“The Work of Her Hands”

[“The Work of Her Hands” joins other Legacy Blankets on this blog. These are custom order blankets made from the sweaters of a loved one who has passed on. Learn about them here.]

“I hear you do something with old sweaters,” Bill said while we were all eating coffee cake.

My husband and I were at the home of friends. Bill’s daughter Dawn, my friend, had earlier told him I could help him put to use the sweaters of his late wife, Dawn’s mom. Nan had been a crafter par excellence, and knitting was one of her skills. Bill had saved a few of Nan’s sweaters after she passed away—a couple hand-knit by her, a couple store-bought. He was packing his home to move and wanted to do something meaningful with them.

“You heard right—” I answered, “I make blankets!” I began to tell how I took a loved one’s wool sweaters, felted them, and turned them into something gorgeous and functional. But as soon as I said “felted,” I knew the concept would be difficult for this gentleman to imagine, no matter how much crafting his wife had done.

So Dawn got her iPad and we opened up this website. I was able to show Bill what in the world we were talking about.

“Okay, then! I think I’d like to do that,” said Bill, and I left with Nan’s beautiful sweaters, ready to make a blanket for Bill and his new home.

I learned more about Nan. “Anytime she sat down,” Bill had told me, “she had something in her hands to work on. She knit me a pair of argyle socks—while we were dating!”

Nan loved knitting, sewing, ceramics, counted cross-stitch, and celebrating the holidays with several of her desserts on the table and her handmade items for decor. It sounds like she shared herself with those she loved through creating things. Bill fondly recalls all of this.

But one of his very favorite memories is how she loved others with a listening ear. She did this often, especially for younger women, some very distressed. Nan had words of counsel that grew out of the experience of her years. “Now, think it out,” was one of her best recommendations to encourage someone to pause and consider things carefully. Then she would listen some more.

When Bill first showed me Nan’s sweaters, I was pretty sure the two colorful ones hand-knit by her (one with her favorite bright turquoise blue) did not contain much if any wool. It was true; they did not felt up with the others and so I wasn’t able to include them. But the wools I was left with were a beautiful collection of more masculine colors, perfect for me to work with for Bill.

Oooh, but they were BUSY together—high contrast and tons of pattern! I laid the pieces of this blanket out one way and then another, several times, wanting to corral the chaos and introduce some calm.

The calm finally came. I put mostly medium and light hues in the center, organized the multiple patterns so they could lead the eye, wrapped those up with an interesting band of light chainlink, and reserved the darkest pieces for the outer border. I loved it.

One of these sweaters felted up particularly thick, thicker than I will usually put into a blanket. But I stuck it in anyway because it was gorgeous and meaningful, and I’m happy to tell you it is doing just fine. Because of that, this may be my weightiest, warmest blanket. 

For Bill—and the whole family—I hope this blanket reminds you often of the work of Nan’s precious hands and heart. You’ll have to make her pecan pie yourself, though. I hear it’s an excellent one ;)

© Joan Olson
“The Work of Her Hands” (60″ x 72″)
Felted Wool Sweaters

[“The Work of Her Hands” joins other Legacy Blankets on this blog. These are custom order blankets made from the sweaters of a loved one who has passed on. Learn about them here.]

Class Begins!

Hello, Folks! Just a quick post to say the Felted Wool Blanket Master Class starts tomorrow! You can step right in and begin forthwith to create your own felted wool blanket. This is a great time of year to work on a blanket, as life is a little quieter than usual…plus, um, it’s cold.

Want to learn more? Go here to read all the info about the class. You can sign up there too.

(Please note: Enrollment for the class will stay open an extra week (through January 26) as I inadvertently caused a frustrating sign-up glitch when I first launched enrollment. Ugh! If you have any trouble signing up, contact me directly and I’ll help get you squared away.)

Winter 2019 Blanket-Making Class is Open for Enrollment!

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

Happy New Year!

It’s a day for kicking back, enjoying something out of the ordinary, maybe dreaming about 2019. I won’t interrupt all that.

But I do want to announce that this winter’s Felted Wool Blanket Master Class is NOW OPEN for enrollment. Woo hoo! If you’ve ever wanted to make a wool blanket of your own, this might be the time. Go here to find all the details. If you’ve got any questions, ask them right here at the bottom of this post.

Class starts January 12. Work can be done along the course timeline or at your very own pace—as you will have access to curriculum indefinitely. There’s also a private Facebook group for all sorts of helpful interaction, which you’ll be invited to join as soon as you enroll. Enrollment will remain open through 1/12/19. Sign up here.

Maybe I’ll see you in class soon!

“Blessed are Those Who Mourn”

“For the Lamb…will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” *

Christmastime = joy, festivities, love, gatherings of great people. It also equals the baby Jesus, his captivated parents, and the unusual, fantastical events of that evening: a very pregnant young woman and her fiancé on the road and far from home, an extraordinary star, angels (!) with a message to shepherds that was actually for the entire world.

One angel, the angel of the Lord, went right up to those shepherds and said, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2). The angel’s glory shone all over those shepherds as he said this. 

Exciting, joyful, miraculous stuff.

But I know there are many for whom an undercurrent of heartache and loss runs through their days this season. People I love very much are right now dealing with cancer, suicide, and death. Ow! It wrenches my gut to see the depth of their hurt.

So maybe this is an appropriate time to introduce this particular blanket—because such a difficult mix of joy and grief is not only true for lots of people this time of year, but was also foretold for Jesus and his young mom, Mary. It happened like this:

Just weeks after his birth, when Mary and Joseph carried their tiny son to the temple, a faithful man named Simeon met Jesus and, after praising God, looked directly at Mary and told her, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2).

“A sword will pierce your own soul too”? How difficult this must have been for Mary to hear as she held her tiny, defenseless son. How could she take this in? We know a little: she stored up things in her heart. And she must have lived daily with a tension of joy and sorrow hidden inside.

That tension is what I see in this blanket. The sorrow. The joy. And the comfort.

This is “Blessed are Those Who Mourn,” part of my Beatitude Series.

It didn’t start out that way! This is the blanket I made on video for the master class I’m teaching, and I never intended for it to be about mourning! But at the design stage, as so often happens, the colors, the patterns and the wool itself spoke to me a ton in this particular layout and not in others—and I had to listen.

In this blanket, I see the weight and depth of grief in the dark colors around the edges—but then I feel the palpable relief of those creamy whites, a cocoon of healing and comfort in the center, and joy in those tumultuous, popping pink flowers, all spreading outward.

In its entirety, this beatitude says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus himself said this, when he was just starting out on his itinerant ministry at age 30. Over the next 3 years (just 3!) Jesus would mourn the ugliness of hypocrisy and sin, the betrayal of friends and followers, and his own impending execution.

But in the end? Jesus beats death itself and becomes the One to wipe away the tears of those who turn to him. Wow! We’re so used to hearing this, but just…Wow!

In fact, Jesus becomes ALL the things. He is he sacrificial Lamb, the Shepherd, the Comforter, the King. The Alpha and Omega. All these names are his names.

So. Blessed are you if you mourn and seek comfort. Jesus doesn’t say the pain will leave. But he does say he will wipe away your tears. And he will comfort you. In my experience, as I have trusted this shepherd king, he does exactly that.

Welcome, Lord Jesus, this Christmas. Please don’t let us overlook who you actually are.

*Revelation 7:17

© Joan Olson
“Blessed are Those Who Mourn”
(55×68) Felted Wool Sweaters

Mom’s Blanket

Attention, all you makers…

Do you want to learn to make these blankets too? The Felted Wool Blanket Master Class begins January 12, 2019. Sign up for my email list to be the first to hear when enrollment opens—and receive access to a video from the course about how to choose great sweaters for your project.

I am grateful for amazing travels lately!

In August my hubby and I celebrated 35 years of marriage in England and Wales. In October I was in San Clemente, California, to celebrate my mom’s birthday. And last week we headed west again, to Seattle this time, for an extended-family Thanksgiving and a granddaughter’s baptism.

Packed in that little paragraph are four generations of people and celebrations. So ordinary and yet extraordinary at the same time.

I’ve been thinking about these people whom I love and how we have shared years, influences, loves, skills, preferences, and gifts. Such richness.

In Mom’s living room, there is a blanket I made for her back when I was first figuring these blankets out. For Mom (half of the wonderful parental team who transplanted themselves from the Midwest to the Wild West to start their family), I wrangled up colors that made me imagine a rough-skinned cowboy up on his horse, his hat low to shade his eyes. And a Franciscan padre trading for Mexican textiles to furnish his living quarters in an adobe mission. And heat. Lots and lots of dry, bone-piercing heat.

My parents passed on to me a love for these things. (And my mom taught me to sew. There’s those influences and gifted skills, right there.) I have brought those western US influences into our home in northern Illinois, with a couple of pieces of Mission furniture, a Navajo-woven rug on the wall, and a painting of rugged California mountains above the piano. They ground me still!

Sitting one morning last month under that blanket with my morning cup of coffee in hand and the tissue-thin bougainvillea outside made brilliant by the California sun, I realized I had never taken photos of this pre-blog blanket. I finally captured a few with my phone. (Tricky lighting for me, but you still get the picture.)

The whip-stitched edge works just right for this one. Because that cowboy had a worn laced-leather wallet in his pocket, don’t you think?

© Joan Olson
“Mom’s Blanket”
Felted Wool Sweaters

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

Seven Ways I Deal with Overwhelm Before it Deals with Me (or, “Nobody cares, Grandma!”)

A couple of months ago I sent out a survey to my email list members,
to help in my own brainstorming about what directions to head next.

In response to a question about blog content, one person made a comment
that regularly pricks my thoughts. She said,

“Maybe you could post that you too get overwhelmed
from time to time … if you do. Surely you do?”
 ·······   Yes, I surely do!   ·······

For the past two days I’ve set aside time to write a blog post and an email newsletter. I’ve actually made the time to do it! But then I can’t write. Cannot. I chase ideas around my cluttered brain and find nothing cohesive. I look dumbly at photos I’ve uploaded and sentences I’ve struggled to form.

I recognize this. It is not a case of an elusive muse. No, it’s paralysis. And it is brought on by a sense of overwhelm which cloaks everything I try to do with its dark, slogging weight. It comes when there are too many expectations (usually self-made!), too many idea trails to follow, too many things coming at me at once.

Two powerful triggers of overwhelm for me are 1) travel, and 2) the holidays. And what do you know? They are both presently operative, with all their happy bells on!* I love travel and I love the holidays, but they throw the beloved evenness of my days out the window. Amen, anybody?

Yesterday, after staring at the computer screen blankly for a long time, I finally gave up and cleaned house. (Which is one of the things that has badly needed doing, and people are coming over tomorrow.) A huge perk of house-cleaning is that it lifts my spirits and clears mental space. Maybe that’s the reason I can write today?

As I cleaned I thought about the strategies I use to beat back a sense of overwhelm so it cannot get the best of me. I identified seven. In most cases they boil down to some wise words I learned from a little girl a long time ago…

One Christmastime, when my oldest daughter was six, she stood on a chair at the kitchen counter helping my mom decorate cookies. Her curly, unkempt red hair was pushed back by an ill-fitting plastic tortoiseshell headband which continually slid forward onto her forehead. My mom kept trying to fix it, but my daughter wasn’t having it. With far more wisdom than she could understand, my daughter declared, “Nobody cares, Grandma!”

This line has gone down in our family lore and is still quoted frequently, whether the object of the assertion is a grandmother or not. Watch how it works in the first four of my list of seven. These are things I do when I am feeling overwhelmed:

  1. Lower my expectations for whatever is the task at hand. Although my heart was clamoring for a thorough fall house-cleaning yesterday, I chose a few important particulars. Maybe I’ll get to others before 2019. (“And anyway, nobody cares, Grandma.”)
  2. Drop judgment of myself for my limitations. Yesterday I was grieving the fact that I didn’t pack a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child, let alone make a blanket for it (which is what I really, really wanted to do again). So I let myself feel sad for a bit, then I went to the Samaritan’s Purse site and ordered a shoe box right there. You can still do this too! Deadline is November 19. (“You got a box out! That’s what matters, Grandma!”)
  3. Set low goals for what I can accomplish by Christmas. Handmade gifts may not be done on time or even at all. I preach the following to myself regularly: “Nobody knows what your intentions were but you. Others will likely love whatever you give as a gift. Don’t turn it in to something to fret about. (“Cuz nobody cares, Grandma!”)
  4. Recognize that the feelings of stress are simply a feeling, that no-one else can feel mine (they’re inside only me), and many of the things I think I need to do are cared about by only me. Do I need to cook dinner from scratch tonight? Do I need to dust the blades of that ceiling fan before people arrive? (“Really, nobody cares, Grandma.”)
  5. Flip the switch in my mind to think about the things I have been able to do: Have a great conversation with a friend. Fold the laundry and put it away. Teach an online class (!!).
  6. Be conscious of the present moment and enjoy what I’m doing. When I practice this it’s actually a lot of fun. Turn on loud music or listen to a podcast while I clean. Pour a short glass of wine while I cook.
  7. For the to-dos that are necessary, I do best when I address them one-by-one and tune-out the rest of the noisy list in my head. This keeps me calm and speeds up each little job. Many don’t take but a few minutes!

What are YOUR techniques when overwhelm strikes? Please share!

*Last weekend I returned from southern California where I stayed with my mom for a week. One evening we were stunned by this glorious sunset. (Can you find the sliver of ocean in pics 3 and 4? Far right.) The photo below is what I was met by back at home in northern Illinois.