Tag Archives: yarn

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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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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Filed under memoir, women's writing

Round Your Garden

My Grandma Smith taught me to crochet when I was in junior high in the early 1970s. My first real project was a red, white, and blue granny square vest from a kit that I bought at the Williston Ben Franklin when I was visiting my grandparents’ farms one June. Both of my grandmothers crocheted potholders and doilies and afghans; I still have many of their creations, including a round throw rug made from cotton scraps, one of the many that Grandma Smith made for everyone in the family.

Later I learned to knit, putting aside crochet for a while because I wanted to make sweaters and two needles seemed more versatile than one. When my daughter was just a baby, I took a class on designing a sweater that liberated me from strict adherence to patterns. I learned that by figuring out the measurements I wanted, fitting the gauge as needed, and following basic elements of style, I could design many different kinds of sweaters.

I’ve been making sweaters for years now but lately I’ve been wanting to make something smaller as gifts for the many babies that have recently come into our lives. I thought about knitting hats but I honestly don’t care for the double-pointed needles necessary at the tippy top of the crown. I looked at crocheted baby hat patterns online but didn’t find any that fit my notion of quick, easy, and cute, so I decided to design the hat myself.

With my basic knowledge of crochet stitches and techniques, I sat down with a skein of worsted weight cotton baby-type yarn and a size J crochet hook and started crocheting in the round, just like you would for a crocheted rug or poth and of course it’s faster than single crochet.

Once I thought the crown was large enough in diameter, I reduced stitches for one round to shape the brim, continuing on for a few inches to give the hat length. Then to add a little more design, I finished with a row of triple crochet for a band and a scalloped edging to give it a vintage look. Cute—but not quite what I wanted.

What did I want? I love those knit vegetable or fruit children’s hats that look like strawberries or eggplant, so I decided to adapt my pattern that way. But I like flowers too, so I started the round in green for the sepal where the flower or fruit attaches to the stem. Then I crocheted the rest of the hat in whatever color struck me: purple for a pansy, red for a tomato, blue for a blueberry. Still, it needed something more, so I reattached green yarn at the top to crochet three stems or leaves in single crochet sprouting out of the center.

Round Your Garden Hat

My first Round Your Garden hat

Fresh-picked from Round Your Garden

Now I’ve got a pattern that is quick (because it’s double and triple crochet), easy (because you size to a measurement rather than counting stitches), and very adaptable (since you can use about any kind of yarn you want). I think of it as a “make do” hat, great for “making do” with whatever leftover yarn you have lying around. I also really like its vintage look, like the crocheted doilies or potholders you can pick up for a couple dollars at a flea market.  My mom said it reminds her of the hat my grandmother made for her when she was little, a hat with earflaps to keep the North Dakota wind out of her ears.

My mom's winter hat (check out that snowball)

Mostly I love my hat’s playful and colorful style. Children are like flowers or vegetables—fresh and sweet, like something just-picked from the garden (hence the popularity of Anne Geddes’ photos of babies in pea pods).  I decided to call the pattern the Round Your Garden hat because it’s crocheted in the round and because it reminds me of one of my favorite children’s books, In Your Garden by Omri Glaser with illustrations by Byron Glaser and Sandra Higashi. This book of bright, close-up illustrations follows the biological cycle of a garden from a tear drop to a vegetable feast. It’s a seemingly simple story that contains the whole of life, a delight for children and adults to read together.

I guess at 50, I don’t want to follow patterns. I want to make up my own. I want to figure out what I need and what I know to fashion what I can imagine. Making up this hat made me happy, kind of like when I was giving my daughter advice recently and she said, “Well, you’ve got a lot more experience than I do so I’m going to listen to you.” Wow! In my 50s, I do know a few things, so I might as well listen to my own wisdom and create from there.

A Garden of Hats

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Filed under memoir, sustainable agriculture, Uncategorized