Library Group 'Yarn-Bombs' Downtown Eugene Brown With Free Scarves & Gloves
February 03, 2015 6:00 AM
by Michael Martin Garrett
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What do cold weather, a bronze statue, a knitting club and Twitter all have in common? We'll tell you, but it's quite a yarn.

A few weeks ago, Schlow Library Office Manager DJ Lilly was managing the library's Twitter account when an unusual tweet caught her eye. It was a photo of a telephone pole nestled in a snuggly Star Wars-themed knitted sweater, which had seemingly been knit around the pole. Amused at this oddity -- which is part of a larger trend called "yarn-bombing" -- she retweeted the photo and thought nothing more of it.

"All sorts of strange ideas start on Twitter," says Sarah Goslee, a member of Schlow Library's knitting club.

She was already familiar with the concept of yarn-bombing, which she describes as "the practice of covering some public object in knitwear... often for art or amusement value, sometimes for social protest." But when she saw Schlow Library's interest in the subject on Twitter, something clicked inside her head.

State College could use a little more yarn in its life, it seemed to her. So Goslee says she took the idea of yarn-bombing Downtown Eugene Brown -- the bronze gentleman near the library with his tablet and Beats by Dre headphones -- to the Schlow knitting club, where another member did her one better: what if they yarn-bombed for a charitable cause?

"I picked up a bunch of soft and bulky yarn on sale, gave it to other knitters, and we started knitting," Goslee says.

Lilly says that in the third week of January, someone from the knitting club took their efforts public by tying a newly knit scarf around Eugene's neck.  Attached to the scarf was a note: "Cold? Take me! -The Schlow Knitters." Shortly thereafter, somebody followed the mandate and took the scarf.

"After that, someone tweeted at the library, thanking us because it was their friend that was using the scarf," Lilly says. "... When I retweeted that first photo [of the telephone pole], I didn't expect anything to happen. I just thought it was funny."

Emboldened by the positive response to their first forays into charitable yarn-bombing, the Schlow knitters decided to kick it up a notch. Goslee says the members of the club have been knitting and crocheting scarves and gloves to continue giving away, each of which can take an hour and a half or more to make.

Linda Lorich, head of the knitting club, says this isn't the first time members of her organization have used their talents for the greater good. In past years they've participated in the Warm Up America campaign, donating handmade afghan blankets to charity. The most recent blanket went to the Centre House, a homeless shelter downtown.

"This is an on-going project, as long as the weather is so cold and the need exists," Lorich says of the group's yarn-bombing efforts. Goslee says she hopes that this is something that will continue in future years as well.

For Lilly -- a self-described "Twitter fanatic" -- this tale of yarn-bombing is a perfect demonstration of the power of social media. A picture of a telephone pole from in Iowa City, through one simple click of the 'retweet' button, was able to reach across thousands of miles to touch the lives of people in State College.

Even more than that, Lilly says this shows the way that libraries are changing with society. Libraries aren't just a place for books anymore; they're a place for all kinds of information, and a place where communities come together.

"It just makes us happy to know we played this little part in somebody having warm hands when it's really cold outside," Lilly says.

The Schlow knitting club meets the first and third Mondays of each month, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of the library. Goslee invites anyone with a passion for knitting -- or anyone who wants to learn -- to come down and join the fun.

In the meantime, Goslee will be keeping a close eye out when she walks around town.

"I'm having a great deal of fun sharing something I enjoy with my town," she says. "I hope that sometime this winter I will spot one of our items 'in the wild' on someone who is now warmly dressed."

 

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