“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.]

“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.

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

“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