AMES, Iowa — The numbers are impressive. Nine months. Fourteen states. Dozens of Iowa communities. Three-thousand-plus volunteer hours. Ages ranging from 8 to 93. All resulting in more than 1,000 knitted and crocheted square panels sewn into 37 larger segments soon to be installed on the façade of Design on Main in downtown Ames.

The 130-year-old building, a satellite facility of the Iowa State University College of Design, houses studios for the graphic design, integrated visual arts, sustainable design and urban design graduate programs as well as a public gallery space. And beginning this Sunday, May 8, the front of the building at 203-207 Main St. will be blanketed in colorful yarn as the “Intertwine” project comes to a close.

“When I first conceived of this project, I hoped it would offer the opportunity for people who do not consider themselves to be artists to contribute to a public artwork and have their work included in an exhibition,” said Jennifer Drinkwater, an ISU assistant professor of art and visual culture and community art extension specialist and the driving force behind Intertwine.

“I also saw it as a way to build community connections through collaborative effort. I never imagined how successful this would be!”

Personal stories
Since its launch last August, Intertwine has involved hundreds of people throughout Iowa and across the US, including groups from schools, such as St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Waverly, and senior centers, like Northcrest Community in Ames. Some individuals, like Carol Horn from Story City, have contributed dozens of knitted or crocheted panels.

Many participants have shared stories of memories triggered by the project, and some have dedicated their work in honor or in memory of a loved one.

Iowa State alumna Deb Schiel-Larson of Indianola knitted a green square with strands of gold in memory of her mother, Elma Schiel, who had worked for many years at ISU before retiring from the President’s Office in 1997 and died in 2015 after a long battle with breast cancer.

“I was a carillon student at Iowa State and [Mom] was proud of it. I will never forget the thrill of playing ‘Bells of Iowa State’—the ‘green hills’ in the lyrics of this song mean a lot to me,” said Schiel-Larson, who received a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree in 1981. “I feel a special connection to the campus, too, because of my landscape architecture degree. The color green just seemed to fit.”

Schiel-Larson noted that she started over four times while knitting the square because “it’s not easy to knit through grief and tears. … I am so grateful for this ‘Intertwine’ project, and for this process. In helping you, the knitting helped me, too.”

Installation and exhibition
Over the past several weeks, Drinkwater has hosted “block parties” for volunteers to meet in local restaurants to finish their squares and help sew them together into larger blankets. These larger segments—ranging from 7-ft.-by-2-ft. to 12-ft.-by-6-ft. depending on where they’re located on the building—are being attached to wooden stretchers that will be screwed together and hung from metal cables running from anchor points on the roof of the Design on Main building down to the sidewalk. Drinkwater’s fiance, Aaron Swanson of Ames, diagrammed the installation, and designed and built the stretchers and cable system.

The segments will be installed beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday, May 8, until completed. The installation will be up through June 1. Then all the segments will be removed, professionally cleaned and refashioned into smaller blankets for donation to area homeless and women’s shelters.

A concurrent exhibition in the Design on Main Gallery will feature work by 10 central Iowa artists that “celebrates and interprets the spirit of Intertwine through materiality, collaboration or interaction,” Drinkwater said. Artists include ISU art and visual culture Associate Professor Cindy Gould, Associate Professor Chris Martin and Professor Teresa Paschke; architecture Associate Professor Mitchell Squire; alumni Matt Corones (Master of Fine Arts in integrated visual arts, 2012), Lyndsay Nissen (Master of Fine Arts in integrated visual arts, 2015) and Catherine Reinhart (Bachelor of Fine arts in integrated studio arts, 2008) all of Ames; and Rachel Buse, Des Moines; Tiberiu Chelcea and Kristin Roach, both of Ames.

An opening reception for the installation and exhibition will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, May 13, at the Design on Main Gallery, with brief remarks by Drinkwater at 6:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Ripple effects
“What I think is really fascinating is the ripple effects and offshoot projects,” Drinkwater said. “Carol Horn has started wrapping children’s bicycles and tricycles with yarn and wants to initiate new public yarn-bombing projects after Intertwine. A lot of people have told me this gave them something to come together and focus on, and they are eager to get involved in another collaborative project,” she said.

“I didn’t realize how good it would feel to have all these people contributing. It doesn’t feel like my project—it feels like our project. I didn’t make a thing; I provided some structure and all these other people did it. I hope they feel ownership and pride and excitement about it.”

Drinkwater received a nearly $10,000 Iowa Arts Council Art Project Grant, a $4,000 Burning Man Arts Global Art Grant and $1,200 in seed funding from the ISU College of Design to support the Intertwine project.

Jennifer Drinkwater, Art and Visual Culture, (515) 708-2825,
Heather Sauer, Design Communications, (515) 294-9289,