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!

Windows like blankets: CFA Voysey

This window.

A couple of weeks ago I opened a library book on CFA Voysey and saw THIS WINDOW. An immediate feeling of familiarity flooded me. This interesting, textured, window frame looks exactly like a blanket layout—all staggered and brickwork-like. I felt as though I had stumbled upon kin.

Charles Francis Annesley Voysey was a British architect and designer during the Arts & Crafts Movement. Although I can’t remember the exact trigger that sent me exploring at the library, I know it was one of his wallpaper or textile prints.

What do I love about his work? His drawings, full of motion, come alive on the page. His creatures exude personality. His pastoral colors walk me out the front door to the living world. And all this happens right in my head.

I’ve written previously about my undercurrent of obsession with design from that time period here and here and here. (I once unintentionally posted an uncredited photo of Voysey’s fabric—oops!) Other names you might recognize from Britain were William Morris, Philip Webb, C.R. Ashbee; in the U.S. there was Frank Lloyd Wright, Gustav Stickley, Greene & Greene. But there were many more! Influencers in the movement, in reaction against industrialization and the loss of human touch in the process of making things, advocated beautiful, simple design and craftmanship, generally with natural materials.

Voysey, though, was an independent thinker and something of a loner. He actually did not appreciate being connected to the movement. His background is interesting. He descended (by a couple of centuries) from Samuel and Susanna Wesley who also begat John and Charles Wesley, the brothers (and hymn-writers!) whose ideas led to what became the Methodist church. Voysey’s own dad was a reverend as well, but he broke with key standard doctrine and became an outcast in many circles. Voysey stood by his father. This apparently shaped a lot of his life.

I will leave more history either for another time or for your own research. But I’m delighted here to share some of his works that charm and inspire me.

More windows:

Magnificent homes and floor plans, in the English countryside, no less:

Wallpaper and fabric designs:

A sweet didactic puzzle-note for his grandchildren. It’s tricky, with his drawings of items we no longer use. His message, though, is appropriate for us all, whatever our age. (Translation below):

“My dear grandchildren, I hope you are busy working at something nice for someone. Service is the safest road to happiness. You will delight in realizing the pleasure you give to others. I would like to know what things you most delight in, and do something that adds to your well being.”

A sketch for an inlaid work-box. I love this! The man appears to be drawing and the woman knitting. To me, the little tree speaks of the organic nature of handwork. And when “head” and “hand” and “heart” meet—well, can we get any closer to Csikszentmihalyi’s flow?!

Finally a whimsical MAP! In watercolor! What is not to love about this?? (See full map below.)

So there you have it: Some visual goodness to wander through.

Who or what inspires you? Please share with the rest of us and leave a comment so we can keep our library cards in action this summer!

Window photos from Arts & Crafts Houses II; C.F.A. Voysey
Wallpaper and fabric photos from C.F.A. Voysey; Design in the Age of Darwin
Map photo from Design in the Age of Darwin
Architectural drawings, letter puzzle and work-box sketch from C.F.A. Voysey

New Fall Vests!

Are you in northern Illinois? Join me at Art in the Barn Sept 23-24 10 am-5 pm!
The endeavor supports important causes and has wonderful art.
Come try on a vest or cozy up with a new blanket —
I’ll be at space 45 (map here) and would love to see you!

◊   ◊   ◊      Vests!      ◊   ◊   ◊


I challenged myself this year to design and refine a vest pattern for Art in the Barn 2017. YES! I’m loving the result. And now I have 5 vests ready for the show THIS WEEKEND!

These are one-size-fits-most/medium, with variations in length and give in the fabric. The pattern’s throw-back cowl neck and loose, swingy fit create a vest that lays well and looks attractive on many body shapes and sizes. Allow me to introduce:

#1 Blue and Gray
Inspired by my obsession with turquoise and silver

#2 Black and Tan

#3 Autumn
I see gourds and leaves. What do you see?

#4 Foresty Green
Named for the evergreens that beckon us toward winter

#5 Denim
The perfect partner for jeans

Come try some on!

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!

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[Please visit my Etsy shop, The Green Sheep Studio, for purchasing information for “Blessed are the Merciful.]

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

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[Please visit my Etsy shop, The Green Sheep Studio, for purchasing information for “Blessed are the Merciful.]

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


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 for “Blessed are the Merciful.]

Tour de Fall

Two years ago I made a delightful discovery: there is such a thing an “artist studio tour” and fall is the time for them around here.


On a summer weekend with the family in 2011, we stopped in at the Brewery Pottery Studio in Mineral Point, WI, for two of the five of us to have a look-see. (Does this “conflict of interests” exist in your family too??)


I bought a perfect, lacy mug (above) made by the owners, Diana and Tom Johnston, and picked up a flyer for the simply-named “Fall Art Tour” in southwestern Wisconsin. Artists in adjacent towns would open their studios and put their works on display for sale. The two of us who shopped that day made a pinky pledge to try to make the tour.


The date didn’t work, but we were so enamored with the idea that in fall of 2012 we found another studio tour north of Milwaukee, and booked a room at The Stagecoach Inn in Cedarburg, an artist-haven sort of town. Our map led us to artists and their studios in old barns, in the lofts of old brick buildings, in their own unique homes, and in one power-plant-cum-architects’ studio. We talked and learned about each one’s art.


That was just the beginning. We were hooked. Besides, it’s hard to go wrong with ANYTHING in the fall in the Midwest, what with deciduous leaves and all.

We changed it up a bit this year in order to include all three of us girls, and picked YET ANOTHER studio tour, this time south of Saugatuck, MI. (We can nearly drive blind-folded around the tip of Lake Michigan after a two decades of such trips. Well, we probably COULD, if it weren’t for the semis.)


For fun, I checked VRBO.com for a place to stay. VRBO is “Vacation Rental by Owner”, and I highly recommend it. We found the tiny Saugatuck cottage, “The Nutshell”, bravely holding down its postage-stamp bit of land between Kalamazoo Lake and Lake Michigan. It was just right for three nuts.


Okay, enough about us. Back to the ARTISTS. This weekend was called the Blue Coast Artists Studio and Farm Tour, as local artists and local farms (apple, pumpkin, fruit, cheese, etc.) got together to hold a giant open house. All are located along the Blue Coast Highway in western Michigan, each just a short drive from the next.


The photo above is at Khnemu Studio, an 1890s farm-now-studio with solar panels enough to power artist Dawn Soltysiak’s electric kilns. (We had rain on the weekend, which did put a damper on photo-taking but not on our spirits! A deluge had passed through not 30 minutes prior to this set of shots.)


That’s Dawn above, in the blue plaid. She has just removed a bowl from the kiln (left) and is applying a special technique to it in the straw fire. One of the barns contained work by several potters, and we bought a few pieces. Hidden until Christmas, they are!


One fun part about this farm was the free-range birds, EVERYWHERE.








The  fellow above was a beauty. The hen below got a notion in her head about our ankles. Time to be on our way.


We stopped at Evergreen Lane Farm for a goat cheese sample — and ended up meeting the goats and Dash the horse, hearing the story of how Farmer Cathy started making cheese, buying two cheeses, and picking a half-dozen organic apples.


The boy goats (above) were too busy competing in King of the Hill to come meet us. The girl goats (below) were eager to see visitors and could barely hold still. We let them gum our fingers (no teeth on top!).




Farmer and cheese-maker Cathy (on the right) graciously lent Grace and me farm boots to hike back to the organic apple orchard — I think I mentioned the rain?


The fresh-picked apples and goat cheese staved off our late-afternoon hunger until we made it to our dinner destination in Fennville:


The Salt of the Earth restaurant. Wow, were they worth the wait. They collaborate with local farms to serve fresh produce, dairy, and meats from this agriculturally abundant area. Listed in the menu’s sidebar of partners, we found Shady Side Farm, where fellow blogger and wool-lover Lona and her husband raise sheep and more! I visited Shady Side last winter for sheep-shearing time.


The next morning, we made one last stop at the studio of Reverie Design & Craft, where Sandra and her husband are finishing construction of this cozy structure. Sandra makes beautiful and playful pieces of pottery. I bought a small “pot” for sewing tools in my work area. I love that it makes me think of artists in other places when I use it.


And that’s my story of an artists’ studio tour. I can see how each tour has its own personality. Last year in eastern Wisconsin, for instance, we saw much more two-dimensional work: a large variety paintings, and drawings. This year, lots of ceramics — and farm products!


Each artist’s story is unique and each path to and through their craft so full of thought, passion, unexpected turns of events, plans, and serendipitous associations. Very, very interesting and very fun.

So, YOUR TURN! Have you gone a-visiting like this? Do you have recommendations for intriguing places to go?

What I’ve done so far on my summer vacation.

I feel like I owe some explanation for my absence here for two-thirds of the summer — but I’m hoping that you have been too busy yourself to notice!


I keep my trusty camera handy to preserve a bit of the beautiful, interesting stuff I see. Honestly, I feel surrounded by that stuff every single day.


Or course, it’s not hard to feel surrounded by beauty in ALASKA, which is where we were for a one-week family celebration with two dozen relatives. Simply amazing!!


These pictures, in random order, were taken in Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan.












BELOW: Closer to home, we spent a weekend with my son-in-law’s parents, who inhabit a quiet spot in the Michigan woods. I had been longing for rest in a two-week battle with a cold; their great hospitality and this gorgeous setting did the trick.





FINALLY: In my estimation, there’s never a shortage of loveliness on the home front either. For Mother’s Day, my family surprised me with a bright outdoor rug from Lulu & Georgia. A book, an iced coffee, a cushion on the chair — heavenly.


This summer, in my work as an occupational therapist in a neuro outpatient clinic, we’ve been, um, “mastering” new electronic documentation. The difficulty of the task is compounded by the many audiences we must write for: the patient, other clinicians, doctors, insurance, and Medicare. Hoo boy. No wonder those deck chairs look good to me when I get home!


This summer has also held the weddings of wonderful young people, the funeral of a precious friend, one daughter home from college, and my brother-in-law staying with us while he finds a house for his family to follow from out east (we’re delighted he’s accepted a job near here!).


In the midst of all that, I’ve been working on several custom-ordered blankets which each have their own great story.


Stay tuned, because I have two more of those to share very soon :)

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”                             –Philippians 4.8

What have YOU been up to this summer?