Iowa City trees welcome spring

BY CINDY GARCIA | MARCH 30, 2015 5:00 AM

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Iowa City trees on Sunday shed their winter coats to welcome the advent of spring as part of an Unhugging event.

The local Tree Huggers Project has made trunk apparel in different styles and colors to place on the trees each fall since 2012.    

The first year of the program, 100 trees were decorated. For the last two years, more than 130 have been adorned. However, the number of participants is higher, because people often work on a tree together.

“I think I would consider it a success because we’ve had more community members participate and a wider diversity of community members, so brand new knitters, people from outside of Iowa City, from throughout the state, knit for the project,” said Betsy Potter, who is in charge of the project and the director of operations for the Iowa City Downtown District.

Those who chose to donate their tree pieces after removal stopped by Home Ec Workshop, 207 N. Linn St.

There, the articles will be washed, woven into blankets, or repurposed as scarves and hats. The newly transformed items will then be donated to various community groups.

Potter said that every year in the fall, knitters install their pieces on the trees in one day. Every year, on the last Sunday of March, they are invited to take them down in one day as well.

Potter said no one pays to participate in the event. The Tree Huggers program is sponsored by Total Tree Care of Iowa City. The Downtown District pays for yarn, and Home Ec Workshop takes care of the actual knitting of pieces.

“Yarn bombing happens in communities all over the world as far away as Australia,” Potter said. “It’s really a public-art phenomenon that people do. They don’t just knit for trees, they knit for bridges and sometimes they do bike racks. It’s just the idea of yarn bombing and embracing the art that is knitting.”

This year is also the first time a survey has been sent out to knitters to ask for changes they would like to see in the future, such as new colors.

“It’s just a really great public-art project, which is, I think, something that a lot of people don’t realize when they’re looking at the Tree Huggers,” Potter said. “It is a public-art project, and it’s well-supported by the community and far beyond.”

Ritu Jain, the owner of Textiles, 109 S. Dubuque St., was the first to think of bringing yarn bombing to Iowa City. 

“Well, they’re doing yarn bombing all over the world, so we thought it would be a great community project,” she said. “To do a kind of controlled yarn bombing, just to get more people from the community outside of downtown involved. So basically the control is, we tell them which trees, how big, and we pick the colors. But otherwise, they’re free to do any designs and patterns they want.”
Jain said she has donated a piece every year.

“The first year — because we didn’t know how many would be interested — I made like five of them just because we thought, ‘Well, if nobody’s knitting, I better get going on that,’ ” she said.

Elizabeth Levin, a participant of the program, took down her piece near Phillips Hall.

“I love to knit, and I also like public art, and it was excellent opportunity to combine the two,” she said.

Levin is new to Iowa City but her love of knitting brought her to Home Ec Workshop, where she found out about the Tree Huggers.

She planned to donate her piece, which was sized to be a shawl, to those in need of winter clothing.

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