Our biggest yarnbomb yet!
Introducing #squidtree, the latest transformative yarnbomb from @TheDapperToad and @KnitsForLife. Time and again the story goes: we love our idea, then halfway through we fear it’s going to be crap, but end up falling in love all over again when the result exceeds our expectations.
People on the street frequently asked how we conceptualized, measured, made the panels, and put it all together. For the benefit of all yarnbombers planning an installation, I’ll go into a little detail and include some tips. You can get tons of specific advice like this in ishknits’ Yarnbombing class, which I’m taking on Skillshare, and which you can take too (use this link to get a amazing deal). You can find more of Jill’s amazing photography of the #squidtree over at www.dappertoad.com.
Two of my aims as Artist in Residence for Downtown San Mateo are to beautify the area and to bring the community together around art. It’s easy to transform an object for a nice, busy street. It’s harder to transform not only an object but a downtrodden area. I hoped to turn a corner full of drunk idlers and urinators into one where families and children can linger and play, hopefully forcing the idlers to find a different corner.
It worked! The buzz around the corner has definitely changed: now people stop their cars and strollers to take photos (instead of speeding up to avoid it). We were honestly surprised by how many people thanked us for improving the neighborhood while we worked. Even grumpy old men were sold on our unusual medium, asking when we plan to do more.
My Yarnbombing class encouraged me to time my yarnbomb installations with events. Fortuitously, the Downtown San Mateo Association needed a yarnbomb installation for a volunteer clean up on North B Street. No brainer! Of course I teamed up with Jill to attempt to top our work for the previous downtown clean up.
It’s like pulling teeth to get the two of us to do something simple like cover a tree trunk. While measuring the tree for some simple “trunk cozies”, we took a step back and let our imaginations run. It went something like this:
“What does this magnolia look like?”
“This branch kinda looks like an elephant trunk already.”
“Maybe something more fun like a monster.”
“Or a squid monster!”
“Turn the best eight branches into tentacles?”
“And big eyeballs!”
“With fish in the tree trying to escape!”
Sizing the tree was easy to simplify. Each branch is 1-3 rectangular sections and the trunk is 3. For each branch, we measured its circumference near the trunk with a soft measuring tape, then extended a a metal measuring tape to a length where the branch got considerably smaller. We repeated this for a good length of each branch, using estimates for the hard-to-reach parts. Only 2 extra small squares among the branches and trunk remained.
My knitting machine uses small weight yarn, but worsted weight yarn is faster and cheaper. In an amazing Craigslist score, my used machine came with a free Bond Ultimate Sweater Machine that uses worsted weight. Now, if only we knew how to use it. YouTube to the rescue! In just a couple days we mastered the Ultimate Sweater Machine. Here’s a little Vine video of setting up to knit:
If you haven’t played with this contraption yet, save the next 40% off in-store coupon from Joann Fabrics or Michaels and get one for under $100. It’s a yarnbomber’s dream! All the instructional videos and then some are on YouTube, starting with putting all the pieces together, right through to intarsia. This machine is tricky at first, but once you watch enough videos to start speaking it’s language it’s a breeze. (Here are our favorite vids.)
We chose Red Heart Super Saver Yarn in Turqua and Caron One Pound in Peach for their color, durability, and value. Instead of carefully swatching and calculating the amount of yarn needed, we dove right in at Joann Fabrics since everything was on sale for one more day. We cleaned out my local store and left another store with just 5 skeins! Pro tip: www.joann.com has a local inventory search feature!
After knitting a swatch, we calculated one trunk panel, then tried it on the tree to double check and get the stretched gauge. We used the stretched gauge for the stitch and row count on the remaining panels. This is a pretty important point so that it doesn’t sag too much over time.
Jill and I blew through all the panels in just 2 days! Knowing she’d force me to be up on that ladder most of the time, I “let” her manhandle the Bond most of the time. The entire project used 4 miles of yarn, about 90% of which Jill churned out on “James”.
28 man-hours and two bouts of heat exhaustion later, we sewed every last bit together. People often ask how we sew it together. It really doesn’t matter: whatever’s fast and secure. Sew together as much as you can before hand. Stapling large panels to the tree helps prevent sagging over time. Pro tip: avoid wasting time by assembling your most essential tools on your person. I use a lanyard with thread shears (Amazon.com), a needle case (an old bead tube), and my Moo cards for conversations. It saved me climbing up and down the ladder and losing things in my pockets.
In Jill’s experience, the best way to make a project come alive is with eyes. We crocheted the big eyes, adding details like catch lights and lots of bulbous stuffing.
3-D suckers made a huge impact, too. Jill machine knit an entire skein of one-pound yarn into a 30-foot piece to cut into strips (she ran it through the sewing machine around each cut site so it wouldn’t unravel). Bam, 75 suckers, in no time flat, baby! They rolled right up into cute rings that we staple gunned right onto the branch.
To add a little realism, we put two crochet goldfish in the tentacles so as not to leave our poor squid hungry. Here’s the pattern for these beautiful fish.
We learned from the city arborist that this magnolia was pruned incorrectly, exposing the bark to sun damage, so the squid is actually helping it this magnolia thrive! Next spring I expect to see a whole afro of white blossoms on top.
Thanks to everyone who supported us!
Downtown San Mateo Association for the opportunity. Thrivent for the yarn. B Street & Vine for the ladder. The property owner for his blessing. José the handyman for the shims. The Los Primos customers for the fresh coconut water.
Lorna (and Jill!)