yet simultaneously inventive and uncomplicated. (How does she do that?)

Another goal of Sheryl’s retirement was to spend more time outdoors. You can see she made good on that goal in every stitch she creates. Three of her books—Knitting by Nature (coming in May), Nature’s Wrapture, and Ocean Breezes—feature knitting patterns for scarves and wraps that capture the spirit of the natural world. Sheryl shares the surprising inspiration behind her newest book in this excerpt:

Every year, I enjoy a brief reprieve from winter’s grip; it arrives early in January, just like clockwork. My respite arrives in my mailbox in the form of a catalog, thanks to the Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Company. The oversized spring catalog is a sure sign that winter will eventually end. And until it does, I can drink in the magic of spring with photos of blooms in kaleidoscopic colors, delicate new sprouts and shoots, and fast-growing vines.

One bitterly cold January night, as I was paging through the Gurney’s catalog, I felt inspired—the seeds of an idea were planted. After working up several yarn swatches—"Red Beets," "Brussels Sprout," and "Clematis"—the seeds definitely sprouted, and I knew I had the concept for this book. I would knit my own version of a perennial garden. Once knit, I could enjoy it year after year.

Inspiration can strike in the strangest places, indeed!

Knitting by Nature
Some of Sheryl’s designs from Knitting by Nature. See more.

Read on to discover details about Sheryl’s knitting process, along with dish about the inspiration behind her other books.

How did you first get started as a knitter?

I don’t really remember when or how I learned to knit. I do remember having plastic needles and some red yarn as a child. When I ran out of yarn, I ripped it out and knit it again. In retrospect, I had a rather rocky start. I made my first sweater when I was in high school and didn’t understand how to put the pieces together. I used sewing thread to sew them together.

What’s your favorite part of the creative process?

I love playing with possibilities. Once I get a glimmer of an idea, my mind goes into overdrive turning out idea after idea for possible executions. I keep two notebooks, one for knitting and one for Tunisian crochet, although the ideas often overlap. After a few swatches, I can usually separate the few good and workable ideas from the many others.

How did you come up with the idea for Ocean Breezes, featuring sea-themed patterns?

I was playing with a few patterns, "Mermaid Mesh" and "Ocean Currents," but didn’t realize the sea connection until I went for a walk one cold and blustery day. I didn’t have a scarf with me, and being well along on my walk, I didn’t want to turn back. So I decided to play mind games, thinking of anything I could that was related to being hot. Thoughts of summer vacations to the shore, fishing, and trips to Greece where in the evening we would swim in the sea to cool down before bedtime dominated my mind. Later, while flipping through Barbara Walker’s stitch dictionary, I realized I could fill a book with sea scarves.

Ocean Breezes scarf Ocean Breezes scarf Ocean Breezes scarf
Sheryl’s designs from Ocean Breezes. See more.

How do you know when you’ve found the perfect yarn for a project?

I don’t believe there’s just one perfect yarn for a project. When I see my designs worked in different yarn, I often think, “Why didn’t I think of using that yarn?” Changing the yarn can give a whole different look to the project. That’s one way knitters can personalize their work.

Your appreciation for nature also comes through in your book Nature’s Wrapture. What’s your favorite design from this book?

"Bumblebees" worked in a linen yarn is one of my favorites. The I-cord edge and ties allow for a lot of wearing options—for beach wear, over one shoulder, as a cape, or even as a ground cover when there’s no place to sit.

As before, the inspiration for this book came from nature. My neighbor and I try to get in a daily walk. While walking, we’ve encountered butterflies, dragonflies, flowers, rain, snow, and even raspberries—but I refuse to reveal the location of our favorite patch.

Sheryl’s “Bumblebees” design. See more from Nature’s Wrapture.

You’re known for your gorgeous scarves. Besides draping designs around your neck, what are some other ways you enjoy displaying the artistry in scarves?

Scarves made from washable fibers can double as table runners. "Fish Net" from Ocean Breezes works especially well as a wall hanging—you could tie on a starfish, sea shells, or a piece of cork. On a more utilitarian level, scarves are quite versatile. I’ve covered a small sleeping child with a scarf and hung a scarf over the car window to provide a sun screen for a child in a car seat. In a pinch, a bunched-up scarf can be used as a pillow.

Your book Get Hooked on Tunisian Crochet takes readers in a different direction. What is Tunisian crochet, and how hard is it to learn?

Some think Tunisian crochet is a cross between knitting and crochet, but I think it’s really a subset of crochet. And while I’m a knitter and not much of a crocheter, I’ve found Tunisian crochet easy to learn and easy to teach. I learned from a 1972 craft book that I had stored in my basement. Thanks to a diverse selection of yarns and hook sizes, the resulting projects can be very desirable. Even after one lesson, students are making place mats, scarves, and wraps.

Get Hooked on Tunisian Crochet scarf Get Hooked on Tunisian Crochet pillow Get Hooked on Tunisian Crochet scarf

Designs in Get Hooked on Tunisian Crochet.

What’s one tip you’d like to share with someone who’s new to knitting or crochet?

If the project appeals to you, give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised by how quickly you master a new technique, stitch, or process. Don’t get caught in a self-imposed rut.

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