“Friends” (Operation Christmas Child Blanket #3)

It’s packing and shipping time for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes! I really wish I had brought this up earlier, just in case anyone else’s wheels needed greasing to get rolling.

I say that because my wheels needed exactly that.

I had not *planned* on sewing a blanket for a shoebox this year. But a friend innocently nudged me in a different direction when, during an announcement at church about an Operation Christmas Child packing party, she tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Are you making a blanket?” I whispered back, “Not this year…” but then couldn’t stop thinking about another sweet blanket.

The thing is, it is SO MUCH FUN to give these little gifts. (I first made a shoebox blanket, “The Christmas Rainbow,” in 2016. In 2017 I made another, “Wacky Pockets,” simultaneously offering to folks on my email list a free course in how to make one if they’d commit to packing a shoebox too. In 2018 I sent a shoebox but no blanket.)

So two Sundays ago I went home from church considering how I could simplify the process in order to get a child-size blanket put together quickly. I decided to:

  • Use leftover strips, already cut (using only thin wools so the blanket can fit in a shoebox)
  • Use leftover binding from another project
  • Keep the pattern simple

It was a very good plan. Until I sabotaged swiftness by messing around with too many color drafts before finally settling on a likeable combo. But it’s done! And I had a lot of fun.

I chose the 5-9-year-old girl category. As I sewed, I thought about how important it can be to a girl to have a friend. And not just any friend, but a kind and understanding one. The blanket itself reminds me of those half-heart necklaces that fit together like a puzzle: its two halves quietly reflect each other, each with their pink-and-purple “pop” (the pocket, the “V” of a sweater), and the halves are clearly delineated by the skinny strip of pink stripe between them.

When shopping for additional shoebox items, I found these two little dolls. They are 1) just right for the size of the box, 2) just right for the colorful blanket, and 3) just right for a friendship. Here they are, testing what will be their cushy accommodations for the next several weeks until they arrive at their destination.*

Each time I pack a shoebox, I think of two particular children. They are actually adults now; a family we know adopted them from an orphanage in Russia many years ago. Four years before their adoption, while living in that orphanage, Marina and her older brother received Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. In Marina’s words, “The box gave me hope that there is kindness out there, there is love out there, and that I could have it. And I did have it…in a simple box!” Click below to see her tell the story:

This whole shoebox endeavor reminds me of the starfish story—attributed, I believe, to Loren Eiseley and adapted many times over—that goes something like this:

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…” I made a difference for that one.”

*P.S. Did you know you can “follow your box” when you purchase your label online? “The Christmas Rainbow” went to a girl in Zambia. “Wacky Pockets” went to a boy in Rwanda.

Where will this one go??

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

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.]

“Garden of the Gods”

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Two Christmases ago I gave my husband a card with a repeating pattern of camping tents on the front. Inside, I confidently announced my Christmas gift to him: a road trip to the national parks of southern Utah. It was on our bucket list! It would be our first road trip since our kids have grown up, leaving us on our own! We could start a new tradition!

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What I neglected to note as I wrote that card, however, was the actual fitness of my trip-planning skills to the requirements of the task. Was I confusing myself with someone else? Oh, THAT’S RIGHT. While this skill-set does exist in my household, it does not belong to me. It is my husband’s.

Hubby’s M.O: Go online and plan the trip.

My M.O.: Read a little, brainstorm (with hubby), go look up more stuff, bounce ideas (off hubby), write things down, float possibilities, write things down in multiple places, lose track, get overwhelmed, make impulsive decisions. Give hubby the impression that the plan is shaky. Does this sound even remotely Christmas present-ish??

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My guy was tremendously patient with me and allowed my slow, uncertain method to still be a kindness to him. I fumbled around just about as described in my M.O. above, with him providing only enough structure for my halting efforts to actually bear fruit. (I’ve mentioned before what a gift my husband is to ME.)

And in this manner it finally came to pass that we indeed took our two-week road trip to “The Mighty Five” national parks of Utah in September of last year. Two heads are better than one, and all that.

But about those parks! Have you been there? Do you live near there? IT’S MAGNIFICENT. The landscape makes you feel tiny but at the same time fills you up and enlarges you (somehow!) with its glorious spaciousness.

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In September I blogged an overview of the trip, including a handful of our photos. Then this last weekend we had some friends over for dinner and to see our pics from the trip (they’ve been asking!). And I realized I needed to share this blanket—a wedding gift and offshoot of our Utah road trip.

En route from northern Illinois to southern Utah, we stayed a night in Colorado (worth its own road trip, of course, but that will need to wait). We arrived at the end of a long day of driving, and our friends in Colorado Springs popped us into their car at dusk and drove us about a mile from their home to a favorite spot of theirs, the Garden of the Gods. It was our breathtaking introduction to the rich reds and vibrant greens we were about to see throughout the next 10 days. So as a very belated wedding gift to them and as a way for me to express our joy with the place and with them, I made a small throw/large lap blanket.

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My aim was to represent the land, the space, the juxtaposition of the brilliant colors that we stood over and under and among at all times. I experimented with some free-style stitching to capture the line and texture of the monolithic stones. And if you look just left and below the cloud, you can see my nod to Pike’s Peak, whose eminence is constantly felt in Colorado Springs.

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GO, friends. Look up The Mighty Five. Look up the US National Park Service. Look up AAA and get some old-school road maps that will rewire your brains. And if you need some trip-planning advice, you know who to call. I will hand my hubby the phone ;).

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“Garden of the Gods” (45″ x 55″)
This blanket has already gone to a good home.

Name That Blanket…Results!

Thanks, everyone, for stirring up your creative juices to help name this blanket! You guys are great. This is the blanket that got packed up in an Operation Christmas Child box a couple of weeks ago. But as I was writing the blog post about it, I suddenly realized it had been sent out without a name. But names matter! Many of you came to the rescue, adding ideas on Facebook, Instagram, and this blog. A couple of you emailed me.

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These are the wonderful ideas that came in. Making the final choice was difficult!

Blanket of Love
A Bright Beginning
Christmas Child
Promise
Pastel Peace
Colors of Love
Quiet Rainbow
Heaven’s Hues
God’s Perfect Promise
The Christmas Rainbow
A Rainbow of Love
Vibrant Love
A Box of Sherbet
Ribbon Candy
A Rainbow Promise Pocket

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After much deliberation, the WINNER IS…

    ♥ THE CHRISTMAS RAINBOW ♥

I realized I wanted it to be a name that worked from a child’s perspective, so I tried to think like a little one. “The Christmas Rainbow” rose to the top because 1) I could imagine a child thinking it; 2) both “Christmas” and “rainbow” hold all the significance of the promise within each one of those; & 3) the blanket is not REALLY rainbow colors or rainbow sequence, but it is unusual, like a rainbow at Christmastime would be. Credit for “The Christmas Rainbow” name goes to Melissa Dugan.

And now this blanket can find its proper place in the world, since it has been named :)

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[Click here for the full story of “The Christmas Rainbow.”]