Putney Knitters Illustrate Climate Change Through Fiber Art Exhibit

Tempestries — tapestries showing the rise of local temperatures over time — are on display at Centre Church in Brattleboro. 

Tempestries — tapestries showing the rise of local temperatures over time — on display at Centre Church in Brattleboro.

When the campus is covered with glistening snow and temperatures drop below freezing, it can be hard to conceptualize how much colder the hilltop was decades ago. But Putney School knitters and crocheters, with help from the greater community, are on a mission to help the public visualize the effects of climate change.

Putney School’s contribution to The Tempestry Project — which is on display at Centre Church in Brattleboro for the month of April — uses colored yarn to create a bar graph of the daily temperature for one geographic location, in this case Putney, Vt.

“This is such a focus on our environment and how we impact it,” said Putney Librarian Sarah Wiles, who is spearheading the local project.

In true Putney fashion, The Tempestry Project is a unique mix of art and science. Area crafters download data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather station in Keene, N.H. and skillfully knit or crochet it into a beautiful design that makes a powerful statement.

Each row represents a specific day, and the color of yarn represents a specific temperature range of 5 degrees. The colors used are consistent across the international initiative spanning nearly every U.S. state and more than 20 countries. Each bar graph represents one year, so lining them all up together creates a visually cohesive narrative demonstrating the rise of temperature over time.

“I hope it gives people a chance to think about climate change in a more visceral way,” Wiles said. “We talk about it and are experiencing it all the time, but because it happens on such a large scale and over such a long period of time, it’s difficult to relate it to everyday life.”

The local effort began in 2021 as part of a student’s Project Week, and has since grown to include current students, teachers, staff, alumni, former employees, and local community members. The 14 tempestries hanging at Centre Church are just the beginning.

“If we could knit 89 of them, you could really see the changes,” Wiles said. Her goal is to have one for each year going back to The Putney School’s founding in 1935 to get a complete picture of how the weather on the hilltop has shifted. For the record, 1963 was a particularly hot year.

Wiles is actively seeking local crafters who would like to contribute to the cause.

“We still need more help,” she said. “We hope to have as many people as we can.”

Mazie Chamberlin, ‘24, is one of the students participating in the project.

“I love knowing that I’m knitting to show something and help people understand something,” she said. “Knitting is therapeutic for me and to be able to channel it into a meaningful project is awesome!”

Harriet Rogers is a Putney alum and former employee who’s in her 90s. She’s one of the oldest and most active members who is in the process of creating three tempestries.

“As a combination livelong knitter and weather buff, The Tempestry Project suits me to a T,” she said.

Wiles has been recruiting as many people as she can through efforts such as displaying them during last year’s Harvest Festival to raise awareness — which she plans to do again in the fall — and she anticipates the Centre Church exhibit will spark interest.

“You always hope art will provoke a reaction,” Wiles said. “Since these are literally temperature bar graphs, I’m hoping that combination of art plus science will help people be able to really make a genuine connection.”

To participate in Putney’s The Tempestry Project, email Sarah Wiles at swiles@putneyschool.org 



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