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Blind artisan presents ribbon-winning crochet work at county fair

The great irony is that to truly appreciate the works of Roberta Jensen, they have to be seen to be believed. Intricate thread work, interwoven patterns of colors and carefully constructed images of Western sunrises in forms of afghans, along wit...

The great irony is that to truly appreciate the works of Roberta Jensen, they have to be seen to be believed.

Intricate thread work, interwoven patterns of colors and carefully constructed images of Western sunrises in forms of afghans, along with multi-colored headbands, baby blankets, bedspreads and decorative pieces-all, painstakingly created by the hands of a woman who's been blind since the age of 2.

That's when rheumatoid arthritis clouded the vision of Jensen-now a Brainerd resident, originally of rural Barrows, with decades spent practicing law in Arizona and some time in distant Okinawa, Japan, in between.

When she lost her sight, Jensen said, they whisked her away from her family's farm to a school for the blind in Faribault and there, around third grade, she was taught to crochet-the germinal beginnings of a lifelong passion, she added, and a source of fulfillment in later years as rheumatism continues to wrack her body.

While she spent years practicing and methodically perfecting her art, she never submitted it for competition. In more ways than one, its brilliance remained hidden from sight. That was until her personal care assistant Valerie prodded Jensen to submit six pieces to the Crow Wing County Fair.

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They won blue ribbons, all of them, while two garnered reserve prizes and one took the highest championship honors.

In speaking with the Dispatch Wednesday, Aug. 1, Jensen was unassuming-methodically crocheting an afghan while she spoke, seemingly deriving more pleasure from talking about tackling challenges than winning prizes.

"I like challenging things. Usually I come up with an idea and I work at it until I figure out how to do it," Jensen said. "When my granddaughter was little I wanted to make her an afghan of squares with a little heart in the middle of each square. I didn't know how to do a heart shape, so I just kept doing it and doing it until I got something I thought looked like a heart."

Now, she said, the game has been changed forever with the advent of search engines.

"Almost anything is on the internet," Jensen said. "If you ever want to learn how to do something you just Google it. I've been able to learn all kinds of stuff, new stitches and new patterns and stuff."

Brick-stitch patterns, ripple patterns, ocean wave patterns-while she can't see the colors, Jensen said she enjoys the tactile nature of crocheting, the construction of it. As prolific as she is, one would think Jensen is a fast worker-nothing could be further from the truth, she said, as she lags behind people with only an amateurish grasp of the art.

"When I got back here, I had a (personal care assistant) whose name was Kelly. ... She was crocheting a scarf one day and it was 140 stitches long one row and she said 'I did that in 10 minutes!' and a few minutes later 'I did that row in eight minutes!'" Jensen said. "I said 'Bite your tongue,' because it takes me about an hour to do a row that long."

Slow and steady may not win the race in this case, but it's still winning ribbons. The makeup of the crochet piece is determined by Jensen, while she leans on her assistants, friends and family to determine the colors. While she works, Jensen said, she can typically keep tabs on which threads she's working on-though, if she loses an end or needs to feed a new line of yarn into a piece, she uses braille labels.

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Currently, she's working on an enormous afghan for her assistant, Valerie, while there are plans in the works to create a coat of many colors, a la the Biblical story of Joseph.

However many colors and what stitching style has yet to be determined, Jensen said, but if one thing is certain, it better be warm to account for Brainerd winters that-even after six years back from Arizona-still pack a formidable chill.

Related Topics: CROW WING COUNTY FAIR
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