“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

“A Soft Answer”

[The final blanket is ready for next month’s Art in the Barn! I will be displaying 5 brand new big blankets along with a handful of others, in addition to some baby blankets, Christmas stockings, and women’s mittens. Whatever doesn’t sell will go up onto my Etsy site when Art in the Barn is over. If there’s a particular item you are interested in, don’t hesitate to send me a message!]

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Recently I’ve been reading through the book of Proverbs in the Bible. Proverbs is known for its enduring wisdom, and each time I read it I find plenty to provoke my thinking as I view 21st century human behavior — mine included — through its lens.

Reading and designing meld together for me in mysterious ways, and midway through my work with these grays and blues, I realized this blanket was all about an axiom from Proverbs:

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

– Proverbs 15.1

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Earlier this year I landed in a situation with a friend where I recognized my response to their emotion would make or break our relationship moving forward. (Don’t wonder if it was you! It wasn’t!) I carefully thought through what outcome was important to us both and how I could help aim us there. My approach involved lots of soft answers.

And then there’s marriage. If 33 years of marriage have taught me anything, they have shown it’s wise indeed to keep my lips together, especially when they want to fly in action and articulate my flawless, clear-headed perspective (yeah, right). To make things worse, I’m a concrete thinker, which translates into direct talk, which can definitely come off as harsh. Not good.

The fact that I’ve learned this through trial-and-error does not mean I always get it right.
But I’m coming along :)

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For a great read on defusing a tough situation with an angry person, I suggest this brief article by Nadia Persun, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist. I don’t know if she came up with the cupcake imagery herself, but it’s a great handle to grab onto in a heated moment. If you are confronted by anger, Dr. Persun recommends that you…

Give out an imaginary cupcake.

Cupcakes are sweet , peaceful, calming and smile-inducing. Raging people often are in dire need of an imaginary cupcake. A big part of their anger is driven by their belief or feeling that they never get any or someone stole or damaged their cupcakes. So, generously give them one or even a couple, even when they seem to be undeserving of any sweetness.

Despite the obnoxious behavior, loud shouting, screeching voices, clenching fists, pointing fingers, red faces and all, most angry people have a sad message. Most likely they are trying to tell you that they are feeling hurt, ignored, disrespected, unappreciated and unloved.

 [From How to Switch Off an Angry Person]

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Finally, Proverbs has a relevant postscript for us:

Reckless words pierce like a sword,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

– Proverbs 12.18

My best to you, fellow person, as you thoughtfully pass out cupcakes and soft answers!

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This soft blanket drapes beautifully. The blanket and bias binding contain lots of lambswool, cashmere, and angora. Its details include necklines, a small pocket, a button placket, a shoulder tab with an interesting button, and appliques of flowers.

“A Soft Answer” (Size 65 “x 81”)
This blanket has already gone to a good home.

 

“Learning to Swim”

Turtle

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In June I had the pleasure of responding to a fellow wool-enthusiast by sending off a blanket for her expected grandbaby’s first shower. This customer, Lona, is previously known to me — and to you too, if you’ve been following my blog for a while. Lona and her husband own a small farm in Holland, Michigan. They raise sheep and now cows, beans and other crops, and in their “free time” process their wool to make and sell wonderful wool products. (Shop for their wool and beans here.)

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Their Shady Side Farm hosts an annual late-winter Shearing Day event, opening their doors to the public when they bring a hired sheep-shearer in prior to lambing season. My husband and I attended three years ago, and my appreciation for sheep, their amazing wool, and their patient handlers grew tremendously. (You can read my blog post about that exceptional day here, and I’ve added a couple of photos below.)

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Lona’s daughter Anne, the momma of the coming grandson, is a blogger and masterful do-it-yourselfer. The daughter of farmers? Of course she’s a DIYer! She’s the one on the right above, skirting a wool fleece freshly shaved from a sheep. Anne blogs about household projects and other interesting things over at Planting Sequoias. Her energy is inspiring!

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Grandma Lona’s one request for this new baby blanket: that it have an applique of a turtle. It turns out that Anne and husband Kenny’s backyard gently rolls right down to a lake with … turtles! I imagine turtles lined up like bumps on a log, stretching their pointy turtle-noses on their thin turtle-necks toward the sun — just as heat-lovers around the world are wont to do.

And that baby turtle?

Annes lake IbAnnes lake IIaPhoto credit: Anne of Planting Sequoias. Used with permission.

That baby turtle, of course, would be learning to swim.

Kenny and Anne, I wish you a sweet time of getting ready for your own little guy to break through to the surface and into this beautiful world.

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“Learning to Swim” (36″ x 40″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.


“Easy Together”

Easy Together

I recently got to make a blanket for a newly married couple. In a fun twist, I interviewed them after they’d been married a few months. They impressed me with how comfortable they were with each other and how much they enjoyed each other’s presence. Meet Steve and Kelly. They have a delightful, easy way together.

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Monograms on the blanket adapted from “Roycroft Initials” by Dieter Steffmann on dafont.com

Easy Together

Steve and Kelly went to the same high school but weren’t acquainted — until a few years later when Kelly’s older brother and Steve’s twin brother wound up living near each other. That’s when they found themselves coincidentally visiting their brothers at the same time — and looking forward  to seeing each other at least as much as to seeing their brothers. I asked what drew them to each other.

Kelly: “He’s funny! And he paid attention to me.”

Steve: “She was good to me, she always is. We just get along really well.”

Kelly: “We never fight. I don’t think we’ve ever truly had a fight. Or if we do, it’s like this– I say, ‘Shut up, Steve!'” Kelly says this last part very sweetly.

Steve smiles.

Easy Together

Easy Together

Kelly loves decorating the home they just bought. “I never really cared about decorating before because where I lived was never mine.” She reflects. “Well, I guess I did decorate my dorm room. I used gray and blue, just like now.” It appears this blanket may have staying power.

Easy Together

Easy Together

Steve loves sports. He grew up in a family of athletes — four boys and one girl who all have been serious in their sports. Now he plays fantasy sports of all kinds. He also loves golf. That comes up again later in our conversation.

Easy Together

Easy Together

I ask the couple if they have any advice about pulling off a wedding or about the early days of marriage.

Steve is succinct: “Don’t go to bed mad. Let her plan the wedding.”

Kelly continues: “Planning a wedding sounds so hard at first. Then you realize the main things are your date and the location. Once you choose those, the rest is simple.”

Steve adds: “We’re some of the simplest people we know.”

Kelly counters: “Well, except he likes to play golf. It’s expensive!”

Steve: “But that’s that only thing I do!” Kelly smiles.

Easy Together

Kelly teaches high school foods and loves to cook. “But I don’t really cook for Steve now because I cook all day at work. He cooks more than I do. Sorry, Steve!” she apologizes.

Easy Together

Easy Together

Can you feel it? So easy with each other. That’s why I added the pockets. Do pockets not make any article of clothing feel a little more relaxed and welcoming? And after I finished the blanket, I found that the placket of neckline and buttons under the “S” and the “K” reminded me of a comfortable, well-loved cardigan. A little Mister Rogers-like. Just right for these two young people, comfortable in marriage and happy with each other.

Easy Together

Easy Together

“Easy Together”  (60″x75″)

This is a custom-order blanket.

 

 

 

 

The Irish Trio

Irish Trio

In time for St. Patrick’s day: The Irish Trio.

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These three blankets belong to The Green Sheep Legacy Collection, as they commemorate the life of a loved one who has passed away. They are made in warmhearted memory of Mariclare  — with her great love of Ireland in mind — and will go to her two daughters and granddaughter, as a gift from her son John and his wife Maureen.

Irish Blue

Mariclare was actually a step-mom to the four children she raised, but I only bring up that small detail in order to tell you her story. Mariclare gamely married Jack, a widower with four children — two boys, two girls — between the ages of 7 and nearly 1. Jack had tragically lost his first wife to brain cancer on the very day she gave birth to their youngest, a baby girl. This was the needy young family that welcomed Mariclare. To these four children, all grown up now, she has simply been Mom. Her daughter-in-law calls Mariclare a saint. She may not have been as well-known as Saint Patrick, but she may have been just as crucial to one small family in God’s great kingdom!

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Mariclare’s family contributed a lovely cream-colored Irish afghan of hers for the blankets. That beautiful afghan shrunk to a very small size, causing me to cut its knitted cable and basket-weave stitches into long strips rather than the rectangles I usually employ for blankets. I added in a Celtic-design sweater I’ve been saving, with chains of Celtic knots, to tie the trio together as well.

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Here is “Irish Blue.” The cream pieces from Mariclare’s afghan are a geometric echo of the Irish knotwork against a rich deep blue background. Blue was St. Patrick’s color! —

Irish Blue

Irish Blue

Irish Trio

Irish Blue

Irish Blue

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Here is “Irish Cream.” In this, the afghan pieces– they are the ones that are contiguous from one edge of the blanket to the other — are part and parcel of the cream body of the blanket. —

Irish Trio

Irish Trio

Irish Trio

Irish Trio

Irish Trio

Irish Trio

And finally, this is “Irish Grey.” The creamy afghan stripes and the shamrock complement the subtle greys really beautifully. Very restful. —

Irish Grey

Irish Grey

Irish Grey

Irish Grey

Irish Grey

Irish Grey

For daughters Ann and Kathi and granddaughter Maggie, may these blankets be loving reminders of  your precious mom and grandmother. Your family is grateful to you for all the care you gave her.

The Irish Trio (each approx. 52″ x 68″):

“Irish Blue”

“Irish Cream”

“Irish Grey” 

The blankets have already gone to good homes

A Beautiful Intervention

Tim and Stephanie were pretty sure they were finished having children. They had one son and one daughter — a comfortable family. And then out of the blue Stephanie had the distinct impression they should have a third.

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“Why don’t you pray about it?” recommended Tim, who places his confidence in God but was skeptical about another child. Stephanie’s sense about it only increased, but she knew that wasn’t what Tim was hoping for. One evening in front of television, Stephanie suggested perhaps Tim ought to join in on the prayer. Tim was respectful but still rattled by the entire idea. “Okay, I will,” Tim responded, “but I think it’s going to take a sign to actually persuade me.”

     “What kind of a sign?” asked Stephanie.
     Tim replied, “I don’t know — maybe a burning a bush.”

They turned back to the television and just moments later, big as day on the screen before them, was a bush consumed in flames. Tim couldn’t believe his eyes.

Before long, Stephanie was pregnant.

Early blood tests to check the baby’s health, however, indicated there might be problems. Stephanie was told to prepare for a possible miscarriage. On the day of her OB appointment to listen for the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, she feared there would be none. Stephanie paused in the parking lot to text a friend from her women’s small group at church. “Please pray. I’m going in to hear the heartbeat.” That friend started a chain to pass the request for prayer on to many more people. In the doctor’s office, Stephanie heard her little one, alive and well.

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At the beginning of her pregnancy, Stephanie was being followed by her regular endocrinologist for a long-standing thyroid imbalance. Although he was out-of-state, he knew her well and continued to monitor her meds from a distance. He told her it would be best to stay on her regular meds until the third trimester. But abruptly and confusingly, insurance denied medication coverage and Stephanie had to discontinue these meds much earlier than planned. With the change, Stephanie quickly chose a local endocrinologist to now follow her through the pregnancy.

At one appointment, the new endocrinologist felt something foreign in Stephanie’s neck and requested a biopsy. The test revealed two fast-growing cancerous tumors on her thyroid. Surgery could not be put off. So when the baby was at about 28 weeks, Stephanie — less concerned about the cancer (a very treatable kind, she says) than about the effects of the anesthesia on her baby — went in for the operation. She says there was a palpable, peaceful presence in the room; she was certain that God was caring for her and her baby. The surgeon removed the now-three tumors and some lymph nodes.

It is not lost on Stephanie and Tim that had she not gotten pregnant, had there been no need to see an endocrinologist face-to-face, this cancer would most likely have gone undetected until it was too late to treat it effectively. And the medication she couldn’t take because of insurance denial? It would have caused the tumors to grow even more quickly. In retrospect, Stephanie is incredibly grateful for the sequence of events.

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Several weeks after surgery, Stephanie began to show signs of pre-term labor. On her way to the obstetrician’s office one day due to early contractions, Stephanie once again paused in the parking lot to text her friend in the small group. The call for prayer once again went out to many. Within 6 hours, labor stopped and there was no dilation.

Finally, at 38 weeks, just as scheduled, little Noah was delivered. He was healthy as could be.

Stephanie, who has been telling me Noah’s story by phone, finally stops. “All of it –” she says, “It is a beautiful intervention by God.”

I have one last question for her, because I had heard bits and pieces of her story earlier through her women’s small group who ordered the owl blanket as a gift for her. On the phone I ask, “So, in addition to the burning bush…wasn’t there something about a rainbow?”

“Oh! There is!” says Stephanie. “At the beginning of the summer, before my surgery, we took our kids up to Kalahari in the Wisconsin Dells. It’s their favorite place to go. At that point, we knew we were having a boy but hadn’t decided on a name yet. We asked the kids for their input too. They came up with some hilarious things! But while we were there, we settled on the name Noah. And as we drove home from that trip, we saw one, two, three, FOUR separate rainbows. Our kids were so excited about seeing the rainbows right after we chose the name ‘Noah.’ They told us: ‘It’s like a sign that our baby is part of God’s big story!'”

Noah, you certainly are part of God’s big story. Welcome, little guy, to this beautiful world and into your loving — and amazed! — family. Already, God has shown his faithfulness to you.

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“Whooo’s Sleepy?” (34″ x 40″)

This blanket already has a home.