A golden wash of afternoon sun

[Don’t forget: During the coronavirus shutdown, the Wool Blanket Master Class is 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.

How I Store Felted Wool Sweaters

Living in the Midwest, this time of year always feels to me like a big gift: The cold, the winter, the lure of the indoors provides a luscious lull for doing projects. (The Luscious Lull! I may coin that.)

In previous winters/early springs, in addition to working on many, many blankets, I also…

This year, a welcome burst of energy has alighted upon me and I’ve tackled household painting projects—trim, doors, bathrooms. It’s a task I actually love to do. I get to put on old clothes, turn on some funky music, and take my time at making something old into something new.

But you know what? I’m still dreaming about sewing.

What dreams, you ask? Well, first, I have two custom blanket projects I’m ruminating upon. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked before about how I enjoy this stage: looking at the sweaters, mixing and matching them, mulling over stories the client has told me. So that’s one sewing thing I’m dreaming about.

Second, for my birthday (it’s this month and it’s a milestone one), I asked for a fitting system for adjusting, designing, and sewing clothing. I caught the bug last year with Brooks Ann Camper’s Skirt Skills course and want to learn more. We’ll see what dream-worthy sewing projects I can fit into this season along with the household painting.

But all of that to say—
♥ THIS SEASON MIGHT BE YOUR Luscious Lull TOO ♥

And if in your lull you are working with wool sweaters, you might be wondering about storage.

First of all, you need to know: I will never win an award for being either terribly organized or fastidious. The ranking motivators for my storage choices are:

functionality and efficiency
with an margin for laziness.

Thus, my outlook on wool storage may not be the one with which you’d align yourself. There are certainly other great resources and opinions online. (Google “felted wool storage.”) However, if you’d like to know what my own experience has taught me, keep reading.

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My 5 recommendations for wool storage:

Start with clean wool. Wash and felt your sweaters before storing. Any food or other organic residue left behind on a pre-worn sweater will invite pest damage or stains. (For neat stacking in storage areas, I also cut my sweaters apart prior to felting.)

Allow wool access to air. I don’t store my wool in anything air-tight. There are opposing views about this online. Some believe air-tight plastic is the best protection; others have found moisture inside of plastic bags with their wool. I choose to provide some air. A lidded plastic bin likely still allows the wool to “breathe” as long as the bin isn’t air-tight. But even in bins, I recommend nestling a paper-wrapped bar of lovely-scented soap inside with the wool. I don’t like how felted sweaters smell if they are closed up.

Keep wool away from insects and critters. A garage or a dark, quiet basement may allow unwanted creatures to get to your wool. Store the felted sweaters in a clean area where there is some human activity.

Don’t expose wool to direct sunlight. Over time, the whites/creams will yellow and the bright colors will slowly fade. I learned this from experience.

Don’t use mothballs for storage. At least, I don’t recommend it. First of all, there’s their toxicity. Second, it can be very difficult to get rid of their odor.

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How I apply the 5 recommendations in my own studio:

Because I love to have both easy access to and inspiration from the wools I’m working with, I store most of my working sweaters where I can see them. My studio is a loft space in our home: a large open area above our living/dining room. I have a west-facing window and, nearby, shelving that was once an enclosed closet. Years ago, prompted by a daughter headed toward interior design school, we removed the closet doors and had lovely wood shelves built and installed by a friend. It’s been occupied by wool ever since. The shelves are inset and protected from the sun, and the wool has done very well here.

This shelving alone is not enough space for all  the sweaters I have. Let me just say, I have a very patient spouse who tolerates The Green Sheep business spilling over into other storage areas, all in neat stacks and easily accessible to me.

I store most finished product in clean, fresh cardboard boxes also in the loft area, where the wool can breathe, be kept clean, and be protected from sunlight. I include a bar of soap in each of these (just as I recommended above with plastic bins).

I store scraps worth keeping in plastic bins, stacked without lids in an unused closet, also where the wool can breathe, be kept clean and protected from sunlight. I occasionally organize the scraps into neat piles according to color shade within their bins, but it all quickly becomes disorderly again when I go searching for the perfect match for a project.

Pretty much, that’s it! That’s the system I’ve decided upon through my years of working with wool. It has worked very well for me and my situation.

Did I forget anything?
Do you have any questions?
Especially, how do you guys store your wool and what have you learned through trial and error?

Mike’s Life: To Love and to Laugh

I’ve got one final post for 2019!

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.

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I’ll begin with Dan’s blanket:

“With Dad: Life Around the World.”

© Joan Olson
“With Dad: Life Around the World” (73″x68″) 
Felted Wool Sweaters

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.

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Next is Adam’s blanket:

“With Dad: A Richly-Colored Life”

© Joan Olson
“With Dad: A Richly-Colored Life” (73″x66″) 
Felted Wool Sweaters

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.

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Finally, here is Marilynn’s blanket:

“A Life in Sweaters.”

© Joan Olson
“A Life in Sweaters” (75″x70″) 
Felted Wool Sweaters

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!

“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??

“What one thing in class surprised you?”

Tap here for class details and to enroll.

IMPORTANT: After this Fall 2019 session of the class, I don’t plan to open it again until fall of 2020. Even if you intend to wait until after the new year to start a blanket, you might consider signing up for this session. You can access it—and the group’s private Facebook page—ANYTIME!

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In offering the Felted Wool Blanket Master Class again this fall, I want to provide useful information for anyone wondering if this course might be the right fit. Earlier this week you were able to read what things students have found most valuable in the course. Today I thought it’d be fun to hear what most surprised class participants. Here you go!

“What was the one thing in the class that surprised you?”

“I was surprised that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. You break every step into small, easy to follow segments. I wasn’t as overwhelmed as I thought I would be.” —Anonymous*

“Your wonderful design tips! This was an extra bonus beyond the mechanics of blanket construction.” —Annie

“How much fun it is so see everyone’s creations, and also how helpful it it to communicate with everyone through FB, on different issues we might be having making the blanket.” —Anonymous

*Some responses are “Anon” due to my experiment with one anonymous survey.

“I was totally surprised at how wonderful my blanket turned out, a testament to your organized way of instruction! I made a few mistakes along the way, but I was either able to fix it or it wasn’t noticeable. The wool was forgiving, especially on the binding.” —Linda B.

“I was surprised at how much I looked forward to seeing everyone’s work and questions.” —Sara

“How manageable it was!” —Anonymous

“The wonderfulness of the group. So much fun.” —Linda C.

“How difficult the design phase is! It’s also arguably the most important part.” —Timary

“Gosh, there were so many things. I have been making my own blankets for several years now, and I guess I was most surprised and delighted to learn from you some techniques for improving the quality of my blankets. This last blanket I made was a vast improvement in quality from some of my more recent blankets, and that thrilled me.” —Pat

“All of the practical tips and demonstration. The color selection and design section was a pleasant surprise.” —Anonymous

“How fun it was to be part of a group all doing the same thing, reading the comments, and seeing the pictures.” —Sally

“That there is such a thing as twin needles. I’ve had my mom’s sewing machine for 18 years. She had the twin needle in with the accessories; I had never even noticed it before. I will definitely use the twin needles again.” —Simone

Earlier this week I posted answers to the question, “What was the most valuable part of this class?” Later this week,  I’m excited to be able bring you a special guest interview with Marina, a student from an earlier session of the class. She is about to begin her third blanket!

Would you like to learn more about the course? You can find that info HERE. Do YOU have any questions you’d like to ask me about the course? Please contact me HERE. I’ll be glad to answer!

“What was the most valuable part of class?”

Tap here for class details.

IMPORTANT: After this Fall 2019 session of the class, I don’t plan to open it again until fall of 2020. Even if you intend to wait until after the new year to start a blanket, you might consider signing up for this session. You can access it—and the group’s private Facebook page—ANYTIME!

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Each time I’ve taught how to make blankets, I’ve solicited feedback so I can be sure I’m addressing all the right things. And each time I’ve taken an online class, I carefully read what previous students say about that course. It’s really helpful in deciding if a course is a good fit.

So here for you are the thoughtful answers of past students to one particular post-class question:

“What was the most valuable part of this class?”

“There were SO many valuable parts—but I especially appreciated the discussion on design/color arrangement, the resources (books), using a color wheel, and making the binding. The advice on how to sew it on was so helpful!” —Linda

“The tips for cutting the sweaters!” —Annie

“The comfortable and non-dogmatic way you teach. You inspire confidence right away, you teach step-by-step so that it is never overwhelming. Your responses to any questions are prompt and most helpful.” —Anonymous*

*Some responses are “Anonymous” because I experimented with using an anonymous survey for one class session.

“The videos were invaluable—watching you actually do what you were explaining made all the difference. For example, I had never put a binding on an item but easily understood with the video.” —Timary

“Your lessons were very well-organized and they were digestible bits of lessons. I often had only 30 or so minutes of time to spare, and your short lessons allowed me to feel like I was able to stay caught up! I loved that you had written notes in addition to the videos.” —Pat

“Learning how to handle the wool. It is vastly different from cotton. Wiggles and moves all over the place. Seeing the techniques you used to cut and sew it were helpful.” —Patti

“I loved that the course was broken down into manageable parts. It was great to get feedback from you and others in the group. By encouraging us to introduce ourselves, it really felt like we were there to support each other. Also, you know a lot and could provide references or additional resources to learn more if we wanted to.” —Sara

“I loved everything about the class: listening to you (you have such a soothing voice), seeing your creations step-by-step, seeing your recap segments, seeing others’ creations. It was a great investment.” —Anonymous

“I loved the section that covered making the binding. I’ve done some blanket making on my own and have never tried this method. I also loved the challenge of doing some math to figure this out.” —Stephanie

“I loved the ‘real time’ aspect of your videos and seeing you demonstrate all the techniques start to finish. I especially appreciated (and benefited from) seeing you struggle to find a layout for your blanket that you liked. It was helpful to see you arrange and then rearrange your blocks and in that demonstration, we were able to then understand that it is a process with no right/wrong answer. I also loved the practical feedback you provided people on their layouts.” —Pat

“The videos were the most valuable part of the class! I like to learn by watching, and they were very easy to follow. Also, the written instructions were helpful to go back to, so I didn’t have to rewatch the videos.” —Sally

“The wonderful instruction on every detail of the process.” —Anonymous

Later this week I’ll post answers to the question, “What was one thing in the class that surprised you?” And I’m excited to bring you a special guest interview with a past class participant who is about to begin her third blanket!

Do YOU have any questions you’d like to ask me about the course? Please contact me HERE. I’ll be glad to answer!