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Knitting up The Happy Tree: Yarn Bombing Spreads Color and Creativity

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Naomi Shenker

Naomi Shenker proudly stands in front of her masterpiece, The Happy Tree. She says she is thankful the community likes it. Noami is excited for a second yarn installation she's adding to the tree next to it. 

It all started with the unraveling of just six little words…Do you have scraps of yarn?

Naomi Shenker posted the question on Nextdoor in February. She explained that she was working on a craft project, which required a lot of knitting yarn. She asked that anyone with leftover yarn – of any color, material, etc. - to contact her. 

Many neighbors were happy to pass on their yarn including Peggy Thomas. “I decided to help a fellow knitter because I was happy to rehome my yarn to someone that would put it to its best creative use,” she said. 

When Peggy dropped off the yarn, Naomi pointed out the branchy tree in her front yard that she would be covering in yarn and shared details of her “Happy Tree” vision. 

“I started working on the Happy Tree project before we knew about the coronavirus,” Naomi shared, “but my goal was always to create something that would make people stop and smile.” 

Happy Tree

Naomi’s Happy Tree smiles upon Birdwood St.

“The tree is following a concept called Yarn Bombing, also known as Knitfiti, which is the blending of art and craft comprised of wrapping various objects, like trees, with yarn. Usually the objects wrapped are in the public domain, but unless you get a permit to do it, it would be considered graffiti. I walk a lot along Braes Bayou and, at first, I thought of wrapping a couple of trees there. However, I quickly realized that the life of a yarn graffiti scofflaw was not for me. So my private property it was.” 

From the beginning, Naomi had community involvement in mind. “In addition to the yarn, I also received fantastic reactions from people who walked by as I was installing the Happy Tree. Lots of thumbs-ups from drivers, runners and walkers who slowed down to comment. A neighbor from the other end of the street said she might do it in her yard as well. A woman knocked on my door to let me know how much she loves it. I am so happy with the response!” 

Naomi finished the project as the coronavirus made larger and larger changes in our everyday lives. “Many of us are overwhelmed with worry, stress, and even losses. I feel we all need a relief, a brief break in the seriousness of reality, and I’m glad that my Happy Tree brings a little ray of fun and fancy.” 

At the end of March, Naomi shared a new post on Nextdoor including a photo of the Happy Tree. She thanked all those who donated yarn and inviting neighbors to visit (from a safe distance, of course). 

All the yarn donors, included Peggy, were thrilled. “When I saw the photo of the tree, I was so amazed at the use of the colors and how quickly she finished it. I also recognized some of the yarn I donated and was happy it ultimately made a lot of people stop and take a closer look. No doubt they were smiling and I am too,” she said. 

Naomi’s Happy Tree is located in the 5800 block of Birdwood near Dunlap. Be on the lookout, as she’s about to finish yarn bombing a second tree in her yard - the Happy Tree’s neighbor, the magnolia!

Cathey Nickell

Children's author Cathey Nickell poses with this yarn masterpiece made by Emery/Weiner School students.

Another yarn-bombing fan is Bellaire children’s author, Cathey Nickell. Cathey discovered yarn bombing a few years ago, and her fascination led to the creation of children’s book, Yazzy’s Amazing Yarn. The story includes the adventures of a girl and her friends who decide to add some color to their local park.

Cathey enjoys visiting schools and inspiring students to think outside of the box and embrace their creativity. “I love any kind of outsider art where the artist hasn’t been formally trained. I get so excited when the kids realize they can still be a great artist even if they’re not good painters, illustrators, painters, sculptor, etc.” 

Over the last few months, Cathey has had some fun yarn-bombing sightings at Buzz-area campuses including yarn-bombed trees at Tanglewood Middle School and yarn-bombed benches at Frostwood Elementary. And, at Emery/Weiner, a decorated tree in the courtyard. Emery middle-school art teacher, Deborah Horwitz, shared, “The inspiration for our school yarn bombing was the Jewish holiday, Tu BiShvat, which translates to, 'the new year for trees.' Decorating the trees on our campus was a fun way to get the students excited.”

Meghan Pierce

Meghan Pearce, a fifth grader at Condit, had fun yarnbombing her aunt's front yard tree.  

Back in January, Cathey’s niece, Meghan Pearce, helped her aunt yarn-bomb a tree in Cathey’s front yard. Cathey said, “Yarn bombing is often done by expert knitters or crocheters but even beginners can join in the fun. Meghan and I found many finger knitting tutorials online and had fun creating our own knitting masterpiece.” Cathey suggested this YouTube finger knitting video but said there are many helpful videos online.

Check out yarn bombing in person or online - why knot?

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