With experience in showing handmade "love" to the community, stitchers from the Ohio Valley are participating in a Pittsburgh project billed as the largest "yarn bombing" in the United States.
Ohio Valley Handmade, an informal group of Ohio and West Virginia residents, is one of 108 partnering organizations in the tri-state region for the current Knit the Bridge event. Members of Ohio Valley Handmade knitted and crocheted two of the 580 panels covering downtown Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol (Seventh Street) Bridge in yarn.
The yarn-bombing installation is covering the bridge through Friday, Sept. 6. The fiber art installation features 580 multi-colored, blanket-size, hand-made panels along the pedestrian walkways of the bridge that spans the Allegheny River. Black knitted sleeves encase the railings that frame each panel. The bridge towers are clad in more than 3,000 feet of machine-knitted material, officials said.
Wheeling resident Jenny Brown, coordinator of Ohio Valley Homemade’s contributions to Knit the Bridge, poses on Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Bridge where the knitted and crocheted panels are on display.
The colorful coverings won't go to waste after the art installation ends this week. Organizers in Pittsburgh stated, "When the project comes down, the panels will be commercially laundered and distributed to local shelters."
Knit the Bridge is produced by the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh in partnership with the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.
A total of 1,847 volunteers created the fiber panels under the direction of lead artist Amanda Gross.
Locally, Ohio Valley Handmade artisans became involved after member Jenny Brown and her husband, Daniel Michael, of Wheeling visited the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival, where Knit the Bridge had a booth.
"We made two squares at the festival, and we couldn't wait to make more," Brown said. "The whole way home, we were calculating how much yarn we would need, what type of pattern we could use and how Ohio Valley Handmade could participate.
"We were overwhelmed with the valley's enthusiasm for this project. OVH members made over 200 4-inch squares for the panels in six weeks," Brown said.
Ohio Valley participants included Deborah Blackstone, Elda Brown, Jenny Brown, Paige Burk, Jacqui Jantzen, Erin Markan, Alena McAllister, Katy McKinley, Daniel Michael, Isabella Schunn, Jennifer Schunn and Annie VonNeida. Brown and Michael also volunteered to help install the finished panels and the railing sleeves around each piece.
The Pittsburgh installation is the second yarn-bombing project for Ohio Valley Handmade. In February, Brown and Markan led the group in covering downtown Wheeling's Professional Building in crocheted, knitted and sewn hearts as part of the "All We Need Is Love" project organized by the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists.
Ohio Valley Handmade holds a weekly knit/crochet night, open to the public, on Wednesdays (starting around 6 p.m.) at the Warsaw in Glen Dale, Brown said. For more information on the group, send an email message to ohiovalleyhandmade@ gmail.com. Additional photographs from the projects can be found on Ohio Valley Handmade's Facebook page at facebook.com/OhioValley Handmade.
A few of the folks who participated in this project run their own shops, including Bellaroses Boutique, Handmade Escapade, Hi, Jenny Brown and Yarnosaurus Rex.
Members of Ohio Valley Handmade and their families traveled to Pittsburgh last Sunday, Aug. 25, to see their handiwork and to participate in a community celebration and art party on the Warhol Bridge.
"It was just awesome," Markan said, describing the art party. "Hundreds and hundreds of people were on the bridge. The bridge was closed down (for the party)."
Adding to the festive atmosphere, Markan said, people in yoga outfits spread their mats on the bridge deck and did yoga "between all the knitted and crocheted squares."
Among the Wheeling participants visiting the bridge that day were Isabella Schunn, 12, and her parents and young brother. "It's great that young people can be so interested," Markan commented. Brown pointed out that Isabella "is an amazing knitter" and helps make things for Bellaroses Boutique, the shop that her mother, Jennifer Schunn, operates.
Markan said her 4-year-old son and his 6-year-old cousin were excited to see the fiber art on the bridge. Explaining the difference between crocheted and knitted items, a woman showed the youngsters that usually one can poke a finger through a crocheted piece. "Our little boys were running down the bridge, putting their finger through the panels, saying 'knit,' 'crochet,'" Markan said.
A week prior to the party, Markan went to Pittsburgh on a weekday to see the finished installation. "It was just amazing, with traffic and so many pedestrians," she said. "There were so many people. There were younger people and middle-aged people with really old-looking, frail grandmas, walking them across the bridge. They were definitely taking time to look at all of the panels. I wondered if these older ladies made some of the panels."
The Pittsburgh project marked a turning point for Markan, who said, "Jenny Brown has tried to teach me to crochet many times. I've been very resistant. This was the first time I actually finished a square. It was pretty neat for me, too."
When the local group launched its effort, members met at Panera Bread at The Highlands and spent two hours crocheting squares. Brown gave everyone a skein of yarn so they could make "lots and lots more," Markan related. After the participants completed more than 200 squares, Brown pieced them together and made two panels for the Warhol Bridge.
Brown, who has been crocheting "since I was a little kid," and her husband also spent two days in Pittsburgh to help with the installation of panels. "We worked two shifts: one shift worked sewing the panels on, the other shift putting tower parts up. We helped wth railings, too," she said.
"We met so many people ... all different types of people. It was really great," Brown said. "The people who organized it had it very organized to make sure nothing fell off the bridge and to make it really safe for us. It was super safe. On the towers, it was a hard-hat area."
Gross, who organized Knit the Bridge, also served as outreach coordinator for Fiberart International 2013, a triennial exhibition that the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh produced in August.
Gross coined the tagline, "Knitting Pittsburgh Communities Together One Bridge at a Time." She and guild members engaged in a 14-month process of planning, grant-writing, fund-raising and community knitting and crocheting.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Valley group is looking for its next public art project "to beautify our community," Markan said.
Reflecting on the current yarn-bombing installation, Brown remarked, "It's great with a project that's nationally recognized to shine a little light on West Virginia and the Wheeling area and to get people excited about that, too."
Markan agreed, saying, "There are so many talented makers in the Ohio Valley. We hope Ohio Valley Handmade's participation in nationally recognized projects, like Knit the Bridge, focuses the spotlight on the many crafters and artists in our region."