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Tracing the yarn: Local artist fosters community through knitting and crocheting

Co-coordinator of Downtown Livermore Tree Sweater Forest reflects on the joys of collaboration
Donnamarie Fuller installing her "Very Hungry Caterpillar" tree sweater in Livermore in 2017.

A small Rose Coat with six pearly white buttons rested on a cloth-covered table. Inside an exhibit room at the Alameda County Fair this summer, ambient light illuminated the coat’s pinkish yarn and its complexities: collar, cuffs, and Vs on each side of the chest that extend down with single lines. Just below the coat, a slip of paper marked it as 1st Place, "Best in Show."

It won recognition as a single item in the Knit Infant & Toddler Items category for an adult project.

The artist: Donnamarie Fuller.

Award-winning Rose Coat at the Alameda County Fair in 2023. ​​Photo by Jude Strzemp

With more than four decades of practice and a couple hundred projects, she’s no rookie around yarn. But she’s not just an award-winning artist, she’s also an organizer for the knitting and crocheting community in Livermore.

Though she's achieved individual success, she humbly credits the community for her accomplishments. So, when she makes art for the peace of mind, the challenge, or someone in need, she’s doing even more -- she’s uplifting and encouraging those around her.

"As you climb, you lift," Fuller said, referring to her journey in art. It’s one that began when she was under 10 years old.

She picked up a crochet hook for the first time under the guidance of a family friend in Sunol. Lessons started with the chain stitch, a simple looping stitch, made tenuous by ideals of perfection -- every mistake was unstitched, every time the stitching restarted. Frustrated, she took a multi-year break, only to return with reinvigorated passion. This time, she was weaving yarn on coat hangers.

“I was able to come at it from a different angle. I was able to pick up a hook, pick up some yarn and just have fun with it,” Fuller said. “I got to explore with it.”

Shortly after, she returned to crocheting. She even added knitting to her repertoire, a skill that brought public recognition this summer with her win at the fair. It’s a win she shares, crediting the coat’s designer Julie Weisenberger along with Sandy Rowney -- owner of Knit This, Purl That! in Livermore -- and local knitting groups.

“Everyone who has contributed to what I know how to do today -- they all get a piece of that award,” Fuller said. “I’m thankful for it. I appreciate the honor, but I by no means think that it was solely me who completed this work at a level where it could be recognized. A lot of people came before me who guided me.”

Her presence extends further, as she has been co-coordinator of the Downtown Livermore Tree Sweater Forest with Rachel Flory since 2018. Flory attributes the project’s upkeep to Fuller, with the next installation set for Sept. 30. 

"She’s wonderful at communicating with the tree sweater makers, as well as people who come along because -- it is art in action -- when we're out there installing and embellishing our trees, there's a lot of questions," Flory said.

Fuller explained that her art is a passion. She said that creating art helps her self-regulate. There’s relief in the predictability in knitting. Repeated swooshes and clicks of yarn and needles melt away her stress. But even on challenging projects, which are a tad less relaxing, she enjoys learning. 

"Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" tree sweater, crocheted and knitted by Donnamarie Fuller, on display in Livermore during the 2022 downtown Tree Sweater Forest. Photo courtesy Fuller

Art is also a way that she connects with others. Months-long projects, like prayer shawls, are laborious gifts intended to make people feel cared for, important and comforted.

Through it all, rather than focusing on her own accolades, she boosts the art community in Livermore and beyond by sharing credit and voicing inspiration to others.

"If you see someone creating -- whether it’s paint, whether it’s clay, whether it’s yarn, whether it’s fabric -- if you see that and you feel like you have a passion or an interest, I would hope that (you) would feed that,” Fuller said. “Go for it! Go for it!”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the new date of this year's Tree Sweater Forest installation. 

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