This story involves tree hugging, yarn bombing, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nail polish, middle school students and Port Washington’s Main Street.
Oh, and Earth Day.
The tale begins just before the pandemic. Port Washington fiber artist Allison White, 58, took a class in Manhattan about yarn bombing — in which groups of crocheters or knitters create woven graffitilike art to temporarily adorn public objects. And it ends now, as “yarn arms,” meant to symbolize people hugging trees, are wrapped around 50 trees on Main Street for the month of April in a public art project dubbed “Yarn Arms Around Port.”
‘WHO DID THIS?’
When the pandemic hit, people started putting drawings of rainbows in their windows so families could take a walk and children could spot them (remember that?). White crocheted a rainbow and hung it in town. Then, she crocheted "VOTE" and hung it outside the Port Washington Public Library. During Pride Month, "LOVE" appeared in front of the Landmark on Main Street. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, White crocheted the Supreme Court Justice’s famed collar and hung it on the fence of a hardware store.
“I started making all these little individual yarn bombs. I couldn’t believe how many people noticed them,” White says. “People would go on local Facebook groups and say, ‘Did anybody see this?’ and ‘Who did this?’ I thought it would be really cool to have a communitywide yarn bomb.”
So, in November, White held a Zoom launch announcing the goal of wrapping colorful crocheted yarn arms around 50 trees along Port Washington’s Main Street. Yarn Arms Around Port would stay up for the entire month of April to bring attention to trees as a celebration of Earth Day, which is April 22.
60 CROCHETERS MAKE 500 GRANNY SQUARES
Volunteers were asked to crochet eight-inch granny squares, commonly used in quilts. “You just need a few crochet stitches so I knew we could teach people,” White says. She had hoped to get 200 granny squares, and crocheters met at the library to work on their pieces or drop off finished squares. “We got close to 500,” White says, enough for some trees to have two yarn arms.
Each yarn arm has a pair of linked hands. Some of the hands, in all different skin tones and sizes, even have crocheted rings on them, or crocheted nail polish or ruffles at the sleeve. One volunteer made butterflies, bumblebees and ladybugs to adorn them.
Sharon Langone, 54, a stay-at-home parent from Port Washington, crocheted 40 squares — she says each one took less than an hour — and made seven pairs of hands. "The project … just brought together so many people in our town,” Langone says. “I was very excited to get to meet other people who do crocheting and knitting … and work on something as a cohesive group.”
Jasmine Bauco, a former technical writer, and her husband, John, had just recently moved from Queens to Port Washington when she heard about the project and joined in, even though she didn’t know anyone and really didn’t even know how to crochet. She wound up making 10 squares and five pairs of hands, crocheting blue nail polish to one of them. “It was exactly the kind of project I wanted to get involved in. It was about community, it was artistic, it promoted diversity and inclusivity. I made a lot of friends,” Bauco says.
Zuhal Ertamay, 56, a physician assistant from Port Washington, says she’s been nicknamed “the critter lady” of the project because she made the butterflies and ladybugs. “The creativity is what everybody sees on the trees. But what you don’t see on the trees is the collaboration,” Ertamay says. “No one person could have sat down to do this; it had to be so many people involved.”
MORE THAN AN ART PROJECT
Residents Forward, a nonprofit environmental group in Port Washington, partnered with White, becoming the official event sponsor and helping to get approval from the Town of North Hempstead. Residents Forward is also running environmental activities in conjunction with the yarn bombing.
Residents Forward sponsored a video contest, and 45 entrants made one-minute videos explaining why they love trees. Three winners each got a $100 gift certificate to the downtown Port Washington business of their choice, says Patricia Class, executive director of Residents Forward.
In addition, middle schoolers from Weber Middle School studied each tree and created a laminated “name tag” for each to identify its species and other educational information.
And at 10 a.m. on April 23, in front of a tree on the lawn of the Landmark on Main Street, younger children can enjoy a story time reading of the book, “Be A Friend to Trees.”
Similar yarn bombing projects have taken place in years past in Oyster Bay and in Stony Brook.
Langone says she hopes the project will draw people from around Long Island to Port Washington to patronize the downtown shops and restaurants. “We’re kind of out of the way; we’re twenty minutes off the expressway. We’re not on the way anywhere,” she says. “We hope this will draw people to Main Street.”