Dec 11, 2012

Show Your State Some Love With DIY String Art

Do we have Bon Iver to thank for inventing the concept of Wisconsin pride?

(Of course Texans have always had it.) 

Actually, most Americans are pretty into their state's shape. They're often offended when you can't name it based on a squiggly outline, to which I reply, "Find me a household object shaped like Saskatchewan!" — an easy exercise because Saskatchewan is shaped like a board. (I'm not actually from Saskatchewan. I'm from British Columbia. I just like watching Americans say the word "Saskatchewan" as they briefly consider the breadth of all that they do not know).

Anyway, people from the Midwest are practically Canadian for their humble lack of overt state patriotism. I like that about them.

My husband is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which is actually Bon Iver's hometown. Ryan's never met him, but he does like to recall listening to Justin Vernon's first band out of high school. It sounded a lot like Jack Johnson, apparently.

So for Christmas this year I decided to make him a piece of string art in the shape of Wisconsin (with a heart where Eau Claire is located).

I got the idea from this Mississippi artist's Etsy shop, which I found through Pinterest. If you don't have the patience to hammer a couple hundred nails into a board like I did, I recommend placing a custom order with Curiously Wrought. She's even made the map of Canada, an impressive feat considering the shape of our three coast lines.

I, however, am short on money — but long on patience. And I have an assistant who demands only cookies as payment.

It should be noted: in order to get anything done with a child underfoot, you must involve them in some small way (but make their contribution seem really significant or they'll lose interest). Also, handing over part-creative control to a preschooler may mean you end up with an orange art project, which is what I did.

She was right though; her dad claims orange to be his favorite color. But when it's a project paying homage to a state known chiefly for its contribution to cheese culture, it can seem a little....literal. Ryan is a good man though, and I'm sure he'll love it all the more knowing Lucy picked the paint chip.

What you need:

-A piece of wood. We reclaimed a board that had been a shelf in a friend's closet. (With her permission, I swear).
-A bunch of 3/4-inch nails (I estimate I used about 250 nails, or approx. 3/4 of a package)
-String, a lot of it (mine was from the dollar store)

Optional: Paint (Orange or any other hopefully non-questionable color), tracing wheel and projector (though you could probably find another way to transfer the shape of your state onto a board!)

To start with, Lucy and I sanded the board a bit to get rid of any splinters and make the paint stick better.

Then we painted a couple thick coats of orange and let it dry completely.

I knew if tried to draw the outline of Wisconsin freehand my husband would end up making fun of me. (Again, damn Americans and their fierce devotion to their state's shape!)

So I set up the projector  (my husband bought one for a solo show he performed a few years back), and traced the shape onto a large piece of pattern paper. I drew a heart where Eau Claire is located.

(The upside of re-discovering our projector: my kid was so thrilled to watch an episode of My Little Pony projected onto the wall of our apartment.)

Then I taped the pattern paper to my board and used my tracing wheel to transfer the outline of Wisconsin onto my board. It was actually a pretty great way to do this because I had ready-made spacing for my nails: every three holes I placed a nail.

Then the hammering began.

Lucy only banged my thumb a couple times.

Winding the string was fun. I simply made a slipknot on the end and wrapped it around a nail. Then I zigzagged from the outline to the heart, all the way around, knotting it at the end.

The effect is pretty heartwarming for a cheesehead, dontchathink?

I don't know where in our apartment this is going to go. It's pretty heavy, and the walls in our pre-war apartment are crumbly as an oatmeal crisp. There's no mantle either. Maybe atop a bookcase? (WWBID?)

So that's one of the things I've been working on these past few weeks. Lucky for me, my husband never reads my blog, so I can share this DIY with you even though it's still weeks until Christmas.

What about you? You got state (or province) pride? How do you express it?


  1. so cool! I've admired the ones I've seen on pinterest. If I can find someone with a projector, my state is probably not too hard (Ohio). And yay for multi-tasking sewing notions!

    1. I bet you could do it without a projector. Just print it large scale at a copy shop, or at home on a bunch of pieces of paper, then tape them together...use a grid to make it easier to do a good job freehand?

  2. dammit. i really really really wat this now. and i just threw two huge plywood boards out in a fit of cleaning...

    1. Check the basement of your apartment, maybe? Our super seems to stash boards like this here and there...

  3. i love, i love, i love! i'm originally from kansas (that rectangle in the middle of the country), which would be super easy to do. though, i have very little actual attachment to the state... other than missing my family and friends. very cool idea! can lucy keep it a secret? my kids are giant blabber mouths!

    1. So do it for the state you live in now? Or something else all together? something sewing related....a pair of scissors? I spool of thread? That would be cool!

      And yeah, Lucy is amazingly tight-lipped when it comes to Christmas gifts and other surprises.

    2. Those are some great ideas for other shapes.

  4. Wow, that is something else, Suzanne -- so creative and the best example of string art I've ever seen. Didn't the banging of 250 nails upset the neighbors though? That would be my concern. I'd put that on top of a bureau (or similar piece of furniture) and lean it against a wall.

    1. Good question, Peter! I hammered only during daylight hours, when I knew our neighbors wouldn't be too bothered. I also put it on a cushy ottoman, so that much of the sound was absorbed. I really liked making this, but I know string art can't become a regular hobby...or else I may get evicted!

  5. I love this! What patience! I think South Carolina takes the cake for state pride, though. Maybe just under Texas. Here it's all about the state flag instead of the outline. There are palmetto trees and crescent moons on everything.

    1. About to google Palmetto idea what that is!

  6. Brilliant! We're actually (probably) about to leave our beloved home state of Washington for that practically whole other country of Texas, and I'm a little bit terrified! Maybe a nice Washington string art is in order. Such a weird shape though...

  7. I saw this project inspiration featured on the Kollabora blog and it has been in the back of my mind ever since. You've done a great job, here, and I may need to do one after Christmas has passed.

  8. This is so cool! And kudos to you for finding a way to involve Lucy! I'm a Midwesterner with zero pride in my home state-- in fact, I reveal where I grew up quite reluctantly!

    I'm a card-carrying member of the people-whose-hubs-don't-read-their-blog club, too.

  9. damn! you stole my idea (you know, after i stole it from someone else or whatever). not really, but you beat me to making it. I like the heart idea, i'm going to incorporate that into my version of Texas (aka, the original state pride-state). your diy looks super cool, even if it is of an inferior state. ;) thanks for all the detailed tips.

    my boyfriend has an outline of ohio tattooed on his arm with crosshairs over his home town. no one ever recognizes the shape. haha.

  10. That is fabulous! Your husband must have been very pleased with his present.



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