[Don’t forget: During the coronavirus shutdown, the Wool Blanket Master Classis open for enrollment. It’s a work-at-your-own-pace video course with clear instructions and access to me for questions and feedback. Check it out here. Questions about it? Write me a note here.]
Amid many rainy days, we have had some spring beauties: clear, warm and sunny. To my mind, there’s no better place to work with wool than in lucid sunlight, where color and texture come alive together.
A recent day like that beckoned me to cut the sweaters for a custom-order blanket I’ve been sketching out. The late-afternoon slant of the sun set such a tranquil mood that I wanted to share some photos.
This blanket was requested by a friend and colleague I’ve worked alongside for over 20 years. The blanket will be a gift from Sara and her sisters to their father for his June birthday. In it will be three handknit sweaters made with care by his mother, Sara’s grandmother, many years ago.
A record of my work environs is incomplete without a quick pic of my “foldable rubbish bin” below, tucked in by the legs of the antique table which, when it’s not being called upon as a dining room table, holds my cutting mat.
I’m delighted that both my cutting space and my sewing space, two separate areas of our home, face west, into the sunset (and toward my the land of my roots!). Each spot coaxes me to linger and do just a little bit more in a golden wash of afternoon sun.
Admittedly, I’ve created a much quieter year online for myself. But I’m so happy to still be here, peacefully plodding away (haha! it’s true!) at making and then recording the things that come about.
My large and final project for this year was a custom order of three blankets. This came about through wonderful Marilynn, who first contacted me over a year ago about “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.” That blanket, an all-time favorite of mine because of its heartfelt subject matter, is now with Marilynn in her home in Arizona. Yea!
At that same time, she told me about her husband’s passing two years prior, the sweaters that he had loved, and her idea to have some legacy blankets made for her and her two sons.
I cautioned her that I had several other custom order conversations underway that involved nearly a half-dozen blankets … and Marilynn was content to be patient. Timing worked out well, and these lovelies were finally shipped off to her mid-November.
Marilynn and her husband Mike raised their family both in the US and abroad as Mike, a civil engineer, shepherded major public work projects to completion. He loved his profession and he loved creating and building. But above all, he loved his family and he loved humor.
My assignment: to take more than 2 dozen sweaters and combine them pleasingly for 3 unique blankets. I needed to make sure that sweaters that were particularly significant to each family member made it into their blanket.
With many of the sweaters, I included pieces of them in all three blankets, while working to maintain the integrity of each blanket’s vibe and color scheme. This project took a ton of thinking + trial and error!!
By the way, most of the sweaters were Mike’s, a few were Marilynn’s, and one was Dan’s from childhood.
Since Dan as the older son had the opportunity to live overseas as a child and still travels frequently, I dove right in for a blanket that portrays something of our planet’s variety. The patchwork style hints at a view from a plane window. The patterned cream stripes even remind me of two latitude lines on a world map: the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
Most specially, the sky blue pieces in here come from Dan’s own tiny sweater from Denmark. In the two photos below, Dan’s and his parents’ Scandinavian sweaters are lined up, left to right: Dan’s is the light blue, his dad’s has the brown patterns, and next is a sleeve from Marilynn’s blue and white one.
Mike had three half-zip sweaters by Orvis, two with large, wildly colorful brand labels inside the sweaters’ necklines. At first glance I thought they were mosquitoes (!) but then realized they’re fishing flies. So much better! I wouldn’t do well with a mosquito inside my shirt.
Each blanket got to have the neckline (if available) and the zipper from one of the Orvis sweaters. I assembled a pocket behind each zipper for a secret storage spot.
Scroll back up to the VERY FIRST photo at the top of this blog post. You see the close-up one in the shade? There my camera best captured what this blanket looks like in person. It is soft and muted, with much less contrast than appears in the stepped-back pics.
Younger son Adam spent his growing-up years mostly in Arizona, so for him I put together the strong, warm colors of the desert, deep and rich. Mike’s sweaters provided great raw material for this.
The V-necks with contrasting color insets remind me of the mountains that rise straight out of the flatland all over the American southwest where Adam continues to live with his family and near Marilynn.
And you know I love that desert!! I’ve written more about that here (a luscious desert landscape), here (its heat and color), and here (visiting grandparents).
In the midst of Adam’s robust solid horizontal lines I laid out two blocks of one of his mom’s sweaters (the soft blue and white) and chunks of his dad’s brown-and-white patterned sweater (the same that creates the “latitude lines” through Dan’s blanket). I felt that setting them in relief like this quietly marked his parents’ presence in the whole of his life.
Adam’s blanket gets the fantastic purple Orvis label inside the forest-green sweater along with its leather zipper and pocket.
Marilynn sent me two very special sweaters of her own in this collection, both blue and white. She received one from her father, who bought it in Copenhagen in 1964. I believe the other is from Denmark as well, and was bought with Mike. These two sweaters along with a third, a cream cable of Mike’s from Greece, formed the centerpiece of this blanket.
Marilynn is actively engaged with family, community, and travel but says she likes to stay behind the scenes, looking for ways she can help others. She’s been an EMT, worked for the Arizona Republic newspaper, and has taught in junior high. She simply likes people.
After I learned that Marilynn has spent time volunteering at a Phoenix art museum as a docent, I decided to preserve the three main sweaters’ neckline tags on small museum-label “plaques” underneath each corresponding sweater, in a sense representing Marilynn’s dad, Mike, and Marilynn herself.
Now Marilynn reports she is learning bridge—”To get ready for the retirement home!” she says. Hmmm. I can’t tell if this very busy woman is joking or not.
Marilynn’s blanket got the blue Orvis sweater (no fishing fly label though!) and its beautiful leather zipper. In the pic below you can peek through to the sweater that lines the back of the pocket. These were just plain fun to construct.
Marilynn has also sewn and quilted for most of her life, which is likely why she saved all Mike’s sweaters in the first place: to make something out of them, right?? I love the way she thinks :)
Marilyn, Dan and Adam—may these blankets allow you to bask in the warmth, memories, and pleasure of your wonderful family. In them, I’ve aspired to convey the joy and fullness of life Marilynn shared as she talked about your family. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this project!
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?
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),
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
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. ♥
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!
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.
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.