Tag Archives: knitting

Block2Blanket: A Community Upcycling Project

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Last weekend our little town of Lyons, Colorado, celebrated its 40th Annual Good Old Days, a June event of music, food, and fun. Over the 25 years I’ve been in Lyons, the event has changed from year to year depending on location and community engagement. For many years Good Old Days included carnival rides, but the 2013 flood destroyed the field large enough to hold them. For this year’s 40th celebration, the town hired a kayak tank and airborne games (think “jumpy castle”) instead, along with providing space for area musicians and dancers, a chamber of commerce libations booth, and a local food vendor.

Our friend Priscilla Cohan, one of the artists behind the town’s amazing Clarifier Project, would like to see the town move Good Old Days in the direction of a Heritage Faire with craftspeople teaching old-time arts like basket-making, caning, welding, woodworking, food preserving, leather-working and even more mundane crafts like knitting and sewing—arts that are experiencing a resurgence nationally as people become interested in self-sufficiency and localism.

As a pilot project for a future Heritage Faire, we came up with the idea of Block2Blanket, an intergenerational craft event during Good Old Days. For Block2Blanket, we asked community members to donate gently used or moth-eaten 100% wool sweaters to be upcycled into a warm and colorful picnic blanket.

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A contemporary cross between old-time quilting bees and Sheep to Shawl competitions, Block2Blanket doesn’t require much money but rather depends on community donated materials and time. Basing the project on the idea that many hands make light work, we created tasks for children of all ages, from sorting and cutting to designing and sewing.

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Our first step was posting a notice in our local papers for sweater donation: “Spring cleaning? Don’t throw away the wool sweaters you didn’t wear all winter. Instead, donate them to Block2Blanket.” We collected a dozen sweaters and a couple blankets. Before the event itself, we washed the donations by machine in hot water and then dried them on high heat to felt the wool. This felting makes the wool denser and more stable for sewing.

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Other donated resources were scissors, thread, pins, and bobbins. After making sure we’d have electricity at our booth in the park, we borrowed two sewing machines with zig-zag stitch capability. We also made 6 x 6 inch square paper and cardboard templates to be traced around or pinned on the materials for cutting.

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Priscilla brought her canopy tent and made a colorful fabric garland to flap in the breeze; we each brought tables, setting up one for cutting, another for laying out the squares, and another for a machine at each end. We began by cutting the sweaters into sections along the seams so the pieces would lay flat. Friends came by to help cut, piece, and stitch as musicians took the stage.

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Our original thought had been that children would participate in the project, learning about upcycling, as well as sewing skills. I hadn’t even thought about the lure of the jumpy water games, which turned out to be much more of a draw than cutting and sewing. A few children stopped by the booth, but it was adults who were most interested in what we were doing. Some promised to donate sweaters and some were interested in learning the process. Everyone to whom we talked thought that turning old sweaters and blankets into something functional and beautiful was a cool idea.

While we chatted and listened to local musicians, we cut and sewed squares into long strips by placing one edge of a block over another and sewing the edges securely with a couple rows of zig-zag stitching. In three hours, we completed seven strips of 12 blocks each. We’ll finish the blanket at our Stonebridge knitting night or another outdoor summer event. Once completed, we’ll raffle the blanket as a benefit for the Lyons Redstone Museum. We plan to make pot holders out of the scraps to sell for the museum, too.

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This first go at Block2Blanket was a success. If we do it again next year, we’ll make a kid-friendly sign; perhaps we’ll do more outreach with children’s groups or the school. Maybe we’ll offer a cup of lemonade to anyone who helps. We’re still accepting donated 100% wool sweaters to expand the blanket’s pattern and color schemes. We’ve got five strips to go and we can’t wait to see how the blanket turns out!

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Norwegian for the Holidays

My sister says I get “Norwegian-y” around the holidays. She means I go a little overboard with my Norwegian sweaters and “prairie tree” made by my father from dowels to imitate the twig Christmas trees of early Norwegian immigrants. I unwrap the Norwegian Nisse doll knitted and felted by a newfound Nordic cousin. John and I fire up the Norwegian woodstove in the milkhouse sauna for chilly winter nights. We even make lefse—a thin Norwegian potato pancake–for Christmas eve dinner using my Grandma and Grandpa Short’s lefse griddle and fancy rolling pins. My holidays wouldn’t feel complete without these Nordic customs.

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This year I’m feeling even more Norwegian-y because I’ve been researching my father’s Nordic heritage on my grandmother’s side. Her father—my great-grandfather Martin Jacobson—came from Oslo as a young child in 1883. Her mother—my great-grandmother Jossie Dokken Jacobson—was a first-generation American daughter born to Norwegian immigrant parents. It’s these great-great-grandparents for whom I’ve been searching recently, aided by Jean, an expert genealogist who keeps me pointed in the right direction with her generous guidance and lightning-fast retrieval of archival information; Janet, my dad’s cousin-in-law who shares her own valuable discoveries; and a handful of Minnesota historical librarians and genealogists. With their help, I’ve reconstructed a good bit of information about these ancestors.

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Genealogical research is one part methodical fact-finding (pouring through census and other records; checking and rechecking names, dates, and places), two parts sleuthing (following up leads, pursuing hunches) and three parts serendipity. Jean reminds me that some of the best clues are found in places where we aren’t even intentionally looking for them. I enjoy this meticulous kind of work, and the connection to my own family makes it even more satisfying.

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Searching for Norwegian ancestors in the winter makes a certain kind of sense because Norwegian immigrants settled first in the colder mid-Northern areas of the United States. Norwegian immigration is really two movements: emigration from Norway, where economic opportunity was limited by lack of land for the growing population, and immigration to the United States, where land was becoming available as states like Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa “opened” (a euphemism for claimed and taken by settlement and force from Native people) for white, European homesteaders.

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Norwegians immigrated to the rural northern climate to continue the agricultural work they’d known back home. Garrison Keillor jokes that Norwegians came to the US to try horizontal farming, meaning they were leaving the mountains of Norway behind. These immigrants weren’t daunted by the cold winters of the mid-Northern states. In his 1909 study Norwegian Immigration to the United States, scholar George T. Flom remarked on the affinity of Norwegian immigrants to colder climates: “Even Kansas is too far south for the Norwegian.”

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My great-great-grandfather Ole Olson Dokken came to the United States in the late 1860s or early 1870s with his older brother Arne. Census records show two different entry years for Ole—1868 and 1872. Census records are notorious for imprecision and error, but at least we have a range of dates from which to work.

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We have yet to find the entry year for my great-great-grandmother Anna Engebretson Dokken and we may never find it. Women in those days weren’t usually asked for such details on the census since the husband was considered the head of household whose information was most important. I’m still searching for Anna’s death record. My great-grandmother Jossie—Anna’s daughter–noted on the back of her own wedding license that Anna died at age 50 in Swift Falls, but research there has yet to turn up anything with Anna’s name. The last official document we have for Anna is the 1895 Minnesota state census in which her name appears with her husband and children. By 1900, she was gone and Ole was remarried to Karen Thompson, another Norwegian immigrant.

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I may never know much about my great-great-grandmother Anna but I’m willing to keep looking until the all leads are spent. Finding connections between the women in my family helps me understand my own life better. In A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography, I wrote of how my Great-Grandma Flora Hunsley Smith’s teaching and farming life was passed down to me. I hope to find a similar resonance with Great-Great-Grandmother Anna. After all, she came to a new country as a young, unmarried woman and raised her seven children on a farm. She must have valued education since her daughter Jossie went to school through eighth grade, which was equivalent to high school in those days. I imagine she made the most with what she had without complaining because that’s the ethic I observed in the Norwegian family and community of my youth.

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I’m further south than my Norwegian ancestors, but it still gets cold here on Colorado’s Front Range. If I feel like whining about the frigid, snowy weather that occasionally descends on these dark winter days, I remind myself that I come from hardy Norwegian stock. When the snow’s falling and the days are short, I can put on a Norwegian sweater and stoke up the Norwegian woodstove.  I can get “Norwegian-y” for a while and warm myself with the customs passed down to me from ancestors who took a long ship’s ride across an ocean to reach new land where they could make a home.

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Put a Sweater On It

Take a right at the end of Main Street in Lyons where the road forks to the mountains and you’ll see it: a catalpa tree in bloom.

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But this tree isn’t covered in white, frilly flowers. This catalpa blooms with rainbow stripes and crayon blocks of color, a Dr. Seuss tree besweatered in bumpy, shaggy, wavy, nubby yarns knit around its trunk and limbs. If you look quickly enough as you round the corner, you may even spot a small bear flying a kite from her variegated perch.

Julie's Little Lyons Bear

Julie’s Little Lyons Bear

What you’re seeing is a “yarnbombing,” a community’s collaborative endeavor to bring knit art to an unadorned corner of their world. Our sweater tree was the inspiration of Sandra DeVries, a Dutch artist now living in British Columbia. Following projects she’s designed in BC, our tree is her first international yarnbombing effort.

Artist Sandra DeVries

Artist Sandra DeVries

A grant from the Lyons Arts and Humanities Council provided yarn and a stipend for Sandra’s creative management and overall design. Sandra knit the blanket-sized piece for the trunk and other interstitial pieces, while Sandra’s friend, the Dutch artist Jakob Leeuwenburgh, a Lyons resident and Stonebridge member, organized knitters here to create individual pieces in specific sizes matched to a limb or branch of the tree. Each knitter had full artistic license over her swatch, using yarn (or, in one case, recycled sweaters) of her choice.

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Jakob directs the placement of each piece from Sandra’s design

My piece was 28 x 70 and wrapped the crux of the tree where two large limbs emerge from the trunk. 28 x 70 centimeters, that is, something I figured out after I’d knit 28 inches and wondered whether I was making an afghan. Then I remembered that Sandra and Jakob are Dutch and checked with a friend about the measurements. Centimeters went much more quickly.

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Sandy’s swatch before it went on the tree

I chose green eyelash and pom pom yarns from the grant yarns and added my own purple from leftover skeins. To make the yarn go further and the knitting go faster, Jen taught me the drop stitch (wrapping the yarn twice around the needle before making a knit stitch but only picking up one loop of it in the next row, “dropping” it from the needle in a larger, more open weave), perfect on size 13 needles for eyelash yarn that benefits from a looser stitch. In green, that portion of my swatch looks like grass growing in the trunk of the tree.

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My grassy swatch to the left of Jen’s fancy yarn collage

Last Friday, all the knitters met to assemble the tree’s sweater. Following Sandra’s diagram, we stitched our swatches in place around the tree and then attached them to each other to create a finished, seemingly seamless piece that looks like a many-fingered glove. Because the trees are slow to leaf out this cool spring, we had an easy time crawling up in the tree to fit the upper branches.

Jen sewing her multi-patterned piece to the tree.  You can follow her work at songknitter.blogspot.com

Jen sewing her multi-patterned piece to the tree. You can follow her work at songknitter.blogspot.com

In my knitting, I always think of myself as a color person, but, in fact, I love the textures of yarn just as much. As I started whip-stitching my swatch to the tree, I noticed how the dual texture of tree bark and yarn wool beneath my fingers was doubly stimulating and pleasurable to the touch. Yarnbombing a tree, I decided, would be perfect for children, introducing them to a craft and a natural object, synergizing the values of making something by hand and tending the environment in a way that highlights its beauty and function.

Many hands make light work

Many hands make light work

As a community endeavor, yarnbombing combines individual artistic vision and skill with collaborative design and implementation. It unites a group of people with a common goal while allowing for personal expression. Sandra DeVries’ artistry helped us see the tree in a new way, but we each contributed our own ideas to the larger creation.

The group assembles the tree outside the Lyons Fork restaurant

The group assembles the tree outside the Lyons Fork restaurant

Undoubtedly, as with any public art, not everyone will enjoy or approve of yarnbombing a tree, so another aspect of this project’s beauty is its organic nature. Soon a bright green canopy of leaves will integrate the colorful trunk and limbs. As the tree grows and meets the elements, the yarn will fade and fray. Perhaps birds will make their homes in the tree’s branches, unraveling a thread or two for their nests. Eventually, the pieces will blow away or be removed when it gets too bedraggled for public viewing. We’ll see. For now, the tree will get more attention than it ever has before and after its sweater is gone, we’ll remember our tree as the synthesis of art and nature.

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PS Instructions for Ipad Sweater Cozy

As promised, here’s the directions for the ipad sweater I mentioned in my last post. If you know anything about knitting, this is super simple to make. If you’re a beginner, an ipad cozy is a great way to practice both stockinette and cable stitches. This pattern is so easy, you can knit and watch Call the Midwife on the PBS website at the same time! Have fun and let me know how it goes!

Ipad Sweater Cozy

Materials:

1 skein Icelandic Lopi yarn or another bulky yarn like Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride.

Size 10 needles or whatever size gets the gauge

Cable needle or stitch holder for holding cable stitches (I prefer a stitch holder to a cable needle because you can hook it closed and the stitches don’t slide off)

Crochet hook or large needle for joining edges.

Gauge: 3 stitches per inch; the cable section will be tighter.

Total length: about 25 inches

Width: 9 inches

Directions:

CO 30 stitches.

Row 1: Knit 10, Purl 2, Knit 6, Purl 2, Knit 10.

Row 2: Purl 10, K 2, P 6, K 2, P 10.

Repeat rows 1 and 2.

Row 5 (cable row): K10, P2, place 3 stitches from left needle on stitch holder with clasp end going left, move stitch holder to back of row so it’s out of the way, K 3, bring stitch holder to front and slide the three stitches from the holder onto the left needle, K 3, P 2, K10.

Row 6: Repeat row 2.

Repeat rows 1-6 until you have only enough yarn left for a BO row and to stitch/crochet up the sides. BO. Press the side edges with a steam iron and damp towel to flatten them. Fold the piece in half, right sides together, and join sides (I like to crochet them).  Turn right side out. Add a button or drawstring to the open edge if you like.

Wouldn’t this make a great gift for someone in your life who loves both tech and textiles?

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My Knitting Needles Are Calling

We finished the farm season in the barn last Saturday giving Thanksgiving shares to the dozen members who signed up for them: carrots, rutabagas, parsnips, winter radishes, leeks, onions, garlic, shallots, rosemary & parsley, a butternut squash and a pie pumpkin, plus a bag of greens just because we still had them under row cover in the garden. The parsnips were two-feet long, making digging them without breaking a challenge. I wish I had a picture of John and Peter popping parsnips out of the ground with a baling twine lasso and the post puller, sort of like extracting a tooth—or giving birth; we weren’t sure which image seemed more apt.

Now all that remains in the barn are the onions and squash for delivery to community Thanksgiving boxes this week and extra roots and onions in the insulated cool room for our winter meals. It feels good to be done in the barn, knowing that all the vegetables are awaiting wintry meals and holiday celebrations.

As we talked with friends in the barn on Saturday, rain started to fall, turning to snow throughout the afternoon. The day before, the remaining fall foliage still blazed brilliantly against the foothills, but this snow brought down the leaves and now the trees are bare. Funny how much colder the world feels without that autumn gold.

We’ve got the woodstove going in the house and I pulled the first heavy sweater out of my closet yesterday. Now begins a quieter time at the farm. Our winter plans include replacing, with the help of the utility company, a decades-old power pole (who knew we actually owned that thing, but on a farm, we do) and renovating the granary we trucked down the highway last spring. And we’ll be writing, working on projects already begun, taking them a step further into the world.

Now that the clocks have fallen back, the evenings feel longer, or at least longer to fill. John made the first round of root soup with dumplings on Saturday night and we’ll soon get the pressure cooker going with the dry beans we finished shelling last week. With greens from the bluehouse, squashes stored in the closet, canned goods in the pantry, roots from the barn, and tomatoes in the freezer, we’ll eat well all winter.

Now, as my friend Barb reminded me, my knitting needles are calling. Knitters know how hard it is to throw away those little bits and leftover skeins of yarn. I’m just about done with an ipad sweater from one such skein, a bulky Icelandic yarn, now cabled to “cozy” my ipad. I made one last year for my laptop and get lots of appreciative comments when I take it for service to the Apple store.

That’s what leftover bits of time are good for too, the hour before bed in the dark evening when I have to unplug or the half hour while the dinner cooks and I need to get off my feet. A little bit of quiet, a slightly slower pace, and less driving anywhere unless we really have to go. We’re looking forward to these days of winter work and rest while the world keeps spinning around us.

 

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SABLE

I learned a new craft term at the Lunafest Women’s Film Festival recently: SABLE—Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy. Everyone in the audience who was a crafter laughed at that one because we know exactly what that means. Boxes and bags and drawers of craft supplies that we plan to get to someday but probably never will.

I think the most longterm project I still haven’t thrown out is a gathered “peasant” style blouse for which I bought the fabric and the elastic but then used the elastic for something else. The pattern and fabric (really cute!) have been in a drawer since (and I blush to write this) 2003. I know because I was teaching a particular class that spring and had planned to make the blouse before the end of the semester.

Besides running out of elastic, I think I haven’t made that blouse yet because I don’t sew much from a pattern anymore. The last thing I made from a pattern needed considerable altering so I’m a little skeptical about the fit for the blouse. Or maybe I’m just not as patient with tissue-thin paper and cutting on the lines as I used to be. Today I mostly alter vintage clothes or sew things for the house like tablecloths and curtains. But someday, I may find the time and the patience again.

I have the craft gene. With two grandmothers who excelled at making useful items out of burlap, cheerios, and sequins and a mom who sews, it’s gotta be genetic, going far back in genealogical history: my great-great-grandmother was a professional dressmaker in St. Louis and she helped my grandmother make her wedding dress, the same one I wore ten years ago.

My grandmothers' dolls; Grandma Smith made the one in the middle for me

My grandmothers’ rural crafting ingenuity is something to admire. They even made dolls out of hand-sized turkey wishbones. They sewed fabric heads and arms to cover the pointy end of the bone and wrapped fabric around the “wishing” part for legs. They embroidered hair and faces and made little blouses and skirts and hats to dress them. I still have those dolls, a testimony to crafting something out of nothing and my grandmothers’ “make-do” spirit for using whatever was on hand.

I started making doll clothes as soon as I could sit at the sewing machine, but the first craft I remember making was a “sit-upon” in Brownies. A sit-upon is an essential part of Girl Scout gear because you need your sit-upon to sit upon at meetings and while camping. Mine was a red and white gingham square of vinyl fabric folded around a one-inch stack of newspaper and whip-stitched with red yarn around the edges, leaving enough yarn at each end to braid for a carrying string. Look at the craft skills we learned: measuring and cutting fabric, stuffing, stitching, and braiding, as well as color coordination.

In Girl Scouts, we also dolls out of a clothespin, presumably because clothespins were easier to come by than giant turkey bones. Plus, clothespins—the old round kind—already had heads. We painted on the faces and, using our new braiding skills, glued braided yarn on top for hair, then sewed tiny sack-like dresses and perky aprons for clothes.

By junior high, I’d graduated from doll clothes to making my own. Hemlines were high in those days so it didn’t take much fabric to make a straight skirt with an elastic hem, usually in plaid. Once I learned how to put in a zipper, I made a lot of dresses too. In high school, I used the scraps from those dresses to make a quilt. It took me three months to quilt it—and I was only grounded one of those months for conduct unbecoming a young lady, but that’s another story.

Somewhere along the way, my Grandma Smith taught me to crochet. My first real project was a red, white, and blue granny square vest. In the 70s, you could wear something like that. I still like to crochet, especially baby things (see my post “Round Your Garden” for the baby hats I’ve been making).

I didn’t take up knitting until my daughter was born but next to sewing, it’s my most enduring craft. I make one or two sweaters a year, all a variation of the same pattern I’ve perfected for fit, which to me is the hardest thing about knitting.

I like to craft handmade gifts, especially for my mom who appreciates old family photographs or bits and pieces I’ve saved from my grandmothers, like this shadow box of my Grandma Smith’s letters and sewing supplies.

Along the way, I’ve accumulated a paper cutter, fancy scissors, exacto knives with various blades, a rotary cutter and cutting board, crochet hooks and knitting needles of all sizes, and lots of different glues.

And then there’s the SABLE. A couple tubs of fabric, most of it vintage, boxes of buttons, and baskets of yarn. Sometimes I “destash” at our knitting group, but mostly, I hang onto it. Every crafter needs a little SABLE. It gives us hope that someday we’ll make the sweater or quilt or blouse we’ve been meaning to make when we finally have the peace and quiet to do it.

And here’s a shout-out to all my crafty friends and to Etsy for all the great crafters they support: www.etsy.com

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