Enterprise: Armed With Yarn

By Jenny Affan

There are repercussions to performing graffiti in a public space. Usually graffiti manifested from paint can leave a permanent mark that the public and police may not favor. But what about graffiti crafted from yarn? This type has been interpreted as less of a threat because it’s ease of removability. Yet as one graffiti knitter from Los Angeles recalls, Arzu Adra Kosar, there can still be confusion.

“When we were deinstalling a highly visible installation, people ran out of the office buildings nearby to stop us from vandalizing the work,” Kosar says. “We had to explain to them it was our work and we were taking them down before they got dirty and ratty and became a public nuisance.”

Some children aspire to be superheroes when they grow up. Others aspire to be a doctor or veterinarian. But what if a child were to say, “I want to be an urban knitter.” This may come sooner than some think.

People who aren’t familiar with it might wonder why this could take over the world. The answer is simply: it has already begun its reign.  The birth of yarn bombing can be attributed to the well-known artist Magda Sayeg, who knitted a door handle of her clothing shop in Houston, Texas in 2005.  This small task by her birthed a myriad of others and quickly formed a new style of a much friendlier kind of graffiti. Like a wild fire it spread and knitters and crafters from every corner of the earth began storming streets with yarn.

Gale Zucker is a yarn bomber and photographer that has performed knitted tags in New Haven, Conn., Watertown, Mass., and Little Rock, Ark.  Zucker has just recently published a book with her friend Joan Tapper called “Craft Activism.”

She has executed many successful yarn bombings  and explains a particular yarn bomb that took place during 2010 in New Haven, Conn. Zucker and a group of her fellow yarn bombers decided to surprise a local yarn store that had become a clubhouse for a handful of knitters. They yarn bombed the storefront door handle, potted planters outside the door, telephone poles, parking meters, and trees that lay in front of the business.

Photo Credit: Gale Zucker

Knitters dressing up a parking meter in New Haven, Conn. Photo Credit: Gale Zucker.

“A group of us spread the word online to organize, knit or crocheted some pieces in advance,” Zucker says. “And then met at 7 in the morning in front of the store and attached all the pieces, then snuck away. Totally rocked them.”

Zucker then explains that a cop stopped to check out what they were up to and just kept driving.

“It’s not a very threatening act of public art,” Zucker says.

Zucker says she sees the evolution of public art to build community and share ideas.

“Knit graffiti/yarn bombing has become pretty widespread and more mainstream so it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves,” Zucker says. “I totally admire what the JafaGirls in Yellow Springs, Ohio are doing in their community, we profiled them in the book and they are amazing.”

Some yarn bombers choose to be anonymous in order to conceal their identity and add a sense of mystery and allure to their work. One of those undercover knitters goes by the alias of Streetspun. Streetspun is a knitter that has left many of her trails of fiber in Toledo, Ohio.  Living in that area she tries not to yarn bomb far from her own neighborhood because maintaining the pieces once they are up can be quite a task.

“I will not leave them up if they get faded or torn,” Streetspun says. “ I will either cut them off or replace it with a new yarn bomb. My city is awesome and has been so supportive of yarn bombing that I really feel obligated to take care of them and will remove them when necessary. “

She explains that even though she mainly sticks to the Toledo area she has also made creations for local people to take with them when they travel to other cities.

“Here in Toledo artists, crafters, makers and lovers really support one another and like to spread Toledo Love all over the place,” Streetspun says.

Streetspun has had knitters from as far as Melbourne, Australia send her their work to display on the streets of Toledo. Since the power of social media tools such as Facebook can connect those from far and wide, Streetspun has done several trades and group projects from all over the world. Other notable places include The United Kingdom and France.

A street pole in Toledo, Ohio is brightened up by knitters from Australia. Photo Credit: Streetspun.

A street pole in Toledo, Ohio is brightened up by knitters from Australia. Photo Credit: Streetspun.

Some of the reasons why Streetspun is enamored by street art consist of the color it adds and the randomness it evokes. The way it can easily soften up a cold public space.

“The places the street artist chooses for their work and the level of creativity that comes with street art is mind blowing to me sometimes,” Streetspun says.

One of her more memorable yarn bombs took place at The Love Wall in Toledo. The Love Wall is home to the mural “Toledo Loves Love” and has become a cultural focus for the community to marvel at and enjoy.  The Love Wall also has a huggable yarn bomb that people can actually give an embrace.

For the future of yarn bombing and street art she only sees its evolution progressing to bigger and brighter heights. She explains that with social media allowing the world to witness it, it has opened a different view and acceptance of the art that could be considered vandalism.

“Yarn bombing has certainly evolved through social media and has allowed artists to connect to each other, collaborate and just be inspirations for all that are thinking about doing street art and/or just like to look at street art,” Streetspun says.

From the Midwest we move on to the West Coast to California. I was able to get in touch with a group called Yarn Bombing Los Angeles that is comprised of an eclectic group of guerrilla knitters that have been creating and collaborating since 2010. They began initially doing work for the book “Yarn Bombing 18th Street” that showcases the creations of 65 local artists. The work put into the book translated into a longer agenda and carved a path for YBLA to keep yarn bombing.

The group consists of six core members but has collaborated with up to roughly 80 artists. That number of 80 may quickly escalate up to 225 as a result of an upcoming project called Craft and Folk Art Museum: Granny Squared. Arzu Adra Kosar, one of the core group members, not only shared her thoughts about what inspires the group but also describes what they want to accomplish.

“We are interested in reaching out to audiences who don’t regularly attend galleries or museums,” Kosar says. “We are very much interested in refining the definition of public art beyond a bronze statue in the park but include self-initiated temporal urban interventions.”

The group strives to blur boundaries between genres. Kosar then illustrates this by giving one her favorite quotes said by the group, “In its seemingly odd juxtaposition of knitting and graffiti, often associated with opposing concepts such as female, granny, indoors, domestic, wholesome and soft vs. male, enfant terrible, outdoors, public, underground and edgy, the practice of yarn bombing redefines both genres.”

Their goal is to combine the likes of “low art” and “high art” in hopes to mesh the borders between the two.  With the CAFAM Granny Squared project, they hope to deconstruct the perception of craft and folk art and make the building look like an oversized dollhouse stuck in the city.

“Although craft is often dismissed as second tier to ‘high art’ forms such as painting and sculpture, numerous manifestations of craft have been integral to experimental artistic practices in the past decades,” Kosar says.

As Kosar mentioned earlier, in the case of the people who ran out the office building demanding them to stop vandalizing their own work, the act of yarn bombing is not always easy.

“One time I had to yarn bomb the same big majestic tree on Olympic Boulevard three times, so it turned into a test of endurance between me and the city,” Kosar says.

Even if the threat of arrest looms quietly in the air of yarn bombers all over the world, that will not stop their creative minds from creating the artistic ammo to colorfully dress the mundane streets of their cities.

A huggable yarn bomb created by Yarn Bombing Los Angeles. Photo Credit: Yarn Bombing Los Angeles.

A huggable yarn bomb created by Yarn Bombing Los Angeles. Photo Credit: Yarn Bombing Los Angeles.

Pinterest: Yarn Bombing Boards Worth a Look 

Below are five popular Pinterest boards all about yarn bombing. If you’re a fellow pinner please indulge, if you’re not no need to worry because you can still enjoy.

Annoo Crochet– 400 followers- Annoo Crochet has already pinned a diverse selection of yarn bombing examples. She has pinned examples straight from knitter’s Flickr accounts as well as from knitter’s blogs.

Anenome– 398 followers- Anenome has a collection of pins that are more animal related. For example, she has a pin that is called “Yarn Bombed Kitten” with a picture of a cat wearing knitted leg warmers.

Momma McCall– 13,299 followers- Having thousands of followers, it’s easy to see that there is a lot of traffic happening on this board. Essentially, every pin has ‘likes’ and ‘repins.’ As compared to other yarn bombing boards, Momma McCall tends to pin a lot of knit and crochet tutorials that can be used as ideas for yarn bombs.

Babuka Babukatorium– 1,465 followers- Babuka Babukatorium’s pins display a lot of yarn bombed trees and creations that relate to nature. One of her more popular pins with 20 repins, are plant pots that are cozily wearing knitted covers. She also has a large following with over 18,000 likes on her Facebook page.

Maria Herbert– 308 followers- If you want to see unique ways this type of art can be used, this board is swarming with captivating pins. The board has a fun and quirky visual atmosphere that could keep a person entertained scroll after scroll.

Skip The Digital, Grab a Book on Yarn Bombing

If you need a place to start when it comes to getting more acquainted with yarn bombing, snag one of these books. Researching a subject on the internet doesn’t always equate to the thorough research authors do in order to publish their work. Plus, sometimes turning the pages of a book sounds better than the click of your mouse.

“Craft Activism” by Joan Tapper and Gale Zucker (2011) 

Joan Tapper and Gale Zucker collaborate on their second book to document the works of many artists. To learn more about the book: http://bit.ly/WKsE3D.  Grab yourself a copy: http://bit.ly/YCkwsI.

“Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti” by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain (2009)

As I searched through mass amounts of knitting blogs and websites, this book was spotted numerous times. Moore and Prain provide 20 yarn bombing patterns as well as tips on how to be a stealthy graffiti knitter. To learn more about the book: http://bit.ly/SHqkMJ. Grab yourself a copy: http://bit.ly/XslDJY. 

“Hoopla” By Leanne Prain (2011)

With her second book, Prain dives into the world of the most uncommon yarn bombs. Knitters and artists who take more of a liking to the unusual may thoroughly enjoy what Prain has compiled. To learn more about the book: http://bit.ly/XslS7I. To grab yourself a copy: http://bit.ly/XslDJY.

About jennyaffan

Jenny is a senior at the University of Oregon majoring in Journalism with a digital and social media focus. She can be contacted at jennyaffan@gmail.com.
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