March 8, 2011

The Green Sheep - Joan Olson Brings Life to Used Wool Sweaters

Joan Olson Artist and Creator of The Green Sheep
I have a visual for you, follow me for one moment.  After a long day you reach home put on your comfort clothes to unwind, it is cold outside; you make a cup of hot chocolate or perhaps tea with a teaspoon of honey in it just to get the chill off your bones.  You go to that spot in your favorite room in the house and drape a beautiful warm blanket over your lap that you received as a gift. But would you ever have imagined that the blanket is made from recycled wool sweaters? 
Joan Olson is an artist and creator of The Green Sheep, her mission is to “Rescue wool sweaters for a new life.” Take a quick peek at her site before you continue;
A Happy Little Tune
Joan grew up in Southern California, married there and then moved to the Midwest to Crystal Lake Illinois where they raised their family. “Our two daughters are just about grown up; our oldest is getting married this spring and our youngest is in college.” Joan’s “Day job” is as an occupational therapist. “I love my day job; my after-hours job is as The Green Sheep (sounds like a masked crusader), designing and sewing things from recycled wool sweaters.”
Joan creates her unique genre from her home studio. “Now that we are empty-nesters, I have slowly co-opted more and more portions of the house for my sewing- and still my wonderful husband never complains. My sewing machine is set up by a sunny, west-facing window in our home’s loft.”
Goin' To The Beach
When did Joan first discover the artist in her?  “I have always enjoyed messing around with crafts, learning how to do new things.  When I was young, my mom had a huge box of odds and ends to create fun stuff with.  In grade school, I checked out library books to teach myself to knit and crochet.  I have a very wide “do-it-yourself” streak and generally think that with a little education and some extra time, most of us are capable of doing more with our own hands than we suspect.”
Joan shops for her sweaters, or has them given to her. “I felt them and cut them and make blankets, mittens, sachets, coasters etc. from them.”  She shared with me; “I like things that make me feel comfortable and at home, so that’s what I try to make. I try to create things that conjure up warm memories of favorite places. I think of my blankets sort of like comfort food.”   Felting is done by washing 100% wool sweaters in hot water, and then drying them on high heat. This process allows the wool to shrink and creates a tightly woven fabric so it will not unravel when you cut the fabric.  Raise your hand if a family member threw your favorite wool sweater in the dryer, and you held it up and it looked child size.  
Life is A Gift
Lovie Babies
Joan draws her inspiration from the sweaters themselves. “I like to say that they choose their own partners.  Sometimes I’ll just pick up a beautiful sweater once it’s been felted and I’ll walk around and hold it up to my other sweaters until a color combination stops me in my tracks.” It’s all about color and texture for Joan. “An idea often begins with a photo or a pairing of sweaters that I just can’t get out of my head. Or the sweaters are so touchable that I can’t put them down-that’s how I started the lovies for babies.”
I had a few questions for Joan that I think your will enjoy reading her responses:
Where did you learn your technique?  My mom gets the credit for teaching me to read a pattern and use a sewing machine.  She was a great and patient teacher, and she loved to sew right along with me.  I’ve taken drawing, painting, and woodworking classes at various times through my life.  But the techniques that I use with The Green Sheep have all been discovered by observing how others have used felted wool and then trying out ideas of my own.  This method involves tons of trial and error!”

Sweet Pea
How often do you work?  Ideally, I’d like to do a little something everyday—look at pictures, plan a blog post, cut wool, lay out a design.  Of course, it certainly doesn’t always work out that way!”
What skills have you found essential in your work? “The willingness to try something new without the assurance of a good result.  Experimentation is invaluable.”

Where are you currently showing your creations?  Online (through my blog: and at seasonal home shows.  As my inventory grows a bit more, I’ll probably consider putting my things on”

What advice can you give people just starting out? “I am just getting started myself!  I’ve been working at this a little more than 1-1/2 years, but so much still feels new.  A friend who was a few years “ahead” of me in a crafting business encouraged me to just give it a try.  It looked very overwhelming, but I took one step at a time.  I started by setting little deadlines for myself, like: “This week I’m going to make a simple business card.” Or “This week I will learn how to register a business name in my county.”  I still set little goals like that.”

If you won a million dollars, what would you do with it?  “Really—I have no idea!  I suppose I’d pay my taxes on it, put the rest in the bank, and then have a good, long conversation with God about what he’d want me to do with that money!”

That 70's Throw
  "Additionally, if you have wool sweaters of your parents or a loved one, Joan can create a keepsake blanket that would be personal and meaningful." Or if you live in her area and would like to give her any old wool sweaters, please contact Joan at her email , or visit her blog at and see all of the beautiful treasures she creates.
Thank you Joan, your story is inspiring, and to create art from re-purposed wool sweaters is very unique talent.

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