One of my favorite pictures from my childhood is a photo of my grandparents at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, circa 1978.
First, a little background. Chicago’s Garfield Park is a tough neighborhood. High crime, boarded-up vacant buildings, ratty-nasty vacant lots and some serious gang graffiti. But right next door to these streets is the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the city’s real gems. This indoor garden is like an oasis of lush beauty. The building is huge and other-wordly, with tiered domes of windows like a great glass igloo. Inside is a wonderland of waterfalls and birds of paradise, Japanese maples and koi ponds, azaleas and hydrangeas, palms and lily pads. This place is humid and eco-fabulous and alive: impossibly tropical and verdant for the gritty streets of the city around it.
But back to the photo. It is a picture of my grandma and grandpa at the Garfield Park Conservatory on a winter day in 1978. My grandparents immigrated from Germany a little after World War I, and though they lived 70-some years in Chicago, IL, they always seemed Old World to me. Still just “off the boat.” (My grandma never lost her heavy German accent. I could barely understand a word she said sometimes.)
The picture shows them seated on a bench. They are posing like someone would a hundred years ago: still and solemn, with their hands folded in their laps, looking straight at the camera. My grandpa is wearing brown slacks and a tidy plaid shirt under his wool coat. He is holding his pageboy cap on his lap. My grandmother has on a thick housecoat-style dress under her winter coat. She has compression hose rolled up to her knees, her feet are squeezed into black orthopedic shoes. She is wearing a scarf on her head, tied under her chin like a babushka. Their faces look serene and patient, like old grandparents should look.
But seemingly unaware, they are seated in front of a huge, gaudy tropical tree. Its boisterous leaves looks like the giant plumes on a Las Vegas headdress. And it’s not just an audacious show-stopper; I’m pretty sure it’s man-eating.
My dad could have taken a picture of these mild grandparents sitting by the rose garden. Or maybe by a drift of chrysanthemums. But this?
This made a really good picture.
The good people at Noro make yarns that remind me of the Garfield Park Conservatory. Noro is a Japanese yarn company named after its founder, Eisaku Noro, that makes incredible self-striping yarn. The certified organic fibers are beautiful: single-ply raw silk and virgin wool that keep their natural character. But it’s the colors (the colors!) that make this yarn such a treat to work with. Verdent greens, with wisteria and ochre and bark brown. Or clementine orange with hot magenta and graphite. The color combinations sing and I think to myself, “what mad genius put these colors together? And made them better than they were to start?!”
Besides the wonderous hues, I also love Noro for their bold unheaval of the yarn market so many years back. I give them credit for spurring the luscious yarn movement that gives us the yarn candy we now have in our local yarn shops. (Now dear reader, please do not write me angry letters about colorful yarn pioneers. I simply do open the subject for debate.) It’s no wonder that Noro has done so well, with a loyal following they well deserve. I love you, Noro, in all the colors that you are.*
I recently designed a crocheted purse, inspired by Noro’s self-striping palettes. The purse is slightly bagette-shaped and boasts wood handles (I could have named this post “I ♥ Wood Handles” but I didn’t think it was as catchy). The pattern is a textural fan pattern that really maximizes the classic Noro “Kureyon” stripes, allowing each float of color to pop as its own. As the stitch pattern progresses, the colors change, creating satisfying bands of symphonic hues. So luscious! For $4, you can buy the pattern here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/165320837/pdf-crochet-pattern-garfield-park
The pattern is named after the Garfield Park Conservatory and now you know why: it’s a perfect pairing of lush, riotous colors, and old-fashioned “grandma” wood handles.
Crochet with love.
* Not a label snob? Me neither. I just want beautiful yarn and I’m happy to get it for less. Try “Gina” from Plymouth Yarn. I picked up a few skeins at my LYS and it’s a colorful single ply wool (sound like Noro?) for a few bucks less. You’re welcome.