Knitting club ‘defaces’ trees with colorful designs

Sweaters decorate trees in front of Memorial Coliseum at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., on Monday, February 25, 2013. Photo by Adam Pennavaria | Staff

By Anyssa Roberts| @kykernel

news@kykernel.com

If you thought your grandmother was the coolest in the world, think again.

The ladies of the Tree Sweater Gang are breaking the rules of knitting and crocheting while taking the craft to a whole other level.

The group has brought their love of knitting and crocheting to UK’s campus in the form of a yarn bomb.

Yarn bombing is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colorful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fiber.

Their latest yarn bombing took place outside the front entrance of the Memorial Coliseum. Several trees in front of the building are clad in blue and white sweaters embroidered with stars and stripes.

The act can be attributed to “gang members” Mary Kelly, Lisa Steele, Rita Foster, Donna Pizzuto, Jan Beauchamp and Diana Baker.

Sitting around a table at Qdoba Mexican restaurant on Sunday, the ladies reminisced over a scrapbook of pictures and layouts from projects past. Members arrived wearing hoodies with the Tree Sweater Gang logo of a knitting ball skull and knitting and crochet needle cross. The group started as a knitting club and began to grow.

“We started as a Friday night knitting club, and I’ve knitted and crocheted since high school so we met at my house,” Pizzuto said. “We saw something online about yarn bombing in Europe and decided we needed to do that here.”

The ladies walked outside from Qdoba to their trees outside Memorial Coliseum to look at their masterpiece. The tree sweaters outside Memorial Coliseum are less graffiti and more of an homage to girl power.

“I really wanted to honor the lady Wildcats for their season. So much focus is put on men’s basketball so this was sort of an homage to their success.”

The gang does not always yarn bomb uninvited.

“We also do stuff for charities like Project Linus,” Steele said, “When we don’t have a tree we’re interested in, we make blankets for kids in traumatic situations, and in the winter we make hats and scarves for the needy. So we like to do the trees but we’re not all crazy.”

This group of ladies has an age average of about 50-years-old and older, but ages range from 4-years-old to 84-years-old.

“My mom is the original Tree Sweater Gang member,” Steele said, “She usually sits in the car as the look out. You can’t really get in trouble if your mother is already with you.”

Standing in front of their latest masterpiece the ladies looked as “guilty” as any typical knitting club. As they walked back to the restaurant a police car pulled from the Qdoba driveway, the group joked and laughed about “staying quiet and looking innocent.”

Any given project can take the group about a week to complete.

“We work with an engineer to measure the tree and make an accurate crochet pattern for each of the ladies to finish,” Kelly said.

The ladies have bombed everything from putting monster feet on pillars, to hats and scarves on statues in Thoroughbred Park. Members of the group said people have asked questions of whether the sweaters hurt the trees, but contrary to popular belief the sweaters don’t hurt the trees at all.

“We met with an arborist and he told us the sweaters don’t hurt the trees,” Steele said. “People spend a lot of money to buy things to protect their plants and trees. The fabric we use is acrylic fiber so it doesn’t hurt the trees. It actually allows the trees to breathe.”

The only way the sweaters could hurt them is if the sweaters were left for years and bugs start to live with them, according to Steele.

The ladies said they usually take the sweaters down when they start to get ratty.

“We have probably done about 22 trees, not to mention some trees get more than one sweater,” Steele said.

Knowing how to knit is not a prerequisite to being a part of the gang.

“We have extremely low standards. I started in the group by just showing up and learned how to knit later on YouTube,” Foster said.

The ladies enjoy spending time together, and being a part of a project they have fun doing.

“You like to think you’re doing something naughty but in fact it’s all just in good fun,” Kelly said.