Pat Kitto has always done hand work, ever since she was a child. While it’s impressive for anyone to be able to say they’ve been honing their craft or skill for their entire life, it’s especially impressive for Pat. She got started “before the War.” Not the Vietnam War or the Korean War. Pat’s been making crafts since before World War II.
Pat was raised in California. During the ‘30s and ‘40s, the Works Projects Administration (WPA) was creating jobs as part of the New Deal. The WPA employed unskilled laborers and used them to do public works projects. Many men worked on road systems and public parks. Pat lived in one of these public park areas.
“We lived in a park, and there were three houses left in that park,” she said. Pat explained that most of the old Spanish-style homes were taken out, but one special home was left and transformed into a public place where kids could go and do crafts. There was often a fee for classes, but nothing more than a quarter. There was a variety of offerings. Everything from fabric crafts to Bakelite, an early plastic resin that was used in everything from jewelry, to pool balls, to utensil handles.
Fifty years ago, Pat and her husband moved to North Carolina. They’ve lived in their current house in the Waxhaw area for 41 years. For over 30 of those years, Pat focused on quilting. Then, right before joining the Created in the Carolinas Co-op, she found a new hand work interest. “I started working in boiled wool just before I came here. Then I tried to expand that into other things,” she said.
One of the original members of the co-op, Pat makes most of her items of boiled wool. She sells pincushions, wristlets, pillows, holiday decorations, and wall hangings. She also has plans for a new fringed purse design. But the pincushions were what got Pat started working with the boiled wool. “Because I was doing a lot of quilting then,” she explained. “And I made these really nice pincushions.”
Pat’s daughter, who lives in Delaware, also works in boiled wool, and sometimes they work together. However, neither of them do any dyeing. They start off by purchasing wool that already has good colors. Then they do the processing. But the name “boiled wool” is a bit misleading. Unless you are doing your own dyeing, the wool is not literally boiled.
Pat explained the real process of turning a piece of wool into “boiled” wool. “What you do is wash it in hot water, with soap of course. Then you put it in the dryer on high heat until it’s dry,” she said. This changes the nature of the material. Pat said, “Boiled wool is much easier to sew with than cotton or any other type of fabric. It’s very forgiving.” Also, Pat said, “Once a year, if you put your boiled wool object object in the freezer for 24 hours, the moths will never bother it.”
One of Pat’s most popular items is boiled wool Christmas trees. That idea was brought down from the mountains by her friend Karen Johnson. Karen had seen a similar piece while traveling. She thought it would be a good thing for Pat to make here. Pat learned to copy the tree design, and Karen’s husband helped out by making the wooden stands.
The Christmas trees sell very well in the winter, at $15 a piece. They, along with Pat’s other craft items, can be purchased at the Created in the Carolinas Co-op in Waxhaw. Most of the things Pat sells are made of boiled wool, but she still does a few items from other fabrics, such as her cotton pot holders.
And for customers who want to go another route, Pat is also open to discussing custom orders. If someone has a sweater or other item made of wool that they would like to preserve in the form of a craft, they can call her at 704-843-5931 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.