Dachshunds and Dr. Pepper

[Interested in reading other Legacy Blanket stories? You can find a list here.
Each is linked to its own blog post.]

These blankets started out being in tribute to a wonderful mom named Nancy, and in the end became about her entire family. In a way, that can hardly be helped when a Legacy Blanket takes shape.

Nancy passed late last year, and as Cindy and her sister Jennifer sorted through Nancy’s belongings, Cindy wanted to see what could be done with this glorious collection of cashmere sweaters. That’s when I heard from her. She wanted to have two blankets made, one for her and one for her sister. There were plenty of sweaters to do these up in!

After several email exchanges, Cindy and I talked by phone. Talking was harder than expected, as Cindy had lost her mom so recently. So we covered what we could and decided to take a break.

(This is where the design process begins for me, with a simple interview about the person whom these blankets are all about.)

Cindy emailed me later. Her note was fresh and tender with reflections on her mom’s life.

Nancy—high school history teacher,
wife of Barry (biology professor),
mom of two,
grandma of three (all girls),
dachshund-lover,
and (significantly) cashmere-wearer.

I learned Nancy grew up in Michigan, married a man with a beautiful voice, raised her family in Idaho, earned Teacher of the Year several times, was a voracious reader, lost her beloved nature- and animal-loving husband 16 years ago, and was warm and funny and enjoyed people.

But what was uppermost in Cindy’s mind was that Nancy adored her daughters and granddaughters and would do anything for them.

Allow me to introduce the two blankets that came out of all that Cindy provided me.

First is this colorful one. It’s for sister Jennifer, who loves bright colors. In my mind was a mish-mash of inspiration from the galaxy of people Nancy cared about—family, friends, students. So I made this blanket part Milky Way, part van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” and part Mexican traditional dress. (That last piece was part of the mish-mash because Jennifer is fluent in Spanish.) This blanket has lots of liveliness, fullness and joy!

But there’s also that stripe the color of Dr. Pepper right up the middle of the blanket, from one of Nancy’s own sweaters. Diet Dr. Pepper was her favorite. So when Cindy saw this blanket’s photo, she named it on the spot:  “Bubbles in My Dr. Pepper.” Perfect!!

This second blanket is the quieter blanket, with space for musing, memories, and simply noodling around, kinda like these pups. This one is for Cindy, the neutral-lover.

Cindy told me stories about the seven dachshunds her parents owned over the years since she and her sister were little. In fact, Cindy has a scar on her hand from when as a toddler she tried to bite Nipper on the tail—and he bit her back.

Nipper was the first and was followed by Nugget, Natasha, Greta, Heidi, Darby, and finally Coco— who now lives with Cindy’s family. This blanket is “Name That Dog.” I hope each dog’s personality can be found here!

“Name That Dog” has five pearly purple buttons in the corner for the five loves of Nancy’s life: her two daughters and three granddaughters. And purple, because that is the color of generosity. Two brown buttons are from dad Barry’s sweater. And everything is wrapped in a playful striped binding from one of Nancy’s sweaters.

Jennifer and Cindy,
As you each travel this new terrain of not having your mom around to call, to hug, to play Trivial Pursuits with, may these blankets, made with her very own sweaters, be a comfort and reminder of her great—and greatly demonstrated—love for you.  xo

[Interested in reading other Legacy Blanket stories? You can find a list here.
Each is linked to its own blog post.]

© Joan Olson
Bubbles in My Dr. Pepper” (66×78)
Felted Wool Sweaters

© Joan Olson
Name That Dog” (66×78)
Felted Wool Sweaters

Windows like blankets: CFA Voysey

This window.

A couple of weeks ago I opened a library book on CFA Voysey and saw THIS WINDOW. An immediate feeling of familiarity flooded me. This interesting, textured, window frame looks exactly like a blanket layout—all staggered and brickwork-like. I felt as though I had stumbled upon kin.

Charles Francis Annesley Voysey was a British architect and designer during the Arts & Crafts Movement. Although I can’t remember the exact trigger that sent me exploring at the library, I know it was one of his wallpaper or textile prints.

What do I love about his work? His drawings, full of motion, come alive on the page. His creatures exude personality. His pastoral colors walk me out the front door to the living world. And all this happens right in my head.

I’ve written previously about my undercurrent of obsession with design from that time period here and here and here. (I once unintentionally posted an uncredited photo of Voysey’s fabric—oops!) Other names you might recognize from Britain were William Morris, Philip Webb, C.R. Ashbee; in the U.S. there was Frank Lloyd Wright, Gustav Stickley, Greene & Greene. But there were many more! Influencers in the movement, in reaction against industrialization and the loss of human touch in the process of making things, advocated beautiful, simple design and craftmanship, generally with natural materials.

Voysey, though, was an independent thinker and something of a loner. He actually did not appreciate being connected to the movement. His background is interesting. He descended (by a couple of centuries) from Samuel and Susanna Wesley who also begat John and Charles Wesley, the brothers (and hymn-writers!) whose ideas led to what became the Methodist church. Voysey’s own dad was a reverend as well, but he broke with key standard doctrine and became an outcast in many circles. Voysey stood by his father. This apparently shaped a lot of his life.

I will leave more history either for another time or for your own research. But I’m delighted here to share some of his works that charm and inspire me.

More windows:

Magnificent homes and floor plans, in the English countryside, no less:

Wallpaper and fabric designs:

A sweet didactic puzzle-note for his grandchildren. It’s tricky, with his drawings of items we no longer use. His message, though, is appropriate for us all, whatever our age. (Translation below):

“My dear grandchildren, I hope you are busy working at something nice for someone. Service is the safest road to happiness. You will delight in realizing the pleasure you give to others. I would like to know what things you most delight in, and do something that adds to your well being.”

A sketch for an inlaid work-box. I love this! The man appears to be drawing and the woman knitting. To me, the little tree speaks of the organic nature of handwork. And when “head” and “hand” and “heart” meet—well, can we get any closer to Csikszentmihalyi’s flow?!

Finally a whimsical MAP! In watercolor! What is not to love about this?? (See full map below.)

So there you have it: Some visual goodness to wander through.

Who or what inspires you? Please share with the rest of us and leave a comment so we can keep our library cards in action this summer!

Credits:
Window photos from Arts & Crafts Houses II; C.F.A. Voysey
Wallpaper and fabric photos from C.F.A. Voysey; Design in the Age of Darwin
Map photo from Design in the Age of Darwin
Architectural drawings, letter puzzle and work-box sketch from C.F.A. Voysey

The Magic of Light

Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice

I will never stop being enchanted by the rhythm of the earth, by changing light, by the magic of light itself. So I woke up this morning, this summer solstice of 2018, and had to flip on my computer and look back at two previous posts here that feed that passion.

If this resonates with you, you may want to check out Summer Solstice, which explains the astronomical wonders of what happens annually on this very day. With illustrations!

And if sunlight sings to a powerful and moving song to you the moment it breaks the horizon each day, you may want to read The Light Changes Everything. Because indeed it does.

Happy summer solstice! Enjoy its pleasures! 

Summer Solstice

“Jonathon’s Bear”

JUNE. Spring turns to summer and school is out. Gardens shoot forth new growth where there was none. There are graduations and weddings and births. And so much celebrating!

So much NEW.

I deem it an entirely appropriate time to share a new baby blanket.

This one’s for a little guy who is still on his way. When he arrives, among the many loving arms awaiting him will be those of a particularly playful roly-poly polar bear cub.

For the record, cubs think waiting is hard.

Writing this made me think of Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne and a poem (of course!). Here is the last stanza of Milne’s “Us Two.”

So wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and Me.
“What would I do?” I said to Pooh,
“If it wasn’t for you,” and Pooh said: “True,
It isn’t much fun for One, but Two,
Can stick together, says Pooh, says he. “That’s how it is,” says Pooh.

Jonathon, may your life be full of people friends, animal friends, and some toy friends too.

They’re all terrific.

“Jonathon’s Bear”
38″ x 39″
This blanket has gone to a good home.

 

The Hope of Easter

Happy Easter morn! The sun is trying to make a difference in the early chill air here in northern Illinois. It’s a hopeful sign.

(These tulip images are from a Holland, Michigan, visit a couple of years ago. No tulips here yet.)

Yesterday while running errands I had an old favorite CD playing in my car. (Do I betray my age to admit I’ve got lots of beloved CDs in my car?) When this song came on, my ears perked up at the words and I pondered how it speaks to Easter, even though I bet that wasn’t its original intent.

This is Chris Rice, whose musicality and lyrics I have loved for 20 years. And this is “The Final Move,” recorded in 2005. The song relates love, loss, questions, and hope … just when we think there’s no hope left. Which is pretty much what I imagine Jesus’s disciples thought when he, their hope for the future and for their very lives, was killed on the cross.

Lyrics are here; a link to a YouTube video is below.

 

“The Final Move” 
by Chris Rice

Saw an old guy today
Staring long at a chess game
Looked like it was half-played
Then his tear splashed between
The bishop and the king, oh
He turned his face to mine
I saw the Question in his eyes
I shrugged him half a smile and walked away
It made me sad, and it made me think
And now it makes me sing what I believe

It was love that set this fragile planet rolling
Tilting at our perfect twenty-three
Molecules and men infused with holy
Finding our way around the galaxy
And Paradise has up and flown away for now
But hope still breathes and truth is always true
And just when we think it’s almost over
Love has the final move
Love has the final move

Heard a young girl sing a song
To her daughter in her pale arms
Walking through a rainstorm
“Because you’re here my little girl
It’s gonna be a better world,” oh
She turned her face to mine
I saw the Answer in her eyes
I shrugged her half a smile and walked away
It made me smile, and it made me think
And now it makes me sing what I believe

It was love that set our fragile planet rolling
Tilting at our perfect twenty-three
Molecules and men infused with holy
Finding our way around the galaxy
And Paradise has up and flown away for now
But hope still breathes and truth is always true
And just when we think it’s almost over
Love has the final move
Love has the final move

(Something right went very wrong
But love has been here all along)

Over on YouTube, Jeff Ponke put together some beautiful images with The Final Move. I highly recommend listening and watching.

“‘In this world you will have trouble,’ said Jesus.
‘But take heart! I have overcome the world.'”
— John 16.33

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
— Romans 5.8

“God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death,
because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
— Acts 2.24

“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.”
— John 1.5

 

Great and Holy Saturday

I’m trying to buckle down, slice up some wool sweaters, and get to work today. But my mind is distracted.

This day, this in-between day that sits after Good Friday and before Easter morning, always makes me somber. What took place that Saturday before the original Easter, the day of Jesus’ resurrection? We don’t know, and whatever it is is likely beyond my earth-bound comprehension anyway. But there is a poem that has moved me since I first read it in my 20s with one possibility of that particular Saturday’s events.

The poet is Madeleine L’Engle, also author of the much better known A Wrinkle in Time. She wrote this poem in response to a fresco in the Church of the Chora in Istanbul. She says in The Irrational Season (1977):

“I stood there, trembling with joy, as I looked at this magnificent painting of the harrowing of hell. In the center is the figure of Jesus striding through hell, a figure of immense virility and power. With one strong hand he is grasping Adam, with the other, Eve, and wresting them out of the power of hell.”

By Gunnar Bach Pedersen (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Great and Holy Saturday”
by Madeleine L’Engle

Death and damnation began with my body still my own,
began when I was ousted from my place,
and many creatures still were left unnamed.
Gone are some, now, extinct, and nameless,
as though they had never been.
In hell I feel their anxious breath, see their accusing eyes.
My guilt is heavier than was the weight of flesh.

I bear the waste of time spent in recriminations
(“You should not have…” “But you told me…” “Nay, it was you who…”).
And yet I knew my wife, and this was good.
But all good turned to guilt. Our first-born
killed his brother. Only Seth gave us no grief.
I grew old, and was afraid; afraid to die, even knowing
that death had come, and been endured, when we
were forced to leave our home, the one and only home a human man
has ever known. The rest is exile.
Death, when it came, was no more than a dim
continuation of the exile. I was hardly less a shadow
than I had been on earth, and centuries
passed no more slowly than a single day.

I was not prepared to be enfleshed again,
reconciled, if not contented, with my shadow self.
I had seen the birth of children with all its blood and pain
and had no wish ever to be born again.

The sound, when it came, was louder than thunder,
louder than the falling of a mountain,
louder than the tidal wave crashing down the city walls,
stone splitting, falling, smashing.
The light was brutal against my shaded eyes,
blinding me with brilliance. I was thousands 
of years unaccustomed to the glory.
Then came the wrench of bone where bone had long been dust.
The shocking rise of dry bones, the burning fleshing,
the surge of blood through artery and vein
was pain as I had never known that pain could be.
My anguished scream was silenced as my hand was held
in a grip of such authority I could not even try to pull away.
The crossed gates were trampled by his powerful feet
and I was wrenched through the chasm
as through the eye of the hurricane.
And then—O God—he crushed me
in his fierce embrace. Flesh entered flesh;
bone, bone. Thus did I die, at last.
Thus was I born. 
Two Adams became one.
And in the glory Adam was.
Nay, Adam is.

Perhaps this will carry your imagination—or heart—to considerations beyond bunnies, baskets and eggs, sweet though they may be, toward the immense power and astonishing purpose of the original Easter weekend.

(I’m so grateful to artists, writers, and musicians who can help me with this. Tomorrow I have one more to share! For earlier Easter posts, see here, here, and here.)

“The Things We Love to Wear”

“Do
the best you can
with what you have.”

—Debi T.’s grandmother

Debi and I communicated briefly on Etsy and then a little more by email. She had a collection of cashmere sweaters she had been wearing and was eager to have them made into two blankets. Her enthusiasm came through with each interaction:

She was seeking simple! Modern! Eclectic!

The box of sweaters arrived on my doorstep one evening while my husband and I were out. By drone, I wondered? It’s nighttime! Why are packages being delivered in the dark?! But I was eager to get home and open the box. What color theme would show up in the mix? What harmonies would these particular sweaters be singing together?

But when I sliced the tape, pulled back the flaps and peered inside, I couldn’t hear singing. I admit I was jarred by the cacophony of color. (Sorry, Debi! True confessions!)

There was pale blue, bright red, barely-there tans, black, a high-contrast argyle, deep green, hot pink, lavender, gray, and a determined yellow-and-blue stripe. Practically all I could see were dissimilarities. If you had asked me then, I would have said most were not playing nicely across the color wheel.

Because Debi had already written me with her preferences, I tried to get started. But honestly, I was floundering. I had no imagination, no inspiration, and a heavy heart about all the highly contrasting stuff I was about to put together.

I emailed Debi and asked if I could call her. This piece of the process—voice-to-voice communication—has become essential to me, and yet here I was, trying to skip it. Debi and I found a moment when our work schedules matched up, and we talked.

What is it about hearing a person’s story in their own voice and with their own words?

Debi told me about her grandma, who lived to be 104 years old. Her grandma loved cashmere, and when Debi was in college, she wore several of her grandma’s vintage sweaters. Debi has never quit the cashmere habit, and her teenage daughter has picked it up as well. They hunt for resale cashmere in good shape, wear it as long as possible, then turn it into blankets. (I’m not their first blanket sewist!)

Debi shared one of her grandmother’s life lessons: “Do the best you can with what you have.” (I noted to myself how fitting this was to my current project.) Then she ended with, “My husband is an architect. I love art and I appreciate the artist—but I’m not one!”

With that, she trustingly handed me carte blanche, and we said goodbye.

It was enough. I divided the prepped sweaters into two groups, threw in a few pieces from my own sweater collection, and immediately began laying out the first set, all without an ounce of floundering. I can’t explain how that little conversation made the difference, but it did. And I ended up having a ball creating these two unique blankets.

♦ • ♦ • ♦ • ♦ • ♦ • ♦ • ♦

This is “The Things We Love to Wear (Bright)” —

This is “The Things We Love to Wear (Muted)” —

And here they are side-by-side, singing and playing together nicely, after all —

 

*Photos taken at Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve

© Joan Olson, “The Things We
Love to Wear (Bright)” (61×68)
Felted Wool Sweaters

© Joan Olson, “The Things We
Love to Wear (Muted)” (64×70)
Felted Wool Sweaters

The Artistic, Norwegian Grandmother

One evening this note popped up in my Etsy conversations:

“I am looking for an artist to make a sweater blanket from the sweaters I inherited from my mother. She knit them. Do you take on projects like this?

Thank you,
Kelly”

Notes like this thrill me with their prospect of an exquisite new challenge!

In her next note I learned Kelly had eight sweaters ready to send and was hoping for two blankets, one for each of her teenaged twin sons.

And then I learned more. Kelly’s mom Sandy had passed away suddenly two years earlier. Sandy had been extremely involved with Kelly’s family. The loss was devastating to them.

Kelly, the only girl among her siblings, had put her mom’s sweaters in storage, not sure what to do with them. “My boys were very close to her. I think this would be a wonderful way for them to enjoy her work. I know my mom would love the idea of her sweaters being out and enjoyed!”

Sandy was not only a knitter. She worked in costume design and was an artist in several other media as well: watercolor, beadwork, paper artwork and freelance interior design. Prolific! Above all, though, for Kelly, “She was my best friend.”

Kelly had told me ahead of time, but I’d forgotten: Sandy was only partway finished with one of these sweaters when she passed away. When I brought Kelly’s box in from my front stoop and sliced it open, I wasn’t prepared for the emotion of seeing one navy-and-red piece, still on Sandy’s knitting needles. It was a tender reminder of the fragility of life.


Did I mention? Sandy was Norwegian. Her roots surface in many of her knitting patterns!

As part of the custom-order process, I spoke by phone with Kelly to learn what she was hoping for in having these blankets made. I asked about her mom and I asked about her twin sons, Bren and Sean. It’s when I get a feel for the people involved in the sweaters and the yet-to-be-made blankets that the design process begins for me.

After that conversation and after seeing all the sweaters, I decided to make each blanket have its own individual personality, and yet share some design elements. Each one would also contain something of each of Sandy’s eight sweaters. (Like twins: two individual personalities with a shared lineage and “design elements”!)

SO, in no particular order (and with faint apology for rather blurred blanket titles),
here is “The Norwegian Artist,” which as it turns out went to Bren:

And here is “The Artistic Norwegian,” which went to Sean:

Happy Valentine’s Day, Bren and Sean!
May your grandma’s beautiful sweaters keep wonderful memories of her
very close to each of you.

© Joan Olson
“The Artistic Norwegian” (60×75) and

“The Norwegian Artist” (60×75)
Felted Wool Sweaters

Musings of an occupational therapist fiber artist

After inadvertently taking a (two-month!) blogging hiatus, I am itching to be back at it. In the neuro-rehab world where I do occupational therapy, I often tell post-concussion patients, who are discouraged by their deep need for naps, sometimes you just gotta let your brain do what it needs to do. I think that’s what just happened to me.

Anyway, I am refreshed.

Although you haven’t heard from me, there’s been plenty of blanket activity, with not one, not two, but three custom orders for a pair of blankets each. Each pair is a unique design challenge, as all will be made nearly entirely of the customers’ own sweaters. Yowza! I’m excited!

The first pair is completed and I’m looking forward to showing it to you. BUT—they are to be Valentine’s gifts, so I must wait and not blow the surprise.

Hence, for now I’ll share some musings.

It’s February, my birthday month, and in the past I’ve made myself some birthday things (see here and here). But I haven’t felt that impulse this year. What I have felt is an impulse to reflect.

Yesterday I packed up a notebook, my much-used copy of Tara Swiger’s Map Your Business, and a mug of coffee (compliantly lidded) to head to a sunny local library. (Have you all noticed how hard it is to find a quiet coffee shop??)

Swiger is a coach to creative/handmade business owners. This book, subtitled “Define Success, Set Goals, and Make a Plan (You’ll Stick With)” , launched me into action last year in areas where I’d been stalling.

Swiger shines in her use of good questions to get her readers/students to define what the heck we’re doing and what we want. For instance, her questions got me to:

  • take note of accomplishments and lessons in the previous year,
  • identify my own “north star” (a lens of values through which I can measure success),
  • brainstorm up some dreams for setting the next year’s goals, and
  • lay out really really detailed action steps for my key goals.

I love her questions! They made me put all this on paper!!

My favorite page in the workbook, as it turns out? Swiger has the biz owner imagine their best version of the coming year and write it down as if it already happened. She says to “paint a picture” and include all the non-business stuff too.

I had never done this before. It was a clarifying process and therefore surprisingly easy to write. The question went straight to the heart of what I really cared about.

The outcome amazed me: 9 of the 11 things I imagined in my best vision for 2017 happened! Some of the successes were internal (less fretting about some tough things in the rehab world); some were external and concrete (a particular number of weekly hours protected for The Green Sheep); and one was a crazy bucket-list dream (a family trip to the United Kingdom)!

All that to say—I learned one very big lesson about commitment:

Daring to voice an aspiration is the first step toward its fulfillment.

Thank you, Tara Swiger!

On a personal note, I also recently read through my journal from last year. I would be remiss to not mention this, something that’s deeply important to me. The thing that struck me in my reading was how my questions, asks, and ruminations before God had not gone unheard. This gave me a great deal of comfort and joy (just like the Christmas carol says!).

Two are Better than One

Yep. Two are better than one.¹ But more like TWENTY are better than one. Way better.

Last month I hung out in a virtual classroom with several women who made a child’s blanket and packed it in an Operation Christmas Child shoe box in exchange for learning how to make a wool blanket, Green-Sheep style.

The thing that surprised me most? How much fun it was. Every day I looked forward to coming home from work, hopping on my computer and joining the ongoing discussion.

“How did sweater shopping go?” “What colors did you find?” “Who’s got a blanket ‘first draft’ laid out?” “Are you making yours for a girl or a boy?”

I miss it!!

Finally—here’s a little gallery of our work. I figure we were able to complete about 15 blankets, and here are 11 of them. The variety reflects the regions in which we live, what our resale shops held the day(s) we went shopping, aaaand…our many personalities. (Click on each photo to view it larger.)

The best part: how these bright and talented people made our virtual classroom feel pretty darn near to a real one.

 

¹”Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
—Ecclesiastes 4.9-10

 

 

 

“Wacky Pockets”

Argyle! Stripes! Patchwork! Puppy applique! There’s been a flurry of activity on the Facebook page where close to 20 creative women sewed their own sensibilities into felted wool blankets. I coached them with Green Sheep-style techniques and these sewists brilliantly took it from there.

We have been virtually planning, sewing, struggling, encouraging, and finally FINISHING our blankets alongside each other. I am charmed to see the beautiful work of these women and to imagine their gifts in the hands of youngsters around the world, via the simple shoe boxes we’re madly packing to be collected by Operation Christmas Child this week.

I made a blanket right along with the class, filming the process as I went. I made it for a boy this time, in the 5-9 age range. (I wanted to mix it up, as last year’s was for a girl.)

This blanket has cashmere and merino wools, a striped bias binding, and best of all, two pockets that button. I called it “Wacky Pockets” because one of the pockets is upside down.

Or maybe the other one is. It’s hard to tell.

Anyway, it’s been fun to think about a little boy this year, especially for this mom-of-two-daughters. I enjoyed picking out small, interesting things to pack in his shoe box.

So much stuff can fit in there! Because I am a container lover, I bought three for this little guy. One for his soap, a lock-top one in which the socks are packed, and a round, screw-top one. The Slinky and some awesome rubber-tip clips (from the hardware aisle!) fit perfectly inside it.

And now it’s off. Wing your way, little box, to a precious boy who could use your stuff.

I’m pretty sure this wish is the same for all the other women in our class. May the kids be blessed as much as we have by this little project. ♥

©Joan Olson
“Wacky Pockets” (42×52″)
Felted wool sweaters

“Do you teach how to make blankets?”

[I’m afraid it’s too late to join the class, but you are welcome to pack your own shoe box for a child in difficult circumstances. Follow this link and let a young person know someone cares. It means more than you can know.]

How could I have known how much fun I was about to have?

Two weeks ago, after brewing up the idea just days earlier, I launched a little online class. Well, I thought it would be little.

A still shot from my “Welcome” video, made in the guest bedroom. I accidentally got the bed in the frame.

I regularly receive questions from blog readers about making blankets: “How do you make your binding?” “Do you back your blankets?” “What kind of sweaters do you buy?” I do my best to answer these sewists, one at a time, generally through email. They are always enthusiastic and eager to learn, and are filled with questions. I love this interaction.

But each time I’ve been asked, “Do you teach a class somewhere?” I’ve simply said  “No.” That limp answer started to bother me. What was stopping me? I knew: fear of the unknown.

The first frame of my third video. I’m still figuring out lighting.

Then I received a notice about Operation Christmas Child coming up and was reminded I wanted to make a child’s blanket again for a shoe box. It clicked. This could be the kick in the pants I needed! How fun would it be to create something beautiful for kids alongside a bunch of stitch-loving women?

I thought of other ventures in life I had waffled on because of fear of the unknown—going to grad school, starting a blog…having children :). Without a doubt, great outcomes, all. I certainly appreciate having my ducks in a row, but that can’t always be.

Two weekends ago, with me needing to master several things quickly, the unruly ducks waddled everywhere:

How do I use the format of a private Facebook group to teach a class?
How do I sequence MailChimp’s forms and confirmations to move people
into a virtual classroom?
How do I make videos, edit and post them?

The dining room set up with lights and camera for a session on laying out a blanket. I had to be careful not to trip on cords while taping.

Fortunately, I already had an outline of course content because Tara Swiger’s practical book Map Your Business recently propelled me to draw up action steps toward some goals (even though I was avoiding executing them!).

So I borrowed photography lights, watched YouTube videos about how to make a video, made two videos using my outline notes, and sent out an invitation to my email subscribers to join me in making a child’s blanket for an Operation Christmas Child shoe box.

I expected three people to join me, and I am not kidding. I was a bit off. Two dozen people signed up!

Scripts for the videos, often taped to the lower half of the camera.

Now there we are, over on Facebook, having a ball. A group of fascinating women teaching, learning, encouraging and spurring one another on. And doing our level best to hit the National Collection Week deadline of November 13-20 for our blanket-filled, lovingly packed shoe boxes.

I’m learning so much from these women! It’s spurring me on to make a plan for more teaching.

[I’m afraid it’s too late to join the class, but you are welcome to pack your own shoe box for a child in difficult circumstances. Follow this link and let a young person know someone cares. It means more than you can know.]

A still shot of some fancy graphics, before I learned more video-editing. The advice certainly fits my learning curve too!

Art in the Barn 2017: Sizzling!

[Photo credit: artinthebarn-barrington.com]             

Last weekend I was at Art in the Barn 2017 in Barrington, Illinois. Although it was 94 degrees (!!) it was a wonderful couple of days.

I’m grateful Walmart still had battery-operated misting fans on their (clearance) shelves. I was able to share them and keep cool myself. I’m also grateful to my hubby for filling our ice chest with chilled waters to hand out to people through the weekend. Without the fans or the water, The Green Sheep may have had a two very tough days. It’s wool, people!

(By the way, those misting fans? They are a huge hit with young boys.)

I don’t do many shows (because so much of my work is custom orders), so it’s extra fun for me to meet people who enjoy wool and its colors as much as I do. Thank you to every single one of you who stopped by in the muggy heat and dared to think about blankets. I loved talking with you. Special recognition to you who tried on wool vests (and then bought them!). I commend you for your imagination for cooler weather ahead, and I hope you’re having fun making outfits with your new vests now that fall is really here.

Thank you all too, for your gate tickets and other purchases that contributed to the Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital Auxiliary and their worthwhile causes. It’s much appreciated.

[Photo credit: artinthebarn-barrington.com]                   

A surprising highlight came at the very end of Day 1, when I was folding up blankets to close down my tent for the night. Master juror Eulalio Fabie de Silva and chair Sharon Vogel approached me with an award for Best of Fiber 2017. A very fun honor!

Several of you told me you follow me online—what a kick that was for me! Many of you are fellow sewists and I love comparing notes. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to get a photo with you until it was too late. Next time, okay? I would value keeping names, faces, and stories together.

Finally, a special “thank you” to my faithful friend and photographer Kellyann Harmon of Kellwood Studio Photography for loaning me her vintage dress form and her wavy mirror for my “fitting room.” They were perfect :).

Here’s to looking ahead to next year!

New Fall Vests!

Are you in northern Illinois? Join me at Art in the Barn Sept 23-24 10 am-5 pm!
The endeavor supports important causes and has wonderful art.
Come try on a vest or cozy up with a new blanket —
I’ll be at space 45 (map here) and would love to see you!


◊   ◊   ◊      Vests!      ◊   ◊   ◊

 

I challenged myself this year to design and refine a vest pattern for Art in the Barn 2017. YES! I’m loving the result. And now I have 5 vests ready for the show THIS WEEKEND!

These are one-size-fits-most/medium, with variations in length and give in the fabric. The pattern’s throw-back cowl neck and loose, swingy fit create a vest that lays well and looks attractive on many body shapes and sizes. Allow me to introduce:

#1 Blue and Gray
Inspired by my obsession with turquoise and silver
$195

#2 Black and Tan
Versatile!
$195

#3 Autumn
I see gourds and leaves. What do you see?
$195

#4 Foresty Green
Named for the evergreens that beckon us toward winter
$195

#5 Denim
The perfect partner for jeans
$195

Come try some on!

On Brokenness and Mercy

Art in the Barn 2017 is soon here! I’ll be there, centrally located at space 45, and honored to be among such a fine group of artists and artisans. Mark your calendar if you’re local—it’s Just one more month until this enjoyable show opens! It’s a great size (175 artists, so not overwhelming) and the quality of art is wonderful. It’s a perfect time of year to appreciate a Midwest fall, and not too early to think about holiday gifts. If you’ve never experienced a Green Sheep blanket in person, come wrap up in one!

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

[Please visit my Etsy shop, The Green Sheep Studio, for purchasing information.]

With Art in the Barn coming up quickly, I’ve continued work on The Beatitudes blanket series enthusiastically. There are now four completed blankets, with ideas for the rest.  “Blessed are the Meek” and “Thirsting for Righteousness” were posted earlier. Today I have two more.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

This is “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.” The original verse says this:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
— Matthew 5:3

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

When I went about collecting colors and ideas for the vibe of this blanket, I dwelt on what it is like to feel scarcity or poverty in my spirit.

The spiritual side of me is where I want my living to be rich and full, where I want to make a priority of significant things in life and be faithful to those.

But it’s also the place where I am very aware of my shortcomings and inadequacies—aware of the poverty of my spirit. With these thoughts, I quickly chose the gray, charcoal, and neutrals.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

Of course this verse doesn’t end with the sorry state of an empty, broken, and poor spirit. That’s how it made the beatitude list, after all, because there’s a Part Two!

And Part Two says, “…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

My understanding of the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God, used interchangeably in some places in the Bible), is that it is both something for the future and something for now.

If I take my poor spirit and turn to the God who made me, concede my inadequacy and accept his sufficiency, then right there, in that place, I’m pretty sure sits the kingdom of heaven.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

Is this exactly what Jesus meant when he spoke these words? Of course I can’t know. But this is what those words stirred up in me, thus this is where the blanket began.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

[Please visit my Etsy shop, The Green Sheep Studio, for purchasing information.]

This next blanket, offering quite a contrast in color, is “Blessed are the Merciful.”

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

The original verse says,

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
— Matthew 5:7

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

I can’t explain this one so well; it’s abstract even to me. So this will be brief:

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

Mercy.

It is hoped for but seems unlikely.
It comes when it is not deserved.
It comes in waves, on a swell of relentless love.
It comes in layers, emotional, immense, overwhelming.
Its arrival throws one off-balance.
It comes with surprises and it surprises when it is given.

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

Where in the world would we be without it?

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

[Please visit my Etsy shop, The Green Sheep Studio, for purchasing information.]

“Satin and Lace”

“How do you back your blankets?”

This is a question I am frequently asked! Actually, I leave my narrow seams raw. It means the back of a blanket is a lot like the inside of the shirt or jeans you have on. (Spoiler alert: This is not true for the blanket in the current post!)

(You can see my blanket backs in this previous post and this one and this one, for example. Scroll down in each post to look for a pic where the back is flipped up and exposed.)

Why do I do this? Two reasons.

Reason #1 I love the drape of these stitched-together swaths of wool. They’re malleable. They move with cohesion and lightness. They can do this because there is no back to impede this.

Reason #2 To apply a backing to the various shifting, stretchable knits (from a mixture of sweaters) that comprise one blanket requires a LOT of careful and precise stabilizing. Yards of hand-basting and dozens of safety pins come into play. Except it’s more workout and less play! It takes a strong back to hold, pin, and baste while leaning over the work surface for an extended period. The time needed to do this well translates into a higher cost per blanket.

In sum, if an appropriate backing does not spoil the drape and the hand of the finished wool piece, it can be a lovely thing. Yet its cost in time, money, and back wear is high. STILL! Despite my carefully studied conclusions above, I have a backed blanket to show you.

It happened like this:

My client wanted a wedding gift of a lap blanket for her niece and husband. Serendipitously, for a project I was experimenting with, I had recently assembled several sweaters into a piece in the very colors she desired. I showed her. Perfect! But the fabric was too lightweight to hold its own as a lap blanket.

This client has worked with me before—she’s my lap-size blanket aficionado—and knows I’m a no-backing kind of gal. But she asked if I’d consider putting one on this time. I contemplated. If ever there was a time to try my hand at this, it would be with this manageably-sized blanket. I said yes.

I chose a very soft cotton flannel for the back, keeping the blanket cozy and pliable, and bound the edge with cashmere. While I considered doing some fancy quilt-type top stitching, I don’t have enough experience to know how to effectively conquer the shift and bunch-up challenges caused by the knit. I instead stitched along the stripe lines of the blanket.

Mid-project, my client brought to me some pieces of satin and lace she had found from her mother’s wedding dress. Could I use them? If so, the niece would have “something old” from her grandmother’s wedding dress permanently part of this wedding gift blanket.

There was enough lace to span two long edges, and enough satin to sew up three bridal flowers. I love the touch of antique white and the family presence and significance that comes with it.

Congratulations, Erica and Brian!
Like lace, may your marriage be unique and ever-intriguing;
like satin, may it ever be deep and rich.

©Joan Olson “Satin and Lace” (37×57)
Medium: Felted wool sweaters
SOLD

“Thirsting for Righteousness”

Thirsting for Righteousness

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
—Matthew 5:6

As far back as I can remember, I have done my thinking first in weight and image, in spatial impression and juxtaposition, in line and shade, and finally—at the very very last—in words. I can’t help it; it’s how my brain fires. (You can imagine what this does to having a conversation.)

I tell you this because this is how the images for each blanket in this series on the Beatitudes have come to me. I’m not researching the theme first, seeing what Bible scholars say about what Jesus meant, although I think that’s important. Instead, I imagine what might have come to me if I had been sitting on that hillside, listening to those words being spoken twenty centuries ago.

Last month I posted “Blessed are the Meek.” Now here is “Thirsting for Righteousness.”

The word righteousness in present-day usage can carry some negative stuff: a whiff of moral piety, a haughtiness, an outward appearance of being upright. But when I hear Jesus’ statement afresh, I imagine something different: a longing for right-ness, justice, fairness, deep caring, and the making of choices for the good of many, rather than the good of one. I think of humility, not pride.

Of course I don’t imagine those things in WORDS though! It was hard work to transform that last paragraph into verbal units for you!

Now I’ll forge ahead toward more words to attempt to convey how this blanket came to be.

The muted colors of the background are like daily life—lovely and comfortable, but not brilliant. In my mind, this background encompasses personal life, community life, life in our world. There are a few spots that stand out as highlights, but they’re still relatively subdued.

But then: those day lilies! When I look at them I want to cry. It’s that longing rising up—for justice, for caring, for goodness. The plant is not big, nor is it loud, but it stands in sharp contrast to what’s around it. It isn’t there simply due a will to do good or spread beauty; it’s there because of where its roots are.

The lily plant is rooted in a strip of blue, a nod to the prophet Jeremiah’s insight: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

I’m fairly certain the day lilies appeared in my head because of something Jesus said just upon the heels of his beatitudes. He addressed the topic of anxiety. (Apparently it’s not just a modern malady.) He pointed to the lilies in the fields near where his listeners sat, and noted that if God dressed the short-lived lilies so beautifully, he would care MUCH more fully for those who trust him (Matthew 6: 25-34).

So. Righteousness? True righteousness? I’m not capable on my own. But with my roots in the right place, amazing things can become possible.


“Thirsting for Righteousness”  (62″ x 76″)

“Blessed are the Meek”

[This blanket is available for sale in my Etsy shop here.]

“Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.”

— Jesus, in the book of Matthew

Just over a month ago I decided to try my hand at a blanket series, creating several large blankets around a theme. At that time, two friends and I had started reading and discussing the book of Matthew together. When we got to the Beatitudes in chapter 5, I knew I’d found my subject matter.

The word “beatitudes” comes from the Latin beātitūdō which means “happiness” or “blessing.” I remember thinking: what better attribute to imbue a blanket with.


May I set the scene for Matthew 5? Jesus is about 30 years old, he has recently left the home where he grew up and has begun to travel and teach in public places throughout the region of Galilee in Roman-occupied Israel. He has asked 12 men to accompany him and learn from him, like apprentices, which they do. Also, quite notably, Jesus has begun healing the people he meets of all sorts of diseases and ailments. Interest and crowds are growing. It is in this setting that he begins to teach, just as a rabbi would, and with an authority and credibility that surprise people, especially as he is a carpenter by trade, and from a small town.

It was on a hillside one day, surrounded by such a crowd, that he said (among many other things) “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

What? Meek sounds so unflattering! I don’t know anyone who longs to be known as the meek one!

But over at Dictionary.com I learn this (with italicized notes in brackets added by me):

          Meek
          1. humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others. [Worthy traits!]
          2. overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame. [The “meek” we don’t think highly of.]
          3. Obsolete: gentle; kind. [Check out these older meanings! They’re great!]

And Merriam-Webster offers these synonyms: demure, down-to-earth, lowly, humble, modest, unassuming, unpretentious.

 Sheep of course aren’t ideal representatives for meekness, but they’ve got some fitting characteristics. They’re docile. They’re unable to protect themselves. They depend on their shepherd. Yet when they feel assured that the shepherd is watching over them and tending to their surroundings, they go about their day at peace.

However, they’re also not so smart. (Sorry, sheep!) But perhaps that keeps them humble?

If Jesus insinuated that meekness is a quality worth having, then I propose that it’s worth reconsidering how we think about it in our modern-day world, maybe in these terms:

gentleness
humility
kindness
modesty
endurance
patience
healthy deference
and even…trust.

Then there’s the last part of that verse—whoa!

What is the blessing that the meek will receive? They will inherit the earth. What can that even mean?? I don’t know, but it sounds amazing. Is it like a fairy-tale king entrusting to his beloved daughter a sound, cared-for kingdom, with peaceful people tending beautiful, full fields and lands? Even that picture is poor next to the possibilities contained in the blessing of this beatitude.

But someday perhaps we’ll know :)

“Blessed are the Meek” (62″ x 72″)

This blanket is available for sale in my Etsy shop, here.

“Dory Finds a Pearl”

[Life has been full lately, and the fanciful world in which I am a prompt blogger is truly just imaginary. I actually finished this blanket in November and finally put together the photos. Better than photos though? I wish I could hand you this blanket to hold in your arms. It’s luscious!]

Faithful Green Sheep collector, supporter and Disney-devotee Gloria welcomed her new granddaughter Margaux last year. Margaux is French for “pearl,” and since she arrived in the year “Finding Dory” was released, it was a natural to pair Dory with a little pearl for this blanket. (This is actually the 12th Green Sheep blanket for this family! See their other Disney-related ones here and here.)

I decided to keep the water in true water colors and added movement with the diagonal stripes. For femininity, I included the lacy pieces of the green sweater and used pink for the border and in the oyster. I love that the blanket did come out with such a feminine feel! I also made this blanket large enough for a young child, so it can grow with her. (In fact, this blanket became the pattern I used for the Operation Christmas Child shoebox I packed last Christmas. The blanket measures larger than 3′ x 4′ and yet still rolls up and leaves room for lots of other goodies in the shoebox. More about that blanket here and here.)

Little Margaux, may you find lots of pleasure in using this soft, warm blanket over the years. And just as Dory, out and about on her adventures, happened upon the treasure of a precious pearl, I imagine you also will discover many fine pearls in life. And yet! There is one whose value is greater than them all (Matthew 13:45-46). Seek until you find, girl!

“Dory Finds a Pearl” (40″ x 49″)
This blanket has already gone to a good home.

“Family”

Little Nora was born this week. In old-school style, her parents decided not to learn her sex ahead of time. She, with emphasis on the gender, was a true surprise to them.

In line with that, I got to make a blanket that could work either way, for a boy or for a girl—another fun challenge in my blanket-making adventures.

Each parent had items to contribute (faithfully preserved by their moms), so we’ve got pieces of mama Lauren’s and papa James’ baby blankets (three of them) and a spectacular spaceship T-shirt here.

In a very special addition, Uncle Jon has a piece of himself here too. Marine Lance Cpl Jonathan Collins, older brother of Lauren, was killed in action in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 at the age of 19. He is a deeply beloved hero, and his family and our community meaningfully keep his memory and the memory of his sacrifice alive. Patches of Jon’s fatigues are part of this blanket, so little Nora can touch and love her wider family. As she grows she will learn the impact of all of her family members on her life.

(Yoo-hoo! You out there in your 50s too: is this the sort of stuff you ponder regularly?? The reach of generations and family web fascinates me with its breadth and impact.)

It wasn’t until I was laying the pieces out that I noticed a slice of the fatigues had “USMC” and the Marine corp symbol just along the edge. I’m glad it made it in —

It was a pleasure to make this blanket, commissioned by a childhood best friend of Nora’s maternal grandmother. See? More far-reaching impact of family and all who love them :).

Welcome, little Nora, to your dear tribe.
May you discover the wonders of it throughout your entire life.

“Family” (42″ x 41″)
This blanket has already gone to a good home

[Memorial Day is around the corner. Take time to remember and honor veterans young and old, especially those who have made an ultimate sacrifice. We really are in this all together.]