UPDATED: Sweaters to colorful cuddlers


Each month Earth to Philly features a Dumpster Diver Dispatch, a series of stories and perspectives from Philadelphia's original "green" community of artists, the Dumpster Divers. Here is Dumpster Diver Dispatch #5.

Esther wearing a thrift-store sweater and one of her neck scarves holding a sweater quilt.

Esther Cristol finds her art materials at the local thrift store. She hunts thru aisle after aisle of multivaried colors and patterns to rescue individual sweaters based on patterns, materials, and style.  She gathers these together in her home workshop where she will later cut them into 6 inch squares and sew them together to create her patchwork quilts and patchwork neck scarves.

Crew Neck, V-neck, pullover or cardigan, hand knitted or machine made, wool or wool blends, these used sweaters bring their old stories of cold winters in cold lands,  as they find new form and function in Esther’s warm and cuddly quilts. Ancient Celtic legends are passed down in the textured stitches of Irish fisherman’s sweaters, the hardworking bee honored in its honeycomb stitch or the rope-resembling cable stitch offering good luck and safety for those old fishing folks. The Irish moss stitch, depicting seaweed used to fertilize the fields, fills diamond patterns symbolizing a wish for wealth and success, and the basket stitch is a hope for a plentiful catch.  Nordic sweaters or ski sweaters tell other stories of a mountainous land and culture. Originally knitted in the natural sheep colors of blacks and whites, the modern version is quite colorful and intricate with their V-shaped patterns adding warmth.

These cast-off sweaters find themselves in new company as Esther adds them to the pattern, perhaps mixing them with the conservative plain colors of cashmere or with the bright flowers or stripes in mohair, or the diamond argyle (hiding codes to ancient Scottish clans and connected to golfing culture of the early 1900s), or with hand-knitted alpaca llamas from South America.   Sweater pockets are used sparingly, a few saved for that special place in that special quilt and always placed on neck-scarf ends. The sweater ribbing becomes the border; nothing is wasted here.

Esther is retired from her vocation as a teacher of young children.  Her warm, fuzzy security-blanket quilts and neck scarves are a continuation of her life experience, where she learned if you could not do anything else to fix a problem, you could always give a hug. Esther continues to hug people, young and old alike, keeping them warm and cozy and snuggled on these cold winter days and nights.

Esther sweater quilts can be seen at Germantown Friends School Juried Craft Show, Germantown Ave. and W. Coulter St. Phila Pa, March 6th through 8th.

-- Sally Willowbee

Sally Willowbee is a self-taught writer, artist, and furniture maker, and a lifelong trash-picker working to interweave her lifestyle, politics, feminism, creativity and humor with her concern about our environment.  More info at www.quirkyworks.info

UPDATE 2/21:

Meet the Dumpster Divers - some of them, anyway - at their new South Street space (734 South) on Sunday, Feb. 22 between 3 and 6 p.m. Here's a nice write-up in the Inquirer.