Knitters gather at a recent Crochet and Conversation event at The Forum. Credit: Provided

BRONZEVILLE — A South Loop woman is using her knitting skills to raise money for renovating The Forum, a long-time Bronzeville gathering place.

Valerie Sherman — known as “the South Side Yarn Bomber” — has long used her crochet skills to help various philanthropic efforts around the city. She came across The Forum while on a bike tour and is now part of two initiatives to help the venue: She’s offering to “yarn bomb” people who donate to renovate the building, and she’s hosted events where residents crochet a banner that will be raised at The Forum.

Yarn bombing is where people decorate a space with knitted projects. People who want to be yarn bombed by Sherman can donate to The Forum online and then send Sherman a message on Instagram requesting a yarn bombing.

“Last year, I held a fundraiser in my neighborhood where if you donated $100 to my leukemia walk, I’d bomb your house, or do a piece on your bike rack or fence,” Sherman said. “There were people donating to my walk without even asking for anything.”

Also, in late June, Sherman started hosting her Crochet and Conversation event series at the Bronzeville Community Garden, 323 E. 51st St.

The event series allows residents to get together to crochet and meet their neighbors. Interest in the events has grown steadily, with residents of all ages gathering Thursdays to knit patterns for the banner that will hang across the front of the Forum, 318-324 E. 43rd St.

Neighbors knit at a recent “Crochet and Conversation” event, The limited series in organized by Valerie Sherman.

“There are big pieces that are mimicking stained glass, and I’m hoping that the community is able to do the smaller pennants that are a little simpler. People can make applications or little designs that represent what Bronzeville, the community, or the Forum means to them,” said Sherman, who lives in the South Loop.

The project is made possible by a grant from Fiber Art Now, a community organization for artists in the fiber art, mixed media and textile fields. Sherman is hosting a final Crochet and Conversation this Thursday; on Sunday, the banner will be installed.

The Forum was built in 1897 and has been a Black Chicago landmark and a community gathering space for generations. It’s fallen into disrepair, but locals hope major renovations could lead to it being reopened. Donations to the project can be made online.

Forum owner Bernard Loyd considers Sherman’s contributions a godsend. For the past decade, Loyd has worked to restore the historical venue, often paying out of pocket to cover rehabilitation work. Now that a portion of the roof work has been completed and The Forum has been rezoned for commercial use, he and his team can continue returning the venue to its former glory.

“It’s more of a ‘friend-raiser’ in that it’s bringing our neighborhood together. We have folks from outside the neighborhood coming together to crochet these pieces,” Loyd said. “We’re building bridges within our community, between our community and other neighborhoods.”

Boxville, Loyd’s other initiative, reopens for the season July 14, with vendors operating 4-7 p.m.

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