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A Different Kind of Handmade Warmth: The Iowa City Tree Huggers

My tall friend Daniel is wondering if he stands in one place for long enough outside, would someone please knit a sweater onto him? He is very jealous of all the lovely trees and would be eternally grateful. - Posted on Facebook

There's a stunning color block knit adorning a leafless tree on Clinton Street in Iowa City, Iowa, my hometown. Outside the Beadology bead shop, there's a striped tree wrap, beaded, of course. A delicate cable and leaf-like lace knit by Lisa Wilcox Case, our very own Master Knitter, graces an equally delicate sapling close to the Home Ec Workshop, a fiber and fabric store that helped organize this amazing art installation. By the power of their needles, and with the contribution of yarn from our downtown business association, a tree care company, and the University of Iowa, over two hundred yarnplayers lent their wonder to one hundred and thirty-two trees spread over our downtown.

In front of the Java House, where coffee and hot chocolate reign, is Amanda's tree. She's my next door neighbor's daughter. Her tree hugger is her first completed knitting project. She had tried to knit several times before and gave up, frustrated. This time, determined to be a part of the Tree Hugger Project's excitement, she took a free knitting lesson offered to the participants. Now she's so encouraged by her successful knitting experience, she's moved on to a scarf for her son Noah.

On the corner of Washington and Dubuque, next to a slip of a tree wearing a slender blue, purple, and green argyle tree sock, signature polka dots adorn book artist Emily Martin's tree covering*. To be sure she'd see her handwork often, Emily picked a mature tree close to Prairie Lights, our independent bookstore.

I could go on and on about all of our gorgeous wooly trees. They range from the whimsical to the marvelous. Up close, one sees awesome and magical knitterly moments tucked into larger pieces like a yellow heart with J+B in the center, a knitted incarnation of the classic carved tree love declaration.

Some of our knitters stitched alone, others worked in groups. As the project grew beyond the planner's original design, trees had to be shared. This sharing introduced unacquainted knitters to each other, widening their circle. All through October, the Iowa City Tree Huggers carried their knitting with them wherever they went. No idle hands. Their knitting, distinguished by the project's chosen palette, was a badge of their involvement. Spotting a fellow Tree Hugger sparked conversations and the circle of knitters widened even further.

On November 4th, 2012, our stellar knitters hung their knitting and transformed our lives with their creations. Joining together as a crafting community, they glorified our beloved trees and astounded us with this new expression of beauty. Their spirit will cheer us on throughout the colorless winter months ahead. We aren't too worried yet about March when the Tree Huggers are taken down. Many suspect this project is just beginning. Inspired knitters will knit on, adorning trees in their yards and neighborhoods. One can only hope.

We knitters and crocheters do good work with our needles and our hooks. We have a long history of helping out. We keep the cold at bay for those dear to us and for the many we have yet to meet who are in need. We cloak our community through hard times. We aid souls stranded in harm's way and battle weary suffering beyond our doors. We heed the call of disasters, personal and global. We spread our help near and far. And sometimes, in service of art, we celebrate our creative joy and spread a different kind of handmade warmth.

*See pattern below.

THE PATTERN–Emily Martin's Tree Hugger

Would you like to lend your knitterly touch to that special tree in your life? Internationally known book artist, Emily Martin kindly shares her tree sweater pattern with you.

 Use Emily's pattern as inspiration to design your own. To plan a tree sweater pattern in Wool-Ease Chunky, simply multiply your tree's diameter by 2.25(stitch gauge)to find the total number of stitches you need to cast on.

 Size: approx. 33 by 60 inches
Gauge: approx. 2.25 stitches per inch
Needle size: size 15 circulars

Yarn: Lion Brand Wool-Ease Chunky
Approximately one skein of each color: Bay Harbor(A),Moss(B),,Amber-(C), Orchid(D), Deep Rose (E), Willow(F), Pumpkin(G)


With A, loosely cast on 68 stitches. Knit as follow:
1)  A 7 rows-knit 2 purl 2 rib
2)  B 1 row-knit 2, purl 2 rib
3)  A 3 rows-knit 2, purl 2 rib
4)  C 3 rows-stockinette
5)  D 4 rows-garter, 6 rows-stockinette
6)  E 3 rows-stockinette, 2 rows-garter, 2 rows-stockinette
7)  B 2 rows-garter, 2 rows-stockinette, 2 rows-garter, 1 row- stockinette
8)  F 7 rows-stockinette
9)  D 4 rows-garter
10) G 6 row-stockinette, Polka Dot Pattern with D, 6 rows- stockinette
11) A 4 rows-knit 2 purl 2 rib
12) E 2 rows-stockinette, 4 rows-garter, Polka Dot Pattern with G, 6 rows-stockinette
13) F 6 rows-stockinette
14) B 2 rows-stockinette, 2 rows-garter, 1 row-stockinette
15) A 1 row-stockinette
16) B 1 rows-garter, 2 rows-stockinette
17) C 4 rows-stockinette
18) G 2 rows-garter, 2 rows-stockinette, 4 rows-stockinette
19) D 6 rows-stockinette, Polka Dot Pattern with G, 6 rows- stockinette
20) C 4 rows-stockinette
21) B 1 row-stockinette, 4 rows-garter, 3 rows-stockinette
22) F 4 rows-stockinette
23) E 2 rows-garter, 2 rows-stockinette
24) G 2 rows-garter
25) A 6 rows-knit 2 purl 2 rib
26) B 1 row-knit 2 purl 2 rib
27) A 3 rows-knit 2 purl 2 rib

With A bind off loosely. Use large safety pins or plastic ties to hold your Tree Hugger in place while sewing up.

Polka Dot Pattern:

Row 1: Knit 5 MC, * knit 2 CC, 6 MC* repeat 8 times, knit 5 MC
Row 2: Purl 4 MC, * purl 4 CC, 4 MC* repeat 8 times, purl 4
Row 3: Knit 3 MC, * knit 6 CC, 2 MC* repeat 8 times, knit 3
Row 4: Purl 3 MC, * purl 6 CC, 2 MC* purl 3
Row 5: Knit 4 MC, * knit 4 CC, 4 MC* repeat 8 times, knit 4
Row 6: Purl 5 MC, * purl 2 CC, 6 MC* repeat 8 times, purl 5

Bond Drager's J+B Tree
Bond Drager's wooly J+B heart
Anne Theobold's Spider and Web Lace Tree
Anne Theobold's spider and web lace tree
Lindsey Carlin's color block tree
Lindsey Carlin's Color Block Tree
Jill Fishbaugh's Argyle Tree Sock
Jill Fishbaugh's Argyle Tree Sock
Emily Martin and her tree | photo credit: Linzee
Kull McCray
Emily Martin and her tree | photo credit: Linzee Kull McCray
Lisa Wilcox Case's cable and lace tree
Master Knitter Lisa Wilcox Case's cable and lace tree

Authored by

Michelle Edwards is the author/illustrator of A KNITTER'S HOME COMPANION and many award-winning children's books including CHICKEN MAN and STINKY STERN FOREVER. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys talking about books in schools throughout the US and beyond. Her newest book, Room for the Baby, will be available from Random House in Fall 2012. Visit Michelle Edwards at her website or on Facebook.
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