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Time Off with: Toby Gordon

Toby Gordon, wearing her own creations. Knitted shawl. Earrings: Chinese jade and silver. Necklace: turquoise with organic beads. Button ring. Bracelets: beads-on-wire and crochet.

Hunting for the treasures in Toby Gordon’s house? Peek under the furniture. Hiding beneath the dry sink is an antique printer’s drawer, brimming with vintage buttons and artistic beads. Old-fashioned suitcases conceal silk ribbons and rainbows of yarn. These are the ornaments of Gordon’s after-hours passions: jewelry designing, crocheting, knitting and felting.

After donating countless pieces to charity auctions, Gordon, who is vice president of strategic planning and market research, launched “Toby Gordon Designs.” Now her work can be found in a local boutique, where her limited production of handmade bracelets sold out this past holiday season.

“I like to play with stuff,” says Gordon, who spends hours carefully sorting beads into complimentary or contrasting relationships to one another.

“I like to look at textiles and say, What does this yarn want to be?”

Gordon’s wrapable beaded bracelets might blend small antiquities or new age stones. Crocheted bracelets in warm browns and greens evoke femininity. Her latest muse, felting fabric, will inspire handbags and cell-phone cases for the fall.

“For me, all of this has the same relaxing effect as a hot bath or yoga might for others,” says Gordon. “It also allows me to bring a more creative perspective to my work.”

With a demanding career and few free minutes to spare, she plies her craft in unlikely moments: while in the car (but not driving), while her two teenage sons do homework, or, much to their chagrin, while at their sporting events.

As a child, when her mother passed away, Gordon learned knitting from an aunt. Although her father encouraged more “academic” pursuits, it was a gift she treasured. Her craft eventually gave way to college, graduate school, marriage and children. Her needles sat idle until the evening she meandered down a Fells Point street and found “a tiny, precious shop” crammed with yarn and a cat named Harriet. Inspiration followed.

She fell into jewelry design only lately but in much the same, serendipitous way. In an authentic five and dime, the kind her mother used to take her to when she was a little girl, she spied a spinning button rack amid the hairnets. It brought back a rush of strong, happy memories. She loaded up, envisioning them as clasps, earrings and more.

These days, Gordon combs yard sales and junk shops, “harvesting” beads from outdated strands. She barters for small artistic pieces, like pewter scrollwork, to bejewel her creations, and she squirrels away yarn. Skeins and skeins of it. “I rationalize by telling myself that if nuclear fallout ever came and we had to hide in the laundry room, we wouldn’t freeze.”

—Michele McFarland

Interested in an after-work session on felting, beading or jewelry-making?


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