Anne Paulson flutters a hand against her chest and searches for words as she tries to explain just what it is she adores about tiny things.
“It gives you that certain feeling,” she says. “It’s sort of like precious to the point of almost being pathetic, but precious. And it gives you this feeling in your heart. I don’t know.”
Tiny things come into being at the end of Paulson’s fingers and a set of little knitting needles. Santas. Gnomes. A walrus. A whale. An elephant that bedeviled her because its tiny little legs just didn’t want to hang right. A little reindeer that was so challenging, she gave it to her mom in hopes of getting it back some day.
In recent weeks, she’s been focusing on her Christmas specialty, gnomes and Santas.
“I knit them and then they go,” she said. “Knit and give, that’s the point.”
Paulson, of Osakis, learned to crochet from one of her grandmothers when she was 5 years old. Her grandmother, and therefore Paulson, too, came from a family of lace makers in England and Wales, “allegedly,” she adds.
As she and her husband moved around the United States, she developed local connections through knitting and crocheting and other fabric work. A New Hampshire knitting guild passed on “all kinds of knowledge.” New Mexico weavers demonstrated Navajo influence on their color and design choices. In Duluth, she learned to spin. At first, she made normal things. Dish clothes. Pot holders.
She also collected tiny things. A wee Virgin Mary. A teeny bowl of yarn. Itsy bitsy alligators. People knew she loved little things, so they would give them to her. A small bird’s nest. A minute Statue of Liberty.
It was when she ran across the work of Chicago knitter Anna Hrachovec that she was finally able to marry her two passions, knitting and miniatures. Hrachovec created an imaginary world called “Mochimochi Land,” populated by tiny creatures that she knits. She also creates patterns and runs a knitting website. Her work has been featured in top publications around the country, and she’s had shows in New York, South Korea and Berlin.
She also creates stop-motion films. If you’ve ever seen a GIF of a gnome knitting a heart that flies off his needles, that was Hrachovec’s work. It was declared “Top GIF of 2017” by GIPHY.com.
Paulson downloaded the Mochimochi patterns and set to work. Each creature takes about an hour to an hour-and-a-half to make. Gnomes require about 20 rows of knitting. Then she packs them into hand-made origami boxes and sends them to friends and family. Sometimes friends have taken her little creatures on their travels, sending her back images of them in far-away lands.
“We wait for the packages,” said sister-in-law Phoebe Gray of Burnsville, who has gotten a tiny little cat and an elephant. “It’s kind of tradition that we get them for our birthdays. And I have two daughters and they can’t wait for Auntie Ann packages.”
Her daughters are ages 21 and 18 now, but, “They still get them and still love them. … They have also always appreciated little tiny things just like their auntie since they were small. They love that she makes them sweet little gifts and how much time and love she puts into them.”
She added, “They’re always something she knows they would love or giggle at. They’re little family heirlooms.”
The Grays leave the tiny things in their little boxes so that guests can have the pleasure of opening the box to discover the treasures inside.
“It doesn’t matter your age,” Gray said. “You open the box and you just squeal.”