Iowa City trees wrapped in hand-knit Tree Huggers


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A bomb went off in Iowa City. A “knitting bomb,” that is.

Cloaked in great swatches of hand-knit yarn, the trees of downtown Iowa City stand just a bit cozier this holiday season, thanks to local knitters. Each piece is unique and fashioned specifically for each tree.

“Knit-bombing has been going on all over the world, and we thought that would be a great project for Iowa City,” said Ritu Jain, the co-head of special events for the Iowa City Downtown District.

Tree Huggers is a public-art project in its first year. The brainchild of special events co-heads Jain and Joni Schrup, the tree scarves are meant to bring the community together and to add a plop of color to a normally dreary season. The Tree Huggers were installed on trees throughout the city on Sunday afternoon.

“We just thought this would be a fun, public-art event that would bring the community together,” Schrup said. “I think it will help bring people downtown. People are going to want to see this.”
Knitters from all over the area volunteered their needles and time to the project.

“I did it while I was watching football on the weekends,” said Iowa City resident Judy Neiman. “I just want people to smile when they go by.”

If people do smile, they will be smiling for a while. Plans were made for 135 trees to be draped throughout downtown. Plans began in July, but locals did not begin knitting until the beginning of October.

The Downtown District partnered with local Home Ec. Workshop to bring the yarn to the knitters, and Total Tree Care sponsored the project. Originally, Total Tree Care pledged enough money to cover all the costs — but when the enthusiastic response grew so large, trees had to be added, the extra cost came out of the special-events budget. In total, the art project cost roughly $3,000.

“We had more knitters than we had trees,” Jain said.

In fact, the response was so large it reached outside of Iowa City.

“We had people from all over the state contact us wanting to participate,” said Karen Kubby, the president of the Board of Directors of the Downtown District. “We have someone from [the state of] Washington who is going to send us one.”

Through Home Ec. Workshop, each knitter was given the same colors of yarn. They were also assigned a tree and told its measurements.

“They gave us a specific tree so we knew exactly how many stiches to put on and how long it had to be, but then we were free to just do the color in whatever combination we wanted to,” said Nora Roy, a self-proclaimed “unstoppable knitter” from Iowa City. “All we had to do was provide our own needles and do the knitting.”

The city will allow the Tree Huggers to remain until the end of February.

Kubby agreed that Sunday was just the beginning for the project.

“I suspect some of the knitters who did some of the trees downtown and on the North Side are going to do it in front of their homes and do it in their neighborhoods,” she said. “They’re going to continue. I think this the beginning.”

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