Mr. Rogers sweater gets a warm reception... AGAIN!

Written by Heather Schmelzlen on .

Mr. Rogers was an icon before sites like Twitter and Reddit came about, but he has become a beloved figure on social media nonetheless. So when a Reddit post surfaced last week about a friendly neighbor making a sweater for the statue on Pittsburgh's North Shore, the response was great:

If you've ever seen the show, you probably remember the famous cardigans -- reportedly hand-knit by his mother. The Internet seemed to think the 'yarn bombing' was a fitting tribute:

With some digging, I found out that the person behind this cardigan was Pittsburgh artist Alicia Kachmar. She wrote about the project on her blog. The bad news? Those photos were from 2011, and the sweater is no longer on the statue. But Alicia, 31, of Morningside, did take the time to answer my questions on what has come to be a revived sensation and what she calls "the strangest thing I've ever done."
When was the sweater on the statue?
July 2011, for a couple weeks. We could have left it up longer, but it took a beating with the rain. It wasn't really meant to last forever.
How did you get the idea for the project?
It wasn't really my idea. Outpost Journal is a publication that was starting around that time, and each issue focuses on one city, looking at the underground arts scene. Pittsburgh was the debut issue, and one of the things they wanted to do for each city is have an artsy interaction with some sort of landmark, like a statue. A couple of my friends had heard about them wanting someone to make the sweater for Mr. Rogers. I have a crochet business, so my friends told me to apply. I did, and they chose me.
I had never made a sweater in general -- crochet-wise. I have an Etsy shop, and the things I make for my crochet business are very small. I don't do a lot of garments, other than scarves. I've never made a sweater other than for the Mr. Rogers statue.
Did you have to get permission from the city or anyone for the project?
We got permission from The Colcom Foundation, which funded the statue. It's not like a typical yarn bombing -- we asked and got permission and they were really excited about it.
What were the measurements for the sweater?
- right wrist is connected to his leg, but the length of the exposed wrist is 22 inches.  
- left wrist is 27.75 inches.  
- right bicep is 46.5 inches.  
- left bicep is 48.75 inches.  
- belly is 108 inches.  
- shoulder to shoulder: he's a little bit hunched forward, so, we measured from shoulder to shoulder at the most rounded part and it's 69.5 inches.  
How long did it take you to make the sweater?
I think I got chosen around February or March of that year, then there were some weeks spent talking on the phone and over email about logistics. (Outpost Journal is based in Providence.) I think I only worked on it for maybe two months. And then in April or May, the photographer and editor of the magazine came and we did a test run.
What were the logistics involved in making the sweater?
If you've ever seen the statue, the arms touch the legs. So you couldn't put it on like a regular sweater. I made a lot of rectangles. I didn't make it the way you'd normally make a sweater, it was very piecemeal. I used the largest crochet hook you can buy, a Q hook, and several different types of thread to make it thicker. The zipper on the cardigan is a functional zipper! I bought it from a sewing notions site, it was made to be a sleeping bag zipper, so it's something like 108 inches long, all one piece.
When I was doing it, I never really knew, "Is this going to work?"
When we went for the test run, it took forever. It took hours to piece it together, because there was a lot of sewing we had to do once we got there. You're hand-sewing with the needle to get the pieces together. I didn't have enough panels! So I had to take more measurements, and then I went back home and had a couple more weeks to finish it.
What was the response like in 2011?
It was really good. There was press then, but it wasn't national press. There was a response while I was down there, putting it on the statue. Everyone loved it.
What has the response been like since the photos were posted on Reddit last week?
The guy who posted it on Reddit, he just posted it. I don't know him. It was on the front page, there were like a thousand comments, and it kind of just took off from there. I was in the hospital at the time, so I wasn't really aware of what was going on, but I was getting all these emails. I had people say, "Come to DC! We'll do some yarn bombing!" I think some people don't really realize it's not on now.
Where is the sweater now? Any plans to put it back on the statue?
It's together-ish. It's in my parents' house here in Pittsburgh, in garbage bags. I haven't looked at it for a while, I can't remember what state it's in.
Because of all the press, I've thought about maybe asking if we could do it again, maybe at the same time Knit the Bridge goes up.
Alicia, who said she is "mildly involved" in Knit the Bridge, also shared her thoughts on that project. "I love it. I think it's great." Because of a recent hospitalization for a chronic illness, which she has spoken about in interviews and on her blog, she hasn't been able to be directly involved in Knit the Bridge, but she has organized a meetup to crochet one of the panels.
After our phone call, Alicia emailed me to offer one final thought on the Mr. Rogers project.
"Lastly, I should have mentioned how much of a 'connector' this sweater has been, in a way that Mister Rogers himself would have appreciated. 
Through it, I became email buddies with his wife, Joanne [Sara Joanne Byrd], (she makes me call her 'Joanne'), and I also became friends with Ben Wagner (and his family!), MTV producer and director of the documentary Mister Rogers and Me. So many people, especially in my generation, have memories of Mister Rogers and stories about particular episodes, or meeting him in real life, (I met him once at the Children's Museum b/c I grew up in Pgh!). All of these connections have continued to make it such a special creative endeavor. I never could have predicted the reaction/outcome of undertaking such a crochet project."
Alicia with the statue


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