“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.]

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 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