Jene McMahon’s New Year’s Eve party plan is to stay at home in Hazel Dell and celebrate the completion of a demanding, daily artistic project.
Line by line, each day since Jan. 1, McMahon has crocheted our changing weather into a vividly colorful blanket. Each line of yarn represents that day’s temperature high.
White, gray and blue are cold and cool. Green is warm and pleasant. Yellow, orange and deepening red are hot, hotter and hottest.
The blanket demonstrates how data can be made to look oddly beautiful — even data that’s frankly ominous.
“With the temperatures being so weird these days,” McMahon said, “you can literally see what our year has looked like.”
What has 2022 looked like? Alarmingly colorful. Summer 2022 was the third hottest ever recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the whole year is clearly headed for the top 10 list of hottest years ever.
The center region of McMahon’s blanket glows yellow and red. The ends show lots of cool blue.
While her mother is a master crocheter, McMahon never tried her own hand at this form of stitchery before Jan. 1. That’s when she decided to take up the self-imposed challenge of some form of daily, personally meaningful discipline that would last one whole year.
“I’ve wanted to see if I had the discipline to do something every day since I was a teenager,” she said.
McMahon contemplated taking a daily photograph of the sunset. But the sunset isn’t always visible from her home, and she also wanted to fight rheumatoid arthritis by engaging her fingers more intensively than simply snapping one daily picture, she said.
She found inspiration in a growing trend among crocheters that she discovered online: recording, in colorful stitchery, each day’s temperature high.
“I found there’s a whole community of people doing this,” McMahon said. “Temperature blankets — they’re really quite a thing.”
Her own blanket is traditional, she said, ranging from winter blues to summer (and heat wave) reds. Others’ blankets get craftier, featuring unconventional color choices and including more temperature data.
Some ambitious crocheters record not just each day’s high but also the low and the average, all packed into a single complicated and multicolored daily line.
“I think during the pandemic people were looking for something to do,” McMahon said.
A little internet digging turns up much guidance and community for the temp-blanket (and temp-sweater) curious. There’s also a bit of grumbling from people who started but found the daily project too demanding, or the results too bland (in places where temperature varies little) or even too chaotic to please the eye (in places where it varies wildly).
McMahon’s observation is that many people who begin a yearlong temperature blanket project don’t actually finish it.
Last week’s intense cold snap, with highs in the 20s, prompted this exciting temp-blanket news alert to The Columbian from McMahon: “I finally got to use white!”
Talk about the weather
People have been talking about the weather for as long as there have been people, but McMahon’s recent fascination has opened up a whole new line of conversation between herself and her husband, Tom McMahon.
Tom works as an HVAC service technician — that is, a temperature-control guy — with Tri-Tech Heating.
“We’ve never had so much in common,” Jene McMahon said. “We finally have something to talk about every evening! We are both fascinated by the temperature and the weather.”
In winter, she can get going by late afternoon because the day’s high temperature has been definitively reached, she said. But last summer, especially during three heat waves, temperatures sometimes didn’t top out until well into the evening.
Thanks to arthritis and other ongoing heath issues, McMahon said, her daily crochet pace is slow.
“I am not fast,” she said. “It takes me 90 minutes to do one row.” The crocheting beginner has made her fair share of mistakes, pulling out rows and starting over, she said.
McMahon said she identifies with her grandmother, who lived on a farm in Eastern Washington and was a weather and temperature enthusiast.
“She loved the weather, and she used to look in the newspaper every day for the high and low and track it on a grid,” she said. “She would have loved this.”
Recently learning that she’s a grandmother-to-be added another motivation to McMahon’s temperature-blanket project, she said.
“I just want my grandchild to be able to say, ‘My grandma is weird and cool. My grandma is an artist. My grandma did this for a year,’” she said.
But she’s also mindful that her blanket documents a rapidly changing environment. McMahon said she wonders if, decades from now, her grandchild will look at the blanket and jealously marvel: “Look at how cool it used to be in winter.”