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Duchnowski: Unraveling local yarn-bombers

Ariel Ries owner of Smalltown Skate Shop in DeKalb poses Tuesday next to a tree covering that she created last winter.
Ariel Ries owner of Smalltown Skate Shop in DeKalb poses Tuesday next to a tree covering that she created last winter.

Ariel Ries makes earrings from broken skateboards.

She made a knit hat she calls "the bald man hat." I'm told it has a combover.

I hadn't been to her shop, Smalltown Skate Shop, 229 E. Lincoln Highway, DeKalb, until Tuesday, but I stepped in hoping to find out more about one of her other creations: Ries crocheted a sweater (if you want to call it that) for a tree outside the shop.

She used scrap yarn to cover a tree near the street with a multitude of colors. It was my first experience with yarn-bombing, but Ries assured me plenty of other people have noticed it since she put it up last year as crews were hanging holiday lights downtown.

"I wasn't going to leave it up all summer, but it looked so nice," she said. "... People take pictures by it all the time."

I first noticed it Saturday while on a mission to find chocolate-covered bacon and eat a bacon burger (i.e., a patty evenly comprised of ground bacon and ground beef) during BaconPalooza in downtown DeKalb. As much as I appreciate bacon, I appreciate public art, including street art, even more, so I started asking around about the tree sweater.

Now, I understand that part of the point of yarn-bombing is that it is unexpected, its perpetrator anonymous, but don't most masterminds want to receive credit for their handiwork? During my quest to uncover who covered the tree, I discovered a few other things.

Sandi Gavin, of the Yarn Exchange, has closed her shop in downtown DeKalb but is still operating online at Local pickup is available through November at Encore Clothing, 132 E. Lincoln Highway, DeKalb.

Gavin didn't know about the tree sweater, but she pointed me toward Ravelry, an online community celebrating the fiber arts at There, I found message boards for the DeKalb Fiber Arts Collective, which meets each Sunday night at Barnes & Noble, 2439 Sycamore Road, DeKalb.

On the message boards, I discovered that someone had yarn-bombed the Huskie statue in front of the DeKalb Public Library in November 2011. Then, I discovered who it was: Kim Hall, a DeKalb resident who has left her smallest yarn scraps outside for the birds but wanted to do something more fun with larger scraps.

"What a lot of yarnies find is we have a lot of scrap yarn," Hall explained.

"... We constantly have this stash building up of these scrap yarns. And we think: 'What do you do with it?' The last thing you want to do is throw yarn out."

She had just found a pattern for a witch's hat and happened to have some bland yarn that would be perfect. She originally targeted the Huskie in front of Doherty Law Firm, 125 N. First St., DeKalb, but during a late-night visit, learned she couldn't reach the Huskie's head, as the whole statue is mounted on a pedestal.

So, she left the hat on the library's Huskie.

"I would go to the library every few days just because I'm such a voracious reader," Hall said, adding that she would adjust the hat and its attached hair. "I kept having to straighten it out."

The hat held up well through the rain, but Hall reclaimed her creation about two weeks later. Library employees didn't seem to mind, if they noticed at all, but later brought the Huskie inside after it was stolen and recovered in a park.

Now, Hall is crocheting a baby blanket for her nephew, who just had a child, and a top for her daughter.

But she has some scrap yarn that is orange and black, which are DeKalb High School's colors. And school is starting soon. And there are so many objects near area schools.

So ... who knows when a yarn-bomber will strike next.

"The thing about yarn-bombing," Hall said, "is that its supposed to be fun."

• Jillian Duchnowski is the Daily Chronicle’s news editor. Reach her at 815-756-4841, ext. 2221, or email

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