Chirped by Tina
Much of the local Yarn Bloom has now been taken down, but only last week we finished a related project that continues to decorate the chain-link fence around the Menlo Park pool and aquatics center. One of the Earth Day activities in the park was an open invitation to the public to help fill in the outline of a fish as a way of bringing in donations to the local food pantry Pennridge FISH (Fellowship in Serving Humanity). In return for a canned good (or three!), Earth Day attendees could help the FISH volunteers tie strands of upcycled t-shirt yarn to the fence to bring their colorful mascot to life. It was a very easy, no-special-skills-required way to participate and they collected a bunch of food. But they bit off more than they could chew – they outlined TWO fish, and with all the other activities going on that day, only filled in one of them. Enter the Hilltown Haberdashers (our crafty team of friends that came together for the Yarn Bloom)!
After checking with the borough’s Event Coordinator, our group got permission to fill in that second, lonely fish outline, along with encouragement to once again invite the public to help out and bring food donations for the pantry. Being a bit of an obsessive compulsive personality when it comes to crafts, of course I had to go to the fence with a crew and take measurements so we could plan it out on graph paper first… and then transfer that design to a photo of the actual fish outline we were working with… and try out several ideas for how to tie on the t-shirt yarn to get the most “pop”, color-wise… We’d seen cross-stitch-type fence art on Pinterest that was kind of cool, but in real life lighting we didn’t think it would show up enough.
The great thing about the design we decided on was that it could make use of all the shorter strips of t-shirt yarn we’d ended up with after the Yarn Bloom was done. Not wanting to waste the upper parts of our donated tees, (we didn’t find the link above for minimizing your t-shirt waste until later), we’d cut the sleeves and area around the neck up into shorter strips for tassels or smaller projects, and still had lots of leftovers.
Perkasie has a website on which they promote borough events, so with their help and our own grass roots publicity by word of mouth, email and Facebook, we set to work. The red heart in the middle of our planned fish’s chest was reserved as a place to celebrate how many food items we gathered when the project was complete. Our own schedules dictated that we couldn’t pick weekend dates, and school was still in session when we first began, so we knew it would fall mostly to our team, some dedicated locals who could come out on their lunch breaks, and possibly the pre-school set coming to the park to play. That was ok by us given the complexity of the design – too many cooks at once might have spoiled the soup! (On the other hand, it didn’t really maximize donations.)
On the first day of the installation we gathered at the fence with bundles of t-shirt yarn, a full color map of the fish design, paper templates of how we envisioned the scales would lay out (to tape behind the fence with masking tape), a cooler full of waters, sunscreen, hats, a donation jar, a folding table, and our own contributions to the food pantry. If you have small balls of t-shirt yarn, or 24″-30″ strips, you can either fill in each diamond-shaped fence opening by tying an overhand knot at the start and end of your zigzag, or “splice” them together using this nifty button-hole technique that minimizes loose ends and wasted length, so you can weave continuously from diamond to diamond for each colored scale.
For littler helpers, with short attention spans, we assigned one or two diamonds in the fish’s lower jaw, right at their eye level, with a parent or adult helper to tie them off.
More skilled crafters caught on to the splicing technique pretty easily, so we tucked a couple of good sewing scissors into the fence out of reach of the little ones for easy access when someone needed a new button hole. The paper templates helped folks keep track of which set of eight diamonds they were filling in, since we spaced our volunteers out to allow multiple helpers at once along the fence. Once our fish started to come together, they became less necessary.
We also set up an iPhone for a time-lapse video of our progress, because those are always fun!
To be honest, this design was a lot more labor intensive than we’d anticipated, plus the weather wasn’t always cooperative on our scheduled work days. But the end result turned out great! And the food pantry was delighted with all 148 pounds of food we dropped off after our second days’ work (137 individual items donated). Everyone that helped out brought at least one canned good or other non-perishable food item, sometimes multiple bags’ worth, so we didn’t end up needing the donation jar. (We figured if anyone happened along unprepared with food, we could solicit a small monetary contribution to FISH and invite them to adopt a scale.) All in all, it was a crafty, do-good way to spend a few mornings and afternoons of our summer.
Maybe you’ve got a boring chain-link fence in a prominent location in your area, and a worthy cause (especially one with a fun logo) in need of support? See if you can drum up your own version of this activity at the next scheduled town gathering. Just be prepared to help take it down when it starts to look faded and dirty. A charity benefit combined with community building, town beautification, upcycling and crafting – how could it get any more perfect?