Handmade blankets to serve as temporary art installations, become donations for homeless

The Ground Cover Project aims to (Annika Cline/DD)
The Ground Cover Project is currently exhibiting blankets, which will later be donated to the homeless, at the Eye Lounge. The blankets will be laid on the lot on a corner of McKinley and First streets. (Annika Cline/DD)

Many Phoenix residents welcome the drop in temperatures that November brings, but some worry about how the homeless will stay warm at night.

Volunteer knitters, crocheters, weavers and quilters are racing against the thermometer to create 300 blankets by Dec. 1 as part of the Ground Cover Public Art Project, commissioned in Arizona by the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture.

Ann Morton, the artist in charge of the project, said about 275 blankets have been completed so far. She said there is value in homemade items beyond the warmth they provide.

“I think it has a more hands-on connection, rather than going and buying something and putting it in a big bin,” Morton said.

The finished blankets are currently on display in the Eye Lounge art gallery near Roosevelt and Fourth streets in a temporary exhibit titled “Foreground.” The exhibit aims to educate the public about the blankets and the issue they hope to address, Morton said.

On Dec. 6 and 7, the blankets will be laid down by volunteers on a vacant lot at a corner on McKinley and First streets to create a 116-foot by 50-foot image of desert blooms. Each blanket makes up a 2,800-square-inch piece of the red, gold and brown puzzle.

“We have desert flowers that cover the ground in the spring, but it’s also made of blankets so they’re covering people that are on the ground,” Morton said. “(Ground Cover) has a double meaning.”

The art installation will “grow” on the lot overnight, but will be taken down the next day so the blankets can be given out to those in need. Morton plans to work with agencies that serve the homeless, such as the Lodestar Day Resource Center near Madison Street and 12th Avenue, to make mass donations of the blankets.

Laura DiTroia, the program coordinator at Lodestar, said there is a definite need for blanket donations. On any given day, between 1,100 and 1,300 people in need access the human services campus where both Lodestar and Central Arizona Shelter Services are located.

CASS distributes blankets made of recycled material, which DiTroia said is a cost-effective solution, but doesn’t compare with a handmade donation. The recycled blankets are made of scratchy and thin scraps of materials, DiTroia said, comparing it to the carpet on the floor of her office.

“To have a nice comfortable blanket, even if you are in a shelter, can be comforting and empowering,” DiTroia said.

DiTroia worked with Morton on a previous project that involved knitting hats for the homeless. She said what made that project so successful was the sense of community it created, not only for those in need but for the makers as well.

Morton said the “blanketeers” are experiencing a connection with the homeless community that they might have otherwise been detached from.

“With every stitch that each maker is making, they’re thinking about why they’re making this piece,” Morton said.

Morton said some of the makers have already expressed an interest in continuing to volunteer after this experience. Tane Clark, who worked with Morton on the hats project and now with Ground Cover, said the projects showed her there is a need to educate people about homelessness.

“I don’t think people always realize there are so many varieties of homelessness,” Clark said.

Clark had section M-15 in the lot, which contained five of the nine colors in the color scheme. She had never made a blanket before.

“I had to tear some of it apart in the beginning and start over,” Clark said. “But then I got the hang of it.”

Morton said the blanket makers were a variety of skill levels from 23 states and Canada. She said some volunteers who live in Arizona over the winter agreed to take on the project back in March and sent their finished blankets from their other places of residence.

Some blankets were made by a group, some were created by individuals. To prepare for the possibility of some blankets not getting in on time, Morton sent out a call for emergency blanket makers to make more 10-inch by 10-inch squares in the event of an absent or partially-finished blanket.

DiTroia said clients are appreciative of homemade gifts during the holiday season. Lodestar will hand out a portion of the blankets at their holiday party in December as gifts, and explain the project to the recipients.

“You can feel the love in the blanket versus if I hand you a recycled blanket,” DiTroia said. “You feel a little closer to home.”

The Eye Lounge exhibit will be up through Sunday, Nov. 10.

Contact the reporter at ascline1@asu.edu