Temperature Blanket: A Cozy Approach to Data Visualization

Several years ago I stumbled across a fun project idea. Someone posted a picture of a scarf they knitted based on the temperature for the past year. I was fascinated by the concept because 1) I love the idea of a fun, creative, year-long project and 2) I am a sucker for interesting data visualizations. However, not knowing how to knit at the time, I filed it away in my brain (or saved it to Pinterest which is the same thing) as a project-I-might-think-about-but-probably-never-do.

Fast forward to 2021

Hat and octopus
Since 2020 was such a crap year, I used my holiday break to try something new. I taught myself how to crochet. I’ve tried before but to pretty dismal ends. But this time I was determined. It stared with a hat and moved on to several adorable octopi. (You can find the pattern for both here and here, respectively.) Aside from my hat being weirdly large and my octopi being a bit wonky, I felt that my crocheting adventure was a success. I was feeling very confident after my week being a crocheter. (Is that a word? It should be a word.) So, I decided that it was time to take on a year-long crochet project and crochet myself a temperature blanket!

Getting Started

My biggest piece of advice for anyone wanting to tackle this type of project is to do your research and make a plan. Before I started I did quite a bit of research. I watched videos and read some blogs from the brave souls who have come before me. Apparently, temperature blankets, quilts, and scarves are a big thing online. A simple search and you can find a lot of crazy…er..I mean creative folks who have taken on this type of project. Hearing others experiences was really helpful. Not only did I learn a lot about their process, it help me learn from their successes and mistakes. I’ve listed a couple of my favorite posts and videos below. The research was key. I learned how to do the math and create the color ranges as well as how to make sure it does not end up 10 feet long!

Making the Plan

After much research and thinking, I was ready to commit and make a plan. I first looked at historic temperature data so I could see how much the temp in my area varies during the year. You need this info to determine how high to set your highest range and how low to set your lowest. Based on the average temps in my area, I went with a high cut off of 94 degrees and a low cut off of 15 degrees. (I am being optimistic that we will not have any -30 degree weather this year. Fingers crossed.) I also decided that I was only going to use eight colors. This was mainly an artistic choice. I’ll get into my color choices later. With my high point and low point set, I used some mad math skills and determined that I’d change colors every 13 degrees in between. Now on to the yarn.

Color Inspiration I decided early that I did not want a rainbow temp blanket. It seemed like many of the ones I’ve seen use the basic rainbow color spectrum. However, I loved the ones that broke free of the rainbow and went with a unique color palette. I went on the hunt for some color inspiration. This took a while. I take color very seriously and I wanted to get this right! The blanket was going to live in our living room. The room is filled with shades of grey and blue but also has a space theme. Images from the Hubble Telescope adorn the walls next to an original movie poster from Star Trek IV. (Thank you, NASA for the amazing Hubble images.) As much as I loved all the nebula art and the movie poster, there was a bit too much orange for my liking. I was starting to get discouraged but then inspiration hit! The blanket was for my husband who was turning 50 in 2021. So I looked to one of his favorite things – World of Warcraft. He made me watch the trailer for Shadowlands and I’ll have to say, the colors were perfect. So armed with a plan, a screenshot, and a new sense of determination, it was time to shop for yarn! It was a little difficult to find colors to match the image all from the same brand. But I think I did OK. I’m pretty happy with my color palette.

The last piece of the plan was the stitch. Being new to the crochet thing, I needed a simple stitch. I decided on using a single stitch with a size 6mm hook. That gave me a simple stitch in a size that was easy to work with. I still had to play around to figure out how big this thing was going to be. You figure, it will be 365 rows long. Thanks to some math and several gage swatches (don’t skip the gage swatches), I determined that doing a single crochet into he back loop only condensed the size and gives the blanket a nice pattern. Also, thanks to Crochet Crowd for their handy size chart. It really helped me figure out the math behind the size of my future blanket.

Plan, hook, and yarn in hand. I started my blanket.

One Month Later

Then and nowFast forward to February 1st. I am proud to say that my blanket is coming along. I work on it every night as a way to decompress. (It is sooo much better than doom scrolling social media.) Even though I’ve only been doing this for a month, I have learned some things I’ll use “next time.”

  • Document everything – I set up a spreadsheet where I keep track of the daily high and if I completed the row. As my blanket gets bigger, this will be helpful. And, if you miss a day, you have the temp there and ready to go.
  • You are not a data scientist, artistic license wins out over accuracy – There have been a couple days where the high temp was just barely hit and that sent me into a different colors range. I wanted variety so I went with the lower temp to better represent the day. And then I forgave myself for faulty data representation. There have also been times when I made my row and then the temp snuck up into the higher range. I could have taken out the row and redone it in the right color but I hate going backwards on projects. So I kept it. It was close enough.
  • Two sided – The stitch I chose created a two sided blanket. Which I’m fine with but you can’t see the entire month when you lay it out. If I would have thought of it earlier, I would have done two rows a day (one for low and one for high). Then the two sided blanket would have been a side for high and a side for low….and also very very large.
  • Smaller color ranges – The temps so far this year have been stable. Therefore my blanket does not have a lot of color variation. That is also partly because my color ranges are wide. If I would have chosen more yarn colors and used smaller ranges, I would have more variation. But, I also hate changing colors so I guess that is a positive.
  • Useful website – I get my temp data from both Weather Bug and weather.gov. I find the weather.gov site is fantastic. Especially if you are not doing temp but some other weather phenomenon instead like precipitation.
  • Find friends – I posted about doing this project on Facebook and several of my friends liked the idea and decided to do it too. They told their friends and now we have a small Facebook group of folks from across the country making blankets. Some are crocheting. Some are knitting. Some are doing blankets. Others are doing scarves. Some record temp and others record precipitation. It is a fun way to provide each other support and motivation. It is a great group and I have learned a lot form them. I can also say from this and several of my past year-long projects, find a group of supporters to help keep you going. (Shout out to all the Temperature Facebook group folks! You all rock and your blankets are beautiful! You can read about one group member’s project on her blog.)

That is just what I have learned in the past month. It has been quite the journey. I have also learned that I suck at making edges. But that is ok. I’m embracing the imperfect and calling this my growth mindset blanket.

Other Project Ideas

This project has reignited my love of data. As I planned for this project, I thought of so many other ways I could take simple data sets, like temp, and create fun works of art. A couple years ago there was an art exhibit on campus that featured data as art. It was amazing and inspiring! Most people think that data is only viewed in charts and graphs. While those can be informative, they are not necessarily beautiful. There are some many ways to turn information into art. In a classroom, this is a great way to help students see just how beautiful information and data can be.

Even something simple like my blanket could be done with students. Don’t have a year? Have them pick a month or week. Let your students collect some data and decide on a creative way to display that data. Don;t want to teach the kiddos how to crochet or knit? No worries! Use what you have. For example, use beads. Each color range is a different color bead. Have them make jewelry or a beaded garland. Use paper to make a temperature paper chain. Even a simple piece of graph paper could be transformed into a colorful data visualization. Color a square or row based on your color key. Don’t limit it to temp. What other data can you or your students collect? I also love all the questions you can ask when you finish your project. What do you notice and wonder? What patterns do you see? What story does your data tell?

So many ideas and so many ways to use this in the classroom. The possibilities are endless. There might be a future post on that….Hmmmm.

1 thought on “Temperature Blanket: A Cozy Approach to Data Visualization”

Leave a Comment