Your Village: What happened to Iowa City’s tree sweaters?

Have a question about what’s going on in your community? Ask Little Village. Submit your questions through the Your Village feature on our homepage, or email us at

Iowa City tree sweater, March 10, 2015. — photo by Alan Light via Flickr

Why no tree sweaters this year? —- Carly, Iowa City, via Facebook

“We haven’t done it for three years now,” Betsy Potter, director of operations for the Iowa City Downtown District (ICDD), told Little Village. “It was a public art installation, essentially, and it had a three year lifespan with us.”

The Tree Huggers Project, which adorned downtown trees with hand-knitted “sweaters,” was a joint project of the ICDD and Home Ec Workshop, “Iowa City’s natural fiber fabric, yarn and craft supply shop.”

The ICDD handled the necessary details involved in getting permission in sweatering trees on public property and making it an orderly process, while Home Ec took the lead in the knitting.

“It was a lot of work done by a lot of people,” Potter recalled. “Home Ec did a huge amount of work. Among other things, they had to measure the dimensions of each tree every year, because trees grow over the course of a year.”

The project was launched in 2012. Each year, volunteers knitted sweaters for more than 100 downtown trees, and then dressed the trees for the winter. The sweaters went up in November and remained in place until March. The last sweaters came down in March 2015.

The Iowa City tree sweaters were an example of “yarn bombing.” No one is entirely sure when or where yarn bombing — putting knitted covers over public objects — started, but it seems the practice first got wide public notice in Texas in 2005.

Tree sweaters are an internationally popular form of yarn bombing, and were embraced as a natural fit for Iowa City. Raygun even had a t-shirt that referenced it: “Downtown Iowa City: From tree sweaters to unsupervised pianos, anything goes.”

However, because Iowa City is Iowa City, there were also people who criticized the Tree Huggers Project as socially irresponsible, arguing that its volunteers should have been knitting sweaters for homeless people, not trees. Some tree sweaters did have a philanthropic second life, however: starting in 2013, sweaters removed from trees intact were cleaned, sewn into blankets and shawls and donated to Iowa City Hospice.

Asked if ICDD had any plans to bring back the tree sweaters, Potter said no.

“We’ve moved on to other public art projects,” she said.

Curious what's happening this weekend? Sign up here to stay in the know.

ICDD is currently accepting applications for its newest public art project, in which artists will create murals on the walls of downtown alleys.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


40 Years Forward:

A Celebration of Empowerment & Hope

Deb Talan of "The Weepies" will begin our night of celebration with a story of survival, empowerment, and hope told through words and song. Join us in remembering our past and envisioning the future at the Coralville Mariott.


Friday, September 20 at 7:30 p.m.

For 18 years...

Little Village has been telling the truth and changing our little corner of the world.

If you can, help us head into the next 18 years even stronger with a one-time or monthly contribution of $18, or any amount you choose.


A collaboration between The Englert Theatre and FilmScene


Help us build the greatest small city for the arts in America—right here in Iowa City. Learn more »

Donate Today

Strengthen • Grow • Evolve is a collaborative campaign led by two Iowa City-based arts nonprofits, The Englert Theatre and FilmScene that seeks a major reinvestment to strengthen the arts through modern and historic venues, innovative programming, and new models of collaboration.

Little Village's

From Aug. 1-Sept. 30, cast your vote for your favorite places, people, eats and entertainment around the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area.

Don't forget to explain your picks! The best answers will be published in LV's Best of the CRANDIC issue, out Dec. 3, 2019.