By Jenny Affan
Three women meet in downtown Eugene at Willamette and Broadway. It’s dusk and the air is brittle with a persistent chill. Darkness starts to swallow the sky above, setting the stage perfectly for their act to take place in anonymity. In hand, each of them carry knitted treasures. The day is March 31st, 2010. A day before April Fool’s, but what these three women were about to do wasn’t intended as a joke.
Together they looked at their artillery and started the operation: yarn bomb. They began by sewing cozies onto bike racks and one parking meter. They stuck a little felted mushroom into a hole in a building. The task was nothing less than exhilarating, but they still felt uneasy about the repercussions that could ensue. That thought didn’t stop them. They continued to place knitted monster feet on a park bench. The phone booth outside of the Oak Street Speakeasy was quickly decorated next. The sun continued to set and the sky continued to darken. A few street kids approach them, wide eyed and curious as to what this possibly could be. The kids and passerby’s marvel at the group of three, showing praise to the act being done. Who are these crafters that deck the streets with knitted trinkets? They call themselves The Knotty Knitters.
Knitting isn’t just for old women and Maiya Becker is the prime example of this new generation of knitters. Becker has always been fascinated with public art and as we sit down over tea to chat about knitting, the gleam in her eye not only tells her story but shows it. Even if she has explained her journey a million times already, this conversation has the feel of a freshly unwrapped gift. One of those gifts was her creation of The Knotty Knitters. Becker started the knitting group roughly three years ago with the intent to get her and her knitting friends out of their houses and together sharing their love for crafting yarn. The number of members of the group has been as small as three to as large as twenty. The group caters to people of all skill level. One of the first public art pieces Becker ever encountered was in Portland. Someone had taken a tree stump and upholstered it into a seat.
“But I loved that,” Becker says. “Something so domestic became this public art.”
Shortly after, she came across a book about yarn bombing and immediately went home and researched more. She found out it was a global phenomenon that was just being born. That sparked the interest of Becker and her fellow knitters, giving them inspiration to craft an idea for their first yarn bomb. They had initial concerns because the act was considered vandalism and for things like this to happen a person must file the correct paperwork with the city. The next day after they had placed the knitted creations on Willamette and Broadway, everything was gone.
“It was the people who had taken it,” Becker says. “ Some of the pieces were there for people to take, but some people purposefully cut off pieces to take. That’s a part of putting it out there. It doesn’t belong to you anymore.”
Since their first yarn bomb they’ve orchestrated a few more including a cohesive piece on parking meters. They decorated around 13 meters with knitted cozies next to the Eugene Celebration two years ago. It was such a success that one of the cozies made itself into a published book called “Urban Knits.” Eugene, known more for being a liberal arts town, has shown some apprehensiveness when it comes yarn bombing.
“Eugene is pretty afraid,” Becker says. “They play the what-if game. Like what if someone erects a giant penis. What are you going do? You take it down. It’s not a big deal.”
Becker started knitting around 8-10 years ago when she was a student at the University of Oregon majoring in the theater department. One of her professors at the time had to leave for the summer for a gig in Wisconsin. Becker house sat for her and in exchange had her professor teacher her how to knit.
As we both take a sip from our tea her eyes light up when I ask her why she wanted to learn. The reason: socks. Her fascination with socks is entirely rooted in the mathematical technique it takes to create a pair.
“There’s like a hundred different ways to knit them,” Becker says. “You turn a 90 degree angle when knitting to do the heel. You have to mathematically turn.”
Becker plans to keep The Knotty Knitters group together through the future. Although, not all her time can be dedicated to the group because she recently was crowned SLUG queen. She won the title last August by wooing the judges with her own hand knitted green dress. Out of all the knitting endeavors Becker has faced, her SLUG Queen dress was the most time consuming. It took her over a year to complete. Time consuming as it can be, Becker explained to me why she’ll continue to thrive on knitting.
“I like it because you are creating something,” Becker says. “I’m a crafter and an artist. I like the physics of it, you can create a three dimensional object out of two sticks and a piece of string. If you think about it that way, it’s kind of insane.”
She is now dedicated to raising her two children, being a wife, and being a SLUG queen. Becker also plans to do another yarn bomb in the near future with her Knotty Knitters and keep the spark alive in the Eugene public art scene.